"Words have no wings, but they can travel a thousand miles" (Korean Proverb)

Welcome to Flying Words, Jon and Aileen's blog of our adventures in South Korea! We will be in South Korea for a year, starting in mid-July, teaching English in a private school. We just graduated from college this past May, and are looking forward to having some adventures before continuing our education. 
We started this blog to keep all our family and friends updated and to share our photos and stories. We hope this is entertaining for you! We will miss you all, and are very thankful to have the internet to keep us in touch. 

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Vietnamese Cottage Industries 101

The next morning I woke up at dawn to the sounds of various farm animals, which was fine since we were slated to take a sunrise boat trip on the lake to "see how the local people are living," in the oft-repeated words of Mr. H. More specifically, the myriad ways of fishing which are practiced on lakes and rivers in Vietnam. There's the traditional casting of a net, and of course the even more basic casting of a line. Or there's smacking the water with oars to scare the fish into submission. And then, the ever-mysterious giant net floating above the water on poles, rigged somehow to fall at catch fish after attracting them with its waving in the breeze.

After the boat trip, which was conducted, incidentally, in a dugout canoe that Native Americans would've been proud of, it was time for breakfast. The French, who colonized Vietnam, left a legacy of architecture and baguettes. And Laughing Cow cheese. Unfortunately, the baguettes are crusty and a little too airy. But still better than Korean bread, and a good thing to have around for a snack, or breakfast.

The morning was spent on another lovely ride through the countryside, punctuated with stops to observe brick-making, quarrying (a roadside operation involving 3 guys, some chisels and hammers, and huge chunks of rock recently blasted out of the nearby cliff), sugar refining and rice noodle making. The rice noodles are made much the same way I used to make Play-Doh spaghetti-- a dough put into a giant press, which is, of course, pressed, and the noodles are squirted out into hot water, where they are instantly cooked.

For lunch, we ate a picnic of fruit, baguettes and cheese at a park before visiting some waterfalls. I got to swim in a beautiful, primordial pool where there was no sign of humans or human influence. Then it was back on the bike. We got to the hotel around dinner time. I had a nice room, nicer than most places I'd been staying, with air conditioning and cable and a big, comfy bed. Which is really nice after a long day on the back of a motorbike. After a glorious shower and rest, I met Mr. H. in the lobby to head to dinner. We went to a place where you roll your own spring rolls, which was super fun, and delicious. They used strips of lettuce, pork, noodles, cucumber, starfruit and green banana, which we wrapped in fresh rice paper and dipped in a peanut-y sauce. Yum.

When I got back to the room, there was a baseball game on. Yankees vs. Red Sox, but I still watched it, and found out that the Mets game was on the next morning, starting 1 1/2 hours before I was supposed to meet Mr. H. for breakfast. So, I set my alarm and fell right to sleep.

Drinking Rice Wine with Vietnamese Minority Villagers

So I set off the next morning, just me, a motorbike, a driver and, of course, my backpack wrapped in layers of waterproof tarp and strapped on the back of the bike. We left at 8 am, and in just a few minutes we were out on the open road.

The first leg of the trip was on a local highway that wound through villages and rice paddies that were framed by mountains. The sun beat down on me, but the breeze was enough to keep me cool. Already, after about 10 minutes, there wasn't a sign of tourists or tourism, or English, for that matter, unless you count the occasional shouted commentary coming from my guide/driver, Mr. H.

An hour outside the city, we stopped at a village Mr. H. introduced as the Chicken Village. It has a giant (and I mean giant) statue of a chicken in the middle of what would normally be another small, rural minority village. Now, it's in the tour books and part of some package day tours. And the reason has less to do with chickens than one would think.

The story goes something like this. Years ago, a young woman and a young man fell in love. They wanted to get married, and their parents agreed, but the man's father had one condition. He was a cock fighter, and he told the woman to go up into the hills to catch him a rooster to fight with. She did as he asked, but after weeks of searching, she couldn't find anything. Instead of coming back to admit defeat, she killed herself. Her lover went up into the hills to find her, found her, and died of a broken heart. So, in an obviously relevant move, the government gave the village a statue of a giant chicken in commemoration.

My guide showed me around the village, and told me about how the people lived and farmed. Some of the villagers greeted us, shouting "hello!" out of doorways. I met one woman who was undergoing the traditional treatment for the flu, which was blood-letting from little pinches in the neck. Leaving her neck spotted with purple welts. She told me "If I did not do this, I would die." Well. Next time I have the flu, I'll take that under advisement.

Then we started what I like to call "Vietnamese Cottage Industries 101." In other words, when my guide stopped at random houses where he happened to know that people produce some kind of homemade goods. The alternate title for this course is "Microeconomics of Developing Asian Countries," but that's a little pretentious. I obviously had a lot of time of think on the back of that bike.

Anyway, the first stop of whatever you want to call it was a temple where I learned how they make incense. Which is pretty cool. They make this dough-like substance out of sandlewood, sawdust and other aromatic substances, then roll it onto thin bamboo sticks, then lay them all out into the sun to dry.

Let's see, what else did I learn how to make/grow that day? Mushrooms (which is a pretty cool process involving complex marshmallow-looking bags of stuff hung under a tent from which mushrooms grow like deformed ears), separating the good rice from the bad rice when you pick it (pour it onto a tarp in front of a fan- the good stuff falls down, the bad stuff blows off the tarp) and smashing up leaves from the forest for dinner with a seriously gigantic mortar and pestle.

At the last minority village of the day, after crossing an awfully sketchy bridge, we were invited into a communal longhouse for a drink. The sun was setting, and most of the village was gathering for a party- a celebration of a good rice harvest, with, of course, homemade rice wine.

The host was an ancient man, a former interpreter for the Americans during The War, who seemed to not have spoken English since. Which made him all the more enthusiastic to speak English, but not any more comprehensible. So, I drank the rice wine, and learned a few things about partying, villager style.

1) Everyone drinks the same amount of wine, so as to promote equality, but

2) The men and women sit on different sides of the room.

3) A direct quote from my host-- "When we have a party, we don't eat. We drink. Because when everybody drinks, we can all know each other more." I like his thinking.

4) There's no chance of anyone drunk driving, but drunk walking over sketchy bridges is only slightly safer.

That night, I slept in a longhouse in another village on the side of a lake. I sat on the porch and watched it rain in the twilight, as all kinds of free-range farm animals sought cover under the houses and kids ran around under umbrellas. Then, I slept soundly under a mosquito net.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

A short break....

Sorry for the scant communication lately. One might think, what with all the talk of globalization and the wonders of the internet, that I could find a decent computer on my travels. Well, the one decent place I've found here, in Hoi An, Vietnam, grossly overcharged me the first time I used it, claiming I'd been there twice the time I had been. This place has the first memory card capabilities I've seen in 3 weeks, but it's incredibly slow and the software needs to be updated like crazy. Everywhere, coincidentally, has wireless. Which helps me not at all. Surprisingly, Vientianne, the capital of a country with almost no infrastructure, had a coffee shop with by far the best internet and computers I've seen since Korea.

Anyway, enough complaining. I wish I could write updates of everything I've been doing...it's been a great past week or so that I haven't written about, but every time I finally search out a computer, I get a headache from the frustration. I know, I'm not the most patient person, but there it is. Slowness, or being surrounded by loads of Vietnamese kids playing and arguing over online games. So, it may be a few weeks until I blog again. I'm headed to China next week, and I'm not too optimistic about the internet there, since it's government-controlled and censored anyway.

I promise, many stories and commentary once I get to a decent internet connection, but realistically, with this backup, it probably won't be until I get back to Korea in 3 1/2 weeks. Urgh. Maybe I'll get lucky.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

A quick stopover in Saigon...

So, I don't really like to be in cities much when I travel. I find the big cities to be very similar wherever you go, and while there are some great times to be had, and each city has its unique personality, that takes longer to get into. And I'm on a tight schedule...only 5 more weeks until I should be in Korea (at the latest) and still Vietnam and China.
I finally stayed in a hostel with a dorm, which I prefer because its easier to meet people. Which I did. The first afternoon in Saigon, I was sitting on my bed, trying to organize my trip from there, when I met a guy from Canada who asked if I'd like to come with him and another guy to find the old American Embassy...the one from the war where they supplied by air when Saigon was under seige, and where they had to airlift hundreds of people out right before the city fell. We found moto drivers who said they knew where it was, but they took us to the new Embassy instead. The guard at the embassy told us the old one was destroyed, so we just wandered the neighborhood of the emassy and beyond.
We ended up walking down some residential alleys, and getting a good feel for the city as the locals live it. We stopped for a soda at a little hole-in-the-wall restaurant with plastic chairs and metal tables on the sidewalk. The Canadian guy (sorry but I forget their names!) ordered some chicken by randomly pointing to the menu. I just stuck to my soda.
After we made it back to the backpacker area, we had a few beers at another hole-in-the-wall place, this one with similar seating, but selling just beer, especially the local tap beer that comes in huge metal kegs. You get it in a plastic jar...1liter for about 50 cents. It's not bad, either. Anyway, after a beer, I went back to the hostel to take a nap, then came back out, met up with the same people again, at the same place, for some more beers. We ended up meeting lots of other people, because the old woman who ran the place would push people into sharing tables, and continue to add seats and tables that spilled out into the street. It was a nice night, great to talk to some people after those few days more or less alone in the Delta. But, the next day, I was getting tired of the city and the tourist areas, and headed on a bus north to Dalat, in the Central Highlands.
Today, I was in Dalat. I took a great motorbike tour through the mountains, visiting a waterfall, a minority village, a coffee plantation and other sites. The guide was part of a group called the Easy Riders, who tour people around on their vintage motorcycles (which are awesome!). I had such a good time, I agreed to a 5-day/4-night tour through the mountains, including one night homestay, a boat ride on a lake, some waterfalls, and countless other stops in rural Vietnam. He had a book of testimonials from other tourists who had gone with him, and there will be other tourists doing the same thing, that I'll be with in the restaurants and guesthouses, and some of the stops. I'm really excited...it sounds like a great time, and it'll be nice to get off the tourist trail and where people aren't constantly trying to sell me something. I'll be on the road until Monday night, my time, at which point I'll be in Hoi An, an old city on the coast that I was going to anyway.
Well, off I go. I'm sure I'll have plenty to write about when I get back....and photos to put up, if I EVER find a computer that can read my memory cards! :)

Kickin' it in the Delta

Ah, the slow boat. Since I was getting a little tired of buses, and trains weren't an option, I opted for alternate transportation from Phnom Penh to Vietnam-- the slow boat. Aka 7 hours on a wooden longboat with 2 long benches down the sides and 8 other tourists. Actually, it was about 4 on that boat, then after the border formalities, myself and a European couple (she was Italian, he Spanish-- they spoke a mix of the 2) were put on a different boat-- still a wooden longboat, this time with lawn chairs set up in the middle instead of benches. Everyone else got a boat with seats. Apparently we paid for the cheap trip, but it was really perfectly comfortable in the lawn chairs.
We got to Chao Doc, Vietnam, which is in the Mekong Delta. However, the three of us immediately caught a minibus to Can Tho, where there is more to do and more hostels to stay at. A few hours later, exhausted, we arrived. I found a decent hostel and checked in, also booking a river tour the next morning to see the floating markets and the canals.
The next morning, at 5:30 am, I was picked up on foot by the driver of my boat, who spoke very minimal English but was very kind and good at communicating with what he knew. We stopped at another hostel to pick up two more people-- a Canadian aerospace engineer and a British student-- and headed to the docks.
Our trusty craft was a small wooden boat with 2 benches facing forward, with no roof. The driver stood on the back and ran the motor and steering system. The sun was rising, and the river was coming to life, bathed in orange light.
The first two stops were floating markets. These entail boats of all sizes, stationary and in motion, buying and selling mostly produce, but also some clothing and meat. Women in triangular rice paddy hats stood on the front of their small wooden boats, paddling around each other and pulling up beside a boat to make a sale. Boats were laden with one kind of fruit or another, filled to the brim. People bargained, gossiped and weighed produce on the boats, simultaneously selling their goods and buying supplies for their own houses.
Next we went on through the canals, past wooden houses on stilts, people bathing, swimming and cleaning laundry in the river. At one point, we got out and walked around in a village, and our guide showed us fruit trees, a duck farm (where all the ducks had been dyed pink...I'm assuming to keep track of them), and then let us walk down the path by ourselves, while he went ahead and waited for us farther down the river.
Lunch was at a nice little family-run place on an island, with tables under huts outside. Just when we got there, it was starting to rain. While we ate, it poured. Though we stayed mostly dry under the hut, I was chilly for the first time in weeks.
That didn't last long, and soon it was hot again. However, apparently we had had a folding roof on the boat the whole time, which the driver put up as soon as it started to rain. It would have been nice to have that in the hot sun! Oh well, though. It really wasn't too hot.
Later that afternoon, after we finished the tour, I got on a bus to My Tho, another small city in the Mekong Delta. I was planning on going from there to Ben Tre, which is an island across the river, and supposedly less touristed and more relaxing. But, I arrived to My Tho in the evening, so I decided to stay there for the night. The hostel was nice...I was on the fifth floor, and had a great view of the river and canals, illuminated in the setting sun.
The next morning, I headed out for Ben Tre. A bridge had recently been built to the island, so I wouldn't have to take a ferry. I took a cyclo to the bridge with a very nice older man. A cyclo is basically a bicycle with a carriage seat on the front, so you sit in front while the driver bicycles from behind. It's a pretty slow way to go, and I always feel bad for the driver, but this one was nice. He had been an interpreter for the American Army in the war, and spoke excellent English. We had a great conversation on the way to the bridge, where he dropped me off and waited with me for the city bus...much cheaper than a moto taxi (on the back of a motorbike) would have been. However, before the city bus got there, a moto driver came to offer to take me. He started at an exorbitant price-- 50,000 dong, about 4 dollars-- but my cyclo driver talked him down to 10,000--about 50 cents, and maybe 10 cents more than the bus. I took it, since he would drop me right at the guesthouse.
I checked into the guesthouse, then wandered around the city. At this point, I hadn't seen another tourist since I got off my boat tour the previous day. It's low season, and tourism in the region is suffering from the bad global economy and also the instability in Thailand. Many tourists use Bangkok as a base, and fly in and out of the airport there. Since there were protests a few months ago, and a crowd of protesters occupied the airport in December, tourism has dropped sharply. Thailand is the most developed and stable country in the region, so if people don't feel safe going there, they won't go anywhere in the region. (Don't worry...it's perfectly safe as long as you're not stupid, it's just peoples' perceptions)
There wasn't much to do in Ben Tre, and the boat tours were way more expensive than the one I had taken. So, I had a nice, relaxing day, reading in a park by a lake, and spending a lot of the afternoon in an outdoor cafe that for some reason was showing Tom and Jerry on a flatscreen TV. It's a universal show...the Vietnamese people in the cafe thought it was hilarious. I must admit, it was pretty funny.
The next day, I took another minibus to Saigon/Ho Chi Minh City. Back to a city, but only for a short while.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

A day in Phnom Penh...ancient statues and recent genocide

I didn't see much of Phnom Penh. I got there one evening after a long bus ride from Siem Reap, found a hostel and walked down the river in search of dinner. The next morning, I got up relatively early, as I'm getting used to early starts, and headed to the National Museum.
The National Museum is housed in a beautiful building in traditional Cambodian style, and houses mainly scultpures and statues from the pre-colonial period. Including many of the pieces that would have filled the temples I had just been to, and relics from before that time. It was nice to see what would have filled the empty altars I'd seen, and to get a sense of where all that architecture and style came from. The building also had a beautiful courtyard.
After that, I had lunch at a great restaurant that doubles as a training school for street kids...they have a few restaurants, and a school for kids, too. The place was great...very delicious food, and it was nice to feel like I was doing something. There are beggars all over the city, and you just can't give everyone money....
That afternoon, in the driving wind and rain, I took a tuk-tuk to the Killing Fields. The Killing Fields is a memorial on the site of former mass graves from the Khmer Rouge regime that terrorized the country for years and killed thousands of citizens in the name of a communist revolution. It the sad story that, unfortunately, has happened too many times. International forces that could step in frozen by their projections and interpretations of the situation, and how they interpret their best interest. The memorial was sobering, to say the least. It was still a dreary day, and the field was filled with pits where they dug up the mass graves. There were, apparently, bones still showing up in the dirt. I didn't see any. Luckily.
After that, I went to the genocide museum at a former detention/torture center. That, also, was sobering. And depressing. You walked through the old cells, where you can still see dark stains on the floor from blood, and old bed frames and torture instruments. They have massive displays of photos of all the old prisoners there, that the Khmer Rouge had taken when they came in. Their expressions ran the gauntlet from scared to surprised to angry to defiant. It hard to deal with, but something I know I'll have to deal with in my life, since one of the things I'm thinking about for a career is war crimes prosecutions, and dealing with the aftermath of genocide and other human rights violations. It's something I know would be hard, and this didn't put me off it, but it was still sobering to see these things in real life.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Can I Pleeeeaaase Play Hide-and-Seek in the Ancient Temple Ruins?! Please?!

Ah, Angkor Wat. Glorious, ancient temple surrounded by jungle. Actually, Angkor Wat is just the biggest, most famous of a huge complex of temples, palaces and other ruins that have been eaten by the jungle and painstakingly cleared and partially restored by many, many people from many countries. Either way. It's amazing.

There are so many different ruins, in different states of decay and covering by jungle. The best part, to me, was that you can walk around in practically every part of the ruins....there are some parts that are marked off-limits because of the danger of collapse, but for the most part you can wander in the laberinthyne passageways and rooms of the temples. Since I was there in the low season, and visited some of the outer temples, there were many times when I was practically alone in the ruins, so I felt like I was exploring for real. There are countless intricate sculptures and engravings on the walls, and Buddhist and Hindu statues at every turn. I felt like Indiana Jones...actually, I felt like I should feel like Indiana Jones, but mostly felt like I was on Legends of the Hidden Temple, that old Nickelodeon show, since I never really watched much Indiana Jones. My favorite temple was Bayon, which has giant faces coming out of the walls, and lots of fun places to explore. It would be a great spot for an epic game of hide-and-seek, but there were too many Korean and Japanese tour groups and the sun was too absolutely baking to attempt it.

On the way to Siem Reap, the town that plays base camp to the temples, I rode a bus with a big group of Koreans who were on a "soccer mission trip." I talked to some of them for most of the ride...they were a friendly bunch who spoke pretty good English. I also met a Chilean woman, who I ended up sharing a room with at the hostel, since they only had double rooms. She was really nice...we spoke in Spanish the first night, but I never really saw her again, as each was out when the other was in the room. Siem Reap is an interesting place...full of cute cafes and restaurants, even the markets seem more like a boutique, in the middle of impovershed Cambodia. Most of the places, though, are Cambodian-owned, and clearly it helps the economy. It's just wierd. The whole country uses the dollar as de facto currency, since the riel, the official currency, is not exchangable out of Cambodia. They'll give you change in riel as they don't have American coins, but anything over $1 is almost always American money. It was a bit annoying, as I don't have dollars. I've been travelling with the Korean won I had to withdraw during that whole immigration thing and didn't have a chance to transfer home.

I rented a bicycle the next morning and headed towards the temples. Just after I had looked at my first temple, as I pedalled past rice paddies, palm trees and water buffaloes, a voice came from a tuk-tuk (kind of motorbike-pulled taxi) passing me. I heard my name, and looked up, and it was Sandie, a friend from Korea who had lived in our building. I knew that she and her boyfriend Bryce would be traveling now, and would be in Cambodia approximately when I would be, but I hadn't heard from them in weeks. Now, they had shown up in a tuk-tuk in the middle of the temples of Angkor. They stopped, and we chatted for a few minutes, then made plans to meet up later.

I ended up spending the next day with them, touring temples in a tuk-tuk, which was a luxury compared to my exhausting but fun bike ride of the previous day. It was nice to be able to spend time with people I knew. That afternoon, it started to rain when we got to a temple. We waited it out under a roof at a food stand, next to some vendor stalls. It was pouring outside, and we ordered hot coffees. Sandie and I browsed the stalls, and I started bargaining for a tank-top. The vendor was a man in his late 20s/early 30s, and he was very gregarious. The bargaining went something like this:

Vendor: "$3. Very good price. Best price."
me: "$3? That's a little expensive. I'll pay $2."
Vendor: "$2? No! How about $3 and I give you a bottle of water."
Me: "No...I have water. (pointing to my bottle of water on the table."
Vendor: "Ok, how about $3 and a coke?"
Me: "Nooo....I just ordered coffee."
Vendor: "A beer would be nice."
Me: "Haha, ok. $3 for the tank top and a beer."

I had to. It was so funny. And random. The beer? Crap. Some beer I had never heard of that was barely carbonated and tasted like apple juice. But, it was funny.

Once the rain stopped, we went to the temple, which was another rambling set of ruins and corridors and doorways getting eaten by the jungle. But, it started to thunder when we were in the depths of the temple, a good walk from the exit. So, when it started to really pour, we waited it out in the temple, taking shelter in a doorway out of the dripping roof and talked about religions...I tried to explain the theory of Buddhism (which is so different from the practice), and then we ended up discussion how religions differ from the theory, and basically everything and anything about Buddhism, Islam, Christianity....it was fun.

We ended up having to cancel our plans for the sunset, since it was cloudy and rainy. We walked around Angkor Wat one more time, then headed back to town. I left the next morning for Phnom Penh.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Building a Nation

Laos. What can I say? It's quiet. It's rural. Even Vientiane, the capital city, has a sleepy provincial feel. No big buildings. No commercial center, besides the outdoor markets. It's very French-influenced---many signs in Lao/French, instead of English, many French bakeries and cafes, which I love. It's a cute place.
But look around a little more, and you see the story of what's really going on here. Laos has long been poor, underdeveloped and war-torn, most recently when the US bombed continuously basically the whole country during the Vietnam War, trying to route out Viet Cong troops. Now, Laos is governed by the one-party socialist rule of the Lao Peoples' Revolutionary Party. So far, I've been in an autocracy (Singapore), a Muslim state (Malaysia), a constitutional monarchy (Thailand), and now a one-party communist state, which is really what I'll be in the rest of my trip.
What you notice here, though, is not the political system. It's the physical manifestation of the foreign aid we hear so much about in our developed countries. Everywhere you see signs that proclaim one piece of infrastructure or another a joint venture between Laos and some other country. Basically, "This road was sponsored by Japan," or "Lao telecom company, brought to you by Australia." I saw a community hospital built with French aid. The city buses all have "Japan Official Development Agency" on their sides. The main street is lined with offices like the French Agency for Development, and the Asian Development Bank. The state-run English newspaper I read yesterday was full of articles like "EU opens 10 new schools in rural province," "UN implements Climate Change Initiative" and articles celebrating Laos' partnerships with other Asian countries. Walking down the street you see vans emblazened with the UN's, UNICEF's, and other international organizations' and NGOs like Save the Children's logos.
At the bar I went to last night, I talked to a man who was, according to him, one of the two actually qualified electricians in Laos. He's from the UK. The other, who was also in the bar, was French. This man told me, "If a rural village anywhere in Laos wants electricity, I'm the one they call." He wasn't there for any altruistic purpose, though. He was there because he's an electrician, and there's plenty of work here and it's cheap to live. He said to me, "If you travel enough, you'll realize that 90% of the people in the world live the same, they get up, go to work, go to bed. Their political system doesn't matter to them."
I met a few more Westerners, and one man from Uganda, who had all been living here for years, working, filling the gap that exists because very few Lao have higher education or even technical training. Thus the school I saw being built today, a school of health sciences, sponsored by the World Bank's Development Fund. And I did see a USAID (US Agency for International Development) logo, sponsoring the Lao telecom system along with Australia and Japan, both countries that are all over everything. It's nice to see those development dollars at work. It gives a face to all those figures and political arguments you hear. And it reinforces my belief that the money is well worth it. It's fascinating to see a nation being built like this, to see the infrastructure projects and cooperation it takes to develop an economy, step by step, one road, one bus, one hospital at a time.

Bye-bye, Jon! :(

After Chiang Mai, we took the train down the Bangkok, stopping for a day in Sukothai, a small city with a beautiful complex of ruins. In Bangkok, we stayed at a hostel on Khao San Road and did a little exploring, mostly killing time. I feel like I've been to Bangkok so many times, and after Chiang Mai, it was too busy and noisy and smoggy. So we did the usual. Walked around, ate a little. I looked for a new book, but they were so stupidly expensive. Tattered used books, in bookstores with huge inventories, for the same price as a new book in the States. No way. I'm not that desperate.

Our last day together, Monday, we got sweet herbal massages and then headed to the nicer area of Bangkok, to check out their modern malls and "where the cool kids hang out" (my words). The malls were quite fancy...designer stores, beautiful design. Clearly, we didn't do any shopping. We did, though, see Night at the Museum 2 on the IMAX. I loved the movie, but it suddenly cut out about 5-10 minutes before the end. I think. The movie just stopped. Everyone waited for awhile, then nobody said anything, so we left. Going to the movies in Thailand is interesting, since before the movie, everyone has to stand up while the national anthem is played, to the backdrop of a video-montage of Thais helping each other, always with a portait of the king featured prominently.

All too soon, it was time to head to the train station. We picked up our backpacks and some takeout for dinner, then took a tuk-tuk to the station. After we'd organized everything (Jon took some stuff back to the States for me), we ate and then it was time for me to get on my train. I was headed to Nong Kai, Thailand, which is the border crossing for Vientiane in Laos. Jon was flying home that night, since he'd come to about the end of the money he could spend on this trip. We said our sad goodbyes as the train pulled away from the station. I won't see him for at least 3 months. I was pretty sad on the train, but determined to have a great rest of my trip. Thanks to Skype, we can talk online a good deal. We both need to know that we can get along fine on our own, and in the end I know it'll make us stronger as a couple.

Anyway, enough of that. More adventures to come from my end....

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

High Rollers

Welcome to Chiang Mai, a mountainous city in the mountains of Northern Thailand. Chiang Mai is at a crossroads, both historically (trace routes between China, Burma, India, Southern Thailand and Malaysia) and currently-- a jumping off point for many adventure-seeking travelers who flock to the mountains to trek, white-water raft, rock climb, and basically any activity that involves jungle. Then there're the tourists who come here to shop. Chiang Mai is the source for much of Thai products, like silk, wood work, laquerware, gems...basically anything you'd want to buy in Thailand. Chaing Mai is also surrounded by varying hilltribe villages...a great number of ethnic tribal minorities who also make handicrafts and whose villages can serve as tourist destinations. Because of the variety of travellers who stop here, Chiang Mai is full of guesthouses/hostels as well as nice hotels, lots of cute cafes and restaurants and some fancy ones, too. And lots of tailors. But we'll get to that in a little bit.

When Jon and I first got here, it was hot. Severely hot. We had just gotten off the train after a lovely overnight trip in sleeper cars, which make me feel like I'm back in the forts I used to make out of my bottom bunk of my bunk bed growing up. We took a tuk-tuk into town but somwhere along the way we heard about a guesthouse that had a pool. After walking around in the Old City looking for a cheap guesthouse that we liked (I felt like Goldilocks...nothing felt quite right), we relented and went to the place with the pool. It's still cheap, by almost any standard--a double room for $12 a night-- but it's still a little more than the cheapest dorm beds here--$3/night. But it has a pool! And it's nice, and cute. It has a nice patio area, and lots of cool Thai furnature/decor.
That night, we rented motorbikes again, for the next 48 hours. The next morning, we got up and headed out of town towards a mountain that supposedly had a temple, a palace and a Hmong village on it. The road was nice, shady and curvy. The temple was alright...it had an amazing view of the city, and was at the top of a huge flight of stairs. It was very gold and shiny, a little ostentatious for my tastes. I like the stone, older temples more. The kind of Thai temples that are covered in gold and ornamentation don't give me the same peaceful feeling I get from some of the older ones, and most of the Korean Buddhist temples I went to.
The palace was a flop--you had to be wearing long pants (who wears long pants in Thailand in the summer?!) and covered shoulders, or you could rent clothes, and plus paying an entrance fee. So we continued down an increasingly bumpy and potholed road to the Hmong village.
The Hmong are an ethnic tribal group, originating from Burma and Laos, who live in the mountains for Thailand. They are most known (at least to me) as the tribe of the people in the book "The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down," a book both Jon and I had to read for an intro to Sociology course (great book, by the way). The book is about a Hmong family who moves to California as refugees, and whose young daughter gets epislepsy. It's about the contrast between the family's conception of the illness, and life in general, and how it contrasts with the doctors' and everyone else around them. In the village, I could really see how completely different it is from urban America, and I could sympathize with the characters in the book. The village was beautiful, tucked away in the mountains that were topped with whispy clouds.
After the village, we had a picnic with some supplies we had brought from town. It was great...we had found a real bakery, so I had real wheat bread for the first time in a long time, and we found snap peas and green beans at a local market, along with mangoes, and had bought cheese and pepperoni at a local grocery store. It was a delicious lunch.
That night we went to the movie theater and saw Angels and Demons. I liked it a lot. I won't say much about it, for those of you who haven't seen it. But I will say that watching a movie in Thailand is interesting, because after the previews and before the movie, they play the national anthem (everyone must stand up) while showing a montage of pretty much propaganda pictures of happy Thais and the King and Queen helping people and just generally being cool.
Yesterday, we ate lunch in a restaurant run by the Department of Corrections as a vocational training center at the women's detention center. It was delicious, and it was nice to feel like we were contributing something to the local community. Then, in the mid-afternoon when it was starting to rain, we decided to visit the tailor's shop next to the guesthouse, just to get some quotes.
Anyone who's travelled in Asia knows that tailor's shops are all over, and usually cheap and fast, but I never really thought about going to one. I couldn't think of a reason to buy custom-made clothes. But then I kept seeing really pretty dresses in the windows, and I got to thinking. I'm going to law school next year, I'll have to dress up sometimes. And I always have a hard time finding professional clothes that look good that I can afford. So, we looked at pictures and asked about prices at a few places, and finally found a good shop.
Well. I ended up ordering 2 suit jackets, 2 pairs of pants, one skirt and one beautiful silk dress, all for $250. And I mean nice material, and custom made. I am sooo excited! I figured, a nice suit will cost at least that much, not to mention 2 and a dress. Since I'm going to law school, I"ll need those clothes.
And they are GORGEOUS! We picked them up Thursday night, and I am so excited! Too bad I have to ship them home and not see them again for 2 months. The dress is soooo nice, and I feel like a princess...actually, I feel like a grown-up ready to attend cocktail parties and benefits...now I just need a cocktail party or a benefit. Hmmm....
While in Chiang Mai, we also took a cooking course. It was a great investment. The class was small...Jon and I and 4 other girls from our guesthouse were in a group together. First, we went to a local market, where our teacher told us all about the various herbs, spices, fruits and vegetables involved in Thai cooking. Then he bought the ingredients we needed for the day, and some fruit for us to try back at the school. The fruit was crazy--looks like some kind of cartoon space fruit. I don't think I could have even imagined some of it.
Back at the school, he explained about how to make the different kinds of rice...normal, sticky, jasmine...and then we started cooking. We had selected 6 dishes at first, one out of the three choices in each category (curry paste/curry dish, soup, stir-fry, appetizer, and desert). There were 2 other groups in different rooms, and for each dish we would go to the corresponding room to learn and cook, then come back to our original group to eat after each dish.
Everything we made was sooo good! Jon and I made sure to chose different dishes so we could maximize the dishes we learned and the dishes we ate! I made chicken cashew stir-fry, coconut chicken soup, spring rolls, green curry paste, green curry chicken and veggies, and sticky rice with mango. The final products were some of the best Thai food I'd had (not to say much for myself...its all in the fresh ingredients and the teaching.) We all got a recipe book with all the dishes plus some, and a nice ingredient guide and a substitution guide if you can't find some of the herbs and spices. Mmmm. I'm hungry just thinking about it. Can't wait to get home and cook!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Motorbikes rock! Except when it rains...

Ahhh..... Finally, we made it up to Thailand and out of the stupid cities. Kanchaniburi is a very small city with a large tourism industry because of its situation on the banks of the River Kwai and its proximity to a certain infamous Bridge over said river. Of course, most of you know I'm not a big war-history nut. No, we're in K-buri because we heard from some travellers we met in Melaka that there is a huge, beautiful 7-tiered waterfall that you can swim in every tier of. With wild versions of those fish I wrote about earlier that eat your dead skin.

Jon and I took a trishaw from the bus station to a hostel we found in our trusy Loney Planet travel guide. A trishaw is a bicycle with a bench in the back, decorated quite colorfully. It was misting when we got there, and we felt so bad for the man who pedalled us and our 2 heavy backpacks those 5K that we tipped him the same amount as our fare was. Before you judge me for making this man pedal us for our own enjoyment, we were hassled right off the bus by a million trishaw people.

We got a room on a floating part of the guesthouse...basically a floating trailer partitioned into little rooms. It was beautiful...we could see down the river and the limestone mountains behind, jutting up into the mist. That night, we walked down the river and found floating restaurants that loaded up with people, then got towed across the river to float on the other side. Of course, we couldn't figure out how to get on them, so we just ate ice cream sundaes at a place we found on dry land.

The next day, we headed to the waterfalls. We had decided that it would be best to rent motorbikes from one of the myriad of places renting them along the street lined with guesthouses, since the local bus dropped you off a few kilometers from the park entrance and wasn't a whole lot cheaper, anyway. The motorbikes were a lot of fun. I was scared at first (the people renting them were a little nervous about me driving one and made me practice down a side street) but I quickly got the hang of it, and remembered to drive on the left side of the road (Southeast Asian traffic drives on the left).

We then proceeded to drive 60K down a nicely paved and mostly empty road through the countryside, across rivers and into the mountains. On the way, we passed farms, little wooden houses, herds of skinny tan cows walking down the side of the road (and sometimes laying in it) followed by men carrying slingshots, water buffalo wallowing in the mud, and a few signs that warned of elephant crossings but no elephants.

Then we got to the waterfalls. They are in a national park, up a short trail from the parking lot. It''s really a river with a bunch of waterfalls, big and small, wide and narrow, so it's full of a million pools to swim in. The water was a clear light blue, and you could easily see the schools of fish swimming around. And there were some good-sized fish in them.

We had brought sandwiches from a place in town, and I especially was excited to eat them because I had tuna on whole wheat bread. I hadn''t really had whole-wheat bread since I left home, besides a loaf or two from Costco in Korea that wasn't quite great. I was so eager to swim, though, that I only ate half of one, then left my things and went into the water, perilously ignoring the "Beware of Monkeys" and "Don't let monkey steal your belonging" signs. Well, as soon as we had been in the water for 5 minutes, a monkey decended from a tree, took one look at my bag of sandwiches, grabbed it and climbed up a tree. Oops. It ate almost all of the sandwich, dropping a few pieces and then the styrofoam container. At least I could pick up the garbage, since I felt bad for potentially polluting that lovely park. Later, another monkey came and ate the dropped pieces in plain view, and I got some cool pictures of a monkey eating my lunch. That and the story make up for the loss of food, and from then on we were careful with our things, tying them to roots and securing the bags, but the monkeys were only interested when they could smell food nearby.

The waterfalls were amazing. They weren't too crowded, mostly Thai families. The little fish would nibble on your feet, and the big fish weren't really too bothered by our presence...Jon was able to touch some by swimming up to them. We could go behind the waterfalls into little caves, and jump off rocks into the crystal clear water.

At about 3:30, we headed back to the motorbikes. The park closed at 4, and it was getting a little cloudy. Rain was treatening. As it was, we made it about halfway back before it started to pour. We took shelter, with another foreign couple on motorbikes who happened to stop there too, under a little hut by the side of the road, and then in a little store/restaurant where the owners spoke absolutely no English. We played cards and had some sodas, and waited for the rain to die down. It did after about an hour, but it still sprinkled on us the whole way back. 26 kilometers later, we were back in K-buri and soaked to the bone. But it was definately worth it.

Blah Buses!

Last time I wrote, I was waiting for a train. Well, it got delayed. The woman at the information desk wrote down "19:00"for the new time, then we confirmed with her and someone else. So, we went to eat dinner and came back at a little before 6. When we went to the information desk to check to progress of the train, the same woman looked at our tickets and said "Train came. Left. 19 oclock" and looked at us and the clock like we were idiots. I said "Yeah, you said 19 oclock. It's only 18:00 now!"She just kept saying 19:00. So we told her that we needed new tickets, and it wasn't our fault so we weren't paying more. So she told the guy at the ticket window, but then we went to get tickets on the next train. There were only sleeper cars available (hello? We asked for sleeper cars earlier and were told there were none!) but they tried to make us pay the difference. So, we went around the stupid booth to the info lady and tried to make it clear that we wouldn't pay the difference. Then we just gave up, figured they wouldn't listen, and just wanted to get on the train. So, literally 3 minutes later, we went back to the ticket window and the guy (with no indication of recognizing us) said everything was sold out. Ah!!

We didn't want to stay in that stupid border city anymore, especially since Thailand only gives you 15 days if you enter by land (30 by plane...stupid. Sorry I can't afford to fly everywhere I go.), so we walked around in search of a bus. Good thing there are multiple ticket-booking places on every block in Hat Yai since no one actually goes there on purpose, just in transit. We finally found a bus for the same price as the sleeper trains would have been, and took it a hour later to Bangkok. When we arrived in Bangkok we just stayed at the bus station we started in and got a bus to Kanchanaburi, our next destination. 3 hours later, and utterly sick of buses, we arrived to Kanchanaburi, a small city in the central-western region of Thailand.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Best $3 I Ever Spent

So, I know I said we'd be train-ing it up to Bangkok. The plan was to take the bus from the Cameron Highlands to Ipoh, the closest city with a train station. Then we would take the 11:30 pm train from Ipoh to Hat Yai in Thailand, stay there during the day, then catch another overnight train from Hat Yai to Bangkok. Well.
We got to Ipoh in the pouring rain, took a taxi to the train station, just to find out that the train we wanted only ran on Thurs-Saturday. This was on a Monday. Even though the LED screen was announcing the train, and nothing on the schedule we had indicated that fact.
So, we decided to try to take a bus to Hat Yai. We got in a taxi, asked the driver to take us to the bus station, but then after asking us where we wanted a bus to, he dropped us off in front of the ticket office of a private bus company that went to Hat Yai...and that he probably got a commission from to drop people at. We figured we'd just check out the price, since there were 2 other bus company offices within sight. The man at the counter was an older Chinese man who spoke very little English. He mostly grunted. He gave us a price and a time-- 45 Ringett, or about $15, and the bus left at 1 am. We had heard that most buses left at about that time, but when we showed signs of wanting to check other places, the guy told us there were only 2 seats left, despite the fact hat he had the passenger roster out on the table, open to a map of the seats, which were half empty. So, we left to check the other places.
One of the offices was closed. The other was inhabited by a Chinese mother and her two children. They told us the details-- 45 Ringitt, 12:45 am-- and we decided to buy the tickets. But first, we had to exchange money. Then we ran into our next problem. We didn't have quite enough Ringit, because the rate in the Cameron Highlands was way lower than normal, so we figured we'd wait until we got into Ipoh. Well, by the time we got there, all the exchange places were closed. No problem, we'll just use an ATM. Well, none of the ATMs took foreign cards. None. I tried 4 different banks' ATMs. Luckily, we convinced the bus company to take Korean won (a little more than the price of the bus tickets, for their trouble) and exchange it in the morning.
So, that was about 7pm. We had almost 6 hours to kill, and the sun was about to set. Ipoh is a small city, with no tourist attractions. We were hungry, so the first step was to find food. A few blocks from the bus company office was an outdoor hawker center-type place. There were plastic tables and chairs outside on a patio, and multiple food stands inside. The food was cheap, and good, and there were lots of cheap juices and iced coffees.
After eating, we figured this was as good a place as any to spend 5 hours. So, we did. Talking, eating and drinking a little here and there, and playing an epic 3 hours of gin rummy, our usual. That pack of cards has saved us lots of boredom over the past year. It was a nice cafe, full of locals even at midnight on a Monday.
Finally, we got to the bus company and waited for the last 30 minutes with other passengers, including 2 Thai monks and 3 Irish girls who were grossly scantily dressed and smoked all the time. The bus turned out to be not as nice as we had hoped. The seats were alright in themselves, but we were in the back row and our seats didn't recline like all the others, and then the guy in front of Jon reclined his to the point that it was touching Jon's legs. The bus was hot despite the A/C vents, and we bounced around a lot in the back. We took a long stop at a rest stop, and then we got to the Thai border an hour before the border control opened, so we sat on the bus there in line with other buses for an hour. After clearing customs on both sides, it was only an hour and a half until we got to Hat Yai.
When we got to Hat Yai we were exhausted, but determined to quickly exchange money and buy train tickets for that night. But, the banks didn't open until 8:30, and it was only 7am. At the train station, we found out that all the sleeper train cars were booked, but there were second-class seats in an A/C car, which are much more comfortable than the buses.
Then Jon had a brilliant idea-- see if a hostel would rent us a room just for the afternoon, until we could take the 2:30 train. We were exhausted, and just wanted a place to put our stuff and take a nap. Luckily, we found a place, with the help of the Lonely Planet travel guide, that let us have a room for the day for about $6 total. Split between the two of us, it was the best $3 I'd ever spent. After the banks opened, we changed money, and bought plane tickets, I took a lovely 2-hour nap.
We ate lunch, then headed back to the hostel to pack things up, and over to the train station for the 2:30 train. Or so we thought. Turns out we had read out tickets wrong, and the train wasn't until 4:30. Added onto that, the train that was supposed to come at 2:18 we found out was delayed until 4:30, so who knows about ours. They told us to check back at 4. So now I'm killing time in an internet cafe, watching Without a Trace and blogging a really long entry. :)
Oh, one more unrelated comment. We were talking to another foreign guy at the train station, which is how we found out about the late train, and he told us a story we'd heard before from other travelers. Thailand only gives 15-day visas to tourists entering by land, while they give 30-day visas when you fly in. Strange to begin with. But we've heard from some people, people who dress like hippies, who maybe have tatoos and don't look like rich tourists, that they get a lot of trouble coming into Thailand. This man we talked to specifically was told straight up to show him 20,000 baht (about $800) to prove that he had enough money to travel in Thailand. Who would spend that much money for 2 weeks in Thailand I have no idea. Finally, he took out 10,000 from an ATM, and showed the border official. It wasn't enough. The man insisted on seeing an airplane ticket, or other proof of onward travel. That was totally unneccessary, and not within the Thai visa rules. The man finally let the traveler through, but not until demanding a 1000 baht bribe...about $40. We've heard similar stories from other people who look less wealthy than the average tourist. It's such discrimination, and arbitrary. The man we talked to at the train station said he had been traveling for a while, through Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Thailand a few times before, and Nepal. Lots of flights, he has credit cards with money, but he couldn't get through without a bribe, mostly because of how he looks.
Well, that's all I've got for today. Wish us luck on the train tonight, and getting to Kanchanaburi to chill by the River Kwai and swim in some sweet waterfalls.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

I held a scorpion! (and Jon was too scared to)

So we've spent the last few days in the Cameron Highlands, a mountainous region of Malaysia known for its jungles and tea plantations. And strawberries. We stayed in a small town, mostly a tourist base for tours of the jungle and surrounding area. It's a nice hostel...off the main street, so almost in the jungle.
Yesterday we went on a full-day tour that included jungle trekking, a visit to a native village, a trip to a tea plantation, a butterfly farm and a strawberry farm. It was a long day, but it was great.
Jon and I walked into town at about 8:30 am, ordered some Indian bread and banana smoothies to go, loaded into a waiting Jeep with 5 other people and our guide, and started off into the jungle. After a 45-minute ride through stunning jungle mountains, and then 20 minutes of off-roading through the jungle, we got out and started to hike. Our destination: 2 giant flowers. A hike just to see 2 flowers, you ask? Well, these aren't just any flowers. They're about 70 cm wide...or 2 1/2 feet, and they only bloom for six days. They smell yucky, and are pretty rare. The natives used to feed them, cooked, to women who had just given birth, to stop the bleeding, minimize scarring, etc etc. Now they're protected, so there are more of them, but no so many. Our guide met us at the flowers, and we followed a native guide through the forest. He walked pretty fast, and spoke no English other than "Let's go!" and "I don't speak English." After 45 minutes of a brisk walk through the jungle, we arrived, covered in sweat and exhausted, at the flowers.
The flowers were amazing. They're actually a fungus, and grow on the ground out of buds that look like giant pink and green cabbages. The flowers are a pink-red color, and smell gross. They attract lots of flies, who swarm around the spiky inside. These flowers look to me like cartoon flowers-- they have huge petals, and just give them impression of a child's thick-lined drawing.
After the flowers, we went for a swim in a nearby pool fed by a waterfall. The water was wonderfully cold after that hot hike. Then we went back to the Jeep, and down to a native village. The village was a collection of maybe 5 houses that had been moved near the highway after the government said they could get schools and more regular doctor's visits if they came out of the jungle. Now the kids go to school until they're 12, when they finish primary school. The closest secondary school is about an hour's drive away, and there's no public transportation that passes the village. The children marry when they're 15 or 16, and have 3 or 4 kids by the time they're in their mid-20s.
The men in the village either work seasonal jobs, or work with the tours in the area as guides. They farm some, and set traps in the jungle. We were there to see a demonstration of blow-gun hunting. It was really cool...the blow-gun is a long, straight, hollow piece of bamboo. A man from the village showed us how to shoot it, and then we all got a chance to try to shoot a leaf pinned to some styrofoam about 20-30 meters away. Jon hit the leaf the first time. I completely missed the whole board the first time, but the second time I hit the leaf.
The tea plantation was beautiful. Tea bushes carpeted the rolling mountains, and the factory had a cafe that overlooked the whole thing, with walls made totally of glass and a deck that jutted over the tea bushes. We had a quick factory tour, then a light lunch in the cafe. I had a pot of Earl Grey with Tangerine tea that was quite good, and a pretty good tuna sandwich.
I wasn't very excited about the butterfly farm...I had been to butterfly gardens before, and they're all the same. Well, this one had the addition of a large collection of yucky bugs, from Rhinocerus Beetles to tarantulas to scorpions, and the man who worked there let us hold most of them. And by let, I mean sometimes forced. But it was really interesting. I even held a scorpion!! He promised us it was safe, and he was holding a lot. Afterwards, he explained that the scorpion, since it stings with its tail, can't sting you if you hold it. The tail can only flip up to the area over its body, so it can only get you it your hand is over its back, or if you step on it. We also got to hold these really lazy geckos, called cat-eyed geckos, who sleep most of the day and move like they're in slow-motion. They were sooo cute!
The butterflies were alright...what you can expect. Pretty butterflies. Flowers. The strawberry farm was interesting, since the strawberries and the other things that they grew there (various types of lettuce, parsley) were all grow hydroponically. That means they're grown in either pots or pipes hanging above the ground. Their roots grow either in the water, like the lettuce, or in the air once they outgrow the pots, like the strawberries. Water is pumped through them instead of onto them, saving water that usually gets lost in soil seepage and evaportation. The water is also reinforced with nutrients to help them grow, so they don't need fertilizer. Plus, since they're hanging, they save space. There can be more plants closer together, and other plants can grow on a bottom layer. For example, the parsely was growing below the strawberries.
Anyway, enough agricultural lessons. The strawberries were delicious! Jon and I shared a strawberry milkshake, and a bowl of strawberries and cream. Yum!
Today we're leaving the jungle to start our journey into Thailand. Today we take a bus to Ipoh, the closest train station, and catch the night train to Hat Yai in Thailand. We'll get there tomorrow morning, then take another night train to Bangkok. We'll be in Bangkok for a day or so, go west for a few days to Kanchanaburi to go to a seven-tiered waterfall (you can swim in every tier!) then another overnight train to Chang Mai for Saturday morning. Aye. I'm tired already!

Saturday, May 9, 2009


We left Kuala Lumpur this morning for the Cameron Highlands. My impression of KL (as everyone calls it) are mixed. I saw some beautiful sights there-- mostly mosques and old Islamic architecture-- but other than the outstanding buildings it was a pretty ugly city. There is, however, a gorgeous park in the city, called the Lake Gardens, with a huge bird center. The bird place is under a huge net, so there are just birds flying around. There are all kinds of birds, from small songbirds to giant white pelicans and vivd peacocks, just wandering and flying around. I got some great pictures! (I'll put them up later, I swear :) )

But what struck me most about KL was the pervasiveness of Islam into every part of the city. From the halal certifications on all the restaurant doors (halal means 'allowed' in Islam...basically it means that the food served there is certified acceptable to eat according to Muslim guidelines) to the mystic call to prayer heard 5 times a day wafting from minarets to the Arabic on every sign. By far, the most obvious and notable sign of the Muslim nature of most of the country is the women wearing various forms of head and bodyu covering.

I would say 75-80% of the women and teenage girls in KL wear at least a headscarf and long pants, usually a long-sleeved shirt, to cover themselves because of their belief in Islam and their adherence to its mores, as well as because of their culture. I saw a good number of women who went even further, from full-body dresses with headscares that were bright, colorful and patterned, to the same in black, to full body covering with a veil over the head that allowed just an inch-tall slit for the eyes, all in black. Though in most cases, the latter seemed to be tourists from somewhere in the Middle East, since they were visiting tourist sites, and often the men would wear traditional dress as well, and carried a map.

It's hard to know how to react to this. I know that it is, for the most part, none of my business, but Islam has really interested me in the past few years, and I've heard, read and seen so many conflicting things about this controversial issue. The veil/headscarf can be seen as a symbol of repression, or of religious devotion. And I'm sure that it can be both, depending on the circumstance and whether or not the woman in question has a choice about wearing the headscarf etc. I, for one, can't see how they do it...it's so hot in KL! I know I don't have to have an opinion on this topic, but since I was confronted with the situation, I didn't know what to make of it. Especially the full-body eye-slit covering. One of the women I saw wearing that was at the bird park with her husband, who was wearing shorts and a t-shirt with the sleeves ripped off. It seemed...I don't know... a little hypocritical, the contrast between the two of them. But then again, who's to say that she didn't choose what she was wearing. But if she chose, was it really a choice, or did family and societal pressures force her into a decision?

While I walked around KL in shorts and a t-shirt, I didn't get as many stares as I thought I might. There were lots of tourists dressed like more or worse, and a sizeable ethnic Chinese population that weren't covered. I did, though, at times, get the feeling men were ignoring me. There were a few times at restaurants when they wouldn't look at me, and kind of ignored what I had said...I had to ask a few times. And I got some looks from women, including the woman in the bird park with the eye-slit garb (sorry, I don't know the technical words for the different coverings, and since the words vary by region I wouldn't know what to call them, anyway). They weren't necesarily bad looks. Just curiousity, I think, the same way I was looking at them.

By the way, I did wear an approximation of the full-body covering once, when we went inside the National Mosque, which is gorgeous. Upon entry, Jon and I were both given full-length lilac-colored robes with hoods that tied in the front (Jon was wearing shorts, and men have to have long pants). It felt like I was in a cult. And I was really really hot.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Howard the Hostel owner.

I used to ask myself what I would be like to take a dart and throw it at a map - then pick up my things and head to where ever it landed. Although my trip now isn't much like my ideal journey of my youth, it has been one hell of an adventure.  

Only two weeks ago I was working full time in South Korea teaching English to over worked, extremely exhausted children. My girlfriend and I woke up to the typical sounds of horns on the main road in Seoshin-dong (Jeonju, South Korea). By then the sun had already reached the 10:00 position and the window sweat had evaporated. I could look out the window down the road to the SK gas station. It was busy with its Thursday morning visitors and the mountain in the distant looked a beautiful bright green of newly grown buds of spring. It was a rather typical morning. We took our time eating brunch, walking to school and preparing for class.  
Then I was presented with the most interesting situation - deportation. Who would have known that work visa's are to be issued by the city one intends to work in. Finally after a week of interrogation we were told to leave the country. As it turns out we were not officially deported, it would look bad on the country, so instead we had an exit order to leave the country in 20 days.  
And now, here I am in the hot, humid but otherwise gorgeous city of Malacca (aka Melaka). The city is beautiful, and the owner of this hostel is wonderful. His name is Howard. He is probably in his late 30's or early 40's. He's a long distant biker, without the build, and his personality is something of an energetic child with the curiosity of a kitten, all mixed into one really kind man. His hair looks as confused as the construction of the city It is wire like and shoots in all directions.  
If you've seen Malacca, then you know what I mean. Buildings are constructed around old housing. Rather than tearing down and building up, they simply add walls and turn the outside walls into indoor rooms. There are modern buildings up against ancient ones, incomplete concrete pours and re barb hanging out everywhere. This pretty much sums up Howard, the biker, the tour guide, party friend, the hostel owner.  
So, here I am... sitting at the Hostel in Malacca. Wishing I had a dart and a map - but this is good, real good. Instead of a dart I have Aileen (who made the trip plans well before I was kicked out of Korea.) Now, I'm just tagging along on this epic adventure of hers. I guess she's the metaphorical dart and the Lonely planet my map.

~ Jon

Monkeys and Mosques in Melaka

I woke up this morning to the sound of melodic Arabic floating out of tinny speakers. Yes, folks, there is a mosque across the street from my hostel , and so I heard the dawn call to prayer. It was cool, though it took me a minute to realize what it was.

We came here-- to Melaka, Malaysia-- last night after a bus ride from Singapore. Our last day in Singapore was nice...we tried to go to Sentosa, a beachy island off the coast, but took the wrong bus. We ended up instead at a nice park, and chilled there, ate, of course, and then headed to the bus station, backpacks and bags of take-out Indian food on our backs/in our hands. The bus ride was nice. There was an 8-year-old Indian-Malaysian girl in the seat in front of me that spent 2 hours talking to us, but she was fun, and once the sun set, she passed out asleep. And so did we.
But not before I saw groups of monkeys hanging out on the side of the road. They were cute! :)

It was dark when we got here, and we had somewhat confusing directions to the hostel, but map in hand, and aided by three very nice local women on our local bus, made it to Ringo's Foyer Guesthouse, our home for these two days. It's a nice place...hot (fans but no AC)...the owner is really chill. He offered to lend us money for dinner since we hadn't changed much money yet, but we ended up having just enough.

This morning, we got up and headed to the central area of Melaka. Melaka is an old port city, that was booming in the 13 and 1400s, and was then colonized by the Portugues, then the Dutch, both of whom contributed to its decline. By the time the British were done with it, it was a wasteland, but now it's been built back up to the 'glory of the past.' It's beautiful, with lots of European influence on the architecture but still distinctly tropical and Asian.

After exploring the historic areas, we found something we'd been looking for almost since we got to Korea...doctor fish! For those of you who don't know what these are, they are little fish that nibble all the dead skin off your feet. You just sit and dangle your feet into the water, and they go crazy. We spent 45 minutes with our feet in a pool of fish, and came out with miraculously healed feet. I had callouses all over my feet that I've had for years, and they're gone! It's amazing...I'm definitely a convert, and will look for this everywhere I go! It feels really cool too...it just tickles.

We've decided that we've seen all we need to see here...it was beautiful, but it's small, and very walkable, which is nice after Singapore. So, on to Kuala Lumphur tomorrow!!

Monday, May 4, 2009


Sorry, couldn't think of a more creative title for this :)

Singapore is really awesome, so far. It's basically a city-state of melded Indian, Chinese, Malay and colonial influences. We're staying at a hostel in Little India, which I love. The food is great and cheap, and the neighborhood is very vibrant. It smells good, it's colorful and it's full of music and people talking.

Today we explored Little India and Chinatown, which are really nice, especially since they are full of really well-preserved old buildings, storefronts from the times people came here as immigrants and migrant labor. They're very colorful and have intricate designs on the doors and windows. Singapore has done a good job of preserving its historic buildings and places.

In Chinatown, we ate at a hawker center (a cross between a foodcourt and a row of street food stalls) that we had seen on Anthony Bourdain's show No Reservations. If you haven't seen it, its a great travel food show. Anyway, he ate at this hawker center...chicken rice, specifically, from a stand we found but that happened to be closed for the day. But, we still ate chicken rice. It's a deceptively simple-seeming dish-- boiled chicken and steamed white rice, but they're both cooked with wonderful spices and seasonings, and come with sauces to put on. It was yummy!

Singapore can be a little expensive, though. After Chinatown, we headed towards the Botanical Gardens, which happen to be located on the other side of the fancy, designer part of town. I'm talking about beautiful new buildings, every designer you've ever heard of and many you haven't, huge tree-lined boulevards, fancy hotels and gourmet restaurants. Of course, Jon and I walked right through all of that, avoiding any tempation for overpriced snacks (a coffee at McDonalds costs $4!).

The Botanical Gardens were beautiful. The grounds are sprawling and nicely managed. Not too much mentionable, though. Your standard Botanical Gardens.

After that, we took a bus back into the city. We ended up at City Hall, a beautiful old building with a nice big cricket pitch in front of it, which happened to be in use. So, Jon and I watched a game of cricket, which I'd never seen before. We still couldn't quite figure out what was going on, but it was fun.

Anyway, the rest of the evening was spent walking in the parks along the river, and then in Chinatown snacking, as usual. But, I have to go now, because we're going to get dinner here in Little India...mmmm curries for $1!!

More Singapore tomorrow, then bus to Melaka, Malaysia at 5pm...

talk to you later!

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Looking back...and forward

So, I'm sitting here in this (really nice and free) internet cafe in Incheon Airport, waiting to leave Korea. I'm been thinking a lot lately about this whole experience, and about right before we came, when we were so excited to start this new adventure in a completely foreign place.

And Korea definitely is completely foreign. A friend recently asked me to describe Korea in one word, and I said "bizzare." It's fascinating, because on the surface it can seem similar to the West-- developed, technologically advanced-- but there are so many differences that go so deep into every part of the culture. Like I said, its fascinating, but also bizzare because everything seems to be twisted, the opposite of what you expect. That can be frustrating at times, but also sometimes wonderful. I'm always interested to see which things some cultures/societies/countries do really well, and what things they just haven't solved quite yet. Because its always different wherever you go.

What are my favorite things about Korea? Well, I love that half of the country is Buddhist, a religion that I'm very interested in. On that note, I also love that it seems, at least, that there is minimal tension between the Buddhist half and the Christian half. But that's my completely baseless observation. l

I love going to temples, which are gorgeous and peaceful retreats from hectic Korean city life. I love how their public transportation system...buses and trains...works so well. You can go anywhere from anywhere, and usually comfortably and always cheaply. I love the mountains and the coastline here. I love how you don't have to wait in lines anywhere...just take a number like at the butcher counter and sit down. At the bank, the post office, the doctor's office...everywhere the lines are usually so annoying. I love some of the food... just not all. I partially love that everyone works so hard to better themselves, but it does sometimes go too far.

As for what I don't like, I think I've done enough dwelling on that in the past nine months. It hasn't all been bad....in fact I've had a lot of fun and I don't regret for a minute coming. But I did get depressed, and I did hate my job.

Well, they're calling our plane.

Talk you from Singapore!!!

Monday, April 27, 2009

Why we have to leave the country

Ok, so some of you have been hearing/seeing random things about Jon and I and deportation, so I thought I should set the record straight.

Last year, right before we came here, we were having some issues with the visa because the Jeonju Reading Town wasn't finished with construction yet, so couldn't get a business liscence so couldn't sponser us. In order to get us here before the school started, Reading Town headquarters registered us under a Reading Town in Seoul. They told us they would change it as soon as we got here, and then we thought they had fixed it. They told us everything was ok with our visa etc. 

You might not think it's a big deal to be teaching with a different branch of the same school, but you need a visa from the CITY that you are working in also. We did NOT know that. It's not really something that comes up in casual conversation. We have our residents' cards like everyone else, only ours says "Immigration office of Seoul" in small letters at the bottom--we figured that everyone's went through Seoul, since it's the capital and general hub of activity. Nope. Everyone else's in Jeonju says "Immigration office of Jeonju." We find out after all of this.

Anyway, somehow (we're not really clear on this part) immigration in Jeonju found out that we'd been working illegally for the past 9 months. We went with our director to the immigration offices on Thursday and again on Friday to figure out basically how pissed they were at us and especially Mr. Lee, the director. 

To make a long story short, which I'm going to because I've told this story a million times in the past 5 days, they're ending our contracts and giving us 10 days to leave the country. Not technically deported, so we can come back, and it doesn't look bad on us. Jon's trying to wrangle some severance money out of headquarters since it's their fault, we have emails to prove it, and they're trying to blame it all on our director. 

So, that's the story. We're fine. Jon'll travel with me for a little, depending on how much he can get from headquarters....

Monday, April 20, 2009

The Great American Pasttime...Korean Style

I've been wanting to go to a baseball game here since before I came. But when we got here, we didn't know enough about what was going on, and we missed the end of the season. So, finally, the weekend before last, I made it to a game. 
Jon and I, and our friends Dan and Amanda, were planning on taking the train up to Daejeon (where the closest team is) on Saturday, going to the nearby zoo, then to the game and then to Costco for the bi-monthly stock-up. Well, on Thursday night we were at the Beer Cave, as is becoming usual, and we met a very friendly Korean man in an intense bicycling outfit. His name is Brad, and he turned out to be really cool. We talked to him a lot that night, and found out he is a certified SCUBA dive-master, loves to travel and loves trying different foods and beers (that is rare in Koreans). He was also quite funny. The conversation turned to Costco, and we mentioned we were going on Saturday. Brad professed his love for Costco, and volunteered to drive us there. We told him the plans for the day, and he got pretty excited. We exchanged phone numbers, and left unsure of whether he was actually going to go with us, and drive, so planning on keeping the original plan. 
Well, Friday night he called me and said he and a friend would drive us, that there were 2 others girls coming too, and that he'd pick us up at 9. Sweet! Going somewhere in an actual car is a luxury Jon and I have only had one other time in Korea, but it makes life much easier. 
Brad picked us up on time, and after taking the usual while to get out of town that comes standard with a road trip, we were on the way to Daejeon. Daejeon is about an hour away by car, and its a bigger city than I thought it was, having only been the two blocks from the train station to Costco. It has a population of 1.4 million, which is crazy since it's only the 5th largest city. There are at least 8 cities in Korea with more than a million people....and Korea's the size of Indiana!!  
The zoo was fun...there were beautiful leopards, tigers and panters, but also some small enclosures for other animals and a particularly sickly-looking polar bear. On the whole, average for Korean zoos. There were crowds of people throwing chips to the monkeys, who showed quite impressive catching skills while hanging onto the bars of the cage and sticking their skinny arms out. That can't be good for the monkeys. 
After the zoo, we headed to the baseball game. Outside the stadium, there were vendors selling boxes of fried chicken that came with sketchy-looking label-less plastic bottles of beer. And there was a Pizza Hut stand selling personal pan pizzas with sweet potato and chicken. And the ubiquitous stalls with dried squid and meat on a stick. And, of course, soju and beer. 
The inside of the stadium was a lot more like the baseball games I'm used to. Stands of people wearing jerseys, a fan section with lots of signs, little kids with baseball gloves, and tons of Thundersticks (the long, narrow plastic balloons used as noisemakers). There were kids on the field playing catch before the game, a ritual sometimes held after the game in the States, usually at minor-league parks. The players were warming up. There were cheerleaders on the field. Okay, maybe that part isn't the same as the games in the States. 
The game started, we passed around paper cups of that questionable beer, and I felt at home. True, there were more home runs than a usual MLB game (at least 6, probably 8). And the 7th inning stretch was not only moved to the 6th inning, but the players actually used it to get out on the field and stretch. And there were cheerleaders, and a man conducting synchronized cheers most of the game in the hard-core fan section. And there was dried squid and roasted squid but no hot dogs. But there was a pitcher, a catcher, fielders, a batter and runners. In short, it was baseball. Three strikes and you're out. Some things are sacred.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Oh, cherry blossoms

Think Asia, and you'll probably think about cherry blossoms in the first few seconds. They're right up there with samurais, tigers, tea and pagodas. So, in the spring in Korea, of course we had to go to a Cherry Blossom Festival.
First of all, I was thinking that cherry blossoms would be a bit over-rated. I mean, they're in everything...paintings, books, movies...talk about setting you up for disappointment. But cherry blossoms really are that awesome. Especially when they're on trees that line to road for miles, creating a canopy over the road. And when they line riverbanks. And when the wind blows, and it snows flower petals. Here there are a few varieties of beautiful blooming trees, with blossoms varying from pure white to bright pink. The white-flowered trees are my favorite, because the trees look like popcorn or cotton stuffing or I don't even know. They look comfy. 
Cherry trees had been blooming in Jeonju slowly for a few weeks, but they hadn't gotten to peak yet, where they take over the whole tree. It was still beautiful. When the weekend of the cherry blossom festival rolled around (the first weekend in April), they still hadn't quite peaked in Jeonju. Nonetheless, Jon, our friends Dan, Amanda, Ben, Talor, Helen, Ken and I boarded a train headed south for Hwagae, a little village at the foot of a huge mountain that boasted a festival that made the top 3 tourist activities of the Korean spring. 
After we got to the train station, we had to wander for awhile, trying to find the bus station. We eventually took a taxi to a small, old, dilapidated bus station that looked like an old school building, with old, dilapidated buses that could have been school buses in front. We bought our tickets for the bus that would take us to the festival, and waited around for it to get there. 
Once it did, and we were boarded along with everyone else going to the festival, the bus started along the road. It was supposed to be a 30 minute ride. After about 10, we ran into stop-and-go traffic that was more stop than go. It was backup from the festival. After an hour and a half crawling down a beautiful road along a river lined with cherry trees, we got out and walked, following the example of a Korean power-walked we'd been going at the same pace as for at least 30 minutes. We figured some fresh air was in order, and that walking would probably be more enjoyable anyway. 
It definitely was, and we walked the rest of the way. The festival grounds were a market in this tiny village. The market was apparently usually an attraction in itself, and it was sprawling, filled with fresh roots and mushrooms from the mountain, bags of tea leaves and pottery. The pottery was beautiful. Rustic jars, mugs and tea sets, delicate soju shot glasses and vases, all made of brown clay and decorated with white glaze, sometimes with a dash of pink or blue. I bought a nice, big, thick, heavy mug. I like my coffee or tea in something substantial. :) 
We spent the rest of the time wandering the market, then walking on a road justly labeled "scenic road of Korea." It was lined on both sides with cherry trees, which came together overhead. It would have been greater, had it not also been backed up with traffic. But we still enjoyed it, and walked until the sun started setting. 
We took a bus back to Jeonju. Getting on the first bus was an experience. We waited in an orderly line, which doesn't happen much in Korea. But then, when the bus came, everybody completely sprinted to the doors, pushing and shoving everyone else out of the way. I got pushed by a few scary old ladies, and elbowed by some guy with a little kid. Talor and I shoved along with them, and got seats, along with a couple other friends. 
When we got back to Jeonju, we had a nice big dinner of Dak Galbi. Cheesy, wonderful goodness.....that's something I'm gonna have to learn to make when I get home. Mmmmm.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

The Great Outdoors

A few years back, I was taking a nice springtime walk on the preserve at Catawba, reflecting on my life, and I realized that almost all of my childhood memories took place outside. The more I tried to remember being indoors, the more I realized how much of my life I spent outside. For this, I have my parents, especially my mother, to thank. 
I grew up in a place that was especially outdoors-friendly-- Burlington, Vermont. Not only did my family take advantage of every opportunity to spend time outdoors at home, but every vacation we took revolved around the outdoors-- the ocean, lakes, woods. We had a good-sized backyard with a huge willow tree that I would climb and spend hours in, and a garden and a deck in the back that we spent most of the warm-weather days on. We went to the beach, to the park, to the woods, and to parks all over Vermont. At the time, I might not have always wanted to go, but looking back I'm thankful we did. I remember spring evenings playing catch, summer mornings at the beach, and fall days picking apples. 
So these days, I'm thinking about my connection to the outdoors more and more. Living in a city such as Jeonju, with a nice but small river, some small parks but nothing really big or nice makes me feel the need to get out of town every weekend. I'm used to nature. I need it. 
I always feel bad for people who don't have this strong connection to nature, to the outdoors. Although maybe it would make life in a city easier. But I think it's so important, especially for kids, to get out into nature. To get dirty. To explore. To hug a tree. :) Climb a mountain. Explore a tide pool. 
In spring, there's a certain time of day I feel like I need to be at softball practice. Not need to like I might get in trouble if I don't go. But need to like a part of me just needs to be outside, working hard, getting dirty and doing something active. (Man. Just writing about it makes me sad. I'd better find a rec team in DC next year.) 
More importantly, as I'm sitting in my office on this very warm spring day in Korea, sun coming in the window, I feel like I'm a student again on one of those spring days when everyone begs the teacher to hold class outside. And then I see my students, here from 3:45-7. Missing the best part of the day. They should be outside. Because I'm pretty sure I gained more from running around outside all afternoon than I would have in a classroom. But that's a concept that's yet to catch on here. In the meantime, I'll remain frustrated at the system. I'm thinking of letting my class outside for 10 minutes today, if we finish all our work, and I probably will. I'm just pretty sure I'll get told I can't do that anymore in a day or so. But I think it's worth it. If I wasn't already leaving in a few weeks, and therefore don't want to cause any more trouble, I'd have the whole class outside. Just once. Learn names of trees and plants. Play a playground game. But it won't happen. I just hope their parents take them places on the weekends. 
Thanks, Mom and Dad, for taking me places. 

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Kai, Bai, BO!

"Kai, Bai, Bo" is the Korean version of rock, paper, scissors, and I am pretty sure that Koreans use that to decide everything from who will pay the check to the fate of the world. Well, maybe not that last one, but I'm not convinced they couldn't use it during unification.
Case in point. My students are highly competitive. Seriously. They will fight over nothing, and compete for who can finish their work first, and who gets the most answers right....etc. One of my classes assigns each other medals (gold, silver, bronze) in every exercise we do, and even created 3 more ranked categories since there are 6 people in the class. They started fighting over who finished first, seriously fighting, to the point of tears in some of them. So, after that episode, they started doing rock paper scissors to solve the disputes. This worked perfectly. No problem. They completely accept the outcome of this random game. It cracks me up. Something that used to make them fight to the death is now solved by rock paper scissors. 

Not only is RPS a way to solve disputes, but in Korea it's also a game by itself, with an added element. Whoever wins gets to flick the other one in the forehead. Hard. They practice. My students play it all the time. They've even gotten Jon to play with them, but I refuse to get flicked in the forehead. Or flick anyone else. But mostly get flicked. 
The best time I had playing this game...well I guess the only time I played...was waiting for the subway one night in Seoul. It was the night after Joe, Tara and Nate's first night in Korea, and we were heading back to the hostel. This drunk Korean guy came up to us and, after babbling something in Korean he started in with the rock paper scissors motion. So we got the point. So we all played a group game, and then the ones who lost got flicked in the head by, of course, the drunk guy, who, of course, won. We kept playing until the subway came, and getting flicked in the head. It was ... interesting. 

But my favorite RPS story has to be last week at this new bar we found. Our friend Carlos called us and told us where to meet him. The bar is this small dive in the basement of a random building only a few blocks from our apartment. Another foreigner discovered it a few weeks ago, and a week later there were tons of us. There is a lot of imported beer...rare in this city...and it's pretty cheap. The beer is just in fridges in the bar, and you just grab it and they add up the bottles. 
But there was an older Korean guy there with one of the foreigners, he was one of her students. He was really friendly, and bought us a round of drinks. Then, he was talking to the owner of the bar, and then he turned to us and said "Ok, this is the owner. We will play rock paper scissors. I win, he give this beer (shows us 5 bottles of $5 beer). I no win....uh...I will win." 

So they played. And he won. So we got free beer. And later we found out that all that happened if he lost was that he had to pay for the beer. 

I love rock paper scissors. It solves everything. :)  

Monday, March 30, 2009

The land before time...

This weekend, again part of my attempt to see everything worth seeing in Korea before I leave, Jon and I ventured south to find some dinosaur footprints. This is something I'd been wanting to do ever since I heard it was possible. I mean, how cool is that, seeing where dinosaurs walked around? So, we did the usual intense navigation of the only semi-helpful Korean tourism websites, and deciphered how to get there. And, as preparation the night before, we watched "The Land Before Time." Such a good movie. :) 
It took a looong time to get there. We took a bus from Jeonju to Jinju (haha), which took 3 1/2 hours of winding through the mountains. Let me tell you, for a country the size of Indiana, it can sure take a while to get though. Stupid mountains. :) Just kidding, I love the mountains. 
Once in Jinju, a bus to Goseong took about an hour, then came the annoying part. We were so ready to get there, and we just needed to take a local bus to the Dinosaur museum/fossil site. So we get on the local bus, and it starts going but the guy takes at least one wrong turn, and then picks up old ladies on the side of the street and goes out of his way to bring them to their houses, or at least their streets. I guarantee this happened, because he would drop them off, then we would back-track and take a different turn. So it took an hour to get there.
FINALLY we were greeted by giant statues of dinosaurs on a hilltop overlooking a beautiful coastline dotted with mountainous islands. ( Sidenote: If I didn't dislike Korea, I would live on the coast here. It's gorgeous, and the mix of mountains and sea I'm looking for.) After kind of deciphering the returning bus schedule (we would have to go to a different city but we were assured we would get back), we ate our lunch of tuna sandwiches and then ventured inside. At that point, we were like "This had better be freakin' amazing for all the time it took to get here!"
The museum was pretty cool, your generic dinosaur museum with skeletons, fossils and a cool animatronics exhibit of fighting dinosaurs. The statues were a bit disturbing, since almost all of the big dinosaurs had little dinosaurs ripping their flesh off in stunning life-like fashion. We actually saw one kid start crying after looking at one of the statues. It was disturbing. 
But the actual footprints were AWESOME! They were on the stone on the coast, which was gorgeous anyway, with rock cliffs and caves along the water's edge. You could see the footprints in a line, so it was like the dino had just walked by. At one place, you could step in them. Which of course, I did, and said "Hey! Look! I'm Litte Foot!" Good thing no one but Jon around me spoke English. I hope. 
  There were also lots of fossils in the space between the rocks, of those...oh, what are they called...things that look like beetles. I dunno. Anyway, let's call them prehistoric beetles. And there was a guy catching sea slugs and selling them (live) to people to eat. Sketch. Yuck. 
Then we walked along the coastline, sometimes on the rocks, exploring tide pools (my fav. pasttime) but then we were forced to walk on a wooden pathway because the other fossil area was protected. There were fossilized ripple marks from the water on the rocks, and more footprints. There was even part where the rock was all strangely bumpy and pitted, that was apparently from a whole bunch of footprints in one place, kind of like when it's muddy and you play soccer. Heehee, dinosaurs playing soccer. :) 
After seeing all the fossils this place had to offer, we made it back to the museum to wait for the bus. We got there 20 minutes before the bus was supposed to come, but after we waited for an hour in the spot the guys at the info booth told us to wait at, there was still no bus. In the meantime, we had been laughing at some policemen up the road who were directing traffic and very bored, because they were dancing to the music from the loudspeakers, and then making faces at/ saluting us. Jon finally asked the people at the info booth what was up, and they were equally confused. They told us to go wait at another bus stop down the road, so we went there. Waited for a while. No bus. Finally, one of the guys from the info booth, who was on his way home, picked us up. He was really nice, and he drove us to the bus station and went inside and helped us buy tickets. 
Of course, once we got to Jinju through the rush hour traffic, we had missed the last bus to Jeonju. So, we got on a bus to Namwon, which is on the way to Jeonju, hoping there'd be a bus from there. Which, luckily, there was. It just took a little time and a lot of buses. But it was worth it. Cuz I found Little Foot. Well, at least, his footprints. But if I follow the footprints......