Monthly Archives: May 2012

Seeya Korea…Hello NY

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My last days in Seoul were pretty good. A chef from California and I went out to eat and it was great, a big tray of seafood which we cooked at the table. Big shrimp, clams, oysters, scallops and some other things from the sea.  I bought some Korean gifts and got my stuff ready for my flight in the morning.
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I am very happy to get back home and I am looking forward to Cape Cod. The last night in the hostel was very peaceful. I packed, decided to check in my suitcase and backpack at Inchon Airport. This is new to me as I always take my backpack with me into the cabin.

On my last night in Korea I had a wonderful talk with a young lady from Hong Kong. She asked me about my family and I do not know why, I told her everything.. How I met my wife, our quick marriage, my love for my family, and all the problems over the years.

I told her that I am very happy and positive about my life and hope to continue to travel for the next few years.

Up early, walk to the metro, an hour on the train, check in with Asiana, out of Korea, through security and after a coffee and donut I am on a 777 to cross the Pacific…

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Over the ocean to my home

This was a tremendous 8 months on the road, so many cities and experiences. To all the people I met along the way….THANKS FOR THE COMPANY, it would have been a boring trip without you being there.

I hope to heal the problems I have caused with my sons and hope to get to know my grandkids again.

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Flying out of JFC

Wow!!!!!!!!

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Touring Korea and some notes

I got up way early and left Busan for Gyeongju, I can spell it, but can not pronounce this City. The bus ride was short and it felt good to get out of another monster mega-city.

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Joe from Jersey and the Lone Ranger

I walked this town for 4 days and enjoyed the hostel very much. This is an historical town with many burial mounds where old Korean Emperors are buried. One of my room mates was a young Korean/American from Jersey…Joe Lee. He spoke Korean and that helped. One day we walked in the rain through a beautiful park which was the site of the old palaces…

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Another day we went with Lucas, a German electrician, to the ocean. We had a nice noodle clam chowder lunch and then walked to a martial arts school/temple. This place was way up in the mountains and I am impressed that I can still handle these temple hills. They had a great exhibition of martial arts. I was so glad that my friend Joe got us there.

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Martial Art Demo

I hated to leave, but I planned to go to Andong to see a UNESCO cultural village. A 2 hr. train ride and I got to Andong. I caught a bus to Haehoe Village and as soon as I got there I felt the whole trip was worth the effort. A beautiful old farm village next to a river with plenty of beautiful High School kids walking around.

The highlite of the village was a traditional mask dance. The hour show was excellent and bawdy by Korean standards. They had a phony cow which lifted its leg and “peed” on the crowd. The drums and costumes were so good.

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Mask dance

A long train ride to Seoul, a couple of subway lines and now I am at Hungdek University area for the night. Off to see Sean again at Sa Chang Ri tomorrow.

On the train I took some notes about Korea….they include:

-people here obey traffic lights to cross the road
-they do not check to see if you have a train ticket…never seen that before anywhere
-plenty of old people are really bent over and are still walking around
-the train conductor bows to the passengers when he leaves each car
-you can not find a sim card here for your phone…all the kids have new Samsung Android phones
-3/4 of Korea is mountains
-commercial products are very expensive…food and transportation not so bad
-there are plenty of churches here with crosses, but they do not look like churches
-people are reserved here, really did not see much Public Displays of Affection…young girls really show off their legs and a great number of people change their hair color.

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Nice sweet Korean melons

Busan

Busan is Korea’s second biggest city, a port on the south-east coast. Took a very fast train from Seoul, then a subway to the city center. I was surprised to find my hostel in a gigantic apartment building. The view of the city from the 15th floor was powerful.

My four days here were happy ones. My room mates were from Jersey and KL, Malaysia. I had some company to wonder around the city. The area where I stayed was a place of stores, cafes, love hotels and bars. I found a place..Old Records Bar…which I enjoyed. They played some old stuff, way too loud. The record quality was so much better than mp3s.

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Old Records Bar

I caught a bus to an island off the city and visited an area which has a nice tourist park. They have a trolley to take people along the coast. You can see some Japanese Islands from this park.

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I went with my Jersey/Korean friend to the Busan International Short Film Festival Opening Ceremonies. This festival is one of the most important in the world. The Cinema Complex is new, modern and lite up beautiful when we arrived. We had no tickets, dressed like backpackers and just wanted to get in to see the show.

We were surprised to find a red carpet, television cameras and many photographers. We were ushered right up the center of the red carpet, right up to the front of the large auditorium. People were wondering who we were.

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Once they found out we did not have tickets, we were escorted out. We eventually bought some tickets and really enjoyed the show. 3 movies, a live band and some speakers, including the Mayor.

I visited the famous Busan Fish Market. We found a nice place to eat and I really enjoyed the most perfect oyster I have ever had in my life.  I am starting to enjoy Korean food, including kimche, pickled cabbage.

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Korean Food

One day I took the subway out of town to visit an old temple up in the mountains. My legs are still working and I can climb these temple hills.  I keep telling myself…you have been in Asia for half a year..no more temples.

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Another Temple

My time was great in Busan, but I had to move on to Gyeongju, a much smaller place with plenty of old things to see….and more temples!!¡!

Sa Chang-Ri, South Korea

Sean Upton, my English friend from Maurices, was at the little bus station waiting for me.  He lives in a little village up near the North Korean border.  Sean brought me up to his apartment on the hill which is very nice a modern.  The first night we went to a nice place to have a big fish and seafood dinner.  It was a nice introduction to this place.  Sean has been teaching English since last August and has 3 months to go on his contract.  He plans to travel with his girlfriend through much of the same places in Asia where I have been.  He is also going to take a train from Beijing to Moscow and be home for Christmas.

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Korea is different than China.  It has way too many signs, plenty of building styles and you can see that the west has been here for a long time.  The village I am in is filled with military and there are helicopters flying over all the time. The border is only 10 miles away..

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Sean and another teacher Nathanael (from Ohio) took me to Seoul for the weekend.  We stayed near a large university and walked around the crowded streets filled with students.  We visited the war museum which tells the story of the Korean War.  It is very well done with plenty of media displays.  This was childrens’ day in Korea and everybody had their child out to see the museum.

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 We also visited the Palace of the Emperor.  This reminded me of the Forbidden City in Beijing.  It was a beautiful day and the walk through Seoul was plenty of fun.  A visit to a tech center to look at camera’s and Samsung tablets and then we were on a bus back to their little village.

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On Tuesday I will take a bus to Seoul and then a bus or train to Busan on the south coast.  My trip has 2 more weeks and I continue to enjoy everyday off my travels.

Korea

I got up early at my Beijing Hostel, got a taxi to the airport, checked in and the flight was empty, and only 1 1/2 hours long.  Customs, the subway and bus ride were easy, as Sean sent me great instructions.  So after a day I was now in a small village town near the North Korean border.

What I found in China

This was printed in the Altamont Enterprise Newspaper

Kunming, China
April 28, 2012
By: Robert John Simpson

Ever since I retired, I have enjoyed going to remote places in the world. I left Knox last October on my second round-the-world trip. After a month each in Morocco, South Africa, Thailand, Viet Nam and the Philippines, I found myself in China. My first impression, after landing in Beijing, was that China was modern, clean and massive.

China is in a building boom. They are building massive concrete  apartment, mall and office buildings all over the country. The scale of this effort is staggering. Construction cranes are everywhere. These cranes should be the national symbol of China.

As this was my first visit to China, I did all the tourist things while I was there. In Beijing I walked around Tianamen Square and the Forbidden City. I also walked on the Great Wall and saw the body of the late Chairman Mao.  I attended the Beijing Opera and an acrobatic show which reminded me of the old Ed Sullivan Show; 15 ladies bike.

The amount of people walking the streets here is just incredible. They also use electric bikes to get around. You need to be careful, as you can not hear them coming. Public transportation is available everywhere. A ride on a clean and crowded bus in Beijing is $.15.

Couples walk around with their one perfect child. I saw a couple of twins and wondered how that worked with the one child per family rule.  I did not see many active religious facilities. Once in awhile you see a monk or two walking in the cities.

After Beijing, I went to Xi’an, a large city of 8 million people. This was the end of the Silk Road which linked China and Europe. The old town is surrounded by a massive stone wall. This wall is 10 miles long and well maintained. I rode a bike around the city on top of the wall.

I took a bus outside Xi’an and visited the Emperor’s terra-cotta army. These buried statues were discovered in the 1970’s and they are still digging around the area looking for more.

Many of the buildings, walls and streets here are made with cut grey stones and bricks. This reminded me of the Venetian structures on the Greek Islands. I saw many new inter-state type highways being built. One will link China with the Tibetan region. There are many new rail and power lines under construction. The trains I rode were smooth, on time and modern.

I saw plenty of dogs here. Most are small Pekenese types. I also saw huskies, golden retrievers, and English sheep dogs. The dogs are pampered and on leashes. And that is all I am going to say about dogs.

I then took a train to Chengdu, another mega city, and visited the pandas. They are beautiful creatures who sit around all day and eat bamboo. They did forget how to reproduce.

I then went to Dali, Shangri-la and Lijiang. These areas have a great deal of Tibetan influence. Many people still wear the traditional native dress. These areas of southwest China are in the mountains and over 10,000 feet high. The people who live there dance in circles in the public squares. People seem to like beating on drums and like all of Asia, kareoke sing-a-longs are everywhere.

I visited many tourist areas and they are filled with middle class Chinese tourists with expensive Canon cameras around their necks, for some reason many were wearing big cowboy hats. Just like everywhere on earth, most people have a smartphone in their face. The internet was a problem for me in China.

I consider myself somewhat a computer nerd. I have my android phone and my netbook with me. Due to the Great Web Wall of China, I could not access Facebook, You-tube and Twitter. My Google email worked off and on. My blog and image files were not available in China.

Not everything is great here. The eastern part of China is covered with industrial haze. Some areas are really filthy and the public bathrooms have great room for improvement. Also, Chinese like to spit. Smoking is everywhere and hard to avoid. They are just getting warning signs on cigarette packs.

As I was on a limited budget, I stayed in hostels. This made it easy for me to meet tourists, including Chinese ones. I was lucky to go out to dinner with my new Chinese friends. The food here is great, fresh and somewhat mysterious to me. Plenty of rice, noodles, and fish. I bought a bread roll and when I bit into it, I found chicken feet. The food is not like the kind you get in upstate New York.

The only problems I had in China were due to language and text. English signs and menus are rare out of the big cities. I now know about 10 Chinese words.

I thought things would be cheap in China. After all that is where most of the stuff we buy comes from. !I was wrong. I went to a movie in Beijing and it cost $20.00; I did not price the popcorn. The service here is amazing. I got a haircut in Konming. First they gave me a cup of tea, then a hair shampoo and head massage, then the haircut, then another shampoo, and finally a last bit of trim and blow drying. It cost about $6.00.

I found the Chinese people warm, friendly and family orientated. They are interested in the USA but there is a real lack of knowledge of our culture. Many did not know about our movies, TV shows and music.  I think the same is true of people in our country. It does seem China is really serious about higher education. I met a student who is at a university with 40,000 students.

My visit to China was somewhat easy, interesting and very educational. If you are in good health, have a little extra money and want a real adventure, I would suggest a tour of China. I did it on my own, but there are tours you can take.

After all the trips I have been on, I still have not found any where nicer than the beautiful Helderbergs.

Robert John Simpson has lived in Knox for 40 years, is now retired from the New York State Office of Emergency Management and is planning more travel next year. He maintains the website helderweb.com where his blog and travel pictures can be found.