Monday, January 21, 2019

Thailand, 2019: Koh Chang

As mentioned below, I spent my winter break in Thailand, with Bangkok as my starting point. I arrived at Don Mueang Airport on New Years Day.


I usually arrive at Suvarnabhumi, where at taxi to downtown runs 300 Bt. These guys wanted 900 Bt (!!!), so I took the city bus, about one hour, around the same time, for 50 Bt. Along the way, I caught a glimpse of a fairly famous building that is shaped like an elephant. The only decent shot I got was this head-on one. The gold dots are the tusks.


I stayed on Khaosan Rd, bushy-tailed young backpacker heaven, world-weary expat hell. I stayed just off the road where it was very quiet, a place called Yes Khaosan (single room, 600 Bt), which I can recommend--beware, the mattresses are thin. Here are some pics to provide a flavor of the road--it's the same as it has always been, only the prices have increased. In 2011, a Singha beer averaged 40 Bt, now it's 90 Bt.


That last is a portrait of the new king, which has replaced the old king in adorning every self-respecting Thai business.

On the third day, I took a white van from hotel in Bangkok to hotel on Koh Chang (Elephant Island). It left at 10 AM and arrived at the ferry landing at 4:30. I got to Happy Huts on the very south tip of Koh Chang at 7:15. The cost was 1000 Bt. Curiously, the same trip in reverse a week later was 600 Bt. (100 Bt is around USD 3.) Klong Kloi beach is a kind of community of a couple dozen bungalow properties and restaurants that share a fine stretch of SSW-facing beach. You will be greeted by this sign:


Family Huts is a new property that is well-managed by Ying, and is very solidly built. However, a second window is sorely lacking to allow good cross-ventilation--this is something I've noticed throughout SE Asia: older is better, as long as the bathroom is fully functional. In the past, I've stayed at Porn's Bungalows at Kaibae, but I'm glad I got to explore Klong Kloi.


So, the steel is made in Vietnam. Interesting, but what am I to make of this information?

As I mentioned, the beach is quite nice, and not very busy, especially considering this is high season. The weather wasn't great at first, as the remnants of the southern typhoon reached us. Not in the form of rain, but high waves. Look at this, from Saturday:


Here's what it looked like once the sea calmed:


A really great beach. There are loads of chill places, but my favorite soon became Chan Siam Bar. That's Chan in the last one.


I have taken and posted hundreds and hundreds of food shots on this blog, and more than a hundred, I estimate, of Thai food. So, I'll just choose two pics of Western food that were simply stellar! The first is an "infused" (meaning marinated, spiced beef) cheeseburger for 235 Bt (about USD 7) at The Journey, run by a young Brit from Stoke who really knows his way around a grill. His possibly tops mine, but partly due to an amazing bun he has made at a bakery on White sands.

The second is obviously a pizza, pepperoni mushroom for 250 Bt from a place--sorry, I can't remember the name--right by Family Huts. Four kinds of mushroom and some legit mozzo. Honestly, I cannot remember a better pizza in my life!


There ya go! Twenty-one pictures documenting twelve days in … if not paradise, a warm, sunny beach on the Gulf of Siam, a definite contrast from an icy Seoul, temperature of -16 C on the morning I left Incheon.

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Christmas Cake 2018, and I Meet My Hero

Granted not much has been going on here in my Patch of Seoul, but not a year has gone by that I haven't proudly posted a photo of my Christmas Cake, a delightful Korean tradition. To wit:


Taking advantage of a day without a schedule, I popped over to Incheon Airport to buy baht and dollars for my upcoming vacation to Thailand, which I anticipate will be a restful two weeks on a warm beach of Koh Chang, east of Bangkok, near the Cambodian border. It was here, at the airport, that I had a photo opportunity with my idol, hanging out at a little restaurant Arex mezzanine. If I had a chicken leg for every time I heard someone in this country (and some other countries, too) walk past me and murmur to their friend, "KFC!", I would be buried in chicken legs. Come to think of it, not a bad way to go.


I had hoped to include some pics of the MagLev train, but it was quite a disappointment: the entire journey 12 minutes, 5 stops, with a maximum speed of 78 kmph. So instead, here is a photo of an Arex plush doll usurping seating that is supposed to be reserved for pregnant women. And looking very self-satisfied about it.


And Merry Christmas to All!

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Let's Flock to Seoul without Any Definite Plans

I realize most visitors to the Seoul Patch are anxious to peruse photos and commentary on my trip to China, but I am still in the midst of the laborious task of sorting the over 900 pics I took during the two week sojourn. Meanwhile, my office at work took a "team-building" trip to Seoul's City History Museum and it was a much easier process to pare down the twenty shots I took to about a dozen.


To my mind, the best thing about this museum is the large scale model of the city (or most of it, anyway), part of which is covered by glass floor. In the last pic above, you can see the World Cup Stadium, and in the pic below, my apartment building is A, the school is B (click to see a larger version). Pretty cool.


There are several smaller "mock-ups" including a classic mixed use building--stores below, apartments above.


There are also full scale transplants including a typical tiny restaurant and a flat from the mid-eighties. "Steve the Butler" on the top shelf there, not a toy I remember in America. And I would.


Lots of other cultural effluvia like this lovely fashion poster.


The exterior space is pretty well used, including some architectural education, a minibus from the 1988 Olympics and old Seoul tram car.


A display about the way Seoul grew and grew after the end of the Korean War included this interesting panel:


The Seoul Museum of History is located midway between Seodaemun and Gwanghwamun stations on the 5 line. It's free. If you have a QR scanner, you can read a fair amount of English info about the exhibits.

Monday, September 10, 2018

China 2018: Highlight Reel

Well, it isn't exactly, but I threw this together after I had a relatively easy time with the "Can Do Kid" video below. This was a lot more time-consuming, and I can't explain the two bits of black-out, since they don't show up in any file except what YT puts up, but it took hours and hours, so I'm damned if I'm going to do it again. The soundtrack works though.


Direct link here: https://youtu.be/2BgV0J2Rv4w
EDIT: Weirdly, this video fails to show up in a lot of cases (because of the music--Perfect Day by Lou Reed) so I quickly changed out the music for a second version. It also has a couple of black-outs, but they are different from the first version. But, I'm done with this video, though I still think it's worth watching.


Direct link here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hik3hNlNq9U More on my China trip to come.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Summer Camp Video

I'll have a thorough rundown of my awesome two weeks in China soon, but this week I was back at work, running a summer camp called "Movie Makers." Usually, the students write and film a short comedy or drama, but this group were frankly not strong enough in English to carry it off, so instead we made a video to accompany the well-known song "Can Do Kid" by David Plummer and John Archambault.


Go here to see it full-size on YT: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jbCmi9zlqhY

Thursday, August 9, 2018

So You Wanna Visit China ...

… Well, good luck!

Turns out, I'm going on Saturday, for two weeks. This will be my fourth visit to China, and by far the most difficult and annoying to arrange. Oh, not the hotels, flight tickets or sightseeing locations, no.

Just. The. Visa.

As I mentioned, I've been to China on three previous trips. All of them have been awesome. I balked (and continue to balk) at the visa cost nowadays--somewhere in the neighborhood of 180 USD--but in obtaining the visa for this trip, that was the least of my concern. Before my first trip, the government had changed the procedure for procuring a visa such that instead of going to the Chinese Embassy at Myeongdong, you applied at any number of "agents", most of them located within a ten minute walk of the Embassy as you walk up the hill from the subway station.

Today, as far as I can determine, there is only one way for an American living in Korea to get this visa, and I'm going to give you the inside poop, if you are interested. Actually, even if you aren't. Sadly, this information is not readily available on any website I know of, certainly not the Embassy or the CVASC (whatever that may be--just kidding, it's the China Visa Application Assistance Center). But it is the CVASC to which you must make your way.

There are two branches of this quasi-official organization in Seoul, and the closest one to me is located at Seoul Station, Line 1 of the metro. Go to Exit 8, but instead of going outside, enter the Seoul Square Mall. Go around the corner to the first escalator, then turn left and go up the second escalator. Turn right and follow the signs to CVASC and take the dedicated elevator to the sixth floor.

Now, get into the "Information" line. The worker there will look over your documents and give you a ticket number--or FAR MORE LIKELY--tell you what documents you don't have so you can go away and get them. There is a chance that you merely need to print some stuff off, so you can go to the bank of printers (which in my experience have a spotty record of being online). 100 W per page, but 200 W up to ten pages.

What documents do you need? I hear you ask. Of course, there are the ones we all expect to need when we go to apply for a visa, to wit:
    application
    passport
    passport style photo
    Korean visa with at least six months
    ARC
    Copy air ticket with ongoing flight
    Name of hotel/guesthouse
    Money
I've been loads of places, some of which require a visa, and that is the most I've been asked to provide. In fact, on my previous trips to China, that is all. However, the young ladies (all of them were) were quick to point out that there are new Chinese regulations for visas. Annoyingly, none of the information that follows was readily available on the CVASC website. But here is what else you need:
    Copy of passport front page
    Certificate of Entry (to Korea) for the last year
    Copy of hotel bookings for each and every night of your stay
    Itinerary of your trip--there is a form you must complete in detail
Okay, it's only a few things, but bear this in mind: 1) none of this is listed anywhere I could find on the website; 2) they won't make a copy of your passport, even though they make a copy front-and-back of your ARC; 2) my passport-type photo--good enough for my actual passport was too small to suit them, so I had to waste a larger shot (maybe 2 mm bigger); 3) you won't have kept your Certificates of Entry to Korea, but you can (have to) go to the Immigration office at Seoul Global Center at Jonggak sta. where they'll give you your all-time list for 2000 W cash; 5) your hotel bookings must match your passport--we had to change my booking.com account and redo the bookings so they had my full name--this was a pain in the royal ass. I asked my "assistant" if this was really necessary, as it was obvious that this is me, and my own booking--she replied, "They (Chinese Embassy) will definitely decline this visa"; 6) for the itinerary, you can't put "sightseeing", they want a specific place (just one...) for each day. Thankfully, I had brought my notes for the trip and didn't have to make up very much BS.

It is difficult to express the level of annoyance this process engendered, and I did my best to contain myself, but at one point I did tell the nice young lady who frankly wanted nothing more than to help me get this visa that I've been to China three times before and never had to do any of this nonsense! She could only say that it is "new regulations". It also engendered worries on my end that the application would be declined--did putting "cooking class" not count as a "landmark"? Is "The Bund" a good enough description for a day in Shanghai? etc.

The stupidest or most ironic thing about this whole process is that as an American, the visa--which is legally and (almost) irrevocably in my passport--is good for 10 years, with sixty days on each visit. All of it without going through ANY of this nonsense of writing out a detailed itinerary, printing out hotel bookings that I can cancel the next week, or making a copy of my passport page.

It's almost definitely as though they don't want my tourist dollars, which are the easiest dollars for any country to make. Unless they have something to hide. Please, just take my $180 and be done with it, like everywhere else.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Travel List

In three weeks, I will have been in Korea for ten years.

When I go home, or talk to family, they occasionally raise the question, "When are you coming home?" The easy answer is, "Well, I just went home X years ago (at the moment: less than one)." Of course, that's not really the answer to the question they were asking.

For whatever reason, they don't seem to understand the more complex answers to the question. I wouldn't have understood it myself until the last few years. Yes, I do enjoy living in Korea--it's a cool change of pace. But I suppose San Fran or Austin or NYC or Oklahoma City would be, too, compared to semi-rural Georgia.

And, I suppose it's not fair to say, "Well, I can't possibly abide being under the dominion of the Circus-Peanut-In-Chief!" After all, when I came to Korea, Barack Obama had not even been elected yet. Also, it's not fair to say Korea is particularly more liberal or welcoming of foreigners or anything like that--hell, abortion is illegal in this country...

Still, I have a pretty good gig, where grading papers (the bane of my previous existence as a "real" teacher) just isn't a thing. Sure I work hard planning lessons, creating materials, trying to improve the educational outcomes of my students, as I always have done. But at 4:30, I'm finished, and get to have my own life. Surf around the blog to see what life for me is like here.

But the coup de resistance, the thing Americans--who have probably never even been to the Grand Canyon or the Gateway Arch (neither have I, BTW!)--don't get is the ready availability of travel for me. I'll go tomorrow to get my Korean visa renewed, and then Wednesday to get a visa for my upcoming two week trip to China. It'll be my fourth trip there. "Travel List" is the name of the post, and here it is (remember to click to see the full size if you can't read it):


I just have to shrug and say, "Livin' the dream."


EDIT:
Today, in furtherance of getting my visa for my upcoming China trip, I had to take a side trip to Immigration to get a copy of my "Certificates of Entry" for the last 12 months. Never had to do that before ... on three previous trips. New regulations are making tourism to China untenable--apparently, they only want to make American dollars by selling poisonous shampoo and substandard melamine.

Anyway, gather round. So, I took the side trip to get these documents--by the way, nothing was mentioned on the website about this requirement, or the photocopy of passport ID page, or copies of hotel bookings (none of which were needed in the past)--and found the only document that Korean Immi provides is a complete list of all your entries and exits. For 2,000W, chump change compared to the 200,000W China wants for my visa. I'm getting side-tracked …

I decided to verify the list I provided above, which was mainly based on blog posts and memory, and found I have left off two trips, and want to set the record straight, as follows:
August, 2013 -- Thailand, Koh Samui
April, 2017 -- Cambodia, PP, Kampot

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Korean Fast Food

Of course, Seoul being a very modern place, there are loads of fast food restaurants like KFC (first to blanket the country), Subway (world's largest fast food chain), Burger King, Mickey D's, and even Quiznos. But Koreans have had their own version of fast food for centuries, including street vendors carts called pocha 포차, short for pojang macha 포장마차 (meaning covered wagon).

But today I got my lunch from a newly opened place across from my building. It's not technically a pocha, since it's in a building, but the term has come into use for such places, as long as they offer the usual fare. Among the items they sell are o-deng, or fish spam, which I don't much care for, and sundae 순대, or pig blood sausage, which I do. Like so many pocha, ddeokbokki 떡볶이 is a staple. It's a kind of rice cake stewed with spicy red sauce, slivers of o-deng and a sprinkle of pa 파, spring onion.


Pictured is the "double set", which is technically for two people at 9,000 W. But I wanted a full load of sundae, there in the middle, with steamed offal--yum! On the right is a fried sampler of batter-fried stuff, 튀김, including crab (probably imitation), sweet potato, mandu 만두 dumpling, and kimbap 김밥 or seaweed roll.


맛있게 드세요!

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Flyer

People between jobs do piecework. They do any number of things, apparently one of them being handing out flyers in front of subway station entrances.

As a foreigner, most of these hawkers don't bother with me, which is fine by me--unless they're handing out something useful like candy or those packages of moist towelettes. One time I got a pair of socks. But usually, they are selling something mainly Koreans are interested in buying: new apartments, rubbish miracle cures, restaurant openings.

Today, outside Gayang sta. the young lady was quite persistent in trying to get me to take her flyer, so, a bit grudgingly, I took it. I glanced at it once inside the station, looking for a recycling bin, and understood why.


That translates as "Skinny Gym". I kept it anyway, I'm not sure why.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

My Saturday Night

It's easy to see I don't blog very much anymore, and I feel generally that that's because I've pretty much said everything I have to say about living in Seoul. Most posts nowadays are about my vacations. I'm still enjoying my life in Seoul, however, so I decided to do a little photo essay about my Saturday evening. There's not much to it, but here it is.

Dinner of "bone-in hangover soup" 뼈해장국, at one of the favorite restaurants of mine in the neighborhood that specialize in it. This place is a postage stamp of a restaurant, with only six tables. The name reads in English "Deungchon station potato soup experts"; it's called potato soup, even though it will probably not contain potatoes, because the bones are said to look like potatoes.


Some people just take off the meat from the bones as they eat, and others, myself included, strip all the bones and toss them into the bone can that you can see at the end of the table. It is fairly low-fat meat from next to the backbone of the pig, and very flavorful.


After that, a stroll down the restaurant row to my favorite coffee shop, Caffe Bene, for my regular order and weekend indulgence, a caramel frappe, which is more or less coffee ice cream.


By now, it's 8:30, so I head home to polish off the evening by polishing off some beers, accompanied by, well, this post, and maybe some YouTube.


Saturday night in Seoul.