Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Away from Korea

As the plane took off, the map came up and showed us heading toward Pyongyang. I figured I'd get my first and only look at North Korea. No such luck. The plane lifted and surged to the left, away from the Peninsula. Still, I had my forehead pressed to the window to look; shame everything was soon obscured by smog.

The flight attendants came around with orange juice, then an hour later, lunch. Gee, rice. It wasn't until after lunch that ominous gurgling began. Yeah, spicy food redux. And that's all I'm saying!

During the afternoon, we were asked if we wanted a snack. The green triangle thing looked nice. Oh... boy... a triangle of rice with a smear of something that smelled like tuna gizzards, all wrapped in seaweed. Good thing I had more orange juice. The Kimichi Origiri tasted fine with a gulp of juice, but the smell...

Okay, I have to say flying over Russia was a real buzz. The landscape from 30,000 feet is breathtaking. We skirted around Ulaan Bataar, Mongolia, over the Southern Syberian Plains and the Ural Mountains. The Earth shows off her colours in spectacular fashion when you're high in the sky staring down. It has an element of alienness that sparked some interesting world building ideas.

And still there's that wretched gurgling...

We flew over Copenhagen at two in the afternoon and landed at Amsterdam. Of course, I had to go from one end of the terminal to the other to catch the flight back to Copenhagen. Finally landed at seven in the evening, the sun in full glory. For me, it was 2 am Korean time.

Family reunions take time so I didn't actually get to bed until after ten at night. The last time I did an allnighter, I had a short story to write for the next morning's class at University. I had a real case of the staggers, like I was drunk without the benefit of the alcohol.

May in Denmark is stunning and so green. I took myself off for a walk down to the sea via a lovely forest. We got bush in Australia; Europe has forests. The scents, the sound of the birds, the light coming through verdant foliage, all so different and relaxing.

And it was a good thing I felt all loose and easygoing, for that night and last night, we had important parties - the main reason for this trip - and food to eat and... well, you know the rest. Tonight is leftover night and tomorrow? We shop! Um... if I can remember what currency I'm supposed to use. So far I've spent Aussie dollars, American dollars, Korean Won and Euros. Next up are Kroner. Guess I have to remember to keep it all separate.

Saturday, May 03, 2008


Here I am, in Denmark. Vordingborg, actually.

The trip over was long and arduous but interesting too. I love that you can look down on the world and marvel at it's beauty. Flying over Queensland, with it's lush forests, then Papua New Guinea - a pause to watch Juno - then cloud for the rest of the way to Korea.

I arrived at Incheon and caught a taxi into Seoul. Such a caring, attentive taxi driver who skinned me for $80 US dollars for the trip. Seoul is a city of bridges. Big bridges. Red bridges, ornate bridges... Everywhere over the river Han. And apartment blocks. Twenty, twenty-five story apartment blocks. The only house I saw was on the outskirts of the city next to rice paddies. Just the one.

Of course, the camera was in the luggage, in the back of the car, which was a shame because the sunset was glorious. We don't get that slow sinking of a red ball through a misty haze in the land of Oz. There, it's one minute the sun is up, then bam, it's gone and it's night.

The hotel wasn't as close to the markets as I'd wished, but that was okay, I was tired after the nine/ten hour flight. I figured I'd just head out, get something to eat and hit the sack for some sleep. (I can't sleep on planes if there's someone sitting next me.)

Typical of me, I like to wander the streets - yes, in a foreign city, on my lonesome, where I don't know the language. None of the eateries appealed to me, so I headed across the busy street to Pizza Hut. Surely I couldn't go wrong there. Ha, ha. The concierge didn't speak English and it was about this time that I realized I was the only Westerner. And I mean from the moment I got into the taxi at the airport, I saw no other Westerners. Anyway, after much finger pointing at the pictures in the menu, he nodded and spoke into a microphone. He pointed to an empty bench seat and signaled 10, as in minutes.

The familiar little box came with a red ribbon wrapped around it. I thought it sweet and gave him a smile. He bobbed his head and turned his attention to his Korean customers.

One thing I should have known: Koreans love their spices. I ate three-quarters of the beef risotto before I decided it was enough. Another thing I should have remembered: do not eat spicy food the night before a long, long flight.

The next day....

Up bright and early. By six-thirty, I repacked everything, hoisted the backpack (next time I travel, I'm getting wheels on my luggage), picked up the other two baggies and hiked down the block to the bus station. No getting skinned this time. The bus trip cost me $13 US dollars. Toldja I got skinned.

Back at the airport, I want my breakfast. And coffee. I really, really need coffee. All my bags are on a trolley and I wander around looking for food. I found a restaurant and figured I'd have the number 2. Behind me, to my left is the first Westerner I've seen since arriving. He's probably in his twenties, though I don't know his nationality. We share a sympathetic smile with each other.

"Number two, please." I found it helps to keep any talk to a bare minimum. The cashier gives me a receipt and I start to push my trolley towards a table.

"No! No!" The cashier dashes out from behind her counter, grabs my trolley and pushes it just outside the restaurant. She grabs a fishing net and tosses it over my luggage, gives me a chastising glance.

Not sure what to do now, I head towards a Korean woman who looks like she knows what she's about.

"I have this." I offer her the receipt. She points above her head to the digital display. It reads '16', my ticket is '18'. As I return to my seat, she says something to one of the chefs and giggles.

I really want coffee, but I wait for my food and set that on the table before I return to the woman. "Coffee?" I ask with a quiet desperation. She points behind me to the coffee machine at the other end of the cafe. I've taken five steps before she makes a remark to the chef... and giggles.

Back in my seat, I look at the tray: one small bowl with a yellow fruit, one small bowl with carrots, green stuff and CHILLI seeds, one small bowl with... um... a white vegetable and spices, one large bowl with vegetables artfully arranged, one covered silver bowl with rice, one bowl with a clear broth and green vegetables floating in it and one small container of dark red sauce.

Yep, looks interesting and the yellow fruit was tasty. I'm not a fan of mushrooms so I set aside what looked like mushrooms with my chop sticks. I'm having a fine time picking out individual items when of a sudden...

"No! No!" The woman rushes up to me, gives me a gimlet eye and picks up the spoon. She pours the red sauce onto the vegetables, then dumps the rice on top and stirs the whole lot together. To the left of me are a number of Koreans, watching. The woman pauses and I smile at her. She slightly returns the smile before looking over my shoulder in horror.

"No! No!" And dashes off to the young man behind me with his own breakfast to repeat the mixing. I had to suppress the impending chuckles, after all, she took this breakfast thing, real serious. Personally, all I wanted was Vegemite on toast, or some marmalade on toast, bit of porridge maybe?

While my visit to Korea didn't go as planned or expected, travel is what you make of it - the good and the bad all make for adventure, always keep your sense of humour. And it was a thought I hung onto on the flight towards Europe. For good reason...