Sunday, June 18, 2006

James sells his soul to Seoul, SOUTH KOREA

Annyeong Haseyo!

Well, here I am, finally in Seoul, in what is looking to be a really
exciting and interesting year for me teaching English to adults,
predominently business people and even CEOs of big companies. Anyway,
just thought i'd write my initial thoughts on Seoul...


The food in Korea is an acquired taste - everything is so spicy!
Almost every meal comes with a collection of Kimchi - which are
several small servings of pickled and spiced seafood and vegetables.
This may also come with cold soup and rice. Anything else complements
this basic arrangement of dining. So you can see why after a few days
I was starting to crave burgers and fries...

Other more notable food is a dish called Bimbimbap, which is a
collection of sliced vegetables and other unidentifiable substances on
rice, with a fried egg on top. Usually served in a sizzling hotpot,
you pour a generous amount of red pepper paste on top and mix it all

But nothing is better than the Korean BBQ. In these places, at the
centre of a table is embedded a gasfire stove, where you would put in
assorted types of meat, marianated or freeze dried at times, along
with a generous helping of garlic. And of course the everpresent

The coffee is absolutely awful here! It's a very weak, hazelnut
flavored tasteless brown water - but apparently people acquire a taste
for that too. I personally doubt it.

Then there's the alcohol Where else can you buy a 375ml bottle of
soju (similar to vodka) for 1US dollar? That and the really nice beer
they have called Cass has resulted in many nights where "just going
for one beer" ends up at a 4 o'clock in the morning having incoherent
conversations smelling of garlic from the Korean BBQ you decided to
have with all your mates and ever more resolving in your mind that
"once i'm more settled working i'll stop spending so much going out
and having fun".

Korea as an interesting form of entertainment - bangs (meaning rooms).
Everywhere there are DVD bangs, PC Bangs, Karaoke Bangs, Boardgame
Bangs, etc. What they are are little rooms that people hang out in
with privacy any thing they want to do. DVD bangs are notorious for
being used for shagging since most Koreans live at home and they can't
do their naughty business anywhere.

One annoying aspect of the bars in Korea is that most of them require
you to order side dishes, as this is how most of them make their
money. This doesn't sound too bad, but when you take into account that
a side dish would cost on average $15AUD, when all you want is a beer,
it's pretty frustrating. After a while though you start to learn where
there are other bars that allow you to order beers only, usually the
ones highly frequented by foreigners.


Seoul has a substantial number of foreigners, either working as
military, or as teachers. There are alot of American GIs around, who
have a curfew of midnight to return to their army base, because they
used to cause alot of trouble getting drunk and getting into fights.
I'm not surprised, not wanting to critise Americas military, but most
of them are really a group of meatheads that follow orders. Most
people (other foreigners and Koreans) generally avoid them.

The foreigners live in Haebonchon (where I currently reside), the
cheapest area of Seoul, which is interesting because this area is
quite close to the city centre. It's a very hilly concrete jungle with
the US military base right in the middle, but having the Seoul Tower
above on the very top of the hill does add a good point of reference
and illuminates nicely at night.


I've lost count of the times that I would be ordering a meal with
other foreigners, and when the waiter/tress comes, ignoring the orders
from my friends, would look directly at me, as if I'm supposed to
order for them or something. After spouting some words to me in
Korean, I would try to explain to them that I don't know Korean, do
you speak English? The waiter/tress would stare blankly at me for a
moment, then repeat what they said originally but louder. It would be
quite amusing if it didn't happen so often.

My favorite was when I went into a restaurant and asked the waitress
if I could have an English menu. Her response was to look at me
quizzically and ask "why?"


Is a very big event here, so it's a shame Korea failed to make it to
the next round. Whenever Korea were playing (the matches usually
showing at 4am), the city center would be filled with thousands of
Koreans wearing red shirts, glowing devil horns and red plastic blow
up sticks (Korean team being the Reds), chanting "Dae-A-Ming-Go (sic)"
which means "Korea". Of course me buying a red shirt myself didn't
help seperate me from the locals - my friends kept losing me; all i
needed to do is turn around and i'd vanish into the crowd!

Koreans are very well behaved. When the lost the game to Switzerland
and failed to quality, there was no anger or rioting, just a massive
silence throughout the several thousand strong crowd. It was sad to
watch, as they all went home very quiet and withdrawn.

The Korean people have truely won my heart, they are endearing, social
and hospitable people. Crime is at an all low here. For a city of 10
million the overall effect makes you feel like you're in a gigantic
community - you feel so welcome and comfortable even though its
crowded and you're anonymous. The city is also very spread out, so
there are not many skyscrapers that make it look like a compact city.
The big hill in the centre, the huge palaces dotted around the place
(which I have yet to see) and the river prevents any compact
construction of skyscapers, which makes it feel even less of a big
city and more a (very very) big town.

Korean girls are very fashionable and beautiful, slim and wear makeup
with style.

Anyway, next email i'll write more about my work, housing, friends and
a Korean girl named Sammy. Stay tuned.

Monday, June 12, 2006

James' first taste of the Orient - Malaysia

Hello everybody!

I'm in Korea at the moment and also I'm a little hungover writing this
so forgive me if this email sounds disjointed and long winded...

Well, after an anticlimatic farewell to friends and family and
finalising arrangments, I had to wait a long 3 weeks twiddling my
thumbs and waiting impatiently for the visa process to be complete.
Finally after much delay I got the E-2 visa (to work in Korea) and
booked the first ticket I could out of Australia!

I ended up getting a flight that stopped over in Kuala Lumpur. So I
thought i'd spend a couple of days there first so I get a good idea of
what an Asian country is like (since i've never been to one before),
and then start work in Korea.

So Kuala Lumpur....

KL, despite the fact that the weather just can't make up it's mind
between sun or rain (every 30 minutes it alternates!), the temperature
and humidity is as thick as a sauna (I was shocked to arrive at 9pm -
in 27 degree heat!), is quite a wonderful exotic place. It is the
perfect place for shoppers and eaters - in fact what drew me to KL was
the food. Malaysia is a meeting point for all types of cultures;
Malay, Chinese, Indian, Middle Eastern, etc.

The restaurants would look run down with plastic tables and chairs,
dirty floors etc, but at least you can see the chefs cooking (usually
motherly types) right in front of you. The service is usually not very
good, but the food comes out freshly cooked and delicious. Nasi Goreng
(fried rice) was a favorite as was Nasi Lemak (coconut rice), served
with meat and vegetables from a wok, or overly deep fried! Mee
(noodles) was also common, served in different ways, dry or in soup,
usually spicy.

KL is also a shoppers paradise, as the whole city is pretty much a
gathering of markets and gigantic shopping plazas. One shopping plaza
(called Times Square) is one of the biggest in the world, 10 floors of
shopping pleasure. What made this plaza interesting was that it even
contained a Theme park! The rollercoaster (that's right,
rollercoaster!) went up 5 floors and was fully functional and fully

The market places always overcharge up to 5 times the real amount, so
you have to haggle. Which is kinda fun, since you and the vendor have
fun doing it like a game, acting nonchalant, or threatening to walk
off etc.

I remember hanging out with this sweet funny Austrian girl called Lisa
(who I found myself fancying and I think vice versa since we had a
certain chemistry together, and alas if she didn't have to fly out
later that day maybe something of a romantic nature would have
happened. Sigh. So in a sense it's probably a good thing too. But I
digress) where we tried to buy an umbrella (because of the sporadic

After much effort, comparing prices with Australian prices and stating
that we would rather walk in the rain!, we brought the price down to
10MYR ($3.50) from 50MYR. Rather proud of our efforts we continued on
our way, pretending not to notice the umbrellas for sale for 6-9MYR
nearby. I guess the moral of the story is to check prices of things
before entering the country so you have an idea of how much things

Another interesting thing about KL was the kooky buildings they have
there. Most of the skyscrapers and tall buildings are original,
unconventional and have no desire to fit in it's surroundings - they
don't seem designed to be discreet thats for sure. The end result
gives the city a chaotic yet modern look. A building with elements
resembling a temple will stand next to one covered with vegetation,
next to one with Islamic design..

Which brings me to the world famous Petronas Towers, the tallest twin
towers in the world (owned by an Oil company). This building was
inspired by Islamic art, the tesellations of squares and circles
tapering at the top gives the building its distinctive attractive
appearance. You can't go to the top though, only halfway to the bridge
connecting the two, and you have to turn up early and book a time to
come back later, because tickets are limited each day. At least it was
free. The views were pretty impressive though they only give you 10
minutes to go up, look around on the bridge, then come down. Which
makes sense I guess seeing it's just a building and not much else to

I spent most of my time hanging out with this cool
Welsh/Indian/Portugese girl named Donna, who not only thought and did
things and held beliefs so close to my own (that it was almost like
she was my alterego, although female, left handed and vegetarian), but
she reaffirmed my reason for doing what i'm doing now, and the
lifestyle of travel that I have chosen. It's nice to know there are
people that think along the same lines as yourself, especially when
trying to live a life so unconventional to normal people. I am a
different person when I'm home in Melbourne - travelling again I feel
much more happy and alive and full of purpose. But again I'm getting
sidetracked, I did warn you this email will be disjointed... and my
hangover hasn't improved either (and I'm starting work in a few hours

Anyway, did a day trip with Donna to the Batu caves, 15km out of KL.
The Batu caves is on a side of a mountain, covered with rainforest,
and is 273 steps up through beautiful gates of carved brightly painted
Hindu sculptures of gods and goddesses. In fact the whole cave is a
Hindu temple, filled with stalagtites (turned into stone), little
temples of painted wood dedicated to various deities, and a lot of
crazy monkeys sitting around eating coconuts, bananas and flowers, and
sometimes grabbing food out of tourists hands when least expected.
Cheeky! The caves also has the largest golden hindu statue in the
world standing right at the entrance to the caves.

Anyway, after 3 days in KL it was time to fly out to Seoul.

And so I arrived in Korea... and what a fantastic place!!!!!

Which I will write about in my next big blog!


Saturday, June 10, 2006

James heads for Asia...Finally!

Hi all,

It's been a while since I last wrote, mainly because i've been stuck
in Melbourne not having done much travelling (does Tasmania count?) in
the last 7 months. However, these last months back at home has been a
nice reprieve from living out of a backpack, sleeping on dirty
squashed mattresses and cramped bus seats. And home cooked meals! The
best invention since sliced bread - or as was in my case, the
ubiquitous kebab; cheap, filling, and seen running rampant all over
Europe and the Middle East (from the tiny pickled ones of Jordan to
the monster kebabs of Poland - the size of ones head - which you have
to eat with a fork!).

Despite the creature comforts of home, the travel bug won't leave me
alone. And so, I pick up my dusty backpack, and yet again abandon
reality and the voice in my head urging me to settle down in order to
see most of the world before my 30th birthday (give or take).


The plan is to work for a whole year teaching English in Seoul (South
Korea). This will follow a year of travel through the whole of Asia
itself, followed perhaps by another year teaching in Japan, or even
Eastern Europe. I'll then live a nomadic life; making my way to South
America, teaching, travelling and volunteering, head my way up through
the US and Canada, and then Africa (where I'll do more work and
volunteering). By this time I should be 30 or so and be ready (in
theory) to deal with "real life"!

Of course Australia is still part of the travel plan, though I plan to
do that with my parents when they retire. My dad has dreams of
travelling around Australia in a 4WD, and I can never turn down a good
road trip!

Of course these are just plans, in truth it's hard to say what or
where i'll end up. Last time I planned a 6 month venture to Western
Europe, it ended in my 2.5year joint around Europe/Middle East. So who


Basically I got too comfortable living the routine of normal life! I
was planning to leave by February!

Because I knew I was going to leave again soon, I've been staying with
my parents, found temporary work selling internet and mobiles for
Telstra (Australia's largest Telecommunications provider), and
generally relaxing and catching up with friends and family. And
enjoying home cooked meals.

I've also enjoyed the company of some of you fellow overseas
travellers coming over to stay with me or show you around my hometown
of Melbourne.

I've had my mate John from England experience a "east meets west"
Christmas with my family (eg turkey stuffed with fried rice) and also
birdwatching in the Yoo yang mountains. John also took me to one of
the Boxing Day test matches (instead of the other way around, since I
don't know much about cricket - and to think I call myself

Monica from Romania (who runs a hostel in Suceava - have a guess who made the website? )
also came Downunder. I took her to places such as the fairy penguins
and seals on Phillip Island, the Great Ocean Road, and at the last
minute she talked me into going on a quick 3 day trip around Tasmania
with her.


I'm glad I did, since Tasmania is quite beautiful in its wilderness, a
"mini version of New Zealand" one tourist noted. With a hired car we
drove on crazy winding mountain roads, took many unhappy insects with
us on an unexpected journey through the countryside (i.e splattered on
the car front), explored the huge rainforests with moss covered
1000-year-old huon pines, sassaffras, redwoods, blackwoods, all kinds
of woods; we cruised the UNESCO Heritage listed Gordon river (only
place which meets 7/10 requirements of the UNESCO criteria - an UNESCO
site only needs 1 to make it on the list!), visited the magestic
Cradle mountain and Cataract gorge, and dined on the best fresh fish
I've ever eaten in Hobart, Strahan and Launceston, which are more big
towns than cities. Friendly locals, though some of them are clearly
inbred... Joking!


To start, I thought it would be best to complete a TESOL Certification
(, making me now a "qualified
English teacher to speakers of other languages". I now know what
"passive voice" means in my Word documents, and what foreigners mean
when they ask me for the past perfect continous tense of a word,
something that some of you fellow travellers have probably encountered
as well!

After some Internet searching through job agencies abroad, and a 1
hour overseas phone interview, I accepted a job offer to go teach
English in Seoul for a year, for a company called Berlitz
International, a world renowned Language Centre.

Basically I will be teaching conversational English to mainly adults
working for companies like Samsung, LG and so on (hopefully I can
score free phones and stuff off them). Airfare and accomodation
(right in the centre of Seoul) is mostly paid for, tax is pretty low
(approx 4-9%), and is a great way of learning about another culture,
by living amongst them. As well as doing all the touristy stuff like
venturing into the Demilitarized Zone (where North and South Korean
soldiers stand literally centimetres apart facing each other), I've
already got a couple of local friends in Korea i'm planning to meet
with to help me see and learn about the real Seoul. It's gonna be fun!


After several long delays with getting the work visa (was trying to
leave 3 weeks ago!), I should now be leaving Melbourne next Monday. I
will first spend a few days in Malaysia seeing the sights before
heading up to Seoul in mid June, where the next chapter of my life
will begin. It will be sad to leave everything and everyone behind
once again. But it will also be quite interesting living and working
in a country where English isn't the first language and the culture is
different from my Australian upbringing. I wonder how many people I'll
offend in my first week?

Wish me luck!