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We are what we think & my blog entries reflect how I think. Have a sip of the poison of my mind.. It's not always lethal.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Korea: Day 1 & 2

Today is the morning of the 8th of January. Dawn has just broken and we will soon be touching down at Incheon Airport, South Korea. Yesterday was the 7th when we boarded the plane we are in right now at 23:30 hrs during the night. The travel agency considers last night as the first day of our 8 days South Korea All-In tour package.

That's how things can be when it comes to a tour package arranged with a travel agency, which explains why the title of this blog entry consists of days 1 and 2. So accurately speaking, it is now day 2.

Anyway, when my Lioness & me arrived at the gathering point inside the airport on home-ground last night to meet up with the co-ordinator from the travel agency who looked to be in his 50's, he took one look at us and said: "Aha! You are the firsts to arrive. Now let me guess, you must be mister (so & so) and you, young lady, must be miss (so & so)," he went on: "You both ought to be the youngest couple in the list for this trip judging by your looks. I'm correct, yes?"

Well, I had to tell him that he got it wrong. We are not the youngest couple in the travel group. Somehow, that made me and my Lioness feel proud good about ourselves and our regular physical appearance maintenance regime, yo.

Anyway, back inside the Korean Airline plane high above the clouds in Korean airspace:

When it comes to a typical South Korea trip, most folks will visit Jeju Island first, since they have to get back to Korea's mainland for flights home at the end of their trip.

See, as evident in the pic here, the stupid thing is that you have to fly past Jeju Island first, land at a mainland airport like Incheon Airport and then take a domestic flight to Jeju. This going around in a circle eats up precious trip time.

All because Jeju airport has no international flight facilities but they still call it 'Jeju International Airport'. Go figure.

At Incheon Airport where their newly implemented
biometric system is holding us up
Touchdown at Incheon International Airport:
Their newly implemented biometric system is holding up the crowd. That's almost like a rule of thumb when it comes to the implementation of the scanning of thumbs.

Even the Caucasian couple behind me is starting to show signs of impatience and have started grumbling. Hurry the Kimchi up already, I'm no terrorist and it's getting uncomfortably warm in here.

Boy, I can sure feel myself slowly sinking towards Angst Mode as I mentally will the queue and customs officers to double-up.

After what seemed like forever in a microwave at the biometric check-in, we finally got passed it and are now outside the arrival section of Incheon Airport where our tour guide is supposed to pick us up.

Thing is, I was expecting the tour guide to be holding a sign that says 'Hong Thai Travels', the name of our travel agency, so I'm quite at a loss when I don't see that and am beginning to contemplate what to do should we get separated and lost when over the PA system, I hear my name being announced: "Paging for Mr (my name) from Singapore, please proceed to counter (so and so).

Well, that's making me remember the marvels of modern technology that is making my worry of being separated from the tour group unwarranted as I grabbed my Lioness and our luggages and started proceeding to the announced counter in haste, knowing full well that we've been holding up the rest of the group.

Approaching our group, I begin to apologize and explain to everyone that I thought we were supposed to wait at where I was earlier (ya, right). Anyway, our group is forgiving and our tour guide (her name is 珍珍 and she's a Taiwanese residing and working in South Korea) is really amicable about the situation. And with that, we got herded into the tour coach with our luggages and begin making our way to..

..Kimchi School. We got whisked to this place, probably because the tour agency wanted to erase our awareness that we have to go full circle back to Jeju Island, so they are giving us Kimchi to play with here first.

But what the heck, Korea is most renowned for Kimchi around the world, besides plastic surgery and single eyelids that's making women around the world go nuts about when it comes to Korean men, so I figured just as well that we come here to learn how Kimchi is actually made.

That's right, that's what we came here for first thing upon touching down straight from the airport, even though admittedly, this doesn't really interest me too much, but I'm telling myself not to forget that traveling in a foreign country will be more enriching if one learns about their culture (including food culture) and customs. Besides, my Lioness must be interested in this since she loves to cook.

Note To Self: It's not just about the shopping and sight-seeing.

Kimchi class in progress
The Kimchi teacher who speaks quite fluid Mandarin is teaching us the art of making Kimchi by hand. All Kimchi made by us will be donated to an old folks home nearby.

That's a good cause of course, but I cringe at the thought of the poor old folk who gets to eat the Kimchi I'm making, since mine is turning out to be something I'd hesitate to eat myself: It looks like a crumpled mop coated with chili, tsk. Being an excellent cook herself already, the Kimchi made by my Lioness looks & tastes miles better.

Travel Knowledge: Lots of young Koreans can speak Mandarin.
Fact 2: There are actually lots of Chinese working in South Korea. I won't be surprised if our Kimchi teacher here is actually Chinese, though I didn't have a chance to find out if she really is.

Packaged Kimchi
Honestly, I've never liked Kimchi not because I think it tastes awful, it's because I'm just not used to the taste. However, the Kimchi here tastes fine, probably because I'm hungry. Oh yeah, we haven't had our lunch yet since it's still morning. Cold weather and having just gone through about 8 hours of flight make one hungry.

If you come to the Kimchi School, you will be able to purchase packaged Kimchi after the Kimchi-making lesson, so my Lioness bought some (and for some strange reason, I didn't realize it then when she did until I saw those things in our kitchen back home. Man, she's good with her stealth).

So after we've had our first-hand Kimchi making and for me, chili-coated mop making experience (seems to me that Kimchi is basically cabbages coated in some type of chili sauce), we headed downstairs where we can don on their traditional costumes for free.

The women's costumes look alright, but there's no way I'll wear their male costumes and end up looking like a possessed medium, but that's just my own warped perception and it's nothing personal towards the Koreans and no offense meant, cool? So I skipped while she played.

My refusal to join my Lioness in wearing their costumes is pissing her off and our conversation went like this:

She: "Oh come on, just wear one of the male costumes and take a picture with me please,"
Me: "Jeez, no way."
She: "Please?"
Me: "No."
She: "I promise I won't post your picture up on Facebook, this will just be for ourselves."
Me: "NO!"

On hindsight, I regretted my stubbornness. I should have done so for her and I'm still feeling guilty about it. I shouldn't have allowed my own vanity to take precedence over her wish for us. Giving in to her is just like giving in to a little child who means no harm or ridicule and I love the child in her.

My bad, Honey. If I could turn back Time, I would don on that costume for you and take a photo of us together. I'm sorry.

Before we headed for lunch, we came to this building which is basically a dry warehouse market. It's so dry here that there's nothing of interest here to me. I thought I experienced A.D.D. here too. Attention Deficit Disorder. Anyway, at least I have the chance to buy myself some coffee here which I'm craving for and have my caffeine fix.Travel Tip: Not on free & easy but with a tour group? Then expect to visit places that may not interest you one bit. A tour group does have its advantages though: you don't have to worry about transportation & you can dump the things you've bought in the tour coach, hop back to your shopping spree with freed-up hands & continue shopping for more things.

Rinse, shop, repeat.

Lunch - Korean Bak Kut Teh

And right after, we headed for lunch. This is the Korean version of Bak Kut Teh, our very first proper meal in South Korea and boy, am I hungry. And it's freaking cold. Remember what I mentioned somewhere about how cold weather can intensify hunger and boost your appetite?

So what's the difference between their Bak Kut Teh & ours? Besides the ingredients used in the soup, their meat is so freaking ass BIG, which is why I've placed the spoon & chopsticks next to the meat to help u perceive the scale of things.

I have trouble eating anything 4 times bigger than my mouth and I refuse to eat the meat with my hands, so I'm scraping the meat off the bones with my cutlery..
because I'm wearing my favourite fingerless gloves here & don't want to dirty them. Eat fashionably, so saith Vanity.

Right after lunch, we headed to the airport for a domestic flight to Jeju Island.

Touchdown at Jeju International Airport
Arrival at Jeju Island and alighting from the domestic plane. I have to blink here to see if it's actually Tiger Airways we just took to get here. We have to hop onto the coach you see there to get to the main part of the airport.

Travel tip: Jeju Island is warmer than the mainland but make no mistake: at this time of the year, Jeju is still freaking cold. Nobody took off their coats here.

Travel Knowledge: The Koreans from their mainland have trouble understanding the native dialects spoken in Jeju. And you thought they all knew one another well, huh?

The very first place we got whisked to straight upon touching down at Jeju International Airport is the Teddy Bear Museum which they call 'TeSeum' - a combo of 'Teddy' & 'Museum', I assume.

This is an 'Awwww' factor place where you can have cutesy photo-takings to make little kids who haven't been here mighty jealous of you.

Travel knowledge: TeSeum exhibits famous fictional and non-fictional characters and people in Teddy bear forms and the smallest bear on display here is 4.5mm tall. The most expensive bear here is the Louis Vuitton Bear but you don't have to come all these way to see an LV bear since back home, we have aunties who look like bears carrying LV, even in our wet markets.

Herd mentality without individualistic differentiation either makes one appear cheap and just part of the masses or it makes an established luxury brand appear to have been knocked down a few notches from Luxury to common product in the perception department.

It seems to me that some folks (I said 'some', not 'all') back home think that wearing or carrying branded goods automatically makes them hip and they don't have to pay attention to other aspects like their clothing style, hairstyle and level of modernity portrayed. Think a brand name can cover up superficiality? There's such a thing as using yourself to 'Carry The Brand'.

Right, I'll let the following pics do the talking for the following section:

Battle of the Guitar Players - between Human & Teddy.
That bear can really shed (furs) &
the human shreds (♬ notes, hopefully).

Plants vs Zombies not

A Korean Toddler

Each bear represents a country

Next, we came to visit the so-called 'Mysterious Road' - it's a section of upslope road where vehicles with their engines switched completely off will roll up the slope on their own. That was what happened to our coach. It's just a short section of the road where this phenomenon can be experienced.

Gargoyles line the road as you can see in the pic, since the locals have this traditional belief that it's little ghosts that create this phenomenon. If you observe the statues, these little ghosties are depicted in cutesy forms.

I believe in spirits because I've seen or encountered their presences at least 6 times on 6 separate occasions in my life when I was a teenager and when I was serving my National Service, but if you ask me, I would say that gravity and the curvature of the land is at work here. Spirits aren't so free to entertain tourists 24-7.

Dragon Head Rock
Following our visit to the Mysterious Road, we went to the beach. This is Dragon Head Rock. There's a legend behind this lava formation. To cut a long bullshit short, here's the gist of it:
Once upon a time, there was this mortal who stole this dragon orb and was on his way ascending towards heaven with the help of the orb when he was caught in the act by the guardian of the orb. So guardian shot thief with arrow, thief lets go of orb, orb fell to the ground and right at the very spot where the orb landed, this rock formation was formed.

They say this rock formation resembles a dragon's head. And speaking of lava formations, 珍珍 told us that the whole of Jeju Island is made up of cooled lava. Gosh, that boggles my mind.

Yes, the cold is orgasmically yummylicious, but don't jump into the water - it will kill you outright: A momentary cold shock that feels like electricity shooting up your spine and your world will fade to black like these rocks.

You know how it gets when you are a walking water tank who likes to drink gallons of cold water. Combine that with freezing weather and you find yourself making frequent trips to the washroom. So that's what I have to do now but I'm finding the whole business to be a rather uncomfortable scenario, so I took this photo of the washroom I'm in right now.

The point of this pic? I've noticed that lots of the gent washrooms in Korea have their urinals in positions that will easily expose the gents using them when the doors are opened, like this one. See where the opened door is? The first and second urinals are hidden from view from outside the washroom by partitions but not so for the subsequent ones.

My conclusion here is that Korean men probably like to show off.

Main entrance of our hotel

Right after that, we went to have our dinner someplace, which was nothing to shout about. So we've just arrived at our hotel following the dinner. We'll be staying at Jeju Oriental for the rest of our stay here before going back to the mainland.

There's a casino here next to the lobby and just now, I had to decline the offer by this lady from our tour group to get in there with her and gamble, since I don't. I hate gambling, so I'm taking my Lioness with me to do some grocery shopping at the nearby 24 hours Family Mart instead.

I wanted to explore further the vicinity around our hotel but from the looks of it, there's nothing interesting to see - there's just this long stretch of road with buildings here and there doesn't seem to be any activity from the norm going on.

So we will be heading back to our room to rest after our grocery shopping. See you on the morrow. I'll take you to do some mountain-climbing, among other things.

- De Lion Speaks

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