Tuesday, 31 December 2013

All about 2013

Although self-indulgent, I couldn't resist the old 'round up the year' post. 

In 2013 we took 22 flights.

The first half of the year was spent surviving Saudi. Hard to believe now that it was only that long ago.

In January a visit home, for snow and a belated Christmas of sorts.

In March a strangely timed holiday with three of our parents to Cyprus, at the height of the country's financial crisis.

Surviving the first year of being married was celebrated with a visit to Dubai's Burj Kalifa.

I challenged myself to get to the top of a climbing wall- and made it!

The summer was spent at home, chilling with family and friends and spending far too much time in Wetherspoons pub. 

In July a two week long house music festival in Croatia, to 'get over' Saudi.

Secret Garden Party in August reaffirmed my faith in new music and England in general.

I finally embarked on the second year of my masters course.

Lee was best man at his Dad's wedding.

Whilst the stay in Vietnam was short lived, we experienced some of Ho Chi Minh's beauty and history.

Then there was the crazy impromptu road trip covering some of California, Mexico, Arizona and Nevada.

I got my first speeding ticket.

We went back to Vegas.

Time travel happened, taking us back to a job and a country we never thought we would.

And last but certainly not least, two of my nearest and dearest ladies brought lovely babies into the world, who I get to meet in the new year.

That's about it!

Farewell 2013, it's been fun.

And now the question is- what weird and wonderful adventures will 2014 bring?

Friday, 20 December 2013

The Culture of Couples

In Korea the 'couple' is a widely celebrated entity. On Valentines Day girls give gifts to boys, which means another day has been created for men to return the favour. Exactly a month after Feb 14th couples celebrate White Day, when men give sweets and chocolates to their lady friends. All very sweet (and unnecessary).
But it doesn't stop there. Christmas is also considered a couples holiday, which explains why we have so many children staying at our camp on Christmas Day. We have to look after the kids so parents can romantically celebrate the birth of Jesus. Our first year here we went to Outback Steakhouse on Christmas Day, which was full of other couples. We had fun watching the man and woman next to us picking daintily at a shared steak and lobster in the middle of their table. I seem to remember they had their food already when we arrived and it was still there by the time we left. Cold steak anyone?
At the cinema the other day we got the 'couples set' popcorn and drink combo, which came free with three coca cola flavoured chap sticks (vanilla coke, cherry coke and just plain coke) in a heart shaped tin. The perfect way to say I love you.

It still doesn't stop there. I now come to my favourite couple thing about Korea, and the reason for this blog post. 

Couples clothes. 

That's right. Out and about Seoul it's common to see girls and boys holding hands and wearing matching t-shirts, hats, bags or shoes, you name it. At the moment it's mostly matching jackets, which begs the question 'what do you do when you split up with your girl/boyfriend and consequently can't bear to wear your only winter coat?' 
And as if that wasn't enough, on my last clothes shopping trip I saw something so amazing that I can now die happy. Couples underwear. Couples silky leopard print underwear. Lee asked the shop assistant what it was all about, to which the shop assistant helpfully clarified which of the teeny tiny sized garments were for men and which were for women. If they were bigger I would've considered buying them for the comedy factor. 
After we left the shop I couldn't help wondering if anyone is actually buying them in seriousness. Is this now considered sexy? Did I miss something?

Merry Christmas, with love from Korea!


Friday, 13 December 2013

The Culture of Food

I like Korean food a lot: meat cooked on the bbq at your table; chicken cooked at the table with potato, spicy sauce and cheese; a vast array of soups and of course kimchi. I do, however, remember a time when I wasn't at all keen on these spicy, alien flavours. They are definitely an acquired taste and persistence is key in getting to like them.  
Koreans generally consider their cuisine to be the best in the world and are very particular about what goes with what. Restaurants often find the idea of switching things or doing something different mind-blowing. If you don't want radish in your egg, or you want milk in your Americano, your request will likely get the response of a confused look, tilted head or hands crossed in an 'X' shape. The other day we were told at a restaurant that we could have the chicken without the salad, but not the salad without the chicken.
At school we have many weird and wonderful salad-fruit combinations. It might be lettuce slathered in a tangy mayo, or with sesame seeds and spice, or blended pumpkin with melon (why not?), but one thing's for sure- it will only vaguely resemble the fruit or vegetable it once was. I used to think this was just a school thing, but I have come to realise it's a nationwide phenomena. We were recently served sweet potato pizza (seriously, how can you f*ck up pizza?),which is a replica of the popular Korean choice at pizza restaurants.
After a lot of perseverance and a fair bit of spitting out, I finally came  to love kimchi (which, for any of you who don't know, simply put, is cabbage fermented in peppery spices). It's weird and crunchy, it's good hot or cold, in soup or fried.
Kimchi Jjiage- my favourite
(but eat with caution for it will burn your face off)
But why do people eat it so much?
One reason is that it's supposed to be really good for you. According to studies it contains plenty of vitamins and has been said to lower cholesterol and help fight cancer.
I'm also convinced that it's addictive. I used to hate it and now I miss it when I don't have it. This theory is backed up by the fact that Koreans eat it at every single meal.

At the moment it's kimchi making season, so you see it all around the place in apartment stairwells being 'brewed' in big pots. I'm told that many homes here have a second fridge, solely for storing it. Koreans are known for taking it with them on holiday, so they don't have to face two weeks without it. A friend of mine once cooked a roast dinner for her friend's mum. All was going well and everyone seemed excited, until the mum-without any embarrassment at all- laid out kimchi and other Korean side dishes at the table. How unaware do you have to be to not see that this could be considered closed minded or rude? And not to mention ridiculous. It's the equivalent of going to a Thai persons house for Thai curry, sitting down at the table and pulling a jar of pickled onions out of your handbag.


Thursday, 5 December 2013

A little bit of Thanks

It's been a busy few weeks getting settled back into life here. I'm slowly but surely crawling towards this semester's hand in date at uni (hooray!). I've decorated the apartment and put up the Christmas tree. After a rather painful three weeks we've moved onto night shift, finally allowing me that peaceful, wonderful time in the morning to write, read and sleep. 
Work is as it ever was and the students are much the same. I've been surprised by their general low level of English, making me realise how good some of my other students have been since last time I was here. In stark contrast to the Saudis, Korean kids are so well behaved and conformist, sometimes to the point of freaky. Generally they are very sweet and enthusiastic about being here at English Village. It's great to be in an environment where the students are happy. I am especially loving them stopping to bow at me in the corridor!
Being back after so many other experiences both in and out of the classroom have made me view this job in a completely different light. I'm finding new and interesting ways to teach the classes and am basking in the glory of the non-existent planning. I'm finding the menial paper cutting tasks given to me during 'programming' lessons relaxing and fun. I'm pleased with the free food, even if sometimes there are squid tentacles swimming in the soup.

Perhaps as a direct result of my magical positive state, I'm noticing how much other people complain. I've come to realise that depending on how you choose to see it, there is so much to be happy about or equally so much to hate. I notice people saying things that maybe I would've said the first time round. I'm noticing arrogance and superiority and grumbling over nothing. It's making me laugh that people can be so openly lazy and sometimes rude in front of the bosses. At times the unprofessionalism (word??) makes me cringe. I'm seeing that being ungrateful and negative are not attractive traits.

Maybe I've just learnt to live with the shit, but I have to say I prefer viewing the job -and my life- through this new, happier lens.

Playing 'Pilgrims' at Thanksgiving dinner


Monday, 25 November 2013

American Adventure Part III

I've finally got round to writing about the third part of our adventure- Vegas! 
It was great after so much travelling around to stop, hand back the car and just be lazy. And for me, drink again (yippee!) I could barely contain my excitement on the way in- driving towards the strip is really something else, so bright and welcoming. We stayed at Luxor (the big pyramid) for the first 6 nights, which was a step up from last time at Terribles Casino. Our room was actually part of the pyramid and so had a sloping wall on the side of the window.

Our first of not many wins
Outside Luxor

 We had fun on the first night wandering around all of our favourite haunts from last time- a particular highlight on that night was the duelling pianos in a bar in New York New York. I love this hotel because you can actually walk around 'mini New York,' with apartment blocks and stuff.

New York New York
Our friends Rhian and Adam arrived the next day. We visited them at their hotel room in Paris, which looked out on the Bellagio fountains themselves! Lovely. Together we had some adventures: drinking alcoholic iced drinks in tall refillable cups, riding the roller coaster at New York, New York and playing on the kids games, trying our hand at gambling. 

At Senor Frogs
Trying to play the slots (I don't get it!)
They couldn't help themselves
Just like last time, Lee and I chickened out of playing any 'proper' games, opting instead for  'the big wheel.' Overall it wasn't too kind to us, but we did have one rather amazing night where we played for more than two hours with only twenty dollars! And of course the waitresses bring you free drinks if you're playing, which we took advantage of (about six each if I remember rightly). Crazy really when you think a Jack Daniels and Coke in the Bellagio where we were playing is somewhere between five and ten dollars a drink. We also went to see the Cirque Du Soleil show Mystere. The acrobatics were mind blowing and the music, which included a live opera singer and huge drums, was amazing. I've decided I definitely want a big drum when I finally move into my own apartment.
On Halloween I'm ashamed to admit we didn't dress up, but we headed downtown to bask in the joy of everyone else's costumes. And Americans certainly go all out! It's not often you see middle aged people in full blown fancy dress. Shrek and Fiona, Dracula, a seventy year old Minnie Mouse, you name it. Some of the winning costumes for me were a box of wine, a piñata and an injection. On Freemont street in downtown was an outdoor rave going on with fire blasters around the stage.
We did so many things in our ten days in Vegas it would be impossible to write it all down. We lounged by the pool, went to see Bad Grandpa at the cinema (there was a couple in there with their toddler son-inappropriate much?) and walked for miles and miles taking in the sights and sounds. In the second week we moved to Circus Circus which was not so glamorous but we found the best game in a casino that was a bit like a working men's club- The Dogs! We spent so much time betting 50 cents a go on which computerised dog would come in first. Good times. We watched the volcano outside Mirage hotel, a fully blown erupting extravaganza. We went to see the Beatles Cirque Du Soleil show 'Love.' We ate at a lovely French restaurant and a an American restaurant where Lee had Chicken fried Steak and fries, with a side of Corn bread, enough to feed five people. 

The Beatles 'Love'
Watching the fountains at the Bellagio
 Our last day was weird and most unique. In the morning we headed downtown for the Million Mask March. It wasn't a huge turnout but we felt proud to be part of something that was going on worldwide- people standing together against corporate greed and corrupt governments.
After that we went to try and get cheap tickets to Le Reve- supposedly the best Cirque Du Soleil show in Vegas. We tried to do this last time but it didn't work out so great. The deal is you can get tickets for 75 dollars if you go to a presentation at the Jockey Club on buying a 'vacation timeshare.' You have to be married (check- we showed them photos as proof!) but last time we got kicked out because we told them we weren't currently working. I guess sometimes it's difficult for Americans to understand the concept of time off?! Anyway, we were briefed by the nice lady at the ticket booth (who Lee later told me was most definitely a post-op transsexual- and he knew this because they were flirting...) on how exactly not to F up. We went along to the Jockey Club and listened to quite a fun presentation about how we could improve our amount of vacation time for ourselves as a 'family.' Obviously as things have been going the past couple of years I think we actually need less time together and less holiday! Three gruelling hours later and a near escape from the purchase of some hotel gift vouchers we emerged with our Le Reve tickets clutched in our hands.
The show was worth every penny. It's an acrobatic extravaganza set on a circular stage in the middle of the audience, which submerges underwater and then reappears intermittently throughout the show. There was syncronised swimming, there was diving, there was acrobatics up high on wires. It was truly amazing! And they gave us a free program and let us take photos.
The Revolution is nigh

And so I conclude the blog posts entitled 'American Adventure.' It was a wicked trip, varied exciting and fun. Although I have to say it's nice to be out of the land of eternal unnecessary tipping and back at work!  

Saturday, 16 November 2013

Big Love Korea

So here we are back in Korea, back in our old job. Apart from the other people teaching here, everything is still the same. Lesson plans and resources are prepared for us, the classes are easy and (sometimes) fun and there are new students all the time. I was sitting in Bank class giving out stamps in passports and I had a bit of moment. I was like, "Have nearly two years passed since I last did this? Weird." It all seemed so incredibly... normal.
We've been to a fair few countries in the last three years and attempted to start new lives in three. I find the process exhausting- getting used to the things that are different or strange, and trying to get around the place (which for me with my almost non existent sense of direction is a real struggle). So it was great to arrive at Incheon airport, catch the bus to the local area without a thought, and easily give the taxi driver directions to our school. 
I'm enjoying going to old favourite restaurants and catching up with old friends. I'm also enjoying trying out new places and making new friends, although I have the freedom to do this at my own pace. 
When we first arrived we realised (too late) that we'd left one of our back packs in the taxi we got from the airport. We were totally panicking because this backpack had one of our laptops in it-with Lee's recent Uni work on it- two hard drives, PSP, ipod, HDMI cable, English to Korean plug adapters and all sorts of chargers. It was a struggle to be upbeat for those first couple of days, stuck in limbo while we waited and hoped that the taxi driver would bring it back. 
The following evening he did. It had taken him a while because he'd been retracing his steps, trying to find the owner of the bag.
I just love this. And I have to ask, 'why wouldn't we expect this kindness in other countries?' It's sad to say, but Korea is the only place I've been to where I had faith that the taxi driver would return. Sure, some Koreans have annoying habits such as a tendency to dig their elbows into your ribs to allow them to get on the subway, or chewing loudly with their mouths open, but they are also honest and respect other people, which are much more important traits to have.

I'm happy we're back. I'm excited to spend hours singing my heart out at karaoke. I'm excited to eat lots of BBQ. I'm excited to have new adventures such as skiing and visiting different parts of Korea. And most of all, I'm excited because I feel like I'm back in my home away from home.  

Friday, 1 November 2013

American Adventure Part II (with a side of Mexico)

It seems like about two years since my last blog post. I will now attempt to pick up where I left off.
On our last afternoon/evening in San Diego we went to the Old Town, where you can walk around and see loads of houses and things built by the first settlers to the city. There was the first synagogue, post office and theatre. It was a shame we got there a little late so the places were closed to look round, but we still had a lot of fun ambling up and down the pretty streets.
Witch's House?

In the evening we (sleepily) watched some live singers and I ate Creole Catfish, which was lovely.
Our one day trip to Mexico was somewhat of an adventure. Due to car hire restrictions, we had a mere 24 hours to spend there, although I think we made the most of what little time we had. Crossing the border was simple enough but due to a combination of the crazily big road system afterwards and my terrible navigation, we got instantly off the route we'd carefully planned out (i.e lost). The roads were predictably much scarier than the ones in the US and after nearly crashing/being crashed into I was close to freaking out, especially when we realised the car insurance wasn't going to kick in for another hour and a half. We found a car park to sit in and have a romantic salad picnic, whilst waiting for the minutes to pass by and for me to gain some composure.
At 2pm we went out onto the roads again, in search of the tourist area. What we found instead was the border crossing going back to America, whose queue we were then not allowed to leave. So we were forced to cross, turn around and cross again (I wonder how many people can say they've done that in one day?)
When we finally started to drive around Tijuana we decided it was much too ghetto to tempt us to leave the car and go for a walk, so instead we headed for the coastal town of Rosarito, a bit further south. We had fish tacos and ceviche (raw fish with chopped up salad) at a beach bar next to some horses and donkeys. The beach was quiet, a little chilly but beautiful and we imagined it would look very different in the summer. Then whilst the sun set over the Pacific, we drove further south along the coast to Ensenada. Tired but aware we only had one night to experience Mexico, we went to a bar. And boy did we experience Mexico! We got talking to a group of students, who took us to a couple of 'real Mexcian bars' where Lee found his favourite ever drink (a sort of coffee flavor beer) which later made him sick due to its deceptively strong percentage. The last place we went to was so cool- the centre bar made of wooden panels and propped up by drunk looking middle aged Mexicans, whist a four piece guitar-accordion group played in the background.

Lee's beloved
And so it was that I came to drive ten hours from Ensenada, Mexico to Lake Havasu, Arizona with a hangover. Oh that's right, via a blow hole somewhere almost an hour in the wrong direction. I don't regret that though, the Buffadora was cool and is apparently one of the few of its kind in the world.

Hours later we were happily sailing up the freeway in California when suddenly I spotted some pretty flashing lights in my rear view mirror and realised they were in fact flashing at me to pull over. Yes that's right, stupid idiot here got a speeding ticket for going (wait for it) 23 miles over the limit. Argh. I do think he should've let me off though, but as he spoke to us solely from the passenger side of the car, it was left up to Lee to flirt his way out of the situation.
Anyway, after than we kept driving (at a much more leisurely pace I might add). And driving. Another lovely sunset that led us into the desert around dusk. The shadows on the huge sand dunes to either side of us were quite an eerie sight. And it turns out a lot of these roads have no lights, which was pretty scary, added to which a lot of the big cars here have headlights that could blind you.Then there were dips in the road- up and down like a roller coaster in the dark. And then we got lost and went up a sandy dirt path that had a sign saying 'unmaintained road, enter at own risk.'
All in all it was a pretty intense day.


The hotel in Lake Havasu city was only really a place to lay our heads, but we did have a small drive around in the morning. Like so many places in the states that aren't really famous or that you'd never really know to visit, it was truly beautiful.

Lake Havasu

We had a much more leisurely drive that day the mere 4 hours up to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, where we stayed in a rather plush hotel complete with hot tub which we used gratefully as it was so cold that night that we when we woke up there was ice all over the car.
Our day in the South Rim of the Canyon was spectacular. Wanting to get into the canyon and not just along the top, I dragged Lee on an 8 mile trek. We ignored the signs that said only to do this walk if you had proper walking gear, as we thought they were probably exaggerating. It turned out they weren't and therefore we (especially me) spent the whole time feeling stupid in shorts and pumps when everyone around us had hiking boots and sticks. But whatever. The two metre wide path was pretty scary at first as it had a sheer drop into the canyon to the side. Once I got used to that, however, I thoroughly enjoyed the amazingness of being inside the canyon. We got quite far down before giving up and turning back. As we'd suspected, the walk back up was painful as hell and left me hardly being able to walk up and down stairs for the next few days!
After another lovely sunset at the Canyon we drove another three hours to Bullhead City, where we sank, shattered into the bed at the motel.

The next day was our final day with the car. We drove to the Hoover Dam and Lake Mead, then into Vegas.
Lake Mead

It was an emotional farewell with the car. I'm not sure exactly how many miles we drove, but I think it was near to a thousand. We cleaned out all the sticky sweet wrappers and as much of the sand as we could before plodding off to wait for the bus like mere mortals.


Wednesday, 23 October 2013

American Adventure Part 1

We've done so much in the past few days that it's hard to believe that less than a week ago I was still in Ho Chi Minh city. We left on Thursday morning, with a stop off in Tokyo and then straight through to LA. It was so weird flying across the Pacific, as it meant we basically had two Thursdays- we left Tokyo at 3pm and arrived in LA at 10am.
We'd joked that we needed to be on our best behaviour when we got to border control, but still we hoped there wouldn't be any trouble. Of course there was trouble. We hadn't got an outward flight yet, so the officer (after being a little rude and condescending) wouldn't let us through, instead telling us to 'step back around the booth and take a seat at the far end of the room.' There we waited for over an hour with other unfortunate people being questioned on their motives for wanting to reach US soil (mainly Spanish speaking). Not that I think anyone has more of a right than anyone else to enter a certain country or to be treated like a human being, but it did make me laugh that we were in that position. Because there's not a single fibre of my being attracted to the prospect of becoming an illegal immigrant working for two dollars an hour. If I wanted to live in America I would get a job and a visa. Duh.
Finally I was called up by yet another power-trippy dude. He was even ruder, his grammar was bad, and he got very annoyed when I tried (calmly and reasonably) to explain that if we could just get internet access then we could book a ticket and be on our way. For some reason this pissed him off and he got all angry. I had to keep my head down and try my hardest not to swear. As I pointed out to him, I didn't appreciate being treated like a criminal. As you can imagine, this comment like all the others that came before it were not well received. Luckily Lee kept his cool and managed to play the game of 'yes sir, no sir, three bags full sir,' while the officer insulted me and interrogated him on pretty much every aspect of our lives. It struck me that border control officers are much like bouncers- unintelligent losers who have unearned power that they force you to submit to. Of course if you annoy a bouncer you can just go to another club...
Anyway, eventually he decided to let us through with a 'warning'. I really think he was going to do that all along but wanted to make sure we were well and truly put in our place beforehand.
A little shaken up, we went to find the car hire place, stopping at an ATM. We were surprised to find an old friend (Gabe) staring up at us from an advert on the screen! Dressed in army gear, holding a child on his shoulders, an advert for supporting war veterans. Welcome to the USA. Thanks Gabe!
The lady who rented us the car didn't quite understand what 'I have no clue how to drive this automatic car, please help me,' really meant. As a result I ended up driving for a long time on the freeway in 1st gear- 'surely the revs aren't supposed to be dangerously close to the red?' and stalling due to pressing both pedals at the same time. Also the first time we stopped I couldn't start the car again for ages.
Despite all the car related terror, I was still able to thoroughly enjoy the spectacular view on the way into Los Angeles. Tall buildings with mountains behind and the Hollywood sign in the distance. Wow.
After a night at the motel (in 'Little Armenia'- take from that what you will) we went on a road trip through the Hollywood hills round to Malibu. We got a little lost on a couple of occasions and I was beeped at a few times (mainly due to accidental driving on the wrong side of the road) but all in all it was an amazing day. With all of the places we've been to in the last few years, we've never had the freedom of being able to go exactly where we want and see exactly what we want to do. Everything was beautiful and we were both amazed at our first view of the Pacific Ocean, with not a single island or boat in sight.

View from the Hollywood Hills
Beverley Hills
Our Future House (either one will do)
That evening we ambled along the Walk of Fame. We saw some famous stars, but felt a 'has been' vibe to the whole place, partly due to the many bong shops and empty old theatres. We went to Hard Rock Café and then to a 4D performance of Nightmare Before Christmas. It was great, with things lighting up at the sides and instructions on the screen to encourage audience participation, but unfortunately we were so tired we both fell asleep for the majority of it.

On Saturday we drove to Long Beach to a rather scary motel in 'Little Cambodia.' It was too early to check in so we went off to find the beach, ending up staying out for hours. The beach certainly lives up to its name and stretches as far as the eye can see, from a habour and docks to the pier and beyond. The area boasts being one of the most cycle friendly cities in California. A cycle/foot path spanned the length of the beach and we had fun watching people of all shapes and sizes jogging, walking dogs, cycling and rollerblading. We saw bikes with three wheels, tandems and even a penny farthing. Plenty of people were also riding bikes where you sit next to each other, with seats behind. We got talking to the man at the hire stall and he offered us a rather old version for less than half the price. The brakes didn't work but this was overshadowed completely by the loud squeezy horn (which Lee honked at everyone along the way). We cycled around the harbor in the sun and afterwards went for cocktails at Tequila Jacks, where there is a whole page of the menu devoted to the signature spirit. After a few drinks we got talking to an ex marine who laughed out loud when we told him we were staying on Anaheim and Cherry Street, informing us that we would get robbed if we walked home, 'especially with the accent.' Encouraged by those words and not at all freaked out we took a taxi home, stopping only for a pizza menu before barricading our door from the outside world and the half naked boys flexing their muscles on the balcony above.

Long Beach
Lee gets to drive
Big cocktails!
The Harbour
We survived the night and in the morning drove off to San Diego, making stop offs at the surfy Huntington beach and the touristy Laguna beach along the way.
Our San Diego hotel is in 'Little Italy' and therefore it was destined that we would go to an Italian restaurant on the first night. The food was beautiful and was accompanied by live jazz.
Yesterday we went on a drive to Coronado and Imperial State Beach, driving and driving until the road ran out and then attempting to get to the border of Mexico on foot. Alas we didn't make it, as it turned out we were further away from it than we thought. But we did have an exceptional view of the beach to the right and a 'nature reserve' to the left (blatantly put there to provide a buffer between the USA and Mexico) with constant low flying helicopters overhead from the local army base.

Lifeguard Lee
'Walking to Mexico'
Pacific sunset
And that's about it for now. I'll be back soon with more tales and pictures!

Saturday, 12 October 2013

Intellectual and Downright Dumb

Over the last three weeks, Lee and I have mainly been holed up in our hotel room, settling in to our MA (Creative Writing: Imaginative Practice at UEL, in case you were interested). I'm finally getting to finish the course I started in London way back in 2010, and Lee has joined the first year. It's fun reading a lot and writing for a purpose, although I've already slipped easily into the role of tortured, procrastinating student. And the tutorials happen from 12 midnight till 3am here, which makes the intellectual topics of conversation rather challenging (although when are they really not a challenge?) And that will only get worse, as in Korea they will be 3am to 6am, eek.
Having received our visa number, we went to the Korean embassy last week to get everything sorted. I won't bore you with the details, but it was horribly stressful and just felt like there were a million hurdles intent on getting in the way. By some small miracle, after being at the embassy for four hours, we got our visa processed with ten minutes to spare before closing. Boom! We are due to get our passports back on Tuesday (fingers crossed please).
There was one thing, however, that made the whole experience in the embassy sooo much better. There was an unexplained, unowned, teeny, tiny kitten running around under the seats. It was the smallest cat I'd ever seen and I totally wanted to steal it and test out the 'will anyone notice the meowing coming from my bag as I board the plane' question. And if we weren't flying to America I really might've tried it.
On Thursday morning we leave for LA. We're hiring a car and plan to go on a mega crazy road trip that includes San Diego, Tijuana, the Grand Canyon and Vegas.
Yesterday we were looking at visas, as last time we went to America we had to get one last minute at the airport (another not entirely stress free situation). We couldn't find the exact website we used before, and ended up filling out an about 50 page questionnaire, which crashed right at the end, causing us to lose everything. Luckily it turns out we don't need to do it again as this painful process is reserved for people from more 'questionable' countries, or something like that. The form included work history, spouse details and of course plenty of yes/no questions relating to your intent to take part in illegal activity. Now, I understand that no government wants bad people entering the country, but seriously these questions were on a different level. They were so hilarious in fact that I couldn't resist  copying a couple for your enjoyment. 

  • Have you ever ordered, incited, committed, assisted, or otherwise participated in genocide?
  • Have you ever engaged in the recruitment or the use of child soldiers? 
  • Have you ever been directly involved in the coercive transplantation of human organs or bodily tissue?
 Needless to say, there were also countless questions on the topic of being a terrorist/being in a terrorist group/financially supporting a terrorist. 
What I really can't understand is why on earth-if you were any of these things- would you answer yes?
For goodness sake.

Monday, 30 September 2013

Mekong Delta and More

Last weekend we went on a tour down to the Mekong Delta. We've sailed the Mekong river before- from the Thai-Laos border to Luang Prabang so I was no stranger to its muddy brown waters. (Read about that adventure here) I have to say it pretty much looked the same.
My favourite part on the first day was the rowing boats. It was so busy- my first ever water traffic jam.

It looks fairly serene here but can you see the craziness up ahead?

So becoming

Being a grown-up. Madonna?

On the second day we visited the floating markets. The sellers bring a boat full of sh*it loads of whatever it is they've got, for wholesale to local markets. I liked that they tie an example of their wares onto a tall stick so everyone around can see. Clever, eh? Then there are smaller boats-mainly for tourists- who attach themselves to your boat to sell coffee, fresh fruit and coconut juice. It's wicked.

Stuff on sticks. I've never seen so many sweet potatoes

Big massive orange-type things

The Mekong Delta is known for its weird animal tastes. Being somewhat of a food pussy I didn't try anything, but had we been more adventurous we could've dined on crocodile, rat or snake. Hell, there was even this lovely looking snake wine. Shudder.

I don't even understand- is it made from snake or infused with essence of??
Like any good organised tour, we got dragged around our share of stalls, shops and factories. We saw coconut candy being made and looked at a huge rice shelling machine in a big barn. As you can probably see from the photos, the weather was overcast and rainy. We got stuck in a huge storm and had to wait it out for over an hour in a tiny shop with the rustiest table football the world has ever seen.

Extreme fussball- tetanus shot needed after game

Lee ready to go

Then after all that waiting, we were dragged out in the rain anyway and forced to go through some puddle lakes just to see rice noodles being made. The joke was that there was no one even working that day 'because of the rain.' So why the heck are we here then?

And finally, our favourite sights from the trip-

Bit blurry but I was being covert- family in rice noodle shack lounging around in front of their flat screen TV

A 'must have' for all those enthusiasts out there

Compensating for something? Seriously

You can't say we're not easily entertained.

That's it for now- apologies if it was a bit of a photo overload. If you still haven't had enough of me then you can click over to my Reviews and Story Stuff sections where there are a couple of new posts.