Postcards from New Year: Korean Style

New Year: Korean Style

New Year is usually characterised by a terrible hangover, wallowing in self-pity, drinking copious amounts of tea and watching Disney movies.

Whilst Koreans are known for their love of a good party (Korea drinks on average 14 shots a week), NY is celebrated slightly differently. The idea is to get up very early (or stay out very late) and watch the first sunrise of the year. For our final NY in Busan we welcomed in 2017, Korean style.

New Years Eve was spent revisiting Bujeon market, eating bibimbap then indulging in some noraebang (karaoke). The UK was still doing the countdown when we woke up to incredible views over Busan’s Gwangalli bridge. I really enjoyed the Korean way of celebrating New Year, I felt so much more proactive for January 1st although I couldn’t imagine doing it in Blighty’s miserable weather. It’s hard to believe I can now say to friends and family, ‘see you this year.’ I’ve become so used to being so far, detached even, to the goings on of life at home. Soon I’ll be leaving Korea and the sunrise was a great welcome to the new year as well as a sentimental goodbye to this amazing city.

새해 복 많이 받으세요 – Happy New Year

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28. Hiroshima

Japan: Hiroshima

‘The purpose of all wars, is peace.’ – Saint Augustine

I honestly didn’t know much about what happened on August 6th 1945, so before visiting Hiroshima I watched Steven Ozaki’s documentary, White Light/Black Rain: The Destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki (2007). I was left with feelings of frustration and sadness which were merely a precursor to what I would experience once in Hiroshima. I was baffled at myself for not really having known much about the first atomic bomb. How could something like this happen? Even if you were to survive Hiroshima or Nagasaki, how do you go on living knowing that doctors can’t really help you because this is the first case in history.

We took a ferry from Busan to Fukuoka and spent most of our time in Hiroshima whilst also visiting the beautiful Miyajima island and Iwakuni. However, the thing I will take away most from this trip was that first morning wandering around Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park. It is strange to visit places where tragic events took place. The A-bomb dome shows clearly the remnants of its dark past and yet I was left feeling incredibly peaceful. Even when visiting a site, we can never truly understand such trauma but we can learn from it. Today is International Day of Peace so in light of our recent experience I thought it was suitable to share this. It’s impossible to really imagine what happened here without hearing it from people themselves. Whilst time moves on, people’s stories, scars and the sites are what reminds us that this really happened. Today is about promoting peace, not war but its important to never forget.

 

Postcards from Taipei

Taipei, Taiwan

If you want the quick version of this trip check out my Youtube video:
Taiwan: Four Countries, Three Weeks

It was time to visit the biggie, the capital Taipei. Because we’d had such a great time in Taiwan’s smaller cities; Tainan and Kaohsiung, I was a little worried about going back to the intensity of a big city. If you want to find out what we got up to before hitting Taipei, here is a link to Postcards from Kaohsiung and Tainan. Soon after arriving, I realised I didn’t need to be nervous. Taipei was still pretty relaxed which I think is due to the friendlier atmosphere in comparison to other capital cities. It was the best part of the trip taking the gold for our 3 week vacation.

Day 1:
1. Long Shan Temple
Another day, another temple. This is the most famous one in Taipei and because of that, I thought it would be too touristy. Actually, it was really nice in the evening. We then went through the ‘Tourist Night Market’ nearby. Don’t bother with this, we didn’t get a good vibe and it sold a lot of tat.

2. Ximen Area
First we stumbled onto The Red House Theatre, which as the name suggests, is a red brick building. It houses performances but also hosts a kitschy, design market on weekends. Then we made our way over to the main square. I loved Ximen. This area is buzzing and always busy. Even on a Sunday night, this place was packed. It’s kind of like Shibuya combined with Harajuku, so of course it was right up my alley. Clearly a Japanese influence in this area but again still friendly and down to earth, making it distinctly Taiwanese.

Day 2
1. Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall
Along with Long Shan temple, this place is a landmark of Taipei. I did not expect the size of this place to be as big as it was. It’s a huge square with a memorial erected for the leader Chiang Kai-shek. The blue roofed building is the most iconic in this area and it’s a must-see attraction.

2. Taipei Confucius Temple
We went to the Datong district and this temple was really tranquil. Whilst we were there, a guy was just writing out calligraphy for free. Skip the 4D movie though, it’s utter pants. I was laughing so much at how bizarre it was, watching a kids animated cartoon on Buddhism whilst being prodded in the back by strong streams of air. I’ve been to 4D things before, but this was much more rigorous with the effects. It made the experience oddly funny to me. It just didn’t work and doesn’t need it because the simplicity of the place does it enough justice.

3. Shilin Night Market
On our way back to the hotel we stopped in Ximen for some shaved ice. Much to Dave’s delight. He loves bingsu; a Korean dessert which is similar. After freshening up it was time to tuck into the largest night market in Taipei. The clothes area of Shilin is great. But surprisingly, we preferred the markets in Tainan and Kaohsiung. Why? Shilin food market is mainly a basement food court. There’s some stalls but I found it a little too overwhelming. We found a lot of the restaurants downstairs which were just selling the exact same dishes. It was all sit-down from what we could find. So, in terms of food, we felt a little let down. I guess the expectation of it being the biggest and the ‘best’ probably was too high. It was still fun though.

The weirdest part was ‘urban shrimping.’ You get given a rod and try to catch live prawns. If you’re successful you cook and eat them yourself. Dave caught one between us so we spared its life. I think my inability to catch anything confirms being a fisherman is not my inner calling. This one we was a little less legit and fairground-ish than other urban pools but all in all, a fun, spur of the moment and utterly bizarre experience.

Day 3
1. Maokong Gondola
This is the most relaxed I’ve felt all holiday. Little did we know the cable cars have maintenance on Mondays, so we turned up thinking we couldn’t go. Instead we took a bus up through the hills and i think it was a blessing in disguise. Barely any people were there. Rested in the hillsides are lots of little tea shops. You can also get a great view of Taipei 101 surrounded by greenery. It was so peaceful, just sat back with my pot of Earl Grey overlooking the scenery.

2. Yongkang Beef Noodles
Near Dongmen station there is this a well known noodle place called Yongkang Beef Noodles. It’s just off a cute little quirky shopping street and the food was good. We tried beef noodles and spicy dumplings, finishing it off with mango sorbet and shaved ice. Naturally.

3. Return to Ximen
We’d seen many a night market by this point so returned to Ximen because the area is so great. We shopped. Again just tons of cute cartoony shops with every character imaginable, nail bars, tattoo parlours and of course street food. That night we tried seaweed mayo chicken. It was good but nothing on Korean chicken. 😉

Day 4
At this point we hit a dilemma. It was the last day before we checked out. Dave wanted to try gorge walking but it was 3 hours out of the city. Then there was the option of Juifen, which is meant to be beautiful but we’d had our fair share of tea. So, we looked for something new. We decided instead to take a short visit out to a Taiwanese aboriginal village called Wulai.
1. Wulai 
Steeped in it’s aboriginal history, Wulai is set within the mountains and known for its waterfalls and hot springs. We visited on a weekday and it felt as though nobody had touched it. The Old Street cooks up some interesting eats including wild boar sausage, millet wine and steamed rice in bamboo. We decided to take a dip in the outdoor hot springs admiring the view. It was one of the best experiences we had.

2. Wufenpu 
After our trip, we came back to Taipei for some last minute shopping at Wufenpu, the wholesale fashion market. This place is a maze and cheap as chips. I’m always hearing Dave say that men’s clothes are so much more expensive than women’s in Korea. However, this place had great deals for both me and him.

3. Raohe Night Market
Of course, we couldn’t leave our last night in Taiwan without visiting a night market. We preferred Raohe to Shilin. It’s older, local and manageable but still with a great buzz. I had what can only be described as the Taiwanese, Greggs cornish pasty. Needless to say, I went back for another.

Day 5: 
We had one of those weird days where you check out, but can’t fully relax because we had a flight at a weird time. So, we did do some exploring.
1. Taipei 101
The tower is Taiwan’s modern landmark. Instead of paying a fortune to go up to the top, we went to Starbucks on the 35th floor. I won’t say too much as I did a post all about Taipei 101. Basically, it’s more exclusive because you have to reserve in advance which means less people which means more views. Highly recommended.

2. National Taiwan Museum
Not to be confused with the National Palace Museum. We met up with our friend who is also an English teacher in Korea. It was okay, not much there but they had a section on black and white photography which I enjoyed. After, we went to Bopiliao Old Street which is really not worth your time.

3. Cinema Street
We still had time to kill time but knew we had to go back to the hotel and collect bags. Nearby to our hotel was cinema street. Lined with pockets of street art and cinemas, it’s a pretty funky area.

And that is the last installment of ‘postcards’ for now. Keep your eyes peeled for the next itinerary as over Chuseok, the Korean national holiday, Dave and I took a short trip to Fukuoka and Hiroshima. 안녕 (Bye)

27. Taiwan

Last Stop: Taiwan

Taiwan, you were so wonderful and without doubt the best part of our summer vacation.

I think my colour photos from this trip give a better feel for Taiwan. Black and white was perfect for capturing Shanghai but Taiwan was more vibrant. The temples in particular were so colourful and packed with detail. When you live in Korea or elsewhere in Asia, it’s very easy to become a bit ‘templed out.’ So, I wasn’t expecting to be blown away by anything. Taiwan however surprised me. Here in Korea, temples are more like sites. In Taiwan, I loved that they seemed to be part of the city. You could be in the middle of Taipei and just stumble onto one. Within minutes you could move from the craziness of the city to a moment of peace and quiet.

 

 

Postcards from Kaohsiung & Tainan

Third Stop: Kaohsiung & Tainan, Taiwan

Great food, great people, great places. Taiwan has an air of friendliness which was very noticeable after visiting Shanghai and HK. Whilst it flares up it’s heritage from China and Japan it seems proud of its influences. It doesn’t play victim or feel burdened by it. Instead bitterness is left at the door, and the people have taken it, making it their own. It just makes this country all the more endearing.

After seeing god knows how many temples, I’ve become harder to impress, but Taiwan had some of the most ornate buildings I’d seen. The night markets are also what stand out on this trip. With the buzz of a funfair and quick tasty eats, Taiwan takes the gold for summer vacation. We made three stops in Taiwan; Kaohsiung, Tainan and Taipei. This week I will be focusing on the first two cities.

Day 1: Kaohsiung
It was quite a relief to leave HK, if you want to read more on what we did, check out Postcards from Hong Kong. Kaohsiung was our first stop and is the second largest city in the country but it was really chilled out. The relaxed vibe was apparent as soon as we left the airport and its exactly what we needed after visiting Shanghai and HK.
1. The Lotus Pond
It was pouring down but we didn’t let that stop us from exploring. First we went to the lotus pond. Around the lake are a number of little temples. There’s a huge dragon and tiger you can walk into. Opposite that, was perhaps my favourite temple of the trip. My photos did not do it justice. The torrential rain at first seemed a pain but in the end, it really added to the atmosphere. We had the place to ourselves.

2. Ruifeng Night Market
Our first night market and the most well-known amongst locals in Kaohsiung. The first time you visit a night market its a little over bearing. Stalls after stalls of food you recognise, food you don’t, there’s an overwhelming amount of choice. Not to mention, lots of people. The prospect of ordering is kind of daunting but once you’ve tried a few things it becomes part of the fun. It is incredibly cheap to eat here so you can try a range of things. This night we tried fried lemon chicken, brown sugar bubble tea, oyster omlette (famous in TW) and a cream cheese bun. We also dabbed our hand at a few games but alas, we won no fluffy toy.

Day 2
1. Fo Guang Shan
I’ve seen a lot of big Buddha’s, believe me. It seems every monastery claims to have ‘the biggest Buddha’ but here is a place you do not want to miss. This one is framed by eight pagodas. It’s an incredible entrance. Ultra modern but the history of how the place came to be where it is, is really interesting. Fo Guang Shan is dominated by female monks and houses one of three teeth from Buddha in the world. We thought it was cool because unbeknownst of that, we’d visited Temple of the Tooth in Kandy, Sri Lanka earlier this year. We need to head to India now so we can tick off all three teeth. The place feels like a Buddhist amusement park so I don’t know how it isn’t better known.

2. Luihe Night Market
Before heading to the night market, we felt like trying a Taiwanese restaurant. We noticed a lot of Japanese inspired food during our time here and that night we had the greatest sashimi. Then, it was time for more food at a smaller night market. Because we’d eaten our fair bit of fresh fish all I can really remember is trying the papaya milk, which is so well known here. It tasted cheesey to me. Our time in Kaohsiung was short but sweet.

Day 3: Tainan
We took a train over to Tainan. Whilst Kaohsiung has its status as the second largest city, it feels less dense. Tainan is more concentrated and because of that felt more like a city than KS did. We relaxed, nipped out for some Taiwan-Japanese fusion food then went to another night market.
1. Flower Night Market
The most well known night market in Tainan and perhaps my favourite of them all. This is set in a huge square. This place had a really great atmosphere with more option for clothes too.

 Day 4
1. National Museum of Taiwan Literature
We really only went in here to use the air con because my gosh, it was hot. You couldn’t stay out in it too long. Literature Museum was meh, but we weren’t really expecting much to be honest.

2. Confucian Temple & surrounding area
The temple itself has a small charge and its… nice. Nothing special. The Elementary school next to it is actually more impressive and in a great area. After our temple stop we embarked on a quirky café hop. First to Narrow Alley Cafe which is hidden within the tiniest gap in the wall. Dave was fitting in between the walls for jokes, only to spot a hidden door which led to the cafe. After refreshments, we wandered for something more filling, stumbling upon a place called Pop Pie. Naturally, I didn’t want to get my hopes up at the word ‘pie.’ Pie in Asia rarely means the pie I know. Whilst it wasn’t pie, this café serves up amazing quiche. ACTUAL QUICHE. It’s amazing how excited about home food you get when you live abroad. I never thought I’d be getting excited about quiche and a salad. The set included pumpkin soup and we finished off our indulgent afternoon with a lemon cappuccino. Worth checking this lovely place out.

3. Hayashi Department Store
We were looking to fill time and noticed this department store. From the wooden architecture and the name, it was obviously Japanese. Hayashi, for a department store, is small, manageable and has high quality souvenirs. You know, in Korea I find it hard to get something ‘Korean’ without it looking tacky. The goods are still completely about Tainan but the building is historically influenced by Japan.

4. Dadong Night Market
The runner up to the Flower Night Market. We noticed that the exact same stalls from the night before move to this market, so its great if you feel you missed out on something. This was the best night of dining because we saved our stomachs for a completely market-food filled evening. We tried spring rolls, pork bun (AMAZING), fish balls, beef noodles, cheese wrapped in bacon and more.

Next Tuesday on ‘Postcards’ I will be posting our itinerary for Taiwan’s capital, Taipei.

In the meantime, we’re off to Fukuoka tomorrow for the Chuseok holiday! Yay

25. Shanghai

First Stop: Shanghai

3 weeks, 4 countries and I’m back to Korea. I’ve returned to ‘deskwarming’ whereby I have to come to school and prepare lessons. But, let’s be honest. Planning doesn’t take a full 8 hours everyday for 5 days. It’s kind of ridiculous why I’m here for that long but… it’s in the contract. So, instead of getting bogged down with all the politics of why, I’ve spent my time editing photos from my vacation.

As my blog suggests, black and white photography is something that I’ve recently become interested in. Whilst I was away, so many things caught my eye. I really enjoyed snapping dilapidated buildings and the locals (when I could get a photo). I’m still nervous when it comes to taking pictures of strangers. And yet, I think people are the most interesting to capture. I’m still toying with how to approach people when out with my camera. Is it better to ask somebody’s permission or just take a snap of a moment? I still don’t know the answer to that question. I read an interesting tips article on National Geographic about this particular issue. If you want the link to that it’s here.

I took so many pictures in black and white during this holiday, that I’ve created a gallery of them instead of choosing one. Here are my findings from our first stop: Shanghai. Next ‘Black and White Wednesday’ will be Hong Kong & Macau.

Postcards from Shanghai

Shanghai, China

If you want the quick version of this trip check out my Youtube video:
Shanghai: Four Countries, Three Weeks.

Back in 2008, I went to China with a school trip. It was mandatory to take a language for GCSE and I knew that they offered trips depending on the language you chose. Having already been to Korea, I had an interest in this part of the world. So, it made sense for me to take Chinese Mandarin. That was until I realised how darn difficult it was to learn. Whilst I passed my exams, my Chinese skills are next to nothing now. On the school trip I visited Beijing for a weekend and then stayed in a boarding school somewhere in Guangzhou. Whilst this was a great experience, I didn’t get to explore much outside of the grounds.

Shanghai was my second trip to China but it really felt like I was able to get a better feel for the place this time around. I expected the city to be ultra-modern knowing that Spike Jonze had chosen Shanghai as the location for his 2013 futuristic romance film, Her. It’s modern flare is part of the city’s character but it surprised me that for such an internationally well-known place, it wasn’t hard to stumble upon older gems. You can gaze upon great architectural landmarks like the Bund but also get lost in it’s shabby streets. Shanghai has a thumbs up from me. Here’s our itinerary.

Day 1
1. Yuyuan Gardens
We only had the evening to explore. On our way to People’s Square, we got lost and stumbled upon Yuyuan. It was the best accidental opening to the trip. This is a shopping and dining area but set within traditional Chinese buildings. This night made us realise we were going to struggle with our lack of Mandarin. We chose a random dumpling place, went in and it was incredibly awkward that we were blatantly clueless. It reminded me of the first time I landed in Korea, trying to get by.

2. East Nanjing Road & The Bund
Of course, first night we ticked this off. East Nanjing Road reminded me of Time’s Square. The crowd was insane. There were police there trying to make a clear flow of direction for crowds and was manic. The Bund is just as cool and futuristic as it looks online. Welcome to the largest population in the world.

Day 2
1. French Concession
Shanghai has seen quite it’s fair bit of change and it retains a distinct French influence from its time as a foreign concession. So, this area is really unusual because you can definitely see European architecture and food at play.

2. Jing’an Temple
We were too late to enter the temple so hung around the park nearby. Whilst sat on a bench being bitten to death, this lovely old man started talking to us. Sometimes the sheer amount of people in China can be a little overwhelming and irritating. To meet this guy really brightened up our day. He was fluent in English so people kept staring at him so intensely for being able to speak to us. When talking about how he learnt English he said: ‘A man is not old unless he stops learning.’ I thought that was a nice touch. He made our time in Jing’an more worthwhile.

3. Lost Heaven
Remember I was saying I went to China with school. Well, it just so happens my friend from that class now lives and teaches in Shanghai. Before I moved to Korea, he was teaching in Thailand and was a great help for teaching advice. We went for a meal at Lost Heaven which serves up Yunnan folk cuisine. It was yaaaamay.

Day 3
1. Return to Jing’an 
Because we’ve seen so many temples in Korea and Japan, we didn’t know whether it was worth paying to enter. But, we did anyway and actually this temple is beautiful. Set against the glass architecture surrounding this hub, it’s really, yet again a great example of how Asia has retained its tradition and modernity within the same space.

2. Propaganda Poster Museum
This was up there for me with the highlights of Shanghai. This museum is based in a housing estate. No joke. It’s in a basement of some apartments but it’s actually pretty well known as an attraction now. The small museum has a range of exclusive propaganda artwork spanning from the 1930’s onwards. It’s a really unique exhibition.

3. IFC Mall 
This is just a shopping mall in the fancy area of the financial district. Whilst you might not be able to afford much, its a really great way to get a close up encounter of the Pearl Tower.

4. Shanghai Circus
There are no animals in this circus so I was happy to go and see it. Whilst I thought the venue felt a little worn out, the performers were incredible. I don’t want to give too much away. Just go see it.

Day 4
1. Film Museum
This was more in my interests. I know very little about Chinese cinema and felt that the museum would be amazing for those who already know quite a bit. It focuses specifically on films but because of my lack of knowledge on this area, I felt I needed some background of how the context of the time affected the films which were produced.

2. Urban Planning Museum
This was for Dave. He likes architecture. I honestly thought it would be really dull but it had a good mix of artsy floors about architecture (which I liked) and then scientific, like geology and such. Good place if you want to understand the influence of European architecture in the city and the development of Shanghai’s modern landscape which has rapidly flourished in recent years.

3. Return to IFC Mall
We returned to IFC for Sichuan food at Southern Beauty. Sichuan province is well known for its spice. Let me tell you, we ordered a ridiculous amount of food. Everyone who went past our table gave us funny looks. Sichuan noodles, pork shoulder, dumplings, kung pao prawns and more. You know you’ve overindulged when you start to breathe heavy from the sheer amount of food. Great meal.

Day 5: Suzhou
Suzhou is only a short train ride away from Shanghai so we took a half-day trip. Remember your passport to get tickets. We tried the day before and were rejected without it. Hence, an impromptu museum day.
1. Humble Administrators Garden
Hailed as ‘thee’ garden to visit in Suzhou. We were a little disappointed but it was incredibly busy. In more serene circumstances the garden could have perhaps lived up to its hype. I did enjoy the bonsai tree bit because…bonsai trees are boss.

2. Pingjang Road
What a surprise this was. Absolute gem in Suzhou. The road is right by a river and feels very oldy-worldy. It actually reminded me a bit of the Philosophers Walk in Kyoto. Really quaint and feels as though you’re stepping back in time.

3. Return to Yuyuan
We got back to Shanghai after a really stressful bout with ticket collection. Long story. Yuyuan Gardens was the perfect way to finish Shanghai. During the day, Yuyuan is buzzing but on the night it is lit up and has an electric vibe.

And that was the end of Shanghai. Don’t miss tomorrow for my black and white photos from Shanghai.

Next in the ‘Postcards’ series will be from Hong Kong & Macau. 안녕 (Bye)

 

 

 

24. Taipei 101

Taiwan: Taipei 101

Good evening, I am currently at the airport hanging around for our early flight back to Busan. So, whilst last week I spoke about HK being a disappointment, Taiwan has been anything but. Great food, great places, great people.

Today’s picture is from Taipei 101. Towers are really expensive so instead we decided to cheat a little and pay a visit to the capitalist, conglomerate empire that is Starbucks, based on the 35th floor.

This Starbucks is so secretive that you need to make a reservation days in advance. Whilst it wasn’t at the very top of 101, it was a really great way to get a window view of Taipei with a cup of coffee. Towers I find are often way too crowded to get a good view. You get a minute to take a picture before someone is ready to pounce, elbows ready with their selfie stick. This however, was a relaxed option and much cheaper than paying for a ticket. Bingo! Taiwan has been a pleasure and so marks the end to our summer vacation.

 

23. Macau

Macau: somewhere

Hello from Kaohsiung, Taiwan it’s wonderful here but whilst I’m snapping I’ll save TW for next Wednesday. This past week I’ve been in Hong Kong. I have to admit, it may be a surprise but I was actually a little disappointed. Why?

Expectation has a lot to do with experience and I guess mine were high. I wasn’t wowed by any of the sights and it’s character quite honestly seemed seedy. Whilst I know it is a big city, it was a country more consumerist and Western than I’d imagined. In Korea, everyone has money burning a hole in their pockets, a yearn and love for shopping. More, more, more but only in HK, I felt I couldn’t escape. Perhaps because I don’t know the place well but it was suffocating and had little substance. No matter where I turned I was never too far from a Gucci or several Chow Tai Fook branches.

My favourite day during our stay was spent wandering around Macau. Macau is a short ferry ride away and it was unusual to visit a country where two distinct cultures combine. Macau has both Chinese and Portuguese influences.

These posters were on a little road away from the main square. I think most are advertisements from the 1930’s poster girl era and they caught my eye. Take a break from HK and visit Macau.

 

22. Film Museum

China: Film Museum, Shanghai

I am currently writing from Hong Kong as my Wednesday post had to be delayed afer being blocked on social media (thank you China). Today’s post is from this week’s travels in Shanghai.

Shanghai has been a great surprise, with a little time spare we chose to visit the Film Museum. I know next to nothing about Chinese cinema, I never had the opportunity to study it on my degree and so it was great to get an insight into this area which I know very little about.

The museum focussed mainly on actors and specific films but because of my lack of knowledge I would have quite liked to have seen a bit more about how the time the films were made in shaped the movies which came out.

My favourite part however was seeing the cameras. The equipment was full of old school editing machines and cameras. It just reminded me how much work goes into making a film. The editing machine had a separate spool for pictures and sound. Now, computers are King and it’s so cool to think someone put this together all by hand. Movies are magic.