Saturday, October 20, 2012

The airport at the end of the world

Carved and painted roof

Street food stall; a fishy treat!

Old doorway with roof shadow like a frill at the bottom

"38th parallell" bronze statue

Bubbling bulgogi

Les on a B52 flying fortress

Part of the National War Memorial sculpture

Ceremonial tiger drum
Flying into Incheon Airport, Seoul, was a strange experience. We flew in low over great expanses of mudflats, not a building in sight.All around was sea, dotted wth small islands or sand bars. If not the end of the world, it seemed you could see it from there. An hour's bus transfer took me to the hotel. There was a little tent set up out front and loud, rousing military-style chorus music blasting from loudspeakers. All the hotel staff were wearing bright blue waistcoats over their grey hotel uniform. Some had red head bands with Korean writing on in white. All very jolly looking! Turns out they were in protest at the hotel management and within 2 days this had escalated to a full blown strike resulting, on the day we left, in the closure of most of  the hotel restaurants, room service and other amenities! Luckily for us it was on the day we left and the breakfast buffet was still operational.
Seoul was an interesting city. First glance made me think it was flat but on walking out the hotel I realised it was far from it! More like San Faancisco.

I had dinner in the hotel's Italian restaurant (one of about 8 in house)as Les was still at a business dinner. Next morning, it was bright and sunny, so we walked down to the station and caught the great value city bus tour, one of those hop on hop off things. We toured all the historic palaces, with carved roof beams, spent an hour in a reconstructed traditional village and another hour in the artist quarter of Insadong. Having had the luxurious hotel breakfast,  we only had a coffee all day! At night we took the free hotel shuttle to Itaewon, the main tourist shopping and eating area and were spoiled for choice; everything from the various Asian styles, through Russian, Portguese, American diners, French bistros. Absolutely every cuisine imagineable. We settled on a fusion type pace where we were able to combine the salad bar with a hot food buffet and table service, including Asian and Western and both the quality and range on offer were superb.
We were glad we did not have long to wait for the shuttle bus back to the hotel as it was a tad on the chilly side compared to Hong Kong. I wore a leather jacket, 2 layers, a scarf and socks for the first time since January in Scotland.Next day we spent a long time at the Korean War Memorial museum. It was mainly outdoors with scores of planes, tanks, copters, guns and other big grey scary war machines. Les loved it. I was amused, then frustrated then very angry by the behaviour of scores of school children on field trips, ranging from toddlers (what's the point in taking them to a war history museum?They could barely walk!) to teenagers., all roaming around with little or no supervision. Where were all the teachers? The pupils were rude and loud, yelling, running around, pushing past and, for me worst of all, leaving litter strewn in their wake. Of course, I had to act on that one. I approached a group of teenage boys and asked, "Do you speak English?" Proud to show off their language skills, they said they did, so I pointed out their tinfoil lunch wrappers on the ground at their feet and then pointed to the close proximity of a clearly labelled trash can. They apologised, picked it all up and put it in the bin. Success! I felt better after that. In 35 years of taking Scottish kids to libraries, museums and literary festivals, I have never experienced such bad behaviour...well maybe once when a boy in my charge uprooted a sapling in Charlotte Square gardens at the Edinburgh Book Festival... but it wisnae his fault, honest! A big boy dun it an ran away and he was left holding the stump and looking glaikit.
In the afternoon, we wandered round the famous Namdaemon street market, which operates from 11am till 3 am with stalls selling junk, kitchen wares, souvenirs, food to eat and to take home, toys, clothes, shoes...all haphazardly thrown together in no real order. Stalls were sometimes just a tarpaulin on the ground or an adapted motorbike with a fold out table at the rear . We ate at a street restaurant; bulgogi with kimchi and other accompaniments. It was delicious.
After arriving back to a balmy 27 degrees in Hong Kong, we dumped our bags and headed straight back out, downstairs to the club lounge to meet up with some neighbours for a wine tasting. It was nice to chat  and for the husbands to meet, as we ladies already knew each other.
Today it is laundry time, as we need a quick turnaround on warm clothes.I leave for Scotland late Wednesday and Les goes to Maryland, USA on Thursday.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Post holiday antics

It hardly seems possible that a year has passed since we last went on the Mandarin Oriental private boat to celebrate Hannah's 2nd birthday, yet here we were again,on Saturday 6th, celebrating her 3rd! Of course now she is a big sister as well as a big girl. We had a lovely day sailing round the islands and again went to Rainbow Restaurant at Sok Kwu Wan on Lamma for lunch. It was gratifying to see so many junks on cruise trips so soon after the terrible disaster on the 1st. It was a dreadful tragedy, it was mourned, will be thoroughly investigated and the families will be helped by their community, workplace and financially. We had three days of official mourning and the laser light show was suspended. Many of the neon adverts along Victoria Harbour dimmed. went off or turned black and white as a mark of respect. But Hong Kongers are very pragmatic people and the boat owners depend on leisure trips to make a living.

This week, I met a lovely English newcomer. Kate and her husband moved into our building whilst we were in Singapore and by chance we met them twice in the lift, got talking and I invited her to come to Corona with me. That worked well and since then we've had lunch three times and been on a hike. The hike was wonderful. 17 of us took a bus to the East of the island and walked on narrow cliff top paths for about an hour before descending into Big Wave Bay. Except for the weather, it was not unlike the cliff walks around Eyemouth! I managed reasonably well until the descent.1000 steps played havoc with the old knees but luckily my new purchase helped. I've bought a walking pole!
A further half hour walk brought us to Shek O, a seaside village where we had a Thai lunch before getting the bus then train home. Out from 9.00am until 3.30 pm, then just time for a nap, a half hour in the jacuzzi then steam room to help my knees and then  have dinner ready by 6.30.That's how the time goes by in Hong Kong!

I attended Book Group on Tuesday when we discussed Pearl S Buck's The Good Earth.I loved it, I'm amazed it has passed me by all these years. I remember shelving multiple copies when I had a summer job in the Paisley Central library when I was about 14. My Mum had read it and I remember her telling me it was a really old book, (1932) but it seemed so alien to me as I knew little and cared less about China at that time. My loss, that's for sure; it won both the Pulitzer and the Nobel Literature prize!

From time to time I fill in a customer survey for The Co-Op and this week I won £100 amazon vouchers for commenting on their products. I like their carrot cake very much, so I told them!

Over the weekend, I'll be looking out some heavier clothes as Les flies to Seoul in Korea on Monday and I join him on Wednesday. Currently, the temperature here is 27 and it has been very dry, so we have a RED fire danger warning in force. In Seoul, it is forecast to be 18 so for us that will seem cold. It will be good acclimatisation for the following week, when Les goes to Maryland US and I fly  to Bonnie Scotland. Brr!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Singa Pura

Boat Quay by day

Singapore Sling at Raffles Hotel

Dinner by the river at Boat Quay

Merlion Statue

 We had a wonderful time in Singapore. We visited loads of historic sites, so I can tell you with some confidence that the island state was originally people  by Indians, Chinese, Malaysians and Europeans, so it is a real melting pot of cultures. It got it's name erroneously, as Singa Pura means Lion City. In fact, the first sighting of a big cat was much more likely to be a tiger, as they were populous way back then.The modern popular mythical beast, the Merlion, is half lion and half fish.
Singapore became a significant trading port thanks to British Statesman Sir Stamford Raffles who had a vision for Singapore as Asia's premier city. He died relatively young, but is well respected still as the "father of modern Singapore"

We visited all the regular tourist haunts: the River, Merlion statue, Raffles statue,Raffles hotel, Fullerton hotel, etc. We spent a sobering morning at Changi Prison Museum and Chapel and a glorious afternoon in the National Orchid House at the Botanical Gardens. We went to Sentosa Island, did some shopping and visited the National Museum and an art gallery. We took a river cruise. We had a night trip to the brand new Gardens By the Bay and gaped at the magnificent Marina Bay Sands hotel. We ate at Lau Pa Sat (Satay Street)Thanks to Les work colleagues, we saw loads in a short time as they acted as tour guides for a day and on another evening took us to eat spice crab in one of the government (cooncil) housing estates. It is such a safe city and so easy to get around by MRT as they call their underground rail system. It was a bit of a whirlwind! However, the nightly complimentary cocktails in the hotel's club lounge helped us ease from day to evening smoothly!