Monday, March 30, 2009

Seoul - Summary Of Day 11

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After more than a week in Seoul, I am finally back. Taken at the floor of Niigata station.
  • It was my final day in Seoul and I didn't plan to go anywhere already as I got to catch a flight later that evening. Woke up pretty late as usual and started to pack my stuff; me being someone who often leave behind his things whenever he visits a new place, I didn't want to take any chance and I'm quite proud of myself as I didn't leave behind anything this time.
  • One of their senior who had dinner with us the previous night, Juan Lin joined the other six of us for lunch. Had gamjatang at a nearby restaurant. Gamjatang or pork bone soup is a spicy Korean soup made with pork spine, vegetables, green onions, hot peppers and ground wild sesame seeds. Too bad not many gamja or potatoes where put inside the soup as I love potatoes very much. Nevertheless, it taste marvelous and it's one of the best dish I had in Seoul. The rice, which was cooked using the gravy from our gamjatang that they ordered after that was really nice too.
  • Soon enough, it was time for me to take the bus to the airport; had a group pictures with all eight of them before leaving. Heng Chiang and Wei Guang sent me at the Korea University bus stop and the bus arrived about ten minutes later. It could be years from now before we get to meet with each other again and we bid farewell there.
  • I got to say that city limousine bus driver had a super scary driving skills. He practically just pulled his hand break and stepped on the break pedal so many times and all the times it's done out of a sudden which made the ride an unpleasant one. It was as if we were riding on a roller coaster. It stopped at Gimpo International Airport first and by the time I reached Inchon International Airport, it was already five; my flight was scheduled to depart at six. I could have missed my flight if I missed the bus earlier. Without wasting much time, I headed to the check-in counter queue and was given a tag to proceed to the counter straight away when the staff saw my flight's time. So, I didn't have to queue behind the long line.
  • The departing hall was just nearby and it wasn't as rush as I had feared initially; in fact, I still had time to grab some Korean seaweed and Toblerone chocolates at the duty-free shop after I went passed the security checks. Was among the last to go through the boarding gate and before anything, the flight began to move already.
  • It was just a short two-hour journey but it was during this flight that I got to know someone of the opposite sex. However, I think it shouldn't worry Michelle as that lady was almost three times my age. I had a window sit and the two seats to my right were empty. Halfway through the journey, a lady in a green shirt came and sat down on one of the seats and I saw she was holding a yellow paper. It was the immigration declaration form which we had to hand in upon arrival. She looked a bit lost but I didn't say anything yet.
  • I stood up to take out my spare camera battery and I nodded at her before I got back to my seat. Not long after that, she approached me and asked for my help on filling that form. Too bad it was in Korean and I couldn't read a single word; so I suggested her to get a Japanese version. She was still struggling when she filled the form and I offered to help her out, as in telling her what are the information needed. As the address section was a bit long, she asked me to write it for her because her eyesight wasn't that good.
  • From her address, I got to know that she is staying in Fukushima prefecture, located south of Niigata prefecture. It was from then that we started to chat and I found out that she was a Korean, married to a Japanese guy. She changed her nationality as she has been living in Japan for ten years and she went back to South Korea to visit her family in Inchon, about twenty minutes away from the airport. She make a trip back to her hometown about once a year, usually during the spring break in March.
  • Though she now holds a Japanese passport, Korea is still in her heart. She asked me if if I find it good living in Japan but I replied her honesty by saying not everything in Japan is good, which she agreed.
  • Then came one point that she found out that I wasn't a Japanese and she was taken aback with that. Her expressions when I said I'm a Malaysian was so funny, her eyes were opened so widely. I asked her if I look like a Japanese; she looked at me and said I look more like an American, though haha.
  • Her Japanese still has Korean slang and there were a few times I couldn't get what she said. She can speak and write the Japanese characters (hiragana and katakana) but not kanji. I learned that she studied Japanese by her own and through daily conversations with the people around her.
  • There was a section for occupation and she said she does nothing at home but just cooked for her husband, who is a bus driver. So, I assume she's a housewife. Then came one funny part when I asked her if she brings anything into Japan. Instantly, she waved like so kan cheong and quickly said that she brought nothing lol.
  • We were chatting so happily and without realising it, the pilot instructed us to get ready for landing already. Nevertheless, it was my first time talking to a total stranger in a plane. I still remember my first time taking a plane when I came to Japan two years ago; a middle-aged Japanese guy was sitting next to me and he looked so scary lol. Before the plan landed, we even camwhore no less than five tries, and the fun part is she layan me haha. Before we parted, she gave me a packet of chocolate and kept on telling me to study hard, grow up and become someone in the future.
  • Reached Niigata International Airport slightly earlier than scheduled. The feeling was just different once I stepped out from the plane, just like what the lady told me. It's the same whenever I am back home; you will just feel that there is something different and yet, it's somehow unexplainable.
  • The immigration procedure was so much simpler and it within ten minutes, I was at the arrival hall already. I felt so much easier once I returned because it felt like I'm back home; maybe because of the language spoken. The immigration guy asked my whether I'm currently studying here and before he returned my passport, he said "ganbatte kudasai" to me with a friendly smile without going through my stuff.
  • Relieved that there were still two rounds of shuttle bus to the train station; otherwise, I would have to take the taxi there and it definitely will cost a bomb. Went to the toilet to do my business; just small business anyway. Since I still got some time, I called baby whom I know she was waiting for my call and also made a call to my mom. I forgot to prepare my yen and luckily the bus driver had change as I only got 10,000 yen notes; all my coins were somewhere deep inside my backpack.
  • Grab some bread and snacks at the convenience store before I took the train back to Nagaoka. The ride was roughly seventy minutes and Muazam fetched me upon reaching the train station back to the hostel. Managed to sent off two of my seniors who had graduated to the station at midnight. Slept early out of exhaustion and started to tidy up my new room as I'm moving into a new one once the school reopen.
  • This is the last entry of the daily summary of my Seoul's trip and detailed entries will follow after this, although I'm not sure how soon is that. Just wanna extend a simple thank you to all of them - Heng Chiang, Wei Guang, Adrian, Kuan Xin, Xiang Xing, Hoong Shin, Khek Hun, Chan Hang and Lionel, who had been a great host during my time there.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Seoul - Summary Of Day 10

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One section of Hwaseong Fortress in Suwon.

  • The plan for today is to go to Suwon to visit the famous fortress in that city, which is located in the outskirts of Seoul. Since we slept late the previous night, all of us woke up quite late and only went out just before noon. Wei Guang wanted to join me initially but due to his school workloads, he couldn't make it and Lionel joined Heng Chiang and me. Had lunch at the nearby bento shop where all three of us had the same thing - chicken mayonnaise rice.
  • Took the 80-minute train ride from Anam station all the way to Suwon station with a couple of transfer halfway. This is when I went through some cultural shock during the train ride. Well, maybe the term "cultural shock" is kinda exaggerating, nevertheless it was something I have never come across in Japan. At least two guys came in pulling their luggage and was promoting some stuff to the commuters; one of them was some facial cream.
  • However, the one which I find it most interesting was when one guy in a shabby and messy condition. Judging from his untidiness, I bet he haven't bathed for like days already, came in and had a luggage behind him. There were so many dirty plastic bags stuck in between his luggage, still with some leftover food. As he pulled his bag, those plastic bags dropped onto the floor. I could hardly breath when he walked pass me and he continued walking towards the space in between the coaches to smoke. That is like so dangerous thing to do.
  • One lady who was sitting down said something to Heng Chiang and Lionel and they told me that that apparently, that lady was kinda like advising us not to follow that guy's example. Another guy who was selling his stuff then shouted so loudly as if he was trying to start a quarrel at that shabby guy and I kinda figured out that he was chasing him out of the train as soon as possible. That prompted some weird stares from the other commuters in the train. Anyway, that dirty guy got off from the train at the next station and the station master dealt with him immediately, I guess. That incident was indeed something new to me.
  • While we continued our journey, Heng Chiang came out with an idea to shot a video and later make it something like a documentary during our trip at Hwaseong Fortress in Suwon and we sort of planned what we would do at the locations while we were still in the train.
  • We finally reached the city after a long train ride and the city looked nowhere like what we had thought initially. It was much more developed beyond our expectations as there were quite a number of high-raised buildings in the city. Went to the tourist information counter to get some direction to the fortress before boarding the bus there. The road was super jammed, maybe because it was a weekend and people were flocking there to visit the place which was designated as one of the World Heritage site more than a decade ago.
  • We began our shooting as soon as we reached the first gate and it took quite a while before we get everything done nicely. Heng Chiang was struggling in front of the camera initially but he finally got everything right after four or five takes.
  • The next location was the palace and since it looked pretty much like any other palaces in Seoul, we decided to give it a skip and continued walking along the fortress. There is a train ride which goes around the main spots of the fortress but too bad the tickets were snapped up so fast the we got to wait for almost two more hours before we got to ride on them; so again, we decided to explore the place by walking. Along the way, bought a packet of snack to fill our stomach while we walked though those hilly area, which was quite tiring actually.
  • There came one spot where a lady stopped us and asked for our tickets. It was only that time that we realised all the places we walked through earlier required an entrance ticket but we didn't know about it. So, we just told her that we would get a ticket down there but as soon as we were at the ticket counter, we walked to somewhere else when she wasn't looking at us. But come to think of it, the fortress is like it cut through the middle of the city and there isn't really any gate around it, so how are they supposed to distinguish who are visitng the fortress and who aren't? It is something like collecting entrance fees to people who are visiting the A'Famosa Fort in Malacca.
  • Walked a little bit more around the fortress and we decided to call it a day. Took the long train ride back and we were so exhausted that we slept for almost the whole journey. Lionel left us to attend his gathering and I had dinner with Heng Chiang at some Chinese restaurant. There were a group of Korean University students having some gatherings there and the place was just havoc. We ordered jajangmyeon, a Korean dish derived from the Chinese dish. It consists of wheat noodle topped with a thick sauce made of salty black soybean paste, diced meat and vegetables.
  • Came back and Skype with baby for the last time maybe from Seoul as I will be flying back to Japan tomorrow evening. No plan in particular for tomorrow; maybe I will just go out and grab some Korean food to be brought back and have a lunch together with the rest before heading to the airport. Finally the ten days I had in Seoul will be ending and it has been a great vacation - my first solo vacation in a country which I don't speak their language. Might join Heng Chiang to edit the documentary we did today after this and off to bed later afterwards.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Seoul - Summary Of Day 9

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The bottle of soju which we ordered during the buffet dinner tonight.

  • My initial plan was to go out early today but it was already ten plus when I woke up. Took my morning shower and got myself ready. Stopped at the nearby 7 Eleven to grab some muffin and another shop to have some Korean dumplings. It was just a plain one, with some vegetable (kimchi, I suppose) with some meat as the fillings.
  • While I was inside the subway, one guy came into the coach and started distributing some papers. I didn't read them because it was in Korean. After a while, he made another round in the coach and collect back his papers. That was the time I figured out that he was asking for some money and I assume those things written on the paper surely must be about his plea for some money from the commuters.
  • Managed to locate the Seodaemun Prison but I found out that I went inside it through some unlocked side gate, instead of the main entrance. So, I save myself from paying for the entrance fee. Photographs are not allowed at most part of the prison but it was quite an eerie experience to walk around that area where it used to keep the Korean civilians during the Japanese invasion.
  • Wanted to visit Soedaemun Independence Park which is just next to the prison bu too bad it's currently undergoing some renovation work. In fact, the prison is also being renovating at the moment.
  • I tried to get to Geongbukgung but somehow I wasn't sure of the exact way. So, I went into a police office to get some help. Too bad he barely speak any English and two of his young trainees were laughing at him while he was struggling to explain to me the direction. I gave up and figured out the way myself in the end.
  • I was walking to my next destination when an old lady who was sitting on a bench waved to me. She was mumbling in Korean which I didn't understand a word of course. From the body language, I roughly figured out that she wanted me to help her up the slope ahead. It took me a second thought whether or not I should help her; as you know there are a lot of cases nowadays where people get conned in such a way that some strangers will ask for directions or help, but that is not the real intention; instead, they will rob or injure you.
  • However, she was just an old lady and I thought it won't do me any harm. Helped her to walk up the slope as she continued to mumble to me; I just smiled in return. I think she was saying something about my hand when he held it; maybe my hand felt cold. Continued my journey after she was up the slope and I had a nice feeling for getting to help some elderly. Hope she reached her destination safely.
  • Reached Geongbukgung and it so happened that my timing was perfect to watch the guard changing ceremony at the entrance of the palace. Tried to asked for the information to visit Cheongwadae, the official residence of the President of the Republic of Korea, but it required us to make a reservation ten days earlier at least. Visited the National Palace Museum of Korea instead and spent almost two hours inside the museum which displays the collections of art and objects from the palaces of Joseon.
  • Stopped to had some light snack on my way back. Had two sticks of eomuk and also a piece of Korean wheat cheese onion cake at a pastry shop. Took the subway back home as we planned to have dinner together later that night.
  • Skype a while with baby as usual and went out to join the others for a buffet dinner; they call it samgyeopsal here in Korea. It is definitely different from Japanese yakiniku, as in the taste and how the barbecue the meat which I find it unique. They place a flat steel board tilted slightly and placed the meat on an aluminium foil. The oil from the meal will run flow down the board that makes the meat slightly cripsy yet tender. During the dinner, two of their girls' senior joined us as well.
  • We also ordered one bottle of soju, the equivalent of sake in Japan because they said I should try them at least once. I'm not really into drinking but it was much milder compared to sake although the alcohol content was around 18 percent. Drank two cups at one go.
  • Came back and Skyped with baby and my cousin, Reena in Perth. Reena took me to tour her house with her laptop and even introduced me to her pet dog, named Snoopy. Lame name, right? Anyway, managed to see the other three of my long lost cousins and also talked a while to my aunt.
  • Made this update and will sleep after this. Not planning for tomorrow as Heng Chiang will join me to Suwon tomorrow, my final day in South Korea.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Seoul - Summary Of Day 8

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The front corridor of the Main Hall connecting the individual room which enshrine the royal spirit tablets at Jongmyo Shrine.

  • It was raining when I woke up this morning. It was cold and windy; so I decided to hide underneath my blanket to continue my sleep a little while more. By the time I got myself ready, it was still raining outside and I won't be able to go anywhere with such weather. Stayed in the room to online and check my mailbox while waiting for the rain to stop.
  • It was almost noon when I went out and stopped at the bento shop again to grab my simple lunch. Saw a junior of my friend there who was getting his lunch as well and I got him to help me order my tonkatsu (pork) chicken rice.
  • Took the subway to Jongmyo Shrine, a royal ancestral shrine of the Joseon dynasty. It has a long and rich history that it was enlisted as one of the UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995. There was a group of kindergarten kids visiting the place when I was there and they looked so blur when their teachers were trying hard explaining about the shrine to them.
  • Saw a library inside the shrine and I took the chance to go online a while as they have two laptops for the usage of the visitors. Saw baby online and we chatted a while. We were actually fighting at first due to some misunderstandings but everything turned out well in the end. The wind was blowing so strong and I quickly headed to the next destination on my plan.
  • Changdeokgung Palace was located in just next to the Jongmyo Shrine and I decided to stop at this palace first. Besides, the time for guided tour was going to start very soon and it just suit my timing well. They provide guided tour in several languages for the visitor because they don't allow visitors to tour the palace by themselves due to safety reasons as this palace is also on the UNESCO World Heritage list.
  • In fact, the entrance fee for the guided tour is almost five times cheaper than a self-guided tour. I don't know why is that so but anyway, the Korean guide who accompanied us was talking in English in such a way that I guess nobody understood her. Everybody were more busy snapping pictures around the palace area. I asked one ang moh lady who helped me take my pictures if she got what our guide were talking, but she just said she didn't really bother about her explanations lol.
  • Next destination on my list was Bukchon Traditional Culture Center. It is a Korean village where where hanok or Korean traditional houses have been preserved. Met with a guy earlier when I grab a piece of ham toast. He couldn't speak any Korean and I noticed that when he was making his order. Came across the same guys again at the entrance to the Bukchon Traditional Culture Center and I found out that he is from Hong Kong. He looked lost, so was I; so it was like a blind man leading another blind man and both got lost in the end lol.
  • I wasn't that bad in reading maps, so I didn't get lost; I just overestimated the map and end up so much further away from where I wanted to go. In the end, I met with a Korean lady who opened a souvenir shops selling stuff on the actor and actress of Winter Sonata as the junior high school opposite her shop was used as one of the shooting site for that drama. She spoke fluent English and when she got to know I speak Japanese, she talked to me in Japanese. Her Japanese is just as good as her English. She used to stay in that shop last time but it suffered some damages; so she moved to a new place and used the current place for running her business. In fact, she invited me into her shop and offered me a cup of Korean traditional tea; it was a cold day, she told me.
  • Met with two ang moh guys when I was halfway exploring the village and I asked one of them to take a picture for me. We started a short conversation and we asked each other where were we from. When I asked him, he pointed to my jacket and I knew for instant they are from England. I came across two young policemen on my way to take the subway and I approached them to have them locate my current location, thinking that it would save me some time. The first guy passed the map to his friend and it took both of them so long to figure out the location but in the end, they pointed me to the opposite end of the supposed location on the map and told me they were new at that area. Luckily I didn't follow their direction, or else I might get myself lost instead.
  • Came back early today and had my dinner at Heaven 1. Wanted to order samgyetang but she doesn't sell such dish, so I settled with daktoritang. Never mind-lah, still got the sound "tang" behind, so it should be the same, I thought. But both of them are totally two different thing when it was served. In fact, it was the same thing I had with Heng Chiang the other day lol.
  • Came back and got to Skype with baby after a lapse of two days. Continue to online and blogged on this entry. Will be planning for tomorrow's itinerary after this like usual and head to bed early.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Seoul - Summary Of Day 7

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One of the famous landmark of the city - N Seoul Tower
on top of Namsan Hill.
  • As I was really exhausted from the previous day, I woke up so late this morning that when I got myself ready, it was already almost noon. Stopped by one of the shop nearby which sells Korean bento to have my simple lunch, chicken mayonnaise with rice before taking the subway to the first destination of the day - Seoul World Cup Stadium.
  • It was quite a long journey and while I was inside the subway, one guy came into the coach and he was promoting some plastic strips which is used to clear stuck pipe lines. Something which I have never seen happening in Japan. Another thing I notice is that there are people selling stuff like decorations and jewelery along the pathway inside the subway station; and I thought it only happens in developing country like Malaysia.
  • Reached the World Cup Stadium station and as soon as I exited the station, the stadium was already right in front of me. Was awed by that sight and I stood still there for a few seconds, motionless.
  • Went to the information counter to ask if I could enter the stadium but he couldn't speak any English nor Japanese, not even a single word. All I heard was that the kept pointing to another section of the stadium while saying "mite, mite". That means "see, see" in Japanese, but I have no idea whatsoever about what he was telling me. I then walked towards the direction he pointed to me and I finally came to the entrance for the stadium tour.
  • Spend almost three hours inside this stadium, which hosted one of the semi final match between South Korea and Germany during the 2002 FIFA World Cup tournament. The guard asked me if I'm a Thai when I was at the touchline taking a few shots of the field and stadium. Now, I'm beginning to wonder if I poses a face which is similar to so many similarities - Japanese, Korean, Thai. Next up, people might mistaken me as a Senegalese. Lets just wait and see. In fact, that guard allowed me to step onto the field to have my picture taken as I stood on the ground which has seen players like Oliver Kahn and Michael Ballack played on the same ground more than six years ago.
  • Visitors are also allowed to enter the substitutions benches, players dressing rooms, VIP rooms and interview room among others. A Korean guy who speak fluent English and was in charge of the visual room turned on the thirty-minute video highlighting the 2002 World Cup for me although it was not the supposed viewing time after I made a request. Sat inside the rather huge room alone to watch it all to myself. It was indeed a wonderful experience for getting such a rare opportunity to visit such place. In only two days, I have been to two stadiums which have hosted two of the world's biggest sporting events - the Olympics and the football World Cup.
  • The World Cup Park is located just next to the stadium and I hiked up 291 steps of wooden staircase up to the hill in which Haneul Park is situated. Nothing much up there the place was full with leafless plants and trees and it was still early spring. The wind was blowing so strong that I had difficulties walking on the open area. Saw a few windmill up the hill as well. It was a great place to relax our mind from the hustle and bustle of the city. Saw quite a number of people walking and jogging up the hill even though it was so freaking cold.
  • The plan of the day was changed again since it was getting late already. I decided to go to N Seoul Tower after postponing it for so many days. On my way there, stopped at a convenience store to grab a Korean onigiri and a box of biscuit to fill my stomach as I had early lunch. Took the shuttle bus up Namsan Hill where N Seoul Tower is located; just like KL Tower is on top of Bukit Nanas.
  • Met three Japanese students who are from Kyoto University when we were helping each other to take pictures at the observatory deck. The moment I heard their university's name, I was impressed already since it is one of the top university in Japan. Didn't get a perfect view of the sunset due to the cloudy sky, but the night view of Seoul was definitely something to cheer about. It would be so much better if baby is here together with me; by then we could be on top of Eiffel Tower, who knows?
  • Just like what I did some time ago when I was at Hokkaido last summer, I got myself two postcards and I sent them at the post box placed just next to the souvenir shop. Guess who will be the receiver of those two postcards.
  • The wind was blowing so strong when I went up the open-air viewing deck and it was super cold as well. Didn't spend much time there as I was a little bit tired already, so I walked down the slope to board the shuttle bus to the subway station. However, the people kept coming to go up the tower even though it was past eight already.
  • After almost a week in South Korea, I can finally distinguish between the locals and the Japanese. Most of the time, when I see someone who overdress themselves, then they will most probably be Japanese because Koreans style themselves in a much more simple way than the Japanese.
  • When I wanna get someone to help me take my picture, I noticed that instead of saying "cheese" or "chiizu" among the Japanese, the Koreans will say "kimchi". Haha, isn't that too cute? So, I thought why don't we Malaysians come out with something which we can related to our culture too so that we can use it when we are taking pictures. One of the first word I thought to use is "karipap"; which means, when you are posing, you will say "ka-ri-pap!". Haha, I know it's lame. Besides, you will close your mouth when you say "...pap", so I guess that will not be a good choice. Anyone with a better idea, perhaps?
  • Oh another cool thing about the transportation here, besides the fact that they are so much cheaper than in Japan, is that when you exit from the subway and take a connecting bus within a certain period of time (thirty minutes, if I'm not wrong), they will not charge you the bus fare. I think this system is used in New Zealand as well.
  • Reached Anam station by nine and walked to Heaven 1 (the better name for "kedai muntah") to have my dinner but it was closed already. Stopped by another stall to have my dinner which I don't know the name, but it was some fried stuff and they pour the chilly gravy on top. Baby was offline already when I was back and I didn't get to see her for two straight nights already. Made this update and will plan for tomorrow after this, like usual. Bed time will follow after that.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Seoul - Summary Of Day 6

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The Statue of Brothers, depicting two brothers fighting for two different countries - one North and the other South, during the Korean War.

  • It was the longest day going around the places since I came to Seoul last Thursday. Went out by nine in the morning and had a simple bread for breakfast from 7 Eleven. For the second time in as many days, another old lady approached me to ask for directions while I was transferring between the train lines in the subway station. I just smile and shrugged my shoulders and she smiled back to me.
  • Walked to the nearby Yeouido Park but saw nothing much there. A couple of girls asked me whether the blooming flowers of the two trees there are sakura. It so happened that they are taking up Japanese and they showed me two thumb-ups indicating that they love the language very much. Before they left, one of them gave me a sweet lol.
  • Stopped at a stall halfway to had some light snack. It was a stick of sausage rolled with doughnut like thing. Nothing much special, to be honest.
  • Next destination was 63 Building, one of the famous landmark on Yeouido island, which is considered the Manhattan of South Korea. One thing different about this building is that the glasses are not like those usual blue or black, but it was golden brown, which makes it look unique. Didn't go up the observatory deck because the weather was cloudy; so I just settled with having lunch at the food court there. Had spicy fish naengmyeon, a kind of Korean cold noodle. Very nice, I love it!
  • Took a shuttle bus to the nearest subway station after I got to know there is such service from the information desk of 63 Building. This also allowed me to save some time as I was rushing to catch the guard changing ceremony at Deoksugung Palace. However, I couldn't really catch what the bus driver was telling when he made the firts stop, so I decided to stay on board. It proved to be the wrong decision as that was supposed to be the station I wanted to head to. Sat inside the bus for two more stops before got down from it as soon as I heard the word "yeok", which means station.
  • Reached the War Memorial Museum, but I just walked around outside the museum, which has quite a few interesting spots like the famous Statue of Brothers and the Korean War Monument. Didn't enter the museum due to time constrain; but anyway I managed to take some shots outside the area.
  • Rushed to Deoksugung Palace and reached there just before the guard changing ceremony commenced. It was similar to England's famous Changing of the Guard. It was indeed a rare chance to witness that ceremony and I actually get to wear the traditional Korean dress to pose at the front gate to the palace.
  • The temperature dropped really drastically today as it was four below zero degree Celsius today. Damn crazy, isn't it? I was shivering all my way inside the palace. In fact, there were a few times when it snowed lightly. Never imagine it can still snow when it's already late March.
  • Since it was still a couple of hours to go before my night programme started, I decided to go to Yongsan, the hub for electronic devices in South Korea, just like Akihabara in Japan to get my spare camera battery 'coz I couldn't bare having to cut short my trip every day just because my camera was running out of battery. Went to a few shops to survey the price first but eventually bought one at the Sony retail store at a bargain price, in which I got it for 2,000 won (RM 5) cheaper after bargaining. That sound just a small amount, but it's still money, right? Anyway, when I came back to check the price online, it was much cheaper than in Japan.
  • Before I got my battery, stopped at one of the rows of stalls by the road to get something to eat as I was a bit hungry already. It was something like cucur with octopus inside. Was much better than the sausage I got earlier of the day.
  • It was indeed one tiring day already, but that was not the end. The final place I went was to watch the well-known Nanta Show, a non-verbal performance which has comedy, acrobatic acts, dances and singing in a show which lasted for one and a half hour. Just the prefect way to end my long day and all my tiredness was gone by the time the show ended. I was laughing all the way through the show; it is indeed one of the main highlights of my Seoul trip so far. Got three coloured plastic balls when they threw them on the audience and I had my balls autographed (pun intended) after the show.
  • One thing that is obvious when you take the subway around dinner time is that it will be full of alcohol smell. Adrian told me that is very normal as those people usually go to drink during their dinner and that explains everything. Another thing is that whenever we transfer between different line, we got to climb up and down so many staircase and floors, that it has really test my stamina every day. Apparently, there is only one floor for the subways in Hong Kong when you are transferring between the lines.
  • Came back and stopped at one fast food restaurant to have a light supper, as I didn't take my dinner. Baby was sleeping already when I reached home, and I have yet to decide which plan to take for tomorrow. Blogged this entry and will sleep after this as my whole body is aching already. Will only decide tomorrow's itinerary tomorrow, I guess.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Seoul - Summary Of Day 5

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The main gate to the Olympic Stadiumm which hosted the Seoul Olympics in 1988.

  • The weather forecast said that it was going to be cold today, so I went out in wearing a white t-shirt and an jacket I bought at Namdaemun Market a day earlier. Went to KEB Bank to exchange my money, but found out that the rate is much lower than what I can get at the money changers at Namdaemun Market.
  • Had breakfast at the McDonald's' restaurant near Anam station. Did a minor change on my plan of the day by taking a detour to Namdaemun Market first to exchange my money. That money changer guy was telling something he saw on his laptop screen. I saw it was about some baseball game's result but I think it has got to do with the Japanese team. Just nodded at him and smiled even though I didn't know anything lol. Stopped by to grab a few more souvenirs there, and walked to the oldest train station in South Korea - Seoul station.
  • It was certainly not a sight I had imagined when I walked to the area around Seoul station. Beggars in shabby clothes were everywhere; they were practically loitering there, sleeping on the benches and floor, sunbathing while some were gambling at one spot.
  • Took the subway to my first destination of the day - Seoul Sports Complex. Met a group of American guys from California when I asked them to help me to take my pictures inside the train. They were currently doing shootings for some documentary program about South Korea and will be here for three weeks. Prior to this trip, they have been to Vietnam and Tokyo. One thing I can't comprehend is why it is more often that the Westerners recognise Malaysia compared to the Japanese and Korean, although both are Asian countries.
  • First thing I did when I exited from the Sports Complex Station was, I went "wow!". The Olympic Stadium was sitting majestically right in front of me, about 400 meters away. Quickly took a few shots before going closer to the main stadium. Several workers were washing the floor of the entrance to the stadium but I asked (using sign language, as usual lol) them if I could go in to take a picture. The lady said "no" at first, but I made my "muka kesihan" and signalled them that I will only take a few moments there, and the guy beside her just told me to go ahead. When they were busy doing their washing, I ran up the staircase to sneak into the spectators seats to get a better view of the stadium.
  • Stopped at a KFC restaurant outside the sports complex to have my lunch, which was Bulgogi burger set. The name of the burger is super funny, eh? The staff told me the french fries was out of stock and she was going to replace it with a box of coleslaw. I actually didn't understand when she told me about that, so she just point to the menu on the wall and I just barely managed to make that out.
  • Walked across Tancheon stream to the happening area of Gangnam. Got lost inside COEX, a huge shopping mall there for a while, but managed to get to the next destination with the help of the information counter staff. Planned to visit the Kimchi Museum but too bad it was closed today. Walked to the Bongeunsa Temple, a Buddhist temple in the middle of the city. Prayed inside the main hall for a short while and saw the biggest Buddha statue in South Korea inside that temple.
  • The next destination was supposed to be the Jeongneung Tomb and Seonneung Tomb inside the Seonjongneung Park, but too bad it's also closed on Monday. Decided to go straight to Itaewon from there but stopped at a stall to grab two pieces of doughnut like snack; one of them was round in shaped with red bean as the filling. The lady was smiling when I took the picture of her stall; I could be the first or at least one of the rare person to do that lol.
  • Was approached by a Korean lady who looked lost and I guess she was asking me for some directions in Korean. I didn't want to make her lost even further and I just said I don't speak Korean. Yesterday, people were talking to me in Japanese, and today it was Korean. I think today I looked like a Korean lol.
  • Walked around Itaewon - the main spot for foreigners and you can see as many foreigners as the Koreans here, and also hiked up the slopes to the one and only mosque in South Korea at one part of Itaewon. So far, I've been to a Catholic cathedral, a Buddhist temple and a mosque. Ain't I truly Malaysian?
  • Again, my battery was weak already, otherwise I would have gone to the N Seoul Tower. That plan has to be postponed once again to another day. Came back home and had dinner at "kedai muntah" once again. The bibinbap was not bad; in fact that lady charged me cheaper than the price shown on the wall. Maybe she thinks I'm cute lol.
  • Came back to Skype with baby since I saw her still online. Since it was still quite early, decided to go out to the main campus of Korea University to snap a few shots of the main building of the university. It was freaking cold that I swear I would never go out in two layers anymore. The spotlights shining on the building was turned off exactly when I finished my photoshot session.
  • Came back and make this update. Will finalise tomorrow's itinerary after this as I already draft it up a bit inside the train and while I was having my dinner just now. will try to sleep as early as possible as I will start my day early tomorrow morning.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Seoul - Summary Of Day 4

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Traditional architecture at Namsangol Hanok Village.

  • Just like the previous two days, I woke up rather late again although I planned to go out early this morning. Freshen up myself and got ready to explore the city by myself today. Felt pretty confident that everything will go smoothly as I have done my homework the previous night; the only worry will be when I am ordering my food. Realised that I had forgotten to bring along my phone for me to refer to the time while walking halfway. Met with a group of young Thai girls while waiting for the subway.
  • Paid extra attention to every train exchange at the subway stations to make sure I don't go the wrong way. However, I somehow made a mix-up when I just followed the crowd blindly up the staircase when I didn't need to do that when I was transferring to another line halfway through my journey.
  • First destination on my plan was the Namsangol Hanok Village. Exited the subway station and saw the entrance to the Korean House; hence I decided to make a stop here first before heading to the Namsangol Village. Saw a huge number of people inside the area and soon noticed that they were waiting for a wedding ceremony to commence.
  • Thought of exploring the place more first but the more I walked, I soon realised that I was already in the Namsangol Village. Korea House is actually one section inside the village. Totally forgotten about the earlier wedding ceremony as I continued walking in the village; saw the ceremony had ended when I returned afterwards.
  • Used all sort of languages when I was asking for the visitors there to help me take my pictures, which included Japanese and English when I saw they're Koreans, and Mandarin for the Chinese while Cantonese when I heard them talking in that language. But most of the time, sign language is the best lol.
  • Got to play the Korean traditional games; one of them was spinning the top. Unlike us, they use a rope to hit the spinning top to avoid it from stop spinning. Took a break there by grabbing some local snack which resembles red bean mochi, but they coated this one with coconut. It was not bad. Took a photo with the old lady but she was so shy when we took picture together.
  • Stopped by at Myeongdong as it was along the way to N Seoul Tower. Saw a signboard which points to the Myeongdong Cathedral 200 metres away. Decided to made a stop there first. It was one of those rare time when I entered into the main hall of the cathedral and they were doing some memorial service. It was conducted in Korean.
  • It wasn't long after that that I realised that my camera battery was getting weaker. So I decided to change my itinerary for the day by postponing the trip up to N Seoul Tower; will be doing that on another night. Thought of going to the War Memorial of Korea, but in the end, it was also cancelled due to my battery problems.
  • Continued walking at Myeongdong area and grabbed a few light stuff to fill my stomach there; among others were a strawberry flavoured waffle, Korean version of gyoza which looks more like a pao to me and also a piece of cream puff. The pao was the best, in fact they prepared a few bottles of sauce for us to spray onto the pao.
  • Earlier, I went into one of the restaurants at Myeongdong area to have my lunch. Too bad the young waitress there couldn't speak English nor Japanese. I felt so bad as she tried so hard to explain the menu in English and Japanese, that she looked like she was gonna cry while shaking her body like a small kid who was gonna pee. She asked me to hold on as she called someone on the phone. I didn't know what she told that person; the only word I could catch was "oppa". Luckily, it wasn't "oppai" (boobs in Japanese) lol. I didn't have my lunch there in the end.
  • Saw a signboard pointing to the Central Post Office; just nice as I wanted to send something there. Tried my luck even though it's a Sunday and ended up at Korean Stamps World, a mini museum inside the post office which was closed. Asked the guy on the counter if he could do me a favour by sending it for me the next day. Bought the required amount of stamps and he told me my stuff will be sent the next day.
  • The next destination I detoured was supposed to be Seoul Station as I wanted to grab a few shots there but I saw the Bank of Korea Museum hafway. Since the admission is free, I went inside a while to look around the museum. By the time I was done at the museum, I realised that it was already almost six and my stomach was growling already.
  • Namdaemun Market was the next stop and here was when a person who doesn't shop like me gave in and went on a shopping spree because I just couldn't control myself. Imagine if Michelle is with me; surely we will have to walk all the way back home that night because I am very certain she will go crazy at this place.
  • Here is also the time when I realised that my bargaining skills is not that bad. I only remember about bargaining after I bought a yellow Simpson T-shirt at the first shop. From then onwards, I managed to get a set of jacket and long pants 10,000 won (RM 26) cheaper. Tell me, that ain't bad, eh?
  • Most of the time when I talked to the stall people, I would just use sign language. When they can speak Japanese with me, I'm happy; but when they talk only in Korean, I usually just smiled and said "kamsahamnida", then walked away lol. This is what will happen when you travel to a country that you don't speak the language. Damn sad can.
  • Decided to have a dinner at the hawker stalls at Namdaemum Market for an experience. It was rather a lesson than an experience as I realised I didn't have enough money to pay after my meal. Not enough money as in won because I had insufficient amount of won; the rest in my wallet at that time was only yen. I told the aunty I will be back a few moments later after I exchange my money nearby and luckily she just nodded with a smile.
  • It was already dark and I decided to call it a day. Tried to ask an uncle for directions to the nearest subway station to save time, but he waved me away immediately he saw my map was written in English. Saw another guy and he asked me if I'm a Japanese. I just said yes and he gave me the direction instantly. I'm still asking myself, which part of myself has any resemblance to a Japanese?
  • Came back by eight and managed to Skype with baby although we thought we won't be able to do so tonight, based on my initial plan. Checked my mails and made this update. Will be drawing up the plan for tomorrow after this. Signing off here.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Seoul - Summary Of Day 3

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One of the main streets at Namdaemun Market.

  • Woke up late again this morning, as I stayed up until three in the morning earlier. Meet up with several of Heng Chiang's uni mates and went to a restaurant to have our lunch together.
  • Took the subway to Namdaemun Market as Heng Chiang wanted to repair his camera and Wei Guang felt like looking around for cameras too. We later walked around the huge open area, which looks more like a bazaar; the closest resemblance to this place is Petaling Street in KL. Managed to grab some souvenirs from this place that is considered one of the largest market in Seoul.
  • We later proceeded to Myeongdong, the main shopping districts featuring mid to high priced retail stores and international brand outlets. Went into a few shops to have a look at their stuff, but we spent our time here for just window shopping 'coz I wasn't really in the mood to shop (yet).
  • But there was one time went I went into an Adidas outlet and I saw a set of black jacket, which caught my attention. Too bad I couldn't speak Korean, hence I asked the promoter whether it comes together with the long pants in English. He only smiled to me and I suspected he didn't realy get what I was saying. I tried Japanese, but again he gave me a smile; a wider one this time in fact. He then called over his colleague, a young girl who speak Japanese to help him out. It ended up with a Korean and a Malaysian speaking to each other in Japanese. Damn muhibbah, eh?
  • One thing that I find it obvious about the Koreans is that the guys are really tall; their average height is roughly around 180 centimeters and that doesn't make me fell like I'm really that tall when I'm walking among the crowd in the train station or at the shopping places. That is not surprising because Korean guys are dubbed as the tallest among the Asians.
  • As for the Korean girls, well what I can say is, given a choice, I will always prefer Korean girls because they do not overdo themselves in terms of appearance. which to me made them looked elegant and stylish. As for the Japanese girls, I guess I don't have to go any further here. One thing for sure is, Japanese girls will never turn me on.
  • Took some time off to have a break by heading to the food court of some shopping mall; rested and chit chatted there for a while before taking the subway back to their place. Went out for dinner with Heng Chiang at a shop they call "restoran muntah". It's not because the food there doesn't taste good, but the shop owner often add-on the side dishes in such a huge portion that they will never be able to finish them. My stomach felt like bursting after the dinner.
  • Came back and went online. Skype with baby again as we didn't get to do on the previous night, while typing this update. Will be planning my itinerary for tomorrow as I will be travelling by myself for the first time since I reached Seoul. Planning to go to the Korean traditional village at Namsangol in the day, and go up the N Seoul Tower to catch the night view of the city when it gets dark. Hope everything will be fine.
  • In a nutshell, it was quite a short day today. However, this is my style when I travel because I prefer not to tire myself too much; instead to take things slowly. After all, I am spending my time here for ten days, so the time is supposed to be more than enough for me to go around the city. Will join Lionel to watch the Fulham match at midnight after this before going to bed to start my adventure tomorrow.

Seoul - Summary Of Day 2

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The guards who stood at the entrance of Gyeongbukgung.
  • The initial plan was to wake up at nine to ten in the morning, but I ended up waking up at eleven and by the time we got ourselves ready, it was noon already. Adrian was free today and he took me around to two main places.
  • Before anything, had our lunch at a restaurant located just a few stone's throw away from the Engineering faculty of Korea University. Main dish was bibimbap which is a mixed rice with various kinds of side dishes. Tried a kind of fried fish with a lot of long bones too, which is that restaurant's specialty.
  • Taken around the Engineering campus and saw the lifestyles of the Korean students there. The architecture was impressive and the underground passage even has restaurants for the students that it made it looked almost like a shopping mall.
  • Took the subway for the first time to visit Gyeongbokgung or Gyeongbuk Palace. The place was so huge that we took almost two hours to walk around. Noticed that the majority of the tourist there were Japanese. Tried to join one group of Japanese tourist who had a tour guide with them and we listen to her as she explained about a section of the palace. I will then translate it into English to Adrian who doesn't understand Japanese.
  • From Gyeongbukkung, we took the subway again to City Hall station to Cheonggyecheon or Cheonggye Stream, a man-made stream which flows through the heart of the city. There are approximately thirteen bridges along the stream which stretches for almost six kilometers, and all the bridges has their own unique design.
  • Went into one of the largest and most famous bookstore in South Korea around that same area to refresh ourselves by looking through some book, while waiting for the sky to get dark for some night shots at the Cheonggyecheon.
  • Returned to Cheonggyecheon to watch a laser performance along the stream which lasted for six minutes. It's an hourly show and the performance was accompanied with some music which rhymes with the lights.
  • Had dinner at a restaurant around that City Hall area. Barbecue was on the menu and we had pork ribs called galbi; my first time trying it in my life. It was definitely something different from the yakiniku I usually have in Japan.
  • Went to another section of the city at Yongdap station to meet almost the whole batch of them to celebrate one of their friend's birthday. Everyone there were super friendly and managed to chit chat and we had fun there, underneath an overhead highway along a river, something which I think is a cool place to organise such party.
  • Took a taxi (also my first time) back to Heng Chiang's place but before that, stopped at one small stall to have a late supper. Reached home at one and had my shower before going online to type this entry. Will be going to Myeongdong and Namdaemun tomorrow. To the girls who have been Seoul before, they will surely know what these two places are famous for - the heaven for shopping.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Seoul - Summary Of Day 1

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Kimchi is too common in Korea, just like how people associate sushi with Japan.
  • The pilot began to brief the passengers on-board, in Korean. Find it funny at first, but slowly think that it is just as much as annoying as the announcer in Japanese with those high-pitch voice. Touched down at Icheon International Airport which was covered with thick mist. Visibly distance was reduced to less than a few hundred meters only.
  • The lady at the immigration asked me a simple question - "Where are you staying?" in English upon seeing my Malaysian passport. My answer was "Japan", then "I'm a Malaysian" until I finally realised that what she wanted to know was the place I'll be staying during my time in South Korea. That must had happened because I was already started to begin to feel lost in a foreign country lol. Anyway, I passed the Immigration without any problems.
  • Took out some yen to be exchanged to won (pun unintended) upon exiting the arrival hall, and tried to find the nearest telephone booth to contact my friend, Heng Chiang. Too bad he was having his class then, and I called Wei Guang. Before anything, I ran out of coins and the call was cut-off halfway. Saw an airport staff who has been looking at me for a while and asked him in English if he'd exchange some coins with me. He rejected the 1,000 won note I gave him in exchange, and thanked him immediately with a slight bow. Note to self: Koreans don't bow, do they?
  • Finished calling and returned the remaining coins to that kind man. He accepted it from me with a smiling face. This time, no more bow from me.
  • Went to the bus platform 10A and saw a bus which I thought it was the one I'm supposed to take. Just to make things certain, I tried asking the two men standing there. Too bad I can't speak Korean, so I just passed him the paper I wrote a night previously and he knew for instant where I wanted to go. However, he raised his hands, moving it to the left and right continuously. I know that wasn't the bus I should be taking. "No, no, no?", I asked him. "No, no, no," he replied while showing he a hand signal to wait for the next bus.
  • Sat down and waited for the next bus, while thinking about the silly incident with the two men moments ago. Smiled to myself and said, "This is gonna be a hell of an exciting trip!". Wonder how many more similar chicken-and-duck-conversation incident will I have to endure throughout this trip.
  • Bus finally came and he told the driver about it. Both of them nodded to each other, and I hoped the bus driver will drop me at the right location. "Ticket?", he asked. I told him back, "None, none, none". Bought the ticket which cost me 13,000 won and board the bus. I was alone in the bus throughout the journey from the airport to Korea University Station's stop. This gave me the chance to hop around the bus, looking outside through the window throughout the ninety-minute ride. The bus driver turned on a Korea drama, which is older than my age I reckon. Yet, I still watched it attentively to improve my Korean (as if it's gonna happen lol).
  • Reached the bus stop which is just next to the subway station. Went down to call Heng Chiang to pick me up from there but again, ran out of coins. Went into the convenience store and asked that young guy if he speaks Japanese. He gave me a blur face like this o.O
  • Tried my luck by asking him in English and showed circle sign with my fingers to point to the shape of the coin. He got what I was trying to tell him. He exchanged the coin for me almost immediately. I thanked him in Korean, but again he gave me this face o.O
  • Called and was picked up by Heng Chiang and went back to his place, ten minutes walk from the subway station. Was introduced with a couple of his other friends and several others later that evening. We clicked almost immediately and crapped for some time before they went for their classes. I took a short nap out of exhaustion.
  • Wei Guang and his friends came back from their class and we went out for dinner together. That was my first Korean meal here and it was not bad. Best of it, it was so freaking cheap compared to what you can get in Japan. I am so gonna eat a lot throughout my time here!
  • Came back and had another bonding session together and they continued with their studies while I blogged this entry. BEFORE THAT, SKYPE WITH BABY FOR LIKE ALMOST TWO HOURS WITH A WONDERFUL CONNECTION HERE THAT SHE SAID SHE COULD HEAR AND SEE ME SO CLEARLY. Will be off to bed after this to get a proper rest, for tomorrow, I will start exploring the city of Seoul.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

안녕하세요 서울에서

Hello everybody!
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Guess where am I at the moment? I think not many who knew about this, but I am currently blogging from Heng Chiang's place in the suburb of Seoul, which is just about thirty minutes away. You know, people always say the first person you met in a new country will give you a rough reflection of that country. Too bad for my case this morning, I was going into a toilet after to release my natural tea immediately after I touched down on Icheon International Airport. Seeing all the cubicles were full, I walked passed one Korean guy clad in a suit, and he signalled me with his hands - "no, no". As if I was cutting the queue; I was just going into one of the vacant toilet room =.=
Anyway, not everything is bad here because there were a few incidents which had saved me from getting lost here. I'll blog on them in another post because for now, I'm gonna have my tea break and dinner with the rest later this evening.
Oh yea, that title about literally say "an nyeong haseyo seoul e so" or "Hello from Seoul". Just in case you are curious that I know some Korean, no I don't. I straight went to the Google Translator page and typed in the word "Hello from Seoul" and tada, came out those boxes and circles wordings which I don't think I will never be able to read for the rest of my life lol. The only Korean word I know so far is "saraheyo", "annyeong haseyo" and "kenchana", which is my favourite 'coz I always say that repeatedly to annoy Michelle. Haha, I know I am such an annoying and bad boyfriend lol.
Oh yea, another new word which I just learned recently is "kamsahamnida", which means "thank you". Ignore the spellings of all the words above, because I just simply whacked them according to how I think they are supposed to sound like.
Okay, I guess that's all from now. To boayo! (Sounds like I'm going"to buaya" lol)
P/S: That is supposed to mean "see you!", if I didn't get it wrongly.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Past Revealed (Part 3) - The P-Mission

"walaupun kami tak pernah bercakap sebelum ini,
kamu nampak so cool (garang).
saya tak berani cakap dengan kamu. hi! hi!"
a comment in the blue scrap book,
by one Chinese girl.
.
I walked back to my dorm, and the name "Bao Ling" continued to surface in my mind. On another note, I find it an uncommon, a name that sounds rather traditional for a Chinese girl. Or maybe I'd misheard them when they pronounced her name earlier that night.
"I must find out more about this girl," I told myself secretly, just before I dozed off.
We were provided with three sets of uniform - a combat uniform, a sports uniform and another one for class sessions, which we all thought it looked more like a uniform for factory workers. They had a tough time looking up the right-sized uniform for me. In fact, it was kind of shocking for them to have me asking for a bigger-than-normal sized uniform. In the end, I got a pair of brand new combat attire, because not many people are as huge as me, I suppose.
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The first few days were the most difficult time to cope with since we weren't used to the daily routine, yet. We woke up before the sun rises, walked to the toilet when it was still dark, let the cold water flows over our bodies for our morning shower, got ourselves ready with our sports uniform - sky blue T-shirt and a black cotton track bottom, and assembled in front of the dorm when the sky was still dark. Right after that, we'll walk in a group to the assembly field and it continued every single day throughout the 3 months "summer camp".
Morning routine includes rising up the Jalur Gemilang while singing the national anthem, morning jogs around the camp for some half an hour and after that, we will head to the canteen to have our breakfast. Everyone has their own trays and we have to wash our own trays and bring it back to the dorm after each meal, and take it to the canteen again for the next meal.
For those spoilt brats, they just can't be bothered to clean their own trays; leaving their trays in the sink after every meal and steal the trays of others when they have their meal the next time. As for those who apparently don't have any common sense, they will just flow their remaining food from their trays into the sink, which explains the stench and disturbing sight of the sinks after each meal. And no, I'm not even exaggerating.
Moving on, usually we get some time to rest after our breakfast, and most of us take the opportunity to do our laundry, or for some who didn't get to bathe earlier, they take their showers during this hour of the day. The next activity would be the physical module, one of the four modules besides nation building module, character building module and community service module. The physical module includes marching, obstacle course, hand-to-hand combat, canoeing, survival training and first aid training.
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During the first couple of weeks, the thoughts I had about "Bao Ling" were put to a rest due to the hectic and tiring daily routine we went through. But once we got used to the routine, her name popped out in my mind, once again. I didn't approach anybody to find out more about this girl, but from the chatting I overheard from the other guys, it seems that this girl is attracting attention from all the guys in the camp. Prior to that, I've never liked or had any crush on girls; or maybe it just isn't something that crossed my mind before. Somehow, this particular girl, not only caught my attention, also the one who made me had sleepless night, and end up thinking that I liked her.
Blame the hormones.
However, there was one obstacle I had to face. I knew where I stand by that time, because back then, it was my first time having so many Chinese who are non-English speakers around me. Back in my secondary school, we used to converse in either English or my local dialect, Hokkien. But now, it was either Mandarin or Cantonese, especially those who are from Ipoh. A fresh banana like me found it so difficult to mix with the Chinese kids there.
And the result, short conversations were the only solution except for the ones whom I often talked to, and we still keep in touch until today. I spent most of my time with the non-Chinese friends which got me an image among the others which I find it rather hilarious, when I read a few comments I got from the blue scrap book I passed around during the final week before the camp ended. Some said that they thought I couldn't speak Chinese and they sometimes gossiped about me since I do not mix with them much.
While the others even took one step further by writing their comments in Bahasa.
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When I chatted with them a few months after the camp, they were rather taken aback when I told them I can speak some Mandarin, although not as fluent as them. All this while, they actually thought I only speak English and Bahasa Melayu. Not a shocking discovery that I gave such impression to the others at the camp, I would say.
The talks among the guys about that girl continued as the days passed by. Not very long after that, I found out her real name. It wasn't "Bao Ling". Her name was Pauline. Just the perfect name for the girl. I didn't take any actions despite the fact that I've finally know her name now. The daily routine just continued like usual.
As much as I would love to know more about this girl, I somehow didn't approach her to at least introduce myself, let alone asking for her number. Most of the time, I would just stare at her from afar, especially during the physical module. Standing under the scorching sun and marching for a few hours, or even going through countless rounds of obstacle course was worth it, because it offered me the chance to steal some glances at her.
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After a tiring day full of demanding activities, we'd had free time after our dinner and that was the time where we are allowed to do whatever we want, unless there are any night talks by the instructors, in which we would have to gather at the canteen. We were provided with six meals every day, including supper. There was one time after a night activity at the canteen that I purposely spend my time at the canteen after a satisfying bowl of green beans porridge, pretending to look at the notice board to check out the activities for the following day. The truth is, my intention was not to look at the whiteboard obviously, but just to catch a glimpse of her, just in case she happened to be at the canteen still.
And jackpot!
Indeed she was there; chatting happily and sharing some jokes with her girl friends at the other corner of the canteen. I remained rooted in front of the notice board, hoping for her to come over as well as I know most of us will usually check-out the notice board before they leave the place. As the trainees began to leave the place, the number of people there started to get lesser and lesser, but she was still talking to her friends. Just when I thought of giving up, I saw her waking towards my direction. I sensed that my heartbeat began to pound faster than usual.
I ignored that entirely, fearing I'll embarrass myself if I weren't to control it, because this could be my night.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Shopping With The Girlfriend

Yup, it's every boyfriends' worst nightmare - following their girlfriends for shopping. But yea, sometimes it's fun, as long as they don't shop for the whole day and the poor boyfriend will have to follow the girlfriend to every single store. Worst still, they will start asking if this design is nice, or that is better, or complaining that she is fat and will not look nice in a dress.
Anyway, you must be wondering how am I suppose to go shopping with Michelle when I am living in Japan, while she, on the other hand, is currently in New Zealand, a few thousands of miles away. But we got our own ways of doing it. Curious to know how? Read on.
Late last year, I went out thinking to get a good winter jacket for myself, since I didn't own one prior that. So, out I went to a few clothing outlets in the town, and I tried on several jackets that suits my size. Yea, size is more important to me and not my taste because my arms are super long like a longhouse (lame pun) that it won't look nice if the sleeves is too short. Same thing when I shop for my shoes =\
Well, I would admit my fashion sense is not the best, but it had improved a lot, thanks to that someone. Anyway, since Michelle is not here to help me out to pick the right jacket, I usually consult her first whenever I shop for my clothes. My younger sister used to be my personal consultant last time, but I have fired her because she just wasn't up to my expectation lol. Now, I have Michelle to take over that job.
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Unless we are together, there is no way I would be able to consult her directly. So, the only way is to grab a few jackets I feel are nice, and get into the fitting room to try them on. I will then take out my mobile phone and take a few shots before emailing her to ask her opinion. This will be followed by a few more messages when we are discussing about which is the best to choose. Most of the time, I will tell her whenever I go out, whether for groceries or just normal shopping to make sure she is online and able to reply me.
An example of our messages will be like this;
Calv: size is not bad but da price n design not okay. now going another shop to c. hehe ok la if wanna ask ur opinion again, i email u again k...
Mich:
haha so many pics... camwhore freak :P
Using the camera of my phone will be my last resort most of the time, because I prefer using my digital camera when taking pictures. But since I got to email her the pictures, I will use my phone camera during this kind of situation. But on that day, not only I got a jacket and a pair of gloves for myself; I ended up getting her a pink jacket as well, because it's hard for her to get a nice one at her place. I already passed it to her when I was back to Malaysian last December, but I don't think she's going to wear it so soon as it's still summer over there.
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Then last week, I was supposed to go out to get some groceries. Remember my 5km walk to the town? Yes, it was that same day. Anyway, I didn't plan to do any shopping, the most would be window shopping. But somehow, something triggered me and I walked into one of the Uniqlo outlets in the town. I did some survey around the store and realised there was some weekend's sale going on.
Too bad I brought some extra cash that time, so I couldn't resist the temptation and ended up trying a few T-shirts there. I know spring has just begun here and it will be kinda silly to wear just a T-shirt out, but I can still wear it some other time of the year; so yeah, I took a few pairs into the fitting room.
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Stupid winter that at the end of the season like now, I look nothing different than a round potato. But I still love eating potato. How ironic is that. Whatever-lah, just have to do some work-outs very soon, when the temperature starts to get warmer. So like usual, I took out my phone and snapped a few pictures before sending them to Michelle, when I was not even sure if she was already back home and online that time.
At the same time, I notice there were some sweaters which look not bad. I already got a white one which is similar, but I thought the pink one looks nice, but too bad there weren't any suitable sizes for me. So, I ended up taking the light brown one.
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Thanks for spending your last five minutes reading my crap here lol.
P/S: Part 3 of "The Past Revealed" will be up pretty soon. Or are there anyone who doesn't wanna read the next part? Whichever way, do drop me a comment, 'kay?

Friday, March 13, 2009

The Past Revealed (Part 2) - Mysterious Bao Ling

"anyway, that quiz competition,
u noe this one girl from my school, rite?
kan kan kan?"
an attempt by my sister
to interrogate me.
.
The girl was Su Anne, whom I met at no less than three different occasions - each when both of us are representing our respective schools for some competition. The first two occasions were for maths and physics quiz competitions, while the third one was at KDU Penang when we attended the interview for the ASEAN Scholarship selection test. By the third meeting with her, we have already recognised each other and yours truly even managed to initiate a conversation with her.
I asked her with a friendly smile, "Hi! You are here too?"
"Yeah, it seems like we only meet in this kind of occasion, eh?" she replied me, trying to stress on her sentence.
That however, was the only exchange we had. After that, we went separate ways and since then, I have yet to see her. We now still keep in touch through online social networking websites like Facebook for instance, but it is very rare; like once in a year, perhaps? After I completed SPM, I did nothing throughout the three months before the result was announced in March 2005, except being selected to the National Service (NS) program.
I consider that to be one of the pivotal moments in my life.
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The second year of the NS program was just about to kick start, and I was chosen to attend the camp in Gopeng, about twenty-minute drive down-south from Ipoh. Months before I got to know that I was selected, I prayed, every single day without fail, hoping that I will not be among those I consider unlucky ones selected to undergo the three months "summer camp". Finally, one morning on August 2004, the announcement came through. In order to check out whether or not we were selected through SMS, we were required to key-in the twelve-digit IC number and press the "send" button, which was exactly what I did. A few seconds later, my phone rang and I got a message. I was dead sure it came from the NS people and I was half-shivering and wouldn't dare to read the message. After contemplating for a few seconds while praying hard the reply will send me some happiness, I pressed "view" and...
"Tahniah, anda telah terpilih untuk menyertai Program Latihan Khidmat Negara Siri 2/2005 bla bla bla..."
I think they should have used the word "Takziah" instead of "Tahniah". The F-word was uttered almost naturally reading the message. My biggest nightmare came true and I almost broke into tears. My mom didn't do me much favour when I went down and told her about that great news as she happily told me, "Good-lah, at least you won't be so bored staying in the house only". Throughout the day, I was so sad, furious, disappointed, hopeless, down, emo and all the other negative feelings you can find in the dictionary.
Also, I was pondering this question to myself, "There are still thousands of kids out there who wished to be selected, why pick someone like me who doesn't want to get picked to strike this lottery?"
Several days passed, and I finally came into my senses that I still have to attend the camp no matter how much I complain about it. I'm not sure about the present law, but back then, whoever failed to report at their camps without a concrete reason like health problems for example, can be fined and jailed. A week after I sat for my last paper of SPM, my parents sent me off at the Kamunting Raya bus terminal. Hundreds, if not thousands of people crowded the bus terminal on that morning on December 13, 2004. The trainees were mostly accompanied by their family members to bid them farewell before they leave for three months. Scenes of tears rolling down the cheeks of the trainees were everywhere, especially among the girls.
Like a classic Malaysian style, the bus left two hours later than the scheduled time as there were latecomers. By eleven, the bus left the bus terminal, and I waved goodbye to my parents. Inside the bus, nobody familiar was spotted and I was practically alone throughout the long, gloomy two-hour journey to the camp.
I didn't know what to expect upon reaching the camp. It will be the longest period I will be away from home and loads of thoughts began to surface my mind. Will I survive the three months there? Will I be able to adapt myself in a totally different environment? Will I miss home? One thing for sure, I was totally clueless at that time.
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The bus made an exit at Gopeng and the bus went through an area with abandoned mining pools which were turned into a pond to rear fish, before we are able to locate the camp. Everyone stood up from their seats and flip the curtain to look outside through the half-tinted window. We were amazed with the facilities there. The first thing that caught my attention was a three-storey tower which is used for abseiling and flying-fox activities.
"Am I going to do all these?"
was the first thought I had.
We registered at the camp and were immediately assigned to different dorms according to our groups, and I was in the Alpha Company. There are four companies in to total, Beta, Charlie and Delta being the other three. In each company, they are again divided into four platoons and I was in Platoon 2. The dorms for the boys and girls are at the opposite end, with a pond, the canteen and the instructors' dorms in between. Each dorm accommodates two platoons, so there were roughly twenty-four of us in my dorm. This camp was a new one, because we were the first batch to train there. In the previous year, the kids were not as lucky since they had to stay inside canvas camps and whenever it rains, you can imagine how messy and chaotic the aftermath will be. So, having a dorm made of concrete, with several ceiling fans isn't that bad after all.
I walked to the dorm which I was placed, with the help of one guy whom I saw on the way there. I approached him and asked him if the dorm is the correct one, while pointing to the dorm right in front of me. Seeing me as a resemblance to a lost cub in the jungle, he nodded in confirmation with a benevolent smile. I later found out that he is a former army, and the head instructor who would be in-charge of our company. I stepped into the dorm but it was rather vacant at that time, so I got to pick my bed. I walked two beds away from the door and decided to take that bed right away. I put down my stuff and sat on the bed, to take a short rest. Everybody around me was busy with their stuff, and we didn't really start communicating with each other yet.
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No long after that, a guy wearing a spec, with an average height came into the dorm and he chose the bed on my left. His name was Farhan, but we later call him Pa'an. He was the first guy whom I talked to and we introduced ourselves briefly. I went to the bathroom, which was just next to our dorm to refresh myself. It wasn't that bad as I thought. There were four shower rooms, six to eight toilets, a few basins and huge water catchment pool in the centre of the bathroom. That pool is supposed to collect water for the trainees when they bathe and do their laundry in the bathroom, and we were warned not to turned hippo and dip our bodies inside the pool. But there were countless of times where some of my dorm mates ignore that warnings and those daredevils even tried to dive into the pool.
It was already evening by the time we settled down and we walked to the canteen to have our dinner. Well, when you are in a training camp, you can't expect a five-star food, can you? The food was okay to me, because I'm not the picky type when it comes to food. I don't mind eating anything, as long as it fills my stomach and it's not something bizarre, like a raw monkey brain, for example. The next activity was to divide us into groups like I have mentioned earlier, followed by discussions among our group about our motto, flag, vision and etc, which was held at the canteen too. Basically, whenever there is a gathering or talk session during the night, it will be held there.
There are usually two distinct groups when it comes to a discussion, i.e. the ones who talks and gives their opinions throughout the whole discussion, and another one who will just be happy to remain silent and be the follower. I would say I fall in the latter category because like I have said before, I do not talk much back then. Seeing almost everyone started to speak up, I also joined some smaller group who were discussing about the design for the flag. I'm not sure whether I posses the artistic face, but they kept asking for my opinions. I am not the best person around when it comes to art, maybe just above average at best, I would say. Nevertheless, I threw them with some ideas, whichever I thought to be suitable enough.
But, someone started to mention a name, a girl's name. People were talking about how good she is in art, and were looking for her to help out on the drawing and colouring part. I wasn't sure of her name on that first night; all I heard was something like "Bao Ling". I was curious, eager to know who this mysterious girl was. I tried to locate this girl in the canteen, without having any idea how does she looks like.
Just before the session ended on the first night, I finally managed to catch a first glimpse of this girl. She stands at about five feet two, has a pair of two bright eyes, long and smooth hair, with a sweet smile. Even with the presence of many other girls there, no doubt she was the only one who caught my eyes. I didn't get the chance to approach and greet her on that first night; but it was from that night that my feelings for her began to bloom.
~ to be continued ~