Happy Birthday August 25, 2009Posted by jorkat in Seoul.
Monday, August 24th marked the 6-month anniversary of our arrival in Korea. Upon arriving at school that morning, we were greeted with an sombre anniversary present. One of the children at our school has been diagnosed with Swine Flu over the weekend. The young boy is in the classroom right next to mine and a number of our students had been sick over the past week. After spending most of the day washing our hands and hosing down the kids with Purell, the administration decided to close the school for the balance of the week. Therefore, we are now back on vacation. Happy Anniversary!!
With all due respect to those who have lost loved ones as a result of this virus, I’m pleased to announce that this strain of influenza has just cracked my Top 3 Favourite Flu’s List.
1. Swine Flu (H1N1)
2. Bird Flu (H5N1)
3. Regular Flu? (I don’t know any other ones and I’m too lazy to look it up.)
As a result of this unexpected gift turn of events, we decided to head for the beach and leave early tomorrow morning. Before departing though, I wanted to take a moment to acknowledge a very special young man’s 1st Birthday.
Nathan Richard Algate aka Nate Dawg was born into this world on August 26th, 2008 and has quickly become one of my biggest fans.
I can’t help but be amazed by Nathan’s eye for raw comedic talent. That wasn’t even my best material either. Just wait until he learns how to read about his Uncle Jordan and his adventures flipping golf carts and shooting crotch fireworks. His other Uncles don’t stand a chance.
Happy Birthday Nate Dawg, from Auntie Katie and Uncle Jordan. Your laugh is almost as big as your head.
Editor’s Note: The Beijing Post is in Post-Production and will be unveiled upon our return from the Beach. Stay tuned.
This Day in History August 18, 2009Posted by jorkat in Seoul.
Hong Kong August 18, 2009Posted by jorkat in Hong Kong.
I love to make lists.
I have lists of everything. I have lists of the books I want to read. I have lists of the places I want to go. I even have a list of all of my lists.
Therefore, I’ve decided to present my most recent list of the Top 5 things we’ll remember most about our recent trip to Hong Kong.
Before I get started though, I want to take a moment to acknowledge our rather interesting trip to the airport. One of our friends had told us about a shuttle bus that left from a stop not too far from our place. It only cost 9,000 KRW’s (less than $9 CAD) and would take us directly to the terminal. As a precaution, I scouted the bus stop’s exact location the night before to ensure that I knew exactly where we were going. The sign was clearly marked Airport Shuttle in English, but the rest of the sign was in Korean. Seemed good enough to me so I headed home to finish packing for our 8-day excursion (4 days in HK and 4 days in Beijing). Our flight left at 8:30am and it was about a one hour drive to the airport so our day would be starting around 5am.
We arrived at the bus stop right on schedule with our massive backpacks on and waited patiently for the 5:52am bus to arrive. Despite being very early in the morning, there was a fair amount of people already out and about. Some of them on their way to work, some of them on their way home from the bar.
A few minutes after our arrival an older Korean woman who worked at a restaurant in front of the bus stop approached us and started explaining (in Korean) that this wasn’t the right stop. Fortunately, some younger guys who spoke a little English intervened and were able to translate. One of them who was clearly intoxicated indicated that the shuttle bus stop had been moved a few blocks away and was nice enough to escort us to the exact location. Korean hospitality at its finest. I maintain that if this country had a last call in bars, that this encounter would never have happened as he would have been home in bed, and we may have missed our flight. Score one for the friendly alcoholics.
We arrived at the airport in plenty of time and enjoyed a smooth day of travel into Communist China. Without further ado, here are our Top 5 favourite things from our trip to Hong Kong. In no particular order…
1. Sky Terrace
When you ask any local what you should do when visiting Hong Kong, this place is invariably the answer given by most.
If you’re fortunate enough to visit on clear, smogless day, it’s easy to understand why. It was incredibly humid out but the view was breathtaking and made the heat a bit more tolerable.
To access the Sky Terrace, you have to take something called the Peak Tram. It’s basically a railcar that’s been in operation since 1888. Despite numerous renovations, it still sounds like it’s from 1888 and can be a little nerve-wracking when you’re pitched on a 60 degree angle knowing that you’re a broken cable away from plunging to a certain death. Totally worth it though.
Here’s some video from the Sky Terrace…
2. Spicy Tuna from Tokio Joe’s with Old Friends.
Katie and I were both excited to try some some authentic Chinese cuisine. So where did we go for our first dinner out in Hong Kong?…We went for sushi.
This wasn’t actually our decision but we couldn’t have been happier with the result. Katie and I were very fortunate to both have old friends from high school currently living in Hong Kong, and both spoke highly of this restaurant. I must admit that it was pretty cool sitting down for a nice meal in a cool restaurant on the other side of the world with Rob and Colin. Aside from being informed of Big Papi’s positive steroid test, it was a fabulous meal. Colin was in charge of ordering everything and he didn’t disappoint, the spicy tuna was as good as I’ve ever had. And the company was even better. It was nice to sit with an old friend and argue about which Phillies’ outfielder was accused of juicing earlier this year, and once again be proven wrong.
Thank you both for a memorable stay in Hong Kong.
3. We have two subcategories for this one as Katie and I had slightly different preferences. See if you can guess who chose what?…
a) Epic Ping Pong matches with Rob.
Rob is a very busy guy who travels a lot for work and doesn’t get to spend much time relaxing at home. So I’ll never forget when I asked him about the pool on the second floor and he immediately remembered that there was a Ping Pong table in the games room that he had never used. It was the most excited I had seen him in years and I quickly adopted his enthusiasm. We made it to the games room in less than 11 seconds. I think Katie went swimming, but I was too focused on Ping Pong to notice for sure.
I had a table at home in High School and me and a couple roommates had one in one in University that took up 50% of our living room and doubled as our kitchen table. I haven’t played much over the years, but the rust quickly wore off for both of us and we were right back at a pretty high level after only a few games. It was also one of the nicest tables I’ve ever played on with barriers surrounding it to prevent the ball from bouncing all over the room after I won the point. I can’t remember exactly who won or lost, but I do remember beating him pretty badly and I know the exact score if anyone cares to discuss it, that’s not what matters though.
b) Shopping at Stanley Market
We spent one afternoon at this cool little market that sold all kinds of crap. It was called Stanley Market and it’s been around forever. I bought a fridge magnet with my name in Chinese on it. You can read more about it here.
4. Filipino Sundays
Hong Kong is a very affluent city. It’s consistently ranked as one of the most expensive cities in the world and thus, has a considerable upper class who can afford and enjoy this lifestyle. It’s also quite common for those who have the means, to hire housekeepers, maids, helpers, etc. who usually live with the families they work for. Many of the condos built for this demographic are even designed with a room for the maid in mind.
The other common thread that most, if not all of this hired help share is that they are usually of Filipino decent and they have their only day off on Sunday. We had been warned in advance by Rob to be prepared as we ventured into town on Sunday, but it was still staggering nonetheless. Hundreds and hundreds, if not thousands of Filipino women were huddled together on the streets, in parks, basically anywhere they could find shade where they wouldn’t have to spend money. These pictures don’t do it justice, it’s really something you have to experience in person to appreciate the scope of how many there are. And then you start to think about how each one of them is employed by someone with considerable wealth and you really start to understand why Hong Kong is so expensive.
5) The Heat
Easily the hottest and most humid weather conditions either of us have ever experienced. We had to shower and change twice a day without exception. We also had to take shelter in H&M while wandering downtown one afternoon just to take cover from the sweltering heat and enjoy some A/C. I’ll never forget the gusts of A/C coming from the shops as we walked by and how refreshing they were. True story – on more than once occasion I had to use the washroom as we were drinking a lot of water to try and stay hydrated. We couldn’t find a washroom in the immediate vicinity and continued exploring hoping to run into one. Within a few minutes when we had finally found one, my urge to relief myself had dissipated. Now I’m no Doctor, or Scientist, or whoever would study something like this, but I’m pretty sure that my urine evaporated.
Now I don’t sweat nearly as bad as some people I know (my wife) so I can only imagine what their shirt would look like (it’s gross) after a day in the Hong Kong humidity. It’s also impossible to tell from this picture how much of that moisture is actually sweat and how much is the aforementioned urine that evaporated from my body. I will acknowledge that holding your pee isn’t the best idea and that I’ll probably develop prostate cancer by the age of 50, but it was nice not having to go the bathroom every half hour and letting our depleted ozone layer do all the work.
This is the view from Rob and Dana’s terrace which didn’t quite crack the Top 5, but deserves honourable mention along with Rob’s hospitality. The lone blemish on our trip was the fact that his wife Dana and daughter Alice were back in Montreal visiting family. Hong Kong is a very cool city (figuratively speaking) but this trip was more about reconnecting with old friends, and we couldn’t have been happier with the result.
We awoke Monday morning and headed to the airport for the next leg of our journey. Fortunately, this time we didn’t require the escort of an intoxicated Asian. Off to Beijing…
Mud Fest – Part 2 August 1, 2009Posted by jorkat in Boryeong.
Have you ever had a really good idea that ended up being a terrible idea in retrospect?
I’ve had lots of them. Lots and lots.
Well this is a story about the exact opposite. A really bad idea that turned into one of the more memorable nights I’ve had here in Korea.
The story you’re about to read took place after the busy day and night that I just described in my previous post. As I mentioned at the conclusion, we were headed back to our hotel and debating whether to turn in for the night. Katie decided to go to bed as she had a headache, but Kirsten, Darren and I decided to sit on the couch in the lobby of our Minbak (hotel) and pretend to be security. Keep in mind that there’s no front desk, no security, nothing. Just a couch and a flight of stairs.
We grabbed some drinks, set up shop on the couch, and started asking people for ID as they entered. We informed them that we had been hired by our tour group to provide late night security to ensure the safety of all participants. Most people walked by and laughed. Some people obliged and showed ID (while I made them hold my beer), and some even turned around in embarasssment as they were clearly trying to sneak in. Nevermind that we were slurring our words and had trouble walking straight, we provided our tour group and the community with a valuable service.
Kirsten eventually grew tired of the charade and retired to the (dis)comfort of our Minbak floor. Not sure what time it is at this point, but my guess would be sometime between 2am and who the hell knows. Darren and I weren’t quite ready to call it a night, so we headed to the Family Mart, but made a quick stop on a restaurant patio to arm wrestle a small group of Koreans. I wish I could remember more details, but I’m pretty sure I beat one of the girls and Darren beat her boyfriend. It didn’t matter though, we were all winners.
After grabbing some beers and listening to some Canadian tell us about the lung surgery he had in Korea, we started back to our couch when we both suddenly stopped dead in our tracks.
It was one of those moments when neither of us had to say a word. It was destiny. We ended up in that exact place at that moment in time for a reason.
Neatly parked amongst some cars on the side of the road was some sort of golf cart/bicycle. It’s difficult to describe so here’s a picture.
I still don’t really know what it is, but I’m buying one as soon as I find out where they sell them. In our minds, it was our “car” as we had no idea what else to call it, and referred to it as such for the remainder of the night…err, morning.
When we first hoped aboard and took off, I remembered thinking there was no way this joy ride would last more than 30 seconds. I fully expected the “car’s” rightful owner to come running out and apprehend us. Once we made it a few blocks away from the scene of the crime, I remembered thinking that this place was crawling with cops and there’s no way our joy ride would last more than 5 minutes.
Of course, less than a few minutes later we approached a couple officers questioning some Koreans on the side of the road. We maintained as low a profile as 2 foreigners driving a golf cart/bicycle at 3am can, and drove right by. The entire group looked right at us and went right back to discussing the issue at hand.
At this point, we knew we were in the clear. We were absolutely giddy…and thirsty. After a brief pitstop to refuel, we mounted our trusty steed and set out on our next adventure.
After touring the neighbourhood for a while and showing off our new ride, we arrived at the top of a hill and immediately started downward. There was a light drizzle so the roads were wet and slippery. About the midway down the hill as we approached an intersection with cars still out and about, we made a horrible discovery – we didn’t know how to use the brakes. We were so excited with our new toy that neither of us had bothered to research this rather vital feature.
As we picked up speed and headed for the criss-crossing traffic ahead, we had a minor communication breakdown. As you can see from the picture, the “car” has a very narrow wheelbase and both steering wheels operate independently of each other. So basically each steering wheel controls the front wheel on their respective side of the vehicle. Therefore, its important for both parties to be on the same page when making decisions at high speeds.
I had intended to sail through the intersection and hope for the best, whereas Darren had other ideas. Just as we entered the intersection and it looked like we would sail right through unscathed, Darren decided to make a hard right and try to turn the corner. This was of course news to me and the vehicle immediately flipped on to it’s side and slide into the middle of the intersection with me on top of Darren.
Once we came to a stop, I simply asked Darren is he was ok and we quickly picked ourselves up, turned the “car” right side up and hoped back on board. There was several onlookers who rushed over to see if we were ok, including a man who ran out from the restaurant and had a look on his face like he had just seen a ghost.
We rushed from the scene in shock and took a few minutes to digest what had just happened. We had flipped on our left side so Darren had absorbed most of the blow and had landed on his left shoulder and knee. As you can see from these pictures, our knees are pretty beat up. I remember making fun of Darren for making such a bad decision and suffering as a result, when he suddenly looked down and noticed that my knee was pretty chewed up too. I was sitting the right side of the vehicle and still managed to rip apart my knee. Oh, and we also stopped and figured out how to use the brakes.
This was by far the most memorable episode of the entire adventure, but far from the last.
We ended up circling the community for hours and made friends from all corners of the globe. We actually starting giving people lifts home and managed to fit 5 spanish guys on the cart at once. We also encoutered a Korean girl in tears who had no idea what hotel she was staying at and had lost her friends. We picked her up and drove around for awhile until by chance we found someone she recognized from her tour group who helped her safely back to her hotel. Another valuable service provided to the community.
The final chapter of our story involved a new friend who loved the “car” as much as we did, maybe more. His name was Doug, he had a british accent and looked like Side Show Bob from the Simpsons. We called him Side Show Doug.
Doug joined us very late in the festivities but proved himself to be a valuable asset. He abandoned the group of friends he was with so he could join us and didn’t mind sitting on the back. He really won us over when he volunteered to drive the car down a flight of approximately 40 stairs. He was an admirable addition to our squad and added a little UK flavour to our Canada-US partnership.
The best part about Doug was when he informed us that since he had separated from his group of friends to join our crusade, that he had no place to stay. Without thinking twice, Darren and I offered to let him stay with us as we were already sleeping in a room with at least 10 other stangers and Doug practically felt like family at this point. I’ll never forget hearing Katie and Kirsten wake up the next morning, notice the guy sleeping at their feet and quietly whisper to each other, “Who’s that guy?”
That’s so Side Show Doug. No pillow, just using his hand and happy to have a roof over his head. Once again, another valuable service provided to the community.
As fate would have it, after escorting scores of people safely back to their hotels/minbaks, we came upon one last lost soul as we headed back to our place just after sunrise. It was the Canadian who had lung surgery we had met shortly before our adventure began. He couldn’t find his hotel, but he knew he was close. We had become such experts on the neighbourhood, that once he gave me a description, I was able to escort him home safely within minutes. Another satisfied customer.
Some may say that we committed a theft and acted recklessly. I prefer to focus on the positives and all the good deeds that we performed as a result of this “temporary” theft. One might even call us modern day Robin Hoods. Regardless of your position, I’m proud of the service we provided and slept (un)comfortably on the floor with a clear conscious and Darren snoring.
As we left the hotel the next morning, our “car” had mysteriously vanished, hopefully back to its rightful owner as we had “borrowed” it from less then a block away. For a second, I wondered if the whole thing had just been a dream, until I started walking and felt the gash on my knee. I hope it never heals.
Editor’s Note: I may or may not have video of me someone shooting roman candles from their crotch in a park. I wanted to include it in this post but the content is questionnable due to mature themes and inappropriate language. Feel free to email me if you’re over the age of 18.