Monday, 28 January 2008

Back to Korea

On Wednesday I bid farewell to Bangkok and catch the plane bound for Seoul. This morning I went to the Korean embassy to collect my passport complete with the new visa which allows me to work in the country for a year, so now I am all set. I am not sure how much I will enjoy the icy Korean winter after the intense heat of Thailand (there's a 40 degree difference!), but I am looking forward to going back -- to seeing Jin again, and strangely, to starting work. The last 41 days of plane flights, sightseeing, reunions, weddings, ceremonies and food, food and more food have been an incredible experience and given me many unique memories (which are still jostling around in my brain trying to get themselves into some sort of causal structure). However, during all the excitment of the last few weeks I feel as though I have been living on a limited reserve of time (I have certainly been living on a limited reserve of money...) -- to do this travelling certain aspects of my life have been put on hold, and now it is time to return my attention to them. Fortunately my sub-conscious seems to have taken up the challenge, and I am filled with motivation for creating a more settled period of life with Jin in Korea. Perhaps in a strange way my time having fun in Thailand has been a good preparation.

How best to document the experience of my travels on this blog...? I have decided a two-pronged strategy. First, I will upload a pictorial diary of my stay onto the Picasa album -- given that I have taken more than 500 photos that should provide a fairly comprehensive guide. Secondly, I will write here some descriptions of the experiences which have proved most memorable for me during my time in Taiwan, Thailand and Malaysia. For anyone thirsty for more there is Ant's blow-by-blow account of our travels on 'The ice-skating Gecko' (linked in the previous post). Since he arrived on the 2nd I spent almost every waking hour (and most sleeping hours) in his company -- those of you who know Ant will be impressed I am still of sound mind. In any case I doubt I can improve upon his excellent essays, especially after yesterday when I managed to loose the notebook in which I'd kept a record of what we did each day (as well as everyone's phone number in Thailand, the address of the Korean embassy... :P). Anyway...

1) Twilight at the Chih-Shan garden of the National Palace Museum, Taipei. Jin and I decided to visit the garden after seeing the museum earlier in the day. The sun had just set and it felt to me just like an early Autumn evening in England, which brought back fond memories. After spending two visually-simulating hours touring the busy galleries of the museum, the quiet beauty and half-light of the garden hit me like a sledgehammer of tranquility. Jin and I spent a pleasent time sitting at an open-air gallery overlooking the garden's silent pools, before heading back to our hotel.

2) Travelling through dense fog along narrow mountain roads on the way back from Sitou National Park, Taiwan. After Jin had gone back to Korea, I went with Big Sis and her family to Sitou, a National Park set deep in the mountains of Taiwan. The next day, on the way back a thick fog decended over the mountains. Travelling in a minibus around the sharp contours of the road as it wound its way through the mountains with typically only a few metres visibility was a nerve-racking experience, but also strangely captivating. Sometimes we would be travelling through thick fog and suddenly turning a corner the fog would lift, giving a brief stunning view of the distant valleys far below, before in the space of a few metres we would hit another wall of fog and be plunged back into a white, shapeless isolation. It was quite unlike anything I have seen before.

3) Taking a ferry ride along Chao Phraya river in Bangkok. On the day I visited the Grand Palace, I decided to travel by boat -- both my guest-house and my destination were close to the river, and given the famous traffic and noise of Bangkok's roads it seemed like a good option. I imagined myself drifting gently downstream on a quiet wooden barge, the wind blowing cooly on my face. The reality was rather in conflict with my imagination -- upon boarding the barge we were pushed down onto the hot and heavily crowded deck, if there was any wind it was dissipated amongst the sweaty bodies before it reached me, the noise from the boat's diesel engine drowned out all other sound, and the motor caused the whole boat to vibrate violently. Still, a good experience :).

4) Watching the sun set over Wat Arun, Bangkok. I enjoy evenings in Thailand -- probably because of the comfortable warmth in contrast to the stifling heat of the day. The sillouette of Wat Arun against the red evening sky was very beautiful -- there's a picture of it on the web album (after I took this picture a Thai lady on the jetty I was standing came up to me and demanded I pay her 20 baht per photo; I don't even think it was her jetty...).

5) Walking across the Bridge over the river Kwai. On new year's day I was in Kanchanaburi with Pie and his family. On the way back they made a brief stop so that I could go and see the famous bridge. Being New Year's day it was quite busy, and many people were walking across the bridge. The bridge was designed to carry trains, and was obviously built with the minimum necessary material, so that you walk along tracks just two feet wide, with six-inch planks on either side serving as walkways, and nothing else between you and the water below (except for a few well placed gurders for you to hit on the way down). With so many people crossing the bridge at the same time (in both directions), you frequently had to stand right on the edge of the platform to allow people to cross -- sometimes there would be some pushing and shoving for good measure. I'm pretty sure that if it was in England they would have added some pretty heafty railings alongside the track for safety (if you were allowed on the bridge at all), but then that would rather detract from the atmosphere.

More to follow...

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