Category Archives: travel

Missing Vietnam

Mosquito

Vietnam is a great place. The people are friendly, the architecture is charming, it’s amazingly safe, and the beaches are wonderful. It rained half the time I was there, but it was not so bad that I couldn’t explore the city. What surprised me about the trip was how cheap everything was. Food and drinks were cheap, especially compared to Seoul and other places I vacationed before. It was just insanity. I could see myself retiring there if my measly pension would not allow me to live in Seoul or Canada.

Another thing that surprised me was how safe I felt despite walking around in dark streets. I didn’t feel like I was gonna get mugged or kidnapped or anything. It’s more dangerous walking around in downtown Winnipeg. I was staying in a rural, touristy area, but compared to the rural areas I stayed at in the Philippines, my wife and I felt so much more secure. We felt fewer eyes looking at us.

What bothered me, however, was the apparent prejudice against Korean tourists. We stayed at Hoi An, the Old City. The place being a UNESCO heritage site, it is protected and needs maintenance. This requires funds from tourists, and some walkways welcome donations or have signs that ask people to present their tickets prior to passing. This policy appears to be enforced lackadaisically, as people just come and go without presenting any tickets or being asked to buy them. That is, unless you’re Korean. My wife and my sister-in-law’s family got asked to present their tickets, but not once was I asked. We also observed other tourists pass by and they don’t seem to be bothered by city officials. My wife and I thought it might be a colonial attitude, where white people are not hassled but other ethnicities are. But I wasn’t hassled, Chinese tourists weren’t hassled, it’s just the Korean tourists who were being asked for tickets. And we’re not crazy. We observed close by while having drinks. It seems like a scam, feels unjust, and was the only thing that really left a bad feeling in me.

That and the countless mosquito bites.

 

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Global Village Laziness and Crazy Dream Therapists

Faces

If a person has never traveled any countries outside of South Korea and was only exposed to the varied cuisines of the world via the Global Village Festival in Seoul last weekend, they would think that other countries only serve hotdog, chicken on a stick, and kebabs. What a disappointment! The crowd was bigger, but the event was extremely lazy and underwhelming.

All booths from African and Middle Eastern countries were serving kebabs. That’s all they had! There were a couple that served samosas and other more exotic fare, but generally, that’s all they served.

All booths from European and North American countries served hotdogs/sausages or to a lesser extent, chicken on a stick. Same generic sausage all over the place. The Canadian booth, instead of serving poutine or anything Canadian, was serving hotdog on a stick. The Philippines booth was serving the same thing, except they had coconut milk and churros. Lazy, lazy, lazy. And why churros? Isn’t that from Spain, not the Philippines? Well, ignoring the fact that the Philippines is a former Spanish colony, churros are all the rage in Seoul at the moment. There would be line-ups for popular churros places in the city. Why? Because someone mentioned the churros place on TV, which is generally how restaurants get a huge line-up in the country. Sheep. And yes, I’m sorry, but only sheep would line up for over an hour to buy deep-fried, sugary, dough.

My wife and I were in Winnipeg last year. She noted that at the Forks (http://www.theforks.com/dining/show,listing/forks-market), a public space in a small city, there were far more variety and authentic global cuisines compared to this so called “Global Village Festival.” The event was kinda offensive, not just as a Canadian (hotdogs!?), but as someone who’s actually had food from other countries. This is the last time my wife and I go to this festival. We ran out of patient fast. We ended up going to my regular South African bar wondering why didn’t just go straight there in the first place.

Imagine a room with at least three couples and one moderator. The moderator asks everyone to close their eyes. He then says, “Anyone who’s ever wanted to stray from their marriage, especially if that person you want to sleep with is in the room, raise your right hand.”

“Now, if you have your hand raised, open your eyes and look around. Those who don’t have their hand raised, keep your eyes closed.”

“Everyone put your hand down and close your eyes.”

“Now, do what you will with that new information you just learned (or that burning curiosity that’s bound to destroy your relationship).”

I had a dream about that scenario. At the very least, the exercise could open dialogue and spark ideas. At the most, it could arrange amicable cheating arrangements. At its worst, it could destroy marriages. My dreams have a creative yet misguided couples’ counselor.

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Yay Dancing!

We passed by this one arcade during our vacation in Osaka. This dude and his group of dancers were always there. My wife suspects they are paid by the owners of the arcade in order to draw a crowd. I say it’s passion.

Back from vacation. I need to get back to working and making art soon. Unfortunately, reality hit me hard with a vengeance, along with a case of food poisoning the first meal I had when I got back. Of course, the doctor suspects days of alcohol plus heat fatigue might’ve contributed as well.

We’ve been to Tokyo several times but my wife enjoyed Osaka more than our Tokyo trips. It was her first time there and she finds the people friendlier, more relaxed, which is not to say that people in Tokyo aren’t friendly and relaxed at all. Osaka is also a bit more tourist friendly, with many attractions within walking distance to our hotel. The only time we really had to take deal with the confusing subway system was going to the Matsuri Festival. We had a good time. Some random observations though:

The Japanese really love their western music. Previous trip, I kept hearing Green Day in places I went to. Now it’s mostly pop peppered with 90s/2000 punk and ska.

The problem with ska is that it never really evolved to anything interesting. I love early ska and would listen to Skatalites now and then. But the last time ska became popular, it was the same rift applied to 80s covers. Lame. (You know what’s lamer? When punk bands cover 80s music.)

Pet peeves: Westerners in foreign countries calling attention to their western-ness. We get it. You’re white and Canadian/American/British or whatever. Everyone can tell. No need to act or dress like a douche in public in order to be seen. No one is going to scout you and ask you to be some guest in some Asian variety show.

Whale meat is overrated.

Raw chicken and raw liver actually tastes like fish. Or maybe that’s just the “taste like chicken” quality in reverse. Anyway, I’m glad I didn’t catch salmonella.

I could really use a pet owl.

There were lots of interesting things during the trip and the Japanese delight in things that are odd. But one of the oddest things I saw was when I passed by this wedding. I’m not sure why they would choose Putin, especially with what’s happening right now in Donetsk.

Putin

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Down it goes

toilet

Oh look, a toilet. I guess this reflects my general mood lately. Of course, watching the news doesn’t help either.

Off for a vacation on Thursday. The last time I went to Japan, I didn’t really enjoy it. I feel like I’ve been to Tokyo too many times, so it’s a nice little change to go to Osaka this time around. It’s been years since I visited Osaka, and this will be my wife’s first time. She’s kinda thinking I would know my way around the play, but with the way things change, especially in Asia, I doubt if any place I visited while I was there last time would still be there.

My mother-in-law however is not really too thrilled with the idea of us going to Japan. She thinks that we’ll end up sick due to Fukushima radiation. I’m sure most travelers would dismiss this as the concerns of an out-of-touch woman in her sixties, but many people don’t realize that Japan has a growing number of leaky water tanks just sitting there like rows poisoned canned soup. But damn it, I really need a break. I’ll try to worry about it once I get back and start discovering weird spots on my body.

I’ve said it before, but I believe the best part of a trip overseas is the airport. There’s just this overwhelming aura of possibility once you get there, rolling around with your luggage, looking at flights. It doesn’t matter what the trip is for. I just have this feeling that at any moment, my life could change. There’s just something about the prospect of being in the air and being around so many travelers. It’s like being in the one place where things actually begin to happen.

The rest of the trip is just icing on the cake.

I hope the trip improves my mood.

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Travelocity, “Allen,” and the mysterious Elroy Lobo

Tentacular

Don’t do it! DON’T DO IT! Don’t book that flight with Travelocity!

It’s been a couple of months, but I finally gave up with Travelocity. They messed up my vacation last year and I’ve been waiting for some sort of resolution afterwards, but have received none. Well, here’s the story:

I booked a trip to Canada on Travelocity. A month before the trip, I got an e-mail from them saying that one of the flights got cancelled and we had to re-book. Re-booking had us changing our whole itinerary which forced us to transfer in Detroit, something which I was trying to avoid. They blamed Korean Air for the cancelled flight. I trusted the customer service representative on the phone, a heavily-accented man named “Allen,” and went along with it.

Had a decent flight to Canada but really didn’t enjoy my lengthy stay in Detroit International. There’s a couple of jokes about Detroit that could be made, but we should all just move on.

The day before my trip back to Seoul, I decided to check my iPhone app which tracks my flights. I noticed that the last flight of my itinerary (on Asiana) was missing. This was odd because it’s the day before my flight and I didn’t receive any messages from Travelocity. I decided to call customer service, and lo and behold, I get to speak with “Allen” again. After being on hold several times, he tells me that Asiana cancelled the flight and I had to stay overnight in Tokyo to catch the next flight. And since I would be staying the night, I had to book a hotel, but I shouldn’t worry because since Asiana cancelled the flight, they would be covering my expenses no problem. Actually, I was more annoyed that I was missing a day at work and that I was told about the cancelled flight just a day ahead. Still, I went along with “Allen” since they already had my money (“No refunds!”) and I really had no choice at the moment.

I arrived in Tokyo and went to the Asiana kiosk. The representative looked at the records of their correspondence with Travelocity and it showed that they repeatedly tried to confirm the booking with Travelocity but for some reason Travelocity just simply didn’t respond to them. The flight wasn’t cancelled, Travelocity just didn’t confirm my booking either due to ignorance or ineptitude. So I was forced to stay in a hotel because it was too late to get in the flight. And since Asiana didn’t drop the ball and they have proof that it was indeed Travelocity that caused the problems, I should settle my hotel bill with them.

I stayed in the most boring hotel in Tokyo. Roomy but boring, nothing around but a 7-Eleven, the airport, and other airport hotels.

The next day, I arrived in Seoul and sent a message to Travelocity recounting the incident along with the proof Asiana agents gave me. I also requested for compensation for grievance and missing a day at work. I got a message saying that I should send my complaint to another Travelocity address.

I sent my complaint to the other address, and then I got a canned response saying my business was valuable and that they’re looking into it. In the meantime, I should send my complaint to the address I sent my first message to. I did and I waited. A month later, I asked for a follow-up and I got a canned response. No explanation, nothing.

Last week, I sent another message and here’s part of the response I got from a customer service rep named Elroy Lobo, probably a bot:

“Please be advised that we have made a sincere effort to address the issues brought to our attention. We assure you that no attempt was made to trivialize or disregard your comments and observations. While we understand your position, we feel that our resolution was fair and equitable.”

WHAT RESOLUTION? WHAT WAS FAIR AND EQUITABLE?

I could be angrier, but weeks have passed since the incident and I only lost a couple of hundred dollars. I’ve read horror stories online of people losing thousands, and not just normal trips, but significant trips like honey moons or group vacations. It makes me wonder however if that is standard operating procedure for Travelocity. Mess up people’s flights, have them send their complaints to various addresses for weeks, then finally have them give up as their tempers cool. It’s actually funny how the Better Business Bureau has Travelocity at an A+ rating when thousands of stories online are more horrible than mine. It’s probably because ratings and reviews have to be vetted not only by BBB but the business itself… which kinda makes the review process worthless.

In any case. Don’t do it. Save yourself the hassle and don’t book with Travelocity. Elroy Lobo, I know you don’t exist. I hope you catch a computer virus. And to all the “Allen”s I talked to, I hope you’re proud of what your doing, messing up people’s vacations and making First World life just a tad bit miserable.

Each time I have spare time, I try hard not to crank call “Allen” and make his life miserable, and for that, I feel like a saint. Living a good life is the best revenge, but annoying the heck out of “Allen” would really hit the spot right now.

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Morning Commute

Biker_flame

This is probably one of the most normal looking statues I made. Yay for normalcy!

Speaking of normalcy, life is back to normal. No more holiday stuff, so I’m just trying to recover from everything. Rest a bit, stay home for a while, save a bit of money, etc. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to rest much lately. Been busy with work and everything that I haven’t had much time to make art. I’m not really having a great start with my resolution of making more art.

Odd thing, I spent the morning talking about suicide with a couple of people I haven’t seen since last year. Our first conversation for 2014 was about suicide and how Koreans love to hang themselves, jump off bridges, stop trains, and suffocate in cars. I guess it all stems from highly stressful living and the stigma of going to a shrink. In this country, most people would only go to a shrink if they have “mental problems,” and stress, depression, and anxiety aren’t considered mental problems. This is akin to General Patton slapping and belittling “shell shocked” soldiers and telling them to suck it up. I can’t stress enough how valuable psychologists are and how they’ve helped me sort through my issues. I’m not an expert, but I’m sure South Koreans would see their suicide rate go down once going to the shrink becomes an accepted norm instead of being a source of stigma.

Going down the morbid route, one of the people I was talking to suggested that jumping in front of trains is one of the most popular forms of suicide in the country (happens once a week) because it’s relatively quick, as opposed to jumping off a building which takes half a minute, or drowning which could take longer. It’s the reason why the Seoul subway lines now have gates installed to prevent jumpers. Unfortunately, some people think this only increased the number of incidents of bridge jumpers, and some people would travel outside the city for the sole purpose of jumping at an unguarded subway track. Ironic. Travel an hour outside the city for a quick death.

I always thought that suicide should take a long time. It should take a week at least. That’s the way I would do it. Go to a country where you can easily get drugs. Party with drugs and prostitutes for a week. You’re going to die anyway, so might as well go out happy and check a few things off your bucket list. Who knows? Maybe you’ll change your mind in the process. Then after a week, pick a nice hotel, a really expensive one that won’t be driven out of business by the news of someone dying there. Continue partying, or just shoot a lethal amount of drugs in a tub.

Wow, that was a downer. I really should just make art instead of writing depressing things. Why the heck were we talking about suicide on a Monday morning?

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Home

Skeleton

Off to Canada soon. I probably won’t be updating for a few days or so. My sister is getting married. It would be good to see her as well as the rest of my family as well. It’s one of those rare opportunities when we all get to be together, especially since my family’s scattered all over North America. It’s a shame that my family and closest friends can’t be my neighbors as well. Even as I go back, a couple of my friends are in Europe, other parts of Canada, or simply missing.

One of the biggest highlight though (aside from my sister getting married to an awesome dude) is that I’ll be seeing my best friend, Jordan (http://www.jordanlmiller.com/). I haven’t seen her forever, but she’s always been there to pour my troubles to, and vice versa. I’m going to be spending an unhealthy amount of time with her, but I don’t think that would cover the amount of time I’ve been absent.

My wife however is worried about how cold Winnipeg is. Fragile thing, she gets cold easily. I, on the other hand, am excited to once again experience real winter. The last time I experienced proper winter with proper snow was a few years ago in Sapporo. The place was almost like Winnipeg. Anyway, the cold will give her a good excuse to go nuts shopping for winter apparel.

After this trip, I don’t when I’ll come back to Canada or whether I’ll ever settle back. A part of me will always want to be back, or be all Neil Young and settle in Alberta (weather there’s good in the fall), but there’s always other places to visit, be it North America or wherever. Things are just harder when you’re an adult and you’ve got a family to worry about. Tickets are expensive, you could spend the money somewhere else, starting life in another place can be difficult, all of my family are scattered… there are so many things to consider, it could be maddening. In any case, I’m hoping it won’t be too long before I go back home again.

Home!!! Canada!!! Home!!!

 

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Oh Vacation!

Tokyo

Back from vacation. *sigh* I’m alright, readjusting back into the real world, but my wife is still missing Japan. She’s been looking at flight packages to Osaka, torturing herself.

I spent my vacation with an old friend from high school and her boyfriend. It made for a very interesting trip. I met her back in computer class when I was fourteen in Winnipeg, but now we found ourselves all old and roaming around Seoul, the DMZ, and Tokyo. Good stuff. Old friends are awesome!

We hit most of the hot spots in Tokyo, from the Sanja festival in Asakusa, to the weird and sad maid café scene in Akihabara. I gotta give it to the Japanese. Very polite and very clean! Despite the kookiness, it was great having my personal space respected all the time and no older folks trying to lord over other people with old school hierarchy. It’s damned expensive though. It would be great to work in Tokyo, but I doubt if I could save a dime.

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