Tag Archives: tourism

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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Osaka Again

Goat 4

Off to Osaka this week. I’ve been going to Osaka quite frequently recently. It’s a great city, people are friendly, and most things to do are pretty accessible. If you’re going to do Japan for the first time, I recommend Osaka. Tokyo is way too busy. Most of the interesting places to visit in Tokyo are separated by several subway rides. Tourists would end up spending a great portion of their time on the train. Go to Osaka instead; all the key Japanese things to do are pretty much in the same area.

Speaking of Osaka, I saw a short virtual reality video off of Littlstar, the VR video network. Here’s a tip, if you’re gonna make a video and call it “Passport Osaka,” don’t spend half of it on the tattooed expat. Most of the people visiting Osaka aren’t there to visit a foreigner’s tattoo parlor. And I really wouldn’t call Dotonbori and Amerikamura “best-kept secrets” either. They’re two of the main places where tourists go. Blergh.

 

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Foreigners in Local Protests

napoleon

Working in the heart of Seoul where protests usually happen, I’ve seen it so many times, foreigners looking at protests. Now, the protests in Seoul rarely get violent, so it’s a bit of a spectacle for tourists to come and see how protests are in other countries. It makes them seem like they’re seeing an unusual political event aside from the usual touristy fare. Unfortunately, protests here happen at least once a week. They usually interrupt my work on Thursday afternoons.

The recent string of protests that got the president of South Korea impeached however are much larger than regular protests. They’re bigger and are more elaborate affairs, with choreographed light shows and musical entertainment. It can be quite tempting for foreigners to come and see the protests and witness history taking place. But in such cases, there’s a very blurred line between witnessing a government protest and taking part in it.

Several people in Korea have invited me to join them in the protests, and as much a political junkie as I am, it is really not in my place to take part in a protest in a country where I am technically a guest by the government. There’s also some chance of violence erupting, and I’m sure most embassies wouldn’t encourage people to be near the protests. I haven’t heard of anybody being arrested and deported for participating in a government protest, but just because it hasn’t happened doesn’t mean that it’s okay to do. It also doesn’t mean that the government is not well within their rights to deport any foreign visitors participating in anti-government activities. How would Canada react to foreigners coming in to Canada to protest the government? I would be thinking differently if the issues directly affected foreigners, say Canada decided that all permanent residents (landed immigrants/ non-Canadian residents) must now pay higher taxes than Canadian citizens. But many of the protests I’ve seen where foreigners are wandering into are about issues that don’t really affect them directly.

One of the protests in the past that comes to mind is the mad cow protests several years ago. Koreans didn’t want American beef imports to Korea because of suspected cases of mad cow. Now, this was all just a massive hysteria with a healthy dose of anti-Americanism, but this didn’t stop millions of people protesting in the streets. In these protests, I even saw foreigners participating. Now, I couldn’t tell whether they were Americans or not, but seeing how the country now fully accepts American beef imports with little consequences, not only are the protests a big egg on the face of the Koreans but also to the foreigners who participated. There must be better ways to bond with the locals than joining protests.

The local media however sure loves pointing cameras at visibly foreign faces during news stories. It gives events an international vibe. Perhaps that’s part of the allure. Hey, we might get on TV in Asia!

The thing is foreigners don’t have a dog in the fight, so why go against the country which gave them the privilege to visit? The one time foreigners had an issue to legitimately protest the Korean government was when they made it mandatory for all foreign teachers to pass an AIDS test prior to getting teaching visas in fear of them giving AIDS to school children. That was a horrible piece of racist, xenophobic legislation that didn’t get any protest in the streets, not from locals or foreigners. And to this day, foreign teachers are still taking AIDS tests, some of them believing the lie that it’s for their health insurance.

So what is a foreigner to do? Stay out of it. If you have to be a tourist, take a picture, and spread the story to your friends. Locals love it when their stories reach an audience overseas. Otherwise, know why you’re really here (as a guest) and know why people are protesting (It’s usually not about you).

 

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I don’t Seoul.U

Bear

One thing that irritates me about Seoul, are people’s desire to make the city a major international tourist attraction without A) examining what makes the city unique and B) examining what foreigners are actually interested in. It seems that decisions on creating tourist attractions and campaigns are based more on a committee which have very little to do with the place and the audience.

The city will be repurposing an old overpass near Seoul Station and turning it into the Seoul Skygarden, an elevated park in the middle of a busy city center. They hired international designers to create the park, thus hoping to add some international design accolades on paper. Great, just great. I work near that area. It has extremely heavy traffic and the station itself is popular among homeless people. An elevated park with cafes and restaurants will not only worsen traffic conditions, it will further displace the homeless population. That or they would just gladly hangout at the internationally, designed structure.

It’s like the designers and city planners just thought about modernity and ignored everything else. It’s already been done with the station itself. Seoul Station used to be this old building built during the Japanese occupation. Ugly history aside, it’s still a beautiful and historic building. But the city decided to build a new Seoul Station right next to it, a modern structure that says absolutely nothing. Passersby wouldn’t even be able to make out the shape of the whole structure amongst the menagerie of glass and neighboring shops.

They do this again and again. City Hall is shaped like a wave that is trying to hide behind other more interesting buildings. Dongdaemun Design Plaza replaced the old stadium which displaced many of the people who used to do business in the old structure. Now it’s a pretentious glob right in the middle of a shopping area. It houses high-end fashion shops, replacing old merchants struggling to make ends meet by hawking their wares. Noryangjin Fish Market is being modernized into a soulless department store-looking bland attraction. Fish mongers who’ve done business there for years are being pressured by the city as well as gangsters to move to the newer, modern-looking area. City planners, instead of seeing what works and embracing it, they try to modernize things into attractions that would ultimately look old and dated given five or ten years. Seoul City Hall is not iconic, neither is Dongdaemun Design Plaza. They look like poor stabs at looking modern.

It’s really is a shame, but Koreans are often misguided when it comes to capitalizing on their environment and cultural appeal outside of K-pop. Even their attempts to coming up slogans for the city and the country have been disastrous. “I.Seoul.U” is a confusing mess that would attract no one. If anything, it reflects on the need to sound modern and hip to the detriment of language and communication. As for “Creative Korea,” ironically, it looks like it was plagiarized from “Creative France.” Appropriately, it speaks to the lack of creativity and poor attempts by the Korean tourism authorities. And in both cases, I believe no English-speaking expats, people who have learned to appreciate the country from an outsider’s point of view, have been consulted for the slogans.

Mind you, other cities are not immune to this. As much as I love Winnipeg, I’ve never liked its much-beloved Canadian Museum for Human Rights. I feel for the sentiment and the purpose of the place, but it looks like structure straight out of Mad Max. Also, who would travel to Winnipeg to see a museum on human rights? At least Edmonton had the wisdom to build the West Edmonton Mall. Americans and Canadians alike would drive for hours to visit Edmonton, a city of less than a million people, just to visit the giant mall. This would never be the case with the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. It’s like city planners are actively targeting the mandatory school field trip crowd. And despite being a structure dedicated to human rights, I remember planners were quick to ignore Aboriginal concerns regarding artifacts and Aboriginal graveyards. Just like Seoul, it’s a modern ugly structure that ignores many of the locals’ concerns and would likely not increase local tourism.

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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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