Thursday, August 24, 2006

 

Phnom Penh

Spent a couple of days in Phnom Penh in the "OKAY" guesthouse...which is surprisingly better than okay - its actually fairly good!
First 2 nights were in a dorm, but i was the only one in the dorm, and it only cost me US$1 a night. I hung out with an ozzie (Justin) and a Canadian (called Gunner(!)). We hired a tuktuk driver for $7, and spent our first day going to the Killing Fields, and the Tuol Sleng prison - both very full on places. Oh, we also stopped off at the shooting gallery on the way home. Im not quite sure why the tour involves shooting a machine-gun after spending the whole day learning about the futility of war etc, but thats Cambodia for you.

Basically, the killing fields is where a shitload of ppl went to get killed n buried in Phnom Penh. Theres a huge tower full of skulls that u can see, and when u walk around, u see all these big holes which are mass graves. U can even see bits of bones sticking out of the ground, as they havent bothered excavating all the graves properly.

Cambodian History 101: The Tuol Sleng prison (also called S-21) is an old school which was turned into an interogation facility and prison. All this happened from 1976 to 1979 when the Khmer Rouge came into power. Anyone considered educated, foreign, or corrupted by outside forces or influences (ie anyone the Khmer Rouge considered a threat) was generally killed. Sometimes they were used as slave labour and would die of starvation, other times they were sent to be interogated or just plain killed. Anyone speaking out against the government suffered a similar fate. Even ppl wearing glasses were shot, coz they were considered more intelligent than regular people, or something....The main leader was known as Pol Pot - unfortunately, he wasnt the laidback cool hippy that his name would imply.
Overall, it is believed that between 1.5 and 3 million people were killed under the Khmer Rouge government.
Of course, why re-write history whe I can just give u a link to wiki.

The Killing Fields
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Killing_Fields

Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tuol_Sleng_Genocide_Museum




The Shooting Range

So anyway, after a very moving afternoon that left as all quiet, contemplative and sad, our tuktuk driver took us to a shooting range. They have a very matter-of-fact menu, showing u the prices to use various weapons. After alot of umming and erring (i didnt really want to fire any weapons after seeing the above places)I went the AK47-Kalashnikov. It was US$15 for 12 rounds, and entitled me to take some photos. If had chosen however, I could have gone for a much bigger gun (M61 machine gun etc), or a grenade ($30), or even a rocket-launcher for $200. Not sure what u aim at, but in the past it used to be a LIVE cow. Ive heard animal rights activists have since stopped that, and u can now only fire at non-holy animals, such as pigs (i didnt confirm with the dude running the shop however). Not much to say, other than these guns are REALLY loud, and its something I only ever plan on doing once in my life. Photos turned out well though!


Thats (ozzie) Jason on the left with an AK47, and my tuktuk driver Joe in the middle with the tommy gun. Ive got the stupid American M16.
 

Mekong River

Well, Im a long way behind on my blogs, so Ill just summarize the shit ur missing....

Spent my last 3 days in Korea doing nothing in Seoul. Eating alot of western and Japanese food, drinking etc.
Oh, and I went to the pool near the river with Stephan the Irishman from camp. Its in a very rich district of Seoul, so it was quite amusing (especially how u only get 20 mins of swimming b4 u have to get out for 20 minutes). Lots of posers, and gangsters showing off their tattoos in funny lookn budgy smugglers too. The odd bikini too (not so common in Korea).

Anyway, I soon left for Vietnam. The flight was v uneventful, so ill just FF to Ho Chi Minh City! (aka Saigon)


Ho Chi Minh City

I spent 2 nights in Ho Chi Minh city, mainly hanging around & trying not to get run over. The traffic here is absolutely wild, full of shitty scooters, and no apparent road rules (actually, in hindsight its alot better than Cambodia). Heres a cool photo my mate Gunner took of some Saigon traffic



So what else did I do in Saigon? Well, in addition to chilling in my room and reading (I was feeling quite physically and mentally worn out from the camp and all the walking in Korea etc) I mainly spent my 2 nights hangin out with 2 Japanese guys, Wabu and Keigo (and hitting the bars). Unfortunately, they were doing the typical "see 7 countries in 14 days" thing, so I didnt do the Mekong tour with them and had to say goodbye. Anyways, heres a picture of them (and me), mainly for the sake of my own memory.....(from Left to Right: Me, Wabu & Keigo).


BTW, I got an email from em a month later - they had their (video) camera and wallet stolen in Malaysia, which obviously sucks balls. Thats half the reason why I had such a shit camera with me in the first place (I woulda been quite glad if it was stolen - what r u meant to do with shitty 1 megapixel cameras these days?).




The Mighty Mekong

Then my adventure began. I did a 3 day tour of the mekong river, eventually goin up the river and landing in Cambodia (some ''buses'' were involved though). It was r cool for about 2 days, but the 3rd day was really just ''same same, but different" as they say round these parts. We saw locals making coconut sweets, processing rice, and making rice paper and rice noodles amongst other things. The main part though was just cruising the mekong river on boats seeing everyone living on the side of the river. Alot of ppl have houses on stilts over the river, and I imagine alot of places flood regularly. Its all very simple wood and bamboo housing though, and everyone lives very basically. They wash their clothes, dishes and themselves off their houses in the river, which looks fairly dirty...although i think its mainly the silt/muddy bits from the bottom, not neccessarily rubbish and feces (but who knows). They even have markets on the river, where hundres of boats congregate and sell stuff to each other...so we floated along and bought pineapples, drinks, and even noodle soup from other boats. Pretty cool.
Heres another really cool photo taken by Gunner (its taken at a floating market)





Anyway, the last day started with a bit of drama. The night before, we stopped of at a small town, and all 20 people on the Mekong Tour took 3 little "taxis" from the port to our hotel room. This was all on the back of carts on 3 crappy little 100cc motorbikes. 10 people per cart, with the 3rd carrying ppls luggage. As much as I love my 1000cc V-Twin, I can help but think how crazy we are in oz....ppl will say "well, I got my licence now, so I can upgrade my underpowered 250cc" - and meanwhile, u have ppl in other countries happily pulling 10 people on an engine 1/10 the size!!
Heres a cool photo little photo of me and some other travellers on the back of one....


Anyway, onto the drama....After a quick brekky of Banana pancakes and what-have-u (I ran out and got some pushcart noodles instead, as well as some Vietnamese breadrolls with unidentified meat on it for the road, or in this case...the river), we all got back on the little buggies to go back to the boat. Unfortunately, the lead taxi with Gunner and Justin (I was on the rear one so i missed all the action) got pulled over by the local cops and had his bike confiscated!!



Anyway, we then went on these little "rowing" boats, luckily we didnt have to do a thing and we just sat and let these poor old women stand on the bow of the boats and do the rowing for us. They seemed to love it though, and were smiling more than any of us (its amazing how much happier Vietnamese people come across than westerners). Thats one of my favourite things about Vietnam, esp the country side. Ppl from the countryside in particular - despite the fact that they have practically nothing and make do on about a dollar a day (if that - they grow almost everything they need), they just seem to be way more positive and happy than ppl from back home. Infact, the entire Mekong journey was full of kids and families waving at us as we cruised up the river (and there must be quite a few boats doing this every day!).

Although I have no idea who the westerners are in this photo, heres a cool one of the rowing boats to proove it! (this photo waz taken by Justin - u may have to click on the photo to see what I mean)


While Im at it, heres one of me (on my Camera, woohoo!) Good to see I was smiling too!



Anyway, they rowed us to a small Cham Village - ie a village where a small group of Cham Muslims live (Cham's consider themselves a separate race to the Vietnamese, and are considered an "ethnic minority". Luckily, they dont seem to get bullied or fcked over by the Vietnamese too much, unlike some of the minorities living in places like Myanmar). After visiting the local Mosque, "we" rowed back to the big boat, and cruised up the river onwards to Cambodia.
The rest of the day was fairly uneventful, and was mainly spent sitting on boats, going thru customs, and finally sitting in a 'bus'' (a van thats very cramped) slightly wet, coz it rained for the last 4 hours or so on the boat...(its the rainy season in Cambodia).

We finally arrived in HoChiMinh at around 8pm, and took the first backpackers we came to (ie where the bus dropped us off - no doubt they get some sort of a commision!). I was meant to hook up with Keigo and Wabu that night, but it never happened as I waz way too tired and hungry....(the boat was meant to pull in around 5!!)

That, in a nutshell was the 3 day mekong adventure (Ive left a whole heap out). At US$31 for 3 days (food not included) it was pretty damned good value all up!!

Friday, August 11, 2006

 

The Camp

Well, I rambled on enough in my last (first) blog post, so instead of rambling on again about the camp, Ill just post the best parts in point form......


HIGHLIGHTS

- Soccer with the kids.
Inc: A huuuuge, giant lob at the goal, which the goalkeeper (a korean teacher assistant luckily, or i woulda felt bad) wasnt able to stop. The kids all called me Ronadino for the next 3 days.
A huuuuge, giant lob that went straight for one of the camp directors, who was busy talkin on the phone, so didnt notice it coming and hitting him straight in the nut sack. 1 minute on the ground was a good indication he noticed once it had hit though!! Definately woulda won $500 and made funniest home video had someone recorded it (it may even have won!)
A v messy soccer game straight after 3 days of heavy rain. Cant believe they let us play!! I stuck to goalie coz all my clothes were dirty and there was no way to dry em if I washed em (they didnt even have a towel rack). I couldnt resist a big run up the right side though, and got v wet anyway. Puddles galore

- Drinking soju n beers with the other teachers every night once the kids hit the hay. Lotsa good convos, and an excellent game of charades was had on one night too.

- Choku!! Well, our own version of it anyway. Its basically volleyball using ur feet n head only (ie soccer-volleyball). We allowed the ball to bounce though, to make it more do-able. Perhaps the best sport Ive ever played!!! (only teachers played this)

- Surviving my 2 classes. Each teacher had 2 classes (12 in total), naturally I ended up with the lowest 2. 'My' class was all boys, but despite the fact they never listened and couldnt understand much, there werent any terrible kids (although there was a complete sook called Minh, who cried nearly every single day when things didnt go 100% his way). The other class had David & Joseph though, who would definately be on ritalin back home. Joseph was virtually unmanageable, and David was in a world of his own (but still insisted on hassling everyone else). During the 2nd week though, i discovered a much better way to try n handle the kids rather than just yell at em the whole time. Id just sit there with a "i can sit here all day if u like, i get payed either way" kinda attitude, and made kids do pushups if they kept talkin after I said "stop talking after 5...5, 4, 3, 2 1...". It was tough though, coz some of the kids kept volunteering saying "I wanna do pushups too!"

- The "Haunted House". Near the end of the camp, as a night activity, we got to scare the bejesus outta the students. Some teachers hung with the kids, whilst they got read ghost stories in the dark, and placed their hand in slimy food whilst blindfolded (ie whilst being told it was intestines, eyeballs etc). I was part of the monster crew though, and dressed as the Grim Reaper. The kids who survived the horror stories etc would walk along in a group (accompanied by a teacher) in the dark, and wed be waiting for em....wed then jump out, and try to get em to wet their pants - as youd expect, some kids were just too tough and cool to be scared. But others would start to cry, which I strangely got a kick out of (I considered it my revenge for having to deal with em behaving like monsters during the daytime).



The camp grounds were actually quite nice, but unfortunately they were in the middle of nowhere (near the centre of Korea). Sadly, my camera is real shit, so the photos of my class barely worked out.




here are some half-decent photos of the camp grounds etc though......




The serve-yourself Buffet counter where u can come back for as much KimChi as u like, breakfast lunch n dinner!! (The food was pretty good the first few days but got boring quickly - they seem to cook the same things again n again, with brekky being almost identical to dinner) As much as i like KimChi, it took me about 4 days to decide that I never want KimChi for breakfast ever again!!! Twice a day really is enough imho.



This is where u actually sit to eat. As teachers, were expected to sit with students (so they can practice English). In reality, the students generaly tried to avoid us & ate ridiculously quick (ie within 4 or 5 minutes) coz then they had free time




These 2 photos are the view from my balcony. Notice the 2 little gazebos in the 1st photo? Thats where us teachers would go after a hard day of teaching/yelling at kids, & talked politics/travel/made fun of our students, whilst drinking soju n beer.



Oh, and finally we have a picture of my actual room where I slept. There were 3 beds, but only 2 teachers per room. As u can see, the room is quite nice!! And about a gazillion times better than my previous English camps (despite having a gay American room-mate, called Eric). Actually, we got along really well, he didnt (noticeably) perve at me, and we had quite a few good deep n meaningfuls....The only problem was that he had the hots for another teacher called Ian, who seemed to have the hots for me!). That, and the fact that the "straw" pillow (called a straw pillow coz I think it was actually full of plastic drinking straws!) was way too big, and gave me a neck-ache when I used it at night.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

 

My first ever blog

Well, ive finally done it. Created my own blog that is.

Its more a way for me to keep an online diary for myself whilst travelling, but hopefully other may enjoy some of it too. Who knows, i may continue to blog once Im back home too....well see.


Anyway, where to start.
Unfortunately, Ive already started my 2nd leg of the holiday, so I have a LOT of catching up to do. basically, my holiday consists of 3 weeks in Korea - 2 weeks of working summer english camp, and 1 week just hanging out...and then the fun part, 1 month in Cambodia and Vietnam. i just arrived in Hochimin city yesterday, but im rather exhausted and have massive blisters so im gunna take it easy. Met 2 youngish Japanese blokes yesterday, and Ill prolly head to Phnom Penh (thats the capitol of Cambodia for all u uncultured fools) tomorrow morning up the mekong delta (thats a river of course) on some 2 day cruise with them. dunno why, but i think I prefer to hang out with japanese dudes than most brits or ozzies i find when travelling...theres something about their quiet nature that I like, and these dudes seem pretty cool. plus of course, a great chance to practice my Japanese.

ANYWAYZ, Korea. Lets get that outta the way first, coz theres a lot to tell.

After a mammoth 24 hour journey there, i walked around for almost an hour lookn for cheap accom. i have this crappy lonely planet from like 15 years ago, unfortunately Korea is not like japan in that prices have gone up considerably since then....so I shrugged off the first few hotels 9they were charging 35000 won, my book said i could get 7000 won in that area). Eventually i found the hotel area near Insadong and some places that did dorms. Even better - one place did me a single room to myself at dorm price (17,000won, or about AUS$25) although it was rather shitty and clostrophobic (ie v small, and the windows opened into another room rather than outside). Not the best guesthouse (Its called beewon btw) but it did the trick for 1 night and allowed me to drop my bags off and wander the streets. and the guests were interesting - mainly Japanese! I met 1 woman from Taiwan when i stayed there again after the camp - we spoke Japanese at first (just why she said konnichi wa when i walked past Ill never know, maybe she could tell i speak Japanese?!!!), then some korean, then a quick burst of chinese (ni hui shoo chong wen ma? hui, demo wo chong wen bu hao) and of course english. Then a pidgeon version using all 4. Weird but cool.

Anywayz, to cut a long story slightly shorter, I headed to daegu city (3rd biggest in Korea, pretty much a shithole though) and hung out with 2 mates who I did my grad dip of TESOL with, who both live there now (but not for long). first night with John (a brit) - poor guy, he doesnt get out uch it seems. we went into town, found a VERY cool bar made from an old bus attached to weird structures (inc childrens play equipment) and lots of motorbike n car paraphenalia all over the place. One of my fav bars eva. We got back around 2am - the latest night out hes had in Korea in the 10 months or so that hes lived there.

Trtied to get money the next day, but had lost my keycard. Fcking brilliant. Luckily, i traced it back to the ATM at the airport, gave my prospective boss a call, and she somehow had a family member who knew the bank manager, so she was able to get em to give it to her, and back to me (i woulda had to go to the airport otherwise). Wootwoot!!

anyway, yadayadayada, went out again, this time to some "proper" clubs, with Michael, John, and another teacher (Michaels mate, who we called Matchek, forgot 1st name). The clubs werent our thing (way too packed, and all dodgy hiphop, r n b etc...but good DJs to be honest and an interesting mix of english and korean stuff) so we left and called it a night.


The next day was probably the highlight though. All 4 of us bundled into Matcheks car, and headed south to Busan, or more specifically Hyundae beach in Busan. Its probably the most famous beach in Korea, and judging by the amount of people that were there, considering the weather was pretty terrible, I can see that its true!! Unfortunately, it was on again off again rain (but only of the very light sprinkly kind of rain) so not the best day for the beach. I was still trying to recover from a nasty cold that I took with me from Oz, so I didnt go swimming - but amazingly we saw about 6 people on surfboards at one end of the beach trying to catch these tiny 1 to 2 ft waves. Anyway, the beach is chock-full of umbrellas, which u need to rent of course. Luckily it wasnt that hot, so we simply went to one end of the beach and did a little hike to a lookout.

Heres the photos of the beach (and us)

From Left: Myself, John, Michael & Machek

And another piccy of the beach, but from the other end:



BIKES
Finally, I cant end my little blog of Korea with adding a pic of a bike.
I had intended to take a shitload of photos of various motorbikes in Korea, for no particular reason (other than the fact I like them), but my camera fcked most of the shots (well im partly to blame too I spose). They seem to really like bikes over there, but noone ever (well rarely) gets anything better than a single-cylinder 125cc....That doesnt stop em trying to make em look cool. Heres the 2 good photos i took


Heres a relatively "cool" looking bike with attitude. Dont be fooled by the twin exhaust - a closer inspection reveals that its only a shitty 125cc bike, with 1 single cylinder!!



And heres a tiny, tiny little bike (50cc I suspect) that looks rather space-aged and futuristic. No doubt theyre very fuel efficient!!

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