Friday, 26 July 2013


Hoi An's morning market.

I was going to write about a string of bad luck - I dropped my camera, and the lens hood is smashed and the camera itself is damaged. It's pending an assessment and a service, but it's currently leaking battery and overheating - it's not looking great.

Also, my phone got wet and died. I was relying pretty heavily on the phone, so this is a bad news, as well.

But let me not forget that I had a wonderful 5 days touring around in Vietnamese countryside on a motorcycle, which was a blast. Even if it was a puny 120cc bike. Still fun. Also, I've recovered from my illness and feel pretty good now.

So, a string of events, some good, some not so good, but all around wonderful.

Sunday, 21 July 2013


Portrait of Hoi An

Truly I tell you, I have never been so sick in recent memory. I was down with high fever for 2 nights, then vice-gripping headache for 3 days. It was horrible and debilitating, but I'm glad it's almost over.

Also, there are worse places than Hoi An to be recuperating in. Food is nice, it's quiet and pretty. Only if it wasn't for all the tourists..

Hoi An has changed so much in the past 10 or so years, since I was here last. The main streets are absolutely saturated with tailors and souvenir shops and up-market restaurants, and the main market has become something of an afterthought.

Across the river, where were mud and some chickens, is now become something of a night-life district. It's not all bad, though. The development has been largely tasteful, and things are still cheap, and food is still good.

Tomorrow, we move on north. And I promise (!) to return to a more regular schedule.

Saturday, 11 May 2013

Learning to Breathe

April in Korea is usually warm and nice. There are pretty flowers, and, if you manage to avoid the Yellow Dust, it's usually the best time to be in Korea.

About a week before our scheduled departure date from Korea, I decided to visit the Seoul Tower. The cable car going to the top of the hill, on which the tower stands, was stopped due to 'very high winds'. I should've taken that as a warning. While I was looking for an alternative means to get to the top, say, a taxi, it started snowing. Just for reference, snowing in April in Seoul is marginally less rare than snowing in Auckland.

We were perhaps trapped in the wind and the snow for about five minutes, and it was fun for perhaps the first two. After that, as anyone who has spent five minutes in windy snowy conditions with a light jacket and nothing else on would testify, it was fucking f*eezing.

So, the move to the tropics sounded enticing.

All of Malaysia falls between the tropic of Cancer and the equator.

Ah, the tropics. The white beaches and the blue ocean and palm trees and... And the heat and humidity that makes it difficult to breathe. The heat that robs me the will to do anything, even taking a photo, for a long time.

So, briefly: we flew into Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia - which is a city of half a million people in Borneo. Then we moved to Kuching, Sarawak, Malaysia, which is another city in Borneo.

Then we decided that we have had enough of travelling - this business of moving about, being tourists in strange places endlessly. We were sick of making brief introductions to places, then moving along, like on a 6-week speed-dating session. We wanted to, I guess, get to know a place, any place, a bit better than that.

The place we picked is called the Perhentian Islands. A couple of beach-resort islands renowned for scuba diving. And I have signed up for a PADI Divemaster course here - and will be staying about 6 more weeks.

I'm sorry this is a short post. I also apologise for not giving our Korean stay a proper retrospective - but hey, there's no sense in crying over every mistake.

Here are some pictures.


A night scene from Kota Kinabalu, with its particularly unappetising waterfront.

Sunset from a beach near Kota Kinabalu

Orangutan in a sanctuary.

These are fish traps, installed in an estuary.

There are 275 named species of dragonflies in Borneo. This is one of them.

The jungle.

Bornean Bearded Pig is a protected species.

As the bottom level on the estuary rises due to the silt deposit left by the river, the original mangrove dies out.

About to break out into 'Under the Sea'.

Macaques are cute, but can also be annoying and sometimes even dangerous.


The coolest gecko we've seen so far.

Monday, 8 April 2013

Moving on!

First of all, an announcement - we're not going to China. We're going to the island of Borneo instead. Kota Kinabalu, to be exact.

After spending a month travelling (pretty full-on, mind you, moving every 3-4 days), we have decided that Annalise's back is worse than we previously thought, and we need to make sure that it heals first before we can do anything more adventurous. So, moving across China overland is not looking likely. 

Not having Lightroom means the reflection is not magically equally bright as the real thing!

Also, there was a cheap ticket going to Kota Kinabalu. We'll be there on Sunday. This decision was made on a whim - and it almost feels like that we needed to do something like this on a whim just to remind ourselves that we are not bound by anyone else's but our own.

And to our whims, we are very much bound.

Off we go again!

We spent last week or so in Jeju. A volcanic island that reminds me of Taranaki region more than any other, just because of the gentle slope of a big volcano ending up on a coast. It's a beautiful place, even if we spent most of the time sitting and reading and drinking coffee and beer (blissful.)

This was our main activity in Jeju.

So, we have a week to sort out our affairs here - getting trip plans finalised, booking accommodations, and so on. And, of course, seeing the rest of Seoul that we missed out on last time.

Some boats

This is a particularly short post. I'll post another, a more deserving retrospective on Korea before I leave.


p.s. Here are some shots from a market in Jeju. Enjoy!

Bung-o-pang became one of our favourite snacks.
Sadly, it doesn't contain any real carp.


Wednesday, 3 April 2013

The sea, the sea!

Living in Auckland, it would be a fairly unusual day for anyone to not see the sea, at least a few times a day, at least in some form - be it the Panmure basin, the Manukau harbour, or of course, the Waitemata harbour. It's so ubiquitous that, sometimes, I forget that it's there.

I would later have the scariest ferry ride of my life on that boat.

But of course, it is there. And even though I'm a card-carrying aquaphobe, I have grown accustomed to it, and even, yes, miss it when it's gone from sight for too long.

Leaving the wonderful town full of interesting architecture and fantastic coffee, one of the things in my mind was the sea. This wonderfully shaped, island-packed coast.

The many of the islands are contained in a marine national reserve. There are many thousands of them.

Sunset at a port.

In a book I recently read is a conversation between an American and a French. The American remarks on the dream that she had of France, of 'the gentle landscape made by centuries of cultivation.' And that is also my romantic vision of Korea. Except that the tumultuous 20th century didn't do it any good, and the people still believe in the power of diggers to change lives.

But when you get to the sea, there is no mistake. These seas have been made gentle by centuries of cultivation.

I don't mean to use 'cultivate' as a euphemism, even if I sound like it.

Well, I shouldn't romanticise these things. The relationship between man and sea is ambiguous at best. Every bay of the sea is being farmed, every conceivable island has been bridged, and then there is the small matter of the ageing, disintegrating farming and fishing equipment. I'm sure what actually ends up in the sea is a very small proportion of the total, but even then, a small proportion of very large is still a large amount of rubbish.

One of many bridges linking to one of the island can be seen in the distance.

Sadly, rubbish islands like this are much, much too common.

We spent a couple of nights in a very remote island (the left most but one island on the map above). I was sick with a cold, and Annalise couldn't eat anything there. All they had to offer, and I mean quite literally, were stingrays and abalone (Paua). Both of them are considered great delicacies in Korea, and Koreans travel to this region of the country specifically to eat and/or buy them.

String rays, gutted and dried.

A scene from the streets of the island.

We travelled along the coast, found some very ugly ports and found some surprisingly pleasant ones, and I found myself enjoying them. I might stay near the sea for a while longer.

Right now, we're in Jeju. It is a volcanic island in the middle of the pacific. It is warm, rarely snows, rains a lot, and is very green. Hmm. Sounds familiar?


 p.s., As usual, here are some extra photos.

A restaurant in the shape of a boat. Aptly named 'Queen Elizabeth'. Found in a particularly ugly port town.

A scene from the island.

A scene from another port.

A night walk on the waterfront.

The spring marches on!

Monday, 25 March 2013

Brace Yourselves: Spring is Coming

Spring has arrived in the town I'm at now.

The dreary winter is the price you pay for the glorious spring.


Spring has arrived here in Jeonju. The weather is still cold - not any warmer, in fact, than some of the more merciful days of midwinter. But somehow the flowers and the new leaves know that spring is indeed coming. 

They have sprinkled the streets and parks with their fragile little green and white and magenta buds. A sight that would be truly wonderful, if the wind wasn't so bloody cold. 

I was surrounded by Asian men with massive cameras molesting the same tree.
As much time as I spend outdoors, I confess that I'm no botanist, and I have no idea when different flowers bloom. I also have no idea by how much they vary from year to year. In Korea, though, the variance is measured within a few days. So much is easy to know because the news people tend to go on about it at some length.


I have no photographic proof of what I'm about to say yet: but I have noticed that in many Korean city streets, the building and the streets tend to be covered in signs - so much so that, in many cases, the architecture is almost completely lost.

The structure of the roof is the centrepiece of the traditional Korean architecture. Massive blocks of wood and very few nails.

Every fa├žade of every building, every awning and doorway is covered with shop signs that are full-width and about half a meter tall. Every bit of the building that is not the glass door or windows is often wrapped up completely with fluorescent and LED signs.
Not that a church would be covered in signs anyway..
And, you know, I care about these streets just as much as I care about those signs and what they represent. What's even more insidious is that, until they were gone, I didn't even realise that they were there. Thankfully, though, they are gone, for the time being. This is a town that is not ashamed to show its architecture.

The down jacket is new! She bought it last week :D


The southern market of the town.
 Pity the part with the interesting roof was the deadest part of the market.

Once a good friend of mine complained about Auckland and how everything looks so temporary there. How everything looked as though they were built yesterday, and they won't be there tomorrow. Well, in Europe, he said, the buildings looked as permanent as the streets themselves.

These spray printed words advertise furniture removal services, back from the days when local phone number was 6 digits long. I think that was 1992. That makes these marking at least 21 years old. 
And over the years, I have come to appreciate his comment. It is nice to know a place that feels like it will outlast you. A neighbourhood that will be around after you have left the town, to come back to in a decade or two.

Market streets.

Coffee. What's the deal here? I have never had a bad coffee in Jeonju.

A rooftop cafe, a pretty warm afternoon. 


And that's it. This is so far my favourite place in Korea, by far. Here are some extra photos from this beautiful and blissful place.

Some new leaves.

Some green buds.

Room full of mirrors, randomly at a random museum-y place.

This is the 70's theme cafe.

My only photograph from a place with great historic significance - that I can't be bothered explaining. It'll bore all of yous anyway. :)