Joggers and other users of Bangkok’s Lumphini Park were complaining that their use of the area was being hindered by the protesters camped there. That obstruction is probably going to change, but it’s going to get worse. The leaders of the protest decided to close all the other protest sites, unblock the roads and move all activities to the park.
I walked to the park late Sunday morning and got in the middle of the thousands of people setting up camp, listening to speeches, waiting in food lines and lazing in the shade to escape the hot sun. Compared to the park yesterday, this is a huge change. My guess is that nobody will be able to use the park for activities like jogging, bicycle riding, or outdoor aerobics classes.
Saturday, I strolled to more remote areas of the park, and there were still some pockets of quiet and serenity in the lush landscape of tropical trees and flowers.
Just a few of the hundreds of flowering trees and shrubs in Lumphini Park
This is the Chinese Pavilion in Lumphini. It was an oasis amid the chaotic areas.
Here’s a better view of the Chinese Pavilion.
Even in some of the tent encampments the scene was peaceful, almost serene.
A tent area along one of the many watercourses in the park.
That peacefulness is gone, I suspect. Throughout the park, hundreds of new tents have been erected with the arrival of protesters from the other sites. I wish everyone well, but I’m afraid they’re not making any friends with the other users of the park.
Just a small part of the many protesters at Lumpini Park, listening to speeches.
The mood, though, remains festive, almost like Mardi Gras, with people wearing smiles along with costumes and accessories that proclaim their involvement. Here are a few of them.
Protesters at Lumphini Park.
Flag waver at Lumphini Park protest.
More people enjoying the day, sitting in the shade.
I don’t know what the pink flags signify. Perhaps they’re one of the royal colors.
Care for a BIG cup of coffee? Here, volunteers are dispensing coffee to protesters.
Foreign expats are involved, also. A German resident of Bangkok and his wife are outfitted appropriately.
Ready to entertain the multitudes, a German resident and his wife join the protesters.
I entered the area again on Sunday night, and the number of people had dramatically increased from that morning. Thousands more protesters had arrived from the now-closed sites, and walking around near the stage was almost impossible. I was squashed from both sides in a slow moving line that was going nowhere in particular. At the first opportunity, I bailed out into an open area. Taking photos was equally difficult. The one below shows the main stage, but it doesn’t quite give the impression of the large crowd.
Part of the large crowd of protesters at Lumphini Park. I felt a small triumph that I was able to free myself from the crush of people to take this shot.
I was able to work my way to another exit from the park, just down the road from the subway station. I walked back to the main intersection of Silom and Rama IV roads. As you can see, traffic is back to normal. No more casual strolling down the middle of the street.
The intersection of Silom and Rama IV roads. This is where the main stage of the Lumphini protest was located. Now it’s in the park itself.
That was my brush with the protest areas in Bangkok. It seemed a different kind of protest from the ones in which people were killed in the violence. I hope we don’t see news headlines like that again.
I had to do some shopping for personal odds and ends at Tokyu Department Store at the Mahboonkrong (MBK) shopping center. After I finished that chore, I walked out into the protest site and snapped off a few pictures. The scene and crowd atmosphere weren’t that different from the Silom/Lumphini site. Here’s a few of the photos I took.
Orderly rows of tents were erected next to the MBK shopping center, near the National Stadium.
I believe this is Rama I Road, a continuation of Sukhumvit Road.
A singer at the main stage of the Siam protest area.
Do you need some shoes? No harm in making a few baht while you stay out of the mid-day sun at the Siam protest site.
At MBK Shopping Center. No other caption needed.
I was tired after arriving in Bangkok, so I stayed near the Silom City Hotel and ate at the small food street nearby, Silom Soi 20. There are several items I need to buy in Bangkok, items I didn’t feel like hauling with me, like some new running shoes, new shirts and t-shirts and other odds and ends. I’ll be here until March 3rd, so I started my shopping errands yesterday, Friday the 28th.
But first, my biggest goal was to find some of the protest sites where the anti-government opposition was holding court, threatening to shut down Bangkok. I don’t think they ever really shut it down, but several of the busiest avenues in Bangkok were turned into walking streets, closed to the usual heavy traffic of cars, buses, tuk-tuks and motorbikes.
I didn’t know what to expect. Of course, I’d read about the tragic deaths that had recently occurred, but I’d also read that the demonstrations were mainly peaceful. I had to go to Hualamphong train station to buy a ticket to Nongkhai, where I’ll be heading on March 3rd on the overnight sleeper. So, I decided to walk the few kilometers to the subway near Lumphini Park, one of the biggest protest areas, and take the short ride to Hualamphong in air-conditioned comfort.
I had no idea how big the protest area would be, so I walked along expecting the sidewalks to be jammed with people and the road to be impassable with a permanent traffic jam. In actuality, you don’t really notice the protest site until you get close to Lumphini Park, near the subway station. Silom Road is closed to traffic for about half a kilometer before the park, so it’s easy to avoid the normally crowded sidewalks, jammed with vendors, by walking down the middle of Silom, an unusual experience on this heavily traveled road. You can also walk above the crowd on the overhead walkway, which is what I first did. Here are a few photos from the walkway.
An unusual sight–no traffic on Silom Road, blocked by protesters.
This is a view down the other direction of Silom. The tire barricade and the black netting mark the entrance to the protest site.
Food vendors are set up all along the road, taking advantage of the large crowds.
More vendors along closed-to-traffic Silom Road.
The atmosphere of the protest was more that of a street fair than a demonstration against the current government. In addition to the usual assortment of vendors on the sidewalks, lining Silom on both sides were food stalls and vendors selling everything imaginable, from belts and baubles and beads to t-shirts proclaiming the protest. Huge speakers were piping in the music and speeches from the main stage near Lumphini and the protesters, tired, but undaunted, seemed to be enjoying themselves, as were the gawking tourists, including me.
“Would I be allowed to take photos?” I wondered. Yeah, it was OK. So, I walked into the area and into Lumpini and took these photos. I always asked first before taking a shot, and everyone was quite agreeable and friendly about it, and I always followed up with a thank you. I was turned down only once.
I really liked the spirit of the people; their friendliness was apparent in their smiles and their determination apparent in their staying power of doing this for weeks on end. Whether their political aims are correct or not is for history and the Thai people to decide. No matter, I enjoyed being among them.
This is the first photo I took on entering the area. The middle guy was agreeable, so I took the shot. No problems, so I became more confident about being among the people. I wonder if the protest banner makers could use a native English-speaking proofreader.
Three protesters with dog. I asked the guy in the middle if it was OK to take a photo and he smilingly agreed. The other two seemed not to notice.
I saw this fellow from far off waving his flag, and I knew immediately that I had to catch him in his moment of pride. This is along one of the side streets leading to the main stage area.
Flag waver along a street leading into the main stage area.
Lots of vendors here. I should buy a protest shirt. Maybe I’ll go back and get one later.
T-shirt vendor along a side street. Lots of colorful protest shirts are for sale.
Near the flag waver I saw this older gentleman, with his cool toothless smile. I think he asked me to take his photo before I could ask for his permission to do so.
An enthusiast near where I saw the flag waver. This guy is really into it, with his toothless, but infectious, grin.
Here are a few of the hundreds of tents where the protesters are living. This is near the entrance to Lumphini Park, which is jammed with tents, shower stalls and cooking areas. I took a few more photos earlier today, which I’ll try to get processed and posted by tomorrow.
Tent city near Lumphini Park. The park itself is crammed with hundreds of tents.
There are tents set up inside larger tents. Here some folks are enjoying a gab session, staying out of the afternoon heat. I asked the guy on the left about taking a photo and he gave me a big smile and a thumbs up, but he immediately went into “serious” mode when I took the shot. After I finished, he smiled again.
Enjoying a gab session away from the heat of the early afternoon.
I walked around the park a bit more and decided it was time to get out of the heat and go to the subway station. But, I saw this older lady sitting under an awning. I don’t know if she was just resting there or whether she was selling the “V for Vendetta” masks. I liked her smile.
“V for Vendetta” character mask. I think this lady was selling them.
Just one more shot before the subway entrance. I caught these two guys near an “I (heart) Thailand” sign near the main stage.
A couple of guys taking a break at one of the “I (heart) Thailand” signs near the main stage.
It was time to get out of the heat. It’s been around 95 degrees fahrenheit (35 C) in Bangkok the last few days and I was sweating. I went to the entrance to the subway station and took the escalator down. Wow! There was a sweet, cool breeze coming up from the underground area. Was it ever a sensuous feeling! I thought that maybe I should go up and down the escalators several times to repeat the cooling breeze, but there’s a security checkpoint at the bottom. I figured that sooner or later the cop on duty would get wise to me.
I got my ticket at Hualamphong and then took the wonderfully air-conditioned subway to the protest site near the National Stadium. I took a few more photos there, but I’ll save them for my next post.
You might wonder why people fall in love with a particular city. Is it the restaurants and the food, the music venues, the sightseeing opportunities or the overall culture? I really love Bangkok and I have for years. It’s my favorite city of the ones I’ve visited. Yesterday, though, I think I discovered why I love it so much. Sure, it has great food, beautiful Buddhist temples and tons of culture. Yestereday, for me, it was the people. Good luck to all of them, on both sides of the political divide. I hope they get this settled peacefully and soon. Please, no more violence, no more deaths.
Parting is such sweet sorrow, but it’s also quite a hassle. Packing for a three-week vacation is troublesome. Should I bring my swimming pants that are three sizes too small? How about my sunglasses? I’ve never worn them before, but maybe it’ll be really, really bright this time and my retinas might get burned out. There’s this outside chance that I might get asked to do a bit of juggling, so I’d better bring those yellow tennis balls that I “found” at the court. Right? So many non life-threatening decisions to make.
Moving permanently is a different beast altogether. In a way, it’s easier. After you’ve packed everything, you just look around your abysmally small apartment to see if anything you’ve accumulated over the past five years, including dust, food droppings, sticky notes with meaningless phone numbers written on them and your passport are still lying in hidden corners of your room. If they are, pick them up and either toss them in the garbage or keep them. There should be nothing remaining. Everything important should be in your 1995 vintage Kelty backpack or your hand-me-down suitcase, given to you by Rob, a Scottish colleague who returned home six months ago.
But, before packing, I have to decide “Do I keep it or haul it out to the trash bin?” That old, moldy coffee maker has to go of course, as do all the condiments in the ‘fridge, including the five year old jar of what used to be pickles. Incense? Gone. All that old scratch paper? Gone. Garish polyester shirts that I bought in the Dominican Republic? Hmmm, they sure pack nice (wrinkle-free) and they kind of make a statement and I sure like the day-glo colors. Keep ‘em.
It was problematic, but I finally packed everything that I thought I needed to have for a permanent change of location and life. I finished all the obligations to the university, like paying my final utility bill and cleaning my apartment, and I left. For good. Never to return to South Korea, I waved it a more or less fond farewell. I hopped on the overnight bus from Yeosu to Incheon Airport with no regrets, no tears of farewell and no looking back.
The bus departs Yeosu at 11:10 pm and arrives at the airport at 4 am. Usually, I can intermittently doze off, but I never arrive at Incheon refreshed. As a matter of fact, I always need a transfusion of caffeine. You really have to experience the vast emptiness of Incheon Airport at 4 in the morning. It’s like the Sahara of Korea. Dry. Unoccupied. Trackless. Except for KFC and McDonalds restaurants. They’re open at that ungodly hour. I don’t care for fried chicken for breakfast, so I always order a McDonalds Big Breakfast. I hate McDonalds. Really, I can’t stand it. I live for Burger King, but the BK at Incheon doesn’t open until 8:00 a.m. So, the Mac breakfast has to tide me over. Especially the Huge Cup of coffee. I embrace it.
So it was, then, that I checked in at China Eastern Airline, and left Korea for Bangkok, with a brief stop at Shanghai. Four thirty in the morning is dark, of course, but the sun eventually rose on a smoggy, hazy, foggy, misty morning. What was it? Smog, haze, fog, mist. Seoul, and nearby Incheon, had been experiencing a lot of smog and dust blown over, I suspect, from China. The morning was not illuminating. Here’s a shot of the airport.
It’s a hazy, misty, smoggy morning at Incheon International Airport.
The plane ride to Shanghai, the only stop, was uneventful, but the view from Pudong airport wasn’t any different from Incheon. Indeed, smog seems to be taking over all of east Asia. The atmosphere seemed to be a mix of fog, mist and smog, but the rising Sun couldn’t dissipate the smog.
It’s quite smoggy at Pudong Airport in Shanghai around 10 a.m. local time.
I had about a two hour layover at Pudong Airport, so, as I always do in an airport that I’ve never been to before, I walked around the concourse. It’s a stunning-looking area, but the main concourse goes on forever. I would guess the straight-line walk from end to end is at least a kilometer long and maybe closer to two. Lining almost the entire length are duty free shops, where you can buy Chinese-themed items. Stuffed panda bears? Check. Chinese tassels? Check. Chinese tea? Check. Restaurants? Not many. I didn’t go into any of the restaurants or coffee shops, mainly because I wasn’t hungry and I didn’t have any Chinese yuan on me. The businesses will exchange dollars, but the exchange rate is cruel.
The main, very long concourse at Pudong Airport in Shanghai. Walking up and down this duty-free lined passage will give you plenty of exercise.
Cute cuddly pandas on sale in the Panda Store at Pudong Airport in Shanghai.
More pandas at the panda “hangout” in Pudong Airport, Shanghai.
Chinese tassels, thousands of them, can be found at the duty free shops at Pudong.
Chinese tea for sale at the duty free shops. All kinds, all tastes.
From Shanghai, it was a four-and-a-half hour flight to Bangkok. China Eastern definitely isn’t the greatest airline in the world. No in-flight movie that I could hear or understand even if I could hear it, and no great food, but the service wasn’t bad, and I had a window seat, which I always enjoy in the daytime. And the flight was on time–extra points for that.
When I stepped out of the climate-controlled, stale, dry air of the plane cabin, I knew that I was in Bangkok when the heat and humidity enclosed me in a suffocating cocoon, but I loved it after the winter temperatures of South Korea. Welcome to Thailand! More on Bangkok later.
I’m leaving Yeosu and Korea. I’ve sent out dozens of applications for jobs around the country, but it seems that Korea is so insanely paranoid about hiring older teachers that I’ve received only a couple of interview offers out of the nearly 100 applications I’ve sent, and more than one promise of a contract or interview has been broken; so much for obligations on the part of certain Korean educators. If you ever come here to teach, don’t depend on the Koreans to fulfill their obligations or promises. Even though you think their words are written in stone, everything can and just might fall apart.
I had an interview from a school in Vietnam last night, and the interviewer told me, upon hearing my gripe about the ageist Korean system, that there was no such limit in Vietnam and that older teachers were well respected there. Some countries, it seems, have more common sense than Korea. (And, by the way, I think I did pretty well on the interview, so I hope to have some posts from Vietnam in the next few months.) So be it; I’m leaving, and good riddance to me, I suppose, and to Korea from my life.
Despite the age problem, it’s been an interesting experience here in Yeosu (the city, not the university), so here is my farewell to this beautiful location on the south coast of the Republic of Korea.
Farewell to Yeosu
Yeosu, it’s time to say goodbye. I’ll be leaving you tomorrow. I’ve enjoyed my five-year sojourn in your beautiful and, by Korean standards, pocket-sized nook nestled between the mountains and the ocean, but I’ve got to move on.
I won’t forget the food, especially the raw-fish restaurants, pricey, but delicious, and the cozy little mom-and-pop diners specializing in crab, eel, squid and octopus dishes. The aroma of beef and pork grilled over glowing charcoal in small, crowded barbecue joints will linger with me wherever I go, and the spicy heat of your renowned Dolsan gat kimchi, green mustard-plant leaves smothered in deep red chili pepper sauce, will always bring sharp memories.
Korean Seafood Stew–Photo by Ron Anderson
I’ll miss the warm, friendly people, the ajummas and ajossies, those weather-worn old ladies and men, backs permanently hunched from doing years of stoop labor in the fields. Their occasionally dour and taciturn faces, etched by sun and wind with crevasses and fissures, are nearly always ready to return a friendly smile or a hello with one of their own. Ahn-young-hahshim-nika, “Hello,” I say, and their return smiles imply that they are surprised, but delighted, that I speak their language, even though they don’t know that that is about all I can say even after five years here.
I’ll always remember the fascinating architecture, especially the structures that house your churches. Unforgettable is the one that has an exterior shaped as a bishop’s miter and another that resembles the prow of a boat. Most remarkable, though, is one of the oddest sights in Yeosu, or in all of Korea, for that matter, the “White Whale” church, a testament to the Biblical Jonah and to the local fishing culture. It’s Moby Dick, land-locked and immortalized in concrete and plaster.
The White Whale Church-Photo by Ron Anderson
Then there was the Expo, that glorious World Exposition of 2012. Though it was only a Minor World Expo, unlike the Major Expo of Shanghai in 2010, I’ll never forget it. The excitement that accompanied it woke up your sleepy summer harbor and brought you great pride. Exotic wayfarers embraced you. Middle-Easterners in indigo and maroon turbans, Africans in yellow, green and red dress, and Latin Americans with brilliant white smiles thrilled and delighted you.
Gone for more than a year and a half are the hordes of visitors, the busy pavilions of the exhibiting countries, and the fantastic displays of light, all of it now mere scattered fragments of memory, whisps of a dream. The acres of the grounds stand empty except for small, forlorn clusters of leaves of the past autumn and black plastic bags dancing in the dark corners to the music of the winter winds whistling through the rafters.
Yeosu Expo 2012-Photo by Ron Anderson
Yes, Yeosu, I’ll miss your aromas, tastes, sights and sounds. I won’t forget your friendly, welcoming inhabitants. I’ll cherish the memories wherever I go. Farewell, Yeosu. Ahnyounghi-kahsay-yo. Goodbye.
That’s my paean to Yeosu. I leave tomorrow for Bangkok, Vientiane, Haiphong, ???. Who knows? The future lies before me. Whatever it holds, I’m gonna post it here. Stay tuned, because I have a lot more coming later.
Yeosu rarely gets any snow. It snows about once a season, and it hadn’t snowed yet this winter until this morning. I woke up at my usual early hour, 5:30, looked out my bedroom window and saw quite a few large flakes coming down. Because it was still dark, I couldn’t see how deep it was until I went to work, when I had to slog through about two inches of soft, wet snow. One of my colleagues, who has been here about as long as I, said that she thought this was the most snow we’ve received in at least five years, and I agreed.
I don’t really care for the stuff, after living through 40 years’ worth of Montana winters, but this snowfall, our first and probably only one this winter, was kind of entertaining. I saw a few people slipping and sliding on the sidewalks and a few cars weren’t being very careful on the somewhat icy road. I almost went down a few times myself.
So, here are a few snapshots I took while I walked to work. At first sight, I thought the fellow in one of the photos below was using a snow shovel to clear the road, but another teacher told me later that he was using a sign! Other people were using brooms. Like I said, we’re not used to snow.
Right outside the front door of the dormitory, two lonely motorbikes.
Nobody’s gonna be sitting here for a while.
Looks like I’m not the first one to go up the steps this morning.
Careful walking up the steps or you might find yourself going back down
This guy’s using a sign to shovel the snow. Are there any snow shovels in Yeosu?
A few cars have been by already.
The camellias probably aren’t enjoying this.
Lunar New Year
It’s going to be a short work week here due to the upcoming Lunar New Year, the big Chinese holiday that is also celebrated in Korea, Viet Nam and a few other Asian countries. The three-day holiday is on Thursday, Friday and Saturday this year, so it’s a mini-vacation of four days, though my classes are from nine to noon everyday; that gives me an extra half day off on Wednesday. The weather forecast is predicting quite a nice week, with temperatures mostly in the fifties and approaching sixty degrees on Saturday. Time to get out and do some walking around.
Meanwhile, I’ve been busy sending out job applications to various institutions here in South Korea and in Malaysia, Viet Nam, Thailand, Myanmar, Saudi Arabia and other countries. So far, no luck. My age is the biggest barrier to getting a position. Many countries, apparently, have visa laws that restrict foreigners over a certain age from working in those countries. Korea has no such law. In Korea, the number four is considered bad luck, but 65 must be even worse. It’s as if the hiring committees see that number and their minds become extremely boggled. They can’t get beyond the number to look at my credentials and experience. That number is the only thing that matters.
Early on in the process, I was offered a face-to-face interview by one university (which shall remain nameless). I went to the interview, did good on it and was offered a contract, which I accepted. I was thoroughly relieved to get a job that easily. The night before the contracts were to be mailed out for signatures, I received an email from the university stating that they were withdrawing the contract offer. It seems that the administration staff had just noticed that my age exceeded their maximum age for hiring new teachers. They’d had my documents for two or three weeks and they just noticed my age? Unbelievable! They must have needed to find an elementary school student to do the math for them.
I had another offer a few weeks ago to do an interview via Skype. I wrote back to the university and gave them my preferred times to do the interview. I never received a confirmation email, so I wrote them an email asking for confirmation. They didn’t respond. I sent another email and they finally wrote back telling me that their “personnel committee” didn’t think that I should get an interview, so they cancelled me. Hmmm, I wonder why they didn’t want me to do the interview. Couldn’t be age related, could it?
So, it’s been thoroughly frustrating trying to find another position, so far. But, all I can do is keep sending out the applications and hope that somewhere a university or academy is interested in quality, rather than in a single number. But, that’s the reality in Korea. If you’re young and handsome, you’ve got a job, even though you have absolutely no experience in teaching English and no degree related to the field. If you hit that “magic” age, though, it doesn’t matter what your credentials are. They usually don’t even get looked at. I’ve talked to foreign teachers who have worked in the hiring process. They told me that the Korean managers first look at the photos and the age, toss out the ones they don’t like and then, and only then, do they look at credentials. So, in many cases, if you’re not young, white and good-looking, you’re probably out of luck.
At times I feel that I’m beating my head against a brick wall and I get discouraged, which I shouldn’t do. I’ll keep cranking out the applications, though, and hope for the best.
Anyway, Happy New Year, everyone, again.
Wow, I just realized that January 3rd was the 10th Anniversary of my first post on this website. 755 posts later, I’m still hanging in there. Thanks to everyone who reads my blog, loyal, intermittent and new readers alike.
I should probably do a retrospective of my favorite posts, but I don’t have the time right now. Classes begin this Monday, and I’m still sending out applications for a new job. No luck, so far. It’s the age thing, of course. Prospective employers here in Korea first look at, before they look at anything else, the age of the person applying, then they look at your photo, and, then, and only then, do they look at credentials. If they think you’re too old or not good-looking enough (or, in some cases, not white enough), you’re application documents go in the trash can. Ridiculous.
Anyway, here’s to another 10!
Best wishes to everyone for a healthy and prosperous 2014. It’s only 11 hours until midnight in Korea, so we get to start celebrating a bit earlier than most of the rest of the world. Me, old fuddy-duddy that I am (NOT), I’ll get to bed early. New Year’s Eve just doesn’t excite me like it used to. I suppose the bars in Yeosu will be packed with celebrants, and the police will be out in force. In Korea, unlike in the U.S., it’s legal for police to set up checkpoints and randomly pull drivers over without due cause to give them a breath-a-lyzer test. My guess is that it cuts down on drunk driving, but I don’t have any official stats to back that assumption up. In about 30 minutes I’m going to take a walk to E-mart, a national Walmart-like super store, a couple miles from the uni. I’ll keep an eye out for any checkpoints and take some photos if I can.
Again, Happy New Year to all!
I was jogging on the university soccer field yesterday around noon when a couple of fighter jets came shrieking by at a relatively low altitude right overhead. There are no military air bases near Yeosu, so I don’t know where they’re stationed; it’s a small enough country that they could have been from anywhere. We don’t see too many of these guys buzzing us, but when they do come around I always wonder–is this the big one? Have the neighbors up north finally decided to go nuts? So, after they zoomed by, I listened for civil defense sirens. Nothing, naturally. I probably would have heard explosions going off in the petro-chemical industrial park just over the mountains from the university. No, I’m not that paranoid. Most of us expats and most South Koreans don’t take the North’s blustering very seriously. Just occasionally, though, my imagination takes off.