An English teacher's blog about his travels and his digital art.

Month: July 2011

Korean Weather Deaths

As you’ve probably heard or seen on TV, at least 36 people have been killed in flooding and landslides in and around Seoul, as reported here and here and numerous other places. Over 17 inches of rain has fallen since Wednesday, helping to make this one of the wettest rainy seasons on record. Since midnight today, Seoul has received about an inch and a half of rain, with more to come. Of course, condolences go out to everyone affected by this tragedy.

Here in Yeosu, we’ve gotten very little rain, but the skies have been overcast since last Friday and the humidity has been in the 80 to 90 per cent range–quite uncomfortable and depressing. Jogging in the morning is definitely more work than fun. I’m certainly looking forward to an end to the rainy season. More later.

Final Vacation Photos

Here are a few more photos from my recent trip to Laos and Thailand. This is one of my favorite views of Bangkok, looking into the Silom area and taken from the statue of King Rama VI in Lumphini Park. I probably should have tried to take a panoramic shot to give a better sense of the beautiful skyline that surrounds the park, but this small sample will have to suffice for now. Maybe next time.

After a few days in Bangkok, it was on to Phuket and Patong Beach. We spent a week there, lazing away the days on the beach while getting a sunburn and enjoying the nightlife. I’m always tempted to try the para gliding offered at the beach, but the price seems too steep (about $20) for the short ride (about 2 1/2 minutes). It’s kind of fun, though, to watch people taking off and landing.

The beach is usually crowded, but it’s not too bad to sit under an umbrella and read a book or “people watch.” You can’t see the lifeguard station in this shot, but at least one or two people had to be rescued every day due to the strong undercurrent in this area. The guards kept warning people out of the restricted area, but there were always a few people who ignored the warnings or accidentally strayed into the red zone. Fortunately, no one drowned.

Near day’s end.

Ok, that wraps up my vacation shots. I’ll try to get some Yeosu photos up soon, although this week sees the beginning of a 3-week kids’ camp and next week marks the start of a week long camp for children of faculty members, so I’ll be quite a bit busier than I have been.

Two Sides of the Mekong

I stayed a few short days in both Nong Khai, Thailand, and Vientiane, Laos. I mainly hung out along the Mekong River, and both cities have built up their respective riverbanks.

Nong Khai hasn’t changed all that much in the year since I’d last been there. It’s a pleasant walk along the river, where you can duck into one of the small shelters, out of the hot sun, and take a nap if you’d like.

There are also any number of small, open-air restaurants. Go in, sit by a fan and grab a snack or a meal. Here, Nai and I prepare to chow down. I’m the fella without glasses. Oh, sorry about that. You’ll just have to guess which one of the handsome guys is yours truly.

I forget what Nai ordered, but I got shrimp pad thai (first photo below) and spring rolls. Yummmmm.

You can also eat dinner ON the river by taking the dinner cruise boat, located at the end of the river walkway. It’s not too expensive and it’s worth it, in my opinion. Nong Khai is very colorful from the middle of the Mekong. One of my favorite sights is the Big Buddha that sits on top of one of the temples, contemplating the river and gazing into Laos.

This particular evening, the sun was close to setting and the golden light it cast really bought out the colors along the river bank.

Let’s take a look into Laos, shall we?

Not too much to see except temples and lots of vegetation. But, then again, it’s not Vientiane. You have to go about 20 kilometers upstream, as the river flows, to get to the capital city. In the past, the river was lined with small restaurants, merely chairs and grills set up to serve diners, but it was a nice spot to watch the sun go down over Thailand. Here’s a shot of one of our favorite spots from days gone by (actually, from December, 2009).

Here’s another one from the same time from the fourth floor location of the Bor Pen Nyang bar. However, this one shows some of the dramatic changes that would be made to the riverside. The image below it gives a broader look at the construction that was still ongoing in June of 2010.

The result of all that work is a very pleasant riverside park, one that Laotians can be very proud of. Gone from that area are all the old dining areas (they’ve moved farther down the river), but there’s a very nice walkway, play areas for the kids and lots of greenery. Here’s another view from almost exactly the same location from the Bor Pen Nyang. The park stretches nearly to the large, white Don Chan Palace hotel in the background, and I believe work is still being done on the section near there.

The two shots below were taken around 6 p.m. on a Saturday, so the place was fairly crowded with families, couples, singles and even a few monks, all out enjoying a stroll or riding their bicycles in the cooling evening breeze.

So, yeah, it’s a nice park and a welcome addition to Vientiane. I kinda miss the small eateries, but they can still be found if you look for them. Sitting on the river, sipping an ice-cold Beer Lao or another beverage of your choice and watching the sun go down over the Mekong is also still possible and a memorable experience.

That’s it for now. I’ll get some more photos up later of Bangkok and Phuket, so stay tuned.

More On the Recent Rainfall

There was lots of rain yesterday (Sunday), also, around Korea, but we got very little. However, a news report states that one elderly lady drowned in Yeosu, along with 7 others and 4 missing in the flooding and landslides. Another source reports that 12 have died so far, and rain is expected in the northern part of the country through Thursday. All in all, the heavy rain has been quite a tragedy for some parts of the country. Let’s hope that there is no further loss of life.

Fairy Tales Can Come True–Jeter’s Big Day

What a fantastic day for the Yankee Captain, smashing a home run for his 3,000th hit, going 5 for 5, and driving in the winning run. Just awesome, beyond words, really. Congratulations to a very classy, all-time great Yankee. I watched the replay on MLB TV, since the live game started at 2 a.m. our time. I didn’t subscribe to MLB TV this season until just a few days ago. I originally thought that Jeter would reach the milestone while I was on vacation, but that quest was delayed when he went on the disabled list. The main reason I purchased the subscription was to see him get that hit; it was certainly worth the $24.99 a month that I paid.

The other feel good story coming out of the game is that the fan who caught the home run ball decided to just give it back to Jeter. Many people would have kept it and sold it at auction. Some estimates of its worth range close to $250,000. This guy said it deserved to go to Jeter because of all his hard work–he earned it. I couldn’t agree more. Congratulations also, then, to lifelong Yankees fan Christian Lopez for being such a classy guy. Overall, a great baseball day, a great game, a great story.

Rainy Day Update

Alright, I’m ready to hit the hay. Here’s the final rainfall total for the day. According to the Korean Meteorological website, as of 11 p.m. we’ve gotten close to 9 inches (22 c.m.) of rain today. Wow! That’s getting pretty close to last July’s rainy day total, but it’s not as much as Jinju, to the north-east of us or Goheung, the spaceport of Korea’s fledgling space program, which is just west of Yeosu. Both of those areas have had over 12 inches (30 c.m.) of rain so far. The KMA is predicting another 1/2 to 1 inch of rain overnight. The southern third of the country got inundated today, but the northern part, including Seoul, is forecast to get hit tomorrow. Rainy season, for sure. I’ll have to keep my eye out for any flood news on the Korean newspapers or TV tomorrow. More later from a VERY wet Yeosu.

Rainy Days and Mondays . . .

. . . always get me down. Wouldn’t you know it? This is my first full weekend back in Yeosu since my vacation and it’s been raining buckets all day long. I know it’s the rainy season here, but I think we’re getting the whole season in one day. So far we’ve gotten about 5 inches [EDIT: 6 1/2 inches as of 4 p.m.] and it’s still coming down pretty heavily, with frequent thunderstorms. This kind of reminds me of last July’s big rain event, when we got more than 11 inches in one day, though I don’t think it’ll get quite that bad. Maybe you Montanans would like some. Oops, no, I guess not. You already had you’re share of rain earlier, didn’t you?

The powers-that-be provided us with portable dehumidifiers in March to help avoid mold build-up in the rooms, and mine’s certainly getting a workout. Anyway, it’s a good day for staying in bed and reading. I should be working on more Thai and Laos photos from my recent trip, but I’m feelin’ kinda lazy. Maybe tomorrow.

Thai Planes, Trains and Mototaxis

This is the first post, then, about my recent vacation in Thailand and Laos. Let me say congratulations, though, to Yingluck Shinawatra, leader of the winning party in Thailand’s recent election, future Prime Minister and sister of deposed ex-PM Thaksin Shinawatra. Hopefully, the election will help to unite the country and heal the wounds caused by all the strife there recently. Some commentators on Thai politics think it will be a good thing, but there are those who think another military coup is possible. I left the country just a few days before the election, and, while I did see more than a little campaigning going on, I didn’t see any demonstrations or acts of violence. Good luck, people of Thailand!

Next, I have to comment on the quality of Thai Airways. I used to enjoy flying with the “Smooth as Silk” airline, but lately their service has really declined. The quality of the food served on flights has gone down noticeably from, oh, say about five years ago; the attendants, while not surly, don’t seem as interested or caring; and the in-flight entertainment has become sub-par. On the trip to Bangkok, all we had were the overhead video monitors–no individual seatback screens with video on demand (older planes, I guess). On the trip back to Korea, we did, indeed, have the video on demand, individual screen system–nice. However, less than halfway through the flight, the system went down–no video, no music to listen to, nothing. That made for a much longer flight. Yeesh! I’m gonna have to start booking my travel on another airline, methinks. Sorry, Thai Air, you’re gonna have to pick it up quite a bit to keep my business.

Ok, I got that out of the way. I only stayed in Bangkok for one night, so I didn’t get around too much. One thing I always do in Bangkok is eat at the Bourbon St. Restaurant, which, as you might guess, serves mouth-watering Cajun cuisine. It’s only about a kilometer or so from the hotel, so I could have walked there. I felt like having a little fun, though, so I decided to take a motorbike mototaxi, a rather unsafe way to travel in Bangkok’s notorious traffic.

It was around 7 p.m. and Sukhumvit Road was experiencing its usual rush-hour jam, so taking a regular taxi probably would have taken around half an hour. On a mototaxi, it took about 10 minutes, with the driver weaving between the non-moving cars and buses, working his way to the front of the pack waiting for the traffic light to change. Then, at the green light, he roared to the back of the next stalled pack and again squeezed to the front. You have to really keep your arms and legs tight to the bike–you’re the meat in a sandwich and the buses and cars are the bread. It’s actually not that bad in a traffic jam, because not too many of the big vehicles are moving–just watch the arms and legs. I took a couple of videos while I was riding on the back, holding on for dear life with one hand and holding my compact camera with the other. I’ll try to get one of them posted here for your amusement.

So, I did make it to the restaurant ok and had a great meal of red beans and rice. Fantastic! Be sure to give the Bourbon St. a try if you’r ever in Bangkok. It’s on Sukhumvit Soi 22. Check their website for directions.

Another thing I like about Bangkok is all the surprising cultural trappings that seem to pop up out of nowhere. I walked back to Sukhumvit 11 (no sense pressing my luck on the mototaxis), and this statue caught my attention. It looks like it might be a shrine of some sort, and it was located across the street in front of a bank or department store–I really don’t remember which. I didn’t notice it on the ride down, but that was probably because I was too busy taking the videos and trying not to die. 🙂

More mundane transportation is the overnight train to Nong Khai. It departs from Hua Lamphong Station at 8:30 p.m. and arrives in Nong Khai around 8:30 a.m. The train is usually late by about 20-30 minutes, although it’s been on time occasionally on my past trips, but this time we were 2 HOURS late getting into the northeastern Thai city. Again, on the return trip, the train was almost 2 hours late arriving in Bangkok. Very unusual, but not a big problem for me, since I wasn’t on any real pressing time schedule. (Nai had a pretty long wait in meeting me, though.)

Here’s a shot of Hua Lamphong I took from a restaurant above the main waiting area.

I kind of like the rickety, over-aged night train–it’s seems like an escape to the past, when people weren’t in such a hell-bent-for-leather hurry to get somewhere else. On the train, it’s not the arrival that’s important, it’s the trip. The train has a dining car, so I rocked and rolled my way down a few cars and sat down to have a snack. You meet all sorts of interesting folks. I talked to one Norwegian guy who co-owns a guest house in Vang Vieng, Laos, and he told me that the police up in the “frat” town (about which I’ve previously posted) had clamped down on the after hours (closing time–midnight) partying there. That’s excellent news–it’s a beautiful area, but the young backpackers that seemed to party ’round the clock had turned it into something less than appealing to older folks like me.

I also struck up a conversation with one of the police who patrol the cars, checking passports, watching for thievery, and other such mundane chores. I took a photo, but for some reason I had the settings on my camera messed up and didn’t get a clear shot of him. However, it does give some idea of the swaying motion of the train, so I kind of like it anyway.

So, I’ll end this rather long post with my arrival in Nong Khai and try to get some more photos and stories up this weekend. Stay tuned.

Back to Work

I arrived back in Yeosu yesterday afternoon, tired after a nice vacation, but ready to settle back into the daily routine of work, which begins again tomorrow. The flight back from Bangkok took off in a steady rain at 11:20 Friday night, and landed in a very dense fog at Incheon airport around 6:30 Saturday morning. I hopped on the bus to Yeosu, via Gwangju, at 8 and got back to my apartment at 1:30 yesterday afternoon. I can never sleep on airplanes or buses, so, like I said, I was pretty tired and, to some extent, still am. I need a vacation to recuperate from my vacation. 🙂

I’ve got some photos that I’ll post soon, and I’ll start processing some of them this afternoon while I’m peeling off skin from my legs that got sunburned on Patong Beach on Phuket Island. Though it’s rainy season in that part of the world, there was still plenty of sunshine. I’ll try to give a full trip report with the photos, so I better get started on that, and, as always, more later.

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