Archive for April, 2009
One of the most difficult tasks for travel writers must be writing about where they’re from. I’ve been back in Oratia for three days now and I’m still not sure how to write this blog entry. I guess I don’t notice the big picture here. Instead I notice the details: what’s changed and, perhaps to a lesser extent, what’s different from London.
I notice that my childhood hiding places have overgrown (though Matt and I can still fight our way in), the trees that are missing, the subdivision of the orchards up and down the road. I notice how blue the sky is, the heat of the sun - but I feel it’s unfair to say the weather’s great here, because I know of so many days when this hasn’t been the case. I notice how dry the land is, but remember all the mud. I’m told that, down the back, a cabbage tree has fallen over and that our creek now has a waterfall.
There’s so much space. I remember how that space was lonely sometimes.
Mum, Dad, Matt and I walked to the new Farmer’s Market yesterday morning and bought bread, salmon, honey on the comb. We ate icecreams and there was a band playing kiwi classics in the background. On the way home, the trees above the Folk Museum were turning red – just as they did every year when I was coming home from school.
And, even though we might not get to see it before we head to Australia on Tuesday, just being here lets me imagine Piha Beach: the black sand, the violent waves, the cliffs and the windy roads, writing my study notes in the sand while the boys were surfing.
Today, we’ll drive up to the lodge where we got married, where we planted a kowhai tree, surrounded by bush. We’ll catch up with old friends and maybe we’ll walk down the back, avoiding the weeds and the spaces where there used to be trees, and check out that waterfall.
I love this place. It’s hard to be a tourist here.No comments
On our last day in Korea, we checked out of the hotel at 9.00am. We didn’t need to check in for our flights until 3.00pm. Six hours were left then, to explore Korea. We handed over our bags at the left luggage store at Incheon International Airport. We said that we’d be back round two o’clock (later, looking at the receipt, it seemed that had been understood as we’d be away for two hours – luckily everything was still there when we got back).
While Incheon may have seemed the logical city for a short visit from Incheon International Airport, it still took three train changes and over an hour and a half to get there. That said, the Korean public transport system, especially the new A’Rex commuter train to the airport, has to be one of the best that I’ve experienced. Those A’Rex trains are wide, there are seats reserved for the elderly or disabled that no one else sits on, the stations are clean, new, and suprisingly empty. And, if you speak English to the ticket agents or use the English version of the ticket machines, you hear ‘thank you’ as you go through the gates rather than the Korean ‘
Incheon is at the end of Subway Line 1. However, when all the Koreans got off the train at the stop beforehand, I got the feeling that Incheon itself is largely a tourist destination. Indeed, rather than being a particularly Korean destination, the small bit of Incheon that we saw seemed to pay homage to two other countries: China and America.
We were worried that we wouldn’t be able to find anything. We didn’t have the Lonely Planet chapter on Incheon, and were only going on what I remembered reading on the internet the night before. Luckily, the gate to Chinatown was just across the road from the station – and so we walked up the hill through Chinese restaurants and Chinese characters and shops selling lanterns, swords and slippers.
At the top of the hill was Jayu Park, where we could look out over the city and its port. One of Incheon’s claims to fame is being the place where General MacArthur and his American troops landed during the Korean War. He’s commorated with a statue in the park, along with another rather large and spiky monument celebrating 100 years of friendship between America and Korea.
On the way back down the hill, we were invited into a Chinese restaurant. It ended up being our most expensive meal in Korea (though, on conversion, it was probably only about 23 pounds, 47,000 won sounds so much more). However, it was probably the best Chinese I’d ever had. Loved the spicy chicken that Matt ordered. Also loved the Korean plum wine.
After that, it was back to the airport and goodbye to Korea. After living there for several weeks all those years ago, it was quite surreal to return as a tourist. I got the feeling that, despite the palaces and the city tour buses, it was a city designed for locals rather than visitors (which I guess makes sense). Apart from on the English language tour at Changdeokgung Palace and on the tour bus, it was rare to see anyone else with a camera and a map. That said, I enjoyed it. The language barrier and the noise, the confusion over where and what to eat, the cultural difference and the friendliness of the people – of such stuff, novels are made.
We’ve been to plenty of palaces over the past couple of years: Hampton Court Palace, Neuschwanstein, even Sleeping Beauty’s castle in Disneyland Palace. Castles in the storybooks and movies I grew up with were all about moats and turrets, winding staircases and singing tea-pots. But in 1400s, while the House of Lancaster struggled to hold onto the English throne, another palace was being built in a city that would one day be only 10 hour’s flight away.
Changdeokgung Palace was built in Seoul by the kings of the Joseon dynasty. Today, it’s billed as one of the must-see visitor attractions of the city. So, we went to see it, and then returned on Tuesday when we found that on Monday it was closed.
For most of the week, the only way to enter the palace is to join a tour. There are three daily tours in English. Ours was lead by a young Korean woman with a vast knowledge of the English words relating to palaces, and difficulty pronouncing ‘r’s. An hour or so into the tour, once we got the Secret Garden, Matt turned to me and asked “is she saying ‘loyal family’ or ‘lawyer family’?” Giving the context, I can only assume that she was referring to the ‘royals’.
It wasn’t a beautiful palace, at least not in the sense we are used to. The grounds were little more than dirt, the Secret Garden contained a distinct lack of flowers. However, I was impressed by the beautifully painted buildings and fascinated by the way the architecture hinted at what life might have been like: the way there were separate women’s and men’s buildings; the way that there was a separate, higher, path for the kings.
The tour lasted 90 minutes – which was more than reasonable for 3,000 won (especially when compared to the entry prices of some of the European castles). I was left feeling that there were stories here. Stories that, if I ever do get around to writing historical fiction, I might like to explore.