Art is Better in the Rain – Back to Busan Day 2

One of my favorite places in South Korea is a neighborhood that can be found in Busan, Gamcheon Cultural Village. I went to this place a year ago at the end of my trip to Busan, but did not plan for enough time to really enjoy it. This time, I planned to get there early enough in the day where I could really explore this neighborhood, and not worry about having to get back before it got too dark outside. I am glad that I planned for this because it made for a really fun day in an artistic corner of this otherwise very serious part of the world.

Gamcheon was built during the Korean War. Many people flocked to this corner of the country to escape the turmoil that was happening further north. The people of Busan put together this concrete village so the people would have some place to live, and the houses that are stacked on top of one another with tiny pathways in-between them still exist in this part of the city. When the war wore down and people could return to their normal lives, the village still existed, a mass of grey concrete that became a sore sight for the people of Busan. It remained this way until the art department of a local college saw something different in the village, and they brought paint, and art supplies to turn it into South Korea’s largest art project. People still live in the tiny buildings, but many of them have been turned into an expression of someone’s creativity, and what was once bland and boring is now a pastel masterpiece that draws many crowds.

Normally the little side streets are packed with people looking around to try and catch what they hope would be the perfect picture in this place, but a constant drizzle kept many of them away on this Saturday. It made for the perfect time to go and explore this place. Yes, it is neat to see all of these things without having to worry about getting wet, but the art seems to hold more significance when a cloud hangs over it all. Art was never born in a moment of happiness. All the best art comes from those moments that we are struggling against nature somehow, and the rain just added to this expression.

It also took away from the long lines of people waiting to get their picture at some of the more famous 3D art pieces that can be found around every turn. The art turns into something that you can appreciate when you do not have to fight with other cameramen as you try to look on to what could be something great. You also don’t have to feel bad that somebody else is waiting for you to get out of the way so they could have their 30 seconds with the piece of art. Because of the rain, we were able to laugh and really enjoy the art the way I think it was meant to be enjoyed.

It is a great experience to have a part of town like this to yourself. It makes the day contemplative instead of touristy, and I have to thank the rain for this experience. It is not everyday that this gets to happen, so the next time that I start to think that I should stay inside to avoid getting a little wet when there is an opportunity to see something great, I am going to take that chance and go out in the rain. I will get to have the place more to myself, and really get to experience the place the way it was meant to be experienced.

Escape – Back to Busan Day 1

Okay, I usually do not post things that are inappropriate, but this person I saw on the subway in Seoul the other day represents the way I feel about this big city right now. This guy on the subway and pushed his way through the people so he could position himself in a prime spot. I probably wouldn’t have noticed him because this happens all of the time in South Korea, but his coat brushed up against my hand, and I couldn’t believe that I had felt a fur coat in this day and age. But there it was, and when I saw what was printed on the back of it, I had to chuckle. I do not know if the guy knew what it said, or believed the sentiment. But he did pull out a fan, so he could cool himself off as he took the train back to his neighborhood. He was basically just trying to look good in front of a bunch of strangers. Why else would he show off the amount of money he was willing to blow on a coat that he could have easily taken off to cool down. He also wanted to highlight the fact that he was able to wear the trendy English that is all the rage in Seoul right now. I just shook my head at the absurdity, and realized that I needed to get out of town before the never-stop pace consumed me.

Luckily, there is a city a short two hour train away that has a completely different vibe to it, Busan. I was also given a couple of days off in order to celebrate an American holiday, Thanksgiving. I took this opportunity to get away from the I need to look good, I need to show off my money, and I need to make mark on society attitude that permeates through Seoul. Busan has a feeling to it that is more like a beach. If it happens today that is great, but eventually we will get around to it. In the meantime, let us enjoy the moment.

I am not quite sure if this is always the case here, but both times I have been down here, I have felt like this was the case. I instantly felt it when I got on the subway. Whereas, just two days earlier, I was pushed out of the way by some guy wearing an expensive coat that expressed how much he loved people, I was greeted by a Korean wearing a worn-down hoodie and greeting smile. People are not in a rush here. They are not trying to show everybody how great they are, or how much money they make. My sanity needed this change of attitude, and it allowed me to enjoy Black Friday the way that I know how, ignoring the shoppers, and eating at as many establishments as I can find.

Busan does not really buy into this crazy shopping day anyway, but I feel like I took something back from a society that demands that I spend money to make other people happy. I would rather get together with my friends and enjoy good beer and good food. The best way to do this if you do not have a stove big enough to cook a turkey in, or live in a culture that doesn’t even really sell turkeys in the market anyway is to hop from restaurant to restaurant, grabbing a bite to eat in each one. It allowed me to feel that there are more important things in this world than having a look that makes everybody turn their attention over to me. It is not about what others think about me, but instead of what I think about the moment, and I am going to make sure that it is a great one.

Quick Reflections – Dubai Day 3

Given the fact that I was not able to get out of the hotel very much and explore all the amazing things that Dubai had to offer, I only got a limited view of this city. It is one of the most talked about destinations in the world, and people claim that they would love to see this city for all of the things that they can bring to this little corner of the desert. The following ramblings are just casual observations that I was able to make at the short time I was there, so I could have a different perspective on the place if I ever get the chance to go back and visit someday.

To start off, it is a beautiful city. The architecture is truly something to marvel at, and the people who are designing the rest of the city are really thinking about how to make this place a unique one with its own character that would make want many people put it on their bucket lists of places they have to go and see someday. I don’t know how much history is related to these new creations, but if you look closely, you can see the tour groups being led to the next exciting place. The strange thing about this is that the next exciting place happens to be another mall where the tourists are expected to spend their money.

This has attracted many business people to try their hands at trying to grab some of that currency by setting up shops in the various places where they know the tourists will travel. Some of them are very creative, such as a place where you can get served a bowl of cereal while sitting on a bed and watching old Saturday morning cartoons, but for the most part these are far and few between. Most of the shops and restaurants that I encountered were the same kinds of place that you can find littering the malls of America. It was just one big chain after another that never offered anything new or exciting to the experience of being in Dubai. It gave me the impression that money ruled this city, and everything in it was there to make the ex-pats who came over more comfortable as they worked hard to make and spend more money.

But it is this circulation of cash that has turned this country into one of the most wealthiest in the world. It allows the people that live here to dream about doing things that are bigger and better than anywhere else. It is the reason that you can find skiing in a place where the coldest temperature it might ever see is in the high 60s. It is the reason that there is constant construction all over the place because people want to capitalize on this influx while it is still going on. It is the reason that you can come out here and see the tallest building in the world right now, and even though there are others being built that will eventually surpass it, one of them happens to be in Dubai, so this city can keep the record for just a little bit longer.

I really don’t know how I feel about this city, but being able to grabs small snatches of what it has to offer, it has made me want to come back so I can learn more. Hopefully someday that will be able to happen.

Shopping – Dubai Day 2

The conference was exhausting with meeting after meeting, but around 5:30 in the evening things started to wind down. We were finally given the opportunity to run away from the hotel and catch a little of the nightlife in Dubai, so of course we went to the one landmark that sets this city off from every other city, the tallest building in the world, Burj Khalifa. It stands outside of the Dubai mall and looms over the city. It is the needle that beckons for everybody to come and visit, and the tourists comply to see what it is all about. It is quite the impressive structure, and the most amazing thing about it is that at night, it puts on a light show for all who stand on the bridge just outside of the mall, and jockey for the best position to see one of its many shows that run about every fifteen minutes.

The shows are worth the wait, but it is not the only thing that is worth seeing at this spot because in-between the light shows, there is another display that wows the crowds just as much. There is a fountain right below the tower that puts on a fountain show too. This is also coordinated with various songs as the water is show up into the sky while lights dance underneath the spectacle. It is this constant rotation of entertainment that keeps the crowds hanging on the bridge, and coming back night after to night to see how it will be different then.

It is what I have found that Dubai is really about. This city wishes to be the best at everything that it does, so it sets up different opportunities to show off its greatness. It has the tallest buildings, the greatest light shows, the most spectacular water works. It is a lot like Las Vegas except for all of the sin. It is hard to find a beer, and if you do get one, it is really expensive so you do not want to drink more than one of them. I am not sure if it has gambling or not, but it does not look like the place that would support that extravagant kind of lifestyle. Public displays of affection are even looked down upon from people who are not married, even though I am told that they take a more liberal approach to this than other countries in the Middle East do. Their excess comes in the form of shopping, and finding the unexpected in a place where it should never be.

I had heard about the indoor ski resort that the city brags about, but they also have an ice skating rink in the middle of the biggest mall in the city. It shouldn’t be too surprising from a desert city in which you can go skiing in, but it still took me by surprise that many people world come into this indoor attraction to show their children what it is like to ice skating. The part I liked the most about it was once every hour snow would start to fall down in the middle of the rink as the crowd started to gather underneath it so they could catch a couple of the flakes on their tongues. It really made it me start to wonder exactly where I was in the world, and why I was stuck in a hotel all day long, not given the opportunity to explore this a little bit more.

The answer was pretty obvious. I was in Dubai, the happiest city in the world, the place where all come to be awed with what the imagination of man can come up with. I did not need the extra stimulation that I look for in other places in the world because every turn I took would give me amble stimulation with what I would see. That is kind of the magic of this place, and I can see why it has become a tourist must see for so many people. I have only caught a little corner of what it has to offer, and I am already hooked by its pull. It will have to be a place that I will have to venture back to when I do not have to spend it in a conference and I can explore it a little more.

Under Construction – Dubai Day 1

My first trip to the Middle East is not for pleasure. I have made the long voyage out here to go to a conference, so I have not been given the opportunity to do the tourist thing as much on this trip. But I have landed in Dubai. It is easy to instantly see the wealth that is in this city on the edge of the desert, and understand why it has made a name for itself as one the bigger destination places in the world. Walking through the airport gives an indication of all the fun things that you can do to make a great vacation. There are theme parks, performances, and many opportunities for shopping all over the place. The most telling sign to indicate that you have arrived at a tourist paradise is from the signs on the floors right next to the baggage claim that states that Dubai is “The Happiest City in the World”.

Of course, I have not been able to participate in any of this fun. I have been stuck in a hotel room preparing for this conference. The only thing that I have really noticed about the city is that there is construction going on all over the place. There is another saying that states, “You know you are in Dubai because you will be walking through a construction aone.” This is another indication of the wealth that is being gathered in this place. It just shows that everybody wants to grab a little chunk of the magic that is happening here right now. I do hope that as I stay out here over the next couple of days, I get to experience some of that happiness, and see what everybody is talking about when they think of Dubai.

The Night Market – Taiwan Day 7

If you are looking for nightlife in Taipei, you should not go try and find the fanciest club or the greatest bar, but instead, you should head to one of the many night markets, and participate in what the locals like to do for fun, eat street food. It is a great tradition here, and the food that you find at these markets is not just good, but it might be some of the best food that you can find in the city.

I went to the Raohe St. Night Market, and the city sections off the street to traffic so vendors can set up their stalls and cook their food. You know you are in the right place because you can smell the aroma of good coming at you from a few blocks away, and as soon as you enter, your stomach just yearns to be filled with some of the things that it is smelling. That is except for the stinky tofu. It is a fermented tofu that is a delicacy of Taiwan, and when you get close to a booth that sells it, you know why it now has that name. I did not try any partly because of the smell, but partly because I am not a big fan of tofu, but that does not mean that I couldn’t find other regional delicacies there.

One of my favorites was a steamed peppered pork bun. Basically it was peppered pork that was rolled up in a dough and then baked on the wall inside of a round oven. They would pull them out hot, put them in a wrapper and sell them to you. I knew it would be good because of the queue of people that lined up to get one.

That was the best way to find out which type of food was the best. Besides smelling something that would grab your attention, there were always those lines of people. If it wasn’t for one of those lines, I would have missed another one of the better dishes that the market had to offer.

There was a desert that could only be found in the market, and it was fun to watch the guy make each individual one. Basically it would start off with a crepe, that he would first fill up with the shavings from a block of a peanut brittle. He would then add in three scoops of a pineapple ice cream, and then add a little cilantro before wrapping it all up in a small little burrito.

It was the perfect treat to end the night with, and it was one of the more memorable experiences from going to Taipei. It is a stop that has to be made while visiting here, or it would be like you never learned what the place and people were actually like. It is the heart of the city, and it doesn’t matter which one you go to, you’ll always find a pulse there.

The Typhoon that Never Came – Taiwan Day 6

We were lucky on this trip to Taiwan. The whole time we were in Taipei, there were rumors rumbling around about a typhoon that was supposed to hit the island on Friday and Saturday. It was to bring with it heavy wind and rains, and most of our time looked like would be spent indoors as we tried to ride out the storm. It was to be a big one too. The first reports of the storm talked about it as being a category 5 typhoon. We even got an alert early on in the week to see if we wanted to change our plans to avoid the destruction that was soon to be unleashed on this tiny island in the Pacific Ocean.

But as the week progressed, the tale of the typhoon soon changed. The course it was going to take started to veer away from the island and took a more direct course towards Japan. The power behind it started to diminish as well and the typhoon turned into a category 3 storm. This did not mean that we were not supposed to get rain on the last days of our vacation, and we spent those days carrying around umbrellas in case we started to get hit with the downpour that was predicted to come.

But the rains never really came. Yes, we did get a few bursts of rain here and there, and we even got to use those umbrellas that we carried around with us all over the place, but for the most part, Taipei is used to the rain, and built its city accordingly. All of the streets have really wide sidewalks with at least half of the sidewalk covered with part of the building. It makes the city a great walking town, even in the rain. Yes, if you forget your umbrella, there are couple of moments you need to dash across the street so you do not get wet, but for the most part, if you play it right, you can stay pretty dry.

The city also knows that the rains can create some beautiful scenery. I have been to many other cities in the world that do not get this fact. They build their buildings and let the rain pound on the outside of them until they look like dirty representations of what their glory used to be. They could go out and clean those buildings or repaint them, but why do that? The rains are just going to come again and turn them into the dirty eyesore that they are destined to be. Taipei definitely takes this attitude as well, but they have also built some great parks with lots of trees and flowers that distract you from the ugliness of the buildings and give you a little reprieve from the bustle of the city.

One such location is Elephant Mountain, or as the locals know it, Xiangshan. It is the last stop on the red line of the subway and takes you out to the far reaches of the town. If you go there, you do need to walk through one of the more beautiful parks that the city has to offer, and find your way to the path that will take you up to one of the best viewing spots of the city. The hike is not that hard, but as soon as you hit the forest that covers the mountain, the humidity jumps up a couple of notches, and drenches you in sweat. It is also the perfect environment for mosquitoes, so if you do go, I would recommend bringing some bug spray with you because without it, you will be eaten alive. Or all of this might have been that we went to do this little hike when there was supposed to be a typhoon hitting the city of Taipei, and we were just getting the residual after effects of what it really could have been.

Despite these minor annoyances, the hike was worth it. The views were spectacular, and there is even a little platform that was built so people could see the perfect spot to watch the crazy fireworks that come whenever Tai Pei 101 decides to shoot them off. It is also really close to that building as well which would make for a great day if you start with the hike and finish with food and exploring that area of the city of Taipei.