Dokodemo Door!

Friday, September 30, 2011

Journey to Busan

Going to Busan was probably one of the most enjoyable weekend trips I've taken in a long time. I really shouldn't be saying that since I was ostensibly there for a conference.

To keep it short: Busan is Korea's answer to Myrtle Beach. Or perhaps Blackpool in its heyday. Except that it's got a population of over 3 million.

There are two major beaches in town: Gwangalli and Haeundae. My hotel faced Gwangalli, which is set-up for the younger and less-flush crowd. Haeundae Beach, which I didn't have a chance to see, is more for the older, higher-income folks and features some of the priciest real-estate in the country.

And you thought San Francisco was hilly.

Considering the beach and the availability of good eats-- the city boasts a fabulous combination of hoe and BBQ restaurants-- I am definitely planning to head back there for the conference next year if at all possible.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Busan, baby!

This weekend I'm heading to a conference held in Busan, South Korea. I've been looking forward to this for a few months now.

Busan sounds like a boring place, eh?

Aha. That's where you'd be wrong. It's South Korea's #2 city, it's got some fine beaches and on Sunday, I'll be taking advantage of a free sightseeing trip to Gyeongju, which was the capital of the Unified Silla kingdom back in the 7th century.

I'll be flying on Air Busan, which is some regional carrier owned by Asiana Airlines.

Plus, I'm gonna buy some soju.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Journey to Beijing, Day 4

I would have preferred spending more than a few more hours at the places where we went on the last day, but we had a flight to catch.

Moat at the NE corner of the Palace Museum

We started-out at the southwestern corner of Tian'anmen Square, made our way through the crowds and posed for a few pictures. Security was heavier than 10 years ago, complete with X-ray machines at the entrances. This was possibly in reaction to sporadic bombings by Uyghur separatists, but I can't speculate on that.

Tian'anmen Square is the world's largest public square, and Mao Zedong wished it to be the world's grandest; it is capable of accommodating about 600,000 people, but I've heard the estimates vary. It was the site of numerous historical events, such as the May 4th Movement in 1919, the declaration of the foundation of the People's Republic in 1949, and the violently-suppressed June 4th protests of 1989. It's really not a good idea to bring-up that last item when you're there.

Mao's Mausoleum at the southern end was constructed of materials taken from every province around mainland China, including stone from Mt. Everest. I've never felt the need to go in there, seeing as how you're required to stand in a long line to see Mao's crystal coffin and you can't take pictures. Besides, it was closed.

Standing in the square, one readily gets the sense of the power of the state and the insignificance of the individual; and that's really the point.

A quick stroll through the urine-smelling underpass gets you to the southern gate of the Forbidden City (which, in Chinese, is currently called the Palace Museum.)

Strolling around the complex is the most pleasant way to spend the day in Beijing, but perhaps not at the peak times of the year.

You go north from here, go through the Gate of Supreme Harmony, up to the Hall of Supreme Harmony. And that's where it starts getting really cool.

LinkUp there, you can enjoy the throne room which was reserved for special ceremonies and the greeting of foreign dignitaries. It is my understanding that it was here, in 1793, that the British envoy George Macartney refused to bow before the Qianlong Emperor. And Qianlong wasn't exactly the kind of dude you'd really want to screw around with.

Beyond that, you can also see the Hall of Earthly Tranquility, where the wife of the Emperor Chongzhen, the last of the Ming emperors, hanged herself in 1644.

Finally, you exit through the Gate of Divine Might at the north; the sign displays calligraphy written by the hand of the esteemed historian Guo Morou. Sorry if that doesn't mean anything to you, but I've got one of his books.

After that, it was back to the airport and home again. With the exception of the pickpocketing, it was a pretty easy trip.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Journey to Beijing, Day 3

We had a fairly simple plan for this day. It was not very demanding, fairly flexible and it was to be followed-up with an evening at the theater.

It was easy, really: ride on the subway to the Temple of Heaven, ride up to the shopping area at Wangfujing, and stroll-around leisurely until dinnertime. Alas, travel in China always involves a certain level of unpredictability. The restaurant doesn't have what you want on the menu. The electricity goes-off in your hotel, necessitating the use of candles. Your bus smacks into a pig.

Expect the unexpected, in short.

Anyway, the Temple of Heaven is a decent public park and contains the world's finest example of a Taoist religious structure:

The Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests is, of course, the centerpiece. Its title makes any kind of explanation a little redundant.

Mari suggested that I start adding some commentary to the videos. Personally, I don't think the results are always so good.

Afterwards, we took the subway up to Wangfujing, for shopping. It's the pedestrian-only street where the big brand stores are clustered, including foreign department stores like Sogo, Lotte and so on.

After exiting the subway, Mari's dad announced that his wallet had gone missing. Obviously, it had to have been taken on the train. I felt pretty bad for him as he had the yen-equivalent of over $600 on him.

The only thing that could be done was to take him to the teeny police outpost in the Wangfujing subway station and file a report to present to travellers' insurance.

I translated. The policewoman, clearly edgy about handling a crime against a foreigner, was doing it absolutely by the book. Typing everything up in the report, being very damn careful not to have a single word out of place. It took an hour. So that's how the Chinese police act towards foreigners. If you're Chinese, might very well be up the creek.

This wasn't a particularly fun experience and I wasn't exactly in a picture-taking mood from that point forward; it's the kind of thing you'd really like to forget about.

Next up: The last day; Tian'anmen Square and the Palace Museum.