Best of Singapore and Taiwan
(Warning: This is an epic-long post.)
Today marks exactly one month before my little bro and I will be embarking on an epic return to Asialand.
First to Korea, to meet with the lovely Kathy Ma, fresh from her own whirlwind tour around Indonesia. The three of us will fly down to Jeju Island, where the three of us will spend Christmas on the best place on earth (that’s Jeju Island btw, in case you are (a) an idiot, or (b) don’t read this blog or ever talk to me, in which case I apologize for (a)). After Boxing Day, we’ll fly down to Singapore to spend New Years with some awesome people (not naming any names — you know who you are). After a week in Singapore, I am medically required to return to Canada — as staying any longer would very likely lead to me very literally eating myself to death. (LAKSA!)
We won’t be treading new ground during this trip, really. Just going back to visit some old favorite places. So this one month pre-anniversary seems like as good an excuse as any to daydream about the last time I was there. As everyone knows: why bother looking to the future, when you can just dwell on the past?
And so, my trip to Singapore last year … starting with my departure from Korea, after teaching english on Jeju Island for one year…
The ‘Orange Ferry’ from Jeju Island to the mainland:
This beautiful (and cheap!) boat sped us across the sea to at tiny port on the end of a peninsula in the middle of nowhere, where a complimentary bus drove us to the city of Gwangju.
For no apparent reason whatsoever, I walked around Gwangju on my first night in. Took about 3 hours? The thing I love about walking is that it gives you a much better sense of place and direction in a city. When you drive/taxi/bus around, everything becomes a collection of points on a map: departures and destinations. But when you walk, you are occupying the world in between those points — in a sense, claiming them for yourself.
The world stops being about distinct names and locations and signs and goals. It becomes a seamless continuum; it becomes about the passage of the sun, about changes in smell from one neighborhood to the next, about the myriad of sounds that form an aural ecosystem as rich as any rainforest, about the people who live there, and not just about the ones that pass through.
From Gwangju, I took a quick detour to Mokpo, mostly so I could finally boast I had been to every corner of Korea…. which I can now say I HAVE.
In Mokpo, I hiked along 유단산…
… And came down the other side, into an old neighborhood. Houses dating back well before the Korean industrialization of the 70s, intertwined with myriad alleys and stairs, tiny corner stores and old men heartily gathered around a warm cigarette. Walking through these neighborhoods, I get a distinct sense of futility, knowing that I will never, ever see these houses again. As is general practice in Korea, apartment complexes are built not one-at-a-time, but in batches of a dozen or more. The development companies will buy up large swaths of land, doze it, and build acres upon acres of self-same concrete high-rises. I’ve seen whole neighborhoods like this one in the picture below disappear within the space of a year or two, destroying so much history in the name of modernization. It makes me sad, feeling all too personally how fleeting time is, seeing a world that will never exist again.
On day three, I left my bags in a locker in the Gwangju bus terminal, went to have lunch, and realized two hours later I hadn’t shut the locker door! I ran back in a panic, only to find all my bags untouched! Bless you, Korea.
I took a bus to Gunsan on the west coast, got off, looked around, saw all the american soldiers (there’s a US army base there), and got the hell back on the bus. Any foreigner who lives in Korea knows that places with high concentrations of US personnel are not the kind of place you want to walk down a dark street alone. American soldier rapes a schoolgirl? He gets a slap on the wrist, and the whole damn town is glaring at YOU because you’re white and you have short-cropped hair.
I hightailed it up to Seoul and met some Canadian friends who decided to move to Korea just as I was leaving! (why, Adnan, whyyyy?) Then it was onward to….
The Marina Bay Sands: a seriously cool building.
Inside the mall at Marina Bay Sands, there is a real live venetian canal, and for a fee, an oarsman will parade you around in a gondola in front of the entire food court 😛
The city is absolutely stunning at night:
My friend graciously let me stay at her apartment, and spent the whole week showing me around the city. Thank you!
Laksa! I love Korean food an all, but if there was one dish I would literally travel across the world to eat, it would be Katong Laksa.
Finally, it was time to move on. After a six-hour layover in Manila (most beautiful morning skies I’ve ever seen, by the way)…
… I arrived in Taipei for the Four Continents Figure Skating Championships. My job was to install and take care of the event sponsors’ logo graphics that line the rink. It sounds easy, but everything has to be absolutely PERFECT:
Fantastic food at the Sponsor’s VIP lounge at Taipei Arena. Yes, technically the VIP lounge was my office, and THIS was my breakfast, lunch and dinner for ten days:
I had just enough time one morning to go up to the top of the Taipei 101 tower … two bad the damn thing is ALWAYS shrouded in fog! Seriously, who builds a phallic, 100-story skyscraper in a city whose perpetual cloud cover never rises higher than the 80th floor?
Did some sketches in my free time:
And the volunteer event crew pose for a picture on the last night of the championships: