Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Expired Government

By all accounts from feedbacks from people I met and willing to give their opinions of the government, the consensus has been it is high time for the nation to have a new government. The cab driver who drove me to Kuala Lumpur this morning even said that the change is timely as the ruling coalition is resisting every move to listen to the growing voice of dissension. In short, this government has become irrelevant, insensitive, expired. Read the latest commentary HERE.

It is a pity that Najib's administration is trying very hard, a lopsided attempt, to win public support by announcing many programmes to speed up national development, and not having the gut courage to stamp down the voice of irrationality, racism and religious bigotry. Just like his predecessor Abdullah Badawi the fear of losing popular support overide the greater need to revamp the disintegrative culture that is spreading like a pandemic. The public is lifting a surrendering hand: just change the government. It cannot be worse that then current one!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Long Staircase



An unique feature of shops built in the pre-war years is its high ceiling, and hence the very long staircase to the first floor. The staircase does not wind but goes straight up. To those fearing heights climbing up and down such a long staircase can be a little frightening. There are no mid way landings so if you need to pause you just stop on a step or sit on it.

The long staircase in the shop where I was born and grew up for 17 years before I left home for further studies had been a frequent companion to me. I used it daily as we live upstairs so I climbed it at least twice a day. The height of the staircase was probably 15 feet and had seen many a kids tumble down, my younger brother being one of them, but none seriously hurt. I used to climb 2 steps at a time when I was more energetic but looking back I thought I was being reckless and foolish. What if my foot slipped?

In my childhood days I used to be carried upstairs to my room by my father. Thinking back it was a heavy but loving task. Today when I have to carry my grandchild upstairs I would need to break at the landing, but my father was younger then.

The long staircase also happened to be one of my playgrounds. Sometimes I would bumped my way down, counting every step, instead of walking down. Right until about 1992 the staircase would see someone using it but as family members leave home, and my parents getting older and beginning to live on the ground floor, the long staircase soon became an abandoned fixture of the shop that saw much life and activities in the 1950s - 1960s.

The shop had been sold. Now all we get to walk on are short staircases. The long one I walked on recently was a spiral staircase in the latest restaurant in Seremban. Looks like long staircases are now seen only in expensive hotels, restaurants, museums, mansions, homes of the wealthy and old shop buildings that still stand. And of course the escalators if you qualify them as modern staircases.

But there is yet another long staircase that we all shall travel one day, and that may be giddying to some but not a ride we can refuse. Hopefully it is the staircase to Heaven for us all.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Name My Father Gave

We come into the world with certain decisions made for us, one of which is our name. While some of us may be displeased with their names, others discover that much thoughts have been given by their parents, even grandparents, to come up with the 'right' name for the child. I don't know how my father chose my name and I regret never asking him before he passed on in 1998 but I've been thankful for the choice of and the meaning behind my Chinese name.

Of the three characters, two were non-negotiable, they were my surname and the middle name which used the designated character of the chosen phrase picked by my ancesters from the village head back in China. The third name was given by my father.

My surname is Yew. When asked I would say it means 'swim' and quickly add that unfortunately I can't swim although I lived quite near to the seas. My middle name which was given, means 'year' and that is also used in the names of my brothers and cousin brothers of my uncles from my father's side to identify the generational ranking. Spoken together some people would pronounce them as 'union' which was rather funny. The middle name was tough on the tongue of some people. While it should be written as Nieng as it is pronounced, some friends would spell it as Ngen, Ngien, Nien or Neng. My surname was even corrupted into Yu, Eu, U or Yow.

My given name was Choon which in Chinese means spring. For reasons unknown to me my father chose to add a 'wood' attachment to the 'spring' name to form a new word which is pronounced the same way. All of my brother's given names similarly had the 'wood' attachment. Maybe the fortune tellers told my father it would be more fortuituous that way, don't know.

Read together my middle and given name would mean something really nice. It means spring of the year and it would be a woody one, in touch with nature and forest. It also reflect a positive and jovial spirit, renewal, freshness and hope. I was glad my father did not name me into wealth or power or after some animals. I would grow up to be a nature loving person, someone who love spring more than the other three seasons. Indeed my father had given me the name that became my second nature and I am forever thankful for what he did.

Do you believe that how you name a child will somehow transform his or her character? Or that he/she would try to live out the meaning of his/her name? The next time you have the authority to name a child spend some time in choosing a name that would be for a lifetime.

This is the Chinese phrase upon which 8 generations of the Yew family had and will be using to name the male offsprings.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

926

The Americans probably started the trend of using numbers to sum up an event rather than using words. Does anyone fail to connect 911 to the fateful day in 2001 when terrorists used three commercial airplanes to bomb down the World Trade Centers and damage the Pentagon building? Of course ironically 911 also stands for the emergency call number for them just as many of us uses 999.

To Malaysians 308 means the watershed date of March 8, 2008 when the Barisan government lost its 2/3 majority control of Parliament and 5 states control to the opposition Pakatan Rakyat.

Today I add 926 not that Malaysians or the Americans will find it meaningful but to those who work at the PBSNS or are connected in one way or another, today will be remembered as the day our building is dedicated to God's glory for the service of training many more people with learning disabilities.

Today my church celebrates her 95th birthday and we have a lovely luncheon at Min Kok Restaurant attended nearly 300 church members and friends. It has been a full day for me but a satisfying one. Tomorrow this will be history but at least it has gone down extremely well. I will have to think how to make our investments effective and productive. Sometimes I ask how many good years will I have to make my time count? I have said it many times, what I am not physically capable of I have as well as need more help. My strength is in strategising and formulating plans and become a driving force for good works. I just hope many people will be my arms and legs and help build better futures for those who are disabled.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Does Anybody Like Cleaning Up?

I know some people are freakish about being so organised or up-to-date to perfection that they would put everything else on secondary priority. On the opposite end are those who couldn't be bothered if they live or work under a growing pile of unattended laundry and unread papers and magazine or unperturbed by the expanding in-tray and unanswered mails. I happen to be closer to the first group but thankfully not a perfectionist. So today when I came to office and found the storage cabinet I asked for ready for my use I immediately started sorting the messy piles of boxes and files behind my desk, cleaned them using a damp cloth (they are dusty from years of disuse) and made spot decisions what to keep and what to dump. The work is physically and mentally exhausting so by the time I finished I was ready to knock off.

Wait, there's more. After this spring (or fall) cleaning job the next task is to rearrange my office furnitures to make them more appealing. But I will ask for some repair and repainting of the walls. After all the year will be ending soon and I think my little office deserve a new appearance for the new year.

Now that I've started this office project I hope to find the continuing motivation and energy to spruce up my home office too.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Ling Turned Three

For months whenever someone in the family celebrated his or her birthday, Ling would practise singing Happy Birthday to that person but comes the actual moment she would shy away from rendering her song. Perhaps she is still uncomfortable with public singing but hopefully when she goes to nursery next year her confidence will improve. Ling is really a girl of the arts - she responds easily to dancing and singing.

This is Ling's favorite birthday videoclip:



In the runup to her 3rd birthday yesterday we showed her how special she is to all of us and she smiled knowingly. She knows she is loved and now hugs us easily each night she goes home to sleep with her parents. Only a month or two ago she would cling to her popo and refused to part but now she is grown up. She cries clumsily. As grandparents we sometime selfishly hope that our grandchildren stays young and adorable. Yet we want them to grow up to become dependable and responsible teens and adults later. All our grandkids, we are absolutely sure, will not disappoint us. They all grew up in households permeated with warmth and love.

Ling already have many books and toys that we decided to just give her money instead, not for her to spend away but for her parents to teach her its value and to save for the future. Apart from the usual birthday cake what else can we do to make Ling's 3rd birthday a little more different this time? The newest restaurant in town, the Silver Dragon Restaurant, opened for business just 2 days ago and we decided to celebrate it there. It was crowded with diners curious to try out its food and service so we had to wait for an empty table to be cleared for us. Although the food is somewhat pricey, the quality is good and the ambience the best we've seen here in Seremban. It was not a mistake that PBSNS is going to hold its fund raising dinner there comes December 12 for its Building Fund.

After the dinner we came back and cut Ling's birthday cake. Later she hugged us and said goodnite as she happily climbed into her father's car to go back to sleep. Ling at three is a cute little girl.









Here's Andrew Again, 8 Months Later

Of our 4 grandchildren, Andrew Tan Jian Sheng is the baby of all. He is just coming to be 8 months old in 8 days time. He was seldom featured here but now is the time for him to be re-introduced. When I first introduced him HERE he was just a baby whom you won't recognise much but today he is a little man now. He is quite vocal and is strong enough to pick himself up and stand with support in the playpen. We think by his 1st birthday he will be able to stand unsupported and make intelligible noises. Here are some recent pictures tracking his growth. Handsome kid isn't he?









All Excited

Grand daughter Ling is all excited that next year she will going to 'school'. She will be 3 years and 3+ months in January and will be registered in a nursery in our housing area. A few days ago she was given a chance to choose her schoolbag and she naturally gravitated to one with Barney the Purple Dinosaur design. Well, that was because from very young we have shown her Barney and Friends videos and sang Barney songs to her that she can now sing a few songs herself. Barney also happens to be her cousin (Victoria) sister's favorite costumed character. Victoria had a Barney sling bag we bought her that she proudly took to UK in January this year with her parents and brother William.

Purple seems to be Ling's favorite colour for now. Her parents bought her a pair of croc recently and she chose of all colours a purple one. Well, they certainly match the Barney schoolbag.

As she has not been eating well lately she lost some weight. We took the opportunity to explain that the bag with the books will weigh her down if she does not build up her body weight and size. I guess that made her reason and now we see her appetite improving. Ling is not a child who can be bullied to submit to adult commands. She is probably a year ahead mentally and need to be convinced of what is right and what is wrong. She can be stubborn and playful but overall she is a fun kid. Her trademark dimpled smile will always brighten up our days.







Friday, September 17, 2010

It's the Contents, Not the Packaging

How many times are we deceived by impressive packagings and well designed websites and blogs? Well, the prime minister still believe that form and appearance still matter in swaying public opinions. Read HERE. Frankly I don't care two hoots how many professionals he employ to dress up his 1 Malaysia blog or beef up his administration. They are just packaging. What we want is not window dressing but performance, the content of his administration and his leadership. Yes, apply this 1Malaysia tagline to himself, 'People First, Performance Now' and kill this PR exercise. We don't need them.

Memories of Rain

I was awakened to the pitter patter of morning rain and my thoughts went back to days when rain made me happy, and sad.

I was just a playful kid in the late 1950s when my hometown used to get flooded. The streets would disappear and a massive river would transform the entire landscape such that we were unsure where we stood. Crossing the 'road' was hazardous since, like a blind person, one could fall into the drain or trip over a concrete block. But it was fun to be in the rain and get soaked. Funny in those days parents ain't as strict as they are today so city kids today will miss out the joy of playing with rain. When not outdoor I would lie cosily in the upstairs hall of my late father's shop and watch drops and rivulets of rainwater streaming down gutters or plunging into the drain below. It was really mesmerising and peaceful.

I fell into a hidden stream once and was carried down by its torrents. I almost drowned but for someone who picked me up some 50 yards away.

But rain also evoke thoughts of sadness as I think of the songs that were themed on rain. 'Rain Rain Go Away' by Bobby Vinton was about a failed love relationship. Each time I hear, or sing, this song, I think of the sweet puppy love I had in the mid 1960s with a local girl many years my junior. Another song, 'Rhythm of the Falling Rain' by the Cascades gave me that same nostalgia. But 'Singin' in the Rain' by Gene Kelly lifted my spirit up and 'Listen to the Fallin' Rain' sang hauntingly by blind Puerto Rican singer Jose Feliciano still give me the blues.

Ahh, rain, that precious liquid that cause both joy and sorrows. Too much, and you have floods like in Pakistan now. Too little, we cry out in frustration. Rain has been a factor in my travels. Recently in South Korea we were hit by heavy rain and strong winds of Typhoon Kompasu. In 1999, in Eureka Springs where we watched 'Great Passion Play' we had to sit on rain soaked bench in open air and shivered under our jackets. Search 'rain' to discover how much rain had been a part of my life.

As I end this post the light rain continue to pitter patter onto the planter box outside my home office. Rain is often my link to my past.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

My First YouTube Videoclip

I was never the person who want to be at the head of of the queue to try new stuffs. Although YouTube has been around for years and I can create them to post here I've resisted because I don't have good resources to share. But today, being a public holiday for us (Malaysia Day) I am free so I decided to convert one of my memorable videoclips to share here, eventhough the event was some 15 days ago but I think it is good enough to be documented and viewed by the general public. If you are interested please go HERE to take a look.

Malaysia Day - 47 Years Late

For the first time, today, we celebrate our nationhood albeit 47 years late. Why? Let me guess.

1. Merdeka Day (31 August) is more important.
2. Merdeka Day is just 16 days before Malaysia Day so no point in the double celebration as it is wasteful.
3. Malaysia Day commemorates the coming together of 4 nations (Malaya, Singapore, Sabah and Sarawak) into one and is not significant in the sight of the ruling government.
4. We cannot afford too many public holidays.
5. Sabah and Sarawak are backward states so they won't complain being left out. Singapore is no longer part of the pact anyway.

It amuse me when the prime minister, as reported HERE, asks us to feel at home. Is he implying that many of us don't? If that is the case, why? Who is, or was, responsible for this dire state of our nationhood? It will be misleading to say that we feel the warmth of our home when we are time and again told to pack and leave if we don't like it here, or if we complain too much, or ask for our fair share. It is like staying in a home as stepchildren. If the father does not love all his children fairly how can those loved less feel at home?

Those who can have left for better pastures, not that they love Malaysia less, but the government through its various policies discourage their participation. They have to consider their future. Those who can't or won't either hope for the tide to change or leave it to fate to decide their future.

Nonetheless we've made a start. Perhaps the reason was selfish, that the government wants the Sabahans and Sarawakians to continue supporting the Barisan government, so the Malaysia Day is recognised as a national holiday. Malaysia was formed on 16 September 1963 in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah.

I wish we will spend more time celebrating Malaysia Day instead of Merdeka Day. Merdeka should be remembered, not celebrated, as a liberation from our colonial masters so that we can decide our own future and destiny. It should be a day of prayer and thanksgiving. Then, 16 days later, we celebrate the formation of our nation, Malaysia. For it is in Malaysia that we discover diverty in culture and beauty of our nature.

To my Malaysian readers, Happy Malaysia Day. May we feel more Malaysian than Malay, Chinese, Indian, Sikh, Kadazan, Iban, etc when we celebrate this day.

Where were you on 16 September 1963? If I remember accurately I was busy preparing for my Lower Certificate of Education (or LCE) exam due in November that year.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Season of Quarrels

Today's Bible verse reminds me of what is prevalent in today's world. Let me save it here:

Pride only breeds quarrels, but wisdom is found in those who take advice.

Hot in the national news is the verbal quarrel between Perkasa (a Malay rights society) and the various component parties of the ruling government, Barisan Nasional, in particular UMNO, the predominant Malay party which Perkasa claims is betraying the Malays by allowing the non-Malays to up their demands for greater participation in the way the nation is run and the economic pie shared. It has now become a confrontation between them. Read HERE.

How is the Bible verse applicable here? Simply put I see much arrogance in the manner arguments are played out. The issues are being played out emotionally. Pride has become the underlying barrier that prevents constructive sharing of ideas and problem solving. Pride will eventually destroy whatever good that this nation has built. Tomorrow we will celebrate the 47th Malaysia Day (15 days ago we celebrated albeit on a muted scale the 53rd Independence Day) when Sabah and Sarawak joined Peninsular Malaya and Singapore in 1963 to become Malaysia. But in 1965 Singapore was expelled from the coalition.

As much as politicians must take advice to fulfil the mandate of the people, too often being afraid of negative reactions and losing popular support rank as more important than doing what is right. Wisdom is lost, and with it, our competitiveness.

How does this scenario play out elsewhere? In companies? At home? In churches?

The Bible have the same advice. Lose your pride and listen to good advice. You will not only do well, but you will earn the respect and admiration of others through your success. It is no necessary to reinvent the wheel. 95% of what we believe in are already sown in the advices many have suffered in the past to acquire them. We only need to spend 5% of our lifetime to discover the rest, and enjoy the good time of what we have on earth.

Make peace, build bridges, extend goodwill, enjoy life. I believe God does not intend His creation to be quarrelsome but peace-loving people.

Telling Signs

I went for my haircut this morning. I always plan my haircut when my hair is between 40-45 days old for I discovered my hair grows at a near constant rate now. Maybe in a few years when they grow slower I will reduce the frequency to 45-50 days. My barber Das will not be happy but being around my age he surely understand. Old hair not only grow slower but they tend to get less luxuriant. In fact scantier. Actually I meant to ask him to reduce the fee from RM9 to maybe RM8 since I have less hair to cut. He surely will not be happy with this request but I won't make him uneasy. But the request is reasonable but I won't appear miserly for that RM1.

As I sat and watch my hair clippings fall on the apron I realise how white they have become. Previously they were more black than white but now it is the opposite. Looking at my picture now you would think I dyed my hair but I never believe in this practice. I'd rather let my natural hair show than lie to the world. Even if my hair is now turning whiter I believe they won't be totally white since my late father's hair never turned fully white. Many year later my hair will still be a mix of black with more white strands.

Greying hair is a sure sign of ageing, no sense in hiding. Having ageing spots is another. Combined I am heading into the sunset. A few years ago I was a little upset when people address me as 'uncle'. Today I consider it a privilege.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Is Holidaying Oversea Worth the Trouble?

Just a week after returning from South Korea I am wondering why we go through all the inconvenience just to travel overseas to enjoy the sights, food and shopping. I guess it is our wonderlust plus the need to boast we have been there and done that that makes all the inconvenience worth the while. Or perhaps to some, money to spend so spend it lah!

Each time I decide to holiday I have to make sure my passport and visa are current. The process of passport renewal is so much simplified and faster now that I would strike it off as an inconvenience. But applying for visa, especially the US non-immigrant visa can be a scary thing since you need to be absolutely truthful and accurate in your declarations. Plus you have to be an exemplary visitor to warrant their renewal your visa application. My 10 year visa is expiring in 2 years and I hope my 3rd application at that time would be as hassle-free as my first two.

Preparing what to bring is no longer a stressful task, not with the experience of being abroad several times but sometimes we can forget even the most obvious such as packing enough warm clothings just because you misread the weather forecast, or at the other extreme, overpacking. I was casual in preparing for the South Korea holiday, that I even did not read up its map. What happened was I was totally lost as to where we were throughout the 7 days there. I felt clumsy and embarassed at my ignorance. I must remember not to fall into this state of unpreparedness.

What is most troubling is the actual flight(s). Who really enjoy being stuck up there, 34,000 feet above sea level, doing nothing but nap, eat, nap, eat, watch movie and waiting for the flight to end? The Korean flight of under 6 hours is bearable but I shudder flying 12 hours across the Atlantic to Los Angeles, or westward to London. With the ground transits and jetlag I think this is the most troubling aspect of air travel that I do not like. I don't travel Business or First Class, they are too expensive for me. For the past few years I was doing mainly Asian holidays because of shorter flights but inevitably I may have to fly further, if age and health does not impede. I do admit that Europe and the Americas still hold a charm that the rest of the world cannot compare.

The next level of inconvenience is adaptation to the weather, humidity, culture and maybe food. If I am on a free and easy travel to destinations where I can communicate myself well I will find such travels enjoyable and less stressed. However, joining a group tour with strict itinerary and timetable force a routine that I am not used to and this can be a reason for fatigue or lowered resistance to falling sick, which I am prone to. And I dislike waking up early and be rushed through breakfast.

So why still travel with the impending upsets? I think it must be the desire to feel change from boring routine. Knowing how a place is like through reading is never the same as being there to feel it. Sometimes I ask myself if the actual experience is really worth it. Eventually I would return to the same reply: I am in this life but once and if I can enjoy the snowcapped hill, the autumn chill and calm, the sparkling lakes and turquoise rivers, and taste the food I see on the Food Channel, what are the inconvenience by comparison?

I am now nursing a nagging cough caught post Korea but it will not put me off thinking of my next holiday in 2011.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Post Holiday Reflections - South Korea Observations

Although the city is sprawling not everyone drive as the city has a very efficient mass transit system using the subways.

You hardly see continental, American or even Japanese cars. Nearly every vehicle on the road is Korean made. Hyundai cars is most popular and almost all taxis use it.

There are almost no motorcycles and bicycles. Koreans take face value seriously and would avoid been seen to be low class.

Working hours are long generally from 8am - 7/8pm. Traditionally employees stay back until their superiors leave first. This is to help earn better promotional prospects. But this culture is changing with time.

Koreans businesses are colorful judging from the many creative signboards.

Koreans have fair and nice complexions. It could be due to weather but Koreans believe that eating ginseng and seaweeds as well as kimchi help. The cosmetic industry in Korea is doing very well as Koreans love to be seen pretty, even boys.

Koreans share a common soup bowl, dipping in their spoons that some deem as unhealthy. Traditional Koreans believe sharing the common soup bowl foster family unity.

Use of multimedia is extensive. Many billboards and signages are now on huge LCD displays.

Post Holiday Reflections - South Korea 10

Day 7. Our tour is ending and I am relieved. I know the tour is ending when shopping starts. Today is a designated shopping day with visits to Ginseng outlet, amethyst outlet, cosmetic outlet and later to try our luck at the 7 Luck Casino (I made 5,000 won). We made 2 visits to the Deoksugung Palace and the Namsangol Hanok Village. Rain which suspended for a few days decided to return and we were affected only at the Palace visit.

In the evening we were dropped off the Mueongdong Market which is a mix of different types od businesses. To me this is a better place as Dondaemun is more of a clothings and fashion place but in Mueongdong one buy almost anything and eat any food. Missing our fast food we went for the only KFC Chicken outlet there but did not like the taste nor portion size. Quite expensive as a 4 pieces/a coleslaw/a coke cost 11,500 won. Feeling still hungry we bought a tray of siu lung pow to eat in our room.

Day 8
Everyone is in jovial mood at breakfast. We shared with each other what we've bought. Some were struggling with extra luggages and boxes. Before we fly out at 4.35pm today we were taken to 3 more shopping places, including the Shinchon (or Ladies) Street. We walked about taking in our last few hours of Korea. We are happy to leave for home, yet feel if only Korea is more accessible to English speaking guests our holiday will much more enjoyable.

Flight KE671 home was uneventful. We got home to KLIA at 9.45pm local time. Even as we fly off South Korea a new typhoon codenamed Malou is landing at almost the same places as Kompasu did. We are lucky to avoid it. Here' the news article about it.

Post Holiday Reflections - South Korea 9

More Everland Pix below.











From Everland we checked into our 4th and last and to my mind the best hotel we stayed. I tend to believe that travel agencies keep the best for last so we can have a good closing impression. Steven was apologetic that the Seoul Coop Residence have rooms half the size of Oak Valley but rationalise that due high land cost the city space utilization is critical. Upon checking into our room 413 we feel it is not as small as explained. I have stayed in smaller hotel rooms that are poorly laid out but this one does not give me any complain. Both single beds when pushed together created additional walkway. The bath layout is creative. Best of all, inspite of the tight space the designer managed to build in a small kitchen counter with a microwave oven above the sink. Surprise of all surprises, we got shampoo!!! and shower cream!!! I can now shampoo my 5 days old hair and properly scrub my body. Here are some room pix.









After moving our luggages into our room we followed the group guided by Steven to the nearby Dondaemun Market some 200 yards away just to satisfy our curiosity of Seoul's night life. Coop Residence is hence very convenient to the shopping tourists. Feeling tired and my legs wobbly my wife and I decided to walk back to have a nice and refreshing bath and get ready for bed. Dondaemun is indeed a shopper paradise with many outlets closing as late as 4.30am!! Most of the people seen 'partying' there are the young Korean boys and girls. We are the exceptional species around. 3 stages provided 'live' performances. A few pix of Dondaemun here.





Post Holiday Reflections - South Korea 8

A visit to South Korea without visiting Everland is like going to London and missing out Buckingham Palace. Not that Everland is a gigantic amusement park but simply put I think South Koreans are serious and industrial people who work hard and played hard, which explains why they are very successful anywhere they are. Everland is a homegrown endeavour started by Samsung and is today, after 10 years, a favorite among Koreans. It is Disneyland, Korean-made. After all it is just an hour plus from Seoul! OK, with jams make that 2 hours.

We were given 5 hours to explore the park. The moment I passed the turnstyle I was strapped on my right wrist with a green paper band which states my status, that I am a day visitor entitled to most activities without having to pay extra. I felt like I was on Main Street, Disneyland but I wasn't. Steven, when I asked how many times he has come here, shrugged and said something like 100? Poor fellow, I don't think he comes here to enjoy but to show his tour groups where the toilets are, when certain shows are about to begin, which are the interesting places to go, where to eat, where to meet, etc, etc. Rightly we feel safe with his guidance but he took us beyond words, he accompanied us to the the highlighted shows in the first 90 minutes and then freed us to roam with a reminder: be back at the meeting place at 4.45pm! Or else!!! Steven doesn't warn but we know that a group that fails to adhere to timetable risks falling behind its schedule. I was a little guilty of being 10 minutes late at the Seongsan Ilchulbong Sunrise Peak because we took ourselves all the way to the top. Actually many younger members chose not to climb that far but my advice has always been, 'If you can, don't miss it' because 'You may not come back to Korea again'. I applied this same advice to ourselves when we climbed the Great Wall of China some 8/9 years ago and never regretted it.

Everland was sunny and warm. Some of us even complained but what if it had rained??? Look at the following pictures and you will realise that we were really fortunate to have the park almost to ourselves. Steven said there are times when there were human jams there.











More pix in next post.

Post Holiday Reflections - South Korea 7

This is Day 6 of our supposed 8 days 6 nights holiday. Funny how travel agencies enumerate these numbers. Our day 1 is actually 25 minutes long if we take the departure time to be 11.35pm on August 30. Discounting the ridiculous hype of an 8D holiday, it is more accurate to call it a 7D6N South Korea Holiday and nobody would have cared if it is 8D or 7D. What matters is the quality of the holiday but then perhaps this is how travel business define day and night. Even if you fly a minute before midnight they can claim it as a day to your account.

Last night all of us stayed on the ground floor of Condo B block. Our room is B110. Back in Malaysia if a room starts with 1 it imply you are on the 1st floor but the Koreans follow the Americans where ground floor is 1 and 1st floor is 2 and so forth. They drive on the right as the Americans do but I don't see other similarities. Maybe putting us on the ground floor help us drag the ever growing number of luggages more easily to the coach, but I was horrified to discover our room faces the ground car park and even with the sheers drawn but not the main curtain outsiders can see what goes on inside the room and living room. I had to quickly draw the curtain shut to keep our privacy for the night. Unlike previous 2 hotels where we stayed on the 7th and 9th floor, this one puts us right there facing the cars!

Almost everyone is in high spirit, not due to wine or Korean beer but that we are going to the Everland today. Young and old, theme parks hold special attractions because they suggest fun and pleasure. Steven had structured the itinerary by taking us all the way to the east (Seoraksan) covering Nami Island on the way, then returning trip to Oak Valley and getting nearer to Seoul visiting Everland some 50km south east of Seoul. Read more of Everland HERE.

Before Everland and after our breakfast we were all given a chance to learn how to make Korean kimchi, that reddish looking spicy Korean cabbage that some just love to hate but others swear by the moon. Learn about kimchi HERE and how you can be an expert. Here's what happen with our lesson.









Adjacent to the kimchi demonstration centre we tried out traditional Korean costumes and take pictures for remembrance. Some of us are photogenic, they look elegant in them even if they don't look Korean at all, like this couple in our group.



We don't think we can pass off as a Korean couple at all.

Post Holiday Reflections - South Korea 6

Although the weather forecast pre-holiday was pretty gloomy I realise that it was actually the typhoon that caused all that rain and misery. Today the typhoon has left use, making its way north into China and as evidence the morning was clear and free of any rain, perfect for our visit to the cheese making farm and having a hand at feeding the sheep there. The lady demonstrator showed us how to gell boiled cow's milk using a lactase enzyme and then setting it using some vinegar. The coagulated milk is next poured into a muslin cloth formed into a square shape in a bowl, then hand pressed to squeeze out the water from the curd. Here's a pix of the group taught how to make homemade cheese and sheep feeding.

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The rest of the day involve driving to Seoraksan National Park north east of South Korea near to the demilitarized zone (DMZ) with North Korea. Personally I do not find SNP worth the visit, especially with the long drive east. It reminds me of our NZ holiday in 2006 when we drove all the way into Mount Cook National Park to find nothing interesting apart from being closer to the hill. Ah well, SNP is after all a heritage site so any tour will somehow include it but I believe they should have gardens and many a small zoo. No? We also visited the following places:

Osaek Mineral Spring, Daepohaeng Fish Market and the Teddy Bear Farm (a misnomer, more accurately a teddy bear display store).











The tour ended with the supposedly hightlight stay: Oak Valley Holiday Resort. Steven happily announced we are all given free room upgrade to that of 2 rooms apartments equipped with a kitchenette and living room. Of the 2 rooms one is bedless so guests can sleep Korean style on the wooden floor while the other has a queen size spring bed. I was in no mood to sleep on any floor! Not with my back problem. Later I told Steven that the mega room status accorded to us is meaningless as we just put up a night and leave immediately after breakfast. Having a clean and average room is more useful than a luxurious one but others may disagree that it is a privilege to stay in one of the most expensive holiday resorts. Oak Valley is our 3rd and possibly the most expensive hotel but we never got a chance to enjoy its facilities.

Post Holiday Reflections - South Korea 5

Date/Time: September 2, 8.30am
Place: Jeju Airport
Status: All flights delayed or postponed.
Reactions: Dismay, getting documentary evidence for insurance claim on flight delay, some members hoping to get compensatory free gifts but unsuccessful.

Our flight KE1210 for Gimpo at 9.15am was delayed. We were kept in a state of limbo and Steven was helpless as the problem was not of his doing. Kompasu which entered Korea from the south via Jeju is now heading towards Seoul and the Gimpo airport is also disrupted with incoming flights suspended, so we cannot move. Jeju Airport experienced alternating heavy shower followed by calm. Our group was placed on standby to fly at 12 noon, failing which we will fly 4pm. If we fly noon we will not qualify for flight delay claim as the delay is less than 6 hours. Thankfully we manage to fly at noon.

How we passed the time. Azuma demonstrated her dance skills. We did not realise then that she would be the livewire in the coming days. Petite but sweet. Steven was 'afraid' of her because she came on with very juicy remarks and questions that he was often left stunned and speechless. Steven came across as a family man.

On arrival Gimpo we headed straight to Nami Island (Location HERE) famed for its shooting site for the Winter Sonata movie. The flight delay cost us opportunities to see 2-3 other places on the schedule but Steven assured us that they will be made up later in the tour. He made good this promise.

Tonight we put up in our second hotel in Korea, the Kensington Flora Hotel. It has a nice modern decor but pretty lifeless. I did not enjoy the sleep as the bed was single sized. My fatigue started getting to me, or perhaps the exposure to the wind and some rain sapped my energy ...











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