who ... moi?

a social butterfly: scared of much, but not of many. never lets the truth get in the way of a good story. not a fan of acronyms, snakes and angelina jolie. a HUGE fan of Fathead.

this blog is black for ENERGY-SAVING reasons.

thanks for your understanding.
if it's too dark, put your glasses on old one.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

goooooood morning vietnam!

yesterday we stepped on the ground of four different countries. while a direct flight from seoul to hanoi would really take about 3 hours, we went the shoestring route and as a result flew via hong kong, into bangkok and then finally into hanoi.

as we began our decent into vietnam, the skies around us were alive with a lighting display like i've never seen.  it's monsoon season ... which means it rains, alot. and it's so hot, even the air has decided to flee the country.

i can't say very much for hanoi just yet, as all we managed to see on the way in was the usual "airport neighbourhood" and a few dinky streets as we neared our backpackers.  so today we plan to explore the city and get a better feel for the flavor of this place.

walking into our very first backpackers, it felt like everyone in the room could smell our inexperience.  we put on brave face as we entered the crowded common area - noticing every foreigner had a tan and beer in hand.

a glance at the internet stations had me reeling in a panic attack as i noticed two print outs of previous visitors holding snakes.  "i nearly plutzed i tell you!"  nervously scoping the room for any evidence of my worst nightmare, i was fortunately unsuccessful in finding any.  hopfully this will be the one and only spotting thereof.

once checked in, we were shown to our dorm room - a tight collection of clean and comfortable bunkbeds - in total, each dorm room sleeping 16 bodies.

like two paranoid androids we triple locked every zip and bag, and finally ventured downstairs to meet the other residents.

it turns out that this backpackers provides free beer every night - self-poured from a keg which sits on the floor next to the "reception desk" / bar counter.  eager to take the edge off our travelling nerves, we helped ourselves and began to settle in. 

our fellow travellers all share similar stories - following similar routes through vietnam, laos and cambodia - so it was good to gain some advice from a few people who had "been there, done that".

this morning i rose with a weird sense of not knowing - where i was, what time it was, how i was going to dress and shower, what i should do.  so that brings me to here - when after my complimentary cup of coffee and fresh bagette - i decided to do my first blog post of our south east asian trip.

it's 9am and as i type this, Fathead sleeps deeply under the dorm aircon.  little does he know he's about to receive a sharp poke in the ribs.  the owner of the backpackers has kenny g blaring through the communal lounge and is whistling passionately as he goes about checking people in and out.

it must be about 30 degrees already.  right outside of the open-air entrance way there is a small alley leading onto the main road. 

the vietnamese are out and about - everywhere.  there seems to be a whole world of scooters and hooters and food stalls wafting foreign scents - just beyond the corridor.  i can't wait to see it.

so here it begins, i guess.  this is what we've spent months planning and saving and working and anticipating.  wish us luck.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

get to know your neighbours

click image to enlarge

North Korea - The Craziest Country in the World
Via: Online Schools


this is the name of the korean flag.  phonetically, you'd say "tay-goo-key".

it's quite a fascinating flag, and seen as i've been painting a fair amount of them on the faces of my friends and colleagues, i figured it was about time we researched what it actually symbolised.

it must be one of the most intriguingly recognisable flags in the world - and thankfully, it has quite an interesting story behind it too.

the flag first surfaced back in 1882.  it was used to symbolise resistance and independence from japan, so from 1910 - 1945 when the japanese ruled korea, the flag was banned.  during this time, ownership of the flag was punishable by death.  once korea gained independence, both north and south korea had their own versions of the taegeukgi. 

three years later, the northern half altered their flag to be more representative of soviet-inspired symbols:

with the south korean version, the white background symbolises "cleanliness of the people", and the red and blue design in the middle is "the yin and yang" (borrowed from the chinese culture), representing the balance between the negative and positive forces in life.  the blue (-ve) and red (+ve) together indicate the continuity of infinity.

the 4 sets of black striped designs are called "trigrams". together, they mean harmony, symmetry, balance and circulation.

to break it down:

courtesy of wikipedia

so there, kids, is your cultural history lesson for the month.  
soak it up, put it in your back pocket and bring it up at a dinner party.

dear korea

to our dearest korea

i'm writing this letter to gather some thoughts, get some things off my chest and to bid your a fond, temporary farewell.

it's been an interesting 6 months.  you've been incredibly kind to us, so thank you for this.

korea, you have much to be proud of.  you're such a small, remote country - with an enormous heart.  your people are mostly aloof and unemotional, yet show such passionate patriotism.

much of your cultural quirks and norms are, in fact, unoriginal. yet you seem to somehow make them your own. i hate to break it to you, but that song that you all sing during soccer matches is actually a remake of the pet shop boys "go west".

sometimes you spell your name with a "c".  the rest of the world always spells it with "k". i'm not choosing sides, i'm just suggesting you pick a spelling and stick with it.

oh, and there are a few things i wanted to clear up with you, before i go.

firstly, you need to ask your waiters to clear tables.  this is their job.  restaurant service should not function as a non-return valve. you can't only bring things to the table ... you need to actually take things away sometimes.

warn your people that when they visit foreign lands, they will actually be required (by law) to stop at red traffic lights. this may be optional in your country, but to the rest of the world - it's kind of the done thing.

in other countries, you will also need to be careful when driving.  this includes not watching tv on your gps, and talking on your cell phones. again, only optional here - caution and concentration whilst driving has become quite the trend in most other countries.

kindly advise your people to chew with their mouths closed.  it's considered rather gross, the world-over.  i know this might seem petty, but many people prefer not to see your food in its initial phase of digestion.

given that your are such a safe country, could you maybe consider trusting people not to steal your toilet  paper?  you might find it rather convenient to leave a roll or two in each bathroom stall?  just a thought.

your musical talents are an advertising fraud created by corporate giants for nothing more than cheeky commercial promotion. it is not "normal" to go to a music concert and have the artists break their performances to promote the latest technology functions on their samsung cell phones.

us waeguks (korean word for "foreigners") prefer to drink hard tack slowly, with a mixer.  we don't like to shoot whiskey like it's a cherry-flavoured liqueur.

what are those tasteless circular bar snacks you serve, actually made from?
is it rice?  puffed plastic?  c'mon ... you can tell me ...

i don't really appreciate the fact that i'm considered 29 in korean age. i'm already having my late-20's crisis ... is it necessary to add on 2 years to my life?

why can't you guys just count age using actual, mathematical logic.  you cannot, in any conceivable logic, be 1 year old, the day you are born.  even if you must be pedantic about it, you are 9 months at the most.  if you are born in november, and the country celebrates its nationwide birthday on february's lunar new year's - you are still only 4 months old, not 2 years.

household fans don't kill people.  fact.

but i don't mean to sound negative.  i have to say you have opened my eyes to a world of difference, a sense of safety and permanent amusement.

your respect for the elderly has earned you my utmost admiration. a lifetime spanning war and accelerated growth has made them hellova grumpy - but who can blame them?  i will forever remember and respect your agro-mama's and itchy-pappas.

until your nation's people hit the age of 30, i have to say, they are quite exquisite. your woman are incredibly beautiful.  their skin is flawless (an amazing feat, given the amount of smog in the air), and their petite figures are astounding.  how do they stay so slim and slender, with all the candy, cakes, donuts, deep-fried, battered, processed, sweetened and artificial foods they eat?

your beer is amazing, too! who knew that if you use chemicals instead of actual hops to produce your local beers, they won't make you gain weight!  hallelujah!

i love the way you voluntarily, and unashamedly, spike your own drinks.  your soju is potent and should not be underestimated by any waeguk. a foreigner who thinks that they are harder, tougher and more resilient than any korean-drinker, will swiftly learn their lesson.  they may not remember it the next day, but they'll learn.

the children of korea are being groomed into a diligent, highly-educated force to be reckoned with.  they will continue to grow korea into the world's technological leader that you are destined to become.
the way that you educate them is tough.  i cannot think of many other children who work as long and hard as yours do.

keep it going - they will be incredibly book-smart when you're through with them.  just a thought though -
you might want to ease up on the kiddies now and then.  maybe let them have a two-day weekend every once in a while?  they may enjoy some time spent outdoors. i hear that fresh air and sunshine do wonders for increasing happiness levels.

finally, i should express my gratitude to you.

you've hidden some of your most beautiful parts in remote valleys - which have been an absolute pleasure to discover.

the river rafting adventure was a blast (although  i'm not sure the helmets were necessary).

your people have good hearts.
your weather makes sense. it's freezing in winter, and sweltering in summer.

despite your reckless driving, your traffic system seems to function without accidents or road age.
you are a peaceful, content nation.

thank you most of all, for teaching me tolerance. your cultural differences are vast, but i have come to respect them.  most of all, i have developed an unwavering respect for you.

you're a nation that, since the end of wwII, has risen from 3rd to 1st world status.  you have increased your GDP, employment rate, education system, literacy rate, strength of currency, international ties and international ranking.  you've moved from being an aid-receiver to an aid-giver.  you have much to be proud of - and the world at large, needs to learn more about you.

we'll be back for further lessons on life, in 6 months.

so for now - it's farewell.

stay safe and keep your eyes on those northern-neighbors of yours.
congrats on kim yu na and the dedicated spirit of your red devil soccer fans.
i hope you kick nigeria's ass in the next world cup game.

bye for now, dae han min guk.

fondest regards

upping the anti

one week left in south korea.  i can't believe how the time has flown.
it's a weird feeling ... leaving here.  it's been a "temporary stop over" for so long, that now it feels like home away from home.

it's time to pack boxes and backpacks.
it's time to print scan and copy every important document that we may or may not need.
it's time to double check the to do lists, and then recheck them just in case.
and sadly, it's time to say goodbye to friends.

this weekend, we seem to have cracked the major part of our outstanding errands. all that's left is to back up my photos, and clean out our room (which has somehow filled itself with clutter in the space of 6 months).

visiting a semi-english-speaking pharmacy in itaewon, we managed to stock the bulk of our first aid kit ... a collection of medical supplies so frightening, i feel like we're preparing for war.

if you're planning an adventure off the beaten track, herewith is a useful medical aid kit list we found online.  i'm hoping we won't need to use most of these, but just in case be a good girl scout and ensure you're packing these:

you'll need a bag to fit all this into.  and remove all blister packs and tubes from their packaging.  if you're fortunate enough to purchase these from an english-speaking country, then you're laughing.  if, like us, all your supplies and their directions for use are printed in korean, then use a permanent marker to identify which cream goes where ... otherwise you might be applying mozzie-repellent to your athlete's foot.

  • anti-bacterial cream
  • anti-biotic cream for skin infections
  • anti-biotics for the trots
  • anti-fungal cream
  • anti-histamine
  • anti-inflammatories
  • anti-septic cream
  • anti-spasmodic
  • decongestants
  • mozzie repellant
  • tablets to stop the trots
  • tablets to give you the trots
  • scissors
  • plasters
  • gauze
  • thermometer
  • sterile needles
  • syringes
  • safety pins
  • tweezers
  • indigestion meds
  • iodine tablets (for purifying water)
  • charcoal tablets (for absorbing nasty things and avoiding the above-mentioned trots and clogs)
  • paracetamol
  • steriod-based allergy cream
  • throat lozenges
  • sunscreen
  • thrush cream (sorry boys, but trust me ... you'll thank me later)
  • malaria tablets
  • plasters
  • burn gauze
  • more plasters
  • safety pins
  • sewing kit (with needles to pop and poke things)
once you've packed all this, there should be just enough space in your bag for a bikini. maybe.

as if this hefty list hasn't scared the shit out of me enough,  we also needed to get a few jabs because of our disease-ridden destinations ... make sure you go to a doctor who knows the areas you're visiting, and double-check that all your vaccinations and boosters are up to date.

when i was 7 and all my friends were getting their booster shots - i somehow managed to evade this traumatising experience.

i wish now, that i'd sucked it up and sorted these out, then.  as a result, 20 years down the line, i had to have double the required number of pokes in my arms.

if you're going anywhere in south-east asia - check that you have had the following:

  • hepatitis A (a series of three over a year)
  • hepatitis B (a series of three over a year)
  • typhoid
  • tetanus
  • dyptheria
  • japanese B encephalitis
i don't even want to know what the last disease involves ... sounds pretty rancid ... so it's worth ensuring that you don't get it.

happy, healthy travels and if you're not a fan of needles maybe stick to the major cities ... or stay home.

the other great barrier, down under

i thought i was being completely organised and forward-thinking, when i decided to start researching the australian visa application process.  it was over a month ago, and considering the fact that Fathead and i are only due to enter down under in december ... i saw this as rather proactive.

thank goodness i did start the investigation so soon.  little did we know back then, of the tedious string of back-and-forth emails we would need to endure.  and they were just the tip of the iceberg.

it started with a inquiry to the global australian embassy, who upon reading that we were south african (and duly ignoring the rest of the email, explaining our dilemma of not actually being based in the country) - forwarded me on, to the embassy back home.  from here, i had the delight of dealing with one zweletu, who took a week to respond with a one-liner, asking which passports we'd be applying with.

returning the email she already had, back to her - i highlighted that, as previously stated, we were south africans - and therefore would not be using our uzbekistan passports for the process.

another week went by.

finally, zweletu came back to say that she couldn't help me, given that we were in south korea (like she'd just figured this fact out).  rather, she offered helpfully, contact the australian embassy immigration department.

thanks zwe.  so, forwarding the original email on, i duly contacted said department.

despite their auto-response email stating that they would get back to me in 48hrs, it was another week of waiting.  then, finally, a response!

"good day miss douglas

as you are a south african passport holder, you will need to process this request through our south african embassy."

sigh.  thank you mo-fo's.  that had not occurred to my pea-sized brain. kindly re-read the below email and assist?

"good day miss douglas

as you are not based in your country of origin, you will need to seek further assistance with the following department:


umm? nigeria? nigeria?!

have you people actually looked a a map of the world recently?  they moved nigeria to the north-western coast of africa, when the continent broke away from the america's a while back.

so online correspondence wasn't working out for us too well then.

plan b:
call the australian embassy in seoul.

turns out, you can do it here - no problem.
5 working days turn-around time.
730 south african ronds.

problem was, we only 7 working days left until our departure to vietnam, and given that the embassy closes over weekends, we had very limited time to get all documents and dna samples to the embassy, in time to have our passports returned to us by next friday.

despite the tight timings, Fathead and i launched into a panicked attempt to sort things out.  so on thursday, during our lunch break we called a taxi to the school and raced into town.

it felt like an episode of the amazing race.   the mad rush began at the bank, where our usual session of faux-american accents and plenty of charades managed to communicate that we needed our bank statements certified.  then it was off to the post office, where more hand gestures and slow, over-pronounced speech established that this post office did not do what the embassy said "all post offices" did.

for the postal money order, we were told, you would need to go back to the bank.  so back to the bank we trekked - through a haze of humid pollution, the sweat now pouring off us.  of course, the bank didn't do what the post office said "all banks" did.

we would need to go into seoul for the required documentation.  there was plenty of co-ordinated "you go to the ATM, i'll go to grab some lunch, meet me outside the convenience store in 10 mins" (as we only had one cell phone between us, and 20 mins to catch a taxi and be back in class).

in the nick of time - we made it back to school over-stressed, underfed and drenched in sweat.

plan c:
research the possibility of getting the visa's in vietnam.  we were told (by the embassy in south korea) that we would not be able to process our applications in a country in which we were not permanent residents.

post several long-distance phone calls to the vietnam and thailand embassies, we discovered that it was, in fact, possible.  it would just require birth certificates, medical records, employment contracts, bank statements, blood types, alien-registration numbers, passports, letters of invitation from australian citizens, letters of employment, confirmation of flight details, application forms, detailed itineraries, payment through postal money orders and letters to the embassy promising that we intended to get the fak out of the country - and had no intention of setting up shop down under.

that's all.

this, compared to the vietnam visa's which involved one email and a three day turn-around time. take it and go.

anyway, i guess the harder the process, the greater the reward. hopefully this is the end of the great visa debacle of 2010.  at the end of this dark bureaucratic tunnel is a Fathead family reunion where we'll be meeting several new little family members for the first time.

and that makes this all worth it.

Monday, June 14, 2010


when Fathead (aka "gadget-boy") first announced he was buying an iphone, i rolled my eyes and wrote this off as him getting a fix for his EET (extremely expensive toy) habit.

however, and as much as it guts me to say this, "i was not entirely, 100% correct".

since our adventures began, we've used that EET to it's full capability.  most notably for it's GPS, subway maps and currency converters.  given that seoul is the most connected city in the world - we basically access the interwebs wherever we may be, for whatever we may need to know.

sometimes this is to find the quickest transport route from point a to b.  sometimes it's to settle a ridiculous debate with a kiwi about which country really has the highest bungee-jump.

whatever the reason, the point is that it has become a very useful, muchly-relied-upon travel buddy.

so, if you are heading out for a we adventure to a foreign land, if you own an iphone or if you're considering taking the financial plunge and purchasing one - herewith, a list of must-have apps to accessorise your phone with:

- this (amazing!) app will "listen" to any song that is playing, and then search the interwebs, returning (in 60 secs) with a result of the artist, song title, album name and album cover, song history and artist bio.

- so you can chat and call your family and friends at the same reduced rate that you get off a PC.  it's useful to load skype credit to your account, so you can use your iphone as a normal phone and call to international cell phones and landlines.

- for obvious reasons ... good for everything except viewing photo albums

- if you're on twitter, this can also be downloaded to your pc desktop.  useful for seeing everything all at once.

currency by  jeffery grossman
- instantly convert and compare one amount of kazash in as many currencies as you want. very useful!

lonely planet
- includes a free spanish phrase app when you download

- stay up-to-date with the headlines from home (and around the world)

errands ("ToDo list")
- there a plenty of apps like this out there, but this one is pretty rad.  helps to keep track of where you are on the list of things you need to get done before / during your travels.

- find backpackers and hostels in any area in the world.  gives rates, reviews, star-ratings, photos, maps and gps co-ords.  also supplies contact info and you can make a reservation directly through the app itself.

- if you are traveling with a media player or external hard drive, and rely on a lot of good movies to see you through the monsoon season and those nights when the budget's run dry - this app allows you to research any movie you may have already downloaded, supplying you with reviews, synopsis and cast info.

- free sanity-saving, boredom-reducing games: Connect Four, Othello, Solataire, Shipwreck ... i've just been informed (by the Fathead on my left) that you should also look for "doodle-jump".

whatsapp messenger
- allows you to communicate with all other iphone users in the world, kind of like an exclusive skype.  good for when you are looking for cool apps and the like.

accu weather
- download accurate weather forecasts for districts, cities across several countries - so can compare each with the flip of a finger.

then, you can also download phrase books (with audio pronunciations) for any language you may need to learn.

if there is a subway in the city you're visiting, you should also be able to get this, as well as bus routes and train schedules.  all are extremely useful when traveling, and make you look like less of the out-of-towner (with an enormous folded out map in front of them.)

hope these help!

good luck - and always remember: even though traveling with your iphone may be awesume, conversation with your girlfriend is always way better.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

rad list of travel tips

we've been doing a fair amount of research for our impending departure (only a fortnight remains until we set off on our south east asian tour).

i've just stumbled across this article.  if you are about to / in the middle of / contemplating a backpacking adventure - then read this now. go right through, to the end - the public forum comments are even more useful.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

bit of a fak up, ey?

so most of the world shares the view that americans know very little about most of the world.  while i too hold this sentiment, i should put in a disclaimer right now - that the majority of americans we've met over here have proved this theory wrong.

i place this disclaimer this upfront, in fear of losing some very dear friends i've had the pleasure of meeting since we came to korea.  this being said, i do feel the need to share this (sorry guys!)

i'm sure many of you will have seen this already (if nowhere else, than on my facebook profile a few weeks ago).

anyway, Fathead and i have been teaching adult students this week - a special program the school is running for city council staff members who want to meet foreigners and improve on their englishee conversation skills.

so far it's been a really rewarding, experience for us both.  don't get me wrong - it's not that i don't enjoy teaching the little people ... but an adult audience offers an entirely refreshing experience.  for one thing, they actually want to learn english.  for another, they don't need to be shrilly commanded to wash their hands before lunch.  there are, of course, other good points - but i'm sure you can deduce these for yourself.

the point here, is that in Fathead's class today, he was discussing the concept of "stereotypes" and - as the discussion moved to "americans" - one of his students remarked "americans were ignorant".

now i'm not saying i necessarily agree with this ... whole-heartedly.  i'm not even saying that there is any truth in it.

infact, i'm not going to say anything more - i'm just going to show you this:

Thursday, June 3, 2010


this clip has been keeping me very entertained over the past few weeks.  this little dude just rocks my world - and he reminds me of most of the kids we teach every week.

the interwebs say he is japanese - although i find that very hard to believe ... based on the fact that he looks korean, and not japanese.  but that's just my opinion.

either way - this is the level of cuteness we're dealing with over here, on a daily basis.

check out my new best ukelele friend.