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Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Travel memories

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I was sitting on a cafe the other day, talking to a friend of mine about travelling. And we started to discuss the reasons why one decides to go travelling. One thing we both agreed on was if nothing else, you'd came back with some quite good stories. That made me remember some interesting stories of my own.

One happening I keep remembering happened in the summer of 97, when I was travelling in South-Korea. The summer of the Asian Financial Crisis, which meant that had I decided to wait until the summer of '98 I would have saved a lot of money due to the devaluated Asian currencies. But, I was 20 years old. Financial trends and monetary crisis weren't words I used a lot, to be honest I probably wouldn't have recognised them if they hit me smack in the face.

I was visiting one of the more famous temples in SK, wandering around and admiring the statues, and being very faxcinated and intrigued by all the bold little monks dashing around, when one of the rocked up to me and started talking. This was great, even though his knowledge of English was rather non-existent, which was less great. After a little while he asked me whether I would like to come back to the compound where the monks lived and have tea with him and some other monks. 'Great' I thought 'Kodak moment, a moment to relish and tell my grandchildren about'. I could almost picture myself, gathering all my grandchildren... ehr... Anyway, it WOULD make for a good story when I came home, and it WAS bloody interesting. Me, having tea with the local monks at one of SK's most famous temples… this was an once-in-a-lifetime offer.

It was great. Sitting on the floor with three monks, drinking green tea, and trying to communicate in writing… Which still puzzles me today. If I couldn’t speak Korean, why did they assume I could read it? Anyway, one of the monks gave me a note with a phone-number on, and with many hand gestures got to explain that I should call him.

This is one of the things I find odd and very funny. I have no idea how many small notes I have carried with me home from my travels, with a phone number on, given by a local who could barely say ‘numba one’ accompanied with the universal phone gesture. Of course, usually there’s a copious amount of the local spirit involved, which may take part of the blame, as after the 12th sangsom-coke, soju, or whatever the local brew is called, anything makes sense, and minor difficulties, such as an inability to speak each other’s language, turns irrelevant and unimportant. This is normally about the time when you new local best friend rock up some rather particular local beer snacks, and at the time you think it doesn’t really matter that the snack is either a part of an animal you have never heard of before or a tasty protein-snack with a few too many legs. Frankly, deep fried grasshopper is quite yummy, but I still wonder how drunk one has to be for one to pick up a grasshopper and think ‘yum, this one will probably go really good with beer’…

There isn’t always alcohol involved though. On the same travel as above, I once stumbled out of a bus in the middle of South Korea eagerly looking for a quite famous park which my travel guide swore should be a short five minutes’ walk from the bus stop. After one and a half hour of chasing pavements I still hadn’t found any park, but I did manage to locate a tourist information booth. Then I had to spend another half an hour trying to explain to the girl behind the counter what I was looking for. I finally realised that we weren’t even talking about the same thing. I wanted my park, she wanted my address… More hand gestures and rather goofy smiles. 20 minutes later I understood that she wanted my address so she could write to me, thus practicing her English (which was rather non-existent). At the time, it sounded like a great idea, so I wrote down my address and gave it to her. Later on though (after an hour in a cool room and some rest) I realised that having a pen-pal who knew hardly any English at all may not be the best of pen-pals. Luckily it seemed like she came to the same conclusion as I haven’t received any letters from her.

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