Decidedly urban couple who quit their jobs and successfully backpacked their way through Asia for a year. They met Buddha, drank baijiu and learned to master the squat toilet. Now appearing in a new life as ex-pats in Singapore.

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Vinnie’s look back on South Korea

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It’s just over 3 weeks into our trip, with 3 weeks spent in Korea. We recently arrived in Shanghai and scrapped the idea of taking a ferry because: it actually costs more than our flights, takes 24 hours by boat (vs 1.5hr flight), and would have added a few extra days before reaching Shanghai and we want to get there for the World Expo.

It’s my (vinnie’s) first blog post since starting the trip, Korea has literally been a nonstop sensory overload of nature, history, cities, partying, culture, and food.

If it wasn’t for Kristine’s cousin, Travis, I don’t know if we would have visited Korea – when I think Asia, I think Japan and China.  Now I think, Japan, China, and Korea(s).  I’m really glad we had our first stop here, it was a fantastic time thanks to:

  • Good company such as Kristine’s cousins and their friends (both ex-pats and Koreans)
  • A beautiful country
  • Cities that like to party and stay out late
  • Great food
  • Incredibly friendly, warm, and nice people looking to help

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[Stephen, Travis, Kristine, & Vinnie]

ROK
[Beautiful Korea]

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[Daegu knows how to party]

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[Korea BBQ]

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[Super Friendly School Kids]


Korea has a rich history with dynasties 1,000s of years old.  During which, multiple wars with China and Japan that have burnt down many of the originally relics, such as 1,000+ year old temples.  And it has a neighbor to the north that is run by a crazy dictator, an oddity we really wanted to explore but they are absolutely not letting in Americans at the moment (normally you can go with a tour group).  The US effort in the Korea War is highly respected here, over 33,000 US soldiers were killed, with the 2nd highest number of deaths for foreign soldiers going to Turkey with about 1,600 soldiers.  The UN Memorial gardens in Busan is a beautiful moment with a wall like the Vietnam wall in DC.

Temple near Samsung Town
[Temples & History]

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[UN Memorial]


99% of the expats we met were teaching English. Koreans will pay a high premium for native speakers to teach English, you don’t even need to know a word of Korean, except for ‘Hite’ which roughly translates to ‘cheap beer’.  Most teachers are paid quite well and have modest schedules, which affords a high quality of life while saving US dollars, probably living better then their english teaching counterparts in Japan.

As for the demand for Engrish – the younger generation (which is in school obscene hours of the day, sometimes till 10pm, and attends school on the weekends), can not digest the english language fast enough.  I think it’s a combination of cool pop culture – (Koreans are the most fashionable people I’ve seen, I think it tops NY and Paris – even the men are sporting top-end lines with manicured hairdos).  Along with the value in knowing English in our worldwide ecomony.  It’s funny to me that companies like  Samsung, KIA, Hyundai have all their logos at the top of the buildings in English, not Korean.

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[Funny Signs]


Outside of Seoul, tombstone shaped buildings dot the landscape wherever a city emerges.  Korea grew so fast, that it skipped the aesthic in housing and went straight for utility.  So the landscape is dotted wtih 20-story rectangular buildings usally a handful right on top of each other (forgot having a view).  They are drab gray with company logos like Samsung at the top – cause Samsung does everything, not just electronics, they own real estate too.  These tombstone styled apartment builds are a real odd site to see. Fortunately, Seoul has done a good job of avoiding 100% of those buildings and has real neighborhoods with a fun and funky vibe.

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[Tombstone Apartments]


However, going along this ‘utility’ vs. aesthetic for housing, commercial buildings follow suit as well, with most restaurants and bars setting up shop on any floor, from the 1st to the 8th, it doesn’t matter how nice of a joint it may be, you may have to take the elevator up to the 4th floor for your nice restaurant – and for bars, sometimes the basement. Back in NYC’s Korea Town, I used to think this was due to space constraints just in NYC, now I realize it’s a Korean norm to have a good restaurant on the 3rd floor of a building, and a bar on the 4th.  And of course Noribongs (karaoke) are always up high in sketchy, but fun, little rooms.

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[Asian Storefronts]


Korea really impressed us, we had no idea we were would be treated to a beautiful and fun country (from day hikes to nighttime partying).

Ohh, and I’m buying Korean socks for life – they all have fun logos on them, from Ramen noodles to the Simpsons – I think it’s because you always have to take off your shoes in Korea, so everybody wants to have hip socks.

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[Korean Socks]


Some other Korean memories:

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[All the neon lights]

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[Engrish]

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[Cities & Nature]

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[Travis]

You can check out the rest of our Korea photos on Flickr.

Annyoug! Annyoug!

We officially started our trip!

We’re now in Seoul, South Korea (in a damn chic airport with free wifi) waiting for a connecting flight to Busan.   We are spitting distance from the DMZ, the eternal president and his grandson, the future supreme leader. A big thanks to Kim Jong Il for convening a transfer of power during my first day in Korea – my grandma is glued to Fox News and praying for our return.

Anyway! After 12.5 hours of flying and a combined 7 movies, we are now able to say with full certainty that there is no decent Hollywood actress named Jennifer.  (And the A-Team was a bit of a let down too…)

We’re lagged but super siked finally be here.  Sitting in front of an LED TV –  the technical details of which Vinnie really wanted to explain, but it just loks like a flat screen to me.  What’s more interesting is the mother-child dating show where contestants seem to be challenging their grandparents to a sit-up competition. The grandma won.

We already felt right at home – in addition to the flat screens we were greeted by  TWO Duncan donuts and a Coffee Bean.  This is a ‘Large’ ice coffee in South Korea.

Our hiker gear isn’t necessarily chic duds in Korea.  Folks dress exactly the same in San Francisco – which throws a wrench in the works for my jean-free packing job. Oh well.  All that stressing about what to wear and I guess should have packed what I already had.

Hopefully my quick dry panties will come in handy because they’re really not that comfortable!

Travel Immunizations and Vaccinations

CC thanks to AJC1

Depending on where you’re going (asia, india, africa, etc.), there’s probably some vaccinations you’ll want to get.  Some vaccinations need to be given multiple times over a 28 day cycle, so try to start 2 months before your trip if you can. Most city’s will have a travel clinic, like the Adult Immunization & Travel Clinic in SF, just be prepared to shell out $200-$400 in shots, thankfully for me, Kaiser Permanente members get them for free at the KP hospital.  For Asia & India, I filled up on:

Remember to have a hearty breakfast/lunch on your visit, my first trip was 6 shots, and without any food in my stomach, I got a little dizzy nearly passed out.

Photo Credit: AJC1 creative commons license on flickr

Mini First Aid Kit for Backpackers

Just put together a mini first-aid kit that should cover what we need.

  • Athletic Sports Tape, 9m – Can be cut for small band-aids or large sprains.  And as Tim Ferris points out, it’s a life saver and doubles as duck tape (though I’ll be bringing that along as well)
  • Sterile Pads – can be used with the sports tape for homemade band-aids or gushing wounds.
  • Band-Aids – So you don’t have to go ghetto with sports tape and tissues.
  • Ibuprofen – For hangovers, headaches, and general pains
  • Neosporin Antibiotic, max strength
  • Benadryl (Diphenhydramine) – great for allergies, minor colds, or falling asleep on overnight trains/planes
  • Clartin – generic versions for my allergies
  • Dental Floss, 200yrds – Unobvious uses include sewing or tying something together.
  • Large Nail Clippers – cause we’ll be living the fancy high life :p
  • ChapStick – I went medicated
  • Gold Bond – For all over, from your feet to ‘down there’.  I went extra strength medicated.
  • Meds:
    • Malaria Medication – Doxycycline, daily, 2 days before, 28 days after
    • Anti-Diarrhea Medication – Azithromycin

Updated in new sporty plastic box.  Now to find some Pepto Bismol…

Backpacking with an OSX netbook laptop

Netbooks are pretty small and light laptops and fit well tucked away into a backpack.

We went with an Asus 1000HE for a few reasons:

  1. I can install Mac OSX on it, and this chart shows that there is support for all components. (Here’s a few helpful Hackintosh sites)
  2. It’s not ‘too’ tiny, the keyboard is a nice size
  3. It has a long battery life and great specs
  4. It has ethernet (that was why we went with this over an ipad, which would just be an ibrick in most countries)
  5. It’s cheap, I bought a used one for $200 off of ebay

Other items to note:

  1. There’s no DVD player, so assuming we want to watch some local flics, I also purchased a cheap portable dvd player/writer.
  2. I’m also bringing my iphone 3g that I will use as a mini computer on the go (no phone) – And I plan to turn it into a HitchHiker’s guide with offline wikipedia.

Full directions here

It took a bit of physical labor, 2 computers, an external HD enclosure, and a few hours waiting, drinking beer and watching cartoons to get Mac OSX installed, but there was no way I’m going back to Windows.  Once you go mac, you never go back.