December 28, 2014

Arnab's Year in Cities, 2014

As the drums of Bosingak ushered in the new year in the heart of Seoul, my time in Korea came to an end. I spent the first third of the year wandering through lands both familiar (India and Thailand) and slightly less familiar (Philippines and Sri Lanka).

I abruptly shifted gears from the high density, historically rich societies of Asia to vast stretches of asphalt and wide open spaces where nature and burger outlets take the spotlight for the latter half of the year. I returned to North America after almost a decade away, gradually exploring the west coast of the United States bit by bit from my new home base of San Francisco.

Statistically speaking it was almost a mirror image of 2013, as I stayed overnight in 31 different cities or towns in 7 countries. I also made some interesting day trips which are unaccounted for on this list - stopping over to enjoy the company of some old friends and some delicious Hai Di Lao hotpot in Shanghai, exploring the ruins of Ayodhya, whale watching in Vancouver Island after taking a seaplane to Victoria, and entering Mexico by foot at the San Diego-Tijuana border crossing.

The 2014 List

  • Seoul, South Korea
  • Manila, Philippines
  • El Nido, Philippines
  • Puerto Princesa, Philippines
  • Bangkok, Thailand
  • Kolkata, India
  • Varanasi, India
  • Jaipur, India
  • Jodhpur, India
  • Udaipur, India
  • New Delhi, India
  • Kaziranga, India
  • Shillong, India
  • Mumbai, India
  • Pune, India
  • Galle, Sri Lanka
  • Kandy, Sri Lanka
  • Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka
  • Colombo, Sri Lanka
  • Negombo, Sri Lanka
  • Dalhousie, Sri Lanka
  • Nuwara Eliya, Sri Lanka
  • Vancouver, Canada
  • San Francisco, USA
  • Monterrey, USA
  • Houston, USA
  • Lake Tahoe, USA
  • San Diego, USA
  • Las Vegas, USA
  • Willits, USA
  • Chicago, USA
  • Years past


    You are not stuck where you are unless you decide to be.
    ― Wayne W. Dyer


    I asked an ex-colleague in Korea if he was a sycophant after observing how his behaviour changed whenever he was taking orders from his boss. He did not know what the term meant. I explained that it was someone who continuously sucks up to the person that they want to impress.

    He considered my explanation for a moment and then replied "You…  you... you are cutie girls sycophants!".

    Radish and Hoe

    In Beijing, my colleague and I were returning to the office after lunch. A girl passed by in front of us. Her boyfriend, obediently carrying her purse, followed a few steps behind. She was not aesthetically pleasing, causing my non-judgmental eyes to widen. "Even she has a boyfriend!" I exclaimed. "Every radish has a hoe" explained my coworker, unperturbed by the whole affair.

    For every 100 girls born in China today there are around 120 baby boys born. It is estimated that there is a surplus of more than 33 million men in the mating market. With so many young men and so few women, the situation I encountered is not altogether unsurprising.

    A desire for a son is common in societies across the world. In Korea, sons are expected to carry on the family names - Kim, Park, and Lee. China is no different. This preference combined with limitations on how many babies can be popped out in major cities has led to a severe shortage of the gamete producers in recent decades. The sex ratio imbalance means prospective husbands must possess either higher and higher net worths or lower and lower standards if they wish to be betrothed, while aspiring wives have the pick of a rather unimpressive litter.

    November 23, 2014

    Two Worlds, One Francisco

    With its Soweto-like living conditions and Swedish level cost of living, modern day San Francisco is a curious place. On one hand there is the decaying infrastructure and the complete absence of a social safety net for its many impoverished and insane citizens. On the other are wealthy Silicon Valley nerds who drive up rental prices and bring their dogs to work after receiving a corporate shuttle ride from the city to their coding farms in the soulless suburbs of Cupertino, Mountain View, and Palo Alto.

    These two segments of society collide with predictably unsavoury results, one left behind and the other pushing ahead. Newcomers to the city such as myself are left hovering somewhere between these two worlds, working in one but living in the other. 


    Either you have money, or you have time. Then you move to San Francisco... and you have neither!
    ~ Remark by a Spanish friend of mine who recently moved to the Bay Area to attend a short term study program

    November 19, 2014

    Talk to Me

    Female coworker: This guy never talks to me.

    Another coworker: Really?

    Me: No, that's not true. I said goodbye once.

    Female coworker: That is true. He did say goodbye once, but that was right after I had asked him to have a one hour conversation with me.

    November 16, 2014

    The USS Midway

    Decommissioned in 1992, the USS Midway now calls San Diego home. Once the world’s largest ship and now its most visited naval ship museum, the USS Midway is so large that it cannot make it through the Panama Canal (imagine a Texan trying to squeeze into a standard size airplane seat). In service for an astonishing 47 years, it played key roles in the Vietnam War and Operation Desert Storm in the Gulf War, upholding the American ideals of strength, freedom, and peace across the globe. 

    Interestingly enough, the USS Midway was also summoned to Korea to provide a show of strength during Operation Paul Bunyan. After the axe-murder incident where North Koreans offed several American soldiers using said instrument when they were trying to chop down a tree in the DMZ that obscured the view between watch posts, an overwhelming show of force was demonstrated by the United States. The Midway stood guard while the tree was successfully cut down 3 days after the initial incident. 

    Entering service two years after the end of World War II, the ship is named after the pivotal Battle of Midway.  Several hours to a day can be spent exploring the many decks of the vessel, home to 225,000 seamen over its decades of service. Elderly volunteers explain the inner workings of the engine and boiler rooms. Aircraft adorn the entire stretch of the almost 1000 foot long flight deck, along with Chinese tourists taking silly photos. 



    Sign on, young man, and sail with me. The stature of our homeland is no more than the measure of ourselves. Our job is to keep her free. Our will is to keep the torch of freedom burning for all. To this solemn purpose we call on the young, the brave, the strong, and the free. Heed my call, Come to the sea. Come Sail with me. ― John Paul Jones

    November 09, 2014

    Roaches to Riches

    Friend: Did you find a place to stay yet?

    Me: Yes, but it's in the Tenderloin.

    Friend: When is your housewarming party?

    Me: The place is so small that no one else will fit inside.

    Friend: Really? So your parents won't visit?

    Me: Then I'll have to sleep on the floor... with the roaches.

    Friend: What bs. You can complain to the city if you have roaches. You do realize that?

    Me: I only complain about the decrepit state of America in general.

    Friend: Haha, then go back to Canada... or Korea. If you are not one of those people looking to go from roaches to riches then America is not for you!

    November 06, 2014

    Beets Me

    Two American girls came and sat at my table at a mall food court while I was in the process of consuming a chicken burrito.

    Girl #1: Are beets vegetables?
    Girl #2: Yes.
    Girl #1: Oh, I didn't know that. Anyways, I'm thinking of stopping being a vegetarian. I'm feeling tired a lot these days.
    Girl #2: That's why I quit being a vegetarian. My energy levels were sooo low and I was craving meat all the time. If your body craves something that badly you should just eat it. I mean it craves it for a reason, right?
    Girl #1: Yeah, that's right.

    October 09, 2014

    BART Ride

    BART is shorthand for Bay Area Rapid Transit. It is not to be confused with the character of the same name on the long running American cartoon show The Simpsons. BART is an aging system of trains that pass for public transportation in the region. The signage is horrendous and the intercom barely audible. The trains are infrequent and most ticketing machines are out of order. If a station once had a functioning escalator it has most likely reverted back to a staircase long ago. The stations also serve as homeless shelters in a nation which has as little regard for its poor as it does for its public transportation infrastructure.

    Entrance to a BART station

    While San Francisco is a large open air urinal for many of its wild and wacky inhabitants, BART is a veritable bathroom in motion. The only reason it is not called BARF is because that would not encompass the entirety of the human deposits left behind on the train over the decades. Many of the train carriages on BART come with wall-to-wall carpeting. The aged fabric is splotched with the stains of time and puke. Sometimes the floor is sticky. Occasionally, the seats are as well. The fragrances on board are in sync with the stains on the floors.


    “A prison cell, in which one waits, hopes - and is completely dependent on the fact that the door of freedom has to be opened from the outside...”  ― Dietrich Bonhoeffer

    September 29, 2014

    Like a Villain

    Coworker: Where do you live?

    Me: In the Tenderloin.

    Coworker: Oh, I never go to that part of town!

    Me: Why not? It has character.

    Coworker: Like a villain has character.

    September 15, 2014

    Standard Deviation

    Manager: Why isn't anything working today!?

    Subordinate: You ask this question as if somehow today is a deviation from the norm.

    September 12, 2014


    Me: There's a notice posted on the door of my apartment elevator asking people not to leave their garbage inside.

    Friend: Arnab, are you OK with these restrictions on your freedom?

    September 07, 2014

    Tales from the Taqueria

    Despite being plagued by a string of natural and man-made calamities ranging from drought and destitution to earthquakes and tech geeks, the Bay Area does have some redeeming qualities. Chief among them is the authentic Mexican fare found at franchises like Chipotle or at the many mom and pop taquerias dotting neighbourhoods like the Mission. The tacos, burritos, nachos, and a barley/rice based concoction known as horchata are all delightful menu items. Ordering these can get a bit messy when the service staff have accents thicker than a scoop of guacamole.

    Me: Can I have super nachos with chorizo?

    Waitress: Is that for here or to go?

    Me: Chorizo.

    Waitress: No, do you want it for here or to go?

    Me: To go.

    Waitress: With chorizo?

    Me: No, to go.

    August 22, 2014

    I Can't Believe It's Not Better

    Korean man: I'm the piece of better that is melting on the frying pan which name is you.

    Korean lady: Butter.

    August 10, 2014

    Scam Francisco

    San Francisco's red hot real estate market has drawn many rats out from the woodwork, and I am not referring to those that zip around the kitchen floors of restaurants in its historic Chinatown. While trawling the web for leads on any affordable and decent accommodation, I would sometimes find places that were both livable and within my budget. All of these turned out to be scams. The contact person would concoct various reasons as to why he could not give a tour of the place, but request a deposit or first month's rent to secure the rental property in my name. I did not fall for such tricks:

    Exhibit 1 - The Turkish Family
    Please be informed that the apartment is not available for immediate viewing or move-in until June 29th as the apartment is currently been occupied by a Turkish family and before they rented the apartment they requested for complete privacy which I granted. If the timing works for you and you do not want to miss renting the apartment, then you can have it reserve for you until you view/move-in with the payment of the first month rental fee plus the refundable security deposit.
    Exhibit 2 - The Man from North Carolina
    I will be very happy to have you as one of my potential tenants because i believe we will have a cordial relationship together. I will reserve the apartment for you till your move in date in order for you to be rest assured i want you in the apartment but i will need a serious confirmation or commitment from you because i will be coming all the way from Graham, NC to show you round the apartment/handover the keys to you because that's where i work. Secondly, as you know people are also making inquiry regarding the apartment and business is based on first pay first serve. Have had some difficulties with some tenants in the past who claim to be serious in renting my apartment but unfortunately, it all proof abortive and this has been causing some damages to me and my work because i need to travel all the way from North Carolina down to the city and i dont my coming down to the city to be like a waste of time which had happened to me in the past. There is everything needed in the apartment for you to live comfortably. Your details will be used to prepare your tenancy agreement form once we have reach an agreement. Hope you understand me clearly? Await your reply so that we can proceed further.

    August 03, 2014

    The Streets of Mexico

    "I'm asking myself am I really doing this? Is it really the best idea to be going to Mexico with you?"

    My friend Abhay was thinking out loud as we drove down the highway from San Diego to the Mexican border 30 miles away. I assured him nothing could possibly go wrong as we passed a large green billboard declaring "No guns allowed in Mexico". Not allowing an American to bear arms is the same as asking a Korean not to carry a smart phone, so a few U.S. citizens are rotting in Mexican prisons after being caught with firearms.

    My friend is a cautious fellow so we did not drive into Mexico, opting instead to leave the car at a parking lot near the border crossing. We saw a stream of Mexicans heading our way and walked in the direction they were emanating from. We crossed a footbridge and followed the arrows, zigging and zagging through some pathways and past a couple of armed guards, emerging in what we realized was already Mexico.

    There had been no actual border control where our passport or any form of identification was checked. We saw a kilometer long lineup in the other direction of folks trying to make their way back into the promised land. It seemed only the American authorities were interested in checking passports and verifying identities.

    A few taxi drivers immediately descended upon us as we entered Mexico, offering to take us to the seedier parts of the region which old white men are apt to visit. We instructed them to drop us off at the Tijuana city center, which was not too far off from the border crossing. We paid $5 for the ride, inclusive of a $4 foreigner premium.

    Tijuana was very walkable, with the touristy stretch only lasting a couple of blocks. There were a lot of dental clinics and strip clubs on each street, catering to American visitors who could not afford healthcare or happiness on home soil.

    I tried to convince Abhay to have lunch at some of the dirty looking local eateries, but he wanted something clean and preferred returning to one of the tourist restaurants we had passed by earlier. We walked several more blocks until I found an establishment that was both local and clean, satisfying both requirements. I ordered an item that I had never heard of before. It ended up being a large portion of liver.

    The World Cup was on and radios blasting live coverage of the soccer match could be heard as we wandered the streets of Mexico. We drifted from one bar to another, as the goalless match between the Netherlands and Costa Rica extended into extra time. The partisan crowd was disappointed as Costa Rica fell to the Dutchmen on penalty kicks. As the match ended, we caught a taxi back to the border crossing knowing full well that it would be a lot harder to get into America than it had been to get out.

    As we approached the kilometer long lineup of souls waiting to enter the States, we were approached by a fellow holding a ticket to bypass the queue. Within minutes we were stuffed into a van with a dozen other people, which was something I had imagined would happen at some point during a trip to Mexico. Almost two hours later we made it to the border checkpoint.

    I had prepared for a potentially long wait in line by bringing some snacks in my backpack, including some pears. I explained to the American official that my pears were from America. "Once your pears go to Mexico, they Mexican." he stated. The security personnel took my passport and made a note on their system. "Now Interpol will think I am a pear importer." I complained to Abhay. "Not a pear importer..." he responded, "A pear smuggler!"

    July 28, 2014

    OMG, Giardia

    Now that I am living in America I am able to understand a lot of the conversations taking place around me. Nearby my apartment in the Tenderloin, many of the conversations are being had by insane members of society with themselves.

    Conversations often border on the ridiculous even when the listener is not imaginary. For example, I was sitting on the steps by the water's edge at the Georgetown Waterfront Park enjoying the view of the Potomac River on a Sunday afternoon. I overheard one young woman make a eyebrow raising comment to her friend who had asked her what she thought of the view:

    Whenever I see water I'm like 'Oh my god, giardia! I'm gonna die!'

    July 10, 2014

    The Tenderloin

    I have lived a life of relative luxury most of the past 6 to 7 years, minus a nightmarish shared existence with 13 other men in a hovel in Mumbai. In San Francisco, my first month was spent in a spectacular cliffside abode in North Beach. I would wake up to a dramatic view of the monumental Bay Bridge for four weeks, but as the clock ticked away on my company housing I had to find a place of my own.

    Despite a tremendously high number of drug addicts, lunatics, techies, and bums wandering its streets, a decaying transit system that last saw upgrades well before my birth, and an overwhelming scent of urine and marijuana consistently wafting through the air, San Francisco is one of the most desirable places to live in America. The city has a sizzling hot rental market, with property prices as high as many of its citizens. As the world's premier tech hub, the Bay Area draws in the best and brightest from the world, and all these outsiders need accommodation. The skyrocketing housing prices have even driven potential homeowners back into the rental market, increasing rents for all. 

    During my first month in town, I spent my weekends and evenings visiting many apartments either via direct appointment with the property manager or at scheduled open houses. Most were hideous, ancient, or in shady neighbourhoods such as the infamous Tenderloin district, where Will Smith lined up for a free meal at a soup kitchen in the movie Pursuit of Happyness. The decent apartments had over 50 other applicants, some of whom boasted about their large salaries and bonuses out loud to scare away the competition. 

    I also investigated a few short term sublets, but the current tenants were either clinically insane, unregistered sex offenders, or complete no shows. I was waiting for over 30 minutes for one one guy to show me his apartment and had to use the washroom in the meantime. I found a public bathroom but it was locked. About ten minutes later the door opened. I saw the couple who sleep inside were dusting off and packing up their belongings before heading out for the day. 

    With my stay in North Beach coming to an end, I had to make a quick decision amongst a bevy of undesirable options (much like a Korean woman must do when choosing a mate). I settled on an apartment on the fringes of the Tenderloin. At any given time I am sure to have at least one of the following three items - Internet access, warm water, and a leaking toilet. My window faces an open air bar. It gets extremely loud during the weekends, but that at least drowns out the howls of despair, shrieks of agony, and wails of police sirens which would otherwise occupy my auditory range. 


    In a country well governed, poverty is something to be ashamed of. In a country badly governed, wealth is something to be ashamed of. ~ Confucius

    June 08, 2014

    San Francisco Giants

    If a game of baseball is to be enjoyed by one who is not particularly a fan of America’s pastime, then AT&T Park certainly provides a spectacular backdrop to do so. The stadium is situated on San Francisco’s Embarcadero, opening up to the bay. Yachts line the waters, their passengers looking for an out of the park home run ball to fall into their laps. With the yawns that a regular game of baseball tends to illicit in the casual observer, the side shows are of more interest. 

    In Seoul's Jamsil Stadium, I had been entertained by the picnic-like atmosphere of the crowds slurping beer and munching on fried chicken while watching a scintillating team of cheerleaders perform in between innings. Even this small pleasure was muted by the absence of cheerleaders at AT&T Park.

    My first Major League Baseball experience was a day game between the San Francisco Giants and their in-state adversaries, the Los Angeles Dodgers. The home team absorbed a 2-1 loss. The view of the bay was easily the first star with the crowd coming in second. Several karaoke style songs were sung by the crowd. There was also a ‘kiss cam’ which focused on random couples in the stands. Whenever they were projected on the screen they would lock lips and receive heavy applause.

    A mother and son duo were taking in the game in the seats behind me. A member of the Dodgers roster was a Korean gentleman by the name of Hyun-jin Ryu. When his picture was displayed above the scoreboard, the kid proclaimed “I don’t like that guy!”. “Why?” inquired the mother. “Because he’s Japanese!” exclaimed the little racist. “Ummmm… Korean” the mother corrected.


    Let me root, root, root for the home team,
    If they don't win, it's a shame.
    For it's one, two, three strikes, you're out,
    At the old ball game.
    ~ Take Me Out to the Ball Game

    May 23, 2014

    Seodaemun Prison

    Japan occupied Korea for much of the first half of the 20th century. The annexation and forced occupation of Korea is well documented, with the Seodaemun Prison History Museum (서대문형무소역사관) in Seoul bearing witness to some of the cruelest acts committed by the Japanese during its expansionist period. 

    Torture, rape, and murder are just some of the crimes that Koreans have suffered at the hands of the Japanese. Despite an unwavering admiration of their culture, mannerisms, style, and cuisine, many in Korea still harbour resentment towards a remorseless Japan for their harsh behaviour towards them during this dark chapter of history.

    The original facilities at Seodaemun Prison were built in 1907, with a capacity of 500 prisoners. A place of reverence and a place of history, a visit here provides insights that no textbook can. Jail cells, execution rooms, and torture chambers have been hauntingly recreated. Korean independence fighters were imprisoned here, with many never making it out alive to see a free nation. 


    I have observed that the prosperity or misery of each people is in direct proportion to its liberties or its prejudices and, accordingly, to the sacrifices or the selfishness of its forefathers. ~ Juan Crisostomo Ibarra

    May 20, 2014

    Cheonan & the Barbarian

    A prominent transportation hub in Korea, Cheonan also boasts a few points of interest such as a foreigner-only prison and the gargantuan Independence Hall of Korea. I only ended up at one of these two sites, and not the one some would presume. From the Cheonan train station I caught a bus to the Independence Hall. The heavy downpour on a rainy Saturday meant there were only a handful of visitors to the museum chronicling Korea’s past struggles and subsequent emergence as a modern day success story despite many trials, tribulations, and Japanese in its path.

    The introductory message from the president of the Independence Hall had spurred my interest in visiting the facility:
    The Independence Hall embodies the spirit of the Korean nation and informs people of the Korean people's dignity. For thousands of years throughout history, the Korean nation deeply suffered. But we tenaciously protected our ethnicity and country with a national spirit and an intense patriotism. In the modern age, no other people suffered as much as the Korean nation. 
    It has been a hundred years since the Japanese imperialist stole our sovereignty and it has been sixty years since we regained our independence. Korea began as an extremely poor country but, even though Korea is a comparatively small country, we became a global economic power. This is a miracle in world history. To this date, no other people or country has accomplished anything like what has happened in Korea. 

    The grandiose rhetoric is matched by the monumental scale of all the facilities within the Independence Hall of Korea. Following a long walk across the broad Plaza of the Nation and right before the entrance to the 7 exhibition halls of the museum is the 15 story high Grand Hall of the Nation. It is the largest tile-roofed building in Asia. The Statue of Indomitable Koreans, presumably also the largest such sculpture in Asia, can also be found here.

    The patriotic destination was opened to the public on the anniversary of Korea’s Independence Day in 1987. I ended up having a few personal tour guides as I wandered through the exhibits, as many of the friendly staff members had time on their hands. One of the security guards even gave me a sheepish grin while we discussed our favourite K-pop artists. From the prehistoric era onwards, a lot of ground is covered within the many exhibits. I particularly enjoyed the recreated interior of the ancient tombs of the Goguryeo kingdom, which now fall within Chinese territory.


    “He who does not know how to look back at where he came from will never get to his destination." ― José Rizal

    May 14, 2014

    Tongyeong & the Restless

    I rose early after a good night’s sleep in Tongyeong. Out on the streets, an elderly gentleman guided me to a set of staircases leading up to Dongpirang Wall Painting Village,  a decaying neighbourhood that was revitalized thanks to painters who had decorated the walls of the houses in the alleys with charming murals. However cold and unfriendly the people of Seoul may be, it is always balanced out by the kindness and warmth of the Koreans whom I encounter in the rest of the nation.

    The artsy neighbourhood was situated on a hill. I made my way down using an alternate path and kept walking until I arrived at the Nammangsan Sculpture Park. Every point of interest in Tongyeong conveniently fell within a 15-20 minute walk of each other in the town of 100,000. The sculptures stared out into the distance where the dark clouds seemed to be clearing up, indicating that it was time for me to catch a boat to one of the outlying islands.

    I sauntered to the ferry terminal. I asked a ticket seller what the best island to visit was and bought a ticket there. I sat on the open air deck as the boat made its way out to sea, the waters choppy and the sky again downcast. With the youth of Korea busy staring at their smartphones and getting their faces carved by the medicine man, I was surrounded by the same colourfully dressed members of the 40+ club who I run into when hiking Korea’s mountains. They generously offered me several cups of the national rice wine soju and some baby tomatoes.

    After I had imbibed adequately I headed inside to the covered section of the ship, which was just a floating model of a traditional Korean home. There were no seats or tables. Shoes had to be removed at the entrance, and passengers were either sitting or lying on the floor. Many were fast asleep. As the sea churned, the boat swayed from side to side. I used my backpack as a makeshift pillow and indulged in a light nap, occasionally sliding a few inches in either direction as the currents dictated.

    As we passed several small islands and ventured further out into open waters, the weather began to clear up. The sun reared its head among the clouds, emerging victorious just as we reached our destination - Somaemuldo. A small town had formed on the hillside beside the pier. On each side were jagged rocks and ancient trees. I climbed a cliff to get a quality view of the return passengers boarding the vessel I had just disembarked.

    I had about four hours to explore the island before the last ferry of the day would set sail back to the mainland. After completing a small looping trail on one side of the island and stopping for a quick lunch, I decided to hike to the top of Somaemuldo to get a glimpse of the lighthouse constructed by Japanese colonialists on the adjacent island of Haegeumdo. A small land bridge is available to reach the tiny island from Somaemuldo when the tide runs low. At the top of a mountainous ridge, I reclined on the bare rock and took in the view. The fog cooperated occasionally to give me brief glimpses of Haegeumdo before covering it up again.

    According to my rough calculations, I had about 45-60 minutes to spare before the last ferry departed for Tongyeong when I arrived back at the township by the docks. I entered a coffee shop perched on the hillside, ordered a cup of coffee from a rare natural Korean beauty manning the counter, picked a seat with a direct view of the port, and plugged in my phone charger. Just as I was getting settled, the coffee girl approached me with a panic stricken look on her face.

    Our communication to this point had been silent and continued thusly. She pointed at the boat and urgently ushered me to go aboard. I pointed at the time and indicated that I still had a good half an hour before the final boat departed. She shook her head, unplugged my phone, handed me my coffee, and made a running motion. I could not ignore her heartfelt concern for my well-being so I waved her a long goodbye (which was reciprocated) and hurried to the ferry, which in fact was the final one of the day and soon set sail back towards Tongyeong.

    May 08, 2014

    Tunnelling to Tongyeong

    It took several bus rides to voyage cross country from the tea fields of Boseong to reach the picturesque coastal town of Tongyeong. I was to transfer buses at Masan, but at the bus terminal I could not find any onward transport to the port town. There was another bus terminal in town and the lady at the ticket counter explained this to me using only her fingers as a mode of communication. Luckily I am as adept at adapting to unforeseen situations as local surgeons are at adding double eyelids to K-girls, so I was soon on my way to Tongyeong.

    After I reached the terminal at Tongyeong, I took a local bus to an area that seemed somewhat near to were I wanted to be - Asia's first submarine tunnel. Opened to the public in 1932 after 16 months of construction, the Tongyeong Undersea Tunnel is for pedestrians only. A sign at the entrance proclaims it to be the "Dragon Gate Connecting the Mainland to the Island". I strolled through the tunnel nonchalantly. A group of old women saw me wandering about. I asked how to get to a certain temple after I got out, and one of the grannies who was heading that way dragged me along and deposited me in front of it.

    I wandered around the harbour area for a while soaking up the atmosphere and scenery before taking a taxi to Hallyeohaesang National Park, known to have the best views of the town and its outlying islands to catch the sunset. The panoramic view was noteworthy, but there were too many couples about. A noticeboard warned "Garbage gets his back" and "Let's make national parks do not smoke". Bus service was infrequent so I was trapped atop the mountain park for about 2 hours before a bus showed up to deposit me back in the city proper. By now darkness had set in and I needed both dinner and a place to sleep.

    I walked a bit till I came upon a fish market that was still abuzz with activity despite the late hour. I found the busiest restaurant and settled myself on the floor after taking my shoes off at the entrance, as is customary in traditional Korean restaurants. I placed my order and enjoyed some delicious saengseon hoe (aka Korean fish sashimi), served to me by a Tongyeong belle. The older staff members nudged her towards me but she was all business, the mischievous twinkle in her eye only visible as I bid farewell after finishing my meal.

    By now it had started raining heavily, so I wanted to secure accommodation  before I was drenched further. I walked into the centre of the town, near the harbour where a model of Korea’s famed turtle ship used to thwart Japanese invaders was docked. In the back alleys I found a motel with vacancy after a few failed attempts. The old woman at the front desk threw me a key and told me to go upstairs, while she finished watching her TV show. She showed up several minutes later, knocking on the door and asking for the night's rent as if she were the landlord and I an unreliable tenant. After she left, I unrolled the mattress onto the heated floor and fell into a deep slumber.

    May 04, 2014

    2 of 3

    Two of my friends in Vancouver were planning a get together.

    Friend #1: You bring the food. I'll bring the drinks. Arnab brings the girls.

    Friend #2: Excellent... so we will have plenty to eat and drink.

    May 02, 2014

    A Day by Manila Bay

    After a particularly interesting cab ride, I made my way up to my hostel. There were two Israeli girls in my room who had also recently arrived. They had just wrapped up their mandatory tour of duty with the Israeli defence service and were beginning a 3 month journey across Southeast Asia before heading to university. Israel, like South Korea, is surrounded by enemies on all sides and utilizes conscript soldiers.

    Israeli youth over 18 are required to serve in the military. Guys have to serve for at least 3 years, while gals have a minimum 2 year term. The former soldiers invited me to join them on their exploration of Manila. I was spending a few days in the capital city before jetting off to the island of Palawan to catch up with my Dutch friends, so I headed out with them to get my first taste of a new city and a new country.

    There are two modes of mass rail transportation in Manila. We took the MRT to Taft Avenue, and then transferred to the LRT all the way to United Nations station. As we went down the station stairs an elderly Filipino gentleman approached us and cautioned the girls to wear their backpacks in the front, so that no one would have a chance to unzip the bag from behind and empty it of its valuable contents. We would find out how much weight his warnings carried later on as we walked towards nearby Rizal Park. A child appeared to be tying his shoelaces in front of us. Suddenly he leapt up and buzzed past us. One of the girls let out a yelp. Her necklace was gone! Our eyes followed a blur zigzagging through the heavy traffic to the other side of the street and disappearing, never to be seen by us again.

    “I thought having a guy around would have kept us safe, but apparently I was mistaken” groused the girl whose neckless had been pilfered. I maintained my silence, but not my dignity. Our spirits soon lifted as we headed into the park, packed with Filipino families celebrating the first day of 2014. We tried a variety of the snacks and drinks being sold at the stalls peppered throughout the length of the park. My favourite was the buko shake, a coconut smoothie designed to beat the heat.

    The eponymous Dr. José Protacio Rizal Mercado y Alonso Realonda, or José Rizal in short, was a national hero, scholar, poet, and revolutionary who knew 22 languages and dialects (or about 21 more than the average number known by a Korean). His execution by firing squad on the grounds of the park later named after him ignited the Philippine Revolution against Spain. Kilometre Zero, the point in Manila from where distances are traditionally measured in the Philippines, is also located within the park. The flag of the Philippines proudly waved from atop a massive flagstaff at one end of the park. From there a short walk led us to Manila Bay and a lovely sunset.


    It is a useless life that is not consecrated to a great ideal. It is like a stone wasted on the field without becoming a part of any edifice. ~ Jose Rizal