All posts by tashtravel

I'm a life and travel writer currently living in Gangnam, South Korea. I work as an English teacher while I travel and write. I enjoy writing about the challenges of loving and traveling.

Korean traditional medicine: my first experience

The truth is, I knew very little about traditional Asian medicine. Whenever I’m sick, ironically, I avoid the doctor like a plague! I hate medical clinics and hospitals, the sterile walls and being around ill people. I only go if I have to.

While studying at UVic for my Applied Linguistics Diploma,  professor Sandra Kirkham introduced the concept of two very different approaches to medicine. The western approach, which usually entails treating symptoms and prescribing drugs which generate lots of money for private manufacturers. These may produced negative side-effects discovered only years after the drug has been sanctioned by local health authorities. Other times, ‘miracle’ drugs, like the one that apparently clears up HIV,  are promoted and even limited to wealthy clients due to high prices dictated by unscrupulous patent holders and manufactures.

One thing that really impacted me in Dr. Kirkham’s Culture and Communication Linguistics class was an introduction of an old video about traditional Chinese medicine. The documentary followed a US doctor who wanted to find out the secrets of traditional medicine, and whether it really worked.

He attended traditional hospitals and observed doctors. These doctors prescribed numerous herbs and roots to target malfunctioning organs causing manifestations of illness. The doctor also looked at acupuncture treatments which assisted the ‘chi’ or life force to flow through a patient’s body. By disrupting the body’s ‘meridians’, traditional doctors addressed energy blockages which caused symptoms called ‘illnesses.’

The doctor witnessed tailor made massages, which moved around the inner parts of the body to work on illnesses including cancer. The footage also looked at regular practice of Tai Chi by many in China, and how movement and maintenance of the flow of energy is considered an integral part of general health maintenance. I realised that western health approaches treat symptoms, but Chinese traditional medicine seeks to heal the cause of the problem.

Years earlier, my interest in traditional medicine had first been kindled when I learned that my friend Van, living in Vancouver Canada, had received several traditional treatments with Asian doctors, including acupuncture and diet prescriptions to improve her health and deal with unbearable allergies.

Additionally, while travelling in Saigon two years ago, I meet Johnny, a Canadian cancer survivor. He revealed very interesting opinions on western medicine. He explained that he had been diagnosed with cancer, but rejected western treatments that involved running radiation through his body using a pill. He was told that he would not be able to stand within ten feet of a pregnant woman while on this treatment.

Johnny explained that his aunty was diagnosed with cancer at the same time that he was. While his aunty followed the hospital chemotherapy treatments, he rejected them all, and put himself on a very organic, healthy lifestyle.

Five months later, he was alive, and his body had eliminated the cancer, while his aunty had passed away. He bitterly expressed anger at the western medical system, and said that he believed that doctors know far more about how to eliminate cancer than they let on. That western medicine is big business, and that at the expense of many lives, specialists sustain their expensive drugs, rather than admit that wholesome food and self awareness about lifestyle can in some cases eradicate even serious conditions. But, the promotion of diet and lifestyle is not profitable for drug manufactures.

As an expat living in S. Korea, I’ve was recently presented with the opportunity to learn about alternate, traditional medical approaches. A few months ago, I attended a meetup event to enjoy vegetarian food organized by event host, Johncito, from Seoul Village meetups. The restaurant was located opposite Jogye-sa temple, and catered to non-meat eating Buddhist monks who popped across the street to eat the excellent quality wholesome food provided at this restuarant.

Dr. Yoon also attended this expat meetup event. Over a delicious dinner, Dr. Yoon explained to me that as a person with a slight figure, I most certainly have a fast metabolism, and that I should avoid ‘hot’ foods, including turmeric and cinnamon. Soon, not only was I curious to learn more, but everyone else at the meetup was too. So Dr. Yoon offered to show us his clinic located around the corner, where he would give us a little tour. Host Johncito was happy to alter our evening plans to accommodate his curious meetup guests, and within minutes, we were poking around in Dr. Yoon’s clinic.

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With Johncito and Dr. Yoon at a restaurant serving Buddhist food in Insa Dong, Seoul

Everyone threw random questions as him. Can acupuncture help with this? Can it help with that? How can this be treated? One woman made an appointment for the following Monday, eager to discuss her rosacea skin condition and begin treatment as soon as possible. It occurred to me that westerners, or non-Asians, often have very limited knowledge about Asian medicine, and what treatments are available. After a discussion with Dr. Yoon, we agreed that I’d return to experience and write about traditional treatments.

On June 17th, I visited Dr. Yoon to learn more. I was curious about what clinics like his offer, what kind of approaches are used and what exactly can be treated. We only had about an hour together, but in that time, we decided on three treatments for me. These were based on my personal concerns and his evaluation of my current health.IMG_20170617_160610

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Reception area

Treatment One

Digestion was a concern for me. I recently (and very reluctantly) went to MizMedi hospital where, after some bloodwork tests to test my liver function, the doctor revealed that I had dangerously low protein. These results explained my severe tiredness of late, and she had advised me to immediately begin incorporating small meat portions with almost every meal.

Having recently been reminded of my poor nutrition, I wanted Dr. Yoon to focus on my core, my stomach, and upper and lower intestine. He explained to me clearly exactly where all these organs were in my body and that the upper intestine absorbs water while the lower absorbs the nutrients from my food. I quickly began to realise that all those instant noodles dinners were starving my body of nutrients, and the very next day, I did a massive shopping which entailed lots of veggies, starches and meat.

We also discussed my ability to retain water in the body, how much I sweat, my weight and other factors. Dr. Yoon explained that the stomach is a major source of energy in the body. He explained that in traditional medicine, the body is divided into ying and yang, cool and heat, and he concluded that although my upper body had a lot of heat, but that my stomach was a little cool. He then applied a device to my stomach that slowly began to warm it up. He explained that to give my whole body more energy, that my stomach and intestines needed more warmth.IMG_20170617_170205IMG_20170617_161436

Treatment Two

Meanwhile, we also began discussing my kidneys. I explained to Dr. Yoon that the doctor at MizMedi was worried about my alcohol intake. In short, my MizMedi doctor had noticed from my liver function blood test that I had high levels of alkaline phosphate and when she asked how much alcohol my body processed regularly, I confessed that since arriving in Korea, I had been binge-drinking, on a bi-weekly or monthly basis with my work colleagues.

So while my stomach was receiving warmth to create body energy, Dr. Yoon began working on my liver through acupuncture. This was my first experience receiving acupuncture, and I noticed that he targeted particular points along my body, including my feet, legs, hands and arms. Sometimes, the pin tip would hurt a little, and I learned that what Dr. Yoon was doing was temporarily closing meridians in certain places so that the efficiency of energy flowing through the rest of those connected channels would be improved. Something was definitely happening within me because after a while, my arm containing two pins began to feel physically heavy.

I took the opportunity to point out to Dr. Yoon a cluster of spider veins on one leg that are threatening to become varicose, and asked whether he had any treatments that help with that. Dr. Yoon then gave me a basic lesson about how arteries are connected to the heart, while veins are connected to the liver. He continued that, outside of cosmetic surgery to remove unsightly veins, the root cause of my veins is once again, my unhappy liver. I essentially need to take better care of it.

On a completely different note, I noticed something very unusual after these two treatments, and I cannot pin-point which of these treatments was responsible. When I initially arrived at the clinic, I had been feeling very anxious and upset about something that happened earlier in the day, but after these two treatments, my hormones completely changed. I felt relaxed and the change was so marked that I was surprised at how quickly this changed happened.

Treatment Three

While lying down and receiving belly warmth and treatment for my liver, I asked Dr. Yoon about treatments for acne. I have some hormonal outbreaks on my chin area, and wondered if traditional medicine offers healthy remedies for this kind of monthly lady problem. He suggested we do an acne treatment, but because I was wearing make-up and planned to rendezvous with friends downtown directly afterwards, we decided to reserve that treatment for a future date.

Instead, I asked whether he had any anti aging treatments for frown lines developing between my eyebrows. He replied yes, so we moved to a different treatment room where I was asked to lay down. I saw a little purple bag and naturally gave it a squeeze. I realized it had warm liquid inside it, and before long, Dr. Yoon had wiped between my brows, had inserted a needle into the purple bag, and began injecting the filler between my brows.

I may have received small five injections which were a little painful. Dr. Yoon explained that not only would this filler plump out the skin, reducing or eliminating the lines for four weeks (depending on the quantity used), but also that the substance was nutritious herbal medicine which brightens the skin. Essentially, herbal fillers are absorbed into the cellular tissue and are a far healthier alternative to western plastic fillers that last much longer.

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Treatment room where I received the filler treatment

I was delighted to hear this because for the last six months, I’ve been considering getting botox treatments from my local laser surgery clinic, but as a former esthetician with a background in administering anti aging treatments, I’m acutely aware that botox (and similar stiffening treatments) are poisons which your body eventually digests into the blood stream, and while effective, these are not particularly healthy for humans. I had heard of fillers before, but as a non-Korean speaker, I had not successfully found a filler treatment yet. This filler, to my surprise, is natural and even healthy for the skin.

The next day, I noticed that the area was a little bruised from the injections, and several days after the treatment, it is still a little sore. But, I noticed that I can still frown. The muscles are not frozen. The area however, is plumped out, and the lines previously there are gone!

Other treatments available

There were many other traditional treatments offered at the clinic. As a gynecologist, as well as dermatologist and traditional medicine doctor, Dr. Yoon addresses problems related to the vagina using traditional methods. I observed a herbal vapour treatment used to treat Puritis Verginitis. The clinic also treats women for menstrual cramps.

 

I am personally interested in his treatments for acne scaring, and intend to begin said treatments on my next visit. Dr. Yoon explained that although acne treatments require a few visits, they are very successful. I have many large pores on my T-Zone that are in fact tiny scars. The treatment sounds like the equivalent of facial resurfacing or laser treatments, but done in a holistic manner. I intend to write about this treatment in my follow-up blog. Please subscribe to get notifications of future articles.IMG_20170617_155848

Dr. Sook-yoon Lee, Pibro Haniwon Skin Women Clinic26 Insa dong, 5 gil,                           Tel: 02-3667-1577

 

My treatments were provided free of charge by Dr. Yoon for the purpose of experiencing first-hand traditional Korean medicine at work, and producing an article based on my experience. All opinions are my own.

 

Which treatments have you received by traditional doctors that have surprised you, and what was your overall feeling about the experience? What ailment would you be interested in having addressed using traditional medicine methods?

Please like, share and leave a comment below.

Keep learning!

 

 

 

Latin American Festival, Seoul 2017

My close friends, Buyeon and Anita, were heading to Ultra Music Festival Korea on June 10th, and since Buyeon had been itching to dance for ages, Anita adventure seemed like a fantastic scene for the two of them. I was a little sad not to be joining them, but, after an amazing day elsewhere, I was so glad events worked out that way. Here’s why.

I signed up to join The Seoul Expat Global Meetup Group  hosted by Mr. Harry Yoon. The plan was to spend the afternoon eating, drinking and enjoying live music at the Latin American Festival. I had attended this same Latin festival a year prior with friends Dan and Sariska, so I knew that we’d have a great time, especially with the sun out.

I rendezvous with the meetup group at Hansung University Station. Harry quickly directed me to a group of expats nearby and soon, we all introduced ourselves. My friend Kate joined too, and I was particularly excited to hear about her recent adventures in Germany.

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With Kate

Seongbukcheon Fountain Square was filled with expats of all colours: blacks, whites, Latinos and many Koreans, including families. Our group began meandering together from tent to tent, checking out the food and beverages available at each one. There were tents from Spain, Guatemala, Peru, Mexico, Bolivia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Dominican Republic, Colombia, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay and other tents set up just for sangria and football fans.

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Our crew
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The chef (in white) was from Barcelona
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Paella deliciousness
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The Spanish team

I soon had a sangria in one hand, and a tapa sized paella in the other. The Spanish chef seemed to cook at least one huge saucepan of paella every hour.

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Sangria! Harry in the blue and white stripes, and Ernesto in white
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Showing off our paella… are you jealous? You should be…
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Steve, with nachos chips and spicy chocolate sauce dip

After finding food, we hovered around a table with an umbrella to stay in the shade while we all got to know each other. Steven from the USA had lots to talk about and he was particularly engaging. Harry wanted to take lots of photos so we posed happily. I chatted with Ernesto who had a very interesting cultural heritage, and in some ways, reminded my of my own one. I also reconnected with Tasha who I had met on a previous Meetup event.

The Mexican and Brazilian tents always had massive lines ups. I later got a delicious pork (including chorizo) and vegetable sandwich, again from the Spanish tent, while Kate got skewered meat and a coffee from the Brazilian tent.

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Getting to know each other in the shade
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Posing for Harry – with Tasha, green top

Kate and I soon wandered and found ourselves looking at pretty bracelets in the Peruvian tent. I picked out a bracelet to match my colourful Ragasthani bangles.

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Kate admiring Peruvian handicrafts!

But the stage was equally distracting! The performances that really stood out were the Argentinian Tango, the “Spanish K-pop” student performance, and El Combo Sabroso band, which played many classics and got the crowd dancing.

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Organizers cleared a dance space while El Combo Sabroso played. My new friends took to the dancefloor, particularly Ernesto who was very skilled at Latin dance. I hope to see El Combo Sabroso play in one of the local clubs in Seoul soon.

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El Combo Sabroso

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Enjoying the dance scene

Daniel Baker‘s dance class was a riot. His energy on the stage was phenomenal, and he had people all over the square following his dance moves. Kate and I were trying to scope out tents for more food, but got stuck mid-way bouncing to Daniel’s moves cause we found it hard to tear away from his infectious energy! Check out Daniel’s page at https://www.facebook.com/groups/zumbaitaewon/

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Daniel Baker and friends, stirring it up!

The venue had few chairs, so intermittently, we stopped to rest behind the tents which also offered shade from the sun.

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Later that afternoon, the lingering members of Harry’s group found each other, and Ernesto swept me off my feet as we bounced to the blaring music. The atmosphere was exhiliarating. The tunes were fantastic, everyone had a sangria, tinto de verano or Brazilian coffee in their hand,  while whiffs from nearby sizzling Mexican fajitas filled the air.

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Posing with pretty ladies, and Ernesto!

The food, music, sunshine, and mix of incredible people made for a delightful afternoon! I was so happy that the universe brought me to the Latin American Festival!

Soon, we all decided to visit the Philharmonic Orchestra concert organized at the Han river later that evening. But that is another story.

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Evening fun at the Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra, Han River

Latin American Festival: June 10th, 2017 (yearly event)

02860  2 Dongsomun-ro (Seongbukcheon Fountain Square), Seongbuk-gu, Seoul                 Travel there: Hansung University Station (line 4), exit 2

A big thank you goes out to Mr. Harry Yoon who provided many of the photos used here.

 

What do you enjoy most at cultural festivals?

Please like, share, and leave a comment  below.

Keep learning!

 

 

Delhi India in 4.5 days: A personal story – Part Three

This was my first trip to both Delhi, and India, and thus far, I had found Delhi huge, overwhelming, the people seemed less happy (and less friendly) than in other parts of India. This is the conclusion of a three part series. In Part Two, I tell the story of meeting Ravi from Jaipur, and traveling around Delhi together, visiting Delhi Fort and Chadni Chowk market, an unpleasant encounter with an unscrupulous cycle rickshaw driver, and finally, a visit to India Gate.

DAY FOUR

I awoke in my hotel, the Su Shree Continental in Paharganj, to find out that my ex boyfriend, Wayne, had passed away earlier that week. My friend Van who was a mutual friend of ours messaged me from Vancouver to see if I was okay, however she didn’t realize that I actually didn’t know the news yet.

Wayne and I had not remained in communication over the last year and a half since our breakup, so I initially wasn’t sure how to learn more about what happened. I have severed almost every tie between us. I found some information online which confirmed Van’s news. At this time, I felt deflated and down, and all kinds of things were running though my mind. During the period of our excommunication, I had felt angry with him, but now, I didn’t know how to feel. I also noticed that the buddist service for Wayne put his age at 59, which was very confusing for me as he had always told me that he was about ten years younger.

I stewed all morning, experiencing conflicting emotions. I’ve never lost a former partner before. Eventually got myself going in the early afternoon. I headed south, toward Janpath lane and Gurudwara Bangla Sahib, which actually turned out to be my favourite location in all Delhi. I wanted to see Connaught Place en route, and started walking in that direction. A cycle rickshaw picked me up en route and since Gurudwara would be the easiest place for his rickshaw to access, he took me there. I only saw the back of Connaught Place after all.IMG_20170504_222524

On entering Gurudwara Sikh temple I could hear prayers sung out from the overhead speakers attached to the main central building. I had to first leave my shoes with fellas in the lower level for safekeeping. Barefoot, I headed upstairs, waded through a little pool of water that presumably purified my feet, and then I was free to wander the grounds. The entire complex appeared to be built on a platform raised above street level.

I headed to the right, where a huge square pool of water glistened against the white temple. I walked around the large pool, and watched boys wade into the pool. Later, I saw a Sikh pool guard beat misbehaving boys with a string when they exited the pool. Public corporal punishment seems normal here, I suppose. I stopped there for a while, and recorded a video while a heron meandered in the pool.IMG_20170504_204638

IMG_20170504_204741IMG_20170504_204552IMG_20170504_205443I recorded a second video before leaving the premises, to show off the central courtyard where most of the action was taking place. I have never experienced a religious location quite like this. Gurudwara was an oasis in the mist of chaotic Delhi, and I really needed this peaceful alone time to reflect and rest.IMG_20170504_212155

IMG_20170504_212209On my way out, a friendly and charming guy started talking to me. Before long, I found out that he was a rickshaw driver, looked to drive me to my next destination. I agreed as I wanted to get to nearby Janpath Lane, however I never imagined that it’d take him almost two hours to get me there.

The rickshaw driver somehow convinced me to visit a nearby bazar en route to our destination, which apparently had ‘much better prices’ than Janpath market. It turned out that the bazar was largely aimed at settled tourists, who owned homes and had room to put all the heavy and pricy souvenirs. I, on the other hand, was traveling backpacker style and currently have no permanent home. This bazar was not for me! I returned to my driver annoyed because he had clearly misled me.

While halted at a traffic stop, kids approached, begging me for money. I gave them cookies I had in my bag. Once again en route to Janpath, the driver convinced me again to visit another Bazar, which he explained was an attempt for him to receive vouchers for gas. I agreed to the detour once again, but I was beginning to get impatient. We made a pit stop at the bazar so my driver could get his damn gas vouchers. That entailed me walking around the bazar looking like a genuine customer who intended to buy lots of luxurious items for a home that I don’t own yet.

When I returned to the rickshaw, I demanded that we go directly to Janpath, which was actually not far from Gurudwara, but I was now angry that I was wasting my last full day in Delhi doing what my driver was persuading me to do.

Finally, as I was about to pay him, he declared he had no change from my larger money dominations, and then hinting that I could pay him more, suggested I should pay him what I thought the trip was worth. I was so annoyed that he had wasted my precious time that I decided against tipping him, and with help from another rickshaw driver who broke up my larger bill, I paid my driver exactly what we had agreed at the outset. I was relieved to enter Janpath and be clear of that driver who I had initially trusted. I felt annoyed that I had to verbally battle with him just to go where I had intended.IMG_20170504_223253

Thankfully, Janpath was worth the long detour. The market was compact, short and had vendors selling clothing, costume jewelry, shoes, and belts. Sellers approached me trying to sell me board games, wooden pipes and other wacky items.

I spied a stall that had many pretty Gujarat handbags, and so I chatted with the owner for a while. I picked up some pretty local earrings from other vendors, and then exited the market, hoping to find Little Tibet market, located nearby.

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Janpath Lane market

 

As I approached Little Tibet, I noticed that shops suddenly became very western, and their prices did too. I was advised by shop owners en route that Little Tibet usually closed around 7pm, and by now, it was already 8pm. I began to feel that the area was in fact a pit stop for wealthy western ‘hippies’, and this was really not what I had in mind. I was actually on a mission to find local incense. I stopped by a store to pick up Delhi candy for my students back in Korea, and also purchased a couple of embroidered fabric pieces from a very grateful street vendor who had her wears displayed on the sidewalk. When I stumbled across Patel Chowk station, I decided to just head back to Paharganj. That night, I ate at a local restaurant in the sketchy alleys near my hotel. I hardly remember a thing about it, so I must have been very tired!

HEADING HOME

My flight was in the evening, so I had the whole morning and part of the afternoon before I headed to Delhi international airport. My flight was at 7:40pm, so I figured I’d leave Paharganj around 3pm. After packing and extending my check out time with my hotel, I stumbled across a local restaurant and ordered palak paneer (mashed potato and cheese sandwiched between hot roti bread) and a mango lassi.

While I waited for my food, more hungry customers arrived. I noticed a man dressed in rags, who seemed to have something wrong with his legs sitting on the sidewalk across the street. I thought how strange it was, for all the customers within to be staring at this man, while we ate and he looked so thin. When my breakfast arrived, I darted quickly across the street with a piece of my breakfast and the remaining water in my water bottle. He looked super happy as I gave him this small gift, and afterwards, I darted back to my table at the restaurant, to reflect on the wealth disparity between the Indian guests staying at my hotel, and the local poor.

Around the corner, I stopped for a sugar cane and lime refreshing beverage, before heading to Main Bazar Road where I intended to spend my last few hours before leaving India. The tiny alleys toward Main Bazar Road were poorly maintained which made wearing sandals a little challenging. I was surprised every time though, when I wondered into a cow on the street.

I initially wanted to find a post office, so I could send three postcards, but this took me quite a while to find as there were no clear identifying signs above the post office. I must have asked at least five people before I eventually found it. It opened at 10am, so because I arrived too early, I decided to return later.

I headed to nearby Krishna café to check out their pretty embroidered Gujarat handbags that I had noticed on my previous visit. They were all too large for my taste, so I just stopped for tea. I ended up striking a conversation with a Japanese man sitting beside me, and he told me about his crazy schedule, visiting multiple locations in India, all within the space of a week. He explained that this was his eighth trip to India, and he was visiting many sites because in Japan, employees get short vacation breaks, and he was making the best of his time away from work.

After tea, I headed back to the post office. I poked my head through an entrance on the right, and headed up a narrow staircase, entered a small courtyard, and within one of the rooms lay the post office. The clerks were friendly, and postage, cheap. I was happy to successfully send my postcards!

The next few hours were a shopping blur. I looked at afgani pants, cushions, wall hangings and backpacks. Eventually, I found myself in a small shoe store, Meenu Traders (1045-46 Main Basar Road), and chatted with the chatty owner, Mr. Manchanda, and eventually bought a pair of colourful leather sandals ( around 400 rupees) that fit me well. I’m apparently an Indian shoe-size 10! The store reminded me of the charming shoe shop I visited in Jodhpur a week earlier.

I decided by now that local restaurants served better quality food, their prices were local (unlike many of the tourist restaurants along Main Bazar Road) and I felt good about supporting the local businesses. I ordered a Thali at the entrance.

The restaurant upstairs-seating opened up into the street, and as my food arrived, some fella started splitting coal on the sidewalk pavement outside. As a result, I breathed in some of the dust that floated up toward me, and I found it interesting that it seemed that many here just didn’t know about the hazards of air pollution. Perhaps one of the benefits of attending tourist restaurants was that guests didn’t receive a complimentary side of coal dust with their birianis.

I made one last pit stop at a jewelers who specialized in silver. I had come across The Ornaments on my first day staying in Paharganj, and had seen a ring I liked. The owner, Raja, had given me his card so I’d find him again. I tracked him down at 1549 Main Bazar Road, and Raja explained that he designs jewelry. I purchased the same silver ring I had seen earlier, which had a dark African amethyst stone in the center. I paid just over 700 rupees for it and felt ecstatic to have landed this beautiful piece of jewelry.

Two memorable things happened while en route to the airport. Firstly, as usual, I grabbed a shared rickshaw from DB Gupta road across the big bridge to the Delhi metro station. I ended up sharing a rickshaw with a fella that in fact was going to another nearby train station. I wouldn’t have mounted the rickshaw but the driver led me to believe he was headed to Delhi metro. So, the driver let me dismount, to haggle with alternate drivers who were driving over the busy bridge. The weather was hot, and I was wearing a heavy backpack, but thankfully, a rickshaw driver soon stopped to see if he could pick up my fare. I hopped on, and all worked out.

At Delhi metro station, I discovered that I needed to locate the actual airport express line station, which was adjacent to the regular metro station. The ticket counter guy was ambiguous about exactly where the airport metro station was located, but a kind Indian fella in the queue approached me and explained that I had to head toward exit 4, where I would find the correct building and ticket booth to travel to the airport. I was pretty grateful for this guy’s help, and two minutes later, after emerging from the metro building and crossing the street, I entered the airport express metro station.

My 60 rupee one way ticket to the airport was cheap, as the airport was only about five stops away. I got to the airport within half an hour. The train was clean, had plenty of seating, and the train journey couldn’t have been smoother.

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Airport express train

I arrived at the airport, furnished my paper airline itinerary to gain entrance, and had plenty of time to kill. The airport was a delight, with pretty shops in the Duty Free area and plenty of seating. My last little stint of time at the airport quickly evaporated, and before I knew it, I was on a plane headed home. Till next time, India!IMG_20170505_223147

 

Have you visited Delhi, or intend to visit? Please share your surprise experiences or future plans in the comments below. Please click the like button, and share! Thanks for reading.

 

Keep learning!

Delhi India in 4.5 days: A personal story – Part Two

My first ever trip to Delhi was the least favourite part of my India trip, however, I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. In the latter half of my stay in Delhi, I encountered the most challenging and interesting situations, hands down. The following story picks up where Delhi, Part One, left off.

DAY THREE

I had stayed in contact with Ravi, the manager of the guesthouse I had stayed at in Jaipur. He was visiting Delhi, so we decided to be tourists together, and visit the Red Fort and the famous India Gate.

My foreigner ticket to enter Delhi’s UNESCO heritage Red Fort cost 500 rupees, while locals paid 30 rupees. Foreigners and Indians were separated into different lines, each with different prices paid for entry tickets. While my line to get in was short, Ravi’s was long.

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Entrance to the Red Fort

We were funneled through a picturesque walkway entrance, flanked by souvenir shops which opened up into the fort grounds. The entrance has a museum above, the Indian War Memorial, which Ravi and I visited on our way out. We immediately went to the colonnaded audience hall where the king received guests and heard their petitions. I sneakily listened to a nearby tour guide who was instructing her group in Italian. Her group, it seemed, could hardly hear what she was saying or were too busy taking photos to care.

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Ravi standing in front of the royal Audience Hall

We meandered through the grounds, encountering pretty bath houses, rooms and gardens. Some marble structures were very ornate and gorgeous to photograph, however most of them seemed neglected and were sectioned off, preventing visitors from accessing them. Mehrangarh fort in Jodhpur, I thought, seemed significantly better maintained!

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Beautiful white marble structures

 

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Intricate detailing incised into the decorative marble panels

Returning to the entrance gate, we headed up the narrow stair case to the Indian War Memorial Museum. The museum was packed, and we were fascinated by the colonial rifles, revolvers, swords and other weapons used by Indians to help the British during the First World War.

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The Red Fort grounds

 

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In front of the Indian War Memorial Museum

Chadni Chowk, the famous massive market, was close by, so exiting the Red Fort, we headed in that direction. A cyclist rickshaw encountered us, and agreed to take us there for 50 rupees. Actually, the minute we hopped onto his rickshaw, we were already within the market as it was only across the street.

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Jame Masjid mosque

 

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Jame Masjid mosque
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Jame Masjid mosque; Ravi posing like a model. For once, I was behind the camera!

I wanted to see Jame Masjid, so he took us through the market up to the mosque so we could take photos there! It was lunch time, so since Karim’s restaurant was nearby, we decided to end our little tour there. The cyclist convinced us to continue with his services for 100 rupees total, with the agreement that he’d resume the market tour after we ate.

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Karim’s, Chadni Chowk

Karim’s looked exactly like the photos and videos I had seen from vlogs on the internet, however the restaurant complex was larger than I had expected! In addition to the kitchens, there was a vegetarian restaurant section, and several buildings for client dining. We ordered a mutton stew, dahl (lentils), rice and roti (local bread). The dining environment was casual and laidback and many local families appeared to frequent this restaurant.

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Karim’s

 

As we stepped out of Karim’s, the cycle rickshaw fella waved us over, and we hopped back onto his seat for our tour of Chadni Chowk. We recorded a video while admiring the saris and clothing embellishments as we slowly progressed through narrow market lanes.

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Chadni Chowk tour

A most curious thing happened when I wanted to pay. Firstly, the rickshaw driver assumed that Ravi was not a friend, but a tour guide. When I went to pay, the cyclist driver began screaming and shouting that we had agreed to 500 rupees payment, and that I was cheating him. In my previous experience, I paid about 500 rupees to have a rickshaw driver’s service for about 5 hours, driving me between tourist destinations which were considerably far apart, so I was surprised at this cycle rickshaw guy. His loud performance drew a crowd around us and made the situation into a spectacle.

Ravi talked to him calmly, while the guy screamed and shouted. The situation made me feel frustrated because I knew this fella was doing this because I’m a white foreigner, and I was embarrassed because about twenty Indian men were all gathered around in a circle, which gave this guy an audience and seemed to validate his accusations directed at me. Also, I felt that if Ravi hadn’t been there, the rickshaw guy would never had behaved like this toward me alone.

I threatened that we’d call the police, and have them intervene, and Ravi, to my surprise, called them up immediately. He spoke to them, and then placed the shouting fella on the phone with them. Ravi later told me that the policeman had told the guy to calm down and accept the payment agreed at the beginning. This didn’t seem to have any effect.

While the guy continued shouting, Ravi and other random men approached me, saying, why don’t you just give the driver half of what he is asking. I felt somewhat ganged up on. I retorted to the driver that his dishonesty makes me feel like never returning to Delhi with my tourist money, and he retorted something (apparently vulgar) in Hindi to me. Ravi became very angry at what the cyclist had said to me, and suddenly shouted at the rickshaw driver. The driver suddenly seemed to calm down, and I finally paid the him double of what we had initially agreed. I walked away feeling frustrated and disappointed.

We then meandered through Chadni Chowk, and I picked up some delicious local cakes. I still felt shaken up by the drama from the cycle rickshaw guy. We cautiously grabbed another rickshaw, and headed out to India Gate.

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India Gate!

 

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Night time approached at India Gate

The gate towers in the center of a plaza, and Indian tourists, particularly families, crowded around, taking selfies, while sellers approached tourists with all kinds of random knick knacks. We began walking toward the president’s house, and after resting on the grass that flanked the walkway, we decided to abandon the walk and get dinner instead.

We grabbed a rickshaw that dropped us off at restaurant in Paharganj. We ordered overpriced, mediocre Indian fare, ate and parted ways.

Stand by for Part Three.

 

What was your experience of Delhi? Have you visited the Red Fort, Chadni Chowk, Karim’s restaurant or India Gate and had similar experiences? What about these locations inspire you to visit Delhi?

Please like, comment, and share this blog!

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Delhi, India in 4.5 days: a personal story – Part One

Let’s be honest. Ragasthan is way nicer than Uttar Pradesh. I loved Jaipur, and especially Jodhpur, but what I saw of Agra and Delhi didn’t grab me in quite the same way. In fact, of the four cities I visited in Northern India over two weeks, Delhi was my least favourite.

The people didn’t smile like they did in Ragasthan. Delhi is huge and sprawling, so it took time to reach sites. Also, economic inequality seemed more prevalent in the tourist areas that attracted many beggars, and some beggars were quite aggressive approaching tourists.

I had read articles by other writers prior to my travel, and they often professed dislike for Delhi, but I wanted to experience it for myself and make up my own mind about it. In preparation for my visit, I had prepared a loose itinerary of sites, including temples, forts, palaces and markets that I really wanted to see. I was also eager to eat my way around the city. Here’s my story.

DAY ONE

I arrived into Delhi on the express train from Agra. I traveled with another solo traveller, Chrisie, originally from Germany, whom I had met in Agra three days prior. On arrival at New Delhi train station, I headed to Paharganj, located just behind the station. A wee bridge, filled with trash along the sidewalk, made crossing it difficult, however when I arrived at my hotel, the Su Shree Continental, I was delighted with my room. It was clean, well presented and the temperature was cool, although the room had no exterior window, and lunch on the hotel roof was a little boring as there was no view.

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Su Shree Continental hotel

 

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Late lunch: Aloo Gobhi (Potato curry with rice)

Soon, I discovered the winding allies and general touristiness of my local neighbourhood. I stumbled across a newly constructed guesthouse called the Jyoti Mahal. The architecture and furniture looked old, and was styled in a colonial Indian fashion. I snooped around, exploring the rooms, and enjoyed tea in the lobby area. The reception staff explained that their rates are usually around 2,000 rupees ($40) per night in off season, and 2,500 ($50) in peak season. If I revisit Delhi, I’d like to stay at this guesthouse.

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Jyoti Mahal

 

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Joyti Mahal
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Joyti Mahal

IMG_20170517_130214I meandered on, discovered a neat shop which sold bed coverings, and told the sales fella how to better display his items! Afterwards, I stumbled across Main Bazar Road, where I discovered cafes, silver jewelry shops, pretty craft shops selling leather items, local handmade bags, and basically, everything a tourist could be enticed by. After a nice walk, I returned to the Su Shree to sleep.

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Grocery bag souvenirs

DAY TWO

Qutub Minar, the archaeological site housing the tallest minaret in the world, was highest on my to-do list. After a late morning start, I headed to the Delhi Metro station as I discovered that the yellow line would take me directly to the Qutub Minar. I hopped onto a shared rickshaw which took me to the Delhi metro station for 10 rupees, and bought my metro ticket at the booth for about 20 rupees. The metro station was large, and the trains air-conditioned. The train carriages were full, and everyone was squished together, like packed trains in Seoul, S. Korea. While traveling, I read up on my destination, so I knew a little about the structures located there. When I emerged, I shared another rickshaw with tourists going between the station and the Qutub Minar site. Within the rickshaw, I met two young Indian girls who I’d bump into later.

The Qutub Minar entrance fee was 500 rupees (or $10), as seems to be the usual foreigner price in Northern India for entry to sites of this scale or fame. The site was filled with Islamic tombs, made from red-stone, sand stone and marble. The weather was hot, and while resting, I got chatting with a Afgani-Japanese couple.

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Qutb Minar

 

 

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Qutb Minar

Shortly thereafter, I left my bottled water on the ground while I took a photo, and meanwhile, a local child walking by with his family furiously kicked it over. I demanded that the child pick it up right away, and when he didn’t, the mother came back and picked it up. Seeing this, an Australian tourist, accompanied by her husband, expressed her approval of my admonishment of the child. I explained that I’m a teacher and deal with children all the time. She then explained she was also a teacher, and so we got chatting for twenty minutes about their travels. We were soon besieged by locals who asked to take photos with us. I replied that they could take one photo with me, but after that, I’d begin to charge. The couple found that funny, but the new Indian friends didn’t know what to make of me.

I had talked to the couple about experiencing diarrhea in Jaipur, and how I wasn’t even sure whether it was heat stroke or something I ate that caused it. They explained to me that over their numerous travels throughout Asia, they always take a supplement called Acidophilus. They said that this product taken daily whenever they travel helps balance their stomach acids and thus far, in combination with being careful to avoid unfamiliar bacteria, they have never fallen sick. Perhaps I’ll look into this supplement for my next travel adventure.

And then I bumped into the girls from the earlier rickshaw. I learned that Nandini was visiting her cousin Samia, who lived in Delhi. Nandini was quite the history student. We walked around taking photos together, and discussing Persian monarchs in India’s history.

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Samia (black trousers), myself and Nandini

 

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Qutb Minar: Smith’s Cupola

Finally, they invited me to join them in Sarojni Market, which was the next stop on their agenda. I had planned to go to Chadni Chowk market, but I wanted to see Sarojni too, so together, we headed to INA station, where we grabbed another shared rickshaw which brought us to Sarojni. To my surprise, the rickshaw driver piled four of us ladies into the back seat, and another next to him in the driver seat to maximize his profit. I was glad to be crammed alongside ladies, not fellas, and happy to be traveling local style, experiencing India as the locals do.

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Riding Delhi’s metro system!

At Sarojni market, Samia and Nandini weren’t messing around! They were serious shoppers. I wanted to hang out with them, just to enjoy the experience of hanging out with locals and learning about their culture, but after spending at least ten minutes watching them trying on watches and fifteen minutes rummaging through clothing in a shop, I excused myself so I could meander at my own, faster pace. Aside from shops with western clothing, I discovered lady’s ali baba pants that go under traditional suits, entire indoor market stalls of dedicated to saris, stores with shelves loaded with two piece suits, and a corner of the market where machinists tailored newly purchased suits for clients.

The best location was Mahendra Sweet House. I walked up to the counter, and a friendly manager helped me select a meal. I paid another fella at a cash register for a token equivalent to the meal price, and then submitted my token to receive my delicious dahl and rice lunch. Before leaving, I purchased some delicious local sweets! I got a spongy green sweet made from ghiya burfree (bottle gourd vegetable), and also a coconut sweet. I had these packaged up for a later snack.

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Sarojni market

 

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Dahl and rice at Mahendra, Sarojni market

I ate my sweets later that evening, on the corner of my street (DB Gupta Road) by Su Shree hotel. They were oily and delicious! There, I ordered a street chai tea, and sat with some local men on a make-shift seat beside the tea wagon. It was fun observing the tea specialist throwing spices into a boiling pan, and then after a couple of minutes, straining the tea into a small cup.

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Street chai tea, with delicious sweets from Mahendra

After tea and a quick stop by my hotel, I headed out to find postcards and food. I ended up in Krishna café, having been enticed by their pretty bags hanging outside their stepped doorway. I ordered a Paneer Butter Masala.IMG_20170502_225733

 

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Paneer butter masala

 

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Street view from Krishna café terrace

An older German fella, Winfried, asked if he could join me, and after listening to his adventures, as well as upcoming retirement plans, and intentions to do the pilgrimage of Santiago de Compostela in northern Spain, he decided I was amazing, just what he was looking for, and if only he had met me earlier in his travels. It was an interesting evening.

Standby for the next blog, Delhi, Part Two.

 

Have you visited Delhi? What are your must see sites, or your experience of Paharganj? Please leave your comments below, like, share, and subscribe to my blog! Thanks for reading!

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Tips for first time travel to India

Many travellers believe India is the ultimate travel destination. India is guaranteed to challenge and reward visitors with rich cultural experiences. Some visitors remain for months and even years, while others find it difficult to adapt to city challenges, like noise, pollution, and so on. Some vow to never return.IMG_20170421_163401 My mother introduced me and my siblings to Indian culture when I was probably ten years old. Her best friend, Sheh, was a successful business woman from New Delhi. She had married a British fella and relocated to London. My family would visit her at her London home, and she shared her culture with us.

We would watch Bollywood romance movies, and these often entailed infectious choreographed traditional dance as well as fight scenes, jealous lovers and beautiful actors. Sneh was a fine cook, and would invite us to eat amazing native Delhi dishes. Brits already have a love of Indian food, but this home cooking stirred my appreciation for fine, traditional Indian food at a young age. The icing on the cake was that Sneh would bring my mother traditional Indian clothing gifts, which my mother cherished, and so mama would dress up on occasion in a punjabi suit, or her bright gold and green sari!

Since childhood, I have longed to visit India. I’ve now watched countless documentaries on various topics, including the brilliant train system in Mumbai, women cops standing for local women’s rights, and tourist ‘travel love’ for Goa.

FINDING FLIGHTS

Two months ago, I began a non-committal search on Googleflights.com for flights to Hanoi, Vietnam. After playing around with dates using some of the useful features on the site, and noting peaks and lows in pricing based on flight dates, I found a flight to Delhi for around 540,000 KRW (Korean won). I cross-referenced the flight on Skyscanner.com to confirm that the price was the same, and after reserving time off from work, I booked the flight. I will travel direct with Korean Air, will take approximately eight hours to get to Delhi, and seven hours to return to Seoul.

INDIAN VISA

Every tourist, it seems, needs a visa to enter India. The basic e-tourist visa allows visitors to stay for a month, and costs approximately $49US. The Indiavisaonline website encourages travellers to begin the process at least four days before flying, and this entails filling out several pages on information including citizenship background, passport details, religion, and parents’ place of birth.

I had to upload a suitable head shot from a recent passport-style photograph, as well as upload a scanned image of the passport I would use while traveling. The site was very specific about the size of the files that could be uploaded, and these details made the process a little tedious. Also, I began several applications because my initial attempts didn’t seem to save.

READ, READ, READ!

The minute that I had booked my flights and started my visa application, I began to consume as much information as I could about India, and particularly, Northern India. I contacted an Indian friend, Jay, who I knew had returned from Canada to live in India, to tell him about my trip. I discovered that he was in fact living in Northern India. We decided very quickly that I’d journey out to Jodhpur from New Delhi to visit him. I began reading blog after blog, searching for relevant material using key search words on Goggle and Pintrest to find blogs, particularly on topics like, which sites to visit, solo women travel, what to eat, and so on.

I realised that there were many factors worth consideration. For example, would my power converter work in India? Where should I exchange my Korean won for Indian Rupees? If I want to dress like a local, what outfits should I consider buying there? How do I bargain in India? What is safe to consume for western stomachs? What is Delhi belly and Loperamide?

I also began finding that blogs covered topics like, who should I trust? What scams are common? What is the best way to travel? How do I buy train tickets? What is the easiest way to deal with taxis? Should I avoid meat? What goes on at a yoga ashram? What’s the scoop on sketchy hotel bed sheets? What should I pack? What does the ‘head bobble’ mean? Also, how should western women dress, and how can we avoid or address unwanted attention from men? What’s the deal with everyone wanting a photo with westerners?

WATCH, WATCH, WATCH!

I have watched numerous documentaries, particularly Kevin McCloud’s series, “Slumming It,” documenting fascinating Dharavi in Mumbai. In preparation for travel itself, I’ve really enjoyed watching GottaDoIndia. This travel show, presented by model and local Indian Sherry, introduces different cities in India in short, five minute videos that leave travellers with lots of ideas to do while visiting cities all over India. I’ve learned about recommended sites to visit and what to do there, been introduced to different restaurants and shops, and learn how to bargain while shopping.

I’ve also enjoyed watching Mark Wiens who eats his way around India. He introduces many different Indian dishes, identifies ingredients, and lists clearly where to find the food trucks and restaurants that he visits. Just watching him eat is pleasurable because his face lights up with each mouthful.

For learning about how what to expect as a foreign backpacker traveling around India, I really like watching Gabriel Traveler. He takes viewers through the cities he travels to, listing his living costs, stories on the road, and scams to watch for. I find his delivery style engaging and his tips, indispensable.

Before traveling, I intend to watch a documentary on a brief history of India, to get a chronological sense of events that somewhat define the multiple cultures found within this ancient, religious and caste-based society. I want to understand more about Hindu, Muslim and Sikh religions here to understand a little about diverse Indian identity.

JOIN ONLINE TRAVEL COMMUNITIES

A few months ago, I began to take my travel writing seriously, and as a result, I joined a few social media forums. These included travel forums for people who travel often and want to communicate with other travellers. On Facebook, I joined Female Travel Bloggers, Travel Buddies Korea, Ultimate Travel Group, Girls Love Travel and Bloggers in Korea. Being part of these online communities has been particularly useful.

On a number of occasions, I’ve requested members to post blogs they’ve written on destinations that I plan to visit. Additionally, I’ve asked for advice on topics like acquiring an entry visa to India, and buying Indian Rupees. These forums are supportive, and I’ve found many informative blogs in this way.

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BEGIN A TRAVEL-INDIA JOURNAL

My current two week trip entails flying into Delhi, and heading straight to Jodhpur (Ragasthan). After a  few days, I’ll enjoy a short stay in Jaipur, and thereafter head to Agra. My last few days will be spent exploring Delhi. My trip entails quite a lot, so as I began reading blogs about these cities, I realized that I was gaining a lot of information that I would not necessarily remember. As a result, I began keeping a diary exclusively for my trip to India. I started taking notes on places of interest and keeping all the information together as a way to keep track of all the ideas and tips that I’d like to recall once I arrive at my destination.

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Thus far, I’ve got pages of notes on travel tips. I’ve listed markets and restaurants to visit, food to try, cultural places of interest like Hindu, Sikh and Muslim temples, forts, palaces and gardens. I label these with two, three or four stars, identifying for myself what I cannot miss. I’ve noted souvenirs to look out for, and suitable clothing types to purchase. I’ve noted bars and hookah cafes to visit in Delhi.  Additionally, I’ve jotted down hotel bookings, dates, and location/ contact information in case of a technical failure with my tablet.

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Notes on useful apps like Cleartrip for booking trains, pre-paid taxi services available at airports and train stations (to avoid haggling), and the Delhi Airport Metro Express from Pahargani to Delhi Airport, have all made it into my diary. Finally, I’ve added a quick currency conversion chart, anticipated expenses, and passwords for internet banking.

LEARN BASIC HINDI PHRASES

Although I’m lucky enough to have been born speaking the current Lingua Franca as my native tongue, as an international traveller, I don’t take for granted that everyone speaks my language. For me, learning a few phrases in the local language is not only useful for getting around, particularly if locals don’t speak English, but also shows respect for the culture that I am visiting. Learning some Hindi will remind me that I’m a guest in India, and that to some degree, I’m representing the culture I originate from. Additionally, learning a little of a new language is fun. I did the same thing when I visited Japan recently, and try to do this whenever I have the time and drive before travelling to a new country.

Every morning, I listen to a short Hindi lesson to learn some basic, useful phrases that I’ll actually use. I like the Learn Hindi (Hindi Pod101) series because the lessons are short (three minutes), I can replay them easily, and I can learn one or two phrases within each lesson. Presenter Prerana speaks slowly and clearly, and her classes are accompanied by text. The visual and audio combination suits my language learning style well, so for my purposes, these sessions are fun, simple and useful.

BOOKING ACCOMODATION

I have been so consumed learning about all the different places to visit that booking accommodation got left to the last week or two. It worked out well because when I travel, I prioritize easy accessibility to sites of interest, and thus I often prefer central locations. I can only do this once I have an idea of the city layout.

Now, knowing which locations I intend to visit, I began booking-marking the locations on Google maps, and from there, I could get a good idea of what neighbourhood might be a most suitable base from which to visit the majority of the sites of interest.

I reserved all my accommodation using Booking.com. This site allows clients to narrow searches using star ratings, particular neighborhoods, budgets and so on. I really like the feature which allows clients to view available hotels for their travel dates directly on a map. These include location and price. I used this feature to book all my accommodations, and it proved very useful for finding a hotel two minutes walking distance to the Taj Mahal in Agra.

Overall, I’ve never spent so much time preparing for a trip as I have with this one. There are so many things I want to experience and avoid missing out on. I want to approach this unique culture with an open mind, and be ready to embrace differences from norms that I’m accustomed to. I’m aware that I will encounter numerous challenges, but I also know that my attitude, and my ability to be flexible will enable an experience that I will never forget.

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Have you traveled to India and have some travel tips you’d like to share? Please post your comments below!

Keep Learning!

 

Pyeongchang Camping Festival: Anticipating the 2018 Olympic Games

I’ve camped twice. Once, under the stars with the Bedouin in the Jordanian desert. That was a warm and comfortable experience. The Bedouin are pros at desert camping and they take good care of guests. My other camping experience was in Canada, Victoria Island, BC. The October weather was rainy and miserable.

My friends sat in a circle, mostly strummed guitars, and sang popular rock songs. I was bored to tears. I hardly slept because I was cold and uncomfortable. Also, all the campers were constantly reminded by one friend about how amazing their previous camping experience was, when apparently, everyone slept with everyone. That story alone made this boring camping trip forever embedded in my memory. I hoped that the Korean Pyeongchang Camping Festival event would be completely different.

I heard about the Pyeongchang Camping event through Mr. CC Pak while hiking Ansan with Climbers In Korea (CIK) last month. CC explained that Mr. Kim, the organizer and director of CIK, was running  a program, sponsored by Pyeongchang county, Gangwon-do and the Korean Tourism Organization. The purpose was to promote the upcoming Olympic Games here in Korea. All expenses were covered by Pyeongchang county, and there were a limited spots available. The last count I saw anticipated 280 guests.

I signed up, reserved my spot, and showed up at with personal items on Saturday April 8th, before 8:45am. All camping supplies, including tent, mats, lanterns, sleeping bags, and food would be supplied. We were provided with an itinerary so we knew exactly what events we’d participate in.

ITINERARY

Saturday April 8th:

  • 9am – Leave Sports Complex Station
  • 3:30pm – Lunch and Welcome Ceremony/ 2018 Olympics promotion
  • 6pm – Attend hockey match: Women’s league: Netherlands VS. Korea
  • 9:45pm – International performances (camping guests perform)
  • 11pm – Open air movie

Sunday April 9th:

  • 7am – breakfast
  • 8am – Korean yoga
  • 9am – Camping safety training
  • 11:30am – Head to Pyungchang traditional market for lunch
  • 1:40pm – Head to Gangwon-do coastal walk (East Sea)
  • 4pm – Return to Seoul

I’ve listed the times as I remember them taking place. The schedule deviated from the initial plan due to changing circumstances like traffic encountered traveling to our destinations.

LOGISTICS

As already mentioned, Pyeongchang county and Korean Tourism Organization funded the event to promote the upcoming Olympics. Mr. Kim, the director and organizer, managed a group of volunteers who in turn managed their respective groups. The volunteers received group updates via instant messaging to their phones while we travelled together on buses, and they quickly imparted the new updates to their groups.

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Director, Mr. Kim (far right), and our amazing volunteer team; photo curtesy of Mr. Kim

Several buses were used, and while traveling, the bus drivers lined up the buses conveniently in chronological order so guests could locate buses easily. This was especially useful when we made short toilet breaks at intervals during longer bus commutes, like driving to and from Seoul.

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Buses A to F; photo curtesy of Pippa

On arrival at the festival camp, Pyeongchang camping organisers had prepared tents, distributed sleeping items and outlet equipment so each tent had access to electricity. Cooks prepared our meals. The camp had hired an MC, a band, and prepared giveaway prizes for performances. The festival also had an onsite café and food truck just over the little bridge from where the CIK guests were camping.

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Campsite; photo curtesy of Brooke Yay
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Campsite; photo curtesy of Mr. Kim
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Excited for a hot lunch on arrival at the camp site; photo curtesy of Brooke Yay
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Props to the chef! Hungry campers; photo curtesy of Catherine
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Yum! Photo, curtesy of Mr. Kim
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Kate and I enjoying lunch!
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Happy fellas! Photo curtesy of Pippa
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2018 Pyeongchang Olympics promotion and Welcome ceremony
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CIK friends trying out workout toys!
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Armed with souvenirs! The weather was lush!
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Volunteer conference! Photo curtesy of Minjeong

MY STORY: MY TOP FIVE HIGHLIGHTS

HOCKEY MATCH

The journey to the Kwandong Catholic University Campus (관동 대학교) was long because of traffic, but we were very happy to be admitted and seated fairly quickly on arrival. Everyone wanted to pose for photos with the Olympics backdrop and fun characters. Most of us stopped by the merchandise table and collected Korean and Dutch flags to wave in support of our female hockey teams that were battling it out for a lower league title.

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Fun times; photo curtesy of Kate Chang

 

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Approaching the stadium
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Posing!

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The stadium was small compared to the stadiums I had visited in Canada, and I wondered if this stadium would be used for any of the winter Olympic events in 2018. The nice thing about a smaller stadium is that the action takes place near you! Unlike previous games I’ve watched in Canada, here, I didn’t spend my time watching the big screen rather than the action on the ice itself.

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Feeling Korean Fever!

Our crew was pretty tame compared to a bunch of Koreans to our right who seemed passionate, shouted a lot, and frantically waved their flags. Partway through the first twenty minutes, a young Korean fella working for the stadium wearing white was assigned over to our calm crowd and he began revving us up.

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Motivation!

Thanks to his motivation, Kate and Vass and myself had a really good time! We bounced to the DJ tunes during time outs, shook our flags, slapped promo balloons together and let the young Korean fella teach us new dance routines using our promo balloons. Kate and I joked about how handsome he was, and whether he was in need of a girlfriend.

As the match wore on, entertainment ensued. Kate and I shouted more and more furiously as exciting collisions occurred between players, an angry shove emerged from a goalkeeper, two goals smashed into the Dutch net, and bodies slammed full speed into the Plexiglas separating the players from the audience! Soon, we were fully decked out, complete with temporary tattoo face-stickers and flags pledging Korean allegiance wrapped around our bodies.

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Myself, Vass and Kate; photo curtesy of Vassilina Mozajeva

It was funny to notice that many Koreans had flags for each team, including Kate, suggesting that some people didn’t really care who won anyway and patriotism was not a big deal at this event. At the last minute of the game, I grabbed Kate’s Dutch flag, viciously waved it around demanding one goal for Dutch honor, but the fabric flag flew off the white handle, and me and my friends laughed heartily. Korea was destined to reign victorious.

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Mr. CC… looking good!
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Happy CIK friends! Photo curtesy of Varun Bansal

PERFORMANCES BY THE GUESTS

On Saturday evening, we were treated to an international performances show. Apparently, Korean style camping often involves some kind of entertainment, so a stage and seating is usually situated within the camp site so campers can easily access the show. Across from our camping area, families were also camping and therefore attended the festival. It made for an odd mix of “foreigner” twenty to thirty somethings age group, and then parents who were eager to have their children up on stage. Interestingly enough, it wasn’t our age demographic that showcased inappropriate performances.

One performance showcased a little girl no older than six years old, lip-syncing and dancing to a popular KPop song. She took to the stage wearing a sexy, adult outfit: a belly top and short skirt. The evening was cool, and I was wearing a hoodie, hat, and scarf so she must have been cold. In her performance, she imitated the sexy dance moves of the adult song version. My friends and I felt uncomfortable watching this because we felt like this child was being objectified. Interestingly, the MC actually awarded her first prize for her performance.

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Live band; photo curtesy of In-jong Kim

 

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CIK performers! Photo curtesy of In-Jong Kim

CIK guests were invited to perform onstage, whether dancing, singing or introducing their home culture in some way. These performances were incredibly entertaining, and included a Salsa duo, modern dance, Indian dances, and acoustic songs from India.

Punil, who performed at the end of the show, was quite the performer. He refused to leave the stage. He sang song after song from the Punjab, while we in the audience clapped in rhythm to his soulful ballads. His eagerness to share his culture was infectious. Toward the end, he invited his friends to join him on stage. Indian Bhangra music blasted from the stage speakers, and we in the audience wanted to hop up and dance along! It was an incredible feeling to observe this all live. I felt like I was inside a Bollywood movie, and wished we could have cast aside our wretched, confining seats, and burst into dance too.

EVENING CAMPING

Later that event, Peter, an older British fella, invited me back to his camping spot to enjoy some Makkoli (local rice wine). Kate, Yoona, Brooke and others joined, and after an hour or so, we drifted elsewhere. I wandered over to CC and friends, who had a campfire set up. CC was discussing martial arts with Alex, a fella from Australia. Everyone was drinking, while I was invited to enjoy some sashimi that several members of the group had ordered in. No guitar playing, no singing, no talk about who slept with who on previous camping trip. This was a much better experience so far.

Our party soon dispersed as the rain began to come down. By 2am, I returned to my tent. To my delight, my tent-mates, Yoona and Kate had also both arrived, so we settled down for the night, enjoying the heat supplied from our electric heating pad.

 

Pippa
Photo curtesy of Pippa

 

MEETING NEW INDIAN FRIENDS

The following morning, we ate a (mostly) hot breakfast, and then participated in open air yoga. After a rainy night, the morning was cool, and everyone seemed to be warming their hands using hot packs which had been distributed the evening prior.

After yoga, I had the fortune to talk with some of the India fellas who had been part of the performance the night before. I met Punil, Gautam, Varun, Vivek, N Gyan, and Manoj. This encounter was the highlight of my trip! I explained to them how much I enjoyed their contribution to the International Performance show, particularly Punil’s songs, and everyone’s dance! I learned that they are engineers, and some of them live in Delhi, which is precisely where I’m headed later this month.

indian friends 3
Our stars from India; from left: Manoj, Varun, N. Gyan, Punil, Vivek, and Gautam

We joked and laughed, while I practiced my very limited Hindi skills. They were so encouraging with my language learning, and offered to help me while in Delhi if I need anything. The camping safety demonstration began over the speakers, and after exchanging contact information, we soon dispersed. I walked away with a warm feeling in my belly.

Arijit Sarkar 2
One last walk around the camp site; photo curtesy of Arijit Sakar

 

Arijit Sarkar
Photo curtesy of Arijit Sakar

WALK ALONG THE EAST SEA

We made a quick stop at Jung-Ang market (중앙시장) in Gangneung city (강릉시) to eat lunch.

kind voucher for lunch at market
Complimentary vouchers, provided for lunch at Jung-Ang Market

 

Lunch at market
Lunch at Jung-Ang. Final bonding experience with tent-mates, Kate (far left) and Yoona (right)

We then embarked on a private coastal walk along Jeongdongjin beach (정동진 해변 ), patrolled by the Korean army due to its proximity to North Korea. We were lucky that organizer, Mr. Kim, arranged for this tour as Jeongdongjin is not open to the public.

Once we descended the wooden steps from the guarded entrance to the coast itself, we walked along a metal platform, secured by rods and drilled into the large rocks below. I was happy to be by the coast, surrounded by blue sea, crashing waves and salt spray. The sun was shinning and warm, and we all walked along our designated route, the same one that the Korean guards use to patrol the coast.

Wooden look-out posts along our path were forbidden locations to photograph. I saw no boats. Nothing was traveling down from North Korea. We were alone, walking along and snapping photos together in groups. The large boulders along the coast has some interesting markings, and Peter remarked that, based on the striation markings on the rock surfaces, over time, these horizontal rocks lying on the sea bed had gradually been erected vertically. They were fascinating to look at.

Romaine Smith photo
Photo curtsey of Romaine Smith

 

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Enjoying the coastal walk

Finally, we stopped off beside Sun Cruize Resort, and after examining the grounds and absorbing our last few weekend rays of sun, we hopped aboard our bus that promised to return us to our daily routines in Seoul. We were all sad to leave.

with the indian friends
With new friends, at Sun Cruize Resort; photo curtesy of Varun Bansal

 

Kim beach
Preparing to leave; photo curtesy of Mr. Kim

MY OVERAL IMPRESSION:

PROS

There were numerous amazing things about this trip. First and foremost, organizer, Mr. Kim and his team, including my fantastic tent-mate Yoona, ran the event smoothly and professionally despite the challenges encountered. The entire event was fully funded and we guests hardly spent a dime!

We were provided with food, including two hot breakfasts, dinner snacks on the bus, and vouchers for lunch at Jung-Ang market. I never had a chance to get hungry throughout the trip. Not only were tents, mats, sleeping bags and lanterns provided, but we also received heating blankets and long-life hot packs (lasting thirteen hours) for our hands. All our transport was included to and from Sports Complex station in Seoul. In addition, we received entertainment for almost every moment that we were not on the buses.

CONS

Unfortunately, some seats on the bus were empty, so due to some no-shows, people that wanted to attend the event missed out. We encountered traffic, particularly en route to Pyeongchang, and between the festival campsite and the hockey stadium. We observed plenty of construction on the Gangwon-do roads. Pyeongchang county is constructing lanes to make the city more accessible for the upcoming Olympics. I got the impression that congestion will probably be one of the major challenges that Korea will face during the 2018 Olympics, and since Korean terrain is mountainous, this is no easy task to address.

Pyeongchang County and Korean Tourism Organization were so industrious in their efforts to provide us with a special experience that we were often rushed for time. This was exasperated by the traffic between locations that often put us behind schedule. Everyone seemed to sigh a breath of relief when we returned to the campsite Saturday evening, because we could finally camp and enjoy free time.

I appreciate all the effort put into the planning and execution of this trip, but I think we guests would have been content with fewer plans. Finally, some friends had experienced hiccups, whereby one tent didn’t receive a heating blanket, and another set of friends had no tent allocated, so a tent was set up in a hurry, but later leaked during the overnight rain. Nevertheless, these friends appreciated that the volunteer team did their best, and minor oversights were bound to happen. Everyone was just happy to be part of this memorable experience.

WOULD I DO IT ALL AGAIN?

Absolutely! I am grateful that I had the chance to see the Korean preparation for the upcoming Olympics. I can begin to understand the scale of the challenges faced to accommodate international visitors to a mountainous terrain in a country plagued by excessive traffic.

I observed coastal sights I may never see again. I savoured experiences, like enjoying my first Korean hockey game, and bouncing to Bhangra tunes with new friends. I am so thankful to have been included in this experience.

I’d like to thank, Mr. CC Pak, for inviting me to this event, and both my tent-mate and friend, Kate Changhee Lee, and Mr. Varun Bansal, for helping me document our trip  as accurately as possible. Finally, thanks so much to Mr. Kim’s efforts, and his brilliant volunteer team, who put our experiences and needs ahead of their own.

Group pic - Mr. Kim
Our crew! Photo curtesy of Mr. Kim

 

Have you visited Pyeongchang to see the changing infrastructure in preparation for the Winter Olympics, or had a chance to visit any of the locations designated for Olympic events? Please comment below to share your experience or opinions.

Keep learning!