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PERSONAL BLOG - 2002 Q2: July - September

3 July 2002

I arrived in Rome after a 12 hours Qantas flight from Singapore, en route to a conference in Naples. I had to endure a night sitting next to a West Australian Caterpillar dealer who had the smelliest feet I have ever come across in my life. I asked the purser if I could move seats but he said that wasn’t possible because the flight was full. The smell seemed to ease after about seven hours into the flight, but that was probably because the odour eventually exhausted my auditory senses.

After a short flight down to Naples, I checked into the Hotel Vesuvio, overlooking the bay with Mt Pompeii in the distance. Later I had a walk around the city. Naples is an interesting city but sightseeing is difficult on foot because there is so much dog shit on the ground, you have to constantly watch where you are walking.

4 July 2002

The fresh orange juice that the Hotel Vesuvio serves for breakfast is very tasty – but it is bright red. It must be from what are known in some countries as ‘blood oranges’. The weather is very hot and there are hundreds of Italians (including some really sexy and very scantily-clad sun-tanned women) sunbathing on the rocks across the road from the hotel and on the seawalls next to the Castel dell’Ovo opposite the hotel where the conference is being held. The Castel dell’Ovo is a 12th century fortress (which loosely translated means ‘Castle of the Ovaries’) – a very impressive structure but not the best venue for a conference on a hot summer’s day in Italy (air-conditioning was apparently not a standard fixture in the 12th century).

5 July 2002

After today’s session of the conference, the delegates were taken in buses up to the San Martino Monastery, on top of a hill overlooking the city of Naples. There, in a courtyard of the monastery, a small orchestra and a soprano, who was apparently one of Italy’s opera stars, entertained us. It was so quiet when the orchestra was not playing and seemed a world away from the hustle and bustle of the city below. The atmosphere felt very ‘cultural’ in an artistic and historic sense. At times I felt like I was back in the 14th century, but then I would be brought back to earth when the music was occasionally drowned out by the sound of a jet flying overhead, having taken off from Naples airport to the north-east of the city.

6 July 2002

The conference excursion this evening was to Pompeii, followed by dinner inside the ruins of Pompeii – apparently the first time the trustees had allowed anyone to do that. Pompeii was very interested and remarkably well preserved in parts, but nearly everyone in the group got dehydrated. When we entered the gates of Pompeii nobody told us there was nowhere to buy drinks inside. Most people just assumed that, as is the case with most big tourist attractions, there would be food and drinks vendors inside the grounds. However, in three hours we saw nothing except one tap, over what looked like a horse drinking trough. Nobody was too sure whether that water was fit to drink, but it was such a hot day with many people getting badly dehydrated, that some drank from the tap anyway.

One of the interesting parts of Pompeii was the street of brothels where there were pictures painted over doors of each room showing various sexual positions. The guide explained that each prostitute (of which there were apparently many in those days) specialized in a certain position or technique, so clients visiting the brothel were able to select what they wanted to do by pointing to the appropriate picture.

7 July 2002

The taxi driver taking me back to Naples airport did the trip in about 15 minutes (whereas it took the best part of an hour to get in). He took a short cut through the port area and we were racing along wharves at over 100kph like something out of an action movie. Then onto a freeway and we were up to 160kph. The meter on arrival at the airport read only 25 euros, but he demanded 40 euros – on what basis I am not sure. After some haggling we settled on 30 euros – but then he still demanded another 2 euros for his “morning coffee”.

The airport newsstand at Naples airport looks like what would be classified as a pornographic bookstore in many other countries. There were piles of magazines featuring nude women stacked up on the floor where kids can easily view them -something that would not be permitted in most other countries.

There was a plane parked right outside the boarding gate at Naples airport, but I assumed our plane must have been parked somewhere else as we were all loaded onto two buses that were parked adjacent to the boarding gate and about 25 metres in front of the nose of the plane. We waited in the heat for about 10 minutes, jam packed into the buses with no air-conditioning on. Eventually the buses moved – and then stopped by the side of the plane, having traveled no more than three bus lengths! We then got off and boarded the plane. Why we couldn’t have walked the few metres to the plane, I do not know. No wonder Alitalia gets such bad reviews.

19 August 2002

Got my credit card bill today and was horrified to see that an 11 minutes call from a public phone at Rome Airport to Australia cost me RM272.10 (about USD72). It was billed through a San Diego company called International Call Services. I can’t even remember who I called, so the call couldn’t have been that important, but I do remember making the call because I recall thinking that using my credit card would have to be cheaper that the international roaming charges on my mobile phone. A lesson learnt the hard way. What a rip-off!

22 August 2002

In Bangkok for a day of meetings. Saw an elephant walking down Sukhumvit Road during the evening. I thought Bangkok had banned elephants from the city after one ran amok a year or two ago? Apparently not, or maybe they’re just not enforcing the new rules.

23 August 2002

Arrived in Hanoi for more meetings. After my first meeting I strolled down the street to get a coffee at one of the local coffee shops (just 3000 dong – about 20 US cents). I’d forgotten how bad the traffic was in Hanoi. I managed to find a gap in the seemingly never-ending mass of motorbikes, and after about five minutes managed to get across to the median strip – but there I got stuck for about 15 minutes, just never finding a gap in the three lanes of traffic traveling in the other direction. I could see a few of the locals were amused at this foreigner stuck on the traffic island, whereas whenever they wanted to cross they just walked out into the traffic and let it flow around both sides of them. So in the end I did the same. I waited until there were not too many buses in the mass of traffic heading towards me (there are not too many cars and trucks in Hanoi – mainly motorbikes, pedal bikes and buses) figuring it was better to get hit by a motorbike than a bus, and slowly edged my way across the street. I tried to make eye contact with as many of the oncoming motorbikes as possible to make sure they could see me. They swerved around me to the front and back, and after a few hair-raising near misses I made it safely to the other side. The secret seems to be to walk slowly and diagonally across the road (towards the traffic) and wave madly at anyone who doesn’t seem to have made eye contact with you – and pray!

One of my hosts invited me to dinner and I was looking forward to some real Vietnamese food, remembering the enjoyable meals that I had in Vietnam when on holiday there last year. But what a disappointment the meal turned out to be! We went to the French Quarter, but instead of going to one of the many upmarket Vietnamese restaurants around there, we went to the ‘Classic Café’ where he had pre-ordered asparagus soup, grilled salmon and French fries, a steak with mushroom sauce, and bread rolls with butter – all western food and fairly ordinary at that. He must have thought I might not like Vietnamese food and decided to play safe with a western meal. How wrong he was.

24 August 2002

Tonight another of my hosts invited me to dinner. I hoped after last night’s experience that he would take me to a Vietnamese restaurant, but no, we ended up in a Chinese restaurant. The only consolation was that it was a very good Chinese restaurant, so I enjoyed the food more than last night.

It was quite an intense dinner as he spoke no English (his only other language was Russian) so everything had to be translated. In addition to the capacity in which I was meeting him, he was also a University professor, a member of Parliament, a member of the Government’s economic planning group and a high ranking official of the Communist Party! We talked about the Vietnam war (which he called “the American war”), the history of Vietnam, economic and social issues – so it was not exactly what you would call a relaxing dinner, but I found it very stimulating.

25 August 2002

With today and tomorrow morning free, I decided to head out to Halong Bay to take some photographs. Halong Bay is undoubtedly one of the most scenic places in the world, but when I went there last year, it rained all of the time, so I came away with almost no photographs.

Last night, after dinner, I had gone out and bought a small backpack to take to Halong Bay. I went to one of the local shops away from the hotel and any tourist areas. Nobody there could speak English so I just looked around and pointed to what I wanted. The price was 65,000 dong (US$4.30). I couldn’t believe how cheap it was. It shows you how much of a mark-up gets put on these things for tourists.

The story of my trip to Halong Bay has been posted as a travel article on this website and on www.worldisround.com so I won’t repeat it here.

After arriving back in Hanoi I took a taxi into the city to drop my films in for processing. After finding a film processing place that looked reasonably OK, I decided to head to a street near the Notre Dame cathedral where I knew there was a good coffee shop. It was a fairly long walk, and it was hot, so after a while I decided to take a motorbike taxi. I normally avoid motorbike taxis because the convenience of them doesn’t compensate for the risks you put yourself at sustaining an injury – especially in a city as crowded with motorbikes as Hanoi – but the day was hot and I was feeling tired after the long trip back from Halong Bay. The first driver I spotted wanted 10,000 dong for the short trip, but I knew the rate was only 5,000 dong, so I just walked on. He then came after me shouting “7,000. . . 7,000”. I just waved to indicate “No” and started walking towards another motorbike. Then he quickly cut in and said “Okay – 5,000” – so I hopped on. I got to the coffee shop OK, but what I didn’t like was him lighting up a cigarette as soon as we got going and me sitting behind him as the wind blew all the smoke straight into my face.

26 August 2002

In the evening I took a taxi into the city, and whilst browsing around the shops noticed a really nice 100% cotton casual shirt that probably would cost RM80 in Malaysia and AU$80 in Australia . It was only 65,000 dong (US$4.30), which wasn’t much more than the cost of getting a shirt laundered at the hotel (US$3). I was getting a bit low on shirts so bought it. It was a pity they only had one otherwise I would have bought more. I also bought three pairs of good quality underpants for 16,500 dong (US$1.10), which was only 10 cents more than getting a pair laundered at the hotel. At this rate you can afford to throw away your dirty laundry and buy a new set of clothes every day!

29 August 2002

I had to take a Vietnam Airlines flight from Hanoi to Hong Kong today. The plane was an A321 and looked quite new, but the seats must have been over 20 years old! The armrests were falling apart and part of the seat between me and the passenger next to me was held together with silver duct tape. Maybe to save costs, the airline had had a new plane delivered without any seats, and then fitted all the old seats from one of its old planes that it was scrapping. Normally airlines refurbish their interiors to make an old plane look new, but this was the other way around. (Postscript added 2005: I have flown Vietnam Airlines many times since then, and the planes were all new and service excellent. The A321 I went on in 2002 must have been an exception).

30 August 2002

I flew from Hong Kong to Tokyo today. I had a good distant view of Mt Fuji on the way. It took three hours to get into the city because of traffic jams on the freeways. I had to go to a reception in the evening and because of the delay in getting from the airport I instructed the taxi driver to divert to the reception rather than going to the hotel. The reception invitation said “smart casual” but because I had come straight from the airport and was wearing a suit from my meeting in Hong Kong, I didn’t have time to change into some casual clothes. Just as well - because every Japanese person at the reception was wearing a suit, and I would have felt out of place if I had dumped my jacket and turned up in an open necked shirt as I was intending to do. I should have learnt by now that Japanese men won’t discard their suits even when the dress code says “casual”.

At the reception I had a brief audience with His Imperial Excellency, Prince Takamado of the Japanese Royal Family. We talked mainly about the recent World Cup as someone had alerted me to his interest in football - and because I really didn’t know what else to talk to a Japanese prince about!

I am staying at the Keio Plaza Intercontinental in Shinjuku. It feels like I’m staying in an American hotel – almost no Japanese character. After checking in I opened the mini-bar fridge and noticed the drinks were all held in place by a couple of levers. Out of curiosity I took one of the drinks out, and suddenly the lever snapped forward, preventing me from putting the drink back. I then noticed a sticker on the inside of the fridge saying that drinks removed from the fridge are automatically recorded and added to your bill. I realized that I had removed a 400 yen can of Dakara, which I didn’t want, so I rang the front desk to say I had selected the wrong drink, so would they please send someone up to reset the fridge (there was a notice on the fridge to ring them if you make a mistake). A short time later someone arrived with a key which enabled him to put the drink back. A trap to be aware of when staying in Japanese hotels.

Later in the evening I took a walk into the centre of Shinjuku – a 15 minute stroll. Shinjuku is essentially a commercial area with dozens of high rise office buildings, lots of underground walkways and malls, and a busy retail area around Shinjuku railway station. It is spotlessly clean – much more so than in nearby Shibuya where I stayed in June – but along some of the streets there are dozens of homeless men sleeping in what look like coffins made out of cardboard boxes. It is somewhat strange to see these men living on the street in such a spotlessly clean area (there was no litter or rubbish at all around their boxes), as you usually associate vagrants with the dirtier areas of cities.

The sidewalks are paved with a sort of rubberized bitumen, which makes walking very easy on the feet. I’d noticed this material on some of the pedestrian overpasses and walkways around Shibuya when I was in Tokyo earlier in the year.

31 August 2002

It is 36 degrees in Tokyo today. I had to go to the Olympic stadium to watch an event. The dress code said smart casual again, but after last night’s experience I thought I had better wear a suit as I would be presenting one of the prizes on television, and didn’t want to look out of place if everyone else was wearing a suit. Good decision - because as I predicted, everyone involved with the formalities was wearing a suit. But it was hellishly hot in the stadium and by the end of the day my shirt and suit was soaked with perspiration. The Japanese just seemed to grin and bear it. I wish they could adjust to a bit more informality. It would make life so much more comfortable for them.

The best part was the cheerleading presentation. Drawn from Japanese universities, the 30-strong cheerleading squad was just amazing. They were like circus acrobats throwing girls around off their shoulders, three persons high. It was very spectacular and they didn’t make one mistake.

1 September 2002

I had to go a meeting at the Olympic Stadium in the morning. I refused to wear a suit as it was a Sunday morning and so hot – but still the Japanese turned up in their suits. I was able to get away around 11 am and took a taxi back to Shinjuku. After a few minutes I realized that the air-conditioning was not working. The taxi driver could speak no English so I pointed to the air-conditioning controls. He just kept on turning them on and off, but it was it was not working. So he then wound down the windows of the taxi and as he did so, a bunch of the advertising pamphlets that all Japanese taxis carry on the backs of the front seats, came flying out of their holder and started blowing all around the taxi and out onto the road. I managed to secure the some of them as he wound all the windows back up, but we left a trail of litter on the road. Getting another taxi was not an option, as I’d have great difficulty finding a taxi driver that would understand where I wanted to go (somebody at the Olympic stadium had instructed the driver in Japanese when I left the meeting) so I just had to cope with riding in a taxi that felt like a sauna bath.

I got the taxi to drop me off at Shinjuku station as I was dying for a decent cup of coffee by this time of the morning. I remembered seeing a Starbucks there a few evenings ago. Shinjuku station is like a mini-city in itself with two million people passing through the station every day. It is an interchange for several suburban and underground railway lines and it is a mass of subways and malls on many different levels. I wandered around for a while looking for the Starbucks that I had previously seen, but couldn’t find it. In fact at one stage, despite my normally good sense of direction, I got completely lost. I went up to a sightseeing tour booth, thinking they would probably speak English, and asked them how to get to Starbucks. They said there were three Starbucks in Shinjuku station, so which one did I want? I said just to give me directions to the nearest (I was getting desperate for my coffee at that stage) so they told me there was one near exit A9, one level down, and gave me directions. I followed their directions but for the life of me I couldn’t find exit A9. I found every exit from A10 to A17, but not A9.

I was standing looking at a map on the wall of one of the subways, when a young Japanese woman walked up to me and asked, in quite good English, if she could help. I told her I was looking for exit A9, and she said she would show me the way. As we walked towards exit A9 she asked me where I was going. I told her that I was just going to Starbucks for a coffee. She said that I would have difficult getting a seat in any of the Starbucks at Shinjuku station as they were always crowded, so she said she would take me to another Starbucks nearby where I could get a seat. She did that – it wasn’t very far – and when we got there I offered to buy her a coffee to thank her for showing me the way, but she politely declined saying she had a part-time job and was on her way to work. She said she hoped I would enjoy my stay in Tokyo and left. I’d previously read about people in Tokyo going out of their way to help visitors, so it was a pleasant experience to find out that it really does happen, and that they don’t expect anything in return.

2 September 2002

I went out for breakfast at about 8.30 am. As I walked down the street I was going ‘against the flow’ of thousands of people coming out of the subways from Shinjuku station and heading for the nearby Tokyo Metropolitan Government offices. It was like trying to swim against a waterfall of human beings, 90% of whom were salarymen dressed in their dark gray suits, white shirts and ties – looking almost like clones of each other. Many were already wiping their brows in the heat with the little towels that many Japanese carry with them on hot days.

3 September 2002

It was a clear day flying back to Kuala Lumpur for a change. Taking off from Tokyo I could see dozens of golf courses all around the city, stretching as far as the eye could see. There looked to be more golf courses than farmland. Japan has some of the highest golf club membership fees in the world, so I suppose there is more money to be made out of golf courses than there is farming the land. I had a great view of Okinawa on the way. It is much bigger than I thought.

13 September 2002

I landed in Dubai late at night for a brief overnight stopover en route to Tehran. Dubai seems to get busier and wealthier every time I go there, and on this trip I particularly noticed the number of new cars on the road. In the hotel room there was a ‘Time Out’ magazine (one of those free ‘what-to-do’ tourist type publications) with the front cover featuring a scantily clad Arab girl, with diamond bracelets and earrings, draped over the shoulder of a western ‘hunk’ in a dinner suit. The cover was promoting Dubai as a “millionaires’ playground – fast cars, Cuban cigars, luxury yachts and bespoke building plots”. Inside the magazine there were pages of advertisements for nightclubs and bars, karaoke lounges, live bands, belly dancing nights, beach parties, salsa nights, wine tastings, shooters nights and a Guinness drinking guide – not the image one normally associates with an Islamic country!

I had decided to overnight in Dubai, rather than flying straight through at night to Tehran, so I could get some sleep and be more refreshed for my meetings in Tehran the following morning. However, after getting into bed I discovered my room was right over the top of a nightclub. The bass speakers were thumping so loud I was sure they were causing the springs in the bed to vibrate. I was too tired to go and ask for a room change as it was nearly midnight in Dubai – and 4am according to my watch which I hadn’t changed since leaving Kuala Lumpur 11 hours earlier – and I had to be back at the airport by 6.30am. Eventually I drifted off to sleep to the pumping music of what I found out next morning was the hotel’s ‘Shake, Rattle and Roll’ night.

14 September 2002

On my arrival in Tehran, I was in for a surprise. As I left the plane there was a man standing on the aerobridge holding a card on which my name was written. When I identified myself, he took my bags and led me down the metal stairs from the aerobridge to the tarmac by the side of the plane, where there was a black stretch limo waiting for me. The limo took me to a reception area, where I was in for another surprise. Waiting there was one of the Vice-Presidents from the organisation that I was visiting who proceeded to give me a big Yasser Arafat type hug and kissed me three times on the cheek. I know this is the Iranian way of giving guests a special welcome, but as a westerner who is not used to being kissed by men, it always comes as a bit of a culture shock. As seems to be the custom in Iran, he was wearing a 3-4 day old beard, so it was a prickly experience. (Can’t understand why women like to be kissed by guys with half grown beards.)

Tehran is a very drab and grey city that is home to 12 million people, and its reputation for traffic jams and crazy drivers is well deserved. But there are a few new freeways now that seem to be moving the traffic better away from the centre of the city.

23 September 2002

In Sydney for meetings. Whilst getting ready for bed that night, I switched on the TV to see what was on. As the screen flickered to life, I was confronted with a scene in which two naked gay men were having sex – vigourous, no-holds-barred sex accompanied by loud thumping music – followed by another scene accompanied by soft romantic music in which two lesbians were kissing each other’s naked bodies until they brought themselves to what appeared to be very well acted orgasms. I thought I must have accidentally tuned into one of the pay TV channels, but it turned out to be one of the free-to-air stations and was the end of a locally produced drama program centred on the lives of gay people living in Sydney. This program was followed by French film, during the first 10 minutes of which there were two sex scenes followed by a graphic stabbing of a guy in a gymnasium shower, after the girlfriend of the killer had lured him in there and had sex with him on the floor. The scene was gory as each time the boyfriend stabbed the guy on the floor, blood squirted over the naked body of the girl. As the guy being stabbed finally rolled over dead on the floor, the blood-drenched girl remarked to her boyfriend: “Look, he’s still got a hard on”.

At that stage I decided it was time for bed. As I drifted off to sleep I thought about what I had seen on just 20 minutes of local television and wondered how visitors from more conservative countries would react to seeing such scenes on free-to-air television in Australia. In many countries such content cannot even be seen on pay TV or purchased on video. This was the first Australian television that I’d seen for nearly five years. It seems that in the time I have been away from Australia, Australians have become very tolerate of sex and violence on TV.

25 September 2002

I arrived today in Busan, on the south-eastern coast of South Korea for the Asian Games. I had a walk along the beach promenade in the evening for some exercise. All along the beach there were people letting off fireworks until the early hours of the morning. This did not seem to be a special event as there were old ladies on bicycles all along the beachfront with baskets full of fireworks, selling them to passers-by. Even businessmen in suits would walk up to them and buy a firework, let it off on the beach, and then walk on.

Down at one end of the promenade there were scores of seafood restaurants along the beachfront. I noticed that every so often someone would walk past the parked cars outside the restaurants, and poke small cards into the drivers’ windows. On some cars, which had apparently been parked for a while, there were a dozen or more cards on the window. On closer examination I discovered they were cards advertising call girls – similar to those you see plastered over telephone booths in parts of Tokyo. I observed one driver (a woman) getting into her car. She just picked all the cards off the window and dropped them on the ground. She didn’t give them a second look, so I assume that is just part of the routine of getting into your car here in Busan – or at least in this part of the town.

26 September 2002

Haeundae Beach where we are staying at Busan is supposed to be one of the best beaches in Korea, and in the height of the summer is so crowded that it is hard to find a vacant patch of sand. However, at this time of the year it is cooler and not so crowded, and every second year is taken over by artists for the Busan Sea Arts Festival. Most of the ‘works of art’ were steel sculptures, to which many of the artists were putting the finishing touches in preparation for the opening of the festival on 30 September. One that was attracting a lot of attention was a 10 metre high model of the World Trade Center made out of corrugated iron, with a model plane crashing into it. It didn’t seem to be attracting much attention from the locals, but I thought it was in bad taste.

29 September 2002

I had been given a ticket to the Opening Ceremony of the Asian Games which would start at 6 pm in the main Busan sports stadium, some distance to the north of the city centre. I was advised to take a taxi to City Hall, where there would be buses to take us to the stadium. When I arrived at City Hall, I was directed into a reception area to wait for the bus. The reception area held a display of gifts from about twelve cities from around the world with which Busan had a sister city relationship. Each city had a large poster on the wall, under which there was a glass cabinet containing the gifts that had been presented to the city of Busan when the sister city charter for that city had been signed. Some of the gifts were obviously very valuable – historic artifacts, antique vases, works of art, and the like. From a distance across the room, I could see a poster for Melbourne, but the glass cabinet below appeared to be empty. So I walked over for a closer look. As I approached I could see two small objects in the bottom of the case. They turned out to be a small, silver koala bear (about the size you see on key-rings in souvenir shops) and a plastic model of a green Melbourne tram about the length of two cigarette packets. It looked like an Australian delegation had been to Busan, not realising that the practice of exchanging gifts is a very important ‘ritual’ in many Asian countries, and had handed over a couple of tacky souvenirs because that was all that they had brought with them.

The Opening Ceremony was an enjoyable experience and very colourful. A contingent of female cheerleaders from North Korea, dressed in bright, traditional costumes were attracting a lot of attention from the South Koreans at one end of the station. At the end of the ceremony I battled through the crowd of 53,000 people to try and find the bus to take me back to City Hall. However, the area where the bus had dropped me off earlier was now cordoned off by hundreds of police. It turned out this was where they were taking the North Korean cheerleaders out of the stadium. They were putting them straight onto buses to take them back to the ship in Busan Harbour where they were staying at night, and the police formed a tight cordon around the exit so none of the South Koreans could have any contact with them. The North Korean girls, however, waved from the buses and smiled at everyone as they pulled away with a massive police escort.

After the North Korean buses had left, I waited for a while to see if any other buses would turn up, but none did. I didn’t know how else to get back to the city, so I decided to start walking in the hope I might pick up a taxi on the way (which turned out to be no chance!). I hadn’t brought a map with me, so I had no idea which way to go, so I just followed what appeared to be a major section of the crowd. After walking about a kilometre, I came upon a main road where there were dozens of local buses picking up passengers. I asked a couple of girls who looked like students (hoping they could speak English, which they could) which bus went to the city. They said they didn’t know, but directed me to a bus which was going to a nearby subway station. I got on that bus, which had about 100 passengers on it, jammed in like sardines, and then took a 600 won ride to the subway station. After consulting a map at the station, I worked out how to get back to Haeundae, with one change of train in the city centre, about two stops south of City Hall. As we approached City Hall, instead of a voice just announcing the name of the stop, as was the case at other stations, the announcement was followed by some loud music that sounded like an anthem or patriotic song. I suppose that’s one way of waking people up if they’ve dozed off on their way to City Hall. By the time I got to the station where I was to change trains, I was getting very hungry, so decided to stop in the city for a meal, rather then continuing on to Haeundae which would have taken another 40 minutes or so on the train. I walked around a couple of city blocks from the subway station, but couldn’t see any western restaurants anywhere – except a McDonalds. So I decided to try some Korean food for a change.

I went into a restaurant where they had pictures of the dishes on the menu and ordered by pointing to one of the pictures. I chose something that looked like a hot-pot of rice with beef strips and vegetables on top. Interestingly there was no drinks menu, and nobody in the restaurant was drinking anything except water, so I just drank the water that they brought me (later someone told me that Koreans don’t normally order drinks with their meals as they consider it spoils the taste of the food). When the waitress brought my food to me, I started eating it with chopsticks, but noticed all the other diners staring at me. Then one of them motioned with his hand to indicate that I should stir the food with a spoon first – which I did – and they nodded approvingly. The food was quite tasty, but I would have preferred to eat it not all mixed up together. But that is obviously not the way to eat this particular dish in Korea.

On my way back to Haeundae on the subway I noticed that as the train approached some stations, the announcement of the station’s name was followed by a recording of the sound of seagulls. I worked out later after consulting a map of the subway system that this indicated that these were the beachside suburb stations.

Overall I found Busan an interesting city to visit and would have liked to have had more time to see some of the country around Busan. One ‘mystery’ that remains after my visit to Busan is why they changed the name of the city from Pusan. I asked many people that question because I saw many signs and building names still carrying the Pusan name (and the annual Pusan Film Festival has not changed its name). The answer I got from nearly everyone that I spoke to was “Because the Government decided to”. I could understand such an answer in North Korea, but not South Korea.