Friday, January 9, 2015


Getting there

            One of my many reasons for teaching overseas was to get a chance to see the world, and teaching abroad makes traveling to other countries in the region you are teaching much easier.  This works in theory at least.  In Mongolia it is a bit harder to travel around because there are no direct flights anywhere and you have to transfer through one of the three following cities, Moscow, Beijing, and Seoul.  This is not a problem as I get three weeks off for winter break.  I know that seems long, but I’m not complaining, since we don’t get any three day weekends or other little breaks sprinkled throughout the year like you do in the states.  Anyway, my choice of Thailand goes back to before I even arrived in the country.  Last June I was in California for the big Meharg, O’Donnell, family reunion, and met family members I hadn't met before.  So I had to break out the patented.

            “Hi, I know we’ve never met before, but apparently we are related, you are my mom’s cousin or something.  Well at least that’s what she told me, so hi nice to meet you I’m Chris.”

            This line was surprisingly successful and garnered a few laughs, at least I think it did.  Anyway after talking to everyone and explaining that I was going to be teaching in Mongolia, I mentioned looking for someplace warm to go for my winter break.  My cousin Colleen recommended Thailand as she had been there before, and liked it, plus the diving is supposed to be incredible.  Bainong the wife of one of my mom’s cousins also recommended Thailand, and said I need to visit Chiang Mai.  She is from Chiang Mai and gave me a glowing recommendation.  Thus how could I not make Thailand my destination for winter vacation?

            So after a bit of planning I settled on spending 5 days in Phuket, 5 days in Bangkok, and 5 days in Chiang Mai.  It will take two days to get to Phuket and 1 day to return from Chiang Mai for a total length of 18 days.  A bit long but nothing compared to my 57 day trip to Japan.  (Don’t worry that one is next)

Leaving UB

            I will admit that Ulaanabaatar is by no means the biggest city in the world, and that the Chingis Khan airport is positively tiny.  I think the Reading Airport is probably as big or bigger. 

Chingis Khan Airport

Reading Airport

            It is also no surprise that a lot of people would want to take advantage of school and work breaks to get out of Mongolia for a little bit during the winter.  Knowing this it still came to a shock when I ran into two of my fellow teachers and several students at the airport waiting for their flights to various Asian destinations.  This led to the following exchange.

            Music teacher- You know your flight is probably delayed
            Me- Why
            Music teacher- Mine has been delayed for the past few hours due to high winds
            Me- That stinks, but I’ll be an optimist and assume it’s still on time until I hear otherwise
            Music Teacher- Alright
            Me- Hey it looks like they’re getting ready for something.  I bet it is your flight, because if it’s mine then that’s just wrong
            Music Teacher- Ok
            Me- Oh boy, it looks like it is actually my flight, man that’s just not fair
            Music Teacher- Enjoy your trip
            Me- I hope he doesn't kill me when he gets back

            It really is pretty messed up when my flight which is several hours after a delayed flight, for wind of all things, takes off on time with no problems.  The flight was great to, there was almost no one on it.  No one in front of me, no one behind me, no one next to me, in fact it was so empty I could have laid across four seats.  Even if the flight was crowded let it be said that you actually get a decent amount of leg room on Korean Air flights.  The food looked good, but I passed this time, given my normal reaction to food on American carriers.  The Christmas music on the flight was a nice touch and interestingly enough 29% of Koreans are one Christian denomination or another.  That is actually higher than Buddhism at 23%.  This puts a new spin on the pope’s visit to South Korea.

Incheon Airport

            Anyway getting a room at the airport hotel was totally worth it especially with a 21h layover, being able to feel like a real person and not a zombie is great.  Why don't more American airports do this?

Airport Hotel- Bed

Bathroom- and the nicest one during my entire trip

The view- The best I’ve ever had from a hotel room

            Also there are plenty of places to sit down, lay down, shower, and get a massage, plus free WiFi, 2 different cultural exhibits, and a museum.  Not to mention all the shopping, lots and lots of duty free shopping.  The only down side is that there are no ATMs, so exchanging money was a bit tricky, seeing as I didn't bring much cash with me.  I finally managed to exchange the remainder of the cash in my wallet into Thai Bhat.  That is on top of the Tugriks I turned into Korean currency back in Ulaanbaatar.  I'm really a secret agent now with USD, Tugriks, Won, Bhat, and yen in my wallet.  As cool as that makes me feel, it's beginning to get a little confusing when paying for dinner.  I made the mistake of paying for my hamburger with Thai Bhat instead of Korean Won, and no one realized it

Korean Cultural Exhibits

            The first cultural exhibit was on Hanguel or Korean letters.  Now according to what I read it's not like the Japanese Kanji or the Chinese alphabet.

Korean Hanguel

Japanese Kanji

Chinese Alphabet

            Each line in the symbol represents a different sound, so if you know what each line means you can read and write the word.  It is also the only language that knows its creator and creation date 1400 something.  Honestly, I thought it was older given the age of their culture, and cultures in the region.

            The second exhibit was on Korean art and the ten main symbols they use.  Crane, pine tree, deer, clouds, some mushroom like plant thing and don't ask me the rest.  The art work is nice, similar to Japanese, but with more realism so I actually like some of the paintings a bit more, as the Japanese stuff can get a little weird.

Korean Wall Hanging

Japanese wall hanging

            Korean lacquer ware is quite good, and the love and care the artists put into their work is clearly evident.  However I prefer the Japanese lacquer ware as the Korean pieces have a little too much bling for my taste.  You can see how Koreans influenced Japan though.

Korean Lacquer ware

Japanese Lacquer ware

          Interesting tidbit I’ll go into more in later posts, but Japan brought back a large number of Korean workers to build the major temple complexes at Nikko, and then claim the buildings are Japanese in style, when the Korean influence is pretty obvious to even my untrained eye.

            There was also cultural show with traditional Korean music.  Having now been to Japan and now Mongolia, it was interesting to see and hear the overlap, as one of the instruments is very similar to one I saw in Okinawa. The vocals had what I think could have Mongolian influence.  Don't ask me who gave what to whom though, I just appreciate good music.  I leave the creation and analyzing to musicians.  I think Korea is moving a bit higher on my country to go next to list given the tiny bit I've seen so far.  One more thing, I think all of the exhibits here could be a move on Korea's part to export there culture more, given the rise in popularity of things like K-pop, K-drama, and Manhwa (Korean comics).  I can’t speak to the K-pop or K-drama, but the manhwa aren't too bad.  The artwork is comparable to manga (Japanese Comics), but most of them aren't my style (Romance and Drama).

            The idea of exporting parts of their culture is similar to what Japan is trying to do with its Cool Japan program.  Cool Japan focuses on anime and related media, and not other cultural aspects.  This sadly includes a lot of the garbage I don't like about the industry.  Japanese Otaku (A different bred than the western ones) eat it up but it makes me and some of the other western fans want to vomit.  Oh well money talks.

            Speaking of money, I had to spend a bit, one I forgot my hat so, I had to pick up a Korean baseball hat, and I found my new camera.  The great Olympus Tough tg-3 camera good underwater up to 50ft and perfect for scuba diving.  The best part was I got it for 100 USD less than in the states with the scuba diving strap at no extra charge. 

            I've met many different people and nationalities during my travels.  I guess my willingness to talk marks me as an American.  I would have to say that out of all the countries I've met, Germans are the most, they seem to be everywhere.  Even here in the Incheon Airport, I've personally run into at least a dozen of them.

            The second flight was a bit more crowded than the first, but still pretty empty.  The staff even went so far as to apologize for a 5 min delay due to congestion.  I don’t think an American airline would have done the same, not after a 5 min anyway.  This time I did try the food and while it wasn't glorious, but it was pretty darn good for airline food.  (real beef, real noodles, non-cardboard dinner roll, and butter from New Zealand)  I think I’ll fly Korean air from now on.

FYI- I will be posting about Mongolia as well this week, so that will be next, so don't miss it this time. That means you mom and dad.