Thursday, February 21, 2013

Seoul: December 2012

Met up with my friend B- who was the one who invited me to speak there. Food is always better with a local. Neat buddhist style meal (almost no salt, no spice, no garlic, no meat), simple beautifully prepared food in the purist sense. Also ate at Korean style sashimi, roast duck place, korean fried chicken, random street food. Was amused at the ubiquity of k-pop, stars everywhere, and so many. One tv show showcased dozens of groups, each with up to dozens of members. Tons of coffee shops everywhere n Seoul that would fit right in in a hip US city, though none of the espressos blew me away, all adequate. They had amusing names (CNN Caffe Drop Top Beansbin Angel Us Caffe bene [Rich flavor of caffe bene come of rich standard of coffee making] Ediya espresso Tom n Tom Caffe pascucci Demitasse coffee) with oddly english sounding names. Curiously, most of the shops in Seoul had oddly english names rather than korean (a clothing store named YES- Young Emotional Story), although otherwise, english was not very common at all. Randomly stumbled upon the tae kwon do world headquarters, with stunning views. I passed a latin american team making their pilgramage. I pictured (ala Simpsons) the office workers inside typing on keyboards by kicking, or hitting the elevator button with high kicks. Seoul was a huge very modern city. Though the imperial palace dates back for centuries, most of it was dismantled by the Japanese, so the palace we visited was only a fewy ears old. At least the palace tour guide there still harbors ill will. Finally, the DMZ was perhaps the oddest most surreal tourist attraction I've ever been to. With the reminder that people have been shot at the border, and lots of propganda on both sides, from the strangely tall and buff South Korean soldiers standing watch Tae Kwon Do style, to the new high way on the south side in contrast to the dirt roads on the north, to the unfinished "propaganda villages" built on the north, they ran out of money before they were completed, to the competing flag poles of who could be higher. Interesting to meet the North Korean refugee who mostly looked bored and spent the time fiddling with her Samsung galaxy, and to see the clean cut US soldier boys interact with the Korean tourguide. Finally happened to be there the day before the elections. Amused at how similar they sounded to the ones in the US for such a young democracy barely decades old.

Saturday, February 09, 2013

Thailand - December 2012

In Korea to give a talk so took a side trip to Thailand. Kinda neat to finally visit both, having been eating those cuisines for a long time. Tyler Cowan suggested that these may be the most uncorrupted Asian cuisines in the US, since they haven't been around long enough to adapt to the US politics like say Chinese and Indian and Japanese have. But it was nice to see it at the soruce.

Had a good start on Asiana airlines, serving a nice Bibimbop in flight, and still preserving a few international amenities like slippers and toothbrushes and mouthwash.

The thing I noted most about Thailand was its sense of style, at least compared to my other visits in Asia (cambodia, vietnam, china, malaysia, bali). Probably because its rich enough to afford nice things, but developed recently enough before those nice things started looking dated and worn. Everything from the ancient grand palace and temple, to the official iphone app, to magazine brochures, hotel decorations, menus, receipts, to the apron at the cooking class, all showed a classy contemporary aesthetic, with muted colors and understated design, a contrast say to the garish dirty nouveau riche new China.

A short trip but visited the grand palace and historic temples dating from the 1700s, still active due to the active ubiquitous monarchy (the longest reigning living monarch) and living buddghist faith, and well maintained in vivid colors. Got to see the now-touristy floating market and dined boat side from floating vendors, most notably culturally to see the juxtaposition of the more traditional thai houses, and the younger modern thai tourists. Went swimming in the lovely and large jasmine scented pool, took a super fun cooking class taught by a ladyboy (maybe) in a residential part of bangkok, got a ringside spot to watch the Thai kickboxing (girlfight) put on at the MBK mall (biggest mall I have ever seen). Hunted a new iphone case from a succession of vendors starting at $3 on the street, then $6 at train station, then $12 at the mall stand, then $30 at one of the dozens of apple retailers at the mall. Wrapped up with midnight drinks on the 60th story Red Sky bar, with spectacular views.