Days 624-629: How Do We Solve A Problem Like Korea?

DAY 624: DISMEMBERMENT 16.09.10: So I disembarked (hilariously described on the ferry’s website as ‘dismemberment’)... ...onto the native soil of country number 169, South Korea – a place at pains to remind you that it’s the only divided country in the world.  Which it is.  If you ignore Cyprus/Northern Cyprus. And Ireland/Northern Ireland. And Israel/Palestine. And North Sudan/South Sudan. And Somalia/Somaliland. And China/Taiwan. And Pakistan/Bangladesh. And Mongolia/Inner Mongolia. And Macedonia/Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. And Georgia/South Ossetia/Abkhazia. And Azerbaijan/Nagorno-Karabakh. And… But pedantry aside, North and South Korea have been officially at war for over fifty years now (there was only a ceasefire, not a peace treaty) and now we have a crazy situation in which the southern half of the country is one of the richest and most progressive in the world, while the northern half is a basketcase and something akin to George Orwell’s 1984,…

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Day 623: Guten Tag!

15.09.10: So Qingdao , what are you famous for?  Ah, you were a German concession town were you?  And you’re where the Tsingtao brewery is based?  Excellent.  I’ll have a pint.  What’s that?  It’s 50p? I’ll take two.  Ahh… My love affair with China (so much easier to navigate than anywhere in Africa, the Middle East or India ) undiminished, I arrived in Qingdao hoping to take the ferry to Korea today.  Seriously, if this was India, I would have had to give five months notice, spent three days trying to find the correct window and drafted a memo the length of the Gettysburg address to explain exactly why I wanted to get on the ferry (as well as supplying the mortal remains of my great grandfather to prove I’m not of Pakistani descent).  But this is China , so I just asked for a ticket, paid the money and got the ticket. Super. So I…

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Day 622: The Great Wall

14.09.10: Sometimes I had good days, sometimes I have bad days, sometimes I have days that are madder than Mad Jack McMad of the clan McMad.  Today was one of the mad days.  It all started at 2am when my bus pulled over at the side of the road and the driver’s mate gesticulated for me to get off.  Are we in Beijing already?  We’re four hours early… Sleepy-eyed and completely not with it, I got off (hoping I had grabbed all my stuff) and was herded onto another bus.  You see, my bus wasn’t full enough to justify going all the way to Beijing, so I was to get on another bus that was a little more full.  Well, make that TOTALLY FULL.  Which meant that for the next hour while all around me slept the sleep of angels in their little Chinese bunk beds,…

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Day 621: Innies and Outies

13.09.10: So there’s Inner Mongolia and there’s Outer Mongolia.  What’s the difference? I hear you cry… Well, it’s like this, see: half of the historic area of Mongolia is in China (that half being Inner Mongolia) and half of it is an independent and sovereign state which used to be called Outer Mongolia, but is now known by the more snappy and dynamic title of Mongolia. The same thing has happened thousands of miles away in the country of Macedonia, made famous as the birthplace of a certain Alexander who was apparently (like Peter, Britain and Frosties) GR-GR-GR-GREAT!  Unfortunately for the Macedonians, the Greeks who control the southern part of historic Macedonia won’t allow Macedonia the snappy and dynamic title of Macedonia (on the grounds that they own the lower half and they don’t want hapless holiday makers getting confused) nor will they allow the name…

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Days 618-620: Weekend at Bare Knees

10.09.10-12.09.10: I can’t tell you how much I’ve missed the sight of legs.  Girls legs, to be precise, pins that go all the way up, if you know what I mean.  Brutally and unfairly covered since I left Europe, damn I’ve missed them.  You guys in the Middle East and India must be like completely retarded or something, it’s all well and good saying it’s your culture to deny me a glimpse of a teenage hottie in hot pants but at the end of the day, you guys are like total idiots.  It’s like going to a houseparty to discover there’s no booze, all the girls have left and everyone is sitting around quietly reading Dostoyevsky. And tutting. Then again, if my daughter/sister/wife had an inch-thick monobrow and a moustache that rivalled Lord Kitchener’s, I’ll probably cover her up like some latter-day Elephant Man too. China,…

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Day 617: Raise The Red Lantern

09.09.10: Arriving groggy-eyed in the big Chinese Cheese that is Beijing, I had work to do.  First up, I needed to pick my second passport up from Fed-Ex. This may seem like a bit of a pedestrian thing to tell you, but if anyone is wanting to know the inner-workings of The Odyssey and perhaps one day replicate them this is the kind of thing you need to know.  Getting a Chinese visa in Nepal cancels any other Chinese visas in your passport.  To get around this (since I’m going to have to leave and re-enter China a bunch of times to get to Mongolia, Korea etc), I had hatched a cunning plan which involved my mum and dad getting me a double entry visa for China in my second passport and sending it over to me.  Well, actually – they sent it to Chris and…

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Days 606-616: Seven Days In Tibet

31.08.10-09.09.10:As I knew what I’d be like in the morning, I took a shower the night before because even though Kathmandu does offer hot showers (IN YOUR FACE, INDIA!) I decided it would be best to squeeze every last second out of sleeping as I could.  I’m not a morning person.  So up up bright and early (well not that bright, it was still dark, but it was early) and onto the minibus that would be taking me and a handful of fellow wayfarers over the border to the Forbidden Kingdom of Tibet.Now as you know, I’m a bit of an independent traveller, but the Chinese government don’t take kindly to westerners mooching around Tibet without a chaperone.  As a consequence and as there is simply NO OTHER WAY to get from India into China, I had to join a tour group.  It would take us…

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What (Not) To Take Backpacking!

Planning a trip to every country in the world? Worried about what you should and shouldn’t pack? My advice? TRAVEL LIGHT! It's best to have too little and purchase stuff on the way than to have too much stuff and have to carry things that you never use for the best part of a year. Here's A Bunch of Stuff You Can Leave At Home: 1. A Towel Don't do it. PLEASE! DON'T TAKE A TOWEL. Despite what The Hitch-Hiker's Guide tells you, you DON'T need it. You'll dry yourself with it in the morning then stuff it in your bag (soaking wet) and get on the bus/train/whatever and it will STINK. It will also double the weight of your bag. FORGET IT. Ask at the hostel you are staying at, they'll give you a nice clean dry one for like 5p. Failing that, use your bedsheets.…

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