Wide reaching effects.

We all know just what a wonderful and special man Nelson Mandela is. Specifically, we all know just how important, and indeed, absolutely vital he was to ending apartheid in SA, and ending it in a relatively bloodless way. Yet I’m not sure South Africans are always aware of just how much the rest of the world looks to him as well as a truly great man.

My example is this. At my relatively small Taekwondo school all the way over in South Korea, they give the students a monthly newsletter, usually dealing with tournament news, trips etc. This month, there was special twist. they had an article dedicated to Mandela and the 67 minute volunteer programme that gets promoted during July, the month of his birth. So, splashed across the newsletter of Hangul characters is a picture of Mandela and the South African flag, and a plea to follow his example of humility, and devoting your life to the betterment of others. I had never been prouder to be South African than when I first saw that newsletter. I wish my country was always associated with things as wonderful as him.

Mandela inspiring people around the world

Published in: on 14/07/2010 at 10:38 pm  Comments (2)  
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World Cup Final

Venice 2000

My first night evening in Venice,  and we’re enjoying one of the best pizza’s of our lives at a surprisingly swanky restaurant considering the prices. Suddenly the door to the kitchen bursts out, and out storm the staff, weaving their way through the tables of customers out into the street. followed swiftly by all the waiters. Naturally, we follow, to see what all the fuss is about. It soon becomes clear. The bar across the alley has a TV. The TV is showing the MATCH.

The Dutch, host of Euro 2000, are squared up against the Italians in the semi finals. Squandering numerous chances through the game, the Dutch are held nil – nil. Down to penalties.

History will tell you the Italians won. I got my first glimpse of the famous Italian passion and emotion, with grown men crying in the streets, hugging and kissing all and sundry as they celebrated their good fortune and the win. It felt like Venice boiled over that hot summer evening, and the passion of the Italian men and woman was sight to behold, and led to a very special first night in Venice.

Milan 2002

I’m catching the overnight train from Milan to Brussels, and find myself sharing the cheap seats with two Spanish  university students. Just weeks before, the Spanish had sent us tumbling out of the World Cup in Japan/South Korea, 3 – 2 if my memory serves correctly. I remember sneaking off work in the UK so that I could watch the game and suffer the anguish that South African sports fans know so well as we came so close, yet ultimately came up short. Yet for the two Spaniards, that game had been nothing special, just another minor obstacle on their way to bigger and better things later in the tournament. Hardly impartial, but I felt rather belittled the way they rather unceremoniously tossed my country to the soccer scrap heap.

On these two experiences alone, I make my decision. For inadvertently giving a youngster like me a most fantastic introduction to Venice, and all things passionate one summer night in 2000, I hope the Dutch emerge victorious on Sunday at Soccer City, Johannesburg, South Africa.

Bravo SA, you’ve done yourself and all your citizens proud over the last month. Lets finish this thing off with a bang.

Published in: on 08/07/2010 at 11:39 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The fact that Korea has largely retained its local customs, tradition and language, despite the outside pressures it faces on a daily basis is an obvious boon and attraction for travellers and expats alike. Yet, the very obvious and vast differences between Korea and most western countries, one of the main attraction of Korea, can become trying at times for expats who have an extended stay in South Korea. This is where the attraction of Hongdae kicks in.

The area around Hongik University in Seoul, commonly known as Hongdae, is one of mine, and many people’s, both foreigners and locals, favourite spots in the city. Due in part to the large amount of students in the area,it is extremely arty and for Korea, rather eccentric. It also has a distinctly European flavour about it, without losing its very Korean essence. Equally, it has not become a Western ghetto area, rather like Itaewon has.

With small boutiques, flea markets, weekly artist markets and a free market on the weekend, Hongdae is at the epicentre of the ever evolving fashion and trend scene in Korea. Shoppers will find plenty to browse through, and the number of Western visitors means that you have a better chance of finding your size than you would elsewhere in the country.

When your credit card has taken enough punishment, there are more than enough coffee shops, bars and restaurants for you to take a load off, and start preparing for Hongdae’s main attraction, the nightlife.

The place to be in Seoul for a great night out, Hongdae is at the forefront of the Korean and expat musical scene. With loads of clubs, you’ll find all music tastes are catered for, usually with  myriad of choices. FF is popular with the rock set, and plays host to many live bands, a fair number of which are foreign. Fans of electronica will find their fix at Club Tool, although make sure you’re dressed to the nines, as they pride themselves on being upmarket and stylish. Tinpan is the ubiquitous ‘meat market’ but entry is free and drinks are cheap, so it’s tough not to have a good time. Try time your visit for club night, when one entry ticket will get you entry into most clubs, as well as cheap drink specials. These are held on the last Friday of every month, and allow club hopping without having to fork out around W10 000 entrance fee for each new club.

New restaurants seem to pop up and close down at an astonishing pace in Hongdae,even by Korean standards. Many of these are open 24 hours, so you’ll never need to go hungry in the area. A special mention must go to Burger B, a few hundred metres down the road from Sangsu subway stop, in the direction of the university gates. For those craving a good old-fashioned beef burger and chips, you can’t go wrong here, and the prices are reasonable as well.

All in all, a great place to indulge in some hedonistic activities. It should go without saying that noraebang’s abound in the district, so if you can’t go for an evening without belting out some of your favourite tunes, never fear. While Hongdae may have absorbed some western tendencies and establishments, the presence of noraebangs, hofs, soju and pot noodles will ensure you’re never far from the ‘real’ Korea should you start to miss it.

Published in: on 08/07/2010 at 8:41 pm  Comments (2)  
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The Doosan Bears

I’ve always been a big sports fan, and for my money, there are few better places in terms of atmosphere and excitement than a live sports match.

Now, I imagine that, along with most of the western world, I grew up watching American movies and TV shows. And even though I’ve never particularly enjoyed the sport of baseball, watching the game live at a ballpark has alway appealed to me, and seeing baseball games on TV or the movies just served to cement that fact. Blue sky, green grass, cold beer, hotdogs, big foam fingers and baseball caps, it’s always been something I’ve wanted to experience. If I could be picky, it would be the Yankees  at Yankee stadium in the Bronx, or the Chicago White Sox in, well Chicago naturally.

Life, as usual, as other plans. It turns out I would break my baseball duck, not in the US of A, but in Korea instead. Now, as with most things American, Koreans have embraced baseball in its entirity. A few months ago, I went to go watch the Doosan Bears take on Busan in the Jamsil Stadium, on the banks of the Seoul River . With the grass-green and the sky blue, the baseball dream was looking promising. unfortunately, the Bears were taught a lesson, going down 15 -1 (if memory serves correctly) and the game as a spectacle was over early.

Jamsil Staduim

It did give us time to watch a few of the more ‘Korean’ aspects of the game. As with soccer games, organised cheers and noise makers, orchestrated by hand and flag signals are all the rage. Interestingly, each side is given a turn for a song or chant. There is no booing, hissing, or trying to drown the opposition side out. All very civilised. hotdogs were, unfortunately in short supply. Instead, a staple Korean snack, dried squid is all the rage in the stands. A little chewy, and with a distinctive aroma (or just downright smelly depending on the wind direction) it does not hold a candle to a decent hot dog.

Ona  positive note, the beer was cold, and the atmosphere was grand. And until I find myself in NY or Chicago, the Bears will do nicely. I only hope they can up their game as the season progresses.

Published in: on 06/07/2010 at 8:43 pm  Comments (3)  
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Does travelling require actual travelling?

Random question perhaps?

I ask because of my thoughts while watching the opening ceremony and match of the 2010 World Cup, proudly held in SA!! We watched at a little hole in the wall restaurant, beer and soju in hand, with the TV balancing precariously on empty soju crates, and neon as far as the eye could see. Yet, thanks to the wonder of tech, I felt like I did a RTW trip in a few hours.

First off, the obvious example. There, in front of me, live and in colour, pictures of my home town, my president, millions of my flags, my anthem and general SA vibe. Local bands who I’ve watched repeatedly now gracing the international stage!. Which is always excellent!! Nothing like a little patriotism.

Watchin African soccer, in Asia.

Then, thanks to the equivalent of $7 on a few pieces of plastic and some impressive engineering, I travelled around the world. Friends and family from back home checking if we were being patriotic and watching the soccer. A few friends bragging about being at Soccer City. An old friend from varsity stuck in the office in Canary Wharf, lamenting the fact he could not get out of the office to watch. An old colleague in the UK who had bunked work and was in my old local, sipping on the first pint of the day with the footie on the telly. An old flame at PWC in NY who was watching in the office. A friend in Ecuador who had risen early so to not miss the festivities. Expat Saffa’s in Perth who still get teary when they hear the national anthem.

So, the question is, have cellphone (or modem), will travel. Or am I simplifying a little too much.

P.S. Have a look at these pics to get a feel of what I mean.

Published in: on 15/06/2010 at 10:26 pm  Comments (4)  
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World Cup Fever

I will admit it, I’m jealous. Very jealous not to be in SA right now. The vibe, the feeling, the crowds, the excitement is palpable.It feels like we’ve already won something, they way our country has come together and uniting behind our team. In fact, it’s had the very effect we were hoping for, uniting the people behind the country as a whole. 

I was (and still) am sceptical about spending so much money on a sports event when we have so many other important things to  be done in out country. And let’s face it, South Africa will not recoup the investment it has laid out for the soccer. Yet, apart from the stadiums, much of the investment on public transport and general infrastructure will almost certainly impact positively on SA and it’s people for years to come. 

Yet, there is the intangible factor. Archbishop Desmond Tutu put it best, when asked about if the cost of the WC can be justified. 

“Man can not live on bread alone. He needs something to dream for, to inspire as well.” 

Mandela with the Cup

The general feeling inside the country is plain to see. Yet, the positive exposure and airtime SA as a country is getting outside of its borders is fantastic, and would be virtually unobtainable otherwise. I watched two CNN anchors blowing vuvuzela’s and explaining South Africa’s climate and geography (and they did a fair job as well) for five minutes this morning. It’s on every channel, outside every store, where ever you look.

Even in South Korea, a country renowned for being quite insulated and inward looking, people have been coming up to me and pointing at the flag on my backpack and shouting “Nam agog?” (South African), aaah, World Cup, and then chattering excitedly in Korean. That did not happen three months ago. 

Go Bafana Bafana, I hope you have a good one tonight. Go South Africa,I hope and pray that this will a truly awesome World Cup,and we can build on this passion and fever in the future of our wonderful country. 

Viva Mzanzi 

It's time

Published in: on 11/06/2010 at 3:17 pm  Comments (2)  
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