Posts Tagged ‘South Korea’

Top SOTMs From The World Tour

Wednesday, November 26th, 2014

934631_894563031536_987718179_nThe messages I heard from my SOTM subjects during my trip around the world fell into various categories.

Some were of hope, of ambition, of a wish for a better world. Others of advice, wisdom passed between generations. Sometimes they were a desire for loved ones not to follow the same path as the person who spoke to them.

Some were just plain sad. Others, hilarious. But they showed how much fun it is, how difficult it can be and how fragile a thing it is to be alive and around others.

I’m pleased that I got the breadth I was looking for in my subjects. I visited townships in South Africa, wealthy apartments in Dubai, a Korean school for girls, Japanese guest houses and the Australian outback, among so many other places. I found people willing to share their stories in all of them.

As difficult a task as it’s been to make such choices, here are some of my favourite SOTMs from the trip that circled the globe which I undertook from June 2013 to May 2014, across 20 countries, capturing hundreds of people’s stories along the way.

There are many more that are similarly great, and my original plan of choosing a top 10 was soon abandoned. So this isn’t a definitive list, and there are many gems from the tour not seen here but visible on the SOTM site. Just browse the map, or for World Tour in the site’s search engine, to see them all.

Click on any of the images here to see their page on the Someone Once Told Me website and, where appropriate, their translation pictures.

09022014I spotted Boy in Manila’s North Cemetery in the Philippine capital. I was taken with how he looked, just as he was, with the tomb where he lived in the background. So that’s exactly where I took his photograph.

His friend, who was ill himself, once told him: “Stop Smoking And Drinking

01052014I met Timmy in Club Charles, a hipstery bar in Baltimore, USA. Film director John Waters was also in there, as apparently it’s one of his favourite bars.

After his photo, Timmy told me a story of how he wanted to be prom king, and how his girlfriend provided a twist to his quite gripping tale.

The whole time I was wondering how come he was talking about a girlfriend, because he was clearly a gay man.

Afterwards he explained how he now had a wonderful boyfriend, and it all made sense again.

01012014I’m a big fan of proverbs. They’re very much in the same vein as Someone Once Told Me quotes, and this one is a sort of proverb, excitingly in Khmer.

Malin told me in Phnom Penh how her Cambodian father once told her: “Don’t Live Like A Snake, Don’t Die Like A Frog” What excellent advice.

01032014Lisa chose to share a fable that she heard from a Kenyan conservationist. Again, fables are just up the SOTM street, being passed on through the generations and lodging in memories along the way.

We met at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. Lisa plans to do her bit for conservation, and got inspiration from this phrase which is a wonderful lesson about doing what you can, no matter how little influence it will have.

I later learned that Mandela never visited the university, even though it had been named after him – but then, many things are named after him and he probably didn’t have time to see them all.

04092013Mel’s story is one of love, coming from the mouth of her grandmother who had Alzheimer’s. Mel clearly didn’t like being in front of the camera, but I’m really glad she agreed to pose by the sea in Sliema, Malta.

Her grandmother once told her: “You Are Beautiful”

05092013Miu’s story, captured in Kyoto, Japan, is one of a passion for education, a parent’s desire for their children to be educated. Her mother, tight for money, would tell her: “I’ll Buy You Any Books You Want”

06042014Israel’s story is a lesson worth remembering. A financial expert, he explained to me in New Orleans, USA that a client of his taught him how whatever you save for, whatever you plan for, something will always crop up and need money to be spent on it.

So get used to it, because that’s just life.

07062014Matt once talked to a homeless guy in the States, who told him this.

I told him I agreed, how it was a great and upbeat phrase, not one you’d think someone who’s homeless would come up with.

“Thanks,” Matt said. “Can I interest you in a ‘Best Day Of My Life, No Big Deal‘ wristband?’

That was in January 2014, in Manila, Philippines. I’m still wearing it now.

08072013Aldo is a brave soul, because he’s the goalkeeper for San Marino, an international football team which doesn’t have many players to choose from, on account of the nation having some 30,000 inhabitants. He once let in eight goals against England and, famously, 13 against Germany.

However, he also once stood between the sticks against the might of the Italian national side, who peppered his goal with shots. He let in four but it should have been much more, if it weren’t for his cat-like performance that day.

After the game, a fan tweeted him a message that literally translated as: “You Played Incredible”

08102013This is a cute story, told by the adventurous and not a little handsome Cameron. But it also features a wriggling baby crocodile in Darwin, Australia, so simply had to make this list.

10022014Aruna has a beautiful tale of how her father cheered her up, by sending her this message on a postcard when she was a lonely teenager. She posed on the Thai island of Koh Lanta with a little help from her son Shaan, who’s holding the postcard in question.

The phrase means: “The Good That One Does Has No Immediate Recompense: It Will Come By & Of Itself”

11092013I met two women in South Africa’s Port Elizabeth called Mama Gladys. Both looked after children, one in an orphanage, the other a creche. The latter is the Mama Gladys that you see above.

She runs a creche in Walmer township, a rather tough place. She said she was concerned about the welfare of some of the local children, so she began a place where their parents could leave them when they went to work, or were just unable to look after them.

Her quote, written in Xhosa, means: “The Creche Is The Good Idea” which one of her friends told her, when encouraging her to start the venture up.

But something remarkable happened when I was perched on a rickety chair, taking two photographs of Mama Gladys – one in Xhosa, the other in English – and her wriggling charges.

She dug a mobile out of her considerable bosom, took a call, then tucked the device away again, revealing softly that her sister in law had died.

You can see the difference in her expression in the two photos on the SOTM site.

14072013Fabio Lamborghini is the definition of charisma, as you might expect from the nephew of Ferrucio, the inventor of the supercar which still bears his surname today.

Fabio said his Italian uncle once told him: “Fabio, The First Secret For Getting Money Is To Economise. Don’t Spend Too Much. Remember!”

Fabio didn’t seem to see much irony in his millionaire uncle, who made cars that only the super-rich can afford, telling his family to watch their spending.

He also said he took one of the Lamborghinis out each weekend.

Me: “Do you drive fast?”

Fabio: “Yeeeees.”

Me: “What do the local police think about that?”

Fabio: “Nooooo, they are very happy. Sometimes I give them the keys to one of the cars and tell them to borrow it for the weekend. So they are happy.”

Everyone’s a winner here, clearly.

16082013This one gets on the list because Michele, a bar owner in the tiny town of Bagno di Romagna in Emilia Romagna, Italy, once heard soldiers from the French Foreign Legion singing it in Albania. And I love that.

It means: “Doubt Maybe… Give Up Never”

16122013Not only do I totally agree with this, it also contains Benedicta’s dazzling smile and a view of Phnom Penh in Cambodia. The line at the top of the pad, above the ‘n’ in ‘things’ is a hair pin, because the page ripped. It wasn’t one of mine.

17022014I wrote about Pete soon after I’d met him in Hong Kong. He went from compering at a comedy club and rolling out the laughs for the entire audience, to weeping in my arms an hour or so later, after recounting the story of his dead mother. One of my most remarkable SOTM experiences.

20082013First time in Austra, and Vienna. There I met a rocket scientist, Ryan – another first. Turns out he was once told this, as well. Brilliant.

21082013Not only a great quote, this sums up the Google generation and yet,  according to Julika, it came from a Latin teacher who looked like Julius Caesar. I was pleased to get a slightly different view of the Eiffel Tower in the background. Her SOTM reads: “You Don’t Have To Know Everything – You Just Have To Know Where To Find The Answers!”

26112013Duncan is dsylexic and wanted his SOTM, taken at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, to be written in his own way. So that’s what we did. An admirable chap. His SOTM says: “You Can’t Use Your Disability As An Excus”

28082013I took this picture of Doris at the Missionvale Care Centre, Port Elizabeth, South Africa. Life there is tough, with high rates of unemployment, extreme poverty and widespread HIV infection.

So it was heartbreaking to hear Doris’ story, which clearly made a hard life even tougher. Her SOTM says: “Your Husband Went To Transkei” He left without a word and Doris doesn’t know why.

29082013Atakan was told: “Don’t Even Trust Your Father!” by his father as he was leaving home to travel to Istanbul for university.

What I like about it is that afterwards, Atakan told me fathers and sons have a close relationship in Turkey. His story demonstrated this.

10092013Another one from Missionvale Care Centre, a place I can’t get out of my head.

Linda, who helps run the place, said a handymen called Bishop was working hard one day, and when she asked him why he told her this. These pots are in the centre’s garden and commemorate people who have helped the place with their work, but who have now passed away.

Some months after this photo, Bishop, who showed me around the township on foot so I could photograph it, caught pneumonia and died. So his name will be on a pot now, I think. A really sad end to a powerful story, but I will cherish my afternoon wandering around Missionvale township, with Bishop, for the rest of my life.

31102013Sally was a shy girl, as were all her classmates. But I got a number of them to think of SOTM stories. This one was my favourite.

My love of proverbs means that I was always going to be charmed by this phrase, which is apparently such an old expression in Korea that Sally actually wrote it in Chinese characters.

It means: “After A Typhoon There Are Pears To Gather Up”

I like it so much I even use that quote myself, which is perfectly in the spirit of SOTM, of course.

It has been a blessing to have learned so much from so many fine people around the world.

SOTM World Tour – South Korea

Thursday, December 19th, 2013

 I liked Seoul, but don’t be put off when I tell you I considered it to be Tokyo lite.

I really don’t mean that as an insult, but when you wander the streets there are a striking number of similarities to the untrained eye, as mine is.

People from this region will be able to point to many differences of course, but to Westerners faced with narrow streets, tall buildings, cutting edge technology, copious amounts of Hello Kitty phone covers and beautiful, if indecipherable signs everywhere – well, it all blends into one.

There is a particular distinction – while Japan’s wifi is superb, widely available and very fast, South Korea’s is even better, and is rated as among the world’s best. After a few weeks there, I can personally confirm this fact. Japan’s wifi was lightning, but South Korea’s was faster than the speed of light.

Also, Koreans do a lot of barbecues, which mean you get small strips of tasty meat and a little round hot plate, often built into your table. It’s fun to finish off your own grub that way. Brings out the inner caveman and whatnot.

For the past year, Seoul has been particularly famous for Psy’s Gangnam Style song. The shot above is from that district, which is filled with designer gear and Rolls Royce showrooms, that kind of thing.

Here’s a typical shop window in Gangnam.

This lady is one I spotted that afternoon who might just have been the sort of person Psy was singing about.

 Incidentally, Psy’s face is everywhere in Seoul – you name it, he’s endorsed it. And why not? People like him make the world a better place.

But the best part of the city is to be found in the university quarter, as often is the case in cities around the world. Seoul’s is called Hongdae where you’ll find everything you want – cheap eats, great cafes, mobile phone shops, computer stores, and lots of novelty socks and clothes.

You’ll also find a Hello Kitty cafe in that district, and with some delight I visited it.

I’m a big fan of The Kitteh and still cannot find a T-shirt of her in a man’s size (there’s probably a good reason for that). I did manage to get this photo of me in there, and for a while I was (proudly) the only man on the premises.

But while I love all animals, I’m most of all a dog man, and was thrilled to visit a dog cafe. I know what you’re thinking – it is South Korea after all, where dog is a delicacy. But this isn’t that sort of place.

The pooches are all running around quite happily, and you can buy a packet of treats to feed them.

I did wonder about how often the dogs are exercised, what will all the treating going on by the thrilled customers, but most of them looked quite in shape and not overweight. Their coats were glossy and their eyes clear, and nails were clipped too so they did look in good health.

This little chap, a bit old and not very energetic, stuck with us all the whole time. I liked him. I called him Eric, in Eric Cantona’s honour.

Also spotted this fella on the way out and had to take his photo. I hope that bag was full of treats for him.

But after wandering around the über-modern Hongdae which crackles with electricity and microchips, I thoroughly recommend a detoxing visit to the Secret Garden at Changdeokgung Palace.

Once the refuge of the Korean royal family, the palace is nice but I have a low tolerance for palaces and temples. Frankly, the world is full of them, those within one country often look the same and when people come to the UK, for example, they don’t spend their time going round all the churches that nation has to offer. If they did that in Malta they’d be particularly busy – there’s 365 of them there.

So I’ve a three-temple maximum, and then I’d rather wander around a market and try to capture people on the streets.

But while the only other people in the palace’s Secret Garden were the group we were part of – you have to be guided around – the whole garden area, which covers 78 acres, is simply gorgeous.

Amusingly, as our guide took us around, she kept pointing out places that various kings throughout the Joseon dynasty (1392-1897) used to play drinking games. So much so that I began to wonder if Korea’s ancient kings were partly British.

For example, the king would sit in the structure to the left while his ministers and strictly invited guests would come up with wordplay games and poems. If they failed to do so in a clever or chucklesome manner, they’d be banished for a while to the island in the middle of the water.

Other parts of the gardens were similarly dedicated to spots where the king and his cronies could drink away to their heart’s content.

The garden’s copious foliage affords great cover from the sun, and there are delights all around the paths you take. No wonder it was once only for the eyes of the privileged.

Brilliantly, this is a miniature paddy field, for the king to tend himself.

Depending on how it did, he would then know how good or bad the rice crop would be that year for his subjects. What a great idea! Let’s hope he acted accordingly when the crop was bad.

After having seen a bit of Seoul and sucked up as much of its wifi as possible, Adventurous Kate and I hopped on a train to Yeosu.

We were the guests of the excellent Heather, who proved her hostess/mostess tag by putting us up in her place for a few days, gallantly taking the couch herself so as to let us snooze in her bed.

Excitingly, Heather also arranged for me to visit Yeosu Girls’ Middle School, where I got a number of the charming young ladies there to take part in SOTM.

classWhile we were just guests that day, and observed Heather teach her pupils, I think Kate got quite into the idea of teaching a class herself, drawing an inspirational message expertly on the board.

dsc_0104This is a shot of me taking a SOTM in the classroom, with quite an excited audience.

DSC_0219And here are some of the great photos I got that day from the schoolgirls, who were very sweet. Click on the images to find out what they mean – the first one is a sumptuous little proverb, involving pears and typhoons.

This is Serena’s SOTM – many of the girls adopt Western names.

29112013After happy times in Yeosu, we pushed off to nearby Busan. Among its many features is a fascinating fish market. If it come out the sea and wriggles, then you’ll find it for sale there.

I’m making a break for it lads! I’m heading for the border! Freedo…. ah, rats.

The fish’s scales shimmered when they caught the sunlight.

 I also noticed that the majority of sellers in Busan’s fish market were women.

dsc_0297There are also lots of dive-bombing seagulls next to the fish market, which make for an entertaining few minutes’ distraction.

dsc_0356Finally, one afternoon, Kate and I strolled down to Busan beach for a very pleasant afternoon on the sand. If you’re in town, it’s a great place to visit and very clean.

The beach is apparently popular, but was quiet when we were there.

You know that thing where girls jump and try to get captured mid-flight? You see it everywhere.

dsc_0218Also in Busan I noticed that, like many other parts of the world I’ve been in, there are Turks selling Turkish food. I love kebabs, so this is a good thing, obviously. This chap was doing a few nifty tricks with ice cream.

So after all that little lot, it was off to be properly DownUnda – a trip to Australia for three weeks. I like kangaroos and don’t mind snakes, but what about spiders? Could I avoid their hairy clutches? Find out next time.