Thursday, October 31, 2013

Boracay Sunset

Last year's winter was a bitterly cold affair in Seoul, with frozen roads lined with snowy slush. In the midst of its chilling depths, we decided it would be rather pleasant to go somewhere nice for a long weekend. Somewhere warm.

Somewhere tropical.

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A few mitigating factors hampered the immediate actualisation of our tropical escapade proposal. At the time, Baengy was not yet two years old and Heather was 6-months pregnant with Alex. I was in the final year of my PhD and our financial situation was not particularly sparkling. Call me paranoid, but I swear there was a muffled chortle whenever our bank book was handed back by our cashier.

But despite our rather 'cute' bank balance, in the end we decided we needed to do what we needed to do. We placed Baengy in the care of diplomatically-delighted halmoni and halaboji in Busan, and went away for a long weekend to Boracay in the Philippines.

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It's a pleasant problem to have to untether a layered mass of cumbersome winter clothes at a foreign airport due to warm tropical weather.

It seems that when the sun has all but forsaken the Korean peninsula, Boracay is where it comes to play.

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On the sandy beaches of South Australia, one can be forgiven for expecting the alluring waters to be hospitably warm. This can often be followed by a cold reality shock when dipping ones tootsies into the waters, on the other side of which are the Antarctic ice shelves.

Not so, in Boracay. The waters here receive visitors with generous servings of jovial thermodynamic gravy.

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After leaving our baggage at the hotel, we promptly hopped into the warm waters with a moderate amount of childlike glee.

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There exist various desktop backgrounds on office computers around the world that depict idyllic sandy locations with glimmering turquoise waters. These are the places where our daydreams take us.  

But actually going to one feels a bit like visiting Disneyland, or being sucked into a Nintendo game.

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The sunsets were invariably spectacular, although brief, while the sands retained a soft warmth at dusk.

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Traveling with Heather is always an enjoyable experience. In my opinion, there are two types of fun travelers: those who enjoy suggesting interesting things to eat and do, and those who agree that such suggestions sound good. 

I'm of the former variety, while Heather is of the latter.

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We stayed at the Boracay Garden Hotel, a fairly nice place with outdoor pools and decent cooking. Rooms were spacious and cost about $120 per night.

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Transport occurred from place to place in open hybrid vehicles of questionable safety, to which we held on tightly. 

Common sense is the most affordable type of traveler's insurance.

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In the very first restaurant we ate at, we sat with Rani and Minseon, two other Koreans in our tour group. They work at the same company in the southern city of Gyeonju, and save money to travel together every few years. They're both married, although their husbands are not fond of traveling.

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We had some good conversations about life, the universe and everything, over bottles of Filipino beer and cheap fruity cocktails.

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For a handful of Filipino pesos, you can rent a deck chair for a day. But the sun inconveniently moves in a wider arc across the sky the closer you are to the equator, necessitating an incessant shifting of chairs toward the elusive shade.

Oh, the humanity.

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Good buffet breakfasts accompanied with strong coffee started each day off in the right direction.

"More fresh mango juice, give you sir?"

"Why yes. Yes please."

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Our tour was run by a Korean company, and Boracay is very popular with Korean tourists. The benefit of joining the tour was in not having to figure out everything ourselves, from the reputations of local restaurants to the unsolicited offerings of jet ski rental from strangers. The down side of the tour was not being able to do things at our own pace, and having things explained to us as if we were from the dark side of Pluto.

"This is a snorkel. You breathe in this end. This other end is the one that sticks out of the water and brings air in. You cannot breathe if both ends are underwater."

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We went for a boat tour of the surrounding islands and feasted on crabs for lunch. I don't mind the odd crab now and again, but I find their hardened exoskeleton makes them a fuss to eat. 

I am more of the fish fillet persuasion.

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"Many men go fishing without realising it is not fish they seek."

A quotation that came to mind, although on this particular occasion it was in fact fish we sought (and caught).

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We enjoyed San Miguel and Red Horse beer on the boat, along with fresh mangoes and sliced sashimi from the fish we caught.

The ajosshi at the table was quite a character. He brought a nice stash of smuggled bottles of soju in his luggage from Korea to share with everyone at dinner times.

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We also took a ride on a fast catamaran. It still amazes me how they can sail back and forth on the same route using the same breeze.

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The locals we met along our well-worn travel route were cheerful and accommodating. On the final night we went to a beachside club and had a rather merry time.

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All in all, it was an excellent holiday. Although we were worried whether we could afford it, in the end it felt like money well spent. The great weather, warm waters and plentiful activities made it a destination worth visiting.

Everyone needs a holiday once in a while, and Boracay is a great place to have one.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

The Blogging Resumes

"Time and tide wait for no aggies*."

- Origin unknown

*Aggy is the Korean word for 'baby'

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With a distinct dull roar, the ongoings of the recent six months have whooshed past, and off into far distant horizons inhabited by a loose ecosystem of hazy memories unfortified by regular blogging.

The cause of such a predicament, post mortem reveals, can be traced to a series of momentous overlapping life events that converged simultaneously for the perfect storm, all of which could only be accommodated within an inadequately small teacup of a schedule. 

But we have emerged unscathed. And dusted ourselves off to resume blogging with aggies conspicuously older than last seen.

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The first major event we dealt with was moving house, as our lease of the SNU family accommodation expired with the completion of my studies. The family mini-apartment we had at SNU on campus was excellent, although quite small for two boisterous babies who enjoy making a mess. We had two bedrooms, our own kitchen, bathroom and two balconies, subsidized to W150,000 per month. It had everything we needed, and made a significant impact on our ability to live comfortably in recent times.

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But the time had come to move. All constituents of the Farrand household were thus summoned to attend a Thing, during which the future direction of the household was decided upon.

Finding accommodation for a family in Korea is no easy task. Families in the bigger cities here are like eager hermit crabs, dashing into recently vacated shells whenever an affordable apartment hits the market. Further complicating the matter is the arcane yet popular practice of jeonse, whereby large deposits (hundreds of thousands of dollars) are lent by the tenant to the landlord instead of regular rent being paid. The landlord is then free to invest the tenant's money during the period of the lease contract.

We were faced with the choice of borrowing money from the bank to pay a large jeonse, which we would have had to pay interest on, or borrow an even larger amount of money and buy a house instead. We, of the Farrand tribe, do not take such decisions on a whim. Arguments were heard, opinions were raised and countless cups of tea imbibed. Eventually, a motion was put forward to go the full monty and borrow enough money to purchase our own abode.

The end result of voting was 2 votes in favor, with one abstention and one unintelligible answer.

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To make a long story short, we ended up buying a house through auction in Suji-Gu, which is about 40 minutes south of Seoul. As fortune would have it, someone (an investor) with lesser fortune had previously purchased a house using borrowed money, defaulted on it, and had it seized by the bank. Heather, being the incalculable genius that she is, managed to win a silent auction on it for only slightly higher than the reserve price. We bought our 31 pyeong apartment for W247,000,000 (approx AU$240,000) and spent some further money to remodel the interior. 

Baengy was pleased.

So we moved in at the end of August, an action that required an enormous skycrane to ferret our belongings high up into our new perch. Although it all sounds rather smooth, there were a number of obstacles. Luckily, I have a resilient partner who is also very good at solving all manner of problems.

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Although our old place was fairly crowded with furniture and belongings, our new place swallowed it all up with room to spare. Previously, whenever Baengy became excited, she would do a sort of hopping jump on the spot to release energy while not bumping into nearby walls in our old place. Now she runs all around our new apartment with glee. I think that simple fact makes all the money and effort worthwhile.

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One of our new balconies.

Heather also seems content, although we don't yet have all the furniture we'd like. Such things shall come, with the passage of time and the arrival of paydays.

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In our new kitchen, it's strange having so many things that work properly. Our previous gas stove was quite fickle and had to be ignited using a secret ritual involving a perfectly-timed flick of the wrist and a recited compliment. And our old faucet would leak for a while after being turned off.

But everything in our new place has an eery efficiency to it.

Alex is quite a joy to watch growing up, even by baby standards. He smells like fairy floss and likes his big sister a lot. Big sister exhibits an amusing blend of tolerance and ambivalence toward his frequently outstretched and grasping hands.

They both like books, sent to them by Grandad Kym and Grandma Mary, and read to them by Mother Farrand. Baengy has already learned the English alphabet.

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My new job is going well, which I will talk about in more deserving detail in the near future. One of the most noticeable things that's happened since graduation is that I now have more spare time. I joined the Australian Chamber of Commerce recently, and we've attended some of their events. These photos are from a barbecue they held at a hotel in Seoul.

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Baengy knows what cameras are and what to do when faced with a lens. One of the funny things she does though, is talk to the person she's posing for, in babytalk.

"Photo? Cheese?"

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I've managed to keep taking photos in regular intervals over the past few months, although I haven't kept up with the blogging. I've decided that I'll put as many of the good photos up that I can, over time, even if the chronological order is a bit dodgy.

I think we, the Farrand family of Korea, are in a lucky situation now, with a future to be looked forward to. And Ashley and Alex are both growing up at breakneck speed.

I'll try to keep up my end of the bargain and continue taking photos, and hope the memories won't be forgotten.