Life and Death at the Shipyard

Sad Week at the Shipyard…

Two days ago one of the shipyard workers died. He fell from scaffolding some 20+ metres up. Not speaking Korean I obviously don’t know the full story. The details are of little importance. The outcome was final.

It’s a sobering thought but hardly a surprise with so many people working on all sizes of structure.

Most of what they do here would not be allowed with the UK’s “Health and Safety” jobsworths. All of that is way out of hand in the “west” I fear. It stops jobs or at best massively increases their cost. That is not to say they work unsafely here. The whole scale of the thing means that there are almost bound to be fatalities at some time. Apparently – although it is only hearsay – one a year.

Senses Working Overtime…

Travelling into work on the bus the next two days I decided to listen to some music on my iPod. Still staring out of the windows as we pass by the hulking metal beasts.

It’s an odd kind of assault on the senses. The Cult’s ‘Love Removal Machine’ playing in your ears and the sight of thousands of Koreans busily pedalling to start work on their bikes. I may try it with some Black Sabbath tomorrow. That should keep me alert.

Container Ships…

You notice things staring out of bus windows every day. There must be at least 10 huge Maersk container ships in various states of build in this yard. Clearly a top client. Easily distinguishable by their bright blue colour.

If the several oil drilling ships moored up is an indication of a low oil price (and subsequent cut backs in exploration) – which it is: Then surely the conveyor belt like construction of huge cargo ships must mean that the thriving business of shipping goods looks set to continue. Expand even. World trade shows no signs of slowing from what I see happening here.

Despite the low oil price there are now many oil platform modules being constructed. Popping up all over the area where we work. I am yet to discover which company – and which country – is having these built. Someone clearly knows something we don’t. Are we set for a hike in the oil price?

Daily Workout…

Finally for a bit of fun….Here is a link to the morning exercise tune which blares out across the shipyard loudspeakers each morning and again after lunch. The Korean workers warm-up.

And yes. They do it!

A Weekend in Busan – Part Two

Here is the second instalment from last weekend’s trip to Busan…

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Market

I was heading for the City Hall by way of Bujeon Market; the largest in Busan. It is actually referred to as Bujeon Market Town as it covers so many blocks. Usually I only ever look in those kind of places but this time I wanted something. I only wanted to buy a couple of bananas.

As I got within about 50 metres I could hear some music and shouting – like a poor karaoke. Was that music or some orchestrated commotion? In a few seconds I saw it. A huge rally, march, demo; call it what you will. The long line of people up ahead all seemed to be carrying South Korean flags. I quickened my pace as I drew closer. Keen to see what was going on.

Not only were there thousands of South Korean flags (and I emphasise the “South”) but also hundreds of American stars and stripes flags.


Anti North…

By the time I was close enough to see properly it became clear that this was a very anti North Korean demonstration. There were pictures of the North’s leader crossed out. The same with their flag. Plus all sorts of banners in Korean; I had no idea what they said of course but there were a few in English that said “SOS Republic of Koreans with USA”.

I spent some time watching the passing crowds and slipping into some of the market alleys just off the main road. Trying to see some of the market but at the same time not wanting to miss anything.

It was only a market. I have seen enough of them in the past. This display of patriotism and devotion to their American allies seemed far more interesting. I wanted to get to the front of the march and maybe see where they were going to stop and amass.

There were many thousands of people on this protest. By the time I got to the front of the march it was getting dark and I needed to make my way to the hotel. I also realised I had drifted far from the market area. I never did get my bananas.

Haeundae Beach

The following morning I headed to the east of the city. To the modern seaside resort of Haeundae Beach (pronounced hay-un-day). The best and most popular beach for the people of Busan. A very modern seaside resort. What can I say? Sea. Sand. Commercialised. Freezing. The sun may have been shining but it really was cold. But there was finally some indication that the winter Olympics was taking place in the country…

Soohorang and Bandabi. Olympic Mascots

Despite being very commercial – what type of popular beach resort isn’t? – I was fairly impressed. It would be a great place to spend a few days in spring or summer. And the place certainly attracts lot of Korean money. Three huge skyscraper luxury apartment blocks are being built at one end of the beach. While at the other end there is also the oddly named ‘We’ve the Zenith’ centre which includes some of the tallest residential buildings in the world.

Who knows? next time I am in this part of the world it may be warm enough to dip a toe in the sea. Haeundae Beach would be a great place to do that.

Unfortunately, I had to get the metro back to the bus station and head back to base. Work the next day. It can be easy to forget you are not on holiday. Especially after seeing a place like Haeundae Beach.

Lunar Day in Korea

Spam hampers hit the shops.

Whilst wandering the supermarket near the hotel the other day I was approached by women in traditional dress – at least I think that’s what it was. (I wouldn’t really know would I?). They were pushing the special presentation sets of Spam, everyone’s favourite tinned meat…. They were especially keen to show me the reduced prices. all the while speaking to me in Korean seemingly oblivious to the fact that – just by looking at me – anyone could tell I hadn’t the faintest idea what they were talking about. Spam! Yes, I understood that bit. But all the other stuff? All I could do was smile and take the special offer leaflet and continue walking.

As I have written previously during my first visit here, Koreans have a particular liking for the tinned spiced ham.

Korean New Year

All this special offer gourmet food must mean one thing. The Korean new year – also known as Lunar new year, falling on the day of the second new moon after the winter solstice.

In the west we naturally refer to Chinese new year which we all know comes around this time of year – end of Jan early Feb. I never gave it any thought, that the same thing is also celebrated in Korea. And of course, Japan and Vietnam…and possibly more. This whole corner of the planet basically celebrates the same new year. This year falls on Feb 15th. All Koreans will celebrate over the next four days. Mainly by spending time with their families.

Spam Gift Sets…

It is an almost uniquely British thing to laugh about Spam. Due to the classic Monty Python sketch of course. It is also a generational thing. I doubt many youngsters in the UK would find it as funny as my generation. Even if they seen the Python sketch they have probably never eaten Spam. As kids we definitely ate a fair amount of it.

At the shipyard everyone has been presented with some kind of gift hamper (cesta) and many of them have a special Spam Gift Set. Just like this…

It makes me laugh anyway….

Unfortunately, we ex-pats will be working right through this period. Well, we are here for a short time so every day counts…Doesn’t it?

For those too young to remember here is a link to that sketch.

Personally I don’t find it at all funny these days. It has clearly dated. The sight of Koreans walking out of the shipyard clutching their Spam gifts in special presentation bags however did have us British ex-pats giggling.

A Weekend In Busan – Part One

Part One…

An unexpected change in work schedule meant that I was unable to work the weekend. What a shame! It gave me the chance to see something other than the immediate area.

So, early Saturday morning I took the bus in to Busan. South Korea’s second largest city; only Seoul the capital is larger. It is the busiest port in Korea (9th busiest in the world)

Busan is pronounced Pusan in Korean and this was its former (western) name. No idea why it has changed but I am sure it matters not to the 3.5 million people who call it home.

In any case it is a big place. Built on the sea and a thriving port it is built on any available flat land in the area and some not so flat. Due to the mountainous terrain straight off the coast Busan’s development spreads like tentacles rather than emanating equally in most direction from an epicentre (like many large cities do). The geography of the area makes for an odd layout. Check it out on google earth to see what I mean. There is, more or less, a city centre but many areas seem almost isolated from it as the hills/mountains more or less separate whole neighbourhoods.

Despite being spread over a large area getting around is easy thanks to the underground trains. The Metro system has 4 lines each reaching out in two directions from the “centre” (such as there is a discernible centre) like an octopus thrown at the ground.

Gamcheon Cultural Village

In the south-west of the city lies a curious little area that has grown from a slum neighbourhood into a big tourist attraction. Gamcheon village is built on hills and was a former shanty town set up by mainly war refugees fleeing the north Koreans in the early 1950s. (Busan was the only area to remain free of fighting).

In 2009 the government set up a project oddly called “Dreaming of Machu Pichu in Busan” and students and artists were encouraged to paint the houses and the results are clear to see today. Since then, many a wall or open space has become an artist’s canvass and the tourists flock to see it. Even concrete steps have been transformed into works of art.

Pretty. Quirky. Funky. All of these words apply. But it is also now commercial and there are still thousands of residents living there. Not exactly a Machu Pichu I would say it resembles a Brazilian favela.

See for yourself….


Art brings walls to life…


Some call it art. I call it spooky!…

I love this next photo. I am sure it is a parody of the place and not a serious attempt at “art” but I just love it.. I like to call this work “Underpinning with the best bricks money can buy”…

Café Street

Next stop the ‘centre’. A bustling area of modern shops restaurants and bars. Just off the crowded and extremely noisy area is a place known as Café Street.


It is actually a small grid of several blocks full of trendy restaurants, bars and of course cafes. The area is well advertised by those brown tourist road signs guiding people into the area. It is pleasant enough space to spend an hour or two and the Koreans enjoying their café were certainly dressed up for the occasion.

I had done so much walking and I was hungry; it was time for a well-earned rest. The perfect place for it.

To be continued…

The All Korean Olympics?

These type of jobs can go on and on. At least I have been told that. It occurred to me today that if there is to be a third working trip to Korea then it just may fall on my own birthday. Ironic considering that on the first trip I missed Dani’s and now am about to miss his mum’s

The ship I am working on is now surrounded by five FPSO (floating production storage and offloading) vessels. When the oil price is low the first thing the oil companies cut back on exploration. Some ship owners pay to moor their vessels and keep them ship-shape (so to speak). Ready for that inevitable rise in oil prices.

Even the new builds have been put on hold. The client refuses to take delivery so they do not have to pay the final instalments.

Someone always pays in the end though. Usually you and me 😉

Name that Face…

Here’s an interesting photo taken outside a place called the Tapas Disco. Seemingly pretending to be some kind of Spanish themed restaurant. I am yet to try it but will report on it as and when I do. It remains a mystery as to where the disco comes into it but I will endeavour to find out.

This is a large window to the side of the restaurant. There are famous faces – some historical, others from the world of show-business.

In the meantime see how many of these characters you recognise. Just in case you don’t know some of the historical figures their names are included. Zoom in and test your knowledge.

Olympic Fever?

The winter Olympics come to South Korea with the opening ceremony tomorrow. Not that you would notice around here. I am yet to see as much a s a souvenir T-shirt. I am sure it will be all over the TV but I will only see the highlights after work just the same as everyone in Europe. I am sure once it starts people will get into it. Personally I am only interested in the men’s downhill skiing. The rest is of little interest.

The winter games is always the poor relation of the summer Olympics. This time around is no different except for one big story. There is a Korean team. All well and good you may say. Personally I think that once the games have finished the cold war will resume. Probably with a vengeance. Speaking to some of the Korean lads at work it is clear that the South Koreans now see their northern neighbours as a completely different country. Apart from that being an obvious statement it has deeper meaning. The South Koreans no longer see the North Koreans as being the same as themselves. Perhaps that’s understandable after nearly 65 years of separation.

A Final Thought…

It has been sunny but cold here this week. With the added wind-chill factor, very cold. Especially first thing in the morning when the sun is just rising.

The ship is docked in the final quay on the yard before the open sea. When I stand with my back to the heavy industry and look out I see tree covered mountains, open seas and bright blue sky. It really is quite a beautiful place.

Then I turn around to walk to the ship. Which only goes to show; you can’t win them all….

Korean Adventure – Part 2.

Back to Korea

After a long wait I got the call to go back to Korea. Same job different month.

My little boy cried his eyes out when I left him at the airport. It broke my heart. Sometimes we have to do things for a reason. In this case I am telling myself that at least I will be able to spend all of his school holidays over Easter and take him to the UK to visit his family there. Not all dads can be with their kids all through their school holidays. I am certainly looking forward to that. I miss him though and it hurts.

Last time I missed Dani’s birthday. This time I will miss his mum’s. Timing eh?

The Long Haul…

This time my flight took me via Tokyo Narita airport. I hadn’t noticed when it was booked but I had 9 hours between flights at this airport. Too ling I thought Especially after already having spent the previous 16 hours travelling. I decided to take advantage of that long stop-over and leave the airport. Tokyo would have been too far and too big to try and see or do anything in such a short time so Narita city – only 10 minutes on the train – was the obvious choice.

As it turns out Narita has something worth seeing that be done in such a short time. There is the Naritasan temple. The official name is Naritasan Kongo-o-in Shinshuji temple and it was founded way back in the year 940 by Shingon Buddhists. Well more a precinct of temples and halls set in picturesque park area. These include a three-storied pagoda, the 58 metre high Great Pagoda of Peace and many others.

There were all sorts of spiritual rituals going on around me and I had no idea what it was all about. Everything in the reception buildings was in Japanese.

Great Pagoda of Peace

The old road that leads from the station to the temple is itself pat of the old world experience with many shops and restaurants in building that would once have been typical in all Japanese cities.

Much better than staying in an airport this was a great first experience of Japan. Although I had heard it many times I was still amazed how clean the streets are. Not one spot of litter.

Another thing I had heard, and read, was that they drive on the right side of the road. ‘Right’ as in correct. Yes; they drive on the left just as in the UK. Now I have seen it with my own eyes.


Meanwhile Back in Korea

That little Japan experience is now three days behind me and despite the jetlag and lack of sleep catching up with me I am settling back into the Korea

I had forgotten how hot & spicy the food is here. Even many of the cold dishes that could be part of a salad are red hot. After a couple of days though the body adjusts.

The weather is not hot though. Colder than the last visit. That does not stop the Koreans at the shipyard having an ice cream after dinner. The shop below the canteen does a great trade in a wide variety of frozen treats.

Maybe that has something to do with the spicy food. Maybe I should join them.

Peace and Hostilities

Meanwhile the eyes of the world will be on South Korea. The winter Olympics is due to start in a week. Not that I will see any of it as I will be working.

There appears to be a big love-in with North and South Korea fielding a joint “team”. But what after? What are the chances of hostilities resuming once the games are over? Watch this space…