This is the Modern World

How things have changed. I can still remember my first camera. It was a very cheap Kodak “instamatic”? – or some such silly name. Naturally I thought it was great and had it for a few years from about the age of seven (I seem to recall). Dani now has a camera at age four. A digital camera of course with various special effects built in.

We live in a digital age where virtually everyone can take high quality photos on their mobile phone. We also live in an age of instant gratification. Kids today would not be able to wait a couple of days (or more!) for a film to be developed into photographs. Photographic film? What’s that dad? Exactly.

How many of you can recall having to wait a few days while the pharmacists developed your Kodak film? Why was it always the chemist’s shop that did them?

Then came the cheaper special offer. We used to send our films away in special envelopes just because it saved a few pennies on each picture. Those places became quite popular for a while – probably due to their prices – but they took even longer. You might have had to wait a couple of weeks before seeing your photographs. Only to discover that most of them turned out to be low quality grainy pictures. Probably because your camera was cheap, low quality rubbish to begin with.

Why right now?

Why does everything have to be right now? It gets worse. These day kids and adults alike cannot even ask or wait for someone else to take their photo. They do it themselves.

When Dani is older he will realise that his old man grew up in an era where a ‘selfie’ could have been misinterpreted as a code word for masturbation.

What about waiting a few days to receive a letter? No chance! In this era of (anti) social media I wonder if kids are taught how to post a letter; never mind write one. It is all instant text messaging and ‘posting’ means getting your selfies up on Facebook. Ugh! Even typing that F-word makes me feel queasy.

Which reminds me….

Which brings me back to schooling…. Always the subject of discussion these days for parents. I started writing something about school back in my day which I need to finish off and get ‘posted’. It’s a bit daft – crazy even – but it is all true and a little piece of my school history for my son to read. I think you may all enjoy it.

Ok. Time for this old git to get back off the soap-box. There’s work to be done…A little rant now and again never hurts. At least that’s my take on it.

PS: Post title today inspired by an early Jam track.

Why Do They Grow Up So Fast?

The other day my little boy said something that made my feel a little sad.

He said – and these were his exact words: “I don’t like Thomas anymore”.

He was of course referring to Thomas the Tank Engine, or Thomas and Friends as the various trains and other modes of transport are collectively known.

Despite this he still sits and watches the Thomas programmes on DVD with his little cousin. Admittedly, his younger cousin (by about 19 months) is still unashamedly a full-on Thomas fan.

I have mentioned before that I quite like the original series. The ones where they used models rather than computer generated graphics. The ones narrated by Ringo Starr and then later by Michael Angelis.

Kids grow up. It’s an unavoidable reality. While he still plays with his Duplo he now favours the real Lego. Especially the sets with Star Wars characters and superheroes. It’s all part of the process of growing up. And it is sad that it all happens so quickly.

It’s all Kylo Ren now.

When he says that he doesn’t like Thomas he qualifies it by adding “I like Kylo Ren”.

The Darth Vader for the younger generations. My four-year-old son has seen the latest Star Wars movie and I have not. He is now ahead of me on recent developments in that galaxy far, far away. At least he appreciates that Mr. Ren is Mr. Vader’s grandson.

Sorry son. I realise there is a Star Wars generation gap thing going on here but when it comes down to the inter-galactic scale of evilness Vader beats Ren any day of the week and twice on Sundays.

We may agree on that one day but for now our conversations – or should I say debates – on the subject are great fun.

On the plus side…

While it may be a little sad that they grow up so fast I have to look at the positives also.

He is on the verge of swapping some small kids stuff for things that he will probably still like when he is an adult. I certainly like the Star Wars films and the Marvel superheroes. And of course, I still love Lego. As do most adults – if they are honest.

Who would win a fight between…?

It’s that fantastic question that can be used over and over. Thanks to the myriad of Marvel comic films it is a question that we now throw at each other regularly.

Who would win a fight between Captain America and Hulk? Who would win a fight between Ironman (in the Hulk-Buster suit, naturally) and Hulk? Who would win a fight between Ironman and the Green Goblin? And so on… These conversations are great fun and Dani really gets into it.

I know they are only comic book characters but I think it’s great that he is so passionate about them.

And guess who gets thrown into the mix? That’s right.

“Daddy. Who would win a fight between you and Ironman?”

“Well, me obviously. It would be difficult for a while. I might have to take a bit of punishment at first. But then once his batteries start to wear down I would get the upper hand.”

He just laughs.

Dani and His Old Dad Reunited

Back with my Boy…
After what seemed like a lifetime I finally got back to see my little boy. After 7 long weeks I was there to collect him from school yesterday.

What a coincidence. It was Día del Padre in Spain. He was so excited that he could hardly contain himself. He had bought me a surprise present and made me a Father’s day card. And a great card it is too – see below. Maybe he had a little help with that…

I feel that I have to point out a small inaccuracy. I think that, just maybe, the Hulk is a little stronger than me. But the rest is a fairly accurate comparison of his dad with some of the more well-known superheroes.

The present was also a great surprise. It was a ‘LetraBot’ (letter-bot). This is a complete collection of letters that transform into robots. I was lucky enough to receive the letter ‘W’. I quickly got the feeling it was more for himself. 😊

It turns out they are called Alpha-bots in the English-speaking world. Probably not even a new thing. Just new to me. Here is the letter “W” before and after transformation.

                   

Great eh?

The Alpha-bots are even marketed with the following slogan. ‘Ordinary letters one moment and extraordinary robots the next!’. Please…

These ‘toys’ are obviously meant to be collected. There are 26 of them covering the alphabet and they also come in the form of numbers. Well at least there is a clear limit to the size of the collection. All parents should be thankful for that at least. Unless, that is, they decide to try to “educate” kids in the alphabets of the oriental languages. They even come with some kind of comic-cum-magazine that falls over itself trying to be educational. With simple arithmetic and the likes…

Letra-Bots? I don’t Get it!

It reminds me of that scene in one of my favourite Tom Hanks movies “BIG” when he finds a job testing toys for a large toy maker. Josh – the 13-year-old played by Hanks – sticks his hand up in a meeting and says: “I don’t get it.” He goes on to ask about the new “toy” and clarifies that it is indeed a building that turns in to a robot. Then he asks:
“Well what’s fun about that?”

My thoughts exactly when I first saw these ‘Letra-bots”. What’s fun about a letter of the alphabet turning into a robot?
But what do I know? Dani loves them and now has now built up a little collection.

You can watch that scene here… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3ERuhks3GNk

Who Will Sell the Toys?

Another great scene in that movie is the one filmed in FAO Schwartz toy store in New York. Made famous mainly by the floor piano scene. For me the best part of the action in that store was Hanks riding that zebra rodeo-style; it still makes me laugh. That shop was fantastic. I have been there a few times and I loved every minute of it. Unfortunately, it was bought out by the same group that own Toys-R-Us. They opened a huge flagship store in Times Square and some genius thought it was a good idea to shut down the FAO Schwartz operation. Now of course Toys-R-Us has fallen on hard times and it looks like all their stores will close. In the USA, UK and in Spain. Karma anyone?

Maybe, just maybe some bright entrepreneur will spot the opportunity for re-opening a real toy store and once again we may be able to visit an FAO Schwartz…And then I read….

Apparently there was an attempt to re-open the store on 5th Avenue with East 58th street but it is unclear whether this was just for the festive period alone. Yet another report suggests that it will reopen in the Rockefeller Plaza some time like Autumn 2018. Much smaller than the famous 5th Avenue location but still great news if true. If anyone knows for sure please let us all know.

I suspect that the large supermarkets and internet will completely take over from the large toy stores. Sad but inevitable.

A Curious Piece of Local History

There’s a saying that goes around on big projects: ‘The days drag but the weeks fly by.’ That is so true about this one. I have been here for 6 weeks now, yet each day seems to drag. Well, most of them…

A Local “Attraction”

My last Sunday here – for this trip – so I decided to take the day off. A well-earned day off if I do say so myself. I wanted to visit the Prisoner of War (POW) camp not far from where I am staying. The Geojedo POW camp.

As no doubt everyone knows, the Korean peninsula has been divided since the civil war in the early 1950s. This camp is a large part of the history of the country as it is today.

This part of Korea was the only corner not to be overrun with North Korean and Chinese forces, so it was not only the logical choice of location, it was almost the only one for such a huge camp. The ‘Historic Park of Geojedo POW Camp’ as it is called was built in 1951 and accommodated over 170,000 prisoners. Some 20,000 were communist Chinese.

History meets Entertainment

To describe it as surreal doesn’t quite explain it.

The whole area has been turned into part museum and part theme park complete with rides and similar attractions. Most of the models and pictures had English translation so it was at least educational.

For example; I had always believed that it was an American led mission to help the South; albeit with help form other allies. In fact it was a United Nations operation – the USA naturally contributing the most.

                 

The original camp site would have extended down to the sea but most of that area is now covered in high rise buildings. There wasn’t much to photograph as little attempt has been made to recreate the real living conditions. Most of the so-called barracks would have been tents and the prisoners were left more or less to “self-regulate”. That led to political divisions and gang mentality. Ultimately that led to widespread disturbances and even a US general being captured and held hostage inside one of the compounds

There is no doubt it would have been very brutal. Maybe that is why I had never heard of it?

4D Cinema…

Just before the exit there was a cinema showing a film about two North Koreans who were captured then sent to this site. It included the US general hostage situation. It is a 4D cinema! The usual 3D glasses plus seats that rocked and jolted when there were explosions or heavy machine gun fire. As missiles and objects explode past your face jets of air are fired from below the seat or along the handrail. Not very convincing but different.

There is no doubt that this place paints a one-sided view of that period. I fully understand that. But it has certainly sparked my interest in the history of the country’s civil war. There’s a book or two to be read on the subject when I get back home.

Now I have only a few days before the end of this working visit. The closer it gets the more I miss my little boy.

More Korean Oddities

Tomorrow South Korea is sending a delegation to North Korea. Possibly a first. Things may go well or tensions may increase. We shall see. In case it takes a turn for the worse here are some more fun things from this part of the world to take your mind off it all (and mine!)

Office Drinks

Among the various sachets of instant coffee and flavoured teabags that we can help ourselves to in the office were these…

The first one looks like an instant soup. Just add boiling water…

 But look closer and it is actually a type of tea. Who dreamt up a corn flakes, potato and yam tea? There are clearly jobs out there where people are allowed to go right off track and dream up whatever they want. For the record it actually tastes OK. But I only tried it then left the remaining “tea” in the paper cup. Within minutes it started to congeal. Within half an hour it was like a thick paste. Just as well I didn’t drink it all I thought. What can that stuff do to your insides?

 Later in the day I tried this one….

This one is made in Vietnam. As you can see there is no Korean writing. Someone told me that coconut coffee is available in most trendy coffee bars. I wouldn’t know. I am strictly a coffee with milk man. That said it was quite nice. Sweet tasting -but only in the way coconut milk is sweet. I think I could get used to that one.

Anyone care for a refreshing drink…

Called Sweat?

It doesn’t sound very appetizing does it? It’s an energy drink that is supposed to be SWEET. Do the Koreans think “sweat” is the American spelling of “sweet”? Is it?  I really don’t think so.

It tastes like most non-fizzy, so-called energy drinks. It’s the name that puts me off.

Manhole covers (or is that person-hole covers?)

These two friendly looking characters are everywhere you walk staring up at you on cast iron moulded manhole covers. The holes on the streets that lead to the sewers.

Someone told me that these cartoon-like characters are meant to be two turds. It seems a plausible explanation when you look at them and where they are located. It is as if they are smiling up at you saying welcome to our home. Mr. and Mrs. Turd – they do look like a male and female couple.

In actual fact these two are Mongduri and Mongsuri. They are the area’s tourism mascots. Very odd.

Meanwhile…

I also heard that Maersk had ordered 31 of the giant container ships. They cost about 190 million US dollars each – presumably a bulk buy deal?! Many have already been built and I saw one being driven out of the shipyard today. It looked odd. High in the water without the huge number of containers it is designed to carry weighing it down. These things are just a shade under 400 metres long. That’s four football pitches. That is also about 120 metres longer than the Royal Navy’s new aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth.  At 59 metres wide they are too big to pass through the Panama canal but can traverse the Suez canal. It is fair to deduce that they will be transporting goods mainly to Europe.

Thirty one! That is some order. While we in Europe may or may not buy some of the cargo being shipped from the far East the Danish shipping company must certainly be making a lot of money moving it around the world’s seas.

 

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!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qHAqRlItjGE

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. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M_eYSuPKP3Y

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….