Friday, November 30, 2012

Asian Eyes' Korea - Cheongwadae Sarangchae

         Day 2 - Nov/18/12, 7.00am: Morning call was 7.00 am and an hour later we were on the bus to another location for breakfast. Breakfast was a low key tourist scale buffet style of scrambled eggs, sausages, bread and butters, buns, vermicelli, porridge, tofu, vegetables, fried meat, and varieties of kimchi. After having our belly full, we spend some time in a souvenir shop in the vicinity. I spend my first Korean Won there when my kids bought some key chains, fridge magnets, glass shot and K-pop posters. 
Sculpture of a phoenix 
and a mother/kid against 
the backdrop of Bukhansan 
hill outside Cheongwade 
Sarangche museum became 
subject for many tourists
to click away 
         After breakfast our itinerary started with a visit to the Blue House and Gyeongbokgung Palace. We get off in front of Cheongwadae Sarangchae (청와대 사랑채) building, a presidential museum about Korea’s past, present and future, before the Blue House and Gyeongbokgung Palace. This 2010 opened museum, is a history centre that gives visitors a chance to follow in the footsteps of presidents of Korea and gain insight into the history of Seoul. Once we stepped down from the bus, colourful leaves of red, yellow and orange in the surrounding area met our eyes. At the foyer of the museum, a statue of pheonix and a mom/son was erected against the backdrop of a hill named Bukhansan. We did not enter the museum as it was not part of our itinerary. The museum foyer area was also the meeting point of many tour groups to re-group before marching to the Blue House and Gyeongbokgung Palace. After some briefing from Kent, we were allowed about 15 minutes free time to walk about the museum vicinity. We walked around in the crisp cool air, snapping away at the scenery, at the colourful trees, and the statues, and the displays and at each other. 
         I captured some of the sceneries worth seeing along the way to Cheongwade Sarangchae:
Our big bus that took the 16 +2 of us to breakfast.
Bronze sculptures of a boy and a girl outside the restaurant where we had our breakfast caught my attention.

A bust statue of a Mr Han Sanggu, the founder of the restaurant

Many souvenirs shop like this sprouted around tourist restaurants/ attraction locations. They sell roughly the same items and at about the same price.
The trees in Seoul were bald as it was the start of winter. The temperature was a cool 5 degree C .

\Board displayed the admission time to Cheongwade Sarangchae (Korea Presidential Museum), within a stone throw away from Blue House and Gyeongbukgong Palace.

Entrance to Cheongwade Sarangchae facing a hill called Bukhansan.

Colorful leaves and trees, and tourists abound at the Cheongwade Sarangchae museum concourse area, ogled at the attractions displayed before our eyes.
Sculpture of a phoenix and a Mother/kid against the backdrop of Bukhansan hill became a subject for many tourists clicking away.

Kent explained about the museum area, and where to regroup before releasing us for a 15 minutes free activities.

Tourists clicking away against the backdrop of the mountain and statues.
The yellow and orange/red leaves added colors to the scenery.  
An altar on display, added a mystical like to the surrounding area. 
Colorful trees were the captivating sight to behold.
A large Korean drum (dagu) on display in a sheltered gazebo.
Little M posed below a yellow tree that caught his attention.
Tourist guides gathered together to exchange stories after releasing their charge to wander about the museum compound.
It was winter and rice stalks tied by strings to trees were common view everywhere we see. Per our tour guide, the rice stalks were for insects to burrow for the winter and lay eggs. Once spring break, the string will be cut off and the rice stalks burn off. Hmm, what a clever way to get rid of pests and eggs.

A red tree stand out among the green trees along the way from the museum to Blue House.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Asian Eyes' Korea - To Incheon

             This is the story of my travel to South Korea, also known as 'the Land of Morning Calm', on a tour package with my family. I would like to say that of all the package tours to numerous locations I had joined to date, this is by far the best package tour. It was full of lessons learnt from a learned Korean tourist guide. We also had good dose of first-hand experience on food, ginseng and kimchi, on Hangul language and its writing, on oriental beauty, on K-pop culture, on Psy and Gangnam Style, on Korean Hallyu drama, on man-made and nature attractions which are picturesquely beautiful, on theme parks and on lots and lots of museums of all kinds. We had a very enjoyable and relaxing holiday and everyone came back very happy.
             Day 1 - Nov/17/12, 4.00 am: The day started very early. Our 8-days package tour to South Korea that we had booked the tour through Super Tour and Travels co had officially started. We arrived at Penang International Airport at 5.30 am as requested by the tour company. Our tour lead, Jeff Lee, greeted us and helped us to check in our luggages and  flight. There were a total of 16 person in our group and luckily everyone was on time. No elderly person, and only Little M and another boy, Kit, are the youngsters in our group. After a slight delay, we were on the air towards Hong Kong. Hong Kong International Airport is such an efficient airport despite its sheer size and the volume that it handles. Normally walking around Hong Kong International Airport is a joy because there will always be small scale exhibitions or displays in between gates. This time the exhibits were Chinese Opera costumes.
           Our plane landed in Incheon International Airport safely and on time. South Korea time was 1 hour ahead and it was already dark as I peered through the window. Jeff led the way with his flag held up high and we just followed his lead as we exited the aeroplane. We took some time to clear immigration as there were 4 planes that landed simultaneously. After immigration, it was smoother flow where we retrieved our bags and cleared custom. Our Korean tour guide, Kent Fang, was already waiting for us. After a brief introduction, he lead us to our bus to take us to our hotel in Seoul. The bus was a 42-seater bus for 16 plus 2 of us, so we have ample seats to sit comfortably. The journey to our hotel was about 1.5 hours on a highway parallel to the mighty Han River. In the bus, Kent briefed us on the itinerary for tomorrow. The hotel is a 2 star hotel and after we were assigned our rooms, we quickly retired to our room to freshen up and sleep. We looked forward to an exciting day ahead.     
           I took a lot of pictures and here are some from day 1:  

I always take picture of my check in bag in case it got lost in transit. This is to save time  in describing my bag or to remind me in case sometime I forgot how it looks like.

Everyone in family were all glee and smiles at Penang International Airport after the check in, eager to start the journey to South Korea. 

Little M enjoying his scrambled eggs with sausage breakfast, despite a McDonald breakfast earlier on, while watching his in-flight video show.

PrettyCathy Pacific Airline stewardess attended attentively to us.
Big M, Middle M and Little M posing outside branded stores in Hong Kong International Airport - Gucci, Rolex, Coach, Hermes, etc.

Browsing in a book store while waiting for our next flight in Hong Kong. Little M locked his attention on a Guinness Book of Record 2013 book.

Gate 23 at Hong Kong International Airport where we were to board our Cathay Pacific flight to Incheon International Airport. 1 hour to go before flying.
A Chinese opera costume in display that caught my attention. It had a full regalia attire - dress, headgear, shoes and belt in display, plus video of Chinese Opera show at Hong Kong International Airport.
Another display - this one usually worn by actor playing the role of Chinese emperor, completes with its dragon motive
Little M charged up his iPad while waiting for boarding, as well as update his status in his Facebook account
Our 777 Cathay Pacific plane waiting at the runway, ready to swallow us and deposit us in South Korea in about 3 hours time.
My seat video screen showed our plane approaching Incheon International Airport after 3 hours in the air from Hong Kong.
Incheon's skyline was already dark as we ascending into Incheon International Airport as seen through my plane's window.

"Welcome to Korea" signboard was the first sign that greeted us as we exited from the plane.
Jeff Lee, our tour lead from Super Tour and Travel Co., led the way to immigration counter, with his company flag held high.
A Korean couple waiting for train that runs between Terminal 2 and Terminal 1. We boarded the train to Terminal 2 to clear immigration and to retrieve our bags.
Queuing up at immigration counter for entry into Korea which was quite crowded as 4 planes landed at the same time.
After clearing immigration and custom, we were greeted by the first sight of Christmas - red and green floral theme as decorative around Incheon International Airport
Another floral decoration in Incheon International Airport - Orchids. Don't get fooled. It's beautiful from a far, but once near, it is fake flower!

Friday, November 23, 2012

Asian Eyes' USA - Texas Largemouth Bass

            Jun/30/2012: On this day I finally get my wish that I had always wanted to do while in America. I longed for a fishing trip and had been planning for one long before I landed in Texas. Terence had suggested fishing at Emma Long Metropolitan Park for Largemouth Bass. Emma Long Metropolitan Park size is 1,147 acres, located north west Austin. Its facilities include camp sites, bathhouse, wading pool, picnic areas, lake (Lake Austin), boat ramps, hiking trail, motorcycle trail, sports field and sports courts. It is the oldest city park in Austin, and only Austin park to offer overnight camping. Terence had been at the lake many times and he had been fruitful so far. I had never fished largemouth bass before, so I readily agreed. The Largemouth Bass (Micropterus salmoides) is a species of black bass in the sunfish family native to North America. It is also known by a variety of regional names, such as the brown bass, widemouth bass, bigmouth, black bass, bucketmouth, Potter's fish, Florida bass, Florida largemouth, green bass, green trout, gilsdorf bass, linesides, Oswego bass, southern largemouth and northern largemouth. The largemouth bass is the state fish of Alabama as the official freshwater fish, Georgia, Mississippi, Florida as state freshwater fish, and Tennessee as official sport fish.
          I was up early on the Saturday morning at 5.30 am. Terence and Stephen arrived my hotel on time, but we weren't the early bird at Lake Austin. After paying the entrance fee of $10 per person, we saw a white guy was already fishing and he had some luck in catching a Largemouth Bass and released it back. "Gee, fish must be hungry", I eagerly rub my hands together, aching for action. Terence set up the bait trap with bread and scanned the water for sign of bait fish - minnows. "Yep, there are those bait fish", pointing to some small sleek shadow moving about in the water, he whispered. He dropped the trap in the water and wandered off to get his rod ready. He handed me a light rod and I chose an artificial lure to practise cast and retrieve method. It was a cast, and then retrieve, then let go, then retrieve again method, mimicking an injured fish to lured the largemouth bass. However after some 30 or so castings, my hand were starting to get tired.  
         The place where we fished is also a pontoon for boat launching into Lake Austin for jet ski or just pleasure boating. Occasionally we were disrupted from fishing by these boat launches. The bait fish trap was full with minnows when Terence lifted it out of the water. He took out the small fishes from the trap and put them in a pail. We had some 20 to 30 minnows. He hooked one of them and cast away into the lake and waited. I did the same. There was some small activity but they were small fishes trying to steal our bait. After 30 minutes of no activity. turned my attention to crappies action for at least some action. I used bread to catch them, and I indeed landed the first one, and then more and more and more. They were pretty small, about three quarter of my palm. Crappie are highly regarded game fishes and are often considered to be among the best tasting freshwater fish. Because of their diverse diets, crappie may be caught in many ways, including casting light jigs, trolling with minnows or artificial lures, using small spinner baits, or using bobbers. 
Ground hornbill abundant at
Emma Long Metropolitan 

          After numerous crappies later, they ceased to take my bait. A baby largemouth floated by, barely able to swim. Terence scooped it up with his bare hand before released it back again. However sensing the fish will not make it, he scooped it up again, this time with the intention to store it in the cooler box. "There is enough meat for dinner for my kid", he said. We agreed with him. Just then Stephen's rod began to curve and he yanked hard. However he lost the fish after a couple of pulls. I changed to bait fish and cast away to the centre of the lake upon seeing Stephen fighting and lost a fish. I waited and waited but no luck for me. I was distracted by some kind of bird a distance away. They looked like ground hornbill. It was summer and the sun was now at the 10.00 am mark. Suddenly Terence jerked his rod up high, and shouted excitedly, "a fish, a fish". At the end of his line was a fish fighting for it's life. He fought it for about 2 minutes and managed to pull it up to the lakeside. It was a largemouth bass and he held it high to eye level for us to see with a wide smile on his face.
        Soon after we had used up all minnows and even the trap did not got any. Terence threw all the crappies I caught back into the lake. Final count we had a baby largemouth and an adult largemouth, and a good fresh water fishing experience to tell. Here are the photos we took from our expedition to Lake Austin:

I had the first fish - a white crappies taken on bread using a light tackle. I bagged a couple more white and black crappies while waiting for large-mouth bass' action.
A baby large-mouth bass floating at the surface, half dead and barely able to swim. 
The baby large-mouth bass up close. It later became dinner for Terence Jr., so to speak.
Terence and Stephen, taking out time for a photo snap while waiting for action.
Terence finally bagged a large-mouth bass using bait fish. We went home happily after this fish had being caught.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Asian Eyes' USA, Texas Corpus Christi

            Oct/13/2102: We checked into Residence Inn Corpus Christi at 2.30 pm. It is a nice 1 room apartment with a king bed and a pull out sofabed. Stephen took to the sofabed after his shower, immediately went to dreamland soon after. Terence and I talked for a while and soon dozed off as well. By 6 pm, we were up again and gung-ho to go fishing yet again. The entrance ticket to Bob Hall Pier will still be valid until 5 am the next morning. After some deliberation we decided to have dinner first. Since we were not familiar with this city, we had to rely on our GPS for where to get our dinner. Corpus Christi is a coastal city in the South Texas region of the U.S. state of Texas. The metropolitan area population was close to half million, making it the eighth most populous city in Texas. The translation from Latin of the city's name is Body of Christ, given to the settlement by the Spanish, in honour of the Blessed Sacrament. The city has been nicknamed the "Sparkling City by the Sea", particularly in literature promoting tourism. Among the famous landmarks in Corpus Christi are Texas A&M University Corpus Christi campus, a replica of Nina at city Marina waterfront, USS Lexington floating museum, Texas State Aquarium and Corpus Christi Museum of Science and History where the other two Christopher Columbus' ship - Santa Maria and Pinta, are on display. Corpus Christi also housed Whataburger Field, home of the Corpus Christi Hooks, a minor league baseball team in Texas league that called Corpus Christi home. 
A replica of Niña at the 
city marina waterfront. 
the other two 1992 
replicas of Christopher 
Columbusship fleet are 
on display at the Corpus 
Christi Museum of Science 
nd History.
        We tried a couple of restaurant selections from our GPS, and finally decided on a Thai restaurant - Green Papaya. I had no
t had rice for the last 2 weeks and would like to have a mouthful. However Green Papaya's menu was not to our liking, so we headed to the next one on the list - Thai Cottage. The decoration in the restaurant is definitely Thai's and the white waitress serving us, was quite knowledgeable with the South East Asian countries, rambling on about durian and rambutan. Terence ordered Pad Thai while I had green beef curry with rice, and Stephen with chicken curry with rice. The food arrived some 10 minutes later. They were nice but lacked the kick to the real thing from the land of elephant. The restaurant was quite full. We ate our meal quickly without much conversation, maybe each deep in thought on getting to feel of big fish pulling. Terence did remarked that he can cooked a better taste Pad Thai. I did not fancy my green curry beef as they tasted too sweet for me. After having our full, we continue on to Bob Hall pier for the second episode of our fishing trip.
        We arrived back at Bob Hall pier for our round 2, but alas, the wind had picked up, and many anglers were leaving. One of them mentioned that heavy wind make it hardly any fish around. Nevertheless we pressed on. Again we chosen the same spot we fished early in the day and started to drop our baits in the water but there was hardly any bite. Again, I had the first fish but it was the ever hateful catfish. I was crowned the unofficial champion of catfish which I managed to land some 5 to 6 of them which I threw back. Terence continued with his jigging but could not catch anything as the wind and current was too strong. We only caught some 3-4 small jacks and shad before decided to call it a night. We went back to our hotel at 10 pm and vowed to come back to the jetty at 5 am next morning for third and final round.           
         I was soundly asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow. Right at 4.30 am the next day I woke up the rest and get ready for our third session. However we can plan all we want but nature had other plan for us. It was still windy and the current still as strong as the previous night. I got a couple of catfishes, again, and a shad. Terence had a couple of small jacks and shad while Stephen only landed a catfish. Other anglers also fared the same - they caught mostly catfish. The surf boarders were back in action and I guessed they fared better than us in a windy day. The competition was still ongoing for the second day. We missed the same action from the previous day where we had fishes on Apollo hooks, but none was to be seen today. It was 8.30 am when we decided to call it quit and ended our fishing expedition. We went back to our hotel for breakfast and later checked out to go back to Round Rock. The journey back was uneventful. We stopped by Rudy's for their famed barbecue meat before finally went back to Terence's house. I  took a shower and then driven off to the airport. I flew back that night back to Penang via Los Angeles and Hong Kong.
          The second and third session ended with no big fish pulling actions that I dreamed off - no Redfish, no Sheepshead, no Black Drum nor Speckled trout. All in with 2 days fishing we have to just make do with some small fishes - shad, small jack, Spanish Mackerel, Ladyfish, manhaden and catfish plus a nasty souvenir - a sting from a small catfish! Despite all, I achieved a personal satisfaction of fishing in Gulf of Mexico after 20 years. I told Stephen and Terence to plan for the next trip again the next time I come visiting. 
            Here are some pictures I took at Corpus Christi:
Our stay in Corpus Christi, Residence Inn by Marriot. It had a kitchen, a living area, a nice 1 king bed and a pull out sofabed, plus 3 breakfasts thrown in.
Whataburger Field, home of the Corpus Christi Hook, a minor league baseball team of the Texas League.

My meal in Whataburger which sponsored Whataburger Field in Corpus Christi.

USS Lexington that housed a floating museum, anchored at Corpus Christi Bay.
Stephen walking into Green Papaya. Advertised as an Asian restaurant, but Green Papaya restaurant in Corpus Christi had mostly Vietnamese fare. We decided to skip it for the next restaurant.
Thai Cottage restaurant in Corpus Christi where we had our dinner. They served Thai food with knowledgeable waitress to boot. 
Terence's Pad Thai. He claimed he can cook it better himself.
My curry green beef with rice. The curry were white and the reddish topping were chilies  While it was creamy, it was sweet, not really to my liking.
Stephen's chicken curry with rice. He did not mentioned whether he liked or disliked it.

Arriving at 8 pm on second session fishing, Terence preparing his rod. However all we caught was a couple of catfish, shad and bait fish.
Terence trotted gingerly to unhook a catfish before decided to quit for the day.  

Night view of Corpus Christi