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Posts Tagged ‘New Year’s’

Given that I had some time off before I started work, I decided to fly back to Britain for a couple of weeks. It wasn’t particularly a Christmas visit – it was just a coincidence that that event fell during my work hiatus, and it seemed like the perfect time to be back with my family.

I flew with Finnair (yes – boarding my flights, I disappeared into Finnair) via Helsinki airport. Both ways, I was a little anxious about my baggage. On the way there, I hid my small backpack in my carry-on suitcase, taking it out once I’d passed through security. On the way back, I was a little concerned about the weight of my big backpack, containing, as it did, several books in addition to clothing and suchlike, but it only weighed 17kg – well under the 23 kg limit (but still a bugger to swing on to and off my back).

I also paid extra to bring my guitar (a Mexican Fender Stratocaster) in its flight case back with me to Korea; even though it was well wrapped in plastic the case suffered a little damage – the guitar is OK, though. It’s been fun playing it in the past few days, although a) I do regret not getting over to my late grandparents’ home to pick up my Metallica music books and b) it’s given me a flare-up of sciatica, for which I will try to resume my back exercises.

At Helsinki, it was rather charming to see the airport staff getting around on adult-sized push scooters.

I barely had chance to unload my backpack and share the wealth of Korean snacks I’d brought back with my family, and to have an early Christmas dinner with – amazingly – my whole family, before I headed down to Bath to spend a couple of days with my friend Alex, and then to Bristol to do likewise with my friend Lawrence and his girlfriend Yi Vei. I got them all Korean snacks, too – including the ever-popular Pepero.

Alex and I, accompanied much of the time by his friend Jason, spent pretty much all our waking hours playing Magic: The Gathering with a little Munchkin and Islands of the Azure Sea on the side. My Magic decks didn’t do very well, as Alex has recently got back into the game and has much more of the recent powerful stuff than I do – and Jason is an adept newcomer to the game.

Before catching my train to Bristol, Alex and I visited Waterstone’s, where he bought me a bunch of Magic cards and card sleeves and I bought him Star Munchkin.

Lawrence and Yi Vei took me to a burger restaurant, Atomic Burger, that was decked out in old toys and where all the burgers had the names of American icons – I got a Johnny Cash. The following day, I was supposed to take part in Lawrence’s workshop at a Buddhist centre, but I had a terrible headache from not drinking enough before bed and sleeping too long. I felt bad about dropping out, but I was far too grumpy to join in the spirit of it.

Once back in Whaley Bridge at my sister’s place I spent much of the time playing board games with her, her kids, her boyfriend, her kids’ aunt. They enjoyed my Islands of the Azure Sea game; as usual, I’d modified the rules since playing it previously, which helped to balance the gameplay. I got them Forbidden Island and Catan Junior as gifts and we enjoyed them, too. I bought Munchkin Cthulhu along with its Call of Cowthulhu expansion for myself and got to try that out.

Other plans – like blogging, working my new game idea The Hell War, reading a friend’s novel, researching MA courses in Seoul – were pretty much forgotten. As Alex and Lawrence are two of my oldest and best friends I prioritised visiting them, and that, along with Christmas, limited my ability to see other friends. Another time.

In addition to my guitar and Munchkin Cthulhu, I also brought back my Monopoly and Scrabble as well as Civilization, a board game (which predates Sid Meier’s Civilization computer game) my parents got me about ten years ago and which I’ve only ever played once (and I cut that game short when my friends decided to change the rules as we were playing). I also got Stephen R Donaldson’s recent last book in the Last Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, The Last Dark, Iain (M) Banks’s last book before his death last year, The Quarry, Robert Rankin’s latest, The Chickens of Atlantis and Other Foul and Filthy Fiends, Philip Pullman’s Grim Tales, Swords & Dark Magic and Strange Dreams – both anthologies, the latter edited by Stephen Donaldson. Finally, I ordered and received a small pile of unusual dice and brought them back along with all my other dice.

Since then, I’ve played Civilization with my friend Peter and Munchkin Cthulhu with some other friends – Matthew, Erica and Jihyena – celebrated the New Year with meat, uninspiring fireworks, drink and card games and paid my rent for January, leaving me with precious little money until I get paid some time later in the month. I’ll be living on my credit card until then.

I start work on Monday and I feel pretty ambivalent about it. I’m not exactly looking forward to it, but I want to get the initial period over with and settle in as fast as possible, and also get used to getting up early every day. It seems like there are lots of documents to get used to dealing with and probably not much time during normal working hours to fill them all out. And the kids’ mums are apparently the kind that love to complain about everything. I should just try and keep my head and enjoy teaching the kids as much as possible.

I’m sure I’ll be back in a month or two to report on my progress.

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New Year’s Eve saw Habiba and me meet some friends at British-style pub in Itaewon for dinner – most of us had fish and chips (I also had one beer). We then repaired to a cocktail bar for a couple of quite tasty drinks – a Green Fantasy and a Chocolate Martini, for me. And finally, we headed to a party at someone’s home nearby. Whilst there I had one shot of something fruity, two or three cups of wine and a few of beer.

My roleplaying buddy Matthew joined us towards midnight – and he discovered an area of of common interest with the host Moira – international peace and development. I chatted to a trio of Canadian guys – one who could pass for Korean, but is actually Vietnamese and Chinese (but Canadian) and his white visiting friends.

At midnight, we counted down and were happy.

On the way home I started feeling what I like to think of as ‘nauseous’ – although some authorities state that the correct adjective is ‘nauseated’. When we got out of the taxi, I was sick into a drain. I slept well enough, but in the morning I felt wretched. During the course of the day, I vomited maybe another seven times – usually with nothing coming up other than a bit of thick, orangey stomach juice. Habiba and I just watched TV all day; eventually, I started to feel better and managed to eat a good meal for dinner (one of Habiba’s soups).

The previous day, before meeting for dinner, I’d gone to Itaewon early and spent a bit of money at What the Book. I bought – finally – the tenth and last book in Steven Erikson’s The Malazan Book of the Fallen, The Crippled God. I’m a bit wary of reading it, as the series has declined since the early books – or at least, my interest in it has declined. I also got an issue each of Fantasy and Science Fiction and Realms of Fantasy. I did some writing, too.

If I have a New Year’s Resolution, it’s to concentrate on creative writing again. It’s a project that I’ve neglected over the past year in favour of working on my roleplaying game and running a campaign. The RPG has been a challenging project, and one that I feel I’ve struggled to do justice to – although it’s also been lots of fun. It’s with a certain amount of relief that I’ve decided – once the current scene and its aftermath have been played through – to stop running the game. I’m going to suggest a weekly gaming night of Scrabble, Munchkin and whatever other things people want to play – maybe even a different RPG. I’ll only be able to participate in this for a few weeks until Habiba and I leave the country at the end of February.

The time that I’ll save not working on the game will be ploughed into working on stories. The last time I was writing, I was working on a piece about hunting fairy-like creatures. I will return to that, but right now I’m working on a new one. And when I say ‘right now’, I mean it almost literally: I paused work on it here at the local Starbucks because I was feeling tired and I thought writing this blog post would wake me up. The coffee has probably helped, too.

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After five enjoyable days on Panglao, it was time for us to pack up and leave for Cebu preparatory for our flight back to Korea. We’d dropped off some laundry at a place in Alona a couple of days earlier, but the following day they were closed due to torrential rain. That left us with an anxious morning on the final day wondering if we would have to leave without most of our clothes. I went to the laundry service office – and it was closed again. But then someone arrived and told me our stuff had been delivered to our hotel.

The taxi driver who took us to Tagbilaran to catch the ferry to Cebu was quite chatty and told us a little about the country. A lot of Korean kids, if their families can afford it, spend a few months in the Philippines to learn English. The driver described his puzzlement that the Koreans he meets never speak English.

The ferry trip was uneventful, but once we arrived back in Cebu we had to get a taxi – which was an unnecessarily stressful process. The first driver offered us a price that sounded far too much. I flagged down a taxi and then Habiba didn’t want to get in as it basically stopped in the middle of the road beside other stationary taxis; I shouted at her – something I never do – and we ended up taking it even though it was also not on a meter (which is illegal).

The hostel we stayed at, Cebu Guesthouse, was not the nicest. The ground floor bathroom had no light the first night. Our room was right next to the kitchen and dining area, which were housed in a large, shed-like annexe.

The first evening, concerned about our funds we headed out to a supermarket to buy groceries for our next few meals. On the way up the road, we passed a family camped on a small patch of ground by a bridge over a miserable trickle of a river. There was a naked baby boy who, when he caught sight of us, flung up his arms with an expression of joy on his face. Cute, but desperately sad – the family probably rely on the child’s cuteness for their income. We hurried past.

The following day, we decided to get some more money. Banks were closed so we went to a moneychanger with some Korean won. As we waited for our pesos – the guy had to check with someone on the phone – a group of young children gathered outside. One small girl came in, stretching out her hand. Once outside the kids wouldn’t leave us alone. They were constantly touching us trying to get our attention and sympathy – and when that didn’t work, their hands started reaching into our pockets and bags. One girl nearly had my camera out of my pocket. Habiba scolded them to no effect, then she hailed a taxi and we escaped with our money and possessions intact.

We went downtown to Magellan’s cross – a replica of a cross set up by the explorer, and which apparently contains frangments of the original. The place was literally just a cross inside a little building in the square opposite the city hall. Behind the cross was the Minor Basilica of the Santo Niño. We went into the compound – through a security checkpoint – and had a look in. There was a mass on and the place was packed, so we couldn’t really look around much. From there we explored the nearby Carbon Market (not ‘carbon’, the English word). The area was pretty crowded, dirty, smelly, hot. Habiba wasn’t terribly happy in the wake of the earlier child-mob incident, so we went back to the hostel.

There were a couple of other places that we could have visited – a Spanish fort and a Taoist temple – but, on the whole, what we’d been told turned out to be true – Cebu wasn’t really worth visiting.

In the evening – it was the 31st of December – we went out with some acquaintances of Habiba’s. As we walked back up the road past the supermarket, we were accosted by the same group of kids again. This time, we were travelling light – all our money was in a pouch hanging under my top. They didn’t bother us so much. We had a mediocre meal on plastic tables and stools on a car park outside a bar next to what was apparently one of the best places in Cebu to hang out – a mall. People let off bangers all evening.

Then, around eleven o’clock, we went to a nightclub. I didn’t enjoy this part of the evening. Awful, thought-drowningly loud dance music played, and I was feeling a little tired and sick and didn’t want to drink too much alcohol. The others seemed to enjoy themselves dancing. There was a countdown at midnight, introduced by a yelling cliché of DJ. Then, with the formalities out of the way we headed back to the hostel.

The next day, we took a taxi to the airport with one of our companions from the previous night. Once there, we – Habiba especially – bought piles of packets of dried mango and similar souvenirs and gifts. Then we got slightly screwed as we tried to head through Security and Immigration – we needed an exit fee and none of us had the money. So we had to change more cash.

The flight back to Korea went a little more smoothly than the one on the way out. When we got our bags back, we all put on extra layers of clothing. It had snowed while we were away – and that snow is still on the ground nearly a month later.

So the Philippines was fun – lots of sun, sea and sights. Even coming under attack – mild as it might have been – by street children in Cebu was an interesting adventure. In a couple of days we’re off to Malaysia for the Korean holiday of Seollal – aka Chinese New Year.

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