Monday, October 17, 2005

The Buddha and the Bicyclist

Buddha at the former Tai Pei Buddhist Center

These are two more photos from this weekend that I wanted to add. Above is a picture of the statue of the Buddha that sits atop the former Tai Pei Buddhist Center at the intersection of Lavender Street and Kallang Road. Of course, this is a very prominent landmark here in S'pore, and I enjoy looking at it whenever I go through that intersection. The photo itself is not the best quality, even after all the work I put into getting it up to this level. But considering the numerous factors in trying to take a decent shot of the Buddha that night, I don't think this is that bad a photo.

Bicyclist on Geylang Road

Lance Armstrong in Singapore? I don't think so. :) While I was up on the pedestrian bridge over Geylang Road, Milady urged me to take this photo of the bicyclist riding west.

I myself love bicycling, and used to do some serious riding to and from university and work when I was younger (we're talking 1500-odd miles per summer when I was working on my Bachelor's degree, and 15-mile rides each way to work when I was getting my Master's). However, I don't really like the idea of riding a bike here in S'pore. The law says you're not supposed to ride on the sidewalks (although many people do), and the streets are too crazy with drivers here for me to trust them. (I didn't trust drivers when I lived in Phoenix, where I was hit twice on the wide streets there; why would I trust them here in the narrow, congested streets?) Neah, I'll take the MRT instead.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Geylang Serai

The Sims Avenue Gateway to Geylang Serai, at night.

During this month of Ramadhan, the bazaar at Geylang Serai is up and running (as usual). Milady and I walked through the bazaar yesterday afternoon, and then we drove through last night on our way home. Above and below are a few of my photos. All of the night photos were taken from inside the car (often while the car was moving). The day photos were taken on foot from various places along the street and on some pedestrian bridges over Geylang/Changi Road. Above is the gateway to the Geylang Serai area over Sims Avenue.

Detail from the Sims Avenue Gateway to Geylang Serai.

Some detail from the top of one of the pillars to the Sims Avenue Gateway.

Geylang Road, looking east.

This is Geylang Road, looking east (toward where Geylang is known as Changi Road), from one of the pedestrian bridges that crosses above the street. This is a rather typical street scene for the Geylang area, as the road is almost always this congested with traffic and with people walking in (or jaywalking across) the street. This is one of the few pictures I've left untouched.

Geylang Road, at night.

Geylang Road, at night.


Handbag, anyone? This was one of two pictures of merchandise I took yesterday. I would have liked to have taken more photos of the merchandise for sale (especially of items made out of fabric, for the colors), but I wasn't interested in going up to each and every salesperson to ask permission. This photo was taken covertly. ;)

Monday, October 03, 2005

Three Men on a Motor Scooter and Other Yahoos

This is my other essay that I wrote while I lived in Korea, "Three Men on a Motor Scooter and Other Yahoos." It deals primarily with Korean drivers.

After returning from my "visa run" to Japan, some of my Korean students asked me what differences I had observed between the two countries. Half-jokingly, I replied, "I didn't fear for my life when I crossed the street in Japan like I do in Korea."

The fact of the matter is, of all the countries I have been to, Koreans are by far the worst drivers I have ever seen. They are incredibly aggressive. In fact, the surprise to me is that I haven't seen any accidents. Koreans must be extremely good drivers...or extremely lucky.

The bus drivers here in Busan are the kings of the road. The busses are large enough to carry a decent number of people, but small enough to be nimble in traffic. While American bus drivers are conservative and stay in one lane (usually), Korean bus drivers will use all the lanes of the road on their side. It is not unusual for standing passengers to sway from their handholds as the busses change from one lane to another or from the erratic starts and stops. Being from Arizona, I have been tempted to yell out, "Yeeeee-haaa! Ride 'em, cowboy!" but I doubt many Koreans would understand the reference.

Bus drivers are also not shy about expressing their emotions. These guys lay on their horn often and with a passion. The other day I thought I'd count the number of times our driver honked his horn at the other cars, but I stopped after reaching twenty. Maybe he hit the horn a total of thirty times that trip...and that was just in a fifteen-minute ride. One time he honked at cars in front of him who were stuck in a traffic jam. No one could move, and yet this yahoo was honking at the others for them to get out of his way. Maybe he was honk-happy.

Taxi drivers are as bad as the bus drivers. The only difference, really, is in the size of the vehicles. I've only been in Busan for two months, and already I've been on a couple of taxi rides from hell. The first ride was when the taxi driver misunderstood where I wanted to go. Instead of heading in a southwesterly direction, toward Kyungsung University, he drove toward the northeast. When I started seeing signs for Beomeosa, the Buddhist temple outside the city (which I had already visited twice), I knew I was in trouble. The busses and subways were already shut down for the night (which was why I took the taxi in the first place), and I started wondering where I would ultimately end up that night and how I was going to get home. What made matters worse was that all my efforts at communicating with this guy didn't help me at all. I tried writing the name of the university in Korean script (wrongly, as I later found out), and my Korean phrasebook was absolutely no help at all. The man did lend me a cell phone, and I tried calling my institute's assistant director, who is fluent in both Korean and English. However, I couldn't reach her on the phone, only getting some Korean man whom, at 1:30 in the morning, must have wondered who the heck "Colleen" was. After about 25 minutes of travel, I finally said quietly, "You're going the wrong way." Perhaps he had heard that before from other Westerners or maybe he understood the despair in my voice. Either way, he pulled over to the side of the road where some Korean university students were walking. I told them where I wanted to go, and they gave him the proper directions. He banged his head with his hand a couple of times, letting me know in that universal gesture that "yes, I am an idiot," to which I could only completely agree. Finally, I arrived home, almost an hour after I first started and 20,000 won poorer (he actually gave me a 15,000 won discount; however, a normal ride home only costs 4,500 won).

Then, just the other night, I had another terrible taxi ride. This guy took me home the right way, but he was really aggressive behind the wheel. He whipped us from lane to lane, and several times I had to hold onto the front seat in order to keep steady. Just before I got home, another taxi cut in front of my driver. My driver, pissed at this other guy, swung around and cut in front of him. (Which, of course, placed me in the center of any accident should we get rear-ended.) The other guy got pissed himself, and he swung around to my driver's left. Both men opened their windows (we're now at a red light), and both started cursing at each other. Seconds earlier, I had been frightened to death of being in an accident; now I couldn't help but laugh at these two guys.

The motorcyclists here are pretty similar to most other motorcyclists around the world. They like to drive between the lanes whenever they can, although I've seen more than a few of them drive by me on the sidewalks. The other night was pretty strange for me. One minute, I saw three guys riding a motor scooter together. Not a motorcycle, mind you, but a smaller motor scooter. No sooner had I finished shaking my head, wondering how the heck the third guy was able to hang on, when a motorcycle with two people on it came down the road with their headlight off. This is at one a.m. By the way, none of the five people were wearing helmets.

Speaking of motorcycle helmets, Koreans wear some interesting fashions. There are a few guys who wear a helmet that is very similar in shape to the Nazi helmet of World War II. Just paint 'em black (if they aren't already), put a couple of SS stickers on the sides, and voila! Instant Nazi helmets! The other motorcycle helmet fashion this year is fins. They're regular motorcycle helmets, but they sport either two or four fins on the top. I have no idea what purpose they might serve or if they're just an aesthetic design. Either way, I'm almost tempted to buy a four-fin helmet just so I can take it back to America and turn some heads. (Of course, then I'd have to learn how to ride a motorcycle.)

I've been pretty hard on the Korean drivers in this essay, and I do want to say that not every Korean drives badly. I've had a number of taxi and bus drivers who have been very good. Also, the few times I've ridden with other people in cars (like the Korean employees at my institute), they've been very good drivers as well.

One last story, and I include it only because it happened on the bus. I was sitting down in one of the seats, putting photos into a new photo album, when a high school girl standing next to me began saying "I love you, I love you..." over and over again. I had no idea who she was talking to, but I decided to say to her, "I love you too." This embarrassed the heck out of her, and the three friends who were with her burst out laughing. After a few seconds of turning her back to me, she turned around and said, "I'm sorry." I went back to working on my photo album, but just before she got off the bus she again said, "I love you."

Copyright 2001 by John J. Dunne

Post Script: In the second paragraph, I wrote, "Koreans must be extremely good drivers...or extremely lucky." This essay was probably written in late 2001, and I didn't leave Korea until that October. Interestingly enough, in all my remaining time there, I still didn't see any car accidents there (although one of my favorite students, J.Y., admitted about a month before I left Busan that he had gotten into an accident). I still think the above sentence is valid.

Texas Street

One of the nice things about the Web is that, potentially, nothing's ever lost (actually, this can be a bad thing too, but I digress ;) ). I had been thinking that I'd like to put two old essays of mine on this blog. However, the essays are not on my computer's hard drive (or any of my thumb drives). Solution? Retrieve the essays from a website (PusanWeb) where I'd had them published several years ago. Amazingly, the essays are still there (alhamdulillah).

This first essay, "Texas Street," is about my visit one night to an historically famous neighborhood in Busan, only for me to discover that it wasn't quite what I expected it to be.

Recently, we had a new student show up at the Institute, a young woman from Ukraine, I believe. The woman's presence caused a small stir among the Western teachers, in part because of the novelty of having a non-Korean student at the school and also because this woman was amply endowed. (Korea is, after all, the Land of the A-Cup, and the Ukrainian woman's bra had to be at least a C-Cup.)

After the young woman left the teacher's office, I jokingly suggested that the Institute should put up some recruiting posters along Texas Street. Perhaps we could get some new students among the Russian hookers. While we considered that idea, the thought struck me that I myself didn't know exactly where Texas Street was or what it looked like. So, on the next Saturday night, I decided to pay a visit.

Texas Street, of course, originally got its name from the Americans, but the area, officially called the "Choryang Shopping Area for Foreigners," is predominantly Russian now. There is also a growing number of Chinese there as the Shanghai Gate (Sanghaemoon) is located one block southwest of the uglier CSAF Gate. According to one of my tourist maps of Busan, Texas Street is now known as "Shanghae Street." However, despite the crazy quilt work of Russian, Chinese and Korean influences, the "Texas Street" name prevails.

Now one of the things I love about Busan is its incredible nightlife. There are a number of neighborhoods in the city - Seomyeon, Nampodong, the areas around Busan National University, Bukyung National University and Kyung Sung University - where there's an almost palpable energy flowing through the streets. Tens of thousands (hundreds of thousands?) walk around, shop, dance, eat, drink, and sing in the equivalent of neighborhood-wide block parties every night, no matter what the weather. It's the type of street scene that American merchants and politicians salivate for.

Which is why my visit to Texas Street was so depressing. There was hardly anyone there at all. Walking along several blocks in each direction, I saw perhaps two hundred people at the most. Many shops were open, but each had only a few, if any, customers. A few Russian hookers walked the streets, dressed in heavy coats and short skirts. They were mostly middle-aged women, perhaps a few years older than me, and not terribly attractive. Looking through the open doors and windows into the bars and restaurants, I saw few patrons (except at the Chinese restaurants). A few Russian women sat in chairs next to the open doorways. "Come, come," they would beckon, but I felt like a moth trying to be seduced by spiders and I continued to walk on.

I felt the most pity for the few Koreans working there. One woman, standing next to a credit card application table, seemed to have few prospects for the night. Another woman sat behind an empty food cart, the only one in this neighborhood in a city filled with hundreds of food carts. As I walked by, she said "Hello," and I said "Hello" back to her. For a second, I almost went over to buy something from her, me feeling so bad that she had no other customers, but I was already beginning to feel uneasy and I walked on. (A few minutes later, I walked by her again. A few men had stopped by to eat some of her food, and I felt a little bit better for her.)

After about fifteen minutes of walking around, I had had enough. I began to long for the company of Koreans, so I returned to the subway station and took the next train for Nampodong, two short stops away from Texas Street.

Copyright 2001 by John J. Dunne

Saturday, October 01, 2005


I'm not quite sure what this is; I presume that it's a dragon of some kind, although it could be something else. (A devil?) Any suggestions?

This fella is actually quite small, no more than 3" x 7". I found it above the door to a small shop on the first floor of my apartment block last night.