NightWalkingTruths

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An Unforgettable trip to Dokdo Island

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Dokdo Island, South Korea. November 2009

Dokdo Island, South Korea. November 2009

With less than two months left on the island I decided it was time to make the trip to Dokdo Island last Saturday. I thought it would be a simple boat trip, walk around the island and then return trip back to Ulleungdo but that’s now how things turned out. Read more about what happened here.

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Written by BiancaZAR

November 9, 2009 at 6:24 pm

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The things I’m missing out on not being at home

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My parents have recently sent me some photos of the flowers and wildlife that I’ve missed out on being on Ulleungdo and not at home right now. I love my home. We have lived there since I was four years old and even though there are no wetlands or streams, the trees and flowers often give us little surprises of God’s beautiful creatures.

In our front yard we have a huge cycad. This thing is so fertile that we now have 30 baby cycads. If anyone is in Durban and wants a baby cycad please email me. Last week my Dad found a pair of mousebirds nesting in the base of the cycad.

Mousebirds are only confined to Sub-Saharan Africa.

Mousebirds are only confined to Sub-Saharan Africa.

Over the weekend my Dad told me that the mousebirds have gone. He thinks a snake must have got to them. I can believe this as one night we spotted one midway through ingesting a frog double its size. There you have it, National Geographic wildlife action right in my own backyard.

I’m also missing out on October’s blooming Jacaranda trees.I have always loved these and they hold a special memory for my Mom and I from when she used to walk me to pre-school from our flat near Berea centre to my school near the Botanic Gardens. I always used to put them on my fingers and pretend I was a princess with flower rings.

Jacaranda trees in Broadway Avenue, Westville

Jacaranda trees in Broadway Avenue, Westville

I can’t really explain why I love the Jacarandas. It’s not like I’m that crazy about the colour purple either. I think it’s how they transform the landscape that is usually so familiar. A pretty purple carpet to announce that Spring has arrived.

I wish I could have seen this year’s Jacarandas with my own eyes. Sadly, I will have to wait until next year. At least I have my parents who make sure I don’t completely miss out by sending me pictures. Thank you parents!

Blooming Jacarandas

Blooming Jacarandas

Written by BiancaZAR

October 26, 2009 at 10:15 pm

A Glimmer of Hope at the Killing Fields

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I haven’t written anything about my trip to Cambodia in August because I’ve been really busy. It’s probably too late to write now but I just had to share my favorite photo from the trip with you.

Fleeting Beauty at the Killing Fields, Phom Penh, August 2009.

Fleeting Beauty at the Killing Fields, Phom Penh, August 2009.

On our first day in Phnom Penh we went to the Killing Fields and it was quite a tough visit. Walking around the mass graves, seeing bits of bones still in the sand was more than depressing. We were emotional and I wondered about our guide’s own experience of this tragedy, if all his family had survived.

We had just walked past the baby killing tree. The Khmer Rouge used to swing babies from their feet, knocking their heads against the hard bark to kill them.

This was too much to comprehend and we stopped for awhile. I was looking at one of the signs at the stylized Khmer script and a dragonfly came and rested on the edge of the sign for a few seconds.

Here was something alive and beautiful in this place filled with dark memories. Even though it was fleeting it filled my heart with hope. After experiencing a tragic history, it’s important to look forward and try to see the light and be positive.

Growing up in South Africa has taught me this. Everyday we are bombarded with bad news and it’s difficult to try and be positive about the future under all this.

Reflecting on our trip, I have to say that this photo represents my impression of Cambodia. A sad and tragic past hangs like a dark cloud over the country with glimpses of beauty and hope hidden in the shadows. You need to look hard to find it.

Written by BiancaZAR

October 24, 2009 at 9:42 pm

Korean career women still left out of the “boys club”

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A close friend of mine is worried she will lose her job next year. This is despite the fact that she has been in that position for more than five years. Nevertheless her employers (a national company) may decide to terminate her employment as it is easier for them to higher a new person on a contract basis rather than employ her as permanent staff.

While I understand this is a common problem around the world, she is concerned about not being able to find another job. This friend is the only woman in her office, making the fact that she has continued to do her job successfully for so many years a mighty achievement. I wonder how long a man working in an office full of women would last. Read more…

Written by BiancaZAR

October 20, 2009 at 11:14 pm

Remembering Songpan

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I don’t remember when I first started dreaming of Tibet. It might have been on one of the Friday afternoons I spent at the Westville library in the early 90s reading about when Tintin found a teddy bear half buried in the snow on his way to rescue his friend Chang who was stuck in the Himalayas.

Ever since I can remember, the sky reaching peaks and spinning prayer wheels of the temples in Tibet have been at the top of my list of places to visit. Growing up I poured over Heinrich Harrer and Vikram Seth’s first impressions of the Potala Palace, dreaming of when I would be able to lay my eyes on the palace for the first time.

I’m still dreaming as I haven’t made it there yet.

Colourful yaks on the road to Songpan

Colourful yaks on the road to Songpan

During my year in China I hoped to go, knowing that I wouldn’t mind if I only saw Tibet and none of China’s other magnificent sights. However my vacation time was too short for me to make the trip so I went as close as I could, to Songpan.

This week is the two year anniversary of my trip to Songpan, but I can still close my eyes and see the turquoise and coral ornate silver earrings hanging heavily from the Tibetan women’s ears as they ploughed their fields.

Situated at 2850 meters above sea level, the small town of Songpan lies peacefully in a valley under a glassy electric blue sky between massive Sichuan mountains.

At this altitude the colours are brighter, the air is thinner and you cannot help but feel that you must be at least half way to heaven.

Making friends with the locals.

Making friends with the locals.

To think that we almost never went, my roommate and I planned a six day trip to Sichuan province over the Chinese National holiday in 2007. With only two days for travel in Chengdu, going to Songpan was a risk because we would have to spend a day traveling there and back as it’s a nine hour bus ride from Chengdu. We had no idea if we wouldn’t definitely get a bus back in time to catch our flight.

Plus we had to get up ridiculously early on our holiday to get to the station to get tickets. This was near impossible because of the crowds traveling on the national holiday.

I still remember the alarm going off and it was still dark outside. It took all of my strength not to just press snooze and go back to sleep. I’m really glad I didn’t.

This was the most scenic bus trip I’d ever taken. Nine hours was a pleasure.

Once out of the urban areas, the road winds up and around steep mountains while you catch glimpses of sparkling lakes and brightly decorated yaks and their accompanying farmers. History and politics clouded my mind. I thought about how many of Mao Zedong’s Long Marchers died crossing over these 10 000 ft mountains in the 1930s and how if it were 1951 I would be entering the independent country of Tibet.

Songpan is now one of the 13 counties of the Aba Tibetan Qiang Autonomous Prefecture of northwestern Sichuan province, China and Tibetan people still make up 53% of the region.

Lunch with our Tibetan guide

Lunch with our Tibetan guide

We spent one day horse-trekking to a nearby Tibetan nomadic village. Our guide was a quiet couple whose youngest son was training to be a monk. The wife cooked us a traditional lunch of cabbage and sampa with yak butter tea in their small room next to the monastery.

A photo of the Dalai Lama hung in a small corner of the room and even though I wasn’t in Lhasa, I felt overwhelmed by this family’s humble daily life, considering that their land has been taken away from them. Their way of life is so distinctly Tibetan yet according to the maps they live in China.

Two years later and I wonder where that family is now. The memory of Songpan hasn’t faded. Instead it remains in my mind as a taste of Tibet, where I still dream of going. I hope to go there in 2013 when I turn 30. That’s if I can’t get there sooner.

Tibetan nomadic village near Songpan

Tibetan nomadic village near Songpan

Written by BiancaZAR

October 8, 2009 at 11:31 pm

Dokdomania

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Ulleungdo Squid Festival, August 2009

Ulleungdo Squid Festival, August 2009

Anyone who has worked as an English teacher in South Korea probably knows about Dokdo. If you don’t know, ask your students and be prepared for a burst of Korean national pride with singing and fists waving.

For the rest of you, Dokdo is a pair of islets situated in the East Sea between Korea and Japan. This is a source of contention between Korea and Japan as the latter continues to make claims of ownership over Dokdo or as they call it, Takeshima. In English, they are known as the Liancourt rocks named after the French whaling ship whose crew almost crashed on the rocks in 1849.

From the time they learn to speak, Koreans can sing and shout “Dokdo Uri-dang” (Dokdo is our country). Besides being a symbol of national pride and independence for Korea, Dokdo lies in a rich fishing area which could also contain gas deposits. The walls of elementary schools where I work are lined with posters saying Dokdo is Korea’s and I’m really popular at school on the days I wear a Dokdo t-shirt.

Since I moved to Ulleungdo, which is the porthole to Dokdo, this has become a source of entertainment for me. I’ve started a t-shirt collection, enjoy singing Dokdo songs with my friends at the karaoke and sometimes organize Dokdo t-shirt parties when we go out.

Dokdomania has even reached the streets of New York, with a tour bus which runs a Dokdo-promoting advertisement, in bright LED lights through Manhattan. The Korean tour company owner is so committed to the cause that he is losing out on 6 million won (about $6,000) a month by running the ad.

Should you care about Dokdo? Yes, if you live in Korea or have anything to do with Koreans in terms of business or personal relationships. The final frontier for Korean nationalism, I know that I will be hearing Dokdo Uri-dang, many more times over the next few months. I guess I better learn the words.

Written by BiancaZAR

September 6, 2009 at 2:40 pm

Before you go and more…

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So you want to teach English in Asia but have no idea where to start? Then continue reading here on www. chopstix-chix.com a collaborative project I’m working on with some fellow female teachers I’ve met in Asia. Read more about  who we are and what we are talking about.

Written by BiancaZAR

July 28, 2009 at 3:48 pm

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