Friday 25 September 2015

Signs of South Korea

Long-time followers of this blog will know that I'm fascinated by the signs one encounters along the roads and streets of a foreign country.

There's something intriguing about the design of these, as if they're somehow a distillation of the thought processes of the culture that created them.

Either that, or they're just amusingly puzzling. Here are some interesting signs I encountered on my journey to South Korea last year...

1. Cat cafe. No explanation needed:

2. Starbucks - Korean style. In the historic Seoul district Insadong, businesses are required to display their name prominently in Korean, though they're also allowed a smaller sign in English. So this is one of the few places you'll see a Starbucks sign which looks like this:

3. Inviting menu. Check out the tagline at the Radio M cafe:

4. Men's loos. With diagrammatic instructions:

5. Women's loos. As above:

6. Pizza ninja cat. Spotted at a restaurant in the Korean countryside:

7. Men's entrance. Step through this door to the men's section of a Seoul jjimjilbang (bathhouse) and you will instantly be as attractive as this dude:

8. WTF? Spotted in the funky Hongdae district of Seoul. I have no idea either.

Disclosure: On this trip I travelled courtesy of the Korea Tourism Organisation.

Friday 18 September 2015

Jeeves & Wooster: 100 Years of Comic Rannygazoo

Jeeves came in with the tea.

'Jeeves,' I said, 'we start for America on Saturday.'

'Very good, sir,' he said; 'which suit will you wear?'

New York is a large city conveniently situated on the edge of America, so that you step off the liner right on to it without an effort. You can't lose your way. You go out of a barn and down some stairs, and there you are, right in among it.

The only possible objection any reasonable chappie could find to the place is that they loose you into it from the boat at such an ungodly hour.
And so one of the great comedy duos of English literature was established, exactly a century ago today.

On 18 September 1915, PG Wodehouse's short story Extricating Young Gussie appeared in the American weekly magazine, The Saturday Evening Post.

The Octagon at Hunstanton Hall, Norfolk,
memorably used as a setting in the 1930 short
story Jeeves and the Impending Doom.
I visited it in 2012.
Having been in publication since 1821, the Post was a grab-bag of opinion pieces, humorous items, poetry, fiction and illustrations (a year later it would discover the art of Norman Rockwell).

It was the perfect home for the trans-Atlantic comic fiction of Wodehouse, who was one of the first modern writers to establish a large following in both the UK and the USA.

A hundred years later, his fiction still reads well. Though it's set in a bygone age, that bygone age is itself a fantasy world which never truly existed; so it's still as entertaining an arena for Bertie Wooster's social mishaps as it was then.

So much have I enjoyed the Jeeves and Wooster stories (and the author's many other novels and short stories), that I've occasionally travelled to locations associated with Wodehouse.

There's something fulfilling about travel with a theme that has personal meaning. This is what I've been able to achieve so far along PG Wodehouse's timeline (click to follow links to more detail):

Next month I'll be attending Psmith in Pseattle, the latest instalment of the biennial convention hosted by the USA's Wodehouse Society.

I'm looking forward to it. Following PG Wodehouse's footsteps around the world may be an obsession, but as obsessions go it's a harmless one. Bertie Wooster would likely describe it as "loony", but I trust the ever-tactful Jeeves would let me off with a mere "eccentric".

Extricating Young Gussie is out of copyright in the USA, so you may read the entire story here.

Friday 11 September 2015

Tiki in Honolulu

I recently rewrote an article about Tiki culture in Honolulu, but the extended version of the article ended up unused, in favour of the original shorter piece.

So I've adapted it into a blog post about the Tiki phenomenon and where to encounter it in the Hawaiian capital. Enjoy...

Grimacing masks! Flaming torches! Replica volcanoes!

If you saw these items around your restaurant table in the 1950s or 1960s, as a waiter arrived with a tray of Mai Tai cocktails, you were deeply immersed in the cultural craze known as Tiki.

When American soldiers returned from World War II, they brought with them an experience of Polynesian culture, encountered when they'd shipped through Hawaii and other islands on the way to the Pacific war.

Curiosity about the region had also been fuelled by San Francisco's World's Fair of 1939, which featured Pacific nations.

The time was ripe for Tiki, a style which took inspiration from Polynesian culture but turned it up to 11.

First Donn Beach opened his Don the Beachcomber restaurant in Hollywood in the mid-1930s, followed by Victor Bergeron's Trader Vic chain which spread throughout California and beyond.

Tiki's visual aspects were its most memorable, not least its leering statues and masks, including giant Easter Island heads. But there was always more to it than that.

Tiki culture also spawned a line of cocktails - the most famous of which being the Mai Tai.

Less well remembered is Exotica, a music genre which was part of the Tiki trend. It's a form kept alive by bands such as The Waitiki 7, based in Honolulu.

“Tiki is going through its third revival,” says Waitiki 7 bass player Randy Wong.

“Tiki was essential from 1954 to 1968, then got so big it became a cliché. There was a revival in the mid-90s, starting with the group Combustible Edison in Boston.

“It died down again, then around 2003 Tiki festivals started picking up steam.

“Now we have the Internet so everyone’s like ‘Oh my god, there are other people interested in this, not just me.’ It’s commercial, it’s tribalism.

“People take it different ways,” he adds. “Tiki can be playful, but there’s room for Tiki to be taken seriously.

“Personally, I’m more interested in the old-fashioned Exotica.

“You see the fellows who are more into the darker side, the voodoo side of Tiki. There’s a crowd who are into rockabilly, tattoos and biking. There’s the burlesque side. There’s room for all of those interests within Tiki.”

Places to experience Tiki design and drinks in Honolulu:

Disclosure: On this trip I travelled courtesy of Hawaii Tourism and the Oahu Visitors Bureau.

Friday 4 September 2015

Uluru Up Close

I'm visiting Uluru (the monolith formerly known as Ayers Rock) for the first time, to attend the annual convention of the Australian Society of Travel Writers.

Uluru was always the example I used when explaining how Australians often travel overseas before exploring their own country; so I'll have to find another example now. For this morning I have been up close and personal with the Rock.

Not by climbing it of course, as a) that would be disrespectful to the indigenous owners, who heavily discourage clambering across their sacred site; and b) because it's bloody dangerous (some 40 people have died attempting the climb over the years).

Instead, I joined the AAT Kings Uluru Sunrise and Sacred Sites tour. It was just the right pace for me; up at 5am, drive to the viewing platform to see Uluru as the sun rises; then a drive all the way around the Rock with visits to sights such as cave art and a waterhole. I recommend it if, like me, you prefer less strenuous travel.

Uluru is definitely impressive from a distance. But what intrigued me was the complex detail of the Rock as you get up close. Rather than being a smooth red surface, it contains ravines, caves and fissures, and small outcrops scattered with boulders. There's even a waterhole which collects the runoff from any rainfall.

The vivid colours too, are amazing. Definitely refutes the notion that a desert is a washed-out, monotonous place.

To give you an idea, here are some of my Uluru shots from the tour:

It's a fascinating place to visit. You should go. Like me, find somewhere else to top your "must get there one day" list.

Disclosure: On this trip I was hosted by Travel NTVoyages Ayers Rock Resort and AAT Kings.