A Tale of Three Cities

The past three months saw lucky me traveling to no less than five cities, two of which were for the second time.  Here then are my impressions of three of them I visited for the first time – Bangkok, Seoul and Auckland.

Bangkok is many things:  it is a city that is modern in the many malls and hotels springing up at every corner yet there are pockets of slums that hint at a less prosperous past.  It is truly a city for the shopaholic — everything, well almost everything, can be had at a bargain. Lest I’m beginning to sound like a bird with cries of ‘cheap, cheap, cheap’, let me put that image out of your mind by revealing that there are upscale malls where international brands showcase their merchandise,  and unless you have thousands in your wallet, you’d best step aside for the well-heeled wealthy. But I digress, no where is bargain hunting taken up with more passion than at Chatuchat, the Sunday flea market.

IMG_0485Seoul at night
And that, was where hubby and I went on that Saturday we were there.  He had flown in the night before after my business meetings have ended. This being a business trip, I haven’t the chance to explore much of the city, so I was looking forward to discovering Bangkok with the man. Our visit to the night bazaar the previous night was uneventful with nothing much to show except a pair of cushions which I was entrusted to purchase for a colleague.  So, determined to do some serious damage to our wallets, we headed for Chatuchat with much anticipation.

After meandering through the bewildering warren of stalls and shops, accompanied by an ex-colleague and her boyfriend, we were dizzy with the sensory overload of colours, smells and sounds. We had some successes with clothes and T-shirts for the kids, before the sweltering heat made us plead defeat and returned us to the city for lunch and a stroll after that in the cool air-conditioned floors of Mabukhong. Drowsy from the heat and a full stomach, we returned to the hotel for an afternoon nap in our air-conditioned room.

Feeling refreshed after the nap, we struck out for Sung Lum Night Bazaar again.  This time round, we were a little more successful and returned loaded with more stuff, mostly clothing and some accessories, which challenged our packing. Next morning, we had an early start to catch the flight back to end our weekend with a much-deserved rest. Alas, I didn’t manage to take any pictures as my arms were too laden with parcels and bags of shopping.

A Tale of Three Cities

Seoul, on the other hand, reminds me of an American city.  I arrived here right after my Tokyo meetings and it was a relief to see signages in both Korean and English, which made navigating the city much easier than in Tokyo. This is an ultra modern city and I’m comforted with the familiar sight of Starbucks and Coffeebean and Tea Leaf outlets, a rarity in Tokyo.

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My dear colleagues from the Seoul office gave us a cultural insight by way of food, and I gladly tasted and tried them out, even if some were rather a little too spicy. We had some time to wander the surroundings of the office building, and there were malls but as the Won has gained on the Yen, I wasn’t tempted to shop. I left Seoul with some souvenirs from a colleague and bought some for home — fridge magnets of popular Korean dishes which were really my fond memories of Seoul.  If nothing else, I enjoyed the gastronomy tour which took me through traditional Korean to Chinese fusion and Italian cuisine in my short three days there.
Auckland is a city that I could retire to.  This City of Sails is green, serene and full of 100% pure fresh air. Buildings are low-rise with modern architecture in juxtapose to quaint Victorian (or is it Tudor?) — anyway, it’s English-looking, right out of an Austen novel — buildings which are mostly shop houses and offices. This was the only single occasion where I inadvertently left my camera at home, and never had I regretted it more.  I knew the moment I stepped off the tarmac at the airport, that this was an absolutely picturesque city — highly photogenic no matter which angle you choose to focus.

I vow the grass is greener and the sky is bluer just as the days here were longer — it was still bright out at 8.30pm. Seeing as how I’m without a camera to capture the memories of my visit here, my colleague offered to drive me up to One Tree Hill for a bird’s eye view of the city.  It was chilly out, but along the way, we drove past Mission Bay where my eyes were drawn to myriads of sails out at sea.  The grass and trees in their varied shades of green were swaying gently in the breeze, and even though it was a weekday, it felt like Sunday out at the park for me, especially when we walked past families having a picnic on the pristine manicured lawn in 8˚C temperatures.

Up on One Tree Hill, I was surprised to hear a sheep cry and my colleague laughed when I turned to her all round-eyed to exclaim, “It’s a sheep!” City girl that I am, I’ve never seen sheep living in the city, so it was a rare and beautiful sight of pastoral peace — a treat for me. And as I gazed out at the setting sun in the horizon, I began to understand why the folks here are so easy-going and laid-back. It must be the air. God certainly favours New Zealand because He has bestowed such natural beauty in the trees, grass, hills and bay. Perched up there on the highest peak in the city, I felt truly blessed and at peace, and it was with a little reluctance that we left.

The flight back was uneventful except that I spied Enchanter (the second in the Axis Trilogy by Sara Douglass) on the shelf at the airport and quickly snapped it up, but more of that book later. Am off now to my rehearsal for our Christmas Day performance.  Catch y’all later.

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