It’s been too long

I’d better get this blog rolling before it gets longer.
Got some stuff to write about too.
But it’s just difficult to find some time to write things down.. not that I’m super busy all the time…
So, let’s re-start with a pic that shows my current whereabout, before heading out for lunch.

Being super lazy by the pool

Being super lazy by the pool, despite haze, in Singapore


A trip to the Western Balkans, inspired by a SKorean TV show

It’s always amazing to see how a TV show creates a travel destination so successfully.

I’ve taken several domestic trips inspired by “2 Days and 1 Night,” a S.Korean TV program that visits almost every corner of the country.

The show’s original producer Na Young-suk moved to another TV channel, tvN, and created this “… over Flowers” program series: “Grandpas over Flowers,” which took four Korean actors in their 60s and 70s to France, Taiwan, and Spain with an actor in his early 40s as porter, driver, and cook; then its spin-offs “Sisters over Flowers,” which took four Korean actresses in their 40s and 60s to Croatia, also with a young actor and singer in his 20s for the porter/guide role, who’s way more helpless than the actresses; “Youth over Flowers,” with three Korean singers in their 40s to Peru, the season that just ended; and “(Real) Youth over Flowers,” with three young actors in their 20s to Laos, to be aired soon.

The show’s original concept is to film the grandpas, who became stars at young age and have never traveled by themselves not to mention in a tight budget, backpacking abroad by themselves. Really this was the first time for the grandpas to carry their own luggages, book hotels (or hostels) themselves, schedule their own trip, and travel without any assistance but the somewhat helpless young porter. Recently NBC reportedly bought the concept and frame of the show, under the name of “Better Late than Never.

The travel variety show was a big hit in Korea, and hundreds and thousands of Koreans backpacked themselves and took off to the destinations featured in the show. Mr. Na, the producer, even received an award from the Taiwanese government for promoting tourism of the country.

Among the destinations, Croatia hit me hard. Croatia has been on my to-visit list for years, but watching the episodes, the destination grew in me so much. In March, a former colleague of mine Ally, another globetrotter, and I decided to travel Croatia during the long holidays in May only to find that it’s too late to book direct flight to Croatia. So many other Koreans were also hooked by the show and flying to the country. The only available and affordable flight we could get was one that goes to Belgrade (Beograd) of Serbia. Then, I learned that Montenegro, whose tourism business I studied about during my graduate program, was on the way from Serbia to Croatia, and Ally found Slovenia, a country she’s been planning to visit, was bordering with Croatia.

Too many places to cover for two weeks we thought. But what the heck. We ended up traveling ALL four countries in the Western Balkans—Serbia, Montenegro, Croatia, and Slovenia—for two weeks, from April 30 to May 12. It was rather a serious training than a relaxing vacation, but we had so much fun, doing some crazy stuff, together and individually.

So, here our journey begins.

The route Ally and I took in early May 2014

The route Ally and I took in early May 2014


An unforgettable moment at the Ice Camp Eqi

I was taking a nap on the long couch, facing the huge windows.
Feeling a little chilly, I opened my eyes without moving.
Right then, a small chunk of ice on top of the glacier started falling off to the fjord, with rumble sounds.
I blinked my eyes, still not moving a bit.
Am I dreaming, or is it really happening?
I saw the ice residues from the calving still flying into the fjord.

Amazing view from the hut at the Ice Eqi Camp giving me a great feeling of serenity.

Right. I remember having checked in to the hut—too luxurious for a hut—about an hour ago, right opposite of the Eqi, one of the most productive glaciers in Greenland.

Rewind a couple hours back.
I was on the boat, which parked a few hundred meters away from the glacier, feeling so humble and small in front of the huge glittering white wall, watching the glacier calving real close, and experiencing “iceberg tsunami.” I was in awe of nature.

Here it goes again. Kaboom.

I straightened up, and reached to my camera. Too late.

It always cracks when my camera is off, and it almost never happens when I’m ready to take a shot. Just like life. Perhaps that’s why it’s more thrilling.

[This is what I barely made in the boat. Because of the strong wind, you won’t be able to hear the so-called “thunder” sounds, which is to me more like building-collapsing sounds.]

My favorite island, Jeju

The TV program, “2 Days and 1 Night,” always inspires me to visit some places in S.Korea or to write about my past trips. Last week’s show also reminded me of my trip to Jeju Island in the summer of 2008.

If someone asks me to recommend one place to visit in S.Korea, I would definitely say Jeju Island. (Of course, if you want to feel the “dynamic Korea,” then you should visit Seoul.)
I’ve traveled so many places in the country in my life. When I was young, nearly every Saturday morning I was sitting in the backseat of my dad’s car and a few hours later, I found myself in a new place. And that tradition doesn’t seem to have faded away. Last weekend I was all over Gangwon province, eastern S.Korea, with my family. But I’m telling you, I haven’t revisited other places as much as Jeju. Although S.Korea has many other beautiful islands, but Jeju always shows me its new charm every time I visit the island.

One of my favorite places in Jeju is the Gimnyeong Beach, northesatern Jeju. It’s the whitest and finest sand beach in the island (Note: Jeju is a volcanic island, and some beaches have black sand.) and the water is the color of emeralds… It would be easily mistaken as one of the beaches in Southeast Asia. I hadn’t heard of the beach before, and it was a pure luck that I stopped by there on my way to Seopjikoji, eastern Jeju, from the airport, along the coastline. Ever since, it became one of my top beach destinations in the country.

Gimnyeong Beach, June, 2008

Another my favorite destination is the wood trail near the Mulchat Oreum. The oreum itself that uniquely has a crater lake is certainly a must to visit. But I love the wood trail more than the oreum, particularly when it’s foggy. (I think that trail is the Saryeoni Forest, but I’m not sure. I should check that out next time I visit Jeju. Another excuse to go back! grin.)

(Note: Mulchat oreum is closed until the end of this year.)

One of the oreums I really like is the popular Abu Oreum, eastern Jeju. I visited there with my friend @getthefish in 2000 and luckily we met the land owner at the entrance of the oreum and got allowed to hike up to the peak. (Note: The area is privately owned. Not sure if the owner decided to completely open it to the public now, but it seems like many have visited there without much trouble.)

View from the top of the Abu Oreum: A ring of cedars in the crater. I remember that we had to hike up the peak twice to take this picture as we found we had no films left only on top of the peak! (Yeah, there was a thing called a film camera.)

And if you like forest, I also recommend Bijarim Forest where you can see hundreds years old bija, or nutmeg trees. The huge, strong standing trees are just overwhelming.

Bijarim Forest

And really, try to visit the island every season. Jeju will definitely show you all different colors of beauty: Spring (flowers!), summer (beaches!), fall (foliage!), and winter (snow!!!). Ah… I should go back soon.

Is it media’s responsibility to raise awareness of the importance of tourism?

That was one of the main topics during the first day discussion at the UNWTO conference on Tourism & Media today. (Thanks for the live streaming!)

Some twitter friends shared their opinions on the topic:

I don’t know if it’s media’s “responsibility,” but I believe the media can help raising awareness of not just the importance of tourism but also responsible tourism. (Although, how effective the media coverage would be is another story.)

Three years ago, when I told my friends that I was going to study sustainable tourism, one pointed out that the two words—sustainable and tourism—are contradictory to each other, as once people start visiting a destination, they cannot help ruin its environment no matter how hard they try not to. Perhaps she is right. People always consume resources and produce wastes. But we can try to reduce its negative impact, I argued.

In a similar context, that was a dilemma to me when I covered travel section for a daily newspaper back in 2006. Once a piece on a travel destination is published, there are often higher chances that more—a lot more—people visit the place; the area gets developed dramatically to accommodate increasing visitors; and the destination loses its charm and in worst scenario, the environment gets damaged.

I’m not the only one. When I met Jonathan Tourtellot, founding director of National Geographic Center for Sustainable Destinations and geotourism editor of NG Traveler magazine, in 2010, I asked him how he balances the two—the role of informing people of a destination and concerns about the negative impacts the articles may cause. Jonathan said not writing about destinations isn’t an option. Even if he doesn’t, someone will write about it anyway. So instead, he tries to note responsible ways of traveling in his articles, he said.

As the twitter friends argued, it may not be media’s responsibility to raise awareness of the importance of tourism or responsible tourism. It’s just that there are some journalists who feel responsible for what they write about.

+ Other good reads:
Why aren’t more bloggers writing about responsible travel?
Responsible (and local) tourism for travellers


Air Greenland provides unusual in-flight experience

When I read MSNBC’s blog post Frontier Airlines eliminates free chocolate chip cookies, I was naturally reminded of Air Greenland that also provides complimentary chocolate chip cookies. Actually, it gives candies and coffee as well for domestic flights.

Air Greenland's complimentary chocolate chip cookies and coffee.

I think it was my first experience to pick up cookies from a basket when I first flew to Greenland. Complimentary snacks I’ve got until then was mostly nuts or pretzels that are individually packed. I found even that quite interesting. (What wouldn’t be, to a girl who was super duper excited about going to Greenland for the first time.)

And then, I saw the flight attendant, and the only, delivering coffee and cookies to the pilots. I could see her opening the cockpit door with the snacks in her hands, and talking with the pilots. I could have a glimpse of the cockpit.

A glimpse of the cockpit, while flying to Ilulissat from Kangerlussuaq

So when I was on a trip to Ilulissat, North Greenland, with my friend Sei, we asked the flight attendant if we could see the cockpit after landing. She asked the pilots and said fine. So, we had a chance to see the cockpit real close, and to talk with the copilot. He is from Iceland and has been working for the airline for a couple years then. He didn’t mind us taking photos of the cockpit, and added if we wanted to come back to the cockpit on our way back home, just ask the flight attendants. I think we could even sit on the pilot seat if we asked.

Inside of the Air Greenland cockpit

Sei from Phoenix, AZ, said, “I think we’d get arrested in the U.S. just for asking permission.”

Another unusual experience was that for some domestic flights, passengers and cargoes are placed in the same space, without any, uhmm, partition.

In the flight to Narsarsuaq from Nuuk. By yoonmee

When Yoonmee and I flew to/from Narsarsuaq, South Greenland, from/to Nuuk, we flew with the cargoes right before us. We tried to find our own check-in luggages from the pile, laughing. On the way, the plane stopped by in Paamiut and all the passengers had to get off for about 10 mins to unload some of the passengers and the packages that may include food, necessities, or postcards. We joked that perhaps the postcards we sent from Qarqortoq are probably flying with us, being buried somewhere in the pile.

And when I thought I took nearly every kind of small planes that the Air Greenland has, it showed me I was wrong. My last domestic flight in Greenland, from Nuuk to Kangerlussuaq, had a very strange seat plan. The first front seats were rear-facing: Imagine the group seat for four at a train, with not much legroom. You got it right. Funny, no? I wonder what purpose having such seats can be.

I haven’t visited East Greenland, and far North yet, and am wondering what interesting experience the flight might provide. Perhaps another excuse to go back to Greenland. grin.

Destination image and the media

I get Google Alerts on Tourism Media. Google sends me a list of articles that has both tourism and media once a week.
Yesterday, the list included two interesting articles that tourism authorities blame the international media for tarnishing the image of the countries, and as a result, dropping the number of inbound visitors.

Al Bawaba’s Foreign media reports ‘killing Bahrain tourism’ and the Sunday Times’s Foreign media ruins Maldives’ image as a safe haven for tourists. 

It sounded so familiar to me. That’s what S.Korea used to complain about for years.  They said, the photos international media choose for their articles, for example photos of union workers wearing red headbands, sitting on the streets, striking, make the society look unstable. True. Photos can dramatize the situation. And true as well with crisis news reports. Media may cover crisis outbreaks huge on page 1 or as top news, but no one would treat things-got-better stories as important. Destination managers may find it unfair. But it’s the way it is. They should find ways to reduce its negative impact before the negative image sets in, instead of just complaining. Because once an image is set, it’s hard to be replaced. If it’s a bad one, even more so.

Again, Korea.
Yes, Korea is still technically at war, and there’ve been a few gun fights near the maritime border, but in fact, visitors as well as residents here hardly feel the war atmosphere in the country. When the North shoots missiles, SKoreans don’t even blink their eyes. They go to work/school as any other day, and few (perhaps only the media) talks about it. The stock market doesn’t get affected much either these days. But yet, according to the result of a recent survey on the image of SKorea to foreigners, which was highlighting that the K-pop ranked the second, No.1 is still the Korean war.

Bahrain and the Maldives may be upset with the tarnished image by the media. But it’s not the time for them to sit and complain. It’s time to try reduce its negative impact, and make sure the negative image doesn’t stick to their national image. They may find some loss for now. It’s unavoidable. Accept that and make sure it doesn’t last forever. Try to honestly show how attractive other parts of their country still are despite the clashes in certain areas. Perhaps they’d like to use the media—not just traditional media but also the social media, bloggers, travelers. There’re more ways to directly communicate with outsiders than before.

+ Interested in reading how SKorea’s trying to polish its national image? See What’s in an image? For Korea, a lot.