Travel Asia – Korea How The English teacher's guide to living, working, and traveling in Korea. Thu, 28 Nov 2013 13:24:19 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Sumatra & Java, Indonesia | A Travel Photo Essay Sun, 26 Dec 2010 23:36:04 +0000 Photos and words by Shawn “Flash” Parker.

From sunrise over an active volcano on Java, to the rice paddies of Sumatra, join intrepid travel photojournalist Shawn “Flash” Parker in Indonesia as he shows you around his favorite county.

Indonesia is a complex land of scattered islands, epic landscapes, fascinating people, heartbreaking history and beguiling customs. At once we were frustrated by, and fell in love with, the pace of life and rugged countryside of Sumatra. The hustle and bustle and jumbled mass of humanity that is Java does not lack for charm or grace, though you have to dig a little to find it.

I used to tell people that Cambodia was my favourite country in the world; after a month in the fertile hills of Indo, there is a new champion.

Mount Penanjakan view of Mount Bromo, East Java, Indonesia.

Bright and early, just before the light shines bright view of Mount Bromo, Mount Semeru and Mount Batok, with ample rolling fog and an epic eruption for good measure.

We climbed Mount Penanjakan in our Toyota 4×4 pre-dawn in the headlights of some 1,200 other vehicles. Once at the viewpoint Megs and I decided against the same shooting vantage as everyone else – all 3,000 tourists, gah – and climbed down the hill for a better look (and a few square feet to dig in our tripods). As soon as the sun started to shine and illuminate the volcanoes in the distance, all the nuisance and discomfort of the day, all the pain and suffering associated with actually making the trip to Bromo, it vanished. We spent the next hour shooting one of the most incredible sunrises I have ever witnessed.

Ancient Stupas, Borobudur, Java, Indonesia.

I could have and should have done more with the morning mist at Borobudur. Instead, we raced to the monument’s zenith to take it in before the rest of the hordes clamored up. By the time we made our way back down to the 4th level the light and the mist had changed, leaving me with this single, hastily made frame.

Western Shore, Lake Maninjau, Sumatra, Indonesia.

Life slowed down while we were making these frames on the sparsely inhabited western shore. Here the karamba – floating net cages – are few and far between, the landscape is rugged, the roads rough and the water calm. This lone fisherman was the only person we saw during our time on the west side.

Highlands Lookout, Lake Maninjau, Sumatra, Indonesia.

The magnificent architectural designs of the Minangkabau. Touring Indonesia is a lesson in epic, ancient building styles. You can keep your gothic revival and Victorian and whatever else it is that the Europeans can dish out; for my money, Sumatra is more impressive.

Maninjau Village, Lake Maninjau, Sumatra, Indonesia.

This, my friends, is a Maninjau tako, and it is better than any taco you have had anywhere, at any time, in your life. It is stuffed to the brim with ground beef, grilled vegetables, eggs and spices. It is oven baked. It is succulent. It is savory. It is $1.25.

Long live the tako!

Basin Rice Paddies, Lake Maninjau, Sumatra, Indonesia.

I have had this frame in the back of my mind since the day I landed in Asia. It took me two and a half years and nearly a dozen new countries to find it.

I made hundreds of frames in the hour we trekked through these paddies yet it is this one, the first frame, that I return to. It captures so much of what I love about Sumatra without saying much at all beyond what is captured. I like that.

Tuk Tuk, Samosir Island, Lake Toba, Sumatra, Indonesia.

This elderly lady was sorting her fruit and veggies when she spied Megs and I wandering about. She called me over to check out my camera and quiz me on goings on. She even decided to try her hand at shooting portraits of me. I was more than happy to return the favour.

I look back at these Indo portraits fondly; not once was I turned down when asking for photos and more often than not I was asked to shoot before throwing the question out myself. More importantly, I was able to share some genuinely fantastic moments with incredibly interesting people. It makes the experience of the road that much sweeter.

Tuk Tuk, Samosir Island, Lake Toba, Sumatra, Indonesia.

Like every other destination in the world (save maybe Iraq, I guess?) Lake Toba has a fair share of tourist traps and gift shops selling assorted mass-produced crap. Off the beaten path, however, there are some fantastic shops selling really beautiful stuff.

We stocked up on hand-carved masks, as we are prone to do in every country we stop. What I really wanted, though, was this chess set; pieces eight inches high and a game board, carved into the table, four feet squared. Sadly, with my underwater camera and flash equipment, my suitcase was already a little bulbous. Plus, I’m not much of a souvenir guy; I’ll collect a little sand, a little bottle of water and the aforementioned masks, but other than that I take nothing more than photographs.

Buddhist Statue, Borobudur, Java, Indonesia.

A Buddhist statue faces South on the cardinal compass (if my records are correct). My research indicates that this statue is in the Vara mudra group and represents benevolence and alms giving – as noted by the position of the hands. Mario might be able to tell us more about this. I, on the other hand, am a man of simple pleasures, and spend the days contemplating eternity in a position similar to this.

Mauro Beach, Lake Maninjau, Sumatra, Indonesia.

Another look at the gorgeous sunset over Lake Maninjau, one of the finest I have ever been witness to in my life. I can’t comment on sunrise, as each time I woke up prior to the 5:45am sunburst it was pouring down. So, for the sake of this argument, I will say that sunset is superior. Ha!

These karambas belong to the family that owned our villa and our wonderful hosts would head on down to the water each evening after we ordered dinner and pluck out a slippery footless delight for supper. I have a few frames of our fisherman/chef diving, spear in hand, after these fish. Not a bad way to get on.

Oh, the best part of all this, of course, is that I didn’t experience the Mudd Butt at Maninjau. Not at all!

Bromo Rim, Bromo-Tengger-Semeru National Park, East Java, Indonesia.

This wild stallion understands a little something about epicality, as you can plainly see. Rolling fog in a volcanic valley is the new softbox.

The Bird Market, Yogyakarta, Java, Indonesia.

I wonder if you can tell why Megan loved the Bird Market? It’s hard to imagine, really. Seems like such a brutal, viscous place, with multi-coloured chicks running amok and whatnot.

Alas, she left disappointed; I could not in good conscience let her buy a dozen of these. She hasn’t spoken to me since.


  • How to get there from Korea: A number of airlines make the 7 hour flight from Seoul’s Incheon Airport to Jakarta for around 700,000 – 900,000 won (depending on the time of year).
  • How to save money on your flight: China Southern Airlines has some of the most economical flights you will find to Jakarta from Korea. The flight time is longer since you have to transfer planes in China, but the cost reduction may make it worth your while. China Southern also offers service to/from six Korean cities.

*You might be wondering how Shawn got some of those dreamscape-like images. Learn how to add colors to your photos by reading Shawn’s Basic Filter Guide.

**You can also find more great tips in these articles by other photographers.


Shawn "Flash" Parker

Biography: Flash is a writer and photographer originally from Toronto, Canada, and spent two years living in Osan, Korea (2008-2010). He is a screenwriter (film credits include Wireless and I Hate Dating) and author (Night Has Fallen, 2008) and travels extensively on assignment as a photojournalist. In 2010 Flash has had articles and photographs published in Conde Nast Traveler, American Way Magazine, CNN Traveler Magazine, Groove Magazine, SE Asia Backpacker Magazine, Eloquence Magazine, 10 Magazine and more. He has been nominated for a 2011 PATA Gold Award in destination journalism.

Blog: Flash Parker: Love The Light

Flickr Photostream: Flash Parker

Book: The Ubiquitos Kimchi (Korean Food and Culture)

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Beijing: 10 For the Weekend Wed, 20 Oct 2010 02:09:42 +0000

The main gate to the Forbidden City.

If you have never been to Beijing then it’s time you went. It’s true it can be very polluted and overcrowded, but it is just one of those places you have to visit before you die. You’ve got the Forbidden City, Great Wall, and a number of new cutting edge buildings going up. Not to mention China is about to take over the world.

Mabuhay, the Philippine Airlines in-flight magazine, featured my story and photos about 10 things you can do during a weekend in Beijing. Here is what the layout looks like. You can read my original text below the tearsheets or read the article in PDF format here. Pretty cool! Enjoy.

Beijing: 10 For the Weekend

When I first visited Beijing in 1993 many of the locals looked at me like I was from another planet. Okay, I’m 2 meters tall so that might have had something to do with all the stares. However, it still seemed as if they had never seen a foreigner before. And if I stopped to talk to someone on the street, a crowd of onlookers would quickly gather around me to see what was happening.

Today, Beijing is a dynamic and cosmopolitan city with the type of amenities you would expect in any world-class city. Hosting the 2008 summer Olympics also helped the city modernize many of their hotels, create new tourist attractions, and refurbish old ones. Let’s take a look at the best of the old and the new.




Whether you are looking for high-end or traditional accommodation in Beijing, you can find it all. One of the most upscale luxury boutique hotels in the city at the moment is The Opposite House (THO). When you walk into the lobby it feels like you are entering a fancy art gallery. A woman’s dress made of broken Chinese ceramic plates hangs in the window.

The hotel opened in August of 2008 and has quickly become one of Beijing’s best boutique luxury hotels. Conde Nast Traveler listed it on their 2009 Hot List of world’s top new hotels and National Geographic Traveler said it was one of the best-designed hotels in China. World-famous Japanese architect Kengo Kuma created the minimalist design, which includes brushed-oak floors, floor-to-ceiling windows, and a fantastic Italian restaurant with one of the best wine lists in town.

If you are looking for a more authentic experience, you should try staying in one of the many hostels or guesthouses, especially the ones that are located in the older parts of town. For instance, Bejing Downtown Backpackers, nestled right in the heart of the Nanluogu hutong, is the perfect place to feel the old way of Beijing life. This hostel is housed in a two story grey brick building and offers clean and comfortable accommodation at a very affordable price. Be sure to sign your name and leave a message on the lobby wall!

The Opposite House

T +8610 6417 6688

Beijing Downtown Backpackers

T +8610 8400 2429


Beijing is such a wide and spread out city that it is difficult to see on foot. The best way to see the city is like a local – on a bike. The city is so flat and there are so many bike lanes that it’s easy to move around.

If your hotel doesn’t rent bikes, there are many bike rental agencies around the city. Try looking around the Drum Tower or Shichahai Lake. Bike Beijing near the Forbidden City not only rents bikes but they offer guided tours in English such as a the hutong bike tour, night Beijing tour, Great Wall bike tour, and more.

Bike Beijing

T +86 133 8140 0738




If you want to catch a glimpse of the true heart and soul of this Asian-megacity and its people, look no further than one of the many parks throughout the city. One of the best is Tiantan Park, surrounding the Temple of Heaven.

Every morning around seven, you can see groups of Beijingers practicing their hobbies. For instance, there are impromptu dance classes where people learn how to do the waltz and other ballroom dances. Be sure to join in and dance for a time you will never forget. If dancing isn’t your thing then why not practice the ancient Chinese martial art of tai chi with the elders? It’s easy to become mesmerized by their fluid body movements.  You can also watch people playing traditional Chinese games.

Then there are the singers. Up to 50 people or more gather to sing Chinese revolutionary songs. Each group is like a club. People bring their own musical notes, and there is even a conductor. Tiatan Park is a guaranteed highlight for anyone who visits Beijing!

Tiantan Park

Metro: Tianten Dongmen Station, Line 5



Escape the noise and crowds of Beijing and head to the scenic lakes of Shichahai. Just north-west of the Forbidden city, this series of three lakes ringed with weeping willow trees is the perfect place to get away from it all.

Here you can take a bicycle rickshaw ride around the lakes, or rent a bike and go off on your own. Better yet, try renting a boat and paddle around the lakes yourself. If you don’t feel like moving, there are plenty of wonderful cafes, bars, and restaurants lining the lake.

Metro: Guloudajie, Line 2



No visit to Beijing would be complete without trying its most famous dish – Peking Duck. You can find duck restaurants anywhere around the city but one of the best is from the restaurant Duck De Chine.

This sleek and trendy restaurant is housed in what looks like a refurbished old warehouse. It has red brick walls and sleek black wooden beams running the length of the ceiling and lit with warm red silk lights.

And then there is the food. Be sure to take a look at the mouth-watering ducks roasting away in the wood oven in the back. The meat is so succulent, crispy, and not too fatty. Duck never tasted so good.

Duck de Chine

T +8610 6501 8881

Chaoyang District


After dinner head over to the Sanlitun Bar district just down the street. Here you can find all types of bars from chill to rowdy.  Music pours out from each bar while food vendors sell grilled meat on a stick. People sit in tables out in the street while they eat, drink, and party the night away. It’s very popular with the foreign community living in Beijing, especially since it is located in the middle of the embassy district.

If you’re looking for a late night snack or a great beer in Sanlitun, try Hidden Tree. Voted the best pizza in Beijing many years in a row, along with a number of international beers on tap, you can’t go wrong.

For something a little more upscale, try bar Punk in the basement of The Opposite House Hotel.

Hidden Tree

T +8610 6415 1955

Punk Bar

T +8610 6417 6688




If China is the world’s factory then Beijing has to be the world’s market. There are so many choices of great places to shop that you could stay in the city for a week, shop all day every day, and never see all the markets.

One of the most famous is massive Panjiayuan flea market (a 15 minute taxi ride from the city center). This is a great place to go to find Chinese style memorabilia like statues of Mao. Be sure to go over the weekend when most shop vendors are open.

However, if you are looking for something a little more relaxed and original, then you can’t miss South Luogu Lane. This street, or better yet alley, dates as far back as 1267 and runs right through the middle of a traditional Beijing-style neighborhood called Nanluogo Hutong. The street is lined with traditional old-style houses that were converted into hip shops selling many custom made goods like t-shirts, leather bound notebooks, and more. There are also many cafes, bars, and restaurants.

South Luogu Lane

Metro: Andingmen Station Line 2 (15 minute walk from station)



If you are an art lover, or just interested in seeing odd statues, beautiful paintings, and more, then you can’t pass up a visit to the 798 Art District. Take your time and gallery hop around this former arms factory complex in the Chaoyang district. You can easily spend half a day or more wandering around this huge art complex.  The outdoor statue of a soldier fighting back a pack of wolves is unforgettable.


Are your feet tired from a full day of shopping and sightseeing? All that walking around the city will surely drain your energy and make your feet ache. Replenish your “life force”, or chi as it’s known in Chinese, at one of the many foot massage parlors.

Chinese foot massage started in China over 5,000 years ago. A typical massage focuses on stimulating the many acupuncture points in your feet, also known as reflexology.

A foot massage at the popular Liangzi Foot Body Massage Center costs 168 RMB for a 100 min massage and 160 RMB for a one hour full body massage.

Liangzi Foot Body Massage Centers


30 Branches around the city.



Unless you’ve lived in a cave the past few years, you should know that Beijing hosted the 2008 Summer Olympic Games. And if you saw the opening or closing ceremony then you saw the Beijing National Stadium or Bird’s Nest as it’s known on the street.

A visit to this US$ 423 million architectural jewel designed by Swiss architect Herzog & de Meuron is even more spectacular to see lit up at night. Take a walk around the stadium to catch a glimpse of the orange and red colored lights reflecting off the surrounding lake.

Just across from the stadium is a building that looks like a glowing purplish-blue rectangular box of bubbles. It is the Beijing National Aquatics Center but most people call it the Water Cube, and it is the place where 25 world records were broken during the Olympics.

In August of 2010 half of the Water Cube was transformed into Asia’s largest water park. It now boasts a wave pool, spa area, and 13 water slides and rides. The price is RMB 200 for adults and RMB 160 for children.

Water Cube Water Park

Subway: Line 8 to Olympic Park or Olympic Sports Center

Hours: 10:00am to 9:30pm

Public Transportation

Beijing has a very well developed public transportation system. The city now has 10 subway lines and over 230km of track. It’s very easy to use and costs about 2-3 RMB per ride depending on how far you are going.  The only downside to using the metro is that stations can be quite far from some of the attractions.
The bus system can be quite difficult to navigate, especially if you don’t speak Chinese. Taxis are not expensive within the city center so sometimes it is more convenient to just take a taxi.

An airport express train opened in 2008 and it will get you from any of the airport terminal to the center of Beijing in about 20 minutes. A one-way trip costs 25 RMB.

Recommended Attire

October is one of the best times of the year to visit Beijing. Bring some long-sleeved shirts and a light jacket, along with a sweater or two. You may also want to pack a couple T-shirts in case the weather warms up. The average high in October is 21 C and average low is 8 C.

October Events

October 1st: National Day of China

The People’s Republic of China was founded on October 1st, 1949. There is a huge celebration every year in Tiananmen Square on that day.  There are often fireworks, parades, concerts, and more. It is a public holiday.

September 25th – October 10th: China Open

If you are a tennis fan then you can’t miss the China Open at the National Tennis Center.

October 24th: Beijing Marathon

This marathon for both men and women will start from Tiananmen Square at 8am. Check out