by Dr. Leo Rebello
I took a big bird to Seoul, Korea on 21st May and returned on 6th June. This was the 61st country visited.
Korea is very well-developed and there is absolutely nil thefts, no eve teasing, and crime graph is low. So much so, the friend (Prof. Timothy Watson, a Canadian teaching in Korea) with whom I stayed, kept his house door open and we simply walked in after late night parties. Frankly, I used to get jitters that somebody may lift my dollars, passport or flight tickets. Nothing of that happened. People are non-interfering and couples kiss and hug on the roads, like in Europe. They also smoke heavily, even school girls and boys.
The food was delicious but the vegetarians find it difficult to get anything of their choice except fruits. As a result even Hindus living there are not vegetarians. One Hindu friend even ate beef and pork. The roads are so big and traffic so smooth that our potholed Western Express Highway looks like a Sandas (latrine) gully of a shanty town. I did not see a single accident in my ten days stay and travel across Korea. Thrice I travelled by KTX (same as Bullet train of Japan or TGV in Europe -- speed above 300 kms per hour).
Goods are cheap (but nothing to beat India) and chinky-eyed Korean women are not half as attractive as Indian women. A saree-wearing Indian woman stands out anywhere in the world.
While in Korea, a Hollywood camera man presently working in Korea, filmed me on the Freedom Bridge that separates North and South Korea and at the War Museum, where all kinds of war machines -- right from a submarine to bombers, helicopters to tanks, anti-aircraft guns and other heavy artillery is displayed. Children like to play on these stationary machines. If only they knew that these gizmos kill people.
Would you know that 11 radar-evading bombers cost US$24 billion, which is enough to provide 4 years of primary education for the 135 million children not in school. You can well imagine what 200+ billion US dollars that America has spent in invading Iraq for the second time, could have achieved.
Korea has an American base and that keeps the two Koreas divided. One American wanted to treat me to dinner with other friends at the restaurant inside the American base. But I was not allowed in, since India along with Russia and some other countries are listed as "counter intelligence posed by the countries on the list" meaning these countries are red rags to the American bull.
So, we drove to Haehwa area and had delightful traditional Korean supper at Good Restaurant. In Korean restaurants you sit on the ground and eat at a low table with chop sticks. One gets on the house something like 20 salads, fish pickles, etc. with the meal ordered. I also recited my poems at a Poets dinner evening (which is held once a month) on another day at a different location.
To Malaysia it was my fourth visit. Stayed with Prof. Ghazali Basri and Dr. Noriah Mohammed, the husband and wife top ranking educationists of Malaysia, who had met me recently in Mumbai. They have a seven-bedroom, 1000 stars bungalow with plush garden and a parking space for four cars. They put me in an exclusive air conditioned guest house meant for VIP guests. The visitors' book itself is a Who's Who of the World.
Malaysians, on special occasion, wear a towel or half lungi (sarong) over trousers and that looks actually silly. It is compulsory at Friday namaz. People are warm-hearted and the standard of living is very high. Putrajaya, an union territory, houses PM's majestic palace, PM's secretariat, a grand mosque where thousands can pray, shopping complex and restaurants serving exotic food overlooking a massive man-made lake. While the lake was being filled, the people there had to suffer acute water shortage for three months. We had Portuguese food at Nando's, a perfectly grilled chicken, the taste of which was so delicious that I have asked them to open a branch in Bombay. Also, for the first time in my life I tasted a fruit called Durian, "which smells hell but tastes like heaven". Belongs to Jackfruit family and looks and tastes gooey.