Jenna Richards: Out in Korea

Posted April 30, 2007 by ivolunteerproject
Categories: Asia, Travel reports

‘The land of morning calm’ sounded like exactly what I needed after a very stressful year doing a masters degree, working for the student newspaper and holding down a part time job. It was for this reason, and the money I could make working as an English teacher, I decided to go to South Korea for some me time.

With images of tranquil parks full of people practicing Thai chi at sun rise, I arrived fully prepared to embrace the culture. Only to find my image was naively misguided and ‘The land of morning calm’ could be more aptly named ‘The land of daily stress’.

Motorists rush around with blatant disregard for red lights, dodging naive foreigners who haven’t waited dutifully for the green man before making the perilous journey across the road. Driving in Korea seems to be a constant race for the finish line with little or no regard for speed limits. Upon arriving it was explained to me that speed limits and red lights are more ‘friendly advice’ that absolute law!

People on the subway barge and push like their life depends on being the fist on, or off, the train. Having frequently travelled on the London underground standing in a sweaty armpit during rush hour I thought the daily commute couldn’t get more uncomfortable. Until squashed, sardine like, on the Seoul subway I had a group of teenagers, excited at seeing a fair haired foreigner, get out their mobile phones and shamelessly take my photograph whilst I was too squashed to even turn away!

But now I realize that rushing around is just the Korean way. As with any big city, in Seoul, people have things to do and places to be and they want to get there quickly. The Korean’s have one of the longest working weeks in the world, and I now find that I am also one of those rushing to get home and enjoy those precious few hours off from the world before I have to get up tomorrow and do it all again.

The teenagers on the subway weren’t taking my photo out of spite, but curiosity and wonder at seeing someone so different to themselves. Unlike the UK, Korea isn’t racially diverse and many people living here don’t get the same opportunities to travel that westerners do. It can be a novelty for teenagers to spot someone with fair hair standing next to them on the subway, for many the only other place they’ve seen a westerner is in their classroom at school.

In coming to Korea I didn’t find the de-stressed way of life I was expecting, but what I did find is a country where despite being one of the most technologically advanced in the world people still marvel at a foreigner on a train. Despite working long hours a stranger will find the time to stop and help as you struggle to the bus stop with your shopping

It is also a country that, once you look past the hustle bustle and skyscrapers, is steeped in culture and traditions. And whilst I haven’t found any parks full of people practicing Thai chi at sunrise I have found a culture and country that I can immerse myself in and, like a Korean spotting a westerner on a train, I am constantly in awe of how different it is from everything back in England.


Tom Hall, Lonely Planet travel editor

Posted April 26, 2007 by ivolunteerproject
Categories: features

Tom Hall
Travel Editor, Lonely Planet

What does your job involve?

I work on a few different things, I look across the whole company for how sustainable we’re being and also making sure we offer as much information to our readers as possible about sustainable travel.

How can travellers be sustainable?

It’s all about equipping yourself with as much information as possible before you go, read the books, surf the web. If possible try to use overland travel rather than flying, not only is it better for the environment but some of the train rides can be breathtaking. Try to be aware of any environmental issues in the location that you’re visiting, and also know what type of place you’re visiting, is it jungle, mountains, because each place has different environmental considerations. You should also look to see if you can give something back while you’re there, be it a donation or doing some voluntary hours at a local organisation.

What do you think of the rise in meaningful travel?

It’s fantastic that travellers are looking to give something back to the communities that they are visiting. It’s important that people know where the money they are paying for these volunteering types of trips is going, a lot of these types of trips need to be focused more on the destination and the people there rather than on the person themselves who is volunteering. I think that some rigorous standards need to be introduced to that industry as a whole to make sure that across the board there is enough money going back to the communities that volunteers visit.

Safety tips for travelling solo

1.    Tragic incidents such as Lucie Blackman are very rare, so don’t walk around thinking you’re going to get murdered, mugged etc
2.    Use your common sense while you’re out and about, if you wouldn’t do something while at home then don’t suddenly start doing it in a foreign country
3.    Be careful when out and having a drink, be responsible
4.    Keep your valuables with you at all times, only take a small amount of money with you, keep the rest back at your hotel in a safe
5.    Get as much information as you can about your destination and be aware of any special events or customs that might be apparent there
6.    Check the foreign office security advice before you travel

How long have you been travelling?

Since a very young age, my first independent trip was at 16 with my brother, we went interrailing around Europe. That was an amazing experience and I’ve been a number of times since then. I’ve done a few round the world trips, visited too many countries to remember. I’ve been working for Lonely Planet for 8 years and been writing for them for around 6 years.

What are your top five destinations and why?

1.    New Zealand – it is as beautiful as everyone says and there is a real chance for adventures when you’re there
2.    Chile – when you travel North to South in Chile then you see such dramatic changes in the scenery, the people are extremely friendly
3.    Britain – holidays at home are very underrated, there are some stunning places on our own doorstep, the Lake District and the Highlands of Scotland in particular are great to visit
4.    Tanzania – if you want a varied place then you can’t get much better, the beaches of Zanzibar are everything you’ve dreamed about and then you can head in land to the Rift Valleys of Africa and go on safari.
5.    Ethiopia – the place still feels very wild, it’s been unchanged for thousands of years, the people still live the same, there are some amazing natural beauty spots and if they weren’t in Ethiopia then they’d be heralded the world over but unfortunately the country has such a stereotype e.g. war and famine

Switzerland: Geneva

Posted April 25, 2007 by ivolunteerproject
Categories: Travel reports

Sinead Renouf visits Switzerland’s historical city of Geneva and the surrounding Cantons.

As I arrived on the Swiss boarder at two in the morning, I could think of nothing better then to rest one’s head on one’s pillow.  However at the same time I had so many exciting areas that I wanted to visit in this surprisingly varied countryside. With the Jura mountains behind me and the Alps facing me I felt that there was a country that was waiting to be discovered.

Geneva, Switzerland’s business capital has much to offer.  From its famous Geyser that spurts out over 500 litres a second you can take an afternoon stroll out to the geyser passing by the local residents who have many local delicacies on offer.

If walking the lake edge of Geneva is not quite your style then perhaps walking the copious amounts of upper class shops is. The lake side is cluttered with the names, that a student can only dream of wearing, the likes of Louis Vuitton, Prada, Gucci, Cartier are but a few.

The weather that I was fortunate to get on my short stay in the land of cheese, chocolate and knives was amazing. It allowed me to get the chance to see Mont Blanc the highest mountain in the Alps most days. This I found out later on, by a local, is not a common thing as the weather is often clear but hazy around the mountains.

If you feel like taking a drive around the largest lake in Western Europe then there are many beautiful places to stop on the way. However I would suggest the wonderful town of Evian which is on the French side of the Lac Leman. Here you have a good view of the snow covered Alps.

This quaint town has a beautiful promenade along the lake side and is well worth a visit and perhaps if you have some spare time you can go and use the Evian thermal spa where all the therapies use pure Evian water and nothing else.

Another town that is well worth visiting purely to rub ones shoulders with the celebs is Gastaad. This is where the likes of Sean Connery, Grace Kelly and Paris Hilton amongst others like to come to ski during the spring. This town is full of exquisite cars from Porsche’s and Ferrari’s to Aston Martin’s and Maserati’s. Here you can be surrounded by high peaks covered in snow and yet bask outside a café in the baking heat with a glass of wine and not a care in the world.

Overall there is just not enough time to do everything that this little neutral country can offer. With its altering countryside and wealth this country has such a different style of living to the norm and this is why it is such a wonderful place to visit.

Man cleared over Lucie Blackman death

Posted April 25, 2007 by ivolunteerproject
Categories: News

The family of Lucie Blackman who died in Japan in 2001 have been left devastated as the man they believed killed their daughter has been cleared.

54-year-old Joji Obara, a Japanese businessman, was cleared of raping and killing Miss Blackman.

21-year-old Lucie had been working at a bar in Tokyo and disappeared in July 2000.

The judge said that there was no proof that Obara alone was responsible for Lucie’s death.

Lucie’s mother, Jane Steare, said on the result of the trial: “I’m heartbroken. I just can’t believe this. My worst fears have come true.”

Speaking before the trial to the BBC she described the pain and anguish she had been through.

She said: “To lose a child and to know her body was desecrated in such an evil way is the greatest and most unrelenting pain I have ever had to endure.

“I often awake again in the early hours and begin wondering if this was the time of night she died.

“I wonder if she suffered, ‘Did she feel any pain? Did she call out my name?’ I will never know.”

Mr Obara was jailed for life for raping nine other women, one of whom an Australian, Carita Ridgway, died from liver failure after the incident.

The Japanese police have been heavily criticised for their handling of the investigations, with the families of Miss Ridgway and Blackman both unhappy at how slowly the police reacted to claims that their daughters had disappeared.

The Blackman family has since setup the Lucie Blackman Trust which provides advice for solo females travelling abroad.

Staying with nuns in India

Posted April 23, 2007 by ivolunteerproject
Categories: Asia, India, Volunteer interviews

Dominique Gelder-Smith
1. How old are you and what’s your occupation?
I am 19 and I am currently on a gap year
2. What made you decide to go to India?
I’d never thought of it until my friend asked me if I’d like to go with her
so that her parents wouldn’t get too worried about her.
3. Which organisation did you go with?
I stayed with an order of nuns called the Holy Cross Sisters for five weeks
in Mekkarai and Achinkovil and then I went on a tour of MP and UP with
4. How did you find out about them?
I went to a school that was founded by the sisters in New Malden and one of
the sisters who curently woks there invited us to isit those in India. I
found out about the Intrepid tour through my sister.
5. What were you doing out there? What sort of project was it?
The Holy Cross sisters that I stayed with ran several different projects in
their local areas. I helped at local visits to patients of the two small
dispensaries that acted as hospitals for the villagers, who live so remotely
from government funded aids. I worked in two nurseries run by the sisters
and one school where the sisters were placed as teachers. I also visited
homes of those with domestic problems in Achinkovil, where the sisters act
as independant social workers-diffusing domestic violence and educating
about alcohol and drug addiction. I also visited some women’s self-help
groups that had been set up in both communities to provide loans and support
for the poorest families.
6. How much of a cultural difference was it?
The cultural diffence was greater than I could have ever imagined. The only
thing that was not different, I noticed, was that they drive on the same
side of the road as we do in England. Eating idli and chatni for
breakfast…with my hands, seeing teachers caning 4year old children,
monkeys on the roof and washing in a bucket were the cultural differences
that made the trip real.
7. What was your best part of the trip?
The best part was probably helping at the nursery annual school day or
driving across the mountains in a storm
8. What was your worst part of the trip?
On the final night of my stay in Achinkovil I suffered from the worst asthma
attack I have ever had. It was inmpossible to convey my problem to the nuns
and I had to wait five hours until we could get a jeep with a driver to take
me to the hospital which was another 4 hours away. I never really got to say
good bye to my friends at the convent there.
9. Would you like to go back again?
Yes definitely…I’ve been told to bring my little sister back next year,
then my parents, then my husband and children…I’ll have to see how it
10. What was it like being back in England after being in India?
Cold and safe. It’s a bit lonely not waving at people all the time, and no
one invites you in their house just because you’e passing. I miss the food
but I don’t miss the diahorrea.
11. Where in India were you based? Did you do any travelling outside of
your project?
I spent time in Mekkarai, a small village on the Tamil Nadu border and also
in Achinkovil, a village in the Keralan rainforests. I spent a ittle time in
Kollam and Trivandrum and also travelled with a tour group near Agra, Delhi
and Varanasi.
12. What advice would you give people who are planning to go?
I’d advise anyone who’s travelling in India to bring plenty of toilet paper
and immodium.
13. Do you have any images/videos that I could use in the article?
I have lots just check out facebook.

Front page full of content

Posted April 22, 2007 by ivolunteerproject
Categories: website development

The site is really coming along well now, the front page has all its links with content attached to them. The section menus are starting to fill up and the content is looking good in its templates. Modified all the templates slightly today to include the top five and also promos for other content.

This week, need to get all the rest of the content I have online, work on the flash header and also put together the big flash piece about disaster volunteering.

David Browne: Stay safe while travelling

Posted April 19, 2007 by ivolunteerproject
Categories: Advice

This article was written by David Browne:

1. How can you stay safe while out and about in the town while travelling?

Look like you belong in the area, blend in, don’t make it obvious
that you are lost, helpless and desperate, even if you are. Don’t go
round with a map in front of your nose all the time – that marks you
out as a stranger who doesn’t know the way. You will be pestered with
people offering to help you, some with good intentions but some with
not. Be streetwise and suspicious of anyone deliberately slowing you
down, offering you things, or trying to sell you things as you walk
along. Dress appropriately at all times. Not too flashy and bright,
but not too poor looking either. Take care of your back-pack in
towns, they are easy to steal from when they are on your back in a
crowded street. Jewelry, expensive-looking watches, cameras, i-pods,
all attract unwanted attention so keep them discreet nor you risk
becoming the victim of a street crime. Avoid crowds gathering for a
demonstration, they can get passionate and you could get caught up in
scuffles or conflict between groups and the police. Be on your guard
when local people approach you and strike up a conversation. It
sounds harsh to say this, but not all have good intentions and
westerners are presumed to be rich in many countries of the world, so
fair game for robbing or deceit. Be vigilant at all times, but don’t
be paranoid that there is an attacker round every corner. Walk
purposefully with your attention on what’s going on around you and
don’t linger to deal with tricky situations, get out of them.

2. Using public transport – should I?

It’s part of the cultural adventure to travel with locals on buses
and trains. Of course use public transport, but be sensible about
awareness of pick-pockets in close contact situations like local
buses. Keep wallets and purses close by you and not in the back
pockets of trousers or jeans – it’s so easy to steal from back
pockets. Travelling by metro or city bus lines is a great way to get
around cities like Berlin or Paris or Rome, and so much cheaper than
taxis. Crowded places like bus stations and train stations or
airports are favourite places for thieves and conmen to operate.
Beware of being distracted by a stranger while another person could
be robbing you by stealth. Night trains are the worst for incidents
of thieving, so keep you sleeping compartment locked while you are
inside. On the Belgrade to Budapest sleeper they used to give you an
iron bar to put across the inside of the door as extra protection.
The Serbs would say it was only needed as the train crossed Hungary,
and the Hungarians would warn you it was needed only in Serbia. I
never experienced any trouble myself on many journeys along the route.

3. How can I keep my mobile phone and wallet safe?

If you must carry them around, keep them out of sight until you
actually need to use them. Do you really need to carry a mobile phone
everywhere? If you do, keep it switched off while on the streets of
an unfamiliar town or city as you could easily be distracted and
attract thieves by phone going off as someone calls you – it’s better
to check for calls and messages when you get off the streets. Carry
two wallets – the one with your genuine local currency and credit
cards, and another stuffed with useless old foreign banknotes that
look good to a thief. Hand over the decoy wallet if you get mugged.
Don’t keep all your money in one place.

4. What should I do if my passport gets stolen or I lose it?

Report the loss or theft to the local police immediately and ask for
their help to call the nearest Consulate or Embassy for your country.
Of course you always keep a photocopy of your passport in a safe
place like a bag in your hotel or scanned into an email that you can
access from an Internet cafe… don’t you? This simple precaution can
speed up the preparation of a new temporary travel document as you
will be able to give the Consulate or Embassy the details of your
original passport. Don’t delay getting a replacement for a lost
passport, in many countries it is compulsory to carry i/d and for
British people with no national identity card, the passport is the
only form of i/d acceptable to the authorities. Take great care of
your passport, don’t leave it out on a table or desk and don’t hand
it to anyone except legitimate officials like customs, immigration or
police, and then wait until you get it back after inspection before
you go anywhere else. Passports are valuable items on the black
market and highly favoured by thieves as they can be concealed so
easily in a pocket after a theft.

5. What safety precautions should I take before I go?

Do your homework about the places you are visiting. Find out where
the nearest hospitals are along your route and make sure you have
health insurance for your touring. Know where you are going when you
first arrive at each stop-off by planning ahead how to get to your
first location, usually a hotel or guest house. Photocopy and scan
your passport and visas, tickets and travel insurance and send them
by email to yourself, so you can access them from an Internet cafe.
Prepare a detailed travel plan, so people at home know you should be
each day. Pack small and light. Big bags can slow you down and hinder
your progress if you need to move out of a difficult situation
quickly, and big bags mark you out as a tourist, ripe for scams,
sharks and downright thieves. Make sure your mobile phone is topped
up with a reasonable amount of credit before you leave the country,
and arrange to have access to sums of money through credit cards and
bank machines, then you don’t have to carry large amounts of cash
which would increase your chances of being robbed.

6. What should I do when I first arrive in a new place, should I register somewhere?

Get to your hotel or hostel first of all. Spend some time getting
orientated, talk to the hotel staff and get clear directions for your
first venture on to the streets. In most countries you need to
register with the local police, but this is usually done through the
hotel recording details of your passport. They may hold your passport
for a while, but make an excuse that you are going out somewhere and
will need to produce it for identification and don’t leave your
passport with anyone – even hotel staff – overnight. It’s safer in
your own pocket.

7. People keep looking at me weirdly, why is that?

Perhaps because you are weird in the circumstances, such as pink or
white in a tropical country where you look like an albino amongst the
locals. Perhaps because your clothes are so casual and revealing that
to local people it looks like you are going round in just your
underwear. Then again, it may simply be that you are a woman
travelling alone which is very unusual in some countries and
cultures. Sometimes a weird look is a sign of curiosity rather than
anything sinister, so carry on with what you were doing, but alert to
the fact that you have become an attraction, and avoid becoming the
target of unwanted attention. Move on briskly if people start to
interfere with you. In some cultures, a single woman in a public
place is automatically thought to be available as a prostitute. Sad
but true, and best dealt with by a cold reaction rather than a
conversation, no matter how brief.

8. Is there any way to avoid getting ill from eating local food?

Be sensible about food hygiene wherever you go. Keep you own hands
scrupulously clean when eating food with your fingers (carry
alcohol-based hand cleansing gel for this purpose as you may not
always have access to clean water and soap). Beware of uncooked food
like salads in hot countries as the leaves and raw vegetables are not
always washed in the cleanest water. Fruit that you peel yourself is
generally safe, and hot food should be piping hot and freshly cooked,
not left for a long time in a warm bulky serving container. Watch out
when the serving spoon used by the food seller on the street in kept
or dipped in a water pot – the water can harbor a lot of nasty
bacteria that get passed on through contact with the food. And when
it comes to drinking water, it’s best to drink bottled water even if
guidebooks tell you the local tap water is safe. It may be safe but
still contain small amounts of bugs that are unfamiliar to you
digestive system. And best of all, drink fizzy, sparkling, carbonated
water in preference to still bottled water – the gas makes the water
slightly acid and less prone to bacteria contamination. Don’t drink
from public fountains in streets or market squares, even if the
locals do. And in a bar, don’t accept drinks from strangers chatting
you up as the new face in town, unless you see the drink poured by
the barman and delivered directly to you. Some people will do
anything to spike a drink with a drug potion to relax you even
further than the alcohol.