The Benefits of Swimming

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“Solitary trees, if they grow at all, grow strong.” Winston Churchill.

“I feel most at home in the water.  I disappear.  That’s where I belong.” – Michael Phelps, Olympic Gold Medalist.

The silence that comes when your head disappears under the water must be similar to that of someone instantly losing his hearing.  The hullabaloo and commotion from above vanishes and a slow and gentle murmur begins.  The chaos has been replaced.  A slight taste of chlorine comes onto your lips and those goggles, which squeeze your eyes closer together reveal the bottom that stretches boundlessly into the distance, occasionally pickled it is with a dangling pair of legs.

Swimming has been a sport that can be engaged in whether it is winter or summer, so long as you have a body of water.  In the hotter summer months it can strip away those sticky sweaty days and awaken your mind, and in colder times the warm water can help you workout and stay in shape when others are outside running trying to stay warm or having given up entirely with the idea of exercise.  Before entering a person can feel chilled to the bones  and apprehensive about the impending chilly waters, but after thirty lengths and a nice hot shower that same soul can leave with his spirit high, his blood warm and a few calories burned, all in time to see that jogger trot past gasping for breath with chilblains and chafing thighs still some distance from that warm shower you have just embraced.

The benefits to swimming are numerous, but to name a few it is a ‘low’ impact sport, one doesn’t have to fear a twisted ankle or a knackered elbow.  Your joints are not pulled, shattered and broken to pieces like those who play football or rugby.  A certain footballer was known for having such appalling knees that he was unable to train with his teammates during the week, instead he spent several hours working each necessary muscle, with no weights, just the resistance of the water.  Saturday would come, he would play and after ninety minutes his knobbles would have ballooned in size leaving him almost unable to walk.  Another week in the pool and he would get himself ready for the next week’s match.  He was, up until his retirement, still considered the best central defender England has produced for a number of years.  The only way he could maintain his fitness was through swimming.

A study found those who started swimming after eight weeks had increased their muscle density by roughly 24%.  It doesn’t focus on one body part like those cartoonish men in gyms with arms as large as tree trunks and legs as small as twigs.  In the gym tiredness can envelope you as soon as you pick up a weight, but swimming can relieve depression, anger, aid in circulatory problems and increase self-confidence leave you with more vigour.  Pushing yourself for up to an hour can easily work off around four-hundred calories.  Unlike jogging, which in winter can leave you struggling desperately for breath like you’ve been smoking Belgian tobacco, swimming in a pool can help your respiration with inhaling warm moist air, of course making sure the pool is clean is paramount.

Swimming doesn’t require you to buy any outlandish equipment.  You’re not even required to have goggles, you can breaststroke your way from one end to the other.  In Korea you are required to wear an unflattering hat that’s quite a bugger to get off afterwards.  It is also a universal sport, something that can be enjoyed solo are amongst friends, but it is especially great fun with kids who will splash and lunge around in the water for hours, long after their parents have grown tired.

Swimming’s benefits mentally can be just as astounding as its physical.  One or two hours under the water stimulates brain activity more than if you were running for the same amount of time thus helping with the creating of new brain cells.  The release of endorphins, feel good hormones, also becomes abundant the longer you spend in the pool.  It can help you regulate your breathing into a meditative state, which will lower your heart rate and blood pressure and allow your brain to categorize and deal with those negative thoughts that can seem to be forever laying themselves on your doorstep.

There can be no limit to the number of benefits you can achieve with going for a dip.  In Busan there are a number of swimming pools recommended.  Sajik Pool is a publically run place that has a fifty-metre pool for $3.  A little more upmarket is the Grand Hotel in Haeundae, which also boasts of a fifty-metre pool, but is a little more expensive at around $8.  There are dozens of other smaller twenty-five-metre places, some with large saunas and spas attached to the side.

So, no matter what this winter has install for you, why not workout your mind and body.  It might not turn you into a great Olympian swimmer with twenty gold medals, but it’ll do wonders for your health.

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The Problems With South Korean Education

For one day a year the entire peninsula of South Korea comes to a screaming halt.  For one day a year elementary and middle schools open late, airports and train stations change their schedule, post offices and government buildings, the stock exchange remains closed until after 10am, losing the country a bob or two and police are ordered to escort any delayed student to his/her school.  A population of almost fifty-million stays locked up and off the road for up to three hours.  This is the day that nothing is allowed to stop the countries high school students getting to their final exam, an exam that determines whether they make it into university or not. Whether they become a have-not or a never-had, a dreamer, a worrier, a beggar or another victim who takes his own life in some dark dingy basement.  This day is the most important day in life.

With 80% of Korean students expecting to get into a university the competition is intense.  Other countries seem to weather this event much more easily.  The options available are still the same, Korea offers a huge range of courses to cater to almost any candidate, but it is for those positions which will hand its recipient an almost guarantee of a stable and prosperous life that is most at stake.  Those relatively few placements for prestigious universities like Seoul National etc., are the ones that become like the golden ticket to these poor suffering little sots.  So what can the country do to make it feel even terrifying?

The authorities think that by closing down all other businesses and organisations and threatening those who have no need to venture out during these precious hours is helping, but this of course can only add to the stress and fear that these already uptight and exhausted kids are going through.  Knowing that the streets are like a ghost town because nothing is allowed to stop you getting to your exam will only intensify the significance of it all, and that won’t do anyone any favours!  The students are smart enough to know, I hope, that they know that getting into university is important, they know what’s at stake, they’ve been studying since they were two-years old.

The education in Korea is like no other in the world.  Students rise early and study late, some working more than eighteen hours a day, not including the hours they put in doing their homework.  The government sees this as progress and what needs to be done to compete on the world stage, it has after all grown from being one of the poorest countries during the 1960s to now being the 13th largest economy in the world.  But that growth was primarily down to an increase in mass production, cheap labour and industry, not in the fields that many potential university students hope to study in, namely Law, Medicine and Diplomacy.  These branches of education are considered the most affluent above all else.  Using your brain so that you don’t have to use your hands; getting someone else to do the manual whilst you sit and watch and reap the rewards of your accountancy firm, law practice or dental clinic etc.  The parents pray that their sprog will succeed, some bowing mindlessly three-thousand times in Buddhist temples or churches in the hope that their God will hear their pleadings and bargainings over all others who are stood by your side, but there can only be one winner and that is the one who employees these young upstarts and forces them to work every hour of every day for a little sparkle of silver and the promise of a day-off when their grandfather kicks the bucket.

All this stress, hope, praying, yearning and begging to get into an average university to study something you have no interest in really, to then get a job where you will bossed around by someone who sees you as just another drone willing to do his bidding and be told that your weekends are in his pocket because he is your supervisor and he wants to go off singing with his little concubine.  So, what’s the hope?

Don’t be told what to do or which field to apply in, this is your life, your future, you’ll regret spending twenty years behind a desk with nothing to show apart from insufferable piles and the constitution of someone twice your age.  Don’t listen to those family members who say what you want is beyond your talents and is impossible in this country.

Alcoholic Drinking Stamps

Nothing can cause more regret than a nasty hangover.  That moment when you stir and pull those rotten infested bed sheets away from your putrid breath and inhale the stale air that has been lingering around you for many an hour.  That sudden hammering inside your head, that dry fury texture on your tongue and those aches and pains that suggest you may have ran a marathon last night, but you were too buggered to remember a single step.

 

It was two in the afternoon when I woke from one such hangover and unfortunately, two days later, I can still feel it.  Two nights of restless sleep probably haven’t contributed to my recover, but I can’t help think that if I hadn’t sunk that tenth beer or if I hadn’t been so eager to please those around me I wouldn’t have sent that Jagermeister concoction to the bottom of my liver.  Like Hydrochloric acid it burnt and skinned and tore apart my gut lining and I now have the sneaking suspicion that I ventured to a fast-food restaurant that collaborated to my downfall, like Hitler in April, 1945 I should have counted my blessings and fled. 

 

Always do sober what you said you would do drunk. That will teach you to keep your mouth shut.’ Ernest Hemingway,

 

            The next morning I regretted the whole evening and wished I stayed inside.  But I was pointed to some of the promises I had made that evening, promises I had let slip.  I had promised to meet someone for breakfast and when asked whether I would, by my girlfriend, I responded that if I was in this state then heaven only knows what sort of situation he was going to be in.  He was after all the ‘friend’ that had bought the damn Jager and forced me, yes, forced me to drop into a half of beer and then gulp it down.  I could assume he was going to have trouble recalling his name let alone a half-assed appointment with some guy he hasn’t seen in months.  At the time there were high fives for our plans, we felt proud that after meeting one another so abruptly and out-of-the-blue we had made solid plans for the next morn, only the next day there was more chance of finding Lord Lucan under my mattress playing bridge.  I couldn’t move, I wouldn’t move.

 

            There have been numerous occasions when I have promised to meet and do things that when drunk seem like the most fun a soul could ever entail, but always have I ended up with my head under a pillow.  I wouldn’t think I’m an alcoholic, that is out of the question, although I am well aware that by saying I am not puts me into that group that are.  In fact I would like to see alcohol go the way of food stamps, we should get communistic about the booze, limit those who drink too much and push those that don’t drink enough.  Both groups of people need the push or the pull.  I think every week each person should be handed a number of stamps and if he has used them all he is unable to procure any liquor.  In my Orwellian world those who are stone sober with be forced to have a tipple, a prerequisite.  My argument for that is simple.  Whenever I have ventured out there has always been that teetotal tosser who takes the upmost delight in looking down on those who confuse their Ss from their Ts as if he were passing judgment like prophet.  It’s easy to deduce that it is not the drunkards who are starting all the fights, it’s those who are abstinent that probably begin the ‘ten-paces-at-dawn.’   And because their head isn’t spinning they have the advantage, so whenever the police arrive it is always the drunk that gets picked up and arrested whilst Mr. Clean has already arrived back at home and eating a bowl of cereal.  Limiting the booze will put everyone on the same playing field, they’ll be no being late, no making plans that no one ever plans on keeping, no waking up next to someone who looks at you like you were a gone-off piece of meat and I wouldn’t be still feeling so rotten forty-eight hours later after having really not that much in the way of booze.

 

Reality TV’s Real Purpose

It has been a political hot potato for as long as people have been having children.  How the hell do you deal with the rotten oiks when they don’t listen nor do a bloody thing anyone else says.  Whether you try to be a fun-loving parent or a hip, cool and stylish teacher chances are those in the 13-19 year-old bracket will think you’re as uncool as… well maybe that’s the point I’m trying to make, I can’t even suggest anything that is cool, because these rascals will throw it back in my face!  Even if you try to be cool in front of them, they’ll just stab you, take your wallet and spend your money on getting dreadlocks!

Anyway, the point I think I’m trying to make is that there is a solution to these riotous ruffians, and it is something that I think will entertain both sides of this regatta of controversy.  I think my proposition should be taken up by government and sold to the rest of the world, with me as the Simon Cowell of the mix… But from the outset though this should only involve those ungovernable, lawless, vicious, those ‘gosh-darn-it’, crooked types.  Those kind who have received a sentence from Her Majesty’s most finest, should be clapped in irons and be forced to compete.  Those who abide by the law of the land have nothing to fear… yet!

‘Big Brother’s National Conscription’, yes, that’s another reality TV show and instead of getting them to sit around in an over-sized bedroom complaining about how someone else has called them a ‘bitch’, they compete against one other in the same predicament by completing several tasks not too dissimilar from what the real army folk do. Shit…! as I write this though I have suddenly remembered that there was  something like this called ‘Bad Lads Dad’s Army,’ so I am obligated to update my idea… So, you know the Japanese movie Battle Royale? where a class of students are forced into killing each other off, well lets bring that to the TV executive table.  Come on, there are much worse things on TV these days than a reality TV show about juvenile delinquents whose head could be blown off at any second… who’s seen True Blood?

So how would it work? If they committed a crime they serve out their sentence on the TV show, which of course will be shown live on E4, 24 hours a day.  Rather than costing the taxpayer money to keep them inside a prison for their duration, money will come in for advertisers, (prisoners could be made to sell different products too as part of their punishment. A kleptomaniac would be made to sell padlocks; a murderer – life insurance etc ).  They will train like soldiers, be treated like soldiers, and at a time when military spending is being reduced, it won’t cut into the defence budget because the revenue will come from advertisers.  It will teach those involved practical and linguistic skills as well as team skills, structure etc, and if they still misbehave their head gets blown off.  This could be an end of season finale where two souls get to battle it out to have their record cleared.

There could be one or two downsides, like seeing your son’s head pop off at any moment, but at least he would have gone out doing what all teenagers want to do, being on television displaying no discernible talent whatsoever.  Morals reasons… meh, society has done far worse things, like allow  taxpayer money (not mine, I live abroad!) to go to the Queen’s 60th jubilee celebrations.

Will this work, you bet your arse it wouldn’t because Britain is a (fairly) liberal society that (apparently) deplores sadistic violence, though the number of viewers of Sky News seem to rise year-on-year (honestly), but it could make a good movie, any takers?

Jimmy Carr – The Artful Tax Dodger

Sixty-six percent of the Guardian’s poll stated that Jimmy Carr was morally wrong to play his taxes the way he did.  Morally wrong, well, what do you think? I would agree, but he is a comedian and has said a plethora of immoral things in his career, but we all laughed heartily at that.  “But it’s not illegal to speak your mind and say how you feel.., but dodging tax is, and it’s against the law!” But it is against the law to incite racial violence or to say things which could become libelous, so then free of speech has been impeded, you see how difficult it is to know where the line is drawn.

Jimmy Carr has been using an off-shore Jersey scheme to funnel the amount he pays in tax in the UK. It is not illegal, but has been heavily condemned by David Cameron who sees it as ‘morally corrupt’. The Prime Minister has allegedly started to put together a set of new laws that will stop this ‘safe-haven’ system.

But another issue concerns Take That singer – Gary Barlow who has also been keen to avoid the tax man by putting money into a similar Jersey ‘K2’ scheme.  A donor to the Conservative party, there has been little light on this signer who was very prominent during the Jubilee celebrations and was even awarded an OBE for his efforts (for which now there have been calls for him to return it).  Mr David Cameron has not been so keen to berate him as he has been to tear into Jimmy Carr.  Why, because if you start looking into who proudly donates to the Tory party and pays less that the required amount of tax then the numbers could rise quite high. Labour stalwart, Dennis Skinner demanded a list of those politicians closet to David Cameron to publicly show how, when and where they pay their taxes.  Ed Miliband has remarked that he thinks politicians should avoid giving the public lessons on morality and instead put in place laws, but it is still the responsibility of these elected so-and-so’s to lead by example, rather than ‘do-as-I-say, not-as-I-do.’ If they cannot be the ones who lead our society by the morals they set out then we really are fucked!

OK Jimmy Carr should have paid his taxes, everybody should, everybody should pay their fair share.  Such speakers as Will Self came out months ago when the whole debacle over the reduction of the higher tax bracket was in the news. He believed that someone with his level of wealth should help out those less well-off in society.  So it would have been morally right for Jimmy to have done the same, but he didn’t break the law.  The line between tax evasion and avoidance is clear, one is knowingly disclosing false figures to HMRC and the other is setting up a charity or off-shore fund where you receive substantial tax breaks.  Jimmy Carr just showed that if you have money, you can find those who can find those little holes to avoid paying less.  His career will possibly take a slight sip, but he will ride it out because it is not his responsibility to demonstrate a high degree of morals to the public, we have our politicians for that.  And it should be the politicians who seal up all the holes that have let these wealthy individuals get away with paying as little as 1% tax.

The New Loving Hut in Haeundae, Busan

 

 

 

 

 

(published in Busan Haps magazine October 2011)

Loving Hut has been a stable and reliable restaurant for vegetarians and vegans in South Korea for almost three years.  Last year, another one of their restaurants opened up in Haeundae.  A meeting with owner Kim Hyong Ryul (Emily) was set up to find out what it’s like to run a restaurant and to be a vegan in a country where meat is available on almost every street corner.

The restaurant, which has been in her possession since July 2010, is spotless; it’s the first thing you notice when you enter; it’s almost like a dental surgery or operation theatre.  The menu has been laid out clearly and concisely with detailed Korean and English explaining what is within.  All dishes, on first inspection are not expensive ranging between 7,000-10,000won, making it nowhere near as expensive as other typical Western eateries such as VIPS or Outback.  And if you venture here during lunchtime, prices are reduced even further.

Emily seems cheerful and welcoming as we begin.  She starts by explaining some of the difficulties she has experienced getting Koreans to try a vegan diet; “People think that it’s yucky, just cooked vegetables, so to taste the food is very important.  Just EAT the food!  That’s very important!”

Her little dream that she jokingly tells me is to become more popular than the local butchers.  It seems a tall order, but she sees the future of vegetarianism in Korea as more of an opportunity than an uphill struggle.

It seems so obvious to her what the benefits are to being vegan.  She started off because of spiritual and health reasons, but she hopes that people don’t give up meat just for health issues alone. “It’s important to appreciate all living things [when] being a vegan.  If a person is a vegan [just] for health reasons they don’t really stay vegan for a long time, but on the other hand, those who think [that] for natural reasons, will fundamentally stay as vegans for the rest of their lives.”

She informs me that too often people stereotype vegan food as being tasteless and dull. “If you use fresh and organic ingredients, it will, of course taste good.”

She also continues on that people say vegan food is repetitive and uninspiring, so to combat this she tries to create a new menu every two to three months.  I asked what dishes she is currently working on, and after a little persuasion she reveals a soy steak with all the trimmings and a risotto.

She also stocks a lot of frozen fake meat and she says that this is very popular amongst the ex-pat community.  Within the refrigerator there is a large stock of soy ham, fake chicken, sausages and allegedly – fake squid.  This is again cheaper than the food on the menu.

One of the many environmental concerns people have today is the distance food travels to your plate, but Emily makes this quite clear as to where her food originates.  “Almost all the food is Korean. Sometimes [there are] things coming from Taiwan too. They have a lot of vegetarian food.”

One thing that concerned her when she started out was the amount of food from the buffet that would be left on the plate at the end.  So to combat this, any remnants left and there is a 2500won ‘fine.’ This may sound a little drastic, but it works. Now she smiles that the regular customers clean their plates from top to bottom and nothing goes back to be re-used in the kitchen.

Her family, including her two sisters, have been in the business since its inception and she gladly boasts about how her niece is on a vegan diet and how she is growing at a much quicker rate than any of her classmates.  She also proudly tells of teaching a kindergarten class once a month and hearing back from surprised parents and teachers about children eating all their greens.

It doesn’t matter what kind of ‘eater’ you are, but if you prefer eating delicious tasty food rather than the bland and stodgy, it’s well worth a visit to the Loving Hut.

For more information on vegan food and a vegan lifestyle in South Korea visit theveganurbanite.wordpress.com

By David Holt

Liam Fox’s Real Agenda

In politics it’s often not what you know, but whom you know.  This has been clearly the case of Dr. Liam Fox MP, the Defense Secretary and his ‘best man’ Adam Werritty.  News has been flowing thick and fast about the allegations that Mr. Werrity used access to Dr. Fox to set up several lucrative meetings with defense contractors in Dubai, as well as accompanying the MP on numerous trips around the globe.

This, at least on moral grounds is totally wrong, completely and totally wrong, if proven, but I bet that if anyone who wanted to be considered a capitalist, or who just wanted to make a few extra quid on the backs of your chums, well then I think would have to hang our heads in shame as we are all probably guilty.  I’m not saying that it is right, of course it isn’t, but as Henry Kissinger said – “Ninety percent of all politicians give the other ten percent a bad reputation.”  I mean Mr. Fox is a conservative and that stands in favour of business and enterprise, so he, if he did, probably meant it, right?

Over two years Mr. Werritty has been heavily present in over eighteen meetings as well as twenty-two in the Ministry of Defense (MoD) without any official position.  He has travelled as far afield as Australian, US and Bahrain as well as other regions in the Middle East.  In one particular incident the pair were at a dinner table in Dubai where per chance they began talking to representatives of a defense contractor.

David Cameron has come out publicly and said that he thinks Dr. Fox is doing a fantastic job in a very difficult position, I mean he’s not Secretary of Culture for a start, I mean he has a job that actually means something.  According to The Telegraph, Mr. Cameron said; “It is clear, as Liam Fox himself said yesterday, that serious mistakes were made in allowing the distinction between professional responsibilities and personal loyalties to be blurred.”  But will he fire him as a result of this; you can probably guess that is very unlikely.  He even admitted that the Secretary had ‘been completely’ honest and that ‘no important information’ had been spoken to, or handed to Mr. Werritty, who shares secrets with their best man?  So we have some comfort in knowing that information, which could be ‘Top Secret’ has never passed into the hands of some irksome civilians, perish the thought!  Even more cause for concern is the fact that officials in Whitehall are pondering on how Mr. Werritty makes his money after both he and Dr. Fox have admitted that their best buddy relationship does not provide financial gain despite the fact he is a businessman, who according to sources was paid £10,000 last year for an introduction by a Dubai business.  Currently both are keeping their cards close to their chests and not providing any details of their monetary agreements.  What has been amusing is that Mr. Fox has continually stated that he nor Mr. Werritty have taken any money in any deal that would seek to benefit others who are involved, but that’s a little too ‘left’ for me to fathom.  I have always thought that the Tories were meant to be hardened capitalists, that’s why they are currently looking to reduce the tax on the rich and seeking to set up as many ‘academy’ schools as possible.  They want business to take the reigns and lead nearly every aspect of our society, so why then do we expect that someone who has been voted in by a democratic system to adhere to those principles that got him that power and do what is best for others when he is a businessman at heart.