Russian Myths…

Okhlon Island Buryat

Driving through Russia represented a big unknown on our trip around the world. It’s always interesting, now that we have completed that section, to think how perceptions of a country change completely once you have been there.
Before we left we had a whole bunch of negative stereotypes to choose from our on-line research into driving the Trans-Siberian. Not to say, the stories and words of ‘advice’ handed out from friends and others. Not even to mention the truck drivers on the Latvian-Russia border trying to scare us about the road ahead.

Shall we list them:

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How to Ship from South Korea to Canada

From Seoul to Vancouver

You would think shipping your vehicle from the shipping
capital of the world would be easy!! Well, it’s not if you can’t
fit your motor into one of those containers! And we didn’t, as
we were what they call an ‘oversized vehicle’. Its not really
about the height, cause open top containers are available but
they cost more. Its all about the width. Containers only vary in
length but not in width. After spending pretty much 3 months
researching companies, we found only one RO-RO company
that was willing to take us in the whole of Korea. And not only
that they were willing to take our vehicles, but luckily also all
the junk we carry in them. However, none of this would have
happened without the help of an angel!!
Wendy Choi, a freight forwarder from Seoul, who went out of her way to help
us. Lets face it, without her intervention, we’re not sure if we
would have made it out of there. Trying to quote or process
RO-RO shipping without any knowledge of the Korean
language is nearly impossible. Wendy got us on a RO-RO
ship from Pyeongtaek International Ro-Ro Terminal/PIRT
(outside of Seoul) to Westminster (outside Vancouver) in
Canada. She prepared all the paperwork for us, and she also
made the payment on our behalf. Once we got in touch with
her, things were pretty straight forward, although her English
is not perfect, her instructions are clear and methodical. We
even got to hang out with her and became friends. She came
for a dinner in our van and was so excited, as she’s never
seen a vehicle she’s shipped before.

Anyway, the hard data: We sailed with EUKOR. They quoted us based on the
volume of the vehicle. Shipping such a big vehicle was not
cheap, it was about 3000 bucks, which made our exit from
Korea rather pricey adding flights and other cost, we arrived
in Canada $5000 bucks lighter. Dealing with customs and
port people in Korea was rather pleasant, most of it happens
around a dinner table with great food on it and people
generally stick to what they say and you always know where
you stand at this lengthy process.

Well, don’t get too cosy, get prepared for arriving in Canada!

There’s always a few hoops you gotta jump through at any
port of arrival. Canada asks for one very specific one: a soil
examination by the Canada Border Agency (CBSA). The
bummer is that no matter how fast you jump, they will not be
able to tell you when your vehicle is going to be released
from the port or how much its going to cost. For us, the
release took over a week, during which we had to submit
different payments and paperwork. (Payment for the soil
examination, surrender bill, vehicle title etc..) However, if they
find your vehicle clean enough that it passes the soil exam,
you will be spared of paying for a cleaning unit and it will
speed up the process too. Otherwise they don’t ask anything
unusual and they are not concerned about emissions control
(as the States would be). They will also let you drive off
without insurance. You can purchase insurance at a later
date, which we did (Progressive – online).

However one unforgettable experience is the actual vehicle
release. You will receive detailed description of how to pick
the vehicle up. This description includes repetitive warnings
that the port staff will NOT assist you in getting the vehicle
moving again in case the battery is flat or there’s a problem
with it. Take this warning seriously and don’t just assume that
your batteries are strong enough after a months sailing.
Someone might have messed with them, they might have left
your lights on…  what ever the case, there is a chance that
your vehicle will not start. Hence bring a friend who can pull
start you, or be ready to pay for a tow truck (bring your phone
and phone numbers in case you need assistance, cause they
don’t offer any). The staff at the port is rather unfriendly and
impatient with crusty travelers who just turn up with a
screwdriver thinking it will be all fine. Another annoying thing,
someone went through one of the vans and there was stuff
stolen. Nothing too dramatic, an amplifier and some
speakers, but it’s not nice to find out that someone went
through your cupboards. Before you put your van on a boat in
Korea, think about making a wall between the cab and the
back.  1 van of our 2 did, nothing got stolen and legally you’re
only required to hand over the key for the ignition, nothing
else.

Despite a few bummers……we got to have our camper vans
on this huge North American continent where you can make it
all the way from Alaska down to Panama. No need for sailing
for a long time…  good stuff.

(From an original post by Radka here).

Rajapalayam has landed…

Over Sized Luggage Check-In

…and I think she enjoyed the experience so much she’s voluntarily sleeping every night since in the plastic box that kept her safe for the whole 15 hour odyssey; rapid transport train, terminal trolley, conveyor belt and aircraft; 8200 km horizontal, 21.3 km vertical, 12° latitude but 25°C temperature.

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Languages

Today I am a week away from visiting my first English-speaking country for twenty years. I am a little concerned because when I visited Ireland for two short weeks, all those summers ago, I spent the whole time talking in a Yorkshire accent even though I’m from London – my cranial speech centres got a little messed up and my travelling companions were pretty amused.

This time, however, I have been hanging out with Gary, from Texas, seeing out my sojourn in Seoul under instruction about the countries ahead. During this time, then, my understanding of American Football has risen from 0.1% to about 10%; my intention to avoid Sarah Palin and not get in her bad books has been underscored; and my pronunciation and vocabulary has improved immensely, y’all.

Which is good because, while it was fun deciphering Cyrilic and Hangeul, imagine a whole continent where we can communicate without leafing through a phrasebook, resorting to sign language or not having to do with five kilos of black pepper because we’d momentarily forgotten the words for any other number or fraction.

Before we set out on this trip, back at Earthcircuit HQ, we carved up the linguistical map, apportioning sections to each of the crew members: Slavic Radka got Russia, Conny Korea (on account off her hand-writing resembling Korean), Dunia will be able to use something like her father’s tongue in Latin America while I was handed the responsibility of learning how to speak North American.

So, a few words to be getting along with:

Boondocking – Strictly speaking, boondocking is camping far away from civilization without any facilities such as water or electricity; roughing it. In a more general sense it has come to mean camping or parking anywhere without facilities, relying strictly on the comforts provided by the RV. Many RVers refer to spending the night in a motorway rest area or truck stop, as boondocking. English equivalent would be ‘parking up’.

Rig – Generally refers to an RV, truck, trailor or whatever combination of mobile home. English equivalent would be ‘vehicle’.

Snowbird – A person who moves from cold weather to warm in an RV, generally staying for the whole season. English equivalent would be ‘sensible person’.

Having learnt and then forgotten hundreds of languages in my time, I am looking forward to relaxing the old brain muscle. One cool thing that I found on this adventure, that never happened before, is that everyone, with access to a computer, is more than ready to use Google Translate in order to help the confused foreigner that they find before them. You have to hand it to Google – they really know how to change people’s relationship with the world around them (I won’t even start on Google Search, Maps or Streetview, etc). Called around the desk or counter to type in our request, we quickly learnt that, in Latvia, the best place to buy insurance for Russia would be at the border, for instance, or that, in Korea, you can’t buy a mobile phone or SIM card unless you have a government ID number. This saved us lots of time and bother. Of course it’s not perfect – in Czech Republic, on our missions to buy materials to convert Jigsaw, we were asking for some 3cm wide steel strips cut to 2m length. The Czech translation appeared on the screen and the lady nearly fell off her chair with laughter and, translating it back to English, we saw that we had asked her to take her clothes off.

Personally I find the philosophy of language fascinating. There are so many unanswered questions such as the degree to which our language informs our understanding of the world. It is so sad hearing about languages going extinct, knowing that a whole different way of seeing things has gone forever. A good article I read recently about the role of gender classification with respect to inanimate objects, for example, and differences in grammer generally, can be found here.

A question I have had buzzing around my head is the role of translation. In Europe, we have 30 odd languages to go round 300 odd million people. For an idea to spread it has to be translated and, thus, undergoes, surely, a process of criticism. In North America there is only one language – does that mean, especially given the power of the internet, ideas whizz round and round, snowballing without any brakes, until… well, reading the debates about the vitriol and language used in the political arenas there and some of the crazy ideas – or maybe looking at the kind of creativity that happens (like with Google, Facebook or WordPress) – it is certainly a question with wheels on it.

TRANS-WHATEVER- JUST GO!

It’s the 7th of January and the crew is still split up, Andy and Vaga are waiting in Seoul for their flight to Vancouver while the rest of us are temporarily residing on a farm in Sicamous, British Columbia. Our vehicles are somewhere in the middle of  the Pacific making their way over to Vancouver…yes, for the three of us here, it’s farm life with all its indoor living luxuries (and many more then you would expect!)  Except that after crossing the whole of the Russian Trans-Siberian Highway, I find myself one more time on one of the world’s longest highways – the Trans-Canada Highway. Going just 10 miles down the 8000km long road to get some hay for the horses, I am thinking, that after minuscule Korea, we finally have again got a whole continent for us to cross…Looking at this highway, with the Canadian Pacific Railway attached to it – just like in Russia, alongside the 50th latitude – just like in Russia…after 12 days without the truck I want to hit the road again…

Digital Media City

Well, I’m inching towards Incheon – not exactly in a spatial sense but slowly getting things ready for my flight out of Seoul with Vaga.

Among the things I have been doing while waiting to catch up with the others is sniffing around the online RV communities of North America. The biggest forum out there seems to be rv.net so I registered and put up a ‘hello’ post. In a few days, this post has had over a thousand views and I’m almost overwhelmed by the offers of somewhere to stay, the information and the best wishes of this slice of the American travelling public – something tells me that Stage 2 is going to be a significant change to Stage 1…