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Eric Shackle Writes: Kiwi Covers Korea

New Zealand philanthropist Gareth Morgan was amazed by the changes he found on a motorbike tour of South Korea, as Eric Shackle reveals.

Eric, a journalist gifted with an Everest-sized helping of curiosity about the world and its wonders, tells of a tour of discovery.

For hours and hours of enjoyable reading please do visit Eric's world-famous e-book www.bdb.co.za/shackle/

New Zealand money guru and travel writer Gareth Morgan, who a few months ago gave 40 million dollars from his dot.com fortune to charity, has been gobsmacked by South Korea's progress since his previous visit to the country eight years ago.

"Even in the countryside, South Korean living standards have just catapulted over the last couple of decades," he wrote in an article he has sent to his company's clients while exploring Korea as one of a small clutch of Kiwis who are circling the world by motorbike. They expect to complete their 2410km Korean journey by returning to Seoul on October 13.

He sees many similarities between Korea and New Zealand. Both countries are isolated geographically, he says, but Korea's isolation has been actuated by a desire to maintain its own cultural identity, "despite being in the shadow of its powerful and often ambitious neighbours." (Come to think of it, Kiwis sometimes feel overshadowed by Australia, and Canadians by the US.)

He says Koreans and Kiwis love hiking in their countries' many scenic and mountainous national parks, and remarks on "the strength of middle-aged to elderly Koreans who cheerfully climb past you, loaded with twice the amount of gear, and eager to demonstrate... their superior fitness."

Korea, with a population of nearly 50 million, occupies an area only the size of New Zealand's North Island, which has a population of 3.2 million. As a result, most Koreans live in multi-storied apartment blocks. Since all available land is needed to produce food, there's no room for New Zealand's urban sprawl.

Obesity, that worries many western nations, is no problem in Korea, says Morgan, adding, "Let's just say you don't see many American jumbo-style physiques in South Korea.

"I'll be the first to admit that Korean food, to the western palate, is an acquired taste, but once you realise that the pickles and the spice are the fare for breakfast, lunch and dinner you resign yourself to it.

"And then, by some miracle, you suddenly become addicted to it and crave it when you return to our bland pea, pie and puds."

Earlier this year Morgan achieved global publicity by giving $40 million to charity.

While most of the world have applauded his selfless generosity in giving away his newly acquired fortune, as a modest Down Under version of Microsoft philanthropist Bill Gates, a few grouches criticised his action.

"I've just been under fire... from the (New Zealand) Trustees Association saying they don't think we should give any of it to people outside New Zealand, because poverty apparently is relative and over there, as long as you get a meal, you're fine," he told Helen Westerman and Rebecca Urban, of The Age (Melbourne, Australia) newspaper.

He accused the association, which advises on wills, charity bequests and estates, of self-interest. "Basically, it's outside of their catchment," he said. "They rely on charitable organisations subscribing to them. Isn't it interesting what it brings out in people?"

The newspaper reported:

Gareth Morgan, father of trademe.co.uk website creator Sam Morgan, has copped some unexpected criticism and a lot of unsolicited emails. Fairfax recently bought the auction website, set up on his dad's laptop, for $625 million, handing $227 million to the young whizz kid.

Morgan Senior told New Zealand newspaper the Dominion Post this week he intended to donate the profit on his 10 per cent shareholding in trademe.co.nz to charity, saying he couldn't think of anything to do with it.

But he told us that, since the article, he had been inundated with suggestions on where he could, er, stick his money.

No wonder he left New Zealand a week later, to spend four months touring North America from Mexico to Alaska before setting out on his latest visit to South Korea.

Morgan, 53, is sometimes called The Welsh Speedstar. His parents and older sister were born in Wales, but Gareth was born in NZ. He usually rides a Harley Deuce, a Yamaha WR250, or a BMW R1200GS. On his Korean trip he and the others in his party - his wife Joanne, farmer Dave Wallace, and motorcycle dealer Brendan Keogh - are riding new Hyosung 650 bikes. Here's his profile, as shown on his website:

Probably the noisiest of the bunch – if it’s not his Harley misfiring then it will be him sounding off on some topic that only economists know everything about. Gareth... has done a number of offshore bike trips and is in a hurry to cover the world before his body says it won’t.

Wellington-based but nationally focused, Gareth’s economics consultancy and personal portfolio businesses absorb most of his time still, but that is slowly changing as these bike trips get more and more demanding. When not biking or working, Gareth can be found around the Cook Strait somewhere, desperately seeking the ultimate fishing high.


In 2004, Gareth Morgan made a two-week motorcycle tour of Australia. On the second day, he was disqualified from driving for two months." It isn't the best of starts, but does help to keep the focus on traffic regulations thereafter," was his rueful comment.

Reviewing that journey in a weekly newsletter to clients, he wrote:

It's a great country, we are lucky to have it so close, the similarities of the people make the prospect of economic and even political integration one that New Zealanders shouldn't find too hard to accept should that pop up at some stage. Right now we might get attractive terms given the story a couple of biking Aussies told us. They'd replaced the koala mascots on their bikes with kiwis when recently traversing Muslim countries!


More than 70 years ago, I rode a tiny two-stroke motorbike along perilous shingle roads in New Zealand's scenic South Island. I revelled in the feel of the wind ruffling my hair (no safety helmets in those days). My 20-year-old steed had cost me 30 shillings (one and a half weeks' pay for a copyboy). It would be worth a fortune today. It was belt-driven, similar to those used by British Army despatch riders in World War I. When the leather belt became wet or oily (as it often did) it slipped, bringing the machine to a high-revving standstill. It was a real pain in the saddle.

* An edited version of this story has been published by the Korean citizen reporters' journal, OhmyNewsInternational.

Gareth Morgan's Korean diary http://www.worldbybike.com/korea/
The world by bike http://www.garethmorgan.com/


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