Work in Progress

“In the best travel, disconnection is a necessity. Concentrate on where you are; do no back-home business; take no assignments; remain incommunicado; be scarce. It is a good thing that people don’t know where you are or how to find you. Keep in mind the country you are in. That’s the theory.”
–Paul Theroux

A human who loves the world, finds beauty in the unknown, and can't keep her feet on the ground. I like finding unique (and cheap) ways of making my way around the globe. Interacting with people while living, learning, and loving the culture I'm surrounded by.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Land of the Deer

Seriously. So many deer. And they've been here forever. They are so used to tourists and are quite pushy when it comes to getting their biscuits. They're addicts and they aren't afraid to nudge, buck, and nibble to get their dose. 

After getting of the train with a Korean friend (Mars) I made at the station in Osaka we headed toward a few temples we wanted to check out. When I first saw deer ahead of us on the side walk, I was beyond exited. It wasn't long after that I realized these guys are everywhere. I found a cute old lady selling treats to give them and Mars and I were immediately bombarded with deer. Pushy little guys. We had a blast leading them around the park, teasing them and playing with them. They are so forward and pretty domesticated. 

I watched many shopkeepers shoo them out of their stores when they would venture a little to far into the shop. One of the shopkeepers was able to tell me that one of the deer that hung out around her shop was only a year old, and she pointed out the mother. How she was able to identify them out of the hundred of deer living in Nara was beyond me. As pesky as they may be, the locals love them like you would any other 4 legged furry friend. They are considered to be sacred messengers of Shinto gods

We strolled through the small little town of Nara and checked out whatever temple was in our way. There were loads. We chose a nice, shady path lined with huge stone lanterns on the way to Kasuga. This temple is known for the thousands of bronze lanterns, but it was nearly 5 bucks to walk through them - we decided peering through the would be sufficient and saved our precious money for something we REALLY wanted to see.

I could have easily spent hours aimlessly exploring every nook and cranny of this little place. Around every bend there was something new that caught my eye. A little river here, a cluster of lanterns and statues there. Temple after temple, it was hard taking it all in. Mars and I found a beautiful temple situated at the top-ish of Nara. It was nice having him around cause he was able to help me figure out how to properly interactic with all these Buddhist things I have no experience with. Water fountains with cups, bells with brightly colored fabrics, incense and candles. He showed me the ropes when it came to these things and added a lot to my experience in this little town. 


The view from this temple was unreal. I could see the tippity top of Todai-ji - The massive wooden structure  and main attraction in Nara. I really, really wanted to see this baby. Seeing it peaking over the trees got me so excited that I was able to ignore the growls from my stomach begging for food and frolic on in Todai-ji's direction instead.

It was so massive and so beautiful, I have never seen anything like it. Before walking in Mars and I lit some incense meant to clean the surrounding air of unwanted spirits and energies and made our way inside. I sat and stared at for at least 5 minutes before even bothering to take pictures of the huge Buddha that was sitting in front of me, situated peacefully on a lotus flower.

You are able to walk completely around the giant statue. It has two smaller shrines on either side with golden statues and smaller things to look at while you make your way around. There was a place you could practice calligraphy and a small hole in one of the wooden pillars that had a line accumulating around it. Thankfully Mars was there to explain why people (including grown men) were crawling through it. Apparently being able to fit through the tiny space guarantees you a spot in heaven. Challenge accepted. Once I get around to making a video compilation of my Japan footage you will be able to witness my attempt first hand :)

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Osaka - The Venice of Japan

Oh, Saka. Despite being what some may consider a typical big city, I enjoyed it more than I thought. To be honest though, I didn't spend much time there. My couchsurfing host actually recommended not to spend the day in Osaka and instead head to Nara. I took his advice.  He is a local. He knows things. I definitely made the right choice, but I appreciated the time that I was able to explore the streets of Osaka.

I didn't leave Taka's place until 10ish, and with the last train leaving around 11:45 I didn't have much time to get my exploring in. I got off at the metro stop he suggested and started wandering in the general direction of the Dotonbori, a notorious street in Osaka known primarily for it's deliciously cheap food and extravagant shop front displays. I quickly found the ramen joint I was dying to try, mainly because they have kimchi to garnish your noodles with. Kinryu ramen is likely the most popular place to get ramen - so popular they have three lcations in the Dotonbori. All of their store fronts are adorned with giant Dragons. It wasn't hard to find.

I put my 900yen into a vending machine and pressed the picture of the ramen I wanted. It spit out a ticket for me to hand to the lovely man who was about to feed me my first proper Japanese ramen. I inhaled that giant bowl of noodles while sitting crossed legged on the tatami mat with a perfect view for people watching. Almost immediately after eating ramen I figured it was about as good a time as any to eat takoyaki - octopus balls. Not like, testicles. Just fried balls of octopus. They were wonderful, definitely better than the live baby octopus I ate in Korea. But, anything fried is automatically better.

I caught the last train to Taka's house and instead of heading straight home I decided to wander in the direction of a river and see what I could find on my way. I was happy to stumble upon a 7-11, one of my favorite snack stops in Korea. It was fun to compare the convenience stores in Japan to the ones back home. They definitely have a better selection of alcohol, food, and reading material. A stood in front of the drinks section for at least a minute contemplating whether or not to get a regular sized Strong or a tall can. A Strong is an alcoholic beverage in Japan, rightly named. 8% alcohol that comes in an assortment of fruity flavors? Sign me up. I picked up a small can, walked a few feet to the register and turned around to grab a tall can. The store clerk giggled. So did I.

I didn't make it as far as the river, but I did find a lovely park that I walked around and played on. How could I resist a set of swings? I definitely got a few stares from the few people making their way home. It probably isn't too often they see a white person swinging at a park in their neighborhood late at night with a Strong in hand.

The next day I woke up, shared tea and breakfast with Taka - and headed to Nara. After shopping all evening throughout the multiple shopping districts in Osaka, I came home that evening to a beautiful meal prepared by Taka. You can read all about it in my couchsurfing blog. I wanted to get to Kyoto the next day fairly early, so I had an early night. Pretty much spent the whole evening, and the next morning chatting with Taka. I really enjoyed his company and was happy to share my experience with him.
I came back to Osaka the last night of my trip since I was flying out the next day. I didn't want to have to worry about waking up and traveling too far to the airport. I found a super cheap hostel with a PRIVATE room, and AC. I was stoked to have my own space, not going to lie. I love hostels, but for some reason I wasn't interested in meeting a whole load of other people traveling. I was in the hostel long enough to set my stuff down and check out a map. I decided I wanted to go to a park nearby and set off. I don't know if I every actually made it to the park. I did, however, wander around some really cool areas of town.

One of the streets I walked down was filled with hole in the wall sushi joints, rooms full of old men playing some game I had never seen, men gambling on the ground, turtles that I assume were soon to be someones meal, and a lot of bike traffic. I got a lot of stares while walking down this street, most people seemed surprised to see me. Most stares were followed by smiles though, which is one thing I loved about Japan. Everyone seemed (relatively) happy.

At night I decided I wanted to visit Namba Parks, a giant shopping center with landscaping around the structure and a garden/park along the roof. I planned on getting dinner here and exploring some of the shops, looking for hopefully cheap and small things to bring back home with me to decorate my apartment. I ended up grabbing dinner here at a restaurant that specialized in cheese and then heading back towards the direction of the Dotonbori to wander more.

While walking around I decided I might as well pick up a cheap drink from a convenient store. While I was walking down the Dotonbori with a Strong Zero in my hand a Japanese man thought it was funny and tried to spark up a conversation with me using (pretty much) only the word "strong". "Ahh! Strong, very strong!" Acting out drunk stumbling and chugging drinks took place. He asked if I knew any Japanese. Thankfully I had my drink in hand and was able to point to the word "zero" written across my can. He was disappointed in our lack of communication, and so was I. My biggest pet peeve is not being able to communicate with a person. If I were a superhero, I would want the power of ALL languages. BAM.

After a few more hours of exploring I worked up another hunger somehow so I decided to have a second dinner. SECOND DINNER was the best choice I have ever made. I went to Kinryu again, just a different location on the same street. While waiting for my noodles I retrieved a beer out of a vending machine and a little old man started up conversation with me. This one had indoor tatami seating so after I topped my ramen with massive amounts of kimchi I sat down to eat. The man, Eiichiro, asked if he could have dinner with me. I was thrilled.

He was so excited to practice his English, and I was happy to have someone to share my meal with. I confessed my love for food and that I missed Kimchi. We talked about communicating and how he learned English, places we have traveled and things we have done. He kindly walked with me to the subway and helped me find the right train. I would have figured it out, but it probably would have taken more time considering I was definitely feeling the mere two drinks I had consumed. He shared candy with me on the train and reminded me when it was my stop. Even though our paths only crossed for a very short time, I was so lucky to have met him.

And then, once again, I made a convenient store stop before heading back into my hotel. I grabbed a drink and some dessert and went back to my private hostel room at Toyo and vegged out while organizing and packing.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Surfing Through Japan

I arrived in the evening on Friday and spent the whole first half of my evening chatting with Taka, my host. He is about 50 years old and has spent a lot of time traveling and a lot of time hosting surfers. I chose him for a multitude of reasons. He had loads of reviews, which is always the first thing I look for. A person with 77 reviews is the type of person you want to surf with. To me, that means they know what surfing is all about. They know what it means to be a good host. And a good host differs depending on who your talking to. Someone who wants a free place to stay, period - those people are missing out. It is so much more than that. I had ample money to spend at cheap hostels this time around, which differed a lot from my travels in Europe last summer. Still, couchsurfing was the first place I went when it came to looking for accommodation.

Having the chance to connect with locals in the city that you are visiting can completely change your perspective on a place. You get more than a few pictures in front of this temple and that castle. Taka (after explaining the rules of his home) shared some awesome conversation. We talked about everything. Japanese culture, my weight loss, education, the environment, Korean culture, cheese, fat Americans with guns. You name it.

One of the main conversations I remember having was about the way the majority of the Japanese population feel about Americas after, you know, we dropped an atomic bomb in their country. He said that, because America didn't just deplete the Japanese of their resources and leave them high and dry, they respect us in a sense? We helped them build back up their economy in a way that, obviously, still suited us. Exporting things from Japan to America helped fuel their economy, and they appreciated the fact that we gave them the opportunity to do so. In conclusion, Taka tells me the Japanese don't hold grudges. The past is the past and we have all moved on.

I'll be the first to admit that I am a bit of an uncultured American, like we tend to be. This has changed drastically since I have started traveling and meeting people from around the world, thankfully. Still, my extent of "history" doesn't go far beyond America's development. I only remember taking half a semester of world history in high school. HALF a semester of WORLD history. This baffles me. Compared to the world, America is just a speck on the timeline. Anyways, I never thought about what the Japanese might think of Americans after the war. Other than knowing about Hiroshima and Pearl Harbor, I don't know much about it to begin with. 

My second night staying with him I was given a few options. He offered to cook me a traditional meal, take me out to a cheap (but very good) sushi meal, or to go downtown and spend a little bit more money on a nice sushi meal/tempura spot. I chose to have him cook for me. How many times in my life and I going to be able to experience something like that? I had a hard time deciding, because I 9.can never make a decision to save my life... but I think I did well this time. 

Taka opened my mind up to a lot about Japanese culture. He taught me to always eat all of my food, which was no problem for me. He taught me to say Itadakimasu before my meal, signifying that I am grateful for the food that nature has provided me with - and gochisosama deshita after the meal saying something similar, with the thanks of being satisfied. He taught me more than just the sayings, however. It is important in Japanese culture to appreciate the food you are given, and especially appreciative for everyone and everything involved in the process. You have to think about where the food came from, who farmed the vegetables? Who caught the fish? Who prepared your meal? And, obviously, nature for giving the opportunity to eat. 

After he served me a delicious meal complete with fish, rice, tofu, and miso soup - he offered up some wine and cheese. REAL cheese, that some of his other surfers brought him from Spain. Words can't begin to express how thankful I was. And then, when I thought it couldn't get any better, he made me an extra special bowl of mochi. I was beside myself with happiness. And dinner was accompanied with wonderful conversation. 

We talked a lot about the culture of couchsurfing, and why he enjoys it so much. He loves sharing things, and he loves the exchange. Sure, he let's people stay at his place and they use his water and his energy and he feeds them - but the reward that he gets is worth so much more than that. He is able to meet people from around the world and learn new things about them and their culture. He is able to share things about the Japanese culture that you can't read in that Lonely Planet book you picked up. Learning through experiences - it's really the only way to do it.

I also surfed with a girl from New Zealand who has been teaching English in a public school in Kyoto. Although much different from my experience with Taka, it was awesome. We had a few drinks by the river and chatted all night. It was interesting to compare the school environments that we worked in, how different the languages were, and just the fact that we had something in common and were close in age was nice. We stalked up on goodies at a convenience store before heading back to her place and drinking more. OH! And, I got to experience a real, live Japanese earthquake. Thankfully it wasn't very serious and no tsunami's ensued. She was an angel and recommended a less "touristy" place I could go in Kyoto - You can only visit so many temples on one trip. I wish I was able to spend more time with her, but luckily I will be back in Japan one day (hopefully soon) - and I have two awesome friends to visit when I get back. And hopefully one to party with in Tokyo.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Land of the Rising Sun

Kinryu Ramen - Dotonbori, Osaka

I'm going to have to post a few different blogs about my summer vacation to Japan. I couldn't possibly fit everything into one without it being massive. Especially considering that between my SLR, GoPro, and iPhone (rip) - I took over 1,000 photos/videos.

However, in summary - my time in Japan has opened up my eyes to a whole different world. Although Korea and Japan are next door neighbors (lucky me) they have so many cultural differences, traditional and modern.
I loved so much about Japan, especially the people. They all seemed so damn COOL. The way they dress especially. I loved the style. There were people rocking wild hair with a grungy look and then there were the ones who look like they just popped out of a comic - big eyes and porcelain skin with cute clothes. The Japanese love cute things, much like the Koreans. The younger crowed seemed to care at lot about their appearance and being original. I saw a huge variety of styles from head to toe - and I definitely spent a lot of my time stopping in almost every single shop in almost every shopping district in Osaka. Whoops. I have plans for a trip to Tokyo, which I am assuming will be similar to Osaka, except amplified.

Osaka, Japan

I was able to couch surf most of my time there, my budget was thankful. A 50something year old Japanese man in Osaka hosted me for a few nights as well as a  girl from New Zealand who's teaching English in Kyoto. Couch surfing is hands down one of my favorite ways to travel. I'll tell you all about it in a separate blog. 

Per typical tourist standards, I didn't do much. I didn't spend all my time visiting every single temple in Kyoto or Nara. I certainly didn't do any museums. I didn't even see the castle in Osaka. However I did eat myself silly and do what I do best, wander. No plans set in stone, those hardly ever work out. No rushing to the next "sight" to see - I did not have enough time to even try. But I saw a few important things and appreciated the time I was able to spend aimlessly exploring these new places. 

I was able to experience a temple stay in Koyasan. I'm actually writing the majority of this blog while listening to the croak of frogs in the garden underneath my window as I lounge in my Kimono style robe planted right in the middle of a Japanese style futon and drinking green tea. Yes, it is as perfect as it sounds.

 In Japan I was reminded what it feels like to really travel. Anxious about figuring out public transportation, waiting for trains, trying new food, hearing a new language, walking to no where in particular. I missed that feeling of being in action. Although I've been in Korea for over a month, It has been much more living that it has been exploring. I think back to my three months backpacking through Europe last year and think to myself, "HOW DID I DO IT?!" After 6 days in Japan I was well spent.

With that being said, I am happy to be home - especially because home is Korea. Which is still, in my eyes, a massive adventure. But being away made me realize how much it already feels like home. I missed Hangul. I missed saying annyeonghaseyo and kamsahmnida. I missed kimchi so much I went and bought A KILO of it when I got home (mainly because I didn't know how to ask for less). I missed my bare apartment and am so excited to fill it with pictures and memorabilia from Japan. I am so comfortable here. 

Traveling alone and having time to reflect on the craziness that has ensued since I moved to Korea was well needed. Every since I've been here, I have been on the go. Exploring here, eating this, meeting new people and adjusting to the culture.  It has put a lot of "life" things in perspective. I was able to take a step back and look at how lucky I am. My dreams are coming true on an (almost) daily basis. I have had so many opportunities and experienced so many different things in the past few years of my life. I am excited about the direction I am heading and all the adventures that are to come. I am so thankful for my ability to have a positive, no fear attitude when it comes to most things. So many doors are open and available to me - and I'm gonna keep on opening them. 

Friday, August 1, 2014


Eating bread in the streetz
 Karyn and I went on a little mini adventure around our neighborhood after work one evening. We experienced a part of our immediate living quarters that we didn't know existed and are happy to have discovered. I can already imagine the drunken nights out staggering through these streets ahead of us.

We started off walking down the market street. Most of the stalls were closed and the few that were open had small groups of people crowded around eat and chatting and enjoying their evening, trying to sell what they had left of their goods. Fruits and veggies and things boiling in huge pots that I had never seen before. Teenage boys sitting at my favorite Tteokbokkistall eating their dinner and chatting with the friendly ajummas. 

I wanted bread, naturally, so we made a stop at the market to visit my friend. I need to figure out this man's name. I am always greeted with a big ole' two handed high five and hugs. I always leave with baked goods that I don't need, but a smile on my face nonetheless and a little bit more practice with Korean - something I desperately need.

 We decided to venture off and ended up walking down a street filled with bright lights, loads of chicken and beer establishments (chimek), norebang for days (karaoke), people drinking outside convenient stores, and traffic. So much traffic. There were cute little Korean men walking up the street holding hands and the younger crowd walking with their faces in their phones. The ability they have to not get hit by a car or scooter while walking down theses wild streets continues to amaze me,.

I've walked down this street several times during the day and was surprised to see how different it is at night. Everyone is always so bust during the day working, and usually working HARD. At night is when most places around here come alive. Kids don't get out of school until 10pm sometimes, adults work shifts as long as 12 hours. Work hard and play harder has never been more applicable than it is in this country. 

If you wanna see more pictures I've added some of my favorites to a photography page for your viewing pleasure, enjoy :)

Worst part of my day eating my last bite of food. Any food. Mostly gimbap though. I always want more. More more more. Idk what's wrong with me, but the food here is too good. I just ate a whole roll of gimbap and I already want to devour another one. 

Although, my live baby octopus meal didn't have the same effect of my monstrous appetite. It wasn't horrible. I chewed the slithery little pieces enough before they ever got the chance to latch on to my throat and suffocate me, no worries. But really it just tasted like the sauce I lathered in. Luckily our tentalicious meal came with a counterpart. Some random fish the market guy picked out, cooked with onions and mushrooms and a yummy sauce. I'll say my first visit to the live fish market went about as good as it could have :)

Bread, yukgwa, and beer - is there anything better?

Bread houses. Man, those are hard to pass up. There is even one that goes by the name of "Eat Bread". They turned my life motto into a bakery, what more could I ask for?

One of the markets I go to (frequently) has a bakery attached to it, and there are ALWAYS discount - and I am reminded of this fact everytime thanks to the cutie who mans the stall. He is always way to happy to see me and eager to use the little amount of English he knows. Which includes the aforementioned "discount" along with other words; hello, very good, pretty, goodbye, and I love you. The last one is my personal favorite. He always cons me into getting bread. Always. How an I deny a little Korean man confessing his love to me, even if it's because that's all he knows how to say in English?

One of my favorite parts about life is how much exploring there is to do. With so many new things in my life, it's hard to get bored. I visited Ulsan Grand Park before work one afternoon and rode around the same area of the massive park for an hour on my bike rental trying to find the butterfly conservatory. It was a massive fail, but wandering around was a blast. I ran into a few cool parts of the park and am looking forward to exploring it more.


And friends. So many new people, from all around the world. Foreign and Korean. I am so excited to get to know these people and to create and share memories with them. It's been so easy to get into the swing of things here. I've felt welcomed from day one. 

Makkoli and banchan, YUM

Sandcastles at Ilsan Beach, Ulsan