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

I'm just a girl 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.

This is my attempt to keep my friends and family updated, to keep track of my experiences, and to serve as an inspirational resource for all those travel addicts like me out there.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

TokYO


I LOVE JAPAN. end blog.

It's as easy as that. Really. Let me explain. 

The Japanese tend to be helpful and easy to feel comfortable around. I've never felt like a burden when showing up anywhere in Japan and being that silly foreign girl that likely has no idea what she is doing. The people I've encountered have always been happy to help me out. 

People watching here is unlike any place I've ever been, especially on the subway.  Watching the men, clad in their suits, flip through a comic book next to an elderly man reading the news on his smartphone (also in a suit). 

 The style here is unfathomable. They make it look easy, like getting dressed in the morning is an effortless task.  They automatically know how to look cool. For example, Potato Man.
Should I talk about the food? Do I even need to explain it to you? Ramen. Sushi. Takoyaki. Okonomiyaki. Udon. What more could you ask for than a country where "Kawaii" Monster restaurants and (insert animal of choice) cafes exist. Not only can you spend your time in the typical dog and cat cafes...snake, rabbit, owl, penguin cafes exist here. 

The food at the convenient stores isn't only intriguing, it's delicious and cheap. Almost every night ended in us loading up on all the snacks and treats we have never seen before.  Bread and gummies and noodles galore. Where Korea has soju, Japan has Strongs. Just as cheap and equally deadly.

Oh, and personal conveyor belts whizz your fresh (and cheap) sushi practically right into your mouth. Not everywhere. Just one place that I know off. BUT IT EXISTS. You order your food on a screen and minutes later, it's sent right to you. It's dangerous.  But, I like to live on the edge. 
I spent a bit of time in Japan last year, in the Osaka area. I visited Kyoto, Nara, and did an incredible temple stay up in Mount Koyasan where I visited one of the most beautiful cemeteries I've ever seen. I couchsurfed with two lovely hosts, one of which was a 50 year old Japanese man. As if the SEVEN blogs I have from my first trip to Japan weren't enough, I have a blog just for food and one for the video I put together. So there you go. 


I was expecting my experience in Tokyo to be incredibly different than my first go round with Japan, considering it's not only a capital city but the biggest city in the world.  I was both right and wrong. I felt oddly comfortable wandering around the streets of our hostel, which was located in a less stimulating area of the city. There were quaint little shops, a shrine or two, markets and cafes. When we ventured off into other parts of the city was when it started feeling like a whole new Japanese world. 

The metro was confusing at first, but easy once I got the hang of it. I say "I" because, although I was with Leena, subway systems aren't really her forte. Which was fine, cause I can usually get some work done underground. I love metro systems. They are like a puzzle that connects you to all these different cool places that you wanna go. 


All the vibes were the same, just heightened. The extent of crazy, somewhat "stereo-typical" Japanese stuff we could do was on a different level. Where else would you be able to see robots fighting while enjoying dinner (we missed this tourist novelty, unfortunately ;)? 

We got a lot of stuff done in the short three days that we were there. Plinko casinos and claw arcades. Anime stores and photo booths. We went to Harijuku and Shibuya and wandered our little hearts out. There was so much to take in. So, many, people. But, we never felt like our space was being invaded. 

 

 While exploring our neighborhood, we ran into a sweet girl who casually asked us if we wanted our names written in Kanji. Rena was wearing traditional yukata and a huge smile. After mentioning that it was free we decided, "WHY NOT".  It ended up being one of my favorite experiences. We took our shoes off and sat down around a table with two of the most pleasant, little Japanese girls. 

 They taught us a bit about the way Kanji worked, and then asked us to describe each other so that they could get to know us better. Each syllable of Kanji has a sound and meaning attached to it. The first syllable in mine means excellent or outstanding. The second means cool and beautiful (the same as one of Leena's, because we are best friends!), and the final means that people rely on me. While Rena came up with our new names, her coworker showed us how to fold an origami crane. Although we didn't have to give them any money, we were happy to spend money in their gift shop since the experience was so satisfying.

Our first night was spent thinking we were in Shibuya. I was trying to find the "busiest crosswalk in the world", but considering we were in Shinjuku, that proved to be difficult. After having admitted failure, I tried to find the Golden Gai. Or Piss Alley. or Memory Lane. Whatever name you decide to go with. Anthony BOURDAIN says Golden Gai, so naturally that's what I'm gonna stick to. It's a compact little area filled with alley ways and bars sitting atop one another. So many choices. So much flavor. Each bar was different, but none of them could fit more than 10 people comfortably. 

After peeking into nearly every doorway, we finally decided to walk up a narrow flight of stairs. Choices are hard for us. We hit the jackpot, because the one we choose conveniently had two chairs open at the bar. Which is all it was. The Japanese man, who owned the place, had long hair and an intimidating but surprisingly friendly demeanor. There were old school games positioned along the bar, like that little alligator who's teeth function as a form of Russian roulette and Rock 'em Sock 'em Robots. Velvet Revolver was playing on a TV screen behind him as we chatted up the people around us. Unfortunately for us, it was getting late... determined by the metro schedule and  certainly not us. Taxis are too expensive, and we were too far from our hostel. One of the bummers about Tokyo. You either catch the last train at night, or the first train in the morning. And catch the last train is exactly what we did. I had to stop and ask which direction to go. The man pointed and said, "run". We FLEW through the station. Right as we slid into a packed train, the doors closed immediately behind us. 


We ended up revisiting the Golden Gai on our last night, where our main goal was finding the same bar that BOURDAIN had featured on his show. We ran into some people we had met the first night, and when we mentioned the bar they informed us that there was "always" a line to get in. Well, rats. We searched it out, anyways. And, guess what? NO LINE. And, we were able to grab two seats on the second floor. Mission accomplished. We spent the evening drink sangria, googling over the gaudy antique decor, and chatting up the sweet bartenders. One of them had a fascination with Korean Pop Culture, so we had a lot to talk about :) 

            


We spent time in Harajuku admiring the streets filled with the fashion forward Japanese youth, crepes, and candy shops. The main street was lined with clothes, cosplay, treats, tourists, and adorable young Japanese wearing things that Americans would only dream of wearing on Halloween. We feasted at, hands down, the most elaborate theme restaurant I've ever had the pleasure of dining in. Kawaii Monster Cafe has four different "theme" rooms you can choose from. We chose to sit in  the giant mushroom area, which overlooked the massive sweet treat carousel they had at the main entrance. It was like I was inside the world of Alice in Wonderland, being fed rainbow spaghetti. Although, we didn't visit the actual Alice themed restaurant. So many themed eateries, so little time.  Oh, and the Snake Cafe. We drank beer while we admired the cutest baby snakes, waiting for the right moment to head on over to the couches where we could hold the big babies! 




We attempted to visit the largest fish market in the world, but unfortunately I dragged us there on a Sunday morning - when it happened to be closed. We still wandered around food stalls and snacked a bit before wandering into a food festival of sorts that was located across the street. So, it wasn't a complete bust.
The fact that I have been to Japan twice and STILL want to go back for more says a lot about this place. There are still so many things in this country that I haven't done, places that I haven't explored. I am so tempted to plan a trip to Fukuoka for Lunar New Year, and possibly making a day trip to Hiroshima. Yes, that's exactly what I'll do.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

ShangHai


I rarely expect anything when it comes time to travel to a new place. It doesn't do any good, because things don't often live up to an idea that you create in your head.

Our sweet hostel's rooftop bar
There are times, however, when I don't expect things. China is a prime example. Here I am, having lived in Korea for over a year, thinking that I won't be the least bit culture shocked. Oh, it's Asia. How different can China really be from Korea? REALLY DIFFERENT. And that's just after seeing Shanghai, a city in China that's renowned for being an international, "modern" city. I don't even know if I can describe the sensation of walking down the streets that first afternoon.

I often found myself missing things about Korea. The food. The people. The language. I realized that I can communicate in Korean better than I give myself credit. I felt helpless, and a touch of rude, not being able to say anything other than "hello" and "thank you". I missed being able to read, especially menus. Coming to Shanghai reminded me how much I love Korea. However, it also reminded me how much I love traveling to new places which leave me in a perpetual state of "wow".

For a while, I never really considered going to China. It didn't interest me as much as places like Japan, Mongolia, and pretty much every SEAsian country. I booked tickets because I thought some friends would be there around that time, and only because after delving into a bit of research about Shanghai I decided it seemed pretty cool.


Traveling with people is tricky. One person. Ten people. I'm lucky to have been with a group that made this easy. Easier than usual. Everyone was easy going. Easy to please. I supposed because it was my idea to go to Shanghai that I was inadvertently placed into the "leader" position. I knew where I wanted to go and the things that I wanted to do, and that's what we did. It was hard for me to not be concerned about my friends state of being. Were they enjoying my game plan? Luckily, I think we all felt that we covered pretty much all the base, especially considering the amount of time we had.




The first evening, three of us (awaiting the arrival of the other two) set out to find a noodle joint that I saw on one of Bourdain's shows. I did an immaculate job of getting us to the AREA, but failed miserably at actually finding it. Good thing it's all about the journey, right? On our way we walked through an array of streets. The most memorable would be the mini pet market we wandered through. Bunnies. Squirrels. Loud, huge insects. In the tiniest little boxes. It was interesting and weird and so, so sad. Meygan and Leena watched as ducks were decapitated on the side of the street, while I choose the more pleasant option of cooing at a sweet dog chained up across the way.





We were hungry. There were countless food shops lined up along the street. We had no idea how to pick. And then, like a sign from above, we walked past a group of elderly Chinese men slurping up some beautiful looking noodles. We gawked while walking past. About 3 meters later, we all stopped and decided we needed the noodles. And we needed them now. We pointed, held up one finger to signify we wanted an order of whatever that was, and sat down at a tiny table on the side of the street that was already occupied by another patron awaiting his meal.  After unknown hand signals and words were exchanged between us and the little woman taking our order, we were lacking in confidence about what was going to actually end up on our table. We waited, and waited some more. While we waited, the couple sitting next to us was delivered a delicious plate of noodles that looked like chow mein. So we pointed and ordered some of that, too.  Finally, we got the noodles. We slurped, and in between every slurp we couldn't help but to express our delight (usually in the form of "ummmms" and "omgs"). We walked away wishing we had ordered a bowl each.


This was the first meal we had. We had no idea what we were eating. Every meal that was to follow, as delicious as they were, did not live up to this meal. Was it in part due to the experience that surround the actual acquisition of the noodles? Maybe. After that night, our beautiful Korean friend, Seolwi (who happens to be fluent in Mandarin), did all the ordering for us. I am forever grateful to her and her incredible language abilities. She helped me from constantly feeling like a lost, hungry puppy.


So, anyways. The first night we headed to The Bund to check out the view. We had to find a secret password to get into an overpriced club that had a bird's eye view of the famous skyline. We bought one drink while we enjoyed people and building watching. They turned the lights off all the buildings at 11pm. That was our cue that we needed a change of scenery. A scenery that included more food.

There were a few mornings where I woke up WAY before anyone else did. One morning in particular I woke up as others were just arriving to the hostel *cough* Leena and Jake. I took this as a prime opportunity to get some solo exploration in. I went and wandered around a park that was near the hostel. I watched old people do Tai Chi and practice their sword skills. I enjoyed the fresh morning air and brought back coffee for everyone.














The other morning I took a look at the map on my phone which had loads of places I wanted to go bookmarked. I had a place starred that was pretty far off, but that's what subways are for. I thought it was a cemetery, turns out it was more of a memorial park. All fine though. I got to watch more old people doing strange things with fans and swords. There we hundreds of elderly in the park, doing ballroom dancing and more Tai Chi and things that I have never seen before. I settled down in an area of the park that was covered in trees. It was a prime viewing area. People on my right were doing Tai Chi with music. Behind me were three men stomping around in black robes. To my left there were friendly games of badminton, and in front of me was a huge, pyramid like memorial surrounded by massive statues.



I was seated next to an elderly man's pile of equipment. He attempted to strike up conversation with me, no English included. I somehow understood the first question he asked me, which was something along the lines of, "Where are you from?" I told him one of the few words I know in Chinese, which happens to be America. He must of assumed that I had a better grasp of the language than I actually did, because he proceeded to have a full on conversation with me while I nodded and repeated things that he said every now and then. There were hand signals and drawings in the dirt. Was he trying to tell me about the Chinese harvest holiday, or was he trying to ask me how old I was? I will never know.

The conversation ended with him asking me to play badminton with him. I politely declined and pointed to my eyes to try and communicate that I would watch him instead. After a few rounds with his friend, he asked again. I decided not to pass up the opportunity a second time. He tried his very best to teach me how to hit that damn birdie, and despite a few success, I was an overall failure at badminton. We got some good laughs out of the situation, at least. He must have frequented the park, because his friends would walk past pointing at me with a confused face while asking him what the hell he was doing. Then, they all wanted a turn at playing with the silly white girl. By the end of our 30 minute badminton session, I was pooped. I reluctantly waved goodbye to my new friend and thanked him, with hopes that he understood. I checked my clock, and it was barley 8:45am.  It was so much fun, hands down the highlight of the entire trip.



One thing I really wanted to do was to visit an ancient water village outside of Shanghai. We got a late start, but eventually made it on the last boat with no time to spare. The ride was short and sweet (which was good for everyone else, considering they had mild food poisoning). Zhujiajiao was so cute, and a huge change from the city vibes of Shanghai. It felt like we were catapulted back into ancient China. An ancient China that was filled with souvenir shops and skwaking  plastic chickens. However, the buildings and boats and people had a much more traditional vibe than Shanghai. I'm happy to have had some contrast in our trip. 

Our last day was plagued with rain. Rivers running down the streets (and in my shoes) kind of rain. It wasn't ideal, but it did ingrain some priceless memories into our brains. The savior of the rain stricken day lay in the hands of the Xiaolongbao (soup dumplings) we ate on our last night, thanks to Mister BOURDAIN. My phone auto corrects his name to all caps, so I'm gonna leave that as is. We sucked down as many fluffy soup pillows as we could before heading to a wine bar to watch as the rain poured down around us. It was an unexpected perfect end to our adventure. 

After scratching the surface of China, I wanna dig deeper. I've altered my tentative travel plans for next year, when my contract is finished. I'm considering hitting up the Trans-Siberian Railway, starting at the eastern most point of Russia, traveling through Mongolia, and then ending up exploring some of Northern China. I really don't like leaving my experience of one country comprised of one place. The thought of how damn big China is, and how little of it that I've seen bothers me. So, with my 10 year visa, I plan on fixing that.





Friday, August 21, 2015

blink





My trip home felt like I blinked, and it was all over. Like a wrinkle in time. A small break from one of my realities to remember I have a whole life back home. Just, waiting for me to come back to it. Two, completely separate realities. My friends here don't know where I come from, and my friends and family back home can't even begin to conceptualize what my life is like here.

I was so enthralled with being home, I was hardly on my phone. I failed at taking pictures and at communicating with people. I was sad to arrive back to Korea with few accounts of my trip, but the documentation I do have will suffice.

I didn't do as much as I wanted, or have the chance to see everyone that I wanted. But, I think I ended up doing all the things that really mattered in the end. 

I gorged myself with food from Whole Foods.

I did Bikram Yoga and ate at Raw Cafe, in my one attempt to keep my gluttony under control.








I was lazy with my sister and the pups.

I hung out downtown and surprised people with my presence.





I had a small gathering at my house with friends, which resulted in a late night Roberto's delivery.



I road tripped with my mom to see my brother in Utah. We watched shitty reality TV and went on an incredible hike in the morning. We played Scattegories and ate sandwiches.


My sister and I made our way up to my cabin. My favorite place in the world. It was a short trip. Less than 24 hours. But, that didn't matter. I was just happy as hell to be there. In the woods. At the meadow. Taking in the fresh air and re-exploring a place that was a big part of my childhood. A big part of adulthood too.


I shopped and ate and shopped and ate. And spent time by the pool. And shared cuddles with my dogs.


I appreciated my chance to visit home. I wish I could have stayed for longer. It helped me put a lot of things into perspective. I have a better idea of how I want the next few years of my life to pan out. I want to spend more time in Vegas than I previously considered. I am so lucky to have so many amazing people at "home". Not all are quite as lucky as me.