Category Archives: Traveling Tales

Traveling Tales: Seven nights in Tokyo

For a week I set out to conquer the megalopolis that is Tokyo. Many coffees were consumed, cafes visited, sushi feasts devoured, neighborhoods weaved through, boozy beverages downed, friends made, totoros found, dreams realized, love matierialized. Tokyo wooed me with its sexy, crazy, coolness and she was a costly lover, my week-long tryst was an adventure well worth every yen spent. Below are some of my favorite images captured during my time in Tokyo.

Beat makers outside Meiji Shrine in Shibuya

Sake barrels outside Meiji Shrine in Shibuya

Guard and processional along the path to Meiji Shrine

The afternoon chaos of Shibuya crossing

Blue nights in Tokyo

Women in kimonos shuffling in Omotesando Hills

Traditional Japanese dance party

Doughnuts at Streamer Coffee in Shibuya

A Tanaka specialty, the Gibraltar, at Bear Pond Espresso in Setagaya

Pachinko neon

Shrine streams in Ueno Park

Tokyo Skytree

Neon geisha in Shinjuku

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아저씨 (Ajusshi)

I met an old man this evening, well, that’s a half-truth since we never actually met or exchanged names or pleasantries, but as with all those who’ve lived an impressive number of days, he struck me as delightful, delicate, and wise, stealing a seat beside me at a bustling cafe. He ordered hot chocolate and smelled of stale grass, his rusty cologne speckling the coat keeping him warm as he sniffled. It wasn’t a particularly cold night, but the chill has a way of mingling with frailty, wiggling into bones. Though it shouldn’t be special, his avid fingers managing a smartphone seemed, for a moment, somewhat odd; that was until I recalled where I was, resting at the technological future’s neon heartbeat, or at least one of its pulses.

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Reappearing Act

All of those that know me are aware that I often disappear (at lengths of time varying greatly), but always at some point I manage to return. For five months I abandoned these Untamed Waters of the interwebs to explore America, reunite with family and friends and fling myself into another year in Seoul-land. My time in the States was packed with moments surprising, wonderful and strange as well as a few disappointing and predictable, but perhaps what struck me and has stuck with me the most about my stint in my motherland was the reaffirmation that my home is a transient one, that where I seem to belong is a location with coordinates ever-changing. I was and I am a foreigner even in my own land.

My Living in Americaaaa Tour, as I refer to it, took me across the country to seven different states to wander about cities familiar and unknown , with dear friends and strangers alike. It was a whirlwind of an adventure that left an imprint reminding me how great portion of my being is dedicated to travel and demands such movement; it was also a blatant punch to my emotions, reminding me how hard it is to bid see you later to places and people occupying sections of my heart.

I’m back in Seoul now, experiencing this land that I’ve come to know and adore still as a foreigner but wearing different lenses. Writing remains a task I don’t pay nearly enough attention to, but eventually the words force their way out.  Rather than continue rambling, I’ll leave you with a hello, I’m back. More tales to come.

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Ten days

Though I seem to be constantly in a state of self-reflection, I have yet to put into words what this past year has been, what I’ve experienced, how it has changed me, what it’s meant to me, the people I’ve met and the sights that I’ve seen, and perhaps I won’t really be able to fully  articulate such reflections until some unknown point in the future. The strange, exciting, sort of sad (all right, quite sad) and a bit frightening thing is that I’m leaving Korea in ten days and I have no idea what I’m doing.

These last few months I’ve spent flip-flopping between staying and going, and there’s this never-ending dialogue occuring between my inner beings arguing over the legitimate reasons to make an attempt at creating a life and career for myself in America and the adventurer begging me not to go anywhere too familiar, to continue the journey to foreign territories with languages indecipherable and cultures unknown. I have a very loose plan for my not-so-distant future and I’m thrilled by the numerous prospects and oddly as ease with the uncertainty of what’s to come; it’s entirely possible that in a few months I’ll be en-route to Seoul for round two, but the possibilities also include various other Asian cities, locations in America and maybe even a return to eastern Europe. As I’ve mentioned, I have no idea what I’m doing, but I’m confident, a bit strangely so, that everything will work itself out as it should.

Figuring out the future is not, however, the point of this post. Tonight likely isn’t the night to get down deep into it, but I’m seriously so astonished to realize that I’ve spent a whole year living in Korea and when I think back to my first days here and the person I was then, it feels so bizarre because I recognize how much I’ve grown. When I moved to Seoul I was in dire need and want for an unfamiliar land and despite my rapture for the adventure I was embarking on, I came to this country torn apart with a broken heart desperate to mend. Whatever love I had to give, I gave it to this city and now I find myself preparing to pack my bags to leave my love behind. Seoul is a magical place that I’ve become so attached to and even with ten days to go, I know it’s going to tear a bit of me apart to fly away. My life here is a wonderful and exciting one that I very well may kick myself for leaving behind, but I suppose the thing that’s helping me to maintain my composure is that little grain of an imagined future that has me coming back here–an imagination that very well might become a reality.

I don’t have it in me this evening to review my year and share the tales that have yet to find themselves surviving infinitely in the interwebs, but I couldn’t keep quiet the excitement and anxiety wriggling all about me. In ten days I’ll be back in America and for all I know I may fall back in love with my motherland, but regardless of where I decide to call home for the next however long, I must note that I’ll be leaving a piece of myself behind in Seoul-land that someday I must retrieve. Ten days from now is not goodbye for me and this place, it’s simply a see you later.

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48 Hours in Busan

Last, last weekend was Korea’s Memorial Day weekend and to celebrate my coworkers Will and David, our friend Amila and myself decided to venture south to the beaches of Busan to soak up the sunshine, dine on fresh seafood and splish-splash in the salty waters of the East Sea.

SATURDAY

The journey began late on Saturday night as we took a 3-hour train ride from Seoul to Busan and since there were no seats left on the train we made ourselves comfortable in one of the standing cars. The trip itself went by fairly fast, no doubt with help from the service cart selling beer at the same cheap price as convenience stores (~2,000 won or $1.50). When we finally arrived in Busan, our first mission was to fill up our bellies and after a little bit of roaming around and swiftly moving out of the sketchy Russian quarter, we settled on a small Korean restaurant for some pretty standard grub; I had a bowl of some scrumptious bibimbap that included some raw fish. After having drinks in a different section of the city that kind of reminded us of Hongdae, we decided to make the trek to a nearby jjimjilbong (Korean spa/baths) to wash and sauna off the day and catch some zzz’s.This jjimjilbong was quite nice with multiple hot baths, a large pool and two saunas, and the common room for sleeping was rather large though a little on the discomforting side due to the extra hot temperature.

SUNDAY

Waking up around 11 AM feeling fairly well-rested, we hit the sauna, showered and grabbed a quick bite to eat before catching the subway to Gwangalli Beach.

Group shot at Gwangalli Beach (left to right: me, Will, Amila and David)

This beach was absolutely gorgeous and not too overcrowded, which was rather nice. We basically spent the entire day laying on the beach sipping makguelli, taking dips in the ocean to cool-off and grabbing food, coffee and water just across the street whenever the need arose.

Salty East Sea waters

Amila gazing out at the sea and Gwangan Bridge

My sandy toes

On the boardwalk

After beach lounging for several hours, we had all worked up a mighty hunger, but David and I were specifically craving some spicy cold noodles which isn’t exactly everybody’s cup of tea, so we left Will and Amila on the beach to hold our spots and got ourselves some giant bowls of noodles!

Mmmmmmmmmm!

All too quickly our day at the beach was turning into night and for the evening hours we made our way to Haeundae Beach, which though I haven’t ever been to Cancun, I feel confident in making the comparison deeming Haeundae essentially to be Korea’s Cancun. Though Haeundae isn’t the kind of beach I prefer, it made for an eventful and amusing night out, and the surrounding area/section of the city was actually a lot of fun for grabbing dinner, drinks and whatever other entertainment seemed necessary, like noraebonging!!

Haeundae Beach by night

For a few hours we sat on the beach near the water playing drinking games and chatting, listening to terrible bands performing on the giant stage that we couldn’t manage to get far away enough from to allow the sea to completely drown out the sound. One game we played was a number/counting game that sounded too easy at first, but surely enough after a few rounds we were all becoming sufficiently goofy off of our beach beverages of choice, especially Amila who had trouble remembering some of her times tables! With the beach growing chilly and our stomachs rumbling, we went inland to find a spot for dinner that we could all agree on, which took far longer than it should, but eventually we settled for a giant pot of seafood stew and it was thoroughly satisfying to say the least.

Remnants of a seafood devouring session

Will and I had been really aching for some singing time so our next destination was a noraebong (singing room). The first place we went to basically refused us, a sometimes occurrence for foreigners just about anywhere, but the woman was very kind and directed us to a different noraebong nearby. Though we were all in attendance, Will and I were total mic hogs, but Amila and David didn’t seem to mind too much! I wish I could remember the entire tracklist for the night, but of what I can recall I know Will and I did a spectacular job with Lauryn Hill’s “Doo Wop (That Thing)” and Outkast’s “Ms. Jackson,” and Queen, Prince, Otis Redding, The Rolling Stones and Rick Astley (yes, we rick-rolled ourselves) all happened at some point.

Will, Amila and David at the noraebong…I think the boys were doing “Kung-Fu Fighting”

This might have to be one of my profile pictures for life

The rest of the evening went as most Korean nights do, unpredictably predictable. We walked around exploring the city at night, laughing at the strange sights and generally causing mischief whenever we foreigners could. David and I “played” a little volleyball on the beach and Will and I dared drunk David to run to the top of a sand mountain, which he did. All was magically well until we made it to incredibly beautiful looking, both on the interior and exterior, jjimjilbong we planned to sleep in only to discover that it was full. I didn’t think this was possible and certainly doubted the front-desk women until she allowed me to take a peek at the sleeping area to see if we wanted to stay there still and it literally was the most packed sleeping quarters I’d ever seen in my life. Fortunately jjimjilbongs are a plenty and after a short cab ride we found a place to rest our weary limbs.

MONDAY

For me, Monday began all too abruptly as an adjumma (someday I will go into all that this single word encompasses and signifies, which is a surprising amount, but for now just know that this is the word used to describe a particular and common type of Korean woman, but literally translates to married woman) woke me by shaking and hitting me with a square brick pillow and in a whispered shout said something in Korean that my mind translated to “get up and move now!” This all happened at 9:30 AM, which maybe in my U.S. days would have been a normal waking hour for me, but in Korea I’m lucky if I’m out of bed before 11: 00 AM. Exhausted and off-kilter from waking in the middle of my sleep cycle, I presume, I headed for the sauna in hopes of sweating myself to a state somewhere closer to awake than I was; it half-worked, but I think the cold pool after is what really did the trick. Or maybe just being surrounded by a ton of naked Korean women starring at me is what did it.

Amila and I were ready to go before the boys had even gotten themselves off the floor (somehow they avoided being rudely awakened by some Korean woman), but we managed to all meet-up for some breakfast before returning to Gwangalli Beach to spend yet another day on its glorious sand. Unlike our lazy Sunday, much of Monday was spent in the ocean playing with the volleyball David brought along. It was super fun running around and hitting the volleyball in the salty water and just being in the ocean like that reminded me of how I used to spend my weekends on the Oregon Coast surfing when I was younger. I’m sure I’d be awful at it now as I was never even that good, but I’m actually looking forward to busting out my surfboard when I get back to America and seeing what I can do.

The day was winding down fast and all too soon it was approaching the hour for Amila to catch a train back to Seoul. For our final supper together we grabbed some Mexican food and mojitos at a restaurant with a patio right next to the beach and it was an excellent meal to bid farewell to one of our posse members.

Last supper all together in Busan

From that point, the weekend was already perfect and extremely memorable, definitely among my favorite weekends spent in Korea. I couldn’t really imagine at the time what would’ve made the trip significantly better, but sure enough we came up with something. While eating dinner, the next mission was determined to be to get onto the roof of a building, specifically with our eyes on the linked twin towers that were so intriguing and architecturally attractive in the skyline.

Before embarking on our rooftop adventure though, we checked out a beach carnival that was next to the buildings. It was a quaint operation when it comes to carnivals, but it certainly created some great photo opportunities. I especially loved the bright colors, neon lights and terribly reproduced popular images.

The Crazy Flip

TERMINATOR in Korea!

Loving this DISCO light

The sun was destined to set soon and thus we made our attempt to get to the roof of a building near the sea. The first tower we went up to the fifteenth floor and had no luck–every door was locked despite the deserted appearance of the building. With our fingers crossed, we took the elevator to the top floor of the second tower and as the boys turned to head for the stairwell I felt compelled to at least try the doors to the empty office next to the elevator and to my complete shock the doors were unlocked, as were the doors to the balcony overlooking Gwangalli Beach. We were all so ecstatic and simply couldn’t believe that we had discovered a high up in the sky to call ours for a little while. There are few things in life that I call perfect, but that occurrence and our luck in that moment and watching the sunset over the sea and edge of the hills in the distance of the cityscape really was perfect. Spending whatever time we did up there really was the ideal way to end our trip to Busan.

The view from our claimed balcony at Gwangalli Beach

Busan in the evening hours from up above

Well, that concludes the tale of my 48 hours in Busan. As I’ve already said, the trip was amazing and it was so wonderful to see another part of Korea. It’s finally setting in that I’m leaving soon and may or may not be back. It’s going to be difficult to bid this country farewell, it really is.

26 days and counting….

For more photos and higher quality images from my time in Busan as well as my travels throughout Asia, please visit my Flickr.

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On My Odyssey….Kuala Lumpur and Penang, Malaysia

I’ve been struggling to share the portion of my “odyssey” story set in Penang, Malaysia, an island off the northwest coast of the mainland. Though I’d like to claim that I’ve sat around trying desperately to craft up lovely prose detailing my full experience, the truth is I’ve been completely avoiding writing anything on the Internet about Penang and I’ve felt a bit silly about that because I seriously seem to share everything on the Internet–what I’m listening to, where I’m going, who I’m hanging out with, what I did last night, what I’m watching, etc.. I often joke that the Internet is my boyfriend and in far too many ways it’s sort of the truth, which I probably should be embarrassed about, but never am.

Anyway, back to what I was saying. Two months have passed since my Malaysian adventure and I still cannot put together what I want to say about a place that somehow changed me; everything I’ve conjured up, every tale I’ve even spouted in person or over Skype to friends and family doesn’t seem to be adequate or worthy of the place that I remember. What I’ve come to figure out is that I don’t really want to share my story of Penang with anyone, at least not on here or right now, because it’s an experience that I selfishly want to keep all to myself, like a secret hiding place that would be ruined if anyone else really knew it.

Recently I’ve been seriously considering pitching story ideas to travel magazines and perhaps that would be a forum worthy of my Penang, but in lieu of waiting for that to happen, I’ve decided to post some of my favorite photos from my time in there: not the full story, but just enough of a glimpse to spark your curiosity for what is contained in my secret hideaway.


Spending time in between buildings

 

How Love Lane came to be known

 

A spectator to the act of worship

 

My morning greeting the sea

 

Sweet like candy

 

Dark, stormy palms

 

A warning I should have heeded to

 

Meat, muscle for sale

 

Kopi

 

Malaysian moonlight

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On My Odyssey….Saigon and the Mekong Delta, Vietnam

First of all, let’s talk about the name. Most people refer to the city I’m soon going to ramble on and on about at length as Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) rather than Saigon, however because I am a lady that pays particular attention to words, I will affectionately refer, with no ill-meaning, political connotations or any serious significance really, to HCMC as Saigon, simply because I am fond of the sound of this particular two syllable word. Sai-gon.

Unlike the airport in Hanoi, that of Saigon is essentially right in the city. Seconds after throwing myself and my humble pack (I know a DSLR doesn’t exactly scream humble, but I do pack quite efficiently light, or so people tell me) into a cab, I was surrounded by bright flashing lights, billboards and structures stretching upward, all of which made me feel comfortable and at ease, as city dwelling often does for a city dweller such as myself.

Neon nights in Saigon

My first night in Saigon turned into something rather wild and wonderful as I managed to make friends with some local international students that invited me along for a night of drinking games and storytelling, and gave me the most thoroughly enjoyable welcome to a city I have ever had. Undoubtedly that night made me biased in my impressions of Saigon, but regardless, it’s worth noting that I was instantly enamored with the place.

Some of my sightseeing plans were challenged during my time in Saigon as the Tet holiday was still being honored and thus many areas of intrigue (monuments/buildings/museums/stores/businesses) were closed or significantly calmer than I imagine the norm to be, however I did manage to weave my way around the city to see a decent number of sights and partake in a memorable, sweaty photo jaunt.

If you ask anyone that knows me, even if only barely, they can almost definitely verify my claim that I harbor an uncanny ability to make friends with strangers. Personally, I quite like this quality about myself, though someday, hopefully never, I may be kicking myself for such irresponsible behavior. With my city map out, on the verge of plotting my journey to the Central Post Office, a kind man with a motorbike, by the name Nam, offered to take me anywhere I wanted and shoved a helmet in my hands. No convincing was really necessary though the ‘take this helmet’ plot must be a semi-effective measure for Nam and his motorbiking tourists scheme. Riding throughout Saigon on a motorbike is a must-do when visiting and was a period of my day and trip that I will remember fondly. Once arriving at the Post Office and Cathedral Notre-Dame, Nam adorably requested that I sign his journal (something he has every traveler he provides a ride to do) and asked to take a photo together. I too whipped out my film camera and snapped a shot of us that I’m really looking forward to seeing once I develop the rolls.

Central Post Office

Cathedral Notre-Dame

My walking tour essentially consisted of me trying to find my way back to the area of my hostel while hopefully wandering into some amusing and lovely sights along the way, which I can report that I managed quite successfully. Here’s a little of what my eyes spied while exploring Saigon by foot:

In the process of making some deliciousness

Peoples Committee Hall, another example of exquisite architecture

Slow life, relaxation

One immediately noticeable difference between life in Vietnam, at least from the snapshot I took in, as compared to that in Korea is the slower, calmer pace that seems to be prevalent and embraced in Vietnam. Not that folks don’t enjoy themselves in Korea, but the Vietnamese people appeared to allot more time in their day for simple pleasures like soaking up the sun and watching the world go by. This difference was one that was palpable as a foreigner in both lands and one that reminded me of the feeling I felt traveling from America to parts of Eastern Europe, where the day does seem to be greater apportioned for moments of personal enjoyment rather than work.

Portion of the Saigon skyline by day

Ben Thanh Market

Similar, but still distinct, the architecture in Saigon reminded me of what I saw in Hanoi, especially in terms of the pastel coloring and clear French colonial style influence. Saigon is clearly a much more modern city with buildings that have generally been maintained, reconstructed or newly built, which contrasted heavily with what Hanoi was made up of. This distinction between the city up north and that of the south was one I found intriguing and enjoyed witnessing back-to-back.

Upon returning to my hostel, I met my roommates (two girls from Scotland and one from Tasmania) and embarked on a relaxing evening of food and drink with fellow travel-spirited women. I cannot quite express how nice it was to spend time with some girls! My Korean life is too often devoid of lady pals and though I do generally prefer hanging with the boys, a girl sometimes just needs to hang with the ladies.

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Boating through the skinny, muddy waterways of Ben Tre

Waking up bright and early, my last full day in Vietnam featured a trip to the Mekong Delta. Due to my shortage of time, I was only able to explore the portion of the Delta called Ben Tre, which is about 90 min. away from Saigon. I absolutely loved my day in the Mekong Delta and sincerely hope to return to the area for a more extensive visit. Essentially the entire day consisted of boat hopping to various little islands where we (myself + the travel tour group I joined for the day) delighted in some of the area’s handicrafts and edible delicacies. Local honey tasting was involved as was taking shots of snake liquor, watching the process of making (and snacking on) coconut candy, dining on a rather delicious vegetarian lunch and cleansing the palette with a sampling of local exotic fruits (jackfruit, dragon fruit, papaya and a few others previously foreign to my tongue).

Snake liquor sampling and greeting the elephant ear fish, a species indigenous to the Delta

Perhaps the most heavily traveled stream in all of Asia

Children of the Delta; Unicorn Island natives

Tourism is obviously a big business in the Delta and though extremely large quantities of rice, local fruits, fruit by-products, and other crafts are exported outside of the Delta, most of the money that serves the economy of the Delta and its inhabitants comes from tourists. Regardless of your stance on organized travel (personally, I avoid it whenever possible), I couldn’t more highly recommend going on a tour of the Delta. Mine cost me around $12 in total including round-trip transportation, lunch and all activities included in exploring the area of Ben Tre. Quite a steal if you ask me.

Though I was pretty ecstatic about the whole experience of being in the Mekong Delta, the highlight for me was simply being able to walk around the islands and examine the flora and fauna, watch some of the locals conversing and working on their crafts and just kind of watch how the place functions so efficiently and almost mechanically in such a naturally beautiful, lush and green environment. Perhaps what impressed me most was the visit to the coconut candy ‘factory.’ I use quotations here because though our tour guide referred to the location as a factory, what we visited was more so a very effectively managed gazebo that housed individuals each serving a specific purpose in the process of creating sweet and delicious varieties of coconut candy–to call it a factory to me seemed both inaccurate and perhaps even demeaning to the beauty of the art of their skill.

The cooking process…

Lady candy wrappers

What I found so especially great about this coconut candy making facility was the fact that not a single portion of the coconut is wasted, everything is put to use in the process of producing the candy. The juice and the coconut meat are both used as key ingredients in the candy and the shell is used for fire to heat the sugary concoction into something chewy and, in my opinion, quite close to perfection. I bought a pack of some fifty pieces of candy that I too quickly ate and seriously wish I would’ve purchased much more.

All in all, my adventures in Vietnam were plentiful, but I left the place feeling a pang that has sort of stuck with me. Saigon hit me hard as a city that was so alive and sparked in me an energy I think I’d been unknowingly searching for and needing. If I could afford it, Saigon would be the next stop of my train of living and working around the world, it’s certainly an idea on my absurd table of possible life routes to take. Regardless of whether I actually pick up and move to Vietnam, I will definitely be making the trek back to Saigon before bidding Asia farewell, whenever that is!

Signage spotted while roaming an island in the Mekong Delta

At Thi Cafe on my last night in Saigon, sipping artichoke tea and listening to live music

Ho Chi Minh City hoodlums

Faretheewell Saigon

For more photographs from my trip to Vietnam, take a peek at my album on Flickr….On My Odyssey (pt. 2) : : Saigon, Vietnam

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