Vietnam


HANOI

I said goodbye to Neige and Rachel and began my journey to Hanoi, this time as a solitary traveller. I arrived in Hanoi in the later evening and grabbed a cab to go see Nate and Tali.

Nate and Tali are a wonderful couple I met while teaching in Chile. They only stayed in Chile for a couple of months, but could not afford the low pay, so decided to move back to Hanoi. They have been living there for about 2 years and I was very excited to see them. They live in an area of Hanoi called Westlake. I gave the cab driver the address and crossed my fingers I wouldn´t be dropped off in a ditch. Thankfully, I made it safe and sound and had a wonderful evening catching up over Chilean wine followed by an AWESOME dinner out. Seriously, one of the best meals of the trip.

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Followed by fried frog legs, beef wrapped coconut rolls, fresh pho rolls with dill and wasabi soy dipping sauce and banana flower salad with dried beef served in a banana leaf.

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View from Tali and Nate´s place

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The next day we had a slow morning filled with coffee and delicious homemade crepes (Tali rocks).

We went to the park and had a delicious lunch (bun cha) with some of their friends from work, followed by some strong Vietnamese coffee.

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Sunday night, I went to my hostel which was located in the Old Quarter which was originally built as a big market, each street named after the product it sold. For example, my street was Hang (Street) Ga (Chicken). Wikipedia says,

¨At the beginning of the 20th century the city consisted of only about 36 streets, most of which are now part of the old quarter. Each street then had merchants and households specialised in a particular trade, such as silk traders, jewellery, etc. The street names nowadays still reflect these specializations, although few of them remain exclusively in their original commerce.¨

The Lake (Hoan Kiem) near the Old quarter,  is really lovely to walk around, both in the day and in the evening. It provides a moment of calm in a sea of motorcycles which can be pretty intense. Crossing the street feels like a game of frogger. Tali told me that buses are allowed to kill two people a year and not lose their licenses. At first I found the chaos fun but later it started to drive me a little nuts as crossing the street became a stress inducing activity.

I left on Monday morning to go to Halong Bay on an overnight boat tour. Halong Bay is one of the 7 Natural Wonders of the world, and it is immediately clear why. The bay is filled with over 2,000 limestone islets that just straight up from the water. They almost look as though they are floating. Millions of years ago, Halong Bay was actually under deep-sea water, but through a combination of strange geological events, the sea water fell rapidly leaving these incredible rock formations.

We arrived in Halong around noon and then were ferried to the boat itself. I got REALLY lucky and got a room for two for just myself, which was great. The first day we went to Dau Go cave, which was made by the sea water years ago and is now preserved for tourists. It was enormous and very well-lit, but still hard to take good pictures.

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Next we went to the beach where we were able to hike up to  high point to take pictures of the bay.

The meals on the tour were really wonderful and around 5pm I was excited to go back for dinner. Post dinner we had cocktails on the boat and relaxed. I played a dice game called ¨worms¨and drank wine with a nice Dutch couple. the next day we headed back to the dock.

My only criticism was that the tour felt very couple-y which wasn´t much fun for single Grace, but there were other tours available which were more like ¨party boats¨ but I opted for the calmer tour.

I spent Tuesday evening, once I got home from the tour, checking out the bars in Hanoi with an Australian girl I met at the hostel. Hanoi has a curfew at 10pm, which is totally wild. Apparently this is some leftover regulation from Communist days, I´m not sure, but the cops come around 11pm to shut all the bars down. It was really interesting to witness. There is a cute cobble stone street right off the lake with some very cool bars. I especially likes Mao´s which has a Communist China decor and Fat Cat´s which had 1950s memorabilia as well as 70´s and 80´s disco and rock playing. When the cops came, we all had to put our drinks in plastic cups and go into the street until the left. It was strange. Nate told me there are also bars you can enter in secret,  through people´s homes. It´s like being in Prohibition.

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Rachel came to Hanoi Wednesday morning and we got some tasty Pho. She was tired and took a nap in the afternoon while I checked out Hao Lo Prison. It was pouring rain that day which was frustrating but the prison was very interesting. I was absolutely floored by some of the images of the Vietnam War. It became clear also that the American pilots were actually treated quite well at the Hanoi Hilton (well….for a prison) which is ASTOUNDING considering the damage they inflicted on the Vietnamese people. I left feeling sobered.

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Nommy Banh Mi Sammy and Pho

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That night, Rachel and I went out for more Cha Ca (tumeric fish with fresh herbs….so good!) and to go see a water puppet show. It was very interesting and only 45 minutes. Well worth the 5 dollars. We ended the night with some goodbye drinks at Mao´s.

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Vietnam was hands down one of my favorite places I´ve ever visited and I´d love to go to Ho Chi Minh (Saigon) someday. I was totally in love with the mix of old French colonial style building and traditional Vietnamese houses and how all three (French, American and Vietnamese) blend into many aspects of Hanoi´s culture. I hope to come back someday!

So, then it was back to Seoul for the night, then on to Seattle, and here I am! I suppose that concludes my adventuring for a bit. I may go back to using PicanteKitchen so stay tuned!

Cambodia


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We arrived in Siem Reap in the afternoon and put down our stuff at the hostel.  For dinner, we decided to check out the town and grab some food. Siem Reap is a tourist town for people coming to see Angkor Wat, but its charming nonetheless. It has an area called ¨Pub Street¨which is named appropriately. The area has a lot of Khmer restaurants and cocktail lounges serving food for about 3 dollars and beer for .50 cents. Hard to beat. We really enjoyed the town and thought the Khmer food was really good! The fresh rolls were delicious and I really liked the traditional Khmer ¨sour soup¨ which tasted a bit like Chinese hot and sour soup, but with chunks of pineapple and tomato. I also tried the ¨Amok Fish¨which is sort of chopped, curry flavored fish stuffed in a banana leaf bowl. Very tasty.

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The also sold ¨Happy Pizza¨in Cambodia which we sampled, with not much result.

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The next day, we set out for day one of three at Angkor Wat.

We hired a tuk tuk driver for about 15 dollars a day to take us around. Angkor Wat is like a enormous park and it can take 30 or 40 minutes to go between temples, so having a driver rules. The first day we went and saw some of the smaller temples, but they were really cool and may have been some of my favorite.

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I don´t know what I can say about Angkor Wat that hasn´t been said before, but it was truly incredible and I feel very lucky to have had the opportunity to see it. The Temples are breath taking and worth all of the hype, in my view.

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Cambodia is a beautiful and the people are so kind and friendly. Although I only spent 4 full days there I was sad to say goodbye and would have like to see more of the country.

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Thailand


BANGKOK

We left for Bangkok from out hostel in Seoul around 5am to catch a 8:30 flight.

It was pretty smooth sailing getting to Bangkok, no problems with out layover in Guangzhou, China. We got off the plane, collected out bags, and took the subway to our hostel, which was an above ground railway, giving us a clear view of the city.

I don´t think I´ll ever forget the view on that subway ride. The lush, vibrant green of the palm trees  and cocoa colored canals flowing in and around the city made it seem as though nature and city were in a constant battle. Granted,  I´d been to the Phillipines for Christmas, so it was not the first time I´d seen this type of landscape, but it didn´t take away from the initial shock and excitement of arriving in Thailand. It certainly didn´t prepare me for the humidity that hit me when I stepped off the train. Dripping with sweat (this will be a running theme throughout the trip), we found out hostel and began scheming for the next few days.

That evening, we got some street food near us. It was so good (glass noodles in some amazing sauce) that we decided to find more. We went to Khao San Road which, despite being very touristy, is tons of fun. It is packed with cute, low-lit bars with live music and tons of shopping and street food.

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Next day, we went to explore a market while we waited for Neige to arrive. It was fun snooping around the stalls, though we stood out like sore thumbs as this was very much a market for locals, not tourists. After the market, we grabbed a tuk tuk and went to Lumpini park.

The park was quite pretty and a relaxing oasis amidst a sea of noise and pollution.

Later we got Neige and went out for dinner. I had found a good-looking restaurant on tripadvisor I wanted to try. The foodie in me wanted to have one, well-chosen, sit-down meal before leaving Bangkok. But, I lead us astray. I didn´t realize just how FAR AWAY this place was, or how bad traffic would be in Bangkok in the early evening. Over an hour later, after lots of confusion (the taxi driver had no clue) we arrived at this cute outdoor restaurant next to a garden. The food was awesome, maybe my favorite meal in Thailand, but it did not really make up for the distance travelled (poor Neige was SO tired and hungry).

We had fried fish

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Tom Ka Gai (Coconut lemon grass soup) SO GOOD. Best I´ve had in my life.

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Spicy green mango salad (A common menu choice throughout this trip)

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The next day, we went palace viewing. First up, The Grand Palace.  My, was it grand. It was SOOOO hot that day —-we thought we´d be okay with pants and our shoulders covered by scarves. We were sad to find out we needed sleeves to enter, so Rachel and I rented these linen a-sexual  fitting shirts. We looked amazing! ;)

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The Grand Palace was hard to capture in pictures because it was so massive. It was  a small city of highly intricate, gold-plated temples—ornate and breath taking. The heat was pretty intense but I just had to submit to perfuse sweating.

That night we got dinner at the top story of tall hotel, buffet-style. I wasn´t feeling great and the food was meh, but the view was pretty spectacular. Bangkok is a busy, smelly, noisy hot mess, but an exciting one. There was so much we just didn´t have time to do.

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CHIANG RAI

We took an early morning flight to Chiang Rai and got to our hostel around 10am. The hostel (called FUN D) was great! Nice, clean rooms, big showers, and a big open common area with cheap beer. We spent most of our time in Chiang Rai relaxing  and drinking cheap beer on rainy evenings, which was fantastic. We made sure to go see The White Temple (Wat Rong Khun), which was very interesting. It was designed in 1997 by visual artists  Chalermchai Kositpipat, and is essentially a very unconventional Buddhist Temple. The inside of the temple has pictures of contemporary celebrities like Michael Jackson staring at the center of a celestial painting, and the outside mixes traditional Thai temple architecture with modern embellishments.

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(A tasty last meal in Chiang Rai)

CHIANG MAI

We took a bus from Chiang Rai to Chiang Mai and the scenery was breath-taking. Big, dinosaur sized plants with leaves as big as people with a backdrop of lush green hills sides. Chiang Mai was one of my favorite places we went on this trip. It´s a beautiful little town, with tree-lined streets and cute shops and restaurants. Its touristy, but not so touristy as to lose it´s charm. Chiang Mai acts as a starting point for elephant trekking and outdoorsy adventures and is renown for it´s spas. We stayed at a hostel called Garden Aoi which was a bit ¨rustic¨ (The rooms were fairly basic, shared shower between 10 people) but the garden patio was really pretty and the breakfast  and coffee rocked. Plus, it was a super cheap at around 6 bucks a night.

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Our first day in Chiang Mai, we rented bike sand rode around the city which was a blast. Chiang Mai has over 300 wats (temples) , so pretty much one on every corner. I had an awesome lunch of green curry pasta with grilled pork cutlet. Nom.

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Rachel and I signed up to do elephant trekking and see tigers the next day and we were both very excited.

We had to ride in the back of a truck for about an hour to get to the elephant camp. Once there, we changed into these light blue linens, so that ¨the elephants will know you are safe¨.  We learned different commands in Thai for the elephants and how to mount them and get off, etc. We also got to feed them sugar cane which was fun. Finally, we got to ride them around the camp, and even give them a bath in the lake. The whole experience was very cool. The baby elephant was so cute ! Interacting with elephants like that is something I´ll never forget.

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I should  definitely note, however, that there is quite a bit of controversy with both the elephant trekking and the tiger petting parks. In both cases, there has been reports of animal abuse. The elephants are frequently abused when in training, using a steel hook, and also chained up most of the time. The tigers are drugged, without a doubt, or petting hem would certainly be impossible. On the whole, I found the tiger petting more upsetting because they were so clearly drugged and the whole operation felt very forced–go inside, sit like this, don´t touch the head, take a picture, get out. It was hard to see such beautiful, strong animals in cages. But, it was a memorable experience–I just suggest anybody interested do their research before signing up.

Our last night in town, we got drinks at a cute retro bar with a patio overlooking the river.

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KO PHI PHI

To get to Ko Phi Phi we had to take a flight to Phuket, stay a night there, then take a ferry to the island.

It was a rainy, long journey but well worth the wait. Ko Phi Phi was gorgeous and our cabin was really nice with air con and a private bathroom for the three of us. We also met up with Hannah and Tom, a couple Rachel and I met in Seoul. Spending five nights on the beach was perfection. We mostly just sipped cocktails, tanned in the sun, and ate delicious food. Ko Phi Phi is the ¨party beach¨so we made sure to check out the night life which involved loud bars along the beaches serving buckets of alcohol and lots of fire themed spectacles. We also signed up for a half day tour to go see the Maya Bay where The Beach was filmed which included snorkeling and a stop by ¨monkey beach¨. I got a massage and a pedicure for 6 dollars…hard to complain.

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Our half day excursion..

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Relaxing

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The last day on Ko Phi Phi, Neige and I got food poisoning (see the meal pictured above…good looking poison right there!) . It was BRUTAL. Plus, we had to check out of the hotel that day and take a two hour, rocky ferry ride back to Phuket. That was one of the most challenging days I´ve experience in my life, but we both survived and recovered just in time to fly to Siem Reap.

Goodbye to Korea


The month of August has been hot, sweaty and emotionally draining. Trying to pack to go home and also go traveling in S.E. Asia can be tricky and overwhelming. But, I did my best to squeeze a lot of fun in there too.

Right after summer break, we went on a field trip for MK to see the Samsung car museum. My boys loved all the cars, but it was a little frustrating cause there was no space for them to run around. Willy sat next to me to and from the museum. We had lots of bonding moments.

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A few weeks ago, I went to a soccer game in Suwon: Korea vs. Peru. Kinda fun to mix my past and present in one event. I wasn´t sure who to cheer for!

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We had a day off on August 15th and I decided to go with Rachel and Nate to see the Mizakaya exhibit at the Seoul Arts Center. It was way cool. I was a huge Totoro fan as a kid and the exhibit inspired me to go home and see Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke. He is such an intensely precise and methodical artist and it was awe-inspiring to see all of his drawings in person.

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Then last weekend, to celebrate my final week in Korea, I went with friends to Muido Island which I´d been meaning to do since i came to Korea. We were blessed with great weather (if not a bit hot). It was a lot of fun and great to get away from the stress of moving for a minute.

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And here I am, having just finished my LAST WEEK of work. It was very surreal, and very sad to say goodbye. I will miss many of my students, but I am a little heart broken over my kinder class. I love them so. It hurts :(

Here´s some pictures of my last day at LCI

Me and my babies. I totally cried….what a wuss!

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Kiddies and their new watches and cards.

Tommy

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Louis

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Lucia

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Andrew

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Willy

 

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Jason

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2nd grade

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3rd grade

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1st grade-Elizabeth, Diego and Ryan. So smart.

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406 Newspaper-Fun group!

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Working for LCI this past year has been a memorable experience. It seems like so long ago when I received my first class and the perils that ensued. Although it has not been perfect, and there are some things I dislike about hagwons, I don´t regret my decision to teach here. I enjoyed the job the majority of the time, made good money, had had a lot of fun, at work and outside of work. I´ve made some really great friends and am proud of myself for teaching such long hours and adjusting to a very different culture and lifestyle. I´m very nervous about my transition back home, but I feel it´s time. After almost three years teaching English abroad, I´m ready to stay in one place for a while and grow some roots. I miss my family and am getting tired of saying goodbye to friends.  I´ve applied to Seattle U to start Spring 2014, and will apply for other teaching programs as well. So, I can see future ahead, no matter how vague and murky. Gives me hope.

Plus, I can´t wait to get out of this dark, moldy apartment.

I plan to write one more blog post once I return home about my S.E. Asia trip, as I´m sure it will be eventful. Rachel and I are nervous and excited. It´s gonna be jam packed! Bangkok-Chiang Rai-Chiang Mai-Ko Phi Phi-Siem Reap-Hanoi-Seoul-Seattle.

Wish me luck!

Tokyo, Japan


We had summer break this last week and I was so excited to go to Tokyo. I´ve been wanting to go to Tokyo since I was a freshman in high school. Sushi is my number one favorite food, with Mexican and Thai in close second, and nothing sounded more radtastic than to eat sashimi for 5 days….so we did just that, among other noteworthy adventures.

We arrived Saturday after a long subway ride and a 40 minute detour struggling to find the hostel at night.

We booked a room at the Sakura Hostel in Asakusa. It ended up being a really nice place, with air-conditioned rooms and nice bathrooms. It was pricey for a hostel, at 30 bucks a night, but Tokyo is expensive and the place was clean and comfortable.

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After we threw our backpacks down, we went out to grab some food and decided to hit up a ramen joint. The ramen had a miso-type broth and aged, soft boiled eggs. It had a really interesting flavor. I can´t say I loved it, but it tasted really different and comforting after a long day of traveling.

Sunday, we woke up refreshed and decided to check out the neighborhood. Asakusa is one of the oldest neighborhoods in Tokyo and at the center is a gorgeous shrine. The buildings are small and quaint and the aesthetic feels like a 1940s detective movie. I absolutely adored this area and loved wandering the streets. For lunch, we hit up a sushi joint and had our brains blown by some melt in your mouth nigiri and sashimi. I was especially impressed by the salmon, which isn´t usually my go-to sashimi choice.

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After lunch, we took the subway to Shinjuku to check out the Gyeon National Garden. This was one of my favorite parts of the trip. The garden was like a Central park–sprawling green trees in all directions in the midst of metropolitan chaos.  In the park were multiple gardens. My favorite was, not surprisingly, the traditional Japanese garden.

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That night, we met up with some of our friends from LCI, Nate and Elliot, and their friends to grab some dinners and drinks in Shibuya. We had a lively, sake-filled dinner in a tatami room and then wandered Shibuya crossing, sipping on Sapporo. The night fizzled out a bit by the end, and Rachel and I took a pricey, 60 dollar cab home. Tokyo ain´t cheap.

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Monday we were feeling a bit lethargic/hung over but we got up and went out to explore Harajuku after a killer sashimi and tempura lunch made by a cute, older Japanese lady who didn´t speak a lick of English.

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I LOVED Harajuku. It met my expectations and more. Cute alleys filled with fun, punk/pop Japanese fashion and tons of Japanese teenagers dressed to the nines in 6-inch platforms and killer hairdos. I felt like a dumpy Westerner the whole day, but had a blast nonetheless.

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After Harajuku, we jetted to meet the boys to go see a….robot sex show? That is what they called it. I was hesitant at first—it sounded potentially gross and awkward, but it was probably one of the coolest thing I´ve ever seen. It was a bit pricey, around 50 dollars, but basically, you sit in these seats and watch life-size robots fight girls in bikinis with a killer light show. In fact, there was a myriad of themes….robots versus dinosaurs, ninja girls versus robots, robots versus other robots. I think the robots won in the end, but the plot faded as we stared at the cute Japanese girls in light up outfits.

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Post show, we downed some sake and did a little booty shaking in Shinjuku.

Next day was brutal. Sake doesn´t not mix well with most anything but sake, and we were in bad shape in the morning. We barely managed to get it together to grab some lunch (okonomiyaki). We didn´t love it, but I could see its potential.  Sort of a make–ityourself savory pancake filled with seafood or meat, topped with mayo and yummy sauce.

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Then, we slowly trudged around the Imperial Palace in blazin´ humid heat.  I thought the palace was pretty, but not my fav.

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Tuesday  night we went to the SkyTree tower in Asakusa which is apparently one of the tallest towers in the world. It was a little expensive to go up but the view was crazy. Tokyo is a mega-metropolis; city as far as the eye can see. Dinner after was a bit rushed cause Asakusa restaurants close up around 9:30. We had some more sashimi and some beer at an izakaya.

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Wednesday morning we tried to get up a bit earlier to go to the fish market. We arrived round 11am and realized we had messed up. Our first big mistake. They were basically packing everything up by the time we arrived. We knew we had sacrificed the early morning, 4am tuna show, but we were hoping for slightly more action. Sad and disheartened, we decided to remedy the foul mood with sushi. We waited over an hour at this one joint cause everyone said it was some of the best sushi around. And…it was. After waiting and waiting and waiting, we finally sat down to one of the most incredible meals I´ve had. The toro fatty tuna and spanish mackerel made me want to cry. It was so fresh, and so beautifully served. We both were in shock for the next few hours.

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I also learned that a whole bluefin tuna costs around 50,000 dollars. Holy mackerel! (pun intended)

Sushi restaurants around the Tsukiji fish market get some of the highest grade tuna around but the majority gets sent to Ginza, the fancy high end district of Tokyo. Therefore, if you want to try some of the highest grade, freshest tuna around  for an affordable price you gotta stand in line for an hour or so, like we did. Winning!

Post sushi-gasm, we went to Akihabara, the gaming and manga district. It was definitely weird. We went to a 5 level sex shop and saw some scary looking things. I tried to play DDR but failed. We stopped for coffee and ice cream at a ¨maid coffee shop¨where the girls all dress up in these crazy maid outfits and make you say ¨delicious, delicious, cute, meow meow¨with hand gestures. No pictures were allowed of the girls, but we got a photo of the ice cream.  It was definitely an experience I won´t forget.

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For out last night in Tokyo we got a bit dolled up and went to Roppongi, the ¨going out¨area. There were so many restaurants to choose from, but it was hard to find English menus for some reason. We needed up settling on a place with good atmosphere, but mediocre food, just to relax in the air con with some sake. A few beers later, we lost track of time a bit and missed the subway. Dumb. But, it gave us the chance to explore a few more bars before heading back.

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Thursday morning was a sad morning. Packed up, we headed for the airport, after going back for a tasty bbq pork bun. We thought we had plenty of time, but after some subway confusion we realized we were very much behind schedule. Worry turned to panic and we straight up almost missed check in. Stressful to say the least.

Tokyo subway system, you suck. There are some many lines that are owned by different companies and it is very expensive to transfer lines….anyway. Seoul definitely wins in that category.

Now I´m back in Suji, chilling in my air con with some coffee. It was such a whirlwind few days I´m happy to relax before work again.

I think Tokyo might be one of my favorite places I´ve been. The only two competitors would be Valparaiso, Amsterdam, and Sevilla. But, those places are sexier and more relaxing. Tokyo is a powerhouse city, with non stop action and killer food. Everyone should go if they have the chance!

Monsoon Season and Mudfest


Well, the sun has stopped shining and has been replaced by hot rain. Real nasty stuff. My hair becomes a curly frizzy hot mess by the time I arrive at work and my clothes are soaked in sweat. Ain´t pretty.

But, I´ve been living the high life nevertheless. I´ve been busy having fun and planning my trip in S.E. Asia as well as trying to get rid of stuff in my apartment.

I went to my last yoga class this month. Decided it was time to give myself some more free time. But, it was a sad goodbye. I took class for 6 months and came to really like our instructor. She was a riot…also pinching my sides, telling me ¨pancha!¨or suck in. Great experience all around taking that class at the YMCA. Gave me some peace and quiet after a crazy stay at work and helped me to feel healthy and strong.

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For the 4th of July, a few of us went to Gecko´s to enjoy some Budweiser and fireworks. Pretty mild cause it was a school night, but we celebrated in style.

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I saw one of my best friend´s sisters from college who just moved here and we had a grand old time stomping around Seoul, enjoying some bingsu. It´s fun to make global connections. She studied abroad in Chile as well.

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Last weekend I went to Mudfest in Boryeong. It was really fun. Mudfest is basically this huge festival on the beach where people drink beer and get covered in mud. The mud is supposed to have minerals that are good for the skin, but most people go to have a good time and get dirty.

We paid for this big group deal, where a bunch of foreigners get picked up by a bus and driven to a bunch of pensions where you share a room with your friends. Essentially, you sleep on the floor on a blanket. It isn´t glamorous but there was air con and fun was had by all.

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Up next, Tokyo!

Summertime Homestretch


Summer is in full swing and it is blazing hot in Korea. Hard to walk to the bus stop without soaking yourself in sweat.

Thank god for air conditioning.

A lot of exciting things happening soon. In July I will be going to Mudfest (Basically a big festival where you get covered in mud) and then Tokyo, and then there is only one more month left!

It will be a sad goodbye and a shocking transition to go from working full time to living out of a backpack, but I´m excited.

I´ve become more and more attached to my kinders which I didn´t think was possible.

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Last week Lucia had a bad day. She has been having tough time because she is the only girl in my class of 5 boys and she is not the toughest girl. She is a bit timid, very affectionate, and not my fastest learner. I think her mom is too busy to help her with her homework, which at a cram school, usually means the children fall behind.  She is SUPER cute and I love her very much, but the other day I was a little frustrated because she never repeats, or if she does she does it very quietly. It´s very important that she repeat because her pronunciation is not very good and its a way to help her speaking improve. Anyway, I reminded her to repeat after teacher and she burst into tears. Poor thing. I felt terrible, but I also think it was perhaps some accumulated stress.

Then, in play gym, the boys were playing some monster game she didn´t like and she felt left out. So, Cindy told the boys to make sure to include her and they all nodded nicely. So, at playtime, all the boys sat down with Lucia and drew pictures of her and gave them to her. They kept saying, ¨Lucia is so cute!¨ and ¨Everybody play together!¨I´ve never seen a group of little boys be so sweet in my life. It was almost tear inducing. I´m so lucky to have a group of such kind and respectful boys.

Yesterday Rachel and I went into Seoul and went the stream downtown called cheonggyecheon to dip our feet in and then went to Gyeongbokgung (경복궁) which is one of the biggest, most popular palaces in Seoul. We had a lot of fun, even though it was really hot.

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Other than school, I´ve been spending my time preparing to move and also planning my upcoming trips. I´ve already booked my flights home, but haven´t really finalized where and how long I´m staying in Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. I think we´re going to do two weeks in Thailand, then hop over to Siem Reap  to go to Ankor Wat, then I´ll go by myself to Hanoi for almost a week, then go home…actually home!

Trip to the DMZ


Summer is knocking on our doorsteps here in Korea. We´ve had weather in the mid to high 80´s everyday this week. I´m definitely not complaining.

Last week was a tough one, but it ended with a successful Open Class which I was extremely relieved to have finished. Friday night was spent celebrating in Gangnam for Chris´birthday.

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Logically, the next Saturday was spent nursing a hangover, followed by a date with Rachel to go see Star Trek. Which, was totally awesome. I loved it.

Sunday morning I got up at the crack of dawn (5:30) to go on an all day DMZ tour with Nate.

We had a lot of fun goofing around and the tour was interesting. I liked hearing about the history from the tour guide quite a bit.

The DMZ itself is this whole strange thing. It even has a slogan….Nature, Culture and Peace, or something like that. They seem to be promoting the area as a future site representing peace between the two countries and want to develop it as some type of wildlife preserve that will be great…in the future sometime. I didn´t really get it.

Instead of being this hardcore experience, it ended up being a pretty relaxed day. We went through the 2d and 3rd tunnels, which were built in the 50s between North Korea and Seoul so that North korea could attempt underground attacks. We watched some weird videos with strange sound tracks. Generally, I thought the day was a bit long and wanted to see some scarier things (You know….at least one North Korea fleeing through the forest…kidding…) but it was worth the trip. They did have binoculars where you could look at a North Korean town, but there wasn´t much to see.

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I looked particularly nerdy on this day. Not sure what was happening there.

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So, here I am enjoying a day off…on a Thursday! Crazy, huh? It´s Memorial Day and we get a day off which feels surreal. But man is it needed….

June should be a good month. Soon I´ll get paid and then I will be booking my flights around SE Asia and finally my flight back home to Seattle. Crazy stuff. We are also planning to go to Sokcho at the end of the month for a few days. I´m currently spending any free time (and its not much) trying to prep materials for Grad Schools apps and also planning my future trips (Tokyo, Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia) which is exciting. I´ve found two M.Ed programs, one in Seattle and one in Austin that seem like they would be a good fit for me and I frequently have restless nights trying to decide which option would be best. I´ll probably have to wait until I come home to make that decision. Any and all opinions welcome on that front.

Buddha´s Birthday in Busan 부산


We´ve had a long haul with no days off….we had one at the end of February, but during March and April, there was not one day off. Finally, this last weekend, we got a 3 day weekend and I took the opportunity to go to Busan which I´ve been wanting to do since I arrived.

Busan is one of the biggest cities in Korea and is located right on the bottom tip, a skip and a jump from Japan. Busan has a thriving fishing industry and a handful of white sandy beaches creating a more relaxing, laid back vibe compared with bustling, frenetic Seoul.

We left Friday morning and took a five hour train ride from Suwon station. When we arrived, we took a cab to Gwangalli beach where our motel was located. We sprung for an ¨ocean view¨, and it was worth the few extra won.

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After settling in, Chris and I took a long stroll down the beach at twilight and met up with Rachel who was staying in Haundae in a hostel. We had a great time walking along the waterfront, the city lights sparkling on the water. Couples holding hands interspersed with teenagers lighting off fireworks on the beach made for a fun, light hearted if not romantic mood. We wandered into a mini Theme Park and squealed like 10 year olds (or…wait, maybe just me) on the Pirate Ship.

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After a tasty feast of marinated galbi, and of course, beer and soju, we meandered into a bar for over priced cocktails just in time to witness a marriage proposal right behind the bar. Oh, how romantic!

A few drinks in, we stumbled to the beach to light off fireworks….responsibly, of course. More squealing, stumbling, and some explosions later, we decided to call it a night.

Saturday morning Rachel and I headed to Yonggungsa Temple (용궁사) which was worth the long, sweaty and crowded 45 minute bus ride. Located right on the ocean, with the waves crashing onto the rocks, sits this gorgeous Buddhist Temple which was adorned in colored lanterns to celebrate Buddha´s Birthday. Although packed with tourists, it was a great experience. The colored lanterns were stunning.

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After the Temple visit, we found our way back to Haundae beach, which is the larger of the two beaches and better for swimming. Although we didn´t get the heat or sunlight we were hoping for, relaxing on the beach was very sastisfying and I did my best to breath in the ocean air as much as possible before returning to dusty, smoggy Seoul.

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We ended our trip with dinner out at a nice Italian place and some drinks at a bar on the beach.

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I was sad to leave Busan but happy to have gotten the chance to visit and I had a great time. It was nice to see a different side of Korea, especially a slightly less hectic and crowded city.

Now to buckle down and prep for open class at the end of the month….yikes.

Dak Galbi (Spicy Chicken Galbi)


One of my favorite Korean dishes to date, and there are a lot, is dak galbi (닭갈비), or  spicy chicken galbi. Galbi essentially just means ¨cooked on the grill¨. Most beef galbi is just marinated strips of meat grilled and dipped in gochujang. Dak Galbi, however, comes with veggies, rice cakes (tteokbokki), and a tasty sauce.

If you wanted to make this at home, you might have a little bit of a hard time finding rice cakes and gochujang, but everything else is pretty easy to find. I took this fantastic recipe: http://www.beyondkimchee.com/dak-galbi/  and changed a few things to suit my tastes.

You are going to want to cook this in a big, heavy pot. Something that can take higher heat. I was fortunate enough to be left this cool, stone rice-cooking pot which works perfect, butI thick a sturdy skillet or cast iron skillet would be fine.

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Ingredients

1 lb (450g) boneless, skinless chicken thigh, diced
1/2 lb (250g) Korean rice cake sticks
1/4-1/2 cabbage, diced
8-10 perilla leaves, sliced
1/2 large onion, sliced
1 medium sweet potato, sliced into 1/4″ thick wedges
2 tablespoon grape seed or canola oil
2-4 tablespoon water
more perilla leaves and toasted sesame seeds to garnish

Sauce:

3 tablespoon Korean chili paste
2 tablespoon low sodium soy sauce
2 tablespoon Korean chili flakes
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoon curry powder
1 teaspoon ginger powder
2 tablespoon rice wine (or just white white!)
3 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon sesame oil
dashes of pepper

Instructions:

  1. Combine all the sauce ingredients in a small bowl. Toss the chicken pieces with 1/2 the sauce and mix. Set aside.
  2. Soak rice cakes in hot water until ready to use and drain.
  3. Drizzle oil in a cast iron skillet, spread the chicken and top with vegetables (only 1/2 the amount of perilla leaves) and rice cakes.Make sure to put the sweet potatoes and carrots closer to the bottom so that they cook faster. Drizzle the remaining sauce over and bring the skillet over med-high heat.
  4. When you hear the loud sizzling noise from the skillet, toss to coat everything with the sauce. Continue to cook for about 2 minutes. Add the water to create steam to cook and reduce the heat to medium. Continue to cook, about 7-10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  5. When chickens are cooked through and potatoes are tender, add the rest of the perilla leaves and heat through. Everything should be slightly browned at this stage.Toss gently so that you don’t break the potatoes.
  6. Sprinkle with sesame seeds and garnish with more perilla leaves. Serve hot.

A few quick words of advice: Eat all the rice cakes while they are HOT. They do not stay soft when they get cold. They get hard and chewy and terrible. Also, cut your sweet potatoes in thin strips or circles so that they can cook all the way through.

The mix of sweet potatoes, soft cabbage, and tangy, spicy chicken is a perfect flavor combination and a complete meal in one dish.

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This week was Tommy´s Birthday. He is so cute it hurts me a little.

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