Thank You, Tokyo

On our only full day in Tokyo we spent a lot of time being lost. The train system in the city is a combination of an underground subway as well as several above ground train lines, all owned by different companies charging different fares and using different tickets etc. etc. Calum was especially exasperated by this system.

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Tokyo Railway Map — Photo credit goes to Calum

Our first stop was the Seiko museum of clocks, as Calum is a huge fan of Seiko watches. The museum is free and you can conduct a self-guided tour via an Ipad loaded with videos and extra information on each of the displays (in English, as well as several other lanugages).

Between the Seiko museum and a visit to Meiji shrine was a couple of wandering aimlessly in search of lunch. We ended up settling for a Western-style café, not our first choice, but yummy and filling! By the time we reached Meiji we had only a few minutes to run (almost literally) through the center of the temple and take a few pictures. Again, not our usual sight-seeing style, but it is what it is.

Tuesday evening (May 16th) was the highlight of our short time in Tokyo. Through AirBnb’s new service called “Experiences,” we booked a bike tour of Tokyo that lasted from 3pm to about 7pm. The host, Bradley, is an American expat who has been living in Japan for 25 years and owns a biking studio in Tokyo.

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Bike touring! One of the other employees at the bike studio took this for us.

This biking tour was not your typical touristy, sightseeing expedition. Bradley took our group through Tokyo’s backstreets and quiet residential neighborhoods—places that tourists would rarely think to visit. He also showed us a local temple and a shrine in his neighborhood…though famous shrines like Meiji are beautiful and magnificent, these smaller, lesser-known religious sites show how spirituality is really embedded in the lives of some Japanese people.

To be honest, I almost felt bad coming to these sites as a tourist, because I know that these places have deep meaning for many local people who come there to pray and reflect. However, I was impressed with the way everyone in our tour group, people from all around the world, walked these sites with a quiet, respectful attitude.

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Calum walking into the shrine that we visited on the bike tour. Photo credit goes to one of our guides!
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Prayers written on small fans at the shrine. Photo credit goes to Calum.

The tour ended with dinner at a pork dumpling restaurant, which most of the other tour participants stayed for. We had some great conversation with the other people in our group—hailing from the US, Australia, Taiwan and Korea.

One of the biggest themes of our trip was awesome people!

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Our awesome host, his fellow bike tour employees and our tour group. Great people.

Our only regret in Tokyo is not booking more time there. We were so charmed by this city.

Until next time…

P.S. Here’s a link to our bike tour experience! Thanks Bradley!

 

First Impressions: Tokyo, Japan

Two days after Calum’s graduation from UNT we boarded a plane bound for Vancouver, where we would transfer planes to Tokyo. It was a long journey—the flights themselves lasted about 15 hours in total, and even after we touched down in Japan it was a long journey from the airport, through customs and to our AirBnb apartment. We landed at Narita Airport, which is actually pretty far away from the Tokyo city center…

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Source: http://www.world-guides.com

Our first impression of Japan was on the train from Narita to Tokyo. It might sound cheesy, but on this leg of our trip we both realized the significance of the scenery in Studio Ghibli/Miyazaki’s animated films. Seeing the Japanese countryside from the train was like seeing the village in “My Neighbor Totoro” brought to life…not in the sense that we felt like magical creatures would appear, but in the sense that we realized how these animations captured some of the ordinary aspects of the countryside that are magical in themselves. The thick green vegetation, the small village houses, the rice fields…of course there is much more to Japan than that, but it was a great first impression.

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A Japanese movie poster for My Neighbor Totoro. Source: wikipedia

By the time we reached our train stop for the AirBnb I was literally falling asleep with my head on my suitcase. Many parts of traveling have gotten easier for me with experience, but pure exhaustion is hard for me to fight.

The first thing that we noticed about our “home” neighborhood in Tokyo is that it was so quiet. We hopped off the train around 7:40 pm, and though there were many people out walking or riding bikes by themselves, there were no large groups of people gathered, and it was overall very quiet on the streets. Just like Seoul, Tokyo also manages to keep some parts of the city concealed in a bubble of quiet, even while other parts of the city are a 24-hour raging party.

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A lesser-known shrine in Tokyo. Picture by Calum.

After getting our bags into the apartment we walked across the street to the supermarket and the convenience store and grabbed an assortment of random packaged foods for dinner. While Calum worked on setting up the apartment Wifi and heated up some foods in the microwave, I scarfed down a pastry, took a shower and fell asleep as soon as my head hit the floor.

I mean, the bed was literally on the floor. That’s traditional Japanese style (and pretty comfy!).

More later!

Lois and Clark Fly Again

Long time no see!
I have been taking a break from my blog to focus on my student and TA responsibilities, but I’ve missed my blog incredibly. That being said, I will have a huge reason to write again soon.

Calum and I are traveling to Japan and Korea, May 14th through June 1st!

Here is a simple map I made of where we will be visiting, starting in Tokyo and ending in Seoul:

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It will be our first time visiting Japan, but as some of you may know, it will be our second time visiting Korea. Our first time visiting Korea was when we studied abroad in Seoul during the spring of 2015. You can read our joint blog from that trip here.

Traveling means so much to as a couple and as individuals. I can’t wait to get going! I plan to update the blog as much as I can while we are actually there, and of course when we get back to the states.

If it is us, you can bet there will be some hilarious travel stories to share. 😉

Credit for blank map of Japan and Korea: http://www.keywordsuggests.com/ET6L1tDhAc8MYckK3FTFQxoOraD9ReyuTcjzNXmfXJQ/

The Reasons Behind the Photos: Part 1

I’ve recently taken the SD card out of my old phone and started combing through the over 3,000 photos and videos I saved to it.

I owned this phone from January 2015 to December 2016, so these photos cover two years of life experience including three jobs, my college graduation, my time studying abroad in Korea and my trip to Russia and China.

For some of these photos there is an obvious reason why I took them—a notable event, an extraordinary moment, a scenic view. However, for others, the reasons behind the photos are known only to me.

This post is in honor of those photos, the ones that at first glance may seem unworthy of space on my SD card, but hold special meaning in the space in my mind. Part 1 of this series is dedicated to Korea.

Photo 1: Tater Tots

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The Reason:

During Calum and I’s time in Korea we tried many new and unfamiliar foods. This was not one of them. During our first month in Korea I went to an event with some foreign friends and our Korean buddies (from the KUBA organization) and we all ate fried chicken together afterwards. When the waitress brought out our food I pointed and squealed in delight–“No way, tater tots!” The whole table stared at me in confusion as I explained my excitement…I realized I was the only American present at this dinner, and therefore the only one familiar with this funky term for cylindrical fried potatoes. Some of my friends were convinced this must be Texan or a Southern thing, but I assured them it was quite common in the US. Luckily another group of students came and met us for dinner, and the American present in their group was able to back me up. 🙂

Photo 2: Healthy Bread

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Yes, another food photo. This dense bread was my favorite snack from the local bakery nearby our guesthouse in Korea. The label above it in Korean translates only to “healthy snack.” Our friends, Korean and foreign alike, poked fun at me for my obsession with this bread, which was obviously not even close to the number one choice for customers visiting this sweet shop. The owner of the bakery came to know me because of this bread, and she even gave me a free one when I came to buy a cake for Calum’s birthday. The friendly relationships we had with local store owners and vendors in our neighborhood are something I really miss about Korea.

Photo 3: Jindo Dog Puppy

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The Reason:

Maybe it is not the fact that I have this photo but the fact that I have so many just like it that makes it seem strange. This Jindo puppy and his twin brother lived down the street from our Korean guesthouse and could often be found outside of their owner’s storefront. I could not get enough of these adorable pups and I stopped to play with them multiple times a day. You could say I was a little obsessed!

Photo 4: Mariia’s Bracelet

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The Reason:

For a week in May 2015 my “Russian sister” Mariia came to visit me in Seoul. This was the first time I had seen her since she left the US nearly two years prior, but one of the ways we had been keeping in touch during that time was through packages and letters. Included in her packages from my family were individual additions to her charm bracelet. Of course I knew which charms we sent, but this was my first time seeing all of the charms together in one place. It seemed appropriately symbolic.

Photo 5: Momma duck and Babies on the Cheonggyecheon

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The Reason:

One of Calum and I’s favorite things to do in Seoul was to walk along the Cheonggyecheon stream that flows through the city. We were able to see the stream transform during three seasons of the year–Winter, Spring and Summer. During the Spring the stream was filled with cute duck families. It was another one of those little things that gave meaning to our daily life there.

 

Hope you enjoyed these photos and the reasons behind them! Part 2 coming soon.

My Worst Experiences Abroad: Part 1, Accidents and Injuries

Note: This is the beginning of what will be a multiple part series on my travel “Horror Stories”– the most painful, creepy and uncomfortable experiences that I’ve had while outside of the United States. The point of me sharing these experiences is to encourage everyone to embrace the good and the bad when it comes to traveling, and find ways to grow from negative experiences. (Fortunately, I’ve been lucky enough not to have experienced anything seriously life threatening while traveling.)

Some of these stories can be pretty comical now that they are over and done with. Others are just scary, no matter how you look at them. Either way, I hope you enjoy reading about my experiences!

Part 1: Accidents and Injuries

Costa Rica, July 2011

When I was 16 I traveled to Costa Rica for two weeks through a Girl Scouting program called Destinations (yes, Girl Scouts do more than just sell cookies!). The trip itself was a very valuable experience for me, and completely changed the way I viewed myself and what I was capable of as a teen. The two main focuses of the trip were performing acts of service and learning the basics of surfing.

On one of the last days of the trip our group of 13 girls and 4 instructors was returning to San Jose from a surf camp on the Western coast of the country. On our way, the school bus that we were riding in started to have mechanical problems and we were forced to stop on the roadside in a small town. One of the surf instructors and I needed to use the restroom so we went inside a small convenience store and asked the attendant if we could use the bathroom, but she refused. With no other options in close proximity, the instructor and I decided to slip into the edge of the nearby jungle in order to…well you know. The instructor said that I could go first and she would keep watch and then we could switch.

I took two steps into an area covered in thick underbrush and immediately fell about 6 feet down a steep slope in the ground.

The instructor heard me scream on the way down and started calling my name, asking if I was okay and if I could move. At first I was frozen in shock and I couldn’t answer her, but after a few seconds I was able to snap out of it and yelled back that I was okay. On the way down I hit the right side of my back on a rock but I could still move just fine.

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Slightly awkward 16-year-old me in Costa Rica during the summer of 2011.

The moment I remember the most clearly is when the instructor said “I’m coming down to get you!” I rolled over onto my side and when I looked up I could see her a few feet above me, crouched down on her stomach, extending her hand to me. She was a very petite girl but also very athletic, and when I grabbed her hand she pulled me back up the ledge with one yank.

After we returned to the group, one of the other instructors cleaned and bandaged the cut on my back with supplies from our first aid kit (I still have a very light scar). Then the instructor who had been my savior gathered a group of us to walk about half a mile to the nearest gas station so we could use the restroom. Lesson learned.

I still have the image in my mind of the surf instructor reaching out her hand to pull me up after my fall. At the time, the rescue felt much more dramatic! I remember that her name is Rose, she is from California and she was in her early 20s that summer.

Rose, wherever you are, if you’re reading this, thanks for saving me that day! 😉

South Korea, February 2015

During our second week studying abroad in South Korea, our good friend SungSu graciously invited Calum and I to go skiing with his family during the Lunar New Year holiday weekend. It was my first time skiing, ever, let alone in a foreign country. Even my Mom was nervous and cautioned me against going out on the slopes due to the risk of injury.

However, Calum and SungSu insisted that I give skiing a try, so I did. The two of them were by my side almost the entire time, and I was actually really enjoying myself despite the difficulty of trying a new sport. I was trying my best but I still had trouble slowing and down and stopping on the crowded slopes.

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SungSu, Calum and I on the ski lift at Vivaldi Park in South Korea, February 2015. Photo credit goes to SungSu!

Here is Calum’s recount of my accident (based on our blog entry from that time):

“That’s when trouble hit. Ok, maybe not that bad, but as I was skiing in front of Maddie and making my way down the hill. As I looked back for her, instead of seeing her skiing behind me I look just in time to see her crash through the side fence. It was honestly a little heart stopping. I stopped on the side, threw off my gloves, ski poles and skis and ran back up the hill towards her. SungSu was above us so he got over there pretty quick. Both of her skis had come off and her glasses were on the ground (surprisingly unbroken) a nearby slope worker saw what happened and called the snowmobile. She asked me if her eyes were dilated and seemed very shaken up. The snowmobile came and we got her on it. I grabbed the poles, skis and gloves and started down the mountain after it. Smart Sungsu put on his snowboard and rode down but I got down fast enough. After getting checked out and multiple blood pressure checks it was shown that she was fine. Though she was a little bruised it wasn’t a big injury. She still had a lot of fun though!  Looking back at it now she really didn’t do anything that bad but it was scary at the time.”

Though my head was a bit sore for a few days after the accident, but as the saying goes, I think my pride was hurt the most.

Thanks Mom, for not saying “I told you so!”