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!

 

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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/

Feeding My Addiction: My Travel Wish List

I have been fortunate to visit many places in my life so far, but as some of you may know, traveling is a bit of an addiction! I spend a lot of free time flipping through travel books and Googling places to visit…I sometimes go so far as to look up the prices of flights to places I really want to go, even if I know I can’t afford it at the time. In the spirit of dreaming big, here are a few (but not nearly all!) of the places still on my travel “wish list”..

Staying here in Mongolia:

http://www.welcometomongolia.mn/camps/gobi-discovery-ii

I have my doubts about the “authenticity” of this experience, but it still seems incredibly interesting and fun. Also, for a trip that involves staying in non-traditional lodgings, it looks really cozy! I would love to get a peek at this culture’s nomadic lifestyle through this trip.

 

Ice Hotel in Sweden:

http://www.icehotel.com/

Chances are you have seen this hotel featured on the internet before, probably in a post titled “The World’s Most Unique Hotels” or something like that. I will admit it seems a bit gimmicky, but I would like to go and try it for myself. Probably for just one night, as I can’t imagine these hotel rooms to be very comfortable!

 

Shanghai:

https://www.tripadvisor.com/Tourism-g308272-Shanghai-Vacations.html http://www.seriouseats.com/2015/05/essential-shanghai-china-street-food-dishes.html

I traveled to China for the very first time in August 2016, when I visited my dear friend in Beijing and traveled briefly to Yinchuan. I now have a tourist visa that is valid for the next ten years and I would love to make use of it, starting by visiting another big city—Shanghai. I want to eat some of the delicious street food, especially the famous soup dumplings, and experience some of the famous “cosmopolitan” culture of the shopping districts!

 

 

Singapore:

http://www.yoursingapore.com/editorials/singapores-annual-cultural-events.html#festivals-events-singapore

https://www.lonelyplanet.com/singapore

What intrigues me the most about Singapore is the mix of cultures from all around Asia that find their home there. The writer in the above lonely planet post describes the different districts that exist side by side—Chinatown, Little India, Bangkok district…I cannot tell a lie, the first thing that comes to mind when reading this list of districts is ‘so many delicious foods!’ But beyond food, I would like to experience one of the many different religious and cultural festivals that are celebrated here. Also, the green spaces in the city look beautiful.  

 

Hot Springs in Japan:

http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e2292.html

Visiting one of the places on this list seems to be a great way to experience a bit of traditional Japanese customs and the island country’s natural beauty at the same time. Plus, soaking in a natural hot spring just sounds incredibly peaceful and relaxing.

 

Mexico

https://www.lonelyplanet.com/mexico/travel-tips-and-articles/76638 

I have visited Cancun twice, and although it is beautiful and fun there, I would like to venture outside of the typical tourist destinations in Mexico. I would especially like to visit some of the towns that exist in Mexico’s central mountainous area, such as San Miguel, where my aunt has visited many times. Seeing how Mexico is so close to home (in comparison to other countries), it seems a shame that I haven’t seen more of it!

 

Lake Malawi National Park (Malawi Africa):

http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/289

http://wikitravel.org/en/Malawi

When I was little my dad had a fifty gallon fish tank full of brightly colored cichlids, which I loved to watch. Lake Malawi is home to hundreds of varieties of cichlids, as well as the greatest number of fish species in any one lake in the world. Because of the lake’s isolated location, the fish that live there are a great source of study for scientists who want to learn more about evolution and adaptation. In addition, the area around Lake Malawi is full of natural beauty and like everywhere, a unique culture.

 

Madrid, Spain:

http://www.timeout.com/madrid/things-to-do/20-great-things-to-do-in-madrid

Okay, I have to admit that one of the main reasons Madrid is on my list is because of food—I really want to try some tapas! Also, the streets of Madrid look like they would be perfect for endless walking and exploring, with plenty of charming cafes to stop at when you need a break. I need another excuse to keep practicing Spanish as well!

 

Quebec, Canada

http://www.flyhoneystars.com/2017/01/23/goblin-filming-location-in-quebec-the-ultimate-guide/

http://asianwiki.com/Goblin_%28Korean_Drama%29

http://www.quebecregion.com/en/

Quebec has actually been on my mental travel wish list for a long time, but it recently resurfaced in my thoughts because of the recently concluded Korean drama, “Goblin”. This drama was filmed partially in Korea and partially in Quebec, and the display of Quebec’s scenery is incredible and beautiful. The atmosphere of Quebec City seems to fit the magical theme of the drama perfectly. The travel site above advertises Quebec as a place to experience European culture without leaving North America, which sounds intriguing to me.

I hope you enjoyed reading my list. What’s on yours?

 

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Image Source: Michael Tompsett fineartamerica.com

http://fineartamerica.com/featured/world-map-urban-watercolor-michael-tompsett.html

 

 

My Worst Experiences Abroad: Part 2, Creepy Characters

Note: This is part 2 of a 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 2: Creepy Characters

St. Petersburg, Russia: August 2016

While staying at a hostel in St. Petersburg, Mariia and I were frequent visitors to a nearby Starbucks inside of a large shopping mall. We visited this Starbucks at least once a day to rest and refuel in between shopping and sightseeing.

 

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Inside a Russian Starbucks. (Not my image. Image source: http://archive.boston.com/business/articles/2007/09/07/starbucks_opens_first_shop_in_russia_with_a_cappuccino)

One day while we were sitting at a table in the Starbucks drinking coffee and talking (in English) we noticed that something was off with the young man and woman sitting a few tables away. Even though I don’t speak Russian, it was easy for me to see that something was wrong—the conversation was pretty much one-sided, with the man doing all the talking in a hostile tone and the woman sitting completely still, staring back at the man with wide eyes.

Mariia began to listen in on the conversation to see if she could figure out what was going on, and she translated a few bits of the conversation for me:

 

Woman: “I’m just not comfortable talking to a stranger whom I just met on the street.”

Man: “This is not the street, this is a very nice coffee shop.”

 

Man: “Well, if you’re not interested, I can find one hundred women who are better than you.”

 

At that moment we realized that the woman was being harassed by a man she didn’t know. Unsure what to do, we decided that we should at least stay at the Starbucks until one of them left or the conversation ended somehow. We continued to discuss the situation quietly, until suddenly we heard the man’s voice directed towards us in loud, aggressive English):

“Hey, how do you like Russia?” he asked in the most intimidating way possible.

Mariia and I both stared straight ahead at each other, pretending not to hear him.

“Hey, I’m talking to you!” the man said, pushing the row of furniture in between where he was sitting and where we were so that the empty table next to us bumped ours and wobbled our empty drink cups. When the table hit ours we both automatically turned to face him, but we still didn’t say a word.

With that, the man mumbled something (Mariia told me after that he had said in Russian “I knew you could understand me”) then got up and walked away.

Mariia spoke to the woman in Russian for a few moments, asking if she was okay and if she needed someone to stay with her for a while.

The woman explained that she had never met the man before in her life, and that he had started talking to her on the street and followed her into the Starbucks when she tried to ignore him. Then the woman said the she was going to meet her friend in the mall, dialed a number on her phone and left in the opposite direction that the man had. We never saw either of them again.

I remember clearly the wave of terror that hit me when the man pushed the furniture at us, but I felt even more frightened for the Russian woman who had been confronted. I felt a strange sense of unfortunate solidarity with her, because witnessing this incident reaffirmed for me the fact that women all over the world experience confrontations like this at some point in their lives.

 

Beijing, China: August 2016

Side note: This event occurred right before the 19 floors incident, which you can read about here.

One late night in Beijing, Mariia and I were returning from a night out to her friend’s apartment where we were staying. Since it was so late at night we decided to take a taxi. Once we reached a street nearby the friend’s apartment complex Mariia told the taxi driver he could stop and we would walk from there.

Mariia took some money out of her wallet to pay the driver, but when she handed the bills to him he glanced at them and then shoved them back at her, yelling something angrily in Chinese.

“He says the money is fake and he won’t accept it, but that is impossible,” she told me.

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An assortment of Chinese bills. (Not my image. Image source: picturesofmoney.org/category/chinese-money)

 

Being the slightly naïve American that I am, I started taking out my wallet to see if he would accept my cash instead, but Mariia cautioned me to stop. The taxi driver took out some of his own money and thrust it towards Mariia, but she put her hands behind her back and refused to touch it. The two of them continued to talk back and forth for a few minutes until Mariia told me to get out of the car.

Mariia and I both exited the taxi and so did the driver. Mariia filled me in on their exchange outside of the car afterwards:

 

“So you’re not going to pay me?!” the taxi driver yelled

 

“We are trying to pay you but you won’t accept our money!” Mariia said back. She then started waving and yelling to passing cars, trying to get their attention in attempt to show the taxi driver that there were witnesses around.

We quickly turned and started walking to the friend’s apartment, glancing back at the taxi every so often. The driver stood outside of the car for a few minutes before getting back in and driving away. Mariia explained to me that when the driver was pushing his money at her, he was trying to get her to “feel the difference” between his money and hers to somehow prove that her money was fake. She told me that one of her friends had a similar experience with a taxi driver in Beijing…. when the friend reached out to touch the driver’s money he took the money from her hands and put his money into hers, then blamed her for trying to pay with the fake bills that were originally his.

So, thanks to Mariia’s memory and quick thinking, we avoided a potentially worse situation.

M&M: 1

Taxi Driver: 0