This is a Very Strange Place You Have Here

Well, once again, it has been a while since my last post, but here I am again.  I’ll talk more about my time in Japan in retrospect in the future probably, but for now, I’m going to focus on my current travels.  As I write this, I’m sitting in my hostel in Thailand, but I’ll start from the beginning.

 

At the beginning of August, I finished my year-long study abroad in Japan and after rushing and stressing through the last few weeks of finals and packing I had a couple of quiet days with my host family before I was off to Shanghai (getting the visa for China was kind of annoying, but not nearly as difficult as I had been led to believe).

 

In Shanghai, I was met by my good friend Qian who I met in Japan (he came from Guangzhou, a large city in southern China, in order to meet me at the airport in Shanghai).  We planned most of this trip together and he was with me for over 3 weeks.  (If you’re curious, Qian speaks English relatively well, but we can use English or Japanese to understand each other; a lot of the kanji for Chinese and Japanese are the same or very similar, so me knowing the kanji for some things helps communication, but we usually stick to English because he says it’s easier for him than speaking Japanese)

After a loooong subway ride into the city, we found our hostel and went out for food.  We went to a really small noodle shop with no English.  (This will be a common theme for most of the posts about this trip; having Qian to translate for me was amazing). The food was good, if a bit bland (yet another common comment you’ll hear from me about China xp).  Then we went for a walk to explore and talk…and we got lost.  Like really really lost.  Didn’t help that his phone seemed to be drunk and couldn’t decide where to lead us as he asked it for directions (“That way…?  No, no, wait, I think it’s that way….Turn around. Wait, where were we going again…?”).  Eventually we found our way back though after stopping for ice cream (Qian was appalled that I bought the “expensive” ice cream which was like two bucks; China is usually unbelievably cheap, as I came to notice the further we got from Shanghai).

 

The next day was our only full day in Shanghai and we spent it at the zoo.  It was a fairly average zoo as zoos go, but I still enjoyed it.

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(That’s Qian, by the way, in case you couldn’t guess xp)

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(Aaaand I had a little too much fun imitating the fish…xD)

That night we watched Shindler’s List that Qian had found with Chinese subtitles which was really good and a nice way to wind down and prepare to ride another plane the next day.  Aside from that, Shanghai was pretty uneventful.

 

On to Guilin!

Where’s Your Sense of Mystery? Of Adventure?

Well, once again I managed to put off writing on my blog for a few weeks. Whoops.  Paige finally sent me the pictures from our time in Korea though, so hooray!  I’m going to write two posts on Korea…possibly three.  Otherwise they’ll just be absurdly long. Without further ado, here is my first week in Korea!

 

So, after spending a rather uneventful 5 days in Fukuoka (got to know the French cleaning staff there; other travelers like me, working instead of paying for room and board….and that was about it xp), I got to the airport in Fukuoka (running late) and managed to cause every problem I possibly could on my way to the plane.  Got in the wrong line for check-in (cause I’m smart like that) and wasted about 20 minutes there, then got to the correct check-in desk but they were horrified that I didn’t have my e-ticket printed (apparently that’s important) so they had to do it for me, rearranged my bags at the desk because I thought I had to do one bag checked but I didn’t, so I wasted a good 10 minutes debating with the check-in lady whether I had one carry-on bag or two because she didn’t think that I intended to check either of them (they zip together, so it was all needless drama), then I forgot to empty my pockets at the security checkpoint so they had to pat me down (I also forgot that I had fluids in my bag since I had intended to check it, which they had to fully search and confiscate the items)…by the time I made it to the gate it was the last call for boarding, so apparently I just do not airport well.  It was an improvement over my flight out of Denver though because when I made a mistake there (first time by myself traveling nerves I guess) I literally broke down into tears because they had to take and fully search my bag because I didn’t know the rules.  This time I was a dumbass, but a very calm and dignified dumbass.

 

Me being a moron aside, I managed to arrive in Seoul a few hours later where I had to wait a few hours in the airport for Paige to arrive.  She actually arrived an hour early (when was the last time you heard of a plane being early?  I mean, for real?) and we had a sort of reunion before heading out to take a subway to our hostel…and summarily getting locked behind the ticket gate because we can’t subway either (we finally just bought T-money cards which are (mostly) idiot-proof, but I still managed to lock myself behind another gate the next day, so who’s to say?).

The hostel we stayed at was an adorable little hostel near Hongdae (the subway stop was actually Hapjeong though) called The Lazy Fox Hostel (with adorable foxes painted on pretty much every available surface; you can’t go wrong, really).  We were staying in the basement in a 6 bed female dorm room (the window in our room was above my head and it was at ground-level outside).  You’d think it would have been cold since it was March, but no.  Our room was well insulated and had a heated floor, so it was actually stiflingly hot and dry for the first few days.  It was only like 25 degrees outside, but we left the window open at night because we were dying.

Our first night, we didn’t really want to eat out, but we were starving, so we found this dumpling fast food place just down the street…let’s just say (conservatively) that we went there often…the dumplings were A-M-A-Z-I-N-G.  Although, that night we got some of the spicy ones (no) and I thought I was tough to spicy things (just so much no), so I ate one in one bite (nooooo) and after realizing I was not going to enjoy them, I figured I’d just eat the other two in quick succession so that at least they’d be gone (WHY?!?)…yeah….I couldn’t speak for like half an hour because I’m pretty sure they burned my throat and tongue away completely and brought the smoldering ashes with them into my stomach.  When Korea says spicy…just don’t.  If you care for yourself at all, just don’t.  Even things that aren’t supposed to be spicy are spicy there (and that’s okay), but if it’s labelled “spicy”….no.

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Anyway, so, our first full day in Seoul, we decided to head out to this cultural park and museum area…but as soon as we got there, we were immediately distracted and left. xD  We saw a brochure talking about hiking and walking trails in Seoul and saw that there was a walking trail along Seoul’s old city wall just to the north of us.  Obviously, we immediately headed there and forgot about the museum we came to see (also the “park” was very boring, as you can see in my picture above…it’s just weird buildings).

But, no sooner had we started walking north to find the wall, we got side-tracked when we saw a shoe market.  Literally.  Just shoes.  I’m not a huge fan of shoe shopping, but the insanity of a dark market, blocks long, just for shoes was fascinating.

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Like seriously, it just went on like this for at least 3 blocks.  Also, the shoes were only like 10,000 won, which is like 8 bucks. O.o

By the time we came out of this winding market, we had no idea where we were.  We both thought we knew which way we were going (didn’t) and debated about it for a while (meanwhile meeting an awesome old man who shook our hands and said “Hilary Clinton, best!” xD), then just struck out in a random direction…until we saw a river walk and HAD to go walk along it, wherever it was going. It was beautiful.

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There were rocks to cross the river and these two very nice older men offered to take pictures for us.  They didn’t speak English and we didn’t speak Korean (beyond “hello” and “thank you”, but with gestures and smiles, it all seemed to work out.

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Paige and I apparently have a hidden talent: to end up exactly where we began without having a clue how we did it (it happened no less than 3 times during this trip while we were together xD).  So we ended up back near the entrance to the shoe market (we found a map that told us so), so we headed north to our original destination of the old Seoul wall (and the nearby tower).

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After taking this picture to impress all of you with my amazing selfie skills (with no experience and a heavy camera that always equals awkward times for everyone, yay; 5 takes…just sayin’. We need like a friend who’s a vampire so they can take pictures for us, but doesn’t need to be in them because they won’t show up anyway), we finally started the walk up along the old wall.  It was really cool and you can touch it and climb on it and everything; the trail went right along it.

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At the end of the trail, we came to a summit overlooking the city.  It was a lovely day out (you may have seen my amaaaazing pictures already on my home page here and on facebook xp).

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After we’d had our fill of the view and taking pictures, we started to head back, but I decided impromptu that we should just snake down through the residential area (which bordered the trail to the summit) instead of taking the trail back down.  Paige was skeptical, but followed me.  I had no idea there was anything there.

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We didn’t take any good pictures of it unfortunately, but just past what you see in this picture, there was an art walk that wound down and around through the steep residential area back to the major roads.  Beautiful art graffiti-ed the walls all along this road: flowers, people, swirling colors, nature…it was awesome (honestly, that’s probably why we forgot to photograph it xD).

Once back on the main road, we took the subway back to Hapjeong, intending to crash for the night, but we met a girl in the common room of our hostel who was going for food, so we of course went with. xp

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So we had bibimbap, which is basically just veggies (sometimes with a little meat) and a ton of rice thrown into a bowl which you then get to add spicy red pepper paste to to your liking and stir, then eat with either chopsticks or a giant spoon (you quickly learn to be very careful of anything RED in this country…).  And of course there was kimchi.  Because Korea.  It was great.

Aaaaaand then Paige and I both got a nasty cough and Paige was super nauseous for a couple of days so we stayed in and played Stardew Valley (basically Harvest Moon, but for the PC) for a couple of days while living off of amazing baked goods from a local bakery, takeout dumplings, and ice cream (hey, I’m an adult, so I get to decide what that means).

Next post I’ll try to cover more days, but this day was so full of stuff.  And it’s getting pretty long, so I guess I’ll just space it out a little.  More to come (hopefully) soon.  Take care, guys! ❤

All of Life Can Be Broken Down Into Moments Of Transition

Anyone who’s done any traveling solo can probably tell you, there’s a moment when you realize that traveling and traveling by yourself in particular is not nearly as hard as everyone makes it out to be.  Other people back home have always said, “oh, I wish I could travel” or “I wish I had the courage to travel”, but honestly, living on the road is not very different from living in one place for a long time.  The only difference is that you are constantly forced to try new things because you aren’t in a place long enough to really form habits.

As long as you are fine with eating pretty much anything and flexible as far as where you go and what you see, traveling (and staying in hostels) is a super easy, fun experience.  You meet all sorts of new people, try all kinds of weird and delicious food, and (if you’re anything like me) you still have time to do all the things you did back home (you know…cook, play games, waste time on the internet. The list is endless!).

Mom, Dad, and Rachel are coming to visit Japan in less than a week, but their travel plans are so different from mine.  I am so excited that they are coming.  I just finished a week of hanging out with Paige in Korea, and I can say that I love traveling with people that I care about…buuuuut I do also really enjoy traveling alone.  There are just so many opportunities that only seem to present themselves if you are alone and have no solid plans or people to “check with” before doing something spontaneous.  Over the last 6 weeks or so, I have spontaneously gone hiking up to hot springs in the mountains, done karaoke with two strangers, shared dinner with about 7 people (1 Japanese, 6 Korean) who were practicing their English, cooked with the cleaning staff of my hostel in Fukuoka (who were all French), gone out for dumplings (twice) with various people from my hostel (one of the times I was the translator because one of my companions spoke English an the other spoke Japanese, so that was pretty cool), walked the bar district of Seoul with an Israeli woman and an Argentinian man,  and learned how to play “shithead” (a FANTASTIC card game) from a man from Saudi Arabia (we played with about 6 other people and had a total blast; we actually played it every night for like 4 nights with the same people xD).

 

I can easily say that traveling has taught me to open up a lot more and be more confident in myself.  My time in Japan and my time traveling solo so far has helped me develop so much more as an adult than I would have thought possible.  Aaaaand I’m planning my next trip already.  Maybe China, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, and Thailand as another 6-8 week stint after my semester is up?  We’ll see.  Depends on my budget mostly. xp

 

I hope you guys are having a great year so far. This was just a rambling sort of post, but I’ll put up actual updates about my time in Fukuoka and Korea soon.  Love you guys! ❤