“‘Pokemon’ Is Short For ‘Pocket Monster'” and other things in Japan

Not my best title, I know, but I’m writing this over a month later after returning from Japan, so…a lot of brain cells and one egg have died since then, so I’m not on top of my game. Yep.

IMG_6783

It always felt that my time in Asia wouldn’t be complete without visiting Japan. For $50 you could fly from Busan to Osaka and stuff yourself full of sushi, roll in piles of Doraemon swag and perfect the art of karaoke, so that was the easiest decision ever. I finished up 2 years of work at K. Hogwarts and left for 10 days in the land of the rising sun.

Continuing with my Philippines tradition, I went makeup-less and packed just a backpack to carry on my flight, only to run into one of my bosses at the airport, so it was a great start to the trip. After landing on the island airport of Osaka (no, really, it’s an island)

IMG_7358

I realized that I couldn’t remember the address of the hostel I was staying at, and in immigration there was no wifi…so I lied and wrote “friend’s apartment in Osaka” and cried a little in the line after copying the phone number of the guy in front of me. Sorry Marty (and Japanese immigration official) and random stranger. I just was dumb and forgot about the paperwork part, I didn’t pre-plan to fraud everyone I JUST WANTED THE DORAEMON SWAG.

url

After renting a data ‘egg’ and slowly, awkwardly reading train signs, I made it to Osaka Station. I…was not prepared. It was like Seoul Station on crack. There are at least 7 lines running out of there, and sub-stations and new letters and new solar systems and *cue hyperventilation and hypoglycemia* someone finally came out to help me because I was sweaty and awkward for too long. I finally made it to my hostel in Osaka, and it was perfectly cute and quaint–Air Osaka Hostel via AirBNB in Kitagaya was warm and friendly. They also included a map that pointed out some awesome hot springs (that I visited twice), a delicious, cheap restaurant (again, twice) and a sushi place (once, because money).

IMG_8765

LOOK AT THAT DESTRUCTION. I am the destroyer of Japanese foods. I also visited the Pokemon Center in Osaka and…well…

IMG_7421

Squeeeeeee. I never got into Pokemon as a kid, but who doesn’t like Pikachu? I bought myself a soft little squishy Pika and a coin purse because anything less than a 1000 yen note (around $8USD) is a coin. SO MANY COINS. Also of note, the only ONLY song that plays in the Pokemon Center? The Pokemon theme song in Japanese. On loop. I fear for their employees because they must walk in to work hoping for–

anigif_enhanced-25188-1437736730-2

After more Osaka explorations, including a 3-story Sanrio (Hello Kitty) store, Osaka Castle and a peaceful, rainy Shinto shrine:

IMG_8766

I then lovingly tucked my Pika into the backpack and took off for Fukuoka!

In August 2014, I got to lead a program of 60 Japanese students from Aso College, in Fukuoka and 60 Korean students from my parent school, Yeungjin College in Daegu. We mixed together the students for a 5-day, 4-night English intensive camp, and it was one of my favorite teaching experiences ever. So I was unbelievably excited to see several of my Japanese students again–they even let me stay with them, they COOKED, we talked–it was so much fun. Plus, OWL CAFE.

IMG_7626

You pay 1500 yen (about $12-13) to hold these handsomes. The first 15 minutes you read some safety tips, including “please don’t forget owl is rapacious bird” and “when you see hate signs while you touch owls, please stop touching owls right away.” I don’t know what a hate sign is, but look at this bro, who was bestowed the name “Nuts.” HOW COULD HE EVER HATE SIGN?!

IMG_7527

The next day, after a delicious homecooked meal from Tati, my students took a taxi WITH ME to the airport. They refused to let me pay and they even bought me some Pika swag from the Fukuoka Pokemon Center! I’m so happy to have met them and been their teacher and their friend too. I was a little sad to go on to Tokyo, but off I went, backpack bulging with Pikas and gifts from the Super Daiso that I had gotten lost in. Thanks so much to Tanya, PJ, Tati, Ryota and everyone else I got to see!!

11248337_741939845917462_3208277826507495777_n

In case you are planning to go to Japan, you need to know that Narita Airport is in the middle of Egypt nowhere, so plan accordingly. I made it into my hostel in Tokyo’s Shibuya district around 10 at night, a little lonely and ready to eat my own hand. I walked up the four flights of stairs, ran down to find food and smack into a guy staring at his smartphone exactly the same way I had been 5 minutes before. I asked, “Are you looking for the Geekhouse?” He looked up, and stammered “ah 애, yes” and when I looked closer, I saw the telltale signs of Korean 20something guy–Carhartt and white socks with white tennis shoes–I replied “진짜?!” and laughed, watching his jaw drop. It had only been 6 days, but I’d already missed speaking in Korean and feeling halfway knowledgeable in a foreign country. He threw his bag upstairs and we got ramen and a beer together on the corner, talking about our lives in Korea and our travels in Japan. When we figured out that we wanted to see the same areas the next day, we ended up walking around all of Shibuya and Harajuku together–Won Geol and I, the photographer and the makeup-free white girl. (You can see him peeking his head into my otherwise flawless pano of the Meiji Jingu below)

IMG_7637

Over my last 2 days, I discovered a shop that sold $20,000 original, single, hand-painted animation cells from classic Studio Ghibli films like “Kiki’s Delivery Service” and “Totoro,” stood in Shibuya Crossing, the busiest pedestrian intersection in the world, and walked an hour back to the hostel, letting myself crack a little and grieve about leaving Korea soon.

IMG_7740

I left Japan after not-so-gently shoving my Pika and all his friends into my backpack, and hoping that Peach didn’t have weird restrictions on carry ons since my bag weighed as much as the Sherpa I would need to carry it, and headed home to gimbap and soju, ready to live up my last 2 weeks in Korea. Pictured below is me and my Pika:

tumblr_lr30tzAEjI1qaxsoxo1_500

A lot of people have asked about the differences between Japan and Korea, especially my Korean friends, so here’s a brief list of things I noticed that may or may not be unique in my experience:

1. It’s quieter. There’s less noise, less ambient music, less screaming, less “Oppppppppaaaa” and less honking. Every city I was in was just calm. Even the busy areas–even in Shibuya crossing, it was remarkable. No one is talking unless they have to. Everyone is respecting everyone else’s space. Even Won Geol said, “it’s more quiet than Korea,” so I feel this one is true.

2. The food–obviously these are different places and no one does a food like a home country but DAMN. The ramen, the udon, the SUSHI, my god, the sushi, where is this drool on my chest suddenly coming from…? But wow. Japanese food is glorious, full-bodies tastes. From restaurants to home-cooked meals and even convenience store sushi, I never had a bad meal. tumblr_logdznWf4X1qzbb14o1_1280

3. Hot Springs/Onsen: Korea has jimjjilbangs (짐찔방) but while similar to Japan, there are some definite differences, chief among them, not staring. This matters when you’re a very naked, very white, very alone, chubby white girl. If they did stare then they were truly CIA-level because I felt perfectly calm and alone. Also, fun fact–the onsen I went to switched sides every other day. I went on one day and the door was the left one, and the next day, it was the right one! Amazing. However, had I never been to jimjjilbangs in Korea, I would have been quite lost in Japan.

4. They drive on the left side! I guess somewhere back in the deep recesses of my lizard brain, I knew this, but after about 5 minutes of confusion, I realized that something was wrong with the street and it was not opposite day. This did a number on me because not only do you have to be conscious while crossing the street, you also have to be aware what side of the street the bus comes on, an error I made while standing on the right in Fukuoka, watching the bus I was meant to be on drive away. Across the street.

tumblr_m8rj3s0FSK1qjfbsg

Anyways, that’s all for this wrap-up–you can see more pictures on my Facebook of foods and owls and temples–I’ll try to sum up the last month here in America this week and we will be *GASP* up. to. date.

ありがとう, Japan–thanks for the best food, and even better people. Especially you, immigration guy. I’m sorry I was shady I DID IT FOR THE POCKET MONSTERS!

IMG_7401

IMG_7412

IMG_7710

Advertisements

Baguio, Baby! Reincarnated Dogs and Questionable Meats

So, I’m as bad as a network season finale cliffhanger for that last post, am I right? “I’ll post tomorrow,” I said. It’s only been (counts on fingers)…it’s been more than “tomorrow.” My bad. I have excuses, but most of them are flimsy and since y’all all WHEN YOU GON’ UPDATE, sit your Bellatrix selves down for the rest of the #PhilippinesAdventure.

anigif_enhanced-23585-1425485532-8

You’ll recall that day 1 in the Philippines, was, to use the colloquial, a shit show. I was seriously looking into tickets back to Korea that night, but I didn’t want to face the peanut gallery of “WHY DIDN’T YOU JUST GO TO EL NIDO I TOLD YOU I TOLD YOU I TOLD YOU” and since I am a dumb woman who repeatedly forgets that pride goeth before the shit falleth, I couldn’t have that.

anigif_enhanced-17485-1414093828-7

I asked my new AirBNB host, Nick, for some advice, and what I got was advice AND DINNER, y’all. At a place that was like “The Hangover,” pre-hangover.

IMG_7814

AND HE PAID. Yes, y’all. This dude definitely paid more for my dinner than I paid at his hotel. And it was crazy delicious. He (and his business partner) both recommended that since my first choice place of Sagada was supposed to be raining all week, I should try for Baguio, which was “just 5.5 hours away.”

url

My main goal in this unplanned trip to the Philippines was to relax and unwind and just be around green things, which, in a nutshell, was what it was like in Jeju for me just 5 days before, and they assured me that Baguio was like that, and they had contacts there. So I folded myself in half in a tricycle, YES a trike, and went to the bus station. I then proceeded to think “don’t pee don’t pee don’t think about peeing you definitely don’t have to pee, you’ve never peed in your life” for the next 5.5 hours, which I am sure my sister the nurse would not be proud of.

Watching the scenery go by, I saw more and more green, making my heart excited. However, I’ve got to tell you guys that the ratio of Celine Dion songs I heard to hours I spent on that bus was just unreal. I was in love with the guy next to me by the time our ride was finished. Upon arriving to Baguio, I checked into my new AirBNB place and promptly got rained on. But the view, even in the rain, was magnificent.

IMG_6948

Originally, I’d just planned on staying 2-3 days in Baguio, and getting ideas for somewhere else. But, like all places, there were people that changed my mind. My new AirBNB place was hosted by Robert, who was convinced that his dog, Bruno, was reincarnated and could tell bad people (barking) from good people (no barking), and that since Bruno and I got along like gangbusters, I was a good egg. Just look at this fool, who clearly has superpowers.

IMG_6967

Robert fed me, answered questions, and let me just chill and be myself on his balcony for hours. I also met 4 girls who lived in the house–they are from neighboring provinces and are in Baguio for jobs/training/schooling for a temporary time, and they are awesome–they took me to night market, to bars, on walks, and got me to eat new foods, all while chatting and talking about life. They completely made my trip worth it.

anigif_enhanced-buzz-13953-1383250690-7

I ended up spending 5 days in Baguio–and I have to say, I never anticipated in my life being crammed into a Toyota 4 Runner taxi with 4 Filipino girls, eating corn kernels that were coated with macaroni cheese dust out of a plastic cup, and rocking out to “Gangster’s Paradise.” Sometimes when you just let the journey take to the weirdest places, it treats you to pretty wonderful experiences.

IMG_6990

Highlights in Baguio:

-The night market–at 11pm they close down one of the main streets in Baguio for a clothing, shoes, and trinkets free for all that is manic and wonderful and super cheap. You should all know that I really restrained myself in not buying you all vintage Nike tees. And then I ate some weird foods that I’m still not sure about.

IMG_7038

-Maryknoll Ecological Sanctuary–aka one of the weirder things I did in Baguio and I…I’ll just show you some pictures. This is touted as a garden, and as I was here to see green things, it seemed logical…To start with, this is how this starts:

IMG_6909

YES. Am I right?! I  swear, if there was just a weed scent, this would be right at home in the Pacific Northwest. This place/garden has a “history of the world” theme, and it did not disappoint with the weirdness. There were dinosaur eggs, mini-caves, and even weirder religious motifs. I wished so bad that RoyGene had been there to livetweet it with me, because it was glorious. Also, there *were* beautiful flowers, but I was too lost in the hilarity of strange.

IMG_6911

-Mines View Park–WE DON’T NEED NO STINKING BADGES to look at a bunch of hills that once had mines that produced valuable stuff. Not the most exciting pit stop, but a cool view indeed.

IMG_6989

-The Mansion–aka where the President goes to get away from the oppressive heat of everywhere else in the Philippines. I know it looks like the gates to Arkham, but I swear this is the summer white house.

IMG_6987

I returned to Korea, a little wiser and with mostly healed cheesy thunder thighs, and missing the one guy who knows me inside and out: Bruno. I mean, seriously, look at this fluff basket. He knows what’s up.

IMG_6971

TL;DR: #PhilippinesAdventure

tumblr_inline_msobafAsbJ1qz4rgp

So if you go to the Philippines, either 1) plan better then I did or 2) just go to El Nido already and you’ll probably love it. I don’t regret going on my journey of strange, as it’s made for some awesome and horrific stories but I could have saved a lot of hours and several inches of chewed of fingernails if I’d planned better. But the Filipino people made my trip a glorious bag of experiences and for that, I’m pretty damn grateful.

IMG_6871

Next post: How to end your job gracefully without crying, by Not Me, #JapanAdventure and OWLS. Yes, Anderson Cooper, OWLS.

anigif_enhanced-19731-1406055749-10

How Not To Start A Vacation: Philippines Style

You know how people are like, “don’t plan out your vacation! Just let it take you where it will and you’ll discover blah blah blah its the journey, not the destination?”

tumblr_nnjfgf3bea1t1qeoto1_500

Such crap. I mean, like, half crap. At least when it came to my Philippines trip.

*sidebar: this coffee shop I’m at right now has an amazing, killer iced Vanilla latte. Think Sonic cup ice and creamy, glorious vanilla tears of a mermaid–it’s great. However, I was like, YES, I would like a chocolate muffin with it and this muffin tastes (and has the texture of) ground up Cheerios boxes. Not Cheerios. The cardboard box that holds and smells faintly of Cheerios. Like, I wouldn’t feed this to chickens my worst enemies anyone. But I bought it so I am damn well gonna eat it. Stupid pride. Anyways…*

Philippines. I finished up my aforeblogged Jeju trip on Monday, May 18 (happy birthday, older bro! You’re 30! I should shut up now!) by flying back to Daegu in the morning, then showering and discovering I’d been attacked by what looked like angry gnomes…I had countless bug bites, scratches, scrapes, tiny sunburn on the tops of my feet (knew I’d missed somewhere…) and the cheesy maiming of my thunder thighs. Everything hurt in that shower. Did I really want to leave the country again for 6 days? I mean, sure, the $168 round trip flight from Seoul to Clark was too Dutch to pass up and I am an adult female woman person who has pride, power and is a badass mother who don’t take no crap off of nobody so HELL YES we are going to go and…have fun…and whatever. Also, it was my last week of vacation at K.Hogwarts, so I *had* to use it.

boltletitbegin_zps83bcba36

Everyone who knew I was going to the Philippines was all “OH MY GOD EL NIDO EL NIDO PALAWAN (that’s it, right? I have a sneaking suspicious it might be Padawan but that could also be a Star Wars thing) YOU’LL LURVE THE BEACHES” and I’m all, “please look at my skin tone and tell me about how perfect I am for beaches and snorkeling, please.” No. I was going to the MOUNTAINS and having HIKING TIMES and FINDING MYSELF like that lady from Oprah…stuff.

tumblr_lr30tzAEjI1qaxsoxo1_500

So I get to Seoul, get on the flight, and immediately, start to have a weird feeling about the trip. Not enough to break aviation law, but I did have a “which sickness gets me off of here without thousands in fines” thought and I will confess to thinking about throwing nuts at a steward but I did not because I am not a chaebol lady pre-apology. I shrugged it off and said to myself “IT WILL BE AN ADVENTURE,” confirm texted my AirBNB host about the car picking me up, and then departed from Korea.

I landed to…nothing. Wait, that’s not entirely correct. I landed, went through customs, whole shebang, got the stamp, got my bag searched, walked out the doors to…nothing. No sign for the car I had previously arranged. No person saying any version of my name, mangled or otherwise. Just looking at about 200 Filipino people looking at me as they were sitting, and waiting, for other people that were NOT me in the 84 degree heat at 11:22pm at night.

anigif_enhanced-30546-1401378968-6

I could not figure out what brand of cross-cultural muckup I had walked into here. I frantically tried to connect to the semi-shady free wifi spots at this tiny, useless airport (that $168 ticket price tag is starting to make sense, isn’t it?) to check my AirBNB app for something, anything from my host to discover why my already exhausted, possibly hungover, bug-bitten, sunburned, cheesy maimed ass was alone in a new country and up shit creek. To add insult to these various injuries, I was an IDIOT and forgot my foreign credit cards. I know. I blame it on the Jeju magic; I’d still been in Korea in Jeju, so I was able to use my Daegu bank cards and Korean ATMS (my Korean cards wouldn’t work here. I checked). I was now in a foreign country with just under $404 in Philippines pesos FOR THE ENTIRE 6 days.

Cat

I used 400 ($9) of my precious pesos to buy a SIM card to contact the AirBNB host, since she’d given me her number to call her in the event of…anything. Nothing like hearing the message “this call cannot be completed as the receiver is either out of service or this number has been disconnected” to make your heart sink. I hadn’t eaten in almost 9 hours, and it was just past midnight and hot and dark and I was, to be frank, scared. Yeah, I was. I was alone, and knew no one in this country. I don’t want to lie to you guys. I wasn’t totally in panic mode, but I’ve seen “Taken” and I couldn’t go back into the main airport without a ticket (which I wouldn’t have for 6 more days) and I was rapidly approaching some unattractive tears. I had no credit card to get any more money, I had no sleep options (this airport is 15 minutes from anywhere), and I was feeling really dumb about the whole trip.

I frantically tried to book different places on AirBNB, since I could use my credit card number online to pay, but since it was past midnight, I couldn’t book for the night I was currently living (18th/19th), but rather the next night (19th/20th). I still hadn’t cried by this point, but this wasn’t a moment of pride for me. In desperation, I posted an SOS on Facebook, which prompted a text from my best friend saying “you know your mom is going to freak out, right?” Yeah, I did. But it felt like a legitimate post to throw up there since I was literally sitting against a wall in a strange airport in a strange land without any plan other than “don’t get kidnapped or robbed or sold into slavery.”

tumblr_lflan2Qc2j1qbi9m7-1

At this point, a guy wearing an official-ish badge walked up to me and asked in a not-unkind way, “what are you doing?” By now, I’d been pacing around with a constipated look on my face for about 2 hours. It was just shy of 1am and as I blurted out my story, he said he knew of a close hotel. I informed him that I didn’t have much money, which probably was mostly sold by the fact that I only had a small backpack on and smelled like anxiety. He said his job was “taxi chief” and that he knew of a good, cheap place that was safe, including “guard have gun,” which, after living in Korea for so long…is kind of unsettling…but whatever. I’d already created a frightening backstory for a lot of the guys walking around the airport, so the word SAFE SAFE SAFE was circling my head like little Disney birds. He bundled me into a cab (500 pesos) and told me the hotel would probably be about 1200 pesos.

It is possible that in the dark of the cab, to the dulcet tones of 1980s Whitney, that I maybe shed a few tears of thanks and frustration but I hid it real real well under all the makeup I was not wearing. But you can’t prove that.

10 minutes later, upon arriving at a hotel that looked not unlike the motel/gas station from the movie “Cars,” I paid 1400 pesos (you win some, you lose some) and collapsed in twin bosoms of air conditioning and fast, fast wifi and actually, did, cry for about 30 solid seconds. I opened my messages to read replies and tips from friends from all over the world, plus family who was praying for me and a message from a college friend who hooked me up with names and numbers of her dad’s missions contacts in the Philippines. It was almost 2am in Angeles, and I was exhausted in every sense of the word. Despite the fact I was 88% sure there was a lipstick cam in the ceiling (it just had that vibe), I stripped down to my underwear and tried not to think about the sheets as I passed out.

I woke up 7 hours later to some emails from AirBNB customer service (awesome, awesome people) and messages from more people (yet, never ever heard from my original AirBNB host by email, messenger or phone). AirBNB hooked me up with some credits and helped me book a place that night. I spent the rest of the morning lazing about in the air conditioning and watching some form of an “Underworld” movie before deciding to check out and walk to my new place. But since this is getting long, I’ll save the rest of the story for tomorrow–including tips on how not to pee yourself on a 5.5 hour bus ride!

TL;DR First night in the Philippines:

tumblr_inline_moi5g46Taq1qz4rgp