“‘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.

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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)

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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.

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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).

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

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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–

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

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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.

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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?!

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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!!

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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)

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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!

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5 Korean Husbands. 13,000 Fans. And Me.

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Through a magical twist of timing and fate, my favorite Korean boyband, BigBang (yes, I know, people, I have betrayed my NSYNC roots hard) had their first comeback in 3 years and first concert in Korea in over a year, last weekend. The weekend before last. April 25-26, in Seoul. Naturally, I was ready to leave some bodies in the streets in my quest to see them live.

I enlisted one of my Korean co-workers, Ara, to help me, and we made plans to go to a Starbucks and buy the tickets. But that didn’t happen; another friend recommended a PC Bang (bang=baang=room, aka what we would probably call an internet cafe), where the internet connection is super fast due to all the people playing MMORPGs and trolling the respawn, Jeremy. We planted among the horde of unwashed college guys screaming creative curses while playing “League of Legends” (also known as just “LOL” here) and pulled up the ticket-buying website, G-Market. Ara and I looked like totally out of place with our work clothes and ovaries.

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We pulled up a clock and the website and then proceeded to fight thousands of other people for seats. By that I mean that EVERY SINGLE ONE we clicked on that was free, disappeared immediately? Our conversation was “yes!” “gone” “none” and “ahhhhhhh…” Finally after about 15 minutes, we found one on the 3rd floor and we were both shouting “BUY BUY BUY” among the curse-hurling, ramen-eating college boys. I was elated: it was really happening.

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I spent the next 2.5 weeks preparing emotionally and physically for this concert: bought train tickets, booked AirBNB, and purchased an external battery so my iOS stuff could just keep going and going and going. Friday, April 24 couldn’t come fast enough–so I jumped on the train with a dream and a cardigan (a yellow one. The cardigan. Not the dream).

I arrived in Seoul and made my way to the AirBNB and had some potato wedges and take-out beers whilst watching kids screaming for their mothers across the lake at Lotte World amusement park. I found myself waking up at 7:30 the next morning to start the process of sexy-ifing myself. Which of course took less than 5 minutes. You know what Tae and I are about.

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I headed over to Olympic Park early to get in line to pick up some merch for friends and found myself in line for 3 hours…alone…surrounded by Japanese, Chinese, Korean and Vietnamese speakers. It was a multicultural love fest of sharing umbrellas and interacting on Twitter with other shameless BB lovers.

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After the line came some lunch, then waiting, more waiting and then finally, I got in line as we heard the thumping bass sounds of dress rehearsal. We got in and I found my nosebleed seat on the 3rd floor, section 33, #231.

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And then, at 6:34pm, April 25, the BigBang 2015 Comeback began.

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Glorious, dorkery. And then I went back the next day, to suffer through standing, pushing, rib-cracking, fainting women for a chance to see these idiots’ faces.

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Notes:
-standing area tickets are like volunteering to be tribute to die in the arena but there are no hot Hemsworths. I have never been so sweaty for a non-sport event, ever. It was like a sauna that you paid obscene amounts of money for. I saw at least 10 people lifted out of JUST MY SECTION for fainting.

-Their video teasers and filler videos were AMAZING. I was so impressed; the Sergio Leone vibe was strong in music, in the look and style and the Tarantino influence was tangible and awesome. I would just flat-out buy the music from them. So impressed.

-YG Entertainment does not play around with photos/video. I had the girl next to me pulled the first night and they deleted all her photos/videos and let her come back. Another girl on Twitter said she got pulled from standing and was forced to delete everything AND kicked out. That said, I felt for our section’s security guy, who was jumping on the barrier screaming in Korean to put our cameras down. I wanted to pat him on the back like “you tried, bro. There was no stopping us, but we know you tried. Nyah, nyah nyah.”

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-The concert was awash with their hits; opening with “Fantastic Baby” and running through “How Gee,” favorites like “Haru Haru” and “Cafe” as well as the VIP anthem, “Lies.” Each member did a 1-song solo stage (with the exception of Seungri, who had 2 songs/a mashup) and I got to dance along with people who knew every.single.lyric.

-you really can see all of their faces and joy watching fans sing along with them. It really was cool to see them respond and point at people, to throw water on fans and towels and then take their mics away to hear us sing *their* lyrics back to them.

-These idiots are hilarious and put on a huge, big, insane show, and I am so, so glad I went. I know it was a lot of money, but I tried to remember–when am I ever going to do this again?! Thanks to everyone on Twitter (@alyssa_bailey), Snapchat (baileysayswhat) and Insta (@a_bailey) for the love and translations! Until whenever, VIP nerds.

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PS: Taeyang. Stop trying to steal me from TOP, you thankful little shit. King of fan service, indeed.

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Thailand.

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At exactly 6pm everyday all Thais stop moving and stand still. They do not talk. They do not blink. Having had ZERO warning about this, I naturally assume 3 hypotheses: 1) Rapture: ruled out because all their clothes were still on, also, bodies still here. 2) Doctor Who/Torchwood aliens-are-on-our-frequency/Children of Earth: ruled out because no one started talking with alien voices demanding blood or nukes or kryptonite. 3) Someone just hit puberty and their X-Men power is stopping time for JUST Thai people, not foreigners.

Unfortunately, as it turned out, the Thai national anthem plays at 6pm and all Thais have to stop moving and walking and like stare straight ahead until it’s finished. Me and the 2 other foreigners I could see just gingerly stepped around the Thais and made wary eye contact saying “WHAT THE HELL IS HAPPENING HOW IS IT NOT AFFECTING US” in eye language. Then they just suddenly started walking again and it was back to normal…BUT FOR THAT 34 SECONDS IT WAS TERRIFYING.

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>>>>

Thailand is booze and cheap souvenirs and cheaper viagra and hookah and ladyboys and studying and river and lights and more studying and then teaching and street food and good people and sweat and muay thai muscle and cabaret and magic. This is Thailand.

It’s hard to wrap up the 4 weeks in words, but here’s a video link below to get you started. I rode on the back of a bike, got a (reputable) Thai massage, walked where Bradley Cooper has (State Tower: Hangover 2) and got to meet the most awesome people from all over this earth. It was hot and humid as Hades (I imagine) and I didn’t once feel like I was gonna get murdered or robbed.

I can’t wait to go back and be a proper tourist: temples, tigers and sand between my toes. See you soon, Thailand. ขอบคุณค่ะ

PS: A CELTA wrap up post is coming!

Bangkok Beginnings.

My jungle hair, a video and a view from the The Hangover Part 17a: Bangkok Boogie Bonanza. Or something like that.

 

40 Days and 40 Nights.

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This is why I don’t do journals. I skip a day, or a week or a month and now I’m all THERE’S TOO MUCH TO SAY WE MIGHT AS WELL CURL UP IN A BALL AND JUST EAT CHEEZITS AND WATCH DR. WHO, Y’ALL. I realized today on my countdown that there’s only 40 days and 40 nights (still not over you, Josh Hartnett) until I land in Seattle for Christmas. Apple pies, Diet Coke and family times!

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Ok. So its been almost a month since you heard these thought-to-word patterns (hold on I just remembered I have to message someone congrats on Facebook) and I’m back. 

This is what’s gone down:

  • Zombie play is complete! While it was a great ol’ time, I am exhausted and was ever so glad to rest up this weekend. I also fulfilled a lifelong dream of losing part of my voice as well as hanging out with some super-cool people. Next week is the 24-hour play festival and though I’m terrified as heck, I think I might try to write something. 
  • I got a phone. Well, to be honest, I took my unlocked iPhone 4 with me, but finally got a SIM and some service to call the friends I’ve made (you and I both know I made them all up, honestly). 
  • Celebrated 5 months in Korea on Friday–Steven and I both wore jean jackets to commemorate the fact that I viciously tweeted the following on the first day I met him: Image
  • Saw Thor 2 and fell madly in love with Tom Hiddleston all over again. Have barely restrained self from googling “tom hiddleston girlfriend” for now. FOR NOW, I SAY. Image
  • Dressed up all last week–thank you DGEV!–as zombie, Spider-Man, Ursula from The Little Mermaid (which confused the Koreans a LOT) and a vulcan from Star Trek (which REALLY confused them as they though my vulcan ears were “hobbits.”) Image
  • Visited an American military base, Camp Carroll, in Waegwan, about 20 minutes away. Is it possible to get anxiety attacks there? I was the only foreigner with 10 Korean adults on a field trip–and we’re all eating amongst a sea of American camo at Pizza Hut, Subway and Popeye’s Chicken. It’s really weird to see no Hangul (Korean) writing and to only hear so. much. English in one place. I felt like I wanted to say hello to the military people but didn’t because A) what would I say? and B) I don’t want them to think like 10 Koreans kidnapped me and are keeping me for themselves or something. 
  • I have had the most wonderful, sassy adult students this month and it gives me hope. The Ulsan City Officials group of 7 that were so high that we could have moralistic conversations in fluent English, the Daegu City Officials that all hugged me and tried to set me up with their sons–they’re so lovely and I miss them already. Image
  • Drank booze out of a ziploc bag at Bunny’s–it was magical and I can’t wait to do it again. 
  • Missed Apple peeps immensely as new iPad launched, Mavericks released and WHAT IS THIS iPHOTO AND iMOVIE UPDATE YOU GUYS?! 
  • Watched the amazing, breathtaking Colorful Daegu Festival 2013 parade and even made a video about it here! (sorry, no can embed) https://vimeo.com/78453759
  • Took a shameful amount of selfies that I can only 64% attribute to my Halloween costumes… Image

And now I’m heading off to bed to sleep and prepare for the next week of whatever. Maybe I’ll even shave my legs if I’m feeling adventurous, you know, for TOM’s sake (yes, I already googled it I have no self-restraint). See you in a week!

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