I Finally Stood In North Korea

You could call me, in all my matourity, a DMZ veteran if you’d like, seeing as last weekend marked my 4th visit to that very very scary border to the North.

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I went once on Mama’s Schaeff’s birthday when sista came to visit me on my first birthday in the Koko. I went twice for 2 leisurely bike rides along the barbed wire majesty, and even got interviewed for all of Korea to witness. But, this last time, this last time I’ll have you know, is the most legit it has ever gotten, and will ever be gotten, unless I ever actually go to visit the North, which is highly unlikely. But never say never. 5 is a good number.

I finally got to check off that fatty trip to the Joint Security Area / Panmunjeom from my Korean Bucket List, and stood two feet in the North next to a soldier guarding the door to the Hermit Kingdom.

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I think many people are pretty out of the know when it comes to the two Koreas, so when they hear I live in Seoul and that it’s within an hour’s drive of the North, people are like WTF ARE YOU DOING, GET OUT OF THERE BEFORE YOU GET BOMBED. But it’s so not like that.  It’s so chill, and the North’s shenanigans are so far removed from anyone’s waking thoughts. 

I say this because I never get scared knowing that I’m so close to Kim Jong-un and his missles and $800 bottles of brandy.  But, last Saturday I could feel myself getting more and more tense as we reached the JSA. And honestly, it wasn’t because I thought anything would happen. But it’s just such an intense place, and the dress code was so strict, and the security just to get into the JSA required 2 busses, no pointing, no taking pictures of the building behind us, no walking behind soldiers and no touching of tables. There were so many rules and I really had to practice keeping my gestures to myself, because you know I like to gesture. I fucked up, as you’d imagine, but I’m still here so it’s all good.

The tour that we went on took us to 3 places at the DMZ. The first being Camp Bonifas, which, fun fact, is home of the world’s most dangerous golf course. One wrong move and your ball could land in a field of unexploded mines.  Camp Bonifas was named in honor of the Captain who, along with one other, was murdered by North Korean soldiers for cutting down a poplar tree, in what has since been deemed The Axe Murder Incident of 1976. Our tour guide could not stress this incident enough. Everything he spoke about, which I’m not sure his facts were all straight, always came back to this Axe Murder Incident.

First group shot at Camp Bonifas. Fun fact, the girl next to me refused to wear the skirt provided since her’s was too short.

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Just beyond Camp Bonifas lies the JSA, which is comprised of blue buildings that straddle a thin cement slab separating the North from the South, and are maintained by the UN. The particular building where tourists are allowed to enter is where the military meetings necessary to uphold the Armistice Agreement are hashed out. I’ve heard it can get pretty wild in there when they get going, stomping on tables and ish.

By entering the building on the left, you can legally say you have been in North Korea, but a photo will have to act as your passport stamp. Just beyond the blue buildings is North Korea, and if you look close enough, just up to the left of the soldier’s shoulder you can see a North Korean soldier standing post.

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Visitors from North Korea can also come to the JSA for a tour of the DMZ from the North, and apparently just the day before there were tons of North Koreans. We were told not to point or return any friendly waves or smiles if we encountered any North Koreans. Not because of anything malicious towards them, but because if we were to do so, they could take that as us believing that North Korea is great and use it to further brainwash their people. Pretty fascinating and I didn’t even think of that as an issue until told not to. Of course I pointed because my fingers have a mind of their own. Thankfully no North Koreans were in sight.

This soldier is standing directly on the border, and we found out the hard way that you are not supposed to walk behind him when Jenny accidentally did. Whoops.

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You’re also not supposed to touch or put anything on the tables, which again, we fucked up on. Well, Veny did. Triple whoops.

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No trip to a huge attraction would be complete without this guy, his big smile, and my “THIS GUY” face. We were also the last two out of the building. I’m seeing a trend since Dokdo. Token troublemakers.

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They also took group shots of us, where girls had to bend down like sorority girls. I’m also pretty impressed with their turbo airbrushing skills.

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Following in the haste of Dokdo, I almost forgot to get a picture of the room in its entirety, so here is the cockeyed shot I got as we were bolting out the door, last but not least.

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On our way out of the JSA we stopped at the Bridge of No Return, which we were not allowed to get out and see, but just view from the bus.  As the Korean War drew to a close, prisoner exchanges were done here. They were given the choice to stay in the North or South, but if they crossed over from one to the other they were never allowed to return again.

We just take selfies here.

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And our final, final stop was at Imjingak, where I’ve actually been on all my trips before this. Imjingak is home to the Freedom Bridge, which was used after usage of the Bridge of No Return was shut down following the Axe Murder Incident.  I didn’t get a photo of the bridge, but we did get this sick shot. That’s North Korean soju that I’m downing on ‘G” for Garry.

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Last fun fact for you. While military service is mandatory for men in both the North and South, service in the South is just around 2 years depending on your branch, whereas 10 years of active duty is required in the North.

If you’re looking to catch a tour of the most heavily militarized border in the world, the tour group that we went through was called Tour DMZ. We originally wanted to do the USO tour group that sista and I went through when she was here, but that is sold out for months, so we got the next best thing. For a half day tour to only the JSA the cost is 85,000won. There is also a DMZ and 3rd Infiltration tunnel tour, and another combining the two tours. 

I’ll leave you with a pointer for the wise. If you are hurtin’ to purchase some North Korean liquor at the gift shop at Camp Bonifas, I’d probably advise against it, unless you want to burn yourself from the inside out.  Spend the cash monies on some North Korean wons instead.  Now you tell me! Have you been to the DMZ / JSA or even North Korea? What did you think? Were there any differences between this tour and your’s? 

 

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Island Hopping Off Incheon

2 weeks ago marked the last long weekend I will ever rejoice in during my time in Korea. That’s if you don’t count the one during summer camp in August, but I’ll totally be checked out by then and camp will be donezo! My original plan for the long weekend was to visit Haesindang Penis Park on the east coast, close by to Samcheok, where I got a case of bed bugs when Josh and I went to Dokdo last year. Pretty soon everyone started flaking, and as much as I wanted to still go, visiting a penis park solo seems a little too perverted, even for me. Plus, who would document me atop many a phallus?

With that, I decided to head out on my own and check out a couple more islands that are just off the west coast of Incheon. I went to Muui-do during my first Chuseok in Korea and fell hardcore in love, so thought it’d be nice to add a couple more islands to that list. Ganghwa-do is about 2 hours by bus outside of Seoul, and Seokmo-do is about a 15 minute ferry ride from Ganghwa-do. Both islands are very prominent in Korean history, as they served as a fortress island during several invasions by France, Japan and America. It is also as far north as you can get, as it’s just separated from North Korea by the Han River extending out from Seoul.

When I arrived at Ganghwa-do Bus Terminal, the tourist information guy was SO helpful. I didn’t really have a plan, but knew of some sites that I wanted to see. I had also just planned to find a jjimjilbang (Korean bath house) to spend the night at. The man instead told me that Bomunsa Temple on Seokmo-do offers overnight temple stays for 10,000won. It wasn’t a traditional temple stay, but rather a mat to sleep on in a communal woman room, with meals (and snores) all included. I took his advice and headed out to catch the ferry to Seokmo-do.

The bus to get to the port took FOR-EVER. Many people take their cars over to Seokmo-do, so the traffic was horrendous. What would typically be a 35-40 minute bus ride took over an hour, at which point I hopped off and walked the rest of the way to the port. When I got to the port there were tons of little shops selling shrimp chips and special ginseng makkoli. A specialty of the island is their dried shrimp, and the seagulls that follow the boat over to Seokmo-do are very greedy when it comes to those shrimp chips!

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Here is the only photo of myself from the weekend. Not much for selfies, but seagulls aplenty!

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I finally made it to Seokmo-do, and had to figure out how to get to the temple. The guy manning the bus stop was a little flippant when faced with my foreign face even when I was speaking Korean, but I met a couple girls on the bus who spoke really good English and chatted me up. They figured out that I’d head out on the same bus as them on their way to the beach.

When I got to Bomunsa, the base of the temple was littered with old town Korea, which made me so happy. Tons of old women hunched over their little shops of bowls of nuts, and ddeok (rice cakes), and dried shrimp. Tons of dirty fingers handing me samples that I didn’t want to be rude and not try in front of them, and tons of samplings of makkoli. I found myself using far more Korean than I typically do living in Seoul, which impressed even myself that I could verbalize things I thought I only really knew how to understand.

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Getting up to Bomunsa is quite a job for the ass and calf muscles. But it’s a really beautiful walk up, and the temple itself is lovely.

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What I wanted to see most at Bomunsa were the hundreds of Buddhas! Just as you arrive to the top of the hill to your left is a procession of all these white Buddhas with different faces and expressions. I saw a bunch of people also throwing coins to the big statue in the center, so I’m thinking that’s to make a wish or pray or something.

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The rest of the temple was pretty standard when it comes to Korean temples. Very beautiful, but nothing I haven’t seen before, aside from the massive reclining gold Buddha in one of the temples.

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See that flight of stairs to the right? That leads all the way up to the top of that mountain, where there resides a Buddha carved into the side of the mountain. People who were there on a weekend temple stay were doing their daily prayers with the sea breezing behind them.

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No trip in Korea is complete without a selfie or two, give or take a nice backdrop, or not.

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I was also VERY proud of myself for not pulling a Danielle and plummeting down this flight of stairs during my descent. Pat on the back, me!

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When I successfully landed on flat ground, I checked into the temple for the night and went to eat some dinner before it closed. The dinner was my least favorite Korean food, bibimbap, but I liked knowing that since I was at a temple there was no need to worry about any weird meats finding their way into my bowl.

For my slumber, I was given a mat, blanket and a rectangular pillow that I laid out in the middle of a bunch of ajummas for the night. As the only foreigner, I was quite the attraction amongst these women. There were two sisters that I was sleeping next to, and they showered me with Korean melon, candies and ddeok for days. Through my broken Korean and their broken English, we established that one of the sisters has 2 granddaughters that are half whities and were born in America. She then proceeded to call her granddaughters to have them translate all the burning questions she had for me. She even asked if she could come to my house because “she wants to see how I live.” I had a good laugh about that one with her 7 year old granddaughter, Grace.

That night I fell asleep at like, 10pm, after a failed attempt to read my book because they kept tapping me to ask another question. So I just fell asleep instead so I didn’t have to deal. I can’t even remember the last time I went to bed that early. I also had to sleep with my headphones in because there were so many ajumma snores. It was pretty unbelievable.

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At around 5am I was jolted awake with pieces of candy being thrown at me. It was like I was a little sugar animal or something. The sisters were trying to wake me up to have breakfast with them, but I couldn’t be bothered to get up that early, let alone eat kimchi for breakfast. So I continued sleeping for most of the morning. At around 10, after 12 solid hours of slumber, I woke up to them staring at me and asking to have lunch with them, but I wanted to jet out. And jet out I did.

After a quick rinse, and by rinse I mean taking the shower nozzle and wetting my legs and arms, then slathering myself in lotion, I was off. I felt so dirty but I was not about to take a legit naked shower in the communal shower area with flies and weird smells aplenty. So I probably smelled pretty potent.

I grabbed some free fried vegetables for the road, a bottle of ginseng makkoli for later, and admired the delicious kimchi being made. Gotta get me a baby kimchi pot before I leave.

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I also found the ajumma hott spot.

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I caught the bus back to the ferry, and the ferry back to Ganghwa-do, where I popped off to go see the ancient dolmens with these fashionable travel companions.

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The dolmens are a UNESCO World Heritage site, and serve as grave markers for past rulers or high-up people. To me, they looked like a Korean version of Stonehenge on a much smaller scale. I was not impressed, so this journey took me all of like, 15 minutes to get through.

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After seeing the dolmens, I thought I’d go to the Peace Observatory to wave hello to Kim Jong-un, but I was a bit pooped and in desperate need of a bath, so decided to call my little trip over after a wander around downtown Ganghwa-do. I checked out a little flea/produce market, and saw enough garlic to keep all the demons away. It smelled so delicious.

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If you’re looking for a quick, cheap, and easy getaway out of Seoul for a couple days, this is a lovely option. To get there, grab the 3000 bus about a 5 minute walk from Sinchon exit 5 (green line). It’ll take about 1.5-2 hours to get to Ganghwa-do, and busses leave every 15 minutes. Once arriving at the terminal in Ganghwa-do, the tourist information man is extremely helpful. I believe I used busses 1 and 30 on Ganghwa-do, and there’s only 1 bus you need to use on Seokmo-do. You can also use your T-Money card for all busses, and I probably spent about 6,000won in total for all transportation on both islands. Not too shabby!

A Wild Ride At Yongma Land

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During my innocent high school days, Nick and I used to go back to his dad’s apartment sometimes for lunch. Whenever we would, I’d eat a can of Chunky soup from the pantry, some Carl Buddig turkey (there goes my absurd memory for detail again), and some Kraft singles while I’d wait for my soup to heat up. Then I’d plop down in front of the tele and turn on Unsolved Mysteries. Robert Stack always creeped me the F out in that brown trench coat of his, but I think I really liked it. He was the perfect host for my favorite creepytime show. All of the stories on Unsolved Mysteries were primarily from like, 10 years prior, and the acting on the show was horrendous, but it gave me my daily dose of eerie and it made me happy slash vigilant in always looking behind me.

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Why am I telling you this, you ask? Because I wanted you to know that I’ve always loved spooky things, ok?? Especially movies like The Shining which I watched for the first time in high school at 2am, and still haunts me to this day. That’s why I had to purchase the REDRUM t-shirt you see in the following photos. It was the perfect dress for the occasion, because you know I never miss a chance to play a little dress up.

Remember when I broke into that abandoned insane asylum last summer? That was so cool, and still tops my list of favorite things done whilst in Korea. Since then, I’ve read about quite a few other haunted or abandoned places on this peninsula, and one of them that happened to be closest to Seoul is Yongma Land, an abandoned amusement park. It looked like more of a carnival to me, but that’s neither here nor there, and it went out of business sometime in the mid-nineties due to a lack of Yongma Land-goers.

Since I’ve been dying to go, I grabbed my fellow abandoned places explorer, Joshy, and a very appropriately dressed Veny, to check it out with me. From Seoul, we all hopped the Jungnang line to the Mangu Station exit where we had about a 20 or so minute walk (if we hadn’t gotten lost en route) to the park. As you would expect, we took the very scenic route (read: the wrong way) after being detoured by some picnicing ajussis in the bushes. We walked along the path they told us to, but veered off to our other left instead of following this here sign like we should have. But should doesn’t make for the most enticing story, now does it?

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Our other left took us around a golfing range and into what we discovered to be the back entrance and what was probably at one point the water park of Yongma Land. Before dredging through the mushy hills and spiderwebs, we modeled in the once upon a time pool, and on the decomposing water slide filled with crap and a burnt teddy bear.

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We finally decided to try one of the staircases leading up to who knew where, and our first try proved to be a ghastly mess of monster ants and spider webs up the ying yang. Take two led us up this staircase on the left.

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And Joshy, forging the way for his ladies, took this route, which we did not.

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Instead, we went rock climbing, which Veny did not enjoy but cameraman up there did.

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If he’s anything he’s a gentleman!

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Behold! Back door entry to mounds of crap for everyone!

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Once arriving at the park, or sneaking your way in like us, the entry is 5,000won to Mr. Youn who still minimally maintains the grounds. When we arrived and dusted ourselves off, we thought we snuck in for free, but alas, a 6’4″ white man and his ladies stick out. The park has actually become quite popular for shooting k-pop videos and commercials, so we weren’t surprised to find quite a few groups there for photo shoots.

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Or this pervert and his muse.

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We let the perverts carry on as we explored and got our hands and butts a delightful shade of dirty. First up, dat Disco Pong Pong all the kids love so much. Joshy the giant was terrified during this photo opp.

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WALL-E!

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Office chair graveyard by Aladino and his magic carpet.

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Air vehicle graveyard.

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Always the gentleman, he carried our bags as we (dis)mounted large objects.

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K-Love bus buddies since day one!

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Hardcore rockin n’ rollin in this one. Their complimentary weights really balanced it out.

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Methinks I’m too big for this one.

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Jump on it, ride it, dat pony.

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Views at the top, in the castle and bumper car graveyard.

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Back to the future with this generic video game called…Video Game.

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And when we were ready for a bath and a meal, we left through the way we should have come in had we followed directions properly.

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If you are itchin’ to get out of Seoul, or want to fulfill the inner lust for the abandoned, shlep yourself to Yongma Land! It was super fun and an out of the norm way to spend a weekend taking colorful photos.

To get there, take the Jungnang line to Mangu Station exit 1. You’re going to walk straight out the exit down the main road where you’ll pass an Emart with a McDonald’s written all in Korean. Turn left when you get to the next main intersection. Keep walking straight until you come to the next major intersection. The road will sort of curve to the right into a smaller street. Walk down this street and keep following it. A little ways up when you hit a cake shop on the right it’ll curve around to the left and FOLLOW THAT. We made the “mistake” of just walking straight up the small street but that led us the super round about scenic route way (which you may enjoy). If you go the “correct” way, it’ll lead you up a street littered with little restaurants and straight to the entrance above. There’s also a sign with Mr. Youn’s number on it if you need to call him to let you in.

Happy riding!

Happy Birthday Buddha, With Love From Gyeongju!

I sit here a week after returning from a very much anticipated long weekend jet out of town with a visitor I just couldn’t wait to be in the same time zone and touchable space with for the past 5 months. A very digital age meet-and-greet story short, Jerry came back to the Koko on a very big leap of faith after we spent a Valentine’s Day in the airport, and many a month Skype cavorting. Well, Skype doesn’t always translate into shooting stars, but I think a snarky and oftentimes brutally honest friendship came from a southern boy’s internet stalking efforts.

I have been wanting to get the heck out of Seoul for a bit now, my lungs have been pretty desperate. Top of my list on the main land has been Gyeongju, which was once the capital of Korea, and is where you can learn about the Shilla Dynasty of Korean history past. It is the cultural epicenter, and where you go if you want to walk in Korean history, not to mention, breathe glorious fresh oxygen.

So, as soon as Jerry Berry arrived from Shanghai, we hitched a KTX train ride down south from Seoul Station to Gyeongju, with a quick transfer to the Mungunghwa slower train. I love train travel, and we wanted a little longer jaunt on the way down. On the return we came direct from Singyeongju station, which is slightly more out of the way from Gyeongju, but has a direct KTX line to Seoul.

I had never stayed in a love motel (which is exactly what it sounds like) since being in Korea, so I booked us a room at the swanky Sugar Motel on the sexy love motel street. Since we were planning to be total tourists on this getaway, we took the free pick up from the train station that was provided, and the lovely Miran fetched us upon our arrival. Ajumma visor modeling was provided on-the-house from the backseat.

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We were greeted with elevator Astrology. Are Aquarius and Libra compatible? I guess we were to find out.

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After settling in and finding horrendously disgusting Korean ramen slurping-esq porn on the tele (which we watched for far too long), we went out for a nice long wander around town, where we mocked the giant political poster-men, noshed on a snack (which he fucked up and needed assistance), and inhaled some dakgalbi. We also enjoyed a heaping serving of miserable couples not talking to each other all around us. Jerry was very happy to be back in Korea.

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We had one full day in Gyeongju, so the next morning we had a leisurely sleep in, and went off to rent some bikes for a couple hours. I think I always mention that biking in foreign places is one of my favorites ways to see a city, and this was no different, except that there are people EVERYWHERE in Korea, and add a holiday weekend. So, there was lots of swerving. I even saw a woman plummet straight for a curbside lunch. For once I wasn’t the one eating shit, and Asians suck at driving in all its forms.

Gyeongju is scattered with these spectacular rolling green hills which are actually tomb mounds, and they’re all over the city. They are stunning! We visited Cheonmachong, meaning Heavenly Horse tomb, which is believed to house one of the Kings of the Shilla Dynasty. This particular tomb was named for the horses that were found painted on a saddle that was found during excavations in the 1970s.

It also proved to be a spectacular setting for selfie-stalking (or as Selena Meyer would say “Ussie” stalking), which also happens to be another of my favorite pastimes in the country of narcissism.

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We stumbled upon some gangsters who were climbing a trail up to the top of one of the mounds, and just as I was about to shlep our asses up there, the ajussi police came and ran them off. So instead of rebelling, we biked some more in search of a park that we soon realized was far too far for our little bicycles. So we forded a river and followed this little lady down her alleyway. 

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I also found what resembles a massive menorah downtown. L’chaim!

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That night, after getting a tad bit lost, we got a jeongsik (정식) dinner, which is a meal comprised of a bunch of sides. It’s super delicious and usually comes with soup and tons of plates to cover your table. Our first one happened to be a baby jeongsik. I believe this one cost around 5,000won/person! Not too shabby.

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After stuffing our bellies, we oriented ourselves and walked across town to Cheomseongdae Observatory, which is claimed to be the oldest observatory in all of Asia. Glory glory Korea! I wasn’t super impressed, but I did read that this observatory is built of 361.5 stone slabs, which is equal to the number of days in the Lunar calendar. Ok, so some scientific thought went into the construction.

We took this horrendous selfie as a souvenir.

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And this one of these people with their asshole arm extender.  Then we peaced on out to Anapji Pond, which disappointingly enough, we got there too late to see in its illuminated glory. Sadface.

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Tuesday was actual Buddha’s Birthday, so we got up at the crack of the morn and hit the road to make the most of our half day before shlepping back up to the ol’ concrete jungle. Before hopping a bus, we needed to caffeinate, and he needed to continue documentation of the horizontal stripe phenomenon in Korea for the mind-blowing science project that he’s conducting.

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Stripes taken, we popped on a bus headed for Bulguksa Temple, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that is about 35-40 minutes outside of the city center. We took this ussie where Jerry continued to practice his smile.

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Bulguksa is beautiful, and there were some prayers and speeches going on while we wandered the grounds. I think all temples in Korea look the same, but they’re still quite perty to see. I especially love the lanterns they use to adorn during Buddhist holidays.

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We made some friends.

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This Jew is always trying to find beauty in a Buddhist symbol turned disgusting.

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I stalked a bit, per the usual.

IMG_3370We were going to head out to Seokguram Grotto, but alas there was no time. Seokguram was also recently declared a UNESCO site, so I’d like to see that at some point.

Our last meal in Gyeongju was another jeongsik, this time much bigger and with a lot more variety. We were actually on a sardine cramped bus headed back to the city center when we passed it, jumped off and bolted across the street. This place was really cute and traditional, and we got to sit in our own private little room on the floor instead of standing pressed up against the man’s farting ass next to us.

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I really really loved Gyeongju and am so glad I finally got to visit. It’s so quaint, and I’d say one of my favorite places I’ve visited during my time in Korea. Living in Seoul, it’s so easy to get swept up in the big city life where things can become mundane and sort of easy once you get the hang of life, even while still being in a foreign country. However, this weekend I felt like I was out of my as-of-late element for the first time in a long time, and I needed that in a bad bad way.

Have you been to Gyeongju? Any must see places or tips should I take another wander down yonder? Let me know!

 

Zumba & A Chop&Dye

As a foreigner in this far eastern land, there are a couple life necessities that are quite difficult to find that reach top notch western standards. One of those is a good hip gyrating Zumba class, and the other is a solid ‘do chopping. Well, the hair has actually been covered for quite a while, as my post on the gloriousness of Lucy has received much traction on the interwebs. However, I have recently tested other waters because, just because, and well, Danielle is happy.

And well, the connection between the two is that one who cuts yo hair also gets you to shake yo azzzzz! Sexy for sexy!

I Zumba’d quite regularly before coming to Korea, and the class was taught by a girl I used to dance with at Retter’s, so it was legit. Then I came to Korea and took a few classes, all totally made me sweat buckets, but totally sucked on the Zumbaness factor. The teachers just didn’t know what they were doing, or it felt like they were just making the dances up as they were going, or, um, they just didn’t look like they danced hardcore on a regular basis. Apologies, but you want your instructor to look like they get down and this ish works.

Then Veny enlightened me to the HOTT Zumbaboyz, who are HOTT. That’s with a double T. Dan and Jin are magical and so much fun and exactly what a Zumba class is supposed to be. They have classes that they teach together every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at the Latin American Center in Kyungridan for 10,000won/class, or you can get a card  for 10 classes and pay 80,000won. Win win.

Kyungridan is on the opposite side of Hae Bang Chan, so go out Noksapyeong exit 2 til the underpass and cross under. Cross the street by Noxa and just walk straight, it’s just past Millions of Milkshakes and a taco place.

Dan also teaches at the Body Star in Jongno-5-ga on Tuesday nights and Jin at the Body Star at Sungshin Women’s University exit 4 (my hood!) on Thursday nights at 9pm.

Token photo with them the first time I went to one of their classes. They had a big fancy opening party with disco balls and flashing lights. Totes approps.

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As mentioned above, this post is two-fold. Not only is Jin a mover and a shaker, he’s also a hair chopper! He recently opened up JP Hair in Hae Bang Chon, just up the main road when it curves around to the left. That wasn’t supposed to sound dirty.

You see, I started cultivating my glorious “Garden of Gray” at the ripe age of 25 while stressing out over JLo, but it was manageable until the day I turned 30. On that fateful day in January, the garden started looking more like a forest each time I gazed in the mirror. It was a minor horror at each glance. It had to be dealt with immediately. My virgin locks had to meet dye for their first time. That, and I needed life brought back into my limp mane.

So I put my trust in Jin.

Since I am not a #selfie #narcissist I don’t have any just-after photos for documentation, but I actually told Jin just as I was leaving how much I loved my hair and that I never usually like how my hair looks when I leave a salon. He curled it, which looked divine, but to be expected, they fell by the time I reached the bus stop. Stupid hair.

So foreign AND Korean ladies, you should totes check out Jin for your next ‘do revamp! He’s a pro, speaks perfect English and his studio is centrally located and greatly priced. 20,000won for a cut and 50,000won to have my roots dyed. Not too shabby.

To get there, just walk out Noksapyeong Station exit 2 and into HBC past the kimchi pots. Walk allllll the way up the main street, and when you see it fork off just turn left and it’s around the corner above the 7-11.

Happy thrusting and sexifying!

Gettin JAPpy With The Japs

As many of you know, I have been super top of the pops over here in the visitor department.  So popular in fact, I actually can’t even keep track of how many people have visited me over the past 26 months, but I’d ballpark it somewhere around 15 or so.  October marked by faux-teen visitor, and one of my most anticipated because it has taken her forever and a freakin day to get her JAPPY ass out to see me! But let’s remember, all good things come to those who wait!

Well, it had been nearly 2 years since Cori and I painted ourselves florescent on the beach of Koh Phangnan, so we were long overdue for a reunion of loving and bitching and bickering til death do us part.  She came to the land of pig, where we ate lots of chicken, for 6 days, and then we flew our JAPpy selves on over to Tokyo for some bright lights, robots, green tea Kit Kats and some Japanese culture.

Starting with the Kokoness of her journey, I took her to all the visitor must-see hot spots, and she met most of those awesome folks who are left of my friend circle in the country. That was actually maybe the weirdest thing.  This was my first visitor since nearly everyone left, and part of the fun of having visitors is introducing them to your family in your home away from home. But c’est la vie and on with the show!

First things first, I’d just like to say how impeccable our timing was upon meeting at my subway station after her arrival! As I was coming up the escalator on my way home from work, Cori was walking just past the exit! It was pretty perfect. And there was embracing and extremely loud laughing, because it wouldn’t be a Diamond & Schaeff reunion without it.

Now let’s take a little jaunt through some of the highlights shall we. As it turns out, the spicy dakgalbi with an over-abundance of ramen, was her favorite meal in Korea. The chicken, vegetable and rice cake dish is also one of my fave Korean foods as well. Nom!

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We tried to kick her jet lag by going to Hongdae for some makkoli and dong dong ju times with Tim. We wanted his opinion on our new hairstyles. What do you think?

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Next we visited ZEN 1, a VERY old faithful staple of Hongdae times, where we met up with Jee, and I ducked down to look like a midget for this photo.

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The next day was filled with the clusterfuck that is Seoul shopping. We paraded around Myeongdong, then headed over to Namdaemun where she got acquainted with the efficiency of purchasing fancy new spectacles accompanied by prescription fillage. She also ate her second hotteok of the day while enjoying the ever-so-slight constant drizzle.

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Next came my super slutty moment. We hiked up Namsan Tower and locked our love down overlooking the glorious city of Seoul. Our 23 years of sisterly love is officially locked down forever. I am a slut because this was my third display of love to be locked up. But I guess as the saying goes, third time’s a charm.

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We even did this cute lovers pose on a love bench.

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We began our day of culture with a smidge of a bust, as I had no clue that the huge palace, Gyeongbukgong, is closed on Tuesdays. Here we are in front of the palace door, but we could really be anywhere with massive red doors since you can’t actually see the ornateness of the palace! Grrr!

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We did however meet a new friend, Darshan, who was very taken by the giddyness of the elementary students who were swarming around us. It does feel good to be a celebrity, I must admit! And in Korea’s homogenous society, there’s no shortage of celebrity status.

I ended up playing tour guide to both of them for a little bit, and introduced them to King Sejong and his concoction of Hangul (the Korean alphabet).  Then in Gwanghwamun Square, we got dragged in by a very persistent ajumma for a rendition of the “Conga”, and got a taste of traditional Korean dress, dance and song before heading off to a naengmyeon and bulgogi lunch in the traditional Hanok Village.

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The most fantastical part of our “Day of Culture” was by far our afternoon of traditional Hanbok dress up. We went to a place on the main Insadong road that Veny actually told me about. There you have several different options ranging from getting full hair and makeup done for a professionally airbrushed photo session, to the bare minimum of just trying on the hanbok to take your own cell phone photos in their gallery.

We opted to have our hair done in full traditional Korean fashion, and then couldn’t have chosen our hanbok any more appropriately. Cori was the Queen, and I was her faithful entertainer.  We took the professional photo and then tore up that gallery area. I’m surprised we weren’t asked to vacate the premises prematurely.

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The next thing we did, which I have done more than a handful of times since moving here, is something I am EXTREMELY proud of Cori for trying! Before coming, I kept telling her I was going to force her to try the live octopus, which is a super Korean thing to do, and every time she squirmed with a big fat HELL NO. Well, that got flipped upside down!

My favorite person to do the Noryangjin Fish Market with is Joshy, because he will pretty much try any slithering sea squirt that lies in those tanks.  So he met up with us for the venture and helped initiate Cori into the world of live octopus eating!

On her final day in Seoul, she came to school with me and got the chance to see what a Korean elementary school is like, and meet my most adorable 4th grade baby dolls. Unfortunately my 5th and 6th graders were gone for the week so she didn’t get to meet them. I thought the 6th grade girls would especially love her because they are obsessed with all things girly and fashionable. Bummer!

Most importantly, these little peaches were SO excited to meet her, and have since thrown her name into the greeting each class! “Good morning Ms. Jin and Ms. Danielle and Ms. Wanda and Ms. Candy and Ms. Cori Di-A-mond!” Pardon the awful bottom picture, but, please take note that my little peach Paul is holding Cori’s hand. Not enough hearts to go around!! ❤

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And with that, two Jewish American Princesses were off to get all kinds of Jappy in the land of Japs!

To begin, I absofuckinglutely LOVED Tokyo! I already knew I loved Japan after going to Osaka and Kyoto, but Tokyo really solidified it. As the cliche goes, it’s like a breath of fresh air stepping onto Japanese soil from Korea. People dress to their own heart’s desire instead of blending in with the next, and something about Tokyo just feels HUGE. I love Seoul, but Japan just has this huge heart pumping through it. The buildings seem bigger, the lights seem brighter, and the people make a conscious effort to not shove into you like you’re some inanimate object.  Aside from their facockta subway system and the radiation, Tokyo is one of my favorite cities I’ve traveled to.

We were there for 3 glorious days, and our feet shlepped us and our wallets so many places, each offering its own unique vibe, of which I’ll highlight my favorites.

1. Robots vs. Pandas vs. Dinosaurs vs. Pole Dancers in Kabukicho, Shinjuku’s Red Light District

Yes, I know what 3 letters come to mind. WTF. And that’s exactly what you should be thinking, because we were thinking it during the whole show, and I’m still thinking it now, even though my mind was utterly blown into fantastic smithereens.

After getting a few snickers from asking where Kabukicho was (this is the Red Light district), we could not find this Robot “cafe/bar” for the life of us.  We actually thought it was just a cafe/bar type place where robots served you and you could come and go as you pleased. But no no. After scouring the district for quite some time, passing it unbeknownst to us several times, we decided to give up, til we met our new friend Frank, who was innocently looking for a Penguin bar while on a business trip. He remembered seeing the robots, and threw searching for said Penguin bar out the window to come find this Robot joint with us.

We found it, and it was NOT a cafe, bar, whatever you wanna call it. But rather, it was a full blown show encapsulating the above title header. And it was worth every last penny of those 5,000yen (~$50), even the horrendous bento box dinner we were served.

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2. Barbie Lingerie In Harajuku

Cori’s top priority in terms of districts to see was Harajuku. These are the girls made immortal by Gwen Stefani in the early 2000s. We actually went to Harajuku a couple times over the course of our trip, but we only really saw 2 true Harajuku girls, which kind of bummed us, but mostly Cori, out. That, and we didn’t ask to get a photo of or with her because we thought for sure we’d see plenty more. Negatori Yakatori.

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We may have missed out on the Harajuku girls, but we did find the Barbie lingerie store, which to me is equally, if not more, fascinating, and a bit deranged.

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I also was overly and oddly excited about this Sanrio Surprises on Takeshita-dori, which smelled of gumdrops and cotton candy. I am made more aware of my Asian-ness in such moments.

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There was also this creepy rabbitequin.

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3. Writing A Note To Hang On the Tree Of Life At Meiji-Jinju Shrine

Cori and I took a break from Harajuku girl stalking to add a little Japanese culture to our lives.  We visited Meiji-Jinju shrine, located right by Harajuku station, which is the largest Shinto shrine in Tokyo and was built to honor the soul’s of Emperor Meiji and his wife.  The shrine was dedicated to them in 1920, and completed in 1926.

It’s a beautiful walk into the shrine, filled with Iris gardens and so much lush greenery.

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And absolutely no shortage of decorative fermenting Sake.

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Once reaching the shrine, you are face to face with what I instantly called the Tree of Life. I don’t really know if that’s what it’s called, but it seemed properly suited. Here visitors have written hopes and wishes for the future, or struggles they hope for their family or friends to overcome, and just need some sort of little mighty push.

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I decided I had some things that needed some push, so now they are fully displayed for the daily world to see.1382924_10102721202275657_1361541361_n

4. Taking a Magic Carpet Ride & Meeting King Triton At Tokyo Disney Sea!

For starters, I had no idea that Tokyo Disney and I have been in the same grade all along! We just so happened to be there during its 30th Anniversary party! Lucky us!

If you sense an air of irritation in the photo, it’s because we were so rudely being pushed out by what I believe to be an intrusively rude Korean couple.

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We went to Tokyo Disney our first night, and actually barely rode any rides. In fact, the only ride I rode was a magic carpet in Agraba. It was a solo ride though, because Miz Diamond feared her tummy would act up. Hmph. At least I was thrilled with joy to have King Triton grant me such a warm welcome to his kingdom beneath the sea!

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5. Shoving Takoyaki Balls In My Face

One thing I regretted when I went to Osaka and Kyoto was being too scared to try Takoyaki, which are these fried octopus balls that are served slathered in mayo (vomit), and crispy onions. Well, I told myself that I would definitely shove them in my face this time around.

Turns out I didn’t see them anywhere, until our last day while visiting Senso-ji shrine. Due to the scarcity of them, I’m led to believe that Takoyaki is primarily a regional food of the Osaka area.  Either way, I grabbed 6 balls, NOT slathered in mayo, and ate 3 of them before contracting a stomachache.

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One little side note while on the topic of food, I did eat a fair amount of sushi whilst in Tokyo, because it would be an utter shame not to. But, one thing I was very aware of was the amount of searing being done to the sushi.  I’m not sure if this is normal in Japan, but I saw it done so frequently that I figured they were doing it to maybe sear out some of the radiation in the fish. Who knows, but just a thought!

6. Cleansing Our Dirty Mouths & Fortune Telling At Senso-ji Shrine

On our last day we decided to actually stay in our neighborhood, Asakusa, which was a remarkable hub for all the super cultural attractions. We visited Senso-ji shrine, which is another huge Shinto shrine.  Despite the rain, I really loved the walk into this shrine. It felt like real old Japan, and women in traditional kimono and parisol were not a scarce site.

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The shrine was gorgeous and massive on a rainy day.

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And there were tons of people dropping coins into the prayer boxes and carrying on with their prayers. One of us saved the praying for later after we chose our fortunes from these here boxes.

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You are supposed to politely shake that silver box, make your wish, and then pull out a numbered stick that corresponds with one of the numbered drawers. My fortune was a “small fortune” and said I have many good things coming my way if I put in the work.  Cori however, well, she got bad juju and went to smirk thru her prayers.

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Then we both cleansed our mouths. Nice try holy water, but not sure this is strong enough.

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7. Sensory, Porn & Anime Overload in Akihabara

This was by FAR my favorite district of Tokyo. Not because of anything I very much enjoy, but because it was SO (pardon my French) fucking bizarre! Akihabara is the electronic district, which also boasts a huge porn and anime scene.

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While here we saw so many different kinds of cafes being advertised, ranging from Maid cafes, to Domestic cafes, whatever the heck THAT means. Not to mention, I have never seen so much anime since my family’s family friend’s cousin used to dress up as Sailor Moon just on a regular Saturday. It was ODD.

Maybe the funniest thing though was the 6 floor porn building prominently situated right by the subway exit. The walls were plastered in Polaroids of naked girls and naked girls having sex. Then once on the floors, there was anime sex props up the ying yang, whips, dildos, vibrators, pretty much anything imaginable. And tons of people were just perusing at their leisure.

I especially loved pausing behind some creepy old man staring rather intensely at a leather whip.

Here I am with my gazoongas and kimono ready to get educated in Japanese sex culture! My, was it a thorough education!

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Kind of fun fact: This is a great district to do your duty free shopping in, as duty free shops are EVERYWHERE. I had a really early flight out the next morning and wasn’t able to buy my green tea Kit Kats at the airport, so I just did it here.

8. Romancing A Spider For An Exquisite View Of The City At Roppongi Hills

Prior to visiting Tokyo, I read that going up to Tokyo Tower for the city view was quite overrated, and that the view from the 54th floor viewing deck of the Mori Building in Roppongi Hills is far more breathtaking.  Not to mention, you get to see Tokyo Tower as part of your view and seduce a giant spider before making your way to the top.

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It cost us between 1,500-2,000yen ($15-20) and an ear pop in the speedy elevator to the top!

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9. Failing Miserably In A Japanese Photo Booth

I think it’s just an East Asian thing, the whole photo-booth-make-your-eyes-ginormous thing, but even coming from Korea, a photo booth in Japan was high marked on the to-do list! Especially since there are some pretty stunning glamour shots in mine and Cori’s past that desperately need recreation.

We found a Cherry Cherry booth and scurried in, only the whole thing was in Japanese so we had a few minor difficulties in navigation and procurement. Once we took our photos, filled with a heaping amount of awkward face, we waited for definitely over 5 minutes at the photo retrieval machine to no photos being dispensed. We then realized that we had skipped part 2. Part 2 being doodle all over and make your eye balls HUGE, obviously the most important step! Well, the language barrier interfered again and we ran out of time sans huge eyeballs, plus lots of Cherry Cherry baby.

Maybe our “thing” is just taking awful photo booth glamour shots! That’s it, it’s settled.

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10. Starf*ckers Come To This Starbucks

Located smack in the middle of Shinjuku’s busiest intersection, lies the busiest Starbucks in the world. When the lights turn red, the entire intersection opens up for pedestrians and it is a massive clusterfuck of humans, which can all be seen in perfect flourescent light stricken view from the top of said Starbucks. Stopping in the middle of the intersection, you know, to document it or something, is apparently similar to asking for a death wish.

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Last, but certainly not least, I’d like to highlight a couple things we attempted, but much like the glamour shots, failed at.

1. Radiation Overload At Tsukiji Fish Market

We had read about the tuna auctions that happen every morning starting at 4am on the docks at Tsukiji Fish Market. The fishermen catch fresh (radiated) tuna straight from the water and auction them off to bidders, and then everyone somehow kills themselves with radiation for breakfast.

We weren’t 4am ambitious, but we didn’t realize that the entire fish market shut down by early afternoon.  Coming from Seoul, I assumed it would be open all day, but just more insane in the wee hours. I was wrong, and after mazing through the endless back warehouses of the market, this is all we saw.

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So, if you decide to go to the Tsukiji Fish Market, plan to get there EARLY. I imagine they close by 12 noon, so plan on making a Japanese breakfast out of the venture.

2. Hopping A Moat To The Imperial Palace

We didn’t really jump over or swim through any moats, but we didn’t get to tour the gardens surrounding the Imperial Palace where Japan’s Imperial family currently lives, as it was closed the day we went. We did however get this documentation of us in front of the moat in the rain.  The palace is also behind us in the distance.

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3. Bicycle Riding In Nakemeguro

Biking around Nakemeguro was highlighted as a must do in Tokyo, and since one of my favorite activities to do in a foreign country is whimsically bicycle around, I was all about it. Unfortunately we were totally let down when we couldn’t find where to rent the bikes! We found a bike parking lot, but our lack of Japanese speak and the worker’s lack of English provided for no such luck.

It wasn’t all a bust though, seeing as two vintage loving gals found themselves wandering down a quaint street lined with pink lanterns and littered with vintage shops GALORE. We ate our eyeballs out!

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To get here, you’ve got to get to Nakemeguro Station, and after exiting, it’s going to be down the first street you can turn down on your right.

After 10 days with each other, my Diamond and I had a wonderful trip, with a smattering of bickerings here and there, but overall just lovely!  Twas another adventure to add to our chronicles of taking over this fascinatingly beautiful continent!

Rocky Horror Madness Impulse

With my 3rd year off to a lovely start, I have recently felt the urge to do more random things that I’ve always loved but never really had the figurative balls to do.  Well, a while ago I had signed up for Meetup notifications from Seoul Players, the group that puts on plays and those types of things around the city. Much like the dance Meetups, I never saw anything that quite tickled my fancy….until late last week.

There was a notification about auditions for a Rocky Horror Picture Show shadow cast that looked oddly enticing, and not to mention, a freaky little cherry to put on top of my favorite holiday that’s just around the river bend. So, I emailed the producers to sign up for the 2:30pm audition time slot on Sunday afternoon, and then cursed myself for the unnecessary nerves that I had bestowed upon myself as I took my ass to the audition.  I was asked to come back at 3:30pm because the other 2 auditioners failed to make their time and it would just be awkward to carry on by myself. More nerves. I wanted to just get it over with!

So I left and returned. And I was nervous. Nervous until the introductions by me, the director and producer and 2 other hopefuls were out of the way.  Then we did some warm up exercises.  Building an imaginary machine with motions and sounds, and running across the floor pretending different scenarios were happening.  Exercises that made me deathly self-conscious while in high school theater, that remarkably weren’t so bad 11 years down the line.  I’ve grown up! And with age comes more “I don’t give a fuck-ness!”

Even so, I had still checked off to be cast as a not so large part because A) I don’t want to be prancing around in just briefs and a corset. I haven’t shaken that ounce of self-consciousness, and B) I haven’t acted in a while, and didn’t want something so boisterous on my first go at it.

After a 40 minute audition, I left with a huge smile on my face, from all the unanticipated fun I had just had, and desperately hoped I got cast.

Well, I am happy to announce that as of Wednesday night, I have accepted the role of Magenta in the Seoul Players shadow cast production of Rocky Horror Picture Show! I am so freakin excited for the fishnets, big frizzy hair and french maid attire that lies in my future! And because I had no clue what a shadow cast was, and I’m assuming you don’t either, it’s when we perform in front of the movie that’s playing behind us. SO, I will not be displaying my tone-deaf singing voice or having to memorize elaborate amounts of lines.

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Rehearsals begin this Saturday, and we will be performing the weekend of October 25th and 26th in Itaewon.  Words can’t express my excitement to perform and have a massive fan club attend yet another one of my ballsy wacko impulses.

I must say, it feels really scary in a good way to get outside my comfort zone and do something different! Cheers to growing old and growing as a human 🙂