At present moment, I have embarked upon my final 2ish months of ROKin’ out in the Koko. It’s kind of hard to believe that 3 years have come and gone. SHWOOP! Where the flying F does the time go?! I’m actually quite sad about the wind-down because as weird as this place is, I really fucking love it. Not to mention, there are some people I’m not ready to have so far removed from my immediate life yet. I know some will bring madd waterworks. Oh well. C’est la vie! Time to start packing and shipping and all of that not fun stuff.
Yet, no matter how much I love the far East, my second home, I’m 110% ready for a new adventure. My feet are starting to get itchy and I’m hankering for a new place, new experiences, new culture and to meet a brand new slew of (minimally freakish) peeps. Topped off with guzzling wine by the bottle. Can’t forget THAT.
So then, with the impending departure rapidly approaching and a yadda yadda yadda, I’ve realized that I’ve kind of been a blub when it came to really getting out and exploring this country. I’m ashamed of it, but I definitely know I’m not alone in this state of getting land-locked in the big city and just getting too lazy to branch out. Seoul has become home, and as much as I hate monotony, I’ve gotten stuck in my ways and the day-to-day whathaveyous. With that out on the table, I’ve been on a mission to bounce my ass out of this city as much as humanly possible.
Chrissy and I have been meaning to get back to the Chuncheon/Gapyeong area for some time now. Both of us went on our own on two separate occasions about a year ago and visited Nami Island. Nami Island is a little lovers enclave, filled with lush towering greenery, and even boasts a “First Kiss Bridge” named for, as one would suspect, the first kiss of two characters on the hott Korean drama, Winter Sonata, which was apparently quite popular. The bridge is lined with melted and flattened soju bottles, which aside from most likely leading to many an inappropriate adult behavior, was super quirky and cool. They sold these bottle-dishes in the gift shop, and I played the tourist when I purchased my super Korean trinket so as to fondly remember all those wild nights I had with the Devil’s water. I hate to love you, little green 1 dollar bottle!
These two couple-wear rockin love birds probably just shared a romantic kiss where many other fans did before them. Giggle worthy.
You can leave your mark for all eternity on these special snowmen, just as Winter Sonata likely had on all those fans’ hearts. Maybe take a selfie with them while you’re at it?
I strolled down this romantic lovers lane, hand-in-hand with myself.
Lots of funkiness to break up the serene on this island. Do your boobs hang low? Do they wobble to-and-fro?
Chuncheon is known for its dakgalbi and makguksu, which also happen to be two of my favorite Korean cuisines. Dakgalbi, a marinated chicken dish that’s stir fried with cabbage and rice cakes in a spicy pepper sauce, isn’t really an eat-by-yourself meal, so I knew I definitely had to return with a homie in tow. So I done did dat! After many poor weather days, Chrissy and I finally got ourselves out there together, along with two others, Sarah and Chrissy’s friend Sammy.
We took the comfy high-speed ITX train from Yongsan Station all the way out to Chuncheon, which takes about 1.5 hours. Chrissy, the ultimate snack queen, brought some long breaded sausage for everyone’s train noshing enjoyment.
When we got there, we didn’t actually do much, but it felt sooooo nice to be out of the city and breathe the fresh air! There is green everywhere, and I even felt like I completely left Korea. We ended up grabbing a cab out to Soyang Dam, where we then hitched a ride on a ferry out to a secluded area which houses Cheongpyeongsa Temple, which we didn’t even make it to! During the 10 minute ferry ride I felt like I was transported back to Southeast Asia. It was absolutely stunning. Korea is seriously gorgeous once you really get into it.
From the dock, it’s about a 20 minute walk to the hill up to the temple. We staked out a lovely riverside lunch at one of the little restaurants leading to the temple and stuffed our faces with dakgalbi, makguksu, and dong dong ju (a fermented rice wine much like makkoli, my Korean beverage of choice). The ajussi who worked there also took quite the liking to me, and grabbed my cup at one point to give himself one of several “service shots” of our dong dong ju. Hmmm suspicious old man! “I serve, you thank!” He also had a snappy way of clapping at us to get our attention from the restaurant above. We thought it was so funny, but when we did it back to him he turned a not-so-happy eye on us. Methinks we disrespected our elder in our fun and games.
Either way, the food, booze, and locale were sensational.
What a nice mommy and daddy cooking my food for me.
Korean pancakes are little bits of heaven, and that kimchi burrito thing was tasty too.
When we were alerted to the last boat’s departure by our clappy friend, after having not even gone to the temple, we raced across this bridge back to the dock, but not without a quickie photo shoot, of course. This is me and Chrissy after all.
Then we hauled our overflowing bladders and made the final boat, thank the heavens above!
I wish we got to see the temple, but alas, most temples in Korea all look the same, so I’m not too torn up about it. Chuncheon is beautiful and twas invigorating to breathe some clear fresh green air in good company!
Directions to Nami Island: Take the high speed ITX train either from Yongsan or Sangbong Station to Gapyeong Station. I had gotten a bit turned around when I went, but you should hail a taxi from Gapyeong Station to Namiseom Dock. Then from the dock you’ll hop a 5 minute ferry to Nami.
Directions to Chuncheon & Soyang Dam / Cheongpyeongsa Temple: Follow the same ITX directions as above, only take the train all the way to the Chuncheon exit. When you arrive you can either hop the bus across the street from the station (I forget the number, but the Tourist Center could let you know that), or take a cab, which is what we did. It ended up being around a 12,000won cab ride. Once you arrive at the dock just purchase a ticket for the ferry and hop it!
The past week has been a bit of an exciting one for me in the world of writing! Why, you ask? Well, because I’ve been featured and included on two separate guest blogs – one of a fellow blogger here in Korea, and another on that of another travel enthusiast like myself.
On Saturday, Lily over at Away with Lily posted about 15 Korean dishes that us expats have come to love, and our Korean lives would simply be incomplete without. You can read about my irrational love for Mul Naengmyeon (물냉면) right here. You’ll also notice that there are a ton of soups on that list, which is actually one of my favorite things about Korean cuisine. There is a never-ending supply of bomb soups, so you never have to go a season without.
Today, Melissa over at Liberated Traveler included me as a part of her Featured Destinations Q&A, where I had the chance to revisit one of my favorite countries that has since stolen my heart on this Asian journey of mine. I visited Cambodia nearly 2 years ago now, yet it still stands out to me as a place of sheer magnitude and beauty, and a walking history lesson all in the same experience. You can read about 10 of my “must-dos” here, and some tips to take if you ever have the chance to visit Cambodia.
So it’s been a bit of an exciting few days, and a lovely way to wrap up the year! Both ladies above have wonderful blogs, so I’m happy to have been included! Be sure to check their work out!
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!
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?
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.
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.
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.
We even did this cute lovers pose on a love bench.
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!
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.
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.
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!! ❤
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.
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.
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.
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.
There was also this creepy rabbitequin.
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.
And absolutely no shortage of decorative fermenting Sake.
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.
I decided I had some things that needed some push, so now they are fully displayed for the daily world to see.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
The shrine was gorgeous and massive on a rainy day.
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.
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.
Then we both cleansed our mouths. Nice try holy water, but not sure this is strong enough.
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.
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!
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.
It cost us between 1,500-2,000yen ($15-20) and an ear pop in the speedy elevator to the top!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!