October 28, 2009

Japan: Kyoto

We landed in Tokyo and took the bullet train down to Kyoto that afternoon. We arrived in Kyoto at 6:30 pm with the hopes of finding a hostel when we got their, but after walking to many hostels and calling many more we realized we did the typical backpacker mistake- always make a reservation for the first night. I thought Hannah and I would be the only backpackers in Japan, I have never been so wrong. Almost all the hostels were booked. We eventually found our way to a great mom and pop hostel.

First off, Japan actually looks like what you would expect- women running around in kimonos, little streets lines with house, houses with bamboo doors and stone steps. It's perfect.
The first sightseeing must was Fushimi Inari Shrine (the shrine in Memoirs of a Geisha) and it was amazing! The orange really adds to a cold and cloudy day. Everything was so bright and exciting. You can`t help but think of how lucky you are to be there. Throughout our picture taking (there was a lot) Hannah and I somehow lost each other so the rest of the day was spent alone explore. I visited Kiymizu Temple that afternoon. After Hannah and I met back up at the hostel, relieved to see each other, we went out for dinner and geisha lurking. Its like trying to find a needle in a haystack. Geisha lurking night 1- fail.

The next couple of days were spent sightseeing. We saw the Golden Pavilion, which was very gold. We stopped at a flea market where I was able to pick up some great souvenirs. Hannah and I went to a tea ceremony where we actually made the tea and learned how to whisk proper Japanese style. In the afternoon we took the subway to Nara, a small town just east of Kyoto and did more temple hopping. 
Gold Temple

Sushi for every meal
Kyoto tea ceremony
bike parking

Exploring Nara
That night we went geisha lurking again and we saw some! Geisha lurking; same same paparazzi. All the foreigners just stand around waiting on the street corners with their cameras ready until a geisha scurries past. Geishas are not aloud to stop or talk to anyone so they hustle along and everyone fallows them. It was amazing, nothing will ever beat it. Here in Kyoto there are two types of girls; mei-ko and gai-ko. Mei-ko girls are training to become gai-kos. They train for 5 to 7 years beginning around 15 years old.

After seeing geisha's I had to be one. The next day Hannah and I went to a geisha photo studio where they paint your face and you get to dress up in a kimono and wear hair pieces. I also wore a wig, which weighed about 10 pounds. I felt like a bobble head. The entire outfit weighs a ton. I am so amazed by the young women who can look so elegant with the all that weight.

October 27, 2009

South Korea: Adios, Hasto Luego

Hannah and I have landed in civilization- Seoul, South Korea! I can't believe how different it is, we feel like cavemen in the big city with our faded clothes. Everything feels so fancy and clean here. However, it is freezing. It has been in the low 60's and we feel like we are in the artic. I can't remember if 60 is cold. I have been sweating for the last year so my temperature gage is off.

I have a friend from LanaguageCorps (my TESOL course) teaching English in Incheon, which is just outside Seoul so we will be staying with him at his studio. Thanks to blow up mattress we have a very comfy home base.

On the first day we took the subway into Seoul and went to the popular neighborhood, Iteawon. We needed to do some research on what to do and how to do it. There is so much to see and so much going on. I love it! Northern Asia has it pulled together, SE Asia feels like wild animals running around the jungle. There are also the cutest nail salons. We plan to have a different color every day.

On Tuesday morning on the way to meet our Demilitarized Zone tour group our day started in Spanish. After an 1.5 hour subway ride into Seoul we walked out of the subway station to find crossing the street impossible, and this is coming from two people who just lived in Vietnam. There were no cross walks and the cars where so big and scary for us who are use to motorbikes. Hannah and I decided to take a taxi around the corner. We hopped into a taxi and the driver turned around and (in Spanish) asked do you speak Spanish? I told him a little and for the next five minutes we spoke Spanish to our Korean taxi driver- adios, hasto luego!

The DMZ is the boarder between North and South Korea. The whole experience was amazing. We stood at the look out point to North Korea where their flag pole is little taller and the hillside is bare. We were told the trees have all been cut and used for energy. Our tour guide only touched on the extreme poverty in North Korea but seeing the bare hillside in North Korea was eye opening. Our tour guide also truly believes that it is only a matter of time before the boarder is opened (she was a bit of a nut but there is a train station already built for when the boarder opens). After the DMZ I was fascinated with what life is like in North Korea. That night I read a few articles online- "why is Kim Jong Il the only fat North Korean?"

The next couple of days were spent resting and sight seeing. Seoul is beautiful with mountains all around the city. I just love it here.
Gyeongbokgung Palace

October 16, 2009

Taiwan: English vs. Chinese

We arrived in Taiwan on Sunday and took the train down to Kaohsiung to visit Phoebe, an old friend from studying abroad in Italy. The first night we got there we went shrimp fishing, which consists of sitting around a partially indoor pool and waiting until a shrimp bites your line. We were there for about 3 hours and I didn't catch a single shrimp but, it was fun.

The following 4 days were spent sight seeing, eating, hanging out with Phoebe and wondering where all the people where. I never knew Asia cold be so empty. For a city of a million people is feels deserted. Anyways, it was great to have Phoebe around who speaks a little Chinese because knowing English is useless in Taiwan. I thought that the Vietnamese didn't know English...it's all in perspective.

Early Friday morning we left Kaohsiung and headed to Taipei for a full day of sightseeing. The first stop was Taipei 101, which claims to be the tallest building in the world but I am having a hard time believing it. It looks so short!! I don't know how to sugar coat that for you. After a shocking morning of confusion by the shortest/tallest building in the world the rest of the day was spent mastering the MRT (subway) and exploring the city.

Taipei 101

View from the top of Taipei 101

October 8, 2009

Philippines: Could Use Some Communism

We are not in Vietnam anymore. In the Philippines they sell butchering knives on the streets and I have yet to see the police.

We landed in Clark Field and after a two hour bus ride into Manila, Hannah and I realized that Clark is not in Manila. After a long day of traveling we arrived at a pension house (Philippine's hostels) which was conveniently located behind a Starbucks. I remember when I first got to SE Asia I tried not to go to Starbucks or McDonald's but after a year everything has changed. Hannah and I dropped our stuff off in our room and walked straight to Robinson Mall. We had been deprived of this privilege in Vietnam so we were excited to spend the afternoon shopping in air conditioning. 

The next morning Hannah and I took a flight down to Cebu in hopes to find turquoise water and white sand beaches. From the airport we hired a car to Moalboal (hiring cars is what you do here because public transportation is dangerous which we find out later that afternoon). Moalboal is a strip of dive shops behind a rocky beach. We checked into a hostel while we started to question the Philippines but we tried to stay positive and went to eat lunch. During lunch we decided Moalboal had nothing to offer us so we left. Time spent in Moalboal: 1 hour.

{ The only photo we took in Moalboal }
The only option for leaving Moalboal was to take the public bus - desperate times calls for desperate measures. It was about a three hour bus ride back up to Cebu City where we got to witness the Philippines at its best...  or worst. About an hour into our bus ride a drunk old man got on the bus and passed out dead cold on the man sitting next to him (we were sitting on the upper back bench so we had a great view of everything that was going on). As we were the only foreigners on the bus the bus assistant came back to us and made sure we were okay which was very nice. At that same moment the drunk man started peeing everywhere (thank god we were on the high bench!). After that an older man got on the bus and sat right next to me. He decided to put his hand right next to my leg and move his fingers around, which I found unnecessary so once I got up the courage I told him to move over and put my backpack between us to stop whatever was going on there. We have learned that you can't have a bus ride without a gun sighting. When the man who was sitting in front of Hannah and I got off the bus the back of his shirt was tucked into his pants exposing his gun. Just a topper to our cultural ride!

Back in Cebu we decided to ask the pension house for a beach suggestion. She suggested a beach near by so the next morning we took a taxi to the supposed beach. Yeah right, I do not think so! Another failed beach attempt. The Philippines was suppose to be a vacation not a cultural immersion program. We turned around and went back to Cebu City and to a travel agent. The travel agent was worse then our Lonely Planet. She basically told us going up north was a bad idea because of the typhoon and the only affordable way to get up their was the public bus which I was not eager to get on again. That afternoon we went to the mall and watched The Ugly Truth. Walking around outside was scary so we hardly spent any time outdoors. At this point our only option for finding any beach (we have given up on turquoise water and white sand) was to get out of Cebu. We flew to Palawan on Saturday after many hours on Friday of tracking the typhoon to make sure it wouldn't be joining us at the beach.

Puerto Princesa was a huge step up from Cebu City. Palawan is known for its world heritage site in Sabang- the Underground River. On Sunday we signed up for a tour and went out to Sabang and through the Underground River which was amazing.

After seeing Sabang it became our beach destination. The following day we took a jeepney to Sabang. Our jeepney was packed full from the top to bottom. At one point we picked up someones dining room furniture.

We dropped off our backpacks in our bungalow and went to have lunch at their restaurant. During lunch one of the staff members came over to ask if she could have the key to our room to hang the mosquito net. At first we were hesitant but then decided that not everyone is out to get us so we handed over our room key. After lunch we strolled back to our room and found that we had been robbed! Nothing of real value just deodorant and make up remover but it was the principle. We acted quick and strolled down the beach to notice a beautiful resort. This was going to be our splurge. We were saving our splurge for Japan but decided to seize the beach resort moment. We spent the next three days playing in the ocean, swimming at the pool, watching DVD's and eating. We enjoyed every minute of it while we sat on our porch in our resort robes and looked out over the ocean.

October 1, 2009

Vietnam: Teaching has come to an end

Well I did it. Ten months of teaching in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam and I am finished. I am a bit burnt out on teaching in Asia at the moment but I don't want to say I'll never do it again.

I have saved my pennies and I am off to travel. My friend Hannah, who I met here in HCMC, and I are going to travel for the next 7 weeks. The agenda is- a little bit of Kuala Lumpur, the Philippines, Taiwan to see Phoebe who I met while studying abroad in Italy, South Korea, Japan, Thailand to meet up with Terri and Jeff before they head to Bhutan and then Sri Lanka. I am back in HCMC on Nov 17th and I move to Sydney, Australia on Nov 18th!