Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Weekend 25 of 52.

Itaewon, Taco Bell, What the Book?, Leeum Samsung Museum of Art

For me, a weekend starts on Friday night. Most Friday nights we just go out to dinner with Korrine. It is usually pretty ordinary, so I don't bring my camera. Last Friday night, though, we decided on Cafe Rumy for our after dinner coffee. We saw what looked like a regular cafe up on the seventh floor of a building in Hongdae. We elevatored up. When we slipped off our shoes and installed them in the provided reusable plastic bags, we knew it was not a regular cafe. We were given the choice of TV room or Wii room. We chose the Wii room and then proceeded to, for W9,000 each and in a room adorned with pillows and balloons, play video games, drink bottomless soda and coffee and tea, and eat free ice cream and complimentary waffles for the next two hours. It was the best. And we got an amazing view of Hongdae from the smoker's pavilion. And I didn't have my camera, but I do have my memories.

Saturday, also with Korrine, we decided we'd wander around Itaewon, since none of us have yet given it a proper walk-through. We ate lunch at Taco Bell. We tried to find Western sized shoes. We checked out some antiques. Then we broadened our horizons at the Leeum Samsung Museum of Art. Three galleries start at ancient celadon pottery and become progressively more modern until, before you know it, you're watching video of a Korean girl hatching out of an egg.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Weekend 24 of 52.

Skypergories, Fringe Festival

We accomplished a pleasantly low-key weekend. It started with Skypergories (Skype + Scattergories) against our wonderful friends Lacy and Justin DiSabatino, and it ended with some (Korean) Independence Day (Korean-style) BBQ. We made a brief visit to Soul Underground on Saturday night for a concert in concert with Hongdae's Fringe Festival. Dan and I (as the Bell & the Hammer) get to participate in the festival next Saturday, and we are really excited about it. If you live in Korea, you should come (here's a map or you can contact us for directions). I think it starts around 7, and, if last night indicates future Fringe Festival precedent, first drink is free. That's good as gold. Right as rain. Sweet as sugar. Cool as cukes. Pleased as punch. Am I right?

Friday, August 13, 2010

Our Japanese Adventure: An Introduction

We had a great time in Japan and I tried to document most of it in video form. I put together a very small clip of the first leg of our trip: Seoul-->Busan-->Fukuoka to get myself motivated to compile the rest of my footage into a watchable form.



Weekend 23 of 52.

Cheonggyecheon Stream: Revisited, Doctor Fish: Revisited, Dongdaemun Market: Revisited, Gyeongbokgung Palace: Revisited, Insadong: Revisited, The National Folk Museum: Revisited, Seoul Tower: Revisited, The War Memorial: Revisited, Banpo Bridge, Coex Aquarium, DMZ Tour, Namsan Hanok Village

We had our first visitors! Dan's mom and her friend Sharon made the long journey from Ohio to Seoul. They championed jet lag and immense summer heat and trooped all around the city for 9 solid days of fairly intense sight seeing. It was great to see family, and we tried to give them a good and varied view of this little country we've come to love.

We revisited many of our favorite or quintessential spots, but we even tried out several things Dan and I haven't yet had the chance to do. We hit up the Coex Aquarium on a rainy Saturday, and it was completely packed, but we got to see a two-headed turtle, so still cool. We got over to the Banpo Bridge to watch the fountain/light show. Dan made sure to inform us that it is the largest bridge fountain in the world. We happened upon the Namsan Hanok Village after the Makgeolli concert we wanted to attend was sold out, so we instead got to see how the locals used to live. And we finally went on a tour of the DMZ, which left us longing for reunification.

Right this very moment Jean and Sharon are flying their way back home, and I'm afraid we may now have to ward off some latent homesickness.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Weekend 22 of 52: Japan.

Tokyo, Gundam Cafe, Yodobashi-Akiba, Harajuku, Yoyogi Park, Meiji Shrine, Tokyo DisneySea, Kyoto, Fushimi Inari Shrine, Osaka, Osaka Castle, Universal Citywalk

We spent the bulk of our time in Japan in Tokyo, which is probably true of most tourists to Japan. We did some heavy video game browsing/shopping at Yodobashi-Akiba. We got to walk around Harajuku, keeping our eyes peeled for Harajuku girls. We had an evening stroll through nearby Yoyogi Park, culminating in a trip to the Meiji Shrine therein.

And the next day we went to Tokyo DisneySea. And it was the happiest place on earth, for sure. I think Dan read that it is considered maybe the best of the Disney parks, and I think I agree. The atmosphere was unreal. When we lived in central Florida, we were able to sort of frequent Disney World, which made it so strange for us to be at Disney in Tokyo. Everything felt familiar but new. Do you know what I mean?

The park is arranged around seven ports and is itself built on the coast. It was rainy and windy all day, and it was perfect. It broke the intense summer heat, and we got to see everybody's Mickey ponchos. We ducked into the shows to escape from the rain. They were total quality, you guys. Two had Cirque du Soleil style gymnastics and puppetry. We saw the "Under the Sea" show in which a harnessed Ariel swims and flips her way up to the ceiling. It was like seeing the Little Mermaid in real life. But for real. We loved it all. We were sad we hadn't opted to spend the next day at Tokyo Disneyland.

Then on to Kyoto where we saw the very famous Fushimi Inari Shrine. Osaka was our final destination. We checked out the Osaka Castle and meandered around Universal Japan's Citywalk.

Japan was hot and it was awesome. I will give this one piece of advice to America's newer generations, though, Japan does not yet favor the credit card. Do not plan on using it most places. It was a stress for us, and it should not be one for you. We brought cash, but we weren't able to bring enough (because things happen as they do), so we thought we could survive on Western restaurants or larger Japanese restaurants, saving cash for transportation. We never found a McDonald's that took credit cards. I must admit that we developed an appreciation for Starbucks with their proclivity for plastic payments, their soy milk, and their sweet, sweet air conditioning.

Weekend 21 of 52: Japan.

Beetle Ferry, Fukuoka, Tempura, Karaoke, Miyajima, Ryokan, Torii Gate at the Itsukushima Shrine, Buddhist temple at the foot of Misen, Manju, Hiroshima, Peace Memorial Park, Okonomiyaki, Pachinko, Shinkansen

All of Korea has been on summer break for the last couple of weeks. We spent ours in hot, hot Japan. Dan planned the whole trip, organizing transportation and housing, dealing with all the money, speaking Japanese, being awesome. Dan, as his name would have you recite, is the man.

We trained down to Busan so we could take the 3 hour Beetle Ferry, dodging dolphins and sea creatures with speed and precision, over to Fukuoka. I have a friend, Anson, from my high school days who is currently living in Fukuoka, and he let us sleep over for the night. Sleep we did, but not before Anson took us out for lunchtime tempura where we bought meal tickets out of a vending machine, then for karaoke where we did some Disney sing-alongs, and finally for some dinnertime sushi. It was great to see Anson, great to meet his roommate Danny and his friend Kengo, and even greater to participate in a house church gathering before we had to catch our Sunday train to Hiroshima.

Once in Hiroshima, we boated to Miyajima Island, where we stayed in a ryokan for the night. Ryokans are sort of like the Japanese version of a Bed and Breakfast. Our host was named Yoko, like Yoko Ono she said, and she was funny and kind and very welcoming. She encouraged us to go visit the Torii Gate both before and after nightfall, before so we could walk up to it, after so we could see it lighted up. The gate rests at the entrance of the Itsukushima Shrine, and it is not tethered, it is secured by its own weight. Depending on the level of the tide, it variably looks like it's standing or floating.

We checked back in at our ryokan for our 8 course Japanese dinner, full of amazing fish and homemade sauces and tasty soups. We finished the night with a classy bath and a dip in the hot spring tub.

The next morning we had a traditional Japanese breakfast and then walked around the island some more. Dan walked up to the Buddhist temple at the foot of Mount Misen. I stayed back and hung out with the island's presumptuous population of wild deer. So bold are they that they sometimes eat guide maps and clothing. It's pretty hilarious.

After Miyajima, we went back to mainland Hiroshima. We spent the day at Peace Memorial Park. I don't know how to talk about the atomic bomb without complete incredulity. I don't know who made that call, and I don't know who didn't stop him, but I do know that it's got to be one of the greatest evils ever touted as simply an act of war. Of course the museum was horrifying. The temperature of the bomb pretty much melted all things, buildings, rocks, skin, internal organs. What the heat and explosion didn't kill, the radiation took care of. The worst of it all, of course, is that it happened again several days later. And it would have happened to the rest of Japan's cities had they not surrendered. I am firmly on the side opposing all nuclear things.

Well, Hiroshima is also known for their okonomiyaki, sometimes referred to as Japanese pizza. It's a cabbage, flour and egg base loaded with toppings and tastiness. We ate some of that, played some Pachinko, which I just did not get at all, and did some serious window shopping. Fun. Then we took the Shinkansen to Tokyo.