Tokyo ~ Sights in the City

The crushing population, weird fashion, delicious fish, tasty beer, flashing lights, bowing politely, expensive taxis: it’s Tokyo. Although the culture shock wasn’t too much for me after living in Seoul for seven years, it’s still quite a place to see. There are lots of different neighborhoods, tiny alleys, broad boulevards, a plethora of small noodle shops, cute shopping districts and crazy nightlife. It’s what you expect but still a surprise. Well organized yet confusing. Here’s a few images of our week in the capital of Japan.

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Shinjuku
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At a shrine in Fuchu
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Jordyn at sunset
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I don’t know Japanese
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Cool wolf
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Night lit in neon
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Quiet forgotten bike in Fuchu
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These little places are everywhere
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Cemetery beside the city
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National Art Center

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Robot Restaurant
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Opening band at the Robot show
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Calligraphy
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Gonpachi–inspiration for Kill Bill restaurant scene
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On the train headed to Narita
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Sushi choices
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At T.Y. Harbor
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Firefighters so cute
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Back to Korea
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An Amazing Eatable April

Spring arrived, bringing mild temperatures, chirping birds, Chinese “yellow dust” and the requisite two weeks of cherry blossoms. The entire country rushes from their winter doldrums and into their Hyundai’s or Kia’s to find sunny skies speckled with wispy clouds and the pleasant scent of blooming buds.

15 - 1We are no different than the other 55 million white flower enthusiasts of Korea, except we also went searching for some lunch afterwards. Jordyn took me to an amazing place with great banchon, bean curd soup and deokgalbi. It’s next to the VIPS in Cheongdam. Those fried cakes in the middle of the table were like potato latkes. The last picture is a close up of the barley bibimbap, with enough fresh vegetables to give you a vitamin buzz.

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IMG_0322One hungry Friday night in Sincheon, we needed to find a quick bite and found this extraordinarily spicy pork stew. The wet eggs helped cool it down, but my belly was fire-ridden that night.

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IMG_0314I stumbled into a place near Sincheon station, named after one of the Gag Concert (Korean comedy show which involves cross dressing and silliness) hosts, and ordered kalguksu (thick hand cut noodles) and donkatsu (saucy pork cutlet). The price of both together was only 9,000 won (<9$) but it was way too much food and I had lots of trouble walking this one off.

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IMG_0299After my fancy new haircut…IMG_0631We ate some deokgalbi (chicken, rice cake and spicy vegetables) at a respectable chain restaurant in Guri-si. The extra vegetables were a good idea, as well as the little speckled eggs added into the mix. After you finish the chicken dish, for 1,000 won (<1$) you can get some rice and seaweed fried up in the leftover juices.

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IMG_0635I wish this picture did justice to the soul-warming, heart-healthy, body cleansing samgaetang (chicken soup) at JiHo Samgaetang (지호삼계탕). A full chicken boiled in a soft white broth with a tea bag of Chinese herbs, jujubes and chestnuts creates some soothing eats. This picture is after I expunged every last bony bit from the chicken carcass. What’s left is similar in texture to a porridge. My body felt clean and full post consumption. It’s between Walker Hill and the Gwangnaru subway exit 2.

IMG_0651A simple meal at a simply named, Asian Table. We had the cashew chicken, shrimp dumplings and beef pho. Nothing special, a bit like comfort food, or the way Americans (in this case Koreans) think Vietnamese food should taste. Vietnamese pho would have thinner noodles and much more fat bubbles floating on top of the soup.

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IMG_0645And now, Pizza Hill. The fanciest restaurant to serve ancient Italian peasant food in Korea. High atop the hill in East Seoul, beside the posh W Hotel, is this 50 year old establishment. The pizza was really different, good different, with a spinach tinted crust, thick, crispy bacon and top notch cheese. Sadly, Korea rarely serves a good pasta. I should have known, it’s called PIZZA Hill, not PASTA Hill. Noodles don’t need to be swimming in mediocre seafood sauce to be delicious. Nevertheless, the pizza won me over. (It needs to be said that this pizza cost 57,000 won (54$!)) Yet, I couldn’t help from giggling at the generic parmesan cheese and Tabasco sauce that conspicuously sat atop every white linen covered table. Don’t forget to eat your pickles! Koreans need a fresh taste at every meal, so pickles go with pizza here.

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Brooklyn Burgers, in Seorae Village (and other locations in Seoul) near the Express Bus Terminal, serves badass burgers for reasonable prices. I have been a bit addicted to the New Mexico one which features spicy cheese and spicy tomatillo sauce. I got the cheese fries on the side to melt the flames. What a lifesaver this place can be sometimes. They’ve broken my hungry heart several times as I can not seem to remember their policy to close on Mondays.

IMG_0812One lazy Sunday, near the construction of the Lotte World Tower, with no idea what to do and a puppy pulling us around, we stopped for a street picnic and ate a Bap (rice) Burger, ramen noodles, and assorted pastries from Paris Baguette. The flavors didn’t mix well, and stomachaches ensued.

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IMG_0826Along the river near Deokso, just outside of Seoul’s city limits, is a cool place, Bibimguksu (비빔국수) with a small but savory menu. We had the slow-fire-burning noodles, potato skin dumplings and a nice mashed piece of bulgogi. Their white kimchi was dynamite. Everything tasted fresh and they offered free fish broth to cool off the heat.

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IMG_0840Korea tastes awesome! See you next month…

People Watching in Croatia

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Our group was out exploring.

Taking someone’s photograph overseas requires courage and perseverance through the language barrier. Sometimes I can manage it, but other times I take the cowardly route and just snap a shot of the life around me. These were taken in various cities in and around the Istrian Peninsula of western Croatia.

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It’s a beautiful land, green hills, blue water, fresh air and unpronounceable words.

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In case you need to find the Ispovijed, it’s near the WC.

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This dress lets you know where to look.

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Breaking Bad is cool everywhere.

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3 out of 4 women on cell phones.

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The Franciscans enjoying a moment of mirth.

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She tried to sell us that tablecloth for 10 euro.

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The faithful lighting candles.

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We got in two minutes before closing. Quiet, empty churches are just as interesting as the ones filled with worshipers.

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People love a pope.

Houses of Laos

Although there are many examples of French architecture abounding along the riverside cities of Pakse, Savannakhet, and Thakhek, I tried to find the ones with character, the ones with a personality, lived-in, lived-around, but some were brand new, as Laos inches toward the 21st century with better education and more tourist money. These cities along the Mekong were one to two big streets long and had little to do besides watch sunsets and drink BeerLao.

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Siem Reap ~ Roadside Houses and People Viewed from a Tuk-Tuk

I’ve spent a lot of time on the day buses here in Cambodia. I’ve seen the indescribably extensive amount of trash littering every single inch of dirt along the roads, in the cities and sometimes in the restaurants. Papers, wrappers, cans, bottles, tickets, plastic, socks, shoes, shirts, food garbage, leaf clippings, composting itself under the feet of the oblivious locals. I see them sweeping up the dust in front of their shops or houses more than I see them pick up the rubbish. It’s not like the ground has become trash, but it seems to be moving in that direction in certain places, especially markets, or roadside stops. Despite the trash situation, it isn’t completely without charm. Some of that trash gets burned in random fires, producing a not-unlikeable, but definitely polluting smell. The smell is comforting in an unpleasant way. Smoke surrounds the road in some places, not the seemingly edible smoke of BBQ’s, but a mixture of plastic, palm leaves and cardboard. The houses are all on stilts, giving an extra room, that is purely shade, usually with a few hammocks. Small shops wait with supplies of strange chips, and always Pringles, sugary or salty treats, squid jerky and selected beers. Trotting along in my Tuk-Tuk at about 30 mph, I caught pictures in a bouncy manner, so they are purely glimpses of the street.

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Top 3 Temples at Angkor Wat Complex

1) Banteay Srei:

This 10th century temple dedicated to Shiva and called the “temple of woman” because the carvings are so delicate and intricate, that supposedly only a woman could do it. The rock was a special pink sandstone and looked beautiful. It was very well preserved and smaller allowing a better chance to see everything. It was such a great place to end, after seeing the big ones, this was a nice change. Recommended for the carvings and the amazing 40 minute tuk-tuk ride through Cambodian countryside.

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2) Baphuon:

Approaching this ancient pyramid also dedicated to Shiva, moving down the pillared walkway, a thought struck me. People’s faces would have been right at my feet if I were the king going home. I walked taller and felt regal after noticing this. There are three steep levels of stairs here finally culminating in a dazzling view of the dense jungle around. It was fully renovated in 2011. This place was BIG, and the original capital of Angkor Thom. Recommended for pictures under the stone walkway among the pillars, and for a hard climb to the top!

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3) Bayon:

This was for me the biggest highlight of the three days’ tour. Bayon was the central post of the immense Angkor Thom area. It has 56 towers with four faces on each, adding up to 216 faces, some better preserved than others. They all look peacefully stoked on life while presenting the calm features of the Buddha, for whom it was dedicated. It is the youngest temple as well, having been built almost 100 years after Angkor Wat. Recommended for silly face pictures contrasted with the solemnity of the stone visages.

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Honorable Mention: Angkor Wat at Sunrise–because being present in such a simple moment in such incomprehensible beauty makes for a powerful memory.

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Ta Prohm: Tomb Raider was filmed here, trees overtook the rocks, surreal atmosphere and cool to see nature will always win.

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Do not do less than 3 days at the temples. Some of the people bail because of the heat, or hangovers, or repetition. But, the repetition is the point. They cared so much they even carved the stones they walked on. I’ll bet the toilets were carved from only the softest sandstone and adorned with the satisfied faces of those with functional bowels.

For me, it was a never-ending buzz of temples appearing out of nowhere, touching rocks from a different millennium, imagination, exercise in the sun, eavesdropping on tour groups, and plenty of photo opportunities! A big check on my list of must-visit places. Awesome!

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