Sunday, October 6, 2013

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away....

Why, hello there blog. It's been a long-ass time. So, I've been living it up in Middleofnowhere, USA for six weeks now. And while this town has greatly exceeded my (admittedly low) expectations, I am starting to get a wee bit cabin-feverish. Here are some of the places I never wrote about! It's funny, looking back on old photos, it somehow blows my mind that all of that happened while breaking my heart that it's over. Ah, well, there will always be more adventures!

Where did I leave off? Oh right, summer 2012 - Indonesia. I'd never been anywhere so tragically impoverished as Jakarta. I wish you could have been there, could have seen it. It would humble you. The shanty towns butted up against train tracks; the child-beggers, thin as rails; the islands of rubbish floating down the canals. There are infinite towns like this on our big, blue-and-green marble, but Jakarta was the first time I had been surrounded by poverty that consumed and destroyed everything in its path. If I have the right to give anyone advice whatsoever, it would be to go, see it. It's everywhere. It's Marrakesh and Kathmandu and Hanoi. It's Central America and Central Asia. It's worse in Africa. And unless your heart is made out of soot, adamantine and Grinch frowns, it completely changes your perspective on every single aspect of your life.

Top of Borobudur 
But Indonesia does have a lot of beautiful things to see. It's a massive country with lots of diverse populations. Jogjakarta is relatively easy to get to from Jakarta, so we went there.

Inside each of those honeycomb things,
there is a dude.
Prambanan 

Dat sunset
And what's a trip to Indonesia without laying on the beach in Baliiiiiii.



And then Singapore. Oh Singapore, you are nothing short of a first world oasis surrounded by a desert of third world countries. Gotta admit, as worthwhile as it is to visit developing countries, it gets emotionally draining. I might not have made it through without a few days in this gem.
The hotel with that super famous infinity pool on top.
I am determined to stay here one day.

Skyline <3
Gardens by the Bay. Gorgeous!













Anyway, I don't have much to say, just feeling nostalgic. You know how it is, getting older and whatnot. Hopefully I'll get caught up with writing about some of these countries soon. I have like 12 more to share with y'all! TTFN!

From,
Texas

Saturday, January 12, 2013

So that happened...


Yeah, I know it's been since like October, but I'll be honest, I don't even know where to start blogging this monster of a trip. After three months, eleven countries, thousands of dollars and countless buses/planes/trains (just kidding, I counted - it's 34, or about 185 hours of my life I'll never see again), it's hard to pick a jumping off point.

So, let's begin at the beginning and go until we come to the end.

For me, the beginning happened to be Kuala Lumpur. I had originally intended on only staying a night, then heading to Brunei, but sometimes the best laid plans manage to get barfed all over. What actually happened was I ended up fainting on the flight and felt so sick that I stayed an extra day in the city. The whole ordeal was really just foreshadowing the obscene amounts of bad luck I'd end up having throughout my holiday. But we'll get to that.


Since there's a metric butt load of tourist info about KL around the internet, I'll go ahead and keep this brief. (For you Americans, yes, a butt load is actually a unit of measurement in the metric system.) Obviously the first thing I did was go see Petronas Towers. Opted out of going to the top of them. I'd heard that it's a long wait, super expensive and the view isn't that awesome. This photo is from a park near the towers.




The monkeys actually stole this
statue from a nearby temple.
Also went to Batu Caves, which is not only a really popular tourist stop, but also a training ground for aspiring thief monkeys.

Since I missed my flight to Bandar Seri Begawan, the closest I could get to Brunei on the cheap was Miri, in Malaysian Borneo. What a shithole that place is. Literally the only thing to do in Miri is get out. I managed to get to a national park a couple hours south to try to salvage the first week of my trip. Then almost get stranded out there and had to hitch a ride back into town.

Pictures in caves never turn out well. They really need better lighting.


Being 10ft away from an orang's pretty rad until you realize
how potentially gruesome the situation is.
The last interesting thing I did in Malaysia was near Kuching. Kuching is particularly popular with tourists for its proximity to one of the orangutan sanctuaries. Fun fact: overnight buses are never as comfortable or short as you think they're going to be.

Anyway, that's all I have for now. So expect another update around April. Kidding. Maybe.

Monday, July 23, 2012

BROnei.



Alright, I'm going to spend this blog post introducing you people to Brunei. Also, the awesomeness of bro portmanteaus. (PortmantBROs? Heh heh heh. Ok, I'll stop now.) But first, go ahead and look it up on a map. I'll wait.


So (hopefully) you'll notice the capital of this tiny country located on the northern shore of Borneo is Bandar Seri Begawan. If you google image search that city, this mosque is the picture that probably comes up most often. It's gorgeous and conveniently located in the city center across from the main shopping center. While there's a bunch of other stuff to do, I just included pictures of the two major mosques because they're just so darn pretty.
 There are buses that come to BSB from most major cities on Malaysian Borneo and pretty cheap flights from KL. When you get there, ask for the youth hostel, Pusat Belia. It's really close to the bus station and only 10B$/night.
 The Bruneians are also SUPER FREAKING NICE. To the point of being creepy from an American perspective. Anytime I was standing at a bus stop, several people would slow down and ask if I needed a ride. And not in a I'm-totally-going-to-murder-you kind of way. I generally turned people down though. Better safe than dead!
Protip:  maybe not visit this Islamic country during Ramadan. Which I definitely did. And everything was closed or had really restricted hours. So, I really only got to see about half of the things I wanted to. But during certain times, you can actually tour the insides of these mosques. There are a couple of museums as well: the Brunei Museum is full of Islamic art and the Regalia Museum is really all you ever need to know about the sultan.
 There's also tours of the national parks that much make up a huge portion of this country. Also, definitely take a tour around the water village. These people live on houses that are on stilts in the river. There are schools and mosques and restaurants. The residents also open their homes to tourists. My water taxi driver took me to see a tree full of long-nosed monkeys too.
No, it's not the most exciting country in SE Asia. It's not the biggest or the prettiest or the most tourist-friendly. You can't drink and there aren't any beaches. BUT! There's some really cool architecture  and interesting history. So if you have a long weekend or a few days of your trip to spare, definitely check it out.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Love & War & Peace

It seems entirely appropriate to be listening to 2ne1 right now as I write this, the last Korea entry. The last one for the foreseeable future anyway. Because let's be real, you never know if you'll end up coming back. It's funny sometimes, living abroad. You find yourself surrounded by things that are new and exciting, and sometimes terrifying. You take these things and adopt them as your own. Sure, not everything. But some things, like Kpop and kimbop. Basically, the catchy things and the delicious things.

You also meet a lot of truly fantastic people living abroad. It takes a certain sort of person to be able to do this job, especially the ones who stick it out for a few years. I've never met so many people that I felt instantly connected to. Maybe it's because this lifestyle draws in similar personalities, or maybe it's because we're so far from home that we need to share our experiences together. These new friends from all over the world. They're interests vary from international politics to playing soccer to scuba diving. But one thing everyone can agree on is grabbing a couple (or, like, a lot of) beers on a Saturday night, even the ones who "don't really drink."


These people speak French and Spanish and Korean and Afrikaans and all sorts of other languages. We share stories about holidays in Thailand and commiserate over missed weddings of old friends. Almost invariably, someone brings up the topic of "pop" versus "soda" or the pronunciation of "aluminum" or what South Africans mean when they tell you to turn left at the "robot." (Answer: they mean "stoplight." No, that's not a joke.) We have makeshift Thanksgivings, Christmases and 4th of July's - trying the best we can to recreate the holidays of our childhoods. We forge traditions of out of memories our friends back home take for granted. We piece together out own little world from the scraps of the ones we left behind. Hang on to your hats, kids, it's an adventure.


Two fucking years. It's taken me two fucking years to actually make it to Namsan Tower. Is it nearby? Yes. Is it easily accessibly? Absolutely. Do you see it anytime you go to any of the major areas in the city? Totally. Is it one of the big tourist attractions? That it is, pal, that it is. "So why then, dear Analynn, has it taken the entire time you've been in Korea to visit it?" you might ask. I honestly do not have a good answer for that question.

 These locks cover the entire railings surrounding the tower. There must be thousands. Some must have been there for years. It makes you wonder what happens to all these couples. I bet some are married and have two beautiful children. Others probably had dramatic, painful breakups, screaming at each other over the phone. And still others just kind of grew apart. That happens sometimes.



Finally made it to the DMZ.  It was pretty intense. Hopefully you can see in this picture the little North Korean guy watching us through binoculars on the top of the steps on the other side. Lemme tell ya, there is no one in this general vicinity even thinking about fucking around.  





Pyongyang is 205km in that direction, folks.
 The weekend before Buddha's birthday, there's a really rad lantern parade. Easily one of the coolest things I've seen in Korea.
 If I could tell everyone in the world about one aspect of Korea culture, it would certainly be the Farmers' Dance. Youtube it. These dudes play these weird-sounding  instruments all the while twirling the ribbon on their hats by swishing their heads. It's like avant garde jazz meets rhythmic gymnastics. Seriously, I didn't even know what to think the first time I saw this.

There was so much energy during the whole parade. Everyone was encouraged to participate. The floats were beautiful, the lanterns generously given out to onlookers. I've never seen so many genuinely happy Koreans all in one place. Usually, that would require massive amounts of soju.


And of course it wouldn't be a parade without a dragon.










But hey, would you look at the clock? It seems to be time for a change of scenery. Remember, my lovely readers, it's a big world out there. 안녕히계세요 대한민국.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

The Unexpected.

Sometimes life surprises you. Sometimes in good ways and sometimes in bad ones. And maybe they won't be the most memorable moments or maybe they'll change who you are. But it's the little things that keep it interesting. They keep you on your toes, force you to react, make you suddenly laugh or cry or scream. These unexpected moments can be magical or maddening, have you falling in love or wanting to jump off a building. You know, life stuff.

These are the pictures that mean the most to me from this trip. Sure, they aren't what I went to Japan to find. They aren't of breathtaking gardens or impressive temples or massive Buddha statues. It's not the stuff you're going to find in Lonely Planet. But when you travel or have an epic night out with your friends or even take the bus to work, sometimes something happens that makes the experience wonderful and unique.

So, this was the first thing I saw after stepping off the train to get to Osaka City. I had always heard that getting groped on the metro was a problem in Japan, but I didn't realize it was severe enough to need women only cars. Nice first impression.







Talking to people about the deer in Nara, they said that the animals get obscenely vicious if you stop feeding them. But it's one of those things that you don't really comprehend until you experience it for yourself. And as you can imagine, I almost got my dress and a couple fingers eaten off. This guy ended up not being an asshole so we bro'd out.

This is a giant rope. It's made of hair. I shit you not. Followers of the Higashi Honganji temple donated their hair to make ropes to use during the time of the temples construction... in 1895. So, not only is this giant rope made entirely out of human hair, it's over a hundred years old. Even the historical stuff in Japan is freaking weird.

That temple also had a row of quotes in Japanese from important Buddhist dudes. (They also had the translations, which I decided to use for the ol' blog since I figure most of you lovely readers will speak at least one of these three languages.) This one was my favorite. <3




Apparently, this guy's sort of a big deal in Buddhism. I had no idea, but I was really into these images. I totally dig those sexy sexy eyebrows. What a hottie.






And sometimes, it rains. This is the rock garden at the Silver Pavilion. There are definitely worse places on this planet to be caught in a storm.














PS. Memo to Americans: There are other countries in Asia besides Japan. Really, if you locate the continent on a map, you'll notice that Asia is actually a fairly sizable place. Japan's neat and all, but I wanted to make everyone aware that there are other options. This was literally the first holiday I've been on in Asia and run into more Americans than Europeans. It seems like Americans don't travel except to other parts of America, Western Europe, Japan or do the Caribbean cruise thing, if they travel at all. Basically, only places where you have to hemorrhage money for a week, but at least you can find a McDonald's around the corner. What's with that?

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Korea vs. Japan: Rematch

If you're unfamiliar with the history between Japan and Korea (and let's be real, you probably are), these two counties have been at it for centuries. Oh you know, wars, occupations, the usual hullabaloo. (Ok now, pretend I'm saying this in a really low and loud voice.) BUT SUNDAY SUNDAY SUNDAY! Wait, no, today's Thursday. THURSDAY THURSDAY THURSDAY! THE REMATCH OF THE CENTURY! KOREA VS JAPAN: ROUND 1 - FIGHT! *DING DING* (Sidenote: the pics in this blog post are just gonna be of the things that everyone and their monkey's uncle goes to see. The next one will be less touristy personal faves.)
ROUND 1: Cost of Living - Ok, let's just get this one out of the way. Japan's really fucking pricey. And not just like, "omg this country's so expensive." More like, "OH. MY. GOD. This country is SOOOOO expensive!" I wish we were having this conversation in real life so you could see the body language that goes along with that sentence. There's a lot of eyes-bugging-out-of-my-head and arms-wildly-flailing-about. I thought I was going to have to start selling organs to afford food. The attractions are like 6 bucks a pop and there are a freaking lot of them. After a while you have to choose between seeing another rock garden and bus fare. Not to brag *ahem* but since I'm the Angela Merkel of travel, I managed to keep the costs to around 1000USD for flight, hotels and everything else. Korea - 1 [Pictured - Osaka Castle]
ROUND 2: Food - So, I didn't do all the eating I would have liked (see above). Aside from sushi, I was not super impressed with Japanese cuisine from what I saw. Basically, I'm not a huge fan of noodles and I didn't see much else. Whereas in Korea, you can find a ton of variety AND it's affordable: galbi, chicken galbi, kimbop, mandoo, etc. It's all derish. And you're spending like $5/person. I did buy one Japanese snack though. They were described as "Japanese cookies." Apparently "cookie" means something completely different to the Japanese. They actually were salty/bitter/spicy puffed rice cakes. I assume the salty flavoring came from the tears of children who were forced to eat them. Korea - 2 [Pictured - Big Buddha at Todai-ji]
ROUND 3: Bathrooms - For those of you who haven't traveled abroad, let me inform you that toilet culture varies from country to country. It's pretty unnerving the first time someone directs you towards a restroom and you're facing down a bucket of water situated next to a hole in the ground. ("Okay wait, which one do I poop in...?") Or the first time you encounter a bidet ("No, seriously, which one do I poop in?"). Or a squat toilet and a trashcan filled with used tissue ("Fuck it, I'm just going to poop in the corner.") Japanese restrooms seem to be pretty Westernized. Almost all had Western style toilets, fully stocked toilet paper AND soap! It was a dream come true. Japan - 1 [Pictured - 1000 Red Gates]
ROUND 4: Beer - No offense to the droves of rabid Cafri die-hards, but this isn't a real question. Japan - 2 [Pictured - Bamboo Forest]
ROUND 5: Sightseeing - There are a lot of really beautiful things to see in Korea. However, the temples/pagodas/palaces/whathaveyou in Japan are truly impressive. They're massive. They're intricate. They're really fucking old. I could go on and on about all of the statues and paintings I saw. But I wouldn't have to if I could have taken pictures of them. Kyoto has a major no photography policy for most of the really cool stuff. And everything closes at around 5pm, so they stop letting people in around 4-4:30, which, unless you're 97 years old, is far and away too early to call it a day. Also, let's not forget that each of these places cost 5-10 good ol' American dollars to get into, whereas in Korea it's like $1-$3. Korea - 3 [Pictured - Golden Pavilion]
ROUND 6: People - In general, the people I've met in Korea have been really awesome. Super friendly and funny. The Japanese people I met were all very kind and helpful. I think the thing that really pushes it over the edge for me is that the elderly people in Japan didn't seem nearly as judgmental and disrespectful as the elderly in Korea. Also, Japanese people aren't afraid of the sun or the rain. The only time they broke out umbrellas was when it was actually raining. Not to hide from the sun, not preemptively when it was threatening rain, but really only when it rained. And Japanese people have normal-sized dogs that are normal-dog colors. Whereas in Korea, it's not uncommon for a girl to carry around a hot pink teacup pup. Japan - 3 [Pictured: Pagoda at Kiyomizu-dera]
Well, it seems as if we have a tie. And since this is my blog, I'm going to give it to... drum roll... Korea! I never thought I'd actually find a country I want to live in less than I do Korea, but congrats, Japan. My decision is mostly based on the astronomical costs of literally everything. I'll probably write again soon and include some of the weirder shit like the hair rope. HAIR ROPE! [Pictured - Kyoto Tower]

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Diamonds in the Rough

As it turns out, there are really beautiful things to see in Korea if you look hard enough. Over the last couple weekends we've seen Gyeongbokgung Palace in Seoul and took the (super freaking expensive) high speed train down to the city of Gyeongju. This entry is pretty much just going to be pics since I have so many to share! Wee!
So, getting to Gyeongbokgung Palace is pretty much a cinch. You just take the purple line to Gwanghamun Station and BAM, it's right there. This is a photo of the main throne room. You can see the National Folk Museum in the back right.
If you go to the Folk Museum at 2 on a Saturday or 3 on a Sunday, there's a show that involves the traditional farmer's dance and a puppet show. Ahh, the puppet show. This puppet show is about these spirits trying to slay a serpent that's terrorizing some old dudes? This would be my best guess. And obviously each spirit puppet has a huge red phallus protruding from it's little red puppet self. Upon slaying the serpent, one of the puppets takes a celebratory piss all over the musicians. As conservative as Koreans are about the female body (don't even think about wearing something that shows your shoulders or any part of your chest, you tank-topped slut!), there certainly are a whole lotta penises everywhere. Eg. Loveland on Jeju Island and an assortment of penis inspired art all over the country.
Beautiful Gyeongju! The main tourist path in Gyeongju includes this park, which consists of Wolseong Fortress, Gyerim forest and features the Cheomseongdae Observatory.
Observatory at night
Bulguksa Temple is renowned to be the prettiest in the country. And it's as beautiful as it is crowded. If you stick to the main sights in Gyeongju, expect to be surrounded by other tourists at all times.
Bridge at Bulguksa
Another major site is Seokguram Grotto where you can see this stone Buddha statue. The rules say no cameras, so all the Koreans just whip out their camera phones. Sneaky, sneaky.
Anapji Pond is right across from the National Museum. We've been to so many Korean history museums lately we didn't make it to this one honestly.
I highly recommend getting away from the highly touristed stuff though. My favorite part of the trip was seeing this rock carving. It's at the top of a mountain. We accidentally took the, uh, more challenging route to get to the top. So that sucked, but this was awesome. Oh also, the best way to get around Gyeongju is by bike. Everything's just a little too far to walk and the city is super bike friendly.
Also, the city and surrounding areas are covered in these old burial mounds which are pretty neat looking. As far as food goes, Gyeongju is famous for a special sort of bread filled with red bean paste. And there are Ssambap (lettuce/rice) restaurants everywhere. Three days would be the perfect amount to spend in Gyeongju. There are some things I REALLY wanted to see, but were too far from the city. Seriously, if you live/ever come to Korea, this is a must-do.