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.