Tuesday, October 31, 2017

KFC in Korea

I fell in love with KFC in Seoul for the first time in the Incheon Airport on layover form Los Angeles to Hong Kong. I almost never eat fast food in the united states, so it still perplexes me why I chose KFC, of all places, to dine at on my first trip through Incheon. Maybe I didn’t know what else to get. Maybe I felt like something familiar. Whatever the reason, I fell in love with South Korea’s spicy and soft fried chicken. That chicken lived in my mind for so long that I insisted my friend and I return to KFC on our 3-day trip to Seoul.

It was the only meal we had that doesn’t belong in a list of typical Korean dishes. Maybe I’ve just gotten a little older  and my tastes have changed, but the chicken was not quite as good as I remember it. Still nice and spicy though.

I was also pleasantly surprised to find egg tarts there, which is the KFC special in Taiwan. The egg tarts in Korean KFC were not as good as the ones in Taiwanese KFC, but it was still evoked a little nostalgia. 

Friday, October 27, 2017

The journey to Seoul from rural Japan

Kansai Airport Station

Going back through old albums I realized I never wrote that much about my trip in Seoul in March of 2014. I was living in rural Japan, busy working during the week, and at that time in March, I was preparing for two overseas guests to visit me for a moth. I probably didn’t have time to reflect on all the interesting things I experienced in Seoul. I was probably consumed with preparation for my guests, planning more trips, and just trying to get through the day. My three-day adventure in Seoul with one of my best friends was a wonderful experience, and deserves a place on this blog.

So I will begin again, as all things begin, with a journey.
I am surprised after taking this long trip from my provincial village to a major airport so many times that I never bothered to record how long and cumbersome it was. That is truly a feet in and of itself. Here is the breakdown:

1.    40minutes: Drive my car from my small village (Kawamoto) to a bus stop in a nearby but slightly larger town (Oasa). The drive is on a one-lane road with no street lamps. In the dark, it's a little lonely and scary. There are often monkeys, boar, or other animals that come out onto the road so you must be very alert and careful. 9 out of 10 times I would be the only car on the road for the entire journey. I remember this feeling like the lonliest part of the trip.

The road from my village to the bus stop

2.    1 hour and 20 minutes: Board the Iwami Express from Oasa station to Hiroshima Station. This bus come every hour and takes people from Oasa (on the outskirts of Hiroshima prefecture) to the main Hiroshima Station. It is quite popular and usually fills up by the time we get to the station. I always rode this bus because the only bus that comes directly to Kawamoto leaves only once a day, and doesn’t line up well with things like flight schedules.
3.    1 hour 30 minutes: As soon as I arrive at Hiroshima Station I jump on the Shinkansen (bullet train) to Shin-Osaka station. If I am traveling during peak season I will have tried to purchase my shinkansen ticket a week or so in advance. Otherwise, I just buy it at the station for the next departing train. They leave from the upper platform, so then I ascend the escalator, find my reserved seat on the train, and relax for an hour and a half.
4.    50 minutes take local train (Limited Express Haruka) from Shin-Osaka Station to Kansai Airport Station. Once I arrive in the bustling Shin-Osaka station, which feels worlds away from my tiny quiet village, I maneuver through the crowds to transfer to a local train which will take my directly to Kansai airport. I can usually get a seat on the train, and the journey lasts for almost an hour.

5.    2 hours: Board a plane from Kansai Airport to Incheon Airport. The business at the airport is usual – I arrive about two hours early, get my tickets, and go through security. Japanese airports are pretty efficient and predictable. For this particular trip to Seoul, I met my friend at the airport station and we got out tickets together. Though I had been traveling all day, it felt like my trip began at that moment.

6.    1 hour: Ride the Express train from the Airport to Seoul Station. Once we landed in Seoul, we were relieved to find that their train system is just as robust and efficient as Osaka’s or Tokyo’s. It was very easy to catch a train from the airport to the main station, but it did take almost an hour.

The long train ride from the airport to Seoul
Total travel time: 7.3 hours, not including waiting at the airport, or the waiting for buses or trains in transit. In other words: all damn day.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Back to school special

Sunglasses: from a museum in Hong Kong
Bag: Inujirushi, from Tokyo
Hat: made by my mama
Jacket: Urban Outfitters
Shoes, Dress: Target

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Strangelove: how I learned to stop worrying and love Los Angeles

Loft Cafe is still pretty mellow on a Saturday night - unlike the rest of Koreatown. Many of the same restaurants we passed on Friday night at 10:00pm are lively and busy at 9:00pm on Saturday night. There are three groups around us here, one party of four, one couple, and a pair of friends. They are all speaking Korean, so the content is nothing I can decipher, but the music of their language inspires my words. If I relax my mind, just a little, just enough, I will feel like I’m back in Seoul. And it will feel as natural to me as anything else. That is the treasure of a lifetime of traveling abroad: you get used to being without your language. You get used to not understanding the crowds. This doesn’t intimidate you, worry you, or make you feel estranged. The fact of your not understanding is as natural as understanding.

I moved to LA at the age of 17 and left at 21. I am now 29 years old. As an adult over a decade older a great deal mightier and more mature, I am realizing that finally untethered myself from Los Angeles.

I didn’t need LA for money. My job and revenue were coming from somewhere else.

I didn’t need LA for love. I already fell in love and had been happily coupled for seven years.

I didn’t need LA for status. I had already proved myself to myself. Who cares if these people don’t notice me, or like me, or are impressed by me?

I can now walk past a long line of perfectly-dressed people waiting to get into a nightclub and feel no envy as I pass by in my flats and hoodie. I don’t care about looking like them, I don’t care about befriending them, I don’t hope to find a partner among them, I don’t hope to find a profession among them, I don’t hope to find my ego among them.

I can appreciate the beauty in the clothes and style of the people around me without the jealousy that accompanies it.  I can appreciate the music of a hundred languages around me, and I can be comfortable in not understanding. I don’t have to find an apartment or a job or get from one place to another. I can live my favorite life here and savor things as I want to savor them. That is the beauty of vacation, when my responsibilities are only to myself and I am the master of my fate. This is perhaps the compromise between the exotic and the familiar. I cannot experience a vacation this rewarding in other place (like Iceland) because I do not know them well enough to know what I like there. I have not been there long enough to find myself there. So everything is trial and error. But in LA I have a history, I have experiences, I have a map. So when I go I can follow my footsteps right back to my happiest memories, and create new ones as well.

- Loft Café, 9:45pm, Koreantown, January 28th

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Seattle Road Trip: an exodus in three feet of snow

What do you do when you have planned a weekend road trip with your best friend and it snows three feet in your city?

Go anyway!

That wasn’t the advice I would give. That’s more of the chance I would take.
My friend and I had been planning a girls’ trip up to Seattle for months and when we finally nailed down the date and booked our airbnb, we were stoked. Only one little thing got in our way: Portland was hit by it’s biggest winter storm yet and we were buried in three feet of snow.

After much deliberation we decided to rent an SUV with 4-wheel drive and try to tough it out. This was not an easy task.

Step 1: To get to the car rental location, I had to walk one mile in the ice.

Step 2: I boarded the MAX (light rail) and road it for one hour to the rental location. MAX service had previously been suspended for days due to the weather, and they had only just started running the trains the day before. I had no guarantee that my train would not be derailed en route. Fortunately I made it.

light rail station

Step 3: The car rental agency came to pick me up in a vehicle with chains and drove me to the center.

Step 4: I get the most bad-ass car on the lot, and load up on insurance.

one of the better roads that was plowed

Step 5: I creep along the icy roads and pick my friend up at her place. After a scary could of miles on the war-torn freeway, we made it out of snow-country and it was smooth sailing for the rest of the trip.

at a rest stop on the way to Seattle

In Seattle we checked into an awesome airbnb in Capital Hill. Perfect for walking to the restaurants in the international district, and the bar in Capital Hill. Almost as soon as we arrived we treated ourselves to a spa experience at The Hot House, an all-women nude spa in the basement of a lesbian bar. I love Seattle.

our bad-ass airbnb

we made it!

For dinner, we ate the best meal of my life at a Syrian restaurant called Mamnoon.  We ordered:

Moushakal: muhammara, hummus, shamandar bi tahini, baba ganoush
Dolmeh: stuffed vine leaves, sweet and sour rice, parsley, shallots, labneh

arnabeit makli: fried cauliflower, tarrator, parsley

kefta: minced beef and lamb, pistachio, baharat, cherry tomatoes, laban bi khiar

And two desserts, one a tangy custard with pomegranate and homemade marshmellows, and the other an icecream with chocolate and meringue.

The next day, we had a food feast: Chinese hot pot, Hawaiian guava cake, Taiwanese bubble tea. Then walked through downtown, stopping off at Seattle awesome public library and sculpture garden, before visiting the highlight of the day: Chihuly Garden and Glass Museum. This was a very special museum for my friend who is a professional florist, and love’s Chihuly’s glass renderings of flowers.

The day we drove back to Portland, we prepared ourselves for another long icey drive in the snow by stopping off at Olympus Spa on the way. What was supposed to be a two-hour detour at the spa (again, another all-women nude space) ended up being 5+ hours with lunch. This spa was really incredible and you could easily spend the entire day here. One of the best parts was the Korean restaurant in the spa, which made delicious chijimi pancakes and soondobu. I took a photo of us  in the restaurant wearing our spa uniform: a robe and silly pink hair net.

After a long and scary drive, we made it back to snow-laden Portland a little warmer and happier than before we left.

Touchdown Tokyo

Every time I fly to Japan, I have this routine of changing clothes in one of the large, accessible stalls in the arrivals lobby. I would do ...