Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

Views from Junqui

Tuesday, October 29th, 2019

Home security system, false alarms are frequent.
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Hibiscus grows everywhere here and comes in red, pink, and white.
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Tide pools found in these rocks serve as a nice Jacuzzi.
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This is quite a tiny flower.
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Every princess has their holes.
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Tired from surfing? Help yourself to a coconut before you hop in the Jacuzzi.
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Rumor has it a crocodile lives here.
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Refraction caused by these rocks is what makes Playa Junquillal a surf spot.
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The lines in the sand are drawn by a little slug creature I call the Jackson Pollock bug.
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The leftmost tree is the landmark for the entrance to casa whaack.
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And finally, the view from my balcony.
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Tokyo, Japan

Wednesday, October 16th, 2019

The last stop in our Japan/Korea trip was Tokyo.

Tokyo is the city I wish New York was. Its layout is chaotic yet functional. Train tracks and different width roads wind in every direction. Sometimes you cross the street via crosswalk, sometimes via pedestrian overpass. The overpasses are wide and can stretch for many blocks, making parts of the city vertically layered. Tokyo is not shaped in a grid like Manhattan, but their well engineered train network makes it easy to get from point A to point B. The beauty of Tokyo is that there are enclaves of residential housing in the heart of busy areas. One can often disappear from the commercial street filled with lights, cars, and hordes of people by walking down an alleyway.

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The residential areas are small and quiet. The cars on the road are replaced by people on their bikes.1 Seeing the bikes and laundry hung outside on balconies2 while walking through the residential parts gives one the feeling that they're in a rural village.

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The first place we went to in Tokyo was 東京都庁, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building. The building has two towers that give a 360 view of the city. The weather was right for us to be able to see Mount Fuji in the background behind the city. I learned that to remove glare from windows in camera shots you press your lens right up against the glass.

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And with Mount Fuji in the background.

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While walking around Tokyo we noticed what appeared to be large arcades with scantily dressed anime characters posted all over the walls. We learned these were casinos that offered the game pachinko, the Japanese equivalent of slots. I have nothing to compare these to since I have never been inside a casino in the US. But it was eerie walking into the pachinko stations. Older men and women who looked like their souls had been sucked out of them were staring at the machines while smoking cigarettes and monotonously pressing buttons.

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On one night we rounded up the energy to go out clubbing until 5am.3 It is not uncommon for people to stay out this late in Tokyo because the trains are closed between 2am-5am. We avoided the tourist4 facing clubs and found a club that looked local.

The club had lots of little rooms with hidden entrances that you could discover by roaming around. We wandered into a small room of ~twenty people where there was a nice balance of drinking, conversing, and dancing. The Japanese were incredibly friendly and tried hard to chat with us despite their minimal English and our nonexistent Japanese. Later in another room of the club, a stranger paid for our drinks while shouting "Welcome to Japan!" We talked with him for a bit and I think he said that the next day he was competing to be world number one in some iPhone game.

After leaving the club we found a bar that seemed to be populated only with friends of the owner. Unsure of whether or not we were welcome, we walked up the stairs to the seating area. There was one group of friends getting hammered together. One of the girls in the friend group asked us what we wanted to drink and then went downstairs to grab the drinks for us. After getting our beers she went back to get shots for the group. The next round they bought shots for us and we later returned the favor. They were very friendly and, like the people in the club, worked with the little English they spoke to have a conversation with us.

Outside the clubs we saw love hotels, hook up rooms available for rent. At the time of this picture 1 dollar ~= 107 yen.
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Our last days centered around our restaurant reservations. We had booked one night at a hotel so that the concierge service could reserve restaurants that required a Japanese person to speak on our behalf. The concierge had us sign a contract stating we would pay in full and miss our dinner if we did not show up on time to our reservations.

The restaurants we went to are designed for the efficient serving of freshly prepared food. The guests sit at a bar facing the cooking staff. The master chef(s) prepares the food in front of the guests and the cooking staff serves everyone the same dish as soon as its ready. The waiting staff stands behind the guests at full attention replacing their tea, water, wasabi, ginger, etc.

The food was delicious at all of the restaurants, but the cost varied wildly. We had just as good an experience when we paid $60 per meal as when we paid $150 per meal.

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Tokyo was my favorite place we went to during the trip. I was not as trigger happy there with my camera as I was at our prior destinations, maybe because I was enjoying my time more. I'd be happy to live there.

Let's end with a friendly looking samurai on a horse.

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  1. In Japan no one locks their bike. As far as I know, it is impossible to leave a bike unlocked in any major city in the US without it being stolen. []
  2. Dryers are apparently less popular here than they are in the US. []
  3. I am normally not found of staying out late nor being in over packed clubs. When I first was living in Costa Rica I would go to bars early and chat up the few people there and then leave when the crowd started to arrive. []
  4. We found out to our dismay that the Rugby World Cup was being hosted in Japan during our stay. So there was a high number of burly English/Aussie/New Zealand lads loudly roaming the streets at night. []

Seoul, Korea

Saturday, October 12th, 2019

The airport in Seoul was inconvenient. We tried to buy train tickets to our place in Donggyo-Dong, but the machines only accepted cash in Won. We looked for a bank or a currency exchange booth, but they were all closed (it was ~10pm) So we were forced to take a cab.

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Our taxi drivers in Seoul varied in style. Some cab drivers were patient, always stopping before yellow lights and staying within the speed limit. But one cab driver that took us home from a club treated red lights as merely suggestions.

Seoul had more of a night life compared to Kyoto. There is a culture of beauty there based around plastic surgery and generous use of makeup. The popular look for Korean women is an application of makeup that creates snow white skin and red lips. Yes, the Koreans look photoshopped. But they embrace their superficial culture. They have a term in Korean, aegyo (애교), for when a person pretends to be cute.

I ate a lot of meat in Seoul. There are many restaurants where either you cook the food yourselves or it is cooked right in front of you. This one had an ugly tube that sucked up the heat and smoke from the grill.

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They have a horrible system here where tables have buttons you press to call the waiter. When you press them a loud beep sounds and your table number appears on a screen. The waiter, who always looks pissed off, comes over to take your order. They will not come to your table to refill water or for any other circumstance other than you having pressed the button.

You will be waiting for a while for your check if you forget to press this.
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We saw posters for this 17-year-old emo pop idol Billie Eilish everywhere.

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We wandered into what appeared to be a children’s toy store. They had multiple floors of weird shit with huge screens playing cartoon ads for the store.

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The toystore had an "adult" section upstairs. Seeing as we were in a toy store, we figured this may be a mistranslation, but we went upstairs to investigate. We were prompted for our IDs when we reached the top floor.

Here we have standard equipment.

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And comfort for the lonely anime enthusiast.

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A helpful diagram.

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Later we indulged in the traditional Korean dish of ice cream waffles.

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After stuffing ourselves with those waffles we went on a food tour throughout a street market where we met some German ladies and a sign interpreter1 from Minnesota.

We ate some live octopus. Chop sticks are difficult to use when your food is using its suckers to stick itself to the plate.

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Afterwards we went with the Germans to karaoke. We found an alcohol free teenager spot. Almost everything there was written in Korean and the person working desk spoke ~no English. But we managed to figure out how to rent a room for an hour. The room had two microphones and this hand held device that let you pick songs, change effects on the mic, etc. Everything on the device was written in Korean. We clicked around and eventually found the section with pop songs in English. Among others we found Bad Guy by Billie Eilish.

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The next day we journeyed to the Gyeongbokgung Palace.

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Then to an old village with traditional architecture.

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That night we went out drinking. Beware of the sweet soju. On our last day there I woke up at 2:30pm.2. We went on a tour of Gangnam.

Here is a bookstore. True to the superficial Korean culture, the books on the shelves are merely frames of books and not actual books.

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We walked by a pop up Kpop concert. No one but the performers were dancing. We also saw a monument to one of Youtube’s most watch videos.

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Only a few hundred meters away from the kpop concert was a tranquil Buddhist temple.
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We got a view of the Han river and the Lotte World Tower.

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They have a street with a monument to all the biggest kpop bands.

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And one for Psy, Gangnam's king.

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Next up, Tokyo!

  1. I learned that different countries have different sign languages. And sign languages do not directly correspond to a spoken language, they're languages with their own grammar. []
  2. I normally wake up at 6am and have been waking up in Asia at around 7:30am. Thank you soju. []

Kyoto, Japan

Wednesday, October 2nd, 2019

Note: This is meant to be a picture post. But I failed to do a systems check on my blog before heading out, so I don't have the ability to upload photos. Consequently, the picture part of this picture post will have to wait until I get back.

UPDATE: Photos uploaded.

My 28 hour journey from NYC to Kyoto was made pleasurable by enjoying the superiority of Japanese transit. This began with Japan airlines.

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The stewardesses on Japan airlines spoke in such a soft gentle manner that it was nice to hear any announcement they had to make. The main course meal they served was notbad for airplane food, certainly better than anything I have ever had on a US airline. They also had red wine bottles as a standard free drink, which the passenger sitting next to me took full advantage of.

After about thirteen hours of flying, we arrived in Tokyo Narita airport. We took a local train to another station to get on the famous bullet train.

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While waiting for the local train I noticed that different trains arriving on our track were coming/going from different directions. While on the train, they announced that after a certain station cars 1-p would split off into one direction and p+1-n would go in another. A nice feature of the disassembling, multi-direction-track train was little lockers for your luggage. luggagelock

They announced that should you forget your combo, you would need to ride the train all the way to the terminal station to get your bag.

The bullet train station had floor diagrams of how to stand in line for the arriving trains.

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What's the point of making a train hit 300km/h if it loses time to dorks shuffling into the cars at every station?

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Our white privilege was checked by Kyoto's dangerously low entryway height. We have a running counter of how many times we have each banged our forehead on some doorway our trip. My counter is already at 4.

In Kyoto, there are vending machines everywhere.
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The first site seeing we did was the Kiyomizu Temple.

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We did this tour through "the womb" where you are taken through a completely pitch-black tunnel, guided by holding a handrail. The spiritual experience was ruined by a child screaming ahead of us.

Off the beaten path near the temple was a large graveyard.

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"Not bad for a canned coffee from a vending machine in a graveyard"

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Oh hey it's my neighbor Totoro

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Next up was a World War II memorial.

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Throughout everywhere they have flowing water with ladles you use to pour the water on your hands as some sort of spiritual cleanse.

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Appalling littering on shrines or liquid donations to the dead?

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Money is thrown into all sorts of things for good luck.

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Now this is what I call a flower.

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We went to some street market after temple seeing. Have you tried Melonpan?

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The next day we went to a bamboo forest.

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Not pictured: around here they have carriages for couples - but instead of being pulled by horses they are pulled by young, fit Japanese men.

Next up, the Tenry-ji Temple and garden.

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The gravel in front of this pond is raked in neat lines. A tourist stepped over the fence and a police officer came running to throw them out, and called in the incident so that the gravel would be reraked.

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After walking about in the heat we decided to check out an Onsen, a Japanese bathhouse. These are nude-required and tattooed-person-banned "hot springs." The land of 100 dicks had a bunch of different stations: a normal shower, jacuzzis with massage jets, muddy "hot spring' water, a freezing cold pool "the shrinker', a sauna, and a massage room. I paid thirty bucks extra to get the massage. But instead of the borderline sexual experience I was hoping for, I was scrubbed down furiously by an older Korean woman. I can't say I felt particularly relaxed afterwards, but I did feel clean.

That night we went to a bar where the bartenders are incentivized to make the cocktails nice.

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Our last day in Kyoto was spent at the orange gates. They did an exhibit of this once in Central Park in NYC when I was younger.

But first, conveyer belt sushi. The way this works is that each different colored plate has a different price. When you're done eating they tally up all the plates you have to pay.

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We also stumbled upon a University campus on our way to the orange gates.

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It's a decent hike up, as you get closer to the top there are more opportunities for pics without hundreds of people in the gates.

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And that wraps it up for Kyoto, next up Seoul, Korea.