Saturday, January 1, 2011

Korea. Do you need to press the bell?

There's a chance that I am slightly behind on the blogging. I went to Korea in early November 2010. Katy and Mae sent me off at the Airport Express station. What stellar people! They crew just about every show in HK. Katy and I have poem challenges. They hid behind a column to startle me as I entered the station, but when they jumped out, they actually scared a middle-aged man, who cowered into his leather jacket and didn't emerge until he was out of sight. Here they are, blurry, in the center, as I left on the train: I almost didn't get out of Hong Kong, though. The immigration people caught me and questioned why I had overstayed my allowed time on my visa. I didn't think that "well, there's this show called Rocky, and I really wanted to do that, so...I stayed" would fly with the genial immigration staff, so I just kind of mumbled something about I thought I was fine. Eventually, I got through, but I had to extend my visa and mark the "spinster" box under marital status one last time. Made my flight to Seoul with 2 minutes to spare. At last, Korea. On the customs declaration form, I had to verify that I would not be taking my bear gall into the country. You'd think with a downer like that, it'd be hard to bounce back, but I did.My first night, I unloaded at the hostel and set out to explore my neighborhood. I found a great cafe where I ate authentic Korean spaghetti with Hah Ro and Jin Woo. It's ok because it was a fusion of Korean noodles and Ragu. Also, when Hah Ro was helping me read the menu, I thought he said "spicy" not "spaghetti." I returned to the hostel around 1am, so the next day was a bit of a late start to go to Masan. En route to Masan, the bus stopped at a rest area. As I always do, I used the facilities and took note. The most glaring difference between Korean and American restrooms is the presence in the former of an Etiquette Bell. I did not press it, for fear of a mistranslation that would call a SWAT Team. So in Masan, when I met Margaret for a salad topped with vanilla ice cream. I asked her about the Etiquette Bell. "Oh, yeah. When you gotta take a really big dump, you press the button and this really loud fake flushing sound happens so no one else can hear you." Brilliant, I say. Just brilliant. And only in Asia. Americans tend to be proud of their bodily functions--or maybe that's just South Dakotans. Who lived in Hanson Hall. So yes, I met Margaret, a friend from high school, in Masan. I stayed with her and her husband, Graeme, for a couple nights. We talked about living in Asia, ancient civilizations, and alien invasions. One night, after they finished work, we all took a bus to Chongwon, the "Seoul of the South" for dinner and talking to westerners. I commented to Margaret that the transportation is cheap--only $1 for a 45 minute bus to Chongwon. "Yeah...although you could pay for it with your life, so it depends on your perspective." I took another bus, the next day, to Daegu, to visit Kristine, a friend from college, and her boyfriend, Cyphar. Despite the mayhem of maneuvering through an Asian mall to reach her, at last we crossed on an escalator and all was well in the world again. We walked around the city

and I introduced them to the wonder of the tofu donut. We ate Mexican at a place called The Holy Grill (I love a good pun) and stayed for a good 3 hours until we parted ways at the station. I don't look like a 3rd wheel AT ALL in that photo. wow. I took the train back to Seoul and stayed at the same hostel, because the owner, Min, had so generously let me store my Suitcase of Things for Caitlin in Mongolia in a corner in his house. And that's KOREA...PART ONE. Stay tuned for PART TWO, which involves kimchi, forts, fake mustaches, and most of all JUNO!!

Friday, November 5, 2010

It's Astounding...Time is Fleeting

My final days in Hong Kong were filled with Rocky Horror joy, 2 great visitors, a Breast Cancer Foundation fundraiser, and a farewell BBQ at Rob and Micha's remarkable flat in Sai Kung. I was so consumed with the joy of everything that I forgot to take photos, but there are about 10 million photos of Rocky that I can steal from other people, so I'll do my best to post them here.

Currently, I've left Hong Kong, but I'll continue to use this blog to chronicle my trip around the world for the next 5 weeks. I'll shoot for a post every 2-3 days...but let's not get our hopes too high.

Let's begin with Steven Varble's visit! We had not much time, but we dim sumed, Cheung Chaued, and Ocean Parked. And now, a series of panda photos:

The Red Panda isn't nearly as cute, but it can wave:

Sometimes, Steven will draw a Panda:

Or take a picture with a Panda::

Sometimes, I will take a picture with a Panda:

What a Pair 2 was a raging success; we actually ran out of raffle tickets. I sang with Bethan, Arvin (of radio interview fame), and Matthew:

Rocky, Rocky, Rocky...

Friday, October 22, 2010

Just One More Chicken Foot...

The synaguards have started flirting with me. But other than that, not much else to report from the last month. Lies! I've been studying ratios and $10,000 words for the GRE. I think I take it tomorrow, but I haven't been emailed the time and location thereof. That, plus the possibility of an epically proportioned typhoon hitting HK this weekend may seriously hinder whether or not I take the test.

This is not a tragedy in my life. Grad school is not happening this year (I don't think...) So if the typhoon hits, I'll just get my $200 back and be able to buy many sandwiches in Korea to take to Caitlin in Mongolia. That's my plan: 2 more weeks in Hong Kong (doing Rocky Horror, eating as much mango curry as possible, and crying at the thought of leaving), 1 week in South Korea, 1 week in Mongolia, 1 week in Ireland, 2 weeks in Europe, a few days in NYC, a few days in Illinois, then South Dakota for a couple weeks. After that, I might get a job and try to make a difference in the world.

This weekend, I'll be performing in a charity show for the Hong Kong Breast Cancer Foundation. Apparently, Kate Winslet was going to go, but she's been uninvited due to worries of aggressive reporters. She's in town for the Steven Soderbergh viral movie that they won't let me be in.

If you have 10 minutes to kill, listen to a radio interview in which I was introduced as Karen Carpenter and sang a duet with the incredibly talented Arvin Robles:

Monday, September 27, 2010

Thailand. Or, Hey Superwoman, tuk tuk for you?

2 1/2 days in Bangkok.
I arrived in the early evening, so by the time I got a bus into the city and unloaded at my exquisite hostel, there were few civilized hours left in the day (stretching the imagination to assume any hour in Bangkok is civilized).

So I went a bit lost--not sure why:

I serendipitously came across a Thai pop concert.
I was so excited, I ate a mango. Right next to the concert, there was a night market! I've never been to an Asian market before, so I was elated. Many things "hand made" and it turns out I was the first customer at almost every booth, so I got a special price. Bought grandma's magnet, got a foot massage for about $3, wandered aimlessly and took a tuk-tuk home, though I had to insist, repeatedly, I did not want to go to a ping-pong show. Mom and Dad, never ask me what that is.

Next morning, I met my roommates: a German girl and a British girl. The British girl gave me a jar of peanut butter. I think it must be an offering of friendship in her culture. Or maybe it was something about she was leaving the next day and couldn't take it. She was also an English major, so we talked nerd then parted ways for the day.

I went to the Royal Neighborhood via a "long boat." It's like a boat that's really long. There's a guy who works on the boat, much like the Star Ferry rope guys, only he has to ride on the long boat. He does not, apparently, need to help me jump the substantial gap between the boat and the pier.

First stop: Golden Mount, though nearly missed. I got off the long boat, as encouraged by the boat guy, and looked for the closest shiny spire. As I walked towards it, a nice man stopped me to let me know that this site is closed. Only open to Thai people to pray. Oh, dang.
BUT, he is able to take me, via tuk tuk, to the Lucky Buddha. It was actually the luckiest day of my life, because the Lucky Buddha is open only one day per year and get this, it was that very day. Oh fortune!
Then my college skill of skepticism kicked in. Also, on the plane ride, I read in Lonely Planet that you should never believe people who say a site is closed. They are lying. They want charge you astronomically for a ride to another place, that I'm sure other guys are telling other tourists is closed.
So after a genial conversation, I told him I'd go ahead and check it out myself. He told me to suit myself. Five steps closer to the Golden Mount and yet another concerned citizen crossed his arms in a X and shook them in my face. I said I was just walking and went on and up to the Golden Mount, which was of course open and free admission. The Golden Mount, so called for being on a mount and colored gold.

And having a gold satellite dish:
Another family was there and excited to take a picture with me.
I wandered through the streets, pretending to know exactly where I was going, or else subject myself to the offers of more tuk tuk drivers. I find that these "semi-lost" moments produce the most authentic essence of a place. Like roosters under baskets and door stores:
Along the way, there was a street food vendor. I looked at the food. "What is it?" Answer: "It is good." I ate it and agreed. I thought I was walking to the Royal Palace, but I eventually realized I wasn't, so I found a taxi.

I told him to go to the Royal Palace. He started the meter and said he didn't know the Royal Palace. I tried to explain it's the most popular tourist site in Bangkok, but he insisted he'd never heard of it as he fumbled around with the map. It'd be like an NYC cab driver not knowing where the Empire State Building is. My guard against scam was way up by this point, so I opened the door and jumped out of the moving taxi. It was moving really slowly--it may have even been at a stop light, but it still felt theatric. I found another cab and got to the Royal Palace, no problem.
Royal Palace: big, shiny, colorful, majestic.

And they have guards with pointy hats. And elephant bushes:

I spent a lot of time there, admiring the regalia and weapons collection. I wasn't allowed to take photos, but they had tridents! My favorite historical weapon.

I walked along a street and saw a parking lot for witches:

I purposefully went to the National Theatre to see if I could attend a performance. Nothing on during my days there, but that didn't stop me from inviting myself to a rehearsal for a traditional dance performance.
Somehow, I was someplace where I didn't want to be and I couldn't go back because I just shook off an insistent pesterer. So I hopped on a bus. Mistake. Apparently, in Bangkok, you have to know where you're going to be on a bus. I got on just fine, then an official woman with a money belt approached me and asked where I was going. My answer of "anywhere" was unacceptable. My next answer of "not back there" was declined with equal if not greater disdain. Another passenger said the bus was going to the airport, so I jumped out at the next stop. I walked a little way and found a cool street: vendors, hippies, dreadlock salons, etc.
I spot this woman:

She makes AMAZING pad thai for me and lets me sit on her stool to eat (I may have seemed a bit edgy from the bus experience). Other patrons arrived, including a Cantonese speaker, so...instant friend. I asked them where we were and learned I was on Kao Shan Road--the main backpacker drag. Explains all the weed shirts and internet cafes.

Then to Wat Pho to see the famous Emerald Buddha. Every season (summer, winter, dry, rainy) the King, or more recently the Crown Prince, dresses the Emerald Buddha in seasonal attire. It's kind of like the woman on everyone's street who has a goose she likes to dress up for each holiday.

Nighttime, in my wanderings, I find another theatre and--what luck!--they had a traditional Thai dance performance that night. I bought a ticket and killed an hour by walking around the park. It was more like an exercise park. The paths were really running tracks, there was a huge group dance aerobics on, actual gym equipmentand these dudes, all over 60, playing hacky sack:
I ate something else from this guy:
The show was colorful! It was monkey. I think. It was hard to tell. But they all had great costumes, and before the show began, everyone stood for the National Anthem and images of the King were projected on a giant screen. Got back to the hostel very late, but early enough for the people at the front desk to write my name in Thai for me. It's pronounced "Camber."

Day 3 began with a short walk to the Jim Thompson House. I went here because Jim Thompson's story is shrouded in mystery, and I love all things mysterious and shrouded. He was an American silk magnate who lived for several years in Thailand, completely immersed in the culture, language, and industry. He mysteriously disappeared while on a walk through a jungle in Malaysia. One year later, on the exact same day, his sister was murdered in Delaware. No photos allowed in the house, so a lame shot from the outside:

Then I went to a Snake Farm and watched them milk a snake. I won't post pictures for the sake of my mom. Basically, they force the snake to bite something and squeeze the venom into a jar. They later inject it into a cow and get an anti-venom from it.

Next stop, lunch at the Delicious Delicious Kitchen. It lived up to its name and had a nice view:

The rest of the afternoon was wandering through various neighborhoods and getting a Thai massage. I returned to the hostel early and was up at 5 the next morning for my flight. When I got back to Hong Kong, I immediately went to a 4-hour dance rehearsal for Rocky Horror. I was intensely sore for 3 days, the cause of which is yet undetermined: 4 hours of Time Warping or an hour-long session of getting stepped on and bent into several pretzel formations by a surprisingly strong Thai woman.
And now, more pictures:

If my mom was Thai:Creepy Ronald:
If Abe Lincoln was a Thai Statue:...more like a monumental Fred Astaire.
For The Mother: