Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Fruit Soju

The next couple entries are going to be catch-ups, but I find them timeless.
So. there is a delicious summer drink I'd like to inform you of: fruit soju. Now, if I haven't mentioned it before, soju is the national drink (liquor) of Korea. It is made from rice (hard to believe there's any rice left, since they eat it like 3 times a day), and it goes for $1 per 12 oz. bottle. It's about 20% alcohol, so that's right folks, you can get drunk for a mere dollar. (one of the many draws of Seoul). So anyway, it tastes sort of like a weak vodka, and therefore can be mixed with just about anything. When Keri was here we went to this place that hollows out the insides of fruit and fills them with the fruit/soju concoction. That night we tried the watermelon, pineapple, and when we went back for Thomas' birthday (a week or so ago), we tried every other flavor: honeydew, orange, and apple. Delicious!
Also, their menu of food was interesting. We ordered a pumpkin that was baked with seafood and cheese inside. It was soooooooooo good!! Here are some pics of the seafood pumpkin, Keri with the pineapple, and Gilles, me and Julie drinking out of our hollowed-out apples and oranges....

Thursday, August 17, 2006

End of contract plans

So, my contract is up here November 2. That's still 2 and a half months away, but I need to start planning for the trip I'm taking after I'm finished here. My beloved cousin Heidi is flying to Seoul when I'm finished and we're going to travel to China and either Vietnam (south this time) or the Philippines for 2-3 weeks. I want to be home in time for Thanksgiving. This is a call for all information you have regarding the aforementioned countries. Any must-see places? Of course the Great Wall is in our plans but we want a well-rounded trip with both historical/sight-seeing and laying on a beach (lord knows I need it after working with these kids everyday). More traveling, yippeeeeee!
I also have a 6 day break coming up in October....I really want to use it to go somewhere but it's the most expensive time to travel from Korea, as ALL Koreans have this time off....it seems like such a waste to NOT use it to go somewhere. All right people, I admit I have an addiction.

Any tips (other than Travelholics Anonymous) would be great.

An Inconvenient Truth Amendment

Ok. Let me be more clear, after reading some of the comments to my last entry (an individual or machine named "ANONYMOUS"who never actually saw the movie makes a credible and compelling case, I'm sure, thank you for your input). I don't give a flying f*ck about Al Gore. I voted for him, sure, but that was not the point. Mr. Rogers could have made this film for all I care. I am not saying you should buy into every little fact that Al presents. Be a critical consumer of this information as I hope you are of all information you receive. I could care less if you are liberal or conservative. MY POINT is that this movie will get people thinking about something important and useful (unlike a lot of other movies that we ---including me---watch).
There are some interesting facts presented that will get "some" people thinking. I'm sure many people aren't open to this sort of "environmental propoganda"....understandable. I can see how the earth has been trying to screw us over for years (sarcasm intended). Regardless, after watching it I felt better informed and concerned about global warming. That is why I requested that you watch the movie.
Unfortunately, Al Gore's name attached to the film will be detrimental as some of the more conservative members of society will refuse to see it because they will look at it as a piece of liberal propoganda. That's really sad, because the content should be important to all of us who share this world. If it benefits Gore in some way for us to see the film, fine. Just like we're putting money directly into the pockets of Mel Gibson or Tom Cruise with every box office hit they've been a part of, those self-interested bastards.
Whatever political agenda may be behind this, I'm sure everyone who watches it is not going to run right out and by a hybrid car. When I saw it, it made me think, hmmmm, maybe this is something that we all need to be a little more concerned about than we have been. I don't think the demise of the planet as we know it will be here in 10 years, (neither does he) but I think it's important for us to start thinking about how we've been pissing on our planet and maybe make a few minor changes. How can you argue that we haven't done any damage?? The extent of the damage may be debatable, but there's no question that if we continue to damage the earth at the pace we have, we are screwing things for the future generations and possibly for ourselves.

Furthermore, I didn't mean to directly compare Milwaukee to Seoul. By size of the cities alone (not to mention the giant Korean population), there is no comparison. I love Milwaukee and I've seen the steps it has made towards a more environmentally- friendly existence. I had a car in Milwaukee, because you need one to get by there. And I recycled in Milwaukee, as I'm sure you all do. My point (which I seemedl to have failed in making) in talking about Seoul and how it treats the environment was to be informative. I have never lived in another city for this length of time and I am noticing that they do things differently. It would be ignorant of me not to notice these differences. I thought that sharing them with you would be interesting and informative, not offensive. My apologies for that. You know that Milwaukee and I are close friends.

Now I'm going to go smoke up with the rest of the hippies. Peace.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

An Inconvenient Truth

Go see it. I just watched Al Gore's documentary on global warming and it's shocking. It's scary. But it's accurate. I think that it really clarifies things for the layperson, and it is a call to action. I find it so sad to see how far behind the rest of the world the U.S. is when it comes to being environmentally conscious. Here is the website: www.climatecrisis.net
Hopefully the rise in gas prices will wake people up (it's not the destruction of our world, but the harm to one's pocketbook that opens eyes??? sad but true).
Gas prices have always been as high or much higher in other countries of the world. When I was in Europe and Scandinavia, I was seeing gas prices triple what the U.S. pays. Here in Seoul, gas prices are over $5 a gallon. I am SO glad to not have a car anymore. Taking the subway is great. I wish Milwaukee had that option. It's nice not to have to worry about driving....I can just sit there and daydream or read a book. And when it's winter, I don't have to worry about scraping my windows or digging my car out of 6 feet of snow before I nearly get into an accident by sliding into another car on a slippery road (it's happened to me before).
Anyway, I know that cars are a necessity to many people. It was to me in Milwaukee. The public transport just isn't there in a city of that size. Having never lived in such a large city before, I was very surprised to see how environmentally conscious Seoul is. All of our garbage is separated. We recycle everything....bottles, cans, plastic, paper, cardboard--even public receptacles in the subway and in fast-food restaurants have you separating things (you dump out your soda in the "liquid" area, put your cup in one area, lid and straw in another area).

They don't have garbage disposals so we throw our leftover food into food bins (and boy does it stink). The lighting everywhere is flourescent. Homes, schools, restaurants (yep, even there). It's harsh and unattractive but much better for the environment (they use 60% less energy than a regular bulb--IKEA sells 'em!). It's just interesting to see how much more advanced Seoul is in taking initiatives to be nice to the world.
Anyway, I'm done ranting and raving....as a global citizen, I ask you to go see the movie. It will hopefully get you thinking.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Tantalizing Tokyo

So, I've arrived back from my trip to Japan. And what a trip it was. My friend Keri arrived in Seoul from Milwaukee on Thursday evening (July 27). I had to work Friday, so she hung out in Seoul in the rain. The rainy season should have technically ended by end of July, but I guess weather doesn't pay attention to technicalities. So unfortunately she got a taste of it (it's a nonstop downpour all day--my friend at work actually wears those aqua socks things to walk in outside, it's that bad). Saturday morning we left on a train to Busan, South Korea, which is about 3 hours away by bullet train (it's on the other side of the country). From there, we had reservations to take the Hydrofoil ferry (it actually runs on a jet engine and sort of skips over the water) to Fukuoka/Hakata, Japan. That was also a 3 hour trip.
THEN, after successfully arriving in Japan Saturday late afternoon, we picked up our Japan Rail passes and hopped their Shinkansen bullet train (186 mph)to Osaka. Why all the travel, you ask? Well, because it's high season for travel in Korea, all the flights to Japan (which is a brisk 1.5 hours away by air) were around $600. While Geoff and Gilles opted to fly directly to Tokyo, Keri and I decided to take various forms of transport (Ferries, Trains and Automobiles, sans Steve Martin and John Candy) and see the country while we were at it.
It was cool. We stayed in Osaka (about halfway to Tokyo) the first night, and hopped a morning train to Tokyo the next morning. Despite the conflicting web information on which is a bigger city, Tokyo and Seoul have similar populations, so I was pretty comfortable navigating the city. The subways work a little bit differently, but it was really no problem. We were all a little worried that the reputation Tokyo has for being one of the most expensive cities in the world would ring true, but it really didn't. Some things were more money, like the subways (in Seoul it costs about 80 cents to ride each way, where as in Tokyo it was double), but other things were similar (maybe a little bit more) such as food and drinks. But rumor has it all wrong....don't let it stop you from experiencing one of the world's great cities. DON'T BELIEVE THE HYPE PEOPLE!
Tokyo has some great neighborhoods that we were able to check out. Our hotel was in Shinjuku, which is really the Tokyo of the movies. Glaring jumbled neon lights blinking and flashing at all hours of the day; a sea of faces pushing past you on the streets; fast-paced and hectic. Someone with ADHD would not do well here. Or wait--maybe it's made for them. So much going on at once; sensory overload. You don't know which way to look first. And then you look again and it's gone. The subway station we stayed next to is the busiest in the world; 2 MILLION people pass through every day. Wow.

One of the things that really stood out to me (mostly in contrast to Seoul) was the diversity. I've commented on this before, how on the surface, in Seoul, most people are cookie-cutter. Japan is the Baskin-Robbins of Asia. Everyone had their own individual flavor. The sub-cultures were overwhelming --goths, punks, skaters, fashionistas, gangsters and more....this is exemplified in a particular area of the city called Harajuku (Gwen Stefani actually has a song called "Harajuku Girls" that really hits the nail on the head). On Sundays there is actually a "freak parade" where people come out to strut their stuff and really just get attention. Harajuku was my favorite part of the city, not only was there diversity (so great people watching!) but there was also good shopping. One of my favorite stores from Europe was there! Another interesting thing that I wasn't expecting was that some people actually wore kimonos on the streets. I thought they were completely "old Japan" but not at all....there were a decent amount of people wearing them in the city. True kimonos are silk and pretty heavy....they are beautiful though. Some people were wearing "summer kimonos" which are made of cotton. They are called "yukatas". I actually bought one for myself. They are beautiful!

One weird thing I noticed was that there were a lot of things that Japan seemed to rip off of other countries, for example, "Tokyo Tower" which looks a lot like the Eiffel Tower (and is actually a couple of meters taller). We went to the top and saw a great cityscape. There is also a fake Statue of Liberty. I didn't bother going to see it, not that interested. Keri and I went to a famous Buddhist temple one day. It was really pretty. There was also a more traditional area of the city (in stark contrast with the crazy, flourescent lights of the modern part) we went to with a market near the temple. It was neat because they had a lot of traditional Japanese goods and foods.
The food was good, overall. Of course I had to eat sushi several times while I was there, which was great! Rather than the wasabi being on the side (to mix in with the soy sauce), it was built right into the pieces. Yum. And I had some sake to wash it down.
One night the four of us went out to dinner and the menu was all in Japanese (of course), so we just pointed at things that looked good. Later, after realizing that my "beef" was a little chewy, we were reading the chopstick covers and I read that what I thought was steak was really BEEF TONGUE. Yikes. Needless to say, I stopped eating it. :)
We also went to a karaoke bar one night (kinda had to, since it originated there!) that we *think* was the same one that was in "Lost in Translation". It was awesome. We were on the 9th floor and there were windows in the room that overlooked the city! We originally planned to only go for an hour or two, but in true noraebang style, we stayed until the sun came up! It's like a time warp in those singing rooms, I swear! This one was a bit more expensive ($40/hour, whereas in Seoul they are only max $20/hour). We had SUCH a good time! To keep with our "Lost in Translation" obsession, we also went to the Park Hyatt Tokyo for a drink (this is where Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansen stayed in the movie). The Park Hyatt was actually directly behind our hotel, so we had a view of it. We just had to have a drink there....it was beautiful but a martini was $18! I guess we were paying for the view....
I'd better wrap this up before it becomes the longest blog entry of all time. I could say so much about Tokyo....I want to go back! I was wondering about teaching English there....but I've heard that they don't treat their teachers as nice as they do here (no free housing, less of a salary). It's too bad because I would love to dig into that city for a year! Here are a few pictures of Tokyo...

Back from Tokyo!!

So, I've dropped off the face of the earth lately, because my friend Keri was here (she just left yesterday) and we were in JAPAN!!
I need to write all about it, because it was great! (and just because I would write about it anyway, even if it sucked) So as soon as I get a chance to go through my pictures and reflect, I'll post a ridiculously long entry.
Just wanted to let you know that I'm still alive!