Saturday, April 23, 2011

SG-KR-JP: not quite the end

I should really be studying for my GMAT, but I really can't seem to find the motivation. So I thought I would post a short blog instead.

My travels in Tokyo thus far have been fantastic. It definitely felt a little strange when I first arrived, but it really did not take long to get used to how everything works here again (it's still so damn organised!). And I think especially coming from Seoul where the language barrier was quite difficult at times, being able to speak and understand the people around you is a great feeling :)

Everytime I come to Japan, I always manage to find myself impressed by the level of service that is just considered "normal". It's so refreshing to have people who genuinely want to help you, even if they are selling you stuff. I mean, I think I fell in love with a clothing store assistant the other day... and ended up buying 3 more shirts than I need (or have space to fit into my luggage) - but hey when they super helpful and cute it's a bit hard to say no right...

Anyway, it's time for some photos. I've realised that I have a massive shortage of photos from Japan (compared to my effort in Korea) - so these unfortunately don't capture a lot of the best parts of my trip (e.g. I seem to have forgotten to actually take photos with people a lot of the time which is a shame). But still, some pictures is better than no pictures right?

My good friend Yuki from the Keio Badminton Club at Ueno Station, after a nice meal at a local izakaya.

A shot of the illuminated trees on top of Yebisu Garden Place (kind of a shopping / restaurant building). I took this shot after a great dinner with Sohei at the Yebisu beer garden. I am still not 100% sure if they actually brew Yebisu and Sapporo beer there, but they definitely serve plenty of it. Dinner was an interesting mix of international food which ranged from German fried potatoes to Korean dolsot bibimbap.

My cousin, Bernard, and I at HUB (a "British Pub" chain that seems to have become extremely popular around Tokyo). And you are probably thinking "why would you two go to a British Pub chain in Tokyo?" It was the only place we could find serving drinks that was nearby. And we did at least drink Japanese beer there :P

This was an Okinawa sashimi moriawase platter (basically just assorted sashimi) I had with my other good friend Yuki (different Yuki from above) at a cool little izakaya in the Shinmaru building. The most interesting part for me was the stuff on the left which are called umebudou (literally sea grapes). They are some sort of seaweed variety but they do look a lot like tiny grapes. Really nice but no, they don't taste at all like the stuff you make wine out of haha

And finally, I did end up managing to see some sakura in Tokyo! Really big thanks to Sohei for being as helpful a guide as ever. We had to trudge through wind, rain and mud in the Hamarikyu Gardens to find these (the cherry blossom trees have already bloomed and wilted in most other parts of the city). But it was definitely worth it. In the picture below are (I think) yaezakura, which are a slightly different variety from the smaller more common type.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

SG-KR-JP: the middle

Sorry. My intentions to update this thing frequently were obviously over-ambitious, given that I have now left Seoul and only posted once.

Anyway, my overall conclusion from a few days there is: Seoul is awesome.

If you take fantastic food, a great selection of drinks and fun company from all over the world, you've got yourself a great trip. Seoul had all of that, plus a lot of really interesting local people / culture / ambience.

My time there worked out so well mainly by luck I think, which once again seems to confirm my "planning is usually over-rated" outlook on life haha. The short version of a long story is that I went to Seoul because I was too disorganised to get myself to Shanghai. But funnily enough everything seemed pretty much to fall into place when I got there (despite having only planned for a grand total of about 50 minutes prior to landing).

A few words of thanks before we get on to pictures
Jihee and JJ: incredibly grateful for helping to bridge the language barrier and also just generally for helping work out where to go / what to do.
May and Henry: the trip would not have been the same, or anywhere near as fun without you both there.

More Korean BBQ in Korea (think this is Wednesday). The round pieces of meat were my favourite, which was translated into English as "Boston Butt" on the menu (that was, incidentally, the only reason we actually ordered it).

After eating all that meat in the picture above, we went in search of some makgeolli (pronounced muk-gol-lee, or "Milky Soju" as Henry insisted on calling it). After a bit of aimless wondering around, we finally found some in a small-ish restaurant. It was worth the walk though. If there is one drink I will remember Seoul by, this is it. The best I can do to describe it is a semi-sweet, cloudy looking rice wine, that's about 5% alcohol. I think you are actually meant to drink it from a small bowl normally too.

May and JJ enjoying some makgeolli (using cups, not bowls - that comes later haha):

Met up with Jihee! First time in ... 5 years?? ... It's hard to describe how good it is catching up with old friends. Definitely has to be one of my favourite things about travelling.

Jihee was kind enough to take us for some traditional Korean food, the names of which I have no hope of remembering but included an range of vegetables / fish / kimchee / and other small side dishes. Was delicious, not to mention a good change from the Korean BBQ I'd been having.

We followed dinner up with a much more recent invention: cocktail soju (really just soju mixed with fruit juice I think). I was warned multiple times by a few people that it is "dangerous" because you don't realise how much alcohol you are drinking - it is very sweet. Needless to say, that night did turn a bit crazy later on - but I am still going to blame it on the whole bottle of Greygoose that 4 of us managed to finished.

I am pleased to say I do not have many pictures as evidence of what went on after. But here is a nice shot of some apple cocktail soju - served in a cup made out of an apple:

This is from the next day, where we got a bit hungry while we were out and randomly ordered this awesome kimchi + pork platter thing. Like really awesome. I say that because you shouldn't assume it was awesome by the fact both Henry and May are taking photos of it in this shot. That happened pretty much with every single dish I saw them eat. I know I am one of the last people who should be making fun of photographing food - but it was still amusing.

As everyone knows the best cure for binge drinking is binge eating. And that is exactly what we did on Saturday at lunch :P

May's colleage, Haejung, was kind enough to take us around the Insadong area (famous apparently for sort of "traditional / old Korea") where we found a nice restaurant and ordered a set menu that had 16 dishes for the 3 of us. If you are wondering, we didn't quite finish but we got pretty close.

Henry's friends clowning around in Insadong: Raj and Kristy. It is a bit hard to appreciate how out of place this looked at the time. But trust me, it got plenty of amused looks from the people walking past

Lanterns (which apparently get lit up at night) put up in preparation for the birthday of Buddha in few weeks time. At least, that's what I think they were for. Pretty though:

Just near those lanterns, we also found what we decided must have been a cartoon version of Buddha in statue form:

This is a shot from a night market place we went to for dinner. We found this lovely store owner who was super warm and welcoming to the bunch of crazy looking tourists like ourselves. Her stall mainly served a variety of egg-battered items (e.g. fish cakes, tofu, fish, chillis). She also served makgeolli :P

There was also a really nice local Korean couple who happened to be sitting next to us at the stall. They were probably amused at the start at seeing the bunch of us turn up there, but a few bowls of makgeolli later, I think they felt like uncle and aunty. I am pretty sure Henry was trying to get them to adopt him for a decent part of the meal.

The food was good, and the company here made dinner at that stall probably the highlight of my time in Seoul:

And finally, I also paid a visit to Gyonbokgung Palace.

Big thanks to May here for organising this. Importantly, organising this before we decided to get ourselves massively sleep deprived for a third night in a row haha. There is no way it would have happened otherwise.

Even though in the end I couldn't get my little digital guide / headset working (to tell me about the historical significance of everything), it was a really nice place for a stroll and the weather was beautiful too.

It reminded me a lot of Japan though...

Especially given there was sakura (cherry-blossoms) there as well!

And I just realised how damn late it is here now so will leave it there. Till next time!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Singapore, Japan and Korea: the beginning

So after deliberating about whether I would send lots of emails to a bunch of people to let them know how my travels around Asia are going, I've decided that I would make use of this blog for the next few weeks. Yes that's right, I will actually try to update this a bit more regularly for at least a little while.

The one bit of breaking news to share is that I got to Tokyo this morning just in time for an earthquake. As usual I didn't realise it was an earthquake until it was almost over. But looking back I think I should count myself lucky. I was actually half way up a fairly long escalator when it struck, and I thought it was the escalator having mechanical problems when it started shaking and making odd noises. At least, until the earthquake siren in Narita airport went off and started telling everybody not to panic. Needless to say, that sort of announcement does exactly the opposite when you are the one person on the escalator that connects level 1 to level 3. Thankfully the quake did not last long and I don't think anybody suffered any injuries - including me - although I think it stopped a few trains for a little while which caused a bit of confusion.

And finally, what better way to end my inaugural post of the year than with a bunch of pictures of food (which is how I end a lot of my posts now that I think about it):

This was meant to be a photo of some really nice chicken rice I had in Singapore with Rach. It was unfortunately so nice that I forgot all about taking a photo, so you'll have to be happy with a picture of the sauces instead.

These are deep fried battered mushrooms with tartare sauce. This should have been a photo of some super spicy chicken wings (also in Singapore). But once again I sort of forgot about the photo once the main course came out.

And after my little earthquake encounter, I had a nice chilled out morning sitting around Narita airport (Japan) with three unlikely companions: a grapefruit juice, a book and a writing pad.

Korean BBQ. In Korea! And yes, it was really good too.

Hmm reading through what I just wrote, I can see this getting pretty boring pretty quickly if I don't get some non-food photos in. Will try for my next post :)

But on that note I think it is about time for me to sleep. Or maybe go find a bar to have a drink. Ah, the dilemmas you face on a holiday.