Saturday, January 31, 2009

New Season of Lost

I just got done catching myself up with the first few episodes of the new season of Lost. Warning: I may spoil it for you if you have not seen it yet.

I have to say they are doing a good job of finally answering all the unanswered questions from the past 4 years of this show. Especially by having the characters be caught in a time warp on the Island.

But just as they close some doors, more open. The premise now is that Jack and the other characters have to get back to the Island to save everyone. But it is of course a hard task. And then there are so many issues with the characters who are left on the island, struggling with time traveling.

One thing I really care about is whether Jin will come back either as alive, a ghost, or a presence from the past.

Sigh~ Watching American tv gets me in the homesick blues.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Girl Scout Cookies

Yes, you heard me right. I said Girl Scout Cookies. First a little background:
  • I was a Girl Scout all the way from Daisy to uh whatever the high school level is...oops.
  • I sold Girl Scout cookies (when I still lived in Florida) from my backpack. I would load them up then inline-skate from house to house selling them.
  • I went to Girl Scout camp nearly every summer till I was in high school.
  • I worked at two Girl Scout camps in California.
So I guess you could say that if you mentioned Girl Scout cookies to me, I would get more than a mouth watering feeling but also a nostalgic one.

Lately, Girl Scout cookies have been in the news. Everything from a Peanut Butter poisoning scare to the crappy economy affecting poor little Girl Scouts across the nation.

For one they say that due to the cost of packaging and shipping that the size and number of cookies in a box have shrunk. Gee I wonder how small a Thin Mint is now.

Mom, has reassured me that she will send me a box of Somoas, which are my favorite. (The coconut ones).

If I were to see a box of Girl Scout cookies here in Korea I don't know what I would do. Probably take a picture than buy a box or two. I am thinking the army bases have a stash of their own.

Well, here is to missing a slice of America!

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Back to Work

Vacation ended on Wednesday and it is now Thursday here in Korea. Going back to work after having not been to my school since January 2, has been interesting.

The kids didn't come yesterday, but they did come today. However, they didn't come to English class and instead did some ceremony stuff in their homeroom classes. But, tomorrow they will come to English class, and Fridays are always my busiest.

I am happy to see the kids, because it gives meaning to what I do here. Yesterday and today I spent my time preparing for the Advanced class that meets 3 times a week. We don't have a new book yet for them so in the meantime I prepared games and activities.

I am feeling more positive and confident about teaching this time around. I think I have winter camp to thank for this, because I learned that it is okay to let go and have fun with the kids.

For the regular schedule I still don't know what lesson we are starting at, so I need to ask my coteacher. Funny thing is though, she has not been in my sight as much lately. She has been doing most of her work in the teacher room and also spending time chatting with the other coteachers. If it is one thing I have learned working with Koreans is that you if need answers, you can't wait for them to come to you. So I go and find her and ask her my questions until I think I have the full story.


In the meantime, I have been busy back at my house doing laundry and cleaning up the place. I guess it is back to a regular work / rest schedule. Since BK now works it is a relief to know that we are practically living the same kind of schedule. He works from 7am - 6:30pm (approximately).

Maybe some of you know, but next month will be our 1 year anniversary. I still cannot believe a whole year will pass since I first met him. I think though as we approach the one year mark I am a bit nervous about our future. Just curious where our relationship is going and how it will develop.

Anyways, I am unsure whether you (my readers) like to read these kinds of updates / thoughts.

Well, here is to the new start at my school~! To everyone else coming back from your vacations, good luck~!

Golden Clog Blog Awards

It is a joke, I guess, that most foreigners here in South Korea wear clogs. So now you can take part in awarding the grand golden clog award to your favorite k-land blogger. If you feel kind enough you can give me a prize or two.


Monday, January 26, 2009

Tokyo Diary (Day 4 & 5) Shibuya, Tokyo Central and Goodbyes

Tokyo is a big place and Japan in general is also a vast space. So before I came I tried to make an itinerary for myself that would give me a wide ranging taste of Tokyo. Something magical (Ghibli museum), spiritual (Senso-ji Temple) and contemporary (Shopping districts). For the last choice, shopping, I chose to go to Shibuya. Famous for its hip culture and that famous crossing with the large neon signs (as seen in Lost in Translation).

Day 4:
Although I woke up from a few hours of sleep (my mind was racing all night), I went on with my plans. There were two stores I wanted to find, that of Mandarake (anime) and Tokyu Hands (crafty store). Afterwards it was also my goal to go to Yoyogi park near Harajuku and see the Meiju Jingu. But let us see if I actually got to do it all.

Exiting out of Shibuya station and embracing the metropolitan chaos outside set me into pedestrian mode. The site of buses, cars, high-rises, people and city noise all had a familiar ring to it. In Seoul you can catch yourself walking through places like this.

When I got to Shibuya it was only mildly crowded, as compared to when I left. Indeed, as the time passed during my visit the place became more and more dense with people.

Anyways, I was determined to find those shops, get some lunch and truck on.

View from exiting the metro station.
Lost in Translation I think put too much romanticism in me on this crossing. For when I got there it appeared way smaller in scope than how it felt in the movie. But maybe I should of seen it at night.

Looking at the crossing where the jumbo-tron advertising board is located.

With my map in hand I tried to locate the stores I was looking for. The streets became very narrow, and were one-way streets for cars. Along the way I saw some creative advertising on the sides of buildings.

Shibuya is well known for its hip teenage and 20-something crowd displaying particular fashions. However I didn't see a whole of these people around. Now and then I saw a group of guys decked out in long-blond died hair wearing rocker style clothing. But, mostly it was just regular shoppers walking about.

Yet, I took the guess that these kids are probably all hanging out at certain spots in Shibuya that I didn't know about. Or that they only come out in the evening hours. Looking around I could spot signs of their presence. For example here was some graffiti on the side of a vending machine. ~
Mandarake: An Otaku's Paradise
An Otaku is a person (male or female) who is obsessed with Anime and Manga and the whole world that it creates. There is probably a difference between an Japanese Otaku and an American / Western one. Back in America I knew some Otakus' and the more I saw how obsessed they were the more it made me grow less and less interested in the genre. But of course my heart still goes out to Ghibli and other anime works. So it was that I knew I needed to see first hand anime / otaku culture in Japan.

This is where the store Mandarake comes in to play. Finding it in Shibuya was kind of difficult and I passed it before I figured out where it was. Appropriately placed in the basement, you walk down a flight of cavernous stairs to come to store filled with comic books, toys and other paraphernalia.

Designer Toys: You might think these things are just plastic kiddy toys, but beware they are not! The prices on these puppies were very high. This is because they are custom made products made by famous hip artists.

Anime figurines: Although probably fun to collect, the items are usually left inside their boxes and placed on a shelf to collect dust.

Cosplay costume: A true Otaku doesn't just watch anime he or she dresses in it!

While inside Mandarake I saw a few books I wanted to buy, which were Studio Ghibli art books. But they were thick and heavy, and so I decided against buying them. Plus the language was in Japanese and I felt that I could find the English equivalent on Amazon. But I did walk away with some small figurines that were fairly cheap.

After Mandarake I stopped at a sandwich cafe and caught a bite to eat. Sorry no picture. It seems that during my Tokyo trip I didn't really take on any adventurous eating excursions. For several reasons, one the better stuff was really expensive and two it isn't much fun enjoying an expensive meal by yourself.

Afterwards it was time to head across the street to Tokyu Hands.

Tokyu Hands: A so-so experience.
I read somewhere, before my trip, that this place was infamous for selling crafty kits. So I was expecting to find some cute Japanese craft stuff. But what I got instead was a department store with a craft and art section in it. The art section proved fruitful because I walked off with a watercolor travel kit with half-pans inside, and some brushes. Afterwards, I just went from floor to floor checking out the goods but wasn't roused by anything I saw. Most of it I could find in Korea, so I didn't feel like buying anything.

I spotted this gumball machine, offering up miniature models of the human body.
I left Tokyu Hands and my head was starting to spin from all the window shopping. In fact I was feeling tired to the point where pain sets in. But I didn't want to give up just yet and went back to the metro station to head over to Harajuku for the Yoyogi park

Tile at the metro platform, while I was waiting for the train.
Harajuku: Name brand shopping....tired feet.
I made out the station and across a bridge to see the entrance to Yoyogi park. But my shoulder was whining in pain from carrying my tote bag, and my feet were really sore. So I walked into a little cafe next to the entrance and got a croissant. I sat there for a while and examined my options.

What I needed was a locker to put away my things so that I could walk-about without that extra weight. This meant going to back to the metro station and finding one. I opened my tour guide booklet and read about Meiji Jingu, only to find out that the historical site closes at dusk, which was vastly approaching. I concluded that walking to it would make me more tired and that it would probably be closing up due to it becoming darker.

So I decided to go find a locker and then take a look around Harajuku.
I found the locker, willfully put my stuff in and came out onto the streets of Harajuku.

But I just walked maybe one block before I headed back to the station. By now all I wanted was a bed and a pillow.
Inside the metro station on my way back to go home.

Day 5: Refreshed
Waking up on Day 5 I felt renewed and ready to check out of my hotel. However, I had a small feeling of regret inside for not going to someplace more relaxing the day before (a temple or museum). But I figured that everyone must have at least one bad day during their travels.

All of these unhealthy feelings were washed away when I took a site of the daybreak going on outside my window.

It was time to put the final touches on packing and say goodbye to what was a very cozy hotel. In fact the bed was softer than the one I got at home. Korean beds are flat and cushion-less.

It was goodbye to my bathroom and a toilet that had more functions than just your simple "flush" mechanism. (Similar toilet seats are popular here in Korea).

I had myself a filling and tasty breakfast inside the hotels complimentary food area, and then was on my way to Tokyo Station.

Called the Marunouchi area of Tokyo it was site to many tall high-rises, Chiyoda-ku (including the Imperial Palace grounds) and Ginza.

As I left Tokyo Station I caught site of its old architectural structure, which is currently under construction.

Across the street was a downtown view. I felt like I was back in the Financial district of downtown San Francisco.

Looking down the street we see Tokyo Tower in the distance.
Imperial Palace Plaza: Breathtaking
Whenever you live or visit an downtown area I feel it is important to take note of the green spaces within these areas. New York City has its Central Park, while San Francisco has its Golden Gate Park. For Tokyo it is the Imperial Palace grounds, areas of which are not open to the public but otherwise a very well kept and lovely park.

As one approaches the park the tall buildings give way to a vast open space of manicured trees with palace roofs peeking out over the rooftops.

Let's take a look around:

Entering the park..
One of the moats...

View of the park area:

I think what we are seeing is one of the Imperial household structures.

View of a moat and moat wall.

The Nijubashi Bridge:
The Nijubashi bridge with the Fushimi Yagura in the background. The bridge was actually built in the middle of the Meiji period (1888). A wooden bridge originally stood here before connecting to a masugata gate on the other side.

Turning around you get a panaromic view of Marunouchi downtown.

Main Gate at the Imperial Palace (access denied)

Walking alongside the moat. The weather was colder today, but while I was there it was sunny.

Another view of the Nijubashi bridge~

Area near a gate~

One of the many gates at the Imperial Grounds. (Sorry couldn't figure out its name.)

Explore the streets:
It was time to leave the park behind me, for there was only so much time before I had to hop on the train bound for the airport. I had a lot of ¥ still left in my wallet and so felt the need to spend it all before I left.

But I didn't really know where the shopping places were in this area, so I just went looking about not really knowing where I was going.

On my way out of the park I spotted the Japanese flag waving in the breeze and so captured the moment.
I walked out of the park and headed past the Hibiya section. As I was walking I saw this site in front of me. It was built underneath the railway and had a very nostalgic old-Tokyo feel to it.

Underneath and inside the tunnel walkway had old poster stuck on the wall. I don't know if they were replicas or whether they have been there since they first were plastered onto the wall. Eitherway it made for a great photo.

After walking a few blocks I then found myself stepping into Ginza. I tried to look down the street to see if there were any stores worth stopping into. Yet it felt like if I went down that way I would get further from Tokyo metro station. So I veered Left.

I walked into the area known as Yaesu, another place known for shopping. Heck, I think most of Tokyo center is known for its shopping. Anyways I stopped inside a convienant store and bought a bunch of candy and snacks. Then on my way to the metro station I found this store, which was an Okinawa speciality store.
Last Stop: Underground Shopping
It has one of the largest underground shopping mall in Japan, the "Yaesu chikagai" (八重洲地下街), with a vast aray of restaurants (mostly Japanese and Chinese), cafes, clothes shops and other services.
This place was very maze-like and I didn't go down each section. The ¥ in my purse quickly disappeared as I found a speciality shop selling my favorite brand of tea. Take a look~

Train Ride to Airport: Goodbye Japan
I made it back to the platform at the metro station and waited for NEX train to come by. I felt relieved that before I left Japan I checked out something historical and also spent up all my ¥. But I knew that I didn't see or experience it all.

However, on the train ride towards the airport I couldn't help but feel so much gratitude that I came here.

I checked in early at the airport and got to my terminal with enough to kick-back and embrace the fact that my vacation was coming to an end. Soon it will be back to the classroom to spread the sound of English to the kids of Korea. Yet, whenever there are times in my future that seem troubling I will have these past few days in Japan to look back on and feel satisfied.
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