Japan and Seoul with Kerstie and Michael!
As much as I would love to share and write about every detail of this trip, I'm aware how boring that would be for most of you so I'll spare you the torture. But beware, this is still a bit of a long post.
Japan happened in the blink of an eye. Although we had done so much, I felt like we didn't do anything since I didn't have time to process any of it. After a bus to Daegu, a 4 hour night bus ride to Incheon and then a 2 hour airplane ride, we arrived in Japan at about 10 am to see Kerstie and Michael! After a bit of confusion on the subway lines, we got our passes and arrived at our AirBnB with a long day couple of days ahead of us. Here are the highlights!
Food. The food was amazing. We somehow managed to stumble upon great restaurants every time right when we needed it. Rice water at the first restaurant was Kerstie and Michael's first surprise. He was pretty nervous to try all the new foods but I think they were both still getting used to being in a completely different country! We all tried many different foods in addition to eating LOTS of sushi, noodles and seafood. I learned I definitely do not like raw squid, but that beef tongue is quite delicious!
Robot Restaurant. We made reservations for Sunday night at one of the most recommended places to go in Tokyo, literally called Robot Restaurant. This place is indescribable. Sensory overload - on the walls, floor and ceiling, you see some combination of a trillion different colors (yes, a trillion), mirrors and lights. We ordered a drink and took our front row seats! Woohoo! The show began and we were all immediately in shock. There were tons of different kinds of "robots" that came out on their feet, on some sort of parade float, or in a huge ass robot. I repeat - there were robots IN robots! They had a theme to the show that was somewhat similar to the movie Fern Gully. The show lasted about an hour and a half and we left feeling at an all time high! All I can say was it was absolutely AMAZING and the pictures and videos don't do it justice.
Tea Ceremony. The four of us participated in a tea ceremony in the middle of the city of Tokyo. Up on the 5th floor of an office building, a tea house was placed in an office and made to be a tranquil space devoted to these ceremonies. Our host was the sweetest woman that explained everything to us from how to purify your hands before the ceremony to how to properly drink the tea and even what to say before you drink the tea. She was excited to hear that we all loved the matcha tea as many Americans don't like it that strong. The ceremony was such a cool cultural activity we got to learn about and be a part of!
VR. Holy fart y'all. We went to VR Zone in Shinjuku and each bought a ticket to play four different VR games while we were there. In order of my least to most favorite we played some sort of "beat the robot" action game, a skiing game (I ran into a wall or tree at least four times), a flying bicycle game and last but obviously not the least... MARIO KART! We started with Mario Kart which made it all the better because we had less to compare it to. The four of us all played at the same time so we were playing against each other. As everyone was joining the game and putting on their headsets and wrist attachments, you saw a course right in front of you. I looked to my right and saw Yoshi (aka Kerstie) sitting in a kart waving to me! I looked behind me and saw Mario and Luigi! Behind them were even more players. I could sit here and try to explain what it was like but it truly won't do it justice. Just know that as soon as this game becomes available to individual households, I will be waiting in line the night before! Hands down the best game I've ever played.
Takeshita Street. On Tuesday, Kerstie and Michael set out to hike Mount Fuji! Although we really wanted to hike it, we were exhausted, weren't sure about the weather and have intentions of visiting Japan again. While we parted ways for the day, Luke and I went to explore more of the city. My favorite part of the day was walking down Takeshita Street in Harajuku which is one of the busiest pedestrian streets in the city. There were massive crowds and so many interesting, quirky shops and cafes. There were stores that had shirts of cats in space, there were stores that had tons of small anime figurines, and so many more. I loved seeing how much culture was in such a small space.
After Luke and I went back to teach for two days, we met back up with Kerstie and Michael in Seoul Friday night. It was late by the time we got there and we had an early next day to take a tour of the DMZ so we all just hung out in the room and talked all about their time in Seoul while we were gone and then went to bed.
DMZ. There were a few issues getting picked up in the morning but once that was finally all figured out, we met our tour guide, Judy, who was quite the character! She gave us each a sticker or lanyard with her name, phone number and email address on it "in case we got kidnapped". We had many different stops and the tour kept at a quick pace in order to see a lot of things. We got about 15 minutes at the Dora Observatory to look over into North Korea and saw their flag waving in the distance. It was super cool to learn about the history of the Korean War and to walk through the Third Infiltration Tunnel which the North Koreans had dug to invade the South. It was also hilarious watching Michael (6'8") walk with his back at a 90° angle since the tunnel had such low ceilings. The tunnel is one of four known tunnels under the border between the two countries. The whole tour was pretty great, but it was dangerously hot outside and after walking around for 6 hours, we were wiped when we got back so we searched for some dinner and went back to nap.
Club Octagon. We napped because we had plans to go out to the biggest club in Seoul, Club Octagon. Since drinks are hella expensive at the club, we pre-gamed like professionals and were already having a great time. Once we got to the club, we walked around to soak in the scene. The club opened at 10 PM and closed at 6 AM but nobody got there until about midnight. Two floors, lots of different rooms, and very dark with lights flashing everywhere. There is a main DJ on the bottom floor, and a smaller DJ on the second floor in one room. Since it was still "early" at midnight, we left with our wristbands on to get some drinks at the nearest convenience store. We taught Kerstie and Michael a Korean drinking game and went back to the club. It was SO much fun and took SO much energy. So we were there for a few hours and called it quits around 3 AM. I was wiped, and was out danced and ready to go before the others, but we eventually made our way back home and passed out.
Insadong. We slept in for a while in the morning, but it was our last day together so Kerstie and I wanted to get going as soon as possible! We grabbed breakfast and headed to Insadong, a historic village in the northern part of Seoul. We started by walking through the historic neighborhood and found the home of Go Hui-dong, the first western-style painter of Korea. We saw a ton of neat shops and cafes and saw some amazing views! We grabbed dinner at a typical Korean restaurant (we had been trying to find one all weekend and somehow kept failing). Kerstie, Luke and I all had bibimbap which is one of my favorite dishes. Tons of veggies and rice in a hot stone bowl with an egg cracked on top. When you get your bowl, you mix everything together which cooks the egg at the same time. It can be a bit spicy but its so yummy. Michael had a bulgogi stew which is always a great option as well. We finished the day by crossing the street and walking through the first part of the touristy part of town. So many shops lined the street and we actually stumbled upon a little festival area full of decorations. It was a small block of shops that went up in a spiral of about three floors. At the top of the these shops is where we had to say our goodbyes and run away before I started to cry. I am SO glad that my friends were able to fly half way across the world to come see Luke and I. We got to experience a whole new country with them, and show them part of our life for the past 8 months.
With four days back this week, we've been finishing up CEV's Summer Intensive program and will be leaving Thursday night to begin our 2.5 week summer vacation! Luke and I will be in Hong Kong and Kuala Lumpur for a few days before meeting up with his family in Bali and will then travel through Indonesia and part of Singapore with them! So many stamps on our passports and although we are living a life of exhaustion, I regret none of it because of how much I'm getting to see, experience and learn.