Thursday, July 3, 2014

Quirky Kyoto

I LOVED Kyoto. Kyoto is known for being a historically significant city filled with world heritage sites and temples, but that wasn’t really what I loved about it. I just felt at home there almost immediately; something about the city’s vibes was on my same wavelength. As I spent days wandering the random neighborhoods and districts, I kept thinking ‘I could totally live here.'

Here is a list of some of my favourite characteristics of Kyoto-
  • Quaint- You can turn down so many random street corners in Kyoto and end up on an adorable block with gardens and small homes or colorful bicycles or school children playing games in the street. Basically, the city has major points in the cute category.
Spent a whole afternoon in this adorable coffee shop-
  • Tranquil- Things in Kyoto were quiet and calm. That’s not to say it lacked fun events or shopping or even traffic, but it lacked the hectic, frantic energy in most big cities despite having 1.5 million residents. Kyoto had a small town feel to me.

Locals chilling on the river banks near Sanjo Station

  • Bike-Friendly- I really liked this about Kyoto! Public transportation was great, but the cities’ embrace of bike culture was also really heartening. It felt like being back in the Netherlands because of the sheer volume of bicycles.

Notice all the bikes in front of
  • Feel Good Town- Kyoto had very positive vibes. In Hong Kong, we say ‘work hard, play harder’ which sounds fun but actually leads to a lot of stressed out urbanites. People in Kyoto just seemed content, happy, and courteous.

Teramachi shopping arcade in Kyoto-
Lots of leisurely strolling going on here

  • Historical- Kyoto is home to dozens of temples and gardens, and the famous Gion geisha district. Lots of artisan markets sell fans, coin purses, platform sandals, Japanese silks and snacks, etc. You can get a really strong sense of Japanese cultural history visiting Kyoto.

Temple of the Golden Pavilion peeking out above the trees

  • Laid-back- Kyoto didn’t feel as high-strung as Tokyo. People were much more relaxed and it didn’t seem like there was as much pressure to look impressive. Even on a Saturday night downtown, things were happening, but in a much more chill manner. It is more of a pub city than a nightclub city, which is fine by me. Cheers to Kyoto for not being pretentious at all!

Yakitori pub food- chicken skewers

A Week in Japan

In my first year living in Hong Kong, I have been lucky enough to visit Thailand, The Philippines, and now Japan as well.

Unfortunately my mom and I were both really sick for the Osaka/Tokyo portion of our trip so we didn’t really get to explore as much as we wanted. My iPad was loaded up with seasons of Orphan Black, Defiance, and Battlestar Galactica so my being bed-ridden was actually quite entertaining (yes, I’m on a sci-fi kick). By the time we got to Kyoto we were a bit more mobile and exploration-able.

Some general observations from my trip to Japan that might be helpful for other travellers-

The Japan Rail Pass is super convenient for travellers. You have to book it online before entering the country, and then you just pick up the pass at any rail station. It included unlimited train, subway, and bus rides for one week. Travel by train in Japan is clean, quick, and readily accessible. We walked into train stations with no reservations and were always able to catch a train to wherever we wanted to go within 30 minutes.

Me trying to sleep on a Japanese train

There are no tourist sim cards in Japan. Well, there sort of are pre-paid cards but you have to activate them with a local Japanese cell phone which is an issue. It is easier to either rent a phone or rent a pocket wi-fi router for internet access and stick to Skype for phone calls. This was a huge fault in the tourist infrastructure to me- in Thailand a one month unlimited data sim card was really cheap and easy so it came as a bit of a surprise that Japan didn’t have a similar system in place.

Japan is extremely well-kept. The streets are clean, things are properly labelled and orderly, and you won’t see a lot of blatant poverty. They really take care of their country.

The food is out of this world!! My mom and I feasted all week on tonkatsu, sushi, curries, miso ramen, okonomiyaki, and yakitori. No matter where we went, it was always mind-blowingly delicious. Japan gives Hong Kong a run for its money when it comes to cuisine.

Sushi platters galore

We took a break from Japanese food for one meal to get 
wraps from Good Honest Grub

Fashion is super fun in Japan! I am rocking some pink hair for the summer so I felt like one of the locals with my crazy hair. The many fashion statements I saw on the streets were diverse and style-inspiring.

Eating Japanese pancakes my first night in Tokyo

Language barriers exist, but they aren’t really a big deal. Most people I met did not speak English, but the Japanese people were very kind and helpful so it was not an issue.

My final note is that I would definitely like to return to Japan (fully healthy this time, mind you) and dig in even deeper.

Embracing my inner nerd at the airport on the way home

Friday, June 27, 2014

Airbnb in Japan

For a one week trip around Japan, my mom and I decided to give Airbnb a try for most of our accommodations. She was hesitant, but went ahead and booked a couple places in Tokyo and Kyoto. I definitely should have taken the lead on this because I learned pretty quickly my mom did not know to read the reviews or directions on the apartment listings.

Overall, the apartments were fine. In Tokyo we stayed right in the heart of Shibuya, walking distance from everything we wanted to see or do. In Kyoto, our apartment was more out in the suburbs, nearby the famous Temple of the Golden Pavilion. Japanese apartments are very small but efficient, with small pods and nooks for the kitchens and bathrooms.

Typical bathroom pod in Japan-
Feels like space camp!

The Kyoto apartment had great wifi, the Tokyo apartment did not. The Tokyo apartment had beds, the Kyoto did not. Yes, you heard me right. NO BEDS! To our dismay, we arrived in Kyoto and the apartment had two mats on the floor. This wasn't wildly misleading; the photos on Airbnb clearly showed floor mats but my mom didn't notice that and also didn't notice the scores of Western reviewers complaining about the sleeping accommodations. 

Mom at our Kyoto apartment- oops!

After one night of 'indoor camping' and lots of tossing and turning on bamboo mats, my mom and I found a hotel near Sanjo Station which made the rest of our stay in Kyoto much more pleasant. What a frakkin' awesome city!!

There were too many issues with Airbnb in Japan to recommend it to anyone. Wifi and air conditioning were sparse, the beds and bathrooms were always wanting, and we never had a smooth check in. This is largely due to the fact that it is really complicated to get a tourist SIM card in Japan so we were unable to call or email our hosts upon arrival. My mom and I spent a lot of time in random stairwells or on street corners trying to figure out how to get into our apartments. I don't think this would be an issue in the US, and I will definitely give Airbnb another go in a different place, but next time I go to Japan, I will be staying in hostels. 

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Finishing my First Year in Hong Kong

My first year in Hong Kong is coming to a close. I have grown so much personally and professionally, and I’m constantly grateful for this opportunity. In the spring of 2013, I knew I wanted to leave Ecuador, but I was convinced that I had to get to Western Europe. My current school director actually reached out to me at a job fair, and I agreed to an interview simply for the experience, because I really had no interest in living in Asia. 24 hours later, I had signed a contract to live in Hong Kong for 2 years!

I treated myself to a night's staycation at a fancy hotel in Hong 
Kong this weekend to wind down the year

Trying to squeeze in as much time with these crazies 
as possible before I leave for summer

I’ve eaten stinky tofu and ridden on a junk around Victoria Harbour. I’ve made an awesome group of friends who are actually more like a family to me. I have visited both the Philippines and Thailand, and I am going to Japan in a week. The school I work at is extremely high-achieving, professional, and positive, with tons of opportunities for professional growth. I get summers off to travel and visit people, and plenty of random holidays throughout the year to do the same. What a wonderful life!

A final girl's brunch before we all head off for summer

Got to show my mom around Hong Kong last week- 
we are off to Japan together next week!

Who knows what the future holds? I’m just looking ahead to summer, which will include trips to Japan, Florida, Cincinnati, and Chicago. I’m not really sure when the next time I will go back to the States will be after this summer trip, so I have to make the most out of my time with friends and family back home. This first year has just flown by, but I still have one more week of school before I can call it a wrap.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Get Your Nerd On in HK

Hong Kong has a couple of American style comic book stores over in Causeway Bay that I just explored today for the first time! They are on Sugar Street in Causeway Bay, near the public library and Ikea.

This is the nondescript entrance to the basement with all 
the comic book stores in Causeway Bay Shopping Centre

I've been on a comic book binge lately- Guardians of the Galaxy, Sandman, Serenity, Saga, Walking Dead, FreakAngels, Buffy, Y: The Last Man, Locke and Key, and my favorite of all- Chew. Truthfully, I torrent most of them for free because if I actually purchased every comic I wanted to read I would go bankrupt. I decided to purchase a couple issues from each series I read to support the authors, using the comiXology app on my iPad, but still wanted to physically flip through a couple of comics every now and then.

My loot from today- can't wait to dig in!

Metro Comics in Causeway Bay had pretty much every series I was looking for (as well as a huge stock of every DC and Marvel character you could want), although not always the right issues or volumes. The guy behind the desk was really helpful and looked up a few comics for me and told me they could special order the next issue and let me know when it arrives. The store next door, Clarks Comics, was closed when I was there, but I definitely plan on returning.

Metro Comics from the outside

It was pretty small inside but they had wall 
to wall comics and a great selection

So if you want super hero action figures or costumes, comic books galore, graphic novels, head over to that basement on Sugar Street where your nerdy dreams will come true!

On a happy side note: Produbanco (my old Ecuadorian bank) has been systematically fucking around me with for the last week and holding onto my tax return (some 1200 US dollars) by cancelling my debit card, saying my signature was a forgery, and blocking me from wiring money internationally to my US account. I FINALLY sorted it out today and managed to send home the majority of that money and I am done! Fucking done! This was the last piece of assholery that country was going to put me through and now I NEVER HAVE TO DEAL WITH ECUADOR AGAAAAIIINNNN. This bank account was the last little attachment I had to that country, and now I feel such a release of stress. Freedom!

Monday, May 26, 2014

Keeping in Touch, By a Serial Expat

I suck at keeping in touch. This post is a sort of apology to my friends and family all over the place who I am horrible at communicating with. My roommate in Ecuador was always on Skype with her people back home, and it did occur to me that it is probably shitty that I rarely do that.

Friends and family, I think about you all the time. I really do. A song or a smell can send me straight into a memory with loved ones. I think about the implications that living abroad has on my relationships often. Ultimately, I've got to find what feels good for me, and that just so happens to be living abroad right now.

Whatsapp keeps these girls together 

The 12 hour time difference and not having a facebook makes keeping in touch much more difficult, but there is always good old fashioned email. Whatsapp has been great as well, as I have group chats on there with my girls from home, my university chicks, and my Ecualadies.

Brazil, Mexico, Australia, can't keep track of these awesome ladies!!

Since moving abroad, I've always managed to make it home two or three times a year, but now most of my friends have dispersed all over the planet (Chicago, San Fran, Moscow, Utrecht, NYC, etc!) so I never quite know who I will get to bump into back in Florida. I am lucky that I get a lot of vacations as a teacher, which gives me the opportunity to visit people, but globe-trotting can really add up, especially when I have to fly back and forth between Hong Kong and Florida a couple of times a year.

Miss these beauties all the time

Just because we aren't Tallatrashy anymore doesn't 
mean we don't still love each other

So, what's the point of all this? I just want to get it out there: I am trying. Trying my hardest to be a good friend/relative, but it just isn't always that easy from a distance. I love it when my people reach out to me and shoot me a friendly email or message, so please keep those coming, and I will try to log onto Skype more than once a month!

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Two Views of Victoria Harbour

Friday night started off with me on a boat trip around Victoria Harbour with some friends, and the view was absolutely stunning. Coming out of a week with non-stop thunderstorms, we were lucky that the skies cleared up for the most part and provided really perfect weather for taking in the scenery and hanging out on the deck of a boat.

View from our boat trip around Victoria Harbour

The following morning I hiked up Victoria Peak with a friend for a different view of the harbour. Looking down at it all from above is even more stunning, if that is possible. I can't get over how naturally beautiful Hong Kong is. Whenever I do a hike that goes high above sea level, it's a good reminder that I am living in a tropical paradise island setting here. It's easy to forget that sometimes, living downtown in Central.

With my buddy Agatha hiking up the peak over Victoria Harbour

For any visitors to Hong Kong, I urge you to get out of the 'city' and check out some of the trails and beaches we have. Lamma Island, Dragon's Back, and Sai Kung Country Park are all great day trips, but there are also literally dozens of others to choose from. Hong Kong is very multidimensional, but it often isn't portrayed that way.

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