The Secret Imitation Room

June 29, 2009 § 2 Comments

I am currently staying with friends in 上海/Shanghai.  If you want to get more specific and complicated, they are also my college friend/floormate’s parents and little sister OR my boyfriend’s aunt, uncle, and cousin.  For the purposes of the China posts they are, 大舅舅/Da Jo Jo (uncle), 大舅妈/Da Jo Ma (aunt), and Amy (cousin).  Don’t spell it that way in real life though because that is not even real pinyin.  Jo is really supposed to be spelled “jiu.”

Anyway, it’s an interesting story of how I came to be here but it’s 2am and I need to get up early tomorrow so I’ll save it for another time.  The house is very nice and the hosts very warm and welcoming, so I feel very lucky to be here.  Delicious home cooked meals beat out cheap neighborhood food in any country, and Shanghai is no exception.  I could seriously just stay in this house the whole ten days and eat and be satisfied with the China portion of my trip.

But I won’t.  😉

Today was pretty interesting.  I tagged along while Amy taught English got to interact with real Shanghainese people!    I was role playing as a customer though so rather than getting to know where they were from or what they like to do, I learned if they knew how to explain where hotel objects were located in the room.  Hehe.

Afterwards, Amy, Da Jo Ma and I visited some shopping mall (lol.. I’m too lazy to look up the name right now).  The most exciting occurence during the trip was when we passed what looked like a regular bag and luggage store.  The salesman kept on asking us to take a look when he suddenly moved some suitcases out of the way and opened a secret door that led to a room full of imitation brand names.  He then opened ANOTHER secret door that led to another room with knockoffs.  I really wanted to take a picture but Da Jo Ma said that he probably wouldn’t let me so I didn’t ask.  It was so crazy!!  I have never seen anything like that in my life.  I felt so cool.  Like part of the mafia or something.    Now every time I pass a bag store, I am going to wonder if there is anything behind the wall.

Something else cool they offer in the mall is tailor made clothes.  I was wondering why they only had one of each item when Do Jo Ma explained that they were not actual clothing stores but tailors where you can choose the fabric of your choice and then get an item specifically made for you.  I don’t know how much it costs because it depends on what you want them to make for you but apparently it only takes about a week.  I browsed around the stores a little longer but didn’t actually end up buying anything.  My friend told me that you should always haggle at shopping centers like the one we visited today and that the general rule of thumb is offering 1/4 the price they ask for. I feel like 1/4 would be too low at Namdaemun in Korea but then again, maybe I just wasn’t tough enough and didn’t hold out long enough.  I’m a bit intimidated and not eager about haggling in Mandarin but I think I should try at least once for the experience.  I’m sure I will visit at least one more shopping center during my time here so I will let you know how that goes.

While I was coming from the airport to the house yesterday, my immediate thought was, “Wow, this looks like America!”  Shanghai is so industrialized and developed and although there are still many signs of construction, it is amazing how far this city has come in a mere 15 years.  Da Jo Ma was telling me how some parts of the city were just grassy plains when she first came here.  I think it’s so cool that they were here to witness and be a part of the rapid development of Shanghai.  To be honest, I was a little scared that it might be awkward here without my friend Tim or boyfriend being here with me (since I’m staying with their relatives, and not technically mine), but it’s actually really nice.  I’ve met them all a few times before coming to Shanghai but I don’t think I’ve ever sat down and had a real conversation with them.  It was so interesting talking to them about the differences between Korea and China and Taiwan after dinner today and I learned so much from that one conversation.

Note to self:  figure out how to gracefully exit a blog post

Bye. 😉

Leaving Korea and Flight to Shanghai

June 29, 2009 § Leave a comment

I can’t upload pictures from China because the secret method I am using to access WordPress times out while attempting to do so.  Therefore, you must READ MY WORDS!  If you’re too lazy, sorry.  I will start posting pictures in Taiwan.

I stayed up all night before leaving for the airport yesterday so I was a sleepwalking zombie during my last few hours with my brother.  We left for the airport around 8am and arrived in about an hour and a half (City Limousine Bus from COEX, cost about $14).  After I checked in my luggage, we went to go eat breakfast at a Bennigans again in the restaurant (I went to Bennigans the night before with some of my cousins).  I ended up ordering this tofu salad dish that I had really enjoyed the night before.  I don’t know if it was because it was the morning or because I was in an airport but somehow, it wasn’t quite as tasty as I had anticipated it to be.

While waiting the two hours for my flight to board, I fell asleep on these round seats (think rotating airplane bed in Austin Powers but without the disco lights and groovy cushions).  After an hour or so my brother woke me up and we said good-bye as I entered the gate.  I didn’t cry this year!  Woohoo.  Partly because I was just way too tired and partly because I had prepared myself constantly, for the last week.  Later as I reached into my bag to get my passport I found that my brother had secretly slipped a parting gift in my bag as I was sleeping.  Even though you don’t read this, thanks big bro, for your smelly, old, cat hair covered, rotting black socks.  I’ll be sure to bring you some grody old rags next time I go to Korea.  =)

After I reached my gate I found out that my flight had been delayed for two hours.  I just sat there, slipping in and out of consciousness from sheer exhaustion as I half slept and half observed the waiting area.  I was too paranoid to fully fall asleep because I had nearly missed my flight one time like that.  I was flying from Chicago to Los Angeles and luckily a nice lady next to me woke me up and asked if I had to board the flight.  Anyway, there were a lot of Korean teenagers going to Shanghai as well.  It looked like it was either for a school trip or a tour group.  It was interesting because they were from a different province of Korea and spoke with an accent even though they looked like they were straight from Seoul.

While I boarded the plane I was asked to stand to the side and the flight attendant handed me a different ticket stub.  Apparently I had been bumped up to business class!  At first I was confused and thought it was a mistake but when I checked with the flight attendant later it was because economy was full.  It was cool because I am not a lucky person and I never won prizes at carnivals or got picked at magic/entertainment shows to go up on stage so it was a little surreal that they picked me, of all the people on the flight, to go to business class.  I know they didn’t actually pick me and it was probably random but it was still cool.  Hehehe.

There was no first class on this flight so business class was the best section offered and it was much bigger, and much emptier than economy.  I took China Eastern, which I had heard horror stories of, but I thought it was pretty good.  Even if I had stayed in economy, the seats were just as big (or small) as any other plane I have been on and the flight attendants were very nice. The business class section was really empty and I was the only female and only person under the age of 40 sitting there.

At Shanghai/Pudong you have to ride a bus to the actual airport from the place where you land and I accidentally followed my fellow business class-ers to the VIP bus.  lol.  It was air conditioned, clean, and departed much earlier than the other bus.  Another flight of many firsts. =)

Shanghai

June 28, 2009 § 1 Comment

I reached Shanghai tonight, safe and sound.  It was an exhausting day considering I didn’t go to sleep and I am just about ready to knock out.  I will write a more comprehensive update tomorrow after I get some rest but I have to say… Tor=awesomeness.  WordPress is indeed blocked in China (and Youtube and every other website I try to visit) but thanks to some tricky business, I can continue updating even while in China.  Sweet dreams.

SAY IT AIN’T SO!

June 27, 2009 § 1 Comment

I board a plane in less than five hours.  I met up with a lot of relatives and a few friends these past two days.  I basically crammed everyone I hadn’t seen into a couple meals.  During this time I saw new babies, husbands, and teenagers.  I’m sad, but too busy to cry right now.  I am also seriously considering coming back either in a month or in February.

FEBRUARY 2010!! KOREA!!  Yeah! ^^

Shopping

June 26, 2009 § 2 Comments

I’ve been doing a lot of window shopping the last few days.  I haven’t really been buying much because I want to travel light but next time I come to Korea I think I will invest in some clothes here.  Korean clothes are tailored to suit my body type better than clothes I usually find in America and the clothes are so pretty.

Throughout the last few days I have been to Myeongdong, Insadong, and Dongdaemun.

Myeongdong is like Old Town Pasadena or Bay Street in Emeryville.  There are big department stores, little boutiques, and street vendors selling clothes, shoes, and accessories.  There is also a movie theater and lots of restaurants in the area.  They also have high end stores like Chanel and Louis Vuitton.   While at Myeongdong, I ate the spiciest dish I have eaten since coming here.

There’s a little bit of a back story.  I met up with an unni who I knew from America and she said that she liked really spicy food.  While in America I often eat foods that are considered spicy by the casual bystander but simply taste normal to me.  However, I realized once we started eating that the Korean meaning of very spicy is nowhere near the American definition.  We ate a dish called 해물떡찜 (seafood rice cake…something?) that was basically a really spicy version of 떡복기 with some seafood and vegetables mixed in.  It actually wasn’t too bad but according to the unni I was with, the dish is supposed to be twice as spicy.  Apparently she likes to eat foods so spicy where it makes you cry as you eat it.  Neither of us were crying as we ate lunch but I did drink more water than usual.

I also saw a 뽑기 stand at Myeongdong.  Usually they have a table or something but this lady was practically sitting on the floor.  What they do is heat up some sugar, add a little bit of baking soda, put the mixture on a metal surface, flatten the mixture, and partially stamp it with a shape.  Then they sell these round sugar things for one or two dollars.  If you can successfully take out the shape in the middle without ruining the shape, you get another one for free.

My mom used to make this for me when I was younger and then later, I just made it for myself.  Looking back, my metabolism must have been really fast because I regularly ate things like microwaved marshmallows and melted spoonfuls of sugar.  I used to melt sugar in a ladle and make shapes on the oven counter before eating them.  Anyway, seeing this stand brought back memories and I naturally bought one.  I was industrially chipping away at the shape (a heart) when disaster struck and the heart was no more.  =(  It’s okay though because I have all the materials to make more at home.  =)

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Later that day I went to Insadong.  Insadong is a great places for tourists because it sells a lot of traditional Korean souvenir type items.  I went with a different unni who is a Seoul native but hadn’t been to Insadong in years.  One of the highlights of the evening was seeing these very outgoing boys make and sell a traditional Korean candy called yut.  He was so hilarious and put in random phrases in English as he demonstrated how to make the candy.  I took a video but since Youtube doesn’t let me upload from Korea I have to wait until I get back to the states.

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The next day I went to Dongdaemun (East Gate) and browsed the shopping areas.  Dongdaemun is mostly clothes, bags, hats, and accessories.  I had always imagined this area as an outdoor shopping area so I was a bit surprised to see that everything was in buildings.  My niece (who is one year younger than me) and I went together and bought matching t-shirts.   I joked about getting couple t-shirts with her since my boyfriend refuses to cooperate but then later liked the same t-shirt that she picked out so ended up getting the same one.  I was tempted to buy some more stuff but I know that I will be buying at least one article of clothing in each of the countries that I am planning to visit so I only bought a hat, headband, leggings, and two t-shirts.  Okay, that kind of sounds like a lot but compared to all the things I could have bought, that is nothing.  =)  I also bought and ate a chicken teriyaki kabob from a street vendor that was delicious.

Afterwards we went to COEX (big mall in Seoul) and ate dinner at Todai.  I have to say, the Today at COEX is so much better than the Todai at the Westfield in Arcadia.  Everything is presented so beautifully (especially the desserts) and the food quality was surprisingly good.

After each country, I am going to post the best restaurant, taking into consideration price, service, and food quality.  The current front runner is this samgaetang (chicken stuffed with rice) restaurant that I have the business card for so I will be sure to post their business information if it wins.

Today I tried dog meat for the first time and it was pretty good.  It tasted like a more tender version of beef.  The stew was flavorful without being salty or spicy.  I really like how they cook it with sesame leaves so the flavor of the sesame is present with each spoonful.   It doesn’t beat out the samgaetang restaurant but I would definitely go back to eat it again.  I love dogs but I don’t consider eating them animal cruelty because I also love cows, pigs, and chickens but still choose to eat them.  I tried going vegetarian a couple times because I felt bad for the animals, especially when I was younger, but I think I just love food too much to give up meat.  I’m willing to try anything, as long as it is delicious.

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Well, that’s basically what happened during the last few days.  Tomorrow is my last day in Seoul and it looks like I will be sleeping most of it away.  I’m planning to meet some friends and relatives to say goodbye before I board my plane the next morning.  I should probably pack but I feel so uninspired as of yet.  I wouldn’t be surprised if I ended up packing 3o minutes prior to leaving for the airport.

I’m really sad to have to say good-bye but not as devastated as I was earlier this week.  I think I have slowly been preparing my heart and mind to leave and I no longer think secret thoughts of never leaving Korea.  I am planning to continue my trek over Asia and I am excited to see what new wonders Shanghai will reveal to me.  I’m sorry I haven’t been the most reliable blogger but please continue with me in my journey.

Dance!

June 26, 2009 § Leave a comment

I just love watching great dancing, regardless of genre.  I originally came on my computer to update my blog regarding my travels but I got sidetracked watching So You Think You Can Dance clips of the latest episode (It’s about 5 am in Korea right now).  I then came across this gem of a clip:

Two of the greatest living dancers performing together.  AMA-zing!  I have to admit though, many of the dancers on this season of So You Think You Can Dance are pretty darn amazing as well.  Brandon has always been one of my favorites and I have to admit that Kayla is also really growing on me.  The two of them are so well rounded technically and have adorable, wholesome television personas to match.

Dance is its own language and undoubtedly, one of the most beautiful.  One of my longtime regrets is not pursuing dance more passionately as a child.  I always used the excuse that our family didn’t have money to pay for expensive dance lessons but thinking back, I could have tried harder simply to learn or taken community classes until I got good enough to get a scholarship.  Also, if I had been really talented, I’m sure my parents would have enrolled me in classes.  Tis a shame I didn’t know then what I know now.

Namsan Tower

June 24, 2009 § 2 Comments

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Went to go see Namsan Tower today.  I suggest people go right at sunset so you can catch both the daytime and nighttime views of Seoul from the top of the tower.  My brother and I took a cable car up the  mountain and then had to walk up a few flights of stairs to get to the tower.  We ate dinner at this delicious restaurant (not the Grill) inside the tower.  It was about $30 per person for an entree and a buffet that included bibimbap, tuna tartare, kalguksoo, dumplings, and gaejang.  There were also lots of other little side dishes and soups but those were probably my favorites.  Here are some pictures of Seoul!

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