447: riots and contradictions

It’s clearly a bit late… but it’s always amazing to see how different things become, since the last time I visited.

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445: the sun in your eyes makes all of the lies worth believing

I feel like this December hasn’t really been here for me. Or maybe I haven’t really been here this December. The days after the exams passed in a whirl, and I haven’t actually gone on a holiday in December itself for a few years. (Well, technically two years ago I was in London, but…) This year the Christmas festivity seems a bit lacking. I haven’t feasted much, I escaped from the Christmas games this year to go buy coffee, I feel like I went to Korea and came back, and suddenly it’s Christmas. Not to mention everything in between…

In any case, like I posted earlier somewhere else, Seoul is a bit underwhelming. I suppose I went primarily to visit my friends, but I didn’t get to see much of them either. It was not unbearably cold, and I sort of missed the frozen toes (somewhat). Part of me rejoices in being cold, though the dry skin was a bit unpleasant. I missed the little things — hot soup and steaming tea and cold hands, sniffly noses (just my sinus), huddling up in a cafe looking down at the streets, people watching, exploring neighbourhoods. I mean, I’d explore neighbourhoods any time of the year, but I suppose I like winter just because I don’t get it here. In any case, I felt a bit displaced. Like I didn’t really belong anywhere, and I didn’t know what to do. It was the first time I’d felt this way, probably because at times I felt completely helpless. In Western countries you’re clearly a foreigner, and everyone automatically switches on foreigner-mode with you. They reply you in English because it’s the most likely language you (and they) will speak. I can survive in most other Asian countries, because I can read most of the signs. In Seoul, I was neither here nor there, a foreigner and yet not. A foreigner was not like me — she didn’t have black eyes and black hair, nor was it so patently un-obvious that she did not speak Korean. But I couldn’t understand most of it, and I couldn’t read all of it. When I tried to go shopping I was at a loss as to which language to begin speaking. English? Chinese? Japanese? Most of the time I zoomed through restaurant menus figuring out the katakana, only to realise the owner spoke Chinese. English, my first weapon of choice, was virtually useless. I felt vaguely handicapped. Imagine my sigh of relief when, at Hongdae one night looking for a club to go to, I finally heard an American accent drifting in my direction. It sounds a bit warped to me now.

But other than that, some places were pretty nice, and seemed like it merited more exploring. Apgujeong, even though I had no money. But there were cool cafes and little bookstores with planners in all shapes and sizes, random postcards and stickers (the Shimokita kind of neighbourhood, except five times more expensive). Hongdae, with its art-school vibe and pulsating clubs and quirky indie shops in the afternoon. I’m sure there’s more hiding somewhere, underneath the grey concrete that lines the Han river. I know, I sound so unenthusiastic. It really wasn’t that bad. But I think somehow I’ve lost my travelogue writing urge. Or rather, the spirit is willing (but the body is weak). What words? There are few words these days that come to me. Hmmmm.

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442: on the edge

Sometimes I still feel, even with all this change, there is room to love this country.

It’s the same all over, isn’t it? You stand somewhere, look at the sunsets. How things have changed. “Better” or “worse” are just paradigms — sometimes, “different” will suffice. Yet, when you stand at the edge, I like to think that sometimes, we still live in a country that is still trying to find itself. Sometimes I complain it changes too fast, and then I realise we have still more time to change, and change again. How long can our history be? A hundred years later, who knows, maybe our memories will still be here, as they were for our forefathers.

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436: may all your wishes come true

DisneySea and Universal Studios. Probably the second and third happiest places on earth. But I’m a ride junkie, even though I love Winnie the Pooh to bits. So the theme park that gets my vote is Universal Studios, just because it has a rollercoaster that I got to go on five times. It was the first time in the history of me visiting theme parks that I didn’t have to queue more than 45 minutes for the most popular ride. My longest wait (for Thunder Mountain Railroad or whatever it’s called)? 3 hours!!!!

Joy at the height of summer. Much love.

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435: all this hate and love

Maybe it’s true what they say about big cities; maybe it’s not. What is more certain is that life goes on the way it has for years, regardless of the tourists that come and go, snapping pictures for their travel albums back home. Funny how scenes of every day life translate into souvenirs, as if you would make a lovely picture just standing outside and taking in the laundry. But you do make a lovely picture. I don’t know what to say about Japan. Most of these were day trips, achieved by taking a train out from the cities, filled with skyscrapers and illegible Japanese neon signs. Here the lights go off by ten, and the streets are empty after dinner. We wandered slowly and tentatively, afraid to break the hush. Once in awhile we pass by a convenience store (truly convenient), refuel, go on our way again. A bicycle stops, and a high school jock gets off. He wears his track suit, his dyed hair is painfully brown, illuminated against the harsh flourescent lights. They step in to flip over magazines along the aisle, filled with covers of pretty girls with big boobs.

These cities are old and quiet and the residents cycle through everyday life with steady momentum. People are less brash, more polite. The air is fresh and cold. The mountains continue to exist, as they always have, without our presence or help.

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432: winters in paris

Back then I was still nursing a broken heart, but my memories of this place are warm. More than any other, this trip was perhaps the most uplifting, seeing as how things were the way they were. Not that we did anything in particular — sightsee, yes; climb up Montmartre, have some crepes, trek across Paris (half the metro line). We spent lots of time hiding from the cold in warm cafes with hot chocolate and coffee. I was sad half the time, but I was also happy. Thank goodness for this city of love, this city of lights, this city of pain. When I think back on this time my heart always aches. I doubt there is any other city that embodies as many shattered dreams as this one.

422: shanghai days

The crowds in Shanghai are getting to me. They are rude in the most uncomplimentary way possible. On the trains it is a war, to see who can get in or out the fastest. A woman drops a newspaper through the platform gap while jostling her way through the door. She bends to pick it up, and gets her head pushed by someone else. Nobody apologises. It is normal. It happens all the time, every time. Somewhere someone is rushing off to save a life or attend to an emergency or meet a lover. Or not. The crowds seethe.

In every country the big cities are the most unbearable. Under the skyscrapers the shadows cast by the bright lights hide the ugly actions of a people. Everyone is moving, moving, inexorably moving; towards an unknown destination, or perhaps unknown only to me.

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420: shanghai nights

Shanghai is overwhelming, and full of dust. My face is going crazy (again) adapting to the weather — the air is smoggy and you can’t see much beyond the next few buildings, though it has cleaned up considerably. A walk along 南京西路 revealed lots of lights, which line the sidewalk, and now it looks like any other street in any other city. Who knows if it’s because of the Expo? A leafy boulevard, flashing lights, but believably Shanghai, because the crowds still jostle at every opportunity possible and refuse to apologise, and crossing the road is a game of who-dares-wins. Rules exist, but are rarely followed. People rush through the roads as if they own them, while cars honk frustratedly as they stall on the tarmac. It doesn’t matter if the light is red or green — the road is a sea of people, moving inexorably towards the Bund as if they were the water. We walked all the way to the Peace Hotel before deciding the adventure was pointless. And then made our way back along the entire stretch of road, the same way as we came. Weekends in big cities are inevitably crippling — nothing can be done, because the entire city is out on a mission to conquer their vacations the same way tourists come all the way to Shanghai to do.

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417: i hope you get your dreams

I could say a thousand things about Japan, but nothing quite beats the visuals, and the way the city lights dance in your eyes. Mishaps, stress, mangled Japanese, almost-missed trains aside, there was loads of fun, laughter, alcohol, and a shit load of things to see. Every time is different. Every time you go back, you always get to know a country better.

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289: japan: yokohama city lights

It’s early in the morning now, and as usual, I can’t sleep. The sky is red and you know what they say about red skies in the morning and red skies at night. Tonight the moon is full, as it was last night, but tonight the moon hung low behind the tree outside my house and I had to look harder to find it. It’s just like most things, which disappear without you noticing in the hope you’ll look ever harder for them. 

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This post is about Yokohama, with which I think I might have a special love affair. This is not to say that I didn’t love all the other cities I went to, but that they mean different things to me. Tokyo is the place of childhood and dreams, mainly because I went there so many times when I was younger, though as you grow older you discover its ever-increasing adult attractions. Osaka was all about food and relaxation and just generally having fun doing everything and nothing. Kyoto was full of history, but Yokohama…

Yokohama is full of lights and romance. Yokohama is the place you bring girls to when you want to impress them. It doesn’t seem like much because it’s so near Tokyo and it’s so easy to overlook, but it retains that particular, off-centre, sort of feeling. It’s near but not too near. It has its own voice, its own attractions, its own history. Some people say Chinatown wasn’t too interesting; sometimes you just need to know where to look. Stepping into Minato Mirai is fascinating precisely because we’re at an age where we can appreciate it, still: the free theme parks, ferris wheels, lights across the sea, the red brick warehouses and the smoke curling up from beneath the windows. It seriously is the number one place to bring a girl on a date. It is so romantic you can choke. 

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284: photo blues

Randomly, I am getting annoyed with the lack of good, free photo hosting sites. Does anyone have any suggestions? I need:

1) Nice layout

2) Slideshow feature

3) Unlimited photo storage

4) Preferably easily uploadable

5) Can be shared publicly without people having to sign up/be emailed, i.e. the URL can just be given

6) FREE

I uploaded 225 photos onto snapfish only to realise that I have to email people to share my pictures. Which is not what I want because it is so troublesome. ROAR. Someone please help me :(

162: like birds of a feather with you

i often feel like a kid in a candy shop when it comes to weddings. so many photo opportunities! what do i do first? who do i take pictures of? do i focus my attention on the little flower girl whose attention span is the size of a pea (who keeps running around barefoot without her flower hairband and throwing her flower bouquet all over the floor) or the sweet little niece next to me who is beaming at me waiting for me to take her picture? in any case, i gave up because i didn’t bring a camera anyway, and i spent the entire morning before the wedding mass traipsing about far east flora in my heels with my auntie after the tea ceremony in the morning (where the groom had to eat an assortment of disgusting foods to get into the house) looking for flower vases and such, so that everything would look okay at the reception. and then i went to the church and ended up cutting rose stems to fit vases and arranging everything. sigh.

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