Karin, my one and only sisterwife, came to visit me for the Christmas 2016 holidays!
We visited the local sights in Ulsan, checked out Busan, and then made our way to Japan for Christmas Day.
Of course my Korean friends and I introduced her to a Korean norebang (singing room). She passed out on the couch like 30 minutes after we arrived. She said it was jetlag but she clearly couldn’t handle the obnoxious reverb.
Melody, Karin and I visited Busan on the weekend, the second largest city in Korea.
My sister maintains a vegan diet, which we satisfied in a Busan! We checked out Dajeon Cafe, where we enjoyed bulgogi, bibimbap and dumplings without dairy, egg or meat. Vegan takes a bit more creativity, meaning often dishes taste just as good, or better. 10/10 recommendation from us.
We tried red bean soup and bapingsu (red bean ice flakes) from the coolest little cafe I’ve ever seen in Busan. If you asked me what it’s called or where it is, I couldn’t tell you.
We walked to Gwangalli Beach, where we saw a spectacular sunset and the picturesque bridge. That night we stayed in a jimjilbang. A Korean bath house/spa/relax room.
If you visit Korea, I highly recommend you spend an evening in one of these. First you get naked with people of the same sex in the washing area. Here you’ll see moms with kids, grandmas, friends, aunties etc. scrubbing down their bodies and getting nice and clean. You can also pay to have a usually naked ajuma scrub down your body for you. I’ve done it, and I didn’t even know I could shed that much skin, and if you don’t like that image, then just imagine how smooth my skin was the next day. After you wash, you can spend time in the hot tubs or saunas or ranging temperatures. Some pools are cold, and some saunas I’ve seen are up to 72 degrees celsius. Madness!
After the scrubbing, you put on your prison clothes/spa outfit given to you, and you head to the relax rooms. This is where men and women can relax together. There are rooms with rocks that you can bury yourself in, since they absorb heat. You basically sleep anywhere you can find space. We slept in a lit hallway because we couldn’t find anywhere else quiet or cool enough. Someone stole my pillow through out the night… not cool. It all cost me $15. I highly recommend you watch Conan’s experience in a jimjilbang, so click here.
After the best evening ever in the spa, and the worst sleep of our lives (you don’t go to a jimjilbang to sleep well), Karin and I took a couple buses to Haedong Yonggungsa Temple, a Buddhist temple on an ocean cliff.
I remember we adventured with what felt like a hangover, from dehydration and lack of sleep, and stood in line to get down the stairs to the temple. So. Many. People.
I had to work all week, so Karin spent a lot of time adventuring solo. Checkout her pics on instagram @karinkells
My Korean big brother, aka Oppa, took us to Seongnamdo where we learned Korean swear words and ate street food, and then to Seuldo lighthouse. 진짜 추웠어~~~
And then we were in Osaka, Japan on Christmas Eve
Here’s the list of observations I collected on my iphone over 3 days
-Japanese girls wear blush high on their cheeks, right under their eyes, and brown eyeshadow (as opposed to Korean girls more peripherally, with orange/pink shades)
-Heated seats on subways-Heated fancy toilet seats, with the option to play music while you pee
– Bird sounds in subways but no real birds
– No one ties up their bike to anything (just the wheels locked)
– Bearded sexy men.
– North American shaped electric outlets
– If you catch them staring at you, they look away (as opposed to Koreans who continue to stare)
– People dress however they want
– Bikes everywhere!!
-7/11s are sooo good
– Coffee machines on every street corner, with heated cans of coffee for 100 yen
– Anime stores
– Fresh sea urchin on most menus
– Sexy bearded men…
– They drive on the left??
– The city is quiet.
– Cash is put in baskets, not directly into hands
– Full refund and change given on wrong bus pass (so kind)
– Warm towels given to wash your hands before a meal in most restaurants
– Tuna belly sliced up in front of us for our sashimi
– Smoking indoors in some bars/cafes/restaurants, or in indoor designated smoking rooms
– Electric wires everywhere
– There’s a driver on every train
– Drunk men in subways smelling of sake..
– Avocados 89 yen
– Japanese oranges are A++++
– No coughing or spitting on streets (Ahem.. Korea)
– When you flush the toilets, some toilets use the new toilet water to wash your hands before it goes into the tank, so no water is wasted.
– Eel sashimi with teriyaki sauce is delicious
– Everything polite ends in “mas”?
– So many erotic magazines and stores
– Banana chocolate latte at Starbucks tastin like a muffin
– Girls wear fluffy earrings
– Less overweight people in Japan than Korea
– In the grocery store: funky men’s eyebrow shaping tool
– green tea products for days
The photo above sums up Osaka. Bikes, vending machines, telephone wires, narrow alleys and hole-in-the-wall restaurants.
From our Airbnb, we walked to Osaka Palace. Along the way we noticed there was a silence that couldn’t be placed. Something was missing in such a busy city, but we couldn’t identify what it was, and we never did.
Fast forward past hangry sister arguments and mean words and we are eating Christmas Eve dinner together in a tiny “restaurant”, people smoking all around us, and tuna belly chopped up right in front of us. We ordered hot sake and admired the place we had found. This all happened in one day, keep in mind.
After one of the best meals I have ever enjoyed in my life, we walked to Dotonburi, the downtown core of Namba. There we saw the billions of tv screens, as well as people.
And then we were in Kyoto, Japan, on Christmas Day
We took a train for an hour into Kyoto, and began our journey. We wandered in amazement of the history, the colours, the temples, the food, the tourists. We ate so much street food and so many pictures.
We took another train (in the wrong direction first, my bad sis) and headed to Arashiyama, aka the place with the monkey park and the bamboo.
And of course we couldn’t find it at first, but we found one of the most beautiful forests I have ever seen. Japanese cedars are incredible!
Okay monkeys. They’re called the macaque. They’re native to Japan and you always see them chillin in hot springs in calendars and Planet Earth. You could buy peanuts or bananas to feed them. You’re instructed not to look them in the eye or crouch down as you hike the 20 mins to get to them, but once you arrive the monkeys are chill.
I wonder if I could donate blood ever again if I had touched one…
The sun was setting but we went to the bamboo forest anyway, knowing it would be dark.
Exhausted, we ate a wonderful sushi dinner in Arashiyama, did some shopping and hopped back on a train to Osaka. I never imagined having sushi as Christmas dinner, and it didn’t feel quite right, but it didn’t feel wrong either. The restaurant owner didn’t speak a lot of English, so I just remember him saying “HI!” a lot in agreement to what anyone said.
In the morning we had to fly back to Korea, but not before we saw 6 lanes of traffic stopped and the entire road becoming one crosswalk.
And of course I had to try takoyaki and okonomiyaki at the famous octopus place.
WARNING: Takoyaki is basically a breaded octopus ball. The batter should be hard and soft on the outside, and runny on the inside with the octopus. If it’s made fresh, it will be a boiling ball of lava on the inside and will literally blister your mouth if you’re not patient. I recommend breaking it partially open with your chopsticks to let it cool and to preserve the flesh in your mouth.
Karin left me the next day for Seoul, and our relationship is long distance once again. We both loved what we saw of Japan, and I even had some moments of “why didn’t I teach English here…” Don’t worry Korean friends, when I saw the bowl haircuts and pink coats of the Korean people waiting for our plane back to Busan, I was so excited to go home to Korea. There’s no place I’d rather be.
Love you sis, thanks for the visit!