Monday, February 15, 2016

Greatest Hits 2015

Happy New Year, everyone! 2015 is in the past and it's now time to embrace 2016. This also means it's time to do my annual "Greatest Hits" or, my greatest 5 moments of the year. I explain this more in my post from last year, which you can check out here. It's just a way for me to reflect on the past year and remember the moments that helped me grow into the person I am today, here and now at the beginning of 2016. For my public blog, I don't go into detail about the significance of these moments but I do like to share my list.

Greatest Hits 2015
#5 Saying hello to my family after a year away and saying goodbye before another year away
#4 Utah trip with mom
#3 Getting hired by EPIK
#2 Meeting up with my dad in Thailand
#1 My first solo trip to Seoul

Cherish your moments. After all, as Neal A. Maxwell once said, "moments are the molecules that make up eternity."

Osaka January 2016

You know what's really great? Yes, Korea. But also Japan!

This year I have more vacation, which means more time to travel. I am so pleased to say I have finally made it to Japan--a country I have been itching to visit for a very long time.

It's pretty remarkable to live in a country where I can sit on a plane for a measly hour and 50 minutes and be in a whole different country. When it comes to using vacation time, foreign teachers are split. Some prefer to stay in the country and explore just Korea. Others prefer to use living in Korea as an opportunity to see other Asian countries. I like to think I have a good balance. But I figure, who knows if I'll be able to make the opportunity to come to Asia again? I might as well spend a little time in Thailand, Japan, and (hopefully) China, right? Of course right.

Flying into Osaka
And so I embarked on a trip to Osaka. If I make it back to Japan, I would love to see Tokyo. But I am very satisfied with my trip to Osaka. The food was delicious, my travel companions were good fun, and Universal Studios is a magic land of wonder.

The first noteworthy difference between South Korea and Osaka, Japan: bikes, bikes everywhere! We were amazed to see so many people riding bicycles up and down the streets.

Second: it's so clean! I love South Korea but man, the amount litter and filth on the streets of Seoul is appalling.

Third: people are so nice! The workers at the train stations were always kind when we asked for help. And while we were looking for our Airbnb, one woman got off her bike to ask us if we needed help.

Fourth: bright makeup! Korea is all about natural colors when it comes to makeup--the key is to look flawless. But in Japan, makeup was bright and more of a statement-maker.

This blush under the eye thing was super popular
Fifth: school uniforms! I loved the old-fashioned school uniforms. In Korea, the school uniforms for middle and high school students have a lot less, errr, fabric. Japanese uniforms looked warmer and more comfortable. Complete with a plethora of pleats and cute hats! Korean elementary students don't wear uniforms unless they attend a private school. But from what we could tell, public Japanese elementary students do. And oh my goodness are they adorable. They got me wishing my students wore uniforms!

I traveled with three friends of mine who were not yet acquainted with each other. Luckily, the four of us worked together well, navigating the unknown streets and railways of Japan.

First thing we did after checking into our tiny Airbnb was, naturally, track down a place to eat. We were starving! So we just walked down the street and wandered into the first good curry place we saw. We were not disappointed. I'm not sure if it's because we were starving, but I still think it was the best meal we had over the course of the trip.

With our bellies full of warm rice and curry, we braved the railways again and found our way to one of the top tourist landmarks in Osaka: the Floating Garden. It was a nice way to end our day of traveling. We watched the beautiful sunset over the river and clusters of buildings in the distance. Due to the cold and wind, we were unable to snap quality pictures...except that lovely one of me with my hair flying across my face.

Afterwards we looked around the nearby shopping center and came across a Pokemon Center. I am so in love with the sleeping Pikachu. Gahh so cute!

And with that, we called it a night, excitement for the next day brewing in our brains.
Why the excitement? Because this was the day we were all waiting for--Universal Studios Japan!!

For the longest time, the only thing we really had planned for the trip was to spend a day at Wizarding World of Harry Potter. It took us a while to plan the rest of our time in Osaka. WWoHP did not disappoint, folks. None of us had been to the one in Florida so I can't compare it. But I liked what I saw in Japan!

There are two rides in WWoHP: Harry Potter 4K3D and Flight of the Hippogriff. We only did the 4K3D one, which was absolutely amazing. It's the best theme park ride I have ever been on.

Waiting in line for the ride!
Of course we got ourselves mugs of hot butterbeer. To be honest though, it wasn't as delicious as I had anticipated. There was a fantastic butterscotch flavor foam on top but once that was gone...ehh.

We spent the rest of the time wandering through the shops, looking at every single piece of merchandise, negotiating between our heartfelt desires and our wallets and reason. I walked into WWoHP with the intention to buy a wand and instead left with a more reasonable Hufflepuff sweater.

We were sorry to leave WWoHP but alas, there was more to see. We half-halfheartedly walked through the rest of Universal Studios. We didn't want to wait in line for any other rides so we just wandered and looked at other fun merchandise.

After a while, we decided to see something else in the area, as we had traveled a good distance from where we were actually staying. We chose to continue our adventure at Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan. This aquarium is phenomenal. It's home to one of the largest aquarium tanks in the world--4 stories, I believe. You start at the very top and work your way down. It's incredible. We spent several hours admiring the energetic otters, large rays, and massive whale sharks. If you find yourself in Osaka and you aren't afraid of sea critters, you should go. It's worth it.

After the aquarium we headed back to our place and got some food before calling it a night.
Mmm ramen
This day took a lot out of us. We were beat! So we decided the next day would be laid-back. We looked around the famous shopping area, Dotonbori. Here, we went to a ramen restaurant where we placed our order via vending machine! You pop in some money, make a selection, then the machine prints out a ticket. Go inside the restaurant and they'll have your food ready in no time. It's nice for foreigners because it cuts down on time spent awkwardly trying to communicate with the workers!

 After eating this amazing ramen, we tracked down a temple that is said to have a flea market and turtle sanctuary. It took us a while to find the turtle sanctuary because there weren't many turtles out. After staring for a while, eventually we Supposedly there are hundreds in the pond but I think it was too cold for them to come out of the water and play.

Find the turtle!
Next day we took a day trip to Kyoto. I've heard Kyoto is absolutely beautiful in the fall. I believe it! Even in the dead of Winter it was lovely. I can only imagine what it would be like with autumn colors. When we got to Kyoto, we didn't know it, but we were sure in for a treat. All four of us absolutely loved this place we went to: Fushimi Inari-taishi Shrine. We spent a few good hours hiking through the hundreds of bright orange gateways up to the top of the mountain. This place is gorgeous.

The hike up the mountain was long and tiring so we were ready to eat by the time we got back to the base. Lucky we had plenty of choices! There were many street food vendors.

Once we had our fill of street food, we pressed forward towards Shitennoji Temple. It remarkable how different Japanese temples look compared to Korean temples. In Korea, they are bright and colorful. In Japan, they are simple and white.

A little post-Kyoto dinner
Before saying goodbye to Osaka, we took a trip to Osaka castle. I think it would have been more impressive during any other season of the year. But alas, the weather was gray and gloomy. Osaka castle is rich with history. History that I cannot repeat to you if I tried. So I won't. But it was an interesting landmark.

Toasted rice cakes!

And once again, ramen.
And so, it was time for us to return to the other side of the sea. We hopped on a train to the airport and went on our merry way back to Korea.

I'm grateful for the five days I got to spend in Japan. I think it was just enough time to see everything worth seeing in Osaka. Next time, Tokyo!