Oct 082019
 

You guys, we have finally reached the end of the Great Modern Odyssey that is Erin Kelly’s Korea Vacation Recaps. If you were bored, I apologize. If I drove you away, please come back. I you want me to just go back to Korea and shut up forever I WILL DO THAT FOR YOU GLADLY.

But anyway, this post will be about the morning of our last full day in South Korea, and what a morning it was! Walking up in G-Dragon’s Dolce Bita pension, drinking coffee (instant Maxim, boiiii) on a balcony overlooking a serene lake? This was pretty close to paradise for me.

I spotted G-Dragon’s dad, Mr. Kwon, outside so I ran back into the room and shook Chooch violently. “HE’S OUT THERE. WE HAVE TO GO FOR A WALK. ACT CASUAL.”

Acting casual.

I wanted a picture of my dumb self in front of the pension and thank God it was Chooch who was with me because Henry is the worst picture-taker. Chooch knows how to  take pictures of me that won’t make me want to cut my face off. Thanks, son. Sonny Boy. Pally Pal.

(I’m on my second cup of coffee this morning.)

On our way back to the pension, GD’s APPA was walking toward his car with a cup of coffee, and I was like, “OK BABY IT’S NOW OR NEVER” so after he said good morning to us, I blurted out, “WILL YOU TAKE A PICTURE WITH US!?”

He smiled, stepped back for effect, and, with a hand on his chest, said, “Oh, you know me?”

“Yes!” I laughed, and it was the cutest thing, Mr. Kwon feigning surprise that he’s secondhand famous. You know he’s done this a time or two though because he signaled for us to hold on, put his coffee in his car, and then led us over to what I imagine must be “the photo spot” considering we had already taken three pictures here during our stay!

He asked us where we’re from and said, “Ohhh!” when I told him we came all the way from the east coast of the US to stay here. #SuckUp

It took everything inside of me not to start blabbering about how much I love his son and what does he think about Seungri’s scandal and will BIGBANG survive that in addition to their military-forced hiatus and what are my chances with Jiyong I AM ONLY 9 YEARS OLDER THAN HIM DOES HE LIKE NOONAS?!

DEEP BREATHS, ERIN.

So, I initially only wanted to  get Chooch’s picture with him because I am OH SO SHY and also because Chooch is now collecting pictures of the BIGBANG dads.

But Mr. Kwon was like, “OK and now you” and summoned me over and I’m sorry but you don’t say no to a Kwon.

I couldn’t even force myself t o look cool and calm in  this – I thought my smile was going to split my face in half, I WAS SO GIDDY AND NERVOUS AND AWESTRUCK.

This man is half the reason why my #1 Korean artist (and honestly #2 of all time, right behind Robert Smith of The Cure) is on this earth. I know a lot of people think that Kpop is dumb or weird or whatever, and that’s fine (your loss!) but GD transcends Kpop. He is a FUCKING ARTIST in every sense. The guy was clearly born to be on stage, and he’s an artist off of it as well. His charisma is palpable, whether it’s in a concert or even just watching him on TV shows.

While Chooch was preparing to take the picture, Mr. Kwon told me he liked my tattoo! KILL ME DEAD!

So this happened, and I was having a FIT over it for days.

We thanked him profusely and then casually walked away like we didn’t just have a brush with the father of greatness and then once we rounded a corner, we ran back up to our room and screamed about it to Henry, who was still sleeping, lol.

By now, the Cafe was open so Henry finally finished getting dressed and we headed out.

The whole Cafe is stuffed to the gills with G-Dragon and BIGBANG memorabilia, including the actual piano from GD’s “Who You” music video.

Of course Chooch and I added our own messages to this wall! We didn’t even ask Henry if he wanted to add anything because he’s dumb and would probably mess it all  up.

Anyway, two other rooms were already in the Cafe – the extended family with the baby, and the Chinese Super VIP.

That baby was so freaking cute, though. His grandma kept trying to feed him but he was so interested in what Chooch and I were doing, so the grandma and I kept laughing together and I felt so connected in that moment! Language barriers were being torn down! It was such a beautiful time.

Henry pointed out that the Seungri doll is missing from the shelf up there and I felt sad, wondering if that was the Kwon’s way of showing their stance in the Seungri scandal (FYI nothing criminal has even been proven), but then Henry did some investigating and noticed that the doll stopped showing up in pictures way before the beginning of 2019 (when “the scandal” started) so maybe it was stolen or it broke!?

Anyway, the Cafe’s breakfast was self-serve which was fine because “self-serve” in our house means “Henry will serve.” So Chooch got ourselves the easy stuff, like cereal and juice, and then shouted our egg and toast orders to Henry, who had to stand in the kitchen, slaving over a skillet, just like he was at home, haha.

It’s awesome being us.

While eating, we were entertained by BIGBANG videos playing on an overheard TV and it was next-level euphoria for me.

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BIGBANG breakfast!

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(In that video, I love how Henry whips around while he’s cooking, like he can sense that I’m doing something sinister behind him,)

This table was great. I wish we had those in our conference rooms at work.

(I ATE BREAKFAST IN GD’S CAFE, OMGOMGOMG.)

 

I need a wall-sized portrait of GD in my house. Maybe on my bedroom ceiling!? HENRY CAN WE!?

This whole unit is the Crayon Room and rumor has it, Taeyang has stayed there as well other friends of GD! It was like $700 a night or something else that was quickly deemed Too Rich for our humble lifestyles.

Dolce Bita is so cool. I love the industrial-like facade against the lush Pocheon trees.

Almost time  to give back the VIP key. :(

One final picture of Chooch in the foyer of our VIP room before packing up our stuff and hitching a ride back to the Ildong bus station by Uncle Kwon. Before we got in the car, he said, “Something for you! Present from Jiyong!” and it was a signed picture of him! We currently have it framed, but I want to cover the mat in red velvet before hanging it and Henry keeps saying, “Sorry I haven’t had time to go to the velvet store” every time I’m like WHY ISN’T MY G-DRAGON PICTURE FINISHED?!

I mean, I ask so little.

Anyway, when we pulled up to the bus station, GD’s uncle motioned for us to follow him inside, where he proceeded to get the bus tickets for us so that we wouldn’t have to struggle. I cannot stress enough how accommodating and hospitable GD’s family is. Honestly, we were treated like real guests and not just written off as some weirdo fans from America, and it really meant a lot. I’m so glad that we had the chance to not only stay in this VIP haven, but also relax and really take the time to slow down and take it all in because this last full day in Korea was going to fucking FLY BY once we got back to Seoul. It was non-stop running, eating last minute favorite foods, buying up last minute presents, eating LAST MEALS, ugh.

Having finally gotten to the end of the recaps, I think my favorite thing about this return trip to Korea was that we got out of our comfort zone even more than before. Traveling without an organized tour group in foreign countries is no joke, and I think I can speak for all three of us when I say that we felt pretty accomplished. My love for Korea may have started accidentally with Kpop cardio as my gateway, but I have grown to love the entire country and its history and culture, so much that I want to see ALL of Korea. I’m not even close to being finished and I am probably maybe definitely already planning our next trip there.

If you’ve read all of this, thank you! And I am always super eager to talk about Korea so if you’re thinking about going and have any questions, PLEASE ASK ME.

Oct 052019
 

We had some time to grab lunch in Ildong before our ride was scheduled to get us from the bus station. Let me tell something about Ildong – you’re half-fucked if you don’t at least know how to read Korean, and it’s a ghost town on Sundays.

Luckily, I can read Korean.

Unfortunately, we were there on a Sunday, and finding an open restaurant was not easy. We eventually settled on a Korean-Chinese restaurant, which was pretty goddamn fantastic.

These noodles were SO GOOD. I was like, “Oh wow, I am not going to be able to eat this whole thing” as I skillfully sucked down every last noodle on that plate.

The young waiter was so friendly and didn’t get flustered with us even with the language barrier, and this was the first time I was brave enough to push the button on our table to summon him! (This is extremely common in restaurants in Korea, which is awesome because it means that the waitstaff will only come to you when you need something and they’re not constantly hovering and interrupting your conversations like the waitress did the entire time we were with Jason last weekend at George’s in Cleveland!)

We were all happy with our respective lunches (I think Chooch had the classic mapo tofu and was super Yeah Boi about it). Everyone there was so nice and thanked us for eating there, it made me feel so good!

Afterward, we walked around for a bit looking for a grocery store so we could take food to the pension with us. As I said before, nearly everything was closed in that town, and that sucked. We passed this same old man several times as we checked the backstreets for options, and finally he asked us if he could help. We basically communicated through Google translate and he was so happy to point us toward a convenience store across the street, which isn’t exactly what we wanted, but honestly Asian convenience stores are SO GOOD that you can get real quality stuff there.

Plus, he stood on the sidewalk and watched us to make sure we crossed the street and went to the right place, what a sweet, sweet man!

This makes me realize that I need to brush up on my direction-giving skills so I can actually help people too whenever I’m sought out for assistance downtown.

Anyway, our ride arrived around 3pm (oh, don’t worry – Chooch had JUST ENOUGH TIME to blow money in a claw machine arcade in the meantime). It wasn’t G-Dragon’s dad as I had hoped but another older man who actually kind of reminded me of a Korean Glenn?!

“GD’s music for going to GD’s pension,” he said, pushing play on the car stereo and straight-up blasting G-Dragon’s last solo album, Kwon Jiyong. It was SURREAL, GD’s “Bullshit” blaring, our driver laying on the horn and swerving past cars like this was the Autobahn and not some quiet Korean country road.

I was in the passenger seat, white-knuckling my seat belt and making up prayers in my head. It, um, really added to the experience. We found out later that it was GD’s uncle!!! The surreality just kept surging!

It was only about a 5 minute drive, and when the pension finally came into few from across the lake, my mind was BLOWN. I couldn’t believe that this was really real! It was really real for real for real!

Let me back up in case anyone is like, “the fuck is a G-Dragon’s pension?” Pensions in Korea are basically rental properties, like beach houses or whatever. Several years ago GD bought property along a beautiful lake in Pocheon, which is about an hour outside of Seoul. All of the rooms are themed after his solo songs and BIGBANG songs, and he gave the property to his parents to run. Staying there is a huge must-do for any BIGBANG fan.

I wanted to do this on our first trip to Korea, but he FAQs say that no guests under 19 are allowed. So thanks Chooch. But then when I was telling my friend Jiyong about this a few months ago, she took it upon herself to contact the pension and was told that a family with a thirteen year old was perfectly fine, so we happily made reservations!

Since it was my birthday (Henry was SO SICK of hearing this, lol) I decided to splurge and get the VIP room, which was two floors and came with a private mini-pool on the deck. VIP is the name of the BIGBANG fan group, in case you didn’t know.

I’m here to teach.

Call me Prof. ERK.

The best room you can get is the Crayon room which is rumored to be a room that GD has used to host his friends in the past so that was tempting but also kind of out of my price range. The VIP room is the second best so I was happy with it!

Anyway, I posted a bit while we were there, so I will now just run through some photos of the property that I took on the first day.

The VIP room was at the top of those steps and to the left. GD’s uncle took us up there and gave us a tour of the facilities.

The sitting area.

I read a review online that said there were too many pictures of G-Dragon around the property and only fans would like that. Well, I mean, that is the main draw of this place, so…

However, the other guests (with the exception of this one lady who was staying alone in the room next to ours and who I accidentally found on Instagram while I was scrolling through the pension’s geotag and discovered that she’s some Chinese mega-VIP who travels everywhere for BIGBANG concerts, exhibitions, fan meetings, etc and has like 50,000 followers on Instagram wth) all seemed like “regular” Korean people who were there for a weekend get-away, including an extended family with a baby, and several couples. I mean, it really is a nice area so I could see why people would go there even if they were GD super-fans. There are other pensions around too, like one right down the street from ours that had a waterfall effect on each porch so that was pretty cool, too.

This was on a shelf in our room.

I loved that the pension had such a modern, industrial feel to it. It just felt like GD’s style all around.

This was a little garden area behind our room.

Henry is such a great poser. I don’t know what these red figures are but they were cool and I want some in my front yard too.

Seriously, this place. I’m glad we planned this over-nighter at the end of the trip because the slowed-down pace was really needed. Our whole vacation so go-go-go that it was nice to be forced to relax and not have anything to do but take some strolls around the lake, read our books, listen to the Korean bugs at night, maybe get drunk on some soju.

Chooch didn’t want to go for a walk with us because I made him walk 4000 miles every day and besides, so he hung back and read a book. I was acutely aware of the fact that we could run into some crazy Korean-style wildlife out there and that was a bit scary. Did you know that there are wild boars in South Korea and they can KILL YOU?! Also, some super fucking alienesque hornets. I like nature until I start pondering the things that I might find in nature. Then I just want to go back to a city, any city.

But also, I kept imagining that maybe this was somewhere GD has taken a walk and that made me so excited! That I could be walking in his footsteps! I AM SO PATHETIC!

GD’s dog, Gaho!

I loved this painting of G-Dragon. <3

This is the bathroom on the main floor. I was creeped out that you could see through the door so I only used the one upstairs.

Our bedroom. STRIPES AND POLKA DOTS!

It was like a million degrees so we didn’t partake in the hot tub, but I bet this is amazing on a chilly night!

Of course I had to send a picture of GD’s loo to my friend Alyson, who is known to enjoy a good loo photo every now and then.  I’ll never forget way back when I was looking at the place where my baby shower was going to be held. The bathroom was pretty creepy and I begged Henry to let me text Alyson a picture of it and this is where you need to know that it was the year 2006 and it WAS EXPENSIVE (according to Henry) to text, let alone SEND PHOTOS. Oh, the data! But he understood that this was important and said it was fine, lol.

I mean, I would have done it anyway.

I had a really peaceful sleep. I never thought I was a lake person, but maybe I’m a lake person!?

I’ll be back to write about the next morning, which includes one of the greatest moments on the whole entire trip.

Oct 032019
 

I know this is going to be shocking, but we have officially made it to the last batch of Korea recaps! We just had dinner last weekend with our friend Jason and he asked, “How many times have you been there now? Wow, it seems like a lot more than just two times.” And Henry mumbled, “That’s because she is STILL blogging about it.”

SORRY FOR BEING THOROUGH!

Anyway, to those who haven’t abandoned ship out of sheer annoyance, today we will start talking about Sunday, August 4th, which was our second-to-the-last day in Korea and the last day that I have yet to record on this dumb site so that one day when I’m in the nursing home, Chooch can open up my blog in hologram-form and read these posts to me while some nurse spoon-feeds me pureed peas and orange Jello.

Green and orange is such a hideous color combo that I actually kind of like it.

This was our big Korea finale where we would be staying at G-Dragon’s pension, Dolce Bita, in Ildong. Ildong is about an hour or so north east of Seoul, in the country. We had to take a bus there, which required us going to a bus station that was pretty much Hangul or GTFO, so luckily my baby babble skill level was just enough for me to find Ildong on the departures list and buy the tickets (at first I pronounced “Ildong” like an American and the ticket lady was like “?” so then I had to say it over again with a heavy Korean annunciation and then she was like “Ah!” I love languages!!!)

Anyway, you can read about our bus ride here because I was live-blogging it.

We got off the bus in Ildong with a bunch of Korean army guys and milled about the bus station aimlessly (it was moreso just a bus stop, with a small ticket window nearby). Luckily, there was a taxi stop nearby so we grabbed one and had him take us to Pocheon Art Valley, which was really the only thing aside from some Herb Island thing that there is to do tourist-wise in that area. The reason I chose the Art Valley is because several dramas have been filmed there and it just looks so beautiful!

It took about 20 minutes to arrive by taxi, and Chooch and Henry were immediately like “this place is dumb” only they said it with their poor attitudes, not words!

Please also remember that it was like 100 degrees and we were far enough outside of Seoul where English was a rarity so we were kind of just stumbling around like lost puppies. We did manage to buy tickets for the monorail without making fools of ourselves at least.

As we ascended the steep incline, the monorail operator excitedly pointed to something out of one of the windows and everyone was like “Oooh! Ahhhh!” but of course, we couldn’t tell what it was. We still looked though!

Meanwhile, some old lady was sitting in  the first seat facing out and recorded the whole entire journey to the top and I was like, “Why though? Nothing is happening!”

Honestly, there is not too much information to provide aside from that it’s an old rock quarry that’s been converted into this beautiful nature-tastic retreat full of art sculptures, a planetarium, a concert site, a restaurant – I can see where this would be a very appealing day trip for older people but there were also a ton of photo zones which would cater to Generation Instagram too. We spent about two hours killing time there (we weren’t scheduled to get picked up for GD’s pension until 3) so here are some pictures.

This is the pièce de résistance, FO’ SHO. There is one drama in particular that was filmed here, called Legend of the Blue Sea, and I was SHOCKED when I found this out because it’s about a mermaid and those scenes make it look so ethereal and epic that it’s hard to believe it took place right here in some man-made lake-thing!

Chooch was like, “I didn’t watch that drama so why would I care?” and then he left to sit on a swing with some other Korean kids who I wanted him to become friends with.

LEE MINHO STOOD ON THIS BOAT IN LEGEND OF THE BLUE SEA! He is one of my favorite Korean actors (says, like, every k-drama watcher ever).

Top of the quarry.

One thing is for sure, we got a lot of exercise in Korea. We climbed a steep hill to get to this view point and it was so worth it…

…even if Chooch’s hair was sticking to his face in sweaty tendrils.

There really aren’t any bad views in Korea.

Korea is largely made of mountains and they are fucking beautiful.

I had the cold sweats and jelly-legs descending this spiral staircase. It was so scary.

Henry took “real” pictures of this place using the “real camera” but I am so lazy that I still haven’t even gone through and edited those plus Henry kind of sucks at taking pictures. SORRY HENRY BUT YOU DO!!

I bet this would be such a romantic spot to walk with a date at night. It was hard for me to imagine though since it’s been so long since I have been in any type of romantic situation OH HO HO HO thanks Henry.

Meanwhile, we realized that we lost Chooch, only to find him down yonder – he had spotted a Corgi and was straight-up stalking it, he’s so fucking embarrassing.

The Adventures of Dick & Dick.

I was concerned that Chooch missed this masculine landmark in his hurry to find the Corgi, but he showed me that later that he too had taken a picture of it. A good one for his school slideshow.

#art

I made Chooch halt his Corgi chase for this photo op. Apparently, the Corgi’s owners took its picture sitting here so Chooch started manically scrolling through the corgi hashtags on Instagram because, “all Corgis are Instagram-famous,” he reasoned.

Spoiler: he did not find this Corgi on Instagram.

Immediately after, he ran up that hill in hot pursuit of the Corgi, but the Corgi and its family were boarding the monorail—we only had one-way tickets though because the walk back to the parking lot was all downhill, so Chooch was very unhappy about this and tried to race the monorail back down.

I mumbled, “don’t fall,” and let him run off down the hill. Korea’s safe, no one was going to kidnap a sweaty American kid.

Look how cute the monorail is! Everything in Korea is cute!!

Chooch pretty much chucked my phone back at me after he took this because THE CORGI PEOPLE WERE GETTING OFF THE MONORAIL.

He goddamn walked next to them like a creepy Corgi-boo and had even looked up how to say “can I pet your dog” in Korean but lost his nerve. He gets so weird when it comes to Corgis, like me with guys in bands!

There goes the Corgi, not once bum-patted by Chooch.

Corgi probably would have been offended though because Chooch was wearing a Shiba Inu shirt. Aren’t they like rivals? Seems like they would be rivals.

Now that we were back at the parking lot, we started panicking about how to get back to the Ildong bus station, which was the designated pickup spot to get to the pension. Our options were to walk down to the main road outside of the Art Valley and pray that a bus came, or sit at the taxi stand in the parking lot and pray that a taxi came.

Then a taxi came!

But the taxi driver was actually off duty and actually there with his wife to enjoy a day at the Art Valley.

I was just about to find the nicest-looking person sitting in the nearby courtyard to ask them to call a taxi for us, when one actually pulled up and we all drop-rolled into it and proceeded to ride back to town in silence.

Pocheon Art Valley was nice but I wouldn’t recommend traveling outside of Seoul solely to visit this place unless you’re super into visiting filming locations or have a quarry fetish. If I could have a do-over, I think I would have opted to hang back in Seoul that day, and then take a bus to Ildong around 12:30, eat lunch in Ildong, and then go straight to pension. It would have saved us a bunch of $$$ in cab fare, that’s for sure!

Oct 022019
 

If you’ve read this far into my DMZ recap, thank you, and also: congratulations, because you made it to the last one! The Joint Security Area was hands down the most exciting, exhilarating part of the entire tour. After leaving the Dora Observatory, we drove to a military checkpoint where we went through one last passport check by our new guide, a US soldier named “Gould” who I liked immediately because he had a wonderfully biting Bradley Walden-meets-Chris-Pratt personality that really helped to take off some of the edge. I was so anxious and nervous on the bus ride to the JSA that my ears were ringing and my face felt all flushed. I was fairly certain we were going to be safe….but, you just never know.

We had to wait for the “all clear” to take photos, at which point we were encouraged to snap away from the bus windows. Obviously not the greatest quality but hello, when will I ever be in this situation again? I have a ton of blurry pictures on my camera roll from this day and I will not delete them!

On our way to Panmunjom, we passed by the Unification Village, which is located inside the DMZ and only several hundred people live there. It’s under United Nations command so residents don’t have to pay South Korea taxes and are exempt from mandatory military service.

But they have a midnight curfew and are subject to military check-ins at their homes, so I’m not sure how great that trade off is, dot dot dot.

Gould told us that the reason the name tags of the US and ROK soldiers (KATUSAs) only include their surnames and no rank is to protect their identity in case DPRK soldiers look for them online and try to harass them on social media.

“I don’t care if they find me,” he said. “Bring it.”

INSTANT CRUSH.

On the bus, he also told us that the DMZ, since it’s largely uninhabited, has grown to be something of an accidental refuge for endangered species over the years. There are literally lions and tigers and bears that have migrated from Russia, just chillin’ up in the landmine-riddled demilitarized zone.

(Someone asked if the animals set off the landmines, which is the question Chooch and I both fearfully had on the tips of our tongues, but he assured us that the landmines are so old, he can’t imagine that any of the animals actually set them off. I guess there was a landmine clean-up project at some point, too. Ugh, it scares to me to think about things like that.)

We arrived at Camp Bonifas, the UN Command post at the JSA, received a security briefing and watched a short informational video in an auditorium, where I cried. Camp Bonifas was once known as Camp Kitty Hawk, but the name was changed in the 80s to honor one of the two victims of the Korean Axe Murder Incident of 1976, CPT Arthur Bonifas. The US soldiers were partaking in tree-cutting duties, when they were ambushed by North Korean soldiers who murdered them with their own axes.

This is a really interesting article about the incident, which I don’t remember ever learning about in school.

Afterward, our group and two other groups combined and split up onto two new coaches. I was happy when Officer Gould chose our bus! We made a short drive deeper into the military area (I don’t know much army terminology!) until we reached the JSA, where we watched the South Korean soldiers do their thing before going outside to take their posts.

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Before the soldiers went off to man their posts.

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Once we walked through the doors, we were facing the iconic baby blue conference buildings which run right across the border, so meetings can take place between diplomats from each side on neutral ground, so to speak.

We were instructed to not make any contact with or gestures toward any North Korean soldier if we saw one, and were warned that they would be watching from the building back there.

It was chilling (even in the 100 degree heat) and wildly exciting to stand before these buildings that I’ve seen numerous times on the news (and Conan, lol).

Our fearless guide, Gould! He’s been stationed in South Korea for the past year and told us that he absolutely loves it, has had amazing times in Seoul, and said that the South Korean soldiers he’s worked with have been awesome and extremely funny, but I thought it was weird that he didn’t also mention how attractive they, but OK Gould. We all know.

Everyone was quiet. All you could hear was whispering among families and the shutter-clicks of cameras. I mean, that was North Korea right on the other side. I didn’t see any of their soldiers, but shit—anything could have happened!

I told Chooch he should write an essay about this for school and he was like, “Yeah ok but no.”

Honestly, I was impressed with how interested he actually seemed — it was a long day in the sweltering heat, but he handled it like an adult and didn’t bitch about being bored not even once. I was happy to be able to provide this educational experience for him but also extremely sad that this place even existed.

Gould took us inside one of the conference buildings and one of the Korean kids in our group asked when we got to cross over to the other side, and Gould was like, “THANKS FOR RUINING MY MOMENT” lol.

But yeah, the moment we all were anxiously anticipating – stepping over to the other side of that conference table where we would officially be standing in North Korea. Since there’s a current travel ban to North Korea, this is the closest us Americans can get at this time to saying that we crossed the border. I recently watched a video about an American girl who wanted to be the youngest person in the world to have traveled to every country in the world, and she had to take a JSA tour in order to cross off North Korea.

Here we are, fake-smiling and hissing for Henry to hurry up and take the damn picture.

The door behind us leads out to the other side. Officer Gould said anyone who chooses to exit through that door is 100% on their own and no longer under the protection of the US military.

I’m sure that door is locked (I hope?) but that’s still a really scary thought.

Officer Gould told us that he truthfully believes that the room we were standing in was going to become obsolete sooner rather than later and that people will be able to freely pass back and forth over the border. He explained that just from being there for the last year, right up against it, he has sensed a healthy level of optimism and communication between the two sides, and he fully believes that unification is going to become a reality.

Granted, the North started shooting off their missiles again right after this, so who knows! I want to have hope!

People from our tour – I loved them all so, so, so much even though I had next to no interaction with any of them. It was just good vibes all around, OK?!

This is the same bridge that South Korean President Moon and North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un recently met for a peace talk:

Related image

Chooch and Henry need to sit down for a nice peace talk too, really.

This little tree back there was planted by Moon Jae-In and Kim Jong Un in 2018.

From this article:

A mixture of soil from mountains in each country was used for the roots. Kim poured water from a South Korean river over it, while Moon poured water from the Taedong River in North Korea (which also gives its name to the country’s beer). Next to the tree, a stone plaque bears the phrase “Peace and Prosperity Are Planted.

Image result for jsa pine tree planted by Moon and Kim

Image: Vietnam News

The Peace House, a neutral building where peace talks take place.

This is the spot where a South Korean officer was killed after a Soviet defector was chased down by the North Korean army into South Korean territory, inciting what became known as the 40 Minute Korean War.

On this somber note, the tour was wrapping up. Officer Gould took some time to answer questions for us and the guy with crutches asked if he was around when the North Korean soldier famously defected last year. Gould said that he was indeed stationed there at that time and even pointed out where it happened!

After this intimate Q&A session (this guy was such a great speaker and was so knowledgeable!), we got back on the bus and headed back to the parking lot outside of Camp Bonifas welcome center, where our original tour bus was waiting for us.

A closer view of the South Korean flag I mentioned in my last DMZ post.

We returned to the parking lot where our original bus was waiting, and Lee gave us time to use the restrooms, etc. Chooch and I sniffed around this beautiful peace bell for a bit and then freaked out when it began to ring, because we didn’t want to be accused of striking it, but then it turned out some decidedly non-hoodlum guy did it and we learned that there is a mallet there specifically so that anyone can ring the bell for, you know, peace. We were still too nervous to do it though!

And then we made the hour long trek back to Seoul. Lee advised us that because of the ongoing Japan-related protests, there might be traffic, but we managed to make it back by 6. I almost cried when we said goodbye to Lee and I blurted out that she was the best tour guide ever because I’m so weird when it comes to these fast-growing attachments that I get on strangers in travel settings.

****

I’m not much of a history buff or a war aficionado, but this whole experience had made me want to learn about the Korean War. Especially because I have grown to love the South Korean culture and people so much, I just think that learning more about the history of the two countries is important, especially when the United States played such a huge role in it.

If you are ever in South Korea, I highly, 100%, would book again, recommend you to take a tour of not just the DMZ, but the Joint Security Area. Make sure that the tour you’re booking includes the JSA! Not every DMZ tour does and I hear that a lot of people make that mistake and wind up like Pee Wee anxiously awaiting to see the basement.

Meanwhile, if anyone wants to come watch some war movies with me, hit me up.

****

P.S. I either lost my fucking DMZ magnet or left it on the bus, so how will I ever prove that I visited the Korean Demilitarized Zone?!

Sep 272019
 

If you ask Chooch what his favorite part of the day was, he will blurt out, “BIBIMBAP” with no haste. In fact, he said this was his favorite meal of the whole entire trip.

Before the bus even left Seoul, Lee walked down the aisle and inquired if anyone had any dietary restrictions. I thought for sure that Chooch and I would be Those Weird Americans but surprisingly there were others in our group who also were vegan/vegetarian!

Everyone was so stoked when Lee said we were on our way to lunch after leaving Imjingak – our brains were getting so much fact food that day but it was time for some real food too thanks. I was happy that we didn’t have to eat in one of the chains at Imjingak. Instead, we went to this small, tradition place in the country and it was legit. We even had to take our shoes off, which is how you know a Korean restaurant is going to be good.

(This actually might not have been proven so maybe don’t go updating any Wiki pages based on this.)

Lee had called ahead with our orders (bulgogi for everyone, bibimbap for us veg-heads) so all the tables were already set with our respective foods as soon as we arrived! THAT IS THE ULTIMATE SERVICE.

The Maybe-Italian family sat with us but we didn’t talk. Henry judged them by the amount of banchan (side dishes) they left untouched (almost all of it). Meanwhile, we were swatting each other with our chopsticks in the ultimate banchan war. (And by we I do mean Henry and me – Chooch still hasn’t acquired that taste for kimchi or really most other banchan either. MORE FOR ME.)

What a delicious lunch! Our bibimbap was so fresh, probably because all of the ingredients were grown right outside the restaurant it seemed. Chooch ate it without even chewing, it was so barbaric. And then he kept saying, “OH MY GOD” after every bite, while rolling his eyes back, and it was super uncomfortable to watch.

He still talks about this bibimbap like it’s the one that got away or something.

This is a tree outside of the restaurant. I think those are dates maybe?

THE POSSIBLY-ITALIANS and Chooch, looking at chickens outside of the restaurant.

On our way to Dora Observatory after lunch, we passed so many roadside Korean melon stands — these are the best melons! Henry buys them at the Asian markets here in Pittsburgh but I can only imagine how much more delicious they are in actual Korea, ugh.

We had to walk up this incredibly steep hill to get to the observatory. This one is better than the first one we went to because you can actually see North Korea from here.

That super-tall guy up and the lady behind him are the British people from our group, and the people on the left are the American Korean kids who I desperately wanted Chooch to talk to but he refused to pander to my dreams.

Here are some pictures I took from the top! It was extremely hot and hazy that day, but that’s North Korea.

Up until last April, you could apparently hear the sounds of Kpop That South Korea had blasting from loudspeakers into North Korea, which is wild. I heard that Bigbang’s BANG BANG BANG was one of the songs that they played!

Anyway, through the binoculars, we were able to see the propaganda village that North Korea refers to as the “Peace Village” but has long thought to be a facade controlled by the NK military.

In the throes of heat stroke, here.

From the observatory, we were also able to see the South Korean flagpole and North Korean flagpole which were erected in the 80s. SK put theirs up first and NK saw this an act of aggression, so they responded by erecting an even bigger flagpole, and it’s gone down in history as the Flagpole Wars. I mean, you kind of have to laugh at the strange ways these two countries have found to pester each other.

South Korea has even launched Choco Pie-filled balloons over the border.

Here are some pictures taken with the real camera and not my phone, wow halfway to profesh travel journalist here:

SK flag.

NK flag.

This is the South Korea side, but I really liked that cloud, so.

Chooch was at odds with some white broad who said something snarky about how all the binocular things were in use and when he turned around, she was apparently glaring at him even though he had JUST STARTED looking through the view finder like a second prior to this. Then he said he felt bad because he noticed she had a big hearing aid so he thought she was deaf or hearing impaired.

But then a few minutes later, he noticed that she was an entire group of people who had the thing on their ears and then realized it was some audio tour thing so he happily went back to hating her, guilt-free.

This auditorium was so beautiful!!

After our eyeballs got their fill of North Korean landscape, we went to another gift shop and I might have thrown a small fit here because I wanted to buy a bottle of North Korean wine and Henry was being a jerk about so then I was like THEN I DON’T WANT ANY ICE CREAM EITHER because wow, I really know how to hurt him…by depriving myself of a frozen treat.

He followed me onto the bus and was like WHAT IS WRONG and I was like NOTHING and then I WANTED THAT WINE so he was like OMG I WILL GO AND GET IT so he got off the bus and bought me a bottle of North Korean wine which who knows if it was really made in North Korea but the bottle says so and I will keep it forever and show everyone who comes into my house.

We gets these all the time at the Asian markets here in Pittsburgh but they certainly taste better in Korea, obviduh.

Henry bought this juice and became obsessed with it. I think I already mentioned this in my blog post from the bus to Pocheon, but I thought it tasted like a Squeez-It, so I obviously agreed with him that yes, this was some bomb-ass nectar, boy.

And then Lee got on the bus and announced that she was informed that we would indeed be granted access to the Joint Security Area, so that is where we headed next, and I swear to god, I had big time goosebumps on the way there.

DUN-DUN-DUNNNNNNNNN….Final DMZ recap coming soon!

Sep 262019
 

Continuing our DMZ deep dive, we left the Third Tunnel and our trusty bus brought us to Dorasan Station, which is a railway station found on the Gyeongui, that once connected the North and South. It’s about 700 yards from the border of the DMZ.

Here is our guide Lee (<3) giving us TRU FAX.

Trains still occasionally run here from Seoul, I think about 1-4 times a day, but it’s mostly for tourist purposes. This station is now largely symbolic for hopes of a reunification. If that happens, this could provide a reconnection between South Korea and the rest of the continent, as there have long been plans for this track to extend into Russia and beyond. 

Dorasan means Mt. Dora. I KNOW YOU DIDN’T ASK BUT I AM TELLING YOU.

Since it’s not used for high-volume commuting as planned, the inside of the station has preserved that sparkly new-new ambiance.

Someday, this train could run regularly to Pyeongyang, North Korea, and even beyond. I’ve talked about this with my friend Jiyong and she said that most Koreans do believe that this could be a reality someday. How incredible would that be? I hope that one day in the future, if I return to South Korea (lol, “if” yeah right I’ll be back in you soon, SK), this dream will be realized and my next visit to Dorasan Station will see it bustling with travelers.

For 1,000 Won (a little less than a buck), you can purchase a ticket to enter the platform. Of course Chooch and I both did this but Henry opted out because he needed to call G-Dragon’s pension to arrange our transportation and was super nervous about potentially talking to GD’s dad on the phone. (J/K, he wasn’t nervous about that, but he was having a hell of a time making the call from a non-Korean phone number. He actually wasn’t able to do it and had to wait until we got back to our hotel later that evening, and then it took him like 45 minutes to figure out how to dial after Googling “How do you call a Korean phone number” hahaha, lame-o.)

It was basically just the people from our tour who were out there, so we got to really stand there and take it all in with getting jostled by crowds of tourists. It made the experience feel more real and less of a tourist spot.

George W. Bush visited the DMZ in 2002 and gave a speech at Dorasan Station. 

There was a time when this image would have made me cringe, but it’s amazing how our current “leader” has dulled the negative opinions I’ve had on certain past presidents.

North Korea is thattaway, you guys.

I don’t know what would happen if you walked past that sign and just started walking, because no one was out there guarding it or anything. I tried to get Chooch to find out, but he said, “Nah I’m good.”

There’s a piece of the Berlin Wall on display here, which is HEAVY. (I mean, the history and symbolism are heavy, but yes, that piece of the wall is probably also very heavy.)

There was actually an industrial complex, like a factory, in North Korea, where South Koreans also worked, and freight trains would pass through Dorasan Station to take materials to Kaesong Industrial Complex, until the North accused the South of some confrontational something or other and closed off the border.

So it seems like, over the years, there have been little pockets of hope here and there but nothing that has been substantial enough to turn into a full reunification.

We left Dorasan and moved on to Imjingdak Park. You don’t need to be a part of an organized tour group in order to come here. You can just take a train or hop on a bus from Seoul and come out to this beautiful park to soak in the history….and maybe take a ride on the Super Viking…

Dude, Viking Ships are BELOVED in South Korea. In fact, I am strongly considering getting a viking ship charm for my charm bracelet instead of a tiny gold hanok or some other intrinsically Korean object.

Lee said she’s often asked why there would be an amusement park here, so close to the border, and her answer really resonated with me. She said that people still live there and contrary to popular belief, they don’t actually live in fear. Lee pointed out that if North Korea does intend to go full-blown nuclear one day, those missiles can reach freaking Alaska. 

Many families were pulled apart during the Korean conflict and those in the South are still trying desperately to be reunited with estranged family members. There was a TV show to help  these efforts and people wrote down their addresses and phone numbers to be posted here in Imjingdak.

This was so sad to see.

One of the Korean boys in our group was about to sit in one of those chairs for a picture until he realized that these were Korean Comfort Women monuments. He quickly changed his made after that! This was actually an underlying part of the protests happening in Seoul during the time we were there  – yes, trade wars, but also the fact that Koreans aren’t satisfied with Japan’s restitution for the forced labor they put upon Koreans during Japan’s colonization. That history is still pretty fresh, when you think about it, because many of those people who were affected are still alive, or are direct descendants of those who were brutally mistreated during Japan’s rule.

It’s so depressing.

I loved this beautiful, peaceful area.

Chooch bought that beaded bracelet on our DMZ Tour and then I wanted one too but then Henry was being a weirdo so I said FINE FORGET IT and he was all I DIDN’T SAY NO but he had that DAD LOOK on his face which means I DON’T WANT TO TAKE MY WALLET OUT AGAIN. I think this was the only real conflict we had that day, to be honest.

You can see the observatory in the background. This building also had a Korean restaurant and…I think there was a Popeye’s?! Lunch was actually included on this tour and I appreciated that it wasn’t in this touristy cesspool of chain restaurants!

People write messages to their families in North Korea on these ribbons.

For as somber as the history is, this place actually had an upbeat vibe to it. Some kind of Korean YMCA song was blasted on repeat:

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Chooch’s new jam.

A post shared by Erin Appledale (@ohhonestlyerin) on

…and there were people cheering on bikers as they raced through the area:

“Fighting” is a term Koreans regularly use to show support and encouragement, like how we’d say, “You can do it!” or “I’m rooting for you!” in English. It was actually one of the first Korean words/phrases I learned three years ago!

Imjingak has an observatory which allows for better views of the desolate Freedom Bridge, and also here is a nice view of Henry’s Trapper Keeper couture.

The Freedom Bridge is also known as the Bridge of No Return. After the 1953 Korean War armistice, there was an exchange of POWs on this bridge. The name was derived from the fact that the prisoners of war voluntarily in favor of choosing North Korea were unable to return to South Korea for good. After the murder of two US soldiers in 1976, it was shutdown. I’ll get to that murder in the JSA portion of this series of blog posts.

Then we were nearly the last people to make it back to the bus and I was filled with that old, familiar panic that I used to get on all of those old Globus vacations where my aunt would be busy bartering in a jewelry shop while everyone else was back on the bus and the tour guide was standing in the parking lot tapping her watch.

But thank god for that old man on crutches because he and his wife were the actual last ones on the bus every single time. Bless up.

STAY TUNED OR GET…PRUNED…?

Sep 232019
 

I was so hyped when I woke up on our last Saturday in Seoul because it was finally DMZ Tour Day! First, I had to take my obligatory morning picture from the hotel balcony though because rain or shine, this view never failed to please my eyeballs.

For me, it was LITERALLY a sight for sore eyes.

What a weird saying, though.

So let me tell you some things about the process of visiting the DMZ.

There are areas that you can visit on your own, such as the Dorasan Peace Park, but if you want the real nitty gritty experience, you need to book a tour with a legit tour agency, and there are numerous reputable ones in Seoul with easy-to-navigate websites.

This part is VERT IMPORTANT, class, so pay attention: If you want to experience the infamous “crossing over into N.Korea” that maybe you’ve seen Conan O’Brien do or your favorite travel YouTuber, than you must make sure the tour package you book includes the Joint Security Area (JSA). I have heard that people often make the mistake of just booking the DMZ portion of these tours, expecting to visit the iconic blue  blue buildings where world leaders have been known to meet.

highly recommend going balls-to-the-wall and booking the full day DMZ/JSA tour because honestly, if you’ve come that far, why wouldn’t you want the FULL EXPERIENCE? We booked ours through VIP Travel and I really recommend them!

Another important thing to note is that there is a dress code for the JSA. To be honest, it varies a bit depending on what website you’re culling your research, but from what I saw in my investigative Internet travels, the consensus seemed to be: no shorts (“over-the-knee trousers”), no sleeveless shirts, no shirts with slogans on it, no ripped jeans, no unkempt hair. One website said, “Dress as if you are meeting your partner’s grandparents for the first time.”

I seriously latched on to that HARD, lol.

Several FAQs for the JSA portion of the tour also warned: “no round-neck shirts.” WHAT. I fucking dwelled on this for weeks. I made Henry and Chooch bring collared-shirts with them but all of my collared shirts are long-sleeved and I didn’t want to wear long sleeves on a day that was 95 degrees! So I brought this dressy shirt that is nice enough to wear to work, even though it has A ROUND-NECK.

Henry kept saying I looked fine but I was still nervous.

The whole reasoning behind this is that South Korea doesn’t want a bunch of slobs in Anal Cunt t-shirts loafing around the JSA where ROK soldiers can easily snap a picture to use as propaganda, like, “Hey, North Korean civilians, this is how disheveled the rest of the world is.” I guess that has happened in the past!

We had to meet bright and early at Hotel President which is right near Gwanghwamun Plaza. Remember how I told you in a recent post that this an area where protests are usually held because it’s so close to the Blue House? Well, on this day, there were protests against Japan because of the current trade war and I felt so GUILTY that we had visited Tokyo while Japan is being a big ass bully to my beloved angel baby South Korea and I honestly had no idea this was happening until that morning. Ugh.

(The picture in the article I linked was taken on this same day.)

The travel agency’s office was on the 3rd floor of Hotel President. We had to check in and have our Passports checked and I was waiting for them to give me some kind of strap-on collar for my dress code-violating shirt but no one said anything, so I finally let out a cleansing exhale.

Anyway, we had some time to kill so we grabbed some refreshments from a nearby convenience store (honestly we could have just lived off of convenience store meals the whole time we were there, South Korea knows what’s up when it comes to making food convenient and actually delicious) and then found the I Seoul U sign so Henry grumbled because he had to walk a few more yards in the sweltering heat in order to take our picture, and he didn’t want to “get sweaty.”

(He was so angry that he had to wear jeans and a button-down shirt that day. Wait until you see it.)

Well we were waiting for our bus to come (a “luxury coach” that made me feel like I was on a TWA European vacation in the 90s again with my grandparents, lol), and older woman in our group struck up a conversation with me. She was from England, visiting her son who has lived in Seoul for the last year. He was SUPER TALL and handsome and reminded me of one of the guys from the original line up of Emarosa which means absolutely nothing to you, Reader, probably. Chooch was obsessed with how tall this guy was (he had to have been at least 6’9″). I’m going to guess he’s in Seoul as a teacher. Anyway, super nice lady!

I was anxious to see how the rest of the group would shake out because there is usually always The One who is super abrasive/offensive/loud/know-it-all-y (ahem, Ghost Tour Donna). There were about 25 of us on the bus – a Chinese group that had about 5 members, the British mom and son, an elderly couple (the husband had crutches and when he walked past Henry after boarding the bus, he said, “Oh good, a big guy. He can carry me” PAHAHAHAHAHA), a dad and his two teenage daughters that Henry determined maybe were Italian, a quiet couple, and about 8 Korean Americans – parents with their adult-aged son, and a group of kids who were maybe 18 or 19 and at first I thought they were with the older Korean family but then I think they may have just been there on their own? I just kept trying to push Chooch in their direction so they could be friends but he was like, “Please don’t be weird.”

A little after 8am, we set off for Paju which is about a 90 minute drive north of Seoul. It’s easy to forget sometimes how close Seoul really is to the North Korean border! Our guide for the day introduced herself using her Korean name but told us to just call her Lee. She stood right in front of our row of seats to give us the run-down of the history between the two Koreas and it was captivating. Because I was sitting right there in front of her, we kept making eye contact and when she told us that South Koreans still to this day work hard to keep their freedom, her eyes started to well up and then I started to cry, and this was only when we were about 20 miles outside of Seoul, so this should be a good indication at how emotional the day was going to be for me.

As Lee gave us the run-down of the day’s itinerary, she warned us that there was always a possibility that the JSA portion could be canceled without notice. In fact, we had a difficult time even booking this tour because our free days were so limited, and our first two tries we were told that the JSA tour wasn’t being that offered day because of military exercises. So this was the only day we able to book and I had my fingers crossed so hard that it would go as planned. I could always say, “Oh well, next time” but I honestly hope that the next time we visit, the JSA isn’t there anymore because the two Koreas will have reunified. That’s the ultimate wish!

Our first stop was supposed to be the Dorasan Observatory, but since it was still early in the morning and foggy, Lee did some itinerary shuffling and we ended up visiting the area of the DMZ where the Third Tunnel is located. We had to go through a Passport checkpoint first, where a South Korean soldier boarded our bus and walked by as we all held up our Passports and I internally swooned because he was so hot.

There are very strict rules, obviously, when it comes to photographs and videos in places like this, but true to South Korean form, there were loads of Instagrammable photo areas as well!

Before going into the tunnel, Lee took us inside a building that had several informational exhibits set up, and then we got to sit in a small theater and watch a short movie about the Korean conflict and the discovery of the tunnel.

Essentially, several decades after the Korean Armistice Agreement was put in place in 1953, four tunnels dug by North Koreans in an effort to infiltrate South Korea were found in various locations. Nowadays, the third one is literally a tourist attraction which blows my mind.

Oh shit,  you still can’t see Henry’s magnificent DMZ button-down!

The tunnel is accessible by a MINE TRAIN THING!!! I was so excited to get on it! We had to first put all of our belongings in a locker (no photos allowed) and don HARD HATS! Then we finally got to board the mine tram thingie! It was so slow, a real elderly tram, but the 7 year old in me was still excited to ride it. Lee told us that the tram isn’t always working so she wasn’t even sure we would get to enter the tunnel that way until we arrived. I would have been OK going down the foot path but…MINE TRAIN THING!

Image result for map of dmz tour

Here’s a diagram to show you the relation of the tunnels to Seoul. The third tunnel is so close! When the tunnels were discovered, sticks of dynamite pointed toward Seoul were allegedly inside.

When the tunnels were discovered (and there is thought to be around 10-12 more!), the North denied it of course and claimed they were tunnels meant for mining, and even rubbed black coal dust on the walls to cover their asses!

Once the monorail brought us into the tunnel, we were allowed to walk single-file 265 meters (whatever that means, I’m a dummm American) until we reached a divider with barbed wire and other necessary precautions in case the North attempts an invasion. Really harrowing and surreal to be in there, knowing that it was dug with such malicious intentions.

It was really narrow in that tunnel and we had to loop back and pass the people behind us, so we were essentially walking should-to-shoulder with the people on the other side and it was overwhelmingly tight down there. Any more time spent down there and I might have had a panic attack.

On the way back out of the tunnel, we sat across from the Maybe-Italian Family, but I should note here that Henry is the one who deduced that they may have been Italian and he is also the one who said that about the guys who live two houses down from us but recently I learned their last name and IT SOUNDS GREEK TO ME, HENRY.

Do I look presentable enough to meet a nice Korean man’s grandparents?

We had some time to mill about after walking through the tunnel (yes, I did smack my hard hat off the top of it at one point, thank you very much), and I was excited to buy a magnet! It doesn’t take much to please me. We also got some snacks and cold beverage. Lee was very concerned about our hydration levels since it was such a scorcher out there that day. Lee was the best!

Henry’s shirt was half past Hopper from Stranger Things Season 3, more toward Trapper Keeper. In either case, same decade.

After our time here, we boarded the bus* again and headed to the Dorasan Station, which I will talk about from my makeshift podium in the next post. SORRY, BUT THIS WAS AN ACTION-PACKED DAY FULL OF LEARNING.

*(We had assigned seats! I loved it! On one of the trips I took with my grandparents, everyone wanted to just keep sitting in the same seats every day on the bus but the tour guide we had for that trip – her name was MYRNA – was like, NO, WE WILL BE ROTATING SEATS THROUGHOUT THE TRIP and she fucking enforced it, too! Try telling a busload of old people (and teenaged me, who loved sitting in the back!) that they had to change their seats every day. It was pandemonium and eventually, everything came to a head and people started yelling at her and then she started yelling back until she eventually burst into tears and it was just a spectacular sight, one which I remember with way greater detail than any of the actual sights we saw on that European tour and I definitely have referenced it quite a few times over the course of my dumb life.)

Sep 192019
 

Today’s “OMG Why Is She Still Blogging About a Vacation That Ended Over a Month Ago??” recap is going to be about our harried gotta-see-it-all Friday spent in Harajuku (and, later, Shibuya again). I’m sure there are Japanphiles all over the place shaking their heads and saying we did this whole thing wrong but hello, we had like, one day (barely) to be see the sights so fuck off, Fodor’s.

Luckily, Harajuku is within walking distance of Meiji Shrine so we didn’t need  to do much other than pray that Henry was looking at his stupid phone map properly.

I had to take a picture of this pedestrian bridge because I was recently complaining to Glenn at work before we left for our trip about how I think pedestrian bridges should be prevalent around downtown Pittsburgh because drivers could give a shit about cross walks (and really, pedestrians could give a shit about cross walks too – Pittsburgh is pretty much the National Capital of Jaywalking). I can’t tell you how many times I have nearly gotten creamed while crossing the street within the lines of a crosswalk WHILE HAVING THE RIGHT OF WAY.

Look how pleasant this area is! Not at all like the super crowded, bustling chaotic image that I think is typically culled when one thinks of Tokyo. I liked it here.

Our first order or business was to find a cafe, but every freaking street we went down was still sleeping, I swear. At 10am! It’s like this in some areas of Seoul too – shit opens so late, even a lot of the cafes, which blows my mind because in my mind: cafes —> coffee —> morning.

But then we found a place called Flipper’s, which makes those fluffy souffle-style pancake ubiquitous in Japan. They were due to open at 11 and it was already 10:45ish at this point because yes we wandered around that long, so we figured we’d just get in line too and have an early lunch while it was right in front of our faces because I can’t tell you how many times we pass something up because it’s “too early for dinner” or “let’s see if we can find a better one” or some other dumb reason and then it’s 3 hours passed our feeding time and we’re about to go full-fledged Donner Party on each other.

That’s us.

The two main catalysts for all vacation verbal abuse: DIRECTION DYSLEXIA and IRREGULAR FEEDINGS.

While we were in line, one of the Flipper’s girls came out and passed around menus, which was super helpful because I like to be prepared. I learned this from my years as a Girls Scout. J/K all I learned from being a Girl Scout was some dumb dance to NKOTB’s “Have a Funky Funky Xmas” and that if your grandfather is a business owner, you can sell more cookies than anyone else in your troop and then all you get is some hardback coffee table book about the National Parks.

Anyway, there were just two groups in front of us in line, but the hostess was super serious about making us wait at the top of the steps while she wandered off to find the proper spot for a family of dumb Americans. When she came back to fetch us, I was confused because literally that whole side of the small restaurant was empty but I appreciated her dedication to her job.

Thank god the service in this place was so friendly (honestly – every person we encountered in Japan was so happy!) because apparently fluffy pancakes TAKE FOREVER TO MAKE. It took us an hour to get ours, I’m not even exaggerating, and we were one of the first people to arrive. It was really excruciating because I could see into the kitchen and every time I thought for sure it was ours, IT NEVER WAS. Chooch and Henry got their pancakes before I did and for some reason, the next melon one that came out of the kitchen went to someone who got there after us! I was D-Y-I-N-G.

But, I’m not going to lie – these motherfuckers were worth the wait. Just maybe something to consider if you’re pressed for time, lol.

My extra melon was even pre-cut for me!

Oh my god, these pancakes were fantastic and so filling.

This is how happy Chooch was:

Actually, it was probably just because he was fucking in love with his new Bambi shirt from DisneySea. (Fine, that shirt actually is pretty cool I guess ugh.)

I was super-excited to take this picture of Henry having to squeeze past these young girls on the way out, hahaha. #HenrytheAmericanCreep

Getting out the sunbrella.

Some cafe was having an Apeach (a/k/a Peachy Boi if you’re Chooch) promotion and Chooch’s shoe made a loud braking screech as he changed directions to burst through the door.

We wouldn’t buy him anything, hahaha.

All of the streets we wandered along were sparsely populated, but then we came upon the famous Takeshita Street, the place that’s quintessential Harajuku in people’s minds, and we were suddenly swept upstream with about 500 other people.

This was definitely my favorite part! It was exciting to see all the crazy street wear shops, like this one…

…Chooch said it wasn’t really his style. :(

Henry wanted to go to Burlesque but was too afraid to say so, so he just waited and went in his dreams.

There were some jpop shops there too but they had kpop posters outside as well so we went in to try and find Taemin stuff since he is popular in Japan but we couldn’t find anything. :(  Of course now that I’m not there, some of the YouTubers I follow who live in Tokyo have been posting pictures of random Taemin posters and advertisements that they’ve spotted so that’s REAL COOL GUYS.

Chooch was lured off the main street by the promise of claw machines, and good thing because we wound up finding some cool shit in this alley-like area.

(No, we didn’t get any PornHub shirts.)

But this is where Chooch got his shiba inu shirt and we found Blake some cool One Punch Man shit.

Vending machine action. You will never go thirsty in Japan or Korea, friends.

We went to this one clothing store here and one of the salesgirls was wearing a Steelers shirt, lol. Even though I hate the Steelers, I still got excited because WE ARE FROM PITTSBURGH so that was pretty cool for us to see someone in Japan wearing that shirt and language barrier be damned, I felt compelled (not by the power of Christ though) to tell this girl that WE ARE FROM PITTSBURGH which is not normally something I would brag about or even display any modicum of excitement over.

Anyway, she definitely didn’t know what I was trying  to say to her and Chooch tried to shame me over this and I finally screamed, “I DID NOT EMBARRASS MYSELF, OK!!!!” I always forget that my son IS SO PERFECT.

OMG is this what it feels like to be Henry!?

I hate how grown up he looks here but at least it matches his GROWN UP SNARK.

After this, we took the subway to Shibuya….

…and went to this big store called Loft which had an SMTOWN POP-UP on the 6th floor! Henry mumbled, “Did you know about this?” and I fucking swear to god I did not!

I resisted the urge to buy everything, don’t worry. Sigh.

SM was doing a big concert in Tokyo the next night and I definitely had some major internal battles with myself over not planning our Japan mini-trip to include this.

But to be honest, I was really getting homesick…for KOREA. How weird is that? I guess my heart really is in Hanguk.

Ugh, then we had to let Chooch waste more of his college fund.

I excitedly told him that one of the machines had Bambi stuff and he got so HOPEFUL and then saw it was Chip and Dale, lololol. He HATES Chip and Dale so much because from afar, they resemble Bambi so gets his hopes up.

“IT’S ALWAYS CHIP AND DALE!” he’ll cry. “WHY ARE THEY MORE POPULAR THAN BAMBI?”

I mean, Chip and Dale are pretty fucking cool though.

Then we had to get some bubble tea, bitches. I love how popular this black sugar caramel flavor is in Asia right now. It’s so fucking wonderful.

Anyway, by this point, it was time to get that train thing back to the airport. We got convenience store snacks and made fun of Henry because he dropped something as soon as he sat down in his seat and whatever it was rolled away and someone almost tripped and we were like GREAT JOB, YA BIG STOOP.

Calbee was the best Japanese snack I had, I think. I immediately wished I had bought 99 more bags ugh.

You guys, I was sad to leave Japan and hope to go back one day soon so I can REALLY EXPERIENCE IT. But for now, on this trip, I was ready to go back to Korea. I cannot explain how addicted I am to Korea, but I will say that just standing in line to check in at Jeju Air, I felt SO COMFORTABLE and relieved because we were finally surrounded once again by people speaking Korean and how insane is that considering that I barely even have a toddler’s grasp on the language, but hearing it just embraced me in a cloud of familiarity.

I was trying to explain this to Henry the other day by comparing it to me being at a country music festival for an entire day, and then going to Warped Tour the next day. He still didn’t get it.

It’s a language thing,  I guess. Hearing Korean does something to my brain, it massages the part that is stressed out and depressed and makes it feel like it’s at a spa.

KOREA!!!

We barely made it on the last AREX of the night, that’s how stupidly long it took us to get through security at Incheon for some dumb reason and it was really strange being there while it was so quiet and empty! Luckily we didn’t have baggage to claim, though.

It was nearly midnight by the time we got back to Hongdae and we crashed so hard! We had to get up early the next morning because it was our DMZ TOUR DAY!! I can’t wait to start recapping that, it was in my Top Three best days of the whole trip. I’ve been home for over a month now and I still feel like I’m on Cloud Nine every time I think about this trip. It was that good. Even with the Oh Honestly Arguing, lol.

Sep 162019
 

We had about half of a day to explore Tokyo on Friday before having to take the train back to Narita Airport, so we decided to stay in the Shibuya area and try to knock out some main tourist-y things and do some shopping. The Disney magic had most definitely worn off, and we were back to being hyper-aware of Henry’s breathing, Chooch’s mouthiness, and my constant (THOUGH ADORABLE) whining.

You would think the serenity of the Meiji Shrine would have helped us BUT YOU WOULD BE WRONG.

Actually, everything was fine that morning until I tried to get Chooch to pose for a picture under the Torii Gate (aka the entrance to Meiji Shrine) but he got all Surly Teenage Boy on me and tried to move away so I got SUPER BUTT HURT ABOUT THIS and decided in that moment that I was now going to make sure everyone had a really shitty day because that is the matriarchal leadership type I adopt in my household, bitches!

No, seriously, it was a fine day.

The Meiji Shrine is tucked away right in the city and once you enter, you feel like you’re hundreds of miles away in the forest. It’s so peaceful and tranquil (although I can imagine it’s the exact opposite on busy days!), and even though it was still overwhelmingly humid, it still offered a bit of a reprieve from the blazing sun and sizzling pavement.

Once you pass through the entrance gates, there is still quite a bit of a walk ahead before you reach the shrine’s Main Hall, but it is such a beautiful stroll. Being there made me REALLY CONSCIOUS of the fact that holy shit, we were in Japan.

I loved this display of sake barrels!

Chooch put on his fake nice face when these girls asked him to take their picture. And that’s not litter on the ground – Chooch set his water bottle there while he was playing amateur photog.

Those are barrels of wine behind them.

Before reaching the main shrine building, we passed through a courtyard that offered informational brochures and an AMULET OFFICE (!!!) where omamori of all different varieties can be purchased to bring you good luck, health, etc. Of course Henry wouldn’t let me buy any because he doesn’t believe in anything other than what he was taught IN THE SERVICE and from watching NCIS.

Also in the courtyard was a temizuya, which is a water ablution pavilion found at the entrances of Shinto shrines. The first one we came upon had a small tour group gathered around while their guide illustrated the cleansing ritual. I wanted to do it but for some reason, I got all fucking weird and was convinced that I was going to do it wrong and become haunted by a Japanese spirit for the rest of my life, so I didn’t do it.

From the shrine’s website:

This shrine is dedicated to the divine souls of Emperor Meiji and his consort Empress Shoken (their tombs are in Kyoto).
Emperor Meiji passed away in 1912 and Empress Shoken in 1914. After their demise, people wished to commemorate their virtues and to venerate them forever. So they donated 100,000 trees from all over Japan and from overseas, and they worked voluntarily to create this forest. Thus, thanks to the sincere heart of the people, this shrine was established on November 1, 1920.

100,000 trees! I love that they were donated. It gives it such a heart-warming (not that the heart needed much hep warming up on that day), collaborative vibe.

I also learned that this type of shrine is a “Shinto” shrine. Shinto is Japanese religion dating from the early 8th century. It focuses on ritual practices that establish a connection between present-day Japan and the past, and followers of this religion have a belief in sacred power (called kami) in both animate and inanimate things.

Sooooo much more appealing than Catholicism!

This is the main shrine building. Those trees! I was obsessed with them. They look like they’re straight out of Dr. Seuss’s dreams.

Photos and videos inside of it are prohibited so I took this one from a safe distance away. I have this fear of being That American Tourist who overlooks a sign and gets hollered at (lol) by some white-gloved UNESCO cop. I might be a dick on the inside, but I do try to have as much respect as I can humanly muster when I’m being a tourist!

Chooch and I observed the elderly Japanese people around us who came to pay respects to the emperor, and then I saw a sign with instructions so Chooch and I followed along as seriously as possible because there’s nothing worse than a couple of foreigners who appear to be mocking another culture simply because they didn’t read the directions closely enough!

1. You may put some coins into the offertory box.

2. Bow twice.

3. Clap your hands twice.

4. You may make a wish if you like.

5. Bow once again.

We made Henry give us some coins and then we moved on to the bowing and clapping portion, though we didn’t do it as robustly as the men around us, but they seemed like seasoned pros at this and we were just a couple of n00bs, fresh from DisneySea.

Still, I felt a sense of….I dunno, purity? after moving through the steps.

In this area, you could write your prayer on an “ema,” which is a wooden tablet that can be purchased at the AMULET OFFICE.

There was another, less-populated courtyard off to the side of the main shrine building, and this also had one of those water cleansing things. This time, I felt less under a spotlight, so I partook in the water-pouring ritual, but I was still very stressed that I was doing it wrong and then I almost drowned myself on nothing more than a small palmful of water. It got up my nose and everything. I’m a true mess.

I mean, the steps really aren’t outrageous but Henry still had to read them to me over and over.

“Rinse your left hand…your left hand. LEFT. Your LEFT HAND. THAT ONE,” is basically how that went.

And then:

2. Rinse your right hand.

3. Pour water into your left hand.

4. Rinse your mouth.

5. Rinse your left hand again.

6. Rinse the dipper (allow the remaining water to run down the handle of the dipper).

Then Henry did it too and of course this was a majorly bonding moment for Chooch and me because we were born to scrutinize Henry’s every move.

“I DIDN’T DO IT WRONG,” is what he was saying here after Chooch and I launched into our celestial chorus of “YOU ARE SO EMBARRASSING.”

After an hour lost inside this forest in the middle of Tokyo, we started to make our way out but not before going into the GIFT SHOP so I could, god forbid, buy a magnet. We also bought some tins of traditional-y candy which Henry insisted on keeping in his man-purse so we had to continuously ask him for one, which was really frustrating and I had forgotten about that until just now so now I’m annoyed.

On that note, more Japan memories to come!

Sep 152019
 

Before I close the chapter on DisneySea, I just want to do a quick (lol yeah sure—nothing I do on here is quick) recap of some of the rides and the food we had!

I think we all agreed, hands down, that our favorite ride was Journey to the Center of the Earth. As a dark ride connoisseur and coaster enthusiast, I liked that this was a bit of an amalgamation of both.

As with every Disney park, the theming in the line was excelsior, so that was no big surprise. This was the first ride we rode that day so the standby line wasn’t outrageous yet.

I WAS SO EXCITED TO GO THROUGH THOSE DOORS!

My only beef with this ride was that it wasn’t long enough. And that’s just me being hard-pressed to find a complaint because, you know, balance or whatever!

Tower of Terror in Tokyo has a different storyline than the others, not that it matters too much because it’s all in Japanese! But we chose this Fast Pass over Toy Story Mania for that reason.

It’s funny, because I typically dislike drop towers and avoid them in every park, but I love Tower of Terror so much! And this one was just so much fun, mostly because we didn’t know what was going on!

It also pleased me that we were put in row 6 6 6, lol.

I love that Henry is blank while Chooch and I have the same squinty WTF expression. Also, I’m not used to being able to take pictures of the picture! Every other park is a BIG NO when it comes to that. But here, everyone just does it. It’s been a minute since I was at Disney World so I can’t remember if it’s like that there, too!?

I think 20,000 Leagues was the longest line we stood in (an hour? We rode it again later and the line was only about 20 minutes then!) but it was worth it and again, the crowds there were very mild and inoffensive so it never felt like being in prison, like how we often feel when we’re stuck in line for the Exterminator at Kennywood, having no choice but to inhale the farts of strangers and hear amplified Yinzer-speak in surround sound since that damn queue is indoors.

Henry smiled A LOT that day, and he really loved 20,000 Leagues. He was so excited when we got off the ride the first time because he wanted to know if Chooch and I spotted some shadow of a thing that was pushing our car through the water and we were like, “No, you lame-o” and acted like we didn’t care but then we had a secret conference outside of Henry’s super-limited range of hearing and decided we would have to ride it again to look for that.

Also, we didn’t know that we had a control in front of our seats that controlled a spotlight, but of course dumb Henry knew, so now we definitely had to ride it again.

Anyway, it was fun being at a park where Henry actually rode things! Usually he just “sits on a bench” and waits for us but what he really does is stocks up on soft pretzels without us so he doesn’t have to share. Rude ass.

I was obsessed with riding these boat-things all day! Apparently, it utilizes the same track design as Pooh’s Hunny Hut, if that matters to you.

Chooch and I rode it later in the evening, after getting in all of the big rides, and you have to choose between two different tracks—such pressure! I was mad because the one that Chooch chose for us didn’t seem like the best one, and then I was mad again because dumb Henry took a picture of us using his idiot phone which takes shitty photos.

I loved this ride because the ride attendant told me he liked my Oswald ears AND HE WAS REALLY CUTE TOO.

Everyone who works at DisneySea is just a brand new level of Happy, but you really have to expect that much from a Disney park. That’s one of things I appreciate about this brand is that, even if you’re not a big Disney aficionado like me (I haven’t cared about Disney movies/cartoons since the early 90s), the experience you get at the parks is so high-quality that the fact that you had to dip into the kid’s college fund to get there doesn’t even matter.

J/K, we didn’t dip into Chooch’s college fund.

He doesn’t even have a college fund.

HAHAHAHAugh.

The Aladdin area of the park was so beautiful, and Chooch and I definitely needed to ride the flying carpets.

If this was Kennywood, that would just be cement with weeds sprouting through the cracks, not a gorgeous fountain. (Sorry, Kennywood, but you know it’s true! You’re beautiful in other ways, but theming is not your forte.)

Again with Henry’s lame-ass phone.

Chooch and I rode this little kid Flounder coaster because we gotta get that coaster cred no matter what.

That brake run was rough, haha.

We also rode this adorable little ride but dumb Henry was too bust melting against a wall to take our picture like a good parent.

The carousel was in the Aladdin area too and it was delightful!

God only knows what I was jawing off about here, but it was wonderful to be in the shade!

Another family portrait on a carousel. We need an intervention.

Did you know that up until a few years ago, I had a huge fear of carousels because I have gotten stuck on the horses before? And by “gotten stuck” I mean that I am afraid of even the tiniest heights and have been actually too paralyzed by fear to attempt to slide off the damn thing and then Henry has to assist. But lately, I have been doing much better and I think that I almost cured.

I wanted to ride Tower of Terror again in the evening but those dumb asses were like 45 MINUTES STANDBY OMG THAT’S SO LONG because they’re spoiled.

We also rode some other kiddy rides, and we had Fast Passes for Indiana Jones and also Raging Spirits, which was the only ride that was a bit underwhelming for me. There were English-speaking people in line behind us and the one girl was freaking out because she had never ridden a roller coaster that went upside down and she was probably in her early 20s and for some reason this really lodged itself into my hippocampus and I still think about it occasionally.

It was OK! Not my favorite ride there, but still worth the ride.

Aside from Sinbad (it was closed for maintenance), we managed to ride all the main attractions on my list without wasting our lives in overwhelming queues or running around like maniacs, and I was extremely surprised. In my head, I had this day playing out to be full of stress, pushy people, more interfamilial hostility than Trump’s twitter feed, and hemorrhaging money.

But it was so peaceful and our walking-speed was more at a casual stroll after we nabbed that first Fast Pass. In fact, usually when we’re at an amusement park, we’re in such a hurry to get all the big rides in that we barely break to eat. But at DisneySea, not only did we have spare time, but the food was CHEAP! Now is the time in this blog post where we have a FOOD RECAP.

This adorable Donald Duck lifesaver was a savory bun stuffed with shrimp, and not just like, a measly wad of mushy shrimp paste, but this was loaded with hearty, meaty, shrimp.

These Toy Story mochi are pretty much the signature Tokyo Disney snack. Watch any YouTube video about this park and I guarantee they will make an appearance, and if they don’t, then that vlogger did it wrong.

You get three per order, one each of strawberry-filled, chocolate-filled, and vanilla custard-filled. They were so good and now I wish I had gone back for seconds because Henry and I shared an order while Chooch got his own. I have major regerts about that. I chose poorly. Stupid diet-brain.

However, I didn’t share my lunch with Henry! (Wait, shit, yes I did—my meal came with a side of potatoes and sausages and I gave him my sausages.)

We chose a place in the Arabian Coast port of call (which I have been consistently referring to as the Aladdin area) and I got this fucking fantastic udon lunch special. Anyway, I couldn’t believe how cheap it was for all three of us to eat there. I want to say it was about $30 as opposed to King’s Island where, even with one of us having a meal plan, it was like $60. Yikes.

Look at this gorgeous bowl! It was so filling and satisfying. Again, maybe DisneySea had the air poisoned with Positivity Pollution, but shit—at every turn, I felt like a kid being let out of the orphanage for the first time. I just kept saying, “This place is so great” over and over, while flowers sprouted out of all of my orifices.

Henry was like, “I’m going to buy this mango ice cream concoction for no reason other than I’m at Disney” and then Chooch was like, “I’ll take that, thanks.”

 

Shout out to the different popcorn vendors, happily churning out their wonderful smelling treats in every port of call! Each vendor had a different flavor (Chooch is on a major curry kick, so that’s the flavor we got). The caramel one, while not being the most exotic flavor, was definitely the most appealing one to me because that scent literally elevated the atmosphere in the entire area around it. I think it may have even borrowed one of those flying carpets to carry its sweet, buttery smell even further, because I kept catching whiffs of it all over the park. It was mesmerizing.

The curry flavor was great too! Really, the only one I wasn’t drawn to was the chocolate-covered variety because it was so hot that day and I couldn’t imagine eating melty popcorn with my hands. No.

And last but not least, we ate dinner at Zambini because Chooch saw it earlier in the day and totally latched on to it. We had pizza, and I demanded that we get both desserts on the menu, because each one came with a different limited edition souvenir thing, so now we have a little Pirate Summer plate and coffee cup. I’m pleased with this.

One more thing before I wrap this up: we went into pretty much every gift shop to search for Bambi shit for Chooch, and in the very last one we went inside, we finally found a Bambi shirt, and not only was it a nice design, it was only $20!! FOR A FUCKING DISNEY SHIRT.

I probably come across as some tight-wad coupon cutter, and I swear I’m not—I’m just accustomed to amusement park inflation and honestly we were prepared to really have to spend a lot of hard-earned Yen at DisneySea. Honestly, this day couldn’t have been any better! I am so glad that I campaigned so hard to have this added to my birthday vacation itinerary, because if you have to turn 40, you might as well soften the blow any way you can. And this definitely softened that blow. Disney is one of the few places on Earth where you can be a Forever Child!

Sep 142019
 

Friends, foes, family, foresters: I am here to tell you that I have nothing bad to say about DisneySea. Honestly. It was the one day from our vacation where we didn’t fight ONE SINGLE TIME. The park opened, we walked in, and it was like the air was being pumped with happy gas because even though it was 100 degrees, we genuinely liked each other that day.

We’re not Disney people but this park had a huge impact on us! And this might sound like a cop-out, but there is really no way I can illustrate just how magical this place is, aside from sharing photos. So let’s peruse my collection together, shall we?

DisneySea is built next to the Tokyo Bay and has seven themed “ports of call” areas. I’ve heard that this park is billed as the Disney for adults, and even though there is a huge (and BEAUTIFUL) indoor kids area, I can definitely see how this is true. There is one area that made me feel like I was in Cape May and I loved it which is hilarious because when I was a kid, we always took a day trip to Cape May during our Wildwood family vacations, and I was always so miserable about that. I hated Cape May as a kid! All my grandma wanted to do was shop and all I could think about was how I missing out on prime time riding rides on the boardwalk. (Morey’s Piers ftw.)

I mentioned in my last Tokyo post that DisneySea doesn’t use an app for Fast Pass, so when the gates opened, we had to walk-run (there are friendly Disney employees everywhere reminding you politely not to run and I already knew this from watching videos so I speed-walked like a good girl because maybe you don’t know this about me BUT I HATE BEING YELLED AT even if it’s someone just kindly reminding me not to do something I’m doing, I will take this and escalate it in my head and get totally butt-hurt and then I will keep replaying the moment until I’m convinced that I was yelled at.

I’m insane and my issues are plentiful.

Anyway, our plan was to pass up Toy Story because it’s identical to the one in the US, grab a Tower of Terror fast pass, and then speedwalk to Journey to the Center of the Earth for stand-by. This plan worked wonderfully!

Mysterious Island was amazing!! The theming blew us all away.

I was prepared for Journey’s line to be outrageous but stand-by was about 30-45 minutes! That ride was goddamn amazing but my favorite part was when Henry ripped his shorts when he was getting into the car!

(Unfortunetely, his rip wasn’t as disastrous as it could have been, and even though it was large, it was still unnoticeable. Ugh.)

I will have a separate post to talk about the rides and food, so let’s just keep looking at the glorious scenery, shall we?

Seriously, would you look at this area? I think we just ooh’d and ahh’d over everything for the first 8 hours of the day.

 

I’m not sure where all the people went that we saw when the park opened, because it didn’t seem very crowded that day. Don’t get me wrong, some of the bigger rides had really long standby wait times as the day went on (Toy Story and the brand new Soaring were basically big no’s if you didn’t have a fast pass, and we didn’t want a fast pass for any of them), but we weren’t fighting our way through hoards of people on the paths or in the restaurants. It was actually pretty weird.

And whenever we did have to stand in line, it was pleasant because people in Japan are polite and orderly. It really was like being in an Utopian amusement park.

Even though we were able to ride all the rides we wanted to, this park could still easily be a 2-day park, because there is so much to see and eat. The facades were so detailed and the shops in each port of call had different merch. Also, we didn’t see any of the shows because that’s not important to us, but if we had been there for a second day, I definitely would have penciled that in because this park inspired me to care about these things!

…and then we found out where all the people were, lol. There’s a big pirate show that happens several times in the main entrance area and people seemed to just loiter there all day.  Also, it was August 1st when we were there, and that was the day when the new theme and merch came out, so I think the enthusiasts were there just for that. We walked past a lot of people who were hanging out in that area with like 8 bags of merch!

Meanwhile, all I cared about was getting my ears (the process of choosing a pair is painstaking but I went with Oswald and Chooch got Dumbo ears and then instantly had reGERTS because it was, again, 100 degrees that day and now he was essentially wearing a terry-cloth headband, good job, dingus.

Venice Vibes, Very.

Basically just an excuse to sit down.

I wanted to jump into this water so badly that day. Did I mention it was 100 degrees?

Did I mention we were also in Japan?

You think you know humidity in America, but you don’t.

LOOK AT THIS CHILDREN’S AREA!!! It was inside Ariel’s Castle and majorly air-conditioned. We definitely took our good ol’ time strolling through this piece.

And the gift shop was inside a whale!

Again, I’m not a Disneyphile but shit, I wanted to buy everything I saw.

Pompously phallic.

In all serious though, I couldn’t stop ogling the majesty of this castle. The detail was sickening!

Halfway to heatstroke.

If you looked at those tiny tiles close up, you’d find little Mickey ears, Flounders, and other assorted hidden Disney sundry.

I can’t imagine standing before this and not being totally enchanted.

One of our many “should we jump” contemplations. Also, note that Chooch is wearing his Pie Jesus friendship bracelet!

Some areas of DisneySea are under construction and from what I understand, it’s in preparation for next summer’s Olympics. Getting a bit of a face lift, I guess! Some of the coaster enthusiasts I follow on YouTube were super annoyed about this when they visited a week before us, but it didn’t take very much away from our visit. If Journey to the Center of the Earth had been outright closed, then my tune would be very different!

Henry, reapplying sunscreen.

LOOK AT THIS VIEW! Also, that water was making me hallucinate. Or was it the sun. I don’t know, but I was feeling delirious.

(Don’t worry! We stayed hydrated all day and guess what? It was easy to do so because food and beverage prices were CHEAP there! I was shocked. I mostly kept refilling an empty bottle at various water fountains, but I did get tempted several times to partake in flavored drinks because, Tokyo. There was some fizzy grapefruit sports drink that was SO REFRESHING.)

You know a park is legit when even your kid keeps stopping to take in the views. I’m a very GO-GO-GO type of person at amusement parks, but this place made me want to slow down and relax.

My kimono-thing was protecting my skin big-time, yo.

Obsessed with this tree.

The theme for August was Pirates Summer and we were there for the first day of it, so that was pretty cool! I purposely ordered a dessert at one of the restaurants just so I could get a collectible plate, so I guess I’m a Disney person now.

This fountain is iconic because it’s the first thing you see when you walk through the entrance. Also, we tried to get Henry to buy a pair of ears but he is too much of a lamer, I guess. Now no one will believe that he actually had a good time!

Some Instagram models were doing an amateur photoshoot here so then we had to do one too.

Did I ever tell you about how Chooch despises Chip and Dale because they’re so much more popular than Bambi when it comes to Disney merch and sometimes, from afar, he will think he sees something Bambi-themed only to get closer and see that it’s Chip and Dale. So when he saw this Chip, or Dale?, at DisneySea, he had a moment of rage. I wanted him to get in line for a picture but he was like Chip (or Dale?) can go fuck himself.

(Personally, I love Chip & Dale. I had one of their videos in the 80s and it was the kind that came in the giant padded case. I watched it all the time!)

The Aladdin area was so beautiful, I could have cried.

But Mermaid’s Lagoon had my heart. Those under-the-sea aesthetics really snatched me, you guys.

I wanted Chooch to make friends with all these children but he was like, “I just want to touch the water, not make power moves.”

I’m such a Disney fraud that I didn’t even know who Duffy was until I started researching this park.

SHIT YOU GUYS. JUST OMG THESE LOOKS. If DisneySea was a kpop group, then Mermaid’s Lagoon would be the visuals.

Although the Arabian area wasn’t exactly horse face, either.

DisneySea at night is a big fat mood. My heart was actually fluttering.

We stayed until the park closed and yes, we were fucking BEAT but it was worth every second we were crucified by the sun.

I’ll have one more Disney post to recap some of the rides and foods, so look forward to that, or don’t!

****

Once we were off Disney-soil, Chooch and Henry were free to argue over directions and fare machines again, so that was fun.

Sep 112019
 

Chooch, on the balcony of our guest house, in his too-big house slippers.

On Thursday morning, the first day of August, we woke up disgustingly early (5:00am) to get a head start for DisneySea. This was the ONE THING in Japan I was fully educated on. I read blogs, websites, watched YouTube reviews and vlogs until I was navigating this place in my dreams.

This was also why I was so irritable the night before though — STRESS. Going to any Disney Park can be nerve wracking because you want to be able to do all the things and have a good time without worrying about huge crowds but hello, we picked the fucking summer to do this. I can’t help it that I’m a summer birthday baby!

DisneySea still uses the old Fast Pass system, where you have to go to each ride and scan your ticket in the Fast Pass machine and hope for the best. I was STRESSED ABOUT THIS! But even more stressed about the act of actually getting to the park, which involved two transfers and theoretically would take about 45 minutes. (According to Google.)

View from the balcony. I was obsessed with the neighborhood we were staying in and sad that we didn’t have more time.

The streets were pretty quiet when we left the Green Hotel to start our Disney Journey. We stopped at the closest convenience store on the way to the subway station to grab some breakfast to take with us. Some of the tips I read said to get to the park as early as possible, up to 2 hours because the gates open, and eat your breakfast in line with everyone else. I was already accustomed to eating samgak kimbap in Korea so I grabbed the Japanese equivalent  to this – what most of the world is more familiar with: onigiri. I didn’t even pay attention to what Henry and Chooch got because it was fucking way too early in the morning and I was a miserable cry baby about that, never mind that this was my idea!

I have to give Chooch credit – he is a real take-charge kind of guy. Me? I’m more of a stand-off-to-the-side-and-let-everyone-else-do-it kind of gal. Especially when it comes to directional things.

I kept yammering on social media about how this was the only day that we had zero fights but I forgot about the early-morning subway arguments between Henry and Chooch. These two just literally cannot ever be on the same page (of the map) and then Chooch supposedly found some better way to go and Henry was like NO THAT’S WRONG and Chooch was like YOU NEVER LISTEN TO  ME and then Henry was like FINE WE WILL DO IT YOUR WAY and I was like IF YOU TWO FUCK THIS UP FOR ME, YOU BETTER RUN RUN RUN.

Basically, we took the subway from Ueno to Somewhere??? Station, saw this display of Kewpie Dolls, walked to WHATEVERVILLE STATION, per Chooch’s directions, couldn’t find it, walked around in tiny circles while looking up at the sky, saw a sign that said the name of the station we were looking for but couldn’t find the entrance, started overturning rocks to see if the entrance was under there, had a fight, drew a station entrance with chalk because maybe magic was on our side, said YES!! when an older Japanese gentleman paused and asked, “Disney?” and then pointed to the half-hidden staircase that we never would have found without his help.

Thank god for Chooch’s Mickey Mouse shirt.

(Honestly, we couldn’t believe how hard it was to find this opening!! I’m not sure if this ended up being the way Chooch suggested, or Henry’s original plan, but whoever decided this was the way to go surely fucked up.)

From that point on, it was OK. We got tickets for the train to Maihama Station and when there was a split second where we weren’t sure which way to go to find the platform, a group of excited girls in matching clothes blew past us, so we just followed them.

The train ride to Maihama was pretty quick, maybe about 15-20 minutes, and as soon as we arrived, that’s when the real mayhem began because that station was FLOODED with Disney-goers. DisneySea and Tokyo Disneyland are right next to each other, so this is the main station that park visitors need to get to in order to take the Disney shuttle to either park.

I was on pins and needles at this point! The anticipation! Wondering how crowded it was going to be! And if we would fight with each other all day! If this would end up being a big let down and a wasted day!

SO MANY UNKNOWNS! Traveling is such a gamble. Especially when you throw something like this into the mix.

The shuttle ops are on point at Disney, so we didn’t have to wait very long for the next one to arrive.

Henry originally got a seat, but then gave it up to an older woman who bowed profusely at him and I wanted to tell her not to waste her bows on that dummy but, you know, they’re her bows to give, I guess.

So then Henry had to stand and hold onto the Mickey Ears for the whole whopping 5 minutes we were on the shuttle.

It was 7am by the time we made it to the entrance and there were already dozens of lines snaking out from the front of the gates. We secured a spot and got as comfortable as we could under the scalp-melting 95 degree sun, and then Chooch OF COURSE got sunscreen in his eyes and we looked like we were That American Family whose kid even cries at Disney because he’s a spoiled American, and then he kept using Henry’s shirt to wipe his eyes and Henry was like, “EXCUSE ME DON’T GET MY GENERIC MIDDLE AGED MAN POLO SHIRT DIRTY WITH YOUR SUNSCREENED TEARS, THANK YOU” and I was just staring at the time on my phone wondering how we were going to survive for two hours without causing a scene, but THEN GUESS WHAT the park actually opened at 8am, not 9am like I thought, so we only had to stand in that (actually pretty calm and orderly) crowd for an hour!

THIS IS THE FIRST THING YOU SEE WHEN YOU ENTER THE PARK! ICONIC!! I already forgot about how difficult it was to get out of bed at 5am, and the direction drama at the first subway station, and the literal scavenger hunt for the train station entrance. Because we were in DisneySea! But that tranquil moment would only last a second because our mad dash for Fast Passes started NOW and I had to focus. THERE WAS NO TIME FOR DAWDLING!!

Sep 082019
 

Landing in Japan was SURREAL. I still couldn’t believe that we managed to make this leg of the trip work out and I was like, you know, feeling so hashtag blessed. I was also secondhand stoked for Chooch because Japan is his Korea, so I was happy that we were able to get him there. Hopefully he’ll remember this when it’s time to for the “should we put mom in a home” talk.

CHOOCH, YOUR MOTHER GAVE YOU THE BEST TRAVEL MEMORIES OF YOUR CHILDHOOD. NEVER FORGET.

Plus, he was excited because when we landed, we had to exit the plane onto the tarmac, and he’s “always wanted to do that” apparently?

The bathroom is Narita Airport was majestic. LOOK AT IT! I TOOK THIS PICTURE SO YOU COULD SEE!!

Full disclosure: we definitely don’t know much about Japan so we were kind of unprepared. Except that we at least already had a wad of Yen, at least. And in Korea, at least I can read it and know how to say basic things. Plus, Henry and Chooch have that subway system completely figured out.

(Not me. I just rely on them because I’m too busy looking at things and smiling.)

Having already been in Korea twice kind of killed the VENDING MACHINE EXCITEMENT for us. Now we’re just spoiled and come to expect that kind of convenience. *hair flip emoji*

Henry eventually figured out how to purchase tickets for the Skyliner Train that took us to Tokyo. I was so excited to get out of the airport and actually see some things! It was already about 6:30pm so we didn’t have much time for too many touristy things.

Henry immediately started watching his dumb Netflix shows (probably a Western or something) before the train even pulled out, so Chooch and I were cracking up.

I didn’t do anything on the train, not even write in my vacation journal, because I was too busy looking out the window and taking it all in. I get that we were in a completely different country from Korea, but I was still low-key stunned at just HOW DIFFERENT it was, even just looking at the scenery out of the train window! If I had to summarize it a succinct as possible, I’d have to say that Japan just seemed more green.

Our hotel/guest house was in Ueno, and that was one of the stops on the Skyliner train. Henry probably planned it that way, but maybe I’m giving him too much credit. Of course though since we were in a new country, Henry fucked up the directions and took us out the wrong station exit and we stood around sweating and arguing until he sorted his shit out, GOD HENRY.

*insert Henry & the School Girls joke here*

I assumed that sign meant that Chooch was supposed to hold my hand, but he WOULD NOT.

We found our hotel pretty easily once Henry got his directions righted, and I was excited because we had to keep our shoes in a locker! Also, most of my pictures are blurry from this night because it WAS SO FUCKING HUMID that the lens on my phone was literally wet and probably melting too.

The slippers they gave us were way too big for me and I had the hardest time walking up the steps in them. I think they girl at the front desk was totally annoyed with us but she kept smiling anyway because people in Tokyo are SO FRIENDLY. That was my second impression, after “wow, Japan is green.” It was kind of shocking because in Korea, it’s not that people are cold per se, but most that we encounter aren’t overly friendly, especially to foreigners, unless you’re in a legit tourist area, like Lotte World or one of the palaces, etc.

But here, it was like next level hospitality.

I didn’t take a picture of our room but it WAS A SHOEBOX. We walked in and one bed was RIGHTTHERE, and then a second bed was elevated a bit on a platform-like loft. Then there were two shelves on the wall with a TV, kettle, towels, and the smallest bathroom I’ve ever used in my whole life. At first we were like ARE YOU KIDDING but it’s amazing how quickly you acclimate when you’re fucking exhausted and also remember that you’re really only going to be using that room to sleep and shower anyway….so then it just felt cozy. Haha. And also kind of hysterical because yes, put the dysfunctional American family into the smallest room possible.

We were arguing about something, who knows what at that point, when I opened the window and realized that there was a shared balcony out there. So I went out to the hallway to access it and discovered a young European girl sitting out there, smoking. I was so embarrassed knowing that we had given her some belligerent noise pollution, but then she was concerned that her smoking was bothering us and I was like, “Look, your cigarettes are no worse than our loud mouths” except that IT CAUSES CANCER BUT WHATEVER.

She was nice enough.

I took this picture from outside the guest house. Chooch and I were cracking up because when we got outside to go exploring, I asked Henry if he had the wifi thingie and he was like SHIT so he had to go back inside, take his shoes off, and run up to the third floor. I couldn’t imagine why it was taking him so long but it turned out that he actually came back down when we weren’t paying attention, put his shoes back on, and then realized that he forgot his wallet in the room, so he had to take his shoes off again and go back up.

What a n00b.

But apparently he bonded with the European girl’s dad because he had to keep going back up to the room too BUT WERE THEY WERE ACTUALLY HAVING A SECRET RENDEZVOUS?

This was us waiting outside for Henry and instantly losing 3 pounds from sweating while doing absolutely nothing more than standing still. Asian humidity is on another level, you guys. Moist moist moist.

Green Hotel was just a 5-minute walk from the nearest subway station. Henry took us to the wrong side of the platform and didn’t realize it until after we bought our tickets but luckily the nice Subway fare attendant cut us some slack for being Dumb Americans, let us leave, and then let his buddy on the other side know what the deal was so we didn’t have to pay for new tickets.

What a nice freaking guy!

My first impression of the subway was that it’s not as good as Seoul, but better than anything I’ve experienced in America. It’s funny because in Korea, as soon as you step on the subway, PEOPLE LOOK AT YOU. Eventually they look away, but there’s definitely that foreigner curiosity there. In Tokyo, no one gave us a second glance so that aspect of it felt a bit more comfortable. But physically, the Seoul subway is definitely more comfortable. Their stations are better, too. (To be fair, we didn’t get to experience very many different stations in Tokyo though!)

Our half-assed agenda was to go to uber-popular Shibuya so Chooch could see the statue of the dog that waited for his owner to come back for him for like 7 years, not knowing that he had died. Wow. How uplifting!!

Is it weird that Shibuya Crossing seemed not as insane in real life?! I kept asking Henry, “Are you sure this is really it? It seems a lot smaller.” I mean, we crossed the street with everyone else and it wasn’t overwhelming like I was expecting it to be, but it was cool to do it!

I am soooo not an expert at Japanese stuff so we just walked around, checked out some shops, and took it all in with no itinerary or agenda. I didn’t even know where to start but all I know is that I wanted to buy everything I saw, especially all the cute makeup stuff! Even the Pokemon makeup, and I don’t even like Pokemon.

We were there specifically to go to Disney Sea the next day, so any free time we had was limited and therefore, I didn’t really spend much time researching what to do because I didn’t want to be stressed out about trying to fit everything in. So I was happy to just stroll about and look at things…

…until we started getting hungry. And by then it was after 10pm and I didn’t want to be out super late because we had to get up early the next day. So we decided to just head back to Ueno and grab something quick to eat near the hotel before we spent all night arguing over food.

We could have just eaten pizza at Mean’s, which I didn’t even notice until just now when I glanced at that picture, haha. None of us really wanted to sit down for a full meal at 10pm so we decided to head back to Ueno.

Art outside of Shibuya Station – I was obsessed.

These posters were all over the subway station. A few weeks after we came home from vacation, Chooch asked, “Did you see that picture of the guy in Toyko that looked like a Japanese Pee Wee Herman….” and I said, “OH YOU MEAN THIS GUY” and shoved my phone in his face. “Of course you have a picture of it,” he sighed, but I knew he was secretly happy.

Chooch and Henry argued at the fare machine, because this is tradition now, and then we managed to make it back to Ueno without killing each other. We stopped at Family Mart back in Ueno, which became a running joke since we were like ARE WE EVEN A FAMILY?!?! and grabbed some things to eat for dinner, which is difficult when you want to eat all the things!

We brought back an array of noodles and rice and cool drinks and pizza back to the room and stuffed our faces.

In my vacation journal that night, I wrote this:

“10:58PM: Ugh Japan is awful because of Henry. He is so annoying! We’re eating convenience store food and he said, “Here, have some pizza!” in this phony, kind voice so I said, “You sound like a church person” and Chooch started laughing into his ramen so Henry yelled at him and said, “THERE’S OTHER PEOPLE WHO WANT TO EAT THAT” and I said, “Yeah. ‘Other people.’ There’s a line outside the door.”

But then we all started cracking up and went to bed. Aside from the hunger games we went through earlier that night, it was a great day but we all definitely needed the sleep. It was a long day of traveling (airports are soooo stressful) and we had to get up super earlier the next day to start our Disney odyssey!

Sep 062019
 

I was so giddy when I woke up on Wednesday 7/31/19, because it was the day we were going to be flying to Tokyo! Look at Henry’s face! He’s clearly very excited and giddy about Travel Day, too.  I blogged a little about the events of that morning already when I was on the train to Incheon Airport so let’s just jump right on in!

Because Korea and Japan are neighbors, there were a ton of flights to choose from, but we found the best deal through Jeju Air. Henry kept sitting on booking the flight all the way up until 2 weeks before we left, so I was really starting to think that this leg of our trip wasn’t going to happen.

So, the main reason why I wanted to cram this into our itinerary was because of Disney Sea. I have been obsessed with the idea of visiting this park for some time now and spent the last year devouring every website and YouTube video I could find on it so I could be as prepared as possible. And to be honest, I could tell that Henry too was somewhat intrigued by this park so I just kept harping on him over and over until he finally cried uncle and snagged a hotel. But then I had to keep harping for three more months until he sealed with  the deal with a flight and Disney Sea tickets.

(Oh you better believe I kept playing the Birthday Card for this!)

I was oddly excited that we were finally going to be able to experience Terminal One of Incheon Airport. Because we have used Korean Air the two times we’ve flown to Korea, we have only been to Terminal Two, which is actually super new–it was only three months old the first time we flew in. But Terminal One is supposed to be just as impressive, and it didn’t disappoint. Incheon is so sleek, clean, sparkling, and exciting. And it has robots that will show you how to get to places within the airport and I don’t just mean they show you a map, but they will literally TAKE YOU TO WHERE YOU NEED TO BE.

They’re really cute.

We arrived at the airport around 1:30 I think, and our flight was supposed to leave at 3:30, so we had a little bit of time to explore…

Isn’t this so peaceful?!

Baby Shark was playing on this gigantic screen at one point and Chooch was pissed because I didn’t get my phone ready fast enough to record it so he could send it to Blake and Calvin.

SO SORRY.

Thank god he found photo ops later on…him and all the children.

So damn dumb.

The bathrooms in the Incheon airport are really clean and pretty, probably because they have signs discouraging travelers from doing stupid things like stepping on the toilets.

Chooch and I ate lunch at A Twosome Place, which was monumental because we always commented on them every time we saw one last time we were in Seoul, because what an exclusive name. Anyway, Henry made a big deal of not ordering anything to eat there because THAT WAS NOT WHAT HE WANTED and I swear he does this shit to set himself up for later complaining when it’s OMG SO LATE and he HASN’T EATEN YET. He’s the fucking worst.

This wasn’t one of those places that give you the buzzer that goes off when your food is ready – A Twosome Place at the airport does it the old school way BY CALLING OFF YOUR NUMBER ON THE RECEIPT so I sat there and internalized my panic because I am so fucking slow with Korean numbers but then Chooch was like, “Fuck waiting for our number to be called, I’m just going to lowkey troll the counter until they tell me when it’s ready.” The girls working there giggled at him and one of them said, “Next one!” so I blew out the breath that I hadn’t realized I was holding and quit stressing over which number system they were going to use and if I would be able to understand BECAUSE THE NUMBERS WERE THREE DIGITS.

Learning Korean is a struggle, you guys. A real fucking struggle.

It was getting closer to boarding time so we started to walk toward the gate when Henry decided he wanted to find a store to get snacks for the plane (I mean, he could have just asked the robot) and Chooch and I didn’t go with him because we ended up chasing an unknown celebrity instead!

“Hurry! We’re missing Fun Time” Chooch announced, and pointed ahead where a small group of people had gathered around some man in sunglasses. Chooch always spots these things first! If his current career path doesn’t pan out, he could probably get a job with TMZ.

Henry said, “It looks like Chanyeol,” right before he walked off in search of processed foods, except that he pronounced it like “Channel” and Chooch and I died of embarrassment. Anyway, it wasn’t Chanyeol because he’s from EXO and there would have been an entire security throng around him (though I did find out later that he was at the airport that day too!).

I immediately sent this to my pal Veronica because she is way more in the know than I am about Korean celebrities, but even she was stumped. I was searching the Incheon hashtag on Instagram and everything, to no avail. Finally, weeks later, Chooch posted it on some Asian entertainment reddit group and someone came through with the answer nearly at the same time my friend Jiyong texted me with his name too: Hwang Chiyeul!

I’m not very familiar with him, but he’s a singer and TV personality. We also saw him in ads the entire time we were in Korea!

Of course I’m obsessed with him now.

Meanwhile, it was nearly  time to board so we went to the gate but fucking Henry wasn’t there yet and time was ticking and people were boarding and we were getting more and more strung out and angry. Basically everything that Henry does makes us angry. And we couldn’t text the fucker because he had the wifi thingie. Then we had this great, short-lived dream of leaving without him until we realized that he had Chooch’s boarding pass and passport, lol.

Anyway, we eventually found the dumbass calmly meandering toward the gate with his bag of snacks in his meat-hand AND A LITERAL CAKE IN HIS MOUTH like he was headed to a big weeping willow in sleepy Savannah for a picnic and a nap, and were the last people to board, so that was cool.

Hopefully someday I will be able to take Jeju Air to Jeju Island!

And then, in around 2 and a half hours, we landed at Narita Airport, which was pretty surreal. BUT THAT’S A STORY FOR ANOTHER DAY. Probably tomorrow.

Sep 052019
 

After a sweaty day dripping perspiration around the streets of Insadong, we came back, freshened up, did a wardrobe change, and then set off for Digital Media City where we (just Chooch and me, Henry is lame) would be attending a live taping of a Kpop show! First, we had to have our traditional crack-up in the elevator though – we always played the “get on the elevator and leave Henry” game so that he would have to wait for another elevator and be all grumbly by the time he joined us outside.

It never got old!

(Well, it may have for Henry.)

Waiting outside for Henry — I hate when Chooch makes this face!!

Digital Media City is only one stop away from where we were staying in Hongdae, but we still left around 3:45 to ensure that we arrived at the SBS Prism building by 4:30, which was the designated check-in time.

A few months ago, we watched a video about this area of Seoul, and it’s literally built on top of a gigantic garbage dump that had, at one point, grown so large that it was 34x the size of the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt, the fuck….In 1996, Seoul launched stabilization projects to fix this and prevent further environmental contamination, and now this area is home to many broadcasting headquarters, housing, and beautiful parks!

The Prism building had a bunch of people waiting outside, but it was all of the locals who line up in hopes of getting to attend the shows.

So, each network has their own weekly Kpop shows, where the artists who are currently promoting new songs come out, perform their comeback or debut song, and then usually at the end, there is a voting system (they go by digital streams, album sales, online popularity voting…I’m 100% sure it’s rigged, but it’s still fun right?!), a winner is announced, no one is surprised, confetti pops off, the trophy is passed around by the winning group members and all of the other artists on stage bow respectfully to each other. Then the winning group does an impromptu, informal performance of their winning song which usually involves them fucking around with each other, doing weird dances, interacting with the crowd—it’s just fun to watch!

Every show will let in a certain number of fans, but most of them are first come, first serve, so people will literally start lining up at like 2am. I would have loved to attend Inkigayo because in my opinion, that’s the best one, but I’m on vacation, man. I’m not spending my limited free time in Korea sitting on the ground with a bunch of kids. No offense, kids or Korean ground!

Some shows have a lottery system, but you have to register on their website which is all in Korean and a lot of times you have to have a Korean phone number too, and again — it doesn’t guarantee that you’ll get in!

So when I saw that there is a special ticket just for foreigners to attend SBS MTV’s The Show, I was like, “Paid. Done.” This was literally right after we booked our flight in March! It was the very first thing we had our itinerary, lol.

It cost about $150 for the two of us, and I noticed that the prices went up as the date got closer, so I would encourage anyone who is interested in this to book it early! There are limited seats and the shows do sell out, so don’t wait until it’s only a week or two out, because you want to have a better idea of the artists that will be there that night!

For us, there weren’t any groups that we’re major stans of (except Pentagon), but the experience itself was still gold! Here was the lineup that was released earlier that morning:

Fun fact: I won a hi-touch for KNK at the first KCON I went to and I realize while typing this that it might as well be an trig equation for most of you reading this so I’ll break it down in non Kpop-speak: In 2017, I went to a Kpop festival in Newark and won a opportunity for what is called a “hi-touch” which basically means a Kpop group stands behind a table on a stage and fans are herded past in a single-file line and you get to quickly high five / hand touch each member. I know, right? You can read about my experience here!

It was starting to drizzle so we went inside the building. I was so nervous and I have NO IDEA why! Our spot inside the studio was secure, but my stomach was doing The Flops. Check out the older gentleman behind Chooch – he was totally there alone, and I thought it was awesome because kpop isn’t just for young girls and desperate old broads like me. There was even this totally metal dad there with his teenage daughter, and I mean METAL. He looked like someone in one of the Swedish metal bands my friend Alyson likes, though I think he may he may have been German?

I’m telling you, when you’re in Korea, whether you’re a Kpop junkie or not, I really feel like this is part of the experience.

At 4:30, four different tourism company representatives stood up with signs, and everyone had to line up behind the one they purchased their tickets from. Of course, the lady from Trazy, where we got ours, was barely holding up her sign so it cause confusion because what else is new?!

But it ended up being fine, because everyone received a number after checking in with her so we were able to go back and sit down until it was time to line up again.

Basically, it was a lot of waiting and standing in (dis)orderly lines.

We kind of befriended the young girl in front of us because she was just as nervous and confused as us. At one point, Chooch announced that it smelled like a shoe store in there, and she started giggling. “That’s so random!” she laughed.

Then she started talking to the girl next to her (again, the line was NOT straight), and that’s how I found out that she is only 16, from Spain, lives in Equador, but is currently studying in Korea, and the girl next to her is 23, from Australia and a student at one of the universities in Seoul.

It truly was a vast collection of foreigners up in there and it made me happy to see that we were all coming together for one shared love. While we were standing there, several of the groups walked by upstairs and everyone screamed. I had no idea who were clamoring over because I have the eyes of a 80-year-old who spends most of her life in a cave, but it was sure exciting!

I found out later that it was Limitless and CIX!

Finally, we were taken outside the lobby and into a side door, up several staircases, and down a hallway that just screamed, “YOU ARE BACKSTAGE.”

Oh yeah, Henry left after we taken into the studio. He had big plans to go to a grocery store but instead he just went back to the room because he’s a lamer.

Anyway, we weren’t allowed to take any pictures or video once the actual recording started, so I took this picture before it started, when it was still “legal,” and then I put my phone in my purse for the rest of the evening so I wouldn’t give the security any reason to believe I was being That American and have me ejected.

Seriously — I got kicked out of a Chinese restaurant once years and years ago because I was falsely accused of eating crab legs off the buffet without paying and I was like, “OK bitch, I’m a vegetarian?” but that didn’t matter and me and the dumb broad I was with were actually escorted out and it was so humiliating. And ever since,  I take great strides to make sure that I don’t get kicked out places.

#NeverForget #CharacterBuilding

In that picture above, you can see the small rectangular holding cell — that’s where the people who were picked from the crowd get to stand. Us foreigners got really nice, comfy stadium seating in the back, and the view was actually perfect.

Hang-y light things!

The show started promptly at 6pm and it was nuts to watch all the cameras swiveling and the different fan site representatives sitting a few rows in front of us, editing photos in Photoshop seconds after the pictures were taken. This shit is serious business.

The hosts of The Show are Yeeunfrom CLC and Jeno from NCT Dream, which I forgot about originally and when I saw all the girls with their NCT lightsticks, I was briefly hopeful that NCT Dream was going to be there since they currently were having a comeback.

Image result for yeeun and jeno the show 2019

They were standing SO CLOSE to our side of the seating too! Whenever they were MCing, they were facing us with their backs to the stage and it was fucking exciting, even though we had no idea what they were saying because in case you weren’t sure, subtitles don’t appear in real life.

Each artist performed one song, and they moved it along with razor-sharp precision. It was perfect for someone like Chooch who enjoys things like this….to a point. He does lose interest quickly, but this was fast-moving and fun and there was NO downtime, so he didn’t even have a chance to drift off.

We both really loved all of the performers, but my favorites were Dongkiz, VAV, CIX, Saturday, and Pentagon. However, since VAV, CIX and Pentagon were the three top groups that were competing for the trophy at the end, their performances were actually pre-recorded, so we only got to see about 1 minute of a live performance and then they would stop dancing, wave to the crowd and walk off the stage. KPOP SHOW SECRETS REVEALED! I knew that bigger groups, like BIGBANG and EXO for instance, typically pre-record their performances and I always wondered how that worked since they are always there at the end.

I don’t know. It’s still confusing to me.

Like, some of the groups performed two songs, but we only saw one because the second one was recorded earlier.

Here are the videos of my favorites from the night:

CIX: They were the winners of the night! They are a brand new group that recently debuted over the summer, featuring members of the defunct Wanna One (RIP) and some YG trainees. I think they’re going to go far! This song was stuck in my head for the rest of the time we were in Korea, and the dance IS SO GOOD.

Pentagon: I’m still bitter that E’Dawn isn’t with them anymore, but they never fail to make me smile. I was so happy to see them perform again after seeing them at KCON in 2018! If you don’t think this song is fun, then GTFO.

(J/K, you can stay the fuck here, I’m trying to be more inclusive LOLOL.)

Saturday: THIS SONG REMINDS ME OF THE STUFF THAT GOT ME INTO KPOP! The adorable, quirky, sugary girl group bops. The whole time I watched their performance, all I could think was, “This is peak Korea for me. It can’t get any more heavenly than this.”

(But then a few days later, it did.)

Dongkiz: I have never heard of these guys before this night and they’re not even really a rookie group anymore, but this performance won me over. They are so joyful! And the Ghostbusters sample! And the actual ghost mascot! And their cute dance moves! Chooch and I fell hard for them.

OK, honestly I could sit here all night posting videos and then it would eventually just be every single stage because they were all so entertaining! There wasn’t one group that made me go, “Eh, they’re not for me.” I enjoyed them all!

It was over around 7:30 and as we stood outside in the courtyard of the Prism building, texting Henry, two girls ran past us in a Big Hurry.

“Something’s going on!” Chooch yelled, peeling out of the lot in his Mystery Van.

We ran (crowd mentality) in the same direction, around to the other side of the building, and that’s where we saw some fansite paparazzi standing on actual ladders, taking pictures with their gigantic $878947293874 lens of the idols being interviewed inside the lobby.

I texted Henry and told him what was happening, and he eventually meandered over to us, because he had already returned to the Prism building – he must have missed us!

It was a good thing that we followed those girls, because even though we had to wait and be patient for about 45 minutes, some of the idols actually exited the building  right by where we were standing! (The path from the doors to the road were roped off and security was there, so we couldn’t stampede them, even though I’m sure if certain other groups were there that night, a dinky rope wasn’t going to stop anyone.)

It took us forever but I think we eventually decided that this was Dongkiz?! I don’t know enough about them to know for sure! It could be 1Team too.

But here is a collection of videos that Chooch snagged because let me tell you, that boy got caught up in the excitement and was acting like he STANNED every single one of these idols!

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Kpop idol sightings outside of The Show on 7/30. It was so much fun!

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The other group in the video is for sure VAV. And in the first Instagram video I posted earlier in this literal novella ends with CIX driving past and it is so cute (we actually figured out that they were leaving through a different door so we ran over to the other exit just in time to watch their car pulling away!).

You guys, this was exhilarating! I felt so legit! This was a bucket list item FOR SURE.

I wonder if Chooch will tell his kids about it someday…

…and I wonder how weird they will think it is…

Afterward, we went back to Hongdae. Chooch and Henry ate at Mom’s Touch but I was pouting because I wanted Isaac Toast but THEY WERE CLOSED. Like, since when does anything close at 9pm in Seoul.

Chooch was fucking exhausted, lol.

We watched some buskers on the way back to our room and then tortured Henry with Slaphappy Hour.

This was hands down the best birthday of my whole entire life—OK, tied with the one two years ago when I went to see G-Dragon in Toronto, was second row from the stage and got to be like FIVE FEET FROM HIM during his performance of “Untitled.” That too was a pretty fucking bar-raising birthday.

NOW WHAT WILL I DO FOR MY FIFTIETH?!