Self-Explanatory Trails

Hong Kong - Dragon's Back

Hong Kong - Dragon's Back

Need I say more? We hiked the Dragon’s Back.

Hong Kong - Dragon's Back hike

Hong Kong - Dragon's Back flower

Hong Kong - Big Wave Bay

Then came down and hung out at Big Wave Bay, though it turned out to be a small wave day.

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High Contrast

Hong Kong - street

In more regards than the intensity of sunlight, Hong Kong is a city of such contrast.

I started my day riding the ding ding tram through dizzyingly stacked streets, walkways atop walkways, so many people rushing along multiple planes of existence. It’s like you’re in a real-life Escher.

Hong Kong - Peak tram

I jostled with tourists elbow to elbow, waiting nearly an hour to take the Peak Tram.

Hong Kong - Peak hike lush green

But I walked down alone, passing exactly three people on an hour-long hike in intense heat.

Hong Kong - Peak hike flower

Suddenly, solitude.

Hong Kong - Harbour

Hong Kong - Harbour sunset

Skyline blending with the mountain ridge.

Hong Kong - Harbour night

The city is nestled against nature; the skyscraper lights mirrored in the harbor.

In Hong Kong, you can experience touristy road rage and serene nature walks, ferry rides across the harbor or careening down crowded streets, oppressive daytime heat and nonstop nightlife, all in a day.

What a beautiful city.

What I Learned in Busan

Busan - koi

South Korea is such a small country that Busan, the southeastern tip of the peninsula, is just a 3-hour train ride away from Seoul. After a week in Seoul, I loved how placid the pace of life felt in Busan. It probably felt especially so because I had gone down to spend time with my grandmother, though the few hours we had together weren’t enough. I left wishing I’d been able to see her more often while growing up; or could at least take a 3-hour train ride rather than an 11-hour flight to see her every so often.

It’s such a wide world, and the US alone is such a huge country that I only see my parents once a year. This has become the norm for me and is also often the case among my peers, as we move to cities like New York and San Francisco to pursue career opportunities far from home. I haven’t been home for Thanksgiving or celebrated my birthday with family in years; instead, my friends become my family for “orphan Thanksgiving” dinners and birthday celebrations. I’ve even spent several Christmases away from home. It’s just part of life, right?

Busan - halmuni

The first time I ever realized that this might not be normal as compared to other societies was while I was living in London. The town completely clears out for Christmas; even the tube stops running because everyone leaves the city to go home and spend the holidays with family. That the tube would stop running seemed completely off the rails (no pun intended) until it struck me: the UK is small enough that ‘home’ is usually within 2-3 hours by train. Korea is similar; the majority of the population lives in the greater metropolitan area near Seoul, within an hour’s ride on a very well networked public transportation system. Whereas for me, seeing my parents requires a full-day ordeal that costs at least $500 round-trip.

But with technology, there are few excuses. I can Skype call my grandmother once a month for just a few cents, cheaper than what I had to pay to call from a payphone in Seoul. I can video chat with my parents, and prioritize taking trips home when possible. I just need to make the time and effort.

A truly rudimentary life lesson learned: Family is important. And my priorities are up to me; I can’t blame work, or a hectic pace of life, or anyone or anything, but myself.

Also, teleportation needs to be a real thing.

Busan - Mountain walk

Busan - Buddhist temple

Busan - drinking well

Busan - flowers

I remember seeing these flowers for the first time at the SF Botanic Garden. Here they are, growing in the ‘wild’ on a street side in Busan!

Busan - mountain view

Busan - public art

Busan - public art

Seoul, Vignettes

Korea - Namsan Tower
The Instagrammable view of Namsan Tower from my hotel window.
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A rare quiet moment in this can’t-stop won’t-stop nonstop city. This cafe didn’t even open until 10, but the staff let me eat and sit here as early as 8.30. 감사합니다! <3
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View of Kyungbok Palace and the Blue House. Seeing the touristy things from windows was as close as I got on this trip. Such is the nature of work trips, but luckily I’d already done the touristy things on prior trips to Korea.
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An elaborate, non-Korean tea ceremony hosted by a tea aficionado, collector and gallery owner. He proudly showed off his Chinese teas from the 1960s with iconic illustrations from the Cultural Revolution.
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The hustle and bustle of Myeongdong.
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Street performers and viewers viewing through their devices.
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I don’t know what this store actually sells, but I love the decor.
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Myeongdong comes alive at night. The lights become garishly bright; street vendors set up their tchotchkes, food stands emanate the steam of various latenight snacks. Sensory overload, to the max.
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Celebrating my aunt’s birthday. A special moment and truly rare treat, since I so rarely get to see my relatives.
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Herro, pup! The cutest.
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I’m missing my relatives already, this lil mascot included!

The Most Nomderful Place in the World

This face explains how I felt the entire time I was in Korea:

Korea - Food face

Because this is what was laid before me:

Korea - Hanshik food
A traditional Korea spread… for five people.

Korea - Hanshik noms

I requested that we eat traditional Korean style, little imagining that I’d be treated to this elaborate hanshik spread.

The restaurant has quite an efficient system: the dishes are preset on a table top, which is wheeled out on a cart and slides onto the table itself. Voila! All the food your heart could ever desire.

Korea - Myeongdong Yoogane
The noms that greeted my arrival.

My aunt and cousin picked me up at the airport and brought me straight here, to a place called Yoogane that is famous for the incredible marinade they use for chicken galbi. It’s spicy, and sweet, and tangy, and delightful in every possible way. We also added cheese ddukbokki — rice cakes stuffed with cheese!!!! — which was pan fried to melty perfection on the hot plate on our table.

I ate a lot of good food while I was in Korea, and even if this wasn’t the most glam, I think it was my favorite. Seriously. So good.

Nommiest dessert.
Nommiest dessert.

Second favorite: Injeolmi bingsoo! Injeolmi is my favorite Korean dessert. It’s a chewy rice cake completely coated in powdered dried soybeans. The resulting texture and flavor is the sweetest of savory-sweet spots. I think the closest comparison might be the best chewy peanut butter cookie you’ve ever had.

When I read in The Chronicles of Narnia of how Edmund gets enticed by Turkish delights, I always thought of injeolmi. Because for injeolmi, I would, ahem, might sell out my kinfolk too. When I tasted an actual Turkish delight for the first time, I was sorely disappointed. Injeolmi is oodles better.

Injeolmi bingsoo is the ingenious creation of Sulbing, which takes the traditional bingsoo dessert and gives it a twist for the refined palate. Instead of topping shaved ice with fruit, red bean, and other tart, sweet or crunchy flavors and textures, Sulbing cuts up injeolmi into small pieces and douses the refreshing shaved ice with the rice cake & nutty powder. Mmmmm~

Korea - convenience store ramen
Instant nom-en.

Koreans say they feel like they haven’t really eaten until they’ve eaten Korean food. This was never truer than when my cousin and I stuffed ourselves on American-style brunch, and she insisted on eating cup ramen afterwards. So, thanks to my cousin’s indomitable cravings, I had my first-ever convenience store cup ramen experience, which I’ve always seen in the dramas.

Korea - convenience store ramen
Korean drama style.

Gah, my mouth is watering writing this post. I want to eat all the things.

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Including this Green Tea Tower bingsoo at Caffe Bene.

Korea - affogato
Obviously not a Korean dessert, but so tasty and aesthetically pleasing. Affogato noms.

Good thing I told myself not to worry about weight gain while in Korea. Because it definitely happened, nom nom nom :)

The Sad Side of Seoul

I’ve been in Korea for a week and a half, and it’s been a wonderful time. On the work side, learned a ton about civil society in Korea; personally, caught up with tons of relatives; gastronomically, ate my heart out.

But the sad side? The subway cars, as well as the stations in Gangnam / Apgujung, are plastered with ads for plastic surgery clinics. Today, I overheard girls commenting on how much prettier the person in an ad had become, before-and-after.

Photo cred: The Whelming

What really gets me is that it starts so, so young in the culture. Ten years ago, I was at a daycare center run by a pastor’s wife who played with a sweet baby, saying, “You’ve got such a cute personality! When you grow up, all you need is a little plastic surgery to be pretty.”

And in that vein, I saw an ad today that translates as follows:

‘Mom! They say that you get pretty when you grow up… Where do I need to grow up to become pretty?’

Let’s go.

Propose Plastic Surgery

It breaks my heart.