Friday, March 7, 2014

Living in Asia: Ranking My Experiences

Having lived in Asia for a year and seen so many things in multiple countries, I thought I'd count down my Top 20 favorite and/or most memorable things I've seen or done while here over the last year, as well as my 10 least favorite.

Top 20 Best and/or Most Memorable Events

This was a tough list to put together. First, it's hard to distinguish between best and memorable. Or good memorable and bad memorable. But what if it's good memorable because something bad happened that made it more fascinating? Like I said, it's tricky. So when I put this list together, I tried to include things I see only as positive experiences. These are the things I definitely would not want to change having experienced, and I ordered each by how much I loved it at the time mixed with how well I still remember it. I also actually had a list of things close to 50 when I started. So much has happened over the last year, it was hard narrowing it down to just 20. But I did, so here we go.

20) Beijing Acrobatics Show

Beijing was a mixed bag of a trip for me, but there were two things that really made the trip for me. This was one of them, and it was a perfect way to end the short vacation. I placed it this low on the list because, honestly, I find it a bit hard to remember much of the show when I try to think back to it. But I do remember how incredibly fun and entertaining it was, and I would recommend anyone in Beijing to check it out.

19) Gyeongbokgung & the Seoul Palaces

I saw some of these palaces with Tim and Naomi early on, and then some of them again when my parents came to visit. They're definitely cool places. Not really the coolest palaces and temples I've been to in the last year, but they're still nice... especially the ones that are more green and garden-like than just the dirt-filled, open courtyard lots.

18) Round Trip to Nowhere

This one really walks that fine line between good and bad. I see it as a good day because everything went wrong. It was very early in my time in Korea, and I discovered the Golden Day was coming up, and we had a long weekend. I searched for stuff to do and found that a number of people go to Bongamsa Temple, which opens its doors to outsiders only on the Golden Day every year. Unfortunately, my bus got caught in traffic and it took about three times as long to actually get to the place that would take me to the temple. By the time I got there, I wouldn't have been able to grab a bus back and would be stuck in that place. So I was stuck in a little town and no idea what to do. Fortunately, I had recently sat down and learned to read Korean, which helped me figure everything out. I ended up just going back to the bus terminal and heading back to Seoul. It was a day-long event that allowed me to see a lot of the Korean countryside, though not much else. Still, for such an early experience in my time here, it's hard to forget.

17) Hantan River Rafting

I'd never been white water rafting before this, but I can't really say it was all that much white water. With a couple exceptions, it was no real different to tubing down the Frio River in Texas. But it was still a really fun experience and a memorable day.

16) Nakano Broadway Mall

This was everything I wanted Akihabara in Tokyo to be. In fact, many are calling it the New Akihabara, and it's filled with so many fun nerdy and otaku things. I'm still mildly disappointed in a couple drawings I didn't buy, but it turned out to be for the better. Had I bought them, I wouldn't have had enough money left for my final night/day in Tokyo... where I desperately needed it.

15) The Ballerina Who Loved a B-Boy

This show was great fun. It wasn't the best story-wise, but the dancing and entertainment factor was way up there. And it turns out we ended up going to one of the last shows of its rotation (I haven't seen it as available since). And this was just the start of a year filled with some incredibly entertaining stage shows.

14) 2 Months of Muay Thai

This seems like a lifetime ago. There was a time, 2 months in fact, where I went to a gym in Seoul every Saturday for a Muay Thai class. It was a solid workout and could even be fun at times. But then I started getting sick--cold, then earache, then Bells Palsy, etc. I kept having to put off going until it got to the point I just stopped going. My contract was only for 2 months with the gym, so it wore off at the start of my illnesses, which just led to further excuses not to go. On top of that, it was starting to become less fun, and I was getting burned out on it.

13) The DMZ/JSA

When my parents visited late last year, I finally made my trip to the DMZ and JSA... a spot anyone who comes to Korea must see. And it was definitely interesting, even if it was raining most of the time. 

12) Train Ride - Death Railway

This one was pretty cool in and of itself, what with going over the Bridge on the River Kwai and then seeing a bunch of cool scenery. But what made this really memorable was the fact the train actually broke down near the end, and we all had to leave the train and walk to the road to get picked up by our driver. But I consider that a positive experience, as it made something that was already pretty cool even more memorable and unique.

11) Siam Niramit

Hands down the most intricate and mind-blowing stage show I've seen thus far. Saw this one on my birthday in Thailand. And even if it wasn't the most fun show (which would have been in DisneySea)--and don't get me wrong... it was fun, but in a different way--it was easily the most fascinating and intricate.

10) Yeouido Park & the Han River

This one is on the list, and this high up, for more sentimental reasons. It was one of the first big trips into Seoul I had with Tim, Naomi, and Kira (and Kira's friend Hyein, who has since moved to the US for studies, I believe). And the end of the day brought us through Yeouido Park on a hillside spot next to the Han River (and right across the spot from an island that is central to a film I had recently seen). And it resulted in one of my favorite group pictures (that I'm not in).

9) Everland

So the rides were nothing to scream about, but this makes it so high on the list for two reasons. First, it was just a really fun day out with Tim, Naomi, and Kira. Second... the haunted house. That place was simultaneously terrifying and a blast. If you're ever in Everland, you must check out the haunted house. It's a little extra money, but it's worth it.

8) Ueno Zoo

The coolest zoo I've ever been to. They had everything, and not to mention the place was enormous. I was there for hours, and I loved every minute of it.

7) MaiDreamin Maid Cafe

The second most embarrassing thing to happen to me in the last year, except this one was planned. I knew I couldn't go to Tokyo and not visit a Maid Cafe. It was silly, and I certainly don't have the personality to soak that kind of experience up... but it was definitely memorable. And the food wasn't bad, either.

6) Angkor Wat & the Cambodian Temples

I saw about a bajillion temples over the last year, but these Khmer temples were easily the coolest and most fascinating. Angkor Wat, Ta Prohm, Beng Mealea... those three being at the top of the list. But they were all pretty cool, and seeing Angkor Wat at sunrise was worth getting up early to do.

5) Tiger Temple

I touched some tigers. 'Nuff Said.

4) Tonle Sap Lake & Floating Village

A really fascinating boat trip to see how these local fishermen and their families live. The stilt houses were really interesting and seeing everyone at work was cool, even if it gave off a mildly weird vibe that you were going through a human zoo.

3) Mt. Fuji - The Sunrise

Yes, specifically the sunrise. I'll get to the other part later, don't you worry. This was just a beautiful thing to see, and yes... it was worth it.

2) Tokyo DisneySea

Easily the most fun I've had all year. But how can you not love going to a Disney park? (Even if it's not technically Disney themed.) I had a blast on this day, and it just made me want to go to Disney World in Florida again... and soon. And with family, because going to Disney alone so isn't as fun.

1) The Great Wall of China

Um... it's the Great Wall of China. Or, as one of my co-teachers said... it's just a wall. But yeah, seriously... this was a cool day.

Bottom 10 Worst and/or Most Aggravating Experiences

On the other hand, I actually barely reached 10 on this list. I really haven't had too many major things go all that wrong while here, even though it might seem I have due to constant bad luck. Honestly, it's not really until the Top 5 that things get actually bad. So let's take a look.

Runner-Up: Not getting into the Ghibli Museum

I don't count this because it's not something I did, but rather something I didn't do. I was excited to go only to find out it was completely sold out. Oh well.

10) Beijing Night Market

I went to go see the bugs and stuff, which I did end up seeing... and one guy desperately tried to make me eat a tarantula and got angry when I refused. What made it worse, though, was I tried at least 2-3 different types of food here (desserts, fruits, etc.) and all of them were disgusting. I think I only finished one, and that one was basically like a dry pastry dough--not inedible, but not special. And then right after, my friend and I could not, for the life of us, get a taxi to get back to our hotel. It was a night of bad food followed by a really frustrating journey.

9) Akihabara

This wasn't bad... just incredibly disappointing. This was really at the top of the list of things I was looking forward to in Tokyo. I'd heard so much about it for like a decade of otaku obsessions... and I was so let down. It just wasn't all that interesting. The shops were nothing special. The arcades were OK, but not wow. And to top it all off, it was raining the entire time I was there. I suppose that's why I loved Nakano Broadway Mall as much as I did... it was everything I had hoped Akihabara would be.

8) Beijing Hotel

Let me clarify first: The hotel itself was perfectly suitable. The location, however, was atrocious. I had an easier time getting to my guest house in Bangkok, and that was down an alley that was down another alley. Nobody had ever heard of this place or knew how to get to it. Going anywhere was a nightmare because you never knew how fast you'd be able to get back. Even the tour guides made it all complicated because it was never clear whether they'd meet us at our hotel or a much bigger one off the main road. Again, the place itself was fine... but man, that location.

7) Lost in Shinjuku

This one borders on hilarious when I look back at it. Everyone, including the Japanese themselves, get lost in the massive Shinjuku Station. But I'm not talking about the Station. I'm talking about the district itself. Every... Single... Time... I left that Station, it would take me roughly an hour to find my way back to my hotel. And I'd end up taking a different route every single time and have no idea how I kept accomplishing that. It finally took me up until the last day or so in Tokyo to realize what I was doing wrong and how to get back to the hotel properly within about 10 minutes. But still, I wandered around Shinjuku like an idiot for hours on end during that trip, and it was pretty frustrating.

6) Beijing Rip Offs

If there's one thing that would make me not want to go back to China, it's this. Of course, I was not used to the art of bargaining when I went, nor was I aware I had to at first. I'm also not an incredibly assertive person, making bargaining really uncomfortable for me. So that meant every single person in Beijing tried to rip me off on everything, and I basically did get ripped off on everything I bought. One lady even told a guy I was touring with (who could speak Chinese) that she was trying to rip me off. And the one time I did bargain and got the price down to a suitable amount, the lady took my money and didn't give my change--ripping me off anyway. In other words... not a fan of the bargaining culture, which I experienced again a little in both Cambodia and Thailand, but not to the aggravating degree of Beijing.

5) 24 Hours Home - Thailand to Korea

The most recent of my dilemmas. Driving 3.5 hours from Kanchanaburi to the Beijing airport. Waiting in the airport for 6 of the most boring hours ever just to check in and then wait another 3 for the flight. Then another 3 to get to my transfer in Macau so I could wait another 3 hours for my second flight. And that was another 3-4 hours to get to Seoul. And then another 4 hours to get from the plane back to my apartment in Gunpo. And all of that after an excruciatingly hot day of hiking and sweating. Man, that was a long day.

4) The Dark Ages

And the earliest thing on this list... the first month in Korea. As you might could tell from the previous entry, I don't do terribly well with boredom. The first month in Korea served up a lack of basically everything technological (at least for a good 2-3 weeks when I finally got the proper cables for my PS3). Total first world problems but having practically nothing to do for an entire month gets to you after a while. Thankfully, I barely remember what that was like now.

3) Locked Out

And here's the most embarrassing thing to happen to me in the last year, also quite recent. The night I went to take some trash downstairs and forgot the passcode to my door. I was locked out all night in freezing cold weather (and snow!) without proper clothing, barely any money, and no phone. And I ended up having to stay in the hotel my parents stayed at in Geumjeong when they visited.

2) The Medical Problems

I think I came to know the Sanbon Hospital almost as intimately as I know my school. Colds. Earaches. Bells Palsy. Inflamed Knee. Kidney Stones. I think I pretty much ran the gamut during my tenure here. The short version... my body hates me, and it decided to hate me most when I came to live alone in a country where I don't speak the language. If for no other reason, this is the one thing that makes me want to get back to the US... so if anything does go wrong again, I'm at least somewhere I can deal with it with family and in English.

1) Mt. Fuji - The Climb

This now-legendary adventure almost borders the line between good memorable and bad memorable. But I put it here because, despite the outcome, I was genuinely fearing for my life on this night. The actual climb up Mt. Fuji was literally the most exhausting--physically, mentally, and emotionally--thing I've done thus far in my life. I think one day, if I'm ever in better shape, I will attempt this again and hope to conquer it. It also didn't help that I spent the last of my money getting shelter for the night and had to pull out a miracle to pay for the bus to get back to Tokyo for my flight back to Korea. Though while it might be at the top of the worst list, I also want to say it's probably the single most memorable thing I've done in the last year. For good or bad, I'll never forget that night.

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