Monday, January 27, 2014

yatai in fukuoka

Our day in Fukuoka was spent shopping in Canal City Mall and eating at yatai, open air food stalls. Yatai are scattered around the city but behind Canal City there is a long strip of 20 yatai located next to a cute river. We got lost trying to find the yatai because we had left Canal City to try to explore the city, which didn't really happen - darn laziness!

yatai located near the river
a typical yatai menu
Most of the stalls didn't seem to speak any English but thankfully I had Alanna so she could read the menu. The famous local dish here is Hakata Ramen, thin ramen noodles in pork bone soup (tonkotsu) which is what we ordered - so freaking delicious! Love the thin noodles and the tonkotsu broth was so yummy!

small food stall but so clean
hakata ramen

The Details
Hours: 6pm -2am
Access: From Hakata Station or Tenjin Station you can take the 100 yen loop bus, a bus comes every 5-10 minutes. The closest subway stations are Nakasu Kawabata Station and Minami Tenjin Station, which are both about a 10 minute walk away. 

Canal City
Hours: 10am-9pm (restaurants close at 11pm)
Access: From Hakata Station or Tenjin Station you can take the 100 yen loop bus, a bus comes every 5-10 minutes. Can also walk there from both these stations 15 and 20 minutes respectively.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

a day in nagasaki

After Chinatown, we headed over to the Nagasaki Peace Park to check out the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum. The museum contained a lot of information about atomic bombs and the events that led up to the drop. However, I prefer the Hiroshima Atomic Bomb Museum more because it contained a lot more personal stories about the people who suffered through the bombing.

The pictures as always were the most horrific. There were a lot of pictures of charred bodies and of victims with diseases stemming from the atomic radiation. Seeing the pictures made this tragedy more real because you could see the lives it affected rather than just statistics or facts in a history book.

After the museum, Alanna had to go back to the hostel to do homework so I went and explored Nagasaki by myself. Next stop on my list was Dejima, a man made island in the port of Nagasaki. During Japan's self-imposed isolation, Dejima was the only place open to trade. The island served as a trading post for the Dutch, the only Western nationals allowed to remain in Japan. The Dutch weren't allowed to cross into Nagasaki and likewise Japanese people were also banned from entering Dejima except for certain exceptions like interpreters, cooks, and prostitutes.

a model of Dejima

Since Nagasaki was a big port city it has a lot of foreign influences. It was interesting to see how different the architecture was in this city compared to other Japanese cities. The Higashiyamate Area became a foreign settlement with lots of Western style houses that still exist today.

It was interesting to just walk around the backstreets and check out the views of the city and all the old buildings. Last stop was to check out the Meganebashi or the Spectacles Bridge which is over the Nakajima River. I went out of my way to see this but if you don't have time I wouldn't recommend it unless seeing bridges and rivers are your thing.

all the lanterns for the festival made this really pretty
Met back up with Alanna to grab some dinner and after a failed attempt at eating a restaurant recommended by our hostel because it was already closed, we went to grab some Turkish Rice at Tsuruchan, the restaurant that claims to have invented this dish. Turkish Rice consists of a pork cutlet with curry over a bed of rice and pasta.

turkish rice - 850 yen
The curry was good but it was a weird mix to eat it with spaghetti that had its own sauce. The pork was also a little tough. This dish didn't blow me out of the water - I wouldn't go eat it again. Afterwards for dessert we had a Nagasaki Milkshake which was more like a sherbet that tasted like an orange cream-sicle but better.

nagasaki milkshake half size 350 yen (we each got one but one is enough to share)

The Details
Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum
Hours: 8:30am-5:30pm (last admission at 5pm) Closed: Dec 29-31
Admission: 200 yen
Access: A short walk from Hamaguchimachi or Matsuyamamachi Tram Stops - Blue (1) and Red Tram (3) Lines

Hours: 8am-6pm (last admission at 5:40pm)
Admission: 500 yen
Access: Dejima Tram Stop - Blue (1) Tram Line

Access: A short walk from Nigiwaibashi Tram Stop - Yellow (4) and Green (5) Tram Lines

2-47 Aburaya-machi 
Hours: 9am-10pm
Telephone Number: 095-845-8337
Access: Shianbashi Tram Stop - Blue (1) and Yellow (4) Tram Lines
Once you get off at the tram stop walk towards the busy market street or towards the Family Mart. At the intersection there will be a busy street with stalls on your right hand side. The left hand side is more quite compared to the right, head up towards the quieter street and Tsuruchan will on your left hand side.

nagasaki chinatown

Peach was having a sale and we managed to get round trip tickets from Osaka to Fukuoka for less than $80! Fukuoka is located on Kyushu, one of the four main islands, of Japan. My goal is to be able to visit all four! Our flight was super early in the morning so we did an all night karaoke session in Osaka with our friends from Kobe. Had so much fun singing Disney songs and dancing! We were so into our singing we almost missed our train and had to run fast in the airport. Hate hate hate running!

Piece of advice if you ever use Peach and you're not one of the first people to check in and get a seat in the front then I say get on the plane last. Peach fills their seats according to check in time and so all the seats in the front are packed but if there are empty seats they will all be in the back. If you get on last or towards the end you can choose your seat and maybe get a whole row to yourself. However once you sit down you cannot change seats so say you sit down in your assigned seat and want to move to an empty seat behind you, they will not allow that to happen!

Our plan was to catch a bus straight from Fukuoka Airport to Nagasaki, spend a day there and then the second day will be spent in Fukuoka. Our first stop was Shinchi Chinatown, the oldest of the three Chinatowns in Japan, to grab some lunch. This Chinatown was actually quite disappointing in comparison to Kobe, consisting mainly of pricey restaurants. Next weekend was the beginning of the Nagasaki Lantern Festival so there were lanterns everywhere!

the traditional chinese whale lantern
what happened to the dragon?? alanna (rabbit year) kicked its butt!
Nagasaki's Chinatown is known for its two famous dishes champon and sara udon which are inspired by Chinese dishes. Champon is the noodle dish with liquid and sara udon has crispy noodles. The taste of these two dishes taste like a wetter version of chow mein. I would get the sara udon again but not the champon.

800 yen each for the sara udon and the champon - pricey!
The Details
Bus from Fukuoka to Nagasaki
One way: 2570 yen &  Round trip: 4630 (updated for April 2014 tax increase)
bus website (japanese only - insert into google translate)

bus schedule from fukuoka airport
bus stops and prices - prices not updated for april 2014 tax increase
Shinchi Chinatown
Access: Tsuki-Machi (Stop 31) - Tram Lines Blue and Green
Tram Fee: 120 yen one way or 500 yen for a day pass
tram map

Hostel - Casa Noda
Very close to train and bus stations and near a tram stop!
Best thing is if you reserve via their website they don't ask for a credit card so no deposits, down payments or any penalty if you can't make it!
Dorm: 2470 yen a bed

Thursday, January 2, 2014

games, food and rude

Located on the grounds of Gyeongbokgung is the National Folk Museum of Korea. I had a chance to visit the museum on my last trip to Korea and really liked it because it depicted the daily lives of Korean people. This is the kind of museum that I like! My siblings had no interest in checking out the museum but we did wander around the open-air exhibition containing old buildings that depicted traditional rural life.

On the grounds one can also play some traditional Korean games. We played a game called Tuho, a game popular with royal families and high class people. The goal of this game is to throw an arrow into the jar.

After trying for a long ass time, my brother finally managed to get his arrow into the metal loop which holds the arrows when not in use. We counted that as a victory but it should really only count when it goes into the jar. It took me so long but I finally got one in after both my sister and brother got several points...

Afterwards we headed over to Namdaemun Market, the largest traditional market in Korea, to grab some food and to do some shopping!

clockwise 1. red velvet donut 2. hotteok 3. lemon and lime mentos 4. garlic butter pringles and garlic chips
Hotteok is a Korean pancake filled with cinnamon and sugar and cooked on a grill. Unfortunately mine also contained peanuts so if you're allergic to peanuts then I wouldn't suggest buying them at the street vendors unless you can speak or read Korean. Both these garlic flavored chips were gross - don't waste your money! So disappointed that Korea could ruin garlic flavored chips - how can garlic chips not have any garlicky flavor and the bagged one was kind of sweet...yuck! Pringles in Korea are unique in that they are smaller and thicker than the ones I've seen elsewhere in the world.

I don't know if I just didn't realize it before but during this trip we got treated so badly by people here. While at Nandemum Market, my brother was looking at some socks that were buy 10 and get it for a discounted price per pair of socks. Well my brother was looking through the socks and had chosen five pairs and was digging through the cart to see what other designs they had when the seller told him to stop and just sold him the five pairs of socks for the discounted price and told him to leave! I guess the seller was so frustrated with my bro looking through the socks and supposedly "messing up" his pile that he would rather make less just to get rid of us... Freaking outrageous! This happened again at Dongdaemun Market where the vendors would yell at us for browsing through their clothes and messing up the alignment of the hangers. I would literally just flip through some clothes without disturbing any of them and the workers would hustle in right after me and start straightening and putting hangers back into alignment like I had just shoved everything every which way! Ugh not sure if I have been sensitized to this kind of rude behavior after only getting courtesy and respectfulness while living in Japan but all these interactions killed any mood we had for shopping. I knew for sure I didn't get this kind of treatment when I was shopping in Dongdaemun with my friends last time I was in Korea. I wonder if it had anything to do with the fact that we were all speaking Cantonese...

The Details
National Folk Museum
Hours: March - May, September - October: 09:00 - 18:00
            June - August: 09:00 - 18:30
            November - February: 09:00 - 17:00
            Saturdays & Sundays, holidays : 09:00 - 19:00
Closed: every Tuesday and New Year's Day
last admission is an hour before closing
Admission Fee: Free
Access: To get there, take subway line 3 to Gyeongbokgung Palace station, exit #5, or to Anguk station, exit #1. If you are taking subway line 5, then get off at Gwanghwamun station and come out of exit #2.

Namdaemun Market
Access: Seoul Subway Line 4 - Hoehyeon Station Exit 5
map of market

Dongdaemun Market
Access: Seoul Subway Line 2 - Dongdaemun Stadium Station, or Line 1 or 4 - Dongdaemun Station

fam bam in korea - gyeongbokgung

The first thing we ate when we arrived in Korea was unfortunately not barbeque but food from the convenience store and fried chicken. The only restaurants opened so late at night were fried chicken restaurants. I've had enough of Korean Fried Chicken - I swear that's the only thing I ever eat here in Korea. The chicken was so spicy that none of my family could really eat it and of course they had ordered a huge ass box of it. Haha.

We stayed at an airbnb apartment that had those famous Korean heated floors! After a late start to the day I brought the family to the grandest and probably the most beautiful of the five palaces in Seoul,
Gyeongbokgung or Palace Greatly Blessed by Heaven. My family isn't into cultural things so I basically had to choose one thing to show them. I had a hidden motive in bringing them to this palace because I didn't get a chance to see its entirety when I was here last time. Hehe

We took this picture right in the courtyard right in front of the main throne hall, Geunjeongjeon. After this picture Mal will disappear from all other pictures because she stayed behind in this area to rest. Luckily we ran into an English tour that had just started so I was all for joining them and listening to the interesting stories about the place. I highly recommend visiting the palaces during tour times because you get a lot of facts and anecdotes that aren't mentioned in the paid guidebook.

In Geunjeongjeon, the main throne hall, there sits a folding screen with the sun, the moon and five peaks. The sun symbolizes the king, the moon the queen and the five peaks a mythical place. This irworobongdo, folding screen, always sat behind the royal throne and served to show the majesty of the Joseon royal court.

Also located in the throne hall is the famed seven clawed dragon. Did you know that Japanese, Chinese and Korean dragons have different number of claws? Chinese dragons had the most claws at five but these were reserved for the Chinese Imperial Family. To have a seven clawed dragon built in the rafters of the throne room implied superiority over China's five clawed dragon. However this dragon isn't out in the open and cannot be seen from the front entrance but only from the side ones, implying that although ancient Koreans realized it as more superior they also knew it would be offensive to the Chinese Imperial Court.

the fam bam minus mal in front of the gyeonghoeru pavilion
The founders of the Joseon Kingdom were devoted Confucians that believed that record keeping kept the living to adhere to good principals in order to keep their legacy unmarred. This especially applied to the kings of Korea who had scribes that followed and recorded their every movement. By law the kings couldn't tamper with their writings or with the scribes. The tour guide told a story about how a king fell off his horse and embarrassed that it would be recorded in the Sillok, the record of the history of the Joseon Dynasty, the king asked the scribe not to document the fall. The scribe wrote down both the fall and the king's request and it lives to this day in the Sillok. Another interesting tidbit the tour guide told us involved how the king could only visit the queen on auspicious days to ensure that a great prince would be born. Sometimes a king would have to wait a looonnngg time before they could visit their queen and finally when such a day finally rolled around, this one king was denied his chance due to the rain, which was seen as a bad omen. Haha dang what bad luck!

If you look on top of certain buildings, you'll notice these figurines which actually come from the story Journeys to the West (aka The Monkey King). The more figures a building had the more important the building was. I love Journey to the West so it was cool that I was able to recognize this before the tour guide told us about it! I really enjoyed following the tour but we slowly lost members of the family as we went. In the end only Evo, Edmund and I made it!

The Details
22, Sajik-ro 9-gil, Jongno-gu, Seoul
Access: Gyeongbokgung Palace Station (Seoul Subway Line 3), Exit 5 or
             Gwanghwamun Station (Seoul Subway Line 5), Exit 2
Hours:  January-February, November-December: 09:00-17:00
             March-May, September-October: 09:00-18:00
             June-August: 9:00am-6:30pm
             Last admission: 1 hr before closing
             Closed on Tuesdays
Admission Fee: Adults - 3000 won ($3) Children - 1500 won ($1.5); guide book - 500 won
Integrated Ticket of Palaces - 10,000 won includes entrance to the four palaces and Jongmyo Shrine
Tours depart in front of the Information Center at Heungnyemun Gate (흥례문).
Duration: 1hr - 1hr, 30min
Tour Schedule:
            English: 11:00, 13:30, 15:30
            Japanese: 10:00, 12:30, 14:30
            Chinese: 10:30, 13:00, 15:00