Taipei in Photos (Day 2)

Following a jam-packed first day in Taipei and a long night’s sleep, I was ready to go for another grueling day eating the best street food and seeing the best sites Taiwan had to offer. It’s a good thing, too, because this day was even more grueling than the first day. First up on the schedule was a rendezvous with one of my friends from college, both in Japan and the United States. David and I were off to Taipei Station. Stepping into the main atrium at the station, I felt like I was back in Japan, with high ceilings and shops in every corner at the station.

Taipei Station

Once we arrived, we found Karina in a Taiwan-style restaurant and recounted and rehashed our stores from college and talked about what we have been doing since we last saw ourselves in Philadelphia nearly two years ago. I often echo this sentiment on many of my posts on here, but I am always grateful when I meet my friends from college at different locales in Asia. Many people lose touch with their friends from college, but I am very fortunate to have been able to keep in touch with so many people given how busy all of us are.

After downing some delicious fried pork, some noodles, and some other Taiwanese delicacies, we were off to our first stop of the day, Freedom Plaza.

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After a short trip on Taipei’s subway system, dubbed the MRT, we were greeted by the sweltering humidity that had built as the day progressed. A quick stroll and turn to the right led us through the gates in this photo and into Freedom Plaza. I was very impressed with the size of the plaza in the middle of a bustling metropolis like Taipei. Traditional buildings flanked the plaza, with its focus on the Taiwanese national flag situated in the middle of the plaza. We were on our way to see the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall at the other end of the plaza. As soon as I saw it, images of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., filled my mind. The similarities between the two memorials are striking: a hike up several levels of white stairs led into a large, high-ceilinged rom with one main focus: a gargantuan statue of a national leader. Once you first see the statue, it would be almost impossible not to think about the Lincoln Memorial. While the materials are different, the exuding feeling is similar. The statue of Chiang Kaishek dominates the massive room.

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Following some perusing in the museum area of the memorial, we returned to the statue area to watch the changing of the guard ceremony. That, too, was exciting and very interesting to watch.

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Once the ceremony was over, we returned to the MRT to go to a different part of the city with another food in mind: mango-flavored ice cream. Following a short ride on the MRT, we arrived at the ice cream parlor and sat down to have more conversation and discuss my thoughts on Taipei before Karina had to go to work for the rest of the afternoon. Although we had planned to speak about Taipei, I noticed something interesting about the people who sat down next to us: they were speaking Japanese!

Quickly I was in the midst of a conversation with these three Japanese tourists about life in Japan. This was a very interesting conversation and my friends did their best to communicate with them even though they did not understand our Japanese conversation. Little encounters and conversations like this make learning and speaking another language very enjoyable for me. No matter where I go, I usually run into Japanese tourists at famous landmarks in Asia. The Japanese tourists were on their way and we lingered for a while longer to reminisce. It was a great morning with Karina.

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The three of us took a bus to Taipei 101and split ways, with Karina going to work and David and I continuing on to hike up Elephant Mountain, the most famous viewing point for Taipei 101. We saw the night view yesterday, so naturally we were headed up in the afternoon for a daytime view of the world’s second-tallest building. On the way to the mountain, I noticed Taipei copied another famous Philadelphia landmark, the LOVE statue.

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The humidity continued to increase and by the time we made it to the base of Elephant Mountain, my shirt was completely soiled with sweat and so was David’s. The sweat was dripping off the faces of everyone descending Elephant Mountain following the climb, so it was obvious that we would suffer the same fate following the twenty minute hike to the outlook point at the top. Scenery at the start reminded me of Macau, which was also unexpected.

As the hike up the narrow stairs began, I could not wait to see the spectacular views of Taipei 101!

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David and I passed some children and elderly visitors making the hike and finally made it to the first landing, and, oh, was it a sight to behold! Taipei 101 cut through the sky and was spectacular. I posed for a photo with the world’s second-tallest building even though I was soaked with sweat.

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Ten minutes later, David and I made it to the top and climbed up some large boulders to take in the skyline and snap some photos. the cameramen already atop these boulders made for an interesting foreground.

Taipei Rocks

As the sun began to set, David and I moved in unison with it, descending Elephant Mountain’s steep stairs.

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Then, in the middle of our descent, I encountered one of the most beautiful views of a skyline I have ever seen: the setting sun illuminated the humidity and smog which engulfed Taipei on that Sunday afternoon. The resulting view was fantastic. I will never forget this scene as long as I live. Taipei101

David and I stopped at the base of Taipei 101 for some photos and then were off to see more of the city before it was too late in the night. This evening’s purple lights were fantastic.

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First up on the night’s agenda was another night view of Taipei from a different location. Following a long motorcycle ride, we found out that location was closed due to road construction, so we quickly changed plans and decided to go to Taipei’s second most famous night market and included a stop at one of the city’s most famous temples, too.

Much like the previous night, David and I indulged on many foods and drinks as we walked through the narrow stalls and dogged the rain drops that intermittently spritzed throughout the night. Milkshakes, hot meat sandwiches, finger food, and pork ribs were all on the menu tonight. I am always impressed with the intricate nature of the woodwork that always adorns the temples in Asia.

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Temple

After a few hours enjoying the food (and wi-fi) in the market, my time with David in Taipei was essentially over. It was amazing to get a tour of one of Asia’s most bustling cities from a local perspective while also rekindling a lost friendship. Seeing Taipei from atop a motorcycle, in its back alleys, and from its most famous lookout points helped me appreciate one of Asia’s most underrated destinations. While I fully admit my feelings for Taipei over the first two days are largely dependent on the willingness and eagerness of my friends to be fantastic hosts, I recommend Taipei to anyone whom is seeking adventure and i unique mix of Eastern and Western history.

Aside from a random traffic stop at 2:30 AM following a very late dinner, this trip was stress-free and amazing. To this point, Taipei is certainly my favorite destination in Asia, alongside Macau and Seoul. Only one more day remained in my Taiwanese adventure and the next post here will certainly provide insight into my third and final day in Taiwan.

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Tantalizing Taipei (Day 1)

I have just returned to Japan from a grueling, three-day tour of Taipei with my good friends from college, and there is only one word that can describe the experience as I think about it in retrospect: tantalizing. Eating the delicious street food in Taipei’s famous night markets, traveling through the city with my friends on motorcycles, and making new friends are the experiences that make this trip unforgettable in every sense of the word. Taiwan will always have a special place in my travel heart. My parents always talked about “doing what the locals do” on vacations to the American South, and I was finally able to experience “doing what the locals do” and “eating what the locals eat” while in Asia and I will not forget it anytime soon.

Following months of discussion with my Taiwanese friends about when I would make the short journey from Osaka, Japan, to Taipei to see their country, I was off on a Saturday morning flight to begin a nonstop weekend of sightseeing and indulging in local style. Things started off rather uneventfully in Japan as I took in a remarkable sunrise at the airport.

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Sunrise at Kansai International Airport Terminal 2. (c) Erik Jacobs, erikabroad.com

Following the short flight and about an hour long bus ride from Taoyuan International Airport to the Far Eastern Hotel, the trip was set to begin and I could not have been any happier. Meeting my friend, David, from college in Taiwan was something that I had always planned to do but never knew exactly if or when it would happen. To make a long story short, I joined the International Students Association at my university following my return from Japan in the wake of the Great Tohoku Earthquake in 2011. My friend and I joined because we wanted to return the favor that Tokyo residents had given us during our time there. Showing them around America and helping them come to love the United States seemed like second nature to us. I made some great friends in this organization, and it is always a real pleasure when they host me and how me the ropes of their homeland much like we showed them America.

After a few minutes of waiting outside the hotel in the sweltering Taiwanese heat, David showed up on his motorbike and we were off to his university to drop off my bags and head to our first stop of the day, a pool party in the heart of Taiwan!  Along the way, I was quite nervous because it was my first time riding on a motorbike. Aside from worrying about falling off of the bike as we weaved in and out of traffic, I had to contend with my concerns that other bikes would hit us. Add my insatiable desire to take photos into the mix, and it was a stressful and enjoyable ride to the university.

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Riding through Taipei.
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First time on a motorbike, Top Gun style.

 

After we made it to the university, we met with one of David’s Taiwanese friends, Eric, and continued onward to the pool party. Along the way, we passed Freedom Plaza, which is a gargantuan monument and plaza in honor of Chiang Kai-shek, the founder of Taiwan. It was cool to drive by here given how many lectures and discussions we had in my AP American History course with Mr. McKenrick about the Red Chinese and Nationalist Chinese, but more to come on this landmark in my post about my second day in Taipei. Here is how the main gate looked from the road.

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Our marathon day then continued as we traversed some shopping areas in Taiwan, as my gracious hosts wanted to make sure I had some famous Taiwanese bubble tea and chicken cutlets the size of your face. I didn’t believe them, but I sure did when they arrived a few minutes after our order was placed.

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After some more bites to eat and a stop at Starbucks so I could use the wi-fi, we checked into my hotel and were off to more famous Taipei attractions, on motorcycles, of course.

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First up on the list of things to do on Saturday night was a stop at the world-famous Shinlin Night Market, located in northern Taipei. I first heard about this location on the Travel Channel and was tying to see if it would live up to the muster. Fortunately, the bustling corridors of tourists and locals, vendors and peddlers lived up to all of my expectations. I told my friends that I wanted to try “all of the foods the Taiwanese eat at these places,” and we sure did. First up on the list was a food I saw on one of Anthony Bourdain’s shows, the oyster omelette. I love oysters and eggs, so what’s not to like about this option? It was delicious and hit the spot! The coolest part about this market is that there is also an underground section!

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Market

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Next up were two more famous Taiwanese dishes, stinky tofu and fried crabs. I also head about both of these on the Travel Channel and I can confirm their deliciousness. I am always skeptical about eating new foods, but for some reason I was a little more willing than usual on this trip. The tofu tasted delicious for something that smelled as putrid as it did and the crabs were just as I had hoped: crunchy, salty, and delicious.

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After these foods, we passed by some delicious fruits and tried some more great street food, papaya milkshakes! They were tantalizing. On the way out of the crowded market, the sounds of Chinese merchants, Japanese tourists, and the pattering of feet created a harmonious sound that somehow brought calm and order to the chaos. Shinlin Night Market was one for the ages as far as I am concerned. The only downside to it all was the cockroaches infesting the parking garage. No more commentary on that!

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Those of you that read this website that I fixate on a few things when I travel. First and foremost, I try to capture the energy and excitement of the moment in which I am by taking candid photography. After that, there is nothing more interesting than architectural photography. In Asia, the unique blend of Western influences (Macau, Singapore, Hong Kong, Malaysia) and Eastern style make for some exciting photographic canvasses. The modern cities like Tokyo, Seoul, Hong Kong, and Singapore also offer spectacular nighttime skylines and viewing opportunities. Few things compare to shooting Shanghai from across the Bund or Hong Kong from Victoria Harbor. Taiwan also offers a spectacular night view, but the trek to get there made it all the more worthwhile.

Once we were done at the night market, David, Eric, and I hopped on our motorcycles and headed to a more secluded, “locals-only” location to view Taipei 101 and Taipei’s Ferris wheel all at once. My friends said this site was relatively unknown until more recently, and for good reason. We turned up an unpaved roadway and ascended a large hill for nearly ten minutes over bumps, potholes, and ruts to make it to our final destination. With little surprise, we were greeted by dirt on our clothes from the kicked up dust, and a lot of Taiwanese locals posing for photos with and taking photos of the city skyline. It was remarkable. Unlike other cities i have seen in Asia, Taipei is dominated by Taipei 101. There are few other buildings in the city which stand out or even rival its height. Other cities I have seen usually have a “high-rise district,” much like Shinjuku in Tokyo, but that is not the case in Taipei. As we stood there, I thought about where I was and with whom I was.  Looking out over a vivid green Ferris wheel, the world’s second tallest building with one of my good friends in college was a beautiful sight. After a while at this spot, we headed out for some more late night food before splitting our ways, only to rendezvous the following morning for my Taipei exploration.

Night View

My first day in Taipei was fantastic, but I had no idea how much better things would get as the weekend progressed!

Hong Kong: A Photographic Essay (Day 2)

When I visited Hong Kong earlier this month, I had a lifetime of expectations and anticipation about the city. I never thought these expectations could be met. Not only were these expectations and travel visions met, they were far and away exceeded by the time the first of three days in the region was completed. Here’s a look into day two in Hong Kong and why the full day in Hong Kong and Kowloon was so enjoyable and different than our first day/evening on Hong Kong Island. 

Following our late return from Macau on the last train the previous evening, my friend and I agreed that we would sleep in for our third day in Hong Kong. We wanted to be fresh and well rested for what would be a grueling day on foot throughout the Asian metropolis. After waking up at around 10:00 and enjoying some quality breakfast, we were off and on our way to Admiralty Station to begin our day on the northern part of Hong Kong Island. At the station, one holdover of British rule hit us right in the face. We had to “mind the gap” as we entered the subway car. 

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Mind the Gap – (c) 2013, Erik Jacobs. erikabroad.com

Following the advice of one of my seasoned traveller friends, our first stop of the day was the IFC Mall, located right on the Hong Kong Island side of Victoria Harbor. On the roof of the mall, there is a nice park that provides stunning views of the Hong Kong skyline, Victoria Harbor, and Kowloon. Even better than that, the IFC roof allows individuals to bring food and drinks to the top. We took advantage of the supermarket inside the mall and took up some refreshments and snacks to enjoy a few minutes overlooking Hong Kong to get a different perspective than we had at Victoria Peak the previous evening. It was a great view and great late morning activity. 

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IFC Roof (c) 2013, Erik Jacobs. erikabroad.com

After a while enjoying some drinks and snacks, we passed the entrance to Hong Kong Station and continued, on foot, through Hong Kong Island to make our way to one of Hong Kong’s most famous noodle shops, Tsim Chai Kee. Along the way on Hong Kong’s long, steep, and interesting streets, I could not stop thinking about how much some of these streets resembled a cross between New York and San Francisco. The architecture and layout were certainly different than any other city I’ve seen in Asia to this point. Image

Steep Hong Kong (c) 2013, Erik Jacobs. erikabroad.com

Given that my friend and I live in Japan, we are more than accustomed to having delicious ramen and noodles almost whenever we want it. True ramen and home cooked noodles are some of the most delicious Japanese and Asian foods and I enjoy getting them whenever I get the chance. From Seoul and Tokyo to Hiroshima and Kobe, I have had more than my fair share of delicious noodles. When we read reviews about Tsim Chai Kee online, we knew we had to go to see what all the rage was. As soon as we arrived, we knew we would be in for a treat. Tsim Chai Kee and another Japanese-style ramen shop were the only wo shops on the whole street that had lines of patrons waiting to get in to enjoy lunch. More than that, this place was definitely not a chain restaurant. It was a family run institution. 

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Tsim Chai Kee Noodle (c) 2013, Erik Jacobs. erikabroad.com

I ordered the noodle bowl which offered a smattering of all the meats the store had to offer and was not disappointed. The purely family restaurant feel of sitting with strangers at the table and the ambiance of hustle and bustle inside the store made for a great atmosphere. The food was even better. Once the steaming hot noodles and cans of Coca-Cola made it to the table, we knew we were in for a treat. The spicy and homemade flavor of the noodles was amazing! It looked pretty good, too. Image

Noodles for All (c) 2013, Erik Jacobs erikabroad.com

From Tsim Chai Kee, we were off to another Hong Kong institution, the Central-Mid-Levels Escalator. While researching Hong Kong, I had read quite a bit about this escalator and walkway system which traversed through the heart of Hong Kong Island. For full disclosure, we had completely forgotten about this stop on our trip until we saw it out of the corner of our eye while we were on the way to Tsim Chai Kee Noodle. We reshuffled some of our plans and made time to take the entire escalator route through Hong Kong. I won’t soon forget the experience of riding an elevated escalator through one of the world’s biggest cities.

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Central-Mid-Levels Elevator (c) 2013, Erik Jacobs. erikabroad.com

As we climbed through the city, we passed by all kinds of shops, stores, construction, and streets to our right and left. There were entrance and exit staircases and escalators on both sides of the route so it almost felt like we were riding on a highway back in the United States, except this highway was one big escalator. The bars, restaurants, and stores were all teem ping with life as people hopped on and off the escalator.

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Entrance and Exit (c) Erik Jacobs, 2013. erikabroad.com

Once we reached the end of the escalator ride, my friend and I agreed to stake a taxi back to Victoria Harbor to take a ride on another one of Hong Kong’s most famous attractions, the Star Ferry. As one of the world’s oldest and the world’s most busiest ferries, you have to ride if when you go to Hong Kong. Given the price (less than 50 cents, USD), skip the subway ride from Hong Kong to Kowloon and take a ride across the Harbor. I won’t forget the view from the boat as we passed through Victoria Harbor. CI also got to cross off one more thing from my travel bucket list in the process. 

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Star Ferry (c) 2013, Erik Jacobs. erikabroad.com

As the photographs show, the ride across the harbor provides some spectacular views of the skyline and other ferries. I finally was able to capture that photo I saw many years ago, hung on the wall of the Chinese restaurant in my hometown. It was as breathtaking as I thought it would be. 

After disembarking the ferry, my friend and I headed to the harbor for one final look at Hong Kong Island from the famous Clock Tower. The view was remarkable. The high buildings contrasted with the harbor and passing boats made a great scene where we just sat and watched passing boats for about thirty minutes. Even the sun burst through for a brief period of time. 

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From there, we stumbled into another ritzy and unforgettable shopping center much like the one I mentioned in my previous postings. All the name brand designers and watch makers were there. This one, however, had a unique twist: there was a park and green space on the roof near one of the entrances. A high school graduation ceremony was taking place and I was fortunate to capture a moment of pure joy as some girls remarked on their time as students together. 

 

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Pure Joy (c) 2013, Erik Jacobs erikabroad.com

Following some more street food and some browsing in the shopping centers, we made our way tom more Hong Kong Landmarks as our stay began to wind down to its conclusion. We returned to Jordan Street to see the famous Hong Kong Night Market, browse some more of the local shopping stores and take in one of Hong Kong’s most famous images: neon signs overhanging the streets. We were not disappointed, and I was able to pick up a Hong Kong t-shirt for all of $2.50 US. It was a great way to wrap up an unforgettable trip. 

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Neon to End the Day (c) Erik Jacobs, 2013. Erikabroad.com

When I look back on the trip to Hong Kong, I will never forget the nighttime scenery, the views from Victoria Harbor, or spending time with one of my new friends at another relocation in Asia. Very rarely do travel destinations live up to all of our expectations and then surpass all. Hong Kong certainly did that for me. I will be back in less than three weeks as Hong Kong is the starting and ending point for a forthcoming trip which will be more grueling and three times as long as the four day trip to Hong Kong earlier this month.

I look forward to bringing you along with me on another Asian adventure. I just hope the next one is as enjoyable as this one was.  

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Street Food, the Best Food

Street Food, the Best Food

Living in Japan, sampling delicious street food, trying new and exciting foods, and sometimes bartering for a better price gradually becomes a way of life. Yesterday I went to Kyoto and returned to Arashiyama to take in some of the famed autumn leaves as they change from green to vivid shades of red, yellow, and orange.

When we arrived in Arashiyama, just west of Kyoto, we noticed how amazing and beautiful the koyo (紅葉)were. The vividness of the leaves, boats on the river, and people watching were memorable and I will post about the day at a later date.

The one image that will stick with me from the trip to Arashiyama is sampling some of the abundant street food. This stand, offering yakitori, corn, and hot dogs, was the most lively. Between bartering, flipping the yakitori, and selling their products, this Japanese family sure worked hard. Sampling street food is a part of everyone’s life in Japan. This photo captures some of the energy at this food stand.

Street food is the best food.

Mysterious Macau

I will admit that I knew virtually nothing about Macau before my friend and I decided to take a day excursion during our stay in Hong Kong to the former Portuguese colony. Sure, I knew about the casinos, the gambling, and St. Paul’s ruins, but other than that, I knew virtually nothing. I must say that the more I read about Macau and its unique blend of East and West (the Portuguese were there for much longer than the British were in Hong Kong), the more I look forward to visiting the world’s most-densly-populated city. 

As someone who studied and analyzed Western influences into the East, colonies, and international trade, Macau seems like it is going to be an unforgettable trip. Unlike anywhere else in Asia, at least according to the photos I have seen, it appears as if European architecture and influence has been remarkably preserved. Everything from St. Paul’s ruins to the other Catholic churches that still stand to Senate Square appears to be in immaculate shape. I certainly look forward to trying some Portuguese food and enjoying an egg tart or two as I stroll through the Macanese streets in a few days. It’s just not religious and cultural history that sets Macau apart from the rest; military history is also in this city! A fort used to repel a Dutch invasion attempt hundreds of years ago still stands and will be one of the first things I visit in Macau. As someone who grew up within a stone’s throw of Gettysburg, nothing is more interesting than military history. 

From those spots, we will certainly go to Macau Tower and then make our way to the casinos and eventually to take in the world-famous House of the Dancing Water in the evening, but I am looking forward to taking in all of the unique historical and cultural history that only Macau has to offer. 

Into the Izakaya (居酒屋)

Last night, three of my friends and I had a great experience in the most quintessential of all Japanese dining and drinking establishments, the izakaya. People back at home in the United States or outside of Japan may be familiar with the word “izakaya”(Japanese – 居酒屋) and know it is similar to a Western bar or pub, but it is so much more. Last night’s experience at one of the local izakayas in Kobe was an experience I certainly will remember for a long time to come. 

The hustle and bustle of Kobe’s Sannomiya neighborhood is similar to what you find in any of Japan’s major urban centers: people on every street corner yelling for customers to frequent their restaurants, twinkling neon lights glistening on every square inch of storefront, bustling night life, and convenience stores on every corner. I really love urban centers so I like the hustle and bustle of living in one of Japan’s largest cities, but last night was a distinct change of pace merely paces away from all of the glitz and glamor of Kobe’s most lively neighborhood. 

As soon as you reach Ikuta Road’s terminus, you encounter the JR Railway’s overhead tracks which support trains bound for Osaka, Himeji, and a host of other places in the Kansai Region. Directly underneath those tracks is one of my favorite back alleys in all of Kobe. Lining this narrow alley, I encounter what I consider to be quintissential Japan. There are small shops with bicycles and greeters out front, eagerly luring potential customers to their (non-chain) restaurants, izakays, and stand up bars. These storefronts have lanterns shining and large banners and flags outside saying what their stores offer. 

Last night, my friends and I ventured into an izakaya on this street and after we parted the cloth curtain in front of the Japanese-style sliding doors, we entered a place that is the type of place I always image when I think of Japan. 

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There was a large sushi counter and bar right past the main entrance. Older men smoked cigarettes and discussed the past and bygone eras while salarymen unwound from a long day’s work in the nearby entertainment district. Japanese-only menus lined the walls of the store while vacated seats were quickly filled by new parties eager to have a cold Kirin Lager and enjoy some a la carte items, which are standard fare in the izakaya. The atmosphere in this izakaya was electric – men yelled for servers to refill their beer, I yelled for more karaage (fried chicken) and some shrimp sauce, and a couple seated behind us were on a date. 

The combination of the smoke filling the restaurant, the unique aromas coming from the kitchen, the sounds of orders being placed, customers leaving and entering the restaurant, and patrons calling for their next plate all make the izakaya a memorable experience in Japan. American izakayas do not compare to the energy at the izakaya last night. 

I have attached a few pictures to help you feel the mood of what we saw. They do not give the izakaya the justice it deserves. 

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A Little Bit of Indian

From the day I first set foot in Kobe, I have heard, relentlessly, that Kobe is an “international city,” whatever that is supposed to mean. Sure, there are many more foreigners here than most other places in Japan. Many of them are not tourists, either. There is a large international business community and there are many English teachers in addition to  other professions. I went down to Harborland with a few friends yesterday to take in the Indian cultural festival and I must say it was very cool.

As soon as we got near Merikan park, the smell of Indian food and the faint sound of traditional Indian music was evident. I knew it would be quite an interesting afternoon with some of my newest friends.

I sampled some great Indian food (but not curry) and also had a great day in the perfect weather that appears to be buttressing the end of a long and hot summer here in Kansai. We partook in Indian beer, naan, some spicy chicken, and a few other delicacies while traversing the several aisles of food tents and trinket shops. Here are some of the better photos from the afternoon.

Before today, I did not like Indian food in the slightest. That being said, several kinds of spicy chicken have started to grow on me. Maybe I will give some of their curry a second shot here in a few weeks. There are plenty of Indian restaurants very near where live.

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Reflecting on my South Korean Trip

Good evening. I have finally had a chance to gather my thoughts on this weekend’s Korean adventure for a proper post on the website!

As soon as three years ago, if someone would have told me that I would be atop the Seoul N Tower in South Korea, I would have called them crazy. If the same person had said I would be there with a friend I met in college as a member of the International Student Association, I would have said they were absolutely nuts! I truly believe moments like this are what make life worth living and make it worthwhile to take chances and grab every opportunity that you get whenever it presents itself.

The journey started on Saturday with a short flight from Osaka to Busan, South Korea. From there, I traversed through the city’s extensive metro network to the stop at Haeundae Beach, where my room was located. My first impressions of Korea were nearly exactly what I had expected and I was relieved. Many of my friends had been to Korea in the past, so it was nice that their advice and suggestions were accurate.

That afternoon, I spent some time on the beach, taking in some sun and photographing the elegant scene where the Busan skyline meets the beach. There is always something about the ocean that draws me in for an extended period of time. I stayed longer than I had hoped, but continued on throughout the evening in the general vicinity. I took photos of the traditional marketplace and sampled some Korean food along the evening walk. Image

The hustle and bustle of these crammed, narrow shopping streets is one of my favorite things about traveling, especially in Asia. Hearing the sounds of bartering, children running, and motorcycles serpentining through the crowd is something that everyone must experience once before they die. As night fell in Busan, I continued to Busan Tower to take in the city from above. I am always a sucker for night time city views, and Busan Tower did not disappoint!

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I then strolled through the International Film Festival area before heading back to my room for the evening. I had a ticket for the first train to Seoul on the KTX to meet my friend!

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After the fast, short, and cheap (thanks to the foreigner rail pass that Korea Railroad offers (http://www.korail.com/kr_pass.jsp), I was in Seoul by 10:00AM the following morning, where I met up with my friend for some traditional Korean breakfast and a tour of the city. It was amazing to meet one of my friends in a place so far and different than my university. Perhaps the most remarkable part about it is that she lives in Seoul, I live in Osaka, and we met in Seoul Station for a day out in her home city. We both remarked about how far away we were from Philadelphia.

From the moment I stepped outside of Seoul Station, I felt a vibe of energy and excitement that I have felt nowhere outside of the United States except for Tokyo. It was at that moment where I began to have a very strong affinity towards Seoul. The bustling of the cars, the chatter of pedestrians, and the street vendors everywhere truly makes the city so great. We walked to a palace in Korea and I was able to take in some of the sights and sounds of the more traditional aspects of Old Seoul. Image

There were even traditional guards at the entrance! Image

From there, we ate some more traditional Korean food and eventually ended up at Seoul N Tower following a short bus ride through the city. Image

I love panoramic views of cities and all the industry and majesty that accompanies them, so I took many, many photos of Seoul from above. The locks of love that cover the fence at the base of Seoul Tower were remarkable, but so was the view from the observation deck. I have not felt this high up in my entire life when it comes to viewing a city from above the skyline. Check out the amazing view from Seoul N Tower. Image

From there, it was off to the foreign district in Seoul, where we enjoyed some American drinks and appetizers to close out what was a remarkable day in Seoul. It was at that moment where we discussed our friendship in college, our travels, and what it was like to be meeting in Asia. It was also at that moment when I realized I was so happy that I joined the International Student Assocation at my school. Had I not taken a step outside the box to meet new people after I returned from my first trip to Japan, I never would have had the opportunity to meet so many people and make so many new friends who live abroad, especially in Asia. I never would have had a great tour guide and never would have been able to maneuver and get around in Seoul like I had done that day. It is something I hope to replicate with future trips to Taiwan, Hong Kong, and subsequent trips to Seoul. If anyone is interested in traveling, cultural exchange, or meeting new people, I strongly suggest you get involved in your university’s international exchange programs. It will change you for the better.

As our meal concluded, the reality hit that I would return to Busan for my flight out the next morning and my friend would return to Seoul for class in the morning. I took the KTX back through the night and arrived in Busan around 11:00PM. After frantically rushing to catch the last train, I returned to my room and went to sleep. I was fortunate enough to catch a glorious sunrise at the beach before heading back to the airport.Image

I had what I considered to be a tremendous weekend in Korea: sightseeing, rekindling friendships, and sampling great food along the way. There is something to be said when you have a friend showing you the way through one of the biggest and most modern cities on the planet. I look forward to returning to Korea someday.

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Until next time.

Taking in the Moment

As time comes to pass, Kobe’s Chinatown is quickly becoming one of my favorite neighborhoods in the city for several reasons. One reason, in particular, makes me keep coming back to the quaint part of town, though: liveliness. At the heart of Kobe’s Chinatown is a pagoda with some benches, a small open space, followed by more benches, and a nice fountain. Imagine this area to be surrounded with lanterns hanging above as you take in the sights, sounds, and smells of Chinatown in Japan. 

I love to people watch, so I headed down to Chinatown on Saturday for an afternoon of relaxation, language practice, and people watching. What ended up happening was very different than what I expected to encounter. 

I ran into a friend of mine in Sannomiya during the walk to Chinatown and we decided to enjoy some Cuban cigars in Chinatown as we relaxed for the afternoon. I have not had a cigar since I arrived in Japan, so this was such a great idea. Following our trip to the tobacco store, we embarked for Chinatown to do some people watching and to pass some time. Suddenly, a light rain began to fall and the mood of Chinatown changed dramatically. The edge of noise began to fall as some people left the streets while others lingered. As dusk began to settle in, Chinatown took on a different personality as it was dominated by small families bustling about, eating noodles and chatting about the weekend’s activities. For such a small part of the city, this energy should not be there, but it certainly was. Breathing in the smells of street food and watching the kids frolic about was magical for me, and I still do not know why. 

My friend and I sat back, enjoying our cigars, taking in the whole scene. I found it glorious. A passing rain shower and a random encounter with a friend really made the afternoon so much more enjoyable than I had expected just a few hours earlier. I hope this photo can do something to convey how Chinatown felt on that late afternoon. When the shower stopped, my friend and I carried on to the JR station to go to our next destination. 

However fleeting, we were able to escape from everything, even if only for a few hours, on Sunday. This is another reason why I enjoy Japan so much. Image