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Introducing K-POP’s SM Town at COEX Samsung, Seoul

I’m not a K-Pop fan. But, I have a friend that is. Riley wanted to grab a new edition of EXO‘s newest release, and so we popped into SM Town‘s multi story building to pick up her stuff. Little did I know that I was about to embark on an adventure!

Before we could even enter the doors, Riley got distracted by a crowd of girls waiting around at an adjacent car park, and after plucking up the courage to ask fans who the hell we were ‘waiting’ for, we discovered that Red Velvet, a local girl band who were attending a signing event at SM Town, were expected to appear at any moment.

After waiting around for about fifteen minutes, Riley decided that since we didn’t know when they would appear, we could move on. We resumed our hunt for EXO’s “The War: Kokobop”.

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Serious, but curious…

We took the escalator up, and here, we found a hall with posters featuring bands managed and produced by SM Entertainment.  After encountering some younger Korean ladies sprawled all over the floor in the hall, Riley explained to me that these girls had cards of pop idols that they wanted to trade. That explained why they had merchandise scattered around them. Essentially, when you buy merchandise like albums, they come with cards (like collectors baseball cards) featuring cute band members, and many girls have a favourite member. Often, girls receive cards that they’d prefer to trade for cards that feature their crush.

We stepped onto the brightly lit sales floor. The room was packed with mostly young women in their teens to mid twenties. A few boys were there too, mostly because they worked there, or were boyfriends waiting while their girls shopped.

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Exo on vinyl: The War: Kokobop
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Do you need my umbrella, (possibly famous) fella?

Here, we found a large open area featuring all kinds of stuff: fancy record displays, live-sized cardboard cut-out pop stars, album displays, posters, tote bags, hats and clothing merchandise. There were even traditional style Korean items usually featured in museums on the display cases.

We got into a line up, and were handed a paper so Riley could mark down what she wished to purchase. At the paying counter, Riley handed over 45,000 won, and in return, received three albums. She explained that she was getting EXO’s The War: Kokobop version a, version b, and a private version, all sung in Korean and Mandarin. Apparently EXO pride market themselves as a band that release songs sung in various languages.

 

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Riley collects EXO memorabilia

Happy with her purchase, which included poster gifts and trade-able cards, our adventure continued. We meandered up to the next floor, which opened up into another hall. It had a long, central display case of clothing used by band members while shooting videos that later became famous. There were many sexy posters featuring SM’s bands dotting the walls, and plenty more girls sitting on the floor displaying their pop idol cards. The environment itself gave a feeling of close accessibility to the stars, and this presumably, is why so many fans flock to this venue.

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Red Velvet video outfits

Riley explained to me that SM invites clients to experience various degrees of feeling like a star, by offering services like recording a video at their studio, for around 200,000 won (approximately $200 US).

At the end of the hall, was another large room named the SUM Cafe. It was filled with hundreds of girls sitting around tables, displaying their idol cards that they hoped to swap. There was a section dedicated to K-pop food, including tea and snacks, and there was a very long cafe counter, displaying macaroons and other delicious delights to entertain the fans that wile away their time with other like-minded girls.

 

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My favourite feature was the ceiling lamps which had many idol cards hanging down. The arrangement reminded me of tree-like chandeliers. Everywhere I looked, fans were comparing and admiring cards. Signatures from the SM stars were applied to the backs of chairs and table surfaces. Girls played video games. Riley explained that these games were based on reactions to rhythm, and were designed by some of the pop idols themselves.

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Busy space, and art-deco lamp shades
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Band members’ signatures’ on the backs of cafe chairs
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K-pop rhythm gaming

Leaving the room, we were about to go to the top floor, which Riley described as the best floor of the three because it contained handprints from EXO and other bands, and fans could place their hands within the handprints of their favourite stars. Unfortunately, the top floor was temporarily blocked off to the public because of the Red Velvet signing event, which presumably was taking place upstairs. I agreed to visit again with Riley as I would like to see the third floor displays.

Overall, the experience was fascinating to me. The entire building seemed like a sacred space for these fans, and I felt like an undercover alien discovering a young female ecosystem. It was fascinating, and I have every intention to return, if only to explore the treasures closest to heaven: the top floor.

 

Shout out to Riley Haslett, K-pop expat consultant and specialist.

 

What do you find interesting about the K-pop culture in Korea? Have you visited SM Town or any production studios that you would recommend experiencing?

 

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Standby for my follow-up blog: my SM visit to the top floor!

 

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Recent posts by travelandtash:

Brunch at “Gobble n’ Go”, Itaewon Seoul

Manipulation, heartbreak and recovery: my story

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Manipulation, heartbreak and recovery: my story

There’s something I’ve avoided writing about for a long time, but I knew this post would come. I need to write about this. Not only because I need to understand what happened better, but also my story may resonate for other women, and I want them to realise that they are not alone. Perhaps together, we can make sense of all of this.IMG_20170709_155059

*Disclaimer: I have changed the names of all persons involved.

About a year ago, I moved to Seoul, S. Korea, and had just begun to work for a private school that seemed like the ideal English teacher’s job. I quickly began to respect and adore the directors, and the staff seemed lovely. However, most of the staff were caught up in relationships and I soon found that I was pretty lonely. I was  located fairly far away from any previous friends I had made during my last work contract in Korea. Actually, I didn’t realize just how lonely I was at the time, but looking back, I can see it plainly.

Out of no-where, Juan, my married work colleague, trusted personal friend to my two school directors, and teacher trainer/ middle manager suddenly took an interest in me about three weeks into arriving. It began like this.

In late May, 2016, Juan’s mother was visiting for his wedding. He had married his Korean wife Anita a year prior, but they were marrying again so family and friends could witness the ceremony, as I understood it.

One evening after work, we all went out for Mexican dinner. Anita joined us, and that’s when I met her for the first time. She seemed nice enough, but her English was poor so I imagined that Juan and Anita had a difficult time communicating. I got on famously with Juan’s mother, and the next evening, a Friday, we all went out again to celebrate Juan’s fabulous mother, this time without Anita. Juan’s mother brought a lot of energy to our group and it was easy to see how much Juan adored her.

After dinner, we went to Noribang, Korean Karaoke. Juan and our other colleague, Mikele, the school manager at that time, kept filling my glass with soju, a local Korean liquor. I drank much more than I would usually, and soon, the directors left. That left myself, Juan, his mum, Mikele, and colleagues, Tim and Rose.

I flicked through the Karaoke song listing when suddenly Juan bounded over to me in the far corner and buried his nose in my arm, sniffing for my perfume. He turned and said to me, “ummmmmm, you smell so good.” I was pretty inebriated by this time, and before I knew it, I was sitting on the opposite edge of the sofa, when Juan sat beside me and put his arm around my waist. I was talking across Tim to Juan’s mum at the time, and soon, Juan’s hands slipped from my waist to my bum and legs. That was the first indication I received that Juan liked me. His wedding was only two days away.

After this occasion, Juan began to enter my thoughts more and more. Ironically, I was soposed to cover his classes while he went on a honeymoon, accompanied by his mother since she was visiting from the states. I felt conflicted when Juan returned a week later because he had just renewed his wedding vows before all my work colleagues. I didn’t attend the ceremony even though I had been invited. I felt confused.

Soon thereafter, after another heavy drinking session with colleagues, and numbers dwindling to Juan and I, we slept together. He told me that he loved me, which really caught me by surprise as we hadn’t known each other long.

As time went on, he began paying me many compliments, and flirting began to occur between us. He would often pass me closely in the school hallways, or would talk to me in either my class or his, and he’d find some way to innocently caress me in the interim. But I had reservations because he was married.

I explained to him that I too had been in a similar situation to him, married but unhappy with my relationship, and that I also had cheated. But, I said to him that I really regretted staying in my marriage that long and dragging out our misery. That if he wasn’t happy, he should end their relationship. I was assuming that Juan started an affair because he wanted out of his marriage, just like I had done. He made me feel important and special to him, and I thought that he recognized my value. Meanwhile, he nodded and listened, but actually, nothing changed.

He continued to pay me lots of attention, which I began to crave, but since he was married, everything seemed to be on his terms. He decided when he wanted to have sex, and I acquiesced. I tried to initiate a kiss on one occasion, which took him by surprise and he refused, explaining that he needed ‘liquid courage’ or alcohol to be intimate. He began to be in total control of our romance, and the expectation that I’d be entirely passive and receptive to his affections began to be very taxing on my emotions.

Meanwhile, I began to ask myself questions like, what does his wife have that I don’t? Is she more attractive than me? How could he possibly not want to be with me? Soon, he was asking me whether I loved him, eliciting proclamations of love. I convinced myself that he would leave his wife for me, and it was only a matter of time.

During intimate moments, he’d tell me again that he loved me. He entrenched himself deeper into my thoughts and my expectations increased for a monogamous relationship after his ‘soon-to-be-disolved marriage.’ He was on my mind every day, and I even told my family and close friends about him.

Actually, friends and family were becoming very worried for me, telling me that Juan’s loyalty toward his wife was foremost, and that I was in grave danger of getting hurt. I retorted defensively, explaining that they didn’t understand the full situation or the complexity of the relationship, and they hadn’t met him, so how could they really understand.

In fact, I begun to tire of listening to my friends and family expressing their concern for me. But meanwhile, I was also concerned about whether Juan took my needs seriously. Everything seemed to be entirely focused on him, and what he needed, and when timing was convenient for him. His pushing me away and pulling me back wore me down, and I began having trouble sleeping.

After about six months, around November 2016, a major turning point occurred. Two teachers left my school, and two new female replacements arrived, Kelsey, and Arianne. Kelsey was in a relationship, which she often talked about, but Arianne was single. Juan took an immediate interest in her, and I began to see this quite plainly, particularly after Arianne mentioned that Juan and Mikele took her and our other colleague, Jennifer, out drinking, and I had been excluded from the event.

I began realizing that Juan was manipulating circumstances so he and Mikele could strategically be around the new staff member. I allowed myself to feel rejected, unimportant and came to the realization that the impediment to Juan and I’s not getting together was not in fact his marriage. He just wanted to play the field, using the female staff at the school as his harem. I felt sick and used. In fact, the situation was so upsetting that I began to develop chest pains. I began to worry that my lack of sleep, and the chest pains might put me at risk for panic attacks, and I was shocked that my body was responding this way just because I felt wretched and heartbroken.

But Juan was still interested in me. He continued visiting me in my class room and visiting Arianne in her one. He appeared to have his two favourite toys at his disposal every day between the hours of 2 to 9pm. He’d come in early to visit Arianne to ‘train’ her on how to perform her duties well as a new teacher. Then, he’d wonder into my classroom. Since my class is on the mezzanine level, he’d pass my class to visit her on the top level, and of course, I’d hear him walk upstairs.

Arianne mentioned that Juan told her that she looks like his ex girlfriend. She was beaming, and so was he, just like new lovers. I could see the whole pattern that had happened six months earlier between Juan and I, like deja vu, but Juan wasn’t hiding it from me. He would roar with laughter as he flirted with Arianne from the top floor.

The situation began to eat me up inside because I felt betrayed. The irony was that he continued to flirt with me at the same time, and even tried to ‘train’ us both together during a science afterschool training session, perhaps to see how we would react. I began to wonder if seducing the newest teachers, the vulnerable ones arriving into Korea with little to no friends, was a pattern for him. I began to feel a mixture of emotions, including deep sadness and intense anger.

He popped into my room on one occasion, presumably to see if I was still sweet with him after returning from Arianne’s room, and I spared no thoughts. I told him that I thought he abused his position of trust as the right-hand man of the directors, and used his unofficial status as middle manager as leverage to impress the new employees and that he had manipulated me. He listened, but refused to discuss the matter.

At the time, I felt as though Juan was driving me crazy. Later, I realized that he was playing mind games. Friends have termed this unhealthy type of relationship behaviour as “gas lighting“, a term that I only learned last week.

After about a month, I decided to tell Arianne everything. I knew that since I still cared for and even loved Juan, this behaviour was torturing me daily, and also, she needed to know that Juan was far from sincere. She couldn’t allow herself to be taken in by him, as I had done. I now distrusted him.

Arianne and I sat in Daechi Dong cafe, and there, I explained how the romance began, his control over all aspects of our romance, my increasingly deep feelings for him, and my frustration.

With tears in my eyes, I explained how his sudden interest in her was heart breaking to witness, and that I could see a repeating pattern in his behaviour, namely, the targeting of vulnerable, new, single teachers at the school who would look up to him. I asked her to avoid developing any feelings for him, that we were puppets in his game to be used at his beckoning. She hugged me, and promised to stay well clear. She was incredibly supportive.

The following week, we tried to stop his behaviour. At that time, he was running between our classrooms, flirting and whispering sweet words to both of us while my face got sterner and sterner. He continued to smile. I was flabbergasted that he could think that we wouldn’t notice, or that our self esteem was so low that we wouldn’t mind casanova Juan doing his thing daily.

So, when he once again targeted Arianne to ‘train’ her, I joined them in her room, and brought some papers to mark, on the guise of just hanging out. I noticed he seemed on edge having me in the room, especially since he did not invite me, but nonetheless, teachers often join each other casually in their respective classrooms, and this usually poses no problem whatsoever.

After nipping back to my classroom and returning, Juan directly asked me to leave. I was taken aback, and when I seemed reluctant to leave Arianne alone with him, he raised his voice and commanded me to leave, shouting at me. Both Arianne and I were startled because neither of us had seen Jose angry or aggressive before, and we were astonished at how quickly his ire escalated. In fact, we were both a little scared. I felt that if I didn’t obey him, he’d become nasty, and at the same time, I was worried about leaving Arianne alone with him, especially with him in that state of mind.

Later, Arianne told me that Juan had asked her while I nipped down to my classroom why I was in her classroom, and she had replied to him that she simply wanted me in there. That December was probably the most agonizing month for me.

In January, Arianne, Kelsey and I went to Kyoto, Japan together. While there, I began to recover. I realized that space and distance can be such a healer, especially as I was not seeing Juan every day anymore. I badly needed to be away from him. I had considered leaving the school several times by now. In Japan, I realized that my self esteem could actually recover very quickly, as indeed it did.

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With supportive friends in Kyoto

 

At a restaurant near Shichijo station, I also confided in Kelsey, telling her about what was happening back at the school between Juan, Arianne and me. She was very surprised as she was very fond of Juan at the time. Later, when returning to this topic, she explained that Juan’s devious actions, his controlling nature and need for significance through simultaneously using multiple women suggest he has psychopathic tendencies, and if not, he is an outright psychopath. This hadn’t occurred to me before, but his emotionless reaction when I had told him my guttural hurt feelings back in December suggested to me that his brain was not wired for empathy the same way mine is, or most of the other humans I’ve met.

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With my new, supportive friends, January 2017
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Journaling in Kyoto: steps to recovering self esteem

As February and March passed, his behaviour calmed down, and still, I continued to care for him. Despite everything, my heart was still entangled and my brain, confused. We continued as friends. But in mid March, Juan attended our colleague’s birthday party and he brought his wife, Anita with him.

I found the situation of hanging out together extremely uncomfortable, and encountering Juan at the doorway as we entered, I said to him, how could you put me in this position! My directors were there, and I didn’t know how to excuse myself from the event as I had only just arrived.

I distracted myself by talking to my director, showing him photos on my tablet of my family back in England, and he kindly looked at everything I showed him. But a few drinks later, after my directors had left, I was in the host’s bedroom, and suddenly, the door slammed shut. Someone had just walked out, and I found myself alone with Juan. He wanted to kiss me, and I replied, no, you’re married. Meanwhile, our colleague Tim, who had been sitting on the other side of the bedroom door, slammed it open with the same energy that Juan had closed it moments earlier. We sheepishly walked out, while Juan’s wife, who had been sitting only about five feet away, watched on.

Later, I began to wonder whether Juan has a need for danger, and that despite recently returning from a honeymoon at the Maldives, he had no loyalty toward his wife.  I began to realize that I had been comparing myself to Anita and Arianne, asking myself, what do they have that I don’t? But indeed, none of that really mattered. Juan didn’t actually seem to care about any of us.

I’m now writing in mid July, and I’ve come a very long way from all of these events. I no longer love Juan. I began learning how to regain self confidence, despite continuing to work in the same school as Juan. I sought out mentors like Tony Robbins who discusses managing our emotions that control our actions. I also began actively following entrepreneurs, Clark Kegley, and Evan Carmichael, who review influential books and successful people in order to understand and try strategies to develop my strengths. I began changing my morning routine (Hal Elron), and most recently, began to focus on eating more healthily.

I additionally threw myself into writing blogs regularly, and I even wrote about the strategies I was using to recover (see “Learning to invest in myself,” parts one, two, and three). I also started keeping a gratitude diary, and begun to journal (Clark Kegley on journaling) to identify monthly goals toward self improvement, as well as asking myself important questions to identify what makes me happy, and how I can continually challenge myself to become the person I want to be. I was enthralled to discover Gary Chapman’s Five Love Languages and learn which type of love expression is foremost to me. I also was fascinated with Tony Robbins’ Six Human Needs, and discovered that ‘significance’ had long played a very important part of my basic needs, but that learning and teaching have recently stepped into my primary focus.

Today, I continue to seek out advice daily, listening to recordings, particularly by Tony Robbins and Dale Carnegie, about taking responsibility for my mental state and happiness, and learning how to genuinely give others the appreciation that each of us crave.

My experience with Juan forced me to learn about myself, begin changing my habits and routines. This experience helped me identify an incredible sense of significance derived through my writing, sharing both my travel experiences and my personal struggles. I’ve also learned how important it is to surround myself with caring, loyal friends, and to develop the strength to walk away from people who don’t have your best interests at heart. Finally, I’m grateful that today, I am more self aware, and am in a position to help others who have experienced some form of psychological abuse.

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Caring friendships

 

I want to thank my sister Vivien and my friend Riley who both listened to me without judgement at my deepest moments of despair, as well as my friends Beth, Sue, Buyeon, CeCe, and Miranda who tried to stir me in a healthier direction. I also thank God for guiding and supporting me at my worst moments, and for my later recovery.

Lastly, I want to thank myself, for finally deciding to stand up to Juan by reporting his misconduct to my school director, and seeking out healthy support that I needed in order to once again be my gregarious, fun-loving self, but this time, a Natasha with a lot more self awareness, kindness, and readiness to help others.

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In a much happier space: hiking, nature and restarting my experience in Korea
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We all deserve caring, loving friendships. Let’s believe that we will accept nothing less. This T-shirt reminded me of Evan Carmichael’s one word.

 

 

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Jodhpur: second day in India

There’s probably no better way to get to know a city, than by touring with the locals. That was precisely the amazing opportunity presented to me on day two of my journey in northern India. In Jodhpur, India: Possibly the best day ever! I discuss my visit to Mehrangarh fortress and Jaswant Thada. We motorcycled through dusty roads and markets, stumbled into street processions, and encountered fabulous meandering cows. But the following day, we had less control over our plans. Let me explain.

Jay met me in the morning at my quirky accommodation, LG Paying Guesthouse located in Mehrangarh mountain, and straight away, we headed by motorbike to Neralidani, a casual fast food restaurant. I ordered a Janta Thali, with a nutty Kesar shake, while Jay ordered an Idli Sambhar. We learned the day prior that Jay’s friend Sham, his wife Yogitha and their two young daughters, as well as Yogitha’s brother, sister-in-law and their baby would be visiting Jodhpur for a day. So we intended to all hang out together. Meanwhile, Jay invited Sharvan, his employee, to accompany us and guide us around the city. Sham and family all live in southern India, and they were enjoying a month’s holiday, sightseeing around northern India.

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We rendezvous at Neralidani, they also ate, and soon, the fellas went hunting for a conveniently located hotel. We thereafter all relocated to the Gulab Sagar hotel around the corner, where Jay had skillfully got Sham and family a great hotel price using Make My Trip app. The families  cleaned up as they had just arrived from a very long overnight train ride, while Jay, Sharvan and I waited and chatted with whichever family member was no longer upstairs in their respective hotel rooms preparing to leave.

IMG_1697It must have been around midday when we finally headed up to Umaid Bhawan Palace. We piled into two rickshaws, and I took funny photos of the children as we kept passing each other on the winding, deserted roads! The girls, especially the younger one, was quite the poser.IMG_1709

IMG_1708There was an entrance charge, however, I don’t remember the amount. The grounds itself were large. Picturesque gardens surrounded the main palace, which is still inhabited by the Umaid Singh Jodhpur royal family.

IMG_1706IMG_1713Inside, we wondered through courtyards and museum exhibition halls, detailing the history of the palace construction and British influences. Outside was very hot, and we were hard pressed to find any shade! Before leaving the grounds, we stopped to see the vintage cars exhibition. The cars were entombed in glass showrooms, and some of the vehicles were in desperate need of love due to scratches, rust and other decaying elements.IMG_20170424_193011IMG_20170424_192845

Our waiting rickshaws took us back downtown, and we headed to a huge dirty pool at the base of Mehrangarh mountain close to the Ghandaghar clock tower. Unfortunately, there was a lot of rubbish in the water, and also the footpath bridge which crosses the pool was lined with trash. On the other side, we met with some cows and dogs, which was the only scene remotely worthy of a photograph! In retrospect, I wish I had photographed the abundant trash to draw attention to it!

We stumbled into a local gym which seemed like a scene from an old 1950s film. Men had loincloths wrapped around their sexy parts for modesty, and they grappled with each other in the central pits. The gym was also lined with dumbbells, boxing bags and other equipment. I wanted to take photos, but actually I felt embarrassed to snap away because all these fellas were almost naked. I retrained myself, and then we headed to Sadar Market and the Ghandaghar clock tower.

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IMG_20170424_211826IMG_1728IMG_1731We stood off to the side in a central space, while motorbikes swerved around the slow, meandering crowd. There were families everywhere, and all the women were dressed in traditional clothing, bright yellows, fusia pinks, rich oranges and grass greens. Children ran around while fathers monitored them, and people were everywhere, chatting and eating in the street in groups of families.

We headed to Mishrilal Hotel, a famous local lassi café, but quickly changed our minds and went to a street corner where a samosa business thrived. The fat owner proudly sat at the entrance, watching the customers approach and his staff serving them. Despite the many distractions, I specifically enjoyed observing him!

There, we picked up samosas, pani puri (crispy balls filled with fragranced water), and just hovered around eating with all the other families near the street vendors. Some families made picnic spaces on the concrete ground, and other family wedged themselves between parked motorbikes to enjoy their evening street food. After eating, Sham and the families impressively piled into just one rickshaw, and away they went.IMG_1739

IMG_1738IMG_1734IMG_1733Left to our own devices, Jay, Sharvan and I returned to the lassi café. The lassis were saffron flavoured, and the yogurt had a smooth, rich texture. We then headed to a shisha bar recommended by Sharvan who knew the owner, and we were shown into a dark room with comfortable sofas. We ordered a peppermint-grape mix which was delicious. Some other fellas wanted to join our room and sit at another table behind us, but interestingly, the owner decided that they wanted our little entourage to enjoy privacy, and redirected the other customers to another room. We hung out there for two hours, listened to music on our cellphone devices, and eventually Jay dropped me off at my guesthouse.IMG_20170424_212733

IMG_20170424_213043IMG_20170424_212918That night,  I met Sunil. At first, I didn’t know what to make of him. He seemed aloof and a little arrogant. He hardly said anything about himself but asked me fifty million questions. We ended up chatting for hours. Mostly, I talked about my love life history, while he listened and asked questions. He proclaimed that I have an interesting life story, and that I should write an autobiography as soon as possible. He said my story reminded him of a story called, Eat, Pray, Love. I replied that I have never read the book or watched the movie.

I ended up enjoying his company very much. He had a very funny, high pitched laugh and would laugh extensively at things I didn’t find funny. It was a very interesting evening.

 

Subscribe to my page get my follow up blogs, Jodhpur: Day Three and my travels through Jaipur and Agra!

 

 

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Have you had the chance to tour with a large group? What were your impressions? Please like, share and comment below!

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Jodhpur, India: Possibly the best day ever!

I had dreamed of visiting India since adolescence. The thing was, I had also heard that India is the pinnacle of challenging backpacking and that had made we weary, especially as a single female traveller. Interestingly, this made me even more determined. Apparently, if you can backpack in India, you can backpack anywhere.

I hadn’t been ready to handle the challenge of India for a long time. Two years ago, I travelled Thailand for a month with my friend Beth (see her blogsite, Empanada Girl), and we encountered several challenges. These included encountering scams, being treated like  dollar signs, and nearly knocking myself out walking into a protruding chunk of concrete overhanging a side-walk.

After a later emotional meltdown in Saigon Vietnam due to travel fatigue and feeling overwhelmed from different expectations about my physical safety, I decided that I definitely was not ready for India. My frustration and temperament was not in the right place.

But this Spring, something changed. I had changed, and I felt ready to visit this mystical country, and even do so on my own. I booked my ticket, and on April 22nd, 2017, I landed in India for the first time.

I arrived into Delhi international airport, and after changing American dollars for Indian rupees, I got my passport stamped at the e-visa immigration counters and exited the airport.

The 7pm hot Delhi air hit me immediately. Indian families were waiting outside the airport doors as only travelers were allowed inside. I needed to get to Delhi Cantt train station to get my overnight air-conditioned train to Jodhpur. Taxi drivers approached me immediately, trying to get my business, but I made a beeline for the Police Taxi yellow building in front of the airport. There, I encountered a bunch of men all trying to talk to the teller, and after some skillful and assertive maneuvering, I paid about 300 rupees to a tired looking man in a booth. He issued me a receipt, and waved me in the direction of the nearby rickshaw taxis. I was relieved to avoid haggling with the regular rickshaw and taxi drivers by using this regulated, prepaid service.

I ended up sharing a rickshaw with an education profesor who praised me for traveling to his country. Within minutes of arriving, I was so happy with my decision to visit, and for the immediate validation for having the balls and curiosity to learn about this country. We had a lot to talk about as we both work in similar fields. He emphasized the demand for English teachers to work in India and encouraged me to consider working in India someday. After a pleasant twenty minute conversation swerving through Delhi night traffic, the driver dropped me off at Cantt station.

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Delhi Cantt railway station

I hung out at Delhi Cantt for about 3 hours, as my 9:45pm train was running a little late. I met friendly people on the platform, including a Jehovah’s witness fella. I must have asked at least five sets of people, who incrementally directed me to exactly where to stand to board coach 3, where the air conditioning section of the train would stop. My friend Jay who lives in Jodhpur and works for the local rail system was sending my pre-booked ticket along with coach employees and these employees were expecting me to rendezvous at coach 3. Also, the train would only stop for a minute, so i’d have to board quickly.

When the train arrived, there was a scramble to get on. Jay’s employee, coach attendant Rajanish, was not evident at first. I furiously looked around as I had a photo of him to identify him. Another fella pointed out Rajanish, who was distracted with his work duties. I hopped onto the train before it pulled away, and when the train did pull away, Rajanish had to run to get up onto the coach. He gave me a ticket, and directed me to an upper berth spot where I could hide away for the next 10 hours.

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Indian train system: the best way to travel around India! View from my upper berth

The upper berth required some agility to climb onto. I brought my small osprey backpack up with me as I didn’t have a lock and chain to anchor it to the luggage holding area by the doors. The coach attendants provided bed sheets and a pillow, and there was a net support to place my water bottle inside.

People came and went below me, and eventually, as we approached Jodhpur the following morning, I began talking to the people around me. There seemed to be a lot of couples and families traveling together. The men could often speak English, but these women only spoke local languages and Hindi. We hung out while I admired bichudi, ringed toes that signify that a woman is married. Before I knew it, we had stopped and Jay was already in my coach, looking for me!

I gave Jay a big hug and said goodbye to my new coach friends. Jay asked about my trip, and then we slowly headed toward his motorbike, stopping along the way to make appointments with some of his employees. We passed some of the train cleaning staff, ladies in yellow saris who all looked adorable. They kept smiling at me and one lady kept trying to talk to me while Jay was distracted, conversing with employees.

Around 8am, we were speeding through the streets of Jodhpur on Jay’s motorbike, wind in my hair and wearing a light backpack. It was my first experience of the famous Indian traffic that I had only seen on TV. Here, the local vehicles were mostly motorbikes and rickshaws, and Ragasthan, I noticed, was quite sandy. It was frankly, exhilarating. My eyes were like sponges, soaking up every little thing about this new world I had been suddenly transported to.

We passed through the famous Ghantaghar clock tower, just as it began to chime at 9 on the hour. The ground was all cobble stones, and Sadar market was beginning to stir, as it was still early in the morning. I recognized this area from all my previous research and it was thrilling to see with my own eyes.

The first thing we did was head up to LG Paying Guesthouse, a wonderful place which I found through booking.com. On arrival, I discovered that Jay had visited the owner, Jitendva, a day prior to scope out the accommodation. The owner was welcoming, kind and attentive. The guesthouse was located on the side of the Mehrangarh Fort mountain, so the steps were all steep and deep. His family lived on the first floor, while the guests lived above them. The newly renovated area included a central courtyard with a great neighbourhood view, and an enclosed patio which made a nice spot to take tea and breakfast. The guest rooms all branched off of these central spaces.

We snooped around the property, and I admired my new room for the next three nights which had sexy Indian images painted on the walls. The room and bathroom was clean, and included towel and toilet paper, which I later discovered was something of a luxury in Indian guesthouses and hostels. We enjoyed a chai tea on the patio before I freshened up.

Jay and I headed directly to a local restaurant down the mountain to find breakfast. We had paneer with tea as the day quickly warmed up. We were joined by Jay’s acquaintance, Manish who would guide us around Jodhpur. Jay explained that he himself had lived in Jodhpur for four months, and this was his first opportunity to be a tourist in this city.

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First breakfast in India, with Jay

We were soon joined by Jay’s employee, Varun, and together, we headed to Mehrangarh Fort. After cramming my stuff into my camera bag because security demanded that I could not bring my plastic bag with me into the grounds, I paid the entry fee (500 rupees) plus a fee for bringing a camera. Jay, Manish and Varun, as Indians, paid a significantly smaller entrance fee.

We encountered massive metal entrance gates with protruding spikes to impale elephants if enemies tried to use elephants in warfare attacks. We wandered into restoration projects undertaken by foreigners and locals. The museum displayed chair carriages carried by slaves to transport monarchs, as well as elaborately decorated hookahs and other interesting royal items.

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Restoration projects

We also encountered courtyards made from marble, and gorgeous architectural designs. The view of the colonial cannons poised on the fortress walls overlooking the city was one of my favourites. Elements of detailing on the walls reminded me of the Moorish Muslim palace in Spain, Al Alhambra.IMG_1656 (2)

IMG_1664Interestingly, Indian boys and girls there wanted to take photos with me. I had read about this peculiar custom while researching ahead of my trip, so I expected this would happen. A group of boys asked Jay’s friends if they could take a photo with me, to which they replied, no. I found the situation hilariously funny, although somewhat sexist since they boys didn’t ask me personally. It appeared to be a respect thing, since it seemed I was traveling with an entourage of Indian men. Some of the locals were extremely attractive, with light eyes and gorgeous faces. I was having a splendid time!

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Mini photoshoot in a gorgeous marble courtyard
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View of the lower fortress and the city of Jodhpur

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The day was very hot, possibly 41 degrees Celsius, so we stopped off at an onsite café to have a refreshing Kingfisher beer. The café had a roof, but the front was completely open, much  like a terrace. We were surrounded by paintings of Indian monarchs, and we watched the passers-by while we rested. The waiter had a huge maharaja mustache, and I noticed that many of the staff at the fort, as well as staff at other tourist sites I would later visit donned these huge, impressive mustaches!

Before leaving, we stopped by the gift shop as I wanted to pick up some postcards. Printed images on paper and fabric seemed plentiful, and some of these could fetch a pretty penny! They featured scenes from familiar Hindu stories. I have no place back home to hang these larger beautiful prints, so I contented myself with admiring the images, and buying small postcards instead.

On our way out, we passed a very large and famous Hindu temple. Jay explained that he didn’t want to visit it, so we skipped it and headed out. It was also exhaustingly hot, but if I visit Jodhpur again, I would like to see it.

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My guardians! Jay (in blue), Manish and Varun
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Impressed by the spectacular white marble!

Despite the heat of the lunchtime sun, we speed off to visit the Jaswant Thada (white) mausoleum. It was located about half a kilometer from the fort, so it was a quick motorbike ride over. The grounds had a lush green park, and after walking around a pavilion, we took some photos on the red brick steps which directed guests to the main mausoleum entrance. The interior appeared to be one huge room with ornate architectural features. Many portraits of deceased maharajas were displayed.

Funnily enough, Manish suddenly ‘became’ my tour guide, repeating the information on the wall painting descriptions for me, which I could plainly read for myself. Perhaps he was practicing his tour guide skills for a future job. The interior was cool and airy, and was a huge relief to be out of the unrelenting heat.

Outside, we took photos of the exterior features of the white marble architecture. I wanted to photograph everything, but settled on a handful of pictures. We returned to Jay, who had waited in the gardens because he refused to go into temples. His sister passed away recently, and he just didn’t want to be in spiritual places.IMG_20170423_185737

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Selfies at Jaswant Thada

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With new friends, Varun (brown shirt) and Manish (plum)

Soon, we were on our way to downtown Jodhpur. The fellas all had motorbikes, and I was paired with Jay. Often, we rode in formation, one after the other, but other times, we rode side by side while the fellas slowed on the winding dust roads to chat about directions. It was incredibly amusing and fun. Jay later told me that he had reduced his speed to make sure I felt comfortable and safe riding with him. I thanked him for that. I truly enjoyed riding around together, although every morning, It was a struggle to wash the sand out of my hair.

We went to dinner early, possibly around 5pm, because we had skipped lunch. The restaurant complex named Neralidani contained a downstairs bar, which Jay told me was full of drunks and we needed to avoid. We went upstairs, to a massive, banquet style hall where we four were the only guests. Below on the lawn, the staff were setting up to receive a wedding reception.

I cannot remember what we ordered at the restaurant. Only that the tables were so large that we were seated quite far apart, and also the air conditioner was blowing so hard that we played musical chairs to evade it. Jay explained that the restaurant was very popular, and that later in the evening, the entire restaurant would be packed.

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Fun times with Manish

After saying goodbye to Manish and Varun, we sped up toward my guesthouse. Since it was located near the top of a mountain, the paths were uphill, narrow, dusty and winding. At some point during our day, en route to my hotel (I forget the time sequence), we encountered a celebration procession of party-goers walking downhill, and we had to stop to wait for them to pass.

All the Ragasthani party women were wearing colourful, traditional clothing, and they seemed to be balancing dishes of food or gifts on their heads. Some were beating drums and playing music, and everyone was smiling and happy. Jay and I just sat on his bike, staring, as they slowly sauntered by. The colourful sights, the delicious cooked food aromas and the accompanying music made for an intoxicating sensory experience.

As if that wasn’t enough, once we resumed heading up into the mountain, passing local goats lingering outside their owners’ entranceways, Jay exclaimed, holy shit! We encountered two huge cows, and one of them was completely blocking our narrow path. We had to wait as we slowly inched forward, while the cow took her sweet time to swivel around. By the time we arrived at the guesthouse, I was so enamoured by my surroundings.

I have travelled to many places, and seen many things. This first day in Jodhpur showed me things I’ve never seen or experienced before. This first day turned out to possibly be the most exciting day of my life so far.

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Sexy images of royal couples on my Guesthouse walls
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My neighbourhood, up in the mountain (view from LG Guesthouse)
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Night view from LG Guesthouse: my local neighbourhood in Mehrangarh fortress mountain

Jay and I agreed to meet the following morning, and I headed up to my guesthouse terrace. There, I chatted with a Korean couple and the guesthouse owner intermittently. Before heading to my sexily decorated room, I snapped some photos of the local neighbourhood at night and marvelled at the grand fortress, touring above the guesthouse. What an amazing place to experience!

 

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What do you enjoy about visiting smaller cities? Please like, share and comment below!

Korean traditional medicine: my first experience

 Always wondered about Asian traditional medicine, but never had the courage to walk into a clinic and try it? I’ve been curious about traditional medicine for years! I randomly met a Korean traditional doctor at a social Meetup event in April. My Meetup friends besieged Dr. Yoon with questions about broken capillaries, rosacea, diet, and metabolism issues so, noting our curiosity, he took us to his Insa Dong clinic located nearby to show us his practice and answer our questions.

Two months later, I returned to Dr. Yoon, and he began the process of educating me about my body, explaining what natural Korean treatments could do to optimize health, and treatments to preserve youthful beauty. I wanted to talk about my stomach digestion, energy levels, large pores and acne prone skin, as well as alternatives to Botox. Dr. Yoon then performed three treatments on me, including acupuncture, a stomach warming treatment and natural filler for forehead frown lines between my eyebrows. I hope that by sharing alternative treatments, we can challenge assumptions that wellness and care stem only from western medical practices.

My first experience with Korean Traditional Medicine

The truth is, I knew very little about Asian traditional medicine. Whenever I’m sick, ironically, I avoid the doctor like a plague! I hate medical clinics and hospitals, the sterile walls and being around ill people. I only go if I have to.

While studying at UVic for my Applied Linguistics Diploma,  professor Sandra Kirkham introduced the concept of two very different approaches to medicine. The western approach, which usually entails treating symptoms and prescribing drugs which generate lots of money for private manufacturers. These may produced negative side-effects discovered only years after the drug has been sanctioned by local health authorities. Other times, ‘miracle’ drugs, like the one that apparently clears up HIV,  are promoted and even limited to wealthy clients due to high prices dictated by unscrupulous patent holders and manufactures.

One thing that really impacted me in Dr. Kirkham’s Culture and Communication Linguistics class was an introduction of an old video about traditional Chinese medicine. The documentary followed a US doctor who wanted to find out the secrets of traditional medicine, and whether it really worked.

He attended traditional hospitals and observed doctors. These doctors prescribed numerous herbs and roots to target malfunctioning organs causing manifestations of illness. The doctor also looked at acupuncture treatments which assisted the ‘chi’ or life force to flow through a patient’s body. By disrupting the body’s ‘meridians’, traditional doctors addressed energy blockages which caused symptoms called ‘illnesses.’

The doctor witnessed tailor made massages, which moved around the inner parts of the body to work on illnesses including cancer. The footage also looked at regular practice of Tai Chi by many in China, and how movement and maintenance of the flow of energy is considered an integral part of general health maintenance. I realised that western health approaches treat symptoms, but Chinese traditional medicine seeks to heal the cause of the problem.

Years earlier, my interest in traditional medicine had first been kindled when I learned that my friend Van, living in Vancouver Canada, had received several traditional treatments with Asian doctors, including acupuncture and diet prescriptions to improve her health and deal with unbearable allergies.

Additionally, while travelling in Saigon two years ago, I meet Johnny, a Canadian cancer survivor. He revealed very interesting opinions on western medicine. He explained that he had been diagnosed with cancer, but rejected western treatments that involved running radiation through his body using a pill. He was told that he would not be able to stand within ten feet of a pregnant woman while on this treatment.

Johnny explained that his aunty was diagnosed with cancer at the same time that he was. While his aunty followed the hospital chemotherapy treatments, he rejected them all, and put himself on a very organic, healthy lifestyle.

Five months later, he was alive, and his body had eliminated the cancer, while his aunty had passed away. He bitterly expressed anger at the western medical system, and said that he believed that doctors know far more about how to eliminate cancer than they let on. That western medicine is big business, and that at the expense of many lives, specialists sustain their expensive drugs, rather than admit that wholesome food and self awareness about lifestyle can in some cases eradicate even serious conditions. But, the promotion of diet and lifestyle is not profitable for drug manufactures.

As an expat living in S. Korea, I’ve was recently presented with the opportunity to learn about alternate, traditional medical approaches. A few months ago, I attended a meetup event to enjoy vegetarian food organized by event host, Johncito, from Seoul Village meetups. The restaurant was located opposite Jogye-sa temple, and catered to non-meat eating Buddhist monks who popped across the street to eat the excellent quality wholesome food provided at this restuarant.

Dr. Yoon also attended this expat meetup event. Over a delicious dinner, Dr. Yoon explained to me that as a person with a slight figure, I most certainly have a fast metabolism, and that I should avoid ‘hot’ foods, including turmeric and cinnamon. Soon, not only was I curious to learn more, but everyone else at the meetup was too. So Dr. Yoon offered to show us his clinic located around the corner, where he would give us a little tour. Host Johncito was happy to alter our evening plans to accommodate his curious meetup guests, and within minutes, we were poking around in Dr. Yoon’s clinic.

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With Johncito and Dr. Yoon at a restaurant serving Buddhist food in Insa Dong, Seoul

Everyone threw random questions as him. Can acupuncture help with this? Can it help with that? How can this be treated? One woman made an appointment for the following Monday, eager to discuss her rosacea skin condition and begin treatment as soon as possible. It occurred to me that westerners, or non-Asians, often have very limited knowledge about Asian medicine, and what treatments are available. After a discussion with Dr. Yoon, we agreed that I’d return to experience and write about traditional treatments.

On June 17th, I visited Dr. Yoon to learn more. I was curious about what clinics like his offer, what kind of approaches are used and what exactly can be treated. We only had about an hour together, but in that time, we decided on three treatments for me. These were based on my personal concerns and his evaluation of my current health.IMG_20170617_160610

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Reception area

Treatment One

Digestion was a concern for me. I recently (and very reluctantly) went to MizMedi hospital where, after some bloodwork tests to test my liver function, the doctor revealed that I had dangerously low protein. These results explained my severe tiredness of late, and she had advised me to immediately begin incorporating small meat portions with almost every meal.

Having recently been reminded of my poor nutrition, I wanted Dr. Yoon to focus on my core, my stomach, and upper and lower intestine. He explained to me clearly exactly where all these organs were in my body and that the upper intestine absorbs water while the lower absorbs the nutrients from my food. I quickly began to realise that all those instant noodles dinners were starving my body of nutrients, and the very next day, I did a massive shopping which entailed lots of veggies, starches and meat.

We also discussed my ability to retain water in the body, how much I sweat, my weight and other factors. Dr. Yoon explained that the stomach is a major source of energy in the body. He explained that in traditional medicine, the body is divided into ying and yang, cool and heat, and he concluded that although my upper body had a lot of heat, but that my stomach was a little cool. He then applied a device to my stomach that slowly began to warm it up. He explained that to give my whole body more energy, that my stomach and intestines needed more warmth.IMG_20170617_170205IMG_20170617_161436

Treatment Two

Meanwhile, we also began discussing my kidneys. I explained to Dr. Yoon that the doctor at MizMedi was worried about my alcohol intake. In short, my MizMedi doctor had noticed from my liver function blood test that I had high levels of alkaline phosphate and when she asked how much alcohol my body processed regularly, I confessed that since arriving in Korea, I had been binge-drinking, on a bi-weekly or monthly basis with my work colleagues.

So while my stomach was receiving warmth to create body energy, Dr. Yoon began working on my liver through acupuncture. This was my first experience receiving acupuncture, and I noticed that he targeted particular points along my body, including my feet, legs, hands and arms. Sometimes, the pin tip would hurt a little, and I learned that what Dr. Yoon was doing was temporarily closing meridians in certain places so that the efficiency of energy flowing through the rest of those connected channels would be improved. Something was definitely happening within me because after a while, my arm containing two pins began to feel physically heavy.

I took the opportunity to point out to Dr. Yoon a cluster of spider veins on one leg that are threatening to become varicose, and asked whether he had any treatments that help with that. Dr. Yoon then gave me a basic lesson about how arteries are connected to the heart, while veins are connected to the liver. He continued that, outside of cosmetic surgery to remove unsightly veins, the root cause of my veins is once again, my unhappy liver. I essentially need to take better care of it.

On a completely different note, I noticed something very unusual after these two treatments, and I cannot pin-point which of these treatments was responsible. When I initially arrived at the clinic, I had been feeling very anxious and upset about something that happened earlier in the day, but after these two treatments, my hormones completely changed. I felt relaxed and the change was so marked that I was surprised at how quickly this changed happened.

Treatment Three

While lying down and receiving belly warmth and treatment for my liver, I asked Dr. Yoon about treatments for acne. I have some hormonal outbreaks on my chin area, and wondered if traditional medicine offers healthy remedies for this kind of monthly lady problem. He suggested we do an acne treatment, but because I was wearing make-up and planned to rendezvous with friends downtown directly afterwards, we decided to reserve that treatment for a future date.

Instead, I asked whether he had any anti aging treatments for frown lines developing between my eyebrows. He replied yes, so we moved to a different treatment room where I was asked to lay down. I saw a little purple bag and naturally gave it a squeeze. I realized it had warm liquid inside it, and before long, Dr. Yoon had wiped between my brows, had inserted a needle into the purple bag, and began injecting the filler between my brows.

I may have received small five injections which were a little painful. Dr. Yoon explained that not only would this filler plump out the skin, reducing or eliminating the lines for four weeks (depending on the quantity used), but also that the substance was nutritious herbal medicine which brightens the skin. Essentially, herbal fillers are absorbed into the cellular tissue and are a far healthier alternative to western plastic fillers that last much longer.

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Treatment room where I received the filler treatment

I was delighted to hear this because for the last six months, I’ve been considering getting botox treatments from my local laser surgery clinic, but as a former esthetician with a background in administering anti aging treatments, I’m acutely aware that botox (and similar stiffening treatments) are poisons which your body eventually digests into the blood stream, and while effective, these are not particularly healthy for humans. I had heard of fillers before, but as a non-Korean speaker, I had not successfully found a filler treatment yet. This filler, to my surprise, is natural and even healthy for the skin.

The next day, I noticed that the area was a little bruised from the injections, and several days after the treatment, it is still a little sore. But, I noticed that I can still frown. The muscles are not frozen. The area however, is plumped out, and the lines previously there are gone!

Other treatments available

There were many other traditional treatments offered at the clinic. As a gynecologist, as well as dermatologist and traditional medicine doctor, Dr. Yoon addresses problems related to the vagina using traditional methods. I observed a herbal vapour treatment used to treat Puritis Verginitis. The clinic also treats women for menstrual cramps.

I am personally interested in his treatments for acne scaring, and intend to begin said treatments on my next visit. Dr. Yoon explained that although acne treatments require a few visits, they are very successful. I have many large pores on my T-Zone that are in fact tiny scars. The treatment sounds like the equivalent of facial resurfacing or laser treatments, but done in a holistic manner. I intend to write about this treatment in my follow-up blog. Please subscribe to get notifications of future articles.IMG_20170617_155848

Dr. Sook-yoon Lee, Pibro Haniwon Skin Women Clinic26 Insa dong, 5 gil,                           Tel: 02-3667-1577

 

My treatments were provided free of charge by Dr. Yoon for the purpose of experiencing first-hand traditional Korean medicine at work, and producing an article based on my experience. All opinions are my own.

 

July update:

  • Free Naturopathic diagnosis and treatment on the first appointment
  • Naturopathic filler treatment (between eyebrows): 55,000 won
  • Naturopathic filler treatment retouch (within three weeks): 33,000 won

*Please mention Travelandtash to receive Dr. Yoon’s promotional prices when booking an appointment

 

I will visit Dr. Yoon again very soon. Please help me ask the right questions at my next appointment by letting me know what kind of treatments you’d most be interested in. Please like, share and leave a comment below.

Keep learning!

 

 

 

Latin American Festival, Seoul 2017

My close friends, Buyeon and Anita, were heading to Ultra Music Festival Korea on June 10th, and since Buyeon had been itching to dance for ages, Anita adventure seemed like a fantastic scene for the two of them. I was a little sad not to be joining them, but, after an amazing day elsewhere, I was so glad events worked out that way. Here’s why.

I signed up to join The Seoul Expat Global Meetup Group  hosted by Mr. Harry Yoon. The plan was to spend the afternoon eating, drinking and enjoying live music at the Latin American Festival. I had attended this same Latin festival a year prior with friends Dan and Sariska, so I knew that we’d have a great time, especially with the sun out.

I rendezvous with the meetup group at Hansung University Station. Harry quickly directed me to a group of expats nearby and soon, we all introduced ourselves. My friend Kate joined too, and I was particularly excited to hear about her recent adventures in Germany.

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With Kate

Seongbukcheon Fountain Square was filled with expats of all colours: blacks, whites, Latinos and many Koreans, including families. Our group began meandering together from tent to tent, checking out the food and beverages available at each one. There were tents from Spain, Guatemala, Peru, Mexico, Bolivia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Dominican Republic, Colombia, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay and other tents set up just for sangria and football fans.

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Our crew
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The chef (in white) was from Barcelona
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Paella deliciousness
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The Spanish team

I soon had a sangria in one hand, and a tapa sized paella in the other. The Spanish chef seemed to cook at least one huge saucepan of paella every hour.

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Sangria! Harry in the blue and white stripes, and Ernesto in white
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Showing off our paella… are you jealous? You should be…
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Steve, with nachos chips and spicy chocolate sauce dip

After finding food, we hovered around a table with an umbrella to stay in the shade while we all got to know each other. Steven from the USA had lots to talk about and he was particularly engaging. Harry wanted to take lots of photos so we posed happily. I chatted with Ernesto who had a very interesting cultural heritage, and in some ways, reminded my of my own one. I also reconnected with Tasha who I had met on a previous Meetup event.

The Mexican and Brazilian tents always had massive lines ups. I later got a delicious pork (including chorizo) and vegetable sandwich, again from the Spanish tent, while Kate got skewered meat and a coffee from the Brazilian tent.

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Getting to know each other in the shade
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Posing for Harry – with Tasha, green top

Kate and I soon wandered and found ourselves looking at pretty bracelets in the Peruvian tent. I picked out a bracelet to match my colourful Ragasthani bangles.

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Kate admiring Peruvian handicrafts!

But the stage was equally distracting! The performances that really stood out were the Argentinian Tango, the “Spanish K-pop” student performance, and El Combo Sabroso band, which played many classics and got the crowd dancing.

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Organizers cleared a dance space while El Combo Sabroso played. My new friends took to the dancefloor, particularly Ernesto who was very skilled at Latin dance. I hope to see El Combo Sabroso play in one of the local clubs in Seoul soon.

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El Combo Sabroso

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Enjoying the dance scene

Daniel Baker‘s dance class was a riot. His energy on the stage was phenomenal, and he had people all over the square following his dance moves. Kate and I were trying to scope out tents for more food, but got stuck mid-way bouncing to Daniel’s moves cause we found it hard to tear away from his infectious energy! Check out Daniel’s page at https://www.facebook.com/groups/zumbaitaewon/

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Daniel Baker and friends, stirring it up!

The venue had few chairs, so intermittently, we stopped to rest behind the tents which also offered shade from the sun.

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Later that afternoon, the lingering members of Harry’s group found each other, and Ernesto swept me off my feet as we bounced to the blaring music. The atmosphere was exhiliarating. The tunes were fantastic, everyone had a sangria, tinto de verano or Brazilian coffee in their hand,  while whiffs from nearby sizzling Mexican fajitas filled the air.

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Posing with pretty ladies, and Ernesto!

The food, music, sunshine, and mix of incredible people made for a delightful afternoon! I was so happy that the universe brought me to the Latin American Festival!

Soon, we all decided to visit the Philharmonic Orchestra concert organized at the Han river later that evening. But that is another story.

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Evening fun at the Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra, Han River

Latin American Festival: June 10th, 2017 (yearly event)

02860  2 Dongsomun-ro (Seongbukcheon Fountain Square), Seongbuk-gu, Seoul                 Travel there: Hansung University Station (line 4), exit 2

A big thank you goes out to Mr. Harry Yoon who provided many of the photos used here.

 

What do you enjoy most at cultural festivals?

Please like, share, and leave a comment  below.

Keep learning!

 

 

Delhi India in 4.5 days: A personal story – Part Three

This was my first trip to both Delhi, and India, and thus far, I had found Delhi huge, overwhelming, the people seemed less happy (and less friendly) than in other parts of India. This is the conclusion of a three part series. In Part Two, I tell the story of meeting Ravi from Jaipur, and traveling around Delhi together, visiting Delhi Fort and Chadni Chowk market, an unpleasant encounter with an unscrupulous cycle rickshaw driver, and finally, a visit to India Gate.

DAY FOUR

I awoke in my hotel, the Su Shree Continental in Paharganj, to find out that my ex boyfriend, Wayne, had passed away earlier that week. My friend Van who was a mutual friend of ours messaged me from Vancouver to see if I was okay, however she didn’t realize that I actually didn’t know the news yet.

Wayne and I had not remained in communication over the last year and a half since our breakup, so I initially wasn’t sure how to learn more about what happened. I have severed almost every tie between us. I found some information online which confirmed Van’s news. At this time, I felt deflated and down, and all kinds of things were running though my mind. During the period of our excommunication, I had felt angry with him, but now, I didn’t know how to feel. I also noticed that the buddist service for Wayne put his age at 59, which was very confusing for me as he had always told me that he was about ten years younger.

I stewed all morning, experiencing conflicting emotions. I’ve never lost a former partner before. Eventually got myself going in the early afternoon. I headed south, toward Janpath lane and Gurudwara Bangla Sahib, which actually turned out to be my favourite location in all Delhi. I wanted to see Connaught Place en route, and started walking in that direction. A cycle rickshaw picked me up en route and since Gurudwara would be the easiest place for his rickshaw to access, he took me there. I only saw the back of Connaught Place after all.IMG_20170504_222524

On entering Gurudwara Sikh temple I could hear prayers sung out from the overhead speakers attached to the main central building. I had to first leave my shoes with fellas in the lower level for safekeeping. Barefoot, I headed upstairs, waded through a little pool of water that presumably purified my feet, and then I was free to wander the grounds. The entire complex appeared to be built on a platform raised above street level.

I headed to the right, where a huge square pool of water glistened against the white temple. I walked around the large pool, and watched boys wade into the pool. Later, I saw a Sikh pool guard beat misbehaving boys with a string when they exited the pool. Public corporal punishment seems normal here, I suppose. I stopped there for a while, and recorded a video while a heron meandered in the pool.IMG_20170504_204638

IMG_20170504_204741IMG_20170504_204552IMG_20170504_205443I recorded a second video before leaving the premises, to show off the central courtyard where most of the action was taking place. I have never experienced a religious location quite like this. Gurudwara was an oasis in the mist of chaotic Delhi, and I really needed this peaceful alone time to reflect and rest.IMG_20170504_212155

IMG_20170504_212209On my way out, a friendly and charming guy started talking to me. Before long, I found out that he was a rickshaw driver, looked to drive me to my next destination. I agreed as I wanted to get to nearby Janpath Lane, however I never imagined that it’d take him almost two hours to get me there.

The rickshaw driver somehow convinced me to visit a nearby bazar en route to our destination, which apparently had ‘much better prices’ than Janpath market. It turned out that the bazar was largely aimed at settled tourists, who owned homes and had room to put all the heavy and pricy souvenirs. I, on the other hand, was traveling backpacker style and currently have no permanent home. This bazar was not for me! I returned to my driver annoyed because he had clearly misled me.

While halted at a traffic stop, kids approached, begging me for money. I gave them cookies I had in my bag. Once again en route to Janpath, the driver convinced me again to visit another Bazar, which he explained was an attempt for him to receive vouchers for gas. I agreed to the detour once again, but I was beginning to get impatient. We made a pit stop at the bazar so my driver could get his damn gas vouchers. That entailed me walking around the bazar looking like a genuine customer who intended to buy lots of luxurious items for a home that I don’t own yet.

When I returned to the rickshaw, I demanded that we go directly to Janpath, which was actually not far from Gurudwara, but I was now angry that I was wasting my last full day in Delhi doing what my driver was persuading me to do.

Finally, as I was about to pay him, he declared he had no change from my larger money dominations, and then hinting that I could pay him more, suggested I should pay him what I thought the trip was worth. I was so annoyed that he had wasted my precious time that I decided against tipping him, and with help from another rickshaw driver who broke up my larger bill, I paid my driver exactly what we had agreed at the outset. I was relieved to enter Janpath and be clear of that driver who I had initially trusted. I felt annoyed that I had to verbally battle with him just to go where I had intended.IMG_20170504_223253

Thankfully, Janpath was worth the long detour. The market was compact, short and had vendors selling clothing, costume jewelry, shoes, and belts. Sellers approached me trying to sell me board games, wooden pipes and other wacky items.

I spied a stall that had many pretty Gujarat handbags, and so I chatted with the owner for a while. I picked up some pretty local earrings from other vendors, and then exited the market, hoping to find Little Tibet market, located nearby.

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Janpath Lane market

 

As I approached Little Tibet, I noticed that shops suddenly became very western, and their prices did too. I was advised by shop owners en route that Little Tibet usually closed around 7pm, and by now, it was already 8pm. I began to feel that the area was in fact a pit stop for wealthy western ‘hippies’, and this was really not what I had in mind. I was actually on a mission to find local incense. I stopped by a store to pick up Delhi candy for my students back in Korea, and also purchased a couple of embroidered fabric pieces from a very grateful street vendor who had her wears displayed on the sidewalk. When I stumbled across Patel Chowk station, I decided to just head back to Paharganj. That night, I ate at a local restaurant in the sketchy alleys near my hotel. I hardly remember a thing about it, so I must have been very tired!

HEADING HOME

My flight was in the evening, so I had the whole morning and part of the afternoon before I headed to Delhi international airport. My flight was at 7:40pm, so I figured I’d leave Paharganj around 3pm. After packing and extending my check out time with my hotel, I stumbled across a local restaurant and ordered palak paneer (mashed potato and cheese sandwiched between hot roti bread) and a mango lassi.

While I waited for my food, more hungry customers arrived. I noticed a man dressed in rags, who seemed to have something wrong with his legs sitting on the sidewalk across the street. I thought how strange it was, for all the customers within to be staring at this man, while we ate and he looked so thin. When my breakfast arrived, I darted quickly across the street with a piece of my breakfast and the remaining water in my water bottle. He looked super happy as I gave him this small gift, and afterwards, I darted back to my table at the restaurant, to reflect on the wealth disparity between the Indian guests staying at my hotel, and the local poor.

Around the corner, I stopped for a sugar cane and lime refreshing beverage, before heading to Main Bazar Road where I intended to spend my last few hours before leaving India. The tiny alleys toward Main Bazar Road were poorly maintained which made wearing sandals a little challenging. I was surprised every time though, when I wondered into a cow on the street.

I initially wanted to find a post office, so I could send three postcards, but this took me quite a while to find as there were no clear identifying signs above the post office. I must have asked at least five people before I eventually found it. It opened at 10am, so because I arrived too early, I decided to return later.

I headed to nearby Krishna café to check out their pretty embroidered Gujarat handbags that I had noticed on my previous visit. They were all too large for my taste, so I just stopped for tea. I ended up striking a conversation with a Japanese man sitting beside me, and he told me about his crazy schedule, visiting multiple locations in India, all within the space of a week. He explained that this was his eighth trip to India, and he was visiting many sites because in Japan, employees get short vacation breaks, and he was making the best of his time away from work.

After tea, I headed back to the post office. I poked my head through an entrance on the right, and headed up a narrow staircase, entered a small courtyard, and within one of the rooms lay the post office. The clerks were friendly, and postage, cheap. I was happy to successfully send my postcards!

The next few hours were a shopping blur. I looked at afgani pants, cushions, wall hangings and backpacks. Eventually, I found myself in a small shoe store, Meenu Traders (1045-46 Main Basar Road), and chatted with the chatty owner, Mr. Manchanda, and eventually bought a pair of colourful leather sandals ( around 400 rupees) that fit me well. I’m apparently an Indian shoe-size 10! The store reminded me of the charming shoe shop I visited in Jodhpur a week earlier.

I decided by now that local restaurants served better quality food, their prices were local (unlike many of the tourist restaurants along Main Bazar Road) and I felt good about supporting the local businesses. I ordered a Thali at the entrance.

The restaurant upstairs-seating opened up into the street, and as my food arrived, some fella started splitting coal on the sidewalk pavement outside. As a result, I breathed in some of the dust that floated up toward me, and I found it interesting that it seemed that many here just didn’t know about the hazards of air pollution. Perhaps one of the benefits of attending tourist restaurants was that guests didn’t receive a complimentary side of coal dust with their birianis.

I made one last pit stop at a jewelers who specialized in silver. I had come across The Ornaments on my first day staying in Paharganj, and had seen a ring I liked. The owner, Raja, had given me his card so I’d find him again. I tracked him down at 1549 Main Bazar Road, and Raja explained that he designs jewelry. I purchased the same silver ring I had seen earlier, which had a dark African amethyst stone in the center. I paid just over 700 rupees for it and felt ecstatic to have landed this beautiful piece of jewelry.

Two memorable things happened while en route to the airport. Firstly, as usual, I grabbed a shared rickshaw from DB Gupta road across the big bridge to the Delhi metro station. I ended up sharing a rickshaw with a fella that in fact was going to another nearby train station. I wouldn’t have mounted the rickshaw but the driver led me to believe he was headed to Delhi metro. So, the driver let me dismount, to haggle with alternate drivers who were driving over the busy bridge. The weather was hot, and I was wearing a heavy backpack, but thankfully, a rickshaw driver soon stopped to see if he could pick up my fare. I hopped on, and all worked out.

At Delhi metro station, I discovered that I needed to locate the actual airport express line station, which was adjacent to the regular metro station. The ticket counter guy was ambiguous about exactly where the airport metro station was located, but a kind Indian fella in the queue approached me and explained that I had to head toward exit 4, where I would find the correct building and ticket booth to travel to the airport. I was pretty grateful for this guy’s help, and two minutes later, after emerging from the metro building and crossing the street, I entered the airport express metro station.

My 60 rupee one way ticket to the airport was cheap, as the airport was only about five stops away. I got to the airport within half an hour. The train was clean, had plenty of seating, and the train journey couldn’t have been smoother.

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Airport express train

I arrived at the airport, furnished my paper airline itinerary to gain entrance, and had plenty of time to kill. The airport was a delight, with pretty shops in the Duty Free area and plenty of seating. My last little stint of time at the airport quickly evaporated, and before I knew it, I was on a plane headed home. Till next time, India!IMG_20170505_223147

 

Have you visited Delhi, or intend to visit? Please share your surprise experiences or future plans in the comments below. Please click the like button, and share! Thanks for reading.

 

Keep learning!