Sunday, January 28, 2007

Mr. Kim on Tour

So I found my comatose self in the lobby of my hotel awaiting a tour guide to find me. My company had arranged for me to take this tour, so skipping out was not an option. The tour guide walked up to me with her head cocked looking at me quizzically. She asked me if I was waiting for the tour. I nodded slowly.

“Hmmm, I’m looking for a Mr. Kim.”

Again with the Mr. Kim! Damn them! I explained to her that I was Mr. Tran Kim.

“But you are not Korean….or a Mister!” I laughed and dragged myself into the minivan.

I found myself with some Japanese people and proceeded to listen to the tour in English…and Japanese. The weather had decidedly turned even colder than the normal 25 degrees. This was my only chance to see Seoul, so I be damned if I let no sleep and some raw meat nausea get me down.
I walked around the Imperial Palace and listened to the tour guide babble on about the different temples and houses. The different stairs for the guards, royals, and peons. I stared intently on the large amount of lipstick on her teeth. She was a nice lady and I did see a lot of things that day. I poked about the history museum and listened to the tour guide talk about the Emperor chasing out the evil Japanese conquerors from Korea. I looked over at the Japanese people and wondered if they were getting that same version. I found myself at a buddhist temple and some sort of urban waterfall. That afternoon I started to feel the death toll of no sleep, raw meat poisoning, and the respiratory infection I STILL had. So not only was I feeling sick, I was getting cranky as well. We passed by the South Gate and I was able to catch the guards standing around. I'm not quite sure what the South Gate represents or why there were guards standing there because my A.D.D. kicked in. I suppose I could look it up...but I'm not gonna.

I managed to go out to dinner with my friend Julia to the Seoul Tower later that evening. We made our way up in a cable car, ate a nice meal, and enjoyed a nice (very cold) view of the city. By the time I made it back to the hotel, I immediately passed out watching Korean MTV.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Hangover DMZ Tour 2007

The next morning I woke up at 6am dragged my hung-over ass over to the USO office to go on a tour to the North/South Korean border to the DMZ (Demilitarized Zone). So I and a busload of military guys rode for 2 hours over to the DMZ. I prayed for the gods to give me hangover relief as I listened to the tour guide talk over the mike. Once we arrived we were greeted by UN Army soldiers that had a laundry list of rules. You could take pictures here and here, but not there. You have to walk single file in a line and stick with the guide. We had to keep our hands in our pockets because hand gesturing was not allowed. Otherwise the North Korean soldiers would cross the neutral zone and cut us down. I’m not sure if the one North Korean soldier would leave his post to kill me because I was giving the bird, but I wasn’t going to take my chances….especially with a hang-over.

I developed a crush on our tour guide (maybe it was the don’t gesture or the North Koreans will axe you to death comment). He was from Russia and won some kind of lottery for American citizenship when he was 17. He had no accent whatsoever. I was impressed nonetheless. Me and the military…I can never shake that love affair. I suppose living in Hawaii and having a limited dating pool of military guys did that to me. I listened to the tour guide talk about the training of the South Korean soldiers and the UN buildings with great interest (haha).

After the neutral zone tour they took us to a series of tunnels that the North Koreans dug out trying to invade South Korea. I watched a number of propaganda films that touted the reunification of North and South Korea. The Koreans at my company seemed surprised that I went on this particular tour. They approach the issue so differently than Americans. They seemed to be out of sight out of mind about the situation. The reunification idea seemed like a cruel joke. From my personal observation of the Koreans I talked to, they seemed uninterested in joining the 2 separate countries. After the brainwashing movies, they let us stare at the actual border between the Koreas. No pictures were allowed. One women had her camera confiscated and her pictures deleted by the South Korean soldiers. They were very strict. I found humor in the two guards because one of them was ridiculously taller then the other.

After the border staring at, we were herded onto buses again and were taken to the tunnels that North Korea dug out to invade South Korea. It was a rather interesting tour. They painted the walls black and when the tunnels were discovered, they said, "Oopsie, we were digging for coal and accidently dug our way to South Korea." Apparently several tunnels existed and were discovered over the last 20 or so years. I wasn't supposed to take pictures here either, but just to kind of stick to everyone for telling me not to- I did anyway. I hope the UN doesn't invade my house and seize my computer.

After the tour I ate with some strangers and immediately befriended them. They invited me out that night and I happily obliged. They too were in a class for training for the Navy. They seemed nice, so I arranged to meet with them later at their hotel. We ate an Italian dinner and drank at a German bar. It was a nice change from the Korean restaurants and tourist bars I had been frequenting. I drank beer with a girl named Laura and 2 Navy guys- Jason and Mike. None of us knew each other very well at all and in the middle of drinking, Mike decided he had forgotten all of our names. I stayed out until 7am and got ready for another day of tour sight seeing fun.

Friday, January 26, 2007

If the raw meat doesn't kill me, the Soju will

So I had a full weekend planned for my downtime in Korea. I was looking forward to doing some sightseeing. All of us at work had a big dinner with one of the Vice President of our division. I was going to eat Korean BBQ for the tenth time and I didn’t mind. I sat there and ate and drank to my little heart’s content. The bottles of liquor broke out and it went downhill from there. The VP insisted we all try this very special and very expensive Korean dish. I stared at an enormous plate of raw liver and raw pork. I didn’t want to offend them, but I did not want to eat raw meat. After a couple shots Soju, I decided, what the heck. I ate the meat and washed it all down with several more shots of Soju hoping to kill whatever diseases I was going get. The Koreans seemed pretty impressed with my ability to drink (but they still drank me under the table). I managed to convince my German co-worker, Julia, to go out afterwards. I switched to beer (liquor before beer) and found myself laughing hysterically in a bar throwing darts at a wall (not a dartboard). Me and all the Europeans were sick to our stomachs the entire weekend from that raw meat episode. Note to self: Soju doesn't kill raw meat diseases.

Here is my co-worker Eugene. He is Korean-Canadian. Nothing is better than hearing a Korean guy with a Korean accent that says "aye" all the time. I gave him grief about lumberjacks, hockey players, maple syrup, and moose. He asked me if that's what I really thought of Canadians and I asked him if there REALLY was more to Canada than flannel shirts and mullets.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Soju will kill me someday

Training in Korea was taking its toll on me. I usually woke up at 5am and chatted with my co-workers in Dallas to fill them in on Korea good fun. Their lols and funny remarks made me miss them immensely. Most of my classmates were Korean, so after class, they would disappear with their family and friends while I putzed around alone entertaining myself. Our day starts off at 7:30am and its all day of Korenglish lessons on bugged software and lots of coffee. Usually the lessons would stop when an error occurred and the teachers would rush to the back to fix it. So I usually sat around drinking coffee and wondering when I was gonna shake my illness. My Korean counterparts at the company started their days off at 7am, worked until 6pm, ate dinner, come back and work until 10pm, then go out all night drinking Soju. And you thought I was an alcoholic! I watched my classmates doze off and I quietly took pictures of them. Hilarious!

After a hard day’s work I decide to explore more of Seoul, sick or not. I managed to navigate the subway and made it the shopping district of Meyong-dong. Everything was brightly lit and it was very crowded. I poked around the Louis Vuitton bags and the open street meat vendors. I was tempted to eat some good street meat, but in my current condition, I felt it not wise. I found some guys making wedding cookies and singing, some neat socks for my sister, and laughed at a $200 pair of Levis.

I thought I would try a bottle of Soju since I had been drinking a lot of Korean beer for the past 4 days. The waitress came out and brought the bottle of Soju, happily. I took a sip and I felt like throwing up. It tasted like ethanol. At least, it was what I imagined ethanol would taste like. I drank as much as I could so as not to offend the nice waitress. I began to think about the repercussions of drinking alcohol, sick as a dog, and on antibiotics. Not a good idea. So I grabbed a cab and stumbled back into my hotel room.

I felt a little better after a good Soju night’s sleep, so the next night I headed out to Itaewon. Pete, the army newscaster I met a few days before said he would be at one of the bars with some friends if I wanted to join them. I was dying for some human interaction, so I headed over. Pete was there along with a few Americans and some Singaporean students. One of them worked for LG, another for the Navy, and a teacher. I indulged myself with a beer and watched as the Korean girls lined up to talk to these guys. It seems that Pete was not lying about the popularity of foreign men in Korea. I spent my time that night laughing at the guys and giving the LG dude hell. It’s only natural working for the competitor. I had a great time that night, a first for my time in Korea so far.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

That's Mr. Kim to You

The next morning I am full blown diseased. I called the front desk about getting a doctor’s appointment.

“Hello, Mr. Kim, how can we help you today?” Why do they keep calling my Mister?

“Yes, I’d like to know how I can get a doctor’s appointment.”

“Oh, well sir, you may either have to go to the hospital b/c it will be difficult for a doctor to see you today. You may also want to try the International clinic.”

Did she just call me Mr. Kim and sir? I write down the number to the clinic and headed off to work. When I got to the office I looked at my paperwork they gave me before the trip. There it was- Mr. Tran Kim. They all expected some Korean dude from the Dallas office to show up and instead the got a Vietnamese girl. Surely, when I showed up at the hotel, they would change it? They thought I was a dude! Gah, how embarrassing!

I ate lunch with my fellow co-workers for some “authentic” Korean food. I was thrilled because so far I’ve had chicken fingers, Outback Steakhouse, a mystery burger, and some Chinese food to add to my list of Korean food experiences. We walked down a series of dark alleys and stopped in front of a house (and yes, Amy, Korea does smell like poo). Inside, we sat down on the floor and this old man came out and served up some thick white noodle soup. No menus. Just one dish and everyone ate the one single item. Even in my tasteless sick stupor, I had to admit, it was gross. I smiled and ate politely and wondered, “What if I didn’t want the soup?”

So I called the International clinic and made an appointment. My teachers were not happy with me leaving at a mere 8 hour day instead of the usual 10. Luckily for me, I did not care. I walked to the International Clinic and stared at the Christmas tree in the lobby. I wondered why a tree was still up on January 24th. I was worried about what kind of healthcare I was going to receive. The doctor seemed nice and asked a few questions (in English thank goodness.) He wrote up a prescription and sent me on my way to a pharmacy with some very complicated directions.

I wandered the streets of Seoul for nearly an hour trying to find the pharmacy. I mostly got blank stares and an occasional Moshi moshi when I asked for directions. I found 2 pharmacies and was turned away from both. Finally, I called the International clinic for help. The front desk lady seemed very angry with me for losing my way. After another 45 minutes I found the pharmacy. They had Russian women and an old guy buying Viagra- all courtesy of the International clinic.

Afterwards I asked the concierge at the hotel to tell a taxi to take me to Korean BBQ. I was in Korea now for 3 days and I was damn well going to get some good Korean food (if it existed).

Korean people do not eat alone in Korean restaurants, I quickly found out. I pretty much ate a feast for 2 people all by myself and put up with the funny stares from other tables. I drank my last beer before medication and ate from the 20 dishes they put on the table. There was kimchee, some seaweed, potato salad, and some other things I did not recognize along with my Korean style ribs. There was a little plate of garlic too. I watched the other people eat the garlic heartily. Maybe Korean garlic was different than American garlic? I popped a clove in my mouth and chewed it quickly. Immediately tears welled up on my eyes and I gagged. Nope, Korean garlic is the same as American garlic. UGH. I washed it down with a glass of beer and went back to the hotel thinking I probably made a terrible stomach mistake. Boy, was I right! I had a stomach ache the entire night.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Crashing the President's Farewell

I get up the next morning and I have heard nothing from my fellow co-workers. I call down to the front desk to see if I have any messages. “Oh good Morning Mr. Kim. How can we help you today?” Did she just call me Mister? “Um yes, did I get any messages this morning?” It seemed that I did not have any messages so I sat around the hotel until 8:30am until I finally decided to just go into work. I took a cab to the office and I politely asked the receptionist where I needed to go for the training. I was rushed to the 11th floor after squeezing onto an elevator with 20 people. I get off the elevator and some people beckon me into a room with 200 Korean people standing around. There must be a lot of people here for this training. I hear a voice up front speaking in Korean. There’s crying, speaking, clapping. I have no earthly idea what the heck is going on. I’m in there for an HOUR. Then the two men talking walk over to the door and everyone files out one by one- shaking the men’s hands and bowing. Uh oh. And they’re video taping it. Uhhhh-ohhhh. What do I do? There’s no way out. What the hell do I say? So finally, I got the nerve and walked up to each man, shook his hand, mumbled something like “Thank You!” and bowed politely. Then I quickly located someone that spoke English and they lead me to my class. Later, I found out after 8 cups of coffee that:

1. I wasn’t supposed to be on the 11th floor or at that event.
2. The event was the changeover of our new President. So, I met both men, on accident.
3. It’s all on film…there’s proof of my ridiculousness.

My teachers also seemed to think I was Korean until they met me. The class roster had me listed as Tran Kim. Kim is a popular Korean last name. So, naturally, they assume I could not have Kim as my first name. When I first started work, all my paperwork always said Tran Kim. So when people met me at work or spoke with me on the phone, they would always say incredulously, “You are Tran Kim? But you are not Korean!” Then they would all laugh and ask me, “So, your first name is Kim?” It would always be a good laugh for them.

Later that day I started to feel ill. My nose starts running and I begin to get a headache. One of the teachers tells me that he will take me to the drugstore after dinner. After class, our hosts took us out to eat. I was excited because this was my first crack at real Korean food. We walk up the street and right into an Outback Steakhouse. HUH? I fly all the way over to Korea to eat at a chain steak restaurant touting an Australian theme? So, I had a steak and a Foster’s. I ran into a Korean drugstore to get some much needed over the counter meds and picked up several boxes of indecipherable directions and names of pills.

I wake up and I am ill. And not from the Korean Outback Steakhouse sick- I have the CNN Avian flu outbreak sick. I go through class like a zombie, trying to make it through the day and hopefully try not to die in class. I rush back to the hotel and get some much needed rest. I managed to drag myself out of the hotel and into the street to get some food. I decided to go to the American place because I didn’t feel very adventuresome. An Army guy named Pete sat next to me at the bar. He talked about where to go on the weekends and was a little patronizing about educating me on the ways of Koreans. He yakked on and on about Korean girls that hung out in the bars waiting for an American to whisk them away to USA life. I listened to him babble as I drank a beer and had the worst burger I have ever had in my entire life. I highly doubt it was beef. By now, I feel like I need to make a call to the WHO Organization. So I bid Pete adieu and crawled to a taxi and back into my room.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Hooker Hill and Korean Crooks

Destination: Korea

I took a giant bus into Seoul from the airport, which gave me a good opportunity to catch a glimpse of the city. I half expected Seoul to be similar to Tokyo. I was so wrong. Seoul is filthy. I looked in horror at their trash lined streets and their dreary buildings. I worried about the next 10 days that I would be here.

The Hotel Shilla where my company sent me is…..awesome. Five star all the way. I rolled around with joy on the bed that was not on the floor. I jumped for joy over my expense account I was able to access. I tried to locate my fellow co-workers, but no one is around. No one gave me a schedule so I have no idea what I needed to do or what’s going on. So, I went down the street to get some dinner. Apparently, the hotel is located right in the heart of touristy Itaewon. So I order some American food. I’m going to be in Korea for 10 days, so I know I’ll get Korean food every day. I met a Canadian teacher named Vince that sat next to me at the bar while I drink a much needed beer. Vince seems to be a regular at this bar and knows all the barmen by name. He has the most annoying laugh. So annoying in fact it makes me cringe inside. He gives me some tourist warnings about Hooker Hill and all the places where people hang out on the weekends. He also warns me that Asians from other countries have hard time in Korea and that they might think I’m a hooker or stripper. Great.

I caught a cab back to the hotel. I became confused about the money thing. In Japan , the taxis were easily $20 to $30 USD to get around the city. So, I give the taxi driver 10,000 won for the cab ride and he holds out his empty hand again. More money? Ok, I hand him 20,000 more wons. He hands me back 5000 and waves me out of the taxi. The doorman stops me and asks me how much money did I give the taxi? He opens the door and begins yelling at the taxi driver. An argument ensues and the taxi driver yells at me, throws money at the door man and drives off angrily. The doorman hands me back 25,000 won. I had almost been taken for $35 I found out later when I looked up the currency exchange. I am beginning to think that I am a moron and that Korean taxi drivers are crooks.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Crash and Burn, Baby

Next day I rolled out at noon and headed to the airport and procured my laptop. I headed over to Shinjuku to check things out. This part of Tokyo reminds me of the old Godzilla movies where Godzilla and Ghidon are stomping around and crashing into neon buildings. I could picture everyone screaming “Gahzira! Gahzira!” and trampling each other to get away from some guy in a big rubber suit. Ah, Godzilla….I watched all those movies as a kid on Channel 27. Call me a big nerd, I don’t care.

It’s my last day and I realize that Japan is expensive and it’s gouged me pretty good in the pocketbook. So rather than blow my money on beer, I decide I should splurge and get some sushi. I roll into a place that charges by the plate and has a big conveyor belt with fish floating by. I kid you not, this place is the Denny’s of sushi places in Tokyo. At least I don’t have to talk to anyone to order. I just have to snatch what I want off the conveyor belt and try to order some hot tea. This time there are no old ladies, but an ass load of Japanese guys who have no trouble giving me curious stares. One nice man shows me how to get tea out of a spigot on the table. I think I’ve had the best sushi, and at this place, the worst sushi I’ve ever had in Tokyo. I choked down some rubbery eel and some indistinguishable fish pieces before I headed back out. By now it is late and cold and raining. I start to feel the effect of no sleep for 3 days, so instead of another night of drinking debauchery, I headed back to Ginza to pass out.

So, my 3am ritual continues and I know I should start getting used to the time difference. I packed all my things and got ready for the trek to Korea. I decided to run around some shrines before I left to make up for time lost during my airport runs and drinking. I stepped over the homeless people sleeping in the station, took the subway and slept a little on my way to Harajuku. I managed to find the Meiji Shrine and a beautiful park at 6 in the morning. I walked around photographing things and trying in vain to read signs about the structures. I was freezing and felt hurried because I had to catch a train at 9am to the airport. I take a look at my watch. I realize I have no watch on. Where the hell is my watch? I realize with horror that it is missing. I know for sure that I put it on in the morning because I didn’t want to miss my train.

Later that day I noticed signs all over the train stations that say “Please be aware of pickpockets.” Pickpockets? In Japan? Could it be when my dumb ass fell asleep on the damn train I was pick-pocketed? Was I a victim of crime in almost crimeless Tokyo? How could my last day in Tokyo become such a fiasco because of my own stupidity? I am the worst traveler ever!

Friday, January 19, 2007

Busy Busy Tokyo City

So I wake to discover my laptop is missing. That’s right- I left my laptop computer on the aircraft in Narita. In the mad rush to get the hell off the plane, I forgot to put it back in my bag. I am a complete moron, yes. I spent many hours kicking myself for that one. Plus, the window of time that you can call Narita Airport Lost and Found is between 2pm and 7pm. Since my internal clock is going haywire I woke up at 3:30am. So I headed out a couple hours later to the fish market, which happened to be a couple blocks away from the hotel. On the way I discovered that you can get canned coffee out of the 1 zillion vending machines all over Tokyo. Mmmmm, coffeeeee!

The fish people are up early too and they were the first interaction I had with Japanese people. They stare…a lot. I thought that I would blend since I’m Asian too. Wrong. It doesn’t help when you have a camera either. I noticed when white people walked by, they all smiled and greeted them. I would just get these stares and they would all speak in English to me. I didn’t fool anyone. (Not that I thought I looked Japanese, but maybe I oozed American or something.)

So I stopped into a sushi restaurant for breakfast at the fish market. They seat 5 old Japanese ladies next to me at the sushi counter and the group immediately points and asks about me. I ordered some sushi and some miso soup (which evidently comes with a crab in this gigantic bowl). So I naturally ask for a spoon because the bowl is too enormous for me to pick up and slurp out of and it’s got this big crab in the middle of it. All five heads swivel and stare as I eat my soup with a spoon. I am a friggin heathen. How dare me. The staring is one thing, but it’s the looks of disdain that bother me. Note to self: Don’t ask for a spoon, just slurp it out of the bowl like a dog and ignore big ass crab.

Units of caffeine = 4. Number of stares = 12. Total hours of sleep = 3.5

I went back to the hotel to get directions from the Sayuri, my hotel lady (who doesn’t stare, speaks English, and is really nice.) I pick up a subway map and head out into a full day. I decided to head out to Asakusa which is where the sumo tournament arena is and it is closer (not really) to the airport so when they located my laptop, I could run up there and pick it up. It took me an hour to figure out how to procure a ticket, ask for directions, find the right subway tunnel, ask for directions again, walk around the subway tunnels, ask for directions again, walk a long ass way to said tunnel, ask for directions again, then finally board a train which was a leap of faith. The signs in the Tokyo subway system are not self explanatory. Plus, I don’t ride trains much in Dallas, so it just seemed harder to grasp how it worked. At this point, I gave up on speaking Japanese. No one understood anything I tried say and my pronunciations sucked. It was easier to point to things and hand gesturing. Thank goodness pointing is not rude in Japan (I’m going to have a hard time in Korea).

I discovered a few things as soon as I arrived in Asakusa. Maps in Japan are not to scale and asking directions is useless. So I spent a lot of time just wandering around aimlessly until I found something of interest. It ended up working out because I found the market, saw a temple on fire and some firemen dousing the flames, and some cute little school children. I called the airport to see if they had my laptop. Nope, they didn’t have it. So I headed back to my hotel to get drop off my bags and head over to the sumo tournament. I get all the way back and the airport called and said they DID have my laptop. I decided to head to the airport and then stop at the sumo tournament on the way back.

It’s at this time I feeling like a hillbilly in the big city. Its lonely traveling alone without someone around to say- Hey, look at that temple on fire! Wow, that sumo wrestler is fat! Did you friggin see the toilets in there? I can’t believe that policeman yelled at me! Of course there’s no one around to laugh at me about leaving my stupid laptop on the plane or that I took the wrong train to the sumo tournament. I’m a mess.
I end up catching the tail-end of the sumo tournament and took pictures of the wrestlers on their exit. Sumo wrestlers aren’t short at all. They’re actually taller than I thought. I was bummed about missing the good sumo fun so I decided I would have a much needed beer. It seems that no matter where you go, there’s always an Irish pub around. They’re all over America and I found myself in one when I went to Rome. It’s like a safe haven for wayward alcoholics. I guess the Irish get around? It was there that I ran into a group of Americans that were living in Tokyo. So I did the natural thing any desperate American would do- I horned in on their conversation and invited myself to sit with them. They bought me dinner and beer (score!) and told me where to go when I decided to go on my drinking binge.

So off to bars I go. I walk off the subway and walk around the streets aimlessly looking for a beer. I walk into a couple of bars and end up at a place called Vanilla. It has two stories and has a handful of Japanese people milling about. I walk around feeling uncomfortable. While I was walking around I trip on a step and fall flat on my face. I spilled beer all over me, the floor, and one of the waitresses. Of course the entire club is staring at me. I want to die about a thousand times. I immediately high-tail it out of the bar, hoping for lightning to strike me. I am standing in the street, its freezing, and my coat is covered in beer. The thought of bursting into tears and hailing a taxi passed through my mind a couple of times. I look up and I see a sign that says Geronimo’s.

Ah, Geronimo’s. Tourists, expatriates, and Japanese all huddled into a tiny bar with one bathroom. I know I should have gone to a local bar with local people and tried to get some insight on Japanese culture. Instead, I’ve had a fish and chip dinner compliments of Americans and about to walk into a non-Japanese bar- full of Americans. Eh, the hell with it. I met a Saudi, a German, 2 Australian girls, a couple from Texas, and a group of Navy pilots (2 of them were from Texas too). 2 shots and 7 beers later, I had forgotten about my laptop, policeman yelling at me, my missed sumo match, and my face plant at Japanese club. Good times, good times.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Kim's Get the Hell Out of Dallas Tour- Day One

Destination Tokyo:

God tries to tell me not to fly.

I’d like to say that any travel that involves me starts off without a hitch, but that is never going to happen. Not when I travel alone. I realized that this is the first time I’ve been left to my own devices on a trip. The first day of my tour started off with a snow day in Dallas, which is pretty rare. My boss actually called me at the crack of dawn to let me know that it would take an extra 2 hours to get the airport because of the snow. Which I thought was nice. He was on his way to Aspen, CO for vacation. So, I began my harrowing journey to Japan.

I was able to squeeze into the airport on time and onto the plane without any hassle. Unfortunately, we had to wait for them to de-ice the plane. That took 3 ½ hours of sitting on the runway. I ended up in Tokyo at 11:00pm the next day after a 17 hour flight. The taxi had no idea where my hotel was, so he dropped me off 1 block away on a different street. Try walking around a foreign country with 3 bags trying to ask people directions after traveling for 20 hours straight. Ugh. Luckily, a nice man that spoke 5 words of English led me to my hotel. Too late to eat anything so I decided to take a shower and then pass out. I finally made it!
I took a picture of my room so you can see what a traditional style room looks like. That bed on the floor hurt my back. I thought I was going to permanantly be a hunchback. It was still pretty neat. The hotel guy set up the bed and asked lots of questions about where I was from. I almost fell asleep while he was talking. When I told him I was from Dallas, he asked me a million questions about the Dallas Cowboys. It's good to know that people in Japan know all about the Dallas Cowboys. How strange!

Saturday, January 13, 2007

American Airlines, I forgive you

The crazy Dallas weather strikes again. This time it's the "wintery mix" instead of a wall of rain. So American Airlines accepted my voluntary initiative to change my flight to Wednesday instead of Thursday and waived the change fee. Thanks American Airlines, I don't want to break up with you anymore.

I took advantage of my travel change to reserve tickets to a Sumo match on Thursday. All thanks to my Kabuki Actor Inn. They kickass I have to say. There's much to be said about a place that will give you a side key and sumo tickets and all you have to do is write a nice email. I am friggin excited! I'm going to go see a bunch of fat guys wrestle! Plus, I called the USO in Korea to reserve a ticket to go to the demilitarized zone in Korea. Of course, my friend Lee tells me not to get shot and to be careful not to go into the areas where the landmines are. I know its going to be crazy there, but I really would like to see it.

Last night I realized that my drinking is in tip top shape. I downed an Amaretto Sour, 3 glasses of Sangria, 2 Dos Equis, a Woodchuck Cider, and a Blue Moon. Not a good combination, but I held up like a champ. Of course, Japan and Korea are not going to stand for my girlie drinks and beers. I suspect that I should bone up on my soju and sake drinking but I think that I might lose a couple of brain cells trying. Lord knows I need them all.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

The Kabuki Actor Inn Cracks Me Up

So I wrote to the nice people of Ginza Yoshimizu and read up on their place as I awaited their reply. I soon realize that this place is a traditional Japanese inn run by a Japanese family called a ryokan. So, I look on the list of rooms available and requested a room with a private bathroom for my Princess self.

Usually, I go with the flow and I don't demand much while on vacation. However, I have to take a shower every day. So, crapping in the woods and bathing in leech infested waters is not my idea of good vacation fun. I am a city girl through and through. I like watching people, laughing alot, and discovering different things. I am interested in eating local yummy food, speaking badly in a foreign language, and sampling beer from every country. So, the very thought of some stranger doing number 2 in the same room while I am trying to take a bath sounds unappealing (and mortifying). Judge me if you will, I don't care.

So while I waited for my reply email, I read in my travel book that ryokans usually have 11pm curfews. Oh-oh, this was seriously going to crimp my plans on staying out all night drinking until 5am. It is possible that I may decide to go home earlier, but before 11pm? Are they kidding? So I frantically wrote them another email asking them about their curfew.

Here's what they wrote back:
Hello, Miss Kim Tran  
This is a staff for Ginza Yoshimizu. Regarding curfew, We usually closed at main entrance at midnight for security. After you check in, we should be able to consider how you can get in. 
Best regards,

So Kabuki actors don't stay out drinking past midnight? I begin to panic thinking that I may have to go for the boring chain hotel for the soul purpose of not pissing off a nice Japanese family. The last thing I want to do is come back to the hotel at 5am, hungover (or still drunk), cranky, and trying to break into their house so I don't pass out in the front yard.

I received another email shortly after:
We locked the entrance key at 24 o'clock every night. Please come back until 24 o'clock. However, if you would like to come back later than 24 o'clock by all means, we could rent you a side door key. You could enter at our inn by using the side door key. So, if you would like to do so, please ask at our staff in advance!

Ok, there was obviously a conversation about this crazy American chick who is gallivanting around Tokyo past 24 o'clock. So I get free breakfast, a toilet, a bathtub, and my own key -score!

So they send me this nice email:
Hello, Miss Kim Tran
This is a reservation staff. I got your confirmation and accept your offer of side door's key. And It enough to make a reservatoin. We all staff are looking forward to meeting you. Thank you! Best regards,

The fact that I want a side key is enough for a reservation? This should be interesting.

Tuesday, January 9, 2007

I Got Friends in Low Places

Speaking of a list of close personal friends who have a place I can crash at...
1. Randyboy or Shawnathon C.- Honolulu, HI
2. David and Theresa or Jackie and Jeff- Austin, TX
3. Art (Garfunkel) and Crystal - Rhoda, Spain (April!)
4. Gisela Family and Friends- Lucignano, Italy
5. Chrispoo- Jamestown, New York
6. Helena/Soo/Lisa/Tage- New York City, NY
7. John(john) L.- San Francisco, CA
8. Sheydah/Janet- London, England
9. Family- Saigon, Vietnam
10. John L. /Jennie M.- Boston, MA
11. Temple F./Ed P./Katie M- Virginia/Washington D.C.
12. Uncle Minh- Paris, France
13. Kent L.- Sydney, Australia
14. Kevin H.- Minneapolis, MN
15. Randyboy/Jackie- Shanghai/Beijing China
16. Wes P./Family- Los Angeles, California
17. Family-Orlando, FLA
18. Bernell (B)- South Africa
19. Julia- Frankfurt, Germany
20. Derek- Naples, Italy

If you are not on this list, you probably never invited me, so by all means, tell me to add you.

Kabuki Actor Inn vs. Marriott Hotel

So I got a few emails and an IM from friends that I said should definitely go with the Kabuki Actor Inn (Ginza Yoshimizu) instead of the Marriott Hotel that I had planned on staying at. It is alot cheaper and seems quaint. 11 rooms, I think a family makes meals, and it's close to the train station. So what the hell- I emailed them to see if they had a room available. So if I can get a confirmation, I will be staying there. All I can say if it's a bunch of naked fat Japanese men taking baths 24 hours a day, I'm going to be...slightly amused, but pissed. Last thing I need after a 16 hour flight is some old asian dude learing at me through the rice paper walls. I figure since I am spending very little time in my hotel, I should be alright. It will nice to be able to get to know local people and life rather than the slick city stuff anyway. I'll get plenty of that in Korea. There will be no Internet, phone, or TV- so I will be unreachable until I get to Korea. I might pop into a Internet Cafe to check email though- so feel free to write.

FAQ: Why do you hate Dallas?

Just to set the record straight- I do not hate Dallas. I just like to leave it alot. It's a love from afar relationship.

Dallas is a good place to live if you are a frequent flier for American Airlines. It seems that you can fly direct just about anywhere. Madrid, London, NYC, and Puerto Rico- all direct and for a great price. Layovers are my biggest pet peeves. I feel like it's wasted time I could be somewhere. Sometimes I feel that way about sleeping.

I guess the thing about Dallas is my family lives here. I think over the last 12 years I lived away and at this moment I am spending alot of time reconnecting with them. I think that I am blessed with two very healthy (and cranky) parents that I love very much (from afar). I also was able to reconnect with my sister, Vi- who is still a brat, but I love her anyway.

So I guess Dallas isn't a horrible place. No income tax, cheap to live (esp. when you can mooch off your parents while you cavort in Prague), and you don't get too comfortable so you end up doing nothing. I work hard, play hard. So Dallas affords me the kind of life that I want at the present moment.

So, I don't hate Dallas. I just like to get out of Dallas...alot!

Monday, January 8, 2007

New Year's Resolutions

Ok, so it's January 9 which is a dollar short for New Year's Resolutions- but you know what? I don't care.

1) Keep in touch with people that are important to me. I'm pretty good when people contact me, but over the years I really think I've lost touch with a few people. Why is that? We're too busy? No, it's I'm too lazy to go down the list and have something unimportant to say other than hey-whassup? So I will have to lead a more interesting life and contact you so I can tell you about it!

2) Not to swear as much. I work in an office of potty mouths. So it's f#$@ and s*&! every other word. Maybe it's stress or the crazy South African. I think it's the cases of Red Bull we buy every week.

3) Drink less Red Bull.

4) Drink less. Okay, so sometimes I am "that girl". The one that loses a contact and talks like a pirate during 8 minute dating. That girl that told Chewbucca on Halloween that he was "awesome" and forgot her first name. Broke into tears at a bar in Italy because she "embarrassed" someone in her group. Spilled Cranberry Vodka all over the entire FC Dallas Soccer Team. Puked in parents front yard. And this was all in 2006. Am I an alchoholic? I don't drink in the morning (anymore). Can I still be fun without the drinking? You bet! Why do I drink so much? Usually I drink too much when I'm in uncomfortable situations. Aha! I bet you didn't know that! And I also drink when I'm stressed and depressed. So it's a triple combo that is not good. So, moderation!

4) Travel more. I think I got that covered.

5) Go after things I want in life. This is for all the people that say I don't have goals or a direction. From now on, I am going to do whatever the heck I wanna do. I have spent way to long doing things other people want me to do. No more! Going to see the world. Going to meet people. Going to have a good time. Those are my 2007 goals.

6) Kickass at work. I'm not a career minded person. I work to live. So what. I can still be great at my job, but my job is not what defines me.

7) Learn when to say "Next!". Sometimes I meet some real worthless pieces of crap. When I come across people like this- I need to give them the heave ho. Ones that don't care about my feelings, that are selfish, and who aren't there for me.

8) Keep my New Year's Resolutions.

Travelocity, my dear friend

So I was whining to my friend Chris about man troubles and life when he slapped me upside the head and told me how lucky I was. I have a decent job and I don't have to lie about where I work or cringe when people ask. I have great friends all over the world. I've traveled a great deal recently and I've seen the world more often than others. And he said I was a really cool person and that I am loved by many people. Thanks Chris, it means alot.

He told me to list all the places I've been to and look over the list to see how fortunate that I have had the pleasure of seeing and experiencing these places. It was a real reality check and I think for once in my life, I have accomplished something. These aren't the only places I've been to, but it shows what I remember the most.
Here's the list-

Boston, MA
Home in Austin, Texas
Arizona, New Mexico
Denver, CO
Home in Honolulu, Hawaii
Maui, Hawaii
Big Island, Hawaii
Lanai, Hawaii
Kauai, Hawaii
Orlando, FL
Myrtle Beach, NC
Las Vegas, NV
Minneapolis, MN
San Francisco, CA
Ignacio, CO
Durango, CO
Los Angeles, CA
Home in Dallas, TX
Saigon, Vietnam
Florence, Lucignano, Arezzo, Rome, Italy
San Diego, CA
Tijuana, Mexico
New York City, NY
San Juan, Puerto Rico
Chicago, IL
2007 Tokyo, Japan
2007 Seoul, Korea
2007 Sydney, Australia

Places I'd like to go:
Toronto or Vancouver, Canada
hell, anywhere other than Dallas, TX.

I am working on a vast network of friends so that I can go and crash at their place when I go visit. So if you'd like to be added to the list of "close personal friends of Kim that lives in a kickass place and she can stay with us for free-" by all means let me know.

Sunday, January 7, 2007

Jan/Feb Itinerary

Some of you have read this in your email-thought I'd post it here

Hi all,

It's pretty rare that I send out mass emails on anything because I like to be mysterious and elusive. (Ha- yeah right.) The truth is, I usually don't have anything to say and I'm super boring. But the reasons for me sending this is to 1) catch up with old friends 2) to invite everyone in on where I'm going/doing in the next few months 3) say hi and hope you email me- you lazy bastards.

In April 2005 I left the country for the first time ever to go to Vietnam with my parents. I made two vows to myself during this trip. The first is that I will travel internationally at least once a year for as long as I can. The second is to never travel with my parents, at least not for 10 straight days.

2006 I went with friends to Italy, Tijuana, and Puerto Rico. So this year it's Japan, Korea, and Australia.

Yeah, yeah, it's last minute. Yeah, yeah, it's expensive. Whatever. I'm going to outline what's up and then you can say- wow, cool- I wanna go with or, Hey Kim, I can't go because I have babies, work, or scurvy. Either or, I'd love to hear from you- unless I owe you money (or have scurvy).

Jan. 18th-21st: Tokyo, Japan
Will be drinking until 5am since the trains shut down at midnight and taxis cost a fortune. Make lots of friends since I'll be by my damn self, and I'll be out until 5am. Sleep. Then off to the Ginzu district to look around some temples and enjoy a really good meal. Pass out and fly out the next morning.
(I'm taking suggestions here- nice hotel or Kabuki actors inn? Which should I do?)

Jan. 21st-31st: Seoul, Korea
Work work work. Staying at the Hotel Shilla- free hotel (yay me!) and I get to wear pants everyday. Will be handing out presents to everyone in the company. Lots of behaving but hopefully I'll have nights and weekends free up. Will be avoiding Kimchi, but hopefully eating Kalbi every day. Will not have phone, so email me! I'll need the company and funnisms.

Feb 9-15: Honolulu, Hawaii
Probowl on the 10th. Sunday at Dukes. North Shore- Fish Tacos at Chulos. Birthday fun on the 14th at Todai (ha!) and various other places that involve eating, drinking, and sometimes crying on my part. I'm not taking aging very well.

Feb 15-23: Sydney, Australia
I love Australian accents. So I will spend most of my time talking with whoever the heck I want for long periods of time. They actually had an Aussie phrase book at the bookstore! Will try to look for a job just to see. Visit our Australian office. Buy a friggin boomerang for my sister. See a wild kangaroo. Eat vegamite....I will probably hate it- but hey what the heck, eh? Good beach fun. Meeting lots of people because- again, I'm by myself. I think you guys are trying to tell me something. I take daily showers, really! Learn to drink like an Aussie (may take lots of practice).
(If you have friends in Sydney- by all means give me their contact info. I will email/call them!)

April 12-16: Anywhere but Dallas Trip
Got a spare floor or a yard? I may come visit you! Taking applications to use my miles. Will not travel to states starting with the letter A. Sorry Lee! Haha!

May 11-13 (TBD): New York City, NY
Chinatown and Soho. Missed these the last time I was here. Maybe catch a Yankees game.

New Years 2007/8
Prague anyone?

I made a travelblog to record some fun stuff, pictures, and to let people know why I haven't called. I will post stuff in the next few days and while I am out and about. Some of the stuff I'll have to backtrack b/c I started it only recently. So, email me, call me, text me, join me, miss me...if you got this email- you are important to me in some way. (Don't tell whoever didn't get this email.)

Talk to you soon,

Wednesday, January 3, 2007

I wish I could quit you, American Airlines

After the Las Vegas fiasco I really had to rethink my loyalty to American Airlines. I mean I just about had it with them after this Vegas trip. Plus, when I flew US Airways, their planes were waaaay cleaner. And their drink cups were bigger. And their flight attendants were gayer and cuter. AND their magazine was bigger and cooler!

But I have a hundred thousand miles on American Airlines (AA), so I really can't afford to quit them. Plus, I've already broke up with United and there will be no going back to them. I was telling my Mom about not going back to United and I couldn't remember why I completely crossed them off of my flying list.

Then it came back to me. When my grandfather died 6 years ago, I bought an emergency flight home from Hawaii to Dallas. I had to spend the night at the USO in Seattle then fly to Dallas and all the while- getting gouged by United for the last minute flight. Then, coming home, I got into a bad car accident and missed my flight going back. So here I am- dead grandfather, car accident and they want to charge me $100 change fee. I told them- I'm on an emergency fare- and I was just in a car accident. They didn't care. I told the ticket agent I was NEVER flying United again. I mean sure- it's company policy and they are trying to make a living. But any company that doesn't care about a person who is leaving a funeral and getting into car accident and HAS to have that $100 change fee can piss off.

So here I am with one of the worst airline experiences of my life and I'm thinking- well, as long as you don't crash the plane or ruin my funeral trip- I'll take you back. Gah! I'm turning into a softie!

Tuesday, January 2, 2007

Leaving Las Vegas

So I sit here in the Las Vegas McCarran International Airport. I can't say anything bad about this airport because it's cleaner than most airports I've been to and they are giving me free Internet access to write this. So I thought I'd summarize my trip here to Las Vegas for my New Years trip.
It was a mixed bag as everything is with me. I should be nicknamed Mixed Bag. The trip started out badly because the weather in Dallas was so bad, my flight was cancelled as well as a number of others Friday night. So I had to standby on four different flights the next day. Every flight to the West Coast was completely booked. So instead of flying in and enjoying myself Friday night at 9:30pm in Vegas- I arrived at 5pm the next day. Then they could not locate my luggage. So I had nothing with me except for a change of shirts and some socks. I had to go and rebuy everything from underwear to toothpaste. It made for an unpleasant start to a New Years trip.

Once I was in Vegas, I met up with long lost, Dan who I have not seen in 6 years. Thank god for him because he was funny, nice, and an all around fun time to be around for most of the weekend. Although, his TV habits leave alot to be desired, he's a great person to hang with. I also ran into Ed who was on my Sept. 2006 NYC Labor Day weekend and met a couple of other friends of Randy's. So the trip wasn't a total loss.

On the way home, I called American Airlines to confirm my flight and found out that when I flew standby and had my flight cancelled out on Friday, they cancelled out my return trip. So I ended up having to pay for another flight on US Airways to ensure I got home without having to standby and worry about not getting onto a flight.

I can't really be too mad at American Airlines. Bad weather and cancelled flights aren't their fault. And the crazy rebooking/cancelling thing was probably due to the amount of crazy passengers calling and screaming on the phone. And they tried to help me the best way they could...or maybe I just am making up excuses for them since its the only time they screwed up. And they screwed up huge! But what am I going to do? Crawl back to United? Screw United!

So on New Year's Eve I drank from 11am to midnight for long intervals. By the time midnight arrived, I really could not drink any longer. I think it got to the point where I couldn't ingest anymore alcohol because I just didn't feel like it anymore. Went to Risque nightclub and spent the evening there drinking it up and then hanging out with some friends at midnight. Risque left a sour taste in my mouth because there was such a long line of people and when everyone started pouring in, Ed didn't have his name on the list. So Dan and I ended up going in and we lost Ed- who I later found out came back later with a printed confirmation and partied with a bunch of Wall Streeters from San Diego. So I don't feel bad for you now, Ed! I was relieved he had a good time. Met Darryl and his family and Will and his friends.

Gambled and lost about $100. I reintroduced myself to the Amaretto Sour. Think it might take the place of Cranberry Vodka.

So it was an bumpy but ok start to 2007, despite the horrible flight in. Can't wait for a really good year!