Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Christmas Abroad

Christmas is the time of year where all the family gathers together and spends quality time together.  Unfortunately, this year I was not able to reunite with my family over the holidays simply because it was not the most logical option for me.  It was definitely hard being away from the family, especially when Skyping with them all being together except me, but it is just part of the life abroad.

Although I could not be back home, I did, however, do the next best thing, which was to plan an awesome trip traveling around in Asia.  Me and my roommate, Jason, decided that we wanted to go skiing.  Originally, I had imagined knocking out two birds with one stone by going to ski in Korea, as Korea was the next top country on my very extensive list of places to see.  But while researching, we discovered Japan had better skiing and opted for the more expensive but also more entertaining trip and planned to go to Japan for skiing, and still visit Korea for one week.

We skied for four days in Niseko, Japan, located on Hokkaido island, and made National Geographic's list of top 25 places to ski in the world.  Being an amateur skier at best, and only having skied one other reputable place (Salt Lake City) prior to this trip, it is easy for me to claim this was the best snow I have ever skied!  For one, there was plenty of it.  It snowed everyday we were there and for the first two days it snowed the entire day.  Secondly, it was amazingly light and  fluffy that our skies just cut through it no problem.  The best illustration to describe exactly how light the snow was is when I went to throw a snowball at the back of Jason's head while he was not looking, the snowball disintegrated almost immediately after leaving my hand and I ironically got hit in the face by a mist of snow as I walked right through it.  One of the nice parts of this resort was that the lifts stayed open at night.  It was incredibly to seemingly have an entire mountain to ourselves.  As we skied, it was tricky to know the difficulty of the slope because the Japanese only have three identifiers: either green, red, or black.  (In the U.S. you have green, green-blue, blue, blue-black, black, and double black) So the variation in reds and blacks was HUGE.  Due to this, every once in a while I would have been skiing really well all day and get a little over confident, and maybe see a challenging course I THOUGHT I could do, and subsequently have my confidence restored to a safe and reasonable level.

Our last day of skiing was on Christmas Eve and it was by far the most beautiful day of skiing we had on our trip.  The skies cleared up which exposed the nearby volcano which had previously been veiled by the thick snow storms.  After skiing the entire day, we went and ate a nice steak dinner (AMERICA!) and retired to our hotel room feeling well beyond my years physically from all the skiing.

Christmas day was a traveling day for us because we had to fly out the next morning for Korea, and the earliest bus for the airport would make us miss our flight.  Because of this, and the fact that we were in Japan, the day lost a little bit of its allure and feeling.  It took constant reminders for me to even remember that it was Christmas!  But that night I Skyped with my immediate family on their Christmas morning, so a small part of me got to feel like I was there with them, so I am thankful for that.

The next day we flew off to Seoul, Korea.  Having many Korean students in my school, I have gotten to know and love the Korean culture.  It was this that made me so eager to visit.  I even have taken Korean as the second language I want to learn in order to satisfy one of my bucket list items.  This will be a very long and slow process but I hope to make it there one day.  As of now, I have about 20-30 common words and phrases memorized and stored in my Korean arsenal, which came in handy a little on the trip.  There were not that many sights in Seoul, nor many things to do.  Plus, the -10° Celsius (5° Fahrenheit) temperature made going out for long periods of time very difficult.  Despite this, I had a wonderful time in Seoul.  I found that the people were extremely friendly and helpful almost to a fault.  One older gentleman who was with his son noticed that we were studying the subway map rather intensely one morning.  Confident through our traveling experience we thanked the man and explained that we knew where we were going, to which he then asked where that was.  He then said that he and his son were going in that direction so we could just follow them, and proceeded to take us somewhere totally different than where he had told him we were intending to go.  We were not upset, as he showed us a neat market area, we just found it funny that after learning where we were headed he essentially said, "forget your plans, follow me and I'll show you somewhere totally different".  Another thing I really loved about Korea (typically what I love about anywhere I go) was the food.  The street food, the traditional restaurants, and everything I ate that was Korean was delicious.  One of the highlights of my trip was meeting up with one of my student's family for a traditional Korean meal in a traditional Korean house (hanok) and even sitting in the traditional Korean style, which is on the floor.  the meal was fantastic! Must have been at least, no exaggeration 25 different dishes brought to our table.  The food was great, the company was great, it was a real treat.  I felt slightly like Anthony Bourdain in that moment, except much younger and not nearly as cynical.

New Year's Eve was our last day and Seoul, and we were fortunate to be invited to a party that a friend of mine from Singapore, who was also visiting Seoul and had lived there for four years, was throwing with her friends.  It was a fun time of meeting new people and a great way to cap off our trip.  The next morning it was up at 6 AM to start a very long and torturous journey back to Singapore.

 Enjoying the fresh snow

 One of the slopes

 Skiing an almost white-out at night

Mt. Fuji from my airplane

 Inside a traditional Korean home (hanok)

 Wearing a traditional Korean hat

 Eating a traditional Korean meal with my student's family

 Part of the palace of the traditional royal governmetn

Happy New Year!

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