The Land of Smiles

21 04 2010

As I prepared to make my trip to Thailand I was ready for the hot weather and relaxation. In recent weeks the country of Thailand has been overwhelmed with protests by the local people wanting to hold another election so they can have democracy. I honestly don’t know too much about the situation but it was quite a view once I actually made my way down to the main protest area in Siam Square, Bangkok. I was off to locate one of the electronics market near the Siam Square and I quickly realized that everything was closed. As I walked closer to the electronics market I began to see people wearing red shirts. It was like no sight that I have never seen before. The weather was a grueling 96 degrees and these people were camped out on the sidewalk. I know in the evening time is when the full protest begin. I figured since it was only 2pm, I would be ok. It looked like they were there for hours. Everyone was wearing a red shirt and had a hand noisemaker. I figured that I could make the most out of this situation by snapping some quick photos and be on my way. This area was occupied by “Red Shirts.” I didn’t see a foreigner in sight. I decided to take my camera out slowly and stand by the guard rail and started taking photos. The crowd was calm and they were very loud. Everyone was using their noisemaker and was yelling. I was in Bangkok for one full day and you really could see how the protest affected the city. Everything was closed. Many taxis refused to go near the protest zone. Bangkok’s subway system, the Mass Rapid Transit Authority of Thailand (MRTA), was on and off with service. The day after I visited Siam square, more than 21 people were killed and hundreds were injured. I was lucky. I decided to spend my time in one of Thailand’s most beautiful cities, Chang Mai. It didn’t have white sand with crystal clear water. It was covered with green lush bamboo trees and forest. I was lucky to be in Thailand for the Songkran festival which starts on April 13-15th. Chang Mai is supposed to be one of the most culturally significant cities in Northern Thailand, according to Wikipedia. We were lucky to celebrate New Years in Vietnam (called Tet), Hong Kong (Chinese New Year) and South Korea (Seollal) this year. Every country has their set of tradition and how to bring in the New Year. In my opinion, I feel that the Thais do it the best! I read that they celebrate by throwing water on you, which brings good luck and washes away evil. I spoke to many Thais while I was there and they all said something different. The most common answer was that Thailand is really hot during New Years and this is they best way to keep cool. I bought that answer and joined in on the festivities. I felt like I was 10 years old being in the streets on Chang Mai. I bought a water gun which was selling for 300 Baht and started washing away evil spirits and spreading good luck for the New Year. The thing about New Year’s in Thailand is that everyone is fair game. No one is excluded from being wet. In the streets on Chang Mai traffic is chaos. People drive up and down with their pick up trucks and there are usually five to six people in the back (all ages) and they have a big bucket of water and they spray water on you or even throw a bucket full of water on you. It’s an all out water fight. The celebration starts from 11am to around 8pm or depending when everyone starts to shiver from being so wet. It’s hard to describe the feeling you get from the celebration. If you happen to be in Thailand during April do yourself a favor and head to Chang Mai.


History Museums Around the World

9 03 2010

After our first round of traveling around Asia (Beijing, Hong Kong, Korea, Vietnam and Japan) I have to say that my three favorite museums are the War Memorial of Korea, War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City and the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum.

These three museums are an amazing asset to the local community and to the world. In my experience, some of the best museums charge less than $2 USD. All three of these museums are unique in many ways, sharing destruction and death.

One of the most rugged and in your face museums that I have visited is the War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam. As soon as you pay (less than a buck) you are directly faced with military aircraft such as big fighter jets, helicopters and military tanks that were used during the Vietnam War (the locals call it the American War). There are hundreds of bullet holes and dents in these amazing machines. It’s great that they have everything in your face and you have an opportunity to see it from Vietnam’s point of view. The memorabilia, photos and artifacts will blow your mind. I kept thinking that in 50 years from now this museum will not be standing because of the poor quality of the glass and security of the items. The glass that separates items from the public is extremely thin and can be easily broken. I wish that the government or some organization would do a better job to protect this museum so that future generations can see a part of history. The pictures in this museum are very real and gruesome, showing you a version of the war that we don’t see back in America. Nonetheless, it’s definitely an impressive museum.

If you’re ever in Seoul, a must see is the War Memorial of Korea.  As soon as you are in front of the museum you will notice the Statue of Brothers, the elder, a South Korean soldier and the younger, a North Korean soldier, which symbolizes the situation of Korea’s division. The Korean peninsula has seen many wars from neighboring powers. The War Memorial was built to commemorate actors and victims in the wars which led to the modern nation state. The museum also has the purpose of educating future generations by collecting, preserving, and exhibiting various historical relics and records related to the many wars fought in the country from a South Korean perspective. If you truly want to see evidence of how Japan invaded Korea and destroyed priceless art and buildings, travel around the peninsula and see with your own eyes. If you get a chance to go to Gyeongju, which use to be the capital you will see the destruction that was left. I have been told by countless Koreans that Japan doesn’t even acknowledge that amount of damage that they did to Korea. Click here to find out more about the Korean War.

Display of the nations' flags that participated with the U.N. during the Korean War

8:15am was the precise time that the bomb was dropped.

One of my favorite museums of all, is the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. It’s a funny feeling that you get once you step foot into this historical city. It’s like time stopped here (8:15 am on August 6, 1945 was the precise time the bomb was dropped over Hiroshima). I guess this museum is truly unique because how many other places had an atomic bomb destroy their city. This museum does a great job showing you how it was minutes after the A-bomb was dropped. If you’re ever in Japan, do yourself a favor and visit this part of history. After viewing the whole museum we had an opportunity to walk around this new vibrant city. Everyone says the people have moved on and as well as the city. But, you can’t help to think that one bomb so powerful, that people evaporated into thin air or burned into ashes at the drop of the bomb. Later on that evening as we were walking to our hostel, we had to walk pass the existing A-Bomb Dome. In 1966, the city decided to keep this structure in its original condition as a landmark from the war. The dome was registered on UNESCO’s World Cultural Heritage list in December 1996 as a monument that reminds us of the tragedy of the bombing, according to wikpedia. The city stood quiet as we walked toward our hostel, it was a really beautiful sight but I couldn’t help that the feeling was very eerie. I mean if you think about it, one bomb killed more than 80,000 people instantly. Does the soul ever find peace?

A-Bomb Dome

They said that plants and grass weren't going to grow in Hiroshima for another 75 years - this tree is in the preservation fence of the A-Bomb Dome.

When in Beijing

28 01 2010

We only had four days off for New Year’s, so we decided to go to Beijing with Kangsan Travel. We were hesitant about spending our vacation with a tour group, but it turned out to be a fun and fulfilling trip. As soon as we got off the plane, our fabulous tour guide, Charley, greeted us at airport. Charley, a Chinese man who had studied English in England, made the tour informative and extremely fun. We were able to do more than we could have done on our own.

Our first meal in China was very appropriate for the frigid weather that we faced. We went to a rustic temple restaurant where we had a traditional Hot Pot. It is commonly known as a Chinese fondue or steamboat. It is a mixture of lamb or pork and a variety of vegetables and is cooked in a hot pot of broth at the table. It’s guaranteed to warm anyone on a cold winter day.

Next, we headed to watch a traditional Chinese Acrobatic show. The performers were probably younger than 25 years old. When you go to Beijing be sure to stop by and experience an amazing show that teaches you more about the culture of China.

After a full day of traveling and sightseeing, we still decided to bring in the New Year’s, Beijing style! We partied in one of the hottest nightclubs that Beijing has to offer. VICS Club is located near Worker’s Stadium and is a haven for trendy locals who love to have a good time. It’s like two clubs in one with all kinds of great music. The DJs played hip hop, dance and club music. This was an unforgettable New Year. After 2am we decided to go to the hotel because we needed to get up by 8am to start our first adventure of the New Year by climbing the Great Wall of China. But, we couldn’t go back to Holiday Inn Lido Hotel without a hot dog!

The Great Wall of China

Climbing the Great Wall of China was amazing. Many people live their entire life wanting to make a trip to one of the wonders of the world and we were very excited to check the Great Wall off our list of “Things to do before I die.” The Great Wall of China is one of the cornerstones of Chinese culture. It’s one of the largest military walls in all of history and served to protect the early Chinese empire from hostile enemies. The Great Wall of China has been around for nearly 2000 years and still stands today as a wonderful architectural beauty. The Ming Dynasty built the Great Wall of China. It was built of stone, wood and bricks to keep enemies away. If you get a chance to climb this great wonder of the world, do it! Click here to find out more about the history of the Great Wall of China.

Summer Palace is a famous classic imperial garden with breathtaking views. In the wintertime you can go ice-skating on the frozen lake. The Summer Palace is a must see when you head to Beijing.

Tinanmen Square

Tiananmen Square is the largest city square in the world and it can hold up to 10 million people at one time! It is a symbol of China, as it sits in the center of Beijing and displays the Tinanmen Tower, the Great Hall and Mao Zedong’s memorial. It has been the site of many historical events, among which was a gathering of pro-democracy protesters in 1989. The protest lasted for six weeks after the leader of China who supported economic and political reform passed away. Protesters were mostly students who wanted economic change and democratic reform. The protest ended when hundreds of these protesters were killed by government troops in the streets. Click here to learn more about Tiananmen Square.

Behind Mao Zedong’s memorial laid the Forbidden City. Built in the 15th Century and consisting of 980 surviving buildings, the Forbidden City has been named a World Heritage Site and listed by UNESCO as the largest collection of preserved ancient wooden buildings. The Forbidden City is an amazing and enormous place. We were lucky to see the Forbidden City in snow.

The Forbidden City

But what is even larger than the Forbidden City is the Temple of Heaven. It is the largest group of structures in the country dedicated to rituals that pay homage to heaven. This temple was built specifically for the worship of heaven and prayers for good harvests during the time of the Ming and Qing dynasties. As we walked around I really thought that this name of the temple was very appropriate for this magnificent structure. But another interesting site near the Temple of Heaven wasn’t a structure; it was the park outside of the temple that was filled with elderly people enjoying life. They were singing, dancing, playing music and games. It was amazing to see the joy in these people’s lives with the even the simplest things.

Temple of Heaven

Shopping in China is an adventure in itself. If you don’t know how to bargain, stay home. For example if you’re looking to buy a tea set, the price starts at 500 Chinese Yuan. The game starts by going back and forth. I really enjoyed shopping in China because it involved a lot of acting and body language. After five minutes of going back and forth I was able to buy the same tea set for 50 Chinese Yuan, which is equivalent to $7.30. At the end even though I did a great job bargaining, I accepted that I still got ripped off. Everything in the world is made from China and it is quite amazing to see the people sell their products.

After traveling around the world, China stands out. There is something special about this unique and beautiful country. The food, diversity, culture and people of China are great. With more than 1.3 billion people living in China and 56 different dialects of the Chinese language, I think we have our work cut out for us as Americans. China is on the brinks of being the next superpower nation in the world. We would like to thank Kangsan travel and all of our friends who made this trip very special. Xing Nian Kwai le (Happy New Year)!

Bathing like a King and Queen

11 12 2009

The best thing to do after hiking is to find a jjimjilbong (찜질방). A jjimjilbong is a spa and sauna that is divided into male and female bath houses. They give you shorts, a shirt and a few towels, and then you go into the respective locker rooms and get naked. The first thing you must do before you step into the steaming jet stream bath is take a shower. Although everyone bathes in the same bath, Koreans don’t want you to contaminate the water, so you must wash off before entering any of the baths. Koreans also scrub each other in jjimjilbongs to get all of the dead skin off. After this, you are able to bathe in the hot bath, cold bath or salt bath. But, a jjimjilbong is much more than openly bathing with other people. After you’ve scrubbed your body to full freshness, you relocate to the sauna area in the clothes provided to meet other people, males and females. There are thousands of jjimjilbongs in Korea. But, one of the best jjimjilbongs we have visited is located in Busan.

Anyone who visits Korea and does not visit SpaLand in Shinsegae is doing a great disservice to your Korean experience. This place reminds me of how kings and queens must have lived. What we didn’t expect was for it to be so different from any other jjimjilbong we have visited. It has a variety of different baths and so many different saunas. Within your four hours, you can watch a movie in the DVD room on huge recliners, watch TV in the relaxation room, enjoy the sun from the indoors, go outside in the freezing cold and be warmed by stepping into a bath of hot water and you can experience all types of saunas to relax in or even take a nap. They have snack bars everywhere and you can pay with your key! Your ticket to pure relaxation will cost you 12,000 won for a visit on a weekday, 14,000 won on Saturday or Sunday with a 4-hour limit.

Meeting area for men and women

In the bathing area you’ll start to notice the stark beauty and opulence of the place with many small baths, each of a different temperature. In the center of the room is the naturally-fed hot springs. One is sodium chloride (salt, benefiting the muscles and joints, as well as other body systems), the second is sodium bicarbonate (baking soda, said to “improve beauty of the skin”). There is a massaging tub (38 degrees C), a cool tub (25 degrees C), a cold tub (18 degrees C) and four dry sauna rooms. After you are finished bathing with your respective gender, you can put on the provided clothes and go to the “Meeting Area,” where you can meet the other men or women. Below are the different saunas that you can experience:

Charcoal Room -참숯방

Ice Room – 아이스방 / 어름방

Yellow Ocher Room – Hwang-to / 황토방. Hot, but dry, comfortable.

Hammam Room – 하맘룸, meant to replicate a Turkish-style bath sauna.

Bali Room – 발리룸, an open area with soft reclining floor mattresses where you can congregate with your friends and loved ones and talk freely.

Pyramid room – angled walls for a relaxing mood.

Roman Room – 로만룸, replicates the feeling of a traditional Roman sauna room.

Body Sound Room – fake bamboo along the walls and raised platforms that vibrate with the bass of the calming background music.

Body Sound Room

Wave Dream Room- place to lay along the sides, and from the middle lights are reflected through water waves for a meditative, colorful view on the ceiling.

SEV Room – therapeutic ions emitted into semi-private, wooden 2-seater benches lit by dim colored lights.

Relaxation Room – an amazing 3-tiered arc-shaped space with reclining leather chairs together in pairs, each one equipped with its own mini TV!

Spaland also includes a massage and therapy room, nail salon, cafe and beverages, a restaurant, DVD, PC and business rooms. This is one of our favorite Korean experiences and we highly recommend making the trip to Shinsegae Department Store in Busan, the largest department store in the world.

After a few months of living in Korea, we are beginning to learn about the Korean way of life. Everyday we learn a little bit more on how Koreans enrich their lives by incorporating healthy habits in their lifestyle. When will the rest of the world catch on?

How to get there. Take line 2 on the subway toward Heaundae and stop at Centum City, exit 12. Spaland is on the first floor next to Prada in the Shinsegae Department Store in Busan, South Korea. Click here to see a map.

Hiking as a Pastime

9 12 2009

The food is only one part of the equation on maintaining a healthy lifestyle. The geography of Korea is 70 percent mountainous. What do people do when their country is covered with mountains? They go hiking! Because hiking is such a popular sport, Korea has many hiking clubs that offer weekly group outings for its members. Sunday is the biggest day for hiking because most people work Monday through Saturday. Unless you like crowds, avoid the mountains on Sundays! This is especially true during the autumn, when the entire country goes to admire the changing colors of the leaves.

In addition to hiking, the mountains or any park in Korea will have work out stations. This was a blessing when we first got here because we didn’t know have a gym membership. These work out stations are essentially like weight rooms in a gym or fitness club. They usually include a place to do sit-ups or crunches, standing push-ups and stretching machines. Some nicer parks or mountains will have all kinds of machines like weight machines that you use to lift your own weight, ellipticals, a bench press, a large hoola hoop and much, much more.

“It’s Good for your Health”

8 12 2009

by Randy Pulayya

After a few months in Korea, it became apparent that people love to take care of themselves. It doesn’t matter where you live in the world it is always important to spend time taking care of yourself. Everything from what we eat and drink to products that we put into our body has a lasting effect and will catch up to you in the end. The next three posts will give you an idea of how Koreans are so health conscious.

Korean food is much healthier than American food. It has less fat and more vegetables. One of the first things that we recognized in Korea is that there are very few obese people. Koreans always say “it’s good for your health.” It’s true. All of their food, if cooked and prepared properly is good for you. Their diet consists of everything from beef, pork, chicken, fish, octopus, squid, tofu, kimchi, cabbage, radish, collard mustards, lettuce, onions, ginger, ginseng root, other types of herbal roots and of course rice and noodles.

A Korean meal consists of a main dish, banchan (side dishes) and soup. The main dish is typically a fish or meat item. Banchan, or side dishes, includes kimchi, pickled cucumbers, pickled radish, white radish, tofu, etc. (There are countless items that can be included in the category.) At the end of the meal, you have to ask for soup. The most common soup is called doenjang jjigae (된장찌개), which is made from soy bean paste. Doenjang is a traditional Korean food that is fermented from soy beans. It has been a fixture of the Korean diet since the beginning of time. Recently, it has received great attention from western medicine for its nutritional and medicinal value. Doenjang is effective in preventing cancer. Soybeans, the main ingredient of doenjang, contain high quality proteins in the form of amino acid, which aid in digestion.

After three months, I have lost more than 16 pounds! I came to Korea and wanted to lose between 5-10 pounds but without even trying, I lost even more. I accomplished this by just eating the food and walking 20 minutes to and from work everyday. This is proof that Korean food is so much healthier than American food.