Monday, December 15, 2014

Japan, man.

こんにちわ! Konnichiwa!

Hey friends, family, and fellow study abroad students, welcome to my attempted blog about all of my experiences here in Japan! I say "attempted blog" because I'm not the most avid or creative blogger, as I'm sure you could already tell by that cheesy introduction. Anyway, I've been living in Japan for about three months now and I think it's time for an update of what's been going down here in glorious Nippon.

Adventuring around Kamakura
Let's rewind back to September, when I first arrived in Japan. The fact that I'd be living in an entirely different country blew me away. Actually, I still find myself having random thoughts of "holy crap, I'm in Japan!" Trust me, it's a pretty awesome feeling. The transition from Hawaii to Japan was obviously a big one. Culture shock was only just a myth to me before coming here, and now I experience it everyday. Everything is different, from the way people speak (duh) to the way they walk (trust me, that's a thing). I actually experienced a bad period of homesickness during late September through October, as my excitement over Japan was replaced with an "I hate everything" phase. Add a huge language barrier to cold weather and no poke bowls or spam musubis and you get two months of me just being an extremely grumpy and frustrated person. #hawaiiproblems.

The Great Buddha of Kamakura is bae

But alas, I've finally come over the huge hurdle of homesickness, and it's scary to say that I don't think I ever want to leave this place. Besides a beach that doesn't have gross water or gray sand, Japan pretty much has everything. I've even found a little restaurant called "Hawaii Town," and they have everything from loco mocos, to spam fried rice, to MALASADAS. To top it off, there's a T.V. screen displaying all the awesome hikes and views of Hawaii. Let's just say I shamelessly cried in a restaurant while eating kalua pig. I probably gave all of the Japanese customers an interesting view of how all gaijins (foreigners) act in public- which is embarrassing.

At the famous Shibuya crossing
Of course, my life here wouldn't be as great if it wasn't for the people I've met here. Not to get all emotional via blog, but I've seriously met some of the coolest people here. It's awesome to have friends that are going through the same experiences as you, and are there to help you through anything, especially since we're all going through the same thing! Before leaving Hawaii, I've heard all sorts of things about how "you'll meet your best friends while studying abroad", or "you'll begin to find out who you are as a person," blah blah blah.. Well, it's true! There are so many things I've learned and am continuing to learn, and I can't wait to see what else is in store for me after the holidays/ these next few months!







Monday, December 1, 2014

Thailand: A Photo Journal

Thus far in Thailand, I have been very lucky to be able to travel outside of the university and the city, and explore what the "Land of Smiles" has to offer. No matter what kind of adventure you're looking for, more likely than not, Thailand has it.

Sukhothai

Sukhothai is one of the early kingdoms which dominated part of what is now modern-day Thailand. "Sukhothai" translates to "the dawn of happiness."

Ayutthaya

Like Sukhothai, Ayutthaya was once a mighty kingdom. It was the dominating kingdom after the death of King Ramkhanghaeng and Sukhothai's subsequent kings' being unable to keep Sukhothai as prosperous and strong as it once was.
The famous Buddha head in a tree at Wat Mahathat

Pattaya and Ko Larn

Many of the international students living in my dorm are actually in Thailand through  GlobaLinks/ISA. I was able to tag along with the program's group trip to Pattaya and the island of Ko Larn for a weekend.
The islands off Pattaya are easily accessible via ferry, and our group went to a beautiful and quiet private beach. On our last day, we visited a few landmarks.
Sanctuary of Truth, a temple approx. 20 stories tall and made entirely of wood (that's me in the middle!)
The interior of the Sanctuary of Truth
A great view while eating great food at the revolving restaurant atop the Pattaya Park Tower

Around Bangkok

Though Thailand's capital city is busy, bustling, and definitely crowded, I've learned not to underestimate its gems. There's something new to see and do every day.
The largest reclining Buddha in Thailand at Wat Pho
There's a lot to see around Wat Pho
One of the many malls in Bangkok...
The exterior of Wat Arun, also known as the Temple of Dawn
The steep climb up Wat Arun
View of the Chao Phraya River from the top of Wat Arun

Chinatown

 A vegetarian festival (Jia Chai) in October means even better food in Bangkok's Chinatown!
A tuktuk (motorcycle taxi)

Buddhamonthon Park

This park is only a 10- to 15-minute walk from my dorm. It is the largest sacred place of Buddhism in Thailand, made up of various sections that symbolize the stages of Buddha's life. This park is home to the Office of National Buddhism. People from all over the country gather here on the holiest Buddhist holiday, Visakha Bucha Day, in May. Buddhamonthon ("Phutthamonthon" in Thai) Park is a popular area for locals to gather, have picnics, jog, and exercise. It is also an ideal place to simply rest and have some quiet moments.
From my favorite spot in the park: the reflection pool
Considered the tallest free-standing Buddha statue in the world at 52 ft. (almost 16 m.)
Inside the marble temple, which contains the entire Buddhist scripture engraved on 1418 marble slates
My friend Kat reading a book next to the Wheel of Dharma

 Koh Chang 

This island is on the eastern side of Thailand, accessible by ferry from Trat, a province that borders Cambodia. "Koh" means island. A few of us took an easy 500-meter hike up Klong Plu Waterfall, walked through a floating market at Bang Bao Pier, and settled down for some beach time at Klong Kloi beach.
Klong Plu Waterfall
Our view from a restaurant on the pier
Klong Kloi Beach as it began to rain...
My friend Grace looking for snails and crabs on the rocky beach at our hotel as we watched the sunrise

Hua Hin

This is where the royal family vacations! Our main attractions were the hike to Phrayanakhon Cave in a national park accessible by boat, and a great beach for sunbathing (because of all the jellyfish...).
Phrayanakhon Cave
Arts and crafts for sale at Cicada Night Market

Chiang Mai: Loi Krathong Festival 

Chiang Mai is well known for its Loi Krathong Festival during the full moon in November, though it is celebrated in other towns/cities with rivers such as Sukhothai. "Loi" (sometimes spelled "loy") means "float," and "krathong" is a lantern made from a banana tree trunk and leaves, often adorned with flowers. Floating the lanterns is symbolic of carrying away suffering and bad luck. It also expresses gratitude toward and asks forgiveness from the Goddess of Water. We made and floated loi krathong into the river, and my friend decided to buy a khom loi, another type of lantern which is lit and released into the air instead of the water.
There are so many stray dogs in Thailand; my friend Luke loves them all
Walking around Doi Suthep during the day, before the Loi Krathong festivities at night
My loi krathong
Families and friends gather to release khom loi and loi krathong

Chiang Mai: Elephant Nature Park

This elephant sanctuary is one of the most famous in Thailand for rescuing elephants from abusive environments, including the ever-popular elephant rides (chairs on the elephants' backs actually carry more weight than their backs are supposed to bear), street begging, and illegal logging practices. The sanctuary also serves as a shelter for other stray and abandoned animals including dogs and cats. It's a great place to visit, volunteer, and learn more about how tourism has affected the wellness of Asian elephants as a species.
Feeding time! This time, we're the ones in the cage
(Thanks to my friend Kim for catching my moment!)
Our group's shenanigans during river bathing
View of our last sunset in Chiang Mai city from our hostel balcony
BONUS! We found a space-themed cat cafe called Catmosphere
Trying to drink my tea!

 Kanchanaburi

This town has a rather more low-key atmosphere than most other tourist destinations. We went to Erawan National Park, which features a seven-tier waterfall. We stayed only for one night before returning to Bangkok a couple of hours away.
Popular park for both tourists and locals
The 4th level has natural water slides
Late afternoon sun as we say "see you later" to Erawan
Whew! That's all for now! Returning to Hawaii will be bittersweet. Nonetheless, I know I've had the time of my life, learned more about Thai and southeast Asian society than I would have any other way, and met some wonderful people along my journey. ขอบคุณคะ (khop khun kha/thank you)!