Monday, May 14, 2007

Taste of Tokyo and a Bite of Beijing!

Konichiwa, friends!

It's been a long time since I've written about my adventures, and, if it is possible, they have gotten even better! Just a few days ago, I returned from my week and a half stint in Beijing and Tokyo with my Uncle Dave. What a blast!!

So, Beijing... China's capital and the future home of the 2008 Olympics (and they're not afraid to remind you!). Aside from the pollution generated by construction of new buildings and the large pollen clusters that often looked like snow hanging in the air, Beijing was a fascinating city to see. What was most interesting to me is how from all of my travels in China, Beijing seemed to be the most tourist contrived. The main attractions included The Temple of Heaven, Summer Palace, Forbidden City, and, of course, the Great Wall. Out of all of those destinations, the Great Wall was my favorite. This is thanks to my quick-thinking USC roommate, Jooree, who guided us by bus and sketchy mini-bus in a 4 hour journey to a remote section of the Wall - completely authentic and definitely non-touristy. Authenticity is the most important factor to me, I've realized, because it makes me feel connected to the culture on a deeper level of history. As you can see from the pics, the views were beautiful!On to Tokyo... my favorite city in Asia! I was absolutely blown away by the cleanliness, efficient public transport, high tech sensory overload, kindness of the locals, and of course the Disneylands. As many of you might know, I feel about Disneylands the way most people feel about God. So, seeing 4 out of the 5 Disneylands in the world was a spiritual experience for me. haha I know, I should start a cult... who's with me?? The most impressive theme park that I have officially ever been to in the ENTIRE world was DisneySea. The park, as you will see from my obnoxious amount of pictures, centers around a beautiful lake with a life-size erupting volcano in the background. As each ride is sponsored by individual Japanese companies, each ride is perfection in itself - a core part of the Japanese culture. Interestingly, rides such as Pirates and Haunted Mansion were SCARIER in Tokyo, reflecting an integral part of the culture (as evident by the movies produced there like the original Ring). I loved that every ride was narrated in Japanese! It made it feel so authentic... and we all know how much I love authenticity ;-) The culmination of my day that brought the whole experience full circle was eating Japanese curry and watching the Disneyland Parade. What a cultural experience! Oh, and the parade was, well... magical. sigh. I definitely plan to revisit the park in a detailed 2 day excursion next time!

More on Tokyo... If it is possible, the Tokyo locals are even more friendly and helpful than those in Hong Kong - and that's saying a lot because Hong Kong people are so sweet! People would literally see me glancing at my map and offer to help me buy my ticket and guide me to my destination themselves. Although, imagine my surprise to discover that within this friendly culture is a blossoming porn industry that surpasses the developments in North America. As you will see from my pics, you can buy little anime stripper dolls from machines and buy anime porn. Talk about creative! OH! And, you don't need to worry about gambling with me, Mom, because despite the presence of slot machines in ElectricTown (the up and coming tech district of Tokyo), I managed to burn US$20 on those claw machines where you can win stuffed animals. Oh yes, I was a natural. hehe Visiting Tokyo has inspired me to consider a fellowship there for 6 months, post grad. I can now understand how people become obsessed with the culture! I LOVED IT!! Color me obsessed ;-)

Well, kids, I've got to finish packing for my last excursion of 10 days touring Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia. This will be the trip to test my comfort zone and travel abilities in every way, and I couldn't be more excited to start! Although it makes me (and my mother) a little nervous, I am confident that I can put that worrying energy to good use and find the fun in whatever experiences come my way! Until next time...

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Thailand is for lovers... Guangzhou is for adventurers!

How is life on your side of the world? Mine is busy with school ending in 2 weeks and squeezing as much travel as I can into the short time that I have left. Since I last wrote, I have taken a wonderful vacation to Pattaya in Thailand (just 1 1/2 hours outside of Bangkok) and a short weekend excursion to Guangzhou (a city 1 hour outside of Hong Kong in Mainland). Life is good, besides this pesky thing called school :-)

So Thailand... Although Mike and I hardly "roughed it - backpacker style" in our resort hotel with 12 restaurants, we did manage to see a future Wonder of the World called The Sanctuary of Truth (made completely of hand-carved wood from all over Asia) and pet baby tigers. That's right, if you couldn't believe that I kissed a pink dolphin, I think you're going to have an even harder time imagining me feeding a baby tiger out of a bottle in my lap. It was so hot and sticky in Thailand that we spent a whole day at the beautiful Coral Island where we shared a boat with a wealthy Western business man and his teenage Thai escort. That rather disturbing detail about the sex industry in Pattaya followed us on every outing, as Pattaya we later learned is the Red Light district of Thailand. It seemed strange how the girls laughed at all the foreigner's bad jokes and held their hands. It made me wonder how a young girl comes into such a job. Sometimes, the Thai girls even brought their daughters along on the tours too. I'm sure on any other of my adventures, I would have sat down for a chat with one to ask about it, but our organized tour in the open air taxi seemed hardly appropriate.

The food in Thailand was some of the best that I've had in Asia. Pineapple fried rice is a famous dish that I'm determined to cook regularly when I return to USC. In fact, officially Thailand has the best oreo milkshake that I have ever had. Amazing! Something that would surely make my little brother proud ;) Overall, it was difficult to experience the truly authentic Thai culture that you might find traveling to villages out of tourist areas. But, nonetheless, the company (Mike, that's you!) more than made up for it!

On to Guangzhou... I literally just unpacked from this two day excursion to Mainland China. Guangzhou, on the surface, seems like any ordinary city - a little dirty, grey, and concrete. But, it was because of my school mate's and my determination to have a cultural experience, that it was surprisingly fun. Aside from the notoriously cheap shopping that yielded a $4 pair of suede turquoise boots, the gardens and parks were amazing. Milena and I climbed a nine story pagoda that was one of the most beautifully artistic that I have seen. (Naturally, we have pictures of the whole climbing process). We took a day trip to the neighboring city of Foshan where we got hopelessly lost because well-meaning locals kept pointing us in the wrong direction, and we wound up in beautiful zen-like park (also thoroughly documented). It really was one of those times where you realize that the right attitude and the good company can make any city fun!

Well, kids, sorry to be a bit abrupt, but I really must get back to work. All of my classes have 10+ page papers due now :-( Quite sad, really. The next time I write I will tell you of my adventures with my favorite Uncle Dave to Beijing and Tokyo! WOOHOO to cool family members who visit me :-D

Friday, March 9, 2007

Singapore Slingin

Hello friends,

I have just returned from my first solo adventure to the beautiful country of Singapore, and it was unforgettable! I continue to stretch my comfort zone while, at the same time, learn how to be happy when I'm alone with myown thoughts and my camera with a self-timer!!

When I first arrived in the country of the orchid, I was quickly reminded
what 95 degrees and humid feels like - so the jeans and dress-casual shirts
that I brought were not going to cut it, especially in the no AC hostel from
HELL that I was staying in. So what did the product of many years in a
Marriott do??... Well, I went to a tourist alley about bought one sun dress
and one skirt to mix and match my shirts with for about US$25 dollars
(pricey coming from HK)! I really thought that I could "rough it" for 3
nights in a dorm-style hostel with a smelly, snoring man in the bunk below
me... but I drew the line when, in the morning, I found a cockroach in my backpack!! No better way to keep you out and about than living in a gross hole that you want to spend as little time sleeping in as possible!

The first day was spent going camera-happy with my newly discovered timer. The locals would offer to take my picture when they saw me setting the camera up, but where would be the fun if I let them?? After all, some of the pictures and the attempted pictures left me laughing so hard at myself, that I swear people thought I was crazy. It was great! This behavior continued, especially when I spent the next morning in the National Orchid and Botanical Gardens. How incredibly beautiful and ultimately humorous, as you will see from some of the pics. Apparently, after my many adventures in Asia, I have learned to find humor in everything to keep my journeys light-hearted. That's when I always have the most fun, anyway!

Let's fast-forward to my posh evening at the Raffles Hotel, the home of the famous Singapore Sling with the US$2,000 per night rooms, and the classy old men with adorably cheesy pick-up lines. No joke, I had one Australian man (who told me that he had a daughter who was MY age) give me flowers. Thenthere was the bartender who made me a rose out of a strawberry. HA! What an ego boost!! To think, in LA these would have been derogatory cat calls! I love Singapore!

However, it was on the third day that the best part of my trip, definitely in my Top 5 Asia Experiences, occurred on a small island called Sentosa just off the coast of Singapore. I took the "first ever" glass bottom cable car ride across a stretch of ocean to the island where I then proceeded to take a heart-racing ski lift across the island to Dolphin Lagoon - let's just say that the fear of heights is conquered! There, I was determined to stretch out my comfort zone and swim with the dolphins. So imagine my disappointment when I approached the ticket office and they told me that it was not possible. Impossible?! Not in a Korneluk's vocabulary!! So I bought a ticket to watch the dolphin show and a bag of kettle corn to drown my sorrows in and took a seat close to the front. Toward the end of the show, the announcer called for two volunteers to "get almost completely wet." Before I could stop myself, my hand shot in the air and began lightly flailing. HE PICKED ME! First he had me make an idiot of myself by trying to holla-hoop. Just when I began to think that I signed up for the wrong event, he ushered me over to the water where one of the pink endangered Indo-Pacific dolphins was playing. OH MY GOD, IT WAS SOOO COOL!! I got to pet it, and then it splashed water at me and then to make nice, it kissed me on the cheek! So FRIGGIN AMAZING! I really wish you could have been there.

As it turns out... I, Cheryl Korneluk, actually like animals (now family, don't disown me!). I think it's unbelievable that I had the opportunity to interact with a creature from Southeast Asia that could be extinct by the time that I have grandchildren (hopefully not!). What a life experience!
You know what's next, right? I want to ride and elephant when I visit Thailand next weekend, and after that I will go on a quest to hug a panda! Seriously, as I type, I am still smiling about the dolphin awesomeness that happened 3 days ago. Sigh...

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Spring Break, China-style!

Hello friends,

Do I have stories to tell you! I just returned from 10 days in Mainland China. An adventure that began in Shanghai for Chinese New Year and ended in some smaller but incredibly beautiful towns in the south. I'm sorry for the delay in any email responses - but trust me, the novel that you are about to read will more than make up for it!

Let's begin with the mayhem that was Chinese New Year in Shanghai... did you know that there are absolutely no restrictions on fireworks there?! Literally, at dusk on New Year's Eve, the loud crack the firework noise makers and sparks resonated throughout the streets of Shanghai, being set off in front of every store for good luck. I was traveling with two girls and three boys, so you can imagine the display that we were adding to the excitement. The fireworks in Shanghai were nothing like anything that I have seen for the Fourth of July in the US. Sadly, the pictures can't do them justice. I guess you'll just have to go China next year and see for yourself :-) i highly recommend it.

The day after the festivities, we took a day trip to Hangzhou, which is famous for its huge lake that local families vacation to for hiking and sailing. Probably the best part was riding on the train and trying to have a conversation with people with just our Mandarin phrase book. Small children laughed at us. But I actually enjoy being laughed at here... because I'd laugh at me too (especially if you look at my hair in ponytails!) Obviously, Shanghai was a full trip filled with walks down the infamous Nanjing Road (there was a sephora there!), exploration of city center at the Bund, and our very insightful visit to the Chinese Sex Culture Museum. But I'll try to just give you the highlights because the true adventure began in Guilin.

Leaving our four star hotel complete with KitKats on our pillow, we took an hour plane ride from Hong Kong to Guilin, where we student hostel hopped. My friends and I were looking for the local experience, and we definitely found it. Did I mention that the toilets in Mainland China are in the ground? Let's just say I conquered my fear of squatting and am now an expert - it actually makes much more sense than regular toilets! But I digress...

So Guilin was a bit of a tourist trap. They charged us for EVERYTHING - they even charge admission to walk around a local park. Luckily of tour guide who went to school for English Business, knew were to take us. Our day began with a forty cent meal of rice noodles at a little hole in the wall downtown. We then spent our afternoon touring a famous local cave with a light show inside and took a ski lift up a huge mountain to see the hazy view of the countryside. The highlight of our guided adventure was taking a little bamboo raft in the Li River where we got to paddle. The guide had us pull over to shore to walk around (and I learned how to skip stones for the first time!) and converse with a local fishing family. It was here that the most wonderful and fantastic thing happened... I got to hold a BABY! He could not have been more than 2 months old and was ADORABLE. I'm starting up a collection when I get back called Buy Cheryl a Baby Fund. We accept cash, credit card or illegal kidnapping services ;-)

Moving down the river... we took a 3 hour boat ride to Yangshou. It is a cute little town with a busy mainstreet and lots of vendors trying to sell you things that you don't need. During the two full days that we were there, we saw a lot of the countryside by bike. And let me just say that biking for 4 hours made me realize that I have a limit to my threshold for nature. haha The first day, we stopped to shoot hoops with a couple kids in this random little rundown town. Most of the towns that we visited (we later learned) are 1000 years old! The babies are sooooo cute!! The second day, we had this local girl (our age) who took us to her village by bike (2 hours away) and we had lunch at her house where every part of the meal was either grown/caught in her village - even the delicious flower tea. In the afternoon, she took us to a famous cave where we took a bath in this dark and rather disgusting natural mud pool and then rinsed up in the cave waterfall (it had a ceiling over 90 meters high!) It was sooooo cold in the water!!

Finally, on the last day, we took a two hour excursion to the Ping an village that is at the top of a mountain and was completely isolated from the rest of the world until just a few years ago. It is famous for the women who only cut their hair once in their lives (when they marry at age 18). The average income per family is about US$40 per year. They seem happy though, living off of the rice terraces and drinking pure mountain water. We totally got suckered in to paying to have our picture taken with their long hair. Before we could stop them, they started dressing us in their clothes haha imagine our shock! The hair, that they insisted that we hold, was heavy and touched the ground. The old women never get grey hair, and this is attributed to the fact that they only use rice water to wash it. And I was freaking out not having my Panteen Pro-V! The hike around the rice terraces was beautiful. They only harvest the rice once a year in June. The village is so small, I don't know how they do it.

Well, that was my adventure in a serious nut shell. It was probably the most amazing thing that I have done so far. It really tested the boundaries of my comfort zone. And, I'm proud to say, I passed. Don't believe me?

Until next time! I LOVE hearing from everybody so please keep in touch :-)

Monday, January 8, 2007

Lei Ho, Hong Kong!

Lei Ho friends,

Hong Kong is AMAZING!! I write to you now nibbling on a piece of "dragon fruit," a purple and green-tipped pineapple looking fruit native to Asia. The fact that I can say this is incredible to me - not because I have recently discovered that I am the pickiest eater on my floor of native Hong Kong students who eat their pork with the heads and teeth still attached but because I actually made it to Asia.

In the six days that I have spent in this unbelievable city, I have seen 8 of
the 23 Must See sections from my Hong Kong guidebook. Much of this was thanks to my adventurous elder brother who accompanied me on my journey. I've bartered, bought a fake rolex, seen a monkey out of captivity, climbed the thousands of stairs to the Temple of Ten Thousand Buddhas, and learned three phrases in Cantonese.

Anyway, this is my quick email to kick off my adventure... and please keep me posted on your adventures as well! I miss you terribly, and I look forward to seeing you in 6 months!