Tuesday, February 16, 2010

End of the Year video

This is the video that we created for my kids as a graduation gift! hope you like it!

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Sapporo- home to beer and LOTS of snow

So I traveled for my first time by myself from start to finish. Many times I have traveled parts of trips alone but this is the first time that I did not meet up with anyone and spent all my time by myself. Though it was only 30 hours, I learned a couple things. A) I am capable of doing EVERYTHING alone and coming out quite fine. B) If I travel alone for more than a couple days, I will probably starve to death.

I decided to go to Japan because there is a snow festival every year in the city of Sapporo and I really wanted to see it. Unfortunately it was one week before my long weekend and there is only one flight a day to and from Seoul to Sapporo. I decided though I will probably only live in Asia once and I might as well just go, even if just for a day.

When I landed in Sapporo I was surpised how easy it was to go from the aiport to the city. There were signs everywhere for the train and I just bought a ticket from the machine (thank god I have lived in so many cities that ticket machines are probably easier for me to navigate than ATMs) and jumped right onto the train. The train left 2 minutes later. The last stop was downtown and my hotel was supposed to be only 5 minute walk. When I got out I looked at my map from the hotel and started walking. It was only one turn and it shouldn’t have been hard. Of course, best laid plans of mice and men…..

I started walking south towards my hotel with a spring in my step. It had just started to lightly snow and I was pretty sure nothing could have been better. "Winter Wonderland" were the words that popped in my mind. Then I came to the festival. This was a problem because my hotel was supposed to be before the festival. That’s okay must have been the wrong road. I went one road to the east and started walking back up, still pretty happy. As I walked it started to snow a bit harder…. Back at the train station…. Okay now the snow isn’t so majestic and I am cold and I want a hotel. Lets go on the next street…..

I ended up wondering around for about 20 minutes in what ended up turning into blizzard conditions. Finally I walked into a 5star hotel covered in snow lugging my bag and begging the front desk people to help me find my hotel. Thankfully I looked pathetic and they were super kind and they gave me a map with directions. Even better I was only 2 blocks away.

So I checked in, dropped off my stuff and set off for the festival. The sculptures were massive!! The snow is brought in from the mountains and sculputed into different themes. One was sponsored by the zoo so it was an awesome animal theme. Tokyo Disney did one with mini and mickey. The country of Germany had one (not sure why) which was done up as one of their famous squares. And then KOREA!! had one! It was one of the palaces and it was just beautiful.

Korea's snow replica of one of the palaces in Seoul

There were also smaller sculptures. Some were done by individuals and there was even a country contest. People from all over the world are flown in to compete for their country. I liked the one from Holland the best. They were just sawing their blocks, wrapping them up and giving them to kids. It was really cute and it had an awesome bow on it too.

While I was walking around during the day I was having a bit of an issue because it was snowing really really hard. If I hadn’t just flown all the way to Japan there was no way I would have been outdoors. The flakes were huge and it was falling fast. I would say at least 3inches fell in the 2 hours while I was walking around. Needless to say I was drenched. My camera was also getting really wet which was a problem because then it would start to freeze. Not the best for a fancy SLR camera. I finally admitted defeat and went back to my hotel for a long shower and to dry out my clothes.

After a bit the snow finally stopped and I headed back out. My main goal was to eat dinner but I was too nervous to go in anywhere to eat. I didn’t see English anywhere and I was nervous I wouldn’t be able to communicate what I wanted to eat. Yes I know this might be silly but everyone has their issues and this one is mine. So I wondered around the festival a bit more and took some more pictures. There were a bunch of performances going on which was fun and then started to wonder around looking for food with picture menus. As I walked I found a street that had hundreds of ice sculptures on display which was really cool. There were ballot boxes too and the winner would be picked at the end of the week. Then I finally found a place I woud be willing to eat at. I took a deep breath, grabbed the handle and NOTHING. The restaurant had closed at 8 and it was 8:05.

I decided I was not meant to eat in a restaurant and went back to festival found a tent that was selling noodles and ate in the tent. It was delicious though I probably need to come back to Japan some day and actually eat the food.

The next morning I got up early and walked over to the old Sapporo factory. Its where the beer was first invented and oddly enough has been turned into a mall. Which actually worked out well because I wanted to buy a couple things from Japan. I ended up finding this awesome little shop with this man that was making thinks from felt. But he was creating his own felt with wool, water and soap. It was so awesome and his stuff was just gorgeous. I ended up buying some boot/slippers from him that I am just in love with.

I had just enough time to run back to my hotel and then catch a train back to the airport and off to Korea. It was a whirlwind of a trip, that was for sure. But it was really great to get out of Seoul for the weekend and see something different. It just makes me excited for the "big one" that stars on March 7th. Can't wait!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Christmas in Seoul

I was really nervous about having Christmas in Korea. I have never spent the holiday away from my family and I thought it just would make the winter depressing without something to look forward to. I was not sure how Korea would (if they did at all) celebrate this holiday. Most Koreans are not Christian and the culture is obviously not a Christian one. But surprisingly, Seoul did a GREAT job of celebrating this holiday. I guess this is not surprising though considering they take to western ideas like fish to water and what is more western than Christmas??
sculpture at Seoul Plaza that had an outline of an Haechi

On December 18th they advertised for this big lights night. It was supposed to be a big lighting and things all over the city. There was supposed to be a big light show as well and things up and down the river. We decided to go and take some pictures and get in the holiday spirit. For some reason though there seemed to be some confusion on "holiday lights". We started off at Seoul Plaza where they had an exhibit for this artic research station that Korea has. The mixed in with the station were all these decorated Haechi's. Haechi's are the mythelogical creature that was believed to live in the mountains surronding Seoul that protected the city. I think they are darling and am a bit obsessed with them.
Riding a Haechi. You can take a girl out of Texas but can't take Texas out of a girl

So we walked around there a bit. While we were at one of the "stations" we got caught up in a huge group of poeple which we soon found out was the mayor.
A famous Korean cartoon character. We were all in love

We then walked down to the stream. Where there was supposed to be lights. We saw a huge chirstmas tree and all these people standing around. And oh look.... its the mayor again. He was lighting the tree (which was fairly dinky) and there was lost of cheering.

It was almost 7 so we started to walk to the "main event". There were people everywhere and we managed to find our way behind the stage. As we sat waiting for the event to start we looked around the dark plaza at all the chrstimas lights that were off and couldnt wait to see them all turned out. Then music started and out came.... the mayor! There was some tlaking and some music then everyone put their hands on those electric globe things (?) and then... nothing.... nothing...
The mayor giving his speech before starting the "show"
Ahhhh its.....

.... weird shapes on the building?
I wish I could say this picture was staged. It was really that loud.

They had some bizarre video playing on the buildings. No lights no nothing. And it wasnt even Christmas themed. And it had the LOUDEST house music ever pumping through the plaza. It was the most bizarre unchristmas like thing I had ever witnessed. Oh well we still had a laugh and a great time with friends!
Alex and I in front of the only Christmas lights at the "Light Festival"

Overall though Christmas season was a blast here. There were lots of lights everywhere and good old fashion christmas tunes. I also volunteered to hand out coffee to homeless men at a train station and sing carols which was probably one of the highlights from the season.