Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Robots and Poppies, Oh My...


Have you been to the Robot Restaurant in Tokyo? If the answer is no, you probably should stop reading this right now. This show, like most things in life, is best experienced with minimal expectations. Seeing photos or reading my feeble attempts to explain what I witnessed would adversely affect your ability to be a blank slate and I don't want that. You don't want that. Trust me. Go away. Shoo!!!

Still here? Ok, then you must have been to the show. It was pretty nuts, right? I mean, going in...a restaurant featuring robots...I was already expecting something kind of kitschy or techy or who really knows what I was expecting, but wowza, it was beyond all of that. All I knew was that it was best to book beforehand, both because the show sells out and because you can get tickets cheaper online . Also, I'd read that restaurant part of The Robot Restaurant is kind of a farce and it is best to book just the show without the bento box but that was the extent of my research.

I am convinced that this naïveté was one of the reasons I enjoyed the show as much as I did.  So, if you are only pretending that you have been to the show, this is your last chance to turn away. If you click "read more", there will be pictures. And video.  The web is a giant place. You could simply go elsewhere. Did you know that goat yoga is a thing? Have you ever seen hamsters eating teeny tiny burritos? Vaya con robots and come back once you have seen the show.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Day 3 in Seoul: Gangnam Meerkats!!!


Remember the song "Gangnam Style"? It was that impossibly catchy tune that came with its own little horsey dance; the one whose video still holds the title for most watched on YouTube. That song, penned by S Korean rapper Psy, is about Seoul's ritziest neighborhood and the trendy folks who hang there. That alone is not enough for me to want to visit Gangnam. Streets lined with all the high end stores-the ones I can not afford but would not shop at even if I could- don't really call my attention either. But you know what does peak my interest? A giant Gangnam Style monument, that's what. 

Built at a cost of $366,000, the 27x17 foot bronze monument is supposed to have a motion detector that flashes lights and plays the song whenever anyone approaches. Its location, in front of the heavily trafficked COEX convention center, where parts of the video were filmed, means that this thing must be going off constantly. Alas, during my visit, the crossed fists were the very picture of silence. I imagine this came about as a result of (a) tearful pleas from local residents (b) a mild-mannered man pushed beyond his limits, wielding a hammer while yelling "Oppan Gangnam this, motherfuckers!" or (c) it was unplugged for the prior day's Cultural Festival. Based on the number of workers removing tents and banners,  I'm leaning towards C.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Day 2: Reventada en Seoul

Whenever I tell my friend, Ivon, about one of my latest escapades- how I managed to snag the last tickets to a concert; got bumped off a flight for big $$; ran into a celebrity while walking down the street- her response is always the same. "Que clase de reventada eres, coño", meaning that I am lucky AF.

At least, I think that is what she means. I have exhaustively googled this phrase, even focusing on Cuban slang dictionaries, in search of that definition and nada. I found sites that translate it to busted, tired or even slutty...nothing about lucky. Still, she is a good friend so I am choosing to believe her.

The truth is she might be right. While I do try to research my travels and do my best to be at the right place and the right time, I have to admit that a lot of my coolest experiences have happened as total flukes. Take for example, my second day in Seoul. I had already done the DMZ tour, so my plan was to get a 24 hr ticket on the Hop-On/ Hop-Off tour and explore some of the neighborhoods a friend had recommended.

I was staying in the Pangyo district, south of the city so Sunday morning, I boarded a bus to Gwanghwamun Square, where the tour would originate. For reasons I did not understand, the bus stopped several blocks short of my destination and the driver explained that I would have to walk the rest of the way. No problem, I had time.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Country #105*: N. Korea. Sort of.

Before my most recent trip, I reached out to a friend with a pressing question.

 Since you are my arbiter of what counts and doesn't count in the country list, here's a question for you. My next trip goes to China, S. Korea and Japan. I've been to all of those so no new countries there but- there is a DMZ tour from Seoul that takes you into a building that straddles the border. After signing all kinds of releases, you can go and stand on the N Korean side of the building. From the pictures I have seen, it looks pretty identical to the S Korean side but I imagine there is a line of some kind painted on the ground. While technically you are in N Korea, I'm not sure that this should count because you are not really stepping onto N Korean soil. It feels more akin to stopping in an airport. Then again, unless I buddy up to Dennis Rodman, this is probably the closest I'll be able to get to N Korea. Question: Does it count?

I felt that my friend, the person who got me started counting countries, was best suited to resolving this conundrum.

His response: If this were, say, Hungary and Slovakia, I would say no way.  But it is REALLY unlikely that you will ever have a better chance to go to North Korea… so I vote YES that counts.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Beijing Revisited: Wait, What Exactly Is This We Are Breathing??


February 2008

The scene: Around 20 of us are taking part in an escorted tour through China. In the span of seven days, we are whisked through Beijing, Xian and Shanghai. It is very much a checklist tour. Great Wall: check. Terracotta Warriors: check. Endless shopping stops: checkity check check. For the most part, we are subjecting ourselves to this style of travel because of the unbeatably low price. While lamenting this rushed presentation, a philosopher amongst us says something along the lines of:' Let's look at this as a highlights tour. There is no way we are going to appreciate anything in depth so let's see this as a way of figuring out where we want to spend more time when we come back.' This made a lot of sense to me and became the mindset I used to stop myself from flattening the tires on our tour bus.

Fast forward to May 2017
Almost a decade later, I am finally back in China. It is an even shorter stay, two days in Beijing, but at least it is a chance to finally enjoy the city at a slower pace. My plan was to return to the two places where I had most wanted to linger, the Wall (of course) and the Hutongs, as well as  check out some places I hadn't had a chance to see the first time around.