JAPAN!!! (The Incredibly Long Post)

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“Look, I’m in an airplane” Selfie

Ironically, I’m writing this long post about Japan as I’m waiting in the airport, about to leave Tokyo. I just didn’t have any time to write these past few days! There’s so much to see and do in Tokyo, it’s ridiculous.

So, some backstory: I’m on this trip with my mom and oldest brother, and we’ve all really wanted to visit for years. We were originally booked with a tour group, but too many people dropped out, so the group was disbanded at the last minute. (The same thing happened a few years ago after the earthquake, logically, but that time, we cancelled the trip altogether.) Basically, we’ve been spending these past 3 days exploring on our own and getting lost…a lot.

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Travel wallpaper, of course.

The first day, we arrived in Tokyo from Fukuoka Airport (too bad one of our names isn’t Oka ;)). We must’ve looked like a big mess. One big, pathetic, confused, American mess.

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We saw some delicious curry at this airport restaurant, but when we entered, the waitress kind of just shooed us away, pointing to a machine by the door. Apparently, in a lot of Japanese restaurants, you order at a kiosk. The machine had some pictures of different types of curry with some broken English.

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Anyways, we were supposed to take the “MonoRail” to a certain station, where we’d wait for our hotel bus to pick us up. The “MonoRail” actually sounded a lot cooler than it actually was cuz it just ended up being a plain ol’ subway.

We waited around, looking for our damn hotel bus for about an hour. Which was suckish because Japan in summer is HUMID–but also neat because we basically just sat around and people-watched.

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People-watching in Japan is awesome. From an American’s perspective, the culture is completely different. I thought I wouldn’t experience as much culture shock because I’m Korean, too, but the cultural differences between Korean and Japan are just as vast.

Mini rant: There’s this weird dichotomy here between the ultra conservative, silent person in a suit–and the teenagers walking around with neon green hair or wacky cosplay outfits. I guess you could say there’s a generation gap in any country but it seems a lot more pronounced in Japan.

I found the culture really fascinating, but it also puzzled me. A lot of times in subways, everyone was completely silent. No one spoke. This made my talkative, English-speaking family members a lot more conspicuous–and we were often at the other end of some cold glares. On the other hand, we’d see some really funky, loud, slapstick reality shows all over the Japanese networks on TV. It confused me a lot at first.

Anyways! That rant aside, the first day was pretty lax after we got to our hotel. We stayed at Righa Royal Hotel because my mom found a really good price for it, and it was AMAZING. Very posh and stuff. Even the bathtubs had more dignity than me, I think.

I hibernated slept for a bit, and the next day we were all fresh and ready to tackle Tokyo. We ate at this burger chain called Mos Burger first, which was an interesting experience. Apparently, Mos Burger is the extremely popular equivalent of McDonald’s. The burger had your typical patty and cheese, but it also had this tomato-esque sauce inside. Very difficult to eat without getting everything on your fingers, but really delicious!!

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Afterwards, we went to Ginza, which is supposed to be the Rodeo of Tokyo. There’s lots of shopping there, but we didn’t shop at all. Woooo. We visited the Sony building, which was a little less impressive than we had expected on the outside, but very impressive within.

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They were doing some sort of endorsement of Mariah Carey, so she was literally all over the building. There was even this sound room with an enormous screen, displaying her old music videos.

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Cool Sony elevator

Afterwards, we wanted to eat and saw a soba place with some people lined up outside. We thought it looked pretty popular, so we decided to wait as well. Soon the line was a lot longer–and we ended up waiting around 55 minutes to finally enter the restaurant. WHICH ONLY SEATED TEN PEOPLE. When we entered, we were completely shocked. It was literally just a bar counter with stools on three sides and a kitchen on the other end. Pretty exclusive stuff. I guess rent in Ginza is really expensive, so people make do with smaller spaces.

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Aside from the wait, everything else about the place was awesome. The soba was amazing. My mom and I ordered the creamy soba, and my brother ordered some other kind. There was a bit of pressure involved in that kind of setting because the chefs were right there. In a different restaurant, if I didn’t finish my meal, I wouldn’t feel as bad because the only witness would be a waiter or waitress. There, I’d feel terrible because you had to return your bowl personally to the chef.

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My absolute favorite part about the day, however, was going to Shibuya and playing in one of the arcades there. Tokyo has tons of arcades (because I guess Japanese people really like their crane machines). My brother and I really wanted to try out one of the machines, but I was having such a hard time picking one with a prize I’d actually enjoy! Seriously. I DO NOT KID YOU.

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“I will devour your flesh.”

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“Hang me in your room so I can observe your sleep.”

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“I ‘mustache’ you a question…ABOUT ETERNAL DAMNATION.”

Anyways. Upstairs, the situation was a little better. There were more games besides crane machines, like racing games, etc. I won a race and felt like the DMV should’ve been there to document it. And finally grant me my license. I really deserve that license.

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There was this really cool photo booth which made your eyes look HUGE and completely smoothed out your skin. My mom and I took a few photos together, and the results were at once both hilarious and eerily adorable.

  

After we played our hearts out, we returned to our hotel and checked out (not literally, but you know…passed out on our beds).

The next day, we went to Akihabara, which is a district famous for anime. You could tell you were entering a very anime-centric area as soon as you left the subway because there were signs and manga advertisements everywhere. It was rainy, too–pouring one second and sprinkling the next.

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We walked the streets for a while and encountered:

1) One of the world’s busiest cross sections. Over five crosswalks at once.

2) This gift from heaven that is the Japanese ice cream sundae. We ordered two from this restaurant called Milky Way, and I genuinely think that I could live there forever. I considered stashing a sleeping bag under the counter but remembered that I didn’t have a sleeping bag.

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3) THE CUTEST PET STORE EVER. Seriously, every single puppy and kitten in this pet store was no older than around 2 months. I have no idea how that system works if they don’t all get adopted at the same time–but all that matters is that THEY WERE SO FREAKING ADORABLE. I’m pretty sure my cooing sounds made everyone around me really uncomfortable.

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“I will slay you with my eyes alone.”

4) An “interesting” section in the book store. My brother was telling me that there was a specific kind of girl called a fujoshi, who reads “Yaoi” or…um…”boy-on-boy” fiction. Yup. I thought this was something limited to FanFiction.net or something, but when we walked into a bookstore, there was an ENTIRE, PINK SECTION devoted to uh…intense, illustrated Yaoi. Manga style. There were tons of girls around my age who were reading there, too. Like no shame whatsoever. I don’t know if I should admire that or not. My brother and I kept on pointing to random pages in books and cracking up, so I think they might’ve hated us.
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5) A sketchy Maid Cafe… In Japan, there are these cafes where all the waitresses are dressed like French maids. (They have a butler version, too, for women.) Anyways, we wanted to try one out because these are pretty famous, and we were looking for a good one to go to. Normally, these cafes have some of their French maids advertise out on the sidewalk, dressed in full costume, handing out flyers. We passed about four or five of these girls while we were walking and finally approached one, asking where the restaurant was. She said she would “guide us” to our destination. Not sketchy at all, my friends. She then guided us to a small, narrow stairway and up to a very small, grungy room. (Still not sketchy.)There were a couple middle-aged businessmen there, but my mom and I were the only females. (Still not sketchy?) There are some maid cafes with about twenty workers, but this one had only two. They handed us the menu, and we all had a heart attack, basically. There was an hourly “seating charge” of $8 per person, per hour. Water was $9, and the only actual food item was an omelette which was–wait for it–THIRTY EIGHT DOLLARS. We apologized and left. Apparently, these maid cafes often overcharge because their clientele is mainly just lonely men or people with…fetishes. Yeah, it was a little sketchy.

6) Sushi! How can you go to Japan and not try some sushi? At the end of the day, we stopped for some sushi at this restaurant. I’m kind of a traitor to my race, as I hate sushi, but I tried a bite just because I was in Japan after all. I ordered some beef, miso soup, and steamed eggs–and everything was really yummy. They made the sushi right in front of us, and it was pretty good, according to my mom and brother. It wasn’t the absolute best, of course, but really good sushi in Tokyo fetches some astronomical prices. Our three-person meal ended up only being around $35, which was insane. Considering the price, it was crazy that our sushi was even that quality.

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On the last day, we only had until 1 PM to check out of our hotel, so we made the most of our morning. We woke up early and visited the Imperial Palace first, which was a little bit of a disappointment because we didn’t realize that there wasn’t an imperial palace at all, at least where we visited! Edo Castle burned down centuries ago. They were even trying to repair it in the 1600s. I guess a lot of Japanese structures were destroyed during feudal wars or World War II bombings. In any case, there weren’t any castles, but there were some wall structures, moats, and tons of gardens and greenery. Very beautiful.

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Afterwards, I was absolutely starving, so we went to get some ramen.The restaurant had a similar format as the soba place. Three chefs behind a bar-type counter and twelve-ish seats all around. We ordered at a kiosk, gave them our tickets, and waited for our food. You could specify if you wanted the saltiness and thickness of your soup to be low, medium, or high–so we all ordered medium for both. We were expecting the kind of ramen we eat at home, however, so we realized our mistake when the food arrived. Don’t get me wrong, the ramen was very good–but it was wayy too thick and salty. My mom and I poured an entire cup of water in to try and dilute the flavor, and it was still too strong. If we ever return, we’ll remember to order the low levels.

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Our last stop before heading off to the airport was Waseda University. The campus was super close to our hotel. Apparently, it’s the second best university in Tokyo (after Tokyo University), and it was weird seeing so many people my age in a single spot!

Japan has been dealing with an aging population and a dearth of young people for decades now, but in Tokyo, this problem is difficult to notice because there are youths everywhere. If you’re young in Japan, you’ll want to be in Tokyo.

The Waseda campus didn’t look nearly as old as some of the US universities, but it definitely had its charm. People were shoving flyers in our faces, trying to get us to join their clubs, and there were talking, laughing people everywhere–not unlike any college campus. It was kind of a relief seeing so much energy and laughter because for the past few days in Japan, we’d mainly observed more sternness and silence in public spaces.

And that’s it! That went way too long. I do wish we had a few more days to spend in Japan, but I think the trip actually worked out pretty well for us, considering our tour was cancelled and we were left on our own, without much knowledge of the language. Japan was not as English-friendly as we were expecting–and definitely not as English-friendly as Korea, but we still managed to communicate through hand gestures and the like. Which was a completely new experience because I’ve never visited a country without some kind of guide who was proficient in the language. I found the culture completely different and at times a bit confusing, but also rich and lively and fascinating.

I mean, where else will you find twinkies this cute?!

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“I’d like to thank my family.” Miss Twinkie 2015

Or street advertisers this creepy?!

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I see you, Cat Man. I see you.

I definitely don’t think this will be my last time in Japan, so I’m thinking up things to do the next time I visit. And for now: that’s another country off my bucket list!

And I’m off for Seoul, Korea!

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No, this blog is not dead!

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Alright, so I haven’t posted in forever, and I don’t really have new material at the moment, but I just wanted to post a disclaimer so you don’t think this blog is dead!

I will be updating this blog whenever I leave my suburban bubble. So where am I going next?

This summer, I will be studying abroad in Seoul, Korea to participate in the Yonsei International Summer School program. I’ll be practicing more of my Korean because I can only read and write, but when I try to speak I sound like Jim Carrey in Yes Man.

After that, I’ll be going to Japan with my lovely mother! Honestly can’t wait to finally visit The Land of Pokemon and Weird Clothes. We actually planned to go in 2011, but then the tsunami and earthquakes hit 馃槮

I mean, for some strange reason, the tour was cancelled.

Then after that, I’m going to COLLEGE! Who knows where that will be. If it’s somewhere outside of LA, I’ll post a bit about the surroundings and local secrets and whatnot.

Those are my only definitive travel plans, but if I end up traveling during Winter or Spring Break (or any other weekend for that matter!), I will make sure to blab about it here!

Cheers!

The last days…and my return home.

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I didn’t update on my last few days in Argentina, but they were very emotional. It felt so sad experiencing everything for the last time, but bittersweet, too, because I was missing home.

On Tuesday, I went to the mall with my friends and a few Argentine kids. They were pretty cool, and they showed us around the city a bit. Afterwards, we ate at Freddo. Because you can never have enough Freddo.

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Freddo is love. Freddo is life.

We talked a little about the difference in school systems and movies and other fun stuff. Their English was pretty good; some of them had been learning English since they were in third grade!

On Wednesday, we went bike-riding, which was SO FUN. The weather was brisk and pleasant: perfect for being outdoors. We rented bikes from this rental store– they were bright orange, and some of them were falling apart a bit, but they were awesome all the same. At first, we were supposed to ride around an ecological reserve, but it was closed, so we just went riding around San Telmo. Not that I was complaining. It was a little nerve-wracking, riding around so many cars, but lots of the streets in the area were pretty bike-friendly, thankfully. We later stopped at a park and relaxed. Since it’s winter break for schools in Bs.As, there were tons of kids playing f煤tbol and just hanging out.

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Thursday was our last full day in Argentina! We ate delicious churros and hot chocolate at Caf茅 Tortoni, the oldest caf茅 in Buenos Aires. I also bought some souvenirs and things for my family…on the next day, too, right before the airport pick-up…talk about procrastination…

The next day, of course, I boarded the plane. It was a connecting flight which would take me around nine hours to Miami, then another five to LA. The part I remember most about that day are the goodbye’s. It was heartbreaking leaving all the amazing friends I made there. I hope I can see them again soon.

Anyways, I’m writing this blog entry from home, and it’s hard to sum up my experiences this past month. It feels like a blur– like it was all one long dream, almost. The day after I returned it felt like I’d been in Argentina months ago. Strange how our memories work.

To anyone reading this and contemplating studying abroad, I say…DO IT. It is worth it. It is way beyond worth it. I learned so much Spanish here. I learned to be a lot more comfortable speaking Spanish, while immersing myself in a beautiful and fascinating culture. The experience was made all the more exciting through my timing…seeing Argentina in the midst of World Cup fever was invigorating.

I learned how to tango, how to make empanadas, how to do my own laundry, how to navigate a city through a subway. I learned to become so much more independent. And to think I didn’t even know how to use my keys when I first arrived in Buenos Aires!

Think studying abroad is too dangerous? I’m a small Asian girl who’s afraid of bugs and the dark (and pretty much most things) who’d never even been away from her parents for more than a few days before this trip. If you’re cautious and smart, you’ll be fine. You’ll be more than fine.

Too expensive? I thought so, too! But I fundraised, and I’m so glad I did.

Not enough time? Plan. Make time for it. I had a ton of commitments this summer, including three volunteer jobs and one paid job online, along with a disgusting load of summer homework. If I could keep my head above the water, so can you! And it’s so, so worth it.

I’m back home, and part of me is overjoyed, and the other is already missing Buenos Aires. Home definitely feels a lot smaller, I think. It’s hard not to remember the huge, sprawling streets of Buenos Aires, the subway stations everywhere, the people walking around, bundled up, leaning out of cars, shouting.

Don’t get me wrong: I love being home again. I love being able to eat Korean food (my mom took me to a Korean BBQ restaurant as soon as I returned from the airport…I devoured…everything.) I love seeing my family. But most of all, I think, I’m grateful that I had this experience–and maybe a little scared about how surreal it feels in my memory! Thank God I recorded it all in this blog, so I can remember it was all real.

Although I’m back home, I’ll try to keep my blog updated whenever I travel out of town. So keep checking up on the Backpack Babe! My adventures have only just begun.

Sources

Freddo

Group picture – Photo belongs to someone else in the group!

Last week!!

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Holy domesticated ungulate. I’m leaving in four days…?! That’s not okay. I haven’t updated these past few days, so this is going to be a long post.

Alright, so Wednesday, I had school again, and afterwards, we visited Recoleta Cemetery. This place was amazing. Basically, it’s a cemetery for the rich and/or famous, and it’s beautiful. And creepy. Some people have called it “a city within a city,” and I completely agree. There are alleys and little walkways, and on either side, tombs and mausoleums loom over you. Some members of the group and I considered playing hide-and-go-seek there…which is how every horror movie starts, basically. Eva Per贸n is buried there, so we visited her grave. Unsurprisingly, there were lots of fresh flowers from her admirers.

 

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We also went to this cool museum, which was celebrating Argentina’s 200 years of existence. Inside, we got to see this beautiful piece of art. It was basically a room completely painted over. It looked as if you were underwater, and everywhere, floating women stared at you. It sounds creepy when I write it that way, but it really wasn’t.

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Thursday was a sad day because it was the last full day with the whole group. Three of the members were only staying for three weeks, so their program was coming to a close. We went to school, then we learned how to make empanadas! It was actually pretty easy. All we had to do was make the dough, roll it out to the correct consistency, stuff it with filling (it was pre-made for us, which is probably why it was so easy), then fold it. Folding and braiding it was definitely the hardest part for me. I accidentally made mine into the shape of a dumpling…(I can’t help the Asian in me.) Then I decided, what the heck, I can make it however I want! So, I added faces to mine and designs. Everyone started making crazy-looking empanadas, and we even made a huge one. It was literally large enough to feed a family. You could stick a candle in it and call it a birthday cake.

On Friday, it was even sadder because those three members of our group left. We didn’t do much, but we did see a lot of riot police hanging around. We weren’t exactly sure why. Something to do with the debt default? It was really strange. I also tried to read some more of my summer reading and failed utterly.

On Saturday, we went to La Rural Exhibici贸n. This was basically an exhibition with a whole bunch of farm animals and traditional wares. I’m not much of a…farm animal fan, so I quit after the chicken exhibit. I just walked around with some friends. Then, I climbed a silo. Long story short, there was this silo with a ladder (which I think we were allowed to climb?), so I climbed it, hoping to conquer my fear of heights. Mind you, I’m scared of climbing a ladder to decorate my Christmas tree. So, that was fun. Except, not really. Climbing up was easy, but when I looked down and didn’t know how to descend, I had a mini panic attack. Then, people below started gathering in groups to watch me. You’d think I was a suicide jumper or something. Jeez. I finally got down somehow, not having enjoyed my short stint as a public spectacle.

Sunday was awesome. We boarded a boat and crossed El Tigre, which is a beautiful river by Buenos Aires. I LOVED the boat ride. Normally, it’s really hard for me to actually live in the moment and breathe and feel peaceful, but being around nature always helps. The river made me feel so tranquil. There were tons of little houses by its waters, and it was fun just waving to the inhabitants. It would be super cool to live there, but apparently it’s really expensive to maintain.

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Afterwards, we went to the Recoleta Mall. I basically just window-shopped and tried on clothes with my friend. It wasn’t that exciting because the mall itself isn’t that big. Apparently, tomorrow I’ll be going there again with some friends and some Jewish Argentinian kids that they met at this program. It sounds super fun.

Today was pretty lax. I went to school and then we all went to MALBA– a modern art museum here in Buenos Aires. This museum is amazing!! There were tons of beautiful paintings and sculptures, but my favorites were the kinetic pieces. These were works of art which moved or used light to create dazzling illusions. It was gorgeous.

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I spent way too much money on things at the gift shop, including a notebook which is larger than my head. One can never have too many notebooks.

I was talking with my host mother today over dinner, and she told me that I’ll be the last student hosted in this house. She’ll be moving soon. On a general note, I’m just really glad I got to live here. Before, I envied the host families of my friends because they seemed more exciting, but living with Teresa has been a really positive experience. Just today, she asked me what I wanted to study, and I told her I’d like to work for the UN. I was expecting cynicism from her, or maybe something noncommittal: “Good for you” or something like that. Instead, she told me how her niece had applied there without connections and still ended up working there. She told me, I just have to have faith in myself and work hard– anything is possible. It was really refreshing to hear.

I can’t believe I’ll be back in the States in four days. It’s crazy how fast time has passed. More updates soon.

 

Sources

Mural

Uruguay Adventures!

Argentina

image Sunday was long and exhausting, but it sure was amazing.聽I woke up at 6 to catch a cab with a couple other group members, and together we rode to a port where we boarded a boat to Uruguay!聽Before we boarded the ship, we had to go through passport checks and x-ray inspections. It was basically like an airport. And the boat itself looked like an airplane, too! If airplanes had stairs. And caf茅’s. And gift shops. God, I love gift shops. Anyways, we landed in the town of Colonia, and it was GORGEOUS. Our director explained to us a little bit of the history of Colonia, and then we were free to explore. Apparently, Colonia has been passed between Portugal and Spain in a viscious tug-of-war multiple times throughout its history. As a result, there’s a lot of Portuguese and Spanish influence here. It’s now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the architecture and cobbled streets and landscapes here are very charming. image imageimageimageimage The views of the river were beautiful. It looks more like a sea, it’s so big; and, in the distance we could see the silhouette of Buenos Aires. We even got to go up a light house and see the view from there. Too bad we had to climb a whole bunch of stairs to reach the top. There’s nothing which reminds me how out of shape I am more than a flight of stairs. image image One of my favorite parts was all the wall art everywhere. Graffiti may be illegal, but it certainly adds character to these places. Some of the stuff we found was just plain strange. imageimage image image There were also stray dogs everywhere, and one started following us around. I felt so bad for all of the injured dogs there! I wish someone would set up some sort of animal shelter there. It would be a lot more useful than another gift shop, and maybe visitors could adopt? Maybe I’ll come back one day and become a crazy, single dog lady. It’s at least 150% better than being a crazy, single cat lady. Anyways, we basically spent all day in Colonia and walked around a ton. My boots are now thoroughly worn out and falling apart! At the end of the day, we took a bus tour and then watched the sunset together on the beach. It was gorgeous. image image image This one blog post probably has more pictures than all the rest of mine combined. For real. Sorry for dumping that all on you. Anyways, by the time we returned, it was around 10, and we were all completely drained. Since then, there hasn’t been too much new activity. Monday we had class, and a few friends and I went to Chinatown. Chinatown was very small and a bit disappointing. I saw about five Asians. Seriously. Where did they all go? Are they hibernating? Do Asians hibernate? I’m Asian, so I should know. Afterwards, we relaxed in a park and tried to ignore a couple who really needed to get a room. Today, I had class, went home, and basically just did work. I am a pinnacle of excitement. But, hey, at least I can now talk! My voice has gotten a lot better, so I can once again spontaneously belt out Disney songs. Tomorrow, we’ll be doing some activities, so I’ll have more to update on soon!

Tango, Pedal Boats, and the Voice of Death

Argentina

I have lots to update on!

So, Tuesday we learned how to tango, which was super cool. Tango is HUGE in Argentina, and they have dance halls where you can basically tango with strangers. We only learned the basics, but it was pretty fun. I didn’t step on too many toes, and the class was pretty relaxed. I would add pictures, but they’re all embarrassing. So no.

Wednesday, we had school and visited the Eva Per贸n museum. We learned about Eva’s life, saw her clothes, watched some videos of her speeches and funeral, etc. (Fun fact that you really don’t need to know: 3 million people came to her funeral.) Eva was the first lady of Argentina and wife of President Juan Per贸n, and the two are pretty controversial here. There are those who idolize them (i.e. those in the museum) and those who hate them. My host mother is one of those who is more “antiperonista” or “anti-Per贸n.” I was talking with her later that day, and she told me thatJuan Per贸n sheltered the Nazi’s during World War II? But anyways, it was pretty interesting.

Thursday, we had school again (bleh), and we had a free afternoon, which I spent doing work. Go me. I’m so exiting.

Friday was…interesting. Basically, I arrived to school an hour late and was very cranky.

1) The subway station was closed.
2) I was very confused, so I followed the huge crowd of people out of the station down a few blocks, hoping they were walking to a different station.
3) The group of people became super spread out, and I realized they probably weren’t walking to the same place. I thought the whole subway might be closed. Changed plan and decided I could walk to school.
4) Realized I would have to walk ten blocks through one of the most dangerous parts of the city. Changed plan again and decided the whole subway probably wasn’t closed.
5) Started looking for a subway station. Asked people for directions, but ended up scaring one or two because my voice sounded like death. (I became even more sick and could barely speak without squeaking like a pubescent boy on helium.)
6) Finally found a subway station, but there was some type of ceremony happening next to it, honoring the 20th anniversary of the AMIA bombing. It was the deadliest bombing in Argentina’s history and aimed at the Jewish community. Terrible stuff. But anyways, I stopped to listen to a speech for a few minutes because if you’re going to be a little late anyways, you might as well enjoy yourself and be a hella late.

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Then, I finally made it to school. Yay. I barely made it through the day anyways because I couldn’t really… speak. Or I could, but I sounded like I’d been smoking three packs a day for the last seventy years.

Later that day we watched a tango show at a cultural center in the city, and it was AMAZING! The dancers were extremely talented, and the musicians were superb. (Especially the guy on the accordian! New respect for that instrument.) Watching those dancers leap and twirl and hearing the singers belt out beautiful ballads made me feel extraordinarily untalented.

My self-esteem crawled into a dark hole and cried in tones of deep anguish.

Today was lots of fun. There was no class, so I slept for twelve hours and woke up at noon. (Don’t judge me.) It was completely justified because my body needed to recover. My voice sounded a lot better today, so hopefully I’m getting better! The group met at a park in Palermo which was absolutely GORGEOUS. Some members of the group relaxed and played some soccer, while others rowed boats in the lake, etc. The other girls in the group and I went on a pedal boat! It was really neat because I think I only ever remember riding a pedal boat once before in my life, and I’m not even sure it was a pedal boat because my memory sucks. I don’t really know where I was going with that tangent. Anyways.

Later on, we rode in those little cart things with pedals (pedal cars?). I’m not sure what they’re called…Ours had two flat tires, a broken pedal, and a broken steering wheel, so it was basically a disaster. We ended up half-pushing, half-riding the cart and being super loud and obnoxious. We were so obviously American that some random little kid said “hi” to us in English. That’s pretty bad. But, hey, at least it was fun! Afterwards, we were free, so a few of us went to eat dinner at this kinda fancy restaurant (quasi-fancy?) and devoured their pizza. Argentina seriously has the best pizza– it’s extremely cheesy, and the crust is perfect. One thing I don’t enjoy about Argentina though is that they charge for water. Their tap water isn’t always healthy to drink.

And after that, I did what every Madeleine Lee tends to do, and I got lost! …Again. I thought I’d found the street which is adjacent to my home, but I ended up walking, like, ten blocks in the wrong direction into this sketchy neighborhood. By the time I’d retraced my path and walked another six or seven blocks home, I was exhausted.

And now I should probably stop writing and go to sleep because I have to wake up at 6AM tomorrow morning. We’re going to URUGUAY!!!

So pumped.

Argentina = Second in the World!

Argentina

So, yesterday was kind of suckish.

1) I wake up late, still sick.
2) I try to call the director on my phone, but it dies on me right after she picks up.
3) Try to call on other phone, but phone refuses to function.
4) Speed down nine blocks to reach group forty minutes late.
5) Goddamn Germany.

So, yeah. Yesterday was completely devoted to the World Cup final, and it was a pretty cool experience until Germany decided to win the World Cup.

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We started off the day by touring La Boca, which is basically a really cool, really colorful neighborhood by an old port.

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Apparently, the immigrants who painted these houses used leftover paint…hence the mismatched colors. It was actually really cool. We then visited La Bombonera– the Boca Juniors stadium. “La Bombonera” means “the chocolate box” in Spanish because the stadium is really small, circular, and tall! The rivalry between La Boca and River Plate, another football team here, is extremely intense. And apparently, all the police in the city have to be on guard when they play each other…Sometimes, fans from one team aren’t allowed into the stadium of the opposing team at all for security reasons. Football is basically a religion here. It’s crazy.

Afterwards, we went to a crafts fair in San Telmo, which was awesome. There were tons of vendors selling handmade jewelry, paintings, sculptures, notebooks, etc; and there were lots of tango dancers on the streets nearby, too. A lot of them just ask you to take a picture with them for profit, though…

Of course, we watched the game at around 4 at an ice cream parlor/caf茅, and both Argentina and Germany played a great game. Argentina actually held out a lot better than I expected, which is kind of a good thing and kind of a bad thing (because it got my hopes up!). When G枚tze made that goal, there was just this intense silence in the air. This was playing out in everybody’s head.

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Goddamn Germany. I guess they kind of sort of deserved it, though. They were probably the most impressive team in the cup. Plus, their players are extremely attractive. Which is always a plus. And despite the loss, we’re still #2 in the world! Beaten only in extra time by the world’s top team when everyone expected a complete demolition.

I was feeling pretty depressed after the game, but I felt a lot better as the rest of the group and I returned home. The streets were crazy. If you hadn’t watched the game, you would’ve thought Argentina had won. There were people spilling out of cars, waving flags, singing songs, climbing traffic lights, etc. The subways were closed because of the chaos, so we had to walk for a while before they opened again. It was actually really inspiring to see the Argentinians’ intense patriotism and loyalty to their country. Though I saw some people crying on the subway, there were also lots of people laughing, just feeling grateful that the team placed Argentina back on the football radar.

I also heard lots of people singing this song, which is supposedly really popular among Argentinians here and in Brazil…

Brazil, tell me how it feels to have your Daddy in your house?

I swear that even as the years pass, we will never forget

How Diego [Maradona] outplayed you;How [Claudio] Cani[ggia] surprised you

You’ve been crying since Italy [1990] until today.

You’re going to see Messi, he’ll bring us back the Cup.

Maradona is greater than Pele.

They then count to seven to mock Brazil’s obliteration at the hands of Germany…

I know that rivalry’s always fun, but I wish the hatred between Argentina and Brazil wasn’t so intense…it gets so violent at times.

There were tons of crimes committed last night by hardcore fans and drunk people. It was just absolutely crazy.

Today was actually a lot calmer. We didn’t really do much except go to school and tour el Colegio Nacional de Buenos Aires– a prestigious school in the city. It’s extremely old and the architecture was gorgeous. The only uncomfortable part was all the Argentinian students staring at us…probably because we were speaking loudly in English…

After that, I went shopping for a bit and ate dinner with my host family. My host mother told us these really cute stories about how her daughters met their husbands, and their stories could seriously be made into rom-com’s.

And now, it’s almost midnight, and I should probably sleep! Or do my homework…Sigh.

Taxidermy, Fevers, and the Homeless

Argentina

I haven’t posted in a little while! I have a lot to update on.

I had class on Thursday, and afterwards, we went to the Natural Sciences Museum of Buenos Aires. It was pretty cool, though admittedly, the taxidermied animals were mildly disturbing. Fun fact: stuffed monkeys are absolutely terrifying.

Afterwards, we went to drink mate at a caf茅.

Basically, mate is a strong, green-tea-like Argentine drink that you often share with friends. You drink it from a cup that looks like this…

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I wasn’t a huge fan of it, but I could see myself getting used to it with time. It’s an acquired taste.

Outside the caf茅, the view was so pretty!

On Friday, I had more class (SO RIVETING. WOW. I’VE BECOME MORE FLUENT IN BOTH THE LANGUAGE OF SPANISH AND SARCASM.) Though the grammar part of the class is sleep-inducing, I really do love the cultural parts. Our teacher answered all our questions about Argentina, and I learned a lot about Argentinian history, Argentina’s rivalries with other South American countries, and the importance of last names here. Supposedly, last names are big status symbols, as certain last names typically hold more prestige and wealth than others.

She also talked about how hard it is to find a job in Argentina. If you’re over 35, it gets a lot more difficult to find work because companies want fresh blood. (That sentence came out vaguely disturbing.)

Anyways! The lesson was really driven home later that day. There’s a lot of economic unrest, and I even witnessed a socialist protest…

聽 聽 聽 聽 聽 聽 聽 聽 聽 聽 聽 聽聽

There’s nothing I love more than a few socialists. Supposedly, protests are pretty common here. Argentina might default on its debt near the end of the month, too…which I hope won’t affect me too much…

There are tons of homeless people in Buenos Aires– largely as a result of the difficulty of finding work, I’m assuming. We volunteered with a church to hand out dinner to homeless people, and it was pretty eye-opening. All of them were very courteous, and some talked with us. There was even one man who spoke English fluently…He still didn’t have a job. It’s crazy wondering what some of their stories are.

Today, there weren’t any classes (yay!), and we visited an Argentina cowboy ranch, where the famed gauchos live! We got to ride horses, which I was sort of terrified of because of prior experience with horses… Sadly, I don’t have any pictures because I didn’t bring my phone! But it really was beautiful. My favorite part was the lunch (different types of smoked meat, including asado,聽or Argentine steak). We listened to some live music while we ate and watched a few dances by professional dancers! They danced the tango and milonga and a whole bunch of other dances which were breathtaking to watch. Then, they opened the floor to the people in the restaurant, and we had a conga line!

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Unfortunately, it was super cold throughout the day, and it started pouring halfway through…but I was only wearing a sweater and some jeans because I’m a super smart dresser and all. I didn’t even have an umbrella until later on! I already had a sore throat when I woke up this morning; but, when I returned home (after walking five blocks in the rain), I felt terrible. I wanted to throw up. A few hours later, I was still freezing in four layers of clothes and two layers of blankets! I basically just watched the Brazil vs. Netherlands game from my bed and resembled a shivering corpse.

On the bright side, Holland won! I mean, I feel really bad for Brazil, and at first I wanted them to win after the Germany massacre earlier this week…but this artificial intelligence program called Cortana predicted beforehand that Germany would win the cup and Brazil would win against the Netherlands.

It has made predictions about all the games so far and has been correct every time…so I was hoping it would be wrong about this game…so that there’s a chance its prediction about Germany might be wrong!

I made that way more complicated than it had to be.

Anyways, tomorrow is the World Cup final, and I’m so pumped! Germany seems like the better team, so I’m doubtful that Argentina will win…but then again, that’s how I felt about the Netherlands, and I was wrong. So, I’ll try to be optimistic.

More tomorrow!

Sources

Mate

Conga Line

Argentina to the World Cup finals!

Argentina

Today was amazing. It’s Argentina’s National Independence Day…and it was the day of the semi-finals match against the Netherlands! There was no class today (thankfully), so we got to sleep in. We were supposed to meet around 2 to grab some lunch and seats at the plaza, where we would watch the game; so, I arrived early and ate at Freddo. FREDDO. Their ice cream is fantastic. The size of the ice cream cones here is a lot smaller than the U.S, but the ice cream tastes a lot different– more like gelato. Or maybe it was gelato? It probably was gelato. Anyways, I’m finally able to navigate the city without becoming dismally lost, which is always a good thing. I understand the subway, and I can now read a map! What. I don’t even know myself anymore. Alexia bought us a whole bunch of yummy food to eat at the plaza, including empanadas (which I’m quickly becoming addicted to) and dulces de leche (chocolate)! So, we basically had a picnic before the game started. The plaza was extremely crowded, and everyone was decked out in Argentina gear. I even got my face painted! (I did not pack blue clothes, unfortunately.)

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Look, it’s my face.

I really don’t know how to describe the atmosphere of the game. Whenever I watch sports matches, it’s usually from home with my friends or family. This was completely different. There were hundreds of Argentina fans screaming at the projector scream, laughing, blowing horns, beating drums…It was completely exhilarating.

I totally thought the Netherlands would win because I can be a bit pessimistic, so I was ecstatic when Argentina scored in the penalty kicks! Everyone was on their toes for the last few minutes of the game, and when Argentina won, the place was a madhouse. I was walking home afterwards and there were impromptu parades and huge celebrations on random streets. The ambulances were ringing their sirens; cars were honking like crazy; kids were leaning out of cars with flags; people were singing at the subway; huge mobs were crowding the roads…It was so cool. I recorded a small snippet of the madness.

Can’t wait for tomorrow!

P.S. On a completely unrelated note, I totally forgot to post yesterday because I came home so late. The biggest part of the day was meeting with Argentinian students who were learning English through a school here. It was really cool to speak with them and learn a little more about their culture. They were really curious about schools in the U.S, and we could find common ground in things like sports and Disney movies (like Frozen!) It was really fun, and later we played trivia with a mix of Argentina and United States facts. Before I met them, I thought the thumbs-up signal was considered an insult here because I read something on the internet, and I heard it was taboo in lots of other countries…but the kids said it was perfectly fine. Sigh. You win again, Internet.

First day of class!

Argentina

Today was my first day of class at Academia Buenos Aires. I had to wake up early, which made me sad. Waking up early and summertime don’t work for me. But anyways! I woke up, and Teresa took me to the subway.

The subway was so crowded! Everyone was heading to work. There aren’t many subways where I live, so I’ve only ever been on subways during my travels to other countries, like Korea, which had completely different atmospheres. I basically stood there, hugging my backpack to my chest while being squished from all directions. It was the highlight of my day.

At our stop, we met with Alexia, the program director, and walked to the school, Academia Buenos Aires. I already sent in a diagnostic test, but they also interviewed us a bit before class to better place us. I was sorted into Level 3B (though I’ll be moving to 4A tomorrow). The class was around four hours long, and there were only four other people in it! There was a guy from Canada (eh?), a guy from Portland, a guy from Atlanta who’s already in the Sol program, and even a guy from Japan! I found it really cool that I could converse in Spanish with someone who I normally wouldn’t be able to talk with in English.

The class was tiring, but the teacher and my classmates were nice, and the set-up was very laid-back and flexible, which was nice.

Wednesday is Argentina’s Independence Day, so we won’t be going to class that day…which means we have to make up those classes this week. Therefore, I was in class for an extra two hours today after lunch (pasta!!).

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Afterwards, we were supposed to go to a caf茅, eat sweets, and drink mat茅, which is a traditional Argentine green-tea-esque drink. Unfortunately, the caf茅 ran out of water (how does that happen?), so we couldn’t experience it.

Which is fine because we got to go to El Ateneo– a beautiful bookstore, which was once an opera house. Seriously! Look at this…

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It was absolutely gorgeous, and there were people reading in the balcony seats and stairs. Wish it were closer to my apartment, so I could visit more often. I’m still too cautious to really venture out everywhere (considering my unsurprisingly horrendous sense of direction), but hopefully I’ll be better at navigating soon…

Anyways, speaking of navigation, I spent, like, an hour trying to really understand my route to the subway because I guarantee I’ll get lost again. I went on Google Earth and traced my route virtually and everything, which is kind of ridiculous considering the fact that it’s literally a five minute walk. Sigh. Oh, Maddi.

One of my favorite parts of today, however, was dinner. Teresa made a dinner of delicious sausages, tomatoes, bread, etc. and we had some really cool conversations. We talked about cool plays and shows nearby, the attractiveness of Brad Pitt, our shared inability to watch horror movies; and, get this: she likes Friends, too! WE BOTH ARE IN LOVE WITH JOEY.

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YES. It’s so beyond cool that you can talk to an old woman from a different continent in the Southern hemisphere and still relate to each other.

Anyways, it’s almost midnight. Tomorrow, we’re meeting with “intercambios”– high school students from Argentina! Supposedly, there will be karaoke. My voice will induce seizures in American and Argentinian alike.

Chau.