Friday, December 20, 2013

Well, one measly photo (of us at a Seoul temple, featuring my "wear-over" sunglasses, which fit over my regular glasses and cost me one dollar in Japan) is all I have time for right now, before our gracious hosts in Seoul drive us to catch a bus to the airport to begin our lengthy journey back to Canada.  I hope to have some time to post more photos from the airport, where we will be kicking it until our early morning flight tomorrow.  Folks, thanks for reading, and although our wanderings may be closer to home for awhile, we will continue to reflect on and share more of this journey with y'all.  May your holidays be peaceful and blessed :)

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Happy holidays to all from chilly, flurrying Seoul, where we are grateful to have carried our ski parkas around for ten months, predicting they'd see the light of day at this point.  With our willingness to do travel planning at an all-time low, the weather stepped in to entertain us for awhile, as did curious locals who wondered why on earth we were roaming around a residential neighborhood on the outskirts of Seoul in December.  "To see what it's like".  Peace out, y'all :)
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Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Looking over my posts from November and December, I have decided that anyone who has been able to follow this content deserves an award; let me know next time I see you and I'll treat you to an ice cream.  Seriously, even I am left in utter disorientation when I read it!

I have concluded that my last relatively clear and coherent post was published on October 28.  In the intervening time, we crammed in a few last delicious meals in Malaysia, spent several whirlwind days exploring action-packed Hong Kong from our base in a tiny, cheapish apartment on the outskirts, then proceeded to catch a flight to Osaka, Japan, where we enjoyed two separate stays preceding and succeeding our volunteer session at an animal shelter in Shikoku prefecture.  After our arrival in Busan, South Korea on November 30, we beelined it to the nearest Korean barbecue restaurant and, several days later, found ourselves in Seoul, where we are currently staying in a totally bomb working-class neighborhood and enjoying testing out the massage chairs in a nearby department store, attempting to make green tea pancakes and utilizing Google Translate to communicate with our lively hosts.

Here is a whole slew of photos, in an attempt to "fill in the gaps" on the last month and a half:

Backing up even more, in this late-October photo we are still on the Indonesian island of Sumatra, exploring the Gayo Highlands.  Many folks, locals and travelers alike, have asked us why we made the eternal, winding, nausea-inducing journey to a relatively remote, misty region some in southeast Asia consider to be politically and culturally frightening.  The answer?  "To get some coffee, and see what it's like."  Come to think of it, that is pretty much the justification for visiting each destination on this trip....

We hopped on a rental motorbike and dodged all types of traffic, in search of the famous Sumatran highlands coffee.  As we buzzed around, we attracted a multitude of stares and waves from locals who had seen very few foreigners traveling in the region.  Our verbal communication was severely limited in this region, with our saving grace being that the local language, Bahasa Indonesia, is closely related to Malay, and thus the few words we learned in Malaysia were generally serviceable here as well.  Also, both languages, like Spanish, borrow heavily from Arabic, and thus vocabulary guesses based on Spanish were occasionally comprehensible to locals.  Wow, that was a tangent....

The stunning solitude of this tiny wooden canoe on a vast crater lake near the town of Takengon.

On our fourth motorbike rental, we are in the know, and a little practice is useful for navigating Sumatra's partially unpaved/washed-out, curvy, potholed roads.

The famous Sumatran coffee beans!  We stopped and examined them for awhile before purchasing five kilos of the fresh, earthy ground coffee back in town from some mystified locals, who repeatedly warned us to "be careful", an admonition that we were never able to clarify during our stay.

Some rustic fish farms on the crater lake near Takengon.

I just like this shot of the lake.  One of the most intriguing elements of Sumatra is its wide variety of landscapes and ecosystems blanketing the jungles, volcanoes and highlands.  This one reminds me of, well, Crater Lake in Oregon.

Exhausted from the rustic, powerful nature of our travels in Sumatra, as well as an eternal bout with gastroenteritis, we crawled back to our friends who live near Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.  Above, one of several cooking sessions with our gracious hostess and a delightful neighbor who used to own a Malaysian Chinese restaurant. 

Here is an extremely pleasing, unusually neutrally-colored Hindu temple on the way to Malaysia's west coast.   Below, priests carve elephants, which will be used to further adorn the ornate temple. 

Our hosts take us to a fishing village on Malaysia's west coast, where we practice the art of "lepak", or "hanging out": chatting, drinking coffee, eating snacks and meandering around.  Above, a young boy reels in his first fish!  Below, a colorful rice display honors the Hindu festival of lights, or Deepavali, at the famous Petronas Towers shopping center.

We touch down in Hong Kong, strolling around Victoria Harbor and taking in the creative and sentimental light displays on the densely-packed city's multitude of buildings.

There is a surprising amount of history to be experienced in Hong Kong, we discover while wandering through various buildings that used to serve as guesthouses, temples, schools and living quarters for large local clans several hundred years ago.  

Below, we make the misty, peaceful voyage up to one of the world's largest Buddha statues on Lantau island, on the outskirts of Hong Kong.

A tree overtakes a village on Lantau island, a one-hour trip from downtown Hong Kong.

We goof off near the Bruce Lee statue on Hong Kong's waterfront on our last day before catching a flight to Japan.

The Hong Kong skyline according to Harold's sunglass lenses.
We take in some initial sights of Osaka, as we stroll through our neighborhood, Shin-Imamiya, considered by some to be among the "worst in Japan".  Seemed pretty nice to us!

In Tokushima, where we spent two-thirds of our time in Japan, a little girl prepares for a kimono ceremony at the local temple.

On one of our days off from volunteering at HEART Tokushima animal shelter, we visit a local example of a precisely landscaped, contemplative Japanese garden.  To the right, we enjoy a lunch of rice triangles (seaweed wrapped around rice and tuna fish) with our lovely fellow volunteers at....the cemetery!  

Below, Harold wishes he could take this truck back to Canada for his construction company!

Statues dance traditionally at the Tokushima bus station, and to the right is one of the most beautiful manhole-covers I have ever seen.

Getting a little feisty while exploring a shopping area back in Osaka, and to the right, sake-making equipment. 

In our neighborhood, representing Shin-Imamiya.  Osaka, Japan.

Waiting for the beef and salmon set meal at our favorite chain restaurant, before we accidentally splattered mayonnaise all over the restaurant due to our unfamiliarity with the package opening mechanism...

Here come the koi, matching the fall leaves, at Shitennoji Park in Osaka.  Below, more fiery fall foliage reveals itself around Osaka.

Our friend Hiroki's family invites us over for a delicious dinner filled with hilarious attempts at communication :)

We meet up with our friend Mikano for noodles and shopping in Osaka, and silliness ensues.

A bit worn-out on our way to our guesthouse in Busan, South Korea.  Though flights are quick, they have interestingly been much more tiring for us than the long bus and train rides that, primarily due to geography, prevailed earlier on in our trip.  Either that or the last 9 1/2 months are simply catching up to us.

Kim-chee and all things chili-ed and fermented, you can find 'em here.
Chowing down on the scrumptious Korean barbecue, a mishmash of meat, vegetables, rice, and condiments grilled and then mixed to an individual's palate.  Yummers.

All pepped up and ready to head to Seoul, where we are now.  It is time to bid y'all adieu, as I get ready to make some phone calls here at 2am.  Gotta love the 17-hour time difference.  Blessings to all and happy holidays :)  Later!