Thursday mornings I’m scheduled to teach English at a countryside middle school and trek all the way there, but today they had exams or something so I wasn’t required to go in; instead I went to my main school and desk-warmed.  Being the great NYer I am, I efficiently used this free time to prepare a lesson for next week!  I saw a post on FB from a facilitator from EPIK’s orientation on St. Patrick’s Day, and thought I could work with that.

So I’m doing research on the holiday, the origins, related and associated things, and figured maybe I’ll include a section on leprechauns and have the students draw a comic strip.  Naturally they have to learn what leprechauns are, what characteristics they have, and implement that into their comic strips, but it was shocking to see what little visual aids that was readily and immediately available over the internet!  I remembered watching many cartoons, animations and/or movies on the little lads, and yet came up short.  Ideally I wanted a short clip displaying all their famous features, but there was always something missing!

It’s not finished yet, but it’s almost there I suppose.  It’s difficult coming up with a very educational and fun lesson plan that helps the students’ English language abilities in the long run!  Ever since I left NY to study Japanese in Japan, and now coming to Korea to teach English, I become more and more appreciative or my former teachers, and acknowledge those who can speak and/or teach foreign languages – especially as a foreign language in a foreign country!


Bicycle Tips (Kyoto, Japan) Part 2

May be common-sense, may not be, either way I think these are significant to know before hopping on a bicycle in Kyoto or in any city in Japan!  And if you missed the first part.

  1. Try avoiding main roads as they are usually the most crowded; it may be difficult if you are only visiting Kyoto and won’t be able to get to know it well enough to use the side and back streets, but the downtown area is grid-like so if you know where north is, you’ll be fine!
  2. Do not hold an umbrella, talk/text on the phone, listen to music while riding the bicycle – it can lead to a fine.  I know a few months ago, the police started cracking down on riders whom were listening to music while riding their bicycle as it appears it was the main cause of many accidents.  The other two are not really enforced from what I’ve seen thus far, and I do not condone such actions!
  3. If you noticed certain traffic light patterns already, do not go assuming it is the same all throughout Kyoto, or Japan!  It is best to wait for the light to turn green.
  4. Take into consideration that as you go further north in the city of Kyoto, there is an incline making it a little bit tougher to ride than when going south.  Once I rode for 1 hour from the northeast part of Kyoto to the southwest part, and then from there to the southeast to visit the Fushimi Inari Shrine (伏見稲荷神社), and finally from there all the way back up north; I must say, it was dreadful!  That’s around 10km with an incline, for me at the time, it was considered vigorous and not fun.
  5. It is illegal to ride your bicycle on the main roads in the downtown area; this includes sidewalks as well as the roads.  Policemen are usually on the lookout in this area so it is best to avoid it altogether and if anything simply try researching a path consisting of small back roads prior to leaving the house.

Just be careful!  Although the Japanese are known to obey the rules and laws to a T, they actually do not all do!

Can’t buy the JR Pass?

You’ve got some sort of long-term visa in Japan and thus ineligible for the JR pass – what are your options?

  • Airplanes
  • Buses
  • Trains

You can use your typical flight arrangement websites to set you up, but if you aren’t made of money then you’ll might want to look into budget airlines in Japan.  This is a news article for 2012 and thus a bit outdated but it comes in handy.  These budget airlines are always providing promotions, sales, and the initial ticket price is usually extremely cheap, and thus difficult to obtain.  It may be worth to subscribe to their promotional emails.

There are many kinds of buses available to travel within Japan, but I would like to briefly mention just one specific kind for travelers on a budget.  Overnight buses (夜行バス / yakou basu) are generally cheaper than airplane tickets but sometimes budget airline ticket prices are cheaper than these overnight buses.  Many people rely on overnight buses and therefore the prices increase due to that demand and you’ll especially see this for weekends; if you can, it would be best to look to take these overnight buses on Tuesday, Wednesday, and/or Thursday.  Since you’ve probably lived in Japan for some time now, you probably noticed that there are some shops around selling a lot of tickets to crowds of people at a time; these places hold tickets for overnight buses as well!

Obviously you can pay an arm and a leg for a bullet train (新幹線 / shinkansen) or you can take the normal trains at the respective fixed prices, or you can purchase a Youth 18 Ticket (精神18切符 / seishin jyuuhachi kippu)!  Japan Guide has loads of information on this useful and amazing opportunity.  But to answer a few FAQs that might have popped up into your mind:

  • Anyone can purchase this ticket!  Yes, that includes people younger and older than 18…
  • It costs around 12,000 yen (<$120) and may be used up to 5 times (5 days, once used that day, you can continue using it as much as you want that day without consequence).
  • Only available 3 times a year – corresponds to the school’s vacation periods.
  • You may purchase as many tickets as you want.
  • You may share the ticket with other people.
  • If used at 11pm and then again during the same night at 12am, it will count as TWO times as it resets at midnight – in other words you can use it the same day from 12am to 11:59pm.
  • Can be purchased at any JR office.
  • These tickets are not meant to be inserted into the regular gateways but rather to be inspected by a clerk next to the gateways.
  • This ticket limits you to certain trains, local (普通電車 / futsuu densha) and rapid trains (快速電車 / kaisoku densha).  What does this mean?  It will take longer, sometimes much much longer, to get to your desired destination.  For example it took me 3 full days of traveling from Kyoto (京都) to reach the southern most port city in Hokkaido (北海道), Hakodate (函館).  Also took me the same amount of time from Kyuushuu’s Kagoshima (九州・鹿児島) to Kyoto.

For more information, I would always recommend Japan Guide and Wikitravel.

TT – How to plan a trip

Quick review on how to plan a trip!

  1. Who are you going with?  Why go with anyone, go solo!  If you can’t go solo, make sure you pick people that you can travel with; people who are like you when you travel.  So that means if you’re like me on vacations and like to rise early and make the most out of your day, sleeping late too, make sure your travel partner(s) does too!  This also entails activities, sights, capabilities and whatnot.
  2. When are you going?  Peak or non-peak season?  Make sure you research the climates, weather, activities, seasonal differences, prices, natural disasters, and limitations.  This is very important because if you decide to go during non-peak season to save money or whatnot, you may be expecting paradise but it could actually be a nightmare thus being the non-peak season; not always the case though, but it can be!  Also, activities and sights may be unavailable during non-peak seasons so be wise and research thoroughly!
  3. Where are you going?  By the way, these are not in any particular order!  I usually start with one and move onto another.  If you’re like me and want to go everywhere, then just pick a spot and start planning!  Of course during your research if it’s not the best idea, you can always switch and continue to do so until you find the perfect trip for your preferred time period.  Pay attention to location, climate, culture, environment and customs!
  4. Why are you going?  This is quite essential to any trip, especially if it isn’t open-ended!  I think that only open-ended trips can have an open-ended reason for going!  Try to match your location and activities with your purpose, if that wasn’t obvious enough.
  5. What are you going to do?  Kick back on the beach, drink/smoke all night long and party, outdoor activities like rafting and hiking, or maybe just sightseeing?  These should be match everyone’s tastes in your group, unless sometimes you split up; which is completely fine and actually preferable if you know each other well enough!
  6. How? How will you pay for the trip?  How will you get to your destination/what form of transportation suits your needs?  How will you get to the airport or station?  How will you get around your destination?
  7. Book the trip!  Use several sights to look at flights like Hipmunk, BookingBuddy, Expedia, Orbitz, CheapTickets, Priceline, etc.  Same goes for accommodation, there are many options like Couchsurfing, House Sitting, Pet Sitting, renting apartments from others like on Airbnb, hostels, hotels, motels, friends and family.  Think about your trip purpose, group and activities as everything should complement one another.
  8. Post-booking preparation entails little significant details like:
  • Whether or not to use cash or credit cards
  • Getting your passport, papers and documents required to leave (your country and enter another).  Make sure your passport doesn’t expire during your trip, you may not be allowed to even leave.
  • Take off from work!
  • Do you know how much you’ll be charged, if any, if you use your card internationally?  Can you even use your cards internationally?  Tell your bank/institution of your trip and make sure that they’re capable of being used, even if you don’t need them; you never know what may happen!
  • Also, as mentioned above make sure to look into tips, customs, culture of the destination so you’re not an ignorant tourist pissing off locals; you want to be friends with the locals as you get the best tips from them on food, activities, locations, etc.

Hopefully you found something you didn’t know about earlier or maybe the whole thing is useful for you!  This post more or less represents what goes through my mind when thinking or planning a trip of any sort.

Is there anything that I missed?  Maybe you plan your trips a bit differently?  If so, let me know! 🙂

Episode 4 – Japanese Student Life (1)

I officially survived my first week as a Japanese language student!

It was no easy feat!  This week we had a daily Kanji, Chinese characters used in the Japanese language, exam along with loads of homework assignments!  I basically studied in class, obviously, but also right after classes finished to around midnight/1am daily.  Things will slow down a bit, it’s just like this in the beginning because everything should be a review from the first class; but since many students simply entered the school at this level, not everyone is on the same exact page yet.  I can easily state that my weakness is Kanji at this point, I can read them but writing is a different story; so many little details!

My weekly schedule at this point in time is below.  We have 45min class intervals with 10 minute breaks.  We have specific classes for reading, writing, speaking, grammar, etc.  There are also elective classes available that simply either reinforces your language abilities or your cultural awareness which is probably why my schedule will change!  I’m interested in taking a vocabulary, current news, and Kyoto culture electives!

  • M,W,F – 9am – 12:30pm
  • T,R – 9am – 3:10pm

3 Unique Japanese School Culture Differences:

  1. Attendance is very significant, you can fail even if you ace all the exams; there’s no leniency and also includes lateness
  2. We are not allowed to eat or drink during class, if we want to it has to be during the 10 minute breaks
  3. Shouldn’t go to the bathroom during class either, should be done during the 10 min breaks

Life outside school

This past week I got a new phone!  Except it is a flip-phone… I went from an iPhone 5 to a Samsung 740SC flip-phone.  Well, I didn’t have a phone for over a month so I guess I’ll settle with this just fine!  It’s about $30 for 2 months with unlimited text with same carrier customers, unlimited emails, and about 25 minutes of talk.  This will save me a lot of money considering it was about $70/month for an iPhone 5s.  Other than the phone, guess what I’ve been eating?!  Every night of this week, I had ramen!  Packaged ramen that is!  I have two different kinds, soy and miso; they’re good but I’m getting tired of ramen.  Why am I still eating only ramen for supper then?  It’s all I’ve got at home and when I’m coming home from school at 7-9pm on a daily basis, I can’t bother to get other groceries.  I’m also budgeting so eating out isn’t an appealing offer, plus I eat out for lunch already!  And, I’m actually quite broke right now without access to my other funds because I’m waiting for my debit card to arrive!!  It’s been 3 weeks already so I’m annoyed with the customer service they’ve been giving me; might write a post on that in the future after things settle down in the matter.

I don’t think I fully presented my case on the workload, just think of it this way:  waking up at 7am, being at school from 9-12/3, and studying at a cafe from then to 8, coming home to cook, clean and shower, then back to studying till 1am and off to wonderland; only to do it all over again the next day!  Don’t get me wrong though!  I’m enjoying it!  At first, I was completely overwhelmed but I’m getting used to the kind of work and in my studious mode!  It’s fun learning new things about the language, one step closer to adding Japanese to my background!  It’s exciting!  I also have quite an attractive sensei!  She’s adorable and awesome!  It only adds to the education right? 😉  Don’t judge lol


TBT – Phi Phi Island

Have you ever booked a trip 2 days before leaving?  I never really had the chance to be that spontaneous since I’ve worked a lot since my first job at 14, but I did book a trip 2 days before departure when I first went to Singapore!

I arrived in Singapore 2-3 weeks before orientation which was only a day or weekend prior to the first day of classes; I wanted to settle in and know my living area before starting classes and work.  I lived in a flat with other mates but when I arrived no one was there!  A day or two later, someone moved in and funny enough his name is Pablo!  Anyways, for students who were studying in Singapore for a full year, this was their winter break and so naturally they were on a trip!  A couple days later our other flatmates came back from Thailand with great stories!  I was shocked by the prices they mentioned and had to look into it, yeah when you first hear about the attractive prices of Southeast Asia, it’s pretty shocking; if you never thought about it before.  So I looked into the prices, checked various sources, and convinced myself to book the next cheapest flight and hostels!  Next thing you know, I was on a plane to Thailand within a week of arriving in Singapore!

So in order to get to Phi Phi Island, you have to take a ferry and one of the ports leading to Phi Phi Island is Krabi so that’s where I headed.  Unfortunately when I got there I missed the last ferry of the day and was forced to stay the night in Krabi; that’s why that flight was the cheapest!  One of the people at the pier helped me find a place to stay for cheap and the following is what I got, not bad.

IMG_0399 IMG_0400 IMG_0403 IMG_0404


By this time I was a bit stressed because I missed the ferry and had to stay the rest of the day and night in Krabi instead of my hostel/hotel on Phi Phi Island that I already paid for… so naturally I was hungry and went for some Thai 🙂 The following is what I had down the block from my accommodation and it wasn’t the best but it was what you could expect from a small individually owned shack, pretty good.

IMG_0405 IMG_0411


Here’s 2 pictures just to show you how the area looked like by the pier, that’s a night food stand market by the way.  My day ride is also shown below, you can rent one by depositing your passport and paying the cheap fees at the end.  The ferry to Phi Phi Island is also below.

IMG_0416 IMG_0419 IMG_0427 IMG_0431


Finally, pictures of Phi Phi Island!  Of course this includes the journey and everything included!

IMG_0436 IMG_0446 IMG_0450 IMG_0453 IMG_0456 IMG_0464 IMG_0466 IMG_0473 IMG_0475 IMG_0477 IMG_0484 IMG_0489 IMG_0490 IMG_0491 IMG_0492 IMG_0493 IMG_0495 IMG_0497IMG_0504 IMG_0506 IMG_0507 IMG_0512 IMG_0513 IMG_0514 IMG_0532 IMG_0538 IMG_0545 IMG_0549 IMG_0552 IMG_0554 IMG_0556 IMG_0572 IMG_0574 IMG_0576 IMG_0578 IMG_0580 IMG_0582 IMG_0584 IMG_0588 IMG_0594 IMG_0595 IMG_0596 IMG_0599 IMG_0604 IMG_0608 IMG_0612 IMG_0619


Yeah, I decided to not use sunscreen one morning because I wanted a nice tan but I got this instead; mind you, this was from head to toe…of course with the exception of where my trunks were!

I apologize now for any terrible photos and the annoying date/time stamp!  I selected the best in my opinion from the load that I took during my stay.  This was the start of my wanderlust, the need to travel.

Hope you enjoyed this post!  Feel free to leave comments/questions and subscribe/follow!

TBT – Philippines (1)

My trip to the Philippines is unforgettable and not because it’s very beautiful, fun and scenic, but also because of the tragic event of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan; yes, I was in the Philippines in March 2011.  I remember it quite clearly probably because of the even;, on top of the excitement of being in the Philippines for the first time.

I was studying in Singapore for a semester that started in January 2011 and my flat mates and I became close so we started to plan a vacation together for reading week / spring break.  I brought up the idea of Japan because that would be freaking amazing; was always a dream (funny that I’m writing this post in Japan now, yay one dream completed).  After some initial research, we all agreed that it was out of our budget at the time so we brainstormed and came up with the Philippines.  After researching the cheapest route and accommodation, we booked it; fly from Singapore to Manila and Manila to Boracay (the airport outside).  2/4 of us had to go home early so the other 2 decided to check out El Nido in another part of the Philippines too.  We had a layover at Manila so we booked a hotel for that night and partied; luckily we made it to the airport the next morning.

One thing you should know about the Philippine airports is that you have to pay taxes/fees at the airport rather than it being included in the ticket; at least that’s how it was in 2011 for budget flights.  Once it was time to board, we all got up and went to the gate.  We had to board a shuttle bus that brought us out further outside of the airport to a secluded area where a tiny plane that sat less than 50 people waited.  If you’ve ever been to Asia, then you already know how they have smaller versions of things compared to America; for example, construction equipment, transport trucks, etc.  Think of this plane as an Asian plane in that regard and you’ll get the idea, unfortunately I do not have a photo.  Surprisingly the flight wasn’t bad, of course you felt a bit more turbulence but it wasn’t worth much of a concern, for me at least some others may disagree.  This is where it gets interesting though.

Everyone has to take a boat a short distance away from the airport to the Boracay island so naturally we did.  On the boat, we were instructed to put life vests on and the radio was turned on to a news station reporting a possible tsunami.  My Spaniard flat mate started to freak out, and initially I was too but more so just shocked by the news.  But once you took a look at the locals on the boat, they were calm with no care in the world; this calmed me down because of course they know best!  This did not happen for my friend, he could not take it and this lasted till the next afternoon when the warning dissipated.  It was just too surprising though, we just got off a plane to get on a boat to get to an island only to have a tsunami alert…
207169_10150213480357053_510507052_8553364_2263394_nATV ride in Boracay

208035_10150213485152053_510507052_8553437_6957336_nSnorkeling on a very cloudy and choppy day in Boracay, not advised for those who can’t swim well like me…

206792_10150213484732053_510507052_8553428_944491_nManny Pacquiao’s poster above his hotel in Boracay

IMG_0750Jeepney in Manila, cheap rides but if you’re worried about your safety don’t take them

IMG_0774This is how our night went in Manila, a couple random bars and nightclubs

IMG_0848Shooting a movie or music video in the park in Manila

IMG_0878Radio announcing the tsunami…see the date stamp

IMG_0889Boracay’s White Beach

IMG_0894Another view of White Beach

IMG_0940Nice stroll along White Beach

IMG_0982These vehicles are so popular in the Philippines, the ghetto kind of solutions

IMG_1021View of Boracay after ATV trip further up the island

IMG_1061Couldn’t leave out this cutie

IMG_1109Sunset on Boracay’s White Beach

IMG_1111Insert Palm trees

IMG_1147The nightlife on Boracay is actually on the beach!

IMG_1210Typical average Filipino boat

Again I must apologize for the date stamps, they are so annoying; I can’t believe I liked them at some point.  I will simply blame my parents for getting into it!  Or maybe I was already at the age where I can’t blame anything on them anymore 😦

Regardless, hope you enjoyed this week’s throwback!  Please follow/subscribe and like/comment!