Monday, July 08, 2013

How to enroll at a girls-only university in Seoul, Korea

In Feb 2013, I spent a entire month living and studying on the campus of Ewha Womens University In Seoul. Unlike the certain segment of the population who must be pros at this, it was my first time setting foot in a girls-only university; I had never been surrounded by so many young girls before in my life. As culture immersion experience goes, it was drastically different versus what I had done before. I will assure you that being surrounded in a all-girls school by attractive college aged Korean girls all day is a lot more comfortable than living in a Muay Thai camp surrounded by enraged, half-naked, sweaty male Thai fighters. I found the situation so hilarious that I had to share my fortunes by inviting my Korean friends to come and visit me on campus. Now these are Koreans guys born and raised in Seoul; and yet they were walking around like little boys in the candy story, giving me a lot of street cred along the way. They told me that this university used to be so traditional that the only males that were allowed on the campus were preachers and delivery boys. They were even more amazed to learn that I had a dorm room in a coed building which housed both guys and girls. Of course, the boys were in the minority; in fact, I don't think I saw more than 5 different guys in the dormitory for my entire stay. And settling into my university life, I went and did my own laundry in the communal laundry room. But every time I walk in, the girls in the laundry room always gives a little jump at seeing a member of the opposite sex. The place is basically filled with baskets filled with, you know, girl stuff. So I was slightly uncomfortable being there as well. And I think my uncomfortableness probably made the girls who were there even more uncomfortable. So it became a vicious cycle of throat clearing with nervous shuffling of shoes and avoidance of eye contact until the girls all bolt from the room leaving me to do my laundry in peace. 

How to do this
It's been seven years since I attended a class at a university so the feeling of being back in a dorm and attending classes was quiet refreshing. Ehwa University was a typical university with modern facilities and a great staff. The only difference is that there were just lots and lots of girls. It took a bit of getting used to, but eventually I got used to being the only guy in a roomful of girls. And honestly after the initial shock of girls was over, the whole experience was kind of boring because I'm happily in a relationship, and the language barriers was difficult to breach. This was at the end of my trip, so I flew back to HK pretty frequently over my month there that I probably missed out a bit on the "immersion" part of the experience. Nonetheless, It was extremely fun and great to be a student again although only for 1 month. 

You could apply for the language program (the only way guys can attend Ewha) by emailing the Ewha Language Center. The Korean gov has a excellent site with a list of all the language programs here -

That's pretty much it. Let me know if someone does attend so I can visit you! =)
My student ID - will treasure this forever

Graduation ceremony

My teacher

My friend

My dorm room

Monday, June 10, 2013

How I enjoyed the Rio great outdoors by flying, running and climbing

Having never visited Rio before, I had this image of a crazy city in the middle of a constant carnival and ever-lasting partying. While Lapa (Kind of like LKF in HK) at night was pretty insane (everyone danced everywhere to everything), sadly, I didn't have the chance to witness the famed carnival. For me, the outdoor experiences were actually the highlights of my trip and it was a great way for me to understand the culture of the city. 

Flying over the fevelas 
The fevelas are an unique part of Rio landscape. These slum were one time filled with crimes, gangs, drugs, and extreme violence. (If you haven't seen it, City of Gods is a amazing, yet violent, movie about the fevelas) Recently, however, the government have instituted a program to clean up the fevelas to prepare for the olympics. As the result, the poor gangs and the drug dealers were forced out and the streets were cleaned up. By the time that I went on a fevela tour, the crowded streets were so devoid of criminal elements that it looked just like a busy city in China, just without Chinese people, even though most of the goods were still Made-In-China. Alas, It wasn't like this just a couple years ago. The guides told us that when they used to do the fevela tours, machine gun trotting thugs would hover near them to keep them from taking pictures. Now that would've been a more exciting! One thing that I found very interesting in a Braziling fevela versus other urban centers in the world is the amazing view. Due to the particular squatting law in Brazil, people of little means were able to settle high up on the mountains where the city did not extend sanitation electricity or other services. So it came to pass that Rio is the one of the only major cities in the world where the rich lives on the lower grounds while the poor lives up high with spectacular views. So imagine if HK was colonized by the Portuguese instead of the British, then the gazillion dollar properties on the Peak may instead be a slum.... Anyways, after an on-the-ground tour of the fevelas, I wanted to see it from a different angle. So off and I went hang gliding for the first time in Rio. Wasn't as scary as skydiving but still very fun nonetheless. The bird eye views of the favelas and the Rio beaches were quiet breath taking. Here is the video of my hang gliding experience - 

Fevelas all have great views

Electricity is pretty ad-hoc in the fevelas 

People chilling in the fevela

Running along the beach 
The beach was the most interesting part of Rio. The entire city revolves around the beach life where people go play, chill, tan, see friends, play sports, workout, surf, checkout girls, and a host of other things. The beach, interestingly enough, is also an great equalizer in this society where wealth is as unbalanced as the rest of the rapidly emerging economies of the world. There are no private beaches in Rio, so anyone could just show up and camp out on any beach no matter if the beach is infront of a fevela or infront of a Four Seasons. And most people show up with nothing but a pair of boardshirts and sandles. Hence there isn't a way to show off your wealth even if you did want to impress girls with your bling. Nevertheless, the beach segregates in other ways. There were designated areas on the beach for different social groups. There was an area for the good looking people, for the gays, for the poor people, and etc... Although, I'm sure they won't kick you out even if you walked onto the wrong patch of sand; there were plenty of not so good looking people in the good looking people section, and I even strolled along inside the good looking camp without too many dirty looks, so no harm done. Like other beach-goers, I decided to join in on the exercise routine. I hate running under most circumstances, but the endless amount of eye candy and the changing landscape was enough to keep my eyes wondering and my legs pumping. 

The beach was packed on weekends

The gay area

Fresh coconut juice eveywhere


A full gym right on the beach

Climbing the Sugarloaf 
The Sugarloaf Moutain got its name because it looks like, well, a lump of sugar. As one of the only mountain right at the water's edge around Rio, it receives heavy tourist traffic due to the amazing scenery up top. You can elect to go up the 1,200 ft mountain via several different methods including cable cart, or mini-buses. However, I picked to follow a mountain climbing guide up using ropes and harnesses.  This was my first time doing outdoor rock climbing and it was quiet exhilarating to be dangling off the side of the Sugarloaf with the breathtaking view of Rio's coast lines. The climb took a couple hours due to the fact that me and my friend were pretty slow climbers and that she had to take a conference call in the middle of the climb. We hooped all over the surface of Sugarloaf to get a cell reception only to find out the call has been rescheduled... But eventually we emerged over the peak of the mountain, sweaty, victorious, and shirtless scaring the rest of the tourists who never saw us coming up beneath them....
Wearing vibrum for rock climbing was a bad idea

View was amazing

Our guide was very good 

It was a very difficult climb for me 

Sugarloaf at night

After Rio, I bussed along a route that took me through several interesting locales to Sao Paulo but that's a blog post for another time....


Hang gliding - This was a very touristy activity that you can book through any hostel. They would pick you up from the hostel and send you back afterwards. The flight itself is not long, but you should budget several hours and bring a book because the flight is totally dependent on the wind. If there are no wind, then you might be sitting around and waiting for a while. 

Beach - There are actually several interconnected beaches along the Rio coast. The two most famous are the Ipanema and Copacabana. Together they stretch around 10KM, which was a perfect running length for me. Besides the eye candy to keep you going, refreshments were aplenty in the form of fresh coconut juice all along the boardwalk. There are also workout stations spread around if you get bored of cardio. 

Sugar loaf climbing - This was hooked up through my hostel since it's not a really well advertised activity. Try to ask your hostel if you really fancy climbing up sugar loaf. It is well worth it. 

Bus route - Green toad was an pretty amazing service where they will buy local bus tickets for you and help plan your overland travel route. Given that I spoke no Portuguese, this was a service that I was more than willing to pay a premium for. 

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

How to be a cowboy in Argentina

Argentina is a very interesting country where the inflation is over 20%, random weekly protests occur on the streets, all the Asian looking people and grocers are called "Chinos", and where you would never take out a map and look at it in public. All these eccentricities were a part of why I had such an interesting time there. So much so that I even convinced my (ex-)girlfriend to heroically fly 33 hours (one way) to come and see me in Buenos Aires. Although, she almost decided to cut her loses during a 6 hour layover in Paris. She called me and told me, dejectedly, that she just couldn't bare another 13 hours in an cramped Air France seat. I, on the other hand, had just finished watching "The Hobbit" with my friends in BA and tried to cheerfully relate to her how her journey to see me was similar to the epic journey of the hobbits on their heroic adventure. Needless to say, It didn't have the intended effects as I had pictured in my mind.  But, eventually she landed, and I had to rack my brain to plan two weeks filled with attractions for us. Because, as I realized, staying in my Airbnb apt and watching YouTube wasn't going to cut it for her.

We did a lot of things like taking Tango lessons, eating steaks, seeing the Iguazu but the highlight was definitely the day that we spent learning horse riding. I scheduled us in with the ranch for Dec 21, 2012; the day that the world is supposed to end. The picture of us riding through the wilderness while the world around us crumbled was too hard to resist. But as we all know, Apocalypse never came. To which I'm thankful for, not only for my life, but also for the fact that we actually learned how to gallop by the end the day, from zero experience at the beginning. Here is a video of us - 

The guy who owned the ranch was also an inspiration. He used to work for an insurance company in Buenos Aires for 20 years until his health was failing due to workplace stress. Eventually he decided to quit the soul crushing job and bought this ranch, where now he is a happy cowboy showing the newbies how to ride horse (and making more money than before). Pretty cool right? Here are some more pictures of us - 

How To - 

Very simple. The place I went to is -

They come pick you up and then drop you off. So just make sure you are dressed appropriately and they will take care of the rest. 

I did a lot of other stuff in Argentina where I stayed for 1 month, so let me know if anyone has any questions on travelling there. 

Saturday, February 02, 2013

How to travel to Machu Picchu like the Incas did back in the 1500s

The Greatest Hike in the World
No one exactly knew what purpose Machu Picchu served the Incas. Some claimed it was a vacation home for the ruling elites while others say it was a mountain fort built to hide all the Inca virgins away from the Spanish. We may never know the true purpose of this magnificent Inca city that was left intact and undiscovered by the Spanish. But what we do know is that the Incas, as one of the greatest civilizations of ancient times, were very adapt at building roads, just like the Romans. However, unlike the Romans, the Incas didn't have horses, which eventually led to their ultimate demise when they met the Spanish. But in the meantime, they built a great road system connecting the Inca capital, Cuzco, to Machu Picchu, which remains until today and is now called the Inca Trail. 
Machu Picchu
Seeing Macchu Picchu is probably the number one thing to do when visiting South America. Although after having done this, I feel that the best part about visiting Machu Picchu is to actually hike the Inca Trail, what is now deemed as one of the greatest hikes in the world. After several days of hard hike, seeing Machu Picchu was the icing on the cake. The feeling of accomplishment when you climb over the last mountaintop, dirty, exhausted, and then lay your first gaze upon Machu Picchu can not be replicated by gingerly stepping off a train plateform while texting on your smartphone. 
First glimpse
Quiet proud of making it this far
I was told that the Incas used to travel from Cuzco to Macchu Pichu in under a day, probably on barefoot no less. Luckily, for us weakened homo sapiens today, the Inca trail is scheduled as a intense 4 day hike. 
The journey starts from Cuzco

My Experience
The trail itself is only 43km long. The distance is not difficult. The altitude was the hard part. The trail peaks at 4200km above sea level (ominously named "Dead Women's Pass") and bottoms out at 2400km. There were parts where it felt like my head would just split open from the pounding migraine if i just took another step. But granted, we completely ignored the advice to arrive in Cusco at least 2 - 3 days in advance to acclimate to the altitude , which was a huge mistake. 
At 4200 meter above sea level. Head was pounding at this point from altitude sickness
The hike is definitely not for those who can't live without 5 star accommodations. We barely had any creature comforts. For four days, we went without showering and slept in the wilderness, under our tents, in our sleeping bags, with most of our clothe on. Of course at that point, everyone reeked equally bad so no one really complained and it was also way too cold sometimes to even wash your hands, never-mind getting undressed. Nevertheless, we brought lots of wetwipes so I thought the lack of shower was manageable.  

Waking up above the clouds. Not bad
The lack of personal hygiene aside, we were actually fed like kings on the trail. The tour company that we went with had a cook who hiked the trail with us and made the best food I had in Peru, and there were lots of it. So despite hiking over rough terrain for 6-10 hours a day, I actually gained a bit of weight at the end of the hike. 

The food was incredible
Fashion wise, it was comical since all the guys all wore the same tan colored transformable pant-shorts. And since the weather varied greatly intra-day depending on our elevation, all the guys spent a large part of the day furiously ripping off the pants to convert to shorts only to zipping it back on later as we accent higher in elevation.

I was in a group with my buddy Nick and two MBAs and the oldest members of the tour group was a couple in their mid 60s which goes to show that anyone with a mediocre level of fitness can do the hike. 
Our crew at the start of the hike
Besides the amazing scenery that we saw enroute, we also met several friendly llamas along the way. There was a portion of the hike where the llamas were just grazing at the foot of the mountain, shrouded in thin wisps of clouds, from the distance they looked gigantic and quiet mystical, or maybe it was just the thinning oxygen playing tricks on my brain. Anyways, later on, I was able to greet them a little bit more intimately. 
Llama from far away
Llama up close
Trying to pick a fight
The hardest hike was on the second day when we did 11 hours of hard hiking. But it was no easy feat on the last day either when we had to wake up at 330am to line up for the opening of the gates of Machu Picchu. It was the second most amazing sight I have ever seen, next to Bagan in Myanmar.  Seeing Macchu Picchu bright and early in the morning without the big tour groups coming in from buses and trains is worth while in itself. 

Waiting for the gate to open
How I did it 
The tour company that I went with is called Llamapath. They were professional and efficient. Highly recommended -

It is important to book the Inca Trail a couple month ahead of time. Peru only allows certain amount of tourists per day to travel the trail. So check the government website for the availability on your date -

Things you absolutely need to pack:
  • Big roll of toilet paper
  • Head torch
  • Hiking shoes (absolutely no vibrams)
  • Walking sticks (def get these if you value your knees) *can be rented
  • poncho 
  • layers and layers of clothing (temp changes wildly)
  • gloves (I didn't use mine but good to have)
  • Hand sanitizer 
  • microfiber tower
  • Sleeping bag lining (although our sleeping bags were extremely clean)
  • Spare battery for camera! (there are no charging stations along the way...)
  • Or spare camera (I brought two)
The Llamapath Porters
A lot of respect for the porters. Those packs were not light.

Friday, February 01, 2013

How I Backpacked Through Myanmar

Before I made my way to North Korea, I paid a visit to another country with an equally tremulous political past. It was Myanmar, the land of a thousand temples. Fortunately, Myanmar has recently made impressive strides away from tyranny and towards democracy, which would allow tourists like us the opportunity to see this amazing land. 

I carried a physical Lonely Planet book this time since it was hard to find internet on the ground. Myanmar  Beer was very good. 
Similar to North Korea, Myanmar used to be a country where tourism was actively discouraged. Now that the government has become more democratic, Myanmar is one of the hottest spots for tourism. So much so that supply has not been able to keep up with demand and access for tourists into the country has been impeded by the lack of flights and hotels. I decided to take a backpack and do it myself during the low season. Compared to North Korea, it was easy to do Myanmar independently despite that there are still no ATMs and barely any internet access. Below are some of my favorite experiences in Myanmar . 

My top experiences 

  • Seeing the thousand temples in Bagan

    • This is simply the most breath taking view I have ever witnessed in my life. Climbing up onto an thousand year old pagoda and look out into the distance and see nothing but a thousand more pagodas in the horizon is unreal. With no other tourists around, you feel as if you were transported back in time. The king of Bagan built over 10,000 Buddhist temples during 11th century to 13th century and made his city a Mecca for buddists. It is also partly because of this that the kingdom eventually collapsed, given the debts incurred by the building extravagance. It was a classical story of a nation being over-levered on debt that eventually collapsed on itself. Sounds familiar? 
    You can get this view by climbing on top of pretty much any pagoda
    There were no fences, railings or other tourist infrasctures. Everything was untouched and raw
      Very windy...
  • Getting ripped off in Bagan
    • On my first day to Bagan, I was lost in thought while admiring a pagoda by myself on top of a half ruined wall. I was surprised when I looked down and saw a lone Burmese man looking up at me. I was even more surprised by his surprisingly good command of English. He told me that he was a artist who came into the pagoda to copy the murals from inside the pagodas to replicate as paintings 
    • I thought it must have been fate that brought me face to face with this esteemed artist in the middle of nowhere in Bagan, so I asked him to show me his paintings if it pleased him. He gladly agreed and was extremely kind to show me all of his sand paintings whiling telling the stories behind them. Eventually, he even allowed me to purchase one of the paintings. I was quiet honored. So then I went happily on my way to explore the next Pagoda, where I saw a whole row of such artists sitting there selling the exact same painting for 1/20 of the price that I paid for... 
    • Sand paintings...
    • I thought I learned my lesson but then I ended up buying a bunch of post cards from very cute little kids later which was extremely overpriced as well... 
  • Being fanned in Mandalay and seeing all the monks 
    • Mandalay was the last royal capital of the independent Burma. It has been the center of Burmese culture throughout the colonial days until today.  There is still a heavy colonial influence in the city; so I was sitting there in this restaurant by myself, and this Burmese waiter came behind me, stood there, and started fanning me with these large banana leaf fans, just like a scene out of Burmese Days by George Orwell. It was a pretty surreal experience but I wasn't complaining.... 
    • I saw the most numbers of monks in Mandalay in my life. They were everywhere, especially in the mornings walking on the streets going from door to door to collect alms. This was a way for Burmese people to earn merit by offering food or money to the monks. 
    • This this what they look like when collecting alms but they're actually lining up for lunch in this picture
  • Horse wiping poo all over my face
    • I was sitting next to the driver in the back of a horse driven cart touring some ruins in Mandalay. 
    • The horse was nonchalantly pooping while trotting along. It didn't really bother me since there was a basket tied behind his butt that caught all his poop, which I thought was pretty clever. 
    • Pretty clever that is, until the drive whipped the horse causing the horse to tense up and flick his tail. All the sudden, I felt all these "stuff" splashing onto my face. Turns out that the horse tail has been brushing back and forth along this poop basket and now with this flick, my face was covered with horse poop as well. It didn't seem to bother the horse drive tho....
    • My horse cart driver
      Nice view while getting a face full of horse poo 
  • Fisherman in Inle lake 
    • The fisherman in the Inle lake were unlike any other that I have seen. They have a special rowing technique. Instead of rowing with their arms, they row with one leg wrapped around the ore, with the other leg balanced in the boat. That way their arms are free to engage the nets and other things. It was quiet a spectacular sight. 
    • One of the many fisherman in the lake
      This will be a rare sight soon as the boats become motorized 
  • Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon 

    • One of the biggest pagoda in the world is located in Yangon. It has also existed for 2600 years which makes it the oldest pagoda in the world as well. It is a impressive sight. For this reason alone, a stay in Yangon is absolutely required. 
    • It is still very much in use today
      There's apparently diamonds at the top
  • Car rides and life in Myanmar

    • I had the pleasure of being inside some truly interesting cars while in Myanmar. Here are some pictures. 
    • Door handles are an unnecessary luxury 
      Actual pad lock on the glove compartment...
        The shuttle bus I took to the airport

    • It was very interesting to walk around Yangon and imagine what it might become. 
    • One of the main streets in Yangon
      This was the nicer neighborhood too
    • It was really interesting that most people in Myanmar still don't wear pants. I bought a set of longyis to fit in. 
    • The locals were really happy when I wore it

Recomended books - Burmese Days by George Orwell. This was an earlier work by George Orwell before he wrote the likes of 1984 and Animal Farm. He was definitely not as an mature writer, but it was still a fascinating read nonetheless. What's more interesting is that, scenes from the book, even tho it was written in the 1920s, still can be witnessed in Myanmar today since the country hasn't progressed much under the military regime for the past 80 or so years. 

How to plan Myanmar
For a introductory tour of Myanmar, it is necessary to visit 4 cities. Yangon in the South, and Bagan, Mandalay and Inle Lake in the North. International flights typically land in Yangon, with a few flying into Mandalay from Kunming, China. AirAsia runs cheap flights from Bangkok to Yangon.  To travel domestically, you could travel by bus or train if you are on a budget. Or, you could take domestic flights around the 4 cities. When I was there, it was not possible to buy tickets from outside of Myanmar, so you would have to contact a domestic Myanmar travel agency and ask them to book your flights for you. Once you land at the Yangon international airport, a rep would meet you and hand over your vouchers. 

It is extremely important to bring almost new US dollars with no folds or creases that was issued after 2006. They won't take anything with any slight fold.  Money change used to be a significant problem because of a official rate and a black market rate. It is no longer a problem, the money exchange at the airports are fair and efficient. There is, however, still no international ATMs.

I relied on my Lonely Planet for hostel/hotel recommendations but despite being published in 2012, the prices were completely already out of date. So my best suggestion is for anyone who's targeting to visit to do some more research on the internet for the most up to date information. 

Feel free to send me a message if you need help planning your Myanmar trip. Better go soon before it turns into another Thailand as tourism is expected to double every year..

Other interesting photos 
Hide and seek under the tractor

Public transportation going to work

Long neck people

Village in the middle of a lake

Building roads

Monks go to school just like regular kids


All students wear green as part of the uniform

Spring water shower


Selling potatoes like a boss

I remember this from China where you go to a place to get cooking oil

Pretty comfortable

Pagoda in Mandalay
Local sunblock
Floating farm
Monastery of jumping cats
Some sort of checker game
What people did for interaction before Facebook
I used to do the exact same thing in China about 20 years ago