Category Archives: Travel

Bridges, beaches and beauty of Busan

KOREA PENINSULAThroughout my first month in South Korea, friends and colleagues recommended getting out of Seoul at some point. While the country is relatively small (roughly 20 percent the size of California or about the size of Maine), there is plenty to explore: big cities, quaint villages, lots of mountains and as a peninsula, lots of coastline. For my first solo trip out of Seoul, I targeted the city of Busan for a 24 hour weekend adventure. It sits on the southeastern-most tip of the country and is easily accessible via the KTX (one of four high speed rail systems in the world).

Here are a few fun facts about Busan:

  • With a population of 3.6 million, it is South Korea’s second largest city.
  • It is the world’s fifth largest container handling port in the world.
  • The city intended to bid for the 2020 Olympics before Pyeonchang to the north was awarded the 2018 Winter Olympics. (Not to be confused with Pyongyang in the actual North.)
  • It is home to one of the most influential film festivals in Asia.
  • In 2009, the Shinsegae Mall surpassed Macy’s flagship store in New York City as the world’s largest shopping mall with a whopping 3 million square feet of retail space. (1 square mile of shopping space per resident?!)
  • During the start of the Korean War, Busan was one of only two cities in South Korea not captured by the North Korean army.

While I traveled to Busan without any expectations on what I would see or experience that would impress, I left with an admiration for the city’s beautiful beaches and impressive bridges. A little more on that here:

The 4 mile long Gwangan Bridge stretches in the distance across one of Busan’s most beautiful beaches, Gwangalli. It bridge is Korea’s first double decker suspension and its design was inspired by the flapping wings of a seagull. In 2014, a colorful nightly light show began after more than 10,000 LEDs were installed.

A guidebook stated that Gwangalli Beach is less attractive because of the bars, restaurants and shops lining the waterfront. I didn’t expect to find serenity in the middle of a city of 3+ million and found the stretch to be entertaining, striking on the eyes and thirst-quenching.

Haeundae is Korea’s largest and most famous beach. It can draw up to 100,000 people during a sweltering summer day. Most Koreans that I talked to described it as chaotic and unappealing. For me, it was a pleasant place for local people watching. 😉

The 2.5 year old Bukhang (Busan Harbor) Bridge is the 2nd longest cable-stayed bridge in Korea. At first glance, cable-stayed bridges look a lot like suspension bridges. However, they are quite different. While a suspension bridge has main cables strung between towers with support cables hanging down below, cable-stayed bridges feature cables running directly from the tower to the deck. The Brooklyn Bridge is the most famous cable-stayed bridge in the world.

Billed as more tranquil than Haeundae and Gwangalli, Songjeong Beach was equally as jam packed with parasols on a 90 degree day.

An ambitious 45 minute trip north of Haeundae Beach via a bus (or two, by accident) reveals beautiful Haedong Yonggungsa Temple clinging to a cliff-side. It offers a bit of respite from the hustle and bustle of the big city.

While there’s more to Busan, including an art museum seemingly obsessed with bosoms, and an art village with uniquely colorful panoramas, I’ll always remember it as Korea’s city of beaches and bridges.

Five reasons I loved Train to Busan

Back at home I go to the cinema on a regular basis and that’s one interest I knew I wouldn’t lose in Seoul. Not long after I arrived, I started exploring what my movie-going options would be here…

I learned that Hollywood blockbusters are shown in English, with Korean subtitles, while animated movies are dubbed in Korean (to make it easier for kids to enjoy).

I also learned that a more local experience, featuring a Korean produced film, would be more challenging to find. Most Korean movies do not offer English subtitles. The exception, however, is when a movie is intended for international release. As luck would have it, Korea’s first zombie movie, Train to Busan, which premiered earlier this year with a midnight screening at the Cannes Film Festival, was produced with wider distribution in mind. One of my fellow movie-loving colleagues offered to accompany me for a viewing, so I eagerly jumped at the opportunity to see a local blockbuster. Here are five things I loved about Train to Busan, which opened on July 22:

Korea's first zombie movie

  1. It introduced me to some top Korean actors and actresses, including the incredibly sexy Gong Yoo, the talented up-and-coming child star Kim Su-an, and the entertaining Ma Dong‑Seok, who I’ve since seen on local TV.
  2. Amidst digesting English subtitles, I got to hear some words and phrases I’ve learned in my short time here. Sure, it was only numbers (1, 2, 3) and common words like hello, thank you, please and beer, but it made me feel a little more connected.
  3. It was a totally entertaining zombie apocalypse flick. While I haven’t seen too many zombie movies, I loved World War Z and have a growing interest and appreciation for the genre. As I get older, I find horror movies less enjoyable and thrillers more so, so zombie flicks are perfect. I laughed, I cringed, I jumped out of my seat, and I even teared up a little. It was hokey at times, but what zombie movie isn’t? Overall it was totally entertaining.
  4. The movie chronicles a fast-paced, viral outbreak on a KTX (bullet train) ride from Seoul to South Korea’s second largest city, Busan (a trip I want to take). It’s a great setting to rethink a zombie thriller. Imagine Speed meets The Walking Dead.
  5. It’s playing in the United States, so my friends can (and should) go see it! I’m not sure what the appetite will be for an Asian zombie movie in the U.S., but I’d recommend it to friends living in cities big enough for distribution. It opened in 27 theaters including the AMC Van Ness in San Francisco.


What were the noticeable differences in the movie-going experience in Seoul vs. the U.S.? For one, fried squid was served at the concession stand. Also, all big movie theaters here (Lotte, CGV, Megabox) book reserved seating, in advance. You’ll rarely find first-come, first-serve seating here, which I still feel dominates the U.S. cinema landscape.

Seoul: First Five

I started this blog nearly eight years ago as a way to chronicle a two week cross-country American road trip with my friend Meagan. Over the years I’ve used it erratically to review movies, document hikes, and share music and musings. As I embarked on a 3 month work assignment in Seoul this summer, it seemed appropriate to document my adventures in some way shape or form, here.

As I cap off my first week residing in, working in, and exploring Seoul, here are five of my first impressions, in no particular order:

1: Baseball is tops.

Koreans love baseball and their 10-team national league, and they know and love the Major League Baseball teams with South Korean players on their roster. This includes the Pittsburgh Pirates, Texas Rangers, and especially the LA Dodgers, home of starting pitcher Hyun-jin Ryu. In fact, Koreans love the Dodgers so much that they tried to buy a stake in the team last year.

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I met Joe and Song during one of my first nights at the hotel bar and they quickly insisted the bartender to turn on baseball. When they learned I was a San Francisco Giants fan, their Dodgers love created a friendly riff.

2: Like many other large Asian cities, Seoul’s subway is incomparable to American subways.

There are more than 2.6 billion rides taken on Seoul’s massive, efficient, and insanely clean subway system each year. That’s 1 billion more rides than in New York, which serves around the same population (both city and metro). In Seoul, you can get anywhere easily and on time, you don’t see rats running around tracks, and you can’t fall on to the tracks in most stations because of platform screen doors. The city-center stations are massive underground developments with shops and restaurants, and you can actually use the bathrooms because they’re so clean.

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I thought maybe it was an anomaly that the Anguk Station featured art all along the subway station walls, and have been delighted to find art in other stations.

3: During the last 60 years, South Korea has shined.

Following Japanese colonization and World War II, Korea was one of the poorest developing countries in the world. Seoul was heavily destroyed in the Korean War. Once established, the South had to create a government and economy more or less from scratch. Not only has South Korea leveraged an intense work ethic and resilience to become one of the most important global economies, it’s joined the world stage by hosting the Summer Olympics in 1988 and the World Cup in 2002, and will host the Winter Olympics in 2018.

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Seoul is about to open its first supertall skyscraper, Lotte World Tower (555 m) and construction will soon begin on the next: the Hyundai Global Business Center (553 m).

4: Conglomerates rule the roost.

While the U.S. has powerful multi-national companies like Comcast, General Electric, and Berkshire Hathaway, none seem as visible and dominate in our culture like chaebols, as they call them, in South Korea. Korea’s top chaebols include Samsung, Hyundai, LG, SK, and Lotte. Samsung makes TVs and mobile phones, right? Subsidiaries with Samsung in the name also build ships and power plants, offer auto and life insurance, operate a hospital and cancer center, and supply credit as the country’s #1 credit card company, among dozens of other operations. You can’t watch baseball in South Korea without being reminded of the reach of the chaebols. Teams aren’t named after their home city, they’re named after sponsors, such as the Samsung Lions, LG Twins, and Kia Tigers.

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LG is the fourth-largest chaebol in South Korea and has subsidiaries in electronics, chemicals, and telecoms.

5: It’s true what they say about Korean drinking culture, and

The two most common comments I received when I told people I was going to spend my summer in Seoul was that it’s going to be hot and humid, and that I better be prepare my liver. While I can already confirm that soju, makkori, and beer are ways of life in Korea, I’d add that I think the drinking culture is positively tied to a broader culture of being social. Koreans like spending time with friends and colleagues. Drinking is one of the most obvious and popular ways to do that. Is that really much different than in the U.S.?

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Learning how to order a beer became one of my first learned phrases… maekju, juseyo!

As seen in Sunset Magazine…

I’ve been seen in the background of live nationally televised shows like The View, The Today Show and Survivor’s live finale and reunion. I’ve had an op ed piece published in defense of Survivor, my TV favorite show. I’ve been quoted in USA Today commenting on H1N1. And now I’ve had photos published in Sunset Magazine!

Two of my photos from last year’s Yosemite trip to Vogelsang High Sierra Camp, appear in the July 2015 issue of Sunset Magazine. They are part of a story on Yosemite’s High Sierra Camps which I’ve become a big fan of since visiting last year.

It was a fun process to be randomly contacted through LinkedIn by a Sunset travel photo editor with a request for two of my photos found on Flickr. In exchange for a small payment, I handed over high resolution versions of the photos, happily, to a publication I’ve enjoyed since moving here. (It’s a West coast-centric magazine focused on traveling, the outdoors, cooking and gardening.)

Vogelsang: A Yosemite First

The trek to Vogelsang High Sierra Camp begins near the Tuolumne Meadows backcountry permit station. A brief part of the hike in overlaps with both the John Muir Trail and the mighty Pacific Crest Trail

The trek to Vogelsang High Sierra Camp begins near the Tuolumne Meadows backcountry permit station.

I’ve blogged about Yosemite on several occasions. I’ve recounted a time I took a friend to the park for the first time, a time I hiked up Half Dome, and a time I cross-country skied to Glacier Point. Each time I trek to Yosemite I try to experience it in a new way, through the eyes of a first time visitor or on an entirely new adventure. This weekend I explored a new part of the park and dipped my toe into the High Sierra Camp culture and tradition.

Yosemite is home to five High Sierra Camps that form a popular 51 mile loop. Lots of people hike the full loop, staying at a different camp each night. Others enjoy individual Camps on shorter trips.

Each Camp has around 12 tent cabins that can be rented, and each is equipped with cots and log stoves for warmth. Some Camps even have shower facilities and all of them serve you a hearty dinner and breakfast the following morning. Securing spots in the tent cabins is a lottery, so planning takes time and patience. Each Camp has an adjoining backpackers camp and each day a few meals-only spots are held for those that fully trek in, bringing their own sleeping bag and tent to pitch, and roughing it out under the stars.

This weekend, we took advantage of the “meals-only” opportunity at Vogelsang High Sierra Camp, a 6.7 mile hike south from Tuolumne  Meadows, and it was a fun, new way to experience Yosemite…

Glen and Derek

A brief section of the hike up to Vogelsang overlaps with both the John Muir Trail and the mighty Pacific Crest Trail. In several beautiful spots, the trail crosses the Tuolumne River, as it begins its journey to Hetch Hetchy. 

Strava

Vogelsang is the highest High Sierra Camp at over 10,000 feet. Our trip up with backpacks (sans food and cookware) was a scenic workout, which we tracked  using several apps including Strava.

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Approaching the High Sierra Camp at Vogelsang felt like an accomplishment. We were exhausted yet eager to explore. It took a while for us to get our bearings of the amenities and the area that was open for us to set up camp.

camp home

As exhausted as we were when we finally arrived at Vogelsang, we took our time exploring the backpackers camp, looking for the best spot to set up our weekend residence. I credit Glen for ultimately leading us to our home base location. It was not a horrible place to relax, gaze and daydream.

Vogelsang area

There are at least a half dozen day hikes available starting from the Vogelsang Camp. During our delicious fried chicken dinner the first night of our stay, a cheerful, adventurous group of retired ladies from Incline Village (Lake Tahoe) insisted we head up to Vogelsang Lake and Vogelsang Pass during our following free day. We obliged and were treated with mega views of the high Sierra. 

View from Vogelsang Pass

About 1.5 miles and 700 feet up from Vogelsang High Sierra Camp is Vogelsang Pass, which offered sweeping views of the Lewis Creek  valley.

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The views from Vogelsang Pass out into the Cathedral Range were among the most beautiful I’ve seen in Yosemite.

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On our way down from the pass we took a pit stop at Vogelsang Lake.

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This is the spot where I jumped in. Cold and refreshing!

Mule

There are a lot of amenities at the High Sierra Camps and it’s thanks in large part to the hardworking mules that carry supplies up and down the mountains everyday. Each time we passed a line of these friendly and peaceful creatures on the trail, either going up or coming down, we stopped and expressed our gratitude.

Whether you’ve been to Yosemite once or ten times, I highly recommend working a visit to a High Sierra Camp into your next trip. It doesn’t matter if you reserve a tent cabin far in advance or snag a meals-only permit a little less far in advance, it’s a unique experience to meet fellow trekkers, share stories and socialize in such a beautiful setting.

Learn more about the High Sierra Camp lottery process or check out more photos from our trek.

A Wonderful Whirlwind in Japan

japan-112722_640While traveling for work, I always make an effort to carve out at least a small pocket of time to enjoy my destination… through cuisine, local acquaintances, or a drive-by sight-see. When I found out I was going to go to Japan for work recently I wasn’t sure what to expect. Meetings, dinners, train rides, repeat. While I was excited to return to Land of the Rising Sun, it was hard to imagine having any time to enjoy the culture.

Without really trying, my experience of traveling to Japan for work exceeded expectations by a mile. My trip was full of out of this world food and flavors, unexpected hospitality, meaningful local connections, and exposure to a new side of global business. I even was able to wrap up some unfinished business from my trip 10 years prior…

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My American colleagues and I were lucky enough to have a few of our local Japanese colleagues with us for the vast majority of our week. When did this become invaluable? Not only when navigating the intimidating train systems, but even more so when it was time to eat. From ramen and rice to sashimi to shabu-shabu (above), I ate some of the most delicious Japanese food. The most adventurous selection of the week went to sea urchin.

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I’ll try everything once and that’s a great attitude to have in Japan, especially when you’ve got locals ordering on your behalf.  A dictionary of food came in handy at one meal to help in our interpretation of the beautifully presented edibles.

Name that sushi?

Name that sushi? My favorite is on the top left.

When traveling on business, you have to work to see the sights. That's why one night I kidnapped my colleague and took him on a field trip to Shibuya crossing to see the famed intersection. With little research we hoped on the train, found our way, and even stumbled into a local watering hole.

When traveling on business, you usually have to go out of your way to see some sights. That’s why one night I kidnapped my colleague and took him on a field trip to Shibuya Crossing to see the famed intersection. With little research we hopped on a late night train, found our way, and even stumbled into a local watering hole for a sake nightcap.

Coworkers

Getting the chance to do business in Japan was invaluable experience. Business in Japan is built on a foundation of respect, honesty and follow-through. I am a wiser professional after building relationships with colleagues from some of the most successful and well-established companies in the world.

Umeda Sky Building

I’ve always had a fascination with skyscrapers and tall structures, and the Umeda Sky Building in Osaka had me entranced from the moment I laid eyes on it. I had never seen or heard of it and it became the subject of early morning exploration. While I didn’t have time to go up to the hanging gardens on the top floor, it will forever be in my memory as one of the most unique buildings I’ve ever seen.

Perhaps the most

After 5 non-stop days of meetings, presentations and train rides we finally earned some official sightseeing time. Thanks to the never ending hospitality of my local colleague, we enjoyed Kyoto with visits to the Nijo Castle and the Kinkaku-ji (Golden Pavilion). While I had been to both spots during my study abroad in 2004, being back was a time to reflect on how I’ve grown in the 10 years since my first visit.

Because of the nature of this trip, we spent a lot of time on the Shinkansen (bullet train)…  traveling from Tokyo to Hamamatsu to Osaka to Kyoto and back to Tokyo. During my premiere trip to Japan 10 years ago and during our ride early in the week south to Osaka, I missed the opportunity to see beautiful Mt. Fuji out the train window due to less than desirable weather. On our final train ride back to Tokyo, the day before we were to depart, as the sun was setting, without a minute of sunlight to spare, we lucked out and I finally got to see the majestic mountain.


It was a spectacular and satisfying way to wrap up an unforgettable week. More photos and memories on Flickr.

Gimme 5: Peru

Peru 5It’s been 2 months since I returned from Peru. While I have archived my photos on Flickr, and now have a digital album filled with memories, I have struggled to find a way to chronicle my Peruvian vacation, simply and appropriately here. When it comes to blogging it’s common to over-think. I decided to pick five standout takeaways from the trip and build from there.

1 The Inca Trail is an adventure of a lifetime. Being on the 26 mile trail for 4 days exceeded my expectations in terms of thrill, beauty, serenity, spirituality and joy. By the end of our third day, before even making it to Machu Picchu, I was overwhelmed with awe. We began that day with magnificent views of snow-capped Andes Mountains, as seen from just outside our tent door. The day ended at Wiñay Wayna, where we had a stunning and impressive Incan archaeological site all to ourselves to explore, as the sun set on the Urubamba Valley.

Machu Pichu was impressive and there are no experiences I would trade for that moment when we walked through the Sun Gate at sunrise, to see the famous World Wonder waking up for the day amidst blue skies and sunshine. So many memorable moments along the 4 day trek, combined with the most stunning terrain, is what made for an unforgettable vacation (that I will unintentionally compare all future vacations to).

Mt. Salkantay in the distance, from an original stretch of the Inca Trial.

Ferd, Glen, me and Bryan at Wiñay Wayna

Ferd, Glen, me and Bryan at Wiñay Wayna.

2 Pisco makes for delicious cocktails and Peruvian cuisine is among the most unique and satisfying in the world. Food from Peru is influenced heavily by what’s been grown there for thousands of years like potatoes, quinoa and corn. Peruvian cuisine is growing in popularity within world-class cities, as covered by Hemispheres Magazine, in a short and snapy piece in its June issue, which I read right before our trip (just in time to build excitement for my taste buds).

What experienced and open-minded foodie doesn’t salivate at the thought of fresh ceviche?

While I’m not raving here about the guinea pig or alpaca ravioli I sampled, I will say that the home-cooked meals our porters artistically created on the Inca Trail, were as enjoyable in their own right, as the items we indulged in on the tasting menu at one of the best restaurants in Lima.

Spread of local Peruvian food as prepared for us by a group of locals from a small village

A spread of local Peruvian food as prepared for us by a group of locals from a small village.

One of the chef's staff at Central Restaurante came out to walk us through one of our many delicious courses (right before the chef himself came out at the end)

One of the chef’s staff at Central Restaurante in Lima came out to walk us through one of our many delicious courses (right before the chef himself came out at the end)

3 Peru has a rich and fascinating history, rooted and influenced by the rise of the mighty and massive Incan Empire. During the weeks leading up to and through our trip, I read Kim MacQuarrie’s The Last Days of the Incas, which served up a 500 page dose of Peruvian history, starting with the rise of the Incan Empire beginning in the 1300s, well through the Spanish colonization of the 1600s. The facts I learned in this book came to life during time in Lima, Cusco and the Sacred Valley, along the Inca Trail and in Machu Picchu, as well as deep in the Peruvian Amazon. This book is a comprehensive and well respected history lesson for anyone traveling to the land of the Incas.

The Last Days

In April, The Hollywood Reporter published a story reporting that TV network FX is planning to turn MacQuarrie’s book into a miniseries titled, Conquistadors. THR reported, “The drama tells the story of Francisco Pizarro and Diego de Almagro, two Spanish Conquistadors who above all odds conquered the Incan empire of 10 million people with just 168 men, and Manco Inca and Cura Occlo, two teenage Incan royal lovers, who led one of the greatest rebellions in history.”

Pachacuti, who is honored with a statute in the Plaza de Arms in Cusco, expanded the Inca empire from the valley of Cusco to nearly the whole of western South America

Pachacuti, who is honored with a statute in the Plaza de Arms in Cusco, expanded the Incan empire from the valley of Cusco to nearly the whole of western South America.

Saksaywaman was a fort set high above Cusco built with massive and impressive carved and pieced together stones

Saksaywaman was a fort set high above Cusco built with massive and impressive carved and pieced-together stones.

4 The Amazon (which represented nearly 50 percent of our overall Peruvian adventure) is filled with beauty, music, the elements and once-in-a-lifetime wildlife sightings. Using pictures and audio, which often tell more appropriate stories than words, here is more on that:

Beauty: From delicate flowers and butterlies to playful, noisy scarlet macaws, the jungle is home to all colors of the spectrum.

Beauty: From the hundreds of varieties of delicate flowers and butteries, to the playful, noisy scarlet macaws and the many species of their parrot friends, the jungle is home to all colors of the spectrum.

Music: the oropendolas (who build tear drop shaped nests) that resided outside our eco-lodge, far from civilization, provided melodies and sound effects that I can still hear when I close my eyes and reminisce.

Music: the oropendolas (who build tear drop shaped nests) that resided outside our eco-lodge, far from civilization, provided melodies and sound effects that I can still hear when I close my eyes and reminisce… listen for yourself with a clip I recorded outside our lodge….

The Elements

The elements: They call it a rainforest for a reason, even in the dry season. We learned this when we got caught out in the rain on an oxbow lake, doing some friendly stalking of some rowdy cowbirds. We must have hiked more than an hour in a heavy down-pour all the way back to the lodge. It took my soggy shoes more than 4 days to dry.

Wildlife: We had some once in a lifetime wildlife sightings including caimans in the dark, the impressive flock of more than a dozen macaws at a clay lick, a family of capuchin monkeys traversing across the jungle highway, and the world’s largest rodent, the capybara.

Wildlife: We had some unique wildlife sightings including caimans in the dark, an impressive flock of more than a dozen macaws at a clay lick (as photographed above), a family of capuchin monkeys traversing across a jungle highway, and the world’s largest rodents, capybaras (above).

5 Out Adventures, the travel group that my three travel mates and I went down to Peru with, executed a flawless Inca Trail trek and a magical journey in the jungle. Given that the Peru government requires Inca Trail hikers to go with a permitted group, I figured why the heck not try to find a gay group to go with. It’s not that men attracted to men always need or want to travel in packs, yet gay trekkers are going to be like-minded in many ways. Still, I was a little apprehensive going into the trip, traveling with a large group of  strangers.

Our trip was comprised of an interesting and lovable group of guys. From London to Vancouver, our group was diverse, including a soon-to-be father and the first gay marriage divorcees I’ve met. We shared experiences together in Lima, Cusco and on the Inca Trail that we will never forget. If I found myself in a city where any of my fellow trekkers reside, I would make it a priority to see them… (like I did last week when I saw uber attractive and all-around-nice-couple, Alex and Kevin, in their hometown of NYC).

I look forward to a future Out Adventures trip and I encourage fellow gay adventure seekers to explore their once-in-a-life-time excursions — from Croatia and Turkey to Nepal and Burma… and maybe Mt. Kilimanjaro sometime soon? (hint hint, Robert.)

Urubamba Valley

Machu Pichu

There are many more memories from my trip to Peru that I wish I could capture with words. At the very least, I will always have some of these stories to remind me of my adventure and the more than 600 additional photos on Flickr.