4 Ways I Traveled - Winging It (Part 4)
Uncertainty is something that can be very unnerving. The list of if's, and's, or but's that could happen is just too lengthy to list. Learning to let go of the scariness of not knowing is difficult. We, well maybe just some of us, are told since young that there is one path in life: being born, growing up, going to school, getting a stable job, settling down, etc. The chances to stray from the path isn't common nor recommended. But, what if?
6:36:00 PM mandy 0 Comments
Being carefree and open minded to new experiences were my top goals of the extended trip. I guess I just wanted to have some time to live in the moment after following set plans and making plans for so long. Maybe I felt like this was an answer to grow mentally and break out of the shy shell I tend to coop myself up in. Maybe I followed one too many free-spirited influencers and just wanted to try something different from everyone else for a change: breaking expectations.
Structured bus tours, tag-a-long with Mom, and planned itineraries with Aunt were all styles of traveling that I don't regret. Sure, I had gripes with each but there were also many good things that came with each. But if I were to be completely honest, I had some of the most stress-free and interesting moments when I was able to let go and be more spontaneous. Going somewhere and doing things with no expectations will surely equate to something that is at the very least average and at the very most extraordinary. There is no way to feel regretful or upset about missing bullets from a non-existent itinerary.
Of the places I traveled to with my Aunt, Singapore was the first where I had no daily plans for before arrival. Figuring out Tokyo took up all of the time my procrastinating self left for me. I also thought that Singapore would be the easiest of all places for an impromptu styled a trip. For one, my Aunt had already been before. Most people there speak English, if not also some form of Chinese, so communication wouldn't be an issue. Singapore has a relatively simple to navigate transit system. Plus, we could always ask our AirBnB host for recommendations.
Most of our plans for the day were usually decided on the night before with the help of the internet and various travel books our AirBnB home provided. Like in Japan, I chose to focus on certain areas of Singapore. One day we roamed around Marina Bay. Another day was spent at the day and night zoos. We also visited the botanic gardens, Orchard Road, Chinatown, and Sentosa.
I originally thought that weather would be a big issue since we were visiting Singapore during the monsoon season. But the rain surprisingly didn't last all day and instead came down in one big spurt. The sun shone as bright as ever after the daily downpour came and went. Even though the humidity in Singapore was unbearable at times, all the sunlight was very energizing.
Kaiping, China.My plan, at first, was to wander around Hong Kong for a week or so before I departed from Asia altogether. The city was mainly a layover stop on my multi-month trip. Both my mom and Aunt insisted there wasn't much to do there and that everything was too expensive. But being the city girl that I am, exploring metropolis Hong Kong felt more appealing than going to dimsum and dinners every day in China.
Somehow my Aunt got me to follow her to China with the promises of doing things that my mom did not do: visit black sand beaches, soak in hot springs, and have an outdoor BBQ. All in the name of doing new things right?
Of the things she mentioned we would do, we only got to the outdoor BBQ with her friends. Unlike Western BBQ's, big hunks of meat weren't smoked or cooked on outdoor grills. The Chinese style BBQ involved sitting around a firepit with sausages, chicken wings, and other likes that are skewered and roasted over the open fire. The day was rainy and gloomy but still interesting and cozy.
I was a little disappointing we didn't end up getting to go to every place my Aunt had to mentioned. Expectations were raised but not all were met. Her substitution, however, wasn't all that bad. Instead of the beach and hot springs, she decided to take me to Kaiping to see the Diaolou. These type of buildings were historically supposed to be watchtowers. The ones we saw were more of a glorified ancestral home and museum built by immigrant families. It was fascinating to see and read about those families' histories since I knew so little about my own.
Lamma Island, Hong Kong.My Aunt and I made a compromise, we would spent a few extra days in Hong Kong in exchange for me going to Taishan with her. I hadn't a clue what I would do in Hong Kong but I was glad to have the days available. My Aunt's main complaint was how crowded and polluted the city was. My best answer to that was visiting the quiet Lamma Island. Besides knowing the name from TVB shows, I wasn't familiar with the place at all. I looked up how to get there from our hotel and we had a day-trip adventure.
The ferry ride from Central to Lamma Island wasn't long, maybe around half an hour. Leaving the ferry pier led to a bunch of seafood restaurants so we had shrimp, clams, and crab for lunch. We found some signs with estimated walking times and took a hike from the island's northern village to its southern one. There was no rush to be somewhere by a certain time. We decided on everything as we came to it. If we missed a ferry, we waited. Everything about that day was laid-back and calm.
Seoul, Korea.A big part of my original plan was to try to travel alone. Before my Aunt said she could join me in the travels, I was only going to be in Korea and Hong Kong by myself for a few weeks and then head home. (Why Korea and Hong Kong? They were the places my mom had to worry about me less in.) I had never truly lived away from people familiar to me before and curiosity got the best of me. Sure, I did study abroad; that was away from family and most of my friends. But I also had that experience with my best friend. There was never a situation I was in where I felt completely uncomfortable and had no one else but me to rely on. Being able to go through something new with her felt safe and encouraging.
I know I am extremely lucky to have the support of family and friends, to have people I can rely on. Tons of people don't or can't have that. Maybe it is the Asian/Chinese part of me, I never really imagined living apart from my family. I also always preferred to do things with friends and family: eating out, shopping, traveling, and even attending classes. What is familiar is reassuring.
There wasn't ever really a time where I thought twice about how I might be too closed off or that it doesn't have to be always "do together or don't do at all". When I had the opportunity to travel for an extended period of time, but no one else could, I joked about the idea of doing it myself. When else would I get the chance? Then I actually had the time to think about it twice. Seriously, when else would I get that chance? If not now, when?
It surprisingly didn't take much to convince my mom to the idea. Just a lot of nagging and insistence. As with anything, deciding at that moment was always the easiest. Going through with it required the courage. Would I stay in a hotel room by myself? Would I try a hostel and befriend other wanderlusters? Even up until the week before my flight to Seoul, I was hesitant.
Staying in a hotel, by myself, would have been the most comfortable option. I wouldn't have to worry about being too awkward around others. I could have woken up and gone to bed whenever I wanted. I would be in control of where I went and not go to the same places again. Yet, I wondered what being in a hostel was like and how sharing a space with other travelers was. What if this trip to Seoul wasn't to actually be in Seoul but to make friends and maybe be less introverted?
Curiosity got the better of me and I chose the latter option. I chose the most uncomfortable scenario for me in a somewhat familiar city. I stayed at Bauhaus Guesthouse in Hongdae and shared a room with a handful of girls who came from different parts of the world. I wandered Seoul with three of my many roommates and went to many places I had been before. Sometimes I acted as an amateur guide and sometimes I followed their leads. The activities and destinations were the same, yet the experiences and surroundings couldn't be more different.
All this, of course, can't change my personality. I cannot turn into an extrovert or optimistic suddenly. Nonetheless, I still tried to
4 Ways I Traveled - Planned to a T (Part 3)
7:08:00 PM mandy 0 Comments
Japan followed closely behind Korea, Hong Kong, and Taiwan for the top spots on my travel list. I think most of my curiosity for these destinations, in particular, stemmed from all my TV and drama watching days. Every place felt familiar in a sense yet couldn't be more distant. I only knew the places through the way shows and photos portrayed them and I wanted to be there for myself one day.
Nowadays, the bigger pull to those destinations is mostly thanks to the bajillion and one Instagram posts and YouTube videos of all the delicious looking and unique food each place has to offer. It seemed like almost everyone and their friends or parents went to some part of Japan in the later half of 2015 and all of 2016. I was glad to see all the Japan posts because it helped me plan what I wanted to do in Tokyo pre-trip and I was able to reminisce and visit again through others post-trip.
Saying I would like to visit and actually visiting were two different beasts. Despite passing through my mom's "NO, there's still radiation" hurdle and finding my Aunt as a willing travel partner a full 3 months before the trip was scheduled to take place, I did not prepare for it until a week before our flight. This was really the first time I was traveling where all the responsibilities were given to me. My Aunt told me I had free reign of where we would go, what we would do, where we would eat, etc.
I think maybe a part of me was going to just "go with the flow" it. But then I remembered that unlike the other places I traveled to before Japan, I had the least knowledge of Japan. I did not understand Japanese outside of greetings (ohayo & konnichiwa), thank you (arigatou gozaimasu), and let's eat (ikidakimasu). I had no idea how I would communicate or read signs once I was there. I was also very intimidated by their train system because someone once told me it was one of the most complex in the world, I think. The thought of getting lost and not being able to speak and be understood got me a little panicked.
Like I said before, the good thing about tours is there no headache of planning. But to know that we could do things at a slower pace, see things I wanted to see and eat what I and where I wanted to eat was the most captivating. In order to prove myself capable of free-travel, I spent a good few sleepless nights researching.
It began with listing out major attractions and places of interest. Sensoji, Shibuya, Skytree, Tokyo Tower, Imperial Palace, and Mount Fuji to name a few. Then I started grouping things into general areas. Asakusa and Ueno were within a general walking distance, as were Tsukiji and Ginza and then Shinjuku and Shibuya. This helped with getting myself more familiar towards the layout of Tokyo. As I searched for popular restaurants and eateries, it was so much easier to plan out when I could visit.
Day 1 - Tsukiji, Ginza, Chiyoda
Day 2 - Roppongi, Shinjuku, Shibuya
Day 3 - Asakusa, Ueno
Day 4 - Hakone
Day 5 - Hakone, Odawara
Day 6 - Sumida, Ryogoku, Akihabara
Day 7 - Nikko
Day 8 -Tsukishima, Tsukiji, Akihabara, Asakusa
Day 9 - Travel day
Each of the 8 full days ended up being centered around a few adjacent neighborhoods. The common factor was that everything was walkable. If not then whatever took the least amount of public transportation. Doing so helped us avoid having too many train troubles, saved some money (changing to different train lines could cost extra), and allowed us to exercise and thereby eat more food.
9 days seems like a lot of time to be in Japan. Many people might choose to use the opportunity to go up and down the country to Osaka, Kyoto, Nara, and Tokyo in one go. I had thought about it at one point but decided against it for multiple reasons.
1. Last minute decisions meant I didn't know about the JR Pass for foreigners traveling in Japan until it was too late. It is a transportation pass which allows holders to take any trains, buses, and ferries that are run by the JR company for "free". It is included in the base price. But the JR Pass requires pre-ordering at least a week or more ahead of time so that it can be prepared and shipped to you OR you purchase it from an authorized seller. Both of which I couldn't do since I was in Korea at the time and the trip was literally days away.
2. Japan was the first stop for my Aunt and with possible jet lag, I wasn't sure how well she would be able to handle a 2-3 hour train ride from Tokyo to Osaka right after landing.
3. The itinerary for an Osaka, Kyoto, Nara, and Tokyo trip would have been really tight and quick. Even though I had no idea when I would ever be able to visit Japan again, I did not particularly want to breeze through any one place. If I stuck with just Tokyo and nearby cities, at least there would be a natural excuse for future Japan visits.
My Aunt and I are not very religious people. Heck, my Aunt is not even the superstitious type. Nonetheless, it is almost impossible to visit Japan and not see temples and shrines. The architecture and history behind every one are extraordinary. Some were wonderful places to people watch and others were great to soak in the quietness and greenery which surrounded the buildings.
Since I made the decision to focus on and around Tokyo, I could not miss the opportunity to see Mount Fuji. I consulted with some friends who had been before and scoured the internet for recommendations. Most resources pointed me to joining 1-Day guided tours of Hakone. Once I found out that Hakone was also an onsen (hot spring) area, it was a no-brainer to try and find our own way around so we could stay overnight. I chose to book at the Hakone Pax Yoshino Hotel for the price and location to Hakone Yumoto Station. It was also one of the few moderately priced onsen hotels that had in-room wood bath soaks and set meals available at the time.
It was much easier to travel around Hakone than originally anticipated. There is an Odakyu train line that runs from Shinjuku to Hakone. Once there, they already have a pre-planned route around the city that allows visitors to see Mount Fuji and Lake Ashi. The loop includes train rides, cable cars, ropeway cars, and even boat rides. This seems like it would be a headache because of all the potential tickets and places where problems could pop up, but there are day-passes available which allow unlimited rides on all the modes of transports in Hakone under the Odakyu company. We were thankfully lucky enough to see Mount Fuji the day we visited because it is said that the mountain is usually clouded with fog and mist too thick to see through.
No matter how much one can plan to do, there are always certain things that cannot be predetermined. Sometimes the most interesting things are completely unexpected. Ueno Park and Meiji Shrine are huge tourist attractions. It is easy to forget that they're still both places that Japanese people do still go to as well. We saw many families and elderly there just strolling and chit chatting. We heard upbeat music playing and found a group of people dressed in yukatas dancing to the beat in a large circle. We walked past a gate at the shrine and found people being ushered to the sides to clear space for a traditional wedding procession. These were all things that we just chanced upon and not experiences that money could have bought us, natural interactions between the locals.
Of the days that I painstakingly planned out, a majority of it didn't go 100% as expected. We didn't always go to every single place on the list. There were days when we changed the itinerary out of the blue. It was also hard to predict the weather a week ahead while I was in the planning stages so there were rainy day options in case the mother nature caught us by surprise. Certain days' plans were more flexible than others. Other occasions, it was pure indecisiveness which led to somewhat spontaneous decisions.
Like how there were a few places I had to visit, there were a few very specific things I had to eat. The first was ramen at Chuka Soba Inoue at Tsukiji Outer markets. Another was chankonabe at Chanko Tomoegata. I also wanted to have set course meal at an onsen hotel. Yet another was sukiyaki. The last was monjayaki. Unlike the ramen and chankonabe spots, where I had precise places I wanted to try, the other three were just foods that I wanted to eat with no particular place in mind.
I chose to eat those foods wherever convenient rather than planning sights around specific food places. I was able to get a taste of the course meal at our hotel in Hakone. My Aunt spotted a sukiyaki/shabu shabu places during one of our visits to Asakusa. I guess the exception might have been the monjayaki since we did make a trip to Tsukishima just to visit the monjayaki street. Once we were there, any restaurant would have satisfied my curiosity.
Believe me when I say I travel to eat. Besides having the listed things that I absolutely had to try, we also ate a ton along the way that I didn't particularly plan to have. These were usually small bites and street foods. Japanese roasted sweet potato was something I didn't have on my radar at all. But once my Aunt suggested we get, I immediately regretted not buying more of. The flesh was so powdery soft! Unlike the mushy stringy version we have in NYC. I knew Nakamise and Shin-Nakamise in Asakusa had tons of food stalls. We saw croissant and regular taiyaki, katsus, and anything else you can imagine for street food in Japan. But I was most excited at the unexpected finds whilst there. My favorites were the hashiyaki (okonomiyaki on chopsticks) and agemanju (tempera style fried steamed red bean buns). Of the remaining food areas I had on my list, my top picks for small serving seafood were Tsukiji Outer markets and Ameyayokocho Market in Ueno. I especially loved eating grilled scallops and any kind of crab meat. At the time I was still not a very big raw fish eater. But it is definitely a must try for anyone who is.
Japan might look small on a map. Yet there is so much to see. My list was unrealistically long for the trip length we had. But the point was to have options. Especially since it isn't just me but both my Aunt and I. There were things I wanted to see that she did not, Tokyo Tower and Skytree. There were things I wanted to eat but she didn't, anything fried or raw or too alcoholic. We definitely did not get to hit every spot I had in mind. Somehow we managed to keep our sanity without getting lost in a foreign place. That's already a pretty big feat in itself, considering neither of us traveled to somewhere 100% unfamiliar without local help before.
tria Hair Removal Laser 4X & SmoothStart Calming Gel - Before
7:07:00 PM mandy 0 Comments
Thousands upon thousands of dollars. Per session. For many, many sessions. That is just not the kind of money I think I would be able 1) not only have but 2) have the willingness to spend on something as arbitrary as my excess hair. When the tria and other similar products first started to get really popular amongst bloggers and YouTubers a few years back, I was also very much intrigued. At-home laser hair removal would be perfect if it worked. The main reason I held back was the price tag. A few hundred dollars is pretty hefty for something that may or may not work.
I am not sure when it happened. At some point in the past year, after an armpit hair tweezing and mustache shaving session, I just felt like
Ultimately I bought this for $376.71. ($499 - 20% VIB discount + $31.88 NYC tax - $14.37 eBates Cash Back.)
Right now, 12.01.2016, Sephora is selling this same set for $399 and tria's own website has it for $387.
So viola! My Sephora VIB 2016 Holiday Haul in all it's glory. My one, very big, item purchase. Even the box it came in seemed luxurious and secure. I can't say I have been this excited for an electronic in a while. The days I had to wait for this felt especially agonizing because I hyped myself so much and anticipations were very high.
I chose to get the duo set because from experience I tend to have a very low pain tolerance. Any hair removal method that requires the plucking of the follicles is usually too much for me to bear. The only exception I have grown immune to is in the armpit area. I thought the tria SmoothStart Calming Gel would come in handy in that respect. Plus, the price at the time for the duo and for the laser by itself were the same for this particular Turquoise color.
tria claims that the gel has anti-inflammatory and cooling properties to help make it more comfortable with the hairs are being zapped. It is a bit opaque and cloudy in color straight out of the tube. Once it is spread out, the gel is translucent. I chose not to use the Calming Gel the first time I tested the machine. However, from the little amount I placed and rubbed onto my hand for the photo, I can tell that it did give a cooling sensation to wherever I applied it.
The at-home laser is simple enough to use. The pamphlet recommends charging it for at least 2 hours after it is taken out of the box and before it can be used. After it is fully charged and the gray button on the top is pressed, I believe the screen will say something along the lines of "the device needs to be registered". If it doesn't it, it still most definitely needs to be done anyways before the laser can be used. Each tria Hair Removal Laser 4X has it's own Serial # that has to be registered with the company. It is a simple procedure that just requires setting up an account on tria.com.
The next time the On/Off button is pressed, the Locked screen will pop up to prevent any accidental zaps. Pressing the bottom of the laser device to the skin will promptly Unlock the machine. Well, this step should unlock it if the skin that was sensored is in the correct color range, a.k.a. light to tan but not pale or dark. Each press of the gray On/Off button whilst on the Unlocked screen thereafter would be to select 1 of the 5 energy levels. The screen itself shows the energy levels, battery life, and number of zaps it has made.
Tria recommends using the maximum level 5 in order to see the best results. Each body area also has a corresponding recommended number of pulses. Every following zapping should overlap the last by at least half a circle. Which to be completely honest is very difficult to keep track of. The company also states that results do not usually show for at least 3 months with bi-weekly treatment.
- Upper lip: 25 pulses, 2-3 minutes
- Underarms: 100 pulses per side, 4-5 minutes per side
- Bikini: 200 pulses per side, 8-10 minutes per side
- Upper leg: 600 pulses per side, 25-30 minutes per side
- Lower leg: 600 pulses per side, 25-30 minutes per side
Like mentioned before, I chose to go gel-free in order to see how painful the laser would be and to know what level of laser I could handle on my own. It was a very strange experience. I stuck to Level 3 throughout my entire first round of treatment. The overall feeling was just warmth. No matter if you hit a hair follicle or not, the laser will leave the spot a little warm. When a follicle is hit by the laser though, it can range from a tiny pricking feeling to something akin to having a rubber band hit that direct spot very suddenly. It definitely caught me by surprise every time the latter happened because I felt the lighter sensations more. There was an urge to immediately pull the laser away but I had to stop myself since tria mentions it is most successful to keep the laser on there until the end of the zap.
**WARNING: Photos below might make some people uneasy.**
Since I knew the Sephora VIB sale would happen sometime in November, I stopped plucking any of the hairs I wanted to treat for one month. It isn't a long enough time to have all the hairs grow back but at least there was enough for me to be able to properly test out the device. Before I got too pulse happy, I had to make sure I shaved off the surface hairs first to make it easier for the laser to reach the roots.
Facial hair and body hair has always been an issue for me. Once puberty hit me, I noticed how my body changed. Not just that I was starting to go through monthly menstrual cycles but also that my underarms began to smell funny whenever it got warm outside. I also saw how little tiny hairs, thick and thin, would sprout from my pits and legs and many other places throughout my body. While most follicles could be hidden with clothes almost everywhere else, my face was the one place I could not hide and was the most self-conscious about.
What is it exactly is the person focusing on when they look at me right in the face? My pimples? My big mole? Or all those mustache-esque wisps sticking out near my lips? Maybe all these insecurities added to the reason I tend to be so introverted.
I remember distinctly how my teenage self would always try to rip out those pesky hairs with my bare fingertips whenever I caught myself thinking about them. I remember how I would blame my bad genetics because once I noticed it on my own face, I started to notice it on my mom's as well. Then fast forward a bunch of years and two medical conditions later, I might have found a partial answer to why I had seemingly so much hair: PCOS. I thought, and my parents probably thought, I was a freak when we first found out. All that the doctors told us then was just "your testosterone levels are high". As a teenage girl, who wouldn't freak out about that? Forget about having fewer periods and having too many cysts in my ovaries...what do you mean my male hormone level was abnormal?! Am I going to grow more facial hair? Could I get an Adam's apple? Would my voice deepen?
Okay, maybe I was over-exaggerating to myself. Most of my worries didn't happen, no Adam's apple or "manlier voice". Hairiness is still a situation for me but not nearly as extreme as I have heard it can be for other people with PCOS. I still suffer from other symptoms. But of course, my hairy insecurities still remain.
Nowadays I just try my hardest not to think about it, the hair. When I do, I tend to immediately try to get rid of it. This usually means I reach for my eyebrow razors a lot to do the quick job of shaving the 'stache hairs off. Who knew I was doing microblading before it was this trending beauty thing? I have tried a couple other ways to remove my facial hairs too. Tweezing never sat well because my lip area is so sensitive and the same reasonings goes for self-threading. But as the photos show, there is evidence of plucked upper lip hairs from the random hairless spots near the corners of my mouth. Treating this area was one of the main reasons I decided to take the plunge with the tria laser.
My underarms was the other big reason why I considered going the laser route. I began my hair removal journey with shaving. But I found that I was still left with a dark shadow from all the stubbles and it would not last very long. Shaved pit hairs would usually start to grow back the very next day. The absolute worst part of regrowth was the dreaded itchiness.
Somehow a friend brought up the topic of underarm hair removal a few years back and the idea of tweezing was thrown around. Since I was bored and procrastinating from typical college stuff then, I spend a good 30+ minutes going to town pull each hair out of my armpits. It was definitely uncomfortable at first but I found it surprisingly easy to handle plucking these hairs than any other ones. The positives were, of course, the slower regrowth and finer hairs.
Despite winning an epilator before tweezing became a part of my routine, I was always too scared of the potential pain. It is supposed to be like a bunch of tweezers working all at one time. Once I realized my pits were tougher than expected, an epilator was a life and time saver. Until...I became increasingly annoyed by how difficult it was to clean all the hairs out of the teeny crevices. Talk about unhygienic!
So that's how the story goes and I found myself going through the tedious task of tweezing each hair one by one again. Maybe it is because I went through so many methods yet still came back to this particular one. I found it even more strenuous on my eyes this time around while trying to pluck those underarm hairs. Even though I could stare into the right corner for a long time, no problem, staring to the other side caused me to lose focus and become rather lightheaded and dizzy easily. To say I am hoping the Hair Removal Laser works well at least in this main department would be a major understatement.
Now knuckle hairs never really bothered me at all. They can be there or not, no big deal. I only included it in this series because I first used it as a test area to see how tolerant I am of the different energy levels and because why the heck not? I have the device anyways so let's see how well it works on as many body parts as I can.
I always thought I would go for professional laser hair removal if I ever had the money to. But maybe now I won't have to. We'll see. A major reason why I wanted to push this post out so soon and interrupt the travel series was so I could hold myself accountable and keep up with treatments. If not, how else would I see if this potential miraculous device actually works? Wish me luck!
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