Taking Over Tokyo: Top 5 Things to do in Tokyo, Japan

Harajuku Street

In April 2019, I visited Tokyo, Japan for vacation. Now, this wasn’t my first time in Japan; I’ve been to Misawa and Yokosuka for sports tournaments with my high school, but this was my first time visiting Japan for leisure. If you’re anything like me, you’d probably be overwhelmed when first arriving in the bustling, over-stimulating city of Tokyo. Every street has about fifteen thousand things to look at, not to mention that the city itself is huge! It can take hours by train just get from one district to another.

I stayed in the Shibuya District of Tokyo, otherwise known as home to the world’s busiest railway stations. They’re not wrong – an entire subterranean city of subway systems, railroads, businesses, and restaurants exists just below the surface of Tokyo. I’m not exaggerating when I thought I’d never see the light of day again when I got lost in Shinjuku Station. Over the week I was there, I got to do and see a lot of amazing things. Here’s my top 5 list of things to do while visiting Tokyo, Japan.

1. Shopping in Harajuku

Rainy evening in Shinjuku

Harajuku is notorious for its shopping and fashion scene. This is truly the best place to get unique and niche clothing items. With a million shops, it can be quite overwhelming to pick just one. My personal favorites while shopping in the Harajuku District were the WEGO Store, Pink Latte, and the Line Friends store!

2. Asakusa District

The Asakusa district of Tokyo is famous for its preservation of Old-time Tokyo’s historic presence and culture. Home to the Sensō-ji temple, Asakusa has traditional crafts stores and countless food stands. I’d recommend spending a whole day there, as there are just too many things to see to fit into a couple hours. From a waterfront stroll, to trying delicious Japanese cuisine, to even dressing up in traditional Kimono, it’s a great way to relive Tokyo’s historic days, in contrast to the futuristic and fast-paced vibe of Shibuya and Harajuku.

3. Meiji Shrine

The Meiji Shrine, dedicated to the deity of Emperor Meiji, is an expansive park and shrine complex, full of tranquil paths, beautiful shrines, breathtaking Tori gates, and adjacent to Yoyogi Koen. If you are looking for a break from Tokyo’s crowded city atmosphere, the Meiji Shrine is the place to go. You can stay as long as you want and walk along paths through the forests. Remember to always remain dignified and respectful when visiting Japan’s cultural sights. (For a guide on how to pay respect at the Meiji Shrine, see here.)

4. Odakyu Department Store

Close to my hotel, the Odakyu department store proved to be a holy grail for basically anything – electronics, toys, stationery, makeup, clothes, and even a full grocery store. I spent a good portion of my trip just browsing the aisles in Odakyu. If you’re ever in the area, I’d recommend visiting one of these malls for great gift-shopping or unique Japanese products.

5. Shibuya Crossing

Last but not least, Shibuya Crossing is famous for being a crowded scramble intersection. You can climb to the top of some nearby buildings (most require a fee) to watch hundreds of people cross the intersection. It’s great for people watching and Instagram-worthy pictures. Nearby is the famous Hachiko dog memorial and a Starbucks, as well as several shopping malls.


Elephants in Thailand: Exotic or Exploited?

In the Spring of 2018, my family and I traveled to Phuket, Thailand to celebrate my spring break from school. We chose Thailand as our destination because it was both a short flight from our home in Korea, and a new country we haven’t had the opportunity to visit before. Because of our relation to the military in Korea, we knew several other American families who had chosen Thailand as their travel destination in the past, and regarded Korea’s position in Asia as rather convenient for traveling cheaply to Southeast Asian countries. (I’d rather take a 5 hour flight from Seoul than an 18 hour flight from the United States!)

Sunset on the beach in Phuket, Thailand
Long-tail boat in Krabi Bay

However, we knew that as tourists, there were certain things we needed to know before traveling to Thailand, like brushing up on the cultural customs, basic vocabulary, the Dos and Don’ts, and one that I felt was particularly important: elephants. It’s no surprise that places like Thailand have a problem with elephant exploitation. Thousands of tourists a year are drawn to countries such as Thailand because of the chance to see, touch, feed, and even ride “exotic” animals. It’s worse than visiting the zoo; not only are these animals chained up in unnatural habitats, taken away from their mothers and environment, they are forced to give rides and have exploitative interaction with thousands, millions even, of tourists.

Obviously, I wanted to see elephants, but I wanted absolutely nothing to do with fueling money to the horrible conditions of these poor captive animals. Before we made our flight, I did some research on elephant sanctuaries – places of refuge that actually take elephants that have experienced abuse in captivity, and give them a new chance to recover and integrate back into a healthy state of living. We decided to scope out the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary in Phuket after seeing positive reviews claiming the sanctuary to be truly a place of rehabilitation for the elephants. Indeed, when we rode into the dense jungle and woods, bumping along dirt trails, we got to witness the sanctuary and the elephants up close. Upon arrival, we were briefed on the condition and location of the elephants. Wild elephants were kept at a different sanctuary, and they had very limited interaction with people due to their nature. The elephants we would be seeing on this tour would be ones that were rescued from unethical riding and captivity organizations around Thailand, so they were somewhat docile due to the unfortunate circumstances. We would be feeding them bananas and watermelons, accompanying them to their bathing site, and watching them play and wash. After, we would say goodbye to the elephants and eat a lunch provided by the sanctuary. While I had my doubts at first, I soon realized that the elephants at this sanctuary were living a much better life than whatever they had endured before. They were free to roam on a huge plot of cleared jungle, without ropes or chains, and without clothing or harnesses. They came and went whenever they felt like it. Luckily for us, lots of elephants (and even some babies!) decided to show up for their feeding.

Baby elephant that allowed me to feed him some watermelon.

We fed them buckets and buckets of freshly cut watermelon and bundles of bananas. We were told that the sanctuary caretakers needed to buy hundreds of watermelons and bananas to feed all the elephants daily. They were gentle, conscientious and aware of their surroundings, and even incredibly polite; some would point to their mouths as if to ask, “More please!” I was humbled just to be around such powerful but sweet animals. Of course, as I watched a grown elephant smash the rind of a watermelon like it was made of cotton candy, I couldn’t help but think that any one of these majestic creatures could snap me in half if they really wanted to.

When they had enough watermelon, the elephants began their journey through the jungle to the mud bath, where they sprayed each other and played in the mud. The sanctuary employees encouraged us to go in the mud, too, some even cheekily dragging people in against their will. (Like me, for example. I will never forget the feeling of my clothes becoming soaked with orange, gritty mud. Gross.) It was relaxing and peaceful to just see the elephants in their natural element.

Photo time – a designated time of the tour where our photo was taken with one of the elder elephants. He was camera shy, but so was I!

While the experience of being around beautiful, powerful creatures was unforgettable, I can’t help but feel saddened at the thought that the industry even exists in the first place. The elephants who so sweetly accepted bananas from me were once chained up. I couldn’t look at them without my heart aching for all the animals that would never receive this kind of life.

So many tourists travel to places like Thailand because of the country’s appeals: exotic landscapes, unique animals, strange food, untouched beaches. But it’s not exotic or “undiscovered by humanity”. The very aspects of Thailand that tourists seek to experience are dwindling away because of tourism. It’s hard to appreciate the vast beauty of the jungle when 200 foreigners are right next to you, blocking your vision with their selfie sticks. While sanctuaries such as Elephant Jungle help fight the damage done to elephants as a result of tourism, there are still countless companies that are involved with inhumane elephant captivity. Someone I knew personally visited Thailand at the same time as I for our spring break vacation, and shared their pictures of elephant riding on Instagram. Whether they were ignorant of the ramifications of unethical elephant riding, or they just simply ignored it, the fact of the matter is that there are still tourists giving into this cruel industry.

Photo taken from “Elephant Jungle Sanctuary” Facebook page

So how can we help? What can we do? I think, in my opinion, it is absolutely so rewarding to experience these things firsthand. I learned a lot from my trip to Thailand, and not just about elephants – my perspective on affluence, economic development, and global affairs shifted significantly. However, not everyone will have the chance to take a trip to Thailand in their lifetime, but if you do get the chance, your life will change. If you can’t participate in something like an elephant sanctuary, education and awareness is the next best step. Already, many travel agencies have pulled elephant rides from their itineraries. Taking the time to read about elephant abuse and which companies to avoid is a good step. Support travel agencies who advocate for sanctuaries over elephant riding, or tell your friends and family who are planning to travel to a country known for “exotic animal” tours. Even if you can’t participate directly, sanctuaries such as Elephant Jungle are part of a program called the Care Project that accepts donations and volunteers to help not only establish sanctuaries for elephants, but also supports community involvement for litter cleanup and environmental education. The Care Project has undertaken initiative to support the rescue and medical treatment of abused elephants.

Thailand is a beautiful country, full of rich history, amazing and kind people, and precious animals. It is essential that we do our part to preserve the safety and happiness of all Earth’s creatures, and we can start by spreading awareness on elephant cruelty.

If you’d like to learn more about The Care Project and what they do for elephants, you can visit them at https://www.thecareprojectfoundation.org/

If you’d like to learn more about the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary, you can visit them at https://elephantjunglesanctuary.com/

Exploring Downtown Savannah’s Telfair Museums

Despite having lived in the South for a good portion of my life, I had never once visited Savannah, Georgia until the summer after I graduated from High School. I decided to take a weekend trip to visit some family, and in the process, met up with a friend from Korea. Neither of us had been to Savannah before, so we weren’t sure what we wanted to do once we met up, so I Googled some things to do and found the name of an art museum. After walking for 30 minutes across town in the midday heat of July, swatting away gnats and sweating off my makeup, we finally reached Telfair Academy, which is just one of three Telfair museums.

The first museum we went into was the Telfair Academy, which is a renovated neoclassical mansion built in 1819, and designed for the Telfair family. From 1883 to 1886, the family home was transformed into an art museum.

There are several rooms inside the museum, each dedicated to specific collections of artwork collected throughout the years. The sculpture room contains many replicas of marble statues, as well as artwork from 19th and 20th century artists from Europe, all over the United States, and even Savannah. I personally enjoyed the style of art that this room showcased, ranging from impressionistic scenery to plaster casts of classic marble statues, like the Venus de Medici.

Another room in the museum was dedicated to the revival of classical art and style in the 19th century, depicting huge murals of Apelles, Iktinus, Durer, and Praxiteles. The Rotunda Gallery was my favorite part of the museum mainly because of the large works of art it contained.

After visiting the Telfair Academy, we moved onto the more contemporary art museum, the Jepson Center of the Arts, which was built in 2006 and is home to American art from the 20th and 21st centuries.

I personally preferred the classical art portion of our museum outing to the more modern art, but the Jepson Center did showcase of wide variety of culture that I thought was very interesting. Their exhibitions included photography, politically charged traditional artwork, modern sculpture, and an exploration of the digital artwork of the video game Katamari Damacy.

Student Produced Portfolio Pieces
My Friend Enjoying A Digital Art Game
Hanging Fabric Collage Sculpture

The third museum of the Telfair museums is the Owens-Thomas House and Slave Quarters, which we unfortunately did not get a chance to visit, but it now will be a definite bucket list item if I ever find myself in Savannah, Georgia!

How I Survived High School – in a Foreign Country

The Lovely Main Street of Anjeong-Ri, South Korea

Life was good in a small town in Florida, a town I had basically lived in since I was 2 (except for the chunks of my toddler years I spent living overseas in China, but we’ll save that story for another day) and had given me everything I ever wanted: a few great friends, the beach, lizards, and my truck.

As a high schooler, I was pretty stubborn about what I thought I wanted. In 10th grade, my mom got hired to work overseas for the Department of Defense as a teacher, specifically at Camp Humphreys, South Korea. I was devastated! No more driving my 1994 Toyota pickup from school, no more beach runs, no more hanging out with my friends, and no more seeing my amazing Florida boyfriend… (Turns out, he wasn’t that great.) I couldn’t imagine that life would be good after moving. I’d have to make all new friends, and lose opportunities for jobs, scholarships, and college in Florida. After many tears, some difficult goodbyes, and packing up my favorite books, my parents and I moved to Korea… and let me tell you: my life improved tremendously.

I’d never been more excited to land in a new country after seeing the rocky beaches surrounding the Incheon airport in Seoul. The scene was something out of a movie as our commercial plane flew out of the mist, over the water, through low-lying clouds to rocky, jagged beaches, and finally landing.

Even though moving to not only a new school but a new country was rough, as I had to completely start over, Korea turned out to be just the thing I needed. I started 11th grade at the high school on base, in the town of Pyeongtaek, and quickly made new friends from all over the world: Mongolia, Japan, Korea, China, Germany, and Italy, to name a few. Once we settled down, my parents wanted to travel to Seoul and the surrounding areas. They mostly wanted to see the more traditional parts of Korea, like the Korean Folk Village in Suwon, and the old gates in downtown Seoul, which were pretty awesome. I got to learn a lot about Korean history. Eventually, I got around to taking the trains by myself and with my 친구들 (friends).

Korean Folk Village, Suwon
Dongdaemun, Seoul

In Korea, I learned how to get out my comfort zone in a good way. In addition to coping with a move, I had to learn to accept a culture that was completely foreign to me. While in my experience the Korean culture was welcoming and friendly, I still had to adapt to the food, the language, and the customs. This put my life into perspective and helped me grow up a little bit. My junior year of high school was filled with traveling, new foods, and trips to the karaoke bar. I was force-fed pig intestine by my Korean friends, thrown off the wrong train because I couldn’t read Korean, lost in Itaewon, all while meeting people from all over the world.

In addition to the Korean aspect of my move, I also was introduced to the military base life. Finally, I was surrounded by people who understood that there are other countries that exist besides America. While I did grow to feel comfortable in Florida, my peers generally had no ability to understand my life experiences. When I announced I was moving to Korea, I was bombarded with questions like, “Aren’t they communist?” and “So you’re gonna eat dog?” But on the base, everyone had been everywhere, and had some appreciation for traveling, which made it was easier to connect with people and make friends.

In terms of the school, I branched out and tried new things, mostly due to peer pressure, but in a positive way. I joined the soccer team, the competitive drama team, and participated in student government, which are all activities that I wouldn’t have dared to try back in the States.

Performing The Role Of Shirley In The Play “Oh, What A Tangled Web”
My Soccer Team In Yokosuka, Japan

I even went to Prom in Korea, both my junior and senior year, and even though it was exactly like Prom in the United States, it looks a million times cooler because I had my pictures taken at a temple.

Senior Prom At Gakwonsa Temple, Cheonan, Korea
Junior Prom

By the time senior year rolled around, I had a pretty amazing life in Korea. I started to understand the language better, navigate through the subway systems, and knew where all the good Boba Tea cafes were. I knew my life was much richer than it had been before, as I felt more inclined to continue traveling and seeing new places, whereas in Florida, I was content to stay there forever. While this shift may be attributed to just growing up in general, I still feel like an international move is what helped develop my thirst for adventure. I started researching how to land an exchange program to Seoul while in college, just so that I’d have an excuse to travel.

My Sister And I Wearing Traditional Hanbok At Gyeongbokgung Palace, Seoul

Don’t get me wrong, high school was still horrible. There was petty drama over boys, friend breakups, romantic breakups, bad grades, sleepless nights, endless essays, gross lunches, and really questionable fashion choices… but sometimes, I forgot that I was an awkward teenager because I lived in such a cool place with so many things to do. I even managed to graduate!

Despite my initial resentment of the idea of relocating to Korea, I learned to take an obstacle like moving and turn it into a life lesson. Korea turned out to be a blessing, and another chapter in my life that I will be glad to look back upon later. There is still much exploring to do, so the story’s not done yet!

Welcome to the International Artist Diaries…

If you’re someone like me, a new college student who’s overly naive and still thinks the world is great, then you’ve come to the right place. Even if we don’t share an overenthusiastic worldview, you might be interested in what this blog has to offer… Are you traveling for the first time and nervous? Are you wondering how to survive high school, or the college application process? Are you looking for new ways to spice up your bullet journal? What even is bullet journaling? How do you make low-carb pizza? What are my top 10 bookstores around the world? Never fear, Audrey is here with (hopefully) insightful posts about the endless adventures this Earth has to offer.

I’m blessed to be able to say that I’ve had a rich life: from growing up in Shenzhen China, to being dragged to Paris by my parents, to moving from the states to Korea as a teenager, to reading endless books and learning to love life. I would describe myself as a bookworm, art enthusiast, and a dreamer with a thirst for knowledge. I share my life’s precious moments with you in hopes of inspiring, teaching, and growing. Enjoy!