Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Bar Trip Series: Guide to Karaoking (KTV) in Taipei


During our recent trip to Taipei, Taiwan, we ate almost non-stop, but we made some time to karaoke -- Taiwanese style.

KTV boxes in Taiwan are usually giant highrises dedicated to KTV rooms. Though it seems like overkill to have so many rooms, they can be surprisingly full so be sure to book ahead!
[Photo from City 543]


Karaoke, or KTV, is an extremely popular activity or some may say, sport, in Taiwan. KTV places are called "boxes." KTV fits in perfectly with the Taiwanese culture's emphasis on nightlife (they love night markets and clubs and no one seems to be out unless it's past 9pm!), its indoor nature is great for typhoons and the bad weather that plagues this tropical island. People of all ages KTV (my mom goes when she visits and even brings my grandpa), but late at night, it's mostly a younger crowd. 

Karaoking in Taipei is an all night affair. Unlike in Korea where people may make the noraebang their last stop of the night, in Taiwan, karaoking is THE stop -- everything you need is all included under one, 10+ story tall, roof. And unlike American karaoke bars where people usually sing on stage to a room full of strangers, KTVs in Taiwan (and Korea and Japan) usually have private rooms that groups of friends rent out by the hour. My favorite part about KTVs in Taiwan is how they are quite luxurious as well!


KTV boxes in Taiwan are pretty luxurious and look like fancy hotels
[Photo from Wikipedia]

Setup and Pro Tips
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Book Ahead!

Once you decide that you want to dedicate a night to KTVing in Taiwan, it may be a good idea to call ahead to book a room! It's usually done by the hour with option to extend. Our group ran into the problem of only reserving for 4-hours -- we extended it once for 1 more hour, but when we wanted to extend again, they said they had a reservation coming in (at 2am in the morning!). So again, because it's so popular, book ahead!

The Setup

In Taiwan, KTV places will have a floor dedicated to a huge buffet where you can load up on delicious food that will be delivered to your KTV room via dumbwaiter (or some more modern version of a dumbwaiter -- a miniature elevator?). You also order drinks when you first rent the room and they are delivered to your room -- this includes hard liquor, cases of Taiwan Beer, and non-alcoholic beverages.

The price and amount of food/liquor you can order will vary depending on the "package" you pick. Also, some places let you bring your own alcohol, which is way cheaper because you can probably find a 7-11/Family Mart across the street and buy liquor and beer there (more on the wonders of 7-11 and Family Marts in Taiwan in another post). If you are on a budget, you can easily sneak alcohol in. Just buy some liquor at a nearby 7-11/Family Mart and sneak it in with backpacks or in purses. This is probably not worth doing with beer as Taiwan beer a karaoke places is pretty cheap.

KTV boxes will also have a buffet where you can eat dinner (optional if you buy a package that includes buffet tickets). This is the one we went to at New CB Party KTV in Ximending (near Ximending MRT stop, shown in map below).

In the Room
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Depending on which chain/location you visit, the KTV rooms can be pretty fancy! This one looks like it's for a HUGE group and it's at a New CB Party chain (unknown location).
[Photo from City 543]

Once you get up to your room, you can spread out over leather banquettes, use your private bathroom, or start picking songs via the touchscreen monitors on the wall. If you ever need any service (something's broken, you don't know how to use things, you want to order more drinks), you can always pick up the phone in the room and someone will be up ASAP. Most places I've been to have a decent selection of English songs!

The great thing about some KTV places is that the rooms will have mini-stages inside it, so you can sing like a star, with the privacy of your own room =P

Many people spend upwards of 6 hours in KTVs and I've heard some stay all day/night especially during typhoons!


Eating dinner before the singing gets started!

Look Ma! I'm a star!

Where to KTV in Taipei
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Where Are KTVs?

They are almost everywhere! Unlike some things like hair salons, clothing shops, etc. KTVs in Taipei aren't confined into any certain district. Ximending is a really popular area with lots of shopping, street food, and three huge KTV boxes there as well (in the below map, the 3 pins located on the left side, next to the Tamsui river). 

How To Choose a KTV

PartyWorld is known to be more upscale while Holiday KTV is a more affordable option. On our most recent trip, we went to 星聚點 KTV (New CB Party KTV) in the Ximending district, which I thought was quite nice! We heard that this place had the best buffet and was unique in that it had the standing mics shown above. Apparently, there is also this "Secret KTV" that foreigners visit a lot because they have more English songs -- however, it's secret because it's a tiny place and foreigners want to keep it to themselves! Anyway, wherever you end up going, you will most definitely have a great time!

When in doubt, you can always just ask locals where the closest Holiday or PartyWorld KTV (if you don't speak Mandarin, just say "KTV" and they should get it... People in Taiwan are very very friendly and most of the younger ones seem to speak at least some English. We found that when we asked locals questions about where things are, they go out of their way to walk you there, call and make an appointment for you, and all kinds of nice things!). Alternatively, if you have data/wifi, you can even just type in KTV on google maps to find the one closest to you.

Here is a map of just a few of the KTV places in Taipei:



Foreigners vs. Taiwanese
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I hope those of you curious about Taiwanese KTV or are thinking of visiting Taiwan found this post useful! 

Just to note, my experience KTVing in Taiwan has been from a "foreigners" perspective. Some have surveyed foreigners and Taiwanese locals about their KTV experience and found many surprising differences (I naively thought everyone KTVed the same way!). 

Of note, while a majority of foreigners drink alcohol at KTVs, only about a third of locals do at KTVs! Also, more foreigners sing Chinese songs than Taiwanese sing English songs (foreigners cited using KTV to practice their Chinese). Foreigners also most like to sing 月亮代表我的心 (because of its simple lyrics), Jay Chou, Wang Leehom, Backstreet Boys, The Eagles, etc. It's an interesting read and the post can be found here: KTV in Taiwan: Foreigners vs. TaiwaneseAlso interesting, another blogger also recounts his encounter with a shadier kind of KTV experience

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Bar Trip Series: Busan's Jagalchi Fish Market and Korea's Most Outrageous Spa (Jjimjilbang)

Busan is a city on the southeastern tip of Korea with about 3.6 million residents. Many describe it as Seoul by the beach. We wanted to visit Busan mostly for the fresh seafood and because of a movie called Chingu (Friend). It was set in Busan and was also the highest grossing movie of all time in South Korea. Because we didn't have much sightseeing planned, we only did a quick overnight trip there.


Haeundae Beach and Love Motels
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Haeundae Beach is the main beach in Busan. It reminded me of a really modern and trendy boardwalk with fancy coffee shops, bars, and roadside boutiques. While there, we were able to get liquid nitrogen ice cream, Italian coffee, and Korean desserts! In the smaller alleys, there were still more traditional looking hole in the wall restaurants and mom and pop shops. My friend Jay didn't have many great things to say about the beach there, only that it was extremely overcrowded especially in the summer (as you can see in the photo below).

Photo from World Tourist Attraction
It was rainy and empty when we visited though, so it was actually quite peaceful!

There were also quite a few "love" motels around the beach too with cheesy names and rainbow neon lights like they were in Las Vegas. I thought they sounded really seedy when I was there, but I read that they started because traditionally, Koreans live with their parents until they get married, so young couples need places to get away from parental scrutiny. Yes, those conducting affairs also use them and they can be rented out for 2-hour stays, but it seems like families and business travelers also rent rooms. For tourists, these love models can also be a great deal, as long as you're ok with some sexy decor.

Example of a love motel room from Southerner Abroad. Good article explaining Love Motels on Waegukin.

Busan's Jagalchi Fish Market
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Our main focus was to visit the fish market so we went straight there after getting off the train! We wanted to eat live octopus (like in Old Boy -- one of the craziest movies EVER, a must watch) and other fresh seafood!
Gigantic octopus! We didn't eat this kind though haha
Navigating the outdoor portion of the fish market in a storm wearing sandals was quite difficult... I think I stepped into puddles of fish entrails a couple times =T
This was in Busan fish market's "indoor" market. There were so many kinds of seafood! We told the vendor how many of each thing we wanted, and they put it on a platter and led us upstairs to an "eating" area where they slice/cut up the food for eating.

But before we got to eating, she was nice enough to let us play with our food first!

Live octopus a la Old Boy
They call it a sea squirt

Bar Trip Series: How to Eat and Drink Like a Korean in Seoul

Umbrella selfie while walking along the Cheoggyecheon river

In our 4 days in Korea, we sought out the best versions of all the Korean food we are so lucky to enjoy in LA's Koreatown and tried all the most exotic/disgusting/weird foods served there too (silkworm cocoons, intestines, new animals, etc.). Oh yea, we also drank soju and Hite/OB beer with every meal (even breakfast) just like the locals! That said, we didn't do much, if any, sightseeing aside from walking along the Cheonggyecheon river (very cute and recommended!)

Here's a recap of some of our adventures in Seoul (pronounced suh-ool), Korea. Enjoy!



Streetside Drinking and Eating in Itaewon (and how Koreans hang out in "rounds") 
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We practiced taking a lot of group selfies during our trip
Itaewon is a district in Seoul mostly known for its ex-pat population. What I saw of it was mostly gritty alleys full of random eateries where you are sitting in the street while cars and motorcycles drive by behind you. There were also a good number of "trans" bars, which some members of the group mistook for "trance" (the music) bars -- there was also a Trance Trans Bar, which confused us the most!

We visited Itaewon on our first night in Seoul, after having dinner at a restaurant near our AirBnb. Each roadside eatery seemed to specialize in certain dishes. At the first one pictured above, we ordered a mixed plate of veggies and other things fried in a batter similar to the typical seafood pancake we order at Korean restaurants in the US. Order a few liters of Hite, bottles of soju and add in a game, and you have a great first stop during a night out!

At our third stop of the night, we went to a place that specialized in braised pork feet. I've been having a Chinese version of this dish since I was a kid because it's one of my mom's favorite dishes, but for those unaccustomed it may seem a bit odd. The pig's feet is cut into slices, full of delicious pork fat and you use lettuce along with scallion, sesame oil, and picked veggies (similar to kimchi) to wrap the meat up and eat it.
Braised pigs feet in Itaewon


Hanging Out in "Rounds"
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As you may have noticed from our visit to Itaewon, we visited THREE different establishments for food/drink in one night! This is typical of how Koreans tend to hang out in "rounds." Usually there is dinner, then a bar, then a karaoke place (noraebang) -- each of these rounds involve ordering lots of soju and beer. Or on a more chill night, perhaps dinner and then dessert at a cafe (the cafes in Korea are BEAUTIFUL!).

Traditionally, Koreans also switched off paying for the different rounds, although more modern/international Koreans split the bill and pay for their meals individually.

This hanging out in "rounds" generally leads to lots of (over)eating and perhaps (over)drinking as well!

Tent Bars: Pojangmachas (and Korean drinking etiquette)
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Typical scene from a Korean TV drama or movie -- men gathered at a pojangmacha, sitting on cheap stools and eating anju (drinking foods) and drinking soju on a folding table

In almost every Korean drama or movie, there's always a scene when the male protagonist drowns his sorrows with bottles of soju while sitting alone in a pojangmacha. Our friend Jonathan had only one request during our visit to Korea: that we eat and drink in a pojangmacha just like in those Korean movies and TV dramas.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Bar Trip Series: Hawaii, Asia, SoCal, and New Zealand


When I tell people that I went on a "bar trip," some know exactly what I'm talking while others are utterly confused. Is it a trip taken to study for the bar, away from distractions (yes, some people actually do this...)? Is it a graduation trip? If it's a graduation trip, how come it's taken in August or September?

A bar trip is usually a trip that recent law grads take after studying for and taking the bar exam in the summer right after graduation (it's a terribly anticlimactic feeling to graduate and then immediately start a grueling 2-month study schedule for a test taken in a convention center with thousands of anxious people). Having a bar trip planned after the exam was the light at the end of the tunnel for me.

Of course, being the eager person I am when it comes to traveling, I have decided to make the most of my 4 months off before work starts December 1st to take 2 international bar trips, and one long roadtrip to visit friends in Southern California. I also took advantage of some great credit card offers to pay for most of my plane tickets to Asia too, saving over $1,000!

I'll be doing a series of posts about my trips and include hopefully helpful information to anyone planning to venture to these parts! Feel free to let me know if you have any questions or things you'd like me to include too.

Bar Trip 1.0 - Hawaii and Asia
Stop 1: Maui Island, Hawaii
Stop 2: Honolulu, Oahu Island, Hawaii
Stop 3: Seoul and Busan, South Korea
Stop 4: Taipei, Taiwan
Stop 5: Bali, Indonesia

Bar Trip 2.0 - 10-day Southern California Roadtrip

Bar Trip 3.0 - New Zealand
I'll be headed over there in in mid-November, just in time for their spring!
Auckland, Queenstown, Franz Josef Glacier, Hokitika, Christchurch, Bay of Islands

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Go West! Cross-country Roadtrip

J and I drove cross-country from North Carolina to California. We're took a Southern route with stops in Atlanta, New Orleans, Austin, El Paso, and a few other places in between.

We saw where they filmed parts of Forrest Gump, MLKs birthplace, and the gothic style capitol building of Baton Rouge!

Below are the photos from the tumblr we had (http://jjxcountry.tumblr.com). This was one of the best roadtrips I've ever done and I highly recommend it to anyone considering it! Feel free to comment if you have any questions =)


Friday, February 24, 2012

This Little Piggy Went to the (LA Flower) Market

Hello everyone!  I want to first apologize for my 6+ month hiatus.  As some of you know, I started law school last Fall and the first semester was as crazy and hectic as everyone warned.  Now that I know I can tackle the challenges of law school (at least I did for one semester), I think I am ready to re-dedicate myself to blogging again!  I realized that updating this blog really helped me seek out adventures and great things about where I lived.  Just to let you all know though, my experiences in LA will be very different than those in NY -- not only because they are such different places, but also because I will be experiencing them from a different perspective -- that of a graduate student with a limited budget!  I think I will be doing much less fine dining, more home cooking, and hopefully more outdoorsy adventures in sunny Southern California.  Thanks for reading and I hope you will all enjoy!

Today is also a special day because it is my roommate Michelle's and my friend Jenn's birthdays!  In celebration of the day, I decided to visit the Los Angeles flower district in Downtown LA.  I first learned about the area from Valentine's Day the movie when Ashton Kutcher goes to the LA Flower Market to buy wholesale flowers for his flower shop.



I learned all the basics from Yelpers:
  • This is a wholesale flower shop, meaning no one to help you arrange flowers or choose arrangements
  • $2 entrance fee
  • Wear a sweater b/c it's like walking in a huge refrigerator
  • Walk around the entire market first, then go back to where you saw flowers you liked the most
  • There are actually two different places you can go on opposite sides of the street -- the Los Angeles Flower MARKET or the Los Angeles Flower DISTRICT.  I went to the MARKET, but there are more Yelp! reviews for the DISTRICT.  
Anyway, the experience was fun although a little daunting.  I don't know much about flowers so it was fun to see all the different kinds (photos below).  One area also specialized in tropical flowers and had all kinds of things I didn't know existed.  Prices are all posted, so I don't think you have to worry about getting ripped off because you're a newbie or anything.  But like I said above, you don't get any help, so just grab the ones you like, bring them to the respective booth/counter and pay for them.  They will wrap them up in newspapers and make sure they won't get ruined in transportation and that's about it!

I ended up with 2 bunches of spider mums, 1 huge bunch of hybrid purple lillies, and 1 huge bunch of tall stiff greens for only $22 -- enough for a bouquet for Michelle AND Jenn!  I will definitely be coming back here soon =)  

Enjoy the photos and check it out for yourself!  I've repeated the info and a map at the end of this post.







These flowers were as tall as me!  Guess that may not be THAT tall...

This woman makes arrangements out of moss vases and cactus plants.  You only have to water them once a month.  Great Mother's Day gift if you're interested!


They look like pineapples... are they pineapples??

Look it's a mini one!


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The Los Angeles Flower Market
Yelp Reviews

  • This is a wholesale flower shop, meaning no one to help you arrange flowers or choose arrangements
  • $2 entrance fee
  • Wear a sweater b/c it's like walking in a huge refrigerator
  • Walk around the entire market first, then go back to where you saw flowers you liked the most
  • There are actually two different places you can go on opposite sides of the street -- the Los Angeles Flower MARKET or the Los Angeles Flower DISTRICT.  I went to the MARKET, but there are more Yelp! reviews for the DISTRICT.  Same concept at each I believe ($2 fee, etc.)

View The Original Los Angeles Flower Market in a larger map

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Euro Trip: Spain, So Far

The last week has been a whirlwind adventure! So far, traveled through Barcelona, San Sebastian (w/ day trip to beautiful Biarritz) and I am currently in Madrid.

Internet and wi-fi have been unreliable and I'm doing my best with just my handy iPad 2 and zaggmate Logitech keyboard (love it btw!). Here is my attempt to upload some photos. I will do more detailed posts on each city later when I get back to the States. In the meantime though, please enjoy these photos!




One of Gaudi's famous apartments on Passieg de Gracias





Pintxos y mas pintxos! Pintxos (pronounced pinches) are little snacks at bars you can find all over Spain.







At La Sagrada Familia -- famous cathedral designed by Gaudi that is still a work in progress











Walking Las Ramblas -- big lively pedestrian street with lots of vendors selling random stuff! Even cute bunnies and chipmunks!




Delicious fruit shakes at the Boqueria market on Las Ramblas



Baby octopus sautéed in garlic, lemon, etc. at a stand in the Boqueria market. SO delicious! Although halfway through, my friend start getting grossed out thinking of eating baby octopus haha




My FAVORITE food in Spain -- Fried eggs over fries with spicy/mayo sauce!










Gaudi's Parc Guell



Beautiful La Concha beach in San Sebastian








I LOVED San Sebastian's old streets and beautiful buildings!







Eating potato stones at Mugaritz (San Pellegrino's #5 restaurant in the world)








Day trip to Biarritz, France -- one of the most beautiful beaches i've ever seen!




Chocolate con churros in Madrid -- they say it's an after clubbing food but I had it for breakfast. It was aiiight, maybe it's like Chicken and Rice where you need to be in the right state of mind (or intoxication) to really enjoy it haha

That's all for now! Heading to Italy tomorrow so more updates to come =)