Lens-Artists Photo Challenge #33: Nature

One of the best parts about our Vagabond trip to Ireland was getting to see a lot of the country in its natural state.

The famous cliffs of Moher, a natural wonder that forms a “signature point” of the Wild Atlantic Way tourism route.

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Killarney National Park was the first national park in Ireland, created in 1932.  It hosts a wide variety of native flora and fauna, including the island’s last wild herd of red deer.

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We saw many places off the beaten path, including Skellig Michael, a nesting site for puffins and other sea birds.  These birds have very little fear of people and will get quite close to you.  Between the sea, the rocks, the wind, and the birds, on Skellig Michael you really feel close to nature in all its wild glory.  It’s no wonder the ascetic Irish monks were attracted to this place.

You can find more nature at the original Lens-Artist challenge.

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My Top 5 K-dramas on streaming

If you’re looking for something on Netflix to watch with your sweetheart either today or this weekend, or you just want to reaffirm your belief in the power of love, may I suggest checking out a Korean drama?  K-dramas come in a range of genres, but there’s usually a little romance in there somewhere. I’ve talked about some classic K-dramas before, so here are some of my more current favorites.

Descendants of the Sun (2016)

Sadly, since I started writing this post, this show has been removed from Netflix (it’s still on Hulu), but I’m leaving on the list because it is my favorite K-drama of all time.  Sometimes when I’m watching a show and it’s dragging a bit or the male lead is a jerk, I think, “I could be watching Descendants of the Sun again instead right now.”

A love story between Captain Yoo Shi Jin, Korean Special Forces, and Doctor Kang Mo Yeon, surgeon at Haesung Hospital. Together they face danger in a war-torn country. –Google

This story has a little bit of everything: thrills, tragedy, action, romance, humor.  Shi-jin and Mo-yeon are very compelling leads that will quickly get you invested in the story.  It’s set in the present day, and even though it’s a few years old it still feels current in its cultural references (cameos by K-pop megastars Red Velvet for example). The soundtrack is so wonderful that you will be humming along to the songs even if you don’t understand the language.  

A couple other bonuses: there’s no stupid love triangle (a hallmark of bad K-dramas), just relationships that grow naturally over the episodes, with a few realistic ups and downs.  Also, Onew from SHINee has a small role.

The country of Uruk is kind of a stand-in for Iraq (though it was filmed in Greece).  One of the things I like about foreign media is the chance to reflect on how the rest of the world views the US, and Descendants of the Sun does not paint a perfectly rosy picture of our military involvement in the Middle East.  In fact, the main antagonist is former US military. There is also some insight into the conflict with North Korea.

Mr. Sunshine (2018)

Mr. Sunshine was written and directed by the same team that did DotS, so it’s no surprise that this is a strong candidate for the top of my list as well.

A young boy who ends up in the U.S. after the 1871 Shinmiyangyo incident returns to Korea at a historical turning point and falls for a noblewoman. –Netflix

This historical drama takes place at the end of the Joseon era, an interesting time period most Americans (including myself) know little about.  Much of the plot centers around the politics of the era, the incursions of Japanese and American representatives, and populist revolutions.

But that doesn’t sideline the personal drama.  The show is an emotional rollercoaster from the first episode.  Eugene and Ae-sin both have such complex backstories and personalities, you’ll be holding your breath when they come together.  It does develop a bit of a love triangle (more like a pentagon), but it’s well done.

Not to mention, the show is absolutely beautiful.  It has great production quality and loves to linger on the most beautiful shots.  I also appreciated that it includes lots of well-spoken Japanese and English (even though Teddy Roosevelt has a European accent haha).

Mr. Sunshine is considered a Netflix original and was actually simulcast on Netflix last year (the show is now complete).

Hello, My Twenties! (2016)

Netflix recommended this one to me, and its algorithm was definitely on point as I quickly got sucked into this female-driven, contemporary slice-of-life drama, which is also known in Korean as Age of Youth.

Five female housemates and college students meet and live at the Belle Epoque….Together they juggle the perils of adult life. –Google

Right off the bat, the opening song of this show is great!  You’ll be singing along after a couple of episodes.

I love that the show gives time to each of the housemates and their problems, which sometimes involve romance and sometimes don’t.  I liked all of the girls, but the oldest Jin-myung (far right in the image) stood out as my favorite. Something about her struggle, her drive and determination, and her reserved personality spoke to me.

I think of this as being a “light” show, but it does actually get intense in some places.  Overall it has a really good balance of drama, comedy, and romance. It’s really nice to have a show every once in a while where the main cast is all women.

Season 2 is now on Netflix as well.

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Misaeng (2014)

I was surprised how much I enjoyed this office drama; there’s less romance, but it makes up for it with a great cast of characters.

Equipped with nothing more than a GED and strategies for the game of Go, an office intern is thrown into the cold reality of the corporate world. –Netflix

This show centers around Geu-rae, a washed-out student of baduk (Go) who never went to college yet somehow lands a coveted internship at a big trading company.  The title “Misaeng” is a baduk term meaning “an incomplete life.” Geu-rae starts as a fish out of water, not even knowing how to use the copier, but soon learns to adapt using the lessons he learned playing baduk.  He’s very easy to relate to, plus the actor looks a little like a cross of Jin and V from BTS.

The supporting cast really shines, too.  You will grow to love and root for the rest of Geu-rae’s sales team as well as the three other company interns struggling to prove themselves.  It’s a great view into the realities of the corporate world, especially regarding the extra hurdles for women even in the modern day.

Something in the Rain (2018)

I was a little hesitant to include this one because I’ve only watched a few episodes, but it has already hooked me.

When a single career woman reunites with her best friend’s younger brother after he returns from three years of working abroad, their efforts to reconnect grow into romance. –Google

The original Korean title of this show translates to Pretty Noona [older sister] who buys me food, which is more lighthearted than the English title.  It refers to Jin-ah and Joon-hee reconnecting by trading off who pays for their meals together. Joon-hee is always asking her to treat him.

I fell in love with Jin-ah from the first episode, where she dances around her empty office to “I am the Best” by 2NE1, my favorite K-pop group.  Being above 30 myself, it’s great to have a romance that features an “older” female lead.  I am a little confused by the show’s obsession with Tammy Wynette’s “Stand By Your Man,” but hey, why not?

This show also has a glimpse into Korean office culture, mainly because the two characters work in the same building.  However, their two companies have a vastly different culture, so it’s interesting to compare their jobs (some of it does relate to their different ages).

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Honorable Mention: Oh My Ghost (2015)

I wanted to mention this one for some diversity because of its fantasy elements and large dose of comedy.

Possessed by the ghost of a lustful virgin, a timid assistant chef becomes confidently libidinous, drawing the attention of a haughty culinary star. –Netflix

While this show’s writing and storytelling is not as high in quality as the others, relying more on tropes, it is still really funny and I enjoyed the frank way it discusses sex, which is fairly rare in K-dramas.

The Thai version of this show, also called Oh My Ghost, is also available on Netflix, though I haven’t seen any of it yet.

Hope you guys are able to check out some of these K-dramas and enjoy them!

Lens-Artists Challenge #32 – Shadows

Spain has many beautiful beaches, and we had a great time walking on the beach at Santander on the northern coast.  This is one of my friends; there were a group of eight of us that traveled frequently together during our semester in Spain.

You can find more shadows at the original Lens-Artist challenge.

Now Playing: Dungeons & Dragons

I know a lot about Dungeons & Dragons for someone who has never really played Dungeons & Dragons.  My husband has been playing D&D since he was about 10; his group of friends has been playing together since high school, switching between various roleplaying settings from classic D&D to Pathfinder and finally now to Exalted.  They frequently play at our house, so I know many of the details of their campaigns, and my husband loves telling me about the adventures their characters are having.

Not to mention I’ve read a lot of Forgotten Realms books, including stories featuring Elminster and Drizzt.

And yet I’ve only played with them a few times (not for lack of encouragement from my husband).  Even though they are my friends, too, I just felt really intimidated about starting to play a type of game that they’ve been playing for half their lives.  (I was really intimidated by MMOs at first, too, and I would still never play SWTOR with my husband’s friends.)

I finally got a chance to change that last month and really see what all the fuss is about with tabletop roleplaying games.  One of my coworkers wanted to try her hand at running a game (or being Dungeon Master aka DM in D&D parlance), so she got a small group together at work and we successfully completed a one-shot campaign!

We started with one session of character creation. Our DM brought some pre-made character sheets, so I started with one of those and then did some customization.  My character is Temerity, a lawful neutral Tiefling Warlock. Tieflings are a race a wasn’t previously familiar with; they are creatures who made a deal with a devil (in my case, The Fiend) in return for great power.  Temerity was previously a hermit, prefers logic to emotion, and is willing risk much in the quest for knowledge.

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We did a “point buy” system to pick our stats.  My main stat was Charisma (I took Intimidation), and Strength was my dump stat.  I like playing magic users (like my Jedi Consular healer in SWTOR), and I was looking forward to the challenge of roleplaying Temerity.  The other characters in the party were a half-elf ranger, a drow rogue, and a bard.

Our DM had picked a one-shot for level one characters called The Happenings at Barralon Manor (the setting info is all online if you are interested in running it, too).  All our characters began as members of the Ducal Investigative Service (DIS). We were called to a small town by the mayor to investigate some mysterious disappearances at a manor house there.

Our first combat, a face-off with some zombies, was a little slow as we all figured out which dice to roll, but pretty soon we got the hang of it and it became second nature.  As a warlock, I was using d10s a lot to roll damage.

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When we finally reached the manor, we were attacked by a flock of birds.  I didn’t think the combat was going well; if the whole party wasn’t going to die, then I certainly was.  So after taking a few hits, instead of making a stand, I bolted for the manor door. Luckily it was unlocked!  In retrospect, I probably should have warned the rest of the party that I was going to do this.  But they got the message pretty quick, and we got through mostly unscathed (I did have to pull the bard’s body through the door after us; luckily I had the Medicine skill).

The DM did a good job shepherding us through the story, as well as just going with the flow when we did the unexpected (like bolting for the door).  At the beginning of the story, for example, we came across a family murdered by the zombies, and none of us had any interest in going after the children that had been left alive.  We went back to the tavern instead.

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The final dungeon.  The Erlking-looking orange guy is the boss.  My character (white with the staff) is naturally at the back of the party, avoiding getting hit.

At the end of the adventure, my character got to have some extra fun.  Temerity had discovered a powerful temple to an evil deity during her hermitage; it seemed to me that the big bad was trying to locate it, so she took his notes and burned them.  Although this was a one-shot, if we ever play the characters again that could have some big implications.

And who knows? Maybe we will play these characters again.  I don’t have a lot of time at all for gaming right now, but we all had a good time.  I would definitely be interested in playing D&D in the future. It really was a lot like playing a video game RPG, so I think my experience with SWTOR helped me enjoy this experience, too.

Do you guys play tabletop RPGs?  What’s your favorite campaign setting?  (Yes, of course there is a Star Wars setting, but I have yet to find anyone interested in playing it with me.)

Lens-Artists Photo Challenge #31: Landscapes

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Some of my favorite landscapes were in Tuscany.  All the rolling hills and charming houses and farms, the neat rows of cypress and olive trees…it’s just iconic and beautiful and I could not take enough pictures.

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My husband took this picture!

You can find more landscapes at the original Lens-Artist challenge.