We have been travelling by the seat of our pants, and it seems to be working in our favor. The first people we met in Osaka, while taking a break to eat and drink sake, turned out to be absolutely … Continue reading
Today, I am leaving Japan. I will take a ferry from Hakata (Fukuoka) to Busan, Korea. The price is $140 for the 3.5 hour ride, but it’s cheaper than flying. I had my last meal of raw fish, seasoned beef and onions over rice, miso soup, pickled vegetables, and hot tea. I spoke my last words of Japanese to the lovely guesthouse workers, and ventured to the port. With immigration and customs documents completed, I boarded the sporty vessel. It was a nice, easy ride with very comfortable seats. Most of the Japanese slept, or watched baseball (the nations favorite pastime) but I was engrossed by my novel, ‘Cloud Atlas’. I’m happy I’ve finally found the time to read. Even better, I brought my last bottle of Japanese sake aboard… Better believe I savored every sip. I’ve grown to enjoy drinking alone, as I have on numerous occasions since James headed back to the states. It’s easy to be entertained by life. I’d take brief glances out the window between chapters, only to see nothing but sky and ocean. A blank horizon. It was peaceful. Nice calm colours. Once our boat pulled into port, I got another visa stamp added to my seasoned passport. I gave them my fingerprints, and exchanged my money from Yen to Won, grabbed a map of the city, and set out into this new world.
My first observation was the cars. Lots of Kias, Hyaundis, and Daewoos, with a couple american cars sprinkled in the mix. I tracked down the metro station, and was amused by my process of figuring out how to buy a ticket, what track to go to, and what station to transfer at. I always feel like a child figuring out how the world operates when I go through this process abroad. The cost was 1400 Won. I had no idea how much this was, because I was completely unaware of the exchange rate, but whatever, I’ll pay it, I have to get to my destination at the guesthouse on the popular beach called Haeundae. It seemed like a hot spot among the Koreans, so I assumed it would be a good place to people watch. (The metro ride ended up costing $1.26 and I went halfway across this bustling, vibrant city).
On the subway car, a cute thing happened. I offered my seat up to a vivacious elder, with decades of smile lines. The woman next to me, in her 30s, motioned for me to take her seat, and she stood. But then, an older gentleman across from us gave up his seat, so the old woman could sit next to her friends, so I moved back to my original seat, the woman next to me in her 30s retook her seat. Once happily seated, we all looked at each other not speaking a word, but smiling to each other as if realizing how funny our little display of musical chairs was. The woman next to me pulled out a Red Ginsing Candy, and passed it over to me, as if to reward my respectful act. It was cute. Happy grins were swapped between us when I got up to transfer stations minutes later. I like interactions like this. It warms my heart to connect with locals without speaking a syllables… As if I could…
The vibe of Korea is much different than Japan. It seems looser. More liberated. I notice more trash laying around, and more cigarette on the ground. It seems a little more grungy than Japan. I still can’t believe the amount of smokers out here! They are everywhere! Mostly men. You know the Korean sensation Psy who sang Gygnam Style? A lot of the kids, and young adults dress like that – in outrageous pop fashions. No worse than the Harajuku kids in Tokyo. The nerd glasses are a hot trend over here as well. A lot off the glasses are lenseless, they are just going for the look. One thing that I’ve found surprising is the active elders. As with Japan, the Senior Citizens are far more alive and kicking out here. (Is it the fish?) The clothes they sport are on trend. Everyone has modern kicks. The most up to date Nikes, Converse, New Balance, and Adidas. It’s hard to find a Korean with the same pair of shoes. Many of them have hiking boots on. I don’t know if they plan on hiking or whether they just like the strength of the shoe. But I can’t get over how modern the old people are! Many of the grannies rock smart phones and ear buds. I wonder what’s on their playlists? They are all so trendy!
I’m not seeing a whole lot of customs. Very little bowing. A stark contrast coming from Japan. These people are just like Americans, but with different eye shapes, and a bit more respect for each other. The tech industry seems to be booming out here, but this is just my first days observations. They drive on the right side of the road, just like in the states. Funny how this country is in such a close approximation to Japan, but they are worlds apart.
I arrive at my guesthouse, but no one is around to check me in. I peak around a bit, this place is new and modern. The layout and design is my dream home. I instantly feel comfortable. I’m hungry, only eating my last meal in Japan, so I leave my bag near the front desk and venture out for some authentic Korean food. I felt like my backpack would be safe. I really wouldn’t care if it disappeared, less to carry. I have my passport and bank cards with me, that’s really all I need. But I knew it would be safe. I wandered around by the beach, listened to the young kids play their instruments and belt American music with no ‘Rs’, and admired the skyline full of modern buildings just beyond the beaches shores. When in search of food, I realize the Koreans love their BBQ, so that is what I would be tasting for my first meal.
I nestled down in a corner booth and observed the happenings around me. Shortly after I sit down, in comes a group of Russians. Obnoxious Russians. Ignorant of their ignorance. I really hope I don’t come off to the locals (of any country) as pompous and oblivious as they do. Most of the tourists in these countries abroad are on a vacation, out to drink themselves into a stupor. Bloody tourists… Some of them give travelers a bad name. I like to think of myself as a temporary local… More like a citizen of the world. I really try hard to adapt to the customs and ways of the people and their county. I hate feeling like a foreigner. I probably do silly tourist things every now and then, oblivious of my distant actions, but I do respect a countries ways. These Russians just storm up in the place, making demands, acting like they are VIP. What rubs me the wrong way is that i’m not not seeing a single act of gratitude. I question why this bothers me?… I guess it’s because I too am a foreigner and I don’t want to be given a bad name. You meet one opinionated Jewish person, or one ghetto black person, and it’s easy to judge them all that way. I guess I don’t like the locals of these countries looking at me like a disrespectful white person. Most people think I’m European until they hear me speak, then it’s obvious I’m American.
Perhaps, I feel too much, and have too many opinions myself?…
The Russians at the dinner table has quadrupled in size. Continuous cheersing, dish after dish of food being delivered to their table now full of 15 Russians. I was sitting at a table nearby with enough food for 3 meals, and a whole bottle of soju to myself (again, my eyes were bigger than my stomach, this happens daily – but indeed I won’t waste) I kept sneaking glances at them in between, eating, writing, and reading a book on my tablet that I’ve become addicted to.
READER! … A dramatic turn of events happens…
I’ve been blasting these Russians, and their cold behaviour in my eyes. Then, I eventually notice they are all taking turns exchanging glances at me… I flash them a, ‘What’s the deal?!’ type expression. One member of their party gets up, sits down next to me, and invites me to sit with their large group, because they don’t want me eating or drinking alone….
Damn. A moment of redemption. I feel shitty for blasting them now. Turns out they are a yachting crew that got 12th out of 23 in a competition today, and they are drinking to forget about their loss. I contemplate joining them, but I’m tired from my journey from Japan, and would prefer the solitude. I do enjoy my own company. They seemed to understand my desire to not be social.
As I was getting up to pay my bill and leave, I went over to their table and wished them an enjoyable yacht ride home. They told me to come down to the marina the next day, and they would give me a tour of their boat. I smiled and thanked them, and went along my way. Probably won’t do that, but I’m bothered I still hold a prejudice.
I’m still not sure what to make of that experience. I guess I shouldn’t have been judging, but their boisterous actions made me question their sincerity. Perhaps I’m not as good of judge of character as I thought? I wonder what the locals around us thought. They didn’t seem to be bothered… After all we are in a party spot. They are probably use to the belligerence?
I wander back to my guesthouse. Make friends with the precious lady running the place, shower, and settle into bed. I slept like a baby.
Welcome to Korea.
I almost didn’t stop in Hiroshima. It was along my path from Okayama to Hakata, my final destination in Japan before ferrying over to Korea. It is Golden week, when all the Japanese don’t have to work, and get a holiday, so of course the Shinkansen train was packed. Ther
e were no seats so I had to stand. 45 minutes in, I didn’t feel like standing anymore, so I decided I’d get off at the next stop – which happened to be Hiroshima. I put my backpack into a locker, got a map from the information center, and headed out into the city. I knew a little about the Atomic bomb that went off here, but not much. I set out for the bombing site expecting to see a big creator in the earth. The walk there was very pleasant. Lots of families of all ages out and about. It was a bright sunny day, and everyone was in good spirits. A large event caught my eye. Everyone seemed to be going there so I wanted to see what was going on. Turns out it was the 26th Annual All-Japan, Great Pastry Fair. I wasn’t going to pay to get in, but I kind of got lost around the outskirts. There was a river flowing close with nice grassy areas and people picnicking and relaxing. I could use a rest after an hour of walking so I laid out my favorite peacock colored scarf that I picked up in Egypt, and had a seat. I read for a bit, but that made my eyes tired. Before I know it I was awakened by a pigeon peaking at my bag next to me, he must have known I had crossiants in there? What a nice relaxing nap. I love how safe Japan is. I continued reading, then set off to continue touring. I realized I was close to the Hiroshima castle so I thought I would go sneak a peak from the outside (I’m far to cheap to pay to get in, at this point I’ve seen plenty of castles) Of course it was leveled when the Atomic bomb wen off, so this was a replica made to look old. It was pretty, but not the original. I noticed a Volleyball court on the map. I headed that way hoping to join a pickup game. I’ve done this before, played volleyball with locals, and I always walk away soar and reinjured… I tore my left rotator cuff in a snowboarding accident years ago, and never got it fixed. Now anytime I spike with my dominant hand, I feel it weeks after. It turned out that ‘volleyball’ is actually a mix of tennis and badmitton without a net?!… Probably for the best! I wouldn’t have anyone to complain to about how bad my shoulder hurts. Okay, I’ve side wandered enough… I gotta get to the Atomic bomb site! The first thing I noticed while approaching is the A Bomb Dome, a former Commercial Exhibition Hall. The moment the bomb was dropped 600 meters above, it ripped through the Hall, ignited the building on fire and instantly killed everyone inside. Because it struck from above, some of the central walls remained standing, leaving enough of the iron frame to be recognized as a dome. Some people of the city wanted this dangerously dilapidated structure torn down, because it evoked painful memories, but the building remains a reminded of the tragic past.
I next headed over to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. I watched film, saw pictures, replicas, and got explanations. It was horrific. Images of peoples skin literally dripping off their bodies because of the gamma rays, neutron rays, and other radiation released by the explosion. This city was virtually leveled. The blast crushed and burned everything within a 2 kilometer radius of the hypocenter. It took approximately 140,000 lives. I questioned humanity, and actually felt a bit guilty being American. I was hoping no one would ask me my home country. I didn’t want the association. The museum also talked about the other Atomic bombs, and who has them. I had to get out, I was feeling too eery. Same sick feeling as when I left the Holocaust Museum back in DC. People are so cruel sometimes, for what?!… I understand its war, but to take so many innocent human lives seems so brutish. For the first time I was mad at Einstein and science.
Determined to breathe in happiness and shun the bad vibes, I continued my journey around Hiroshima. Looking around me, you could never tell that this place was blown to smithereens 67 years ago. The people all seemed happy too. I didn’t detect much physical or psychological damage, even in the elderly. This city was all smiles and a calm tempo. As with the tsunami hutting fukajima a couple years back, the Japanese seem to always come together as a collective and quickly bounce back from devastation. They amaze me.
April 3, 2013 I’m sitting on a double decker Mega bus at Union Station in Washington, DC. I will be leaving this city for 2 months. Asia awaits ~ Visiting Japan has been a dream destination. For a very long time, I wanted to see the sites, the customs, and the Zen culture. It will be a much needed break from a chaotic life in America. I’m always happy to leave. I will be in Japan for 3.5 weeks, South Korea for a week, then splitting time between Thailand and Malaysia for the remainder of the time. 2 months abroad total. I don’t have much planned, just a general route. Leading up to this day, I’ve felt anxious and overwhelmed with the amount of things I have to do before I take off. Wrap up projects… Tell my banks to not flag me when I use my cards abroad… Suspend yoga memberships, cell phone bills…etc. I woke up the morning of departure feeling rushed. So much to do! I worry about making sure electricity is unplugged so my electricity bill isn’t outrageous while I’m gone. It seemed like a ton of little things. But once I had my backpack packed, and the house tidy, I could finally sit back and relax. Now I’m sitting on the bus listening to inconsiderate people blaring their headphones for the whole bus to hear, babies continuously crying, and Jersey people talking loud enough for the whole bus to hear about a belligerent drunken breakup with Geno. I’m slightly annoyed at the lack of respect people have, but this is no new feeling while I love in the US. The feeling of freedom is even more pushing. I know when I’m on that plane, soaring over the North Pacific – I’ll finally feel free. The thought of being transplanted into an unknown world excites me. I enjoy trying to figure things out on a foreign land. Embarking on another journey with a winding path on unknown trails excited me.
…Oh the things I’ll see ~
April 4, 2013 I’m sitting aboard a Boeing 747 at JFK airport. I haven’t took flight yet, but excitement is pumping through my blood. China Airlines is always wonderful to fly on. They keep my belly full and the flow of tea pouring. Their movie selections are always enjoyable. This time I watched The Hobbit, Argo, and Django, and got a couple naps in. It was an easy 14 hour flight. I left new York at 3pm, and got to Osaka at 6pm. Arriving at the Osaka Airport was entertaining. The first shock I felt was in the bathroom (which always seems to be the case when landing in a new, exotic land). The restroom door had an open button, and a close button and everything inside was automated. Heated seats? Yes please! I’ll probably sit here longer than I should because I enjoy the warmth. Relaxing sound? Sure! It’s always easier to be comfortable in little private bathrooms when you don’t have to worry about others hearing your business. I’ll hold off on the bum spray and scent buttons for now…If that’s even what they were? I can’t read Japanese, but the pictures were funny indications. I hate to hurry up my lovely bathroom experience, but i’m realizing there is a button between the ‘open’ and ‘close’ button, written in Japanese characters that I didn’t press. Could this be the lock button? Shit! Can someone from the outside press the open button and I’m exposed?… Better get outta here… Continuing on my airport path to the Visa checkpoint, I walk past decontamination rooms, and temperature gages, which detect if anyone is an influenza threat. The Japanese are crazy about sickness, which is probably why a third of the population wears facial masks, as to avoid getting sick and possibly missing a day of work. The ultimate shameful act. I give the nice Visa man my passport and documents, wondering if I should talk (will he understand English?) or just gesture? I smile instead. Always the easiest form of communication! He asks me (in English of course, why did I automatically doubt him?) to place my fingers on a scanner and smile into the camera. So I guess Japan has my fingerprints… Better not do anything stupid. Once on the other side, we collect free tourist maps, figure out the cheapest way to get to our guesthouse, and hit up one of the MANY vending machines to taste the odd drinks that it dispenses. HA! How funny how my life changed in the last 24 hours. I’m so glad I left, but this unsweetened tea doesn’t taste that good… Can’t wait for my next vending machine experiment I take notice of the incessant bowing people do to each other, and it feels good (especially coming from DC) that people respect and appreciate each other. We board a bus, one of the MANY but organized options to take us downtown to the Namba District, where there we have to commute via subway to the area where our guesthouse is located. The bus ride was neat! The entire ride we were on a highway that was high above ground. It provided for a good view of the massive, sprawling city that is Osaka. I always like driving on the left side of the road. It’s nice to see things from a similar, but different angle. There are lots of Toyotas and Nissans on the road, and just like us Americans, they all iPhone navigate when they are supposed to be driving as well ~ We get to the transit station and were distracted by the many things that were happening around us… Yen Stores (Dollar Store) were temptations for me. Joining punk kids break dancing was a temptation for James, but alas we carried on our path to find the subway. A friend who previously lived in Japan said to avoid the underground because it’s a crazy labrynth that’s hard to get out of. I never feared our ability to navigate the undergrounds, and of course, together we found our way just fine, but there were many moments where I had to step back and laugh at the scenario. I’m sure we looked like children trying to figure out life. I notice the fashions of people. Men is business suits, women in tights and knee high stocking, young kids that take urban hipster to the next level! It’s fun to watch people. Some people and quite, and some people are loud and eccentric. Every service person we talked to provided us with quick and very efficient
help. The people have a good demeanor and nature. I feel comfortable roaming the streets looking for our guesthouse because it feels safe…
A very nice change coming from DC. We can walk around with our tablets out and not feel the threat of being robbed. It’s a nice change. We spend a hour circling the guesthouse. I spend that hour refraining from picking my nose in public, because it’s seen as a very rude thing to do. People would kindly guide us in the right direction, but we were still a street or 2 off. Tired of searching with our bags in tow, we stop at a corner restaurant because a crazy redheaded Japanese girl was yelling and waving us in. We get the most delicious sake I’ve ever drank, and tell her, Audrey, to cook us whatever she would like. It was very different, and very interesting, but so tasty We definitely stumbled upon a gem…and on our first night in Japan?!… Good omen! Through broken English, we make friends with the people sitting at the bar around us. One guy a designer amend business man, and his wife a yoga teacher. They were curious about us, and our plans, we told them we really didn’t have any, and we only booked our first night in Osaka. They insisted we stay in an extra room they have for free! Done! I’m a frugal traveller after all, plus I would never pass up the opportunity to see how locals live their traditional lives. With bellies full, and a lovely experience under our belts, we head out in search, once again, for our guesthouse. After about 30 minutes we find it. We were so close the whole time…man we should have found this long ago, but if we hadn’t maybe we wouldn’t have met our new friend, so I’m happy the way things went down. We find our room with sliding paper walls, shower, and put our PJs on. I pass out the moment my head hits the pillow. I slept deep as if I had taken sleeping medicine, but I awoke abruptly at 5:30am! Wtf?!… I never see this time of the hour. The mornings are peaceful and quite. I should do this more often. I got this whole blog entry wrote, and my day planned out by the time James woke up. It just started raining though, so not quite sure of our plans yet, but I saw some cherry blossoms in the shadows last night, so I know they are out there and in full book I’m a happy traveller!!