Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Yeosu, Korea - Day 2

A whirlwind of day! We slept in a little bit, but it still was not enough for Grace, and we had to
wake her up by cell phone since we did not have a cardboard tube...

We started with a walking tour of Grace's neighborhood; her street has a bunch of restaurants and bars. We were fascinated by all the tanks of fish and octopus lining the edge of the pavement. Our favorite restaurant name was "Hello Duck!"

We headed down the fairly steep hill to the water's edge to take a look at the bay and all the boats. From there, we headed along the edge of the basin toward a historically significant site on the other side where the famous Turtle Ships were built (more on that later). Along the way, we stopped to examine and poke all the jellyfish floating just at the surface. The coastal exploration continued past the historical site and into undeveloped nature.

As lunch time approached, some friends of Grace's called and wanted to join us, so we headed up
a dirt path to cut through some smaller farms and get back to civilization. Our meeting spot was one of Grace's favorites which specialized in tofu. As you can tell from looking at the photo album, the focus of the trip was food. We tried to take photos of every meal before it was demolished.

All the food was great in Korea! It was interesting, spicy, tasty, and even more. I won't bore you with glowing descriptions; there were just too many. I will put captions with the photos that will help highlight our eating delights. The main thing about Korean eating is that with every dish you order - small or large- you also get a large number of side dishes of kimchii, other pickled vegetables, and numerous other random treats. It is hard to not eat too much, and it keeps on
coming. Eating in Japan is not like that, and I think we would not have lost as much weight if we had moved to Korea.

As Joan had asked Grace about organic farming and vegetables, we decided to take a taxi to the open air market in town and see what was for sale. It reminded us of shopping in Thailand and Kazakhstan: a kaleidoscope of colors, sounds, and smells - especially the smells in the fish section! It was probably good that we had already eaten because we would have bought way too much of all the interesting looking foods.

Grace's first school was just across the road and up the hill, so we walked over and got a tour.
The building and the grounds reminded me a great deal of Kazkakstan, as well as Olivia, the teacher who had been Grace's "Korean mother." She was almost exactly like the friendly, helpful teachers at Joan's school in Kyzylorda.

One funny side note: there were many students running around, probably 11 or so. They were really energetic and noisy. They were also not shy like the Japanese students we have met. In fact, there they were so not shy that when they walked past me, they all reached out and stroked my forearm, commenting in Korean on how I was hairy like a bear or a monkey.

Then it was back to the market for more window shopping. We met up with Jack who had finished classes and sauntered about, ducking into stores and browsing the aisles. We bought a mix cd of Korean dance music that has proven to be a good souvenir.

On the other side of the shopping area was Jinnamkwan, the largest single story wooden
structure in Korean - LSSWK as we called. The current version was built in the 1700s but is originally much older. Wars and accidental fires have destroyed it many times.

Grace then suggested we take a taxi to visit a replica of a famous Korean "Turtle Ship." This was an early form of armored wooden fighting ship that had proved very effective against the
Japanese in ancient times. It is quite an impressive sight with metal spikes everywhere and even a dragon figure head that would have had a smoke and belched clouds of noxious smoke.
From there, we walked up and over a big hill to one of Grace's favorite hangouts, a cafe overlooking Yesosu. Our feet were very tired from sightseeing, so it was a welcome relief to sit in the shade and gaze over the city and have a cold drink. We sat there for about two hours and just talked about life in general. It was really nice to spend some time with Jack and get to know him better. He is a really nice guy, and we told Grace he was a keeper, even if he did dress like a baggy, French mime the whole visit...

Then it was time for more food - a major theme of the trip. We taxied to The Chicken Palace for a feast of BBQ chicken cooked at our table with veggies with the inevitable array of side dishes.
Footsore, tired and full, we staggered home, took showers and went to bed early. The next day's plan was a morning hike up a mountain and an afternoon at the beach.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

A bad start to a good trip...

We know how important it is to have people visit and see your world. They can better relate to your stories and your experiences that are significant to you. With that in mind, we really wanted to visit Grace Bialecki, one of my cousins on my father's side, who has been living and teaching English in Yeosu, South Korean for the last two years. However, her visa is going to expire in July – before my summer vacation when we would have time to really explore Grace's world and more of Korea. We had tried to put a short trip together during my Golden Week holiday, but as most of Japan travels that week, airfare was astronomical, so the idea was shelved. Finally, we said, “What the heck...” and arranged a long weekend trip.

We flew out Wednesday evening, and it almost ended in disaster right there at the immigration desk.

Nobody had told us nor had we read about the re-entry permit that needs to be applied for and purchased to get back into the country...

We had walked up to the immigration desk and the officer began thumbing through our passports. He said, “You don't have re-entry permits. You can leave, but we will have to confiscate your alien registration card here. You will have to get a re-entry permit and apply for a new alien registration card.” What!?

To make all this worse, there had been a train problem getting to the airport, and we were late – very late for our flight...

After some initial confusion, we were taken aside to the immigration office, and the situation was explained to us. Our options were to apply right then and there for a re-entry permit and be able to keep the alien card or go through the whole alien card application process, which is lengthy and complicated – not something we wanted to do.

I looked at the clock and said, “Our flight leaves in less than 45 minutes. Can you do this in time for our flight?” They assured us they could, so we started frantically filling out paperwork and paying the $30 each fee. Our paperwork was taken to a desk, and we sat there dying a little death each time the hand clicked on the clock. As it took longer and longer, we both started to get more and more nervous. I felt sick to my stomach.

Then over the PA system, we heard, “This is the final boarding call for Northwest flight 85. Please come to the gate immediately.”

We both jumped to our feet and started diplomatically pleading with them to hurry. The announcement was made again. “Come on,” we both almost shouted.

Finally, they handed us our passports and told us we could go. We burst through the door and took off at a dead run through the airport. It felt like a horror movie or a bad dream. As we sprinted the quarter mile or so, we had to dodge crowds of people, politely but firmly yelling at people to get out of our way. Not one of our finer culturally sensitive minutes...

We barely made it in time and handed our boarding passes to the staff. We stood there gasping and steaming with anger and stress. It was truly a horrible experience: at least a top 10 we agreed.

Luckily, from there is was smooth sailing all the way to Grace. The flight and the 8:30 pm landing in Busan were smooth. There were no hassles with health inspections or customs; everyone is very uptight in Asia about swine flu. We walked out of the Ginmae airport door and right on to the 307 Red bus that was waiting for us (1,500 won – 1 US dollar is 1,300 won). We transferred to the subway at Dongnae station for a quick ride to Nopodong bus terminal (1,100 won). There we bought tickets for the 10:40 long distance bus to Yeosu for 21,000 won. We had just enough time to use the restroom and buy a bottle of water and snacks before we drove off into the night.

The horrible Korean drama/soap opera on the bus's TV made the trip seem longer than it really was, but some cat naps made it seem short, as well.

Around one o'clock in the morning, we arrived in Yeo-chun, part of Yeosu and got off the bus. A quick call on a pay phone rousted Grace, who had been waiting nearby at Jack's (her boyfriend) apartment. As Jack had to teach in the morning, we parted ways and hopped in a taxi to Grace's apartment.

Still somewhat jazzed up from the trip and seeing each other in a foreign land, we stayed up till three o'clock, talking and catching up on each other's lives. As Grace only had one bed at her place, she left it to us and hopped on her scooter to buzz back to Jack's.

We exhaustedly fell in to bed and fell asleep, with visions of eating kimchii the next day dancing in our heads...

Photos at this link: http://picasaweb.google.com/richbailey911/KoreaJune2009#

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Sunday, June 14, 2009

A mini reunion!

When we went on that thatch roof project, we got to know one of the other volunteers, Saori, a nursing student here in Tokyo. We had a really good time practicing each other's languages, spreading manure on the rice fields, and eating lots of good food.

It turns out her nursing school is just a few stops past ours on the Chuo line, so have met her twice now after school down at the Starbucks by the train station. She is helping us with our Japanese, and she is fun to be with. The second time, this past Wednesday, we decided to get some dinner and decided to try the ramen shop that Joan's farmer friends had recommended.

It was good ramen but not killer ramen. We have asked her to join us for other meals; that way she can be our translator and guide to the mysterious restaurants in our neighborhood! We'll keep you posted on our eating adventures...

A busy weekend in Japan


The weather forcast was good for the weekend, so we decided to go for another long day hike picked from our guide book. We picked a medium one that started from Kita-Akikawabashi up to the Hossawa no Taki (Hossawa waterfall). We stopped by the 90-year old post office that still functioned but also had double duty as a wood carver's shop.

The hike itself wasn't anything spectacular - just a nice opportunity to get out of the city and go for a long hike in the humid weather. Josie, a fellow teacher, will be creating another movie/slide show that I will post when available.

Sunday was supposed to be rainy, so we had plans to hang around the house and catch up on stuff, but it dawned bright and sunny. Joan wanted some plastic fencing for the beans in her garden to climb, so we biked down to J-Mart, a large home/garden center with limited groceries and department store stuff. Joan also tried on a hat!

On the way back, we found a little farm/orchard that was selling kiwis for a very good price! We have been a lot of them with our granola, but the supply and prices are not great. Joan plans on making this a regular stop. She even had me take her picture at the stall.

Then, as we are planning a camping trip to Hokkaido Island, we decided to go to Shinjuku, one of the busier shopping hubs in Tokyo to some large camping/outdoor stores to comparison shop. We have ordered some stuff from REI, and a friend is bring it over, but shoes are hard to choose without trying them on. However, even if things are in our sizes, the prices are almost double! REI here we come...

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Links to some of our experiences...

If you have been reading the blog, you know about our trips out to the mountains to help Kevin and Tomoe with the roof thatching and rice planting.

Here are some interesting links from his blog:

A Night Out on the Town!

Yesterday, Saturday, was a rainy, slow day. Since we were still out of internet (solved today, thank goodness!), I had spent most of the afternoon at the university, catching up on emails and uploading photos. As Joan had been invited to one of her adult student's ukelele concert, we had decided to go out for dinner.

At first, we had thought of going to the "kaiten" (converyor belt) sushi restaurant again, but I
made a case to go to one of the smaller restaurants just by our apartment building that we have not been to. We debated about which one to go to but just went with the closest one since we plan on going to all of them anyways.

We walked in and immediately realized it was a "greasy spoon" diner. There were a handful of locals, sitting at the two tables and watching baseball, who looked surprised to see to foreigners. The proprietor indicated that we should take a seat at the stools in front of the counter and handed us menus. We laboriously read the hiragana (Japanese alphabet) and katakana (modified alphabet for foreign words) names of the dishes and figured out they had ramen. Joan did not want that dish and so worked with the lady to decide on rice and fish (gohan to sakana).

The prices were really cheap, but we were a little skeptical about the food based on how the place looked. The lady bustled around her kitchen space right in front of us, pulling Joan's fish out of the fridge and plopping it on the grill. She heated up the large pot of water and quickly
dumped in my ramen noodes. Joan's rice bowl was filled, along with another smaller one of miso soup. My noodels came out and were topped with chopped green onion, seaweed, pork, and bamboo. Before we new it, the dishes were slid in front of us, and she indicated for us to tuck in.

Luckily are initial imperssions were quite wrong, and the food was delicious. I need to go back to the ramen master down the street for a taste comparison because this lady's ramen was killer!

Quite full and pleased, we paid our bill and explained who we were and where we lived. It was interesting to find that they knew all about our apartment buildings, where it was, and that is was full of foreigners. I
guess that is not too suprising; there are not too many foreigners here, and the building has been there for years.

With some time to spare, we walked around the neighborhood, down small side streets and alleys, peering into people's yards. The Japanese style of landscaping and architecture is really interesting. We met an old lady walking her incredibly cute dog and got some good animal time while trying to chat with her in Japanese.

Then we had to pick up the pace to make it to the concert on time. It was being held at the driving school, which is between our place and the university - maybe a five-minute walk. I think it is a private business in a large building it shares with others, but out back is a fairly large
driving course of condensed roads and intersections.

The concert was held to raise funds for orphans (at least that's what we think it was for), and donations were collected at the door. There were three groups, all wearing matching Hawaiian shirts and dresses, and they played wonderful Hawaiian, Okinawan, and Japanese music. It was a very pleasant hour and a half. The man with his head in a driver's license was the MC of the
show and the representative of the driving school.

After the show, we slowly walked to the grocery store to some supplies and ice cream! It was a very nice evening overall. It felt good to get out of the house and do something in the community.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Big City Lights

Joan's blogging about gardening, vegetables/food, and farming in Tokyo has opened an interesting window for her.  I saw an ad in Metropolis magazine looking for writers for a new environmental organization called Greenz and encouraged her to show them her blog, Popcornhomestead, and "apply" to be a blogger for them.  They liked what they read and asked her to come in for an interview in Shibuya, a busy area that has the insanely crowded street crossing that is often featured in pieces about Tokyo.  They liked what they heard and invited her to be a blogger for them!  She is currently working on her first piece about our roof thatching trip over Golden Week.

Greenz just launched their new web page and had a party to celebrate it.  We decided to skip our Thursday night Japanese class and go.

We got a late start and did not plan on the size and complexity of Shibuya!  If not for the iphone,
 we would have been even later.  We used the iphone like a GPS to find us on googlemaps and lead us to the restaurant.

It was the usual hot, sweaty, and smoky event full of people trying to be hip and network.  We had a good time talking to another blogger, a Swedish man who has written a book about organic food in Japan, a graphic designer, and a funeral director who is promoting 'green' funerals.  It was very cool.  Joan, I did not realize until later in the evening, was extremely nervous about the whole thing, in terms of meeting people 'professionally.'  I went to put my hand on her back, and it was drenched with sweat.  I looked at her with concern, and she whispered, "I'm really nervous.  I'm sweating like a pig."

The "It's a Small World" moment happened when we randomly struck a conversation with a guy who does web design.  Through the usual chatter, we discovered that his college roommate was a guy we know in Michigan, Matt Demmon, one of the three guys I have been doing controlled
burns for the last couple of years.  How random is that?

After we escaped from the event into the cool night air, we walked around Shibuya a bit and enjoyed the lights and activity.  It makes us realize, again, that our little corner of Tokyo is very quiet and residential.  On the crowded train back, the number of people decreased until we got to Musashisakai. 

It was nice to see some of the big city.  It made us remember that we are in Tokyo!  It is very easy to get caught up in our own little world and
 forget exactly where we are...

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Published writer!

Couchsurfing.com has it's own news page called News Channels.  It has information and stories about couchsurfing from all over the world.  I wrote a piece about our first couchsurfer and sent it off about two months ago.  I heard nothing until just the other day, when I received an email telling me they were going to put it up on their page!

I am sure not everybody in the couchsurfing world goes to this link, but it still feels pretty anyways...

Here is the link:

Click on the link for The Couchsurfing Tour Guide under "CouchStories - Tales from the Sofasphere."

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

International Dinner Party (and more)

We have been hosting many couchsurfers recently, and it has been nothing but fun.  Everyone has been really interesting and a joy to be with!

Let's see... there was Serazer, the Turkish woman studying for her PhD in film at St. Andrew's College in Scotland who came for an international film festival.  It was canceled due to swine flu, but she and many others had nonrefundable tickets and decided to come anyways and have a "shadow" conference.

Then there were Pablo and Juan, two architectural university students traveling around the world for seven months, visiting all the famous buildings and structures.  They had worked and
 saved for three years for this, and they took advantage of their time here.  It was exhausting to hear their stories.

Finally, Karim and and his son, Emyric, from France.  Emyric had fallen in love with Japanese culture as a boy and was now studying Japanese at his university.  He organized his own
 exchange program in Japan and was going to travel around and stay with Japanese families.  He and his father were taking a two-week trip that included Hokkaido Island.  I brought him to my International Relations class who delighted with his Japanese.  I left him in the tender hands of some of the girls after class to go to lunch.  I think it went well!

Who's next?  Australian guy, with Finnish girlfriend, who is a couchsurfing 'ambassador' down under, followed by Claudia from Brazil.  Whew...

Random green thoughts

I went for a run today along the biking/walking path that leads to the park north of us.  As I was plugging along, I was idly looking around and thinking about this and that. 

I was struck again by the lack of mowing here.  Most parks are too well used to need mowing anyways.  However, around the edges and other quiet corners, the grass and weeds grow shaggy.  I am not sure if I have seen or heard a lawn mower as of yet.

The Japanese seem ok with that.  Why they are quite tidy and will spend sweeping the street gutter in front of the house, they don't seem to have the need to conquer and subdue nature to the extent that we do in the States.

The yards, which are very small, are usually full of shrubs and flowering bushes or wall-to-wall gardens.  There is almost no unused land to be found.