Saturday, July 31, 2010

The Final Leg of my Vacation in Japan

We left Nagasaki early in the morning and made our trip back to Fukuoka.  After only a few days in Nagasaki it felt like my home away from home.  The people there were to kind to us and did their best to make us feel at home.  If I ever go back to Nagasaki the hostel is the only place I will stay.  Eventually we got back to our hostel in Fukuoka and made our way around the city.  Tried to make our way around the city is more like it.  The bus system in Fukuoka is confusing as hell for foreigners and made it ridiculously difficult to get anywhere.  We went to the open fish market and then ended up at a place called Canal City (shockingly named for the canal that sits directly next to it) and did a bit of shopping to round out our evening.  We eventually made our way back to the hostel, made a few new friends from Holland and exhaustedly fell asleep.

Our hostel in Fukuoka

Beautiful crab on the open market.  1500 Yen is
roughly equivalent to about $15.

Some of the biggest shrimp I have ever seen.

Little teapots specifically for tea.  So cute!

This day was our touristy day.  We walked all around the city and attempted to master the bus system.  After massively failing we went back to canal city to do some more souvenir shopping.  We did lunch at a rotating sushi restaurant.  I know, I couldn't quite figure out what it was either until I saw it but the description "rotating sushi restaurant" actually does it justice.  There is a tiny conveyor belt that goes around the bar seating in the restaurant.  It has plates of fresh sushi on coordinated plates.  If you like what you see you take the sushi off the belt and keep your plate when finished.  They tally your bill to the varying colored plates you chose.  Ingenious!  We eventually ended up back at our hostel and found out we were sharing it with a group of guys who ALSO teach English in Korea!  What are the odds.  Late night movie watching and talking about our jobs rounded out our night.

A shrine on the way to the canal.

Canal City

The rotating sushi restaurant in all its glory

California roll

The different prices for the different colored plates

This was our long awaited beach day.  An entire day of doing absolutely nothing but soaking up the sun with my ipod and a good book.  We went to Momochi beach and did nothing but turn over every 30 minutes.  Yes we could have done more sightseeing but it was a vacation.  Exactly what we needed.  We stopped on the way back at Fukuoka Tower (one of the highest points in Japan) and did the touristy thing.  Raechel (one of the girls I went on the tirp with) and I went out with the fellow teachers that evening.  We rounded out our night in a Noraebong and ended up walking home with a perfect view of the sun rising over the buildings.  It is a sight I will not soon forget.

Fukuoka Tower

A hotel on Momochi Beach

Some of the fellow teachers from Korea we met at our hostel

Peace signs are big in Japan too...clearly.

Our last day in Japan was spent lugging our baggage around and trying to get to the airport.  We did a few last touristy pictures and ended up at the airport with more than 5 hours to spare.  A long nap on the most uncomfortable bench imaginable and the worst sandwich ever created later...we successfully made it on our plane and headed back to Pohang.

After spending an entire week in a different country I appreciate Pohang a bit more.  Here I can understand some of what is said and written.  I can have minimal conversations and actually have someone somewhat understand me.  I feel connected to the culture here and with the people as well.  Japan is a beautiful country to visit and in time I am sure I would feel the same way about it as I do about the 'Hang but for now it is Pohang that is home for me.

I never thought the phrase "it feels so good to be home" would refer to a South Korean country...but for me it now does.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Last of Nagasaki

[My vacation seems to be speeding up instead of slowing down.  1 week is just not enough time to properly see a country like Japan.  We are only spending our time between two cities and I still feel like we aren't giving either the time they really deserve.  So much to little time to do it in]

After our long night at Kendall's Bar a solid sleep in was desperately needed.  We took a ferry to the nearby island of Ioujima and ended up at a spa.  It was included in the price of our ferry and we figured it was worth a shot.  Now, when most Americans think of the word "spa" activities like massages, pedicures and facial masks come to mind.  Not in Japan.  Here a "spa" means to walk around naked with other women, get in and out of pools of boiling hot water and feel as uncomfortable as humanly possible while the Japanese women stare you down.  If this sounds like your cup of tea then a Japanese or Korean spa (so i'm told) is for you.

The small island where we had our "relaxing" spa day

Frances and Linds taking a break on our ferry

Our ferry
The beautiful view from our beach

After the relaxing (not) spa we took in a leisurely stroll on the beach and made our way back to Nagasaki.

One more day in Nagasaki and then it's off to Fukuoka.  I sure hope "little Tokyo" can live up to the hype.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Beginning of Nagasaki

[After a relatively uneventful bus ride (complete with a toilet for use en-route) we made it to Nagasaki.  Here is a quick little play by play of the first two days of the Japan experience]

After a 2 hour bus ride we finally made it to Nagasaki.  After finding our hostel (which included a few wrong turns and LOTS of stairs) we quickly unpacked and then made our way to the tall boats festival.   Think Pirates of the Caribbean only bigger and with better flags.  Boats everywhere from all different countries including Korea and Russia.  We found a booklet for stamps from each ship and began attempting to get stamps from them all.  We got 7 out of 8 (not bad) and were able to get on a Russian boat and take a tour.  Not only were we able to take a tour but we were able to take a tour on a boat where all of the sailors were shirtless, attractive and spoke with an accent.  Triple threat. After the Russians stole my heart we ate dinner at a restaurant called Lekker.  By far the best food I have eaten since leaving the good old US of A.  Rounding out our first night in Nagasaki was a ridiculous show fireworks.  All in all not a bad start to my Japanese vacation. 

One of the tall boats in the festival

Group shot of me and the girls

Sunset shot of the Russian boat

A beautiful sunset

The boats at night

This is the day of doing all things cultural and tourist-like.  We bought an all-day tram pass and began our tour of the city.  Our first stop was the Nagasaki ropeway that gave us a 360 degree view of the city.  I took plenty of pictures but I have a feeling that even those won't be able to do it justice.  We then went to Chinatown for the afternoon for souveniers and chinese food.  I know, chinese food in Japan, we get the irony. 

Frances and Raechel in the ropeway car

Just one of the spectacular views from the ropeway car

Our view from the top of the ropeway.

With the girls in front of the night skyline backdrop

Oura church, Japans oldest catholic church, was our next stop on our cultural tour of the city.  I try and go to at least one Catholic church in each country I visit so that I can see the differences that each country brings to the religion.  I also like to get a rosary for my mom in each country as well.  Sort of a little tradition I have started since I began my love affair with traveling back in '09.

Japan's oldest Catholic church "Oura"

Mother Mary

The atomic bomb epicenter was one of our last stops for the day.  To actual see the destruction that your own country did to another is unreal and impossible to explain.  Hundreds of thousands of people were instantaneously killed with the majority being women, children and senior citizens.  The epicenter and the Peace Park both pay tribute to the many that lost their lives and give hope to the country that something like this will never again happen to Japan, or any other country.  It was a sobering experience that I will not soon forget.

A remnant of a wall after the blast.  It was brought
to the peace park years later.

Hundreds and hundreds of peace cranes

The date and time off the attack on Nagasaki

The sculpture of a woman attempting to shield her dying
child from the atomic blast

To round out our night I was finally able to ride my ferris wheel.  Ever since we began our planning for this trip one of my must-dos was to ride one of Asias largest ferris wheels.  I can now check that off my list.  We ended up at an American bar that was ran by a man named Kendall.  We felt right at home with his easy-going attitude and familiar American bantering.  After missing the last tram back to our hostel, we spent the majority of the night at Kendalls and made friends with a geisha, a Japanese man named Matsumoto and got the rest of the crowd involved in singing Kareoke.  Let's just say that the YMCA holds new meaning for me today.

As you can see Japan is quickly becoming a place I love.  With 5 more days I can only imagine what kind of shenanigans we can get ourselves into before we inevitably make our way back to South Korea.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Japan Baby!

[We have arrived in Japan!  It has been a whirlwind of sightseeing and amazing food.  It is hard to believe that a country that is so close to Korea can be so different.  While there are similarities the differences are noticeable enough to make me pause and remember that I am just not in Korea anymore.  There will be much more to come later to chronicle my time in Japan but here is a little to get me started.]

Top 5 differences between Korea and Japan

1.  Fathers are MUCH more a presence.  In Korea, dads seem to come out on weekends to spend time with their children.  In Japan, dads are everywhere.  They seem to spend much more time with their children during the week. 

2.  The Japanese have taken a page from the rest of the world and drive on the opposite side of the road.

3. Whoever invented vending machines is now ridiculously wealthy largely due to the Japanese.  Everything and anything is sold in vending machines.  When I say anything I do mean...ANYTHING.  A few of the noteworthy are: alcohol, bugs, swimsuits and underwear

4.  In Korea swimsuits are not generally worn at the beach.  It is becomming more popular with the younger generations but is still not widely accepted.  In Japan swimsuits are worn by all age groups.  Bikinis included.

5.  The Japanese do not maintain eye contact.  If you happen to make eye contact with someone they will immediately avert their eyes.  This happens in Korea but is taken to a new level in Japan.

We will go to Nagasaki on 7/25 and will stay until 7/28.  There are many things on our to-do-list so we will see if we manage to cross them all off.  Included in the list is Oura church (I have started buying rosaries for my mom in every major city I visit), Atomic Bomb Museum, Peace Park, Asias 2nd largest ferris wheel and so much more! 

With 6 more days in Japan...there is more to come!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Water, Capes and Hiking

[And the countdown for Japan begins.  In 9 days I will be on a plane to Japan for one week of uninterrupted vacation time.  NO itty bitties.  NO schedules to make.  NO playing referee to who put glue in whose hair.  Just Japan, my girls and me.]

#116.  It is rare for most Koreans to use soap when washing their hands.  For some reason they think that using water will kill whatever germs are on their hands.  Maybe this is why I do not drink Korean tap water.  If it can kill germs I want no part of it.

#117. Koreans absolutely hate the rain.  Now, I dislike the rain as much as the next person but God forbid it rains in Korea.  Out come the oversized umbrellas.  Running as fast as humanly possible to get out of the rain (in high heals mind you).  Constantly checking their hair to make sure it is still stick straight and coiffed correctly.  No thank you.  I will use an umbrella but if I get wet so be it.  It's just  water folks.We're not in the Wizard of Oz.  Melting is not a side effect.

#118. The majority of the Korean population can't swim.  Let me give you an example.  Over the weekend we went hiking and ended up at a waterfall where the boys took a casual swim.  The water was as deep as any average pool.  Some shallow parts.  Some deep parts.  As the boys waded further in where they could no longer touch the bottom the Korean onlookers (yes we always draw a crowd) started screaming for them to get out.  "No Swimming!  Danger!  Get out!"  Well to all of you scardy-cat Koreans, maybe we foreigners learned how to swim when we were babies and can doggie paddle just fine.  Until you see us flailing our arms for help just continue watching in awe as to how the crazy foreigners can remain alive while submerged in water.  Thanks.

#119.  Korean women wear full makeup, leg warmers, tights and even the casual cape to the gym.  It's sort of a bad throwback to the 80's that now incorporates the desire to be a super hero while hitting the treadmill.  Korean style exercising at its finest.

So as #118 said I went hiking over the weekend.  Not only did I go hiking but I did it in flip flops.  With a newly healed ankle.  Not my brightest move.  When we were planning on going for a day trip to a few temples and waterfalls I naively assumed that it was a casual walk where flip flops would be acceptable.   2 hours later at the second waterfall I realized just how wrong I was.  It was unbelievably worth it (pretty sure the pictures prove that) but my legs have never been as sore as they were the following day.

Tip of the day:  When you are going to participate in an activity that remotely SOUNDS athletic wear tennis shoes.

The 2nd waterfall

The boys taking turns doing dives

Tim testing his lucky by jumping off of a 30ft cliff

Beautiful temples everywhere

A wishing tree--the black tablets at the base is a wishing tablet.
Whatever you write down, the monks of the temples will pray for you.

Gorgeous temple

A Buddha tucked up in one of the hills of a trail

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Kids College Kiddies

So I apologize in advance for my lack of actual writing but the past few weeks have been crazy.  Here are a few more pictures while I get my ducks in a row.