Not yet

So I jumped the gun slightly. Our BOE has the applications on hand for the three new ALTs in our area, but they’re waiting for the reply forms to come in before they contact the ALTs. That didn’t stop me from going through and noting pieces of info on each of them to pass on to interested ALTs, though, since the chances of someone backing out at this point are generally low, but of course I won’t actually do anything. Everyone’s really curious and excited.

I also called No. 1 Travel today to inquire into a one-way ticket from Osaka to Atlanta–and I teared up while doing so. I wasn’t expecting that, but at the same time, it wasn’t a complete surprise either.

I spent an hour drafting an e-mail in Word to send to my successor, and thinking about Ikeda and Miyoshi-shi and Japan and my job and life here in an objective way and in terms of what a new ALT would probably want to hear made it all more therapeutic, being able to objectify it and think more about helping the new person adjust, and taking the emphasis off me. It was only after that that I realized we were still waiting on the reply forms, but it was nice to get that out of the way.

But…yeah. I have a successor. And it’s not just some random entity–it’s a person with a face and a life and interests and hobbies. This is definitely starting to feel very real, and very surreal, all at once.

I got my successor’s information today.

My boss also asked me to start looking ASAP for deals on return flights, and to help look for a successor for Chalice, who’s leaving in September.

This is all becoming painfully real.


At 9:03 this morning, I was sitting in the staffroom of my all-Thursday elementary school when the room suddenly shook. I thought it was a nearby truck, until I realized within about three seconds that the shaking was constant, which was when it clicked that it was an earthquake. It was then that the room really started to shake, like some giant had stomped down hard on the ground outside our building, and another teacher and I kind of dove under our desks and waited it out. It ended seconds later, with the whole thing taking around 10-15 seconds.

It turned out to be a magnitude 5.4 quake (measured as a 4 on the Japanese “shindo” scale, which is based more on what people felt rather than the actual scientific measurement; 4 is moderate, and 5 is when things start falling down), and the epicenter of the quake was less than 20 kilometers (12-15 miles) away, under Shikokuchuo City in eastern Ehime Prefecture, just across the border from us. Almost all the Tokushima ALTs felt it (we flocked to our AJET forum and posted as soon as it happened), and it was felt as far away as western Honshu and eastern Kyushu. We ALTs in the west felt it very strongly (Miyoshi and Mima, the area to our east, were the only parts of Tokushima that registered it at shindo 4; the rest registered it as shindo 3 and 2), and it freaked us all out. Nothing fell off the walls and nobody was hurt–though I think the teachers ran into someone who was on his/her bicycle and fell over because of the quake–but it was pretty scary nonetheless.

(Here’s the USGS Current Seismicity webpage for our region. My town is actually within that orange box, on the right-hand edge.)

The thing that really gets me, though, is that there’ve only been two English-language news articles written about this, on the Mainichi and Bloomberg websites. (I haven’t checked any Japanese-language news sites.) The Japanese site of course referenced the location accurately, but Bloomberg referenced it as happening “on Shikoku, across the Seto Inland Sea from Hiroshima.” (Paraphrased. It actually happened across from Okayama Prefecture, to the east of Hiroshima, but few people in the west have heard of it.) Why is it that the articles that make my friends and family send me anxious e-mails checking up on me are always about earthquakes in northern Japan or somewhere near Tokyo (which, as the title of this blog suggests, I am nowhere near), yet the one time we actually have a quake that did have a moderate effect on this part of Japan–and it’s relatively rare compared to how often the north feels earthquakes–the news is strangely silent about it? That’s what we get for living in the sticks, I guess.

Anyway, this is my second week of spending my Thursdays at this elementary school. I taught three consecutive classes today and am still surprisingly awake–I think because of the cup of coffee I had between classes 1 and 2 and because of the apple I had with lunch. I’ve never taught kids this tiny before (on their own and not part of a bigger mixed-age group, anyway), and teaching the first-years this morning (30 minutes after the quake, no less; everyone had settled down and I was still a bit frazzled) was a challenge and made me feel as uncertain as I did in my early months here. The second-year and third-year classes went a lot more smoothly. It’s really cool to see how confident the kids are on their own, and I like that many of them have warmed to me already, though of course there are still a few timid kids. The second-year girls had even made me a ring out of a daisy, and presented it to me when class started! It was a perfect fit for my right ring finger.

I don’t know if I’ve ever talked about the kinds of things I plan for the classes. I’m still not used to planning for really little kids, especially since the projected schedule the school has given me has me working on introductions and greetings for 2 months, but I’ve already done most of what I know how to do, so after this will just be a lot of review. Anyway, every week I add a little more to our starting/ending greetings (going from just “hello!” and “thank you! See you!” last week to “hello, Miss Sumisa! Hello, [other teacher’s name!”] and replacing that with “thank you” for the end. It’s over the first-graders’ heads, but the second-graders are grasping it more quickly and the third-years are pretty much with me; I just need to back it up every week.

I also did an activity (inspired by something I read on with all 3 classes, where I taught them “good morning”/”good afternoon”/”good evening”/”good night” and had them do a gesture for each (sitting up and stretching as if waking up for “good morning,” having them stand and wave with their arms above their heads for “good afternoon” to show the sun was high in the sky, having them stand and wave with their hands parallel to their shoulders to show the sun was lower, for “good evening,” and pretending to sleep for “good night”). The second- and third-year kids really got it, but once again, the first-years kept forgetting. I need to come up with activities that function around the idea that little kids have really short attention spans–this week was really a learning experience for me.

There are also these action-word sheets from that I got a lot of mileage out of during my first year (I would very highly recommend paying the $25/year to have access to their materials, by the way), and I went through those with them last week and have been taking the kids through those again today, since TPR activities are really successful with elementary school kids in general. With the third-years today, though, I skipped that in lieu of having them review their self-introductions–and the kids were so afraid of messing up that they’d written the katakana (phonetic-sounding alphabet) characters for the words on their desks or even their arms to reference, even though I was helping them through everything!

On the whole, it’s going well so far, at this school and otherwise. My junior high schedule has been a bit messed up due to katei houmon, and I went in yesterday right after my morning elementary school and found that our class had been moved up a period, which actually meant I was a few minutes late, so I dropped my bags and dashed to the classroom. I was tired and had a bad headache last night, just from getting used to this very different schedule, but I think I’ll have it down in a few weeks.

I now have less than 3 months until the end of my contract. It’s a scary prospect. The end is in sight, and I’m getting started on networking and job searching, and I’m trying to prepare myself emotionally for when I leave. I’m not looking forward to it–I have a lot to look forward to, with being back in my field and moving forward and being much closer to my family and friends again, but I have a lot I’ll be leaving behind, and very regretfully at that.

Making contact

The open mic night was a lot of fun. It was my first time in many months going out to the city, and it was great getting to see people I don’t hang out with normally. There were a lot of Japanese people there, as well as a big crowd of ALTs, so when I played my three songs (the format was different; it was the Ugly Men (the band in the “midwest” who invites area ALTs out to dinner every Sunday night), then a break during which ALTs could play their own music, then the Ugly Men again) I got a bit nervous, but it was a really warm and supportive crowd. And–Dad will really like this–I volunteered to front the band and sing during “Hotel California” by the Eagles. The band was great, Rob on his sanshin was great (and he had some really fascinating tales to tell about the sanshin and his experiences in Okinawa), all the other ALTs who sang were great…it was a good night.

This afternoon I’m going to either drive up or catch a train up to Takamatsu, because I haven’t spent any time in a sizeable city I’m familiar with in a while–Sally’s up there so it’ll be nice to have some company while wandering around.

I think I’m being hit by a bit of seasonal depression again–not nearly as strongly as last spring, but I’ve been a bit down all week. I’m not sure if I’m homesick or beginning to come to terms with the fact that the end is very nearly in sight, or if I’m feeling a bit of both. I very dearly miss the company of my best friends from Atlanta, and there are times when I miss having a crowd of truly like-minded people to hang with (there are some wonderful people here, but while I consider myself a very liberal person, there are some points I have fairly conservative views about, which are different from many of their views). But different views aside, there’s a great group here…and thinking about the fact that the next flight I board will most likely be my flight to America is a bit painful.

I’m wondering if it was a good idea to put on Contact while tidying up today. The film and the book both move me to tears every time because they encapsulate me so, so well (particularly the film, I think)…I think the last thing I need right now is something to trigger my emotions and set me off, but at the same time, I feel like the message of the film is really relevant to what I’m doing here, especially at this point in my JET career, as I’m beginning my post-JET job search and assessing how it’s impacted me and will continue to from here on out. JET is a stepping-stone for all its participants. For some people, it has a very direct impact on their futures, and it makes them decide to switch gears to go into education or Asian studies or something related to Japan. For others, it has a more indirect influence, and for still others, it doesn’t have much of an impact at all professionally. However, it does impact all of us for better or for worse, and it changes our views of the world and what we want out of life, as well as how we all search for our own answers and our own truths.

The week in review

Huh–I’m really puzzled as to why anyone would e-mail this post to anybody else. It came up in my referral logs, and I’m wondering if somebody I work with has found my blog (it lists the “region” as Hyogo, a nearby prefecture, but the town is listed as Ikeda)…I’m always very conscious of what I write in case that happens, but wow.

Sorry, it’s been a long week as I’ve adjusted to my new schedule and the new groups of kids in my classes. Things look like they’re going to work out well. I was honestly concerned about this new load of classes at this one elementary school, but the kids are adorable and the teachers I work with are great, and I think it’s going to be just fine. I’m adjusting my method of keeping notes so it’ll be a lot easier for my successor to keep everything straight.

I also wanted to address the Virginia Tech shooting…but I really don’t know what to say. I read the news every chance I could get at first but there are some issues I have with how the stories are being reported, and I got a bit overloaded by everything. I was truly shocked and saddened by it–and I was also saddened by the fact that on the very same day, over 170 people were killed in Iraq. It’s so easy to gloss over something happening somewhere we don’t know about, but those people in Iraq who’ve died are just as human as the students and teachers who were gunned down in Blacksburg.

I have to run back to work now, since I’m just home for lunch. There’s an open mic night in Tokushima City tonight, which I’m finally dragging my westie friends out to, and I have a grand total of one song prepared–I foresee lots of hasty post-work cramming to get ready.

Rugby and geeks

Oh, yeah, it’s my 5th anniversary of being a US citizen today. It’s ironic that I’m not even living in the US right now. It was cool being an Indian citizen for most of my life, though of course I identify more with living in the US, but I heard that there was a movement to make all Indians all across the world automatically dual-citizens. That would be wonderful if it happened in our lifetimes–it’d facilitate much easier travel to and from India, for one, and it’s just something cool to claim, that you’re a dual-citizen.

Rugby was fun yesterday–I was going to go today, but I was really tired from yesterday evening. Anyway, as of yesterday, Su-Touch-I, Tokushima’s team, had won one game, tied one, and lost two. It was fun going out there and hanging out with people and cheering our team on, and enjoying the gorgeous day. The mountains from Mima/Mino are so beautiful.

After the tournament ended for the day, we prepared for the huge barbecue. The people who were assigned to cut onions conveniently didn’t, leaving the unfortunate task up to us. I helped out for an hour by chopping and slicing onions with Joey, Pickles, and Kim-chan. Did you know that if you put your tongue on the roof of your mouth, you don’t suffer so much from the onion fumes?

I didn’t think ahead enough to realize that I would totally reek of onions for the rest of the night, especially since I wasn’t staying for the barbecue but heading out east to hang out with people, so I ran home, changed and put on nice-smelling powders and stuff…but it’s been a day and I’ve washed my hands 7 or 8 times since then and even showered and they still kind of smell like onions.

I got to Kiet’s place around 7, and Genna and Victor arrived not too long after, and we kicked off what ended up being a really, really fun evening. I love hanging out with sciency, geeky types (Genna double-majored in English and genetics, and Victor majored in computer science, and I think Kiet majored in an interdisciplinary degree like mine and is fairly computer-savvy), and being with them made me feel like I was back in university; well-rounded scientists are my soulmates. Star Wars and Pirates of Dark Water and geology (because of a Japanese natural-disaster flick we watched, Nihon Chinbotsu/”Japan sinks”) were all discussed at length, during dinner and our subsequent 3-hour poker game.

Seriously, what a great evening.

We wrapped up around 1 AM, and I crashed there and left around 9:30 because Kiet was going hiking. I’ve been pretty zonked out all day, so I’ve just been lazing around my apartment, meaning to clean and doing no such thing.

I did, however, begin the online transition of the AJET officers, adding the proper permissions to this year’s new folks (Jill, Pickles, Josh, and Victor as webmaster) and posting that I’d be removing permissions from this past year’s people this week, and requesting to change ownership of the account. It’s a shame to have to end it…with the exception of moderating childish outbursts on occasion, I’ve really enjoyed it.

TGIF, hard-core

Wow, today was rough. But at least it’s over.

I slogged through my two eikaiwas–for some reason I find it a lot more challenging to teach classes of adults, maybe because they’re all adults and not like my peers. We have a few new people in each–and Sleeping Lady did not come today, which was a huge relief.

As soon as those finished, I ate lunch really quickly, then went to the elementary school, since I didn’t know what time the class started. It turns out I had almost an hour till my class, so I had time to relax and chat with teachers and the kyouto I was already friends with–but there was a bit of a fiasco with the laminator, with two of the hand-drawn world flags I’d made last year getting caught inside (seriously, they went in and just didn’t come out, and it’s a small unit, like 12″x3″x3″) and a teacher burned two of his fingers when trying to extract the laminated B4-sized page (two A4-sized flags in a B4-sized laminating sheet; it came out completely folded up accordian-style). The nurse had to tend to him and he was running his hand under the sink’s water for a solid 15-20 minutes. I feel kind of guilty about that.

I also met the teacher who’s teaching the 5-6nens–she’s just a couple of years older than me, but she’s married and already has two kids. She was really sweet, though. She’s actually from ECC Junior and not from Kumon; that’s actually her last name, and we all were confused.

Anyway, then came the schoolwide introduction in the gym–the kocho had kind of interviewed me in the staffroom, and she introduced both of us and then we did our own self-intros, and then the first-graders left for the day and it was on me to lead games with the rest of the kids. I played two games, which actually went over really well with students and teachers alike, thankfully! (Huge thanks to the JETjapan LiveJournal group for giving me some very awesome suggestions yesterday.) Playing in the gym as compared to a small classroom made a huge difference.

After that was the introductory class for the 4th-graders, which went really well, and the kids are a really good group (there’s one who’s been attending an English juku and was really eager to speak up as often as he could; that kind of situation is tough, where you want to encourage his wonderful English while doubly encouraging the rest of the class to not feel shy about speaking up). I felt my blood sugar taking a nosedive in mid-class and I had to fight to keep my energy up and my focus together, but I slogged my way through the rest of the class successfully.

I came home and went to lie down for a bit, and ended up sleeping for nearly 2 hours. The usual westie crowd went out for okonomiyaki for a couple of hours, and the lady actually brought out vegetable oil for me to use instead of (non-veg) lard, which was cool. Starting classes this week really wore all of us out, so we called it a night after that.

It’s raining now, but hopefully it’ll let up–the weekend-long, nationwide AJET Tokushima Touch Rugby Tournament kicks off tomorrow (heh, “kicks off”–pun not intended). There are over a dozen teams coming from all over Japan–I think the other Shikoku prefectures are sending teams (Ehime definitely is), and most of the rest come from Honshu, though there may be one from Kyushu or something. It’s quite a long way to come for people anywhere east of Kinki/Kansai or maybe Chuubu, so it’s mainly western Japan that comes out, but it’s still a really cool thing, to have so many ALTs from all over Japan congregating less than 30 minutes from here! I’ll be cheerleading for Tokushima (theoretically, though Brian, a former Radical Cheerleader, is actually making pom-poms), so if you read this and are going to be there, come say hi!

Well, it was a good day

A call came in at the BOE at 3PM, and it was from the new Elementary School of Doom (the Double-Length school lost that title upon my realization of how much I actually loved it there once I left)–the one where I’ll be teaching all the students. The kyouto–who’d previously been kyouto at a different elementary school of mine but was switched there during the annual staff change–came by the BOE last week and told me that she’d moved there, and wanted to know when I could come in, and I volunteered to come in this week. I volunteered. I then proceeded to put it out of mind as I got back to what I was doing, and didn’t write it down in my planner or on my calendar.

Anyway, that kyouto called today saying that they’d thought I was coming in, and would I be able to come in the afternoon for a little bit? This was at 3:30 PM. I immediately apologized (while going, “oh, crap” mentally) and said I’d be there ASAP, and left within five minutes, and arrived there just before 4:00. I finally got home around 5:30.

While I’m glad I did spend time at the BOE today, since I spent about half my day planning for tomorrow’s eikaiwas and next week’s intro elementary school lessons, I do wish I’d gone to this school earlier. What I completely forgot about was the obligatory staff introductions and my own jikoshoukai, plus meeting the new kocho. We also had an hour-long planning meeting. I actually am not teaching every student in the school after all–they’ve brought in a teacher from Kumon to teach the 5th- and 6th-years, but as a result, they decided not to combine the 1st- and 2nd-years after all, so I’m still teaching four separate classes. They did already buy a lot of materials and said I probably could just use the same lesson for several classes, though, which will make things much easier–but right now I’m teaching three consecutive classes on Thursdays. (Hopefully, that’s subject to change.)

And on top of that–I’ll be there tomorrow afternoon, and they want me to do a self-intro to the whole school, which is fine, but then they want me to do a 40-minute game class with the 2nd-6th graders. That’s eighty-two kids. And immediately after that, they’d like me to do an intro lesson with the 4th-years! I’m especially glad I stayed at the BOE this morning, then, to iron out my intro plan for next week.

We have an enkai tonight, just across the street, in about 20 minutes. I think I may drink something alcoholic there after all.

A pleasant Thursday

(Happy birthday, Dad!)

The weather’s warm and beautiful today, and I’ve brought out the flip-flops in place of my sneakers. It’s not quite time for the annual wardrobe switch, but it’s quite nice today. For some reason, warm weather takes me back to my first few weeks and months in Japan, and everything feels new and unusual again. It’s a bit disconcerting, but it’s also good, because it gives me perspective on where I am and what I’m doing, and it means I’m not taking it all for granted.

My eikaiwas (adult conversation classes) start tomorrow–and guess who’s back? Sleeping Lady. She’s my one “enemy” in town, after the half-hour verbal fight we got into a year ago after she used me as a human dictionary and was just selfish and self-absorbed the whole time, focusing only on her medical conditions and not on how her behavior was affecting the rest of the class and affecting the teacher. She unfortunately just squeezed into the 10th spot of the 10-person beginners class. My BOE and community center have expressed extreme sympathy over this, because she has a reputation for making trouble like this with whatever she does, evidently.

I’m not looking forward to killing three random hours at my BOE this afternoon, since I can’t really do any more elementary school planning without internet/printer access. I guess I’ll just look busy and figure something out, but for now it’s back to work. We have an enkai tonight (at the restaurant across the street, where Batty Lady works), and tomorrow’s Friday, and Saturday’s the touch rugby tournament (a national one, held about 30 minutes from here) and some other stuff. Things just feel pretty good right now.

What I did on my spring vacation

(Oh, man, this is another mammoth entry…sorry! Just think how much longer it would’ve been if I’d written it in paragraph-form, and count yourselves grateful. Or something.)

I finally remembered to grab the notebook with my bullet-point retrospective during my mad dash to get to work on time this morning (I was ten minutes late, but I did get the notebook). I’m flipping through it and I can’t help but laugh at the fact that I wrote down 2 full pages’ worth of Korean phrases, front and back, and in the end I only ended up using two during the whole trip: “kam sah ham-ni-dah” (thank you–unsure of the proper romanization) and “gogi” (meat–I used this in conjunction with the English word “no” at the Seoul Station Burger King), and I had to fight to keep myself from busting out with Japanese every single time I opened my mouth to talk to a Korean person, too.

I guess it’s kind of a pride issue. I mean, after living in Japan for nearly two years and achieving a more or less pera-pera language level (according to the teachers I work with, anyway; the kyouto-sensei actually said as much during the shokuin shoukai at the nyuugakushiki yesterday, which really surprised me, to the point that I stifled a surprised and self-conscious laugh in front of the whole assembly and on Ikeda cable TV, which had a camera crew there taping it–very smooth), I want to be able to operate as seamlessly anywhere in Asia as I can in Japan, and I want to prepare myself accordingly so I don’t stick out as a blatant tourist and newcomer to eastern Asia. I definitely wanted to try using the language, and I regret that I didn’t, but there was always the point to consider that I had no familiarity with Korean outside of watching KBS segments on NHK, and there was no guarantee I’d understand the responses I’d receive. The same would hold true in any other non-Japanese language in Asia, outside of conversational Tamil in India.

Actually, speaking of languages, do any of you who studied Spanish in high school or watched public TV in the US remember a show called Destinos: An Introduction to Spanish? Someone on the Facebook Destinos group posted a link to a site that has all the Destinos episodes streaming, and I spent some time this weekend watching the first several episodes and reliving so many great memories (I still remember so many nuances about that show–ahh, how natsukashii to see Raquel Rodriguez’s massive shoulder pads and rocking 80s fashion sense and Don Fernando crumpling that letter fifty times again!), as well as recalling a lot of Spanish. I had a great Spanish foundation and can still remember a lot and produce an accurate Spanish accent, and I was able to understand almost everything that was said, which was a really good feeling. Man, what a great show. I actually named my scarlet-colored Toyota Corolla back in the US Rosario, in honor of this show. (I know “Rosario” means “rosary,” but it also sounds like “rose,” and roses are red, and it’s a red car, so…)

Okay, ANYWAY. On to Korea!

Wednesday, March 28:

  • left work an hour early, picked up Julie and went to the Miyoshi Highway Oasis to catch a bus to Matsuyama
  • took the Matsuyama-Kokura overnight ferry

Thursday, March 29:

  • arrived in Kokura, caught a slow train to Hakata (Fukuoka)
  • had a lunchtime hanami at Shofukuji Temple in Fukuoka
  • caught the Kobee hydrofoil from Hakata Port and endured a very, very rocky 3-hour ride to Busan, South Korea – nearly missed our ferry because we forgot about going through immigration in Hakata
  • caught the KTX from Busan to Seoul, after getting our land legs back
  • caught a taxi from Seoul Station to our hostel, the Guesthouse Korea
  • hit up a konbini for a late-night dinnery snack

Friday, March 30 – all around Seoul:

  • met two girls (one Colombian, one Korean) living in Kagoshima (in Japan), who took us to a pharmacy so Julie could buy motion sickness meds for the trip home
  • ran into Sara and Steve that morning (and a chatty British guy, probably in his mid-30s, who shot down the DMZ tour we planned to go on and said it was boring and a waste)
  • had these really delicious veggie foods from a streetside vendor–these little rice-based tubes in a spicy tomato-based sauce, and those fish-shaped anko-filled tarts you can find in Japan, but these were crispy and fresh
  • went to a really cute coffeeshop in Anguk Station for a late breakfast/brunch
  • went to the bookstore next door, where we found lots of hilarious Engrish, and where I finally found the blue-black pens Hamza had requested me to buy for him (the ink is blue in some light and black in others)
  • toured Changdeokgung Palace, the auxiliary-turned-primary palace of the last Korean dynasty
  • caught a taxi to Itaewon, the international (and very touristy) district
  • they went to have bulgogi (Korean barbecue) for lunch, so I had Indo-Pakistani food instead
  • we met up at Starbucks and then wandered the extremely overtouristy street vendor stalls, all selling cheap stuff for too much
  • don’t remember what we did for dinner
  • after 2 unsuccessful attempts to find a karaoke bar (we actually found a male snack bar the first time–lots of hot Japanese-speaking Korean guys, one of whom was watching p*rn in the back room), we found a nice one
  • we tried catching a taxi back to the hostel, but the taxi driver abruptly dropped us off in front of several malls–which was cool, because there were some concerts and stuff going on
  • caught the subway back

* edited, to avoid really nasty Google hits

Saturday, March 31 – DMZ Tour Day:

  • got a late start; I ran to a konbini to get lunch food since I didn’t know what our options would be like, and I ran into the same British dude from the previous day, hereafter referred to as Our Sarcastic British Friend, who asked me if we went clubbing because “you got such an early start today”
  • we were picked up at 11:20 for the tour, and we joined a bunch of Japanese tourists and an Aussie guy named Will, and then we picked up our bilingual tour guide and drove an hour north of Seoul, and suddenly we started driving alongside a barbed-wire fence with guardposts every 200 meters, which was it
  • our passports were checked at the border by a very young- and fresh-looking soldier (South Korean men must serve 2 mandatory years in the military; North Korean men serve 9 and women serve 7)
  • we visited a tunnel the North Koreans had started to dig under the border and into South Korea, with the intent of pouring troops into SK to attack Seoul, until the South Koreans noticed and intercepted it–defectors told SK authorities that there were 20 tunnels built, but only four have been discovered, the most recent in 1991…ironically, the NKs vehemently denied it was theirs at first, but once SK converted it into a tourist attraction and made money from it, NK started demanding to receive some of the profit!
  • we visited an overlook just 400 meters from the actual SK/NK border; it was really foggy, which added immensely to the mood of the setting, but though the terrain was uniform between the north and south, it was really amazing and chilling, realizing that we were looking at North Korea–there was a camera line about 15 feet behind the observation point, and a person stepped ahead of the line and snapped some photos, and immediately a soldier took his camera and deleted the photos
  • Dorasan Station is a unifying station within the DMZ connecting the northern and southern rail lines; there are trains 3 times a day that go there from Seoul, but no further. There are a lot of very optimistic signs and images throughout the station–the architecture is very spacious and light, and there’s a big parking lot under construction, in anticipation of the day when the two Koreas will be united again (there’s a DMZ because they never actually declared peace after the Korean War–just a ceasefire)
  • we also learned that despite the utter separation of the north and south (families torn apart for decades, even), there have been attempts lately for peace, like a factory town in NK that’s staffed by SK workers and that gets free power from SK
  • visited a town of SK citizens living in the DMZ who grow organic goods, and Julie and I bought some brown rice (DMZ-brand brown rice! I’m saving the packaging)
  • returned to Seoul, where we were for whatever reason ferried to an amethyst jewelry gallery where ladies with high-pressure sales pitches tried to push us to buy stuff…very awkward
  • rested up at the hostel for a bit, then hit up the Insadong district, which was wonderful–very artsy and lively and organic, lots of truly authentic and high-quality goods
  • went to Sanchon, a dinner theater restaurant run by a former monk who cooks up a 12-course 100% vegetarian meal (it was delicious), with traditional Korean dance and music for about an hour starting at 8PM

Sunday, April 1

  • Julie went on a Winter Sonata drama tour (WS is the most popular drama in Korean history), so I hung out with Sara and Steve for the day
  • the weather was very, very dusty (dust from the Gobi Desert!), and the sky was yellow–it made all my photos appear sepia-tinted
  • we went to the Jongmyo Royal Shrine, which was a huge temple complex, and which I enjoyed far more than Changdeokgung Palace
  • caught the commuter rail to the 63 Building on the outskirts of Seoul, which is the tallest building in eastern Asia–we went to the top floor and tried to take photos but the dust made everything very hazy; we had lunch at the bottom in the food court
  • had coffee in the Anguk Station coffeehouse for about an hour, just hung out and chatted
  • met up with Julie at the hostel (she had a great time on the tour) and went back to Insadong
  • there was a multistory bazaar of sorts of stores run by independent artists, which had some agreement with the MoMA in NYC–Julie and I went through every single one when Sara and Steve went back to the hostel for Sara’s camera, and I’m amazed I bought as little as I did because there were so many gorgeous pieces there
  • Julie, Sara, and Steve really wanted to have Indian food (I actually would have preferred to have Korean food, haha), so we went to this Insadong restaurant called Little India–it had a great and really relaxed atmosphere, and they served AUTHENTIC CHAPATIS AND MADRAS COFFEE! The curry was mad spicy, though, way too spicy for all of us, especially Julie
  • we wandered the backstreets, taking our time going back, since it was our last night there, and Julie and I said our farewells to Sara and Steve
  • I was accosted by Our Sarcastic British Friend once I got there, and he kept me talking for about 45 minutes…I only realized later that the reason he was talking mainly to me was because he was Indian or at least half, but while he looked kind of dusky, I didn’t pick up on it at all–anyway, he wanted to learn more about JET, but he seemed pretty opportunistic and was trying to ask me how much we make and the like, so I sort of evaded his questions, and ended our conversation by playing the I’m Tired card soon after he described himself as “insidious”

Monday, April 2

  • I woke up Sara and Steve at 7 AM, since their alarms weren’t working
  • Julie and I caught the subway to Seoul Station, and I had Dunkin’ Donuts for breakfast–SO, SO GOOD!
  • we decided to buy Burger King food for the 3-hour KTX train (like Japan’s shinkansen, but much cheaper) to Busan…I actually was mentally prepping myself to fight for veggie food, and I even drew a picture of a burger with the meat on the side at Julie’s insistence, but as soon as I said the word “vegetarian” to the guy behind the counter, he understood, and immediately put in my order for a Whopper with no meat with no problems–a far cry from the pained smiles and hesitation of every single Japanese McDonald’s employee I’ve had the same conversation with! Julie and I had a good laugh about that
  • caught our KTX to Busan, walked to the ferry port and got straight on our JR Beetle hydrofoil back to Fukuoka/Hakata–the ride was much more pleasant
  • when we got into Fukuoka, we shipped off our suitcases to my apartment
  • we totally lucked out and found a great izakaya right outside Hakata Station
  • slight mess-up with the train times, but we caught a 10:15 PM Kamome Express train out of Hakata/Fukuoka and to Nagasaki, and got to our hotel by 12:15 AM – Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey was on TV

Tuesday, April 3

  • breakfast at Royal Host, Japan’s equivalent of Denny’s
  • visited the atomic bomb hypocentre and the Peace Park, bought some drinks and sat under the sakura for a while in the park
  • spent time wandering around
  • headed to Glover Garden in the afternoon, a garden with houses and buildings from the Dutch citizens of Nagasaki–we had tea and cake there to hold us till dinner, and just spent time wandering around…and it was beautiful! Neither of us were expecting a whole lot, I think, but we were very, very impressed, especially by the views the houses gave of Nagasaki Harbor
  • also wandered briefly around the remnants of Dejima, the manmade island the Dutch were confined to during Japan’s period of seclusion (the island has since been incorporated into the mainland)
  • went back to the hotel, went in search of a French/Russian restaurant called Harbin, and a really, really sweet woman named Nou-san (who’d spent time in the US and was really eager to practice her English with us) walked us most of the way there!
  • the restaurant was really fancy–the food was wonderful, and we each had a glass of very strong red wine, but my veggie food wasn’t at all filling and I made the very stereotypical mood of hitting up McDonald’s after we left
  • went back to the hotel, where Michael Keaton’s Live In Baghdad was on, about the CNN crew who was in Baghdad when the US attacked Iraq during the Persian Gulf conflict–a surprisingly good film

Wednesday, April 4

  • Julie and I split up–she left early to head out to Aso and spend the rest of her week in Kyushu
  • I checked out and went to the Genbaku Hakubutsukan (atomic bomb museum)…like Hiroshima, there were some very chilling exhibits there, but I was really turned off by how this museum painted the western allies as the aggressors and said nothing about Japan’s true role in the war–granted, I didn’t pick up the audio guide, and the museum could have been focusing more on the actual atrocities and less on the history, but the history they did present felt very slanted to me, and I left quickly and with a bad taste in my mouth
  • Chalice had recommended a temple, but I got a bit mixed up and didn’t make it out there, but that was okay–did some walking, and the weather was really nice
  • had lunch, got my Starbucks Nagasaki receipt, and got back only to find that I’d just narrowly missed the 1:30 train to Fukuoka/Hakata (by 6 minutes) and had to wait for an hour
  • caught the 2:30…and we got a very clear and incredible view of Unzen and the Shimabara Peninsula that left me truly transfixed and just staring at it for 15 solid minutes
  • after getting into Hakata, I bought some snacks for the shink ride and then caught an eastbound Nozomi
  • caught my local express train in Okayama with no problems (it was the first train out of Okayama I’d been on that was going to split with half the cars going to Kochi via Ikeda (my line) and half going to Tokushima)
  • got home, went grocery shopping, met up with Chalice and Ashley, found a package from Linsday and a postcard from Andy’s trip to Egypt, and Chalice very kindly took me to retrieve my car from the Miyoshi Highway Oasis

(The next day, my suitcases came in, and Chalice and Ashley and I had an afternoon hanami under the sakura in the park right behind our place, and on Saturday I picked up Julie and took her and her suitcase back to Mikamo, and on Sunday, Julie, Brian, Ashley, Brian’s friend Jen, and I had a late-night hanami in the same park, and we all lived happily ever after. The end!)