Korea and first days in Japan

Sitting in tight Ryokan room in Tokyo, I decided to try to describe my Korea and Japan experience up to now.

Korea was a shock, I expected civilised city (it’s the world’s second largest metropolitan area by population). Train from Incheon airport was sterile-clean. Finding our love motel (best accomodation for us – everything from condoms to drinks, tea, shower and large bed was in the room) was quite difficult. It was located in Insa-dong, quite a posh area with lots of shops, cafes and life. When we got out of Jongo-3-dong station, we saw lots of dirt on the streets, dead pork heads in boiling water smelling around quite bad and tons of drunken Korean people around. Not a best experience to start with. Add to it, that we tried to eat something and what we got was the worst combination of bad taste ever. Pork bones in spicy soup, rice and stuff like that. Anyways, there were some really nice places around. On Friday morning, we left for DMZ (de-militarized zone) tour that showed us the demilitarized area around border with North Korea. It was very well done. We saw the infiltration tunnel, that they dug and that was prepared for infiltration of South Korea with North army. This was the third one and was discovered in 1978, but the last one was discovered in 1990 (the fourth if I remember correctly) and there are probably others not yet discovered. In 2000, there was first mutual talk with North Korea about building a train connection, so the families can reunite. The South part was open in 2002 and it is Dorasan station. North part was opened later, but the trains are only for supplying medical and other kinds of help from South to North. People can’t use it. Quite a sad story still. Then we went to the observatory, where we could see the industrial area in North Korea, that was built and is still operated mostly by South Korea. It is a sign of cooperation, but a poor one. Then there is “propagation village”, which is a set of buildings without windows, which should look like a modern village. The south counterpart on the opposite of the border is “freedom village”. There was a small stupid race about which country has their flag higher, the South did give up and north have the highest national flag in the world. Stupid. Our tour guide (Sun) was really great, she spoke fluent English (she had a family in LA and she spoke better than me). She took us to a Gimbap restaurant (Gimbap is a korean name for Sushi rolls). This time the food was great and we had a good time chatting with Sun. After that we went asleep, looking forward to meet Katka and Hugh. We first met Mike, their friend from Toronto. They were a little bit late, but anyways, it was fun, we went to Korean pub and drank some Soju (kind of not-so-strong korean vodka, tasted good) with Cider (local version of Sprite). Laura had a local beer. Next day we did some eating, shopping, talking and Katka and Hugh showed us around Seoul. The nicest part was the night market with lots of stuff. Except for the smell of boiled bugs, it is like a burnt plastic. Disgusting I must say. On Sunday, we went shopping again (everyone got new shoes, even me, the black ones, I hope they won’t be as shitty as my previous Vans shoes). Lots of sushi (not-so-traditional, california rolls:). We said goodbye to Katka & Hugh (will meet them in few days on Jeju). Travel for Tokyo was quite a pain, not so much sleep, too much of things packed (that’s the worst thing about shopping in an opposite part of the world: you have to carry the stuff around).

Anyways, we landed in Narita airport, took train to Tokyo and here we are. Walked around, had a Sushi in a traditional restaurant (picture will be somewhere on my blog sooner or later) and went to see the electronic district. Lots of gizmos – laptopts from wallet-sized to TV-sized, cameras, players, … Lot of different models. The ones that I knew were cca the same price as in Slovakia, but there were some second-hand shops with probably better deals. The only thing I brought was an electric outlet adapter, after four times in the States, I finally have one for Northern America and also Japan (they use the same type). So my Eee PC is charging and while doing it, it charges my cellphone (and sometimes iPod) via USB. I will save this blog to the phone, grab some free wifi and upload it sooner or later to soup.io. Internet here is scarce, I can see _no_ wifi network here, strange that this can happen in Tokyo. There is a free computer with internet here, but it’s limited to 20 minutes of use (so I chat and twitter and check e-mail) and I can’t upload this there. Anyways, the Ryokan is very small form of accomodation – even smaller than American Dream Hostel, where we stayed with Wilder and Woody in New York. Basically, … why describing it, I will upload the picture. Anyways, we should be really silent at night, the walls are probably made of paper (very thin), computer is turned off at this time and no more free tea. Ah, free tea is everywhere – in Ryokan, Sushi restaurants, everywhere. It’s not usually green tea, mostly mixed with puckle wheat. In sushi restaurant, it was in a form of Matcha (powder tea). I prefer pure Sencha (japanese whole leaf green tea) or Matcha (green powder tea), but it’s better than nothing and it’s free. One of the employees of our Ryokan asked us if we were Czech, we said that we are from Slovakia. He said, that he was in Bratislava and even recalled some details. He thought, that people are not so friendly in Asia (esp. in Japan, where almost noone speaks English). Our findings are quite the opossite – even when people don’t speak English, they try to help. One guy told us (using hands and mimics) not to go to restaurant, where we wanted to go – it was not so good. There was one woman in a subway station, climbing up the stairs, coughing and evidently feeling not very well. I asked if she wants some help, she said Arigato several times, but then said, that a woman (namely Laura, who has “beautiful face”) should have asked her, because it’s not polite in Japan for a man to help woman. Or maybe to only carry her up. Anyways, she asked the obvious question and said, that she was in Czech or Slovak republic for some Karate tournament. Or something like that, she was just moving her hands and feet and sometimes remembered some english words. But she thanked us all, said that the hospital is very near and she will make it herself. People were _very_ helpful in Korea too, so I have to tell this to the guy from our Ryokan. There’s a traditional japanese bath here in hostel, but we have to book it. It could be quite difficult, because I don’t know when we get back each day. We have quite a rich programme for tomorrow, Katka & Hugh gave some recommendation and Tomas prepared some interesting things to see. Wednesday is the anime museum (Gibli) and maybe Harajuki (that’s a weird place for “Gwen Steffani-like fashion”). Ginza – the Times Square of Tokyo. It is much more interesting than Times Square itself, much larger, lots of lights. Tomas did some pictures, so you will see that later. Not so interesting, but nice looking. People here look like manga characters and I hear the manga characters speak every time I hear some announcement in the subway. This is a manga place, a weird, weird modern world. I hope to see some “tradition” and history later in Kyoto. That’s all for now folks, I hope I’ll write some other part later. (BTW: after I set up ActiveSync with my Zimbra account and then later disabled it, I can’t make my mobile e-mail client work, so I use Zimbra mobile. It’s quite nice, but I can’t queue e-mail messages to send later, which is a shame, because that would make blog and image posting much easier. And it does not support sending of attachements, so I can’t send images at all at this time, so I twitpic them).


Written by Juraj Bednár //