Wednesday, January 5, 2011

A Messy Return

I'm back in Ojika after a week in South Korea and I had a blast. I spent about five days in Seoul and about a day and a half in Busan. In Seoul, I traveled with a friend from here and her sister, who is a teacher in South Korea. We did a lot of eating, shopping, eating, walking, eating, sightseeing and eating. Turns out, Seoul has a lot of foreign food and Korean food itself is delicious, so I was in heaven because I had grown tired of the same old grub I make every day on the island. In Seoul, I ate this really cold North Korean dish (I guess that's how the North Koreans do their food) and a lot of Subway sandwiches. Busan was where I got to try Korean barbecue (the Japanese have something similar where you can grill your meat at the table) and bibimbap. Bibimbap is a layer of rice and then topped with separated portions of vegetables, maybe some meat and an egg. You then mix it all together with this paste and eat it straight up. It was so good that I had to replicate it when I got home. Of course, mine kind of ended up looking like dog food but it was still good.

Travel in South Korea was incredibly easy. I know I am making a broad generalization here but people in Seoul speak English quite well. I was impressed. I know that outside of the capital is probably a different story, but still. I took a train to and from Busan and I had no problems with my flights to and from Seoul back to Japan. Although transportation in Korea was pretty flawless, it was great to return to Japan, where I understand more of the language. When necessary, I can make myself understood. However, it was when I returned to Japan that I hit a rough patch. From Fukuoka (the closest Japanese city to Korea), I had to take an evening express train at 9:30. There was a family sitting in front of me and about 30 minutes into the train ride, their 12-year old daughter voms on the train. She must have shown no warning signs because it was definitely not an organized sickness, with a plastic bag or some kind of receptacle. This was one of those where the mother is on her hands and knees, trying to scrub the mess with napkins and paper towels while the father looks on. They ended up just moving the family to different seats - unlike the rest of us trapped in the car. I kept praying that my iPod battery wouldn`t die so that I wouldn`t have to sit in silence with the smell. There was also a crazy lady to my right who kept doing a bunch of strange things with her hands and I couldn`t help but think of the Canadian greyhound bus where one passenger murdered and dismembered another random passenger. I scooted over in my seat and created a cereal-box buffer wall with my backpack.

After I arrived in Sasebo city with my life and body parts intact, I stayed at a hotel and woke up in the morning to catch the ferry back to the island. New Years is huge in Japan. It`s their Christmas. Everyone and their brother were trying to go to the islands to return home or to visit their family so the ferry was packed to capacity. Once you sat down, you couldn`t change your position because it was too crowded. There were people sitting in the halls and luggage was in the walkways. Organized chaos. Apparently, that ferry was going to Ojika come hell or high water because the ferry trip included both of those. I have never been on a ship that rocked so much in my life. I was leaning against my bag and the ship was lurching so much from the high waves that my body and stomach kept involuntarily rolling over. Among the passengers, you have several who don`t usually ride ferries since they live on the mainland. So, just an hour into the trip, a guy starts making continuous trips to the bathroom to throw up loudly, in the bathroom sink. Now, I`m no vomit expert, but I have seen a few people throwing up in bathrooms in Japan so far and I have seen none of them go to throw up in toilets - only in sinks. That seems highly unsanitary to me for a nation that insists on having a different pair of shoes for everything to maintain cleanliness. It also makes me want to carry a miniature bottle of Windex and paper towels with me whenever I use a public sink. I was overjoyed when we docked in Ojika and I had to fight the urge to elbow the elderly and children out of my way to get off the ferry first. As I stepped off the ferry, that was the first time I had ever seen it snowing/hailing in Ojika. The ground was white! I was so annoyed and felt so nauseous that I couldn`t appreciate the snow/hail, since I had to trudge uphill from the ferry terminal to my apartment with all my luggage strapped to my back.

Okay, like everyone else, I am going to make a breakable New Years resolution. My resolution for 2011 is to learn more Japanese. I'm terrible and it`s a reachable goal. I have been picking up more and more phrases that people say, so that has to be some kind of a sign. It's not an easy language to learn. You run into other foreign English teachers who studied abroad in Japan, studied Japanese in college and speak it well and they talk about how important it is to learn the language. I agree. I don't walk up to everyone and get upset when they can't understand my poor Japanese (although I have had a couple of frustrating encounters where I just had to walk away). But I also envy the structure in which these other English teachers learned the language. I'm doing this on my own, with help from a few friends along the way. Also, my goal for January is to not eat any chocolate. I`m just doing that to test my willpower. I`m on my 6th day and having serious withdrawal symptoms. Someone get this girl a Snickers.