16 November 2006
After the ferry ride from Fukuoka to Pusan, Korea, I went to the train station and took a fast-speed train to Seoul. Less than three hours later I was on the other side of the country meeting Jen at Seoul Station.
What brought me to Seoul? That’s what I was asking myself on the train. Money is supposedly good in Seoul and after having volunteered for three months, my funds are dwindling. This is my fourth time in Korea and I am always fascinated by the striking differences between Korean and Japanese culture. Often what I find clausterphobic in Japan is completely refreshing in Korea. However, what I usually find unacceptable in Korea is non-existent in Japan. Korea is a developing country in so many ways. It has the pros and cons as such. Even when I got on the ferry, I looked at how quickly the rubbish began to collect on the ground and how dirty the toilets could become in less than six hours. It bothers me that many Koreans have no respect for public cleanliness. I watch the youth throwing wrappers on the ground and old men using the washroom floor as a toilet. In Japan, people are made responsible for anything they want to throw away. People complain of the lack of public bins, but in a sense, it makes everyone feel obliged to take care of their own waste. Since primary school, Japanese youth clean schools and see the importance of keeping things clean for the community. I don’t know quite what happened in Korea.
In Korea, people are very real. They can communicate so well compared to Japanese. I don’t mean communicate in English, but rather communicate amonst each other in such a straight forward way. I am sure there is a lot less miscommunication in Korea. People can easily approach strangers here and have a direct conversation without the formal protocol. It’s so refreshing and fast to communicate in Korea. On the downside, sometimes it seems too much for my own comfort level. What I may interpret as totally rude is often quite normal here.
Now in Seoul I got an amazing paying job in less than a week and I am getting settled into the life I will have for the next few months. I feel like I am selling my soul to Seoul in someways. I need to set up some goals for myself. I think the most important thing for me will be to absorb myself in this Korean life for a few months and to take all the beautiful things from Korean culture that I can. I want to make a lot of friends here and just enjoy my time before I begin to study in Buenos Aires next March. These new experiences tend to prove to me that I am alive and I hope that Korea can do this.
Good-bye Japan…(10 November 2006)
I left Japan after such an amazing time in Kyushu. After Kana and I went back to Fukuoka, I prepared for my departure. We spent the last night at a natto restaurant which served every kind of variety of natto you could imagine.
Natto has been made in Japan since the later years of the Edo Period (1600-1868). Traditionally it was made by packing cooked soybeans in a bed of rice straw and leaving them in a warm place. A bacteria in the straw, Bacillus subtilis natto, feeds off the beans, and turns them into a slimy stinking goop held together by sticky spider-webish strands with an odor that some describe as Oriental limburger. Natto is now made in commercial factories using sterile conditions and clean cultures.
I have really developed a taste for natto over the years. It took this last trip to Japan for me to actually be able to say, “Yes, I LOVE natto.” Before I’d simply say “Yes, I can eat natto.”
I felt really sad to leave Japan. I had spent about 115 days with Kana and I new that leaving would really be saying good-bye to the life I’ve just spent for the last few months. We went to the Hakata Port and I boarded my ferry for Pusan, Korea. It felt so much like a departure on the Peace Boat as the ferry pulled away into the sea, leaving my familiar territory of Japan…
Here is a photo of me aboard the Camelia Ferry en route to Korea. Can you see me waving to Kana in the background?
8 November 2006
I’m home! After Kana and I got to Fukuoka, we re-energised for two days and then headed out further south to get to Kagoshima. As soon as we crossed the border, we jumped out into the sea at Akune. It has been almost a year and a half since I have been to Kagoshima. Living in the prefecture for three years, there is a definite sense of roots here. For me, this is the beginning of Japan. I feel in many ways that I grew up here from knowing nothing about this country to finally learning how to survive and adapt.
We arrived at Dave and Yuki’s house in Fukiage, the town famous for it’s long beach and it’s natural hot springs. The next day we went to my Japanese parent’s house, Hiroya and Tomiko. It was so wonderful to see them, the people who practically raised me in Kagoshima. We went to Ohara festival in the city and watched dancing.
The following day Hiroya took Kana and I in the boat to cruise around Kinko Bay. For me, there is nothing quite as wonderful as boating in the bay. We stopped and went swimming for an hour in the middle of the sea with the view of the volcano, Sakurajima, and the mountains of Satsuma and Osumi Peninsula. What a magical way to return to this land. Despite being November, the water temperature was still mild and we could stay in for a long time bobbing around in the deep sea.
That night I returned to Chiran where I used to live for two years. I met Yoko, Noriko, Shiho, Nacha and her new husband at my favourite local izakaya, Kakashi. Even the owners were surprised to see me. It was great to be back eating the same okonomiyaki that I ate the very first night I arrived in Chiran. Sitting with old friends and enjoying old tastes brought me back to a time in my life when everything was so new and exciting.
The next day Hiroya had an amazing garden party lunch for me with a fantastic mix of people. It was so great to come back to this house and sit with everyone again and mix my friends. Dave and Yuki also came with Kana and I.
After the party Kana, Yuki and I drove to Miyazaki to meet up with Masa and Yasu. We had a great dinner at their house. The next day Yasu had to work but Masa took us to a nice onsen spa where we soaked up the mineral waters and then had a chicken nanban picnic on the beach.
That night we drove back to Kagoshima and I had a chance to see AJ. Although AJ, Masa, Yasu and I have always been the fabulous four of Kagoshima, AJ couldn’t make it to Miyzaki so I had to visit him seperately. We went to an izakaya near his house and talked about everything. It was nice to mix Kana with this old life of mine!
Yesterday was a complete Satsuma frenzy. I wanted to visit all of my old places and had little time. We started off in the beautiful western tip of Satsuma. At my favourite old beach, we went swimming at Bono-tsu. The sea was surprisingly warm but the air was cool. The area around Bono-tsu is so gorgeous. Most of the original forests remain and the see is blue and prystine. I felt happy to show around Yuki and Kana in the place where I used to spend most of my week-ends
After our swim in the South China Sea, we headed off to my old town, Chiran. Having lived here for two years, it was nostalgic to drive by the faces of the young students and recognising them and seeing how they have grown in over two and a half years. We even stopped by my old house where nobody was living. We then bought tea and my favourite Ocha-ya and stopped at the old Samurai bridge that I used to spend my summers swimming under. Bringing my friends to Chiran made me feel like an old man introducing his hometown. I was happy to lose myself in old stories and facts about the places we passed.
After Chiran we took the Ibusuki Skyline back down to southern Satsuma. It was a beautiful drive. We stopped at my favourite look-out point where I made the video to remember the scenery of Sakurajima, Kaimon-dake and the South China Sea. It was freezing… the first time I felt cold since San Francisco! We went down to Ibusuki for onsen. Kana and Yuki went to the sandbaths but I went to my favourite bath at the Ginsho Hotel. I sat on the roof of the hotel in the bath watching the moon rise over the sea. It was such a beautiful evening.
31 October 2006
Angels on the Road
People often talk about Angels on the road that help out people in need. Well I can say whether or not Ie met any angels but I can say th at I have seen an unmatched kindness on the motorways of Japan.
After we left the restaurant, we didn even know where to begin our journey. We stopped at an internet caf?and figured out that we needed to go to Yokohama Machida, near where I used to live in Tokyo. We made a sign and went to the street. A man soon picked us up, Tokyo Kana included. He said we were on the wrong road and wrong route to go where we wanted to be going. He took us to another place.
We held out our signs again and a man walked up to us after a while. He was surprised at our mission and decided to kindly take us to the motorway junction. He dropped off Tokyo Kana at the Yokohama train station and then took Peace Boat Kana and I to the junction. We found out that it was going to be impossible to get picked up at the fast moving area. He decided to take us on the motorway and to the nearest service station (rest area) There he went around with us looking for a truck to start us on our southern trip. Many people refused us but he was aggressive and convinced a man to take us with him. He was going to Nagoya on local roads, so we climbed up.
We spent many hours en route to Nagoya. The man talked about his children and about life on the road. He was from Chiba but spent his life mostly in his truck living in it and travelling around Honshu. We fell asleep during the ride and woke up in a service station called Kamigou in Nagoya. We said our good-byes and then searched in the night for a driver to take us onward. There weren so many people awake although there were a few license plates with southern destinations. After we searched, we started to lose hope. Our former driver saw us and invited us to sleep in the back of the truck in the cargo. We were just happy to have a place to stay. We rolled out some blankets and quickly fell asleep. I woke up to Kana shivering. She was so cold. We got up at around 6:30am and started looking for another ride.
We were getting quite discouraged by the amount of rejections and refusals to take us. I felt our energy going down and we began talking about giving up. At one point we found a truck with Miyazaki license plates. The driver was from Miyazaki and heading that way! It would be perfect. When he found out that we were from Kyushu, he was very kind. He really wanted to take us but he said that his company was very strict and he couldn risk getting caught carrying hitch-hikers. After some helpful advice, he drove off on the route we so wanted to be on. We continued asking and finally we found a driver who, with some persuasion, decided to take us a few kilometres up on his route. The man had a strange take on life. He told us he was a mind-reader but he couldn read my mind because I am a foreigner. Also he talked about seeing UFOs and having alien friends. He was also a souvenir buff, constantly talking about which areas had which types of food and gifts. He stopped at a service station for lunch and then kindly continued further than planned to take us to another service station called aga?(Shiga-ken) with more trucks. He went out of his way for us. We asked to take a photo of him but he believed that a photo could endanger his soul. So we just got a photo of his truck instead.
We were happy to find a free wireless connection in Taga! We did some internet and then we tried to get a new driver. Once again we didn feel motivated. We found some grass and trees and fell asleep for over an hour. When we woke up it was getting late and we knew we needed to hit the road. We kept trying but once again weren having much luck. We then found one driver who was going to Kyoto and seemed very willing to drive us. He was a nice man and was surprised to find out we were on our way to Kyushu. He then told us he was actually from Kagoshima, specifically from Kaseda! Kaseda is a town next to Chiran, where I lived for two years when I first came to Japan. Kaseda is the place I used to do my grocery shopping and rent videos! What a small world. We could talk about a lot of local things during the hour in his truck. He dropped us off at a service station in Kusatsu, on the border of Shiga and Kyoto.
At Kusatsu we soon saw a truck with Oita license plates! We hoped that this truck would be heading to Kyushu. The driver was a young typical Kyushu danji! He offered to drive us to Hiroshima since he would be taking a ferry to Oita. We drove all evening and arrived in Fukuyama, Hiroshima. As we were getting off, we found out he be continuing on to Tokuyama, Yamaguchi prefecture. Kana had a friend in that very town! We begged him to take us and he obliged. That was a long drive! He first called and started fighting with someone on his mobile. After that, he called one of his friends and was talking so loud in Kyushu dialect. We didn mind too much since we were getting a long ride.
We were dropped off at Tokuyama port and Kana friend, Tomoyuki and his girlfriend, Nao came to pick us up. They brought us to their house and we had a wonderful dinner after a very needed shower. They were so generous to pick us up so late and offer everything. The next morning Kana and I left to the local road but we suddenly realised we had made it all the way to Yamaguchi prefecture!! We were only hours from Fukuoka. Although we wanted to continue our hitch-hiking, the convenience of regular transportation appealed to us. We walked to the station and decided to take a train to Shimonoseki. We felt like we had given up but we were very happy with our accomplishment. Once we got to Shimonoseki, we bought some groceries and had a picnic at a garden. Then we boarded a highway bus and arrived in Fukuoka after an hour and a half. We got to Fukuoka!!!!! We spent only 3000yen (under 30$) from Tokyo to Fukuoka! Ostukare!
29 October 2006
Back to the Start, Yokohama, Japan
I woke up to see the bridge in Yokohama and then the skyline that I saw when we first departed 101 days ago. Travelling around the entire world and arriving at the same place you started really gives you a sense of completion. We spent the morning helping passengers get their luggage off. I didn feel well at all. After a night of crying with friends and people Ie known for only three months, I felt emotionally and physically drained.
Finally finished and through customs, I saw my dear Tokyo Kana waiting for me on the other side. It was so bizarre to mix my two different lives. Saying hello to Kana and good-bye to my Peace Boat comrades. My eace Boat Kana?and my okyo Kana?met and then we ended up all going to a restaurant with the KSB for one last time. CCs and GETs all seemed to fit in the family restaurant and it was once again an emotional good-bye session. The Kanas and I had to finally escape because of Peace Boat Kana and my plan to hitch-hike across Japan?/SPAN>
27 October 2006
All week we have been feeling the end coming near. In some ways it has allowed me to just chill out and enjoy all these last times for everything. Today was the KSB graduation. We received a diploma and some words from our leaders. It was nice to have all the KSB staff together, GETs with CCs and the administration.
That night my class took me to a last drinking farewell party at Namihei. Everyone showed up from the class. It was nice despite being so busy with last minute things and having to excuse myself a few times to take my luggage or do some other things. After, Kosuke had asked me to say good-bye to her. I called her and we met in front of Topaz Dining. I had been feeling waves of emotion all day but it suddenly climaxed and I burst into tears. It was a very hard good-bye. Although I thought a lot would be going on tonight, in fact nothing was happening. I went to sleep early with Ayse and waiting for the hectic morning to begin.
22 October 2006
Today the culmination of weeks of planning took place on the top deck of the ship. Kana and I had planned our night of diversity and diversion through a programme of shows and events. During the preparation, we began to feel an increasing resistance from the ship administration. Right before the event was supposed to take place, we found out that none of our requests had been filled and that we had been placed in the same timeslot as a masquerade party. Despite the challenge, we were able to pull off the most amazing event with well over 200 people attending. I saw the support from my fellow volunteers and staff and was deeply moved by their dedication. We had one of the most fun parties on the ship with rainbow decorations made by passengers, exciting music, shows put on by many groups and all under a clear beautiful night under a sky of meteor showers. It truly was a happy party that made many people very happy including myself.
Opening up the show, Kuniko choreographed Marmelade with the CC girls that would become the symbolic dance of the happy party!
Here are the GET boys doing the YMCA
Here is Peace Boat’s definite coolest diva, ma belle Mabel. There is definitely no party until she starts it.
The girls show the underworld of bellydancing
Scandalous Akiko, Adriana and Amanda perform to “I Touch Myself” opening up the night to the next level…
The climax of the party, just when the audience didn’t think they could handle anymore, Natalie and Yuko came out with their abusive conquer routine…
18 October 2006
Our last port! This morning I got off the ship quite fast and there were Mum and Jen waiting for me outside the gates! It was wonderful! We went to their hotel and spent the rest of the day around Waikiki. We went swimming and then had a great dinner at The Cheesecake Factory. After dinner Mum and Jen were still ready to party and we went to a bar and danced?hahaha!
19 October 2006
This morning we got up later than we planned but headed to the beach and swam again. We spent a lazy afternoon at the hotel drinking and eating and then went shopping before we had to head back to the port. Mum and Jen came on the ship and we sat for an hour in Hemmingway meeting all my friends and students. It was so nice to connect my family with my current life. I think they could get an idea of my life now.
10 October 2006
It took almost four hours to get off the ship. US Homeland and Security is incredible. Getting in port of an American city is more like entering a war zone. I was so excited to get off here since Debbie was going to be meeting me. She wasn there but when I called her, she had been searching for the pier all morning. We finally connected in Pier 36. It was so wonderful to see an old friend at a port. Unfortunately I was feeling so sick and we went back to the ship and passed out for most of the day. That night we went to the Peace Party but it wasn as good as I had expected. We went out to the Castro for a midnight dinner but nothing was going on so we returned and slept on the ship.
11 October 2006
I was supposed to do a GET Challenge Programme through the Redwood forest this morning. However, I woke up feeling like I had a stroke! I felt so sick. I told my co-ordinator that I wasn going to be able to do it. Debbie drove me back to her house on the other side of the Golden Gate. It was such a beautiful house, definitely Debbie style. I slept most of the day on her futon and I could almost fool myself that I was on rue Durocher in Montreal in her old flat. We went for a Thai dinner downtown and then I had to get back on the ship. I fell asleep instantly and didn wake up for about 12 hours. I feel so disappointed that I was so sick in San Francisco visiting one of my closest friends. In any case, just having the chance to see Debbie life and having an image of her environment and house was worth it. Love you Debbie! Thank you for taking care of me!
Tonight some passengers organised a cross dressing typical kama?bar from Tokyo Shinjuku 2 chome. A few days before, they didn seem to want to let me into the event as a foreigner. I had to win them over with my girlie Japanese-style charm to get into the circle. The event went well. There were some performances and I was involved in the fashion show. How do you find me as a woman?
After eight years having not returned to Mexico, I didn imagine I be visiting it twice in a year. Having gone back to Mazatl嫕 in January, I already witnessed the huge change from when I was a university student there. Acapulco was similar; very modern and wealthy.
I didn have any major plans here. Ayse and I went to a grocery store along the boardwalk and had a picnic lunch on the beach. After that we went to the GranPlaza shopping centre and spent the afternoon in a beauty salon. Ayse tried tacos for the first time and then we spent the rest of the evening swimming in the Pacific during sunset. It was a perfect day to remind myself about my life here at 19… days spent swimming in the sea with friends.