Friday, May 11, 2012

foreign travel

In the last month, there have been two instances of foreign travel: one was my parents coming to me, the other was my trip to Korea.

Part of the fun of having people visit you somewhere foreign is remembering what it was like when you hit the ground, reflecting on how far you've come in terms of what it takes to conduct your life. Remembering what stuff looked like when you first saw it, even the things that have become commonplace since then. Remembering what it was like to have never ridden a Japanese train, never have browsed a combini, never have switched shoes three times in ten minutes. Normal things. For you, now.

Going to Korea had much the same effect. Effective illiteracy, total failure to pronounce even "thank you," and inability to remember "excuse me." Complete lack of knowledge on how to buy a subway ticket.

I had shared this link earlier, and so now I can claim a very limited and slow competency in puzzling out some place names written in the Korean writing system, Hangul.

But anyway, it was kind of interesting to be on one end of that hosting experience in the beginning of the month, and at the other in the end.

Mostly, though, the two trips were a little about the place, and mostly about the people. My parents are pretty game for stuff, but their interests don't necessarily lie in Japan or Japanese stuff specifically.

Same goes for Korea; I didn't really have all that much interest in Korea previous to going there. I hate admitting that, but it's just true! I don't really like spicy food, so the reasons for going drop to almost nothing right there (according to the Japanese, who are ALL FOODIES). Other reasons that lots of people go are because there is good shopping for cheap. But lately I'm in the business of getting rid of junk, not collecting MORE, even if it is cheaper there than here. Finally, I know so little (and this is pretty sad actually) about Korean history and culture, I have no compulsion to visit famous landmarks or stuff like that.

Still, have foothold, will travel, as it were. My being in Japan was one thing, but my being here for three years is even more of a thing, and I think that spending that kind of time in a place will naturally cause it to seep into you in a lot of ways. I won't be the same when I get back, that's just the nature of the beast. But in order to understand the new beast, it can be instructive to take a taste of the soil whence it grew. So the new  Emily isn't Japanese, but she did some time there, so... Also, I like sharing the stuff I think is cool or beautiful or special, and there is a lot (LOT, too much for any given visit.. too much for three years) of that here.. and I am gratified to think my parents want to have it shared at them.

I shouldn't be surprised that my parents are troopers and game for almost anything. I don't know.. I think I've spent too much time lately meeting other people's parents or hearing about their plans with them; it's sort of made me believe that parents are a certain way, they can't help it, they're just older, richer, and more experienced at shit than us kids... while traveling with people my own age is more gritty, silly, and catch-as-catch can, by the seat of one's pants as it were.

But there is a saying in Japanese, that the frog's child is a frog. Meaning, the apple doesn't fall too far. Meaning, of course, that other people's parents and my parents are different things, and while other people's parents may be particular about such-and-such, it doesn't mean mine will be. And that, in fact, a fair predictor of what kind of things the will like is actually what I already do like.

Seriously: combini beer in the park is how we DO in Japan.
It doesn't hurt of course that they wanted to have dinner, beer, and karaoke with my friends. I think they won over the Shisoshians forever (or until such time as all the current Shisoshians are replaced). People showered them with gifts (and they, intelligently enough and I don't even know if I suggested they do this, brought gifts to give out as well). What I feared would be an overly traditional ritualistic respect dinner with the kempo people turned out to be the biggest "houseparty" fun fest of all. They tried things, they drank the sake, they watched and learned and it all dazzled me because there are some things I'm kinda proud of being able to do, and watching them reminds me that I come by those things honestly.

These are the light/heavy rocks -  if they feel heavy, your goal will be difficult to accomplish.
Among the lucky, you are the chosen one. It's a fortune cookie that my dad got once. But I feel it goes for me, too. The more people I meet, the more I realize that what I believe as a young child (that everyone has the same kind of life as me) just isn't so. That some people are born into a lucky situation, with parents that teach them to be good, that are proud of their achievements but love them with or without them, and make sure they know. I'm not fearless, but when my parents call me fearless, I really do start to think I can do anything.

Like just go to a different foreign country every time there is a break in the work schedule? Well yeah, like that. Korea, though, was mostly about chilling out and visiting Erin, seeing Korea more through her eyes than as a tourist. I didn't even go to Seoul, but rather spent most of my time in GwangJu, with a little side trip to Busan that I am calling "the extra day," because I got it by changing my boat reservation to Sunday morning rather than Saturday late-morning.

Ever-present water bottle, and the hike begins.
In GwangJu I had a bunch of marvelous experiences that were part Erin and part Korea.. stuff I might have done something like if I had been alone and had done my own research, maybe. On my first day, we climbed up a hiking trail mountain to a temple she liked to visit, stopping also at a small art museum on the hillside. We ate at a vegetarian buffet until we couldn't move, then walked all the way back to her place. Other days, we drank coffee on the roof (which she brewed with cinnamon), or fresh juice (fresh meaning it was a carrot and some oranges a second ago..), baked banana bread and made pasta (SHE did these things, I consumed them). We drank makkoli, watched Wizard People Dear Reader, and Game of Thrones. I visited her school to meet her bosses and her students (all of whom speak way, way better English than mine... oh Japan and your language teaching systems). I met her friends. We talked about all the things. You know; the friend visit.

FRESH JUICE. And coffee too.

We went to a jimjilbang, which is like an onsen but so not like an onsen. For one thing, despite the jokes to the contrary, I have never been touched in an onsen by anyone. In the jimjilbang, after we'd excercised a bit on the top floor and let one of those crazy belts you see old women using in movies rub our waists and butts, we went down to wash and soak in the various pools. It's even more a Roman bath than the onsen because there were pools of hot, cold, and tepid water, including a few different hot ones with different minerals (maybe iron?) in them. The tepid one had exercise equipment, and jets for the back and shoulders. After a few hot and cold dips, it was time for my.. what? Mini massage?

She started by removing what I was wearing. Yes, I was naked: she took off the first layer of skin. Just the dead stuff of course-- it felt really nice to be scrubbed so thoroughly, the only gross part being when I opened my eyes and saw where the dead skin had sort of... well, never mind that, just I saw and it was gross. After dumping water on me, she soaped me down, then oiled me up then womanhandled me as I have never been womanhandled. She wrestled with the knots in my back and shoulders in such a way that it was excruciating but good, like brutal massages can be. When it was all over, I felt as pink and pummeled as ... I wanna say a newborn, but I was newer and cleaner and more relaxed than that.

On the extra day, we hit the beach and spent the night in a minbak, which is mostly a room with blankets for you to use to lie on, and an attached bathroom and semikitchen. The beach was gorgeous under the full moon that night, and four of us even managed to hit a noraebang, or karaoke room, before the end. Before all that, between day beaching and night beaching, we visited a seaside temple that was super awesome for being right on the coast.

Minbak near the beach.

Temple by the sea (Yonggungsa).
Mostly, though, I can see that little changes inspired by my time there, and by my friend there, are going to leak over into my life as they are wont to do. And I think that is the other reason we travel abroad, to get that perspective, to try that new thing, whether it sticks or not, whether it is actually from that foreign place, or just based on what we ourselves found there.

1 comment:

  1. It's gratifying to know that as proud as we are of you, you are of us. Our visit changed us in small ways too. Today I made homemade maki sushi and sashimi, and it was kick ass!