it’s 9:40 central, or 23:40 japan/korea, on sunday, june 5.
i’ve been back in the states for about a week now. before i left i told myself that i’d keep a running account of the trip here, but once we got to japan everything got so busy and i just didn’t make the time to do it. so, let’s recap:
when i last posted it was two weeks ago and i was on a train going from seoul to busan. across the street from the busan train station is “texas street”, an entertainment area where american troops used to hang out during the korean war. it’s an interesting bit of history so adam and i went to check it out. i hope the place has not aged well because it is super seedy now. apparently the russian mob has moved in and now it’s just a bunch of dive bars, counterfeit luxury goods shops, and fronts for prostitution. after exploring a little while (without getting into trouble), we decided it best to find our hotel.
the hotel we stayed at was recently rebranded so we had a lot of trouble trying to find it. neither adam nor i speak korean and our cab driver didn’t speak english, so the best we could do unassisted was to get in the general area. we ended up having to call a translation service to help us explain to the driver where we were trying to go, but we eventually got there. the hotel was pretty cool. it was hard for us in general to find rooms in korea with two beds, so in this hotel we ended up in a small suite on the 15th floor a block away from the beach. the room had floor-to-ceiling windows with views of both the city and the ocean. i’m still not sure how we got it at the price we did. (ok, that’s not true: i have ideas on why it wasn’t very expensive. like i said it was recently rebranded. something about the place gave me the impression that they had developed a bad reputation and were trying to reinvent themselves.) after getting settled in the hotel and taking a bunch of pictures of the view, we went out to wander the area a while and get some supper. the area looked like it would have had a lot going on another day, but it was sunday evening so the place was kind of dead. after supper we spent a couple of hours looking for a suitable bar but ended up retreating back to the hotel defeated.
the next morning we checked out and headed for the ferry terminal. the ferry said to arrive an hour before our 10:00 departure, so we hopped in a cab at 8:00. we completely underestimated the monday morning busan traffic and arrived at the ferry terminal at about 9:15. we scrambled to the ticket office and luckily the “one hour prior to departure” rule was pretty soft. we checked in with enough time to even visit the duty free store. we had planned on trying to visit the united nations memorial cemetery in busan, but couldn’t find the time. luckily our cab ride did take us by it.
the ferry was pretty cool. it’s a jet engine powered hydrofoil that apparently goes between 40 and 50 miles per hour. the entire ride from busan, south korea to fukuoka, japan was about three hours. in fukuoka we took a bus to the train station, had a little lunch, and then boarded the train to sasebo.
peter had to work monday, so we were met in sasebo by tyler, the guy who will be replacing peter on the ship as peter is preparing to be reassigned. it was about supper time so we hit up a sushi-go-round place and retired to peter’s house.
on tuesday adam and i met peter at about noon. we were actually on the way to the bus stop to head towards the base when peter drove by on his way home. he picked us up and we headed back to the base for lunch and a tour of the ship. peter is on an amphibious assault ship, which is kind of like a small aircraft carrier that can also house and launch landing craft along with a whole mess of marines. pete has been the fire control officer, so it was really cool to tour the areas of his responsibility. we got to get up close and personal with a couple of very large guns and missile launchers. it’s both thrilling and unnerving to be standing next to a sign that reads “danger: missile blast area”. when we were done on the ship peter gave us a bit of a tour of sasebo including a drive up to the peak of a near-by mountain for spectacular views of sasebo and the base.
tuesday night we met up with some of peter’s navy friends and hit the town. after a quick game of ten-pin we head out for supper. we this this seafood restaurant that has tanks of live fish right in the middle of the place from which your food comes. cuttlefish is ordered and basically they bring out live, still squirming but partially sliced up, cuttlefish. the directions are to eat what’s been sliced up and when we are done they will tempura the rest. it didn’t have a lot of flavor and had a texture that was sort of a cross between chicken cartilage and squid, but it certainly was an experience. after supper we went bar hopping, sang karaoke, and stopped in to ra-ra ramen for a late-night snack. i’ve got to say, ramen is so much better when it doesn’t come in a styrofoam cup.
on wednesday we took the train down to nagasaki. we walked around checking out all of the monuments to the nuclear bomb drop. the first place we stopped was a shinto shrine that was partially destroyed by the bomb. two large trees on site were thought to be dead for a long time after the bombing, but one spring started showing signs of life again. we also visited the peace museum and peace park and the monument at the site of the hypocenter of the explosion. though in retrospect i guess it’s probably not uncommon, but there were many, many school groups touring many of the same sites we were that day. it was funny to watch these elementary school aged japanese kids work up the nerve to come over and test their english out on us. most would just say “hello”, but a few tried to ask how we were doing and where we were from. when peter and i went to go check out one of the big statues in the peace park we were swarmed by 60-70 middle school girls, most of whom wanted to say “hi”.
thursday wasn’t too eventful. peter had to work during the day, so adam, tyler, and i went out wandering around sasebo. adam had some postcards he wanted to mail back to the states from a japanese post office, so he tested out my japanese skills in both trying to find the post office and buying stamps. the post office we found was also a bank, so he got the idea to buy a roll of five yen coins to give out as gifts (five yen in japanese is “go en”, which is apparently a homophone for “good luck”). unlike at a state-side bank, this required all sorts of paperwork and official procedures for which i was unequipped. adam seems to have thought that i speak japanese seeing how i took (passed) six years of it in high school and college, but this is not the case at all. i was a poor student and consequently can only fake my way through very simple conversations. luckily the japanese wife of one of the american sailors was also at the bank and helped us out.
peter also had to work friday morning, so the plan was that adam and i would get up, pack, and catch an earlyish train to hiroshima and peter would meet us there later. things did not go as planned. adam and i got a late start and found ourselves in hiroshima only 30-40 minutes before peter. by the time we all arrived, met up, and checked in to the hotel it was getting fairly late in the evening. for supper we found an okonomiyaki joint that was recommended to peter. okonomiyaki is a kind of stuffed pancake with all sorts of stuff in it including cabbage, seafood, pork, noodles, and egg. apparently hiroshima is known for okonomiyaki. as had become our custom, after supper we went bar hopping. hiroshima has a, ehem, diverse nightlife scene so we wandered around trying to stay only on the outskirts of trouble, which we accomplished.
saturday we went to explore the more historic aspects of the area. as in nagasaki we went to check out the nuclear bomb memorials. there is a building called the a-bomb dome that was basically right under the bomb blast and survived. well, i suppose “survived” might be too rosy of a word. a partial shell of the building, including the metal supports for a dome, are still standing. we thought about taking a ferry out to miyajima, an island very important in the shinto religion, but it was kind of pricy and we had other things we wanted to do. instead we walked to and toured the site of hiroshima castle, including a shinto shrine on site. peter had to catch a train back to sasebo saturday afternoon because he had to be back at the ship sunday morning, so after seeing him to the train station adam and i wandered around hiroshima’s open-air mall a bit and called it a day.
sunday morning we had to be up pretty early to catch a train to tokyo. adam was catching a flight to chicago around mid-day, and i flew back to seoul in the evening. at the airport i found an oxygen bar, which i had to try out. basically you just sat there while a machine blew super-oxygenated air in your face. i didn’t find it that impressive. but, as before, i was flying business class so i found the lounge and proceeded to chill with free beer and snacks while waiting for my flight. my two-hour flight from tokyo to seoul was on a 747. in this particular layout business class is on the second floor of the plane, which i was really excited about. i had never been on a 747, or any double-decker plane for that matter, and was really looking forward to the experience. however, when i went to board my seat got moved from business class upstairs to first class in the nose of the plane on the first floor. it seems that only a couple of people were flying business, so they preferred to move us all to first class so they could shut down the upstairs. so while i’m disappointed i didn’t get to go upstairs, flying first class was pretty cool, even if it was for only two hours.
after an uneventful overnight layover in seoul my flight back to chicago left at 11:00 local. the flight was very similar to the one coming to seoul from chicago, except that i got even less sleep. they kept the cabin so warm it was hard for me to fall asleep, even after five drinks. after ~12 hours we landed in chicago at about 10:00 local time on monday. talk about strange: i take off at 11:00, fly for 12 hours, and then land at 10:00 the same day.
this past week has been mostly about readjusting to life state-side. as i was warned, jet lag coming back is way worse than going. i was pretty much a zombie all day tuesday, but every day has gotten better. i think today was the first where i’m more-or-less fully back to normal. it had been hard staying up to my normal bed time and i had been waking up well before my alarm clock. last night i was able to stay up through snl and this morning i was able to sleep past 6:00. i still haven’t touched any food even sort of asian since i landed in chicago. it will certainly be a while before i want rice again!