It seems that Neil Young is my patron saint of blogging. I heard him was at the last cafe I blogged in; today, my chosen venue is playing Southern Man. Which, by the way, is vastly superior to, “Sweet Home Alabama“, Lynyrd Skynyrd’s riposte. While Neil observes,
I saw cotton
And I saw black
Tall white mansions
And little shacks.
When will you
Pay them back?
Well I heard mister Young sing about her
Well, I heard ole Neil put her down
Well, I hope Neil Young will remember
A Southern man don’t need him around anyhow
Later he references Muscle Shoals: basically – he listens to music from an integrated studio band, so he can’t be racist. It’s an essentially Homer response.
But I digress. My tourist visa ran out on January 6, which meant I had to leave South Korea for a few days and then return. I chose the closest destination, which turns out to be Fukuoka, Japan. The idea of taking a one-hour flight to Japan is still thrilling: years of anime, Kurosawa and Ozu have turned it into a mysterious travel destination. I was nervous, not knowing any Japanese beyond ‘domo arigato’, for reasons I won’t get into here. But nearly everything turned out fine.
The first thing I noticed was the temperature: Seoul was -10, Fukuoka was +5. The air is clear: unlike Seoul, perpetually shrouded in a haze of pollution, I could distinctly see the surrounding mountains. Many Japanese speak English and, despite their reputation as being reserved and shy, people smiled and helped me find my hostel. Transport was easy: I took a five minute subway ride to the city centre, then walked 15 minutes along clean, straight, quiet streets where bicycles outnumbered cars. Having expected the frantic pace of a big city – Fukuoka has 1.5 million residents – I was pleasantly surprised to hear the silence punctuated only by sound of my footsteps and the soft hum of vending machines.
(Now the cafe is playing Gordon Lightfoot’s “Carefree Highway”. What explains this Korean fascination with Canadian folk-singer-songwriters?)
The hostel itself was a disappointment. It was clad in institutional white, from the fading walls to the bedsheets. Only parts were heated. Despite there being other guests, I had the distinct feeling I had wandered into a forgotten hospital. And the tight-lipped proprietor didn’t smile once. I had to ring a bell to get him to come to the front desk, otherwise he hid behind a door. I asked him if I could boil water to cook some eggs in the morning – hostels provide kitchen facilities – but he said no. He agreed to my request to use the microwave in the (unheated) dining room. But I had to get a bowl from the kitchen and, being a responsible guest, I had to wash it too. The next day I found he had locked the kitchen door.
This is a picture of a taxi burning oil. It was as smoggy as it got, and that still wasn’t very much.
But besides the surly host, I had a great time wandering the gridlike streets, finding it impossible to get lost and admiring the many small details along the way. So, to return to the original, lazy purpose of this blog, namely showing my travel photos:
This is Fukuoka without smog.
The first night I was starving and went to the restaurant recommended on my little tourist map. It was ramen noodle, which seemed safe for a vegetarian. It turns out it was tonkotsu, or thinly-sliced pork, ramen. I was too hungry to go elsewhere and ate around the pork. In a misguided effort to adapt to local customs, I tried a bite, but animal flesh just doesn’t agree with me.
From the ramen restaurant bathroom: this, as I came to appreciate, is an auto-bidet. The toilet seats are heated, too.
Put your hands at the back, and warm water comes out. Put them at the front, and they get dry.
Surely this contravenes some labour laws?
Feeling slightly ill from the pork soup, I took a long walk and found a late-night multi-level mall, with different retailers on the many levels.
iPhone covers. I’ve never seen so many in one place.
I have no idea what this is, but I want it.
Plastic monsters weren’t this cool when I was a kid.
Another level up was an arcade:
Pachinko, or gambling machines.
These were fully closable pods. I have no idea what goes on inside.
There were many machines you could pay 200 Yen and try to nab a prize – in this case, Asuka Langley Soryu, “the third most popular female anime character from the 1990s.”
We girls love fashion so much!
Our motto is being wonderful at all times.
I gonna go shopping in Shibuya with you,
My best friend… as usual.
Let’s talk after shopping.
This is so over the top, how can it not be camp?
Groceries in Japan
The local grocery store. It felt more North American than its Korean equivalents, maybe because there weren’t people forced to shout “Hello, thank you for coming!” from food counters. The only problem is that I kept thinking I was buying red cabbage, since it was on every label.
The first night’s haul. The beer was passable and the hamburgers were small cookies. The only problem was the lemon candy: it came wrapped in plastic that I tried unsuccessfully for 20 minutes to remove. Later my girlfriend pointed out that the wrapping was, in fact, edible: