Sunday, April 22, 2012

Catching up and Shanghai

So, the last time you heard from me, I was about to head off to Camp Swing It 2012. CSI was awesome, and then the next morning I flew to Shanghai, and was all ready to tweet / blog about it. Except I completely forgot about one vital detail about electronic communication in China...

So, now that I'm back in Japan, I can catch up on blogging my travels in China. Here's what happened the next day..

I have to confess that Shanghai wasn't my favourite place. I'd badly hurt my foot, to the point that walking around town was painful, I had to miss social dancing on Tuesday night, and I was worried that the rest of my trip would be ruined. Shanghai was also (unsurprisingly) very humid, and overwhelmingly busy and commercially overstimulating. That said, I had probably my most comfortable stay in a hostel, and it was cheap to get around. If I'd been there a little longer, I'm sure I would have adjusted to the culture and climate. However, I was also keen to get onto a train and move on to Beijing...

Sunday, April 8, 2012

My first public bathhouse experience...

On Friday, I had a few hours to kill before heading off to Camp Swing It 2012 (which, incidentally, was amazingly awesome) and I decided that I had to check out a Korean spa and jjimjilbang. Now, I have a complicated relationship with the idea of public bathhouses. In Japan, I admit that I haven't indulged in the much-loved institution of the onsen and sento. I've seen them, and they seem a little too intimate for my liking. But that's just my comfort zone.

However, on reading up about the Korean's equivalent, I decided to give it a go. And I was not disappointed. It was more like a huge public pool than an intimate washroom. There were five spas - four hot and one cold, with a small swimming pool and three saunas of varying temperature. I never got the feeling of being even remotely up in anybody else's space, nor they in mine. It was more like going skinny dipping than having a group bath. It was thoroughly relaxing.

And then there was the coed area - the jjimjilbang - where we all put on our special clothes, and lay around on heated floors, "sweating rooms", a cool room, and, if desired, a semi-private sleeping capsule. There were many people there, young and old, lying around, watching tv, reading books and newspapers, or simply sleeping. There was even an internet PC room for those who wanted to get online. I did, however, half-expect somebody to come up to me and ask "Would you like a treatment?"; it was somewhat Dollhouse-esque.

I've heard that, in Japan, the interest in onsen / sento has been rapidly waning, especially amongst young people. However, this approach is attracting people in droves - especially young people who can get a little being of canoodling done in the corner of the jjimjilbang, away from prying eyes. As for my personal hangups - it's been a step in the right direction. Perhaps I'll be brave and give it a go in Japan...

Friday, April 6, 2012

Careering through Korea...

So, I've finally landed in Korea. The plane trip was a little bumpy going up into the air, and coming down again, but it was a swift flight with swift service. Followed by a swift taxi driver who drove me to my destination at 120kms per hour on the wrong side of the road. Well, it felt wrong anyway, speaking as somebody who has only ever inhabited the left side of the road.

Unfortunately, I didn't have time to explore Busan, but I easily found an express bus to take me to Seoul, and was there by mid-afternoon.

So, I wandered around Seoul for Wednesday afternoon and all of Thursday. I've eaten all sorts of wonderful street food, and have an odd hankering for dduk bokki (or however you spell it). I discovered the swing dancing scene, which is huge here and super-friendly. And, as you can see, they occasionally break into choreographed pop-song routines. It's a pretty awesome city.

Next: My first jjimjilbang experience...

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Fukuoka and Ferries

So, on Monday I continued my journey to Fukuoka, as my plan was to travel from Kishi to Seoul without flying. There's something about taking the slightly-slower path that helps gain an appreciation for the distance that you're covering, and you often notice things about the landscape that you wouldn't notice from five miles above the ground. The big thing I noticed when catching the train from Miyajima to Fukuoka was the moment the train emerged from the tunnel between the two islands... the cherry trees were in full bloom. It was my first time, and now I understand why it's such a big deal!

And once I arrived in Fukuoka, they were everywhere. Parks were full of them, and the Castle Ruins park had about 1500 - which the city illuminates at night-time, with hundreds of visitors each night. So I spent the rest of the day wandering the streets of Fukuoka, marvelling at the cherry blossoms, and eating fresh strawberries, which were considerably cheaper than in Kansai. I also had street stall ramen, which was great, but not as awesome as the ippudo ramen that I had the next day. Anyway, once I got home that evening, exhausted and overwhelmed, there was an email waiting. Informing me that my ferry, scheduled for the next day, had been cancelled. Panic ensued, but I was able to buy a plane ticket at short notice.

And then came the biggest storm in western Japan since 1959. Naturally, my plane was delayed. A lot. Finally, at 10:45pm we touched down in Busan.

Next: Busan to Seoul.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Hiroshima and Miyajima

So, early on Saturday morning, my latest adventure began. We headed off, seishun 18 ticket in hand, boarding non-express trains headed west across Honshu. It took a while, but we finally arrived in Hiroshima. It's hard to walk around the city and not be mindful of its tragic past, and we spent some time at the Peace Memorial Park and museum, before heading out for Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki.

Sunday came, and we headed over to Miyajima - famous for its enormous "floating" O-Torii. After visiting the island, S had to jump on a train back to Kansai, but I returned and hiked up Mount Misen and down again. The view at the peak was amazing, and whilst it was unsurprising to find a soft drink machine there, there was also a guy selling cold beer, which was well appreciated. And then, one final return to the floating gate in the evening provided a most stunning sunset.

Next: Fukuoka and Hanami!