Monday, November 5, 2007

The post-Japan trip post

Normally I'm fairly quick at posting info on here, but I didn't feel like doing much after I got back from Japan on Sunday afternoon.

We left from school around 11AM on Wednesday, a two hour bus ride took us to the Busan seaport. We waited, went through customs/security etc and boarded the ship, departing at/around four. None of use knew how long the boat ride was, only that it was overnight and we'd set foot on Japan the next morning. We didn't know that the route actually took us to the other side of Japan- so we left Korea, crossed the Sea of Japan, went between the two biggest islands of Japan, did a 180, and docked in Osaka. It turned out to be a much longer trip than we anticipated- we thought we'd wake up in the morning already docked and ready to disembark- but actually we were still underway and got to see the whole deal of coming into port and docking, which was rather neat.

The boat was really big- not a full-blown cruise ship, but certainly big- total 8 decks, much of which was cargo. The passenger luxuries were on the upper 3/4 decks. It was a RORO(Roll On, Roll Off) ship which meant that it had a big ramp it would let down when it docked and trucks/forklifts/whatever could drive right onto the ship to load/unload cargo.

Being the nerd that I am, I was most excited to see and take pictures of the industrial aspects of the seaport, especially the container ships. As an engineer(ing student) I just have to give respect to the well-oiled, finely tuned, efficient machine that is sea shipping. Did you know that as recently as the 70's, it took 184 men 84 hours to unload a ship? Then some genius came up with the standard container system, and now it takes 42 men 13 hours to do the same thing. Booya. I secretly plan to see the world by building a house inside a 40' shipping container and covertly shipping myself(and my house) around the world on ships and trains. How cool would that be? Anyway.

We got off of the ship around 10AM on Thursday and went through security/customs again before boarding a minibus to see some sights. Japan drives on the left side of the road, like Australia. We first went to a Korean restaurant for lunch. Strange that we went to Japan and ate Korean food first- also strange that it was the best Korean food I've ever had. The people in that restaurant sure know how to season chicken. We then spent some time in an outdoor mall type place, where we learned that everything in Japan is overpriced. It was adjacent to a small amusement park/permacarnival that was having a slow day due to the overcast weather. Joe and Tim took advantage of the opportunity to ride an electric panda- think giant powerwheels shaped like a panda, covered in fur, and with an 'insert coin' slot. I took some video of that:

Panda Riding In Osaka

After the shopping mall/panda experience, we went on a walk down the Kobe shoreline and I saw the coolest thing ever: a container museum. Not a museum displaying containers, but a museum made of containers:
Apparently this is a portable art exhibit that can be set up anywhere. Maybe it's permanent- I didn't get the chance to go inside and see how exactly they made the two narrow containers into one wider structure. Neat, though! At the other end of this exhibit is portion of the damaged harbor structure that was cordoned off as an exhibit and memorial of the 1995 earthquake that decimated Osaka. Most of the buildings in Osaka are new because so many were destroyed or critically damaged and required renovation. This little section is what most of the city looked like after the quake.
We walked a few city blocks to get to our next destination, which gave me the opportunity to snap a few pictures of Japanese cars.
Then we arrived at our next destination, which was the largest Chinatown anywhere(except for, you know, China).

After a bit of wandering around in Chinatown, we boarded the minibus to go to our next stop. I kept hitting my head on the minichandelier.
Our next destination was a Japanese bathhouse that's been open for 100o years(or something like that). A few opted not to do the whole communal bathing experience, and they were bored. Most of us took the plunge. It was interesting, and as you can imagine involved being comfortable in a room full of naked Japanese strangers. (Yes, it was separated by sex) You'll understand that I didn't bring my camera in, hence no pictures. The water was opaque due to the mineral additives(some kind of red mud) and it was quite nice, and refreshing. It was 42 deg C, or 107 deg F. Doesn't sound all that hot- I've stood outside all day in 115 deg F heat and lived- but being immersed in water that temperature is quite, er, stimulating. After that, the next stop was dinner. I think dinner was a Chinese buffet, I have trouble keeping this mess of experience in order chronologically. The buffet had an elevated seating platform with the tables situated over holes so that people wishing to sit normally could, and people wishing to sit cross-legged Japanese style could too.

(I'll put a pic here when I can find Chris and steal one from him)

We went back to the hotel and tried sorting out plugging in our laptops and various electrical stuff into Japanese outlets, which are just like old-school American outlets, two prong with no ground pin, meaning anything with a ground pin won't work. We had one adapter to go around, which made things fun. The night was young and we watched movies. The next morning we had breakfast at the hotel, which was some kind of mixture between Japanese and several other styles. They had eggs, but they were cold and sliced from one big cooked slap. Sausages in both Korea and Japan are strange, but edible. There was soup and toast and thin yogurt, and a bunch of weirder items that I don't remember. We then all piled into the bus and set off for the Deer Park.

While in route, we saw how Japan does gas stations. Note that the entire area is free of gas pumps on the ground. One simply pulls up most anywhere, and an attendant comes over and fills your car from one of the fuel hoses that drops from the ceiling. This system is infinitely neat, though it sort of rules out self-service.
The Deer Park is a combination of a Buddhist temple and.. deer. There is a really massive Buddha inside, made of gold and bronze. I think it's the biggest metal Buddha anywhere, but I could be wrong.
This picture doesn't give you a decent sense of size- those red pillars on either side are about 4-5 feet diameter.
This is a big wooden statue of a warrior, which is also very tall. Again the wooden pillars are 4-5 feet thick! There were other attractions as well, such as a miniature.. something, some angry heads, and yet another giant statue:

At all of the temples we visited, there were various activities to be done, such as washing at a special fountain or rubbing some certain special statue's knees to supposedly get healing. I opted not to partake of any of these, the idea of it doesn't sit well with me. Some of our group did do these things, though. 1 Corintians 8, I suppose.

Outside of the main temple area there was the deer park, but to get there one had to wade through a ocean of Japanese schoolchildren. The deer have some special attribute, and are considered sacred.

Note my sweet new sandals in the pic above. Tyrell bought a package of deer crackers and was soon assaulted by hungry deer. Probably not hungry, actually, just desirous of crackers. They crackers don't taste very good, but I suppose a deer doesn't have it much better.
I stole one of Tyrell's crackers and fed a deer also.
After the deer park/temple, we headed to another temple. Temples were a popular place to visit on this trip, but not particularly exciting. This one again employed very thick columns to support the massive ornate roof, which you can see in this picture. Also, there's us. Yes, Tyrell is on my back.

They wouldn't let us take pictures inside, so here's a picture of the outside.
The temple has an attached museum. Back when this temple was built many moons ago, rope was poor quality, unable to support the weight of the massive trees that Buddhist temple builders seem to love so much. So they made ropes out of human hair. Here is one such rope, of a dozen or so total. I think the plaque said this one weighs 600lbs. That's a lot of hair!

This is a monument for a war in which Japan invaded Korea some centuries ago. The Japanese commander ordered that the ears of the people he conquered be cut off and brought back to Japan. This is where those ears now lie.
We had a traditional Japanese lunch, with short little tables that you sit on the floor to eat from. One theory goes that Japan had the first floor heating system, so the floor was always the warmest thing around- this made sitting on the floor advantageous, and now it's a cultural icon. Not sure if that's true or not, but I do know that floor heating is popular here. My feet are sweating.

Here's a tiny cement truck. All the trucks are smaller here, and their small trucks are truly matchbox-sized. I want one.

Here I am in the big Japanese market. If I ever get around to printing off pictures to send as postcards, I'll use this picture.

This area was also covered with Japanese schoolchildren. The market was situated on a street up a big hill which led up to... a temple.

Apparently saying a prayer to this dude helps to make you famous. I'll pass, thanks.

Here's a view from one of the giant porches that they had- you can see the other one off to the side. It was a good view of the city, but I don't remember which city exactly.

Again, giant trees to the rescue. I'm not sure why there's such an affinity for giant trees, but these ones helped the big porch last 400 years. Also, these porches used to be a place where people would wish for something, then jump. The theory went that if you survived, you'd get what you wished for. Seems like a raw deal to me.

Here is some of our group mingling with some more Japanese schoolchildren, though I think these particular ones are a big angsty. Uniforms are big business here.

A lady cooking up something rectangular. Not sure what they are, but the form things are neat.

You can't see it well, but that rectangular dealie behind the cat is a solar panel, and it provides the power to keep that cat's tail moving. It didn't occur to me at the time that a cat's wagging tail means that it's annoyed. I suppose it didn't occur to the people who made it either. There was another sort of cat that I actually wanted to get, but it was more than $30, not worth it. Maybe I'll buy one on eBay for big savings, and just tell people that I bought in Japan. It all amounts to the same thing, just skipping the middleman's wallet. You probably have seen them in Chinese restaurants, they look like this.

Here's Leo with some Japanese schoolchildren. They asked us to sign their worksheet for school, and gave us each an oragami crane. Neat.

One rule in Japan(and all of Asia) is that anything written in English isn't allowed to make any sense. This is especially true for stickers and apparel.
We never did figure out what exactly this machine was designed to do. If it was designed to get tourist's attention, then mission accomplished. I hope it had some other use also; if all they wanted to go was get tourist's attention, then a window full of cheaper prices would have done the trick.

This old shopkeeper lady had inexplicable blue hair. Not like typical old lady blue hair- more like punk rocker blue hair.

These poor girls in traditional Kimonos couldn't walk 15 feet without someone stopping them to take a picture. If they'd asked for 100 yen per picture, they could have made a lot of money.

Tyrell bought a bunch of stuff, and I'm pretty sure he would of ticked off a few people if he went out in public dressed like this. They sold the Japanese flag headbands, but for some reason I don't see your typical Japanese person being happy about a tourist wearing it around.

We visited a massive outdoor mall with all sorts of ridiculous displays, most of which were similar to this drunken dragon, jubilant gangster with giant earlobes, or giant animitronic crab.

We ate some okonomiyaki. I'm not sure what okonomiyaki is really- they have these giant pancake things made of (what looks like) egg, potato, imitation crab, snot, and bacon. Then they fry an egg, put it on top, cover it in mayonnaise, fish flakes, barbeque sauce flavored roofing tar, and I don't even know what else. It was interesting, and edible. This picture is of the guy vigorously spraying lots of mayo onto the okonomiyaki and anything close to them.

A bit blurry, but this is a Japanese book, which opens the opposite way. Japanese text(in books) reads top to bottom and right to left. On signs and short things, it's the opposite way.

Bikes are super-popular in Japan. It's not unusual to see a businessman in a fancy suit riding down the sidewalk on a bicycle- there's no wealth/status/age connotation for bicycle riding, it's just a cheap and easy way of getting around.

Joe and Tina and I. Tina is the person in charge of OICA(Office of International Community Advancement) and is the one who was semi-in-charge of the trip. It was all organized by another guy, but he had to go on another trip at the last minute and Tina filled in.

I can now officially say that I've been on a crowded Japanese subway. We went at an off-peak time, I'm told that during rush hour they have people employed to shove people in the cars so that the doors will close. It's not just a myth!

Some neat Japanese architecture. More offices get window space, but less offices total. A cool looking building, though. Speaking of buildings, those crazy folk in Dubai have taken over the record for the world's tallest freestanding structure with a skyscraper that isn't even done yet. It's going to be 818 meters tall when it's done! If you work near the top, half of your commute will be the elevator ride up! God help you if there's ever a fire and you need to take the stairs down- I hope they install spiral slides instead.
More Japanese architecture- but a few centuries prior this time. This is a big moat around the Osaka castle.

There's some legend about a Japanese famous guy who said that in order for a bird to be a bird, it must cry, and so to make it cry, we should hurt it. I'm not sure I follow, but that's why Tina is pretending to hold that bird at gunpoint. Tim apparently does not subscribe to that way of thinking.

I'm not sure why there was a lady dressed up in plastic samurai armor, but we opted to take a picture with her. She spoke decent English, too.

The one crossing of the inner moat. Earlier, I had told Tyrell that this castle would make a great place to hole up in case of a zombie invasion. I thought one could easily enough destroy the bridge, but unfortunately for any future zombie invasion escapees, this one is hewn from rock and not easily destroyed.

This is the Osaka Castle. It's tall- 8 stories to be precise. Not too bad for centuries ago. I bought a glass cube with the castle lasered into it- not bad for 525 yen. Well, not bad compared to the prices of everything else. There were about 114 yen to the dollar when we went.

The view from the top of the castle. Neat, eh? Naturally, the view from Osaka castle is Osaka. Neat how the city development just stops at the edge of the castle preserve.

This is me with Osaka as the backdrop. Note the chickenwire fence. It's ostensibly to prevent people from jumping off. Windows in Japan don't open all the way unless they're marked specifically for fire escape. Japan is called 'The Kingdom of the Suicide' because it has the highest suicide rate in the world. Spiritually, it's a pretty dark place. Japan has everything that any nation could want, yet more people in Japan can't stand to live than any other place. Less than 1% of the population is Christian. It's sad when a nation has to take significant measures to prevent its population from killing themselves.

This is the last picture I took before my camera batteries died. Luckily it didn't happen earlier, this was the last major event of the last day in Japan. I didn't bring my AA charger 1) because I didn't think I'd need it, as my AAs are pretty energetic 2) because I didn't think it'd work in Japan. Ironically, if I'd brought it it would have been the only thing that would have worked. Japan uses 100v with two prongs and no grounding. My AA charger is the only thing I have with no grounding prong- nothing else can plug in because the ground prong interferes. Hindsight: ALWAYS bring the charger.

The rest of the trip was good. After the castle tour we had bento for lunch in one of the surrounding restaurants. Bento is a Japanese box lunch, there's a special lunchbox with compartments for rice and whatever else. It's a neat system for 'brown-bagging', and commonly used in Japan. After lunch we reassembled and headed to the port again to head back to Korea. The trip back is much the same as the trip to, with the exception that a faculty person who shall remain nameless threatened to sign the whole group up to sing 'Amazing Grace' publicly in a Karaoke contest. Not cool. Tyrell, Greg, and I camped out on the deck of the ship with Tyrells laptop and watched a movie. We watched American Gangster before it actually was released in the US. Its plot is semi-related to the book I'm rereading right now(Without Remorse, Tom Clancy). It's a decent movie, but not for family viewing. While we were watching, some Korean girls came by and got excited at meeting some white boys. Tyrell had taken some pictures with them earlier. They were kind of like an assault team. They had some sparklers, which they gave to us in way of inviting us to, er, frolic with them. We obliged(kind of hard to refuse somebody handing you a lit sparkler, especially when it's being held over a laptop). We took pictures with them(much to their excitement) and went back to watching heroin dealers have a turf war.

We arrived in the morning and were back at Handong around 2PM.

That's Japan. These pictures are all from my Canon A75, which was a great camera 3 years ago when I got it. Today its megapixel count is looking rather anemic and it's always been a bit bulky in the pocket. I'm looking into getting a new camera soon, though it will probably be later rather than sooner. I'll likely go with another Canon, perhaps the SD1000. I'd like to get a thin, pocket-friendly camera- however, I often use some of the advanced-ish features for manual exposure that most pocket-sized cameras lack.

I'm catching up in Statics, we did homework tonight and I did most of it myself. I still need error checking from Joe on a regular basis, though. That's a habit I need to kick, because Joe won't be available on tests, and of course, the real world. Reinforced Concrete Engineering is looking like it will end up being an audit. All my other classes are going well enough, I wrote a hugely long series of essays for my Intercultural Studies class- take-home midterm. It ended up being 16 pages 1.5 spaced. I got a 90% on it, which is good enough. Some people got away with writing only 3 pages, but I don't regret going overboard because I learned more because of it, and I don't mind writing anyway.

Hrm, it's later than I though. Goodnight.

1 comment:

Alisha said...

Wow, your pictures and writing about Japan really made me "homesick" for my time there. I didn't know that about the suicide rate in Japan though, but I noticed a lot that people's lives there were so very empty. My host family would work ridiculously hard at work or school all day and then collapse at night and get up and do it all over again, and they always looked so weary and sad. Except when they were entertaining me or practicing some of their amazing hospitality, but even that seemed a lot like a mask to me.