(disclaimer: Because so much has happened since the last post, it was therefore unavoidable to condense this anymore. I have tried to break it up into sections, but even those get pretty lengthy. If you don't like reading [or don't know how] enjoy the pictures. If you are bored, have sometime to kill, or are truly interested in what has been going on in our lives, then by all means soak it up. But it is a bit lengthy, so make sure you are sitting down, because this is going to be one heck of a roller coaster ride.)
It goes without saying that a lot has happened since the last post. Japan has been quite the opposite of a stationary trip. We've moved around quite a lot, however small Japan may be.
|Road Trip Group in Tsuruga|
|Matt and Jeff on the beach. This picture was taken around midnight.|
Once night had fallen, we wander the streets a little more to find some food. We go to a famous area called "pontocho" which had lots of little restaurants, but they were a bit pricey for our budget so end up stopping at a ramen shop. Little did we know it would be some of the best ramen we had to date. After dinner, we sit on the little canal and contemplate our next move. Our superior foresight lead us to believe that we wouldn't need to book a hostel or anything. And sure enough we didn't. We walked around looking for a park or someplace secluded where we could sleep for the night and found nothing. We sneak in to a hotel, debate sleeping in a supply closet, ultimately we decide against it. We wander into a karaoke place, find an empty room with lots of food, eat the leftovers, then go to a deserted floor and find an unused room and sit in it for a while. There was a long debate as to whether or not it was a good idea to sleep in the room over night. If we were caught it would have been very difficult to play the foreigner card and say we didn't know. So we decide against it. Then the idea comes to us, maybe we could try a rooftop. We take the stairs up to the 10th floor. The roof door was inexplicably unlocked (divine intervention?). We search the rooftop for a suitable place to lie our weary heads. Finally, we find it. It was a flat roof covering the elevator shaft. We had to climb a ladder to get to the top. At the top, we assess the situation and deem it suitable for us. The only downside, we thought, would be the sun baking us in the morning because there was nothing above our heads. We gather in the middle of the square platform, because there was only about a 1 foot ledge keeping us from falling off the side of the building, 11 stories to our death. We put that out of our minds and try to sleep.
We all fall asleep pretty easily, it was staying asleep that was the problem. After about 1-2 hours, we all realize no one is sleeping, because we were all shivering from the cold. So we decide to relocate. Same roof, different spot. We find another elevator shaft. This time it was in a room. A very spacious room I might add. We lock the door behind us and proceed to make our beds. There was a big tarp on the ground, which we cut to make a little sheet. Matt found some cardboard and slept on that. The room was perfect. Not too hot. Not too cold. The only downside was, every time someone used the elevator, the gears would make a ton of noise. But after the first few times we just ignored it. We all slept really well. In the morning we start to make our way downstairs through the building. We come across a maid. Ariel and Jeff run away. Matt keeps going and talks to the lady. She directs him to the elevator and was very lovely. In the elevator down, the manager approaches and inquires as to what he is doing. After a little bit of persuasion, the manager leads him to the door and lets him out. Jeff was the next one out. He encountered no resistance. Ariel ended up back on the roof. But got down shortly after. That day, we go see a few more sights like the
and the Golden Pavilion. Zen Stone Garden
|Our rooftop bedroom|
When we got out, we met up with Matt and Jen- the birthday girl, and a few other study abroad friends. After taking full advantage of the open container laws, taking in the lights, the river, the young chic crowd, and never being able to keep out eyes on any one spot, the night turned into a straight up hang session turned dance party. Best part, the club we went to had a "No Dancing" sign. Bro, like seriously. Dancing is sick.
We met backup with Rachel and Victoria the next day and took off for
Shortly thereafter, we headed back to the hostel the girls were staying at, and found Matt asleep in the front seat of the car (we were too lazy to book a hostel for ourselves) and climbed in the back and tried our best to get a good nights sleep. We started with the windows down because it was so hot, but then the mosquitoes became a problem, so we put them up a little. When morning arrived it started to downpour, so we put them up all the way. When that stopped we realized we were baking, so we ignored the mosquitoes and focused on keeping our core body temperatures low, until we had to be up to start our day. It was a bit of a miserable start, as none of us got a good sleep but we rallied and pushed on.
(Matt here, sorry about all the changes in points of view above)
Our day in
was spent at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial. It was a very strange feeling being there as an American. Walking through the exhibits, reading some of the declassified documents between military officials, seeing the before and after pictures of the city with actual real time footage. There were different sections to the exhibit, and they got a bit more graphic as they went on. People were crying, the mood was very somber, and the horrific "aftermath" displays were the main culprit. Pictures of mangled/melted limbs, remains of childrens' lunch boxes, and more clocks than you can count. All of which are stopped at . Hiroshima
Outside of the museum, there is the old city hall building. It is one of the only remaining structures from that time. It survived the blast even though it was about 100 meters from the detonation point. Later that night, we drive to Miyashima, which is a town just outside of
for a big firework display. It was the first time Jeff and Ariel had seen Japanese fireworks and they did not leave disappointed. Hiroshima
|Tunas at Dogo Spa|
The ferry took us to Beppu. It was such a strange feeling being back in my old stomping grounds. Everything was basically the same. I always knew I would go back to Beppu, but I don't think that it would be so soon. My friend Jen was an angel and let us stay in her apartment while she was away on holiday. The next few days were filled with R&R. We went to all my favorite places to eat. Hung out with a lot of old friends. Most of all, enjoyed the onsens. Beppu is famous for their onsens and we went to the one in the mountains. It was phenomenal. At one point it was raining, we were in a cloud, but completely warmed by the water of the spring. One of the days, we went to
. My good friend Daisuke was kind enough to drive us and hang out with us for the day. (For pictures of the onsen and monkey mountain, just click) Monkey Mountain
Our time in Beppu drew to a close all too quickly. We made our way to
. The whole time I was in the city felt like one big deja vu. Last time I was there, it wasn't long enough to get to know the place, but enough to see a lot in a short time. This was no different. Except, things stood out and it felt like there was a glitch in the matrix. Something's wrong! I need an exit! This world isn't real! MOM!! I digress. We basically spent the couple days in Fukuoka bumming around. We saw Batman: Dark Knight Rises (3rd time for Jeff, 2nd time for me, 1st time for Ariel). On our last day we went to see the Fukuoka . The whole walk there it looked like we were walking in to a the darkest clouds ever collected. And sure enough, as soon as we got there the skies opened up. This temple is famous for housing one of the largest wooden structures of a Buddha. There was a tunnel that ran underneath and behind the Buddha, and had a display of old paintings. The tunnel was pitch black in some places (a definite liability) coupled with the raging storm outside, I was genuinely scared for a bit. But then remembered I don't have any fears and that I'm immortal so I stopped worrying. Outside, the torrential downpours continued. It was a truly magnificent sight to behold. Watching the storm pass like a parade down the street right in front of us. We watch from the shelter of the temple. The loudest thunder, the brightest lightening, and the heaviest rain any of us had ever seen. There were times when the thunder was so close that it shook the very bench we were sitting on. The screaming toddler, behind us clang to her mother's side each time a bolt of lightening flashed across the sky. The storm carried on for a solid 45 minutes. Then, just as suddenly as it had started. It was over. We left the temple and once again wandered the city. We get home at a decent hour and get a good nights sleep, because the next day we were taking yet another ferry, this time internationally. Tochoji Temple
Our ferry arrives to the port city of
, Busan . We clear customs, almost too easily (they didn't check our bags for explosives or firearms), then try to figure out our game plan. We want to stay in Busan to see the sights, but we had plans to meet Ariel's study abroad friend Moon, who is teaching English in a city outside of Korea , Seoul . We realize a bus to Suwon is about 5 hours. So we decide to skip Busan and make for Suwon . Suwon
It was just prior and during this part of the journey that we realized just how out of our element we were. To this point, at least one of us could speak or understand the language of the country we were in. But now we had no idea what ANYONE was saying in the least. Furthermore, there is even less English in
than there was in Korea . On the plus side, everything was way cheaper than Japan . Japan
Our bus arrived in
, as promised (thankfully), around . This time around, we had a hostel booked. Unfortunately, Google maps didn't translate the area to English and we had no idea which way to go. After a while, we get a rough idea of directions, and start to walk. We walk, with all our bags, about 2-3 miles from the train station. Following the directions that I had downloaded to my phone. Along the way, we find a cool pedestrian path area with lots of lights, people, food, and good times. That somehow faded quickly into a "pink light district." Its apparently a lighter version of a red light district. So just not as vulgar. That's a joke. It was exactly the same as a red light district. These women were standing outside their little glass booths trying to entice/lure us into their area. I must admit, the women were very well put together. My favorite part was the fact all of them were wearing 5-7 inch platform shoes, like something out of Saturday Night Fever. One girl catches our eye, and we all get to talking. Ask her how much for all three. We agree on a price and go from there...that's not true. But we did go through this district. One of the funniest parts was a huge banner hanging over the street that read, "Prostitution is Illegal in Suwon ." We continue on our quest to find our hostel. After about 15 minutes, according to my directions, we were right there. Unfortunately, where we were had nothing. It was a big ordeal, trying to find the place, but there was no way a hostel would be where we were. It was an old run down alley way with apartments and houses that looked like they hadn't been lived in for years. We find a taxi stand and ask them where we were and where our hostel was. This was the first major challenge of the language barrier. We somehow managed to communicate where we wanted to go and asked how much it would be for them to take us. They give us a really high price and think they are trying to rip us off so we say no and keep walking. Eventually, we resign to the fact we will have to pay for a cab. And hail one down up the street a little bit. Our driver had one hand and didn't like the fact we didn't speak Korean. We thought that the fare would be astronomical, judging from what the other cab drivers said, but it wound up being about $3 total. Which was amazing. We finally find our hostel, and check in. It seemed like we were the only ones staying there. We had a cute little room with bunk beds and Loony Toon blankets and sheets. After we put our things down, we hop in another cab and go back to the area where we saw all the lights and people and good times. We meet Ariel's friend Moon as well as some of her friends at a pub and basically hang out the rest of the night. Korea
The next day we get a train to
|Korean Tea House|
The next morning, Jeff and I awoke to the sounds of children laughing and running around. It was about and the daycare was starting to fill up. Poor planning on my part, I had left my clothes in the office room with my bags. I poked my head out and saw a father dropping off his kids, and had to wait until he left so I could leave and get my things without looking like a pervert. We are escorted to another small room, and a breakfast feast awaits us. HeeSoo's mother cooked us a breakfast for champions. Cereal, eggs, veggies, fruits, sausages, the works! Once we finished breakfast, Hyunho drove us down the road to his drum studio (he is a drum teacher and gives lessons). It was in the basement floor of a building and had sound proofed rooms and a couch as well as a little cot. We were instructed to go back to sleep. So we did. Around he came back to collect us and we went to meet up with his family for lunch at a Korean BBQ place. The food was phenomenal. We cooked everything on the grill in front of us, piled it up with garlic and sauces and ate our fill. Once again, at the insistence of our hosts. After lunch we bid farewell to the parents and Hyunho dropped us back off at
|Our Korean Family|
Korean hospitality, to this point is rivaled by none.
itself is the first place we truly felt we did not spend enough time in. If we had to go back, we would have added a few more days in country. This life is really tough, but someone has to live it. Korea
It was a short flight from
to Korea . As soon as we got off the plane we found ourselves in the middle of a dense Beijing smog. I had been here six years prior, and once again, nothing has changed. Once we get our bags, we find the bus that is going to take us into the city. The whole place was a madhouse. The line to get on the bus was ruthless, just trying to get our bags underneath was a hassle. So much so that I personally shifted things around to make room for our bag, when someone comes in from the side and put their bags in the exact place I had just cleared. I have never seen anything like it. So we just go on the bus with our bags. We had been up all night before, and tried to sleep on the bus, but the driver must have been drunk because he kept slamming on the brakes jolting everyone forward. Once we arrived at the stop, we make our way through huge crowds surrounding the station area we were in. At the hostel, we had to fight off hordes of people trying to check in and shove us out of the way. This hostel/hotel was enormous but cheap ($8 dollars a night). Beijing
We get settled into our rooms, and venture out to find lunch. We decide on a small Chinese shop, where as soon as we walk in the door all heads turn. I thought there was little English in
, there is even less in Korea . But the people just talk to you as if you understand everything they are saying. Even when you clearly don't they think that if they just keep saying it, somehow you will understand. Furthermore, the Chinese won't meet you half way. In other places, if you don't understand, maybe try pointing, or making hand gestures. Not here. Everything was an uphill battle. We finally point to enough things to get our food brought out. We spend the day trying not to be overwhelmed at the vast, lawless, filthy city that is Beijing . As we wandered, we encountered a few things that would prove to be the norm. First, children are basically pets. Their parents take them out with crotch-less pants and whenever they need to urinate or defecate, they just pop a squat on the side of the road and let-er-rip. Second, pictures. The Chinese seem to be obsessed with taking random photos with strangers. We were stopped numerous times to pose with strangers, to the point that we would just mess with them (ie: pick them up, pretend to charge, etc.). Lastly, spitting. Not just spitting saliva, but obnoxiously (to foreigners, normal for them) hocking whatever phlegm, luggie, or spit they can conjure from their throat/lungs and violently spitting it to the ground. This is such a common occurrence, that we would sometimes just go over the top with it, to see if anyone would take notice, and not a single person would even look twice. Astounding. Beijing
Our first night we were warned to protect ourselves against a variety of different sicknesses and diseases so we were directed to go to the pharmacy. Little did we know that the pharmacy was part of a hospital. When we walked in, it looked like some kind of disaster relief area. People strewn across the floor, on stretchers in the hallways, yells, cries, doctors screaming orders in Chinese, old men walking, seemingly bewildered, with their IV drips. Once we asked around, we were escorted down a hall to an elevator, and taken up to a deserted floor. It was here that we were shown the different medicines to protect ourselves with. The nurses spoke some English which was helpful, and after an hour or so, we were stocked up and on our way back to the hostel.
|Inside the[not-so] Forbidden City|
|One of the many long side streets|
The next day, we had to switch hostels, so we checked out and made our way to the new hostel. The new hostel was much smaller and seemed to be more personal. We got settled in our room then headed out to do some sightseeing. We set out for Tiananmen Square/Forbidden City. We arrived around thinking we could do both sites by the end of the day. We failed to take into account just how big the
The following day, we got up at the crack of dawn to catch the hostel tour going to the
Great Wall of China, or at least one portion of the wall. We went about 3-4 hours west of in to the country side to an area called Jinshanling. We didn't get the memo that it was a couples only tour (not really but there were only couples and us), so we were kind of the odd balls. Our tour guide was a funny Chinese fella, who spoke good English, only he wasn't really a guide. He just took us to the foot of the mountain that had the wall on top and sent us on our way. We took the cable car up to the wall and made the most of our time. We had to be back at the bottom for lunch by and the bus was leaving at 2. So we made haste and tried to get to as many towers as possible. The wall is basically broken up into sections, each section starting and ending with a tower. The whole wall goes along the ridge of the hill/mountains. This portion of the wall we were on was not very "touristy" in that a lot of is was not rebuilt. So there were some stretches where there was hardly anywhere to walk. Other areas were just short of completely vertical, and when we were briefed we were told not to go passed a certain tower because it was "closed." Naturally, we made it to the "closed" section and pressed on. It was a little treacherous, but thankfully we are all skilled climbers and scaled a small portion of the wall and pressed on. We got so far, that there was no one even in sight. We had to stand on a tower to see the nearest person struggle to make it up some of the vertical inclines. Right before we decided to turn around to go back we took a quick rest. We were all drenched in sweat, so much so that my bag and everything in it was actually wet as a whistle. We made our way back down the mountain and had our complementary buffet. Beijing
The bus ride back took about 4.5 hours because of traffic. And by the time we got back to the hostel, we were all exhausted. But not so exhausted that we couldn't make new friends. We made 2 Spanish friends Alberto and Xandra (pronounced Sandra) who were studying in
for the summer and were flying out of Shanghai . We also met Annais and Denny, from Beijing and France respectively. Our new friends were understandably envious of our lifestyle and we all shared stories from our different travels and plans. On their last night in Austria , we all went out for a few drinks and had a great time. At one place, this Chinese guy thought it would be fun to start a mosh pit on the dance floor. Needless to say there were a lot of people who were unhappy with this and there was almost a brawl. Thankfully, this guy's friends had the wherewithal to remove him from the premises. Beijing
|The Great Wall of China|
|Tunas on the Great Wall|
|Our new friend (he made us buy one of his bottles of water to take this picture)|
It was a good way to spend our last day because later, we were on a train heading south to
, a city outside of Suzhou . It was a 5 hour train ride, most of which we slept through. Ariel's friend's friend, Alex, had agreed to meet us and put us up for a few days. We had never met before. We take a cab ride from the station to the apartment complex and are astounded. The place is huge. We walk inside, to a complete strangers apartment (it was agreed she would leave the keys for us) and begin to wonder what it was that we did to deserve this. The apartment was spacious, clean, and full of balconies. We revel in this set up and decide that we need to bring something to offer, but just as we head out the door Alex comes home from work and what a gem she has turned out to be. She took us out to a really good Chinese restaurant, shows us around her city, which is very new. Ground is being broken everywhere, skyscrapers being built all around, and new apartment complexes around every corner. We all slept very well that night. Shanghai
|Shanghai at night|
|Shanghai night and full moon|
We will spend this weekend in
, then move on to X'ian, which is Shanghai of where we are. Our plans from there go to north west , Chengdu, Yunnan , Guilin Hong Kong, then . We are all very excited about the adventures that lie ahead. Vietnam
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Until Next Time,
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