Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Korean Baseball


The one thing I regret not seeing in Japan was a baseball game. On coming home, I found a sudden touristy itch that that just needed to be scratched. I rounded up a few friends and headed up north.

The first thing I noticed about the game was the ticket prices. The cheap seat cost less than $ 5 and the REALLY nice seat went for around $10. But even then, on a brilliant Sunday evening....the stands were only 80% full.

Korea is not a big country. Think of it like New York. A quarter of the Korean population lives in Seoul. A quarter of the population lives in the other half dozen cities (Busan, etc...). So it should be no surprise that 3 of the 8 professional baseball teams find their home in Seoul. This will matter in a moment...just wait...

On arriving at the stadium, we noticed that their were 2 very distinct colors: white and red. Gone were the Yankee hats that seem to dominate that brows of all the Koreans. They were all wearing hats with G (for the Seoul Giants) or T (for the Seoul Twins). We stumbled across a crosstown rivalry game!!!

(See I told you it would matter!!!)

We walked up to the general admission seats behind home plate. (the general admission seats do not have assigned seating) Spanning across the infield seating was a giant colored divide....the home team (the LG Twins) were the home team and their fans we covered the right half of the stands in white. The visiting team (the Lotte Giants) covered the left half of the stands in red.

We tried to find 3 empty seats on the Giants sides...but we couldn't find any.

We tried to find seats on the Twins side and succeeded.

Please note that the visiting fans outnumbered the home team fans.....I shouldn't have to tell you who one this game...

In order to maintain our hydration levels I stopped off at the snack shack to grab a few beers...16 oz cans sold for less then $2.50. I should also point out that they sold CANS at a baseball game and were not afraid of some idiot throwing the cans around.

But really, we didn't leave our seats, as there was a roaming beer man with a KEG strapped to his back!!! And it gets BETTER!!!

The Korean believe in singing while their batter is up. So half the game one half of the stadium is bursting out into song...the bottom half of the inning...the other half of the stadium is on its feet singing.

They don't stop during the pitch. I've noticed in American games that the speakers go eerily quiet when the pitcher is about to deliver the ball. This probably not wanting to disturb the delicate egos of the multi-millionaire men that are paid to play a game for a living.

In Korea...it's all about the fans...they chant and sing the entire game....and are encouraged by their mascot.

Oh...and for the record....while I find the dancing abilities of Seattle's ground crew amusing...professional cheerleaders manage to do a better job of exciting the crowd...

I'm not sure what the final score was. I honestly stopped watching at the top of the first when our pitcher didn't manage to throw a strike for the first 6 batters. Then again....maybe that's why the game is more about the fans in Korea than it is about the game being played.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Soo bha bok su kha pi

I decided to pretend to be a tourist in the city that live in....Never mind I have at least another 9 months to live here...the was still some major thing I needed to see.

First on the list. "Soo bha bok su kha pi"

Or as you may know it Starbucks Coffee. When Starbucks first opened its stores in Korea, it couldn't use English letters for the sign. It had to use the Korean alphabet. That rule has since changed...and all of the other stores changed their sign...all except this one.

After I got a picture of that, I went out to the prison museum. This is a structure that was built by the Japanese during their occupation of Korea. It housed mainly political prisoners. I think it is almost needless to say that the guards behaved badly.

The prison sort of reminded me of Alcatraz...only in this prison...the cells were full of poor Korean manikins being tortured laughing Japanese manikins. And you wonder why a lot of Koreans have deep seeded hatred of the Japanese built into them.

Then again...Japanese history brushes over all this history with the audacious claims....that they were occupying Korea to assist in its industrialization....

For me...the saddest part of this museum....a museum that is dedicated to the struggle for independence of the Korea nation....is that the struggle never succeeded. For all the pain and all their suffering....the Korea people were unable to liberate themselves. It took 2 atomic explosions for Japan to surrender...64 years ago today...to free Korea.

On a happier note...

Finally, I went to Seoul Tower.

I took a gondola up the hill. I could have spent an hour walking up the hill...but then I would have missed the sunset...

Unfortunately, the smog took care of that for me...the brown air was so think that I couldn't watch the sun sick over the horizon on a perfectly cloudy day.

I began to miss Seattle...for its clean air and drinkable tap water...

Friday, August 7, 2009

Coming home

Having seen pretty much everything I wanted to see. I gave myself until noon before I needed to head towards the airport to catch a 3:20 flight back.

I walked around the Akitabara Arcades, to get a glimpse of the crazy gaming culture that Japan is famous for. Only to find that nothing is really open before 10:00

I went over to to Yoyogi park to catch some of the out of this world costumes on display that Japan is famous for. Again...they seem to be more nocturnal creatures.

I went to the zoo to see the Giant Panda that is supposed to be there. Only to find that he had died last year of a heart attack.

I walked back to the train station and noticed a rapid train bound for Narita. So, instead of wasting my time going back to the central station and then catching a direct train there, I hopped on the train and took a little nap.

My first sign that something went wrong was that I was the only tourist on the bus. No one else on the bus had anything more than a briefcase. The second thing that I noticed was that for being the rapid train, it seemed to stop at every station. Then I realized that Japanese trains are like popcorn at the movie theater, there's no such thing as small....regardless of how accurate it would be.

When I finally arrived at my destination, I learned another gem of information...that the narita train stop and Narita Airport train stop are 2 different places.

So I had 2 wait another 40 minutes for the next train to arrive. This time there were some fellow travellers, so I felt secured in the fact that at least this time I was going the right way.

I arrived in Narita AIRPORT and walked up to the ticket counter. I watched the girls eyes almost pop out her head. I had 20 minutes to get thru customs, thru security, and to the far side of a major international hub.

Oh boy...

She brought me thru to the express line thru security. Fortunately, I didn't bring any dull cutlery in my pack this times, so getting thru security was a breeze.

The customs line was a good 40 minutes deep...thankfully I saw some people towards the front of the line. Not that the Japanese are rude people....I can attest that they were amazingly polite to me my entire visit there...however...white skin, increases the chances that the person speaks English...and I don't just want to burst in front of someone in a long line.

These individuals were a couple of Australian guys that were kind enough to let me cut in front of them. The custom official waved me thru promptly and I took off running thru the airport. All the while listening to the loud speakers making the final boarding call for gate 31....my gate...

I ran faster.

I made it with 2 minutes to spare....


And so ends my Japanese adventure. If you want a Japanese postcard, albeit with a Korean postmark...email me your address and I'll send one over.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009


I got off the sleeper bus in Tokyo at around 6:00 in the morning.

I've used my deductive reasoning since then to determine this was about the time the case opened for "Philip and the case for the missing Sherlock Holmes book" began...

I caught the subway to the tsukiji fish market. While it was interesting to watch a man render a 5 foot Tuna with a band saw, to me it looked like a fish warehouse and market slapped together. I think I'll rack this one up along with Kobe beef...legendary, but not worth the hype.

I caught a subway out to Kamakura. This yet another of Japan's former capitals. Kamakura was where the idea for the shogun came from. Around 800 years ago, the military head of government (shogun) separated from the religious and state head of the government government (emperor).

I contains Japan's largest sitting Buddha. While I was definitely on Buddha overload at this point, the ability to go inside and look how it was put together was really cool.

The cute little statue is part of a much larger shire, filled with lots other cute little statues...which is all fine and dandy...until I read that the temple is dedicated to souls of the miscarried children. At which point, the cute little statues became kind of sad too.

I hiked around in the lush hills surrounding this seaside town, and reached a level of tranquility that can old come from walking in Japan for 20 minutes and having not seen a vending machine...

I managed to find a shrine called zeniarai-benten which due to its triforce shaped mono glyphs etched everywhere and me reminiscing to all those wasted hours playing The Legend of Zelda.

Afterwards, I headed back to Tokyo to catch some Zs on a real bed....well floor pad...despite the name...a sleeper bus is notoriously hard to get a good nights sleep in.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Nara Buddha

So I caught the early train out of Kyoto. I got off in Nara and started walking towards the Todai-jinju.

So apparently, the Japanese used to think that the deer were the messengers of the gods. The parks around Nara double as deer preserves.

There are men selling deer crackers.

The deer here aren't scared of people. Once they realize you have food...you get surrounded by a dozen deer that can't get enough of you....until they realize that you don't have food...at which point they move onto the next tourist...

Continuing along the path, I evertually reached the largest wooden building in the world.

Conveniently, it houses the largest sitting Buddha in Japan.

You know you've seen too many Buddhas when you see the largest sitting Buddha in Japan housed in the largest wooden building in the world...yet you focus on the statues guarding the buildings...


Well, having seen 2 imperial castles already, I can't say I expected too see anything else too nice from the castle department.

Man was I wrong...

West of Kyoto

West of Osaka

West of Nara

Lies the Castle Himeji. Also known as the the White Heron is towers over the small town that surrounds it.

Honestly...it's almost out of a fairy tale. It towers over the surrounding country side and town. This castle put me in officially into castle overload....I mean...in order for me to take another picture of the castle...it has to be cooler than this one.

Good luck on that...

Afterwards, I caught the train back towards Kyoto. But first I took a brief stop in a little town called Kobe.

So according to my traveling bible (aka Lonely Planet-Japan) there is just one place to eat a real Kobe steak...and that's in Kobe. However, the list just one restaurant in Kobe...a restaurant that's clientele was half backpack wielding hauling gaijin (aka foreigners)

I happened to be seated next to 2 Canadian Med students. The Japanese chef took our orders and set about grilling vegetables and garlic. Eventually, he grilled the steaks in front of us. The others had already started and judging by their cloth bibs I was reminded by that classic dieting adage..."if you're note sure about something, rub it against a piece of paper. If the paper turns clears..."you know that it's good to eat.

While I can say the steak was delicious, was it worth the hype.

No chance.

Now, oh...and while I was usually looking for fun looking souvenirs...the Fuji climbing Canadian med students I sat next to, stole there grease covered bibs...

I headed back to Kyoto and caught the sleeper bus back to Tokyo.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Japan's History...

The original capital of Japan was Kyoto. It remained a central point for the culture even when the official capital was moved from the city to avoid its decadent influence.

As such, there are SO many temples and beautiful sights here that one day was not enough to see all the basics, let alone the subtle things that made this city the central pillar of Japan's cultural history.

I have to say that this was probably one the the better ceiling I saw at the yet another amazing temple complexe in Kyoto. There was an amazing gold buddha right below it...but at this point I was on Buddha overload. I wasn't not however on ceiling overload...

That being said, I went to bed early hoping to catch an early train furhter west (avoiding the swine flu infested Osaka...) to see some more sights and have a dinner that was rumored to change the way I eat steak for the rest of my life...

Japan Trip Kyoto

How do you make a 4 hour car ride into a 6 hour sleeper bus?

Rest stops. Lots of rest stops.

At 8:00 bought a city bus pass I got on a city bus bound for the north part of the city.

And this palace? Eat your heart out Gold Finger! It's covered in GOLD.

I toured the Nijo-jo palace and was weirded out but the shoddy construction on the floors. THEY ALL SQUEAKED when you walked on them! Only to find out, this was done on purpose...In order to avoid assassination by pesky ninjas and others that wanted to do either the occupants harm...the floors were designed to squeak as to alert the guards.

I hiked thru some bamboo gardens that looked like they were right out of Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon movie.

After that...I was on a hunt for one of the infamous geisha....

Kyoto is supposed to be home to the 100 or so that are left in this world. Sadly...they are about as elusive as unicorns...

Somewhere around this time I started to get a common ailment in Kyoto. Temple overload...

Its not that the temples aren't beautiful...it's that you begin to ask yourself...is this temple more beautiful than the temple I saw 15 minutes ago. If the answer is no...really...why bother taking a picture...

Fortunately...I still had some amazing things to see.

Japan Trip 1

There so much to write about and so many pictures. Too much and too many to write about here. In fact I feel that I wrote too many pictures that it I felt like a tourist out for picture taking the revenge for all those Japanese tourists in the 80s.

So touched down in Tokyo's airport (Narita) on Monday to be treated with rain, main and more rain. I also promptly discovered that most of the museums are closed one day a week....Monday. So I checked into my hostel, sang some songs with my fellow travelers in the lobby...and went to bed early.

The first place I went was the Meiji shrine. This is a beautiful park in the heart of Seoul that is dedicated to Emperor that brought Japan into the modern world. You may think that hair cuts, pants, and beer are all pillars of modern civilization, but many samurai died defending their country resisting those ideas in the Tasty-little-Christmas-orange rebellion (ok ok it's actually called the Satsuma Revolution...)

From there I took a brief hop of the bridge into the war dead memorial. The Yasukuni shrine is where all their war dead. They honor ALL their war dead, including the war criminals.

The history presented in the attached museum was...interesting...to say the least. The first room is dedicated to the fighting/warrior spirit of the Japanese.

The second room denotes the encroachment of foreign powers into the Eastern Hemisphere. The rest of the museum is based around those 2 themes: warrior spirit and fending of the aggression of the west. Japan is the victim here...never the aggressor. The Japanese always wanted Korea to be an independent nation...Nanjing was just a misunderstanding...oh...and Japan was forced to attack Pearl Harbor by the United states.

Needless to say the history was...creative...interesting...but creative...

Due to the heat, I made sure to stay hydrated...one such place was the Sapporo restaurant where, in addition to the lamb dish, I made sure to indulge in some hop flavored carbonated water...

I walked around Tokyo a little bit and ended up catching the sleeper bus to Kyoto...