Monday, 27 February 2012

Down With The Sickness

Homesickness has been a rare occurrence recently, especially since Natalie has been around and I’ve been in Korea long enough to get accustomed to the way things work around here. However, there is something that can put a spanner in the works and that’s getting sick, as in physically sick. It hasn’t been a particularly pleasant week.

After eating a stupendous amount of seafood in Incheon last weekend (oysters, welchs, sea snails) I was relieved when the day after there were no signs of food poisoning. However, the day after that I woke up feeling like someone was building a house in my stomach. I even had to phone in sick on the Monday to try and recover. After a morning of kneeling over my toilet I decided enough was enough and I headed out to the pharmacy. Language barriers are tough at the best of times but when you want to do nothing but sit in a ball of your own self pity, scraping at the walls and dreaming of a time when you didn't feel like hell on Earth, you’re not in the mood for making outlandish hand gestures. I had no choice. I put on a performance in the pharmacy and got across what my condition was to the pharmacist. He gave me a box of pills and two little drinks (which were like milk of magnesia but tasted better). Medication is cheap but is dispensed rather liberally and I could have done with a lot more alas the medication got to work pretty quickly and come Tuesday I was back in the rat race.

The middle of the week swam by quite nicely, I certainly didn’t feel like my usual self but I didn’t feel terrible either. Friday was a different story though and for some reason I woke up feeling nearly as bad as I did on Monday. I guess I still hadn’t shaken it and had also ran out of drugs. I trekked on like a trooper but spent this weekend feeling rather sorry for myself. I’m feeling a little better right now but something is still definitely up.

In the UK when I get ill it’s an easy process, I go to the doctor, he tells me what’s wrong, and I get on with my life. Saying that, I can’t remember the last time I was ill in the UK. However, its a whole different ball of stress in Korea. It was hard to explain to my co-workers what was wrong with me. It was hard to explain why I didn’t want lunch. It was hard to build up the enthusiasm to do anything other than lounge about like a dog. It was hard to find food that didn't turn my stomach upside down. Alas, I hope I’m on the mend now and will hopefully have more exciting things to write about in the coming weeks.

Down with the sickness. Keep calm and carry on, right?

Thursday, 23 February 2012

On Indie Travel

Planning a big trip can get stressful. If planning a simple vacation creates stress then planning a round the world trip that will take you through many countries over many continents with many visas is bound to be confusing. However, it doesn’t have to be that way.

Let me tell you my story. Every traveller has a reason as to why they want to travel, specifically for why they want to travel the world as a vagabond, moving freely from destination to destination without boundaries or limitations. Mine started rather embarrassingly, basically I was on my first vagabonding adventure living on Cape Cod in the summer of 2009 when I saw this for the first time: it’s a popular video and I bet most of you have seen it before. It flipped my world upside down. I loved living and working on Cape Cod and was looking forward to my Kerouacesque adventure through the states. I guess I had never experienced freedom like I had in those four or five months, in my entire life. Then it clicked, watching that video taught me that it never had to end, that there are more places and more destinations and that most importantly you don’t need a lot of money to experience those places.

I started planning immediately. I’ve been planning ever since really. I moved here to South Korea in August of last year to begin what I had been dreaming about ever since I left the USA. I’m living as frugally as I can here (despite a brief spending spree on an amazing trip through Japan with Natalie) and leave for the adventure three years in the making in August. I wanted to talk a little about my preparation for that trip and what I’ve done so far.

My original plan included a stupid amount of countries. It looked something like this: Korea – Thailand – Laos – Cambodia – Vietnam – Kuala Lumpa – Singapore – Borneo – Papua New Guinea – Australia – New Zealand – Fiji – China – Mongolia – Russia – Poland – Romania – Serbia – Germany – France – Home. I had my reasons for wanting to visit all of those places and I romanticised this dream trip all out of proportion. What I began to realize as I planned was not only that this trip would take years if I was to do it right, but that it would cost upwards of my target budget. Those things aren’t a big deal right? If the trip takes years then so be it? If it costs more than the budget allows then I could stay in Korea for another few years and save the money I need. Whilst those things are true what is integral to the success of the trip is that time is taken over it. That to be truly happy about my trip I would have to set out to do exactly what I planned to do: Live freely for an extended period of time travelling through different cultures and learning about different ways of life.

If I’m rushing through countries and ticking them off just to satisfy some country count goal in my head then I’m sacrificing that freedom. Moral of the story is: the countries have been cut down. Whilst I still want to visit the countries that have been cut I want to keep within my budget, and I want to experience each country to its fullest without worrying about that budget. Essentially the amount of countries visited isn’t what is important. What’s important is the way I experience the countries I visit, to be able to say I spent enough time in a place to get to know it a little without rushing on to the next place.

So, now, it looks like this: Korea – Thailand – Laos – Cambodia – Vietnam – China – Mongolia – Russia – Poland – Germany – France – Home (UK). Much tighter. Whilst I still want to visit the hill tribes of Papua New Guinea or bask in the sun on the beaches of Fiji, I understand that all will come in good time. The trip I have set out in my head now is well paced, well researched and well budgeted and although I’m trying to cut back a little on the extortionate costs of Europe it’s pretty much there in terms of planning.

So, you have a country list. Now what? Well, I suppose it’s also important to not over plan the minute details of your itinerary and instead to go with the flow and let your trip take you wherever it’s going to take you. So I have a few places I’d like to see written down, I have my budget for each place written down, but outside of that, let whatever comes, come. I think that’s a pretty good philosophy and I think that’s the polar opposite of the kind of travel I want to avoid. Essentially, I want to avoid the package holiday. I just don’t’ see how that is exciting, or even relaxing. It feels contrived and out of sync with my idealistic view of travel. I opt for chance over choice, I suppose.

One final note before I stop babbling about my idiosyncrasies. I was around another teacher’s apartment the other night and very briefly the subject of marketable travel came up. Somebody said, “no matter how small or how independent the traveller, they are essentially a market, to be sold too.” I took instant disliking to this and I’ve been trying to figure out why. It instantly reminded me of that Bill Hicks “marketing is evil” routine. “Now Bill is trying to appeal to a market outside of the market, that’s smart, that’s real clever Bill. NO, I’M NOT TRYING TO DO THAT!” It goes something like that. Look it up, you don’t need me to find the link for you. The reason I don’t think the indie traveller is susceptible to tourism markets was put rather eloquently recently in the Indie traveller manifesto and it reads something like this: Indie Travel is about defining your own values, exploring your beliefs, and crafting your own meaning for life.

The core of indie travel is unmarketable because it essentially has nothing to do with travelling anywhere. It is a state of mind. It is about being open, it is about replacing expectations with realities, seeing yourself in a new light, ridding yourself of possession, discovering yourself rather than escaping yourself, an indie traveller doesn’t really have to travel anywhere. How can a tourism market, market to that? How was Henry David Thoreau marketed to when he gave up material possessions and moved into a cabin on Walden Pond? How was Christopher Johnson McCandless marketed to when he moved out into the Alaskan wilderness? How was Marco Polo marketed to when he sailed to Asia? I’m being idealistic, sure, but I like to think that when I set off on my adventures in August, that I will make my own choices, discover my own path and craft my own destiny.

Yes, I like that, I like that very much.

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

A Day in the Life of an ESL Public School Teacher in Rural Korea

I was originally writing this in order to submit it to several professional travel blogs in a vein attempt to get it published in an e-zine somewhere. However, I decided that it didn't have the zest that I wanted. So, I decided I'd just post it here instead and work on a more exciting piece to submit somewhere at some point in the future. So, enjoy...

The alarm sounds at 6:45am. I wake up with a taut stretch and press the snooze button on my iPhone. I don’t have to leave my apartment until 7:45am so I can allow myself another fifteen minutes of lethargy before I set out into the world. I toss and turn and can’t get back to sleep so I lay awake and think about the day ahead. Time goes by quickly and before I realise it I’ve drifted back to sleep. The snooze alarm echoes through my eardrums and I reluctantly roll out of bed. It’s 7:40am. I rush into the bathroom, scrub my teeth, run a brush through my hair and have a quick wash. I throw yesterdays clothes back on, double check I have my USB drive full of all my lesson plans and I’m out the door on time and on schedule.

On a daily basis I’m reminded that it’s still winter as I step outside and feel the chill attack my nostril hairs. My hands find warmth in my pockets as I scurry down to the bus terminal to catch my 8’o clock bus to school. I live in a small rural farming town two hours north east of Seoul in Gangwon-do. At 7:45am there isn’t much going on. The smell of fish wafts up from the vents outside the fish restaurant. Dogs are chained to posts and cling to the walls of their kennels for a little extra warmth. Korean soldiers clasping designer bags are running to catch the 7:50am bus to Seoul. I walk steadily through the ice and past the myriad of convenience stores to the bus terminal.

I’m greeted every morning by an elderly man sitting cross legged behind the counter of a haggard plush white bus terminal. The man is rarely smiling, always has a cigarette drooping out the side of his mouth and speaks in a raspy voice. “Anneyeong Haseyo,” I say politely to try and get his attention, which is often elsewhere. He looks up at me from below his cotton winter hat. He realises it’s me and proceeds to issue me with my ticket. I hand over my money, say goodbye and stride onto my bus. The inter-city buses across the whole of Korea are quite comfortable. I nestle into my leather seat and use the bus stations wi-fi to catch up with my friends from home before the bus leaves.

The bus journey is a pleasant one and takes roughly ten minutes. The bus driver will occasionally swerve out into the opposite lane to overtake army convoys, slow drivers or tractors that might be blocking his way. He’ll speed around corners; run traffic lights and barley miss any cyclists that might be caught by the side of the road. The bus is never late.

I get dropped off in the small town that my school is in at 8:15am. I take a casual stroll down the hill to my school, breathing in the cold mountain air. I work at a preferably small school, (we have roughly 45 students total). It sits beneath the peak of a small mountain and as it is the height of winter the school is covered in a sprinkling of fresh white snow. I open the glass door and slide my outdoor shoes off and replace them with my indoor shoes kindly provided by my school. I’m usually the second or third person to arrive so I walk through the quiet corridor to my office; I throw my jacket over my chair and turn my computer on.

At 8:30am the third grade teacher arrives and offers me a coffee. I sip it down as I check my emails and go over the day’s schedule. It’s a Wednesday; I have four classes on Wednesday’s. 3 are what I call textbook classes. These are classes that get taught out of government supported text books and therefore require minimal planning. On Wednesdays I have Grade 4, Grade 3 and Grade 5 for textbook classes. Then I have my favourite Grade 4 after school class.

My co-teacher strolls in with a lot of the other teachers at around 8:45am. They all car pool together as they live in Chuncheon (a city roughly an hour from my school).Today is my lucky day as my co-teacher informs me that my Grade 4 text book class is cancelled. It’s not my lucky day because it’s cancelled. It’s my lucky day because I’ve been told in advance. Sometimes, it will be fifteen minutes into class before my co-teacher wanders in to let me know my class is cancelled, other days I won’t get told at all. I graciously thank her for letting me know and proceed to read the daily news from my favourite news sites before knuckling down and going over my other lesson plans for the day.

I’m ignored by most of the other teachers in the school this morning. Not in a bitter way. They just seem busy getting on with other things, or shouting across the room to one another, as I don’t speak Korean I tend to stay out of it and just sit at my desk and keep myself busy. 10am rolls around and I pick up my books, pull out my USB stick and head to my first class.

The kids are especially excitable this morning; they are running around the classroom chasing each other. My co-teacher for this class is nowhere to be seen so I settle myself down at the front of the classroom and set up the computer. My English classroom has a smart board linked up to the computer and textbook classes are taught interactively with a CD-ROM played through the smart board. (This is common practice across most of the public school system.) My kids are still running riot so I decide to join them. I play rock, paper, scissors and lose, I call a few of my students crazy much to the delight of the other students in the class, and I make silly faces and noises with them. Once I’ve let them have a little fun they are usually quite quick to settle down once I shout “ready”?

I ask them all individually “how are you this morning?”

The same old responses:





Everyone laughs at the student who says he is angry.

“Angry Bird” the next student replies. Koreans love Angry Birds!

“Angry Bird, Angry Bird!” and so it goes for every student there after.

“So, everyone feels like an angry bird today?”

“Yes,” they reply.

Crazy indeed.

I kick off the lesson and review the things that they learnt last class. I then introduce the new words and sentences, run a listen and repeat session and play the CD-ROM videos. The kids go crazy when I repeatedly click the play button causing the characters in the video to stutter, “I, I, I can swim.”

I walk around the class asking the students the key questions from today’s videos.

“Can you swim?”


“Can you run?”


“Can you fly?”


“WOW!” I say. “Soo Kim can fly!” The class all laugh. They’re so easy to entertain its silly.

We then wrap up the ‘learning’ part of the lesson and proceed to play a game. The co-teacher arrives in the nick of time and explains the game in Korean for the kids, we play the game until the lesson is over, do a quick review and I’m left in a silent classroom once more.

I have a huge break between now and my next class. I plan a lesson for the next day and waste some time reading travel articles online. My principle strolls into the teacher’s office at 11:30am and we all stand up and sit back down again. He talks to the vice principle for a while, makes himself a tea and leaves. Lunch time rolls around at 12:30am and I walk down the corridor to meet my fourth grade kids. Since my first day at school I’ve always had my lunch with the fourth grade. This is mainly due to the fact that my main co-teacher is the fourth grade homeroom teacher. We head for the lunch room. Today we have, kimchi (what a surprise), a tofu and kimchi soup (not bad), rice (obviously), the main dish looks like it’s some kind of grilled fish with seaweed and sesame seeds, then we have a spring onion, cucumber and sesame seed concoction, with some banana for dessert. An average school lunch. I swear since day one, no school lunch has been the same.

My next class is fifth grade, they’re much better at English than third grade, but today we are just having a writing test and reviewing some things they’ve already learnt. They do pretty well on my writing test so I reward them by playing the angry birds game with them (it’s essentially an English bomb game in which students must answer questions to get prizes). The class goes swimmingly and I return to my desk for an hour before my after school class. I check my emails once more and make sure I have enough tricks up my sleeve for my after school class.

After school with fourth grade is always a lot of fun, they have a pretty good level of English and respond well to most activities I do with them. Today we learn about jobs, I teach them the words and then we play a hot seat game in which students sit in front of a picture while the other students use English to try and describe the picture so that the student in the hot seat can guess what the picture is. A simple, fun game that lasts until the bell rings. There’s not really a bell.

I have an hour left before I go home so I do some writing. I usually use this time to wind down at the end of my day. I’ll talk to friends from home, watch youtube videos or like today try and write something. During National Novel Writing Month I frantically bashed away at the keyboard during the last hour of my day.

At 5pm I pack my things up and say “Anneyeong Gaseyo” to whoever is left in the office. I head for the bus terminal and buy my ticket from a man with a less raspy voice than the man in the town I live. I sit in the bus stop and watch the world go by until my bus arrives at 5:20pm. This bus ride always goes much slower than the morning ride and today we get stuck behind a giant army convoy. I get back into town at 5:35pm, a little later than usual.

I haven’t got any groceries in so I head straight for Kim’s Mart, a local market. I decide I don’t want to cook tonight so pop next door to a tiny take away kitchen where I order two rolls of Tuna Kimbop (Korean sushi without the raw fish). Kim's Mart has always appeared a little dirty to me but really it's the best the town has to offer, and I can't complain. I know of some English teachers who don't have markets in their towns at all and have to head out on weekends to stock up. I pick up a few bits in Kim’s Mart whilst my kimbop is being made and finally head home. The town is much more alive at this time of day. There are high school students walking past the convenience store. They wave at me and say hello and I respond accordingly. I stroll up the hill and past the church to my apartment. I enter my door code, throw my bag down and collapse onto my bed for five minutes.

Once I've regained composure I get up and eat my dinner whilst catching up on some American TV. I go and see if one of the other teachers is home and we talk for an hour about teaching and travel and other trivialities. I head back to my room at around 8pm and decide to catch up on some more writing. I settle in for an early night at around 10:30pm and get ready to do it all again tomorrow.

Tomorrow will be very different. Tomorrow will be very much the same.

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Watch The World

The Korean school year goes something like this:

Term 1 runs from the start of March until mid-July, then the students have summer vacation until late August (summer camps will run in this time in which select students will attend specialist programmes during the vacation period). Term 2 will resume in late August and run until late December, then the students will break for winter vacation (and have more camps). Here’s the weird bit. Students will then return to school for 2 weeks at the beginning of February and then there is a two week spring vacation at the end of February before school starts again in March. Currently I’m in the two week period where students are back in school but let’s be honest, they ain’t doing much.

I’ve been informed that my English classes are cancelled this week; however, yesterday I did give one impromptu third grade role play class in which I had students pretending to act like various types of birds. You never know what is going to happen. That’s the thing about being an ESL teacher in Korea, at school you have to fend for yourself and be prepared for every eventuality. Anything could happen at the blink of an eye.

The point of these two weeks in February is vague. I’ve heard several explanations for it, all speculative. Some say it’s for tying up loose ends before the new term starts, others say its so that the students can clean the school ready for the new term. As far as I’m concerned, nobody knows what the real reason is. I think it’s been like this for so long that people have forgotten why and the older generation are too stubborn to change anything. That’s my two cents.

It’s best, in my experience at least, not to ask too many questions about these sorts of matters. When I first got here I was full of questions for my co-teachers but I quickly learnt that it’s best not to ask them, and to just go with the flow. Simple rule of thumb, if you have a question about what you need to do, ask it, if you have a question about how you need to do it, don’t bother. If they want a lesson that takes longer than five minutes to plan then they’ll give you longer than five minutes to plan it. I have a folder on my USB called ‘Mission Impossible’, this is for those days when I have to turn up for a class with five minutes’ notice, and I have to be Ethan Hunt for 40 minutes, I have to think fast, act quickly, watch my back. It’s all fun and games.

So, here I am back at school and it’s kind of good to be back. Ok, of course I’d rather still be on vacation, I’m not going to lie to you. I had an amazing time and am very much looking forward to my big trip in the summer (don’t talk to me about visas), but it’s nice to be getting back into a routine. It’s great to see the kids again; they seemed genuinely excited to see me, which felt good. I’m half way now; this week marks the exact half way mark in my contract. So, what will be next? What will the new term bring?

For now, I sit at my desk and listen to my co-workers nattering away. For now, I scour the web looking for new games and activities I can bring into the classroom next term. For now, I sit at my desk and start writing my second novel. For now, I sit at my desk and watch the world go by...

Monday, 6 February 2012


The Koreans can only dislike the Japanese for one reason (besides the years of torture and hardship that the Japanese put the Koreans through) the real reason Koreans hate Japan must be jealousy. Japan is amazing. It truly is a country where the past collides head on with the future in a cornucopia of electric, eccentric and eclectic. From the hustle and bustle of the neon lit Shibuya district of Tokyo to the tranquil forests of Nikko or the sweepingly awe-some lakes beneath Mt. Fuji. Japan is a nation of contrast.

We flew to Tokyo at 8:00am on a very cold Wednesday morning. The previous night we had stayed in the Incheon Airport Guesthouse a gargantuanly tall building just outside of the airport, the staff were kind enough to offer us a free shuttle ride to the airport in the ungodly early hours of Wednesday morning. We checked in at the Eastar Jet counter smoothly and we strolled through customs, had a donut (banana shaped) and a coffee and proceeded to our gate. There were no hiccups which was much appreciated. I’ve never been a coffee connoisseur but something about living abroad has turned me onto the brown murky addict ridden substance.

We landed in Tokyo’s Narita airport at around 11am and cleared immigration just as smoothly as we had done on the Korean side. The first hiccup was just around the river bend, or, should I say just along the railway tracks. We hopped on what we thought was a local bound train (70 minutes) to Ueno (close to our hostel), however we jumped on the Narita Sky Express (36 minute all reserved seats) train bound for Ueno. Whilst it would still get us to the same place we had not reserved a seat and we had not paid the premium. However, apparently in Japan they never check your tickets so we got a very cheap express trip into Tokyo, hopped off and passed through the gate with no problem. Perfect, right?

Our hostel was clean, friendly and conveniently located one stop away from Akihabara (Electric Town), after a brief trip to Meiji Shrine and a walk around a hip shopping district recommended by our friend we headed to Akihabara for some dinner, may I add, it was the best duck I have ever tasted! Akihabara is a frightfully busy district of electric supply shops bordering the strangest scantily clad anime school girl comic shops I’ve ever come across and is a delight to walk through at 11pm.

After an early night (11pm is early) we hit Tokyo hard. The next day we crammed so much in that my knee was aching from all of the walking we did. We visited many beautiful shrines dotted around the urban landscape. It’s really fascinating seeing how such contrasting architecture works together across the city. There are more temples and shrines in Japan than I’ve seen anywhere, ever, and they are all uniquely different. We visited the Pokemon Centre for much geekiness and nostalgia of wasted youths spent watching the anime or capturing Pokemon on the Nintendo. Money was spent. We had a Mos Burger for lunch and saw Tokyo Tower, Ueno Park and Ueno Zoo, and then we headed to Shibuya in the evening to take the classic photograph amongst the hustle and bustle of Shibuya crossing and have some dinner. We visited the anime centre and some other choice locations as well and we had an amazing time in Tokyo. It’s a vibrant city, a clean city, a friendly city and a city that is surprisingly tranquil and quiet.

We headed out the next morning to catch the train to Nikko. The Japan Rail Pass made travel around Japan easy and convenient. It doesn’t’ take long to get your head around the system and once we did we nestled into our comfy reserved seats on the shinkansen and off we set. We arrived in a Nikko submerged in snow. The snow was beating down fast. It wasn’t bitterly cold but it wasn’t warm either and we had a 20 minute walk up a hill and through a forest to our mountain lodge accommodation. As we entered the wooden lodge, fireplace roaring, couches centred around an old antique table, candles flicking, the smell of asphalt rising, there was nobody there so we placed our bags down and took a walk through town after eating some choice ramen with wild mountain plants. We checked out the shrines which all looked magnificent underneath the white of the snow and when we decided it was too cold to carry on we headed back to the mountain lodge. We waited around for another hour before a friendly Japanese woman eventually turned up and checked us in. At time of arrival we were the only people staying in the lodge so we were upgraded to a double room. The joy of travelling off-season. We were cooked an amazing dinner (the z on my keyboard is on its way out) and we settled down for the night. Nikko is a beautiful place.

The next morning we caught the bus early and headed out to see some of the waterfalls at the edge of town, these too were magnificent and the snow hadn’t stopped. I’ve never seen so much snow in my life. We couldn’t hang around and had to catch our train for Mt. Fuji at lunch time. We picked up our bags from the station and headed out. When we arrived in Mt. Fuji that night we were convinced we wouldn’t get a chance to see it. It was dark, it was misty, and it had been snowing there as well. We went for some Indian food because that’s what you do when you’re in Japan and we headed in for another early night. Our roommate John from Australia came in early that morning to tell us that he’d just been for a stroll and there was no sign of the mountain. He decided to catch an early train to Kyoto, we thought it might be best to follow suit. Luckily we traveled light enough to be able to comfortably keep all of our stuff with us at all times so we headed to check it out ourselves.

By the time we had walked around the picturesque lake to the main stretch of town we found the mist to be clearing so we checked onto the boat that goes out into the lake and we were awe-struck by the magnificent Mt. Fuji, covered in a thick layer of the white stuff it stood soaring above the lake like a God. It’s an indescribable site of beauty. It’s impressionable, inspiring and insatiable. It’s something you have to see for yourself. If I have enough money on my summer vacation I’m tempted to head back during climbing season and conquer the thing. Japan was winning us over one site at a time. We had some cheesecake and we headed out.

We were in Kyoto that night and checked into our 1000 year old traditional hostel. The walls were all doors and there were little cosy compartments everywhere. The bathroom was outside, something that was quite an annoyance in the middle of the night when you couldn’t hold it in, but it was worth it for the chance to stay in such a pretty little hostel with such friendly people. There were two Koreans crashing at the hostel mundo and they offered us some Soju that night. “No!” we responded, we wanted as far away from soju as we could get. We went for some conveyer belt sushi and went silently to sleep.

Kyoto is a tranquil metropolis, I mean yeah, it’s a city, but it doesn’t feel like one. It’s just so calm. We caught the train out to the bamboo grove early in the morning and strolled around some beautiful gardens that somehow managed to incorporate the surrounding mountains into the pools of carp and lanes of flowers. Back to Kyoto for some lunch and up to the Golden Pavilion for more awe-inspiring sights and great food. Truly Japan has to be one of the greatest countries I’ve ever visited. It’s just so damn nice. So damn cute. We went to the Geisha district that evening and saw some young Maiko’s on their way to their appointments before heading for more sushi and sake at the conveyor sushi bar. I was starting to really get into the swing of Japanese traveler life, and could have stayed for much longer had the country not been so darned expensive.

Sure, you can travel cheaply, you can do that anywhere in the world but Japan makes it difficult for you, even budget accommodation is a little steep and food can be a pricy endeavour too, but it’s all worth it. The people are accommodating, welcoming and friendly. The nature is marvellous, tranquil, and peaceful. The cities are sprawling, encapsulating and full of life. The food is full of zest, spice and flavour.

We headed back to Tokyo from Kyoto via shinkansen to catch one final glimpse of Mt. Fuji before we headed home. The trip reminded me of why I moved away in the first place. As much as I love teaching that’s not the real reason I came to Korea. That’s not why I came to Asia. That’s not why I do anything. It’s to experience what things are like on the flip side. I hope we got to experience a slice of the real Japan, if we didn’t then whatever we tasted it was sweet.

There's this saying: 'in an all-blue world, colour doesn't exist.' If something seems strange, you question it; but if the outside world is too distant to use as a comparison then nothing seems strange.