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Archive for June, 2014

The Night Market

Posted by Heliocentrism on June 27, 2014

April 28 – 29, 2013

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Creatures on Sticks (The scorpions were still alive.)

The Night Market – Sunday evening April 28

I spent most of Sunday walking around Tiananmen Square. I had visited Beijing before and there was nothing I really wanted to see again. The only thing I would have been interested in would have been the museum near the dig site in which Peking Man was found. When I looked online for the directions to the museum I saw that it was a 3~4 hour journey that involved a train and several bus transfers. I opted, instead, for an afternoon nap.

When I woke up I went to the hostel’s bar to buy a bottled water and to use the wi-fi. I thought I would just email Vera to tell her that I would be at the hostel’s bar and she should meet me there. As I walked down the hallway I saw her. By complete coincidence, she was put into the very same room I was.

She got a lock for the locker in the room and put away her things. Then we both set out for something to eat.

Vera asked me where I had been eating during my stay. I sheepishly told her that I had mostly been patronizing the Yoshinoya right under the hostile. The food was good, but most of all the lady who worked there was really nice to me. She would talk to me and didn’t seem at all bothered by the fact that I could not understand a word she said.

Fruit on Sticks

One thing that Vera wanted to see was the night market near the Forbidden City. After dinner we walked along the outer walls to the market. It was as colorful as it was crowded.

At one point there were so many people pushing towards us that we got swepped away from each other. We tried to hold hands as we walked down the street, but people kept being caught in our arms. So, we just let the crowd take us where it wanted. After a while we were deposited to a less crowded area of the street where actually buying things seemed less like an impossibility.

What should I buy now that I have room to reach into my pockets?

On our way back to the hostel we passed a set of very beautiful doors. We wanted to go closer to the doors and take photos of ourselves in front of them. They looked like they would open onto the Forbidden City; it was the right neighborhood for it. As we approached, a soldier stepped out and told us, “NO.”

“Can we just take a picture?”

“No.”

“What if we take a picture from here?”

“No pictures.”

Then he politely motioned us to leave the area. I turned to Vera and said, “We should get used to that. We’re going to get a lot of it in the next few days.”

Buying goodies for our North Korean tour guides

The Meeting – Monday April 29

The next day Vera and I walked around Beijing. We went to a bookstore and ate sandwiches. I don’t remember what all we were up to that morning, but we had to be back at our hostel by 14:00 for our Young Pioneer Tour group meeting where we would meet our Western tour guides for the first time.

This was where we got our North Korean visas and were given the rules to follow on the tour. The meeting was not as intense as I thought it would have been. The tourists in the group ranged from backpackers, to a retired couple, from Americans and Europeans, to some Hong Kongese, but most everyone lived in Asia.

We were told not to take photos when we are asked to put our cameras away. In North Korea we can buy things with US dollars, euros, or Yuan; dollars and euros are prefered. We are allowed to ask questions, but only to the North Korean tour guides. “If you’re not sure if your question is safe to ask, ask one of us (Western guides) first. Do not talk about religion. If you have a bible, leave it in China.”

The tour guides told us about a woman who had a copy of The Aquariums of Pyongyang. Once in North Korea she held up her book to ask if it was okay that she had brought it in. “‘Just keep it in your backpack and don’t talk about it,’ we had to tell her.”

Along with bibles and books like The Aquariums of Pyongyang, we were told not to bring in anything with GPS capability. Several hands shot up, but before anyone could ask questions the tour guide responded. “They don’t turn anything on to check. If your camera has “GPS” written on it, just put some tape or a sticker over the letters.”

Computers, cell phone, tablets, and mp3 players are now all okay to bring to the DPRK. That was great, because I had my Acer tablet with wi-fi and GPS capability. It was the reason Vera and I did not get lost earlier in the day. But, it could not find any satellites the whole time we were in North Korea; I checked constantly.

We were given advice on what gifts we should take with us to give the Korean tour guides. “You should give them things that are hard to get in North Korea like bananas or sweets.” I had several bars of Meiji Chocolates from Japan; both the milk and dark chocolates. They also like cigarettes with Marlboro being the most desired brand.

Later I went with Vera to a shop next to the hostel for her to buy some treats for the North Korean guides. She picked up some Choco Pies and asked me if she should buy them. Personally, I hate Choco Pies. So, I suggested that she get some Kit-Kats instead. Later I read about how Choco Pies are so beloved in North Korea that they have become a hot commodity on the black market. Now I feel bad for talking Vera out of buying them.

All Pictures


China 
(中国)

How to get there:

  • You can enter by plane, train, boat, or bus
  • Make sure to get a visa before going to China.
  • Visas to China are expensive for people of some nationalities.
  • Getting a Chinese visa is not a quick process. Apply as soon as you can.

Phone:

Website:

There is a long list of websites that cannot be accessed while in China. Facebook and parts of Wikipedia are just two of them. As with everything, there are ways around it. There are sites that will let you get to Facebook and other sites for free for about 15 minutes, then you will have to pay.

My advice is to find a few of them and use them for free. Then use them again on a different computer. If you are in China for a long time, then you might want to invest in paying for the service. Ask friends living in China for the best deals.

Videos:

Books:

*These books by Jung Chang are banned in China. But I highly recommend reading Mao: The Unknown Story before going to Beijing.

Notes:

  • If you want an internet cafe look for this (网吧) on a sign.

Dong Hua Men Night Market
(东华门)

How to get there:

  • 39°54’54.3″N 116°24’05.1″E
  • Go to the east gate of the Forbidden City and walk west.

Website:

Hours:

  • 16:00 – 22:00

Map:

 

Posted in Beijing, China | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Hey I know you!

Posted by Heliocentrism on June 20, 2014

April 27 – 28, 2013

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Guess who I found!

Leaving Mark Behind – Saturday April 27

I tried to talk Mark into coming with me. But, being born in South Korea, Mark had no interest. The day I left I hugged him goodbye and he looked quite sad.

“What if they won’t let you leave and force you to marry some North Korean general?”

“Don’t be silly Mark. They will want to keep their North Korean bloodline pure. If anything I would be force to marry the son of one of those American defectors.”

Sometime in March Vera changed her mind again and was going to join me on the tour of North Korea. I would leave for China on Saturday and she would get there on Sunday.

I took the bus to Fukuoka and headed to the airport. I like being in airports and not missing my flights so I usually go to the airport several hours before I need to. I checked-in with about 3 hours to wait before my flight.

I found the best reasonably priced restaurant and sat down for a meal. I was about halfway through lunch when I saw some braids bobbing around the restaurant entrance. I didn’t want to be one of those people who thinks she knows every foreigner on Kyoshu, but those braids looked familiar.

Just to be sure I stepped outside the restaurant and loudly whispered, “Rhianna”. She turned around. It was Rhianna! We ate lunch together and talked for about an hour. She was heading to Bali and her flight left before mine.

At least I get to see all my friends before I leave.

Qingdao is not in Beijing

When my seat section was called I boarded the plane. As I walked down the aisle to my seat I heard my name. There was so much going on with people stowing away their carry-ons and talking I could not tell who had called me. “Josie! Over here.” There sitting in 14C was Monica.

“What are you doing here, Monica?”

“Just visiting a friend in Beijing, you?”

“Going on a sightseeing tour.”

There was no time to explain. The line of people behind me needed me to go forward. It was a quick flight and I figured I would get to talk to her at the airport.

When the plane landed she waited for me on the tarmac and we got into a shuttle bus together. I looked out the window at the airport to which we just arrived, it looked smaller than I remembered it. The last time I was here the Beijing airport looked a lot busier.

“Why do we have to stop here?” Monica asked. “Why can’t we just go to Beijing?”

“What do you mean? This is Beijing.”

“No. We are in Qingdao.”

I looked at my ticket and my flight itinerary. The ticket was in Japanese, but I could see that there was a stop before Beijing. I got the ticket when I checked-in that morning at Fukuoka airport. The itinerary, which I printed when I bought the ticket back in February,  said it was a non-stop flight to Beijing. There was no mention of a Qingdao.

Monica and I followed the crowd of people into the immigration area. We stood in a random line and tried to see what everyone else was doing. This crowd was now more than just the people from our plane. We weren’t sure if this was passport control or not.

A man saw us and figured we were not Chinese. He pointed us to the non-Chinese line. We thanked him and stood in the correct line. “There’s a paper we have to fill out. Everyone else has one,” I told her. We both got a copy of the form and filled it out.

We were the very last people to go through passport control. We looked around for our fellow passengers, but we couldn’t find them. “Do you think they would leave us?” she asked. “Maybe.”

Just then a lady with a sign passed us. She saw us looking lost and turned to us holding up her sign. Our flight number was on the sign. When we smiled with recognition, she beckoned us to follow her. Everyone was waiting for us.

We found an English speaker who happened to be a JET working in Nagasaki. He thought that we would have some insight as to what the heck was going on. “Why did we just get off the plane?” I suggested that maybe Beijing’s airport was really busy and this one was not, so they do the passport check here. But really, I don’t know.

We went through a maze set up to keep us apart from other passengers at the airport. Our tickets were checked, carry-on items scanned again, and our bottled waters (which were given to us on the plane) were taken away. We then re-boarded the plane.

Once I was back in my seat, I asked for another bottle of water.

My mom’s dad

Did I ever tell you… ?

Back in 2007 when I was packing to go to Korea the first time, my mom came into my room and sat on my bed. “Are you excited to go to Korea?” she asked. “Yes, but I don’t really know much about South Korea. I hope I like the food there.”

My mother thought for a moment and said, “I don’t know much about South Korea either. I only know that my father was in prison there for 13 months when I was a kid. But it might have been North Korea…”

Although I didn’t know much about South Korea at the time, I had lived in Japan when North Korea kept launching missiles in Japan’s direction. I knew North Korea had a habit of kidnapping Japanese people. And I had seen Team America. I knew that being a prisoner in North Korea was no joke.

My grandfather’s name was Burly Carmichael Reid. I don’t know that much about him. He was not a great father. I remember meeting him 2 or 3 times. Even though he was nice to me, I got the feeling that most people thought he was a jerk.

He was born in British Honduras, a place that is now the country of Belize, in 1908 or 1910. His father was an American and his mother, a Belizean. He was orphaned at the age of 3 when both his parents died in a car accident. He was raised by an aunt. He had 8 children, all with my grandmother though they never married. As far as anyone knows, he had no other kids.

My grandfather somewhere with 3 unknown kids

He traveled a lot. He worked on ships and would send money, pictures, and gifts back to Belize for his kids. My mom told me that once when she was small, her family got a box from Japan. Inside were beautiful slippers and robes for her and her sister. The slippers and robes were too small though. He did not know the girls’ sizes.

My mom, grandfather, random cousin, uncle Lennox, grandmother, and aunt Audrey

What I know is what my mom told me. This is information she got when she was a very young child so it might not be completely correct. Her father got a job on an American merchant ship. The ship was in waters near either North or South Korea. Either North or South Korea took possession of the ship and its crew and held it for 13 months.

I would like to know more about this story, but no one in my family seems to have any more information.

The entrance to the Mao Mausoleum

Early Morning Mao – Sunday April 28

Once I got to Beijing, the real Beijing, Monica and I parted ways and I checked into the crappiest hostel in all of China. I only chose it because it was the hostel were my tour group would meet up and the hostel I wanted was fully booked. I got something to eat at a Japanese fast food place (I know…) and walked around a bit before heading to bed. I had the room all to myself.

I woke up early the next morning so I decided to walk to Tiananmen Square to see Mao. I didn’t want to be bothered with having to use the locker so I left everything in my room that could not fit into my back pockets. I took only my Japanese driver’s license (sometimes they ask for ID), about $20 in yuan, and a light jacket.

I got there just as the mausoleum opened. There was no line. I walked passed the entrance hall and the giant Mao statue. Since there were not many people there I was not rushed along. I was able to stand and look at Mao for as long as I wanted.

I stood there staring at Mao. He had a great life. He killed so many people and he loved it. Many people still love him, though they wouldn’t if they really knew him. He was a horrible man.

All Pictures


China 
(中国)

How to get there:

  • You can enter by plane, train, boat, or bus
  • Make sure to get a visa before going to China.
  • Visas to China are expensive for people of some nationalities.
  • Getting a Chinese visa is not a quick process. Apply as soon as you can.

Phone:

Website:

There is a long list of websites that cannot be accessed while in China. Facebook and parts of Wikipedia are just two of them. As with everything, there are ways around it. There are sites that will let you get to Facebook and other sites for free for about 15 minutes, then you will have to pay.

My advice is to find a few of them and use them for free. Then use them again on a different computer. If you are in China for a long time, then you might want to invest in paying for the service. Ask friends living in China for the best deals.

Videos:

Books:

*These books by Jung Chang are banned in China. But I highly recommend reading Mao: The Unknown Story before going to Beijing.

Notes:

*These books by Jung Chang are banned in China. But I highly recommend reading Mao: The Unknown Story before going to Beijing.

Notes:

  • If you want an internet cafe look for this (网吧) on a sign.

The Mao Mausoleum
Máo Zhǔxí Jìniàntáng
(毛纪念堂)

The Forbidden City
Zǐjinchéng
(紫禁城)

Tiananmen Square
Tiān’ānmén Guǎngchǎng
(天安门广场)

How to get there:

All of these things are close together. Well, close if you’re used to walking a lot. They are all right next to each other. But because they are really big, it might be a 20 minute walk to go from the Mao Mausoleum to The Forbidden city. You will have to walk though.

Go to Qianmen Subway station. The nearest attraction will be the mausoleum. You can’t bring anything in the mausoleum with you, so you’ll have to walk to the baggage check area first. But sometimes they ask for ID so keep that in your pocket.

Behind the mausoleum is Tienanmen Square and behind that is The Forbidden City.

Cost:

  • It’s free to see Mao. But if you have stuff, it will cost you to put it in a locker. You pay based on how many bags you have, how big the bags are, and how many electronic devices you have in the bags. The lines at the baggage check can get long, so it might be better, if you are in a group, to have only half of your group go see Mao while the rest watch the bags.
  • It’s also free to see Tiananmen Square. But if you pay 15Yuan you walk to the top of the gate and look out on the square.
  • Entrance to the Forbidden City is 60Yuan.

The kept luggage costs for The Mao Mausoleum (2008)

Hours:

  • Mao Mausoleum          Tu – Su 8:00-12:00
  • Tiananmen Square is an open area and therefore always available. **Update: The last time I was in Beijing there was a security check that people needed to pass through to get to the grassy area. This security check does shut down in the late evening and opens back up early in the morning before the mausoleum does. You can still walk around the area when the security check is closed, just not in the main part. **
  • The Forbidden City    8:30 – ??
Videos:

Map:

Posted in Beijing, China | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

The Workers’ Paradise

Posted by Heliocentrism on June 17, 2014

October 2012 – March 2013

One of the many potlucks at our apartment

How did you get such a crazy notion?

It started at a potluck in October 2012. Once a month, Mark and I would host a potluck. We had to limit the amount of people attending the potluck to 8 because that was how many chairs we owned. Because of the limit we tried to get a different 8 people to attend so that at the end of our stay we would have had dinner with everyone.

I don’t remember who all was at this particular potluck or what exactly we were talking about. But, at some point during the conversation my friend, Vera mentioned that she was thinking about going to North Korea. “What!? Really!?” I asked as I zoomed in to sit near her. Then I quizzed her for the next half hour about her plans.

We have a mutual friend who had been to North Korea with a tour company. He enjoyed it so much that he got a job with that same company and would start doing tours to North Korea in the fall of 2013. This company Young Pioneers, was having a May Day anniversary special. This tour would be offered at the same price their first ever tour to North Korea was; about 800 euros.

the DMZ from the South Korean side

I’ve wanted to visit North Korea ever since I looked at it from the DMZ in South Korea. I’ve read every book about North Korea I could get my hands on and hoped to one day visit. But all the tours cost at least 2,000USD and I had students loans to pay off.

But what really started it, I think, was Jung Chang’s Wild Swans. That book is actually about China under Mao. But, that China does not exist anymore. The closest thing to the China in Wild Swans is North Korea. That China is described in the book as having people who needed to “believe” propaganda in order to stay safe. That China had a crazy dictator whose agenda had nothing to do with what was best for the country or its people. Today China is far from a beacon of freedom or justice, but there is no longer a looming personality cult like there was in the Mao years.

I have read Wild Swans and several other books about the Cultural Revolution and Mao-styled communism. But I still cannot understand how something like that happens. How do people get so conditioned to fear that they do nothing. After countless denunciations and struggle sessions, why don’t more people fight back?

But I know that it’s hard for me to fully understand. I did not grow up in a culture of suppression. Even when I said the most unpopular thing I could think of as a child, “I think that god is not real,” I never worried that anyone would stone me or put me in prison. No one would torture my family or give them undesirable jobs because of my “odd” beliefs.

A birthday present from a friend in 2009

Although I could never truly know what it’s like to live in such a society and that I would probably get a better view through the eyes of other people who had lived in such a society by way of reading books, I still wanted to see China and North Korea for myself. …and I had already seen China.

I would go with Vera. I still had a few more student loan payments to make, but by February 2013 the debt would be paid off. I told Vera that I was serious about going with her and she seemed excited. Another person at the potluck showed some interest in joining us. “Perfect,” I thought, “if I get thrown into prison I’ll have some company.”

(That was just a joke. If at anytime I thought that there was a chance that I would be held in North Korea I would have never gone.)

The picture page of my 2nd passport (age 5)

Paperwork

I sent the tour company an email saying that I wanted to join a tour of North Korea. They sent me back lots of documents to fill out and advice on getting a Chinese visa. I was to start the process as soon as possible.

You know, the visa for China caused me more worry and hassle to get than the one for North Korea! There is no Chinese embassy on the island of Kyushu and for getting a visa, the consulate in Fukuoka won’t do. I was supposed to go to Osaka in person to pay, fill out a form, and drop off my passport then return a few days later to get my passport back. Luckily I found a company that would take my passport to the Chinese embassy for me.

But, I came up against two problems. One, a passport cannot expire within 6 months of an expected date of entry to China. I wanted to go to China in April 2013 and the passport expired in July 2013. I had to get a new passport first. I would have had to do this anyway because even with 2 extensions attached to my passport, it only had about 3 blank pages left. Most embassies prefer you to have at least 4 consecutive blank pages in your passport when applying for a visa.

The other problem was that I lived in Japan. North Korea, like an 8-year-old girl, is besties with some country one week then not on speaking terms the next. In October of 2012 North Korea and Japan were not on speaking terms and no Japanese citizens were being given visas to North Korea. The tour company said that it was okay since I was American not Japanese. “Just don’t mention that you live in Japan.”

This turned out to not matter at all. Before I could do anything with getting a visa to North Korea, I needed a visa to China. And before I could get a visa to China I needed a new passport. By the time I got the new passport and then the Chinese visa, North Korea and Japan were speaking to each other again. I filled out my North Korean paperwork writing that Japan was my country of residency.

My co-workers

Getting my bosses’ permission to go

I work in Japan (or at least I did during this trip). I cannot just take time off and head out into the sunset. Officially, I need to ask permission every time I leave the prefecture of Oita and I need to get the permission at least 1 month in advance. Yes, when I take a 2 hour drive to Kumamoto prefecture on a nice Saturday afternoon I really should have filled out a travel form and I should have turned it in 4 weeks prior.

Of course I don’t do that. My poor hand would be arthritic by now. I only fill out the form when it’s obvious that I would be travelling, like during Golden Week or the winter holidays. And then I get hassled by the vice-principal.

Once my paperwork was held up by the VP because she was disturbed by my accommodations during a Golden Week trip. Mark and I were going to travel around Kyushu and stay at various campsites. “She’s worried,” my supervisor at the time told me. “She wants you to promise that you’ll let your husband do all the driving and that you will call me every morning and evening so we know you’re okay.”

I tried to protest. My husband does not even have a driver’s license that is valid in Japan. And, my SoftBank phone doesn’t work in Kumamoto prefecture. “I know. I know,” my supervisor said, “She thinks that men are better drivers. So, you will agree to what she wants so you can go. But do not call me, unless you are in trouble and do not let your husband drive! Only say you will agree to her demands. Then do what you like.”

One of my schools in Japan

So I contemplated whether I should tell them that I was going to the DPRK or lie. I’m not a very good liar. No, actually I’m good at lying. What I’m bad at, is remembering that I lied, what lie I’ve told, and how much I’ve lied. If I’ve lied about being sick to stay home from work or school, weeks later I will have forgotten whether I said I had TB or the flu.

I decided not to lie. When I come back I wanted to be able to talk about my trip without having to “keep my story straight”. I asked Vera if she was going to tell her co-workers. She said that she had decided not to go.

She was enrolling in grad-school the following year and decided to save her money. The other person had dropped out of the trip weeks ago, but I expected that. I was a little disappointed that Vera wasn’t coming, but I was still determined to go.

I got the travel form and filled it out sometime in January. I wrote the tour company’s president’s name and phone number on the form along with the name of the US ambassador to China. I also added the name of the Swedish ambassador to North Korea and his phone number and email address. (The US has no diplomatic relations with North Korea so, the embassy of Sweden in Pyongyang is where I would run to if something went wrong.) I thought of anything my bosses could want to know and put that information down. I literally had an hour-by-hour itinerary of what I was going to do and where I would do it from April  27th to May 5th.

the teachers’ office

“The principal wants to talk to you,” my supervisor told me. “You want to go to North Korea!?” We went downstairs to the principal’s office. He had a big office that looked more like a living room or a dining hall. There was a long mahogany table about a knee’s height off the ground. It was surrounded by low leather chairs that suck you in when you sit down.

I sat down. The chairs in this office never made me feel comfortable. They were too low. My knees would come up to my chest and whenever I moved the leather would squeak loudly. The table was no help either. It was also too low and more than an arm’s length away.

The meeting started with the vice principal giving an open statement. Then the principal talked, then the assistant vice principal. Then my supervisor said something. Then everyone looked at me. I had no idea what was going on since everyone spoke in Japanese.

“They are worried about your plans,” my supervisor said. “What exactly worries them?” I asked. “Why do you want to go to North Korea?” They looked at me hoping that I would say something like, “North Korea!? Did I write ‘North Korea’? I meant ‘South Korea.”

But I did not say that. I started to think that maybe lying would have been a better idea. “Why do I want to go to North Korea?” The answer is so complex that it was hard to explain it right there, to people who don’t speak English. I had to trust my supervisor to understand what I needed to say and explain it in Japanese. I had to keep it simple.

“I want to go, because I’m curious. What is North Korea like? What do North Koreans look like? What do they eat? Do they have chocolate over there? Do they have Chinese or Russian friends? What kind of music do they listen to?”

The meeting continued with everyone else speaking in Japanese. I sat still, trying not to squeak and felt invisible. After 10 minutes the meeting was over. I turned to my supervisor and ask her what their decision was. “They have decided to have another meeting.”

They had several more meetings, but I was only invited to the last one. This time I came prepared. I printed out a few articles written by people who had visited North Korea, safely. I had the emergency phone numbers of the US embassy in China and the Swedish embassy in North Korea. (I hoped that no one would ask me how I planned to make a phone call from a North Korean prison if I ended up in one.) And I planned to argue that since I had already paid for the tour I wasn’t going to not go.

But none of this came up. It was another meeting where everyone talked in Japanese and I just sat there. They did ask me a few questions like, “What will you eat?” and “What if you get sick?” “The tour takes care of that. All meals are included in the tour. If I get sick, the tour guide and a North Korean handler would take me to see a doctor. If it’s anything really bad, they would send me back to China.”

At the end of this meeting they politely asked me to not go. They did not tell me that I could not go, so I asked why they had not. “We cannot tell you not to go. We can only ask you to not go. If you say, ‘no’ you will have another meeting with the prefectural Board of Education.” So, I said, “No.”

The next week my supervisor and I went to the BOE. It was about a month and a half since I first turned in my travel form. I felt that it was a good thing I turned it in so early because this might drag out for a long time. At the BOE I met with the head of the board, Mr. Sato, and Christina, a JET representative who was also a friend of mine. This meeting was held in English and Mr. Sato asked many questions about my safety. I think I satisfactorily answered all his questions.

I was also glad Christina was there. She spoke on my behalf and told Mr. Sato about my responsible nature. “If Josie signed up for a tour of North Korea, I’m sure she has done lots of research on both the tour company and North Korea.” At the end of the meeting Mr. Sato told me that neither he nor my school could tell me not to go. If I choose to go, I could.

So I chose to go.

I’m a great speaker.

There was, of course, one more meeting. The next day the principal asked to speak with me. This time it was just him, me, and my supervisor as translator.

He told me that the Japanese think of Japan as the greatest country. So, they are not curious about other countries. I told him that the US was similar to Japan in that respect. He went on to say that some Japanese look down on people of other countries. He knows this because his grandmother was from China and she had a hard time when she came to Japan.

But, because his grandmother was from China, he had always wondered about China. What is China like? What do they eat? Do they have Chocolate? He wondered what he would have been like if he grew up in China. So he understood my curiosity.

Then he told me to enjoy my trip, learn as much as I can, and come back to Japan safely.

 

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Takachiho Gorge

Posted by Heliocentrism on June 16, 2014

April 20-21, 2013

All Pictures

Rowing down the gorge

So it’s going to be like that?

This was the start of one of those summers in Japan. During the workweek I’d sit at my desk and dreamily stare out of the window. The sky would be so blue. The sun would shine happily. There would be just enough breeze to need a long-sleeve t-shirt in the evenings.

It would be too hard to concentrate on work the whole day, so I would focus and get everything done in the mornings and let my mind drift after lunch. I would message friends about camping on the weekends. I did hours of research to find interesting spots to camp. My friends and I planned at least 2 camping trips per month for the next 4 months!

Then Friday would come. After work Mark and I would set out to the grocery store for supplies for our trip. We would do our shopping blissfully unaware that our plans were being destroyed. We would find out when we took our items back to the car. “It’s raining!”

But it was never just rain. Typhoons, floods, fires, locus, rivers turned to blood! All starting at 6pm Friday evening and lasting until 8pm Sunday night when the winds would suddenly died down, flood waters would recede, locus would spontaneously die and disintegrate, and rivers would return to having crystal clear water again. Every Monday through Thursday started and ended beautifully. The only exceptions were the Wednesdays that were holidays; then it would rain all day.

I’m happy because there aren’t enough oars for everyone!

This trip came about after many cancelled and postponed trips. We were to go camping up north, but it was supposed to rain. So we went down south to this campsite because it had cabins. Cabins or bungalows are sometimes cheaper than camping if you have enough people. With cabins you pay per cabin.

With campsite you pay per tent and per person. Cabins sometimes, but not always, come with amenities like hot showers, rice cookers, futons and blankets, and air conditioning. (These bungalows were very basic with futons and blankets. The showers and toilets were not in the bungalows, but in a communal area.)

We’re all hoping that it doesn’t rain.

We first checked in at the campsite and put our stuff into our bungalows. We had 2 for our group. Then we went to see about the gorge before it was supposed to rain. At first we walked down the little path, but it seemed like a sucker’s game. You went down a whole bunch of steps then walked for about 10 minutes, but you can’t get close to the waterfall. Then you have to climb back up those steps like a chump.

We chose to take a row-boat. There were 3 to a boat and only 2 oars. I figured that chances were good I would not have to row. My gamble paid off. There was only one rower and it was never me. Mark and Billy took turns rowing.

The lady on the right has a business meeting she needs to get to!

There were a few traffic jams. Everyone wanted to see the waterfalls so boats would slow down whenever they got to one. But no one really had control over their boat and everyone rammed someone. A few boats got too near a waterfall and got drenched. A couple handed me their camera to take their photo only to drift away with their camera still in my hands. After some maneuvering, we managed to get our boats close enough to hand the camera back. I was afraid that their expensive camera would end up in the river.

You have to be quick!

Can I interest you in some cold food?

We past this restaurant that served cold noodles. You pick up the noodles and dip them into your cup filled with soy sauce, seasonings, ginger, and chives. But before you can do that you have to catch your noodles with chopsticks. The noodles are sent sliding down a bamboo flume that passes your table.

The noodles we missed

Normally I don’t like cold noodles, but these were very good. I think I did a good job catching the noodles. I was still hungry, but I did better than I thought I would. A few months later, when I went back to Ohio, I made these noodles (minus the flume) for my family since it was a hot day.

You have to boil the noodles to cook them then drain off the hot water, rinse with cold water, and then put the noodles in ice-cold water. My brother, Malcolm, the lover of cold drinks, tasted the dish and said, “It’s really good, but it needs something…” “More ginger?” I suggested. I really like a lot of ginger in my sauce. “No,” he said. Then he got up from the table to microwave his noodles. “Now, this is good stuff!”

Let’s start grilling

With the appetizer out of the way, we headed back to the camp to start grilling. We started around 6 that evening and kept going until about 10. We grilled meat, vegetables, and even fruit. It was a feast.

Once that was done we cleaned up and headed to one of the cabins. It was raining, but we didn’t care. We played Citadels for several hours because we’re nerds. I love this game, but I can never win. I fly under the radar until almost the end of the game. Then everyone comes after me leaving me poor and powerless. It’s a great game!

All Pictures


 

Japan
(日本)
(Nippon)

How to get there:

You can enter Japan by plane or boat. Though, the number of boats going to Japan from other countries has gone down significantly.   Americans get 90-day visas to Japan at the port of entry. Check with your nearest Japanese embassy or consulate for visa information.

Phone:

Website:

Downloads:

Videos:

Books:

Notes:

  • Be careful what over the counter drugs you bring into Japan.  Actifed, Sudafed, Vicks inhalers, and Codeine are prohibited.
  • InternationalATMs are really hard to find; more so if you aren’t in a big city. Many places in Japan do not use credit cards. Take cash and call your bank toaskwhatATMs or banks in Japan will work with your cash card.
    • ATMs have opening hours. Usually 9:00-18:00 (They have better work hours than most business men and women here.)
  • You can get a Japan Railway, pass which saves you a lot of money on the trains, but you can only buy it before you get to Japan and you cannot be a resident of Japan. (I don’t have more information about it because I’ve only ever lived in Japan. I’ve never been a tourist.)

Takachiho
(高千穂)

How to get there:

From Oita:

  • Head from Oita on route 57. Then around to the town of Bungotaketa take the 639 to route 8.

Coordinates:

  • 32°42’43.4″N 131°18’20.9″E

Website:

Notes:

There is a restaurant near the gorge where you can try this cold noodle flowing activity. I’m not a huge fan of cold food, but on a hot day this stuff is delicious. (I like to put a lot of ginger in my dipping bowl.)

Don’t worry if you don’t catch much food. The noodles will land in a bowl at the end and will be served to you later.

  • Other than the gorge there are temples galore to be seen.
  • and a cave

Takachiho Gorge
(高千穂峡)
(Takachiho-kyō)

How to get there:

From Takachiho

  • Take route 50 south to until you see signs for the gorge.

Coordinates

  • 32°42’06.6″N 131°18’01.6″E

Website:

Cost:

  • There is no charge to get to the gorge area. But there is no free parking. If I remember right, parking was a flat fee of about ¥500 for the day. (But I could be wrong. It could be more.)

Hours:

  • The shops and boat rental probably close about 18:00 in the summer.

Notes: You can rent a boat to paddle yourself down the gorge

  • It takes about 30 minutes depending on your strength and stamina.
  • It’s ¥2,000 per boat.
  • It’s a maximum of 3 people per boat.
  • 8:30~16:30 and 7:30~18:00 in the summer.
  • You will have to wear a life jacket.
  • You will probably stay dry during the boat ride, unless of course if you have expensive electronics with you. Then you will somehow get stuck under the waterfall and everything will be soaked!

You can also walk along the gorge via a walkway (free).


Sato Camp Village of Gokase
(五ヶ瀬の里キャンプ村)
(Gokase no sato kyanpu-mura)

How to get there:

From the gorge take 218 heading west. The road the campsite in on has no name that I can find, but it’s near a waterfall called, “うのこの滝.” I highly recommend using a GPS navigator to help you find this place.

Coordinates:

  • 32°41’32.4″N 131°10’41.7″E

Phone:

  • 0982-82-1536 (Japanese)

Website Cost:

  • 1~4 person bungalow — ¥4,200 (if you have 4 people it will cost ¥1,050 per person)
  • 6~8 person bungalow — ¥6,300
  • 5-person-tent rental — ¥1,050
  • You bring your own tent — ¥530/person
  • Day camping — ¥300/person

Hours:

  • Check in – 15:00
  • Check out – 10:00

Notes:

  • They do have things like grills and tongs to rent.
  • The bungalow come with futons and blankets.
  • There are showers and toilets, but they are not in the bungalows.

Map:

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