Monday, December 19, 2011

Winter Break 2011-2012!

It's finally here! It's a few days before my Winter Vacation and I've compiled a list of things I want to do. So now I ask--What would you do in these locations?

So close...

Itinerary:

  • December 21, Kokura-Osaka
  • December 22, Osaka-Manila
  • December 27, Manila-Boracay
  • December 30, Boracay-Manila
  • January 2, Manila-Macau
  • January 3, Macau-Hong Kong
  • January 8, Hong Kong-Seoul
  • January 9, Seoul-Fukuoka
Things to do:
  • Show off my Japanese to my friend in Osaka
  • Eat lechon
  • Go to at least 2 restaurants as seen on No Reservations (Travel Channel)
  • Scuba Dive in Boracay (2 dives)
  • Surf in Boracay (waves permitting)
  • Get a cheap massage on the beach
  • Find the smiling horse on a Red Horse
  • Order food in Tagalog
  • Gamble at the largest casino in the world, The Venetian, Macau
  • Eat dim sum
  • Eat until I'm full and keep eating
  • Chow Fun, Roast Duck... did I mention dim sum?
  • Get a "real" American Pizza (Pizza Hut or better)

The real reason I'm going to the Philippines...

What am I missing?

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

At the 38th Parallel

I don't think words can really describe the tense atmosphere. While there is undeniably a touristy feel, you notice a stark contrast that separates visiting the DMZ from a usual tour. Even after, I haven't been able to adequately put into words the feelings I had while visiting the area. So instead of delaying this post any longer, I've decided to present the 5 pictures that best portray my experience of visiting the Demilitarized Zone from the South Korean side.

Such heavy surveillance. Don't they realize they can just go look on Facebook?

This is the actual border in the Joint Security Area (JSA) of the DMZ. Notice the 3 Republic of Korea (ROK) soldiers standing at attention. The 2 at half profile are both protecting themselves so they're a harder target and giving themselves the ability to signal behind them if needed. In the front, there is our US Army sponsored tour guide. The two blue buildings are conference rooms where negotiations can (and have) taken place. In between the two blue buildings, you see a concrete line--that's the border itself. If you look way off in the distance, you can seen directly facing us a North Korean (Korean People's Army) soldier. He is watching our every movement through binoculars.

Apparently, the microphones are left on to record everything in the room. I'm sure we gave someone a few fun things to listen to.

Here's a view from the center of one of the rooms. The microphones on the table represent the border separating North from South Korea. This is along the same parallel as the concrete line just outside. Note that this photo is still within the South Korean border.


How childish. I mean, not like that'd stop us, but still.

And of course, we had to do the typical tourist pose inside the conference room, standing at attention with an ROK soldier. Both of us are technically in North Korean territory since the building is split in the center and we're on the other side of the line. As my travel partner pointed out, though, no passport stamp for crossing this border...

When I'm back, I hope it's as a passenger.

Right next to the JSA is Dorasan Station. If and when North and South Korea are reunited, it will serve as the connection between Seoul and Pyongyang. But perhaps more importantly, once operational, it will also connect the Trans Siberian Railway line to South Korea. In other words, you could take a train from London all the way to Busan, or the southern tip of the Korean Peninsula! But as of now, it sits unused, and overland travel via train from the rest of Asia to South Korea remains but a distant dream.

Not going to lie--playing on railroad tracks is a lot of fun anywhere in the world

And lastly, here we are on the tracks to Pyongyang. Next time...



Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Running in Japan vs. Running the US

So here is a short list of differences and similarities between my experiences running the Yodogawa Osaka Marathon this past November and the Los Angeles Marathon 3 years ago. It's not comprehensive by any means. However, these are the observations that struck me the most.

The Differences:
1. Everything's in Japanese. 
You may say, "Well, obviously. You're in Japan." Seriously, though, if we couldn't speak/read Japanese, this marathon would have been extremely difficult to apply for and figure out the day of. Not that I was really expecting a lot of English since it wasn't an international marathon, but still... it's the little things you notice, like the directions to put on your bib, the route markers, and even the pre-race countdown, are all in Japanese.

2. Japanese love to party. A marathon is just as good as an excuse as any. 
I noticed it at the Himawari Relay in May when I did a fun run, and I remember doing the same during a 12-hour swim relay. I figured it's because they're both for fun, people bring out the grills, have lots of food, and drink up. In both of those cases, though, participants too joined in on the drinking and having fun. Along the marathon route, supporters were there... barbecuing and drinking for their own fun. Not that I have anything against that, but it is sorta disheartening run past a group of people partying and not being able to (read: shouldn't) join in the fun. Unlike other events I went to, it wasn't for the runners. It was for them.

3. Everyone seems to have spent a lot of money than me. 
I've seen it while surfing, snowboarding, and any other activity I've done in Japan. You can't say they skimp out on equipment, whether it's clothes or other products.
A specific example: when I went hiking in Yakushima, I noticed that everyone had nice hiking boots, Gortex rain jackets and rain pants, and backpacking backpacks. It made me wonder, though, how much of it is brand new? How many people know how to use them and how many people are using these items because "it's what you're supposed to do?" I even saw people wearing gators. Do you know what gators are for? They didn't. (Note: They're a sort of cover for your boots so rain or snow so water doesn't get in.) One last thing I want to mention about Yakushima... this was on a sunny day.

Here I am wearing 400 yen basketball shorts and the same shoes I wore for my first marathon 2 years ago...

I know there were people genuinely better prepared for the marathon than I was. There were lots of people who take running a lot more serious than I do. But when everyone is sporting the latest in "running technology," you have to wonder how many of these people bought special clothes, food, or drinks because "it's what you're supposed to do."

OK, enough of my ranting. On to the similarities.

The Similarities:
1. There is an immediate camaraderie between runners before, during, and after.
Everyone knows what everyone else is feeling. The anxiety before. The immense pain during. The exhaustion after. It's these shared experiences that makes it so easy to relate to each other. How can you not interact with others in the same situation as you, whether it's giving (or ignoring) other people's last minute tips or cheering for complete strangers.

And on that note,

2. It's still running.
Or maybe better put--there is a point when it stops being "running in Japan" or "running in the US." It's simply running. There are no more cultural differences at the 40km mark. There are no judgments or cynical observations when you "hit your wall." When your body shuts down, the fatigue becomes all-consuming, and you can't go anymore... all that's left is you. Your race. And when you push past that and cross the finish line, it all becomes worth it. The feeling of accomplishment: that's the same, no matter the continent.

Clearly a "before" picture... there's no way we looked this good after.

And perhaps most importantly,

3. Chicken McNuggets are the perfect post-race meal.
'Nuff said.


Thursday, November 24, 2011

Kokura Konbini Challenge (小倉コンビ二チャレンジ)

So here's a game for all you here in Japan. Bored and broke? Try the Kokura Konbini Challenge! As long as the weather's fair and you have 1000 yen, you can play this drinking game anywhere there are コンビ二. All it it requires a bit of skill and a bit of luck. Home-field advantage helps a lot too.

The Rules:
  1. In turn, each player takes turns acting as a guide to a konbini. After you lead the group to one konbini, it's the next player's turn to lead the group.
  2. You must buy a drink (12 oz./330mL) at each konbini you visit.
  3. You must finish your drink before the next konbini.
    • If the guide has finished his/her drink and no other player has finished their drink, and the group has arrived at the next konbini, the guide gets a free pass (i.e. doesn't have to drink the next round)
    • If the guide hasn't finished his/her drink and at least one other player has finished their drink, and the group has arrived at the next konbini, the guide must drink double (tall can 500mL)
  4. You must go into the next konbini you pass whether intentionally lead there or not. 
    • If the konbini is within eyesight and on the same side of the street, it counts as passing by it.
  5. No two same konbini types in a row. No same exact konbini in a night. (ex. You can't go into any 2 Lawsons in a row, but going to a Lawson, 7-11, and then a different Lawson is ok.)
    • If the guide breaks either rule, he/she must buy the next round for all players.
  6. Bonus rule: No buying the exact same drink in a night. (Same kind of drink is ok.)


Let me know how it goes. If you remember, that is...


Sounds easy? 
As a reference, there are 2 inside the station, 1 behind, and another two blocks in front... and that's just for Family Mart.

Notes:
Oldest player starts first.
The game is over at the last train/bus. Or someone gets sick. Whichever comes first.
Drinks must be 5% or better, but while Tsingtao isn't 5% and neither is any light/calorie-off happoshu, that doesn't mean play this game with Strong Zero (8%)

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Monday, November 14, 2011

1:02

I did it.

It wasn't pretty. It wasn't by much. But I did it.

To be honest, I was unprepared. I did not train nearly as hard as I did last time.

Sure, I ran smarter. I knew to bring food with me and to drink water and sports drinks as often as I could. I paced myself better. I ran expecting to hit my "wall" at around the 21 mile mark like I did last time.

But I also didn't run nearly as much or as often in training. While I was running around 30 miles a week 2 years ago, I ran closer to 20 in preparation for this one. I ate less McDonalds, drank less frequently, and was in better health for the last one.

This time was different. It felt different. I felt different.

At the quarter and halfway point, I was well on pace to beat my old time of 3 hours, 49 minutes, and 16 seconds. But then at the 3/4 mark, my time noticeably slipped. I was going to cut it close.

And then I hit my wall. This time, much later in the run--closer to the 24th mile. It hit me harder. I really wanted to walk. Last time, I promised myself I wouldn't walk. It was a "bucket list" sort of thing. Run and complete a marathon. Time didn't matter as long as there was no walking.

This time? I was running to beat my old time. Except at this point of the race, I knew I was beat. I knew I wasn't going to make it. There was no way. I was too tired, too worn, and too... everything. I couldn't.

And yet, every time I took a few steps to walk, I couldn't bring myself to stop entirely. Nope, I thought. If I'm not going to make my time, there's nothing else I can do about it. I simply can't run any faster. I can't make up any more time.

I can't, however, give up. I can still run across the finish line. I did it once before. I can do it again. If I can't beat my time, I can at least say I gave it my all and ran until the end.

The last mile was the longest.

I turned the last corner to the finish line. I could see the time on the display. I couldn't believe it.

It wasn't pretty. It wasn't by much.

3 hours, 48 minutes, and 14 seconds.

I did it.

Monster, Sam Adams, and Goldfish

Stepping into the New Sanno Hotel, I noticed it right away. After showing our ID (and my grandma showing her military dependent's ID), we drove into the parking lot. It was like stepping into another world. All the signs were in English: One Way, No Parking, and the octagonal Stop sign. Where was all the Japanese? This is Tokyo?

Little America in Tokyo

After a huge, mediocre (and yet oh so good) lunch of a Philly Cheesesteak and Buffalo Wings in the hotel restaurant, we made a quick stop by the casino. Again, not what I was expecting, but it was just like any other hotel in the US. And then...

There it was: the Navy Exchange Store. My Grandma used to go to the one at Moffett Field near San Jose, to buy groceries at a discounted price. She took me a few times as you needed an ID to get on the base. What I remember the most is being in awe at the discounted luxury goods and clothes--for instance, I bought a titanium Fossil watch for about $35.

The store in the New Sanno Hotel was a lot smaller for the obvious reason that it's inside of a hotel. But the designer goods were still there. This time, however, I wasn't attracted to all the flashy cases and American labels. As I've matured, my priorities have changed. So, unlike my more youthful self, I went straight for the candy and toiletries. Toothpaste and deodorant that actually work? Yes, please!

Sigh... if only I had more baggage space...

But wait, there's more! Just down the hall of the Navy Exchange was the General Store. What was in the General Store? In the US, it'd be nothing special... just like a 7-11 or a mom-and-pop liquor store. In Japan, though, it becomes a thing of beauty. I couldn't stop grinning as I ran up and down the displays (it was only 2 rooms, but still... I ran like a kid in a literal candy store).

I eventually settled on a Monster, Sam Adams, and Goldfish. Random, I know, but it's funny--you don't really know what you've been missing until it's right in front of you again.


Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Sake Festival 2011

Instead of writing a blog post, I figured I'd make a video recapping the highlights of the weekend. Enjoy!


酒祭り、広島

Friday, September 30, 2011

Right Place, Right Time

On a whim, I found myself on Tanegashima.

Where is Tanegashima?

Well, it all started when my good friend mentioned that she wanted to visit Yakushima, a small island south of Kyushu. It may not be know to westerners by name, but if you've heard of the movie, Princess Mononoke, by famed director Hayao Miyazaki, you at least know of this island--it served as the inspiration for the main island in the film.

Princess Mononoke Trail... With a convenient picture spot

So that sounded cool, but that still doesn't explain Tanegashima. Well, she just so happened to mention that she wanted to visit a nearby island, Tanegashima. I was a bit hesitant at first. What's there? It was an expensive addition of another Jetfoil on the way to Yakushima. Besides, no one we know has even heard of it. And then she mentioned that it's a Japanese surfer's mecca.

Sold.

While trying to book an accommodation, each hotel was sold out. For a place that's supposedly not touristy, it made no sense. When I pressed for a reason, the receptionist would talk about the "rocket," and how that was why they had no rooms available. I was confused. How did the Jetfoil cause a shortage of rooms (appropriately named, ロケット)?

Well, it turned out, they were talking about an actual rocket. Tanegashima has its own space center and also has the distinct honor of having one of two launch pads in Japan. For the entire month of September (and part of August), the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Association, JAXA, had been trying to send a shuttle into space. However, due to the typhoons that kept tearing through Japan, it had been postponed several weeks in a row.

The next rescheduled launch date: our last day in Tanegashima.

When we arrived, the weather was terrible... I mean, just look at this.

Who am I kidding, the weather was amazing.

By terrible, I mean terrible for surfing. Just missing Typhoon Roke, there was no wind or waves. But while such calm weather makes for terrible surfing, it meant perfect weather for a rocket launch.

And to be honest, I was giddy like a school child. I had never seen a rocket launch live before, and now that it seems that NASA has discontinued the shuttle program, I figured I'd never see one. (Note: I was ignorant as to which other countries launch space ships other than the US and Russia, and I didn't realize at the time that NASA will still send satellites into space, just not people.)

3km away from the launch site

The next day, we worked our way to the viewing area in the south of the island by bus, a bit of walking, and eventually taking up an offer for a ride by a stranger. By the time we got there, everyone was already seated and waiting. The announcer called off the countdown from 30 minutes. Then 20. Then 10. As if the anticipation wasn't killing me enough, at around 3 minutes, she started to countdown seconds. And then finally, we heard 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1...


Pardon the strong language... it was pretty exciting...

And that was it. All that work and hype for that one minute.

Totally lucky, and totally worth it.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

AJET Connect Magazine - September

Just thought I'd share the National AJET sponsored magazine called AJET Connect. I revised a blog post from last year to be published in this month's issue. (There's also a funny post about sounding like a girl when you learn Japanese from women... an issue I've been dealing with...)


Friday, September 2, 2011

A Series of Unexpected Events

So there we were in Seomyeon, Busan, in South Korea. Being my second time, I didn't really care too much for the touristy aspect--for me, this was an inexpensive trip for drinking, eating, and shopping (in that order).

As such, we found ourselves outside on Saturday after an evening of drinking games at Thursday Party and Miller Time. While stumbling back to our hotel, someone suggested we go clubbing. Unsure of where to go, we ended up asking a random guy coming out of a bar. After failing to give us directions in Korean, he said (I'm guessing) that he'd show us where before heading off.

If only we had known what we were getting ourselves into...

All the neon should have been our first warning...


First thing that stood out to me--we had to buy a table. No choice. Even though we pointed to the dance floor to say we wanted to dance only, we were taken to a table and had to place an order. Thankfully, there was no cover (or rather, our $15 each for a beer, water, and snacks was our cover).

This leads to the second thing that was weird. Even though the club was huge, the dance floor was really small. Why were there so many tables throughout the club, and why were there so many hallways and doors leading to... karaoke rooms? VIP rooms?

No matter. We went out on the dance floor to do our thing. At least that would be normal, right?

Except there was something off about the dance floor as well... why were guys and girls awkwardly segregated like a middle school dance? And why did two male dancers appear on stage, start taking off their clothes, and make me question what kind of club we were at? Furthermore, why did everyone seem to know each song and dance in unison like a music video? And why was it that every 20 minutes, the DJ would play a slow song, the lights would dim, and instead of couples pairing up to slow dance, the dance floor would completely empty?

Moments before clothes start coming off... 

Back at our table during one of those random drinking breaks (as we decided to call them), we pondered the answer to all of these questions. And then we noticed something else that was weird. There were an unusually large number of hosts or servers leading girls around to the VIP rooms. As in, they were taking them by the arm or hand, and then dropping them off to meet whoever was inside.

Again, this caused us to question the kind of... establishment we were in. Did these seemingly innocent girls actually work for the club? Did we accidentally stumble across a hostess club? An escort bar? An underground brothel?

It turned out (we asked the owner of our hostel later), this was actually a certain kind of Korean nightclub. You dance with the friends you came with, but groups don't really mingle. There are occasionally performers as entertainment onstage. In our case, the exotic male dancers were actually a pretty famous hip-hop team (they could have fooled me). The reason for the slow song breaks? It's a chance for you to go back to your room, and you ask the hosts to bring you some girls you'd like to meet. If the girls don't like the room, they can always leave (though we did see one girl being chased by a guy as she stormed out of a room). This also explained why some girls would leave a room, only to be snatched immediately by a host to be taken to another. It's like speed-dating Korean-style.

So it was no wonder why all the girls were totally checking my friends and I out. They wanted us to invite them to our (non-existent) VIP room for some... stimulating conversation.

Well, that, or they were staring at our ridiculous attempt at copying their dance moves.

Now just imagine the entire dance floor doing this. (Starts around 4:25)
And not just the girls...


Friday, August 26, 2011

日本のピザ


アメリカと日本は何がちがいますか。もちろん、たくさんの違いがあります。歴史とか文化とか。。。でもそんなことを話したくないんです。実はこのスピーチのために大切な違いをお話ししたいんです。それは、たった一つのことです。

まず、どうして日本のピザはピザじゃないんでしょうか。アメリカのピザも本物のピザじゃないですけど、イタリアのピザにもっと似ています。日本では、コーンやフライドポテトやケチャップやマッシュポテトがのっています。おいしいですがピザと認められません(み)。普通のトッピングはペッパロニとかソセージとか野菜です。でもタコ?何ですか、あれ?

もちろん、日本料理にはたくさん好きな料理があります。例えば、豚骨ラーメンは最高です。でも日本の外国料理はたまに違います。日本のピザは食べられます。しかし、もしアメリカに帰ったら、先ず絶対にピザを食べるつもりです。

Monday, August 22, 2011

Saju Reading in South Korea

I want to say I don't believe in superstitions. That means astrology, horoscopes, tarot cards, palmistry, all of them, I've never believed in.

So when our host and owner of Zen Backpacker's Hostel in Busan, June, told us he can give us free fortunetelling, we skeptical at best. However, it was just a harmless fortune and it's not like we had to believe them. At the very least, it'd be a fun way to pass time before our night out on the town.

The 5 Elements of Saju

Perhaps I should explain his method of fortune telling. It's called Saju or the four pillars method. It requires your birth year, month, day, and time. Within each category, there are two corresponding characters based off of the Chinese Zodiac. These form the four pillars. Each character has one of five elements. Each element represents a season: Spring is wood, Summer is fire, Autumn is metal, and Winter is water. This makes sense, but what is the fifth element? In between Summer and Autumn is the mediator, Earth.

After inputting my birthday specifics into a computer program, June was able to see right away something different about my reading. Out of 8 possible (4 pillars of 2 symbols each), 5 were yellow. I was a majority Earth.



Like the idea of yin and yang, ideal people should be balanced. As Four Pillars Korea says, "Saju is the four pillars of destiny. If we consider the five elements as a happy life, the four pillars make the destiny of a life incomplete." I'm not. Not even close. The fact that I'm mostly Earth meant several things according to June.

His biggest takeaway for me is that life comes easy. I am skilled at many things and can adapt easily. When he  asked what my future prospects is and I responded with, "I don't know," he said that's good. It's better that way so I can pursue anything when the opportunity comes.

June also mentioned that people look to me for leadership (he mentioned that the current Korean President has a similar reading) and people will "bow" down to me (his word, not mine). In other words, it's easy to influence people to do things and I'm influential in my circle of friends.

The downside, though, is that it may make me lazy. Because I don't have to worry, I don't work very hard. Like the current President, he's not super successful or spectacular but at the same time, no one has any complaints about him. There's flexibility in my life to an extent but he mentioned that because of this, I can be too picky. A lot of opportunities present themselves to me but I have a hard time focusing on one. I pass up a lot of chances that other's would have taken.

After he finished with me, some of my other friends got their fortune told too. It was interesting hearing each other's fortunes--we all had a good laugh about the predictions and personalities traits he described. One thing I could shake though, was how mine seemed scarily accurate. How much of it was true and how much of it was me making his reading fit me? I'm not sure, but it hit me hard enough for me to decide to write a blog post about it.

So here's to my fortune and seeing where fate takes me. And I'll work on being less picky but no guarantees...

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Why I'm Learning Japanese

There were several reasons why I came to Japan. Experience hanami, travel throughout Japan, see different parts of Asia, and try something new like taiko.

The main reason, though, was to learn how to speak Japanese. Growing up, I had very little interaction with the Japanese Language. My Japanese consisted of food names, and maybe 'hello' and 'thank you.' Other than that, though, it was pretty pathetic.

In middle school, I took French because it was the only language offered in 7th grade. This lead to me taking it in high school and eventually adding it as my double major after studying abroad in Bordeaux. So no help from school with my Japanese.

Throughout this entire time, my grandma was the only one who spoke to me in it. She has always had this weird notion that I understood her. And I kinda did. Between her mixture of English words and me guessing the context, I could make some sense of what she said. But that's all it was--a guess.

So when I went back home for a few days and I was going to see her for the first time in over a year, it was my true test. How far have I come in a year?

My Grandma in Japan!

It went from gibberish to... Japanese? My comprehension turned from less than 5% to maybe 80-90%. It was incredible. After years of poor communication with my grandma, it's like I now had access to a completely different side of her.

Did I accomplish my goal? I'd say no, not yet. I'm still not comfortable responding Japanese. I didn't really speak back in Japanese. I just responded to her with English. 

So I've come a long way, but I still have a long way to go.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Waiwai Club Taiko

Once a year. That's it.

Of course there are other performances scattered throughout the rest of the year. We play at parties, weddings, and a few other festivals. However, when it comes down to it, Waiwai Taiko exists for Kokura Gion Daiko Festival. If there was no festival, there'd be no team.

And well, was it worth it?

All the time spent practicing; all the blood, sweat, and tears; all of it for a year... just for a weekend?

Our completed 山車 (dashi)

Totally.

What an amazing experience. It was fun seeing other teams play--it gave a chance to compare different styles and which ones I want to mimic in the future. It was also good to show off ourselves as a team. We weren't the best, but we definitely held our own (8th out of 14! Not bad for a group of 1st and 2nd year players).

That said, while watching and playing were fun, my favorite part out of everything was just hanging out. Practicing for the 2 weeks leading up, plus putting in 10-12 hour days on Saturday and Sunday... we saw a lot of each other. And throughout it all, there was no doubt that the down time was the most fun--the talking, eating, drinking, joking, laughing, or simply put, the camaraderie. Taiko might have brought us together, but it could have been any activity and it would have been just as enjoyable



Already like a distant memory...

So now I have all this free time since taiko is over and no idea what to do with it. It's kinda... sad. 

Sunday, July 17, 2011 - Kokura Gion Daiko Festival

Good thing we have another performance next week.



Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Picking Up Surfing... In Japan?

I was born and raised in Northern California. However, even though it's home to some of the best waves in the world, such as the infamous Mavericks, I never really picked it up. For me, surfing has always been just a summer hobby, having to borrow gear from friends who were "real" surfers.

Going to university in Los Angeles, it was even worse. Despite the beautiful weather and amazing beaches, I never surfed a day during my 4 years living in LA. It's not that I didn't want to... I just didn't have access to equipment or ways to get it to the beach (imagine trying to take a surfboard on a public bus in LA).

Now I live in Japan, a country not known for its surfing, and whose breaks are limited at best.

Surf Trip for Golden Week 2011, Aoshima, Miyazaki

No matter. It's about time I pick it up.

I've already got my board as an early birthday present to myself (not pictured) from a local Japanese shaper--a 5'10'' Retro Fish with a quad fin setup. The idea behind such a small board is that it's easy to transport, but more importantly, it catches smaller waves like a long board. 

Despite being the size of California, with even more coast as an island, the waves in Japan are nowhere near close. So having a board that can catch smaller waves is a necessity--the consistently best surf on Kyushu Island, Miyazaki (pictured above and third), is not really feasible for me as a day trip. Still, in my city of Kitakyushu, there's Wakamatsu Ward about 30 minutes away. There, surfers frequent a few beaches to try and catch... well, anything. 

A typical flat day at Iwaya Beach, Wakamatsu Ward, Kitakyushu City

I've already gone out on my board a few times at Iwaya Beach which has been fun, even with uncooperative waves. And in my short time of surfing in Japan, I've already made a few observations. I've found that while locals still have that stereotypical, laid back attitude, unlike in California, it seems less about impressing people and more about doing your own thing. The result is a surf culture that feels much more accessible as a beginner.

I won't lie-- it took us all afternoon to get this picture. (Aoshima, Miyazaki)

So who cares if the waves aren't that good? It's already. It's more about getting out on the water and enjoying yourself. Besides, from what I hear, typhoon season is coming. So while Iwaya in Kitakyushu hasn't given me much these past few weekends, it's safe to say that it's only going to pick up from here.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Refill

The Refill is a Fukuoka E-Zine that comes out every two months. It's written and published by JET's for JET's and covers topics such as travel, upcoming local events, and life in Fukuoka Prefecture. This past issue, I wrote an article (guess what it's about), so check it out!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Fool Me Twice...

I distinctly remember swearing to myself that I'd never do it again. Sure, at the time, I convinced myself it was worth all the pain and effort. The feeling of self-accomplishment and afterglow made the following hours of complete immobility worth it. However, once was enough. I told myself that it was a check off my bucket list, and since it was completed, I never had to do it again.

I wouldn't call it "fun"...

Well recently, I was going over my bucket list. I have a lot left to do, but I've completed a few since I started it a few years ago. One of those was, as I mentioned, the Los Angeles marathon (not LA specifically, but run a legitimate marathon without any breaks or walking). I noticed, though, that I neglected to write down my time. Why didn't I write it down? How fast did I run it? Wasn't it around 3:50? Was it faster? Slower? Is my time lost forever?!?

I couldn't remember (thankfully, it was still online--3:49:16), but it got me thinking. "Well... I'm trying to run more anyway, why not have something to run for?" I played with the idea of a half-marathon here in Japan. That lasted about 5 seconds as I reminded myself that a half-marathon equals half an accomplishment.

So it'd have to be a marathon again. After briefly google-ing a few different marathons in Japan, I found one that would be in a city close enough to visit in a weekend. At 6 months away, it could be the perfect amount of time to train properly... but no. No. Never again. I promised myself.

But... it would be cool to say I ran a marathon in Japan. I'm sure it's a cultural experience in itself to race in a foreign country. Plus, since I have experience completing a marathon before, I would know what to expect.

Wait a minute, I know what to expect. That's the reason I don't want to do it again! Right?

I half-jokingly messaged a friend asking if he'd be down to run a marathon. There's no way he could say yes. I expected a,  "Hell no," and then I'd try to convince him otherwise. Like how it's an amazing experience, it's worth it at the end, there's plenty of time to train, et cetera. Or at least, there'd be some sort of resistance. Then he would say he'd think about it, but ultimately decide no. I would be able to say I tried, but it wasn't meant to be. And that would be that.

Notice how long he took to decide... so fast, there's a typo.


Instead, we were registered around 11 that same night. By the next day, we were paid entrants for the 2011 Osaka Yodogawa Marathon--my second marathon.

Too bad there's no bonus check on my bucket list for doing something twice...

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Thoughts on Travel

I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel's sake. The great affair is to move.

I see my path, but I don't know where it leads. Not knowing where I'm going is what inspires me to travel it.

Certainly, travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the idea of living.


Iwatayama Park, Arashiyama, Kyoto
Iwatayama Park, Arashiyama, Kyoto

I travel to learn. It's as simple as that. As a human, I am the ongoing result of a lifetime of experiences. Everyday, we grow and develop as individuals as we build on the foundation of experiences we have lived. However, without traveling, there are entire worlds that we will not interact with. For me, this is the sake of travel. It matters less where we go—what is important is the act of traveling, or travel for the sake of travel. Anywhere that is new to us, anywhere we have never seen or experienced; these locations are the best opportunities to learn.

Most likely, the best learning experiences come from interacting with the previously unknown. We fill in the gaps of our knowledge as we try new things. This unknown is a strong factor in contributing to our learning process as humans. Naturally, this includes the unknown about another's culture, customs, and ways of thinking. However, it also includes the unexpected events that occur while traveling. While life surprises us everywhere including our own neighborhood, it is safe to say that while traveling, these occurrences are much more numerous.

We can plan out every minute detail of our trip, but in the end, things will not turn out as planned. Some are good: the spontaneous invitation to a new friend's house for dinner, getting lost and discovering an alley untouched by tourists, or even just deciding to say hell with your schedule and enjoying the rest of the afternoon in the shade of a cafe. Others will be... less fortunate, such as the time you get conned into something you never intended or the moment you realize you missed the last train. However, regardless of your luck, it will never fail to provide an experience. Even when it may be the worst feeling in the world, in hindsight, it will likely prove to be your most valuable lesson.

This leads into the last concept of learning—personal development. By definition, when we learn, we grow as individuals. How we live our lives is the result of the collective knowledge acquired over a full lifetime. However, unlike the learning that goes on in a classroom, travel provides an education impossible to learn through books or memorization. We grow the most when we are out of our comfort zone, and the easiest way to push ourselves is to travel.

Through travel, we learn about ourselves.

We learn that we are much stronger than we could have ever imagined. We challenge ourselves in ways we would never normally consider whether it be eating things to be polite that even locals scoff at, or getting over a fear of swimming in order to see the Great Barrier Reef up close. In addition, we develop a heightened sense of perception to our surroundings. Like children, everything in the world becomes new again: sights, smells, sounds, even the simple act of crossing the street becomes an endeavor.

Travel is not permanent. Eventually, we will return to our everyday lives, whether it be back at home or develop new habits living abroad. However, just as we cannot un-live an experience, what we learned on our travels never leaves us. "It is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the idea of living."

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Nothing Like an Onsen

I'll admit, my first trip to the onsen was weird—a bunch of gaijin friends and I sharing a bath before a party. Not necessarily the way I planned on spending my Halloween. But once in the water, I quickly got over any initial uneasiness. That being said, it would still be many months before I’d go to an onsen again.

Fast forward to Taipei—we heard about Beitou hot springs and decided to go. It was a chance to check out the authenticity of their public bath since it was started by some Japanese entrepreneurs. Once we got there, we discovered that swim suits were required (i.e. we we’re planning on going in naked). What kind of bath is this? Clearly not Japanese.

This should have been the first sign.

Beitou, Taiwan
Beitou--No picture in the bath… that’d be weird.

I  like 温泉. I was starting to actively seek them out. I didn't just tolerate them--I actually enjoy my time at an onsen. That being said, it would take a couple more trips for me to start admitting this to myself.

I found myself in Kobe during my first half of Golden Week. After a full day each in Osaka and Koyasan, we managed to finish all the main sites of Kobe in less than a day. Sunday morning, we woke up with not much left to see. We ended up watching a movie, playing at an arcade, and then tried to plan the rest of our day until our night bus left at 11. After a late lunch and hanging out around the city… it was still only 3PM. What was left to do?

Well there was Arima, one of the oldest hot springs in Japan. And though technically a part of the city of Kobe, much like Beitou was for Taipei, it was more a hot springs town 1 hour out of the city proper. No matter—we had an afternoon to kill.

Arima
Not my picture… but again, it’d be weird to take pictures inside…

There’s something about relaxing in extremely hot water that is so rejuvenating. Any sort of  modesty, worry, or care in the world melts away as soon as you’re neck deep in water. In the case of Arima, it’s known for their brownish water: naturally brown from the iron and oxygen in the water (and not dirt, supposedly).

This by itself doesn’t prove that I'm an onsen addict. Going to a famous onsen because we happened to have some free time… that seems pretty normal. It's not like I've developed an obsession or anything, right? Right?

A few weeks later, I was looking forward to the Hita Fireworks Festival in Oita prefecture. My taiko group and I had weekend-long event playing a set at hotels, senior centers, and houses. In total, there were going to be over 15 performances, with a little over half on Saturday and the rest on Sunday. In the days leading up to it, all we talked about was how excited we were for the fireworks festival on Saturday night. After a hard day's work, it was going to be a lot of eating, drinking, and fun hanging out with everyone.

Wai Wai Club
Wai Wai Club, Hita, Oita Prefecture, Japan

Don't get me wrong--I was looking forward to all that too. But I was also really looking forward to the onsen we were going to before the festivities. After a full day of taiko playing, I just imagined how fantastic it would be soaking in one of Oita’s famous onsens. Secretly, I was as excited for the onsen as I was for the party itself. Does that make me weird?

Probably, yes.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

In the Time of Sakura

When I came to Japan, I made a list of things I would need to do while I'm here. Some are location-specific activities like go scuba diving in Okinawa, or visit the Sapporo factory in Hokkaido. A few aren't travel related at all and can be done anywhere (like finish the One Piece series in Japanese). I have others, though, that can be done only during certain times of year, such as visiting a shrine in Japan on New Year’s. However, there is one activity that I've wanted to do well before I made this list: "Drink underneath the cherry blossoms."

I can't remember where I read about it, but I do remember what it described. Every year, the blooming sakura represents the first sign of spring. Japan's cherry blossoms starts in the south and work their way northward as the weather gets warmer. When it reaches an area, everyone goes outside to celebrate the end of winter. It includes picnics, parties, BBQ's, games, singing, and drinking. The article continued to mention that this is the one chance a year for the usually reserved Japanese to completely relax and have a good time. People can drop all pretexts and fronts, and a sort of "anything goes" mentality takes over.

At the time I read about it, I was hooked. I knew then that I had to do this. It became one of the reasons why I came to Japan.

Kokura
Lunch break outside Kokura Castle

I wasn't disappointed. It was everything that I had hoped it would be. But as cliché as sounds, it's hard to describe in words. (In my defense, many Japanese poets spend years trying to describe the beauty of 桜.) What I can say is that I was stunned by the sheer number of blossoms. At its peak, it was spectacular. It was simply an unparalleled experience.

To be honest, I actually missed the start of the cherry blossoms because I was in Taipei. That's not to say I didn't make up for it later... I think I did 花見 around 5 or 6 times. (Notice it isn’t an exact number. That week was kind of a blur.) We sat under the trees during our lunch break when we were at the office. (Just bento... I mean, drinking would have been irresponsible.) At night, I went with a few others for a cheeky チューハイ after Japanese class. The day before school, we had a proper picnic as we fired up the grill and celebrated our last day of Spring Vacation.
 Yaki Niku
Notice the limited-edition 花見 can

Each time was different too. As I mentioned before, anything goes. Things that wouldn't be necessarily appropriate normally was now perfectly acceptable (or at least, overlooked). Japanese men passed out under trees… before noon? Sure, it’s hanami. A grandpa drunkenly making out with his wife… in front of children? Meh, the kids are playing anyway... maybe they won't notice. Calling over and sharing food and drinks with strangers… just because you notice they are foreigners?


New Friends?
Yeah... don't really remember taking this picture...

Good food, good company, good times, and all it all, it was just good fun. I can understand why it's such a longstanding tradition--what better way to celebrate the coming of spring than 花見? So even though I had, "Drink underneath the cherry blossoms," only once on my list, you'll definitely see me out there again next year.


さくら咲く
ひらひら、散った
もう懐かしい

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Budget Travel - The World on a Shoestring

So I’m giving a guest lecture for Seinan Jo Gakuin’s English Department. At first, I couldn’t decide what to talk about. I thought about it for a bit, and instead of choosing something more… academic, I decided to do something more fun.

03
Besides… did I mention that it’s 西南学院?

I've found that many people in Japan use travel agents to book trips. I'm sure you've seen them--bus loads of Japanese tourists visiting sights throughout the world. But even though many Japanese love traveling, it seems that the backpacking culture so prevalent amongst other nationalities is not as popular. So while I’m by no means an expert, I can share tips and stories from my travels. I can talk about my favorite hobby and promote what I think is a better way to travel.

Or at least show there are ways to travel that don't involve following a tour guide with a brightly colored umbrella.


If you have any tips of your own, please comment and let me know.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Signs, Snakes, and 7-Elevens

Taiwan was not what I had expected. I was expecting it to be stimulation overload mixed with heaps of culture shock. And though it was different than Japan, I think I had more culture shock going to Korea, or even Hawaii, than I did in Taipei. 

This seemed strange to me at the time. Why did I feel so at ease in Taipei? So after finishing my trip and looking through my photos, I came up with 3 possible reasons as to why this was.

1) Writing:

I know I said Korea felt like Japan, and I know Korean is gramatically similar to Japanese. And even though the Korean alphabet reminded me of katakana, it didn't look like Japanese. Chinese, however... it is Japanese (or rather, Japanese kanji comes from Chinese characters). This by itself made Taipei feel like Japan. I can't understand everything (I'd say it's well less than half). Yet there is comfort in being able to read the same signs I do in Japan. Even knowing where to find an exit, 出口, makes traveling in a foreign country a lot less intimidating.

This proved to be particularly helpful in restaurants. Granted we couldn't read what was said (though sometimes our guess in Japanese was similar minus the intonations). However, when we saw something on a menu, we could break it down. “Hmmm... 牛肉 something... 油 with something... something else... and 麺. That sounds good. Let's get this oily beef noodles dish.” 

This leads into the next topic...

Sometimes being able to read it made it worse...

2) Weird food:

I wouldn't say I go out of my way to eat weird stuff. However, if the opportunity presents itself, it is a good cultural experience. In Taipei, these opportunities were plentiful. In order of weirdness factor from least to most, I ate chicken feet (semi-normal), stinky tofu (no joke, it was really stinky), ostrich yakitori, various snake parts in liquid form, and a bug jello-like concoction. 

I can't seem to keep away from snake...

So Taipei has its weird food. But what about Japan? Many cultures find the idea of raw fish repulsive. That may not be strange for you (or me), but I've also had both chicken and beef prepared as sashimi. And basashi... well, not many other cultures eat horse meat cooked, much less raw. I still think the best/craziest culinary experience for me is when I had squid so fresh, the tentacles were still writhing about and sticking to the roof of my mouth as I ate it.

In other words, Japan has its weird moments too. So although the food culture is vastly different in Taiwan (night markets are awesome), the weirdness factor of its dishes didn't faze me... well, at least no more than Japan.

3) Convenience:

Taipei reminded me of Japan in terms of convenience. First of all, much like Japan, the public transportation is excellent. We never waited longer than 4 minutes for a train and most of the time, we would board well within a minute. We even went to Beitou, the once difficult to reach, northernmost district, now just an easy MRT ride away.

I can't talk about convenience without at least mentioning convenience stores. Japan has a コンビニ every block. This may be a slight exaggeration (very slight), but you never have to walk very far to get a drink, grab a snack, or find an ATM. 

As for Taipei...

Yes this is a picture of a 7-Eleven from inside another 7-Eleven.

Seems the same to me...



Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Spam, Eggs, and Rice

Hawaiian culture is like Spam, eggs, and rice.

The American culture present in Hawaii would be the eggs. It is, after all, the 50th state. What makes it American? Well, besides the fact that English is spoken and the dollar is accepted, it still feels like the mainland. You have burger joints, pizzerias, and taco trucks all on the same block. People across all races and cultures mix together creating a melting pot.


Want some pizza with that ramen?

Unlike the mainland, though, there is a stronger Asian influence that is apparent in everyday life. Most noticeable is Japanese culture. Since Hawaii caters to Japanese tourists, many stores and restaurants will have signs in Japanese. Some malls and stores won't even bother English at all. Moreover, Japanese is commonly heard on the street, particularly in more touristy areas. 

However, you can't say it's only the flocks of Japanese tourists that make Hawaii seem like Japan. For example, for you Hawaiians out there, how do you say 'yakiniku' in English? This influence of Japanese culture is not limited to the language either. Hawaii may be lacking the ever present コンビニ, but at least in Waikiki, how far do you have to walk to find an ABC store? (Answer: 1 block) They sell everything from beach gear to gifts to booze to... spam musubi? It's like a Hawaiian Famima

So in our breakfast analogy, this part of Hawaiian culture is the rice.


"Wait, Hawaii isn't it's own country?" -Common Japanese Misconception

Yet even with these two cultures, Oahu has managed to maintain its own, well, Hawaiian-ness. The Spam, so to speak. Locals use the 'hang loose' sign to mean chill out. When you don't hear English or Japanese, you'll hear 'Pigeon,' a pidgin English and Hawaiian mix. And even if you don't understand a word of it, you pick up aloha and mohalo pretty quick--from the moment you step off the plane, you hear them used constantly.

Put them all together and we create the perfect breakfast that is uniquely Hawaii.

Spam, eggs, and rice--even at McDonalds

The result is a destination that may be touristy, but it's touristy for a reason. Its amazing weather, friendly locals, and scenic beauty notwithstanding, Hawaii's blend of mainland, Asian, and Pacific Island influences provides a cultural experience that is unparalleled anywhere else in the world.

So to Hawaii, I say Aloha for now, maholo for a great trip, and a hui hou!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Reverse Culture Shock

Don't get me wrong. I still have my American tendencies. I'm loud when I laugh. I like standing out when the occasion calls for it. I love my McDonalds. However, I have had a bit of reverse culture shock coming back to the states. I noticed it right away, and in just these few days, I've accumulated a short list of... things I appreciate about Japan. Below are some of my observations after living abroad for over half a year.

--Price of soft drinks
In Japan, I can be sure that a bottle of soda will cost 150 yen and a can 120 yen. Anything less (like a 100 yen vending machine or buying a bottle of soda for 88 yen at a grocery store) is a steal. However, most of the time, I can be assured that I will get ripped off no matter where I go. It's sort of nice to know--no matter what I do, which Lawson or 7/11 I go to, the price is uniformly expensive. Everyone is equally screwed.

In Hawaii/USA, the price varies depending on where you go. Some stores will sell it for a lot more (like an ABC store versus a Longs Drugs). It may still be cheaper than getting a drink in Japan, but it sucks to buy a 20 oz. soda for $2 only to find a vending machine down the street that sells it for $1.25. It's not the price. It's the principle.

--Being able to cuss/use slang without being understood
Don't lie--you do it too. When you can use words that would make a sailor blush because you know people around you don't understand... it's sort of natural to let loose. English in Japan is spoken somewhat (though less so in my area), but when you use slang and other colorful language, most people won't understand (with the exception of the F-word).

In other words, I have to watch my mouth in front here. I mean, think of the kids.

--Talking on your cell phone on public transportation
I know it's really not that big of a deal, and I used to do it too. But seriously? If you're going to talk on the phone on a bus, use an indoor voice. Your cell phone microphone picks up your voice fine, so there's no reason to raise your voice as if you're talking on a Nokia brick from the 90's.

In Japan, I've gotten scolded by an obachan only once for answering my phone on a bus. That was enough.

--Driving on the right side of the street
Not too much to say about this one, except that I've had my life flash before my eyes a few times because I now look the wrong way for oncoming traffic.

--Really obese people
Definitely rude of me to say, but I gotta say it--some of us Americans are monstrous. I definitely caught myself staring at someone the size of 4 fully-grown Japanese girls.

Even with my reverse culture shock, I must admit, it is nice being back in the states. It's comforting. I've forgotten how much I've missed the little things, like being able to read signs perfectly, seeing ethnic diversity, or even getting unlimited refills on soda.

Being that it's Hawaii definitely helps, too.

Waikiki Beach, Honolulu, Hawaii

Monday, March 7, 2011

Time to Man Up

I study Japanese everyday. Sometimes is active studying, such as when I use my textbook for the JLPT. More often, though, I'm passively learning Japanese. I read manga. I watch TV. I listen to people around me and then try to mimic them.

My current textbook of choice

That last method is the I one I must be the most careful about. It's not the whole casual versus formal dilemma. I'm not too worried about sounding casual--as a foreigner, I figure I'll be given a bit of leeway. As long as I don't cuss out someone, informal speech is much more useful since it's spoken everyday. And when needed, if I try to mix in -masu form and desu enough, it'll show that I want to speak formally but don't really know how.

What I worry about is that at school everyday, I'm surrounded by female colleagues. After school, my Japanese tutor is female as well. Most of the Japanese I hear everyday comes from women.

Therein lies the problem.

In Japanese, men and women sound different. This makes sense if you consider there is different vocabulary for the different sexes. Gender roles are clearly defined in Japanese society. This distinction carries over into speech. This means that if a woman uses really strong words that only a man should use, she is thought to be lesbian (or at least, very masculine). So if the reverse is true as well...

This whole time, I've been talking like a girl.

Don't get me wrong--I don't use blatantly feminine words like 'あたし' for I, or 'わ' at the end of a sentence. I don't giggle like a school girl nor does my voice sound like I'm whining. However, when I speak, I don't sound very... strong. So a phrase that may sound OK in my head, a normal Japanese man would never say. One example is adding 'よ 'to the end of every sentence. In a textbook, it's described as a strong male ending... but in the real world, men use it a lot less than women.

For example, when someone used to ask me '本当か,' my instinct was to reply, 'そうよ.' I recently started thinking about that phrase (and why my tutor laughed at me when I said it). I've never heard a man say that expression, whether in anime, TV, or real life. I wondered why it sounded so natural... and then I realized that at school, the teachers surrounding me say it all the time. If you listen to men speak, though, they would respond with 'そう.'

Another very basic thing I say all the time is 'ね.' I may respond to someone's statement with 'ちょっとね.' Normally, it's when it's something bad and I want to agree but not fully sound negative, so I just reply "a little bit, huh?" "Oh today's very cold." "Mmhmm... ちょっとね." In English, there's no real difference saying, "A little bit,"  versus, "A little bit, huh?" However, in Japan, men don't use 'ね' as frequently. It's much more feminine in Japanese to soften what you say all the time. Another instance: Women say 'そうね.' Men say 'そうだね.' Guess which one I've been using this whole time...

Note that this only applies for my everyday speech. When I drink, this problem disappears. My Japanese becomes a lot more masculine, albeit vulgar, as a night progresses (though the same is true of my English, or any other language for that matter). I don't necessarily want to use my drunk Japanese as my normal speech, but it'd be nice find a mix between the two. I'll just have to keep on trying to find that balance.

No, that sounds too weak. I ought to use something stronger. Otherwise, it's no better than when I speak in Japanese.

今からがんばるぞ!まけねぇ!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

How I Learned to Read Hangul... in a Morning

While looking into different things to do in Busan, one thing that I kept reading is that I ought to learn how to read Korean. You may not know what it means, but since it's an alphabet (versus, say, kanji in Japanese), you can sound it out. Many travel blogs mentioned it's usefulness at restaurants and navigating street signs. Due to my inherent laziness, I didn't bother looking into it until the last day (literally the morning of my flight). I wasn't going to, but since I found myself with some free time in the morning, I figured I'd take a stab at it.

While looking online at different explanations, I stumbled upon this.



These pictures did little to help me though. I mean seriously... let's look at the first one, ㄱ, for G. How is their example, "G as in Games," relate in any way to the picture? It doesn't. Furthermore, after looking at this picture, I got even more confused. The characters on this chart and actual Korean writing looked nothing alike. There were similarities, but actual writing looked much more complex. 


One quick Wikipedia search later, I learned that syllables are formed using a combination of the above characters. Instead of forming words with letters like in English, their letters combine to form syllables. The chart shows how to break down the character into its components. Things were starting to make sense... but I still needed a way to memorize the basic characters unless I wanted to carry a chart around with me all the time.


I decided that I should create my own method for memorizing each letter. Below is the way I memorized it and though it may not be useful for you, it shows that we all learn differently. As in, my brain can make some pretty random pictures out of nothing and draw connections where there aren't be any. Some are more of a stretch than others, but meh... it worked for me.


(The Hangul [Korean writing] is first, followed by the expression I used to remember it. In parentheses are the pronunciation and the logic or lack thereof for the expression)


Consonants:
  • ㄱ - 7 Grand (Pronounced G, but it looks like a 7, doesn't it?)
  • ㄴ - NULL/LAN (Pronounced N, but looks like an L. My logic isn't always straightforward.)
  • ㄷ - DoC (Pronounced D. Looks like a C. DoC as in Doctor....?)
  • ㄹ- 2 Low (Pronounce L. Looks like a 2, as in, at a club, "Damn, girl... you're gettin' 2 Low.")
  • ㅁ- Mouth (Pronounce M. Reminds me of Japanese kanji, 口, for Mouth)
  • ㅂ - Bull (Pronounced B. Looks like a Bull with horns)
  • ㅅ - 人 Same thing (Pronounced S. As in, Japanese kanji has the Same thing 人.)
  • ㅇ- ONG Bak (Pronounced Ng, as in, O for ONG Bak, the Muay Thai movie.)
  • ㅈ - ス  (Pronounced J, reminds me the character in my name, ジャスティン.)
  • ㅊ - 小さい (Pronounced Ch, as in 小さい, which kinda looks the same... if you squint really hard...)
  • ㅋ - Quick (Pronounced K, but looks like a lowercase q. The K sound in quick [kwik?]).
  • ㅌ - ET (Pronounced T, but looks like an E as in ET.)
  • ㅍ - Part II (Pronounced P, looks like Roman Numeral II.) 
  • ㅎ - Hat (Pronounced H, looks like a guy wearing a hat.)

Vowels:
  • ㅏ - "Ah, zombie!" (Pronounced Ah, Looks like a zombie walking towards this sentence)
  • ㅓ - "Uh, what?" (Pronounced eo, or uh. This guy is facing away from the zombie and is confused)
  • ㅗ- "Oh, I died." (Pronounced Oh, looks like you died from the zombie.)
  • ㅜ - "You fail." (Pronounced u, or the end of yOU. You died, but running away and fell on your face)
  • ㅡ - Eu... (Pronounced eu, as in "Euh... je sais pas." The French version of "umm... I don't know.")
  • ㅣ- I (Pronounced eeh, but looks like Japanese い, which in romaji is I).


Let's take the example, 비빔밥. Looks simple enough. The first syllable, , is a bull and an I, spelling 'Bi.' The second syllable, is the first one but with a third consonant at the bottom, , which looks like a mouth, M. The second syllable is 'Bim.' That leaves the last syllable. There is still a bull, so we know it starts with B. The vowels is the zombie, Ah. The last letter is another bull (which actually changes to a p, but if you pronounced it with a b, it'd probably be understood). The full word is bibimbap, or the best cure for a long, soju-filled night.

With my new mnemonics, I hopped on the plane to 부산. Armed with my new, rudimentary understanding of한글, I was able to impress some new Korean friends, pick the right bus to the airport, eat at locals only spots, and perhaps most importantly, pick out the 갈비 onigiri at convenience stores.


All in all, a productive morning.