Tuesday, September 29, 2009

So Ko!

They say that as you get older, time goes by faster. And then there's that other saying, that time flies when you're having fun. These two expressions, if we take them to be true, may account for the fact that I was completely unprepared when I realized that my tourist visa was about to be up. On September 26, I had to get out of Japan or risk being deported.

I did something that is probably very looked down upon by Japanese immigration: I decided to take a short trip to South Korea and return to Japan with a fresh 90 days to use. It really doesn't sound like such a bad thing to do--other countries have arrangements with Japan that allow their citizens to stay for up to 6 months on a working holiday (oh, how I envy those citizens!). So I don't really see why little old me should raise any suspicions at Japanese Immigration. I'm just trying to find a way to experience this beautiful country in a legit and legal way. But I digress.

My worries over re-entering Japan melted away on Thursday after a fantastic flight on Asiana Airlines (so far, they tie with British Airways as my favorite airline) and this sight:

My first glimpse of the East Sea and South Korea. I landed fine, got through Korean Immigration and Customs no problem, and waited for Allison to meet me. I watched a cheesy Korean soap opera for at least an hour (it turns out Allison's train had broken down) and wandered the airport. Seeing prices in a new currency and hearing endless trails of words I didn't understand was a little overwhelming, like the first moment I entered Shinjuku Station in Tokyo. It made me long for a place where I had at least a limited vocabulary, where I could make sense of things. I actually though of Japan as home for a moment. And I loved that feeling.

Allison came and we headed to the province outside of Seoul where she lives, Gwangmyeong.

Seoul and its surrounding areas are full of arcades, or areas where there are tons of neon lights. Here's another view of Gwangmyeong at night:

The next day, Allison had to work, so I wandered Gwangmyeong by myself, careful not to get lost since I didn't even know the Korean word for "where." I discovered the Gwangmyeong Market, a winding food and clothing market that would take hours to fully explore.

I saw lots of traditional Korean food (some of which made my stomach churn, like tubeworms and pig legs) and a whole side street dedicated to traditional Korean dress:

That night, we headed to Hongdae, a major clubbing district in Seoul. We met up with another college friend, Michael (AKA Nandez), and went to a hookah bar and dance club before ending the night with a noraebang, the Korean answer to a Karaoke house.

The next day, Allison showed me around Insadong, a cool shopping district in Seoul. We watched people make traditional candy, do calligraphy, play traditional games, and got some cool free stuff because there just so happened to be a festival going on.

That night, we attended a beautiful play called "Hotel Splendid" about Korean comfort women during World War II. The so-called comfort women were sex slaves either lured with promises of being a nurse or secretary for the war effort or were blatantly kidnapped. I cried a lot. We met up with some of Allison's boyfriend's friends and went barhopping. I wish there were more cool people in our area in Japan.

I went sightseeing with Allison and Nandez on my last day in Seoul. We went to a stream that was reconstructed after it dried up, a museum about green technology, and finally a palace.

That night I watched movies with Allison and packed up. I barely got any sleep before heading back to the airport. Japanese Immigration seemed a little reluctant to let me back in, but I made it through. And now I'm back home (or at least, home for right now).

For the first time in my life, I feel like a citizen of the world. I really feel like I could make it anywhere if I tried.

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