Thursday, July 14, 2011

Cultural Experiences

WARNING: The following post includes pictures of my feet being devoured by fish!

So it's been forever since I've updated! I've got two weeks worth to catch you guys up on, so I'll split it into two posts--one for each week. I've been doing a Korean translation job recently, so that ate up all my time the past few weeks, but now I'm done with it and just in the editing process so yay for more time!

Highlights of the week? A failed trip to Yokohama, a Sado tea ceremony experience (I don't even know the word for this kind of thing in English, it's 체험 in Korean or 体験 in Nihongo), a Light dinner with Alan, and a relaxing trip to an Odaiba onsen with my host parents (related to I have your attention eh? :D).

So...botched trip to Yokohama 横浜! Two Fridays ago, one of the buddies, Manabu (whose name means to learn 「学」interesting choice of name eh?), planned a boat trip in Yokohama. Unfortunately, he bailed last minute, but apart from that, virtually everyone underestimated how long it takes to get to Yokohama. Now keep in mind our goal was to get there by 6:20, on a trip that takes a little longer than an hour.

I was planning to meet Eunbi at 5:20 in Komagome 駒込, her transfer spot to the Yamanote Line 山手線, our main commuter rail to school, but I wasn't able to reach her by phone. So I set off for Nippori Station by myself and just as I reached it, got a call from her telling me she had just woken up, but that we could meet in Komagome in about half an hour. Luckily, I had brought some work just in case so it wasn't too bad waiting! By the time we met up and got on the train, it was already 6:00PM. We gave a call to Somin, who was on the commuter rail to Yokohama at the time and she told us that if we ended up not catching the boat, we could just hang out in the area. We gave Colby a call too, and he happened to just be at home!

We then gave a call to Josh, who apparently was already there with Ruth and some of the buddies. Josh told us that the boat was actually leaving at 7:00 so luckily we had extra time! We got to Shibuya 渋谷 at around 6:30 optimistic that we'd get there on time (Josh told us it would take us about half an hour from there) and then got on the express line. We then found out that it was about 12 the time 7:00 hit, we were only maybe about halfway there, so we resigned ourselves to hang out with Somin, who was unable to find where the meeting spot even was, in Yokohama. Funny enough, it wasn't until 7:20 that we got to Yokohama. A bit late eh?

Funny thing was, Randy had also missed the boat and was there too! So the four of us walked around Yokohama, which was actually pretty nice. It reminds me a lot of Ilsan 일산, one of the suburbs of Seoul. Everything was nicely spaced out, but there were still rather tall buildings, so it vaguely felt like Wall Street (though wider). Following are some pretty night pictures I got of the area, including a ferris wheel that is apparently rather famous.
Anyway, after some picture-taking, we decided to go check out the Chinatown in Yokohama. After about half an hour, we ended up meeting Raymond at one of the nearby train stations, who had just got there as well! Drisana then called me and lo and behold, she didn't think she would make it so she decided not to come either. Sadly, the only people who made it to the boat were actually Josh and Ruth and a few of the buddies. Unable to find the Chinatown, we ended up eating in a Yoshinoya 吉野家, a cheap Japanese restaurant chain that's cheap in New York too! After Yoshinoya, we ended up taking a train back to Shibuya, but not before seeing the Chinatown entrance arch on the way back!

Now the sad thing is that the trip to Yokohama was rather expensive--about 460 yen (~$5~6) one way. Basically, we spent over $10 to head down to take some pictures and eat a meal that was cheaper than a one way trip. Sad times indeed. Oh well, a bonding experience right??

The next morning, we took a trip to Shirogane-Takanawa 白金高輪, a ridiculously long name for a subway stop (at least to English speaking ears ;]) to have a Sado 茶道 Tea Ceremony experience. The meeting time was 9:50, the time at which Rewon, Eunbi, and I reached the station. Funny enough, one of the teachers was actually upset at us for being on time! She made us apologize and then said we're supposed to be five minutes early! Chances are, a good part of it was her irritation at the fact that we were the first ones there, meaning that everyone else would be late. The latest people came upwards of half an hour to forty minutes late, so the sensei was pretty angry, at one point yelling "SHITSUREI 失礼" (Rude!) which sounds quite funny when translated to English haha. Seeing her yell it was very much like seeing a dragon breathe fire. We all got lectured afterwards about the importance of being on time. I think the biggest problem was probably the fact that everyone (like the night before with Yokohama) underestimated the time to get there. Lesson from now on? Try to get somewhere twenty minutes before you think you will actually get there. There's my cultural faux pas! :P It's interesting how fast people can adapt though, as a lot of the Japanese students at Sogang were okay when people were 5-10 minutes late.

Learning how to make the tea was pretty neat in itself. Stirring the powder by twisting the wrist rapidly was tiring, but it was very cool to see the foamy result! Strong, but good green tea.
A yummy treat we got that goes along with the tea.
One of the high school students carrying out the Sado.
The process...
And the result!
The necessary group picture.

That night, we met up with Alan, who was doing a Light visit to Tokyo with his wife. We ate at a department store tempura restaurant, where we were probably seen as the loud and obnoxious foreigners who just chattered away and were the last ones to leave. Since we couldn't all fit at a table (it's hard enough finding enough seats to fit even four or five people in most restaurants...) It was a lot of fun talking to Alan and his wife though and having an overall fun dinner, which consisted of ridiculous conversation (as any good conversation does), complaints about the program and/or host families, and the Tokyo experience. Not to mention, the food was great!
Small, but delicious!
Yet another necessary group picture! This time all of us are showing off the sitting on your knees skills that we learned in Sado (even a few seconds put us in pain though!).

The jam-packed weekend finally ended with a trip with my host parents to the Oedo Onsen in Odaiba (check out that alliteration!). For those who don't know what an onsen 温泉 is, it's basically like hot springs, or a sauna. The trip was super relaxing and I got to try quite the experience.
The inside of the onsen looked like something out of Spirited Away! Very festive atmosphere and really comfortable to just wander around in a yukata and bare feet.
My host parents!

Now at the onsen was also a "therapy" called Dr. Fish, in which the dead skin on your feet is eaten by fish to cleanse them, something that anyone who comes to Japan (or Korea, or any other country with this phenomenon--apparently, they started in Turkish baths: and apparently it's banned in the States!) has to try. Without further ado, pictures of my feet being devoured!
When you first put your feet in, these fish basically DIVE at you and start to nibble at your skin. The feeling is very bizarre at first and really ticklish, but once you get used to it, it's just amusing. Afterwards too, your feet feel great because all your dead skin has been eaten by these tiny fish! What an experience right?

Random Pics!
There was one night my host mother bought me a bento box because she was working late. It was pretty shocking when I opened the box and just saw a huge fish head right there! It was delicious though :D! Also, so sweet of her, the two sushi on the side is uni (sea urchin), which I had mentioned that I liked a few days earlier!
For those of you who've read Rewon's blog, this is our group that Rewon so affectionately dubs "The Korean Trifecta (+1)." Well here, it's -1, because Somin was sadly unable to make it.

All right, now on to the next post! :D

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