Monday, October 10, 2011

9/18/11. On to Seoul!

We woke up at 5:30 this morning, excited to see the fish market. I swear, I have a second battery for travelling.
After showering in the weird sauna room, we packed our still damp cloths and headed to the Tsukiji Fish Market.

Alas, it was closed for a holiday!  :(((

We got in as far as the security guard would let us (I wanted some pictures), and then walked on a side street back to the station to the airport. I guess it's okay because it'll give me another reason to come back to Tokyo sometime. Fresh sashimi, I will eat you another day!

I was still pretty sore from Fuji, so the walk back to the subway station was pretty difficult. Once again, we got on a train that wasn't the one we planned to get on, but it ended up being the fastest train to Hanneda Airport. Niceee.

We were both pretty low on yen, but G found some coins in his backpack side pocket and it was just enough for us to use for the fare adjustment. Phew!

With our extra time, we bought some mochi to give to Ghyrn's friend Andy in Seoul, and Carrie, my labmate who is living in Hong Kong. Soon, we were on our next Asiana flight, and I was eating more food. I will really miss this on flights back home.

Fail of the day: I dropped my sleeping bag on some poor lady's head  :(  I had to detach it from my backpack so it would fit in the overhead compartment, and as warned, it shuffled around during the flight. She was nice about it, but I felt really bad!
The public transportation is really cheap in Seoul (for non-taxed tourists, that is). It seriously costed like $1 or $2 to get from the airport to the center of Seoul, where we were staying. Compare this to the ~$30 we spent for a similar ride in Tokyo!

After riding the Airport Express (AR'EX) to Hongik University Station (what the locals call Hongdae), we walked to the 2nd Pencil Hostel and were greeted my some pretty cool artwork:

I found out that Cherry, the only staff member there at the time, was visiting from China, and I was able to bust out some bad Chinese. She was pretty friendly, and maybe we'll get better service now haha!

The rooms here are pretty sweet: There are two beds, a fridge/freezer, a stove, a washing machine, personal bathroom, and lcd TV. The best part? We're only paying like $30 a person/night! I think our trip will start to be a bit more relaxed from this point on :)

Not wanting to waste any time, we dropped off our stuff, started a load of laundry, and went to the center of Hongdae to begin fattening up. 

Snack 1: Deokk Boki! (Hot sauce covered rice cakes)

Snack 2: Sorbet!

There are a lot of funny building names and signs here. I was expecting more of this in Japan, but I'm happy we found things to laugh at here, too!

What's the SexyBrown? Anybody!

After exploring our neighborhood, we went to Hapjeong and watched the sunset from under one of the bridges along the Han River. If you've seen The Host (a good Korean monster movie), this might look familiar:

Then we headed back to meet Andy, Ghyrn's friend, for dinner(s).

Dinner 1: Dumplings (mandoo):

Dinner 2: Guangjang street food (mung bean pancake + rice wine)

Dinner 3: Not really dinner, but we ate a lot that night! Insadong Pat Bing Su (shaved ice) and street sweets:

The performer guys were really funny. Watch this youtube video!

We headed back with Andy to Hongdae, stuffed and happy. He had to meet his mom back at his place, so we wandered around and stumbled on a group of really talented student performers. In Korea there is limited space to practice music, so people rent out rooms in building or perform on the street. It's really cool to see/hear music everywhere!

Another youtube video of them  :D

We watched them for about an hour before the cops came and told them to start shutting down, headed back to the hostel, and then hung our clothes to dry on the rooftop. 
I'm just chilling in the room, planning out tomorrow. We're thinking of visiting the traditional palaces, heading to a couple of street markets, and maybe going clubbing tomorrow night. I think you will be very bored reading about this part of the trip, unless you like food  ;)

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

9/17/11. No Partying in Tokyo

I woke up to the sound of the guy across the row from me yakking. No bueno.

I really can't afford to get sick, so the hand sanitizer came out. It was hard to go back to sleep, so I stared out the window for the rest of the bus ride. There are so many parts of Japan that we didn't get to explore, and it kind of makes me sad. I don't know when I'll be back, but I will be back!

We got to Shinjuku Station at around 6 PM, and one of the last things I saw from the bus was a kid beating on his older sister. Must be Chinese tourists.

It was nice feeling the warmth once we got off of the bus. My clothes were still a little damp from Fuji, but within 10 minutes of getting off and walking around, they were dry. I am not a cold weather person. Ghyrn, on the other hand, grew up in Seattle and I think he's been having a little more trouble with the heat  :/

After going to the info desk at Shinjuku station, we found a nearby internet cafe at a mall, and checked to see if Party Tadashi had responded about us staying with him. Nope. 

Tadashi is a host on an airBnB website for Asia. One of our friends recommended it to us, and we sprang on the listing Tadashi posted because he described himself as "an expert dancer who can show you all the best party places in Tokyo." It sounded like a nice way to cap off our time in Japan. 

Unfortunately, Party Tadashi dropped the ball, so we had to scramble to find a new place to sleep that night. We knew that at the worst we'd be sleeping in a 24 hour internet cafe or in a train station, but after climbing Fuji we wanted something a little bit more comfortable. 

Going to Expedia, we found a nearby capsule hotel that was also close to the Tsukiji we were thinking about visiting in the morning. Nice!

It was a short ride on the #13 to Iidabashi, where we transferred on the Tozei line to Kibe. A five minute walk later and we were at the hotel. 

Random picture:
You can buy anything in Japanese vending machines.

The layout of this capsule hotel was pretty interesting. There was a lounge and locker room on the first floor, the capsules were on the 4th through 6th floors, and there was a sauna/shower/bathroom on the 3rd floor. After a quick tour and dropping off our things, we walked back out to get some cash (I was pretty broke and needed moolah for the ride to the airport in the morning) and food (we were also pretty hungry). 

Exhausted from the day, the easiest option was to get some cash, mochi, and more of that fluffy Japanese bread at a local 7-11 market. The 7-11's are a lot crazier here. They're everywhere, they don't sell slurpees, and you can buy more grocery type things. 

We went back to the hotel to eat our food and brushed our teeth. These capsules are pretty cozy and big enough to make you not feel claustrophobic! There's a TV, lights, and an AC inside. At $30 a night per person, I would definitely do this again.

It's around 11 at night right now, and I can't wait to wake up and head to the fish market for some sashimi before our flight to Seoul!

9/17/11. Fuji-San 2

Nope. Raindrops still pittering on the roof. Oh well!
It was pitch black outside when we woke up at 12:30. We got dressed, covered up in waterproof gear, and left 6th Station at 1 AM after eating some buns we bought from the station keepers earlier in the day.

Some hikers were leaving around the same time, so we followed them for about 5 minutes before realizing that they were going down the mountain. DOH! Actually, we were kind of nervous about doing the climb by ourselves because 1) it was raining pretty hard, 2) visibility was really bad (with a headlamp on I could barely see the ground, and 3) some of the trails had no barricades from the edge of the mountain. There were some points were the side of the mountain was just ash and loose rocks for huge distances. Yikes!

We turned around, hopped over a barricade (the mark of closure during off-season), and made it to 7th station by 2 AM, right on schedule. It was funny because we had the same 30 lbs of gear on us as going from 5th to 6th station, but it didn't seem as bad anymore. I think my body went into survival mode because I was so focused on finishing the climb. 

At around 3 AM crossed the next station, which is confusingly named new 7th station (or 7 1/2 station). On the way up we passed several groups of local climbers who were coming back DOWN because they said it was too dangerous. Ghyrn and I felt good enough to keep going on, but decided that we'd turn back if it got a lot windier/wetter. By this time, our rain gear was soaked through, and every time we stopped for too long, we started getting cold. Numb hands/feet = bad. 

When we got to the 8th station, which is over 3000 meters up, I started feeling nauseated. It might have been due to eating/sleeping too little or altitude thickness, but I seriously wasn't sure if I'd be good enough to finish the climb. We kept going, though, and came upon a hut. 

All of the huts on the way up were supposed to be closed, but we were so wet that we checked the doors of each building we passed on the way up. Looking through the windows here we were pleasantly surprised by the moving flashlights and voices inside!

We slid the doors open quickly, and joined three climbers inside for a chance to dry off and have a snack break.

There were two older guys and one younger guy, and it was nice to see that other climbers were in the same boat as us. We wrenched the water out of our clothes (everything in my bag was soaked because of a hole in my rain cover), and shared our rice cracker/nut mix with the other climbers. I balled up to stay warm, and looked at all the messages left on the walls:

It was 4 AM at this point, and in order to see the sunrise at 5:30 AM, we'd have to leave now to finish the climb. It was mutually decided that we should warm up and wait for the weather to calm down a bit because we were still pretty wet and probably wouldn't see the sunrise through the clouds anyway  :)

For the next half hour I sat in a stretcher (I forgot to mention that this was a first aid station at 8th station), and listened to the pounding rain and howling wind outside.

The other climbers took off around 4:30, but we waited it out for another hour and saw the sunrise. From the hut:

That's what it looked like  :D

Ghyrn's feet were still wet because his hiking boots were vented, so we started running in place to keep warm. At 6:10 we headed out to finish the climb. 
We made it past 9th and 9 1/2 station in 30 minute intervals, took a protein bar break, and reached the summit by 8 AM. WOOOOO. It was just above freezing at the top, so we took a few quick pictures in the clouds. 

I had to pee really bad and all the restrooms were closed, so I peed near the shrine. I think the mountain will understand. 

There wasn't really much to see aside from a postcard from a Turkish climber wedged into the closed post office at the summit, so we hiked around the crater at the top (Fuji is volcanic) and reached the Yoshida trail on the other side of the mountain in about 30 minutes. The 60 mph gales were nuts at the top! Ghyrn and I had to grip each other's wrists to not get blown off the mountain (or into the crater).

The Yoshida trail was much easier - Rather than a rock trail, it was mostly ash and dirt all the way down. The weather started getting slightly nicer after we passed 8th station on the way down, with pockets of sunshine intermixed with the rain. That meant that rainbows kept following us down!

I think our bodies started to leave survival mode at this point, and it was pretty nice chatting and snacking all the way down. The scenery was almost extraterrestrial, with shimmering green rocks intermixed with the red gravel and black ash. This prompted a nerdy discussion on copper and iron alloy nucleation that I'll leave out  :)

Reaching the treeline, we pulled out cameras and started to take pictures with the blue skies we hadn't seen for a while.

Continuing the climb down, we reached the Yoshida 5th Station at around 12:30. We thought a bus would pick us up here to bring us to Shinjuku station near Tokyo, but found out from the keepers that it was another 30 minute uphill hike to the bus station! We were so beat at this point that we convinced them to take us into town. They were hesitant and one of them was a little gruff as we climbed into the back of the truck, but they drove us to the nearby mountain village where the bus stop actually is. 

Our drivers brought us to a translator after they parked the truck, and we told them we had climbed over Fuji. It's normally not a bad climb, but the weather conditions were really bad and they were impressed that we made it. One of them cracked a big smile, and came over to share the rest of our snacks. Then we parted ways. 

Sort of. I saw that they were waiting for a table at a nearby restaurant, so Ghyrn and I ran to a shop and got beers for them to celebrate. Climb completed!

After finishing the beers, we changed in a handicapped bathroom, and I tossed some sweats, a thermal, a scarf, and a beanie that I wouldn't need for the rest of the trip. Making room for souvenirs  :D. I'm looking forward to the hot weather in Korea and Hong Kong! 
We had a bus to catch at 3 PM, so we stopped for a quick bite of udon and Fuji cakes.

As soon as we got on the bus, I fell right asleep, feeling the rumble of the tires on the road, and staring out at the peaceful mountainside  :)

Friday, September 30, 2011

9/16/11. Fuji-San 1

We woke up at 7 AM, and Shizuka made us an American breakfast of toast, runny scrambled eggs, tea, and juice. The bread here is so good - it's really fluffy but has a nice chewy texture when you bite down on it. Yum.

It took an hour of calling, but we were able to get a hold of the 5th and 6th stations of the Fujinomiya trail and verify that they were open. This might need a little explanation. There are 5 climbing routes on Fuji, and each route has 9 stations (at different elevations) that have huts where climbers can recuperate. The climb from the 5th stations take 4-7 hours (depending upon which trail you take), and climbing down takes ~3 hours. The official climbing season ends in August, and by September the bus schedules for the mountain are significantly reduced, and many of the huts close.
If you're short on time, you typically catch a ride on a bus up to the 5th station, spend half a day there, and finish the climb starting at 1 AM or so to catch the sunrise at 5:30 AM. That was our plan, so we wanted to make sure a hut at 5th or 6th station was open. Our plan was to take the Fujinomiya trail, which is the shortest route (and one of the most strenuous). Open huts = yippee!

After saying goodbye to our hosts, we took off for Kyoto station and got more yen. I picked up some Yatsuhashi to bring home, and we mailed our post cards to various friends and family. I never used to send them, but after finding out how good it feels to receive them, I'm going to make sure to send at least a few on each trip (to those who didn't get any this trip, I didn't have your addresses memorized!).

From Kyoto station we were supposed to take a Kodama train (a step below the fastest bullet train) to Shin-Fuji Station at the base of the mountain, but it we accidentally got on a Nozomi train (the fastest bullet train)! Luckily it was going the right direction.

It was a simple mistake. Ghyrn and I were taking pictures, and when a train arrived at our platform (slightly early) we figured it was our train and there was a 5 minute loading time. Nope. About a minute after getting on, we felt the train move and the scenery outside began to whiz by at 186 mph!

We asked the conductor for advice, and were able to get off at Nagoya station to transfer to the right train. Phew! Normally it wouldn't have been too big a deal, but we were on a tight schedule to catch the last bus to Fujinomiya 5th station.

After getting on the right train, we commenced the picture taking, goofed around, and arrived at Shin-Fuji. The lady at the information desk (where we had to buy tickets) was a total mom and kept telling us to put safety first. "I can't recommend you to climb the mountain, but climbers do climb the mountain off season. Please be safe!"

We got some snacks at the station, and caught the bus up. It was a bit windy, and the bus driver drove like a maniac, but the views were stunning once we got above the clouds!

Minor setback 1: 5th station wasn't actually open. Just the bathrooms! Fortunately 6th station was only a 20 minute hike up, so we went there and found that they were open. Nice!

Minor setback 2: 200 yen to use the bathroom = pee in the grass outside the hut.

We were pretty starving at this point because it was around 5 PM and we hadn't eaten lunch, so we stopped next door and found a local dude eating some tasty-looking noodles. "Oishi desu ka?" [Is that delicious?] I asked. "HAI!" [YES]! The guy responded. He told us it was Fujinomiya Yakisoba, and we sat down and ordered some from the hut-keeper.

It was oishi indeed. Best mountain noodles I've ever eaten.

We introduced ourselves to our new friend, Katsuhiko Kimura, who had finished the climb earlier that day. He showed us a picture of himself at the top, and said it was freezing up there! Actually, there wasn't much talking - he had a translator on his phone and was typing in Japanese/showing us the screen. I'd type back and he'd translate it to Japanese again. It was cool and kind of funny because the translator wasn't quite perfect!

The last thing he typed before going outside was " Please take care of the body when preparing to climb," which I took as more advice to be safe  :)

We took pictures with him, and went back to our hut to relax before our hike.

We're about to go to sleep at 7PM and wake up at 1AM to start the climb to catch the sunrise! I'm starting to hear some raindrops on our roof, but hopefully the rain clears before we start to climb. I'm really glad we brought our waterproof gear now  :D

Thursday, September 29, 2011

9/15/11. Did you know Kyoto is an anagram for Tokyo?

Ugh. I haven't brushed my teeth in way too long.
We arrived at Kyoto Station at 7:30 AM, right on schedule! It's crazy how everything here is so on time. Even buses.

The ride was pretty relaxing, and I'm surprised by how much I was able to sleep. Usually I need an eye bra, but I put a blanket over the hood on our seats, and was able to tune out most of the sunlight the next morning.

There were a few pitstops, and I got out for most of them to stretch my legs. The bonus was at the last stop where I picked up some yatsuhashi, a type of mochi specific to the Kyoto/Osaka area!

It's basically a square mochi sheet that has been folded in half with a sweet filling inside. The ones we got were filled with red bean and chestnuts, but I saw some strawberry flavored ones too. Delicious. I'll pick some up for Channon. She better thank me because I'm taking them up and down Fuji with me.

We ate them for breakfast at the station before figuring out how to get to our place in Kyoto, a short subway and walk away. 

At the door we were greeted by our host, Shizuka, who is a teacher. It wasn't actually her place, but she and her husband Gavin were looking after it for their friend. Since this was going to be our only day in Kyoto, we dropped off our things and I sent a quick email to the twitter friends and fam letting them know I'm alive. Shizuku pointed out cool things to visit on a map, and we were off!

We got some pretty sweet shots at the local botanical garden, but it was pretty dang hot. I definitely wasn't expecting this weather ( sucks in Asia!), so we headed back to charge Ghyrn's camera and change. Shizuka's inlaws were there visiting from Australia, so we had a nice chat with them and played with their dog, Amber. 

[I can't believe I didn't take a picture of her!]

Back out to explore Kyoto and get fat. We went straight to the food market and arcade (read: mall), where I wanted to eat everything! Vendors were selling sashimi, mochi, fried tofu, and all kinds of fruit. I wish I could spend a few more days here and try everything.

We decided on a hole in the wall place that had all kinds of chirashi (mixed rice bowl) and ton-katsu (fried pork cutlet), and I was able to whip out some Japanese. "Mizu oku desai" = "Please bring me some water, biatch." Without the biatch, though, because that'd be rude.

After lunch we headed to Gion, an older region of Kyoto. There were too many temples and shrines to count, but it was pretty cool seeing the architecture and way of life here. School kids were everywhere, buying ice cream and walking around in their huge vibrant Nikes. Old people were doing the same thing, but without the Nikes. Taking pictures with the kids was also pretty entertaining. Apparently, you don't have to be white to draw attention - just from America!

Some highlights from the day were:
1) Trying Matcha (powdered green tea) shaved ice
2) Ghyrn getting interviewed by a group of school kids. It was funny! They gave him a card saying that they had to interview a foreigner for a school assignment. Some of the questions were "Is this your first time in Japan? What is your favorite Japanese food? What is your favorite Japanese cartoon?" Yes, Mochi, and anything by Miyazaki! Afterward, one kid gave origami cranes to G as a gift:

3) Seeing geishas acting the fool:

4) Walking the Path of Enlightenment, a stone walkway that runs beside a stream past temples and old houses.

We were pretty beat after the walk, so we headed to the local college area, and got Okonomiyaki, a fried cabbage pancake that is pretty tasty!

I got rice cake and beef in mine, and it gave it this really nice chewy texture and savory flavor. I gotta add this to the list of things I have to try to make when I get back. 
It took us longer than expected to get back to our place because we walked too far past the subway station. When we finally got home, Gavin was there with his parents, so we talked about the things we did that day and let them know we were climbing a mountain tomorrow. They called us crazy  :D

The day was mostly a blur because of the amount of walking, unexpected heat, and lack of sleep, but it was nice seeing a more traditional part of Japan. I think we're spreading things out nicely - we're seeing Kyoto, going to climb Mount Fuji, and then partying in Tokyo! Time to shower (which is very much needed) and brush my teeth. Night!
I had to pee in the middle of the night. This place is straight out of a Japanese horror movie like the Grudge. I don't get the willies that often, but this house is creeepy in the dark!