Sunday, January 13, 2008

japan in a nutshell

I met up with Shannon at the airport in Tokyo. We took a bus to our hotel, which was actually part of a large complex that contained a bowling alley, aquarium, roller coaster, and at least 20 restaurants in addition to several towers of hotel rooms. If you don’t believe me:

We exchanged country presents—funny English notebooks and tea from Korea; Kraft Mac n Cheese, tampons, Pop Tarts, English books, Christmas cookies, and CDs from America (thank you, Shannon and American family!). I excitedly opened Christmas cookies and we began catching up.

Over the next several days, with the help of two old TIUA friends, we went to a number of temples, shopping districts, and restaurants. We then headed off on the expensive but fun bullet train for a few days in Kyoto, then back for New Year’s Eve and a few more days with our friends in Tokyo.

I am not good at going chronologically, but here are some of my favorite things from our trip: cold and colorful orange and turquoise temples, sticker picture booths, fresh tempura, Lonely Planet’s Gion Night Walking Tour in Gion, Milky candy, an easy and understandable subway system, the abundance of free tissue packs with advertisements, really helpful people, the variety of vending machines, tea, yukata-style robes in our hotel, rice crackers, streets with clearly labeled names (Korea, are you listening???), the absence of trash, enormous buildings, tiny cars, and the hospitality of our TIUA hosts.

The less-awesome parts were internet that is five times more expensive than Korea, a lot of sites were closed for New Year’s, and there were a lot of pretty clothes I couldn’t afford. But it was still a good trip, and New Year’s Eve itself was colorful and definitely international. We visited a shrine a few hours before midnight and then entered a crowded and loud English pub in downtown Tokyo. Wresting— a Zulu man representing Brazil versus a Japanese man half his size—was playing on the overhead TVs, and we met people from Morocco, India, the U.K., Poland and Iceland in the pub as the evening wore on. On the way back to the subway, we got free boxes of Pocky and a lot of well-wishes for the new year.

Now I’m back in Korea, teaching a winter English camp for advanced 7th graders and spending a lot of time in our apartment. I leave for Borneo at the end of the month and am very excited to see another great person in another new country.

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