March has been a month of firsts. My first month teaching in Asia, teaching primary and elementary school, living in a city, and many more I can’t even remember. Seoul is a huge city. Everywhere you turn there are people caught up in the hustle and bustle of the concrete jungle. There’s is no quiet place here but in my apartment, and even then the rucks of the outside world penetrates the think walls.
The first week of school was pretty overwhelming. There aren’t many young kids in my family so interacting with little ones was quite the adjustment. They are sweet though and super smart. They work really hard and are very, very curious. Fortunately, with a little perseverance, we’ve become fast friends. And while I had only been in the country for about three weeks, when it was time to fly to Japan to pick up my teaching visa, I was more than ready to go.
The business manager from school came to pick me up early on a Wednesday morning. Slowly, but steadily we made our way across the bridge to Inchon Airport. Even so early in the morning, the huge airport was bursting with activity. The ride to Japan was a cool hour ride, and once I got through immigration, I was on my way to the Korean embassy to drop off my passport for two days.
Once I took care of that business, I headed to the hotel to check in. Fortunately, my school had me staying at a cute boutique hotel in the heart of Fukuoka. I was also fortunately to have the help of a concierge who spoke fluent English. After checking in I headed back out to explore. Fukuoka is a beautiful little city full of kind people and energy. No speck of trash could be found anywhere along the streets. From flower shops to hotels to salons, buildings were manicured as if they’d been prepared for s spread in Southern Living Magazine. As in Korea, everyone was dressed neatly and looked their best. Stay at home moms, college students, tourists, and business men all walked about busily to the sounds of the city. After some picture taking and sightseeing, I was more than ready to grab a bite to eat.
The concierge had told me about a great burger joint not too far from the hotel. After asking a number of people for directions, I finally found my way to the little hidden restaurant. I ordered a huge burger and cool drink. The atmosphere was excellent and the staff friendly. Between the great food and Tom and Jerry reels that looped on the screen, I was quite satisfied. After a bit more walking and a stop by the bakery, I headed back to the hotel to call it a night.Great burger joint, March 22, 2016
The next morning, I headed to the hotel’s restaurant for breakfast. It was a great little eatery with a French-inspired atmosphere and Western-styled cuisine. There was light salad, rolls with butter, and thick slabs of Texas toast drenched in heavy syrupy sauce. I sat enjoying the food from a big, black, plush leather booth. After having my fill of peach juice and other delectibles, it was time to head to the bus stop for a trip to the Onsen.
Japanese Onsens are very similar to Korean Jimjilibangs, Onsen and Jimjilibang basically means bathhouse. Locals go to these places to unwind from work, detox their bodies, destress, and rejuvenate their health. The Onsen was an exciting experience because it is said to be built on a natural hot spring. After making my way through the city to the bus stop, I waited patiently to get on the shuttle. Once it arrived, I sat back and enjoyed an easy hr ride from the noisy city to the cool countryside. Slowly, the view traded towering skyscrapers for mysterious mountains with cottages nestled at their bottoms. Cherry blossom trees lined the narrow streets and for a moment I thought I was in a different world.
Upon arrival, I got off the bus with the rest of the older folks and made my way inside. The atmosphere was every bit as tranquil as I thought it would be. Someone had taken great pains to work the traditional Japanese style into the ambience and general feel of the place. Everything was in Japanese so I simply watched everyone else and looked at pictures to figure out what I was supposed to do. I had also read some postings online about general Japanese Onsen etiquette. Shoes off once you walk in the door. Belongings in the locker. Pay your entrance fee. Men to the left. Women to the right. Shower before entering the baths. Easy enough I thought. After figuring out my way around, I booked a massage for the afternoon and made my way to the changing room. It was kind of strange being naked in front of a bunch of strangers. But I kept thinking to myself when in Rome and carried on with getting ready for the bath.
Once I entered the bath, most of my apprehension went away as I was submerged into the warm waters. This Onsen was particularly special because it had several outdoor pools. I can never get enough of being outside so this was especially wonderful. After trying several different indoor and outdoor pools, it was time for my massage. The massage was a little strange, but nice, and after a good rubdown I headed to the restaurant for a nice lunch. The lunch was just as good as the massage. Next, I headed to the sleeping room. I was surprised when I woke up on the hard floor about an hour later and gazed out the window to find night approaching. I ran to take one more quick dip in the outdoor pool, then prepared to head home.
I got dressed, paid my bill, and made it outside just before the shuttle headed back to town. I had such a relaxing time and was glad to have made the trip.
After arriving back in town, I left my bag at the hotel and ventured out to a cute little crêpe and ice cream place I had been wanting to try. The crêpe was sweet and wonderful, and I enjoyed an amazing sugar rush before bed! I was sad to say the next day I would have to head home.
Seoul would not see me before I made my way to Hakata Canal Mall—a huge and impressive place for shopping. I mainly walked around and checked out the different shops and people watched. I bought some great natural soap, a couple cardigans for work, and some souvenirs for my family. After that, it was time to pick up my visa and head to the airport.
It was great to receive my working visa for Korea. And great to have my passport safely back in my hand. Once back at ‘home’ in Seoul from Fukuoka I was able to sit and reflect on my trip. It had been a great three days in Japan and a much needed break from my hectic work life. I was glad to be back though, in my own little apartment, preparing for the workweek ahead. I had gotten rest and a fresh new perspective. I could only hope that the feeling of peace and optimism would continue in the month of April.