Monday, May 31, 2004

eleven, slightly shorter than past

Good day folks,

I have heard back from a few people that they often don't have time to read through my long long blogmails. I know there are also some people who read them right away and all the way through. Thus, I am once againg going to try a format I adopted for one of the previous emails: I will summarize in a paragraph of one very long sentance, and then fill in the details for some of the major events.

So since the last time I mailed (May 11th), I have: Watched "A Knight's Tale" with my upper level adult eikaiwa class, watched the movie Troy and followed it with 2 hours of uno at the Japanese equivalent of Perkins, played poker-pool at a place called 'Funky Time' and followed it with dinner at a super cheap sushi place, practiced many many times with Tom (once in the rain) for the demonstration portion of the judo black belt test, played Settlers with my lower level adult eikaiwa class, got my car's oil changed, went to the first half of a bachelor party, took part in the judo black belt test, watched "Princess Mononoke" in English in the English Option class, conducted interviews for Greenpeace, bought loads of omiyage, cleaned my whole apartment, went to a bona-fide Otani potters' shop, had lunch at a park that had grass, visited the kincho manju factory, jammed (believe it or not) with 5 other people (bass, mandolin, electric guitar, acoustic, acoustic, and me on acoustic), had Dion and Ayumi over to play settlers/go to the onsen/eat at the onsen too/go see the fireflies, and went to a bible study.

Tonight I need to finish packing my bags and return some videos, and tomorrow I need to finish off the food in my fridge or give away what I can't eat, and then go to bed early. On Wednesday I am off to the three day "Renewer's Conference" in Kobe, which is for JETs going into their second year. Once that's finished, I make my way to Osaka and then fly home. On a plane.

Looking back over the list, the only thing that seems to need much elaboration is the black belt test.

The test had two main parts: a fighting component and a demonstration component. Because there are so few applicants for the black belt test each year, everyone starts in one big group. Also, lots of people start learning judo in elementary. Some start later. In high school, all the guys must study one of judo, kendo, or kyudo (archery). Some schools also offer aikido and karate, but those would be more rare. There are a few people who start studying judo in university. Thus you could group the applicants at the test into four main groups. In descending order by size of group: junior high kids, high school students, university students, two big white foreigner teachers. I think all of the university students were black belts going for their second level, which meant we would not get to fight them. From there, they RANDOMLY divide up the collective into groups of four to six. You only fight the people in your group, but you get to fight four times total. You need to win three of those fights to progress on to the second part of the test.

The night before the test, knowing that I could very well end up pitted against junior high school kids, I asked God to give me only difficult fights, and three victories.

A note on the place: The Tokushima Budokan (martial arts building), on a tatami floor built on springs. the building was pseudo-traditionally built and was very sweet to look at and be in.

We did some of our own warm up, stretching, and fuchikomi (practice throws), and then had the short opening ceremony and explaination. After that, they began separating us into groups. Because there were so few girls, they were all automatically their own group, and so continued to warm up off to the side. I saw Tom get put in a group of junior high school kids. God answered my prayers: I was put in a group of high schoolers who did not look like pushovers. Tom's group had 5, my group had 4.

Tom was in the first match. I didn't watch. I watched the two from my group in their first match. It was a long match, and went for almost all of the four minutes. One of the two was very fast and had an unusual move that he used again and again to decent success; the other of the two appeared to have a sprained ankle, but was solid (read: big). While we were watching, the other guy in my group, the smallest of us four, asked me what high school I was from. I felt bad as I told him I was an assistant teacher at a junior high. The faster guy beat out the big guy.

I was informed that Tom had won his match.

As we stood accross from eachother, I could see in the eyes of my opponent that, teacher or no, he was determined to take the point from me. [Matches are one point or four minutes, whatever comes first.] I had a very hard time with him; at one point, he got me to the ground and were it not for the length of my arms, he may have taken a point right there. It was a long fight also nearly exhausting our four minutes. On getting the warning that time was running near, I gave everything i had into the two most elementary moves, and in the end due to my size I was able to win with an o-soto-gari: hooking his leg from the outside an pushing him back.

Because both fights had been so long, the ref allowed us all to rest before going into the next match. The top of my lungs was burning, and my throat was very dry. It was hard not to let my mind go nuts; like golf, if you want to win, your mind needs to be relaxed. I recited Philippians 4.12b-13 over and over again and tried not to thing about much.

I was in the next match as well. I was up against the big guy. It was a very different kind of fight. He was solid enough that a few things I tried produced litte effect. We ended up doing a slow dance of sorts, each trying to get the other off balance. I don't remember how we got to the ground, but because I was in the advantageous position when we landed, I suspect it was my doing. I was trying for a bare arm choke, but he had his chin down and I coudn't reach his neck. I also could not shift over to do a kesa-gatame (a collar and arm hold). Even though I had nothing, the ref was not telling us to wait (read: let go and stand up again). Perhaps sensing my hesitation, my opponent rolled to attemt a kesa-gatame on me, but in the process of his roll I was able to slip my arm under his chin! I quickly shot up my other hand behind his head and grabbed that forearm with my choking arm, and squeezed. I had him, and shifted to apply more pressure. He tried to get out, but it was too late. Even so, he waited for a long time before tapping out; I suppose that reinforced his dignity. He may be choked, but he would wait until close to passing out before resigning.

The other two, the two fast guys, fought next. The one with the unusual move used it to great success, but the smaller of the two (who had given me so hard a time) kept breaking out as he went down, preventing any points from being awarded. On one such break, he earned a half a point for a turnaround. At another time, the dude with the strange move had the smaller guy in a kesa-gatame (which is such a great move because it is so hard to break out of), and some how the smaller guy pulled off a corkscrew escape, pulling his head and arm free. Unfortunately, he ultimately conceded a point to the unusual move. The match did not last all that long. I was still feeling out of breath and parched.

I was informed that Tom had won all four of his matches.

After a short reast, it was undefeated vs undefeated. I was worried. He came at me with that move. I let him, because I wanted to feel the move for later reference. But it did not work. He failed to throw me off balance and instead of leaping at me and throwing me to the ground, he lept at me and hung off of me. He was tall for a Japanese, and I suppose he had never had a chance to feel how to position himself against a taller opponent. Every move has a weak spot if you don't pull it off, and as he kept trying the same move over and over, I kept looking for that weakness. I never did find it, but I did whip him around from time to time, though never quite enough to get a point. I must have tried something right at some point (perhaps it was a tai-otoshi [a body drop like a trip]?), or maybe he pulled me down and I moved around him just right, but one way or the other I had him the very move which Tom had used to beat me time and time again: the kesa-gatame. Having seen these guys slip out of this hold like it was nothing, I was careful to put my weight lower on his chest and, to pull his head in and hold his arm tight. He tried to get out, but for once I was in the right place. I also had around 10 kilos of weight advantage. I got my point.

My forearms were very sore. Very sore. I was not relishing the idea of a fourth match, but the pressure was off now that I had three points, and I felt good. Inside. The next match was the little guy from my first match against the big guy from my second. He went at the big guy with everything he had. The big guy was finding him too aggressive to hold off and get a position on just right, just as I had. The little guy won with a kesa-gatame. It would seem he wanted that point really bad. They may have landed funny before the hold, or he may have held the big guy with too much vigor, but one way or the other, when the ref called the point, the small guy got up and the big guy stayed down. He had hurt an arm bad enough to not continue. The ref decided then to pass me, and to pit the other two against guys from other groups. So in the end, I only fought those three matches. The guy with the strange move lost his next fight, as did the little guy.

As for Tom, not understanding as much Japanese as me proved to be a difficulty. He had seen the girls warming up in the corner after they had been grouped, and was expecting his group to do the same. As he tells it, before he knew it he was being beckoned up to fight, and he didn't even have his belt on! He says that he was so out of the frame of mind for fighting that he forgot the matches were only one point apiece, a few times almost letting himself be thrown to take an easy point on the ground. He said the first kid was all over him, but he eventually won. He won both of the next two as well, but not with ease; the juniour high kids just had way more energy than he did. He said that in the last match, he was really just too tired to fight properly, and when he really had nothing left, just to end the match he literally picked the kid up and threw him to the ground. They gave him a point for that.

So on hearing that, and having recently seen the movie Troy, I compared him and I to a pair of Ajaxes, two 'massive' guys winning by size.

Next was the demonstration. Everyone performed their demonstrations at the same time, and the judges chose to put Tom and I right at the very front, immediately in front of the judges bench. All of the demonstrations are done in pairs, but Tom and I were the only pair wherein both members had passed the test. I think Tom was more concerned about this part than I was, so it was good that the judges had him go first. I ended up doing most of mine while the rest of the pairs stood still, waiting and watching. I was glad for all the practice we'd had.

Everyone did the same demonstration: three throws using mainly hands, three throws with the hip as a fulcrum, and three throws done with feet/legs, all done with both the right and left variations: a total of 18 throws.

After everyone (read: I) had finished, one of the judges gathered us together and made comments. He gave corrections on moves that had been poor, or needed adjustment in this way or that way. On one of the comments, the judge noted that Tom and I had done it better than anyone else. On another, he teased us for the bobbing way we had sidestepped. However, overall it seemed that we had done pretty good.

There was one more part, but it was kind of strange. There was a short written test, but because there was no way we could read the kanji, let alone understand the questions, our sensei just came up close and told us what to write. Both Tom and I felt pretty sheepish.

Regardless, we passed, and the Japanese Kodokan Judo Association recognises us as first degree black belts, and that's something. The real challenge will be to see if we can make it up to a second degree before the JET program is over. It seems as though the sho-dan (first level) is seen as easy-ish, but the ni-dan is seen as a big step up in difficulty.

On the way back we all (tom, me, takuya [who didn't pass], koji [previously our class's only black belt], and sensei) stopped at an udon shop and sensei treated us to lunch.


So I guess that will do for now. I wonder, is anyone going to care to hear about my trip back to Canada?

but goodbye for now,


Thursday, May 27, 2004

profile for summer arrivals

Hi craig,
Here's my profile. I've included a small attachment for the little photo box in the corner (if you're doing that again) but I'm not sure if it will print well. If it doesn't photocopy well, let me know and I'll send something else.




Name: Matthew Shettler

Nationality: Canadian

Home (in Japan): Kamikatsu-cho

JET year: Going into my second.

Telephone: Yep.

Cellphone: Yep.

E-mail: Yep... oh, wait, am I supposed to tell it to you? 08854-4-6333, 090-4788-2329, and

The 3 things that best describe me: Christian, tall, moderately perspicatious.

3 Things to bring to Japan: 200,000 yen (or is that 200,000 things?), something from home to personalize your home and or car, and hopes.

Three things to leave at home: I don't know. I don't regret bringing anything I took, and I left a lot more at home than I brought with. Make a bunch of lists. You'll sort it out.

The most bizarre thing that`s happened to me in Japan: Earning a black belt in Judo after only seven or eight months of training.

The most baffling aspect of Japan: JET culture.

The highlight of my JET year: Pessimistic though I was, the musical was good times.

Most valued possessions in Japan: My translation trio (Canon Wordtank electronic dictionary, english to japanese furigana dictionary, "Essential Kanji" book), my car, my judo-gi, my mukade repellant, my drawing skills.

Top tip for life in Japan: Attitude is everything. If you look on the bad side, life sucks, but if you look for the positives, everything rules and there's always hope. Everyone can have a great attitude if they choose it.

Feel free to contact me about:
Being a Christian in a nation that has fewer than one christian in 100 people,
the massive blog-emails about my life in Tokushima (I could fwd them to you no prob if you want),
how to avoid dramatic culture shock

The highlights of my Gun:


Natural beauty, Tsukigatani onsen, the doll festival, the firefly festival, Gomi-ste, irodori, good roads, and so forth.

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

juu: kangoku ryokoh (ten: south korea trip)

Good day everyone,

Here it is. The big 1-0. It's appropriate that this nice round number should land on the letter that is about my ten day vacation to South Korea. Technically, the vacationing started two days before my plane left for korea, but we'll just ignore that for the moment, shall we?

The last time I wrote was a thursday (my time), I think. I had gone into school to meet the new JTE (Japanese Teacher of English), and stayed to get you all informed before I left. At least, that's how I remember it. Just for the record, that night I guided my four beginner english students in the ways of the Settlers of Catan. This was supposedly our English "class", well at least they were forced to use English while playing. ;) If I continue to have small classes like that (which allow me to disseminate the force that is Settlers), perhaps I'll have to do a 30 minute intro on bargaining and bartering. It would come in handy when travelling to other countries as well, but we all know what the true motivation would be. ;D For those of you who live in winnipeg and don't know what Settlers is... where have you been?

The follwing Friday the 26th was a get-ready-clean-up-your-apartment-tie-up-loose-ends-mail-things-away-and-dont-forget-to-pack kind of day. I have a problem of always wanting to take too much stuff with me wherever I go, making it difficult to travel light. My bags solved this problem for me. I faced a choice between my yellow cycling backpack (which some would remember from university/church/winnipeg/india) and an orange backpack abandoned by one of my predecessors. The orange one looked maybe bigger, but I wasn't sure. So here's what I did. I packed my yellow backpack with what I thought I would need/want/all that I couldn't leave behind, until I was satisfied that it was good enough to take. Then I looked at myself wearing the bag and had a revelation. It's a cycling backpack. As such, it rests in the perfect place for an arched back. For walking, however, it was a little low and hinted at future pain if carried so full. I was fearful of the orange backpack, it having been abandoned and not having the lifetime guarantee that my North Face yellow bag has. However, upon transferring my effects to said orange bag I was delighted to discover that the bag was only half full! This meant I could also put my camera in the bag! I did not have to carry it separately! I put the camera inside, and slinging the bag on, saw that it was indeed made for walking and rested higher on my back. Resisting the temptation to put anything else inside, I pinned on my Canadian flag patch and a hanful of safety pins (just in case that zipper was unreliable, or the bag split, or my pants split, or any of those potential things that safetypins are so handy for holding together (the things you learn from having punk siblings...). So I got myself sorted. If my memory serves, I actually managed to get to sleep at a decent hour.

My gameplan on Saturday was to crash at my friend Dan Trenowden's place (the same Dan whose house I always crash at) so that I could be up early to catch a 6:45 bus to Osaka on Sunday. If there was any problems with the first leg of the trip, it was that I gave myself too much time. I got into town way early (having left a sparkling clean apartment behind-- a truly rare occurrance). In fact, I was so early that I was able to join in with the afternoon drinking crowd! I bought myself some doughnuts, checked my email at TOPIA, dropped my stuff off at Dan's and joined him, Andy, B-Dubs and Sarah in a trip to the park to sit and drink under the hanami; but not before picking up a bite to eat from Big Brothers! When we arrived at the park we noticed that all of the empty tarps had reservations on them. Using my mad kanji-reading skillz I discerned that one of them would not be occupied until 7:00-- that gave us three hours of sitting pleasure. However, as we made ourselves comfortable upon the tarpaulin, a local shop owner came over and indicated that it was not ours. I pointed out that it was not needed until seven. The shopowner left, and returned with a tarp in hand just for us! We were shocked! They even brought out a second layer to go on top of the tarp, just for us! We didn't even have to pay for it! (Although their kindness did give us the desire to patronise their shop, which we did later on) So we sat under the spreading blossoms of many cherry trees and enjoyed our sandwiches. At some point it became late enough to start thinking about another meal, so we all adjourned to Dan's place to order and consume some pizza. We went for the deluxe pizza and a teriyaki chicken with sweet corn pizza. After the pizza had been gone for some time, we made our way to the Queen Vic (my suggestion; I hadn't been there in some time). The Queen Vic was my last stop for the evening, and when I left I believe it would have been legal for me to drive in Canada. I ran (jogging is too lazy) five or seven minutes to the only 24-hour bank machine in town, took out a little money for Osaka, and then ran another 7 minutes back to Dan's. I was disappointed that it took so little time to run. Anyhow, upon my return I realised just how much smoke my clothes had collected in the last few hours, and knowing that I would be wearing them for the next day or two, I decided to hang them all out on the balcony. Perhaps were it a different country I would have been more concerned about walking around on a first floor balcony wearing only my underwear.

When I woke at five-ish the next morning, Andy was on the other futon, and Dan had not yet returned. A breakfast pastry and a shower later I was donned in my aired out clothing and ready to go. No problems getting on the bus.

In Osaka the gameplan was to meet up with a couple of other Winnipeg girls (Erin, who lives in Japan and her sister Sam, who was visiting) and see some of the city. I was informed by cell-phone email while on the bus to Osaka that they would be an hour or so late, but it turned out to be a good thing because it gave me time to buy some omiyage for Brennan and Rhonda, time find a place to stash my bag and jacket (Osaka was hotter than Seoul was going to be, and I had a hard time finding a convenient and unused locker), as well as time to find the place where we were supposed to meet up at around 11:30.

We decided to hit Shinsaibashi, which is in the middle of the big market parts of Osaka. Our wanderings happened to take us first through Amerikamura (America Town) -- which is not what it sounds like. It's basically a load of fashion and clothing stores that cater to contemporary pop culture. The most bizzare thing I encountered was that there was a punk store blaring J-punk music situated directly accross from a hiphop store blaring J-hiphop, and nobody seemed to thing there was any conflict there. It wasn't long before we found a famous takoyaki shop to have lunch at. What makes it famous? Well, mostly the fact that it is located directly below "Condomania"- a condom store with a massive yellow sign. Hard to miss. From there we went through Namba and then maybe into the beginning of DenDen town (not sure...) before making our way back to Shinsaibashi. Somewhere in there we stopped to get the neccessary puricura (print club) pictures, eat Haagendaas ice cream, move through incomprehsibly thick masses of people, stop at a Wendy's (a treat for me-- we don't have one in Tokushima), see the Glico running man sign, look at really expensive clothing, and buy socks at a cheaper place, before making our way back to the station. I saw the girls off at 5 and then began investigating the best way to get to the airport. I walked around for a while, picking myself up a copy of Augustine's Confessions at the bookstore near the station (I have a hard time walking into a bookstore and not coming out with something-- if I'm lucky I'll finish this one before the year is out!). Then I retrieved my gear from the locker, made my way to the appropriate stop, and bought a ticket for the bus to Kansai International Airport (Kokusai Kuukou). Upon boarding the bus, despite my best efforts to take advantage of the opportunity to see more of Oaska, I promptly fell asleep.

Just because I feel like it, from here on in I will write in the third person.

Matthew awoke as the bus pulled up to the airport. His senses still dim, he lifted himself out of the chair and made his way off of the bus, retrieving his orange pack from the undercarriage. His senses still taking their time to return in full, it took him a while to realise that bus, a.k.a. the "Airport Limosine", had deposited him at the entrance to the third floor of the airport. Hoisting on his backpack, he made his way inside.

As the last thing he had eaten was Haagendaas ice cream four hours before, food was preeminent on his mind. Perhaps it was an animal instinct, or maybe it was his driving need to explore, but one way or another he found himself standing outside of the McDonalds. And decided that is not what he wanted. Carefully perusing the plastic imitation foods of the airport's many little restaurants, he found what he was looking for: a non-fast food, non-curry meal that would fill his middle while making the minimum impact on his wallet. He ate his soba and oyakodon teshoku (noodle soup with chiken and egg on rice set) in silence. As he ate, another traveller laden with a similar heavy bag sat down at the neigboring booth. No words were exchanged, but an understanding was present as both travellers slurped their noodels.

As he made his way out of the restaurant, Matthew noted that all of the shops were closing down, and was thankful to God that he had arrived at the airport before nine. Matthew found himself a quiet corner on the third floor (international departures) where there was nobody asleep on the benches and made himself comfortable. He removed his feet from his shoes and noted the intense heat still present on the soles of said feet. Inwardly scolding himself for wearing thick day-old socks in slip-on shoes, he contemplated the best course of action. "These shoes weren't made for walking," he sighed to himself. Perhaps the next time he travels, he will find better footwear. "Live and learn," he thought. He looked up at a closing shop to note that they had refrigerated beer. Before it was too late he hurried over and bought himself a can. "Only Asahi," he pined. "But then again, it's not like it matters," he thought, "it's not like I'm going to drink it." Returning to his camp on the airport chairs, he removed his overly thick socks, exchanging them instead for the bright red ones he had aquired in Shinsaibashi. Then he rested his hot, hot feet on the cool, cool beer can, and settled in read some manga.

After his feet had been sufficiently cooled, and realising that he was having a harder time falling asleep in the calm of the airport than he had expected, he drank the Asahi anyhow. "Desperate times call for desperate measures." Donning his traveller's eye mask and earplugs, and using his jacket as a pillow, it was still too long before he finally fell asleep.


He woke earlier than he would have liked from his restless sleep. Gathering his possessions together once again, he loaded his bag and made his way to the washroom to brush and floss. Breakfast was Starbucks. Matthew wasn't sure whether it was a treat (because there are no starbucks in Tokushima) or whether it was just a standard experience-- starbucks is much the same no matter where you go. He ate as slowly as he could, and then walked around the airport as long as he could handle before sitting down with the manga once again, waiting for the H.I.S. counter to open so that he could claim his ticket.

Once he had his ticket in hand, he went about going through the first luggage check. Then he killed more time. Sadly, Matthew neglected to factor in that he was going to have to go through immigration, and so did not realize that his time was not as painfully abundant as it seemed. When he eventually did go through the security check and then walk up to immigration, he blanched. In a panic he grabbed and embarkation card and got in line, filling the card out as he stood. When he reached the counter, he had not finished, so let a few people pass. At some point he realised that the girl at the desk could do it faster, and handing her all of his relevant info, he asked her to help. She filled it out quickly and passed it back to him, and he was on his way. By this time Matthew had also realised that his gate was not in the part of the building he was in, but was a shuttle ride away. Thus, as soon as he had his passport back in hand, he bolted.

As he reached the waiting point for the shuttle, three airport staff caught up with him and asked
"Sir, are you headed for Busan?"
"Yes, I am."
"May I see your boarding pass please?"
As she looked over the pass she spoke some hurried Japanese into a walkie talkie. A shuttle approached along the track. In the shuttle she took half of the pass and told him to just go straight onto the plane. While they were in transit, a random Japanese who happened to also be aboard began to chat with Matthew, presumably to practice his English skills.
"Were you late in arriving at the airport?"
"No, I just forgot about immigration... I had lots of time."
"Well, that's okay, the plane is waiting for you."
"I'd still rather not have the plane waiting on me; especially when I could have been on time."
"The people won't mind."
"But it's not respectful of me."

The shuttle was slowing down. Standing, adjusting his bag, and approaching the door, Matthew was ready. As the doors parted, another airport staff shot out ahead of Matthew calling for him to follow. The two of them ran at full tilt along a goodly length of building. It was exciting. Mat began to wish that he was being filmed. He was pleased that he had started running; a few months previous there would have been no way he could have kept up with the guy leading him, especially not carrying such a heavy bag.

Whew. As he boarded the plane a full 5 minutes before the scheduled departure time, it was clear to him that a sweater and a leather jacket were not appropriate running gear. He was a little concerned that he might fog up the plane. Stowing his gear and jacket away, he settled down for a flight spent reading more of that manga (which, by the way, was Naruto vol 2).


It was nice to have all the time in the world. He took his time at immigration in Busan. Though he was the last to clear it from his flight, because he only had carry-on luggage he was out of the arrival area sooner than anyone else. Changing his money over at the $exchange booth, the korean won was going to take some getting used to. It was almost equivalent to the yen, but with one extra zero on the end. He went to the bathroom to put on his money belt, kept out what he thought was enought for the day, and went to find a taxi. With the help of yet another airport staffer, he managed to communicate to a taxi driver that he wanted to go to the bus station.

Taxis are mega-cheap in Korea, but even so this ride cost 26,000 won, roughly 30 canadian dollars. He shuddered to think what that distance would have cost in Candada, or worse, Japan.

The bus, by comparison was cheap; for three thousand won more, he was on a 5.5hr express bus to Seoul. Before the bus left, a man came on to hawk his wares; in this case, buns. Matthew asked how much they were.
"Two hundred discount."
"But how much are they?"
"Two hundred discount, two hundred discount."
"How much, how much?"
"Two thousand. Two hundred discount. One thousand eight hundred."
"Uhh... no thanks!"

It only occurred to Matthew after the man left the bus that two thousand won was only two dollars; not the twenty it would have been were he converting two thousand yen. So he missed out on some cheap buns and maybe a cultural experience. Ah well, live and learn, right?

The bus was somehow equipped with sattelite TV, so Matthew spent the ride alternately watching Korean soaps, dozing off, and consulting his borrowed Korean Lonely Planet guidebook. When the bus drew in to the Station in Seoul, Matthew had a good idea of where he wanted to stay, could read some korean, and understand none. All he knew how to say was "Annyeonghasseo" which means hello.

Walking out of the station, compass and guidebook in hand, he began to look for the entrance to the subways. As he walked, he noted a solitary blonde girl standing maybe fourty meters away. He figured that if she was a Seoul resident, she was either waiting for someone, or a prostitute, so he decided to try and avoid her. No such luck. After he thought he was in the clear, having passed her and following the arrow of a sign indicating the way to the subway, a female voice said from behind,
"Hello?" The accent was northamerican, so maybe not a hooker.


"You are the first foreigner I have seen ALL DAY."

Thinking he had begun to understand but not sure what to say, he settled with, "I just arrived."

"Are you a model, too?"

Flattered, but confused, "Erm, no. I'm just here on vacation."

"So what are you up to?" (or something like that)

Matthew's intuition gave him a warning siren. "Well, I just got here, so I kind of need to sort..." He cut himself off before he said 'sort out where I am going to stay', opting instead for "sort myself out." And after a pause, "...I just need to find the subway."

"Do you want me to show you where it is?"
Recognising that the girl was seriously lonely another red flag went up. "No, I think I'll be alright. I have a map, and there are these signs..."

"Well, It's just over there." She got the picture that she was being put off. So she walked away to go sit on a bench which is between Matthew and the subway, whilst he stood and checked his map once more.

He feelt bad because he had just shafted a lonely girl who was obviously going through culture shock. But he also considered her dangerous; the last thing he wanted was to end the night with her in his room. He was no fool, but he still felt sorry for her. As he walked past, he decided to try to be a little less stand-offish, and asked,
"So you are a model?"
"Yeah. I got this job through my agency."
"You have an agency? Where are you from?"
"The state, or the city?"
"Washington State; I'm from Seattle."
Seattle sent a wave of associations through Mat's head; others he had met from seattle in the last few months, word that the design scene in Seattle is currently in a down-trend, its proximity to Vancouver, an article he recently read about trade betweeen the two cities, as well as probably some other random things. What he said was, "I see."
"So what brings you here?"
"I'm on vacation from Japan; I teach English there."
"Oh! After I am done here I go to Japan for a while, too!"
"Oh really?" he said guardedly, despite his best efforts. "Whereabouts?"
"Osaka, Tokyo..." After a pause, "I'm Erin."
"Matthew." 'That's funny', he thought, 'two Erins in two days. Bizzare.'
"Would you like to sit down?"
At least part of him recognised that this was one of those path-choosing decisions. He hesitated. "Well, I really had best find this hotel before it gets too late..." He looked at the empty space on the bench. Maybe she just needed to hang out with another westerner. He could understand that. But by the grace of God he decided instead to err in the side of caution, and said, "Well, nice meeting you."
"Yeah, nice meeting you."
And he took his leave.

He sorted out which way he needed to go on the subway, bought his ticket, and went to the platform. As he waited he pondered whether he had done the right thing. His first thought was that he had missed an opportunity to witness... but he quickly recognised that was not what would have happened. He still felt bad for shafting her, but he remembered that there is only one biblically prescribed course of action for sexual temptation: flight. He felt relief and thanked God for getting him out of that one nice and clean. He then just chalked up the lonliness that the girl would be feeling to one of the perils of travel and work abroad.

Suddenly, as Matthew read one of the sighns passing the train, he realised that he was bound in the wrong direction! He quickly got off the train at the next stop and walked down, accross, and up to the opposite platform to go back where he came from. He sat down. While he waited, a young Korean guy sat beside him and struck up a conversation, apparrently pleased to practice his English. They talked about all sorts of things, from the popularity of Starcraft (it's the biggest thing ing Korea, there's even a TV station devoted to starcraft strategy and playoffs), to what they were doing in Seoul, and eventually, where was Matthew going? Matthew indicated the place on the map in his guidebook and the student laughed. "You need to go in the other direction! Gwanghwanum is that way!" The train bound in that direction was waiting at the other side. Matthew thanked him and jetted back down the stairs and accross and up, but was too late. The other train had also come and gone. Oh well, back to waiting.

Eventually Matthew made it to the place the guidebook said to go first, but that place was no longer there. So he walked along until he came to the next place, or at least, where the next place was supposed to be. He searched around, asked locals, searched some more, searched, looked, walked, and found no indication of this supposedly popular hostel. Moreover, nobody had heard of it. Eventually he resorted to the payphone. He dialed the number of the place. After many rings, someone picked up.

Well, that was confusing. He looked around some more before coming back to the phone. He had a plan this time: Answer With the Only Korean Word You Know. It was several rings again before,
"Umm, 'Nesto'? Is this, 'Nesto'?"
"Erm, thanks..."

Using his keen discernment, Matthew determined that the place he hoped to stay was must no longer have been around, and the number was reassigned to someone else. Too bad. That must not have been the first time that poor old guy got a call from a wandering foreigner.

He tried the number for the next best and next most affordable option, which was supposed to be run by the same owners. He got a fax machine. No dice. The last option in the area that he could afford was described in the guidebook as "Oxygen-free hovels." He gave them a call. After very few rings,
"Inn Daewon?"
"Yes. Inn Daewon." The man sounded excited.
"Do you have space? room?"
"You in Korea?"
"Yes, I'm in Seoul. Do you have room?"
"Yes! How many man?"
"Just me. One man."
"Where you now?"
"Umm, 20 minutes by walking?"
"You know way to here?"
"I think so..."
"I meet you on corner at "
"Er, Ok. 20 minutes."

So he had found himself a place to stay and actually found the place on his own, and the proprieter was out. One of the other residents, and Australian named Mark, went out with Matthew to see if they could find Mr Kim. No dice, but when they got back, he was back too. It was 5000 won more per night than the five year old guidebook had said, but Matthew was not surprised, given that all of the prices in the book had so far been out of date. Matthew was given a little room right by the door. There was a thin mattress, blankets, a coatstand, and a television on a short table. If Matthew tried to lie his full length on the bed, his heels on one wall pressured his crown on the other. But to Matthew, it was perfect. He had definitely seen worse condtions. Perhaps in the heat of summer the place could get stuffy, but in the early spring of late March with heated floors, it was just right.

Once he was settled, he chatted with the three Japanese dudes who were staying in the next room over (their door was open), and then made his way to the common table in the middle of the indoor garden (tons of massive potted plants). Sitting down, he chilled out with the other foreigners and Japanese and chatted until midnight, when it was lights out. He was pleased with the place that he had ended up at. Altogether pleased. The best of all options. He slept well.


The following day, a Tuesday, he decided to look around for what is said to be the largest church in the world by attendance. Unfortunately, nobody had heard of it, and he couldn't find any of the tourist offices either. He only had one good lead, and when followed to the end, it was wrong. He really didn't have much to go on, so he decided to give it up. But if he ever went back to Korea again, he determined that he would know for sure in advance where to look!

Having the previous night also asked the others what the best things to see in Seoul were, he decided to check out the number one reccommendation: The War Memorial. The War Memorial is actually more like a museum, but one that is dedicated to the history of war in Korea. On the front of the main building was a big blue banner which read in English and Korean, "ONLY STRONG NATIONAL SECURITY CAN GUARANTEE PEACE". Taking this in, along with the sculptures and disabled tanks, rockets, planes, rocket launchers, cannons, etc that surrounded the memorial, Matthew knew that he was in for something special.

And it was only three dollars!

Following the "Moving Direction" arrows, he walked through a hall containing two thirty-foot long ink paintings of Korea in its four seasons and without borders. Descending the stairs and walking along the corridor directly below, he was treated to an exhibit of ancient Stone- and Bronze-Age weaponry. As he progressed through the exhibit, he expected there to be an increase in propaganda regarding all of this military memorabilia. Pro-War? Anti-War? It really seemed to be neither. As far as the study of the more far-removed history went, the didactic panels (written in both Korean and English) were remarkably objective. There were the odd paintings of Korean commanders aboard horses driving back the Mongols or other ancient Koreans (it was several kingdoms at one point), yet whether by lack of skill or by lack of intention, they did not have the strong assertion of being in the right that one would expect from propaganda. They more seemed to be simply attempts at depicting some of the major battles.

Sadly, the exhibit about the DMZ (de-militarized zone) was under rennovations. Nonetheless, Matthew was able to get a good picture of most of Korea's military history in the last century. Especially reagarding the Korean War, which he had previously known next to nothing about. Throughout all of the exhibits there were diagrams, maps with moving lights, strength comparisons, charts, weapons on display (including cross sections of bombs and rockets), replicas of secret tunnels and boobytraps, small models of all sorts of military vehicles, and of course the howitzers, armored personnell carriers, fighter planes and other actual combat machines littered arround the place.

Later, as he sat down in the control seat of some kind of massive ship cannon, Matthew contemplated the memorial. There WAS and element of propaganda in the museum, but it was very subtle. The only way that Matthew could be sure it was there was by the way he was suddenly so proud of the Korean military. He thought that perhaps the whole purpose of the exhibit was to encourage young boys to consider a carreer in the military only to find out later that there is a mandatory service law in Korea. So he didn't know what to make of it in the end, other than that the banner at the front was definitely the theme of the memorial, and that his three thousand won had been very well spent.

Not knowing what else to do for lunch, Matthew decided to hit one of the market districts in search of food. He didn't know exactly where it was, but he tried his best guess and ended up in an area that was a combination of upscale stores and rows and rows of sidewalk stalls. At first he wasn't all that impressed. But he kept walking. He stopped and ate something unusual at a street stall. He wasn't sure what it was, but he kindof thought it might have been a squid dish. In any case he somehow ate it all, and handing the empty plate back to the stall-owner-lady, she was shocked. She immediately called over to a neighboring shop-lady and said something in Korean while guesturing at Matthew. He figured that whatever he ate was not a common dish for tourists, and maybe even less commonly polished off by those tourists. He thought it would have been more exciting for him had someone he knew been around to be impressed. Such is travel when you go solo.

Getting up from his strange meal, he began to walk through the markets. He walked for a very long time, thankful of his compass to help him keep his bearings. There were all sorts of stores selling everything from electronics, to household goods, to fabrics, to fruits and vegetables, kimchi, live or dead fish, clothing, souvenirs, and a millieu of other things. What was more, most of the stores were clustered together by type: at one point he walked through a long coverred alley surrounded on all sides by watch stores-- their wares glittering in artificial light. After four or five hours of walking through markets, he went back to the Inn. He would have been impressed by the sheer volume of little stores, had he not been so tired. So he went out to the university district where all the good nightlife was supposed to be. At least, that was his intention.

In actual fact, he had misread his subway map due to a misleading tour pamphlet. Instead of going to Sinchon, the university area which was not far from where he was staying, he rode the subways out to Shincheon on the outskirts of the city. He should have wondered why the universities were so far away from downtown, but he was just that tired.

Getting off at the Shincheon stop, he looked out over the ledge. This stop was thankfully above-ground, and he could gather at a glance that he was in a very low-income neighborhood, and not the variety that looked like it would house thousands of university students. So he got back on the subway going the other way, and checked his map again. He let out a long groan as he realised his mistake, and groaned again when he saw how close he had been to start off with. But there was an upside-- he went back to sleep.

When he finally arrived in Sinchon, he had ridden the subways for two and a half hours more than he needed to, but had gotten some much desired sleep in compensation.

Sinchon was definitely lively. He really did not know where to begin. Matthew wandered around for a good long time, trying to figure out what on earth he would like to eat. Somehow he decided that he would like a traditional dish he had heard about called "bibinpap". But Sinchon didn't seem to be that kind of an area-- there were tons of western restaurants and cafes, and besides, he couldn't communicate enough in Korean to even contemplate asking where to find some good bibinpap. Thus, he determined that the best course of action would be to wander around until he encountered a foreigner that looked like they wouldn't mind being troubled.

There were a good deal of foreigners, to be sure, but Matthew knew well enough from living in Japan that most of them would be residents, not tourists. He also knew that some foreign residents can develop a peculiar disdain for tourists, or at least tourists who start talking to them in the middle of the street.

At some point he noticed two guys that looked like recent university grads, and who also looked like they were not on their way to anywhere in particular. These were the ones to accost.
"Hey do you guys know where I could find some good bibinpap?"
This was the right thing to ask. It turned out that bibinpap was indeed difficult to find in that neighborhood, or at least good bibinpap. After trying two or three places, they found what they were looking for. They asked if Mat wouldn't mind them joining him. "It would be a pleasure," Matthew said in relief. He had no idea how he was going to order, or even how restaurants worked in Korea.

It was a good meal. The food was good, and the two Americans (whose names Matthew had forgotten when he got around to relating this tale) were doing nearly the same thing he was, but in Korea. That made for some interesting conversation. On a trip to Japan, one of the two had experienced much of the same confusion that Matthew was having in Korea. Knowing one Asian language and being put in a massive group of other Asians whose language sounds radically different can be thouroughly disorienting. (no pun intended)

Bibinpap, it turns out, simply means 'mixed rice.' One of the Americans reccomended that Matthew get Bibinpap, which had the rice cooked and served in an iron pot, with all the vegetables and sauce on top. When they were ready to go, they refused to let Matthew pay for his own share, claiming instead the title of hosts. Though the bill came to less than 10 dollars for the three of them to eat their fill and more, Matthew was nontheless still very greatful. On the way out, Mat took part in a board breaking competition, splitting 15 plastic boards and winning a box of soap and a Tokyo Giants zippo lighter.

The Americans went back on their way to hit some clubs, and bidding them farewell, Matthew made his way home, finally getting back at around midnight.



SICK! At this rate I'll be back in Winnipeg before I can finish this mail! School had me going full tilt doing class stuff and teaching (What? You mean I have to WORK?). The implications? Having given you most of the really exciting bits already, I'm going to shift into a quick synopsis of the rest of my vacation and then maybe the month between then and now. I'd really like to send this off by the end of the day, but knowing me around a keyboard and knowing what school has been like lately, that may not happen.


The next day I walked through the recently rebuilt Gongbokgeung palace (sp?), the folk museum, and the modern art museum. There was one really good piece at the modern art museum: it was a slow motion high definition video of a line of people doing what may have been a casket viewing, but as seen from the direction of the casket. Brilliant colour, motion capture, expressions... it was worth the visit just for that. Dinner was BK because I'd not seen it in japan and you know, carpe diem and all that. Then I went out for a drink with some of the Japanese folk who were crashing at the same inn I was.

Thurs morning, because I was going to be on a long busride when it opened, I got someone to sneak me in to view another modern art exhibit right down town at a new gallery. The one gallery had way better stuff than the modern art museum. Then I made my way to the bus depot and caught a 5.5 hour busride down to Tongyeong, where after calling brennan, a friendly English speaking korean helped me sort out how to catch a bus for the last 20 minute leg to Gohyun.

For that evening and the next few days I chilled with brennan and rhonda: we ate some fantastic home-cooked western style meals, went out for korean barbeque, had dinner with a couple of mormon guys, watched a couple movies and played a decent amount of xbox, walked around town, went for a day-trip back to tongyeong, went to church, went to a bible study, had a bible study at their place, lost at chess, and generally had a good relaxing time.

On tuesday the sixth I caught the ferry (which moved way faster than I expected) back to Busan. After taking a long time to get my berings eat lunch and buy some canned silkworms, I called a yeogwan (little inn) and made a reservation. Then I went there. After signing in I walked along the beach and then picked up a bite to eat while chillin in front of the tube in my hotel room.

For whatever reason, despite two beers on a relatively empty stomache I still had a hard time falling asleep, and after three hours of pseudo-rest I got up at 5am and started my day. Took the subway as far as it would go, then a cab. No probs at the airport. In Osaka decided to take the long way home (bus into town, then to tokushima rather than xpressbus from the airport) so that I could stop at the bookstore in town as well. It ended up being faster (would have had to wait a long time at the airport).

After that it was back to school on the thursday and into an office filled with total strangers. Moreover, while previously the only real resident of my apartment block had been me, It is now full. :'(

In Judo, Tom and I have been persuaded by the sensei to go for the blackbelt test with the national association, and have been training for that. We're not sure we can do it, but it's worth a shot. If we fail, it costs us 4000 yen to have tried and we retain whatever points we earn from the fights towards the next attempt at the test. If we succeed, it costs us like 250 000 yen for all the offical documents and registration fees. So both ways we lose, and both ways we win.

In that week after returning from Korea, I also did a madrush job finishing up my correspondance course. I did 4 weeks worth of work in one week spread out over ten days.

The weekend of the 17th I broke my settlers board in with foreigners the for the first time. We played settlers 2 or three times and then risk once, ending at around 4 or 5 am. A good time was had by all (two winnipeggers, an icelander, an american, and a japanese).

Somewhere in there I recieved my multi-region DVD player in the mail. I was finally persuaded to buy one because we want to do English movies with English subtitles in our "extra english option class for third year students". Trying to get the school to do it could either be fast, slow, or not happen at all. Avoiding the hassle and scoring myself a sweet korean made player for a mere 125000 yen, I am a happy man. I broke it in on Hero (jet li, zhang ziyi) which was the most epic 7 character movie I have ever seen.

April 29th was midori no hi (green day), a national holiday, but giving us monday off instead, we had a school field trip up the mountain for a half day conference in the baking sun (most got sunburnt).

The following day there was a teacher conference in the afternoon for all the teachers in Katsuura-gun (my county: two towns). Being what it was, Tom and I were excused from it after the first hour and sent home (read: to have our first real free half day off of school since coming to Japan). So we went to the only park in our county that has grass and kicked a soccerball around with one of his students. Then tom went home to clean (friend from england was coming shortly after) and I went home and rand 10 kilometers. ouch. felt like I was going to die. did it to make sure that I could, as i had signed up to run 10k in a marathon the following week. Then we had judo. I don't know how I managed to hold my ground in the fight with tom, but really, I had no "go" to give, so I was pretty pleased that I took a point from him while doing nothing but defense. For the record, he also took only one point from me, though had the fight gone any longer he would certainly have taken several more. :P

After judo, we went back to his place to watch "Kazedani no Naushika" (Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind) which is uber famous over here. It's by the same dude who did Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away.

Saturday was the first day of Golden Week (goruden uiku) which is a weekend followed by three stat holidays. I intentionally had no big plans, having so recently gone to korea. Jamie, a fine arts grad from new orleans, who lives in Sanagochi (just 30min north of Katsuura where tom lives) was having a birthday barbeque with his eikaiwa class, and had extended an open invitation to anyone. Good food was followed by chilling and playing cards etc until 5ish in the morning. Drove home.

Sunday? Recovered.

Monday? worked on cleaning my apartment, saw the passion, read some of a book. Tuesday? same but for the passion. Wednesday? Drove three hours out to mount tsurugi because I felt like it. Then three hours back.
Then school on thurs and fri.
Marathon on sunday, beat my time from the previous week by a mere ten seconds (shouldn't have had those onigiri for breakfast, I was running slow the whole time and i could feel them moving the wrong way through my digestive pipe-- what't that thing called?)

Yesterday I went to the doctor's office for a mandatory check-up. Every teacher has to get one. My predecessor never did, but then he never did a lot of things, skilled teacher though he was.

And that brings us to today. Sadly, a lot of commentary has been lost in my not having time to type these last few weeks, especially commentary about how I was unhappy about the staff situation, but because I've gotten used to it now, I can't remember much that bothered me other than that fewer teachers speak english now, and that none of them are cute female recent grads. ;D If anything, the average age in the office is now older than it was.

Tonight is judo. The test has two components: a fighting component and a skill demonstration component. We are both pretty confident about being able to do the fighting component, even if just through hight advantage alone. However, we are both having to learn a few new throws pretty quickly, and the demonstration needs to be well performed. We are going to start practicing that bit out of class from tomorrow. The blackbelt test is on May 23rd, not long before I go back to canada for a visit.

I have a conference in Kobe during the first week of June, after which I go straight to Kansai airport in Osaka. I arrive on the fifth. I fly out early on the twentieth (sadly 9:00am winnipeg time.

I have now officially missed sending a letter for every calendar month. Ah well, at least it's getting sent, right? Until next time,