18 oktober 2007

Once in a lifetimes....

(click on the pictures to enlarge)

The past two weeks I spent time wandering around touristy places, studying in the most unusual locations, talking to interesting people, and looking at marvelous nature. Togo and Eugene took me from Okayama to Kure where Japan’s latest so-called nationalist museum is located, the Yamato Hakubutsukan 大和博物館. The museum turned out to be more about peace and Kure’s technological achievements than about war, at least that’s what the audioguide told me.

Ayami showed me the Korakuen 後楽園, one of Japan’s famous gardens. And as if the garden and the museum were not clear enough signs of Japan's always surprising diversity, that evening Yujin, Ayami and I went to a Kenya benefit where we listened to the moving story of a lady that has lived in Kenya for over 15 years followed by music that made even the Japanese audience dance in their chairs.

I cycled around Naoshima, an island in Japan’s Inland Sea which has been reinvigorated by several modern art projects.

After this trip I was taken to a completely different side of the island, a closed-off port owned by Mitsubishi where my dad’s ship had to unload some cargo. It had been quite a while since I visited my dad in his workplace, the last time I spent more than a few hours on board was when I was 14 years old and we ‘cruised’ the Mediterranean for a month. The 26 year old me was given a warm welcome by the crew this time as well, and I ‘repaid’ (haha) them by taking up the role of tourguide. The first tour was to Okayama, Castle and yakitori-bar, the second to Hiroshima, shinkansen, Peace Park, Peace Museum, Hiroshima Castle (what a hoax!), and of course, Hiroshima-style Okonomiyaki (which wasn’t as good as the Kobe and other Kansai variants, but well..). Showing Japan to big white sailors is fun, especially the occasional ああ、外人だ!(wow, a foreigner!) sigh by a female high school student.

On Sunday my passport got its departure stamp, and on Monday we left Naoshima to spend a wonderful afternoon sailing through the beautiful Inland Sea. I stared and stared and the pilots which were on board to prevent us from bumping into one of the small islands chatted to me in Japanese and even asked me to translate something now and then. Yes yes, it felt good to finally use my skills in an at least somewhat professional environment ;)

And then you suddenly find yourself on a Japanese-Korean ferry with a trunkload of Korean high school boys dying to make your acquaintance and practise their English skills: ‘You are very pretty, beautiful’, ‘I am a SuperKorean’...

I only got to Pusan around six and arrived in the port a lot later as I was held up at the busstation by some very attractive public computers which asked only 75 eurocents of me for checking my gmail for half an hour. After the beautiful metro line finally delivered me near the International Passengers Terminal, the ladies at the ticket office stared at my passport for a while. A Japanese departure stamp of the 14th and a Korean entry one of the 17th... ‘Miss, what were you doing during these three days?’... hmm well, some words of explanation from my side, and an apparent pressure of time on their side did the trick and a moment later I was running towards the ferry. I would have liked my Lonely Planet to have told me that one has to board some three hours before the actual departure time of the ferry, but well, I made it.

This rapid (at the moment I am being stared at by a 17 year old boy, who, I must admit is quite goodlooking, something a lot of Korean men in both the port and the subway were, which surprised me... maybe I chose the wrong country?!, about 10 friends have now joined the boy and I am in their pictures), anyways, this rapid sequence of steps through my itinerary prevented me from seeing anything of Korea outside a means of transportation.

Before, the agent of my dad’s ship had taken me, and a Russian captain of another ship (some nationalities one instantly recognizes by posture, face and facial expression) to Pohang’s busstation from where I caught a bus to Pusan. The Korea I saw from the window was beautiful, and at least not as artificial as Japan often tends to be. The hills still have their natural trees, concrete has not swallowed everything, and the mountains in the distance look absolutely stunning. Naturally I only saw a tiny bit of this country, but my interest has been aroused, and at some point in the future when there is less thesis stress, I will definitely be back here and do some backpacking. I also realised in the bus that my travel destinations these past years have been somewhat on the safe side. I was actually somewhat nervous about getting on a bus in a country in which I did not speak the language, and my dad had to remind me of the Moroccan expedition when I was 19... I always thought that insecurity diminishes when one gets older...

Anyways, it feels good to be on my way back to Tokyo as this diversion from my studies has lasted long enough. I certainly had a lot of fun though, many beautiful memories have found a place in my heart and I am thankful to the people who have helped me make them.

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