So, my trip over wasn't the best in the world (tv was faulty, headphones broke so I had to use the crappy and painful airplane ones, couldn't nap even though I had two seats to myself), but I made it into Narita airport riding the high that comes with being awake for more than 24 hours and knowing that it's only 4pm where you landed. I determinedly gathered up my four bags (bc the xrf tracer makes one and I had to split my big bag into a smaller one to get around the weight restrictions flying in) and stored two of them at the proper airport terminal since I was flying out again in two days. I then caught the wrong train to Tokyo (still made it but 30 min later than I expected), and had to figure out how to get to my hotel using poorly depicted subway maps. I finally made it my hotel and I was pleasantly surprised that my non-smoking room barely had an undercurrent of smoke and was larger than most business hotel rooms. I'd forgotten how hard Japanese beds are, but I also remembered my old remedy of sleeping on top of the comforter (folded over if needed to provide the necessary padding). I let everyone know I was alive, repacked and rearranged and tried to get some work done but I could barely keep my eyes open so I went to sleep at 10:30pm and woke at the ungodly hour of 5am. I then dozed for a half hour or so then gave up and got up.
So I was exhausted but this gave me time for a leisurely convenience store breakfast. I may have immediately eaten some inari sushi and melon bread for said breakfast. I have missed how fantastic convenience store food is in Japan. I then got some of my correspondence in order, and checked a few more things on the internet since I had somehow managed to get all the way to my destination the day before without buying a second ticket for the subways/trains around Tokyo and I'm not sure how I managed that. Unfortunately, this was not an intuitive process and many of their gates seem set up so that even if your card fails, it still lets you through and even though I saw they had failed, I had no idea how to get a ticket once I was on the other side of the barrier. Or I just somehow got into a ticketed area without having a ticket. I don't remember this ever being a problem before in Tokyo so I'm wondering what's changed. Either way, I spent a lot of time pretending on the other end that I had lost a ticket which I never had. I have been to Tokyo twice before so my plans were rather unique merchandise oriented rather than sight seeing. I first headed to Asakusa where the Kaminari mon (or as most tourists know it, the giant lantern gate) is. I have stayed at a very cheap ryokan in the area and when I did, I learnt the location of one of the few shops I've ever seen that sells black tabi (with indoor and outdoor soles) cheaply. Since it is the Obon holiday, the area was pretty packed for a weekday morning. I had fun wandering around a bit and visited the temple since I'd never seen it this bustling. There were a lot of festival booths up, though I didn't indulge. I then found the store I was looking for, bought three sets of tabi for $10 each (they go for 35-40 online), wandered around the marketplace for a bit, bought a cute magatama dangler for my phone, then headed south on the trains. I got off with the intention of seeing Tokyo Tower, and by seeing, I meant walking towards it until I was close enough to get a good picture since there was no way I was paying the fee to go up there or having to walk the entire way. So, I got a nice picture on the grounds of a peaceful Buddhist temple. The cicadas are buzzing like mad this time of year and it's very hot and humid, so, you know, typical Japanese August weather.
Once that was done, I headed to Shibuya where I grabbed a nice lunch of cold somen (a perfect meal on a hot day). Once that was done, it was afternoon so I was able to head to Mandarake where its shelves of doujinshi (for women) brought me to paroxysms of joy. What surprised me though was how much more popular western fandoms are these days in doujinshi circles. There was a whole shelf devoted to sherlock holmes x watson and below it was a nearly as large shelf just devoted to Sherlock. Avengers and Supernatural also had their fair share of shelf space. I'm afraid I may have wiped out their Hobbit section. It was not very pairing related (keeping in mind that mandarake is usually selling used doujinshi so all the trends they display are several months if not longer, behind) but instead adorable stories about Fili and Kili and learning to braid while Thorin face palms in the background or ends up with a million braids and Balin laughing at him. I also picked up some Naruto doujinshi too since I adore anything about Minato and young Kakashi growing up (as you can tell by my fics). After that Mandarake, I headed to Ikeburo where I got lost trying to find the Mandarake there (which has even more doujinshi!) and stumbled into K-books instead which doesn't have a very large western related comics section but does have much newer doujin so you can see the trends that are forming. That anime about giants attacking cities in a post apocalyptic world is really popular. I then finally found Mandarake and ended up looking up more obscure things like Rurouni Kenshin (which has passed into obscurity doujinshi wise, it appears), star wars, etc. I got some good One Piece doujins and found a really long Person of Interest one which was intriguing. It was getting late so I then headed back to my hotel with my feet killing me from all the walking and my arms killing me from carrying all the doujinshi I bought.
I got changed at my hotel then did the short walk to the Tokyo Budokan where these is Bujinkan training with the soke on Tuesday evenings. My purpose there besides training was to test for my 5th degree blackbelt. The test is usually after the class, but there were so many of us, they did it before. The test is that you have to sit before one of the high level people who has a slightly padded wooden sword. You have to sense when the sword is coming and roll out of the way. I had hoped to pass on my first go, but, as pretty much everyone told me afterwards, it was obvious I could sense the sword, but I wasn't moving fast enough (and I had a stinging sensation on top of the left side of my head to prove it). So, I got some advice on moving faster and I have to take it again on the 27th. However, taking the test before the class really messed up my training since I was so busy obsessing about it that I missed parts of the class, and since many things are only demonstrated once in Japan, and my training partner's level was below mine and he didn't speak English or Japanese, or Korean or Spanish, I was a bit muddled for the entire class. Which is a shame because I feel like I really didn't get the best out of the training. Hopefully it will go better on the 27th. I'm still trying to figure out if I should rearrange my schedule near the end of my trip so I can get to training on the 15th. That's technically another day of the conference I'm attending and to get to training, I'd really have to leave Nara the night before. It's all a bit complicated. I guess I'll decide after I see if I pass my test.
So, after training, I chatted with the few people I knew, one of whom I'd met the last time I was in Japan. Everyone was very helpful, which is mostly, I assume, because they know I'm Jack's student and Jack is very high up on the list of important people in Bujinkan. I parted ways with them to hit the supermarket for their half price specials (which unfortunately in Tokyo are 30% off and seem to start at 9pm rather than 50% and at 6pm as it does in the country). Nevertheless, I picked up some tasty sushi, peaches encased in gel (the cheapest way to eat fruit in Japan imo), and some somen for dinner and ate in my hotel.
The next day, due to jetlag I was up at 6am again, so I killed time until 8 or so. My plans for the morning were derailed though by the post office not opening until 9am. I had to wait until then to bring my doujinshi over and ship them to myself in the US. (I have to buy lots of books on this trip, but can't afford to carry them in my luggage so they get shipped back as I buy them.) Because of that, I left the hotel about five minutes too late to catch the train I wanted to catch and the lateness continued down the line so that I reached Narita airport a half hour later than planned, and then I got off at the wrong terminal so I had to take the bus around. Still, no one complained about me checking in for an international flight less than 2 hrs in advance and all went smoothly checking in. I'm resigned to the extra fees I have to pay for my carting the XRF scanner around at this point.
I flew Korean Air and I have to say, they have awesome flights. Nice big blankets, and they removed one of the usual seats to make all their seats in economy wider. They also served a full meal despite the flight being in the mid afternoon. And then there was their inflight entertainment system. It had screens that were seven inches wide and at least five long. And much to my shock, they could be accessed before the plane even left parking and played continuously through take off with pauses for cabin system announcements. They also could be paused whenever you liked. And there was a huge selection of movies and television shows, plus radio and games. Why in the world are American airlines incapable of this? I was able to watch the entirety of Wall-E on the flight which was my only relaxing period of the day, to be honest.
Once off the plane, I had to collect my luggage, and rearrange it so I could drag the three bags I had in addition to my backpack all the way to Seoul. I have a little fold out cart which holds the duffel bag and scanner if I strap them in well, but those bags and the other big suitcase are very wide so manoeuvring them by myself is... challenging. It's a good thing I actually have muscles because those bags were heavy enough to be quite a strain. Though to be fair, I've had several men take pity on me over the past few days and say, lift the suitcases over the train platform edge for me. Once into Seoul (takes about an hour by train and costs $4), I had to find my hotel which was easier said than done because I had thought I had a map and I didn't so I had to figure out for myself where things were and find some free wireless (not that hard in Seoul) so I could use google maps. I ended up doing a lot of walking I didn't need to, and the walking I did do was made more mercilessly by the sun, heat and humidity. In the end though, my hotel is within sight of Seoul station (though the sign isn't), and is a five minute walk at the most without my suitcases.
I booked my hotel based on three things - it's proximity to one of the bigger subway stations, reviews which didn't mention bedbugs, and a price cheaper than most of the hotels I'm staying at in Japan. I remember seeing the rooms were discounted a lot, but I didn't realize how much until I got here because this is a really nice hotel. Everything is automatic. The toilet seat heats itself for me when I sit down and then flushes without me touching a thing. The do not disturb sign is done with the press of a button, the hotel elevator can only be used by scanning your key, etc. (Cards with transmitters are big in Korea. People use them for everything even getting on public transport. They've pretty much completely eliminated paper tickets.) They provide free water bottles, filtered water, and the shower is just gorgeous. My room doesn't include breakfast so I inquired as to what it was and it was about $14. So, to put it another way, this is a hotel that is usually well above my means, but I somehow ended up here very cheaply so yay!
I literally got to the hotel room around 6:15 and I had to meet two fellow archaeologists (phd students) for dinner and drinks at 6:30 two subway stops away. So I sent them a txt telling them I'd be late and headed out. I got turned around in the subway though because... well, either the signs make more sense when you're Korean or my dyslexia really doesn't like the way they're set up because I keep going the wrong way on the subway. I've taken to double checking and that mostly seems to have stopped the problem so maybe it was the dyslexia. I got there about twenty minutes late but thankfully they were both waiting. We went to a famous mandu place in Myeong dong which is utterly packed at that time of night and filled with neon lights and signs. It's pretty cool looking. After that, we went to a drinking place and polished off many many beers while discussing archaeology, the state of archaeological theory in various places in the world, our research, and ended on game of thrones *L* Good times, but I was pretty drunk by the end of the evening. Made it back to the hotel okay, but being drunk on top of the jetlag meant it took me longer than usual to sober up, and then despite all the water the night before, I still had a bit of a hangover when I woke up at the god awful hour of 6am after going to sleep at 2am. (Damn you, jetlag!) Unable to get back to sleep, I killed time on my computer and debated going out to get something for my hangover. I was craving ramen, but didn't know where to find it at 8:30am. It was also a holiday, and, oh yes, my birthday so I knew things would be even slower to open than usual. My hotel is about half way to Namdaemun market. It wasn't exactly bustling at that time in the morning but it was kind of nice to wander around. I eventually settled on a small restaurant where I had naengmyun which is buckwheat noodles in a vinegary broth with an added eggs and vegetables. The woman running the place poured what I can only assume was mustard into it, and all in all it was delicious and just what my hungover body needed. I then felt like I still needed to do some walking so I headed towards Myeong-dong again (since there was no point in getting on the subway to go just one stop over).
Once I got there, I spent a lot of time wandering around trying to figure out where the hell the cinema was and then once I found it, how to get to it. You had to walk through a closed Uniqlo store to get to the elevator which led up to it. Gah. Still, I had fun exploring Myeong-dong without the packed crowds of the night before. At the theatre, I used the very complicated ticket system to buy a ticket for the first movie of the day (which was a cheap $6) called Snowpiercer. I'd been told the night before that it was a scifi classic in the making and that they were going to cut 20min of it when it went into
US distribution so I had better go and see it now. Since it was a holiday and my birthday that meant none of the museums or universities were open so going to the movies, window shopping, etc. were my only options.
Snowpiercer is based on a French graphic novel so the plot was excellent and it was very well acted. I almost didn't recognize Chris Evans for awhile there, and it was lovely to see one of my favourite Korean actors, Kang-ho Song. Very graphic violence in places and bodily harm. I was sandwiched between two Korean women and they had hands up to cover their faces several times, and I personally would have liked a multiple amputation warning... Beyond that, the film suffered from the usual failing of many scifi films in that the conceit of the film (that the world had frozen and a train that ran around the world powered by a perpetual motion machine held the only remnants of humanity) just didn't hold up to scrutiny very well. I really felt for the characters and I liked the conceptual ideas and how it explored what happens when you have a few hundred people left as all of humanity and they're all stuck on a train, but on the other hand I kept sitting there going, "Uh, I guarantee you that in and around volcanoes is still habitable." Bottom line, it's a pretty gritty and chilling film, and is well worth watching.
After that, I ended up getting some street food (some sort of pancake filled with spicy pulgogi - yum) and sweet potatoes along with a blueberry yogurt smoothie and a petite choux for lunch. I also bought a pumpkin pastry for my birthday treat later that night which inexplicably is labelled masterchef korea so I wonder if it's a recipe from there. I then caught the subway back to my hotel and prepped for my afternoon trip to the jjimjilbang, or public baths. These are the equivalent of the onsen/hot springs in Japan in that you're naked with a bunch of women in hot pools, though the ones in Japan tend to pride themselves on being from volcanic water while I don't think the Korean ones make any claims. I went to the Dragon Hill jjimjilbang because it is famous and I had a coupon. I knew it would be crowded because of the holiday but it honestly wasn't that bad. I had a time trying to find my way around the place since it was a 5 story tall building, and I'd been told someone would explain the etiquette of the place to me when I got there but they were so busy, nothing of the sort happened. I have years of experience at Japanese onsen so getting naked amongst a lot of strange women wasn't a problem (though, wow, that was a lot of staring at my breasts going on there... I suppose it was the counterpart of all the Korean men staring at them when I'm not naked... I'm kinda amused by how none of the men even glance at my face.) I made my way downstairs to the bathing pools, took a shower before I got in, then started doing the rounds. There was a cool pool, and a hot pool, and a warm pool, and an insanely hot wood lined pool, plus a ginsing pool, a seasonal herbs pool, and a herbal medicine pool (I loved how the herbs floated like giant teabags in the pools). There were also various pools which had massage jets in them. Plus, there were two saunas one with aromas and was a wet sauna and one was a dry one. I alternated between all of these getting more and more relaxed. This would have been the end of it in Japan, but in Korea, you are given a tshirt and shorts to wear in common areas and can go all around the building in them. I wandered around, exploring (they had a gym with fake horseback riding. It looked hilarious.). There were more saunas in the common areas. I couldn't go in any of the charcoal burning ones due to my asthma but I went in the wooden pyramid and the jade one (they really were pyramids), and tried lying on a pillow of jade (quite comfortable since the floor was heated). The tv room was turned off and I didn't want to pay for internet so I didn't bother. The salt sauna looked cool but required socks. I went in the ice sauna which was damn weird. I dozed on the floor in the main area for a bit reading some fic on my phone. There was an arcade and pool and restaurant so I guess if you wanted, you'd never have to leave the place, but I decided to strip one more time and hit my favourite pools from before for some relaxation before heading back to my hotel. I got into Seoul station around 7pm and treated myself to some bibimbap for dinner (salty sweet grilled thing pieces of beef) since it was my birthday. They had some amazing pickled eggplant appetizers there too. I then headed back to my hotel for my pumpkin pastry. Took another shower since I hadn't washed my hair at the jjimjilbang. I tried to write this entry, but by then, my body was very aware that I'd been functioning on 4hrs of sleep on top of a hangover on top of jetlag and I went to sleep at 11:20pm and slept until 8am much to my shock. I may have finally conquered the jet lag!
Today, I was supposed to meet one of the professors at Seoul National University (the premiere uni in S. Korea), but despite my searching online I had very little idea where I was going. I left two hours before I needed to be there but it wasn't enough. I went the wrong way on the subway, wrong way after getting off the subway, walked for a mile uphill in the heavy heat and finally enlisted a guy who looked liked a student to help me. He was kind enough to take me directly to the building I needed to be at which was good since I'd have gotten lost on the campus as well. The professor had gone home by then so instead I was given her contact details and told to call her later on. I did so and I get to try all this again tomorrow. Anyway, after that it was afternoon so I changed some travellers checks at the bank on campus (since my birthday celebrations had cut into my funds more than expected) and then I hit the campus bookstore for archaeology books because those are damn hard if not impossible to find in the US. I'll be shipping them home before I leave Korea though there's one more big bookstore I want to hit first. I then tried to get back to the center of Seoul. Tried being the word because in my dyslexic wanderings, near as I can figure, I ended up going the wrong way outside of the SNU entrance, and I eventually caught a local bus (thank god the metro pass works on everything) going who knows where. I simply waited until I saw a subway station and got off the bus then, then figured out my way back to my hotel using the subway from there. I chilled in my hotel room until dinner then walked to the local mall to get dinner. Dinner was ramun (ie ramen) which was amazingly spicy. So tasty! I'd eat that every day to be honest but it's probably not very healthy. (and now I know where to go when I'm hung over again!) I am now going to get more things done before I go to sleep and try again to get to SNU in the morning. Wish me luck!