This week in Japan — a new emperor, a new era, an earthquake, and Golden Week. When I scheduled my visit to Fukuoka, Japan several months ago, I didn’t know it would be at such an auspicious time. Or that I would arrive on the weekend of the city’s Dontaku Festival. It was a great way to start my visit to Japan!
After a month in South Korea, we are aware of some distinct themes in our conversations. One is how much I don’t like the food. HAH! Ok I will shut up now because everyone is tired of hearing it. (Diane loves it) The more important theme is the country’s many ways of telling you that you are honored. Not you the tourist, or you the powerful or rich person, but you whoever you are.
Imagine traveling through a country where you see things like this everywhere:
I treasure my life on the road and I remind myself every day that it must be more than an extended vacation. I am in it to learn and connect. The pyramids are breathtaking but slaves built them and climate change could destroy them. And worse and more. Fortunately, for every tragedy, there seems to be people pushing back on tragedy. Yesterday, I learned a little about both on the Island of Jeju, “South Korea’s Hawaii.”
From the standpoint of South Korea’s niceness, this week has been pretty typical. Monday stands out because it began with an 80-year old man walking us ten blocks toward our destination to a police station — where two police officers took us the rest of the way in their police car. (Really, that was so cool). Our coffee house hostesses took photos of us and then thanked us profusely while giggling. On my subway ride back to our hotel, a young man gave me his seat next to a group of women who shared their popcorn with me.
I am in love with Korea’s alphabet. And Koreans love it so much, “Hangeul” has its own fabulous museum in Seoul and its own national holiday on October 9. Why all the fuss? Koreans treasure their alphabet because it was created to promote what we today call democracy.
We are standing in the dark at the base of a giant golden Buddha at 4:30am. The Buddha is framed by mountains and a wooden pagoda. I’m wearing six layers of lightweight cotton, unprepared for the near-freezing temperatures we will endure for the coming hour. Shaking, I find myself trying not to wonder why I thought staying at a temple in the mountains was a good idea.
So far, I sure do love Seoul, South Korea, a city of 10 million people that feels more like a small town. It’s friendly and clean and calm. People talk to us like they will meet us again somewhere, like the grocery store or a PTA meeting.
Negombo is a beach town on the Indian Ocean, 25 miles north of Colombo. It’s gritty and the electricity goes out for hours at a time but the people are friendly and the salty breeze off the the ocean softens the harsh tropical heat. I arrived on Monday evening after a six-hour ride through the mountains that almost killed me, car sickness-wise. Tuesday morning, I walked a few blocks to Cafe Enviro to reintroduce my stomach to something more substantial than water. I sat down directly in front of a large whirring fan. A few minutes later, my host, Hiru, brought me an icy lime-mint-ginger drink. It was heavenly.