Tag Archives: war

Busan to Fukuoka

Three weekends ago, during the Lunar New Year holiday, I took a trip across the East Sea to Japan. It’s been on my list of places to visit for a long time, so I was excited to finally go.

Instead of flying, I took the Beetle speed ferry from Busan to Fukuoka. A round trip ticket cost about 200,000 won ($185) and took just under three hours. The port worked much like an airport. Passengers go through security, show their passport, and present their ticket at the gate before boarding.

Port of Busan Security

Busan to Fukuoka Speed Ferry

The boat also felt like an airplane on the inside. It was a jet-ferry, so it even sounded like an airplane.

I naively expected Japan to be similar to Korea, but the two countries are quite different. The most obvious differences are cultural and not aesthetic. Japanese people seem to be more aware of the people around them, which makes public places in Japan much more pleasant than in Korea. There was a noticeable absence of pushing, spitting, and loud cell phone conversations. When I made an effort to be polite, like holding the door for people, they didn’t look at me like they caught me fingering a cat.

Escalator in Japan

People even follow the rules on escalators, keeping right so others can pass on the left.

I was disappointed that I didn’t get to see any of the weird sexual stuff for which the Japanese are so famous. With the exception of a few women in costumes and a baby-themed liquor bottle at the hotel bar, I didn’t see any weird stuff.

Weird baby bottle liquor in Japanese bar

The liquor bottle shaped like a baby’s milk bottle openly was the only hint that there might be some weird fetishes that don’t carry the same social stigma as in the west.

I stayed at the Crowne Plaza ANA hotel in downtown Fukuoka. Ordinarily out of my price range, I was able to stay at an upscale hotel by using credit card points. After checking in, I went out and explored the city. I tend to travel with a loose itinerary, so most of my time was spent wandering. I managed to incorporate a few of the heavily advertised local tourist attractions into the trip.

My favorite place was Maizuru Castle. This 400 year-old defensive structure was built on a hill in the center of town. It offers stunning views of the surrounding city. The original wooden buildings are gone, but the stone walls remain intact and some replicas wooden buildings have been constructed.

Maizuru Castle in Fukuoka Japan Entrance

This is the castle’s main gate. The Naka river acts as a natural moat.

Maizuru Castle in Fukuoka Japan Stairs

The castle is built in levels. To get from one level to the next, you must pass through a narrow stairway. This allowed for easier defense.

Maizuru Castle in Fukuoka Japan house on wall

All along the walls are guard towers from which defenders could shoot arrows and drop stones.

Maizuru Castle in Fukuoka Japan Panorama from top

The top level of the castle offers beautiful panoramic views of the city.

Not far from the castle was an indoor street market. I never learned the name of the market, but I spent over an hour walking around and checking out the shops. It stretched the length of six city blocks and included several hundred businesses. The shops ranged from fresh produce to traditional clothing to touristy trinkets.

Fukuoka Japan indoor street market

At the far end of the market was a Buddhist temple complex. I walked inside to look around and realized that I had seen the golden steeple of the temple’s shrine several times before. It is visible from several other places around town, including my hotel room.

Fukuoka Japan Buddhist Temple Entrance

The entrance appeared to be decorated for some celebration, but I have no idea what it might have been.

Woman worshiping Fukuoka Japan Buddhist Temple Entrance

The golden column atop the shrine is visible from miles away.

The most surprising thing I found while walking around Fukuoka was a familiar face.

James Brown statue in Fukuoka Japan

That face is pure nightmare fuel.

My only regret was that I didn’t have more time to spend exploring the city – especially the nightlife. I was so tired from walking that I wound up in bed early both nights. Next time, I”ll budget more time for relaxing during the day and hitting the town at night.

Until next time.


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Nerd Alert!

I returned from Tongyeong late yesterday afternoon. We had an excellent time. Instead of telling you all about it in one huge post, I’ll break it down into a few posts. Let’s start from the beginning (that’s usually a good place to start).

About a week ago, I jokingly told my Korean friend Miju (미주) that she was boring. She asked me how she could prove me wrong. I challenged her to plan a fun trip, hence the sudden surprise on Friday afternoon: “meet me at Seobu Bus Terminal tomorrow at 2pm.

I realized just how seriously Miju took my challenge when she pulled out a piece of paper on which she wrote all of her ideas and travel plans. She had apparently spent a lot of time researching Tongyeong, our destination.

Nerd Alert!

Nerd Alert!

Tongyeong (통영) is a small coastal town near the southern tip of South Korea. The bus ride from Daegu takes about two and a half hours. The beautiful landscape is characterized by mountains that fall straight into the ocean. There is little flat space, and all of it is occupied by farms or small towns.

Map - Daegu to Tongyoung

By the time we arrived and found a place to stay, it was too late to do any of the touristy activities, so we decided to wander around and check out the town. From the bus terminal, we headed straight for a traditional market in the center of town called Jungang Market (중앙활어시장). The market’s narrow alleys were packed with people (my nightmare), so we called an audible and checked out a historical exhibit across the street.

Tongyeong’s claim to fame is The Great Battle of Hansan Island, which took place just off the coast of Tongyeong. Credit for Korea’s naval victory against the Japanese (1592) is given to the Admiral Yi Sun-Sin. Admiral Yi is Korea’s most famous military leader. His naval headquarters were located in Tongyeong for many years.

The historical exhibit consisted of four turtle ships, which were the warships that Admiral Yi commanded when he defeated a much larger Japanese force at Hansan Island.

Turtle ships at Tongyeong

Of course, this exhibit wouldn’t be truly Korean if they didn’t incorporate something weird and out of place. Inside each of the four ships was a themed exhibit. For example, one ship’s exhibit showed how the sailors lived while at sea. Another exhibit highlighted the ships’ weapons and defenses.

Turtle ship - weapon exhibit

 The people who planned these exhibits apparently ran out of ideas by the time they reached the fourth boat. In lieu of an educational exhibit, there was a large touch-screen computer display located at the back of the ship. The computer was equipped with a camera and placed a few feet away from a large green screen. You choose a background, start the camera’s timer, pose and wait for the computer to snap your photo.

The photo area set up in the ship was not unlike this. Picture found here.

The photo area inside the ship was not unlike this one. Picture was taken from here.

This would have been only marginally weird if the background images had anything to do with Admiral Yi, turtle ships, Tongyeong or Korea. Instead, they were random stock images of beautiful scenery from around the world.

After we finished touring the ships, we decided to get a better view of the town by hiking up a small mountain above the traditional market. I’ll tell you all about it and share some great pictures in my next post.

Until next time.


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I’m Just Not That Worried

It finally happened yesterday – my family asked me if I am concerned about the developing situation between North and South Korea. My friends have been fielding nervous phone calls from parents and grandparents for weeks now, but I knew that I would be the last to receive such a call. Not because my family doesn’t care, but because we are simply not worriers. We save our hand-wringing for much more trivial things.

But I think the latest round of news reports about North Korea moving missiles and advising foreign embassies to evacuate was the push they needed to make the call. I told them what I tell everyone who asks me about North Korea: “I’m just not that worried.”

The recent flurry of ominous news reports, when taken out of context, might leave one with the impression that North and South Korea are seconds away from starting World War III. The reality here in South Korea is quite different. I’ve seen more panic the day before a 1/2″ of snow in North Carolina. There’s no shortage of bread or milk here. In fact, it’s such a non-issue among my Korean friends that I haven’t heard a single South Korean talk about it.

UnThere are two reasons that South Koreans generally aren’t worried about North Korea:

The first is the fact that, in Korean culture, image is much more important than action. Most Koreans, including North Koreans, seem fairly certain that Kim Jong-Un is trying to extort money from the west in exchange for peace and build a reputation within North Korea as a strong pro-military leader.

The second reason most South Koreans aren’t concerned is the history of North Korea’s provocations. This report, made for Congress in 2003, shows a long history of threats and small incidents without any major international confrontations. If you take the time to read the entire report (settle in – it’s boring), you’ll notice some patterns. For example, North Korea tends to threaten South Korea shortly after presidential elections in the south.

It’s also worth noting that it can’t be lost on Kim Jong-Un that starting a war and staying in power are mutually exclusive. It’s a safe bet that he is currently trying to push South Korea, the United Nations and the USA to their limits without actually stepping over the line.

So I’ll take my que from the South Koreans and just relax. I’m just not that worried.

Until next time.


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Korean History Lesson: Ok-Body

Occasionally, I hear a Korean person say the phrase, “Ok-body.” It is used in place of “you’re welcome,” but I couldn’t understand why. I thought it was either a mix of English and Korea or some other language altogether. It turns out that I was totally wrong. A Korean friend recently told me the story, and it is quite interesting.

Korean War Soldier and Child During the Korean war, as in World War II, many American GIs carried candy in their pockets to give to children. This was a great way to build goodwill with Korean civilians and help feed hungry people, many of whom were starving as a direct result of the war.

When the soldiers gave candy to Korean children, they often said “it’s OK, buddy.” Since there were very few English-speaking Korean civilians, they were unable to correctly pronounce “Ok buddy.” They thought the GIs were saying “Ok-body.”

Although they had difficulty with the pronunciation, the Koreans understood its meaning. For the last 60 years, “Ok-body” has been a part of Korean slang. It’s used in place of “you’re welcome” or “it’s ok.”

Next time you hear a Korean person say “Ok-body”, you’ll understand what they’re saying.

Until next time.


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