Asia Adventure #5: Co-Travelers, Part 1

korea travelersI will begin with Fil. After a few days in Seoul, I feared no one would talk to us. We had an upstairs room in a flat that included two other bedrooms, both of which were occupied during our five days there. Our roommates were sometimes Chinese, sometimes Korean, and always reserved and non-communicative. This did not bode well for me as I wondered if they objected to the way that I had all my art supplies, random travel items, and guitar strewn about.

Then one day, a breakthrough. Fil, a lovely woman in her early thirties showed up on the scene for the day. She dates the manager of the guesthouse we stayed in and is herself the manager of another guest house in Seoul. Originally from Busan, she came to Seoul with her sister to find a job in the fashion industry. She has been together with Brad, a computer programmer by training, but now guest house manager for about nine months. I don’t recall where she learned her English, but I enjoyed conversation with her and learned about rents in the area. Thank you, Fil, for talking to me.

JeJu is an island in Korea and hosted World Cup soccer in 2002. I’m not sure about the date, but I am sure that the stadium is now home to a movie theater which showed the recently release of Godzilla. I know this to be true because we went to the film and were pleased to discover the film was subtitled and not dubbed. We stayed in hostel/hotel where the manager invited me to play my new Korean Crafter guitar in the evening. I did so and was a hit. At least 4 or 5 people listened and most of those in attendance clapped. A young French man living in New York working for NASA played a few songs as well. I didn’t appreciate how beautifully he played nor his lovely voice singing in French.

That evening following the launch of my Asia Tour, the one I title “Flashes of Light” (I’ll explain in part 2), I enjoyed conversation with another young Korean woman-I know, a pattern is developing here- named Lee. Lee was 21 or 22 and lives in London where she studies. She wants very much to attend university in the US, but needs extracurricular courses to gain entrance to the kind of schools she’s interested in. She was very soft-spoken, has a boyfriend in Korea, and though she loves her family, has enjoyed the freedom she experiences living in the UK. I think she liked my music okay. We didn’t talk too much about that.

We left Juju Island by plan and few to Busan where we stayed in a hostel called K79 which I thought was an interesting name for a hostel/hotel. This place was the first place Lori, Cata, and I had to sleep in separate quarters. They were on the second floor in the women’s dormitory and I was one floor above them. Each room had very sold bunk-beds with curtains to enclose them. Personal belongings could be locked up in one of several lockers that, fortunately, used the same code. There was a large living space where two young Korean men played a video came on computers with 50 other players from around the world who parachuted, shot automatic weapons, and embraced their inner commandos.

I met two young men at this lodging who were both from Taiwan. One was in marketing and the other worked as a construction engineer. They only met right before I joined the conversation and were only in Busan for the weekend. Taiwan is a two hour flight from Korea and many Taiwanese travel  to Korea. We spoke about salaries, places to visit in Korea, video games (both fellas were early twenties) and how they both agreed that the compulsory military service they had done was frightfully boring.  When it came to the topic of the unique relationship Taiwan has with China, neither man offered much, saying only that it was ‘complicated’. I asked about something that has puzzled me for a while, about how many people in China can build great wealth and yet China is a communist state. They only responded that that too was a ‘hot’ topic. I didn’t sense that we were going to make much progress on that front, so we switched conversation and started talking about the Koreans neutralizing their digital enemies.

Late in the evening, two Korean young men entered my room. I didn’t speak much to them for a day, but then got to know one of them who was a cook at an upscale Chinese/Italian fusion restaurant in Seoul. He spoke very good English and credited his father, who had lived in the US for twenty years, for his proficiency. He said he marveled that his restaurant could charge nearly $20 for a tiny personal pizza and that he could get a much larger one himself for about $5. He had a little more to say about rich Chinese people than my Taiwanese friends. Both guys were really kind and even asked me if I was comfortable enough with the air conditioner setting, they chose.

Writing about the Korean chef reminds me about a woman I met back in JeJu Island who was a pastry chef in Paris. She reminded me very much of Michelle Obama (who, BTW, I think is going to run for President one day) and whose parent were from North Africa. She said that she has not experienced too much difficulty as the daughter of immigrants in France. She has grown up there, has her friends, and gets along fine. She recently quit her job and was traveling until the money ran out. She was terribly disappointed in Korea that she couldn’t find any fromage.

Back to Busan. After our dormitory experience at the K79,  we boarded a ferry to take us across the sea to Japan. I noticed another bearded fellow, younger, but not of Asian features. He introduced himself to me as we left the Port of Busan and traveled under a splendid suspension bridge. The lighting on the bridge changed colors over and over but not like a Las Vegas Strip marquis. This lighting was more subdued and rhythmic, kind of like me since I’ve been on lithium.

Well,  my mania kicked in when the bearded one spoke to me in English but with an accent that made my heart jump. He was from Spain! When I learned of his native land, I gave thanks to Dios and we began to speak in Spanish. I can’t overstate how important this was for me. I am a communicator and to be limited in communication by my lack of Korean and Japanese, has been a challenge. There are not many US types traveling around these parts, and so communication, even if communication with bearded Spaniards, was a blessing.

After a night rocking and rolling we arrived in Fukuoka (aka. Hakata) and in the land of Japanese spoken by Japanese people living on the Island of Japan. Stay tuned for part two of this installment. We have just a few days left and one more place to visit. I’ve had the richest conversations so far in Japan and I hope there are more to tell you about before we take that big bird home.

Sayonara from Kyoto, Japan