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China, Japan, and Korea

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dunes

China. We were way out west, in the desert, obviously. We had a guide, and a couple of camels. It was pretty cool. But not as cool as it sounds, 'cause there was a town just behind Pauline when she took this picture. But why would she aim the camera that way?
Here's our guide, tending to the camels. Each camel had a number. I think mine had number 42. They were not very easygoing animals, and she had a hell of a time letting them know who was boss. Maybe they were mistreated when we weren't around, I don't know. They seemed to be ok while we were there. I have no idea who that guy off in the middle distance is, or what he's doing. Guide with camels
desert One last picture of the desert in China.
Of course, we didn't only see desert in China. We got to see some of the more usual things as well. The Geat Wall of China

Moving on from China, let's have a look at a few scenes from Japan. We stayed almost entirely in Kyoto, so all these pictures are from there.

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Kinka-Ju temple Restaurant
Above is the Kinka-Ju Temple. The gold color comes from actual gold, which was mixed in the paint. While the emperor had this temple (and the Zen garden around it) built as a place for him to relax, his people starved outside. Anyway, these days there aren't very many starving peasants in Japan, so we could enjoy the scenery without guilt. This is the front of a restaurant (I think). We were walking home from a successful try at dinner, and thought we'd better do something for posterity. Home, by the way, was a little youth hostel, where we slept on tatami mats, and paid more than we would have paid for a small hotel room in Paris.
Zen garden.Zen Garden

Below are some Buddhist lanterns. Pauline loves the lanterns.... On some streets in Kyoto, all the restaurants display their own lanterns, and at night the glow creates a misty sort of effect. Nice.

Lanterns

And now, some pictures from Korea, where Pauline and I lived for nine months. Most of our time was in Kwangju, in the south. But most of our pictures are from the few weeks we lived in Seoul. I guess we just didn't take a lot of pictures in the place we were working and living. Who does?
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Here are some of the girls dressed as boys at a cross-dress party in Seoul (Pauline's the one sitting on the floor). And here are the boys dressed as girls (and yes, I'm the one kneeling).
cross dressed girls cross-dressed boys

The store below is in a pretty cool area of Seoul, where there are tons of art shops around. Check out the size of the brush hanging above the bike!

Paint store

 

Well, I'm afraid that I haven't put any more work into this page yet, but hey, here's a letter I wrote to my grandparents while I was in Japan!

Won't that be nice? Or you can go back to top.

Japan (after nine months in Korea)

Here in Japan blowing your nose in public is very rude, but spitting in the street is acceptable. Even occasionally peeing in the street is ok as you wander home drunk after a night out with the working boys. You never wear your bathroom slippers in the rest of the house, or your house slippers in the bathroom, or your regular shoes in either. You shower carefully before getting in the bathtub. You do not eat or drink (except ice cream) while walking around the street . Bow to everyone you talk to. There are lots of rules, but of course, foreigners don't have to worry about most of them (although the slippers bit is pretty important, and apparently you're doomed if you get soap in the tub).

We're in Kyoto, which is pretty well known as the most beautiful of Japanese cities. Supposedly, during the 2nd World War, the American Secretary of War decided against bombing Kyoto because of it's historical significance. Whatever the reason, we're staying in one of the few Japanese cities not rebuilt in the last 50 years, so there are a lot of old buildings, palaces, and gardens, as well as all the trappings of new city - like a subway, shopping malls, etc.

Japan is very different from Korea. Korea is generally dirtier, uglier (we've really only seen two cities in Japan, though, so it might not be fair to generalize), and more difficult to travel in than Japan. Here we can relax more, because everything is clean and safe. On the other hand, Japanese people are much more reserved than Koreans. They don't laugh as easily, or invite you home for dinner. The kids are shy, and the adults withdrawn. I used to always stick my tongue out at Korean kids, and they'd always make faces back, but here, if I barely look at a kid he'll lower his eyes.

We've found that in Japan and Korea everyone is eager to please, and to help us out if we need it. In both places people have gone out of their way to treat us well, so we have no complaints there.

The Japanese don't like conflict. They'd rather say that something is difficult than say it's impossible. They'll say "maybe you can't" when they mean, "NO." It's hard to realize it's happening even though I've heard about it dozens of times. I was booking our boat to Shanghai (a 46 hour trip, no less), and asked if Pauline and I would be in the same cabin (there are six beds in a third class cabin). The lady said, "maybe, maybe not." So I thought that maybe no cabins were assigned in that class, maybe we wouldn't be able to find one with two free mats (we'd be sleeping on tatami mats). Anyway, after questioning the poor lady on specifics (instead of understanding what she meant like a Japanese person would), she finally said that we probably couldn't stay together, and eventually that we couldn't. This sort of thing happens whenever we ask a direct question and the answer is not what we would want to hear.

I love Japan for the high tech stuff as well as for the gardens and palaces. Beer vending machines; ice cream vending machines; pay phones with jacks for your laptop or fax; automatic faucets, dryers, and urinals almost everywhere, even the occasional automatic cologne spritzer, and in some public toilets, sounds of nature that play as you move into position, to keep you from hearing your neighbors; and so much more.

But then there's also a worse side. Japan has many nightclubs that don't allow foreigners; many Asian toilets (which I can't stand); phenomenal prices for ordinary things (subway downtown and back - $5.00; cheapest, shortest taxi ride - $6.00; two carrots at a grocery store- $1.00); violently pornographic comic books; a completely male dominated society; horrible discrimination against the Korean minority here; and a 70% rate of males who get drunk every week. So, it's not paradise, but I like it.

The gardens are the best part, I think. Every detail is decided, from the shape of the rocks, to the pattern of the raked gravel, to the color of the carp in the pond. And everything represents something else. They really are beautiful and peaceful.

All in all, we've really enjoyed it here, and I think it was a necessary stop before three weeks of dirty, unsafe, hard travel in China. We leave Friday on that boat, and arrive in Shanghai at around noon on Sunday. I have no idea when we'll be able to get an email in China, so we'll have to play it fast and loose. I'm excited about getting back on the trail. Japan doesn't feel like real backpacking. Famous last words, probably.

There you go, that's all I've done on this page. I'll be putting text and pictures here soon. See ya!

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