I sat down to write about what's been going on lately, mostly in an effort to not forget (as always) and ended up writing a bit here and there about my experiences couch surfing over the last year. Enjoy.
Couchsurfing is a website that helps folks find accommodations and friends in new towns for, here's the kicker, free (like beer). Search for the town you're looking to stay in and a list of folks will come up. Some are just looking to have a meal with a stranger, some will be happy to take you around to see some of the sites in town, and some will even go as far as letting you crash at their place, on the couch. Thus, CouchSurfing.
Popping my surfing cherry
It's always a bit hard to explain to someone who hasn't seen the system in motion, but CouchSurfing has been a pretty terrific thing while I've been here in Japan. My first night in Sendai I would be getting in to town too late to move immediately into the dorm and would have to stay somewhere. I got in touch with a lovely couple from Canada and the UK and had friends (and a place to stay) my first night in the big city. They even went as far as feeding the hungry traveler and ferrying his luggage to him later on in the day.
Being a "host" in Japan
A few months went by and that couple more-or-less left Sendai behind, taking themselves off of the CS results for Sendai. Without them, there really wasn't anyone left in a city that was sure to have people passing through, as we're the last big town in the Northeastern part of Japan until you get all the way up to Hokkaido. It's not something I would mention to the people I signed my dorm contract with, but I decided to open up my teeny tiny room to those travelers who cared more about meeting people and their wallet than, well, convenience and privacy.
Just the same, when describing my couch I thought I may have been overly negative about the way my room looked, as I didn't get my first surfer until January. He was an interesting character, a Japanese man who had decided to all of his university life in America and coincidentally had been living in Boulder the past few years. He took advantage of his outside-of-Japan residency status to get a train pass and spend a few weeks travelling Japan. He stayed two nights, and then was gone, my only proof he was ever real the child he left behind with me.
Continuing A Story of Nightlife and Zombies
From there it was just another month until I did my second surfing experience, this time with Jennifer backing me up as surfer numero dos (in fact, this continues a bit of the the story after the Tokyo Zombie Apocalypse). We stayed in an apartment a British expat rented out as a place to teach English. We stayed there both nights we were in Sapporo, getting to meet up with Amanda and her Japanese husband for a great ramen dinner one of the nights. When we went to Niseko for skiing they had us take the key along, so that when we got back we stayed one last night before our flight out.
My friend from Kyoto, Hiro, joined us that last night we stayed at Amanda's place, and boy did it take a long time to get through to him just exactly what the situation was for us to be staying there. He kept referring to Amanda as the "manager" of the place, which just left us both confused. Like I said, this CouchSurfing business hard to grasp without seeing it firsthand.
Beer and Bed near a Beach in Thailand
I next used CouchSurfing when I went to Thailand. My first night I planned on staying in Ao-Nang, the large and easily accessible town near my climbing destination, mostly just to get oriented and hear some pointers from the gent who agreed to put me up. Joe was an American trying to open the Thai to the idea of microbrewing, and I threw in a hand and bottled a hundred or so in return for his hospitality.
The morning after our endeavor Joe refuelled me with fried rice, friend eggs, and bacon. My heart stopped working, but the rest of me was ready to go kick some butt. My first day in Thailand: great success, thanks to CouchSurfing.
Surfing in Bangkok
So, something happened while I was in Thailand that forced me to rearrange my schedule a bit and spend my last few days in the country in Bangkok working on some visa / passport issues. I made a short-notice request to a "Phylisto" from Germany who had made a life for himself in the megapolis.
He put me up for a few days and also took me out to a couchsurfing party, where I met up with some forty other couchsurfers and hosts that were in the area. That was definitely pretty different.
So, Phyl was quite the enigma. He works in the field of, er, websiting? Hmm, how to put it. You know all those MMO games that are so dang popular, like World of Warcraft? He makes money off the people who love those sites. Honestly, every little bit of info he leaked left me so darn hungry to know more about what it was that he did. It was fascinating to meet someone who was making a living off of something that use to constitute a large part of my time.
Eventually, though, I just had to accept that who exactly he was within that nebulous and dark world of online gaming would just have to remain a mystery to me.
You may have noticed that the majority of my interactions with CouchSurfing up to this point had mostly been as a surfer. It's not that I was turning down lots of requests, but rather that they just weren't come. Sendai is a bit further north than most travelers might want to deal with in the winter. But after I came back from Thailand the seasons began to swing, and with that came a change...
Golden Week is a series of consecutive holiday's in Japan that ends up with everyone getting the week off, or close enough. It's famous for the number of people who hit the road and get moving, and is responsible for things like 27km traffic jams.
It's also responsible for things like a massive surge in the number of couch requests coming in to my mailbox. I hosted back to back to back, starting with a Japanese girl from Tokyo, followed by a guy from Mexico, another guy living in Hiroshima, from South Africa, hitchhiking his way around northern Japan, and finally finishing with an American from California / Chicago. Oh, and I've got another guy staying for two nights this Sunday.
It's been interesting to talk with all these people. In particular though, I was sure that the girl from Tokyo hadn't actually read the conditions of the room. No way would a Japanese woman feel comfortable sleeping in the same room as a foreigner she had never met? But, no, she was just fine with it and her two nights crashing at my door went just fine.
(I think) had a good time going out to eat and do some Karaoke with the people I introduced her to. We even dueted Magic Carpet Ride from Aladdin. Also, all this CouchSurfing is where the food pictures came from the other day. Couch surfers like cow tongue.
It has come to be that I will be in Korea's version of Hawaii during the second week of July for a conference. I've been given up to $700 to help with the plane ticket, and with the help of couchsurfing on the side it'll be more than affordable, as well as a great chance to meet interesting people.
Cheers to all my surfers and all the people who have, and will, put me up!