The sun comes up early in Sendai, and seeing 定禅寺通り early in the morning with no one else walking its forested walks was a new sight.
When I came to Sendai Airport back in September I came in late at night and took a bus to town. Back then the train was still unusable, still a mess from the tsunami. The morning train out was the first time I got to have a look at what the tsunami did to that area. At first there's nothing startling about the fields of grass growing between the hills around the train tracks, until you notice the natural square shapes the grass is growing on. The patterns in the grass are the ghosts of the foundations of towns that use to be.
I took my flight from Sendai to Fukuoka, where I ran into some last minute passport / visa problems that I worked out just in time to board the flight to Korea. Good thing I had a little bit of a layover.
The lack of sleep made me feel like I took a teleporter to Korea -- I got on the plane, then was being punched awake by a stewardess telling me to turn off my music and put my seat back in the full-upright position.
I then hopped on a bus from the Jeju airport down to the town on the southern tip of the island, where I'd be staying for the duration of the conference.
After an hour on the bus I was dropped off on a hill with quite the view, although it was somewhat obscured by fog. Jeju was in the height of its rainy season and hadn't seen the sun in weeks.
So here I was in my destination town. My first set of hosts were going to meet me at a central area in the city, so I started walking along the bigger streets, going along with them as they merged like tributaries working their way to a large roundabout in the middle of the town. The Dunkin Donuts here was where I was scheduled to meet... some six hours from when I found it. I had no idea how to pass the time other than reading a book in a cafe, which seemed rather unappealing. So I took option two and walked around town with my monster of a backpack on.
I came to stop at a pedestrian crossing as the cars and scooters that had been waiting on a red light revved up their engines and started forward. At the same time, on the opposite side of me, the first foreign girl I had seen in the town came to a stop, waiting to cross the street. While we waited on the light I started a dialogue with myself.
Looking at my watch, it was still another five and a half hours until I would get to meet up with my hosts. I was hot and sweaty, tired of carrying around my backpack, and rather tired of wandering the city like a lost puppy. I'd have nothing to lose in just asking her... well, something, right?
The light changed, and I turned off my brain before it could shyly rebel to the plan. Halfway across the walkway, "Hey. I'm new to town and without a friend or anything to do. Would you mind hanging out?" someone (it couldn't have been me!) asked.
Man, if you ever get the idea to do something like that, please listen to yourself. I had an absolutely amazing first night in Seogwipo only because I did not back down from that little impulse.
It turns out that it was Yazmin's birthday just a few days ago. She told me that she had made a promise to herself on that day. She had promised herself that she was going to stay open to new opportunities, and what was a strange traveler looking for a friend if not a opportunity?
We walked to her apartment, I dropped my bag, we cooled down a bit, and then hopped in a car with two of her friends and their daughter. We had a great dinner, compared notes on Korea and Japan as a white person, and followed it up with
From the left you have Yazmin, me (trying out for a role as The Flash), little Emma, her mom Joy, and Joy's husband Matt.
Oh, and here's few photos made more fun with some post to show what's hidden in the dark.
May飛 Cafe & Backpacker's Bar
Joy got a phone-call from Kate, Yazmin's roommate, and mentioned that they were hanging out with a couchsurfing. Kate said her co-workers were suppose to be hosting someone that night, and a quick bit of coordination had my meeting with my hosts moved from Dunkin' Donuts to Maybe Cafe, where there was going to be a good gathering and live music to celebrate two years of being open.
I finally met up with Dan and Amy, my hosts, along with their co-worker Steve, a great guy from Florida, and by the end of the night, I'll be damned if I hadn't met every foreigner in Seogwipo. The music was good fun, the drinks seemed cheap compared to Japan, it was my first night in Korea and things were good.
The cafe was on an interesting street, decorated by a famous artist from the island. People were spilled out onto the street, enjoying the night air with their drinks. Here we have Dan, Amy, and Steve enjoying the music, the drinks, and the night air.
After a drink or two it was decided we would be changing venues to somewhere cheaper and more conducive to conversation (the music was just big enough for raised voices to be necessary). At the Backpacker's Bar (or something like that) we met up with even more people and the price of a drink plummeted from seven dollars to two. Ruh roh?
I met some interesting characters here, including a girl I had sent a couchrequest to, and the couchsurfer she was hosting instead of me, razzle frazzle. I was very happy with the hosts I had though - all along the walk to the bar Amy and I were tearing into each other like old pals. She got me all riled up though, and I kept tearing into people once we got to the bar, which earned me a verbal black eye or two later on from a lady from New Zealand. One chap had a guitar, and as the night went on, songs started getting requested. Ohhh drunken singing.
At some point we were in cabs going home, where another beer was set infront of me. I wisely chose to ignore it as five or six of us played a game of Apples to Apples. As I played my last card and said "I win" I closed my eyes and let all the hours of travel, lack of sleep the night before, and makkori kick me off into the darkness. At some point Dan got me to get to my bed, but I was pretty unsuccessful in my use of the mosquito net and woke up with three bites... on my forehead alone.
Still! The bites were part of day two, meaning day one was nothing but terrific, terrific fun. I'm terribly grateful to Amy and Dan for putting me up and taking me around, and to Yazmin, Matt, Joy, and Emma for allowing me to intrude on their evening before even that. You can look forward to more posts on Korea sometime within the next... year :D