Budget Yeti: Veggie Shopping in Korea

That old myth about going out in Korea being cheaper than cooking at home keeps cropping up and it always bothers me. Granted, many food items here are expensive, and costs keep going up. But it’s still cheaper almost every time to cook at home.

In Seoul, it pays to shop seasonally here. Unlike North America (and probably other places) there is a seasonal shift to produce prices here. Apples are super cheap in September, for instance, and now is Hallabong season. I think this is a good thing, environmentally of course but also habitually. Now some of these seasonal surpluses are strange to my eyes (why oh why is strawberry season in January?) but overall it’s a good system.

The area I live is kind of adjumma central–there aren’t really any bars or even noraebongs. In their place are lots of little markets though, and many good places to stock up on fruit and veg.

And stock up I do. The below list was all purchased at a biggish mart, which isn’t the very cheapest place around but it has good selection. Here’s a look at a week’s worth of veggies for two people. The total price is a little high because it’s a big bag of garlic but even still you can see how cheap it is.

Now this isn’t a complete meal, of course. You’d probably want to get a carb like rice (around $5 for a kilogram, or maybe $7 for 800 grams of brown rice) or udong (about 50 cents a package) or pasta (about 2.50 for 450 grams) or if you venture into Itaewon you can even get something exotic like basmati rice or couscous, though those start to get more expensive.

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A Typical Vegtastic Meal

The shiitake give you a little less protein than your standard mushroom, but not to worry. A big block of fresh tofu is about 2 dollars or the smaller, packaged ones are usually around 1 dollar.

Add it all together and a big, healthy meal with local produce is only a couple of dollars. There’s just not any restaurant that can compete with that. The cheapest comparable is a bowl of kalgooksu, which at a cheap place is around 4 dollars for a big bowl. For less than 4 dollars, this equals 4 bowls so it’s quite a bit cheaper.

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By contrast, this meal from Osegye Hyang, which had mandu, soup, and a gluten/rice dish (plus banchan) costs about 22 bucks.

Now I understand most people want a little more variety in their lives than daily iterations of the same meal. And not everyone is willing to make the effort to cook every night, even when they’re tired. Those are different reasons, though, from the tired old falsism that it’s much cheaper to eat out than cook at home. (And not very good reasons, either, in my opinion, although that’s neither here nor there.)

Yes, things are considerably more expensive now than they were 5 years ago but it’s still possible to cook for yourself and still not break the bank. That’s all for this installment of my rant. Thanks for listening!

Best of 2016 in pictures

Just like last year, I spent almost the entire year in South Korea, with a short trip to Japan constituting my only traveling. (And other than a trip to Seoraksan in the spring, I haven’t even traveled around Korea much this year; my weekends are filled with writing, playing RPGs, and writing.)

If 2015 got me back on my feet, 2016 sat me down at the table and fattened me up. It’s been a great year of urban wanders and veggie cooking. I’m still trying to figure out what’s in store for 2017, but it seems like it should have a bit more travels.

Anyway, here’s a picture from each month for the year.

January 2016

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January – The Frozen Wasteland of Yeoido

January – Yeoido gets quite a few visitors for the fall leaves, a lot more for the spring cherry blossoms, and even more in summer time for riverside picnics. Winter is, by contrast, empty and silent. Which is perfect for stark, chilly winter strolls.


February 2016

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February – Ice Turtle

February – For Sollal (Lunar New Year) I went on a writer’s retreat at a little area outside Seoul called Petite France. Petit France is kind of an underwhelming mini-theme park (with no rides) dedicated to The Little Prince.

After the conference, Nahid and I wandered around the area and climbed a small hill, where we discovered this frozen turtle fountain which was just above an ice festival.


March 2016

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March – Best Cake Ever!

March – Continuing the tradition of a birthday hike, a small group of friends took a quick jaunt up Namsan. Once there we ate some incredible Cookie Cream Pumpkin Spice cake from Plant before heading back into Itaewon and HBC for some live music. Good birthday!


April 2016

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April – Suwon Hwaseong Fortress

April – This spring went by quicker than ever, but a visit down to a friend in Suwon meant a day of walking around the fortress walls followed by an immense feast of Indian food and a round of Game of Thrones the board game. You can’t really see in this picture, but the trees were just bursting with blossoms. I’ve been to Suwon several times but this was the most beautiful of all.


May 2016

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May – Seoraksan’s Buddha

May saw my only trip out of Seoul, a return to my favorite part of Korea. We hiked up to Ulsanbawi, which was everything you could ask for: foggy, stark, dramatic, and squirrel-infested. But it was this friendly Buddha on the way up that really encapsulates the Korean mountainside.


June 2016

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June – Cozy vegan restaurant nestled in Insadong

June – With the dearth of vegan restaurants in Seoul, the discovery of Ose Gye Hyang was a beacon in the wilderness. It’s not a Loving Hut, but it’s owned by the vegetarian food company Vegifood that supplied Loving Huts with their supplies. I’ve been back a few times and for my money it’s the best vegan place in Seoul. (Plant is awesome but doesn’t really do Korean food).


July 2016

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July – Abandoned Bball Court in Children’s Grand Court.

July was hot as balls, and yet Nahid and I spent the weekends wandering far from the safe confines of aircon. One day led us, loaded with books and portable water coloring kits, (respectively) to Seoul Children’s Grand Park we spent a sweaty few hours wandering around and listening to the chorus of cicadas before sitting down to read and paint (respectively.) The discovery of this post-apocalyptic basketball court was just a bonus on our way out.


August 2016

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August- Toyoma Restored Castle

July – I’ve blogged about my disappointment with my big summertime trip to Japan, but the more time that goes by, the better the trip gets in retrospect. I guess that’s how it always works. Anyway, wandering around Toyoma was great practice in exploring a place I had no expectations of.


September 2016

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September – Mini Hike in the hills behind Insadong

September – Insadong keeps on popping up as my favorite place, month after month and year after year. It must be my favorite part of Korea, or at least one of them. This little hike is just an amendment to the proper one but the views from here are pretty cool.


October 2016

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October – Olympic Park and Lotte Tower

October was hot and autumn never really arrived. On the night before Halloween, I took Nahid to Olympic Park where I read “Shadows Over Innsmouth” to her as it slowly got darker and colder. Spooky! The Lotte Tower is doomed to collapse in ruin and tragedy, but for now it looks pretty cool.


November 2016

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November – Forest Temple

November – Fall went by oh-so-quickly this year, though I got out looking for leaves every weekend. This photo from a hill behind my house is one of my favorite views of Seoul.


December 2016

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December – Yeoinaru Station

December traditionally is kind of let-down in this series, but this picture was taken while we were filming a Cyberpunk short film that I wrote. A great entry for one of my best Decembers yet.

Past years: 2009, 2010, 2011,  201220132014 and 2015.

Yeti Eats: Measly, Mighty Feasting

Thanksgiving is not  one of my favorite holidays. Apart from the genocidal context, it’s pretty boring. I mean, I (really) like eating but I prefer holidays with a little more than just that. Especially because it takes hours of cooking and cleaning for 30 minutes of munching. Not the most efficient of holidays, but I can appreciate for a time to connect with friends and family and reflect on the goodness of your life.

But last year I made lentil shepherd’s pie for Nahid and she has repeatedly requested them again. I put her off throughout the summer, telling her it was an autumn food. With our limited cooking facilities (a hot plate and a toaster oven)  and my lack of dough making abilities, it’s a tall order. But if Tday isn’t the day for extravagant food, then I don’t know what is.

We just loaded up on veggies and I stir-fried eggplants, onions, garlic, bell peppers, broccoli, carrots, and King Mushrooms. I put that pan aside and cooked some lentils and spiced them with turmeric and sage. Then I made some dough with just flour/salt/baking powder and oil.

So I put down the crust, added the lentils and veggies, then topped with mashed potatoes. Then I put it in the toaster over for 15 minutes and actually it turned out really well.

For “pudding” I cut up some apples and added lemon juice, cinnamon, cloves, and other pumpkinish spices. Then put some crust on top, and then some apples on top of that. It didn’t come out as good as the Sheppard’s pie, but it was okay.

Most importantly, we’ve got leftovers for tomorrow. So maybe it’s not such a bad holiday after all.

Yeti Eats: Vegetus

There’s a new vegan restaurant open in Seoul, and it’s even conveniently located in HBC.

The space is nice, and compared to Plant, it’s positively palatial. There is a beer/cider fridge for those who want to wash down their meals with something intoxicating. The service is great too.

But for me it’s not a very good value. The prices are high and the portions are low and unlike Plant, it mostly tastes like stuff I can make. Take the Burrito Bowl, which at 12,000 won is not cheap. It’s almost entirely rice and lentils, with a little bit of sauce and cut up cilantro. For that price, it would be nice to have seitan or tempeh or well anything other than literally the two cheapest foods in the world.

I hate to be negative about any place, especially a vegan place, especially here in the land of omnivores. And the veggie burger was good. But I don’t know if I’ll go back, not when Marrakesh has a vegan sandwich for 5000 won just 5 minutes down the street.

Political Yeti: A Tale of Two Atrocities

Disclaimer: This post is entirely political. If that isn’t to your taste, please head somewhere else. I am an unabashed Leftist and that skews the way I see things.

I have said very little about the elections this year, not even back when Bernie Sanders was running. That is for three reasons. The first is that I really don’t like reality TV and in my opinion, these reports and memes and jokes really aren’t any different from the scripted reality tv you can find on any channel. Did people watching the debates learn any substantive? Or was it mere entertainment? As John Dewey said long ago, “As long as politics is the shadow cast on society by big business, the attenuation of the shadow will not change the substance.”
We’ll get to my second reason in a bit; it’s a bit unrelated.

But the third reason is that there is very little that can be said. Trump is a moron, yes. But it’s not the first year he’s run for President, and everyone seemed to forget that. It seems  manufactured how easily he rose to the top. It’s almost as if control of the media means something. And let’s not forget that despite how ridiculous, abhorrent, and offensive  Trump is, he’s not even as scary as, say, Ted Cruz or his own VP. There is not one good thing I can think of to say about Trump as a person, as a politician, or especially as a presidential candidate.

But … I don’t know that Donald Trump would make for a worse president than Hillary Clinton. Part of that is because he ran as a Republican. That means Democrats would oppose him, watch his every move. Hillary would be able to move with less encumbrance, as we’ve seen with some fairly conservative policies by Obama not be opposed by the left.

Sidenote, if someone like Romney had added more troops (30,000) to the Afghanistan War, refused to close Guantanamo after promising to, ordered Drone Strikes on US citizens, changed the definition of enemy combatant to any male over 18,  funneled billions of taxpayer money to banks, increased offshore drilling and generally helped the 1 percent, he would have been seen as a terrible president. Obama operates under different standards, apparently, and it’s reasonable to suspect that Hillary will too.

I’m going to say it: I think Hillary Clinton is a bad person. I don’t even care about the conspiracy theories and the right-wing suppositions. Her actual record is enough for me to know that as a liberal I can’t support her.

There are two things in particular  about Mrs. Clinton that horrify me.

Firstly she always votes for war. There are too many examples of this to list here, but here are some of the key points.

  1. She supported US bombing of Belgrade in 1999 (Kosovo War). She told reporter Lucinda Frank: [she] was traveling in Africa, called Bill, and: “I urged him to bomb”.
  2. She voted to invade Afghanistan in 2001
  3.  She supported sending 40,000 more troops to Afghanistan to fight the Taliban in mid-2003
  4. She voted to invade Iraq in 2002 – gave stirring speech in US Senate in support of it.
  5. As Sec. of State, she poorly handled the illegal military Honduran coup in 2009, but as recently as April 9, 2016, she defended the illegal coup. Honduras isn’t doing well these days.
  6.   She voted in 2006 to let US military continue to use cluster bombs in areas with concentrated civilian populations. 108 nations (but not the U.S.) have signed the Convention on Cluster Munitions, because they are the single most lethal weapon for civilian casualties in war.
  7.  And recently she spoke of no-fly zones over in Syria. This worries a lot of people–I don’t think it will lead to WWIII– but it will certainly “kill a lot of Syrians” (her own words.)

There are a lot more examples (Libya) but you get the point. If you think American lives are worth more than people in other countries, than I get supporting her. That’s not a traditional liberal value, however, and it puzzles me how many liberals overlook the fact that Clinton in power means that a lot of poor people will lose their lives.

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John Dewey – “Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself.”

The second point about Mrs. Clinton is that she’s very beholden to corporate interests. This is well documented. The NYT reported that Hillary Rodham Clinton will begin personally courting donors for a “super PAC” supporting her candidacy, the first time a Democratic presidential candidate has fully embraced these independent groups that can accept unlimited checks from big donors and are already playing a major role in the 2016 race.

There is indication of collusion between the Clinton Campaign and the DNC, and hiring Debbie Wasserman Schultz did nothing to distance herself from the speculation. Nor is the sudden vilifying of Assange, who was a leftist hero when he exposed Bush’s dirty underwear but now is more of a pariah than ever.

Forgetting right-wing rumors and unsubstantiated claims, her factual record speaks for itself. Hillary Clinton voted to bail out Wall Street, and the Glass-Steagall Act passed under Bill Clinton is one of the underlying causes of the 2008 financial crisis.(Admittedly, maybe she’s not to blame for that but it’s certainly consistent with her values.) She’s pro-fracking and has accepted millions from the fossil fuel industry, she voted for the Patriot Act twice, gave the infamous Super Predator speech, and she’s earned the praise of Henry Kissinger. Oh and just quietly? Trump isn’t the only one who wants to build a fence.

There’s a lot more, but I guess if that doesn’t convince you nothing will. I suspect that if Clinton was running against Reagan, liberals and moderates would have to choose Reagan as the more leftist choice. Perhaps it’s because my family grew up well below the poverty line, but I find impossible to ignore someone who consistently rewards corporations at the cost of opportunity for the impecunious.

I can understand voting Third Party. I can even understand the Chomsky “Hold your nose and vote for Clinton.” But I don’t understand this whole-hearted “I love Hillary” stance from the left. If you are reading this and you will/or have vote for Mrs. Clinton, I’d love for you to share why in the comments. I can’t see that a vote for her is anything but a vote for the American Empire, for war and bombs abroad and the rich getting richer at home.

Hillary Clinton is not Donald Trump; she appears far more intelligent, far more composed, and the people she represents a direct threat against are far less American. But the more I think about it, the more I think that might be exactly the point. Using a propped-up Bogeyman so that you are afraid of any choice but her. Maybe that’s not true;  perhaps Trump is a legitimate candidate. It doesn’t really matter.

By the way, my 2nd point that I alluded to earlier is just this. Ultimately I don’t think it matters for the US who is the next president. There is an idea that we need to act now to save the country, but I suspect that time passed long ago. But that’s a subject for a different time.

For the record, I’m posting this because I have seen many people I know vitriolically supporting Hillary Clinton. To the point where to even suggest an alternative is seen as offense. Many on the left have joined the right to become intolerant bullies when confronted by differing opinions. Luckily, no one reads this blog so I feel pretty safe.

In summary, this Simpsons episode is a little dated, but actually not dated at all.

Yeti Daytrips: Vegan Fiesta in Hongseong Village

Improbably, it was a facebook add that informed me about a Vegan daytrip. Well, FB must know I’m vegan and in Korea, but still it kind of surprised me. It was through a website called Playplanet, which I’d never heard of but looked kind of cool. The daytrip was expensive, but these things are in Korea, and just look at that menu. It looks like something my sister would eat in Portland, not the kind of grub available in Korea.

 

It started off with a long bus ride, then some “Traditional Korean dying” (which we hippies called tiedye.) The coolest part was for the yellow die we just used turmeric, which smelled pretty awesome. We then met some village elders who told us they used actual Ducks to eat the pests and thus go organic , and it is working well enough that 2 million tourists a year descend upon the town of 230 people to witness it. There are little statues of ducks throughout the village too.

Then we went to a fashion show put on by disabled Koreans while we drank lotus tea and ate Hangwa (Korean traditional cookies.)

 

The food, when it came, was pretty great. Buffet style in a historic Joseon dynasty house with no electricity and live musicians playing violin and a traditional korean instrument that sounded suspiciously like a kazoo.

 

 

But the whole thing was kind of weird too. Like, early on we learned that none of the people hosting the event were vegan or even interested in veganism. Frequently they filmed us and asked us questions about what we thought about s0-and-so. The people acted a bit strange and it almost felt like we were going to be recruited into a cult. While we were eating, the brought cameras and lights on us and asked us to sum up the experience in one word. So strange. In the end, we suspected (strongly) they were secretly making a promotional video for a catering company. Or something like that.

I dunno. It was a fun trip, and the food was good, but the bizareness of it kind of outweighed the postives. So all-in-all, pretty much your prototypical Korean experience.

On Hiking and Not Hiking in Japan

My first vacation (of more than 3 days) in a couple of years and Japan was calling. I thought about a few other places like Cambodia or Malaysia but Japan a) had cheaper flights and b) featured a rad hike that I couldn’t get out of my head. (The Nakasendo.) So I prepped a folder with hiking information and japanese phrases for explaining veganism and I hopped on a plane. The first stop was Kyoto, a legendary city of marvels and wonders.

Not Japan’s fault, but we didn’t get off on the right foot this trip. (Not to mention last time when they mistakenly wouldn’t let me board a flight to New Zealand.) Both in Korea and in Japan I was subjected to “random” pat-downs and bag-checks. I was even wearing my nice clothes and had my tattoos covered up. Anyway, no big deal but kind of a bummer to go through all that yet again.

I wander the stinking hot streets of Kyoto for 3 days. With humidity, it’s 45 degrees (113 F) and I get the worst case of chub rub I’ve ever had. Like, I’m waddling like a penguin but because my time is short I’m still walking 20+ km a day. Halfway through the second day I realize that I don’t much like Kyoto. It’s a surprising revelation, to me as well as to you, and I spend some time pondering why it might be. I mean, it’s a city that gets 50 million tourists a year so clearly it isn’t a bad place.

Contrary to my hopes, there aren’t really many bookstores and the two I visit don’t have much in the way of hiking books. Likewise, the much vaunted vegan restaurants disappoint-many are closed for the day or afternoon. Thus several long, sweaty walks ended up as fruitless endeavors. Luckily the convenience stores have inari and edamame and other good stuff so it wasn’t a major bummer. Also, the one place I did go to (twice), was the grubbing Cafe Matsuontoko.

So as to Kyoto. Most of it is boring city. The temples are nice, absolutely, but they are places you have to make an effort to get to. They’re not places you can stumble upon, which isn’t really my jam. Still, I’m glad I saw the city, and maybe I’d go back in spring or fall, but probably not.

I leave Kyoto and catch a train to the castle city of Hikone, which is were I was thinking I could hop on the Nakasendo. But between the lack of map, the heat, and my sore thighs, it just seems like a bad idea to hike. I make the call to just go to the Kiso valley (the best part) and before that to travel around and see some cool cities. Hikone is a very cool city, not swollen with tourists and has one of the best castles in Japan. Plus it has a samurai cat as a mascot. But it’s really hot here, so much so that most of the shops are closed even in the early afternoon.

The guesthouse I stay at is nearly tropical, and brand new. Apart from two other Japanese backpackers, the dorm is empty. It’s too hot to sleep though (32 degrees at 7:30 am) and I get up early and catch the train to Gifu, which is where the castle of a notorious warlord once stood. The rebuilt castle isn’t special, but the view from the hill is nice and there are cool weapons and artifacts in the small museum. It’s kinda special to stand in a place where once ninjas and samurai fought.

I actually have no idea of where I’m going next, but on a whim I head to a place I hadn’t heard of called Takayama.

This is probably the best decision I make on the trip.The ride itself is brilliant, ambling up into misty mountains, past rice fields and granite rivers, distant bridges and villages cut into the jungle.

Takayama is a wonderful, walkable city that is much cooler by virtue of being up in the mountains. There are temples and parks and villages and bridges galore. It’s much smaller than Kyoto, but it has the vibe I was hoping for. It also has half of Europe seemingly striding its narrow streets.There’s a festival with live music the night I arrive the closest I can come to describing the vibe is Pai meets Malakka.

I spend the next two days with my Swiss roomate Alex. Just 24, he saved up for a year on archaeological digs and had 7 weeks to travel Japan. We went to an outdoor museum/craft village and learn about things like silk worms and tofu pressing. We take off and put on our shoes, a lot.

The next morning we wake with the sun and bus further up into the mountains. A group of Spanish tourists become enamored with Alex’s boots and their tour guide actually starts presenting the boots (no lace, zip up) features to them.The hiking is perfect, pretty and cool and not too crowded. After 35 km of hiking in the Japanese Alps, we get back on the last bus and get back to Takayama. I have to change hostels and then Alex and I meet a couple we had met hiking for drinks.

This ends up a bad move. I come back before midnight to see that my hostel has a door code. I should have asked before leaving but they didn’t say anything and I didn’t ask. I come to rue this decision. It’s summer, so I think of sleeping in a park. But I make my way back to my friends and learn that the couple have an extra bed, so I crash with them for a few hours.

Phew. My hostel is very apologetic and end up giving me a cake and then, on my way out, refunding that night. They just opened this month so are working out all the kinks, so it’s a nice gesture on their part.

It’s time to make future plans again. But there’s a bit of a bummer. The post towns of  Tsumago and Magome are booked out, as are the towns on either side of them. There are places I can stay, but none for less than 100 dollars a night. So my raison d’être for coming to Japan is now discarded entirely.

 

I head north to a town called Toyoma. It seems to be more of a gateway to other places than a destination in its own right, but it has plenty of gardens and canals and even a reconstructed castle. I read a few books and wander the streets in my 2 days there. It’s a great little town, and it’s nice to say goodbye to the tourists again.

My flight back to Korea is on Sunday at 2 pm and I check out of my hotel Saturday at 11 am. My first thought is to spend the day in Toyoma, read in a park, and then catch a night bus. The night bus is all sold out though. The train ride is supposed to be beautiful and it’s less than four hours but it cost 120 dollars. So I catch a bus for 77 dollars and hope it’s not much longer. It is.

The bus leaves at 1:30 pm and I get into Tokyo at 1o pm. After that long (but comfy) bus ride, I think “Hey, it’s my first time in Tokyo. Maybe I’ll find a cheapish hotel, wander around a bit tonight, and then get up early tomorrow, explore some more, and then head to the airport.” The two hotels I check are booked and/or too expensive. So I catch one of the last trains to the airport and prepare to spend the night there, which was my very original plan.

It’s a good airport, but I feel sweaty from a long day and the few comfy places for sleeping have long since been claimed. No worries; I buy some edamame and start a new book.

Around 1 am I hear them announce “The Peach flight to Seoul will now begin boarding.” I actually text Nahid and say something like “I wish that was my flight.”

I read for 15 minutes or so before the daunting realization (that you no doubt already suspect) hits me.

What if that is my flight? After all, my ticket said leaving at 2:00, not 14:00 and there’s no am or pm. I grab my bag and jump on an escalator. As luck would have it, Peach check-in is right there and it is indeed my flight. Had I succeeded in night bussing or getting a hotel, I would have entirely missed my flight! What a chump move, man.

The flight’s delayed, and the Seoul subway is slow, so I don’t get back to my house until 8 am, as sleepy as can be. The vacation now officially over, I fall in bed and sleep like the sleepiest sleeper that ever slept.

 

Even without the official hike, I walked 231 km in my 11 days, and despite sleeping in hostel dorm rooms, eating almost entirely at convenience stores, not drinking very much alcohol, and taking the cheapest transportation possible, I spend almost a month’s salary in my time there.

It was technically my 4th trip to Japan, but at 11 days this was longer than the other three put together. As I said at the beginning, I was jonesing for Japan but whether it was the heat, the high costs, or my unrealistic expectations, I left Japan thinking I might not ever go back. On previous visits, I felt like Japan was just a much better version of Korea, but this time I was actually kind of happy to come back.

On the other hand, I still wouldn’t mind actually trying the Nakasendo some day.