Category Archives: Japan

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.

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Best of 2015 in Pictures

I’ve been doing this for a while now: 2009, 2010, 2011,  20122013 and 2014 . Unlike the last couple vagabondy years, this year I spent entirely in one country (with a one weekend in Japan visa run exception). While this year didn’t have visits to Everest or the Grand Canyon, overall it was nice to get back into a groove and start saving some money again.

2015 will be characterized for me by my job at the Talking Club, by the friends I made with the Scifi Meetup group, and by weekends spent teaching English at the Buddhist temple. I juiced fresh veggies and cooked a thousand stir-fries and drank a thousand thousand smoothies and my weight in hazelnut coffee. It’s a year that got me back on my feet.

January 2015

January 2015January – I almost took a terrible job outside of Seoul but I’m so glad I didn’t. It made for a financially precarious time for a while but also gave me time for long city wanders, such as this one up to Namsan. I was listening to Animal Farm on audiobook and now this mountain and that story are forever linked in my mind.


February 2015

February 2015February was the one time I escaped Korea this year.  I went back to Fukuoka where I spent a lovely weekend full of walking and seeing new sights. This picture was taken in a small canal town about half-an-hour out of the city. It was early in the morning and raining hard and few people were around.  These hardy souls didn’t seem to mind at all though.


March 2015

March 2015Birthday hike with some of my coolest friends. They didn’t even mind when I zigged instead of zagged and we missed the place we were looking for. Not only was it a good hike, with hummus for a snack, but after we played board games and ate some fun vegan food. Good birthday!


April 2015

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This hike, along Bukhansan’s Dullegil, was in early spring with the blossoms raining down along with the rain, which was also quite good at raining down. For whatever reason, I quickly entered a natural high on this hike and stayed that way for all 7 hours. It was just too nice walking up and down the mountains in the soft spring mist.


May 2015

May 2015

May weekends I walked an hour to Yeouido Island and played basketball until my legs stopped working and then walked home. This view of the 63 building was along the way. I like the juxtaposition of a field of towers with the immensely tall building.


June 2015

June 2015

In June I went to a sheep cafe! ‘Nuff said.


July 2015

July 2015City wanders in Seoul often reward with unexpected art. This wall in Sincheon is equal parts random and sweet.


August 2015

August 2015In August I took time off from the temple and went down to  Gyangju. What a nice city! Burial mounds and observatories and temples and lakes and this Unesco World Heritage Temple, Bulguksa. It was hot as blazes but a place I’d like to go back to.


September 2015

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In September I went back to Insadong as part of a year long project to write a walking tour to the area. This view of the moon over the giraffes was pretty cool.


October 2015

October 2015Halloween at Everland. What more could you want?


November 2015

November 2015It was a long autumn filled with plentiful leaves but these Suyu bongo trucks really strike my fancy.


December 2015

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Not a lot of pictures this month, but the first snow was pretty great. As much as I love snow, it’s almost better to see how cranky my students get. These kids don’t love snow because it’s too cold and they come bundled up to class in ski jackets and scarves and mittens.

So you’re going on a visa run to Fukuoka

Firstly, this information changes quickly. With my trip coming, I googled around a bit and found a lot of conflicting information. None of it was particularly old. So as of February 2015, this is absolutely correct but it no doubt will be out-of-date sooner rather than later.


Step 1: Get to the Airport. Take the Earliest Flight you Can

Korea-Incheon-International-Airport-Deperture-lobby-overview

Ideally, you would want to catch a flight at 7 am from Incheon. My flight was at 8 and I slept at the airport the night before. You cannot get through security to the really nice sofa lounge, but there are plenty of benches and charging points in the general public area.

Even then, I had to pay for a super expensive cab just to make sure I got to the Embassy in time.


Step 2: Get to the Embassy

Korean Embassy

Korean Embassy

The first new thing I found is that the Korean embassy in Fukuoka now closes for applications at 11:30. (It used to be 11:00) From the airport, it takes an hour on the subway (which is ten times cheaper than a cab and only two times as slow.) If you land and get through customs by 10, you should have enough time. First, take the free shuttle bus to the domestic terminal. This takes around 10 minutes.

Then hop on the subway and take it to Tojin Machi. This is 9 stops from the airport and it takes 30-40 minutes. Get out and leave via exit 1 and walk straight about 300 meters (5 minutes), then turn right at the big intersection and go about 400 more meters (6-7 minutes.) The Korean Consulate, recognizable by its flag, is on the left hand side.

The actual address, should you need it, is 1-1-3 Jigyohama, Chuo0Ku, Fukuoka, Japan, 810-0065.

The Phone Number is 81-(0) 92-771-0461/3.

If you do want to take a cab, get a map from the information desk and ask for them to write the name of the embassy in Japanese.

this is what it looks like

this is what it looks like


 Step 3: Everything you Need

  • Visa Application Form (available online or at the embassy.)
  • Name of your academy
  • Name of your employer
  • DOB of your employer
  • Phone number in Korea
  • Address in Korea
  • Visa issuance number
  • Passport Photo (1)
  • Fee in Cash (Yen) For Americans, it costs 5.400 Yen. It’s 7,200 Yen for Canadians, Kiwis, Irish, and SAers. Ozzies pay 14,400 Yen and Brits must shell out 24,000.

Step 4: Passing Time

Dazaifu

Dazaifu

Get your receipt–make sure it’s stamped–and come back in two days between 1:30 and 4:00 pm. If you are going in February, book your room early or you might end up having to pay a fair chunk of money. Fukuoka is full! Not only are there people on extended Lunar New Years, and loads of other visa runners, but also many parents are in town to see their children graduate. I couchsurfed the first night and then slept in a manga cafe the 2nd night. The hostels and all hotels under 100 dollars were full a week before.

There is quite a bit to do in Fukuoka for two days, but I recommend taking a day trip or two. Beppu is an amazing land of hotsprings, and almost as nice is the old capital Dazaifu.


Ask for this in the airport

Ask for this in the airport

I think that about covers it. Let me know if you have any questions.

Things to do in Osaka When Your Flight is Cancelled

Our flight from Korea to Japan started off quite lovely. The check-in at Seoul went without a hitch, and before long we were above the ground in a tiny plane, gliding over the Sea of Japan.

The stewardesses were nice, and I got a Kirin beer (learning, in the process, that a Kirin is monster of some sort.  See below.)

The view was blue sky and clouds the whole way; very Simpsons-esque. We had cleverly changed some won to yen, so we loaded up on Japanese snacks–rice balls, seaweed chips, edamame things. For savory snacks, I think Japan is the best country I’ve been to.

We had a 5 hour layover, so we ate, read (1Q84 for me, naturally), slept, stretched and chilled out. With about 45 minutes left, they called our names. We went to check-in to learn that they wouldn’t let us on the next plane. Yikes!

Rachel is a NZ citizen but her passport expired a month or two ago. She had entered Korea on her US passport anyway, and was only staying in NZ for 3 months, same as me, so she was flying to NZ as a Yank as well. The problem is that the Japanese Air New Zealand staff decided we needed to have onward tickets. Then they decided that Rachel didn’t, even though legally we were the same. First they told me I had to buy a ticket back to Korea. Then they said to the US. Then they said, no back to Korea. In short, they had no idea what they were talking about.

Time was running out. Our plane was already boarding. We ran over to some ridiculously slow free computers to try and book me a ticket. The computers were too slow, and they continually froze up. The staff was nice but very firm.  I had to have a ticket to … somewhere.

The thing is: we had checked New Zealand immigration rules. One of their stipulations is that you need to have proof of onward flight OR proof of sufficient funds. We showed this to the guy who was helping us (his name was Hiro) but he didn’t seem to understand the concept of “or.” He even called NZ immigration, but the guy there chastised Rachel for “just waltzing up after a few years gone.” Eventually, he too said she could catch the flight but he hung up when she asked him about me.

The flight was gone. The next flight wasn’t until 2 days later. Even though we had a ton of money, we had just transferred it all to her account the day before–we couldn’t access any of it. We pictured sleeping in the airport for a few days. Rachel’s family had all taken time off to come meet us, and now they couldn’t. It was, in short, a bummer.

In order to clear customs, we had to write our hotel down. This was impossible, for obvious reasons. A staff member offered to call a nearby one–after she talked to him, she told us they had rooms. The only problem–the rooms were 13,000 yen! (175 USD).  I think I laughed, a bit too loudly. We had about 500 yen on us and weren’t sure if we could any more out. We both wrote “airport” on our immigration cards where it asked for the hotel name, and we somehow got through.

It was late, now, after 10, and while Rachel was phoning Air New Zealand about getting us booked on the next flight, I hopped online (3 dollars for 10 minutes!) and emailed our families about what had happened. I also googled for cheap hostels and found one. It took some perseverance and some luck, but we got money out–somehow. Chuffed, we got on one of the last trains and headed into Osaka.

The hostel was rad. It took some work, but I got an onward flight and my visa (to Melbourne, which is one my favorite places in the world). We didn’t have access to much money, but we walked the rainy, neon-lit city for hours and hours and hours and lived off convenience store rice balls.  When we asked the locals what there was to do in Osaka, they said “Go to Kyoto.”  I still want to visit Kyoto, but  Osaka was great. Every time I go to Japan, I realize it’s just like a way better Korea.

As always, I’ll let some of our pictures do the talking.

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ESL Teaching 101: South Korea

There are surprisingly few paths available to those who want to travel long term. Save up at an office job for a few years. Become a digital nomad. Pick fruit. Become an au pair. Teach ESL.

Teaching is one of the most popular choices, as it pays decent money (depending on where you are) so that you can live abroad for a year (or more) and be set up to travel more when you have finished your contract. There are a lot of places to teach: Oman, Saudi Arabia, Japan, China, Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan, Korea, Georgia, and many more. Each of these places has some good and some bad. I can say, fairly definitively, that the easiest place to get a job is Korea. (Yes, South Korea. No one goes to North Korea, I promise.) You do not need your TEFL. All that you need is a Bachelors.

Now, you do have to jump through a lot of hoops. Gone are the days when your interview was one Korean asking if you spoke “Englishee” and hiring you if remembered not to say “Neh.” Also, and this sucks, it helps to be blond haired and blue eyed. But since your school will fly you here, find you an apartment, and pay for your rent, you can get to Korea without much saved up. Other great places, Taiwan and Japan especially, require you to have loads of money already in your bank account.

As a general rule, jobs in the Middle East pay a lot better. They also have much longer contracts–3 years isn’t unusual. In Korea, it would be pretty hard to get anything other than a year contract. As the economy stays horrible in our home countries, more and more people are making a career out of working for one school. I have heard that there are something like 40,000 jobs a year and about 35,000 applicants, so there are jobs year round, although keep in mind that most statistics are made up. And the best times to look for a job are in March and September.

You can use a recruiter, or just check Dave’s ESL, a place to look at that has hundreds of job announcements and also is the sort of unofficial font of wisdom in terms of forums. The only caveat is that it does seem to attract unhappy posters a lot more than positive–which you’d probably expect. People having lots of fun don’t usually take the time to post. But the job listings there (and at Workandplay) are great for finding a job. A better place for forums/discussion is waygook.org.

I personally wouldn’t use a recruiter because they really only want to sign you up with a school and make their money. They don’t care too much if they put you where you’ll be happy.

Some things to think about: What city would you want to live in? Seoul is the second largest city in the world, crazy busy, and has the most foreigners in the country. Other places are more kicked back, closer to mountains or beaches, but less convenient and less Westerners. (Normally I’d say get as far from other Westerners as possible, but there’s the language barrier to think of and Koreans have a reputation for being somewhat xenophobic). Initially I was thinking of a city other than Seoul but I quickly decided on the capital.

Then you have to decide if you’d rather teach a public school or a private (hagwon). Though hagwons usually pay a bit more money, they can be quite dodgy and it’s a crapshoot if they’ll live up to any of their promises. (There are blacklists you can check but they’re not comprehensive). Public schools have more vacation time and you know you’ll be paid on time, etc. But you have huge classes and it’s hard to work in Seoul, plus the pay is quite a bit lower.

You might not be able to choose this, but you want to think about what ages to teach. Most teach kindergartners, but you can teach all the way up to high school. The younger kids you teach, the less actual grammer you need to know. but the more energy it will take. Many who teach young children find they lose the ability to speak in complete sentences, so keep that in mind as well.

Any school you want to look at should provide at a minimum 1) free round trip airfare 2) paid accommodation in (non-shared) housing 3) a severance pay of one month at the end of your 12 month stay. Although the US dollar sucking has made it not as good a deal as it used to be, you can still (depending on your spending habits and any possible debts you might be paying off) end the year with anything from 8000 to 12000 saved up. Japan is a stone’s throw away, and China is very close too so the opportunity to travel is very real. Or you can save during the year, and then get a free one way plane ticket somewhere and travel to your heart/savings content when your contract is finished.

Photo of the week: Time to Shrine

Buddhist Shrine, originally uploaded by ahikerp.

This picture of a Buddhist Shrine was taken at Aso-san, near Fukuoka.

The Best of 2009

2009 was a great year. As of February, I began teaching in Korea, went to Japan for an amazing vacation, and hiked, sang and explored my way through Seoul.

I’ve looked back and picked a picture from each month; a picture that in some way encapsulated that time. (This post is technically two years late, but that’s just a formality. All opinions have not changed.) Without further ado:

January 2009


McMenamin’s beer isn’t my favorite, but the pubs are always fun. And their IPA is quite nice.

February 2009


My first month in Korea was fairly amazing; this mishmash of graffiti in Hongdae kind of summons up the random factor of Seoul that I still dig.

March 2009


My first birthday in Korea was amazing–a full day affair that ended only long after the sun came up. I also learned the power of “Bohemian Rhapsody” in noraebong.

April 2009


April was my first (and maybe still best) experience in drinking with business men. We met the self-proclaimed “Dancing King” of Korea; drank a lot of plum wine and soju, shot midnight hoops, and sang national songs.

May 2009


May saw the first visit to Lotte World. Although the rides are sweet, it’s just as good for anthropological reasons; matching couple outfits, peanut butter squid, and hundreds of cute animal ears available for purchase.

June 2009


June continued the theme of exploration, and led us to Seoul Grand Park. It’s a massive area, with an amusement park, a Zoo, and a Rose Garden. You can ride an air gondola over the whole thing and see nearby mountains like Cheonggysan in this picturesque place.

July 2009


Summer break! A trip to Fukuoaka in Japan. One of the highlights was a daytrip to Beppu, a steamy town of monkeys, hotsprings, and sex museums.

August 2009


In August, we went on our second Adventure Korea trip. It wasn’t the greatest, but it did involve some great river swimming. The river was clean and green–it felt like swimming in the Pacific Northwest.

September 2009


This was our second trip to Seoraksan; it was nearly deserted and so green. We found time to go swimming and hike up some steep stone stairs–enabling this look down into the valley.

October 2009


My mom visited! Her visit had so many highlights, but for all of us the visit to the Buddhist temple on Bukhansan was particularly memorable.

November 2009


Our first visit to Olympic Park came at the exactly correct time–the midst of autumn.

December 2009


Christmas day saw a chilly visit to an outdoor theme park (alluded to in June) and a big dinner at On the Border, which has pricey but quite good Mexican food.