Tuesday 13 September 2016

The End is Nigh-ish

Hi there.
As I suggested several months ago, it might be a long time until I decided to post again, and so it was. It was a long, hot summer, hitting the mid-thirties most days with humidity stalling up around 75%. That's a lot of sweat. It hit the foreign teachers earlier than it did the Koreans - it seems Westerners sweat a lot more than Asians (really, I'm not making that up. They also have powdery ear wax whereas ours is wetter. Look it up.) but it caught up with them eventually as well, and after a short commute you would find the staff crowded around the air conditioners at work. This was the first summer I've ever had to work the whole way through, and it made me realise why so many people go into teaching for the holidays. Even in Spain we were never more than a few weeks away from the next significant break, which really hasn't been the case here. As I explained much earlier in the year, while kids here do officially have a vacation, it's not really a vacation at all. Most of them undertake extra classes or study academies for the summer, so we actually saw more of some of the kids in the summer than we did during the school term. And I, like them and the entire South Korean workforce, have been burning out. Koreans work some of the longest hours per week in the world, but suffer from some of the lowest efficiency rates per hours worked. People feel as if their lives are spent at work, and they get very little done. With a slowing economy though, it doesn't look as if there's set to be any major overhaul of work culture. From my own perspective, it's led to a deep malaise setting in, and I was both excited and relieved when my only week off in the year finally arrived in early August (not before my boss put me under pressure not to take it at all; her view is that her Korean staff don't take any vacation at all in the entire work year, and that I shouldn't either).
All of the lights, Shinjuku, Tokyo

Sorry Korea, but you're not Japan
In this week I hit up Tokyo and Kyoto, finally getting to the country I probably should have moved to in the first place. This wasn't really intended as a travel blog, so I'm not going to give you a breakdown on all the things you should do and see in Japan, though they are plentiful. Japan is exceptionally clean and safe, often beautiful, very friendly, remarkably easy to get around (except for the labyrinth that is the Tokyo Subway system) and pretty expensive. Tokyo was overwhelming in its heat, crowds and size, but could never leave you bored, and hiking Mount Fuji overnight, reaching the peak in time for sunrise was one of the highlights of the trip (especially given it didn't rain on the mountain that night). From watching sumo training to the weird arcades and maid cafes of Akihabara, to the people dressed as anime characters for fun in the street via the famed Shinjuku Crossing, Tokyo is worth several days of your time. But I left my heart in Kyoto. A far smaller and more manageable city, you couldn't swing a cat for hitting a beautiful temple, garden, shopping arcade, or landing said cat in a fantastic bowl of ramen.
6am atop Mt. Fuji. Hungry, tired, sweaty and cold, but with a view of the sun above the clouds.
So I finally got to visit a country I've been dying to see for years, and it was the only week out of this whole Korean experience where I got my head out of my damn job.
The Yen is not the Won
When buying my flights from Korea to Japan I thought I had landed an exceptionally cheap flight, only to discover a few minutes too late that I was dealing in Japanese Yen, not Korean Won. About 100 Yen equals €1, whereas it takes 1000 Won to do the same, so I had actually paid ten times the price I thought I had for the flight. Oh well. Live and learn.
Ticking "Earthquake in Asia" Off The Bucket List (With No Drama)
The windows and walls had a short-lived boogey a few days ago, but it was all over before anyone had time to shout "earthquake". Turns out it hit further south, somewhere around 5.5 on the Richter scale, but there was no damage. Unlike last weekend in China, at least this one wasn't caused by Kim blowing things up across the border.
My Last 2 Months
I'm getting out of Dodge 7 or 8 weeks from now, with a few trips in the works, which I'll go into in my next post, provided I can get my passport back from the Chinese embassy with a Double Entry Visa on it; if not, I'll have spent a whole lot of money on a whole bunch of trips that won't go ahead. Lastly, I passed my red belt test in late July, and I'm practising to see if I might manage to pass the first black test in a fortnight's time. If I can manage that, I'll give a bit of an explanation of my year with taekwondo, and what I both like and dislike about it.
So you'll probably hear from me once more via this medium. It'll sure be good to see all of your faces again soon.
All the best, for now.
An unwise choice of shirt colour for Test Day, but I swear there's a red belt over it