Lots has gone on this past week. I think I’ll expand on the food related stuff on the Food Journal.
Vacation ended last weekend. I had been standing up Brant all week long because of other commitments and my head cold. Finally, I had Saturday free and healthy to make the two hour trip to Ilsan to hang out with him. Eun Jeong wanted to come too so she could hang out with his fiancée Terra. She also wanted to try Brant’s special surprise – durian.
Brant had found frozen durians at his local Carrefour, and he had been enticing me to come up to Ilsan to finally try this stinky fruit. He and Jeremy had tried it in Thailand at the same time as the tsunami at my suggestion. He didn’t seem to like it back then, but he wanted to try it again.
I myself have been wanting to visit Brant since he moved to Ilsan over a year ago. Brant has visited me a few times. It was only fair that I go visit him and see why he loves the area so much.
Before we went, I made a banana bread, the best one I’ve made yet.
Eun Jeong and I took the subway to Seoul Station and then got an express bus for the 45-minute ride to Ilsan. It was already past five when we greeted Brant at the curbside.
His new apartment is great. It’s another loft apartment for him. We munched on banana bread, beer, dried squid, and fruit while watching Tony Bourdain episodes – particularly the one on Korea and his pornographic durian eating scene in the Indonesia episode.
Terra’s maid of honor showed up, and we went out to find dinner. Brant introduced me to what he calls “meat street.” It’s a line of restaurants all grilling racks of ribs.
I also got a nice shot of a Chinese restaurant. This is one of the few shots that I haven’t enhanced in Photoshop.
Brant and I wanted to eat grilled meat. The girls didn’t want anything greasy.
We settled on a HaemulTang (seafood soup) restaurant. And it turned out to be the best HaemulTang I’ve had yet. Of course, Eun Jeong was clowning around after a toast or two of soju.
The soup was crowded with sea critters. I’ll elaborate more on that in the Food Journal.
Along with our experience eating durian for the first time, which is up now in the Food Journal.
It was getting late, and we had to rush home before the buses shut down for the evening. We caught a bus from Ilsan that promptly broke down after a few blocks. We then caught another one to Seoul Station. It was one A.M. by then, and we were worried we wouldn’t get a bus back. We luckily found a bus to Anyang that stopped working at 1:30. This was a new route between Anyang and Seoul we had discovered that night. Good express bus that eliminates the need to take the long subway route.
Immigration caused us new problems this week. They had told us to return and sign up for my new visa after my old one expired on August 5th. They wouldn’t do anything because Unnamed Hagwon Owner refused to process my exit order, stating that I no longer worked at Unnamed Hagwon. When Chris returned to Immigration, like they told him to do, they told him that I was supposed to already be out of the country. I had overstayed my visa. The downside of it was that, well, I was breaking the law and I couldn’t get a new visa until I left the country. The upside was that if I overstayed for a long time without Unnamed Hagwon Owner ever processing my exit order, she would have gotten the fine, not me.
Eun Jeong and the school went into crisis recovery mode. They booked a flight for me to fly to Fukuoka, Japan, the cheapest available, so I could spend the day there and return that evening.
On Thursday, I got up at 6 A.M., had my coffee, and headed down to Beomgye to catch the Airport Limousine bus. The line was long, and I had to catch the second bus. I got to Incheon Airport in good time. I got my boarding pass quickly, went through security and then to Immigration.
At Immigration, I was stopped. He saw that I had overstayed my visa and told me to go to an office behind him. I entered and showed the official my passport. I started to explain about what happened and the misinformation Immigration in Omokgyo told us, but he cut me off and told me to wait.
Minutes later, a lady in a flowery Hawaiian shirt (I think they’re the new uniforms for Asiana Airlines) escorted me back through security and to another Immigration office. We took a number and waited even more. The official looked at my passport and went through a lot of typing. She scribbled on my boarding pass and passport, stamped it, and handed me a paper saying, “You overstayed your visa for five days.”
That was it. I didn’t get a fine, but I almost missed my flight because of that. I was the last person on the airplane.
The flight to Fukuoka was just an hour. It’s a few miles southeast of Busan, the southeastern port city of Korea. This is the place foreigners from Busan go to get their visas and where cheap schools send their teachers. It’s a lot smaller than Osaka, which I found comforting, in a way.
I also noted a few things that should help other folks entering Fukuoka and Japan in general. One thing mentioned on other sites is to change your money while still in Korea. I changed my money in Japan this time, and it was a bit of a headache. I had to fill out a form, which was given to a bank teller. She went over it all and checked some stuff out. She then had to send it to her supervisor, who did the same thing. It was ten minutes before I got my money. In Korea, you just hand them the money (all cash, no coins) to the teller with your passport. In less than a minute, it’s done.
The trick with Fukuoka is transportation. It took a while for me to figure this out, and a little bit of just jumping on whatever bus I saw. There is no subway at the international terminal. I think there aren’t any local buses there either. I took the free transit bus to the domestic terminal, which is a fifteen minute ride, and found the subway there.
I had gotten some brochures at the information counter – some were actually in English this time – and figured out where to go and what to buy.
The significant thing to me about Fukuoka is that it’s home to the first Zen Buddhist temple in Japan. And anyone who knows the name of my web sites, my long-time internet persona, and the name of my third born knows how big this is to me.
The maps don’t help at all. And the subway recommendations were even worse. While wandering, I found a park with the statue of an old Japanese emperor.
And there were pigeons all around the incense shrines, some of whom thought my camera had some food.
This trip was turning out exactly like my trip to Osaka a year ago. It was hot August heat. The cicadas were creating the soundtrack to the city. Yet everything else was eerily quiet. I walked down the streets with the “Lost in Translation” soundtrack on my MP3 player (a Creative Zen player, by the way).
The Zen temple was way off the beaten track. That fact and the misleading information in the brochures, I’m sure, were the reasons why I was the only tourist there. I mean, the only information in English, again, was the word “Information.”
The only people there were elderly strollers and workmen.
And I snapped the classic picture, Zen at the Zen Temple.
Later, I found an actual Zen garden.
And Zen at the Zen Garden. You can see I was experimenting with self portraits. Too many of my pictures are empty.
(NOTE: The cap I am wearing can be bought at the ZenKimchi Korean Fun Store.)
I was getting hungry. I found the subway stations were really close together, which didn’t justify spending $2 each time I wanted to go a block or two. Fukuoka seemed small enough to just walk through.
From the Zen temple, I walked downtown. I was getting hungry. Sushi is not considered good in the summer. From what I had read, Fukuoka is known for a few foods, particularly its ramen noodles. I was going to try some of them when I came across a lunch special advertisement. It had soba noodle specials – one of my favorite Japanese foods and a perfect lunch for a hot summer’s day. The lunch service ended at 3:00, where the restaurant closed for two hours until it reopened for dinner. It was 2:15. I walked into the restaurant, and I was the only person there. I startled the young attractive hostess.
She sat me down and handed me the menu.
When even the prices were in Japanese, I knew I was in for something authentic, and I was. I knew how to say “soba” and “tempura,” so the waitress took my order and poured me some wonderful iced tea. I wish I know what kind of tea it was.
My dish came out…
…and the reason I chose this restaurant was sitting on the bottom left side of the tray.
With each soba noodle lunch special, they gave the customer a real fresh wasabi root to grate onto the noodles. Yeah, you say, I’ve already had wasabi.
You’ve likely had a powdered horseradish. Real wasabi is too expensive and rare. Even Eun Jeong has never had it.
The cook told me to grate it over the noodles. That was easier said than done. When grating the wasabi, it turns into a paste that sticks to the grater. I did the undignified gaijin move and wiped the grater on the noodles.
The taste was similar to the processed wasabi but not as hot. And it had a fuller flavor. It seemed to stimulate each corner of my tongue.
While I was enjoying my meal and struggling with the wasabi, a sumo-sized businessman sat down at the table next to me. I discreetly observed how he did his wasabi. He grated it and gently used the root to brush the ground wasabi into the soba sauce. I tried that too, but I still preferred grating it over the noodles themselves. I loved it so much that I grated it past the peel. I think the restaurant lost money on how much wasabi I grated.
I still had a few more hours to kill, so I spent the rest of the afternoon wandering around the shopping area of downtown Fukuoka.
I also noticed a few interesting things, like how popular Korean pop music and TV stars are in Japan.
There’s also a hotel called the Fukuoka ARTY Inn, or rather, the F. ARTY Inn.
I spent a good bit of time wandering through a four-story Sega video game complex. I didn’t play any games, but it was fascinating to see what was there.
I was on a tight budget on this trip, so I limited myself to one souvenir, a small pack of karashi mentaiko.
According to the brochures, it’s the big souvenir to get in Fukuoka. It’s codfish roe pickled in chili and matured. It was also the first thing I had ever declared at customs. I showed the official my customs form, pointing out that I had brought a fish substance into Korea. He had me open my bag and show him. He looked at it quizzically and then figured out what it was and said, “Okay.”
It was then that I had realized that these things are in Korea too. But anyway, I had to get the Fukuoka version because it was supposedly famous. I haven’t tried it yet, but soon.
It became time to return to the airport. I did get lost, even though I used the vaguely evil looking subway map.
I realized I was going the wrong direction and got off at the most rudely named subway stop.
Ticketing, security, and immigration went all smoothly this time. The flight was uneventful. I returned to Seoul with little problem. I got a ticket for the Airport Limousine bus, bought a beer, boarded the bus, and listened to my MP3 player while enjoying my beer, watching the sun set over the Korean landscape.