Wanderer

Green walk way in the middle of Seoul

Dear friend,

Hi how are you? Can’t believe it’s already been a month since I left MN. Time is really flying by fast. I’m on a bullet train in Japan right now headed to Hiroshima. I’m excited to go there to learn about the city, to see the impact of WW2, how the city survived after the bomb.

The month has been… interesting. I’ve been having similar feelings to when I first started a year ago. Trying to figure out my schedule. Toying with time. Maybe a little lost. I’ve mainly been a tourist this past month. One thing that I don’t like is that I barely have enough time in some places. It’s annoying. I enjoy taking my time in a city and really taking it in. I spent two weeks in Seoul, a few days in Busan, a few days in Tokyo, 1 day in Hakone, and then will spend 3 days in Hiroshima and my final 3 days in Osaka before heading to China for 2-3 months.

I’m trying really hard to balance my time. There’s so much I want to do and see! But at the same time, I feel like I need to spend a longer time in a place to really be able to soak it all in. Like usually at least 2 weeks, but preferably 3-4 weeks. Unfortunately there’s not enough time. Like, it would’ve been nice to spend a longer time here in Japan.

Even my transit card has a pretty face

I really enjoyed my time in Seoul. It was my first time in Korea. It’s not as vast and crowded like Tokyo. Definitely a smaller city comparatively (even though it’s still a really big city). Easy subway system to navigate. I booked a hostel for my first two nights there, just to see if I’d enjoy it. I ended up meeting a number of other travelers and we went out the first night. It was fun, I’ve always enjoyed the communal feel of being in a hostel. But really, I need my own space lol. You really do meet tons of different people from all over the world though, which I liked. Some things about Seoul/Korea that I really enjoyed slash have been thinking about:

  • Everyone is so attractive! Like super trendy and fashionable. It’s insane. It’s definitely the place to be if you want to be with other young, hip and cool people. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many attractive men in one place lol!
  • It’s interesting to see a different side of masculinity. At least in the way some of the men are portrayed in ads, how they dress, and how I perceived them (mainly based on their looks) – it feels less masculine. Like, what’s trendy for men is a bit more feminine. That “cute boy” look. But as I was talking to someone, it doesn’t mean their hyper-masculinity doesn’t show up in other ways, like how they act around each other, how they treat women, how they treat queer/trans people. Like to them, that style of fashion is how they perform their masculinity. I guess it’s just interesting to see how masculinity shows up, how it can be claimed differently, and yet how it still ends up being the same old shit. Not to mention the fact that all men are required to serve in the military for two years.
  • I’ve been to my share of gay bars and clubs all over the world. You pretty much get a very recognizable vibe everywhere you go, with some local flares of course. I went to a gay kpop club in Seoul and it was something I had never experienced before. All kpop music, no shirtless muscle boys, and the best part is that people would just go up on stage and dance to the choreography of the music. Like the DJ would play a song, and random people would go up to start dancing, and everyone else is on the floor singing along, dancing along, drinking, watching. Then the next song comes up and another group of random people will go up and dance, all to the choreography! It was like karaoke but for dancing to kpop is the only way I know how to explain it. It was the cutest, most fun thing I had seen in a while. And I didn’t even go with anyone!
  • I had a chance to visit the DMZ while I was in Korea. It’s weird to be in Seoul, a huge and influential international city and literally just a couple hours drive away is North Korea, the DMZ, and the constant lingering threat of war. Like it just baffles my mind. They only allow you to go with a tour group. You could feel the tenseness of it all when you’re there, but also the deep yearning for reunification. Lot’s of security check points, armed guards, in addition to messages of hope, a future rail station already built that if opened would be the connecting point for the two countries, and many photos from the last meetings between the two leaders (and Trump). I could hear it in the voice of my tour guide as well. She yearned to be reunited with her people in the North. The sad thing is that the longer it takes, I think the more people will forget about what a unified Korea could look like. Like I’m sure the younger generation doesn’t think about it as much because they don’t know a world where that has ever existed. The longer it takes, the more they will see themselves as different people. But maybe I’m making a wild assumption.
Photos like this were all over the DMZ
North Korea in the background

Overall, I really enjoyed my time in Seoul. I wished I could be there for longer. I wish I had time to meet more people. Dig in. I really liked the vibes there. Young, hip, cool vibes 🙂 Definitely feels like a place on the rise.

Rainy Tokyo

I left Korea and headed to Japan. Tokyo is obviously a much bigger city. The infrastructure here is older and much more developed. I was only there for a few days. I feel like I didn’t have a lot of time. But I also felt a little overwhelmed with what to do. TBH, I kinda just hung out with a couple friends. I have a friend who I met in Philly, who just moved to Tokyo. It’s fun to see people I met previously in my fellowship in other parts of the world and be able to hang out with them.

Garden in Tokyo

TBH I feel really conflicted about my time in Tokyo. My first time there a couple years ago, I LOVED it. I loved everything about it. The cleanliness, the politeness, the TOILETS, the FOOD, the convenience of everything. This time around felt a bit different and I’m still trying to grasp why. I think part of it is that I’m just over being a tourist (maybe this is kind of stupid to say) and Tokyo feels like a city for tourist (unless you actually live there and know where people go). It’s like everywhere it was hard for me to figure out what was real and authentic vs what was fake and manufactured for foreigners. Maybe that’s why this time felt different. The first time I fell in love with the spectacle of it all. This time maybe I’m seeing through some of it. The city also felt much older. Like the people. Especially coming from Seoul. I barely saw young Japanese people around (maybe it was the places I was going). But I know that Japan has a severe population growth problem. Like they’re not having enough babies. Their population is in decline. It’s definitely noticeable on the subway and on the streets. Like in Seoul I saw young people everywhere. I didn’t necessarily see that in Tokyo. But again, maybe it’s just the places I was going.

Hiroshima

I’m on the bullet train now leaving Hiroshima. What a contrast of a city. Firstly, I was only there for a few days but I really loved it. Trying to figure out why… Much smaller of a city. About 1.4 million people, I think that’s similar to MSP. It’s way less crowded (there’s too many people in Tokyo for my taste). Feels more manageable. I actually saw young people! Like all kinds. And I saw couples too. Like LOT’S of them everywhere. It was a nice change of pace from just seeing the Japanese Salaryman everywhere in Tokyo. Lol. I guess it just felt more real and authentic. I like the layout of the city too. There’s a huge park right in the middle of it, it was built in remembrance of the A bomb. It’s nice that if you want to walk from one end of the city to the other you kinda have to go through the park and the river. A river flows through the city with multiple streams as well. It’s just overall a really beautiful city, it seemed more genuine, more homey, more surrounded by nature. Also felt very accessible, I could easily walk to any of the places or take their street car.

A-bomb site

The main reason I wanted to visit Hiroshima was because I wanted to visit the A bomb museum. The Peace Museum, is what it’s actually called. And Peace Park, which is a huge park with memorials in the middle of the city. The museum was sad. So much destruction and harm. It felt really surreal to stand, walk around, sit on a bench, literally just feet apart from where the bomb went off. Here’s what I wrote as I was sitting, reflecting:

It’s really astounding to think that I’m right now sitting at almost the precise location where the Atomic bomb went off.

Like I don’t even know how I feel right now. It felt really sad in the museum. Like, how can we do that, as a country, knowing that hundreds of thousands of innocent lives will be lost in a second? Like do we have any sense of morality? Any sense of right and wrong? Does that all go away in times of war? War. It really makes people, countries, do horrific things. And it’s always every day people who suffer.

It feels really peaceful here. The stream. The trees. The people walking around. There’s a nice park memorial here on the bomb site.

I guess it just feels really surreal. To imagine everything around me completely wiped out. How are we willing to do that to each other?

It’s just another example of the atrocious acts we’re willing to commit in the name of our own and the world’s security.

Such devastation. Such trauma. I wonder how it impacts the Japanese culture, the people here, in this city particularly. It’s quite amazing how this city has bounced back in just 60-70 years. The spirit of humanity. The spirit of hope. Of resilience.

When I was at the museum I visited the museum store. Walked around a bit looking at the books. They were all in Japanese. But there was one that caught my eye. It was a book of the speech that Obama gave when he visited in 2016. He was the first sitting US president to ever visit Hiroshima. In the book, there was a photo of a man who survived the bomb, who was in tears as he was embracing Obama with a hug. It’s amazing, the power of the President of the United States. How the leader of a nation, who devastated this man’s city, his community, and probably his family, could bring this man to tears by simply being there and giving a speech. It continues to be ever more clear to me how much people around over the world look to the United States as a leader of the world (whether they should and whether we want to claim this leadership is up for debate).

Peace Park, Hiroshima

The next night, I was sitting in my room. I opened Netflix because I wanted to watch a show, but it turns out that it wasn’t available here in Japan. As I was looking I did see something else, it was a documentary about Obama’s foreign policy strides during his last year in office. I thought hmm sounds interesting. But meh. I decided not to open it and watch YouTube instead lol.

Peace Park Memorial

Later on, I got bored so I figured why not I’ll watch this documentary. About a quarter of the way through, they began talking about Obama’s trip to Hiroshima. I sat up. And there he was standing and giving his speech in Peace Park, as the first US President to ever visit. Wow, I was literally just there, I thought. And I literally am in Hiroshima right now. All these images I see in this documentary of Peace Park actually have meaning to me. And then there was the survivor I saw in the book at the store. This time I was able to actually watch him as he walked up and embraced Obama in tears. They hugged for what seemed like a long time. Like the man wouldn’t let him go. You could see the president was also having some feels. Afterwards, Obama said in an interview something like, “It’s people like him, and his common belief in humanity. It’s ultimately where politics, government, diplomacy, has to be rooted. In that moment.” (paraphrasing)

Hiroshima destruction and reconstruction

In a way, it felt kind of like fate that I watched this documentary in my room in Hiroshima, literally the day after I went to Peace Park. I just made all of this even more real, more meaningful to me.

Ok so I’m going to eat some bomb.com Kobe beef in Kobe now. And then going to Osaka for a few days. Then off to Beijing! And China for the next few months? So I’m arriving in Beijing on Oct 2. Apparently Oct 1st is National Day, a celebration of the founding of the People’s Republic of China. It’s apparently the 70th anniversary so…. a big deal. Lol. Didn’t know. There’s a big military parade on the 1st but I’ll be missing it (fortunately?). Apparently it’s a week long holiday so hopefully things will be open lmao. I seem to arrive during holidays for some reason. Like in Korea I was there during the Autumn festival so everything was closed for a few days. I was in Tokyo during one civic holiday (unclear what that was lol). And now this. Lol. Oh well. See ya soon! ❤

Osaka

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