sobota, 29. december 2012

Prince Aze Beach

Holidays are close, today we stopped all the work before lunch. After lunch I went with Taka san and Haruki to Kamtsu for some shopping. I had no idea that this shopping meant 'buy beers for Dag, buy many beers'. I was smiling to Haruki, the beer hasn't arrived yet here.
Oh yes, we bought also a bicycle. I tested it immediately, riding to my favorite beach on Tokunoshima, Prince Aze Beach. After 5 minutes I was sick of the bicycle and wanted to go back home to switch it for the scooter, but I endured another 5 minutes and was rewarded with the view that I kept in my heart for the last four years.

Commercial break. Kirin. Brewed for good times.

On the way home. View of the sugarcane valley from the village.

petek, 28. december 2012


My last night on Okinawa was a hard one. The new guest in our dormitory was a prodigy - he managed to outsnore me. Those who know me can imagine what kind of noise that was. At 3.30AM I had enough of it, had to get up early anyway, took a shower, made me a liter of coffee and a slow breakfast, still no hurry, watched an anime and finally it was five, I checked once again if all my stuff was packed and Sayonara, Base Hostel, see you next year! A half hour walk to the port, bought my ticket and boarded the ferry for the nine-or-so-hours trip to Tokunoshima. I got seasick few minutes after we left the port of Naha. And I wasn't the only one. Quite a lot of the passengers in the cabin were throwing up which made me sick even more. I went on the deck to bid farewell to the island, but it was freezing cold and the rolling of the ferry even worse.
The smoking area on the ferry is pretty small, but, as you can guess, it didn't cross the mind of any smoker to trespass the yellow line.
Besides, you also have the choice to not to smoke in the smoking area. Or to smoke where is forbidden to? I don't get. It's Japan, you know.
But I survived, it's the fate of survivors. Slept quite a lot, in fact and was feeling a little bit better when in the afternoon we came to Tokunoshima.

Taka san was waiting for me at the port with his little grandson Haruki. When we met last time (with Taka san, not with Haruki, this was the first time to meet the boy) I wasn't able to say a single word in Japanese. This time I greeted him properly in Japanese so, as I expected, he started talking with me in Japanese. Sorry, let's switch to English, OK?  With Chika san was all smiles and laugh, she doesn't speak English, so she cleraly spoke with me in Japanese, probably not expecting any kind of reply so she was really shocked when I answered correctly to her inquiry and the next moment she flooded me with Japanese that I couldn't understand. But she was happy to find out that I started learning and now everybody is speaking with me very slowly and in simple sentences so I can say that I'm making some slow progress. Mostly because of little Haruki. I met his mother during dinner and was happy because finally I used hajimemashite instead of hisashiburi. The little chap found me interesting (maybe thinking that I'm Ramon) and we started playing while eating and continued after dinner when he received the present that Santa san left. He got one of those books with pictures that come with a "magic" pen - when you press the pen on a picture it says the name of the thing. And the pen has two modes: modo Nihongo  and modo Eigo. Great! We can study together! So we did. And when he was bored I just took his hand and guided him so that he pressed the pen to my head, at which I said (imitating at my best the voice of the pen): BAKA! Poor Haruki didn't have a clue why everybody was laughing so loud.
I realized how worn out from the ferry I was when I started dozing after two small cans of Kirin. Oyasumi, tomorrow is an early wake up and start to work. And after four years (almost) I was more than pleased to go to work in the morning again on a Yamaha scooter, model Vino, the same one. Only the helmeto is different and there's a new bento box.. No more communication like with the old one.
The sugarcane is waiting. It will wait for few weeks more.
Today we finished early, part because of the bad weather, part because it's time to start the New Year holidays. I went immediately to the nearest beach, just to walk on the sand.

View of the lower village from the graveyard.
And this is the decoration in front of the house for New Year. A traditional one.

petek, 21. december 2012

A Lazy Day

The Koza riot begun late on the night of December 20th, 1970. It involved from 3000 to 7000 locals - different references, different numbers. It seems a fair supposition to me that 5000 cold be quite accurate. After they gave a good beating to some US soldiers and torched their cars, they actually attacked the Kadena air base and with improvised molotov cocktails, made in the nearby homes and bars, managed to burn down a part of it. Early in the morning the rioters were finally tamed with tear gas and water cannons. It ended without fatalities.
I have nothing against beating soldiers (no matter where are they from), they deserve worse. But to find out that few thousand people gathered and did this because a soldier hit a drunk Okinawan with his car? At first I thought he killed him. No, he wasn't injured too bad. Then I started finding out that this was just the spark that ignited all the gunpowder that the occupation troops were piling during the years. Accidents, hit-and-runs, kidnappings, rapes, murders... you name it, soldiers did it.
But history is cruel. It can be wiped so easily. You can't find Koza anymore, it doesn't exist. The name was changed to Okinawa-shi. When I started asking locals (those that speak English), they gave me looks. They have no clue as what happened. When I had enough of being treated as a retard I showed them the article about the riot on the Japanese wiki and they were all amazed that such  a thing happened. Later they told me that probably older people still remember, but the new generations surely don't. True enough. On December 20th, 2012, I took a bicycle and had a ride across Okinawa-shi. No signs that any sort of remembrance day was going on. Well, most probably there was something, that a few people attended, but no way I could ever find them. And, after all, why should I? I'd be considered another American killer, most probably.
So it seemed to be a better idea to go back to Naha, I had still the whole afternoon and I was (surprise surprise!) still sober. Let's go to the beach near the hostel!

And now a lesson on how advertising works. Did you like the beach? I know, it's not something really posh, but you have to admit that it's nice. OK, now the last picture, the actual view of the beach, from a small hill.

Today is a perfect day, not only warm but hot, too hot for the beach, so I went to study in a nearby park, with a nice view of Naha and the new port.

I just love the vegetation on these islands.

Found me some shadow and managed to intensively practice hiragana for almost two hours without a break. It was a real 'full immersion' study, you have to know that here even the birds sing in Japanese.
 Ah, yes, I went to the port to buy the ferry ticket for Tokunoshima... no reservations, no tickets in advance. On the day of the departure I have to be at the port at 6AM (argh) to buy the ticket for the 7 o'clock ferry.

sreda, 19. december 2012


My first day on Okinawa. The trip was nice, I already shared some fun here, this time I will put here some pictures I took. As the web page of Peach suggested it's on a "pinky"side so I was delighted to find out that even their planes share the same color, all is pink/grape, the only disappointment were the uniforms, no pink at all, professionally sober ( I really miss the  so hot black and red combination of Cathay Pacific), but when girls are cute it really doesn't matter what they are wearing...

Some outskirts of Seoul
Me at Osaka airport, unhappy because I wasn't laid by any stewardess.
At the Osaka airport I was drunk bored but I must admit I had an unpleasant experience. You know, the way we're conditioned by our upbringing that even when you have done nothing bad you still can feel guilty? I went to the toilet to take a leak. I was alone when I was removing some water from my body, when two little girls, about the age between 4 and 6, ran into the man's toilet looking for their dad. And they were so surprised to see a gaijin that they stopped looking for their dad and kept staring at me instead. I'm not able to blush anymore, but I felt like I was. Why? I've done nothing wrong. I had absolutely no dirty thoughts  to be ashamed of. It's not that was afraid (I was, but that is not the point here) what others might think. I just couldn't stop feeling like I am a bad guy. This conditioning is really scary.
When I boarded the plane for Okinawa it was my first time I started to behave like a real male pig. I had to pick on one stewardess, I really had to. You know the creep pick-up line 'Have we met before?', it worked perfectly. She did remember me. From the flight from Seoul. While I was drinking she went to Sapporo, came back (just for me, to be sure) and we happily went together to Okinawa. Dreams apart, she was really professional, I could enjoy her cute smile all the time, but it was clear that she was sort of scared of me. I was not rude and I felt bad, but it was a good lesson for me. Because I was going to Okinawa.
I agree, crap of picture, but I had to take it when set my feet on Okinawan land for the first time. It was late so I took a taxi for the first time in Japan ... I do realize that a taxi driver has a hard life but I really don't know what to think of a guy that has no clue where to go even after I gave him a printed map of the hostel I booked. I had to give him also their phone number so he called and asked for directions... First thing there I asked where the nearest 'convini' store is and went to buy umeshu. Lots of umeshu and I got lots of 'looks'. I'm used to 'looks', I spent my time in Asia, I still get them in my village in Korea. But I learned to distinguish 'looks' from 'bad looks'. And there was plenty of bad ones yesterday and today. I don't complain, I fully understand them. The first people I saw at the Okinawan airport was a bunch of American soldiers. Their behavior and their faces were clearly showing that their shoe size is higher than their IQ. From wiki: In May 2010, a survey of the Okinawan people conducted by Mainichi shimbun and Ryukyu shimpo, found that 71% of Okinawans surveyed thought that the presence of Marines on Okinawa was not necessary. Also: local citizens have complained about excessive aircraft noise as well as various crimes perpetrated against local civilians. Details? From 1952 to 2004, there were approximately 200,000 accidents and crimes involving U.S. troops, in which 1,076 Japanese civilians died...In 1995, the abduction and rape of a 12-year-old Okinawan schoolgirl by two U.S. Marines and one U.S. sailor led to demands for the removal of all U.S. military bases in Japan... February 2008, a 38-year-old U.S. Marine based on Okinawa was arrested in connection with the reported rape of a 14-year-old Okinawan girl... No, I don't blame the locals here for giving me 'looks'. But I feel bad the same. In a similar way that I felt at the Osaka airport toilet.
Today I went out only to buy more alcohol.
To drink on the roof of the hostel.
And on my way I saw a hotel that someone I know will love (Not for being casual, but for the name. I have no clue what casual hotel means.).
In the evening I was again out of booze, so another stroll to the Famima. Saw a beer for the first time and had to buy it, the guys at the hostel told me that 'Orion - Southern star' is the Okinawan beer. I have a good eye. And I swear that the picture tells exactly the way I see the can.

torek, 18. december 2012

Time Travelers

As I predicted in the last post, things started to happen the moment I moved. Actually even before. The last evening at my home we had a nice farewell dinner with the neighbors - I made a few different dishes with rutabaga and we drank several different alcoholic beverages, ranging from 5,8% beer up to 55% persimmon spirit and I fell asleep at 7AM. Two hours later the worried neighbors woke me up so I didn't miss the bus for Seoul. There I stayed for two days in apartment of my friend and in one moment I almost freaked out. I was studying the airport plans to be able to find the Peach self check-in booth as quick as possible, when I noticed a warning on their web site. "If you have problems with your self check-in, please contact us 24 hours in advance and be at the booth at least 80 minutes prior to your departure." Great. I know how machines love me. So if I will get in troubles getting my ticket I'll just have to go back one day, call them and tell them to fuck off? I know that I can't complain much, they are a low fare operator and to keep their really low prices they have to cut on all luxuries (You want to drink water on the plane? Pay for it.), but to have no personel at all at the airport seemed a bit too much to me. In the end there was no need for the self check-in since a pretty girl checked me (I wished she could check me more...) and at the security control I had to give up on my favorite terrorist weapon of mass destruction, the shaving foam. I was boarding at 10AM and heard an announcement for more time travelers. It said that the flight for Ho Chi Minh is due to depart at 10:10 and was calling the passengers to be at the boarding gate at least 30 minutes earlier. Nice. This time I was lucky, I wasn't going to Vietnam. Even nicer... well, I apologize to the female readers here because I will sound like a male pig for all the comments I'll make but I just can't restrain myself. It's just that on the plane I had such a beautiful view... and I wasn't looking out of the window. The beautiful smiles and being again in the air made the flight a pure pleasure, I almost didn't care when few times we hit some pretty bad turbulences (actually some unsecured stuff went flying around the cabin and there were some panicking yells). I pretended to be cool and pretended that I was reading my Evangelion manga in Korean.
At the immigration the usual annoying guys and yet again I had to lecture them about Japanese geography - for my address in Japan I left the address in Tokunoshima, which is near Okinawa but is part of the Kagoshima province. And they wanted to know why I wrote an address from Kagoshima (which is in fact some 1000km far from Tokunoshima) if I'm going to Okinawa... Surprisingly they accepted a gaijin's lecture and I was free to pollute the Japanese land with my presence.
Six hours to wait for the next flight in the small terminal 2 of Kansai airport.  Free wifi, smoking room, canned coffee. It's been two hours since I arrived here and I'm starting to freak out the folk here. I'm on the terminal for local flights and I stand out like a gaijin in Japan, aimlessly strolling  around, oblivious of all the staring. Time for a beer. Kampai!

petek, 14. december 2012

Time To Go!

And time for another post, finally.
Nothing exciting happened lately. Snow, ice, cold - yet another winter. But not for me. For a long time I've been planning to spend this winter on the Philippines but, as it goes with my plans, everything changed when I was looking for the best (cheapest) flight to Manila. I stumbled upon a promotional winter sale of Peach, a Japanese low-cost operator and bought a return ticket Osaka - Okinawa for the price of two sixpacks. The flight from Seoul to Osaka was a bit more expensive, but not much. And so next week I'll be enjoying the rainy Okinawa, but with friendly warm temperatures. I'll try to visit Koza on December 20th, the anniversary of the Koza riot when enraged locals attacked and set fire to an American military base. From Okinawa I'll go to a dream island, Tokunoshima, and spend there the winter, harvesting sugarcane. I wonder how many of my drinking buddies there will I be able to meet again. I hope my knowledge of Japanese will impress them - with all the anime watched I built a vocabulary of more than 100 expressions (of which more than half is completely useless in normal life) and I started to learn hiragana.
One thing is for sure: for the next few weeks I will make happen a lot of thins worth of blog posts, after all it's gonna be my first Xmass, new year and birthday in Japan!
Now it's almost two years since I was on a plane for the last time. Can't wait to fly again. And to think that it was not so long ago, in 2006, that I took my first plane and I was screaming in terror all the way to Istanbul. I'm actually so excited that I'm almost finished with packing my stuff. I only have to do a good cleanup of the house, since it's going to be empty for few months - but I can't start it yet, since tomorrow we're having a farewell dinner here. A rutabaga dinner. The folks here are going to have rutabaga nightmares after it.

sobota, 10. november 2012

More Ginger Tea, Some Melon Pan and Bad Manners

1120 kg of ginger tea so far, to be precise. Made in seven days, but we're not finished yet. Mostly it's fun, but not on the days when I'm on a 18 hours duty. Luckily it happened only once, but three times I pulled a 14 hours working day. And I'm not using the first singular out of ego, it's just a fact that it's just me waking up in the middle of the night and walk to the next village to start cooking the ginger mixed with sugar in two cauldrons. I'm not complaining, I volunteered for it. It's well paid so I'm happy to do it. And there's always beer for me in the family factory where we make the tea.
Two weeks ago I tried to go to Japan, before the ginger madness started. Without making a reservation. Bad idea. I was sure that in this time of year almost nobody travels, but once in Busan I found out that there's nothing available for the next three days. Since it was late I went to the Blue Backpackers Hostel, just to find it had no vacancy. Luckily I'm a regular there so the owner let me sleep on the sofa in the common room. When I went for same late shopping I noticed some weird numbering on the houses in front of the hostel.
Yeah, the 29-6 and 8-7 are next door neighbors.
The next morning I went back home, with a memorable hangover. The ginger was already waiting.
For the next trip to Japan I had to be sure to make it in time, visa ending was approaching, so I asked a friend here to make a reservation. I wanted to try a different route so we booked a ferry to Daema do (Tsushima in Japanese). As things go I managed to be late for the ferry, with only 10 hours of visa time still available. The Camellia, my usual transport for Fukuoka was fully booked again, so the only chance was the jetfoil Beetle (Bitoru in Japanese). The fastest. The most expensive. The ticket was just 30.000 won cheaper than the royal suite on the Camellia. It was also 15.000 won more expensive than the plane ticket for Manila. But I was in Japan in less than three hours and - lo and behold! - at the immigration and the customs nobody asked dumb questions. They even didn't check my stinking socks. I only learnt that time is actually relative. So you go back to Korea tomorrow morning? asked the immigration officer. If so, then please write here two days of stay in Japan, not one. OK, I got this, for administrative purposes it can make sense. But deep in my heart I'm still a Korean hillbilly and 12 hours will NEVER EVER be considered two days in our village.
Just one night in Fukuoka... but too cold to join the homeless guys in the park near the port, like I did last summer. And I didn't even have my sleeping bag with me. Khaosan Fukuoka Hostel - no vacancy. So much for the time of year when nobody travels. The nearby International Hostel Fukuoka had a free bed. And - I couldn't believe it - smoking and drinking allowed in the common room! Yay!
You know, I've been to Japan eight times already. Many time just for a few hours, true, but all in all I accumulated a few months of life in Japan and I thought that I know something about Japanese food. Hell, I've been eating the most delicious miso soup for one month (not to mention other food for gods that Chika san made for us), cute little girls were almost chasing me with their home made onigiri, Okano san made some not really pickled pickles... and so on. But I never heard (or saw) about melon pan. Melon bread. Until I started watching anime. And I found out that melon pan is the favorite food of girls that come to Japan from other dimensions or galaxies, from the future or the realm of the dead. So I counted again all the remaining coins I had (Ramon, now I know why your leather jacket was always so heavy - the pockets were full of yen coins) and went to buy me dinner.
Melon pan and Sapporo stout beer. And later some umeshu.
I came back home with 34 yen and 200 won in my pocket. The ginger was waiting.
On Tuesday we were literally overloaded with ginger. It was everywhere. We couldn't peel and slice it fast enough so help was requested. To my great despair it was our village Yogi that came to help. He was worse than useless but that didn't bothered me too much. I'm slowly getting used to useless Koreans. The really bad point is that he's the one that is really compulsively obsessed with moving the dishes on the table when we eat. And when I wake up before 5 am, skip breakfast and stir ginger till lunchtime I'm not exactly in good mood when someone starts to move the kimchi I'm targeting. Yet this time I was shouting and cursing. He started moving the tables. Once, OK, I will survive. I moved my ass, too, to follow the food. Twice, OK, I will survive, but barely. I moved my ass, too, to follow the food. When I saw him grabbing the table for the third time... Not OK, you will not survive. You just fuckin' stop movin' the fuckin' table!  I shouted really loud. Way too loud since I was also a guest in the house of the Cho family, but I didn't give a shit. While everybody stopped eating in shock, Yogi looked at me with the kind of puppy-face that says "I haven't done anything bad". Ma va' a farti fottere, stronzo! Leave the table alone! I ate as fast as I could and ran back to my cauldrons.
We're off for the weekend. I took myself the luxury to sleep till 7 am. And my ginger was waiting for me on the field. Ah well... tomorrow I'll start making ginger candy.

četrtek, 18. oktober 2012

Ginger Tea for a Cold Morning

Last night the temperature dropped to zero, according to the weather report. I don't have a thermometer to check it, but when in the middle of the night my bladder woke me up and made me run outside, I surely felt uneasy while the freezing air was grabbing for my balls. So, when I woke up few hours later, first thing I went to my field and took one plant of Zingiber officinale, commonly known as ginger. Traditionally ginger is used as a remedy for various illnesses, ranging from common colds, cough and flu, to dyspepsia, nausea and arthritis. Recent studies show that it may ease muscle pain and to treat nausea caused by seasickness, morning sickness and chemotherapy.
I use it because I like the taste. I used to make ginger tea with honey, but this time I choose to try it with the rice syrup that one of my neighbors made. It was a good choice. Homemade rice syrup, homegrown ginger and hot peppers (you may not put them in the tea if you don't like them). Unfortunately I had to buy lemons at the supermarket, a half-hour ride with bus (and yes, the nearest bus station is an hour walk from my home).
Cut the ginger roots (when you want to look smart you don't say roots but rhizome) in thin slices and put them in cold water. The amount? Your choice, depending how strong the taste you want. Boil them for good twenty minutes. Don't be afraid it's too long, here when we make ginger tea as preserve for sale, we cook it for 10 hours or more. If you're a fan of hot peppers, add them in the last minute of boiling. Before adding the lemon juice wait for a minute or two so it cools a little bit. And then rice syrup. Or honey. Or even sugar, in China they traditionally make it with brown sugar. Drink it as hot as you can. On the other hand, you can make a lot of tea and first drink it hot, then wait and when it's cold it makes a superb refreshing drink.
A tasty variation is to use orange juice instead of lemon. With a dash of cinnamon.
A new thing I learned is that you can use also the leaves, for tea making or as spice. They have the same taste as the roots, just way milder. I'll dry them and next time try a tea with a mixture of ginger and mint leaves.
Another tea that will be ready for cold days is Rosa canina - dogrose or witches' briar. I was really surprised that the folks here don't use it and I'm the only idiot that is picking the fruits. Why idiot? Because the thorns on the plant are the same size like on the European species, while the fruits are five times smaller, even smaller than a coffee bean.

sreda, 03. oktober 2012

추석, One Year Later

"Uncle Dag surely loves to drink a glass of beer, doesn't he?" 
"No, he prefers to have the bottle all for himself and he doesn't need the glass." 
Last week I was hired, together with little Guryun, for a day of work on the Poet's fields - the man is actually a poet, but he's a farmer, too. Guryun's duty was to pull the weeds on the radish fields, while I was prepairing some other fields for planting the garlic. During our first break Guryun ran to the Poet's house and brought us chestnuts, boiled sweet potatoes and a bottle of beer. That was the moment when the Poet asked Guryun: "Uncle Dag surely loves to drink a glass of beer, doesn't he?" 
And Guryun replied: "No, he prefers to have the bottle all for himself and he doesn't need the glass." 
As you see, my Korean improved a little, but only when I hear a sentence including my name and the word beer.
It's been quite a long time since my last post here. Actually nothing spacial happened. I had a party for my first anniversary here, lots of delicious food, beers and laugh.

And this is how my kitchen looked when everybody left.
And a strange coincidence happened again. The day after my previous food festival (as my neighbors call this dinner events), we had a typhoon roaring above our heads. And this time again. Maybe I'm some kind of a typhoon god or my dinners are cursed?
It was after this one that I was looking for my tomatoes and peppers in the surrounding woods.
And than came 추석, the Korean harvest festival, usually referred to as "Korean Thanksgiving Day". I came here last year for 추석, so, according to the lunar calendar, it was another anniversary. But, since 추석 is a mass exodus and everybody goes to visit their relatives (dead or alive), I stayed the only one in our village. King of the Mountain, as they call me at such times. To not be bored I busied myself pretty much and also consumed massive amounts of alcohol. I was still fighting my abnormal obsession with anime - I made is safely for eight full days, but today I had just enough of this crap. With a terrible hangover I realized that in this time I spent so much money on alcohol that with it I could buy me a plane ticket for the Phillippines. One way, of course. In another week it would be a return ticket. Now don't get me wrong, I have absolutely no intention of quitting my beer joy, just to reduce it  to a somewhat normal grade.
 I still want to take advantage of this beautiful autumn weather to take a stroll on the hill behind the house and relax like this, two days ago:
I said I was pretty busy during 추석. And also the boars took care of it. One night they attacked our shiitake mushroom plantation and made a horrible mess. The logs that ure used to grow the mushrooms were all scattered around, the mushrooms all trampled on the ground. Huh, I gues that this description makes it look like a smaller disaster, but all in all it wasn't that bad. It was a few logs, a small part of one plantation (we have two), but enough to make you angry. I was especially pissed off because the mushrooms weren't eaten but trampled. I picked what looked still usable, a full big box of them, and some ended up drying, others preserved in olive oil.
Even if the typhoon damaged my fields, here and there I can still pick a few tomatoes and make some sauce.
Next thing I did was dye some shirts. With clay. The allmighty Korean hwangto. It's really easy, I mixed the clay with little water, just enough to make a thick paste, and then dipped the shirts in it, making sure every square inch is well covered with the stuff, from both sides. Then I hanged them to dry for one day.
The next day I went with them to the stream neraby to wash them properly.
You may wonder why I did in the stream.. For one, it's easier. Second, I'm not the type to waste tap water if it can be helped. And third... the most important... this is how the downstream looked like. I really wouldn't like all this clay to clog the pipes.
The results? Like in the picture. For comparison I added a brand new white shirt, while the left one is the shirt that I dyed two months ago and wore practically every second or third day, so it has been washed at least twenty times, probably more.

For the next time I'm making kaki-shibu, I haven't learned the Korean word yet. It's a tannin dye made from unripe persimmons.