Japan and South Korea


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July 17th 2018
Published: July 17th 2018
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Dear All

Yay! Greetings! It is that time of year again when I am on the eve of embarking on another really exciting summer travels adventure. My bags are all packed, and tomorrow morning I head eastwards towards Japan and South Korea for five weeks. I’m definitely really excited, as always, but particularly I think about this one. There is a bit of a story behind this.

It all goes back to the year 2000, when I was 22, just finishing university, and about to begin life for real, beyond the educational environment. I have had wanderlust within me for as long as I can remember, and during my final year at university it was becoming clear to me that finding work as an English language teacher would enable me to start seeing the world (I haven’t looked back since as it seems!). Little did I know at the time that English language teaching would not long after lead me into school teaching, and thus actually directed me towards what I feel to be my vocation in life. At the time, though, I thought it a good way to enable me to follow my desire to travel and see
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the world, so I applied for a CELTA (Certificate of English Language Teaching to Adults) course right after finishing my final exams, and at the same time applied for two overseas teaching jobs to start not long after.

The first job application was via the British Council, who at that time sent young graduates to far-flung places to teach English. The second application was for the Japanese English Teaching (JET) programme, to teach English in any school across Japan. Despite what I thought to be an absolutely atrocious job interview for the JET programme, hosted by a panel of I believe four interviewers, asking me, amongst other things, to quote Shakespeare and define British politics for a Japanese person, neither of which I feel I responded to very intelligently, I was actually offered the job! At the same time, the British Council also offered me a job teaching English either in Colombia or Paraguay. This was a really tough decision for me, but marked one of those junctions I feel we often encounter in life, where whichever decision you make will seemingly lead you in a completely different direction to the other.

Because the British Council job would
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enable me to be an actual classroom teacher, rather than a classroom assistant as offered by the JET programme, I chose the former, and opted for Paraguay as Colombia seemed pretty dodgy at the time.

And so it is that in August 2000 I headed for my first proper stint at living abroad, and first experience as a teacher, teaching English for a year in Asuncion, Paraguay (indeed, many adventures were had there…!)

Now this is probably a bit long-winded, but ever since making this decision I have often wondered what my life would have been like, whether a different pathway altogether may have been followed, had I opted for teaching in Japan. I have ever since desired to visit the country, I have felt a deep affection and desire to get to know Japan and the Japanese, but since the country is pretty high-budget for a traveller, I have often said to myself that I will visit there when I am older, and when I am earning more money.

Well, I believe the time has arrived. I am indeed older, this being my 40th birthday year (yay!!), and feel I am earning enough money to be able to go a bit beyond my usual budget. My (not-so-great) experiences in travelling in dusty, hot, underdeveloped West Africa last year also edged me towards a more upmarket type of destination for this year, and let’s be honest, I have had my fair share of travels in chicken-bus countries. The time is right, I feel, to start to explore the countries of comfort – indeed, watch this space for possible future similar travel plans to similar types of countries. And when all said and done, it actually doesn’t seem that much more expensive to travel in Japan and South Korea with some forward-planning and booking ahead, compared to the comparatively quite expensive sleeping and eating options you head to if you want a decent and healthy trip in regions such as West Africa.

Thus, I have planned from tomorrow, to explore both Japan and South Korea for five weeks!

First I fly Air France, via Paris, to Tokyo, arriving on Thursday midday, local time. I have booked four nights there in a local business hotel, and in actual fact, my whole trip, for the first time ever, has been fully planned and reserved weeks, if not months, in advance. This is because I believe to get the best, and cheapest deal, in travelling in these countries, you can’t just turn up and check in, as you can in many less developed countries. Indeed, I think it is going to be quite a different travel experience. For example, after having been used to being able to get cheap, ubiquitous local taxis pretty much anywhere and everywhere, from airport to hotel to bus station to train station, I am going to have to make good use of public transport whilst travelling around, if I’m not to break the bank! I better get used to carrying those backpacks! Still, public transport out there seems really efficient, even more so seemingly than the UK – although anywhere will probably be infinitely better than my own local Southern Rail options…

So from Tokyo, I plan to head to Mt Fuji for two nights, Kyoto for four, Matsuyama on the island of Shikoku for three, Hiroshima for three, Beppu on the island of Kyushu for two, and then Fukuoka for three. In Fukuoka, I hope to take a day trip to Nagasaki, and have also booked myself in to a Capsule Hotel for the night (I’m not envisaging much sleep, but I have been successfully persuaded to do this as part of my Japan travel experience!).

From Fukuoka I take a high-speed ferry service across the Sea of Japan to Busan in South Korea, where my adventure continues for two further weeks in South Korea. I have booked three nights in Busan, then will head to Gyeongju for two nights, Andong for two, Pyeongchang (site of the 2018 Winter Olympics) for two, and finish up in Seoul for a final four nights. I am hoping, and am still in the middle of booking a day tour, to visit the De-Militarised Zone (DMZ) on the border between South and North Korea from there. I’ve definitely no plans to visit North Korea this time around, or any time for that matter. But a glance over its southern border may be interesting, particularly at this time, and may complement nicely my glance over its northern border with China way back in 2002. From Seoul I fly Air France again back to Heathrow via Paris, due to arrive home late in the evening of Wednesday 22nd August.

As mentioned, my bags are all packed, and I’ve actually spent the last three months teaching myself Japanese using a most incredible App (called LingoDeer if anyone’s interested). I am three short lessons away from completing the course, hopefully by this evening, and feel I have a good grounding in Japanese vocabulary and grammar, as well as its Hiragana writing system (not quite so good with the Katakana or Kanji characters though…). Just before arriving in South Korea, I also hope to take a few short lessons in Korean using the same App, purposefully planning not to do this too early as I don’t want to confuse Korean with Japanese. I will see how I am in the actual speaking, listening and communicating of the language after tomorrow…!

So, will finish this one here. As always, I plan to update with further news of my travels and adventures, as well as photos, as I travel. Looking forward, and very very excited indeed! 😊

All the best for now.

Alex

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17th July 2018

Bon voyage!
Hi Alex, your trip sounds very interesting. Looking forward to reading all about it on your blog!
18th July 2018

Thank you!
Thank you Lori :) Hope the planning for Morocco is going well :)
18th July 2018

I love your plan...
and your trend towards more upscale travel than chicken buses. I look forward to reading your blogs. I only spent 24 hours in Tokyo as a lay over on my way to Bangkok, and really want to return to see more of Japan. So inspire me!
18th July 2018

Inspiration
Great, I hope indeed then to inspire you! I'm already inspired by Japan, and I haven't even set foot there yet :)
18th July 2018

Awesome!
I'm looking forward to seeing your thoughts and experiences from Japan! I'm returning there myself next month. =)
18th July 2018

Japan
Thank you my friend. I'm looking forward to sharing them with you! Your own blogs from there have been a great source of inspiration for me :) Thank you! Wow, look forward to reading more about your adventures there next month then :)
20th July 2018

The Road Not Traveled
In the first few years of our marriage Dave and I almost went to the Caribbean scuba diving as we usually only had one week vacation. We were both nearing 50 when we took our first around the world trip of ten months. We are naturally planners and we decided to see how we would do with not planning. When we left the country we had 3 nights hotel in Singapore and that was it. We had a fantastic time and did well on the fly. Since that time we've been intentional in planning and not pre-planning, low end budget trips, moderate trips and luxury at times. We don't want the same experience each time. It has been a nice mix. It will be interesting to see how you feel after the trip. As we age we prefer planning a bit. We like knowing we have a place to sleep. When doing it on the fly we found we wasted a lot of time in these amazing countries that we could have been doing something else. Eager to hear your impression of the road not traveled. You'll never know where you may have ended up but I feel certain you made the right choice at the time. Happy travels. MJ
20th July 2018

Planned Travels
Thanks for this MJ. It is good to hear how you are both able to mix up your travels a bit! Indeed, this is the first time I'm travelling with everything pre-booked. I will see how it is, but I imagine yes, I'll be spending less time phoning ahead to places and things, and more time enjoying the journey :)

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