I inserted the 20 yuan bill in the ticket machine. Instead of seeing a ticket card, the same bill came out again. I got a different yuan bill and the same thing happened. I kept doing it over and over again for more than five minutes until I gave up. I didn’t care if there were people lining up. I actually wanted them to notice me or at least the person standing behind me. Finally, I gave up and took just two steps away from the ticket machine. And then one of the best things happened. A long-haired young woman wearing a black overall jumper dress stood beside me and kept pointing to the 10 yuan bill sign while saying something which I completely didn’t understand. She had a reprimanding tone, but I didn’t mind it at all. After a day of staying in China, I kind of noticed that it’s just the way people there speak. I understood her gesture, so I got a 10 yuan note and inserted it in the ticket machine. Just after a few seconds, I successfully purchased a ticket card on my own.
I arrived at the Beijing Capital International Airport the previous day. It was past midnight when the plane landed. I didn’t expect that I’d travel to China alone considering the political tensions brought about by territorial disputes between China and my country. I was even hesitant to go on this trip even after I already bought my ticket. But I have a goal. And traveling to China is part of it. So I was off to Beijing!
On the day of my arrival, I decided to go to Tiananmen Square. There were a lot of people lining up in the ticket counter, so I tried out the machine. However, the machine just kept on spitting the money. I turned around and smiled at the woman standing behind me. I raised the yuan note, pointed to the machine and asked the lady “How?”I was hoping she’d get it. But she just smiled blankly and moved her head sideways. I was frustrated. How could she not get it? I was sure she had seen I was having trouble. I stepped aside. Then she purchased her own ticket. I tried again and did exactly the same thing the woman did. But I was again unsuccessful. I approached the lady guard who was just standing a few steps away. I asked for help using the same gestures that I did with the woman. She just looked at me, turned around and talked to the lady guard beside her. I was even frustrated then. But no. I had four days more in this country and I wanted to learn how to purchase the ticket card on my own. So I stood in front of the ticket machine again and tried several times. I stopped when someone tapped my back. It was the lady guard. She pointed to the ticket counter. I knew about the ticket counter, but I wanted to use the ticket machine. Eventually, I just gave up and headed to the counter.
There was another incident when I asked help in the subway but all I got was a sideways movement of the head. I’ve been to other non-English speaking countries in East Asia and I’ve never really faced any language barrier with those countries. I was frustrated because I kind of think that when I asked for help from the locals, they focused so much on the language that I used and not on my gestures. In some countries, I had no problem relying on gestures so I somehow could not get why the people I approached in the subway couldn’t.
I was at that point when I didn’t believe asking someone would gain me the help I needed. I was ecstatic when the young woman in the subway approached me and pointed out to me what I did wrong, why the machine was spitting out my money. Just when I’d lost hope, someone was out to save the day.
I sat on the far back of the bus, away from most people. It was going to be an hour and 5-minute ride from Shin-shimashima bus terminal to Kamikochi— the Japanese version of the Alps. I kept on fidgeting as I wait for the bus to leave.
It was a Facebook post in November by one of my colleagues. The scenery in the photo amazed me. I wondered in which country she went. I looked at the comments under the photo to find some clues. Surprisingly, the place isn’t abroad. It’s just here in Japan.
It had almost been eight months and I was reminded of the Alps. I wanted to go somewhere for my birthday weekend. I’d been attempting to book a flight to Taiwan, but I was torn because the view of nature in Kamikochi was something I could not wait to see. In the end, I chose to travel domestically.
It was around 10:35 am when the bus finally arrived in Kamikochi. I must have drunk a lot of water before the journey because right after getting off, I just had to run to the restroom. I knew I was going to walk for several kilometers in a forest, so I just had to stuff myself with food. I looked around for a place to eat at the arrival terminal. I had ramen for lunch and then I was off to find the most important thing in my list — the bear bell.
I scolded myself for forgetting to bring a jacket. The place is situated on a high ground so it felt cold to just wear a simple blouse which doesn’t even have long sleeves. In the end, I did manage as the long walks kept me warm. In situations where I couldn’t see a single hiker in view, my heart rate would go faster and I made sure my bear bell tinkled louder.
How To Get There:
From Matsumoto Station, take the ALPICO Line for SHINSHIMASHIMA and get off at SHINSHIMASHIMA station. It takes 30 min and costs ¥700. From SHINSHIMASHIMA station, take the bus bound to Kamikochi.
I stared at the view from the bus window searching for signs that would make me feel that I wasn’t in Japan anymore. There was only the greenery— not enough to give a distinctive feel of the city. I felt bored but at least I was sitting comfortably in an airport shuttle bus bound to Seoul. The passengers were a mix of Koreans and Asian tourists. It made me feel at ease that I wasn’t just the only foreigner. It seemed that the trip to my destination would take more than an hour, so I decided to get some sleep.
I traveled to South Korea for spring vacation. It was only an hour away from Japan and it was one of the countries I’ve always wanted to go to. I think I might even have more knowledge of Kpop culture than Jpop. Despite being one of my must-see places, I went to Seoul to get away. I wanted to be out of Japan even just for a moment, just so I could breath.
I got off at Namdaemun Market bus stop as instructed by the hotel staff where I was going to stay. The driver seemed kind of irritated because it took more than a minute for us to find my small luggage in the bus compartment. It didn’t bother me at all and even assured me I was not in Japan anymore. (You know how Japanese are very polite and very service-oriented.) In fact, it was one of the very few incidents that made me feel that I was back in the real world. And I loved it!
The Seoul subway station was one of the places I felt comfortable. I relished the noise inside the train. I liked how the ahjummas and ahjussis would claim their rightful spot in the reserved seating. I even liked how some people would slightly bump into me without the need to say sorry. I liked how they would rush into the first available seat they would see. I liked how they didn’t have reservations to sit next to each other. I liked seeing them express their emotions. I sincerely liked those things. Somehow, all those things reminded me of home, of normalcy.
I’ve been stressed for a while in Japan because of one thing. Being surrounded by people aggravates it even more. My visit to Seoul was just what I needed. I kind of feel like some of the things that I initially love in Japan are getting on my nerves. Well, I certainly know what I’m feeling right now is because of stress. But Seoul has truly been a perfect escape, even just for a few days.
This is the Dongdaemun Design Plaza (DDP) designed by Zaha Hadid.
Night view in Dongdaemun