Keisokuji Temple 鶏足寺, Shiga 滋賀県

I exited Kinomoto Station and was greeted by two middle-aged men wearing Happi. For a moment, I wanted to ask them which bus stop is for Keisokuji Temple. But in the end, I just lined up in the area where there were four old men in complete hiking outfit. When the bus arrived, I went straight to the back part. I wasn’t expecting only a few local tourists to head to my destination. I thought maybe the place isn’t just popular. After 12 minutes, I pressed the alight button and got off at Imyojin Bus Stop as recommended by Google Map. I was left wondering why the other men ,who I assumed to be headed to the same place as I was, didn’t get off. I had the feeling I chose the wrong stop.

It’s autumn in Japan and I didn’t want to miss seeing the striking colors of Japanese maple leaves. Kyoto was my first choice, but I decided to go to Shiga Prefecture at the last minute. Kyoto might be one of the best places to visit during the fall, but I just couldn’t appreciate the place because of the crowd. In Shiga, there’s a place famous for its carpet of red maple leaves.  I saw it several times in Instagram and that’s how I ended up going to Keisokuji Temple.

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Beijing, China

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.

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Yehliu Geopark, Taiwan

I got a decent amount of money from my bag and stuffed it in my pocket.  I was paranoid to be walking alone near the road with hardly anyone in sight except for the small number of cars passing by.  It was blazing hot in midday on the north coast of Taiwan.  I was wearing a wide-brimmed tulip hat to protect my face from the sun’s heat, but it seemed not enough at all.  I kept reassuring myself that as long as it wouldn’t take me over twenty-five minutes to walk, I didn’t have to worry much.

I was supposed to get off at Yehliu bus stop, but I missed it.  I thought the bus announcement wasn’t loud enough.  I should have noticed that I was already at my destination when a group of elementary students with their teachers who are probably on a field trip got off to that stop.  I only figured it out when the bus passed the sign with the bus stop name.  I was sitting at the back so I didn’t really see it beforehand.  I got off at the next stop but it was quite a walk to Yehliu.

When I reached the area, I looked for signs that would direct me to Yehliu Geopark which is a famous destination in Northern Taiwan.  Then I just followed the only people walking who I deemed as tourists.  I passed by the port and saw many fishing boats.   Across the street, there were many restaurants with fresh seafood on display.  I could probably just pick what I wanted to eat and have it cooked to my liking.  It was tempting as it was already lunchtime.

I didn’t realize Yehliu Geopark was way further.  It was insanely hot.  I bought an entrance ticket when I arrived and then it was a few minutes walk again to see the geological formations.  I took my time admiring the unique rocks and began to notice tourists not following the rules in the area like not crossing the red line for one’s own safety.   I found it amusing how they would break the rules just to take pictures of themselves. I was so sweaty and I felt kind of dehydrated already, so I decided to leave the area with rock formations and headed on to a shade somewhere near the exit gate.  I even failed to see the famous Queen Nefertiti rock. There were many people lining up just to have a picture with it and I just couldn’t take the heat.

I checked my watch to see if I still had time to go to the nearest tourist destination near Yehliu.  I was actually pleased because it was still early in the afternoon. However, I felt like it would be a long ride home and I didn’t want to ride a crowded bus, so I decided to head back to the city.  It was such a tiring first full day outside Taipei.

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Kamikochi

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.

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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.

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Tulips

I hadn’t seen a field of tulips before, so I decided to visit my favorite garden in Mie which is Nabana No Sato.  This place changes the flowers depending on the season.  I remember in autumn it had cosmos festival.  And I think by the end of May,  a new set of flowers will be planted as soon as the tulips have withered.

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Go to Meitetsu Bus Center just somewhere at the back of Nagoya Station.  Buy a ticket to Nabana no Sato.  Here’s the bus schedule. (*Schedule may change without prior notice.)

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SeoulO Trip, South Korea

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.

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This is the Dongdaemun Design Plaza (DDP) designed by Zaha Hadid.

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Night view in Dongdaemun

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Myeongdong Market

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