Sunday, March 11, 2012

Where's a Small Town Wal-Mart When I Need One?

Grocery shopping here is a complete and utter nightmare. Being in a huge city means that at any given time the supermarket is likely to be packed. I prefer to do my shopping at a store called Home Plus. It's more or less Target without the awesomeness only Target can possess. You know, clothes, shoes, food, household items...though probably with more of the food selection of Wal-Mart.

Let me just start off by saying that Koreans are constantly in my way. In every shape, form and capacity, they are in my way. Walking down the sidewalk they will always make sure that I cannot pass them. In the subway, they will always make sure they aggressively bypass me to be the first on the train. They seem to have an extra sense that someone is trying to get past them in some way or another and then purposely get in the way. Kind of like a Pennsylvanian on Interstate. Lastly, at the supermarket, they will always be dragging their cart sidways down the aisle or walking three people deep through the produce or parking their buggies at the mouth of the aisle to check out what's on the end of said aisle or walking so slowly down the middle of the row that it's impossible to get around...the list goes on and on and on. It's as if they have rented out the entire store for themselves and they haven't a care of anyone else in the world...but there are a thousand other people trying to shop as well. And considering out of those thousand people there might be five foreigners (thinking the same things I am, by the way) that means that there are 995 Koreans all pulling their buggies sidways or parking them right in the middle of wherever and all thinking they are the only ones in the supermarket. NIGHTMARE.

Perhaps Americans are the same way I've just never experienced a big city supermarket before. Or perhaps there are just SO MANY people trying to shop at once, it's going to happen. Or perhaps it's an Asian thing because Japan was the same and yet I was in a very small town. I've just always seen with my own eyes that if I'm trying to get around someone, they move. Or if I sense someone around me, I get out of the way. It just seems like a second nature thing to do.

Another thing I hate about grocery shopping is their aversion to shopping bags. Not that they don't have them, they don't give them to you automatically. Let's say I pull up to the cashier with 35 items in my buggy. She rings it all through to the other side of the conveyor just like anywhere else. But once everything is through it all just sits there. Back home, in most places, they bag things for you. In Japan, they gave you the amount of bags they thought you would need then you bag them yourself. In Korea, they just stare at you, daring you to ask for bags to put your things in. I don't know what goes through the cashier's mind when she sees I have a counter full of things and nothing to carry them in as I'm paying but I have had to ask, literally every single time I've gone to the store, for bags. And then sometimes it's like I've asked for them to run to the bag factory and make me some. Like, why don't I have 15 arms to carry all my stuff home? Maybe there is something more to the bag thing that I don't know about, but whatever it is, it's one of the most annoying and inconvenient thing I've run across.

If you haven't been able to tell, I just got home from Home Plus. I feel like I just came home from battling orcs in Mordor. Goooooooooooood NIGHT!

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

My Japanese Weekend

Ever since deciding not to return to Japan and come to Korea all of that stuff we left there has been lurking in the back of my mind. When we left Japan in April we had every intention of going back within a few months and so packed for West Virginia just as if we were heading there for a long vacation, and a warm vacation at that, leaving all of our winter things and household items at a friend's place in Mitoyo. What we didn't anticipate was coming to Korea, therefore temporarily abandoning most of our belongings in a different country.  We finally came back to Asia in December and I truly wasn't worried about our things because we had planned on going over Christmas break (we both had significant time off school) to retrieve everything. Well, it turns out we had no extra money so we couldn't go in December. Our plans for getting our things was postponed indefinitely.

Then, like a sign from Heaven, our friend back home who was in charge of selling my car sold it on a holiday weekend (3 day weekend!) so, in my opinion, that extra money was supposed to go straight into the Japan trip. We get to the ferry terminal and find out that 1. The ferry was leaving within a few hours and 2. It was way more expensive than originally thought so only one of us (me) could go. So right then and there I had to decide whether to embark on this overnight ferry/6 hour bullet train ride alone. I decided that I didn't have enough time to prepare myself for going so that trip was also a bust.

Finally, I get my vacation schedule for the year and see that I have a Wed, Thurs, Fri off school at the beginning of March and so I, at long last, have the perfect opportunity to go. By this time I was rotating like three sweaters and not very warm ones at that. (All my winter stuff is in Japan, remember?) so I compare prices on the ferry vs. flying and flying wins out so I book my flight to Osaka.

The weeks before leaving, going to Japan was ALL I could think about. It was almost like going back home again. Going back to the familiar. The thought was blissful to me. I finally get to eat some good food and get some things that I've been missing terribly...along with getting all my belongings! But then, March 1 was only a few days away and I kept thinking that there are much better things I'd rather be doing with my week off from laying around doing nothing...and now I have to trek to Japan and haul back two giant suitcases. By the time I left I was excited, yes, but also wishing I didn't have the reason to have to go in the first place.

I hop the plane with only my backpack and take the 1 hour and 5 minute flight to Osaka and catch my 3 1/2 hour bus back to Kagawa.

Once getting off the bus Sarah was waiting for me and it was like a sight for sore eyes! So nice seeing someone I've known for more than a few months! Once settled into her newly acquired van (nicknamed "the rape van" for it's plain, white, creepy outward appearance) we pull out into the left lane and I feel like I'm back to normal. We get back to her apartment and gossip about new people, old people, GEM was so nice. Then I crawl onto an incredibly comfortable mattress (the mattresses in Korea offer little more comfort than a slab of concrete) and fall asleep. The next morning I wake up and walk onto the tatami mats (which I really don't miss, I like my hardwood floors) and grow increasingly excited about my day. I catch the train first to Sakaide and stop for some Udon (something I miss beyond belief) then catch another train to Takase station where Jeremy picks me up and we head for his house so I can root through our things. I had every intention of getting through it fast and hopefully being done within an hour. After I arrive and see that we left much, much more than I remembered I was lucky to get done within three hours. I loaded the suitcases with clothes, sheets, duvets, medicines, pictures frames, decor, DVDs...and leaving many things behind. Both a big and small duffle and maybe five boxes are still in Japan that will eventually have to be picked up or sent home. Bah.

I get back to Sarah's exhausted but realize I'm not going to have as much time as I thought to do everything I want so I decide to make a trip to Zara...the one thing I was looking forward to most after getting my things. All I wanted was a nap but I dragged myself back to the station and caught the train to Kataharamachi and head for Zara. It was just as pleasant as I remember. I go straight upstairs to the sale section (something the Korea Zaras lack) and find a lovely table full of things for 690 yen. Fantastic. I try on a million things but end up walking out with only three (including a fabulous pair of green jeans) and unfortunately nothing for Al. No mens' sales. I could spent $5,000 in there at the drop of a hat. Best store ever. By the time I'm finished it's time to meet Sarah in Sakaide because we're going to the World's Best Yakiniku. While waiting for her I roam around the supermarket and all that does is make me very, very angry at how much cheaper groceries are there than they are here in Korea. Ugh! Her train gets in and I meet her and her friend Scott and we head to the restaurant where the owner remembers me! Hooray! We take off our shoes and sit on the floor (something else I don't miss) and wait on our friend Corey (another familiar face!). We order about five plates of karubi beef before we're all full and it was just as oishi as ever. They all decide they want to go to Amazon after dinner and although I'm dreadfully tired I give in. Once back in Takamatsu and at Amazon an influx of foreigners arrive and I feel SO out of place because I know hardly anyone! It's so strange being back in a place I know so well but all the faces have changed.

The next day I slept very late and wanted to do a little more shopping so I head back to Sakaide. I had lunch at Joyfull (curry rice, omg) and then walked to Shimamura to get some tights. I wanted to go to The Jumble Store (a used clothing shop) and have a poke around so I went all the way to Utazu and found nothing. I was incredibly disappointed. After my sad trip to Utazu I accidentally get the slow train all the way back to Takamatsu and it takes an hour. (I don't miss the trains in Kagawa...partly because they look so stupid)

I get back to Sarah's and it's time to get ready for her birthday party! So excited! It's blacklight themed so we get in our brightest clothes and head back in the direction from which I just came and head for the Marugame shotongai. So many people come and again I feel terribly out of place because I know no one. Let's say 40 people came, I knew 5 or 6. I kinda just sat back and wanted Sarah to have lots of fun and people watched until I spotted someone I knew. After the initial party we went to my old haunt, Fuse. It's just a teeny little bar that fills corner to corner with foreigners on the weekend. They have some karaoke machines which is the biggest draw to the place. Corey, a few others and I went there before anyone else and I had a blast singing, although I was a tad disappointed that Naoya hadn't updated the machines hardly at all since I left. Oh well. I fell asleep at like 3am in the booth. No worries.

The next day we sleep very late and I don't have time to get some things at the supermarket like I wanted so I run in really quickly and grab some yakiniku sauce and head back to the bus station. The bus back to KIX was so crowded, I've never seen it like that, I mean who goes to Kagawa?

Before going to Japan in the first place I read on Asiana's (Air Busan) website about my baggage allowance so I wouldn't go over and have to pay. It said 20 kilos (44lbs) so I thought that was pretty straight. Once at the airport and checking in I put my first bag on the scale and it was like 21 kilos or something, no worries. Then they ask me to put my other bag on as well...the 20 kilo max is for ALL baggage. Are you kidding me, Air Busan? My smaller suitcase was 14 kilos alone! Those douchebags made me pay 14,000 yen, that's like $160! Needless to say I was almost in tears because I was so proud of myself for bringing back so much cash and hardly spending any while I was away. Al wasn't happy when I told him.

So, beyond mad, I get to my gate and wait for the plane. I board, do my pre-flight praying ritual and settle in. After an hour and half and a very rough landing I'm finally landing in Korea, and actually, very glad to be. What seems like an eternity in immigration and customs and baggage claim I see Al and yes, I missed him something awful.

Now I'm finally sleeping in my own sheets with my own curtains and own house decor and it's slowly starting to look like our place. The dust from everything has given me some kind of attack but I'm dealing. I no longer have horrible pangs to go to Japan. Everything that I remember I hated about the place started setting in the last few days. And I guess I can't say hated, everything that was super annoying. I wish I could squish Busan and Kagawa into one city and then I'd be happy. Give me the concrete jungle I live in now and the people in it but with the supermarkets, shopping and food of Japan and that would be perfection!

Either way, glad to be home!