As Amy was teaching for much of the week (apparently it’s fairly common for people to work), I spent some interminable days replacing lightbulbs, wandering around the local hills (and picking up some litter), reading about the fates of human societies and building a bird table to attach to the balcony railing of a sixteenth floor apartment (parts supplied by a local dump). About three hours after I’d attached it, a white dove turned up and gave it a thorough inspection. It later returned with a friend and proceeded to eat all the bird seed we’d put out – it remains to be seen whether any other birds will be attracted given the height above ground (doves are natural cliff dwellers; other common birds less so). We also found time to dine out (with the Seoul Veggie Club) at the SM (Supreme Master) Chiang Hai restaurant, a cult-run place where it’s possible to get vegetarian food in the heart of meat-loving Korea.
On my second weekend back in Korea, I was invited out to the US airbase support town of Songtan – a collection of bars and restaurants geared up to serving military people far from home. The main reason for going out here was to do some dancing at a country and western bar, but other distractions included darts, pool and table football (all of which I was thoroughly beaten at). An interesting quirk of the evening (aside from my efforts at the Texan two-step) was that the US national anthem was played towards the end (one guy, assuming I was American, asked me why I didn’t stand up) – but this was preceded by the unofficial USAF anthem, the video for which consisted of a lot of explosions and planes flying around. We finished the outing off with some enormous egg sandwiches at a local take-away.
The following day, we went into Seoul to check out Cirque du Soleil’s Quidam. A big top had been erected next to the baseball stadium, and we were awed and entertained (if also confused by the storyline) for the next few hours. That was the weekend – and my time in Korea had drawn to a close much too soon. Almost before I knew it I’d kissed Amy goodbye, boarded a bus, a train and a jetfoil and drifted over the sea to Japan.
It was actually pretty nice to be back. I didn’t hang around in Fukuoka, but jumped on the overnight bus to Osaka – by a happy coincidence, one of the places I didn’t see when I visited in the winter. It struck me as a bit seedier than either Tokyo or Kyoto (the places most tourists visit), but still bustling and immensely interesting. Osaka Castle was one of my first stops – a huge twin-moat site (complete with resident turtles and local fishermen) with a time capsule in the grounds (to be opened in 6970) and a squeaky-clean bailey looming over the surrounding parks. I also checked out Isshinji Temple, which contains several Buddha statues made out of the ashes of deceased followers (thus blending Buddhist Buddha image worship and Japanese ancestor worship) and, as my hotel’s showers were broken (or disconnected to save money), reacquainted myself with the delights of fully-equipped internet cafes.
For those of you not entirely filled-in on why I went back to Japan, it was due to extremely good value flights to Australia departing from Osaka (meaning I could avoid taking more than one flight to get there). I was scheduled to go to Sydney, but as it turned out we had to stop in Brisbane and so I convinced the check-in staff to let me off there (or, rather, here). The place strikes me as very Western, which probably shouldn’t come as a great surprise (I’m still not used to seeing lots of white people). Instead of rats or seagulls, there are marauding ibis (Threskiornis molucca) to steal discarded food, and various parks are planted with the odd wollemi pine (Wollemia nobilis), a tree that has survived since the time of the dinosaurs. My plan now is to take a loop up the coast to the Barrier Reef, round to Alice Springs (Uluru) and then back south (Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydney), with a farm stop somewhere along the way.