Archive for the 'Travel' Category

School handball champions…

My school love handball, and they have good reason to. The boys team are pretty awesome and after cruising through their quarter finals match they steamed their way to the final of the national elementary school handball competition. They won on home turf here in Samcheok, defeating an Incheon school team by two goals. The girls team is nothing to be sniffed at either, coming a respectable third and still claiming a trophy. The whole school go mad for it, and you have all the students banging together home made drums made from empty water bottles, with the teachers keeping the students chanting in rhythm and banging their own drums. It’s quite a sight to see.

The game’s pretty good aswell, and can get quite physical. Sin bins, yellow cards, hard hits and several bloody noses are the standard of the day. The magic sponge seems to have been replaced with a magic towel that the assistant coach runs on with everytime one of the kids takes a big hit. When not in service to the players the magic towel is used to dab the sweat from the forehead of the coach, who looked like he was suffering from some jittery nerves. Well done boys and girls!



Tokyo and the modern world

I’ve just returned from a brisk 6 day trip to Japan’s capital city Tokyo. Claiming the title of ‘The world’s most populous metropolitan area’ with a population estimated at between 35 to 39 million, it is fair to say that Tokyo is not on the small side. I went through mixed emotions before heading off for Tokyo, having been initially full of excitement at the idea I started to question whether or not I was really as bothered as I had originally thought. I heard a few people say that it is ‘just like Seoul’ but very expensive. I had prepared for it to cost a lot and thought it would be worth the expense, this would not be the case however if it did in fact turn out to be just like Seoul which is obviously closer, cheaper, a bus ride away and actually not that exciting.  You can imagine my relief when I found out that this was simply not the case at all.

Obviously having been under the colonial rule of Japan for 36 years (S.Korea being liberated at the close of WWII) and successfully preventing invasion between 1592 and 1598, Korea shares many similarities with its neighbour. There were many similarities too, I noticed when I visited China in September. The temples are almost identical, as are the palaces, each one however striking in their grand design and colours. Sake, The national drink of Japan, even tastes remarkably similar to the popular and previously blogged Soju.

There are however many more differences than there are similarities. The most obvious and important one is food. Japan has it all, from traditional food of sushi and noodles to restaurants that can make even a burger seem exotic. I could not fault the food on many levels, and there was usually something to be found for every budget. The yakisoba noodles were to die for and it doesn’t take a genius to work out why Japan is famous for sushi! Even the wasabi packs a flavour and punch that seems superior to everywhere else. The beer was crisp and refreshing, which was a welcome break from the below par and chemical rich Korean beers of Cass and Hite. This does however come at a price and you can expect to pay around 800 yen (around 6 pounds) for just over half a pint in most bars.  There are of course ways to drink slightly cheaper such as in supermarkets or karaoke rooms with some offering deals of unlimited beer, however don’t expect many of the high street bar prices in Tokyo to drop much lower.

Another thing that many people will associate Japan with being famous for is its technology, be that cars, televisions, computer games, robots, whatever. There is no question that Japan is a world leader in the technology of tomorrow and they are also superb at holding on to the good technology of yesterday. Tokyo is a fantastic showcase of all things modern and contemporary in the technology world. You’ll find the district of Akihabara buzzing with shop after shop of top of the range technology, 3 and 4D tvs, games consoles from the modern Playstation 3 to old school SNES, cameras and sound systems, everykind of electronic device you can imagine you can buy here. The big Japanese companies Sony and Panasonic also have offices that they use as a showcase for their future technology where you can go in and test out the equipment of tomorrow, demonstrating their striking new HD 3D capabilities and eco-friendly systems on every level. Even the taxis are a hidden luxury, looking like something that was deigned in the 70’s, at first glance they appear to be outdated and old-fashioned, until you look a little closer and see the glisten of the lights of Tokyo shining off of their flawless metallic paintwork and the automatic doors that open at the touch of a drivers button, filled with all the latest gadgets these are just another example of how technology has worked its way into everyday life in Tokyo, from toilet seats that lift themselves when you open the door and flush themselves when you leave to a tv screen imbedded into the wall at every seat in a restaurant. If you want to know what life will be like in the future then look no further than Tokyo.

All in all I can only find a few reasons to fault Tokyo, or indeed Japan in general. The subway system can be quite confusing offering several different companies, lines, stations and conflicting maps. The price of most things in general can too be enough to put some people off. In every other aspect it is simply fantastic. Japanese people are in my experience very friendly and helpful, the food and drink is spectacular and  the lights and sights of the city by day or night are truly fantastic. The view from the tops of the high rise buildings can be breathtaking and there is so much to do you can really never get bored. Every day was packed full of fun and excitement and I really left very satisfied and eager to return again. You’d go a long way to show me a city in the world that I prefer to Tokyo, and to top it all off they drive on the left. Perfect.

Tokyo taxi that looks like it was designed in 1970

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