Tuesday, April 03, 2007


So I went to Osaka recently to renew my work visa. It was very nice -- it's just an overnight stay, but a necessary part of getting and keeping a legal job in Korea. One nice thing about doing this is that the Korean consulate in Osaka is smack in the middle of one of the coolest areas in Osaka. I had to walk around for a while, after handing in my form, to find a reasonably priced hotel, but after that, I had to wait overnight before my Visa was ready, so I just pretty much had time to kill for one night.

Now, last time I did an Osaka visa run, I wandered around all evening by myself, ending up with nothing to show for it except sore feet. This time, things went much better. Personally, I don't like travelling unless it includeds 2 elements:

1. food
2. people

If I travel alone, I'm not a happy cat, and if I don't enjoy the food, I'll have a sour taste in my mouth when I get back (har har har). That's why malaysia was so great to me: I was travelling with Anthony and Amy, my awesome coworkers, and I was eating fantastic food like, every single meal. Well, my first time in Osaka, all I really knew was that a lot of Japanese noodle dishes include buckwheat, one of my two allergies. This meant, since I couldn't read Japanese, I had to wander around looking at the picture menus outside restaurants to try and find a restaurant where the dishes looked like they didn't have grey noodles, and wish for the best. Plus, I was travelling alone.

This time, I was sitting in a Starbucks when a white dude swooped in on a seat as soon as a Japanese lady left. Turns out, his name is Paul and he is from Vancouver. He'd lived in Osaka for four years, so we had a nice, two-hour long conversation about living, as Western Canadians, in Korea and Japan. It was pretty fun. Then, before he left to meet his friend, I asked him the crucial question:

"Do you know any good places to eat around here?"

"Sure. Let me show you my favourite sushi place, and another place you gotta try."


So I went to a really delicious, inexpensive sushi place -- sushi can be two kinds. Pay a big price for "all you can eat" and they'll keep feeding you until you're stuffed, but you get what you pay for at a place like that. Low price = low quality and the worst cuts of the fish. There's also "all you can afford" sushi -- where it comes on revolving places that run around a track, and you can pick off different ones, and pay according to the colours of the plates you pick off. This adds up quickly, especially if you're hungry, and (like me) can eat sushi like candy. But Paul showed me a nicely priced place, and I ate fantastically my first night.

Then, later that night, I was wandering aimlessly again (a common practice among those who don't know the best places to hang out in a neighbourhood), and crossed paths with another fella whom I'd spotted several other times, on the flight, and then also at the Korean consulate. He was also living in Seoul, and doing a visa run. As we started chatting, it seemed like we had quite a lot in common. He and I both love writing, think along similar lines, and had similar upbringings.

Well, we just kept on chatting, about the people walking by, about Korea, about our life stories. We ate Japanese style ramen at a little place, spotted a hobo sleeping in a phone booth, and then, as we walked by an empty sort of plaza/courtyard, we spotted something fantastic.

Out there, in the middle of the courtyard, were about twenty-five kids -- teenaged or early twenties -- in mildly disorganized groups, dancing their hearts out! They didn't seem organized, there wasn't any instructor apparent; they just danced, practicing sequences, giving each other tips, some playing music and some moving to the rhythm in their heads. Some were extremely talented, others only moderately so.

I'm told there are, what amounts to street-dancing clubs, in some of the poorer countries in south Asia, too -- just dancing for the joy of it, for the fun, for the escape, maybe, but whyever they did it, there was this crowd of kids out there just doing something of pure joy. Especially, it was great to be watching such a thing of physical joy, with another lover of writing -- a different kind of expression of joy. We watched for about forty minutes, and still, they danced. Some tired and left, some stayed. Security guards from the building came by to watch, but instead of dispersing them or turning off the lights, just left them be.

The next day, I saw Mike again (the writer) -- we talked until late, and then went home. We met again at the consulate, and again, spent lunch and the afternoon walking around and chatting. He has an interesting history I'm still learning about, he's ALSO from British Columbia, Canada, and he's been in Korea for about five years, so we have a lot to talk about, and we both love going to cool restaurants.

Lunch that day, we went to the second place Paul had recommended to us. It was a dish called okonomi yaki, a cake made with a bit of horseradish and green onion with a nice flavour to it, topped with sauce, vegetables, and (at the specialty restaurant) anything else you wanted, pretty much. Here are the ones Mike, Steve and I ate.

This is probably in the top ten dishes I've eaten in the entire last five years. (And that's saying something, the last five years encompassing most areas of Seoul, trips to Malaysia Alberta and Tokyo/Yokohoma, but there you have it.) Ridiculously delicious! I don't know how to describe it, except to say, if you find a Japanese place that serves okonomi yaki, I won't guarantee it'll taste as good as what we had in Osaka (just like Kimchi in Canada doesn't even hold a match to Seoul Kimchi, much less a candle), but give it a try, I suppose. Here's what it looks like.

After that, we wandered around an underground shopping center, found a park and chased pigeons, tried to get lost but couldn't, and enjoyed the sheer variety of Osaka architecture.

Here in Seoul, I'm walking around finding new, cool neighbourhoods, and enjoying the hell out of my new job. The way Matt said (after a great, silly walk around his neighbourhood,) "at first, the job situation doesn't look that impressive, but then, on second glance, your current job fits you like a glove, Rob". I agree. I've been walking down the street and bursting into a silly grin at random intervals, just for pure joy of life. It's been nice.

More later everyone! Love you all.

also: thanks for posting comments! it lets me know who's been reading my blog, and that makes me happy. Feel free to add something.

Take care.



tamie marie said...

rob! did you see that i've left you a thinking blogger award? come get it, friend!

tamie marie said...

rob! i read this post last night, and then i think i dreamed about seoul last night. or something.

i find it refreshing that you just acknowledge that you don't like traveling alone, or without good food. i feel the exact same way, but tend to try and force myself to become someone i'm not, to endure bad food with martyr-like patience, etc. etc. i learn from your honesty!

it sounds like things are very good with you, and i am so glad! yay for a good job, good co-workers, good food, and time to write. really, what more does a person need? okay, maybe a thing or two. but still. i celebrate the joy of your life with you.

melissa v. said...

Hi robo! I'm so happy to hear about your travelling adventures, and that you are now teaching adults. The kids were fun, and funny, but it must be nice to teach people who choose for themselves to learn a new language...miss you! Have you checked out my blog? Make a comment so I know you've been there (I esp. thot you'd enjoy my post about Sake).

melissa v. said...

Robo; thanks for visiting!! I knew you'd like Sake. I would LOVE a phone call anytime; I usually work thurs night/friday day shifts, and am home during the day most days (esp afternoons), and always in the evenings. The boys go to bed at 7:30 so call after that if you call in the evening. Miss u! Think you're great, and am SO excited you are writing so much, and so well. Re-send me your poetry blog site name and I will bookmark it; I haven't checked it out since you first sent me the link. xo!

mamachurchmouse said...

Zeke and I had a chance to eat okonomiaki at a place in Vancouver with Christopher R. one day which served "modern okonomiaki" and "post-modern okonomiaki" among other interesting varieties on the menu with similarly arbitrary (?) titles. And it was a thoroughly Japanese restaurant (not a western rip-off), so the menu was even more intriguing. It probably wasn't as good as what you had, but being in Vancouver it probably came as close to it as one can on the North American continent. Yum! Fun!

elizabeth said...

lovely Rob. thanks for sharing your latest adventures; it is a glorious thing, when one realizes they are living in joy.