Japan 6 – Snow Monkeys – 12/2014

July 30, 2015

Let the truth be known, one of the main reasons Monika and I wanted to visit Japan was to see the amazing Snow Monkeys. In the frigid valley of Japan’s Shiga-Kogen (Shiga Highlands) near Nagano, the site of 1998 Winter Olympics, there is a thermal spring that has been discovered by a troop of Japanese Macaque monkeys. They are also known as the Snow Monkeys because they live in areas where snow covers the ground for months each year. No other non-human primate is more northern-living, nor lives in a colder climate, surviving winter temperatures of below -15 °C, (5°F). They have brown-gray fur, a red face, hands and bottom, a short tail and big ears, and often seem remarkably human-like.

Snow Monkeys Japan 6 47In 1964 the Jigokudani Yaenkoen Park opened. It is located in the valley of the Yokoyu River that flows down from the Shiga-Kogen. At an elevation of 850 m, (2,788 ft), surrounded by steep cliffs and hot water steaming out from the earth’s surface, the area is called Jigokudani (“Hell’s Valley”). The monkeys discovered the pool of warm water and made it their winter home. Free food too…..

A great way to travel through Japan is with the Japan Rail Pass. You need to buy it before you arrive in Japan. From Kanazawa, it took three train rides, a bus and finally a taxicab, (because an avalanche had closed the train tracks), to get to our accommodation in the Hakuba area. Dragging our luggage behind us through the snow we arrived at the Pension Ratanrirun, mostly frequented by skiers and snow borders. It was a cozy place with a Japanese style hot tub, bathroom down the hall and comfortable beds.

In the morning, getting an early start to avoid the crowds, a bus brought us to the trailhead for the Snow Monkey Park. From there it was a steep 40-minute hike up a treacherously icy trail to the hot pool where this particular troop of Japanese Macaques has made its hangout. For the first time during our two-year adventure around the world, we wished we had our MSR trekking poles and our Yaktrax traction clip-ons for ice and hard-packed snow, but of course they were packed safely in The Turtle V, now in the middle of the Pacific Ocean on its way to California.

We could tell you all kinds of wonderful Snow Monkeys Japan 6 57things about these amazing monkeys but the pictures are worth a thousand words. Just for fun we have included a caption here and there. The animals are so used to tourists; thousands come every year to see them. In the wild they spend most of their time in forests and feed on seeds, buds, fruit, invertebrates, berries, leaves, and bark. In the park they are fed rice in the winter by Park Rangers who watch over the crowd to make sure no one steps out of line. A sign at the entrance says it all:

 “You may think these monkeys are your long-lost relatives. They don’t! Don’t touch them.”

That evening, delighted we had finally seen the famous snow monkeys, we walked through the neighborhood in search of dinner. Skiers were happy.  The snow was dumping hard. The air was crisp and the fresh powder was squeaking under our boots. It was a magical night, our last in Japan. A local bar served some excellent Sashimi, still a bit pricey. The restaurant that supposedly offered Kobe beef was already closed so we ended up eating the worst pizza we’ve ever had.

Trudging back to the train station in the morning in the dark, we caught a series of trains to the Narita airport in Tokyo for our flight to San Francisco. It was New Year’s Eve 2014, the longest we have ever experienced (32 hours).

You may think that’s the end of our journey. It’s not. Without reverting to Greece where we left off with our blogs on our Around-the-World Adventure, we have to tell you first about Gary’s birthday party. Stay tuned.

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Japan 5 – Hiroshima – 12/2014

July 18, 2015

At 8:15 AM, August 6, 1945, an American B-29 bomber carried out the World’s first atomic bombing. The bomb was about 3 m, (9.8 ft.), long and weighed about 4 tons. It was called “Thin Man” at first because of its long thin design. When the actual bomb turned out to be shorter than expected, the name was changed to “Little Boy”.

The bomb exploded approximately 600 m, (2,000 ft), above and 160 m, (525 ft), southeast of the Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall, ripping through and igniting the building, instantly killing everyone in it. Because the blast struck from almost directly above, some of the center walls remained standing. Even the building’s iron frame could be recognized as a dome. After the war these dramatic remains came to be known as the A-Bomb Dome.

The impressive Hiroshima Peace Museum

The impressive Hiroshima Peace Museum

The bomb was delivered by a total of three B-29 bombers. One carried devices for scientific observation, another carried photographic equipment, and the third called Enola Gay, named after Col. Paul Tibbits’ (the pilot) mother, actually carried the bomb.

On the streets of Hiroshima it was just another Monday. It dawned clear and sunny. The yellow air raid alarm was cleared and the hot summer’s day began as usual.

The detonation of the “Little Boy” created a fireball that blazed like a small sun. More than 1,000,000°C, (1,800,032 F°), at its center, the fireball reached a maximum diameter of 280 m, (918 ft.), in two seconds. Surface temperatures near the hypocenter rose up to 4,000°C, (7,232F°). Fierce heat rays and radiation burst out in every direction, expanding the air around the fireball and creating a super high-pressure blast. These factors interacted in complex ways to inflict tremendous damage.

Although the casualties are not precisely known, approximately 140,000 people are believed to have died by the end of 1945. Among them were many school children and South Korean prisoners of war, mobilized to demolish buildings near the city center for fire lanes. Buildings within a 2 km, (1.5 mi), radius of the hypocenter crumbled and burnt to the ground. Death was often presumed from personal effects left behind. Many bodies were never found or identified.

Japan Hiroshima 28

Hiroshima Peace Museum’s reflection in the Peace Pond

People close to the hypocenter said the atomic explosion looked yellowish red. Those further away reported a bright bluish white light resembling burning magnesium. The intense thermal rays from the fireball caused burns within a radius of up to 3.5 km, (2mi). Those within 1.2 km, (1,312 yd.), of the hypocenter sustained severe injuries to their internal organs and most died within a few days.

As we walked past the shocking photos of the results of this horrific act of war, as an American, I could not help but feel sad, and I could only wonder how many American lives had been saved and the thousands of other soldiers and civilians who would have perished had the war not been stopped in its tracks. And then again, remembering what the Japanese did at Pearl Harbor, I could not repress the smugness of thinking, “Well, did we get your attention?”

In fact, the devastation brought to Hiroshima had not been sufficient to convince the Japanese War Council to accept the Potsdam Conference’s demand for unconditional surrender. On August 9 at 1:56 a.m., a specially adapted B-29 bomber, called “Bock’s Car,” after its commander, Frederick Bock, took off from Tinian Island under the command of Major Charles W. Sweeney. Nagasaki was a shipbuilding center, the very industry intended for destruction. The bomb was dropped at 11:02 a.m., 503 m, (1,650 ft.), above the city. The explosion unleashed the equivalent force of 22,000 tons of TNT. The hills that surrounded the city did a better job of containing the destructive force, but the number killed is estimated at anywhere between 60,000 and 80,000 (exact figures are impossible, the blast having obliterated bodies and disintegrated records). Even though the Japanese War Council still remained divided, Emperor Hirohito, by request of two War Council members eager to end the war, met with the Council and declared, “continuing the war can only result in the annihilation of the Japanese people…” The Emperor of Japan gave his permission for unconditional surrender.

The Children's Peace Monument is dedicated to Sadako Sadaki and thousands of other child victims of the A-bombing in Hiroshima.

The Children’s Peace Monument is dedicated to Sadako Sadaki and thousands of other child victims of the A-bombing in Hiroshima.

The beautiful Memorial Monument for Hiroshima, City of Peace, erected on August 6, 1952, embodies the hope that Hiroshima, will stand forever as a City of Peace. The stone chamber in the center contains the register of Deceased A-bomb Victims. The inscription on the front panel offers a prayer for the peaceful repose of the victims and a pledge on behalf of all humanity never to repeat the evil of war. It expresses the spirit of Hiroshima – enduring grief, transcending hatred, pursuing harmony and prosperity for all, and yearning to genuine, lasting world peace.

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Japan 4 – Parks & Temples – 12/2014

July 9, 2015

In case you never get to visit Japan, we wanted to give you a quick glimpse of some of the amazing parks and temples we saw. While every big city in the world has beautiful parks, those of Kyoto were spectacular. It seemed that almost every leaf and twig and branch had been exactly trimmed. Many of the parks have ponds and surround beautiful temples. The attention to detail of the buildings was exquisite.

Japan Parks & Temples 24In Kyoto, one of its main attractions was a huge courtyard of carefully manicured gravel and a few rocks but no trees. It’s the internationally famous Rock Garden that is said to have been created by a highly respected Zen monk named Tokuho Zenketsu around 1500.

Japan Parks & Temples 14In Kanazawa’s Kenrokuen Garden and Castle Park each tree had guidelines to maintain the exact shape of each limb and to help protect them from heavy snow loads. The historic castle is being restored and its woodworking was amazing. There appeared to be no nails or metal fasteners. Each beam and truss was joined using interlocking joints and pegs.

On a little side trip to the historic village of Shirakawago winter had already come. Old traditional houses were heavily laden with snow. Many were open to the public. Exhibits showed how people lived a 100 years ago.

A quick look at these pictures will give you an idea of another element of Japan.

 

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Japan 3 – Food – 12/2014

June 28, 2015

Food is such an important part of traveling to new countries. While we do most of our own cooking in our self-contained camper, we never miss the opportunity to try the local specialties. Wandering through the market place in Kyoto, without a translator standing next to us, the question was, “What is it?” While there were a few things we could recognize, there were many others that looked more like bait to me. Shrimp and baby octopus were easy to identify. Fresh crab was a popular item but at prices like 25,000 Yen, ($202.00), or even 42,000 Yen ($339.00), apiece or per kilo, we settled for a little take-out sushi.

Food Japan 004Normal vegetables were plentiful, but they took on a different appearance when prepared Japanese style. Spices are a very interesting part of Japanese cooking and there were plenty to choose from. We were particularly intrigued with Sansho Japanese Peppers, actually seedpods of the Japanese prickly ash (Zanthoxylum piperitum). They have a sharp, citrusy taste, with an electrifying tingling numbness that can linger for more than ten minutes. Related to Szechuan peppercorns, but far stronger, they bring a sensation that is something like a mild electrical current. Sanshos appear to act on several different kinds of nerve endings at once, inducing a sensitivity to touch and cold in nerves that are ordinarily nonsensitive, causing a kind of general neurological confusion in your mouth. Yes, you can taste a few in the market.

Safe to say, if it swims in the ocean it’s edible, and sometimes pricy. The record for a bluefin tuna was $1.8 million. Yeah, $1,800,000.00 US dollars! The best slices of fatty bluefin – called “o-toro” can sell for 2,000 Yen ($17.00) per piece at upmarket Tokyo sushi bars. The fish’s tender pink and red meat is prized for sushi. With a single mouthful-sized piece of sashimi weighing around 1 oz, the record-breaking tuna is worth around $219.00 per bite. Japanese eat 80 per cent of the bluefin tuna caught worldwide.

Food Japan 042To wash it all down, there is always tea or sake. Tea is served with most meals and we found some interesting varieties in the market. We visited the Historic Gekkeikan Sake Okura Museum for an educational tour showing how this traditional wine was distilled.

Japan’s tradition of sake making began more than 2,000 years ago shortly after rice cultivation was introduced from China. Though the first few centuries yielded a beverage quite unlike that of today, years of experience perfected brewing techniques and increased sake’s overall appeal and popularity. The Gekkeikan sake brewery was founded in 1637 in the town of Fushimi, a location well known for its high quality of water.

If you want to take an experimental viewpoint, sometimes what makes a food fall into the “gourmet” class, is that you don’t know how it was made or what’s in it. When all else fails, there is always a hot dog on a stick and a cold beer. See how many of the photos here you can identify.

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Japan 2 – Geisha – 12/2014

June 4, 2015

Whatever images might come up when we think of Japan, Toyotas, Nikon cameras, Sony TVs and Sushi, the beautiful and mysterious Geishas should be included. When Monika said she wanted to go to Japan to see the Snow Monkeys, I immediately imagined going to spa and having a nice massage by a Geisha. Well, that idea was quickly blown out of the water.

Japan 2 035The misconception of the Geisha image comes from the period of the Allied Occupation of Japan when “Geisha girls” were Japanese women who worked as prostitutes (not entertainers). They almost exclusively serviced American GIs stationed in the country who referred to them as “Geesha girls”, a mispronunciation. These women dressed in kimonos and imitated the look of a real Geisha. Many Americans unfamiliar with the Japanese culture could not tell the difference between legitimate geishas and these costumed performers. Shortly after their arrival in 1945, some occupying American GIs are said to have congregated in Ginza, a district of Cjuo in central Tokyo and shouted, “We want geesha girls! “We want geesha girls! Eventually, the term “geisha girl” became a general word for any female Japanese prostitute. This is largely responsible for the continuing misconception in the West that all geishas are engaged in prostitution.

Japan 2 034In fact, a Geisha (the correct name is actually “Geika”) is a highly respected traditional Japanese female entertainer who acts as a hostess and whose skills include performing various Japanese arts such as classical music, the traditional tea ceremony, dance, games and conversation, mainly to entertain male customers. She doesn’t do massages nor anything like it. A Geisha may gracefully flirt with her (often infatuated) guests but she will always remain in control of the hospitality. Over her years of apprenticeship as a Maiko she learns to adapt to different situations and personalities, mastering the art of the hostess. Modern Geishas still live in traditional okiya (Geisha houses) in areas called hanamachi or “flower towns”, particularly during their apprenticeship.

The Geishas’ dress, makeup and hairstyle are very complicated and highly stylized, and change as a Geisha moves through the stages of training, starting at a very early age. Simply applying the classic Geisha makeup can take over an hour before the multilayered kimonos are put on.

On the street, especially during festivals times like New Year, many young women either buy or rent beautiful kimonos and parade with their friends around the popular social centers but we actually saw women of all ages wearing kimonos on the Emperor’s birthday and a theater performance we attended.

To take the image to a personal level, Monika decided to become a Geisha, well, sort of. Of course, I had to become a Samurai too, well, sort of. They forgot to give me the sword. The professional makeover and outfitting took over an hour and the results were quite surprising. In the end, I seriously thought of renting Monika out but she couldn’t sing nor play cards in Japanese. Oh well. I was still hoping for a massage. That never happened either. We ate Sushi instead.

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Japan 1 – Kyoto – 12/2014

May 30, 2015

With The Turtle V safely on its way back to California, we had a little time to burn. One of the countries we had always been interested in visiting was Japan. Being so close to South Korea it was easy to take the overnight ferry to Osaka and the “bullet train” to Kyoto.

Japan 1 046According to Wikipedia, Japanese are the sixth largest Asian American group in the US at roughly 1,304,286, including those of mixed-race or mixed-ethnicity. Southern California has the largest Japanese-American population in North America. Hard working and industrious, they are an integral part of our American culture. In their own country they form an exciting and totally unique culture, much different than we might have imagined just because they make Toyotas and Hondas.

Reputation has it that Japan is extremely expensive to travel in. Our current Lonely Planet guide suggested that if you don’t mind eating noodles once in a while and keep away from five-star hotels, Japan is not cheap but quite affordable.

The first guesthouse we stayed at was very traditional, with the bathroom downstairs requiring careful negotiation of something close to a chicken ladder. Our room was covered with grass mats. No chair, no table, and the beds were rather thin futons, an interesting experience. Soon we would move to a western-style apartment. OK, so we’re soft.

Japan 1 050While the public transportation system was excellent, traffic congestion often made it slower than walking. The other option was the uncountable number of taxicabs, mostly black and polished as if they were going to a car show. The drivers wore snappy hats, white gloves, coat and tie, and looked more like private limousine drivers.

On Christmas Eve we treated ourselves to the opening of the Kabuki season of the popular Minamiza Theater. While the costumes and actors were, ahhh—, interesting, everything was in Japanese so I think I may have missed parts of the four-hour performance. Quite surprisingly, during the lengthy intermission, most people popped out their little lunch boxes and chopsticks and enjoyed dinner right in their seats.

Strolling through the dark streets of the Geisha District after the performance, (more about that later), we always felt totally safe. The nighttime colors of fountains and canals were beautiful.

 

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Overland Expo 2015

May 25, 2015

It was 4:00 in the morning. An angry wind buffeted the side of our truck. I peeked out the window and it was snowing. What the ???!!? Glancing at the outside temperature gauge, it was a bitter 33°F. Inside it was a toasty 65°F as our Espar Airtronic purred away in its “maintenance mode”. I could only feel sorry for the hundreds of people surrounding us sleeping in ground tents, rooftop tents and pop-up campers. This was late Spring and it wasn’t supposed to snow or even rain.

We were attending the 7th annual Overland Expo at Mormon Lake Lodge outside Flagstaff, Arizona. It’s an event that is dear to our hearts since we can take some credit for bringing this level of recreational vehicle travel into its present popular state. These were not rock-crawlers or four-wheelers, towing their custom vehicles on a trailer to the trailhead, nor were they RVers driving giant motorhomes with three slide-outs. The six hundred registered attendees at this year’s event think of themselves as “Overland Travelers”, though perhaps not to the extreme of The Turtle Expedition, having recently finished our second circumnavigation of the planet. They may just be off for a couple of weeks in Mexico or perhaps a little jaunt down to the tip of South America and back.

Overland Expo 2015 042

To facilitate their experience of being “Overland Travelers”, there were 245 exhibitors showing off their specialized products. Everything from elaborate cook sets to rooftop tents to winches to complete ready-to-put-food-in-the-refrigerator-and-head-down-the-road-of-adventure vehicles. The options ranged from Jeeps and Land Rovers with rooftop fold-out tents to totally custom $800,000 giant Unimog and Freightliner trucks converted and built specifically for traveling overland in comfort with at least the intention of being able to go on bad roads, not just paved highways hopping from KOA to KOA. We question the practicality of some of them.

Our own Turtle V Expedition Vehicle with its custom Tortuga Camper always draws lots of attention because of its practical and functional design and compact size. It’s not too big to go on the backroads we’ve been following for 40 years but it has the luxuries of hard sides, a shower, a toilet, a comfortable bed, and the facilities to cook healthy meals on the road anywhere in the world. Having just returned from our 40,000–mile/22-country/two-year expedition following the Silk Road and driving from the Atlantic (Portugal) to the Pacific (China), up through Mongolia, Russia, and finally into South Korea before shipping home, The Turtle V exemplifies what an overland travel vehicle is supposed to be able to do.

During the event Monika and I sat on three Q&A “Ask the Experts” panels. We also presented a PowerPoint Photo Selection on portions of our adventure along the Silk Road.

While motorcycle enthusiasts tested BMWs and other motorcycles on a special track, the Land Rover folks were doing “ride and drives” over an extremely challenging muddy course. A gathering of ex-Camel Trophy Team Members were teaching attendees how to assemble log bridges the hard way. A total of 140 trainers were busy teaching 187 seminars and classes covering everything from winch safety to how to travel with dogs and children, reading GPS maps and long-distance trip planning.

Torrential rain and melting snow had made things difficult to say the least. Our own truck was sitting in a mud bog surrounded by a small lake. The clay/mud resembled something like brown Crisco. Despite the inclement weather, 3,500 enthusiasts milled through the interesting displays during the three-day event. Many stopped to talk with us. It gave us a great feeling to have dozens of fans telling us that reading our stories over the past four decades was their inspiration to become “Overland Travelers”. We realized that aside from just having a great time traveling around the world, we had evolved to a second purpose in our lives, to inspire others to follow our example.

With a little bit of sun on Sunday some of the larger vehicles made an attempt to follow the off-road driving course and proceeded to get thoroughly bogged down in the mud pits. Happy Hour each day gave everyone a chance to reconnect with old friends and meet new ones, all with a common interest.

Overland Expo 2015 044

Monday morning as the campers in the outfield, some with 2-wheel drive vans or heavy trailers, were being winched and towed out of the ankle-deep mud, we joined Marc Wassmann, founder of XPCamper, and headed for the nearest car wash to spray off some of the slop. Driving north through rain squalls and dust storms we finally emerged on the north side of the front that had been tormenting us and arrived at one of our favorite campsites in the incredibly beautiful Valley of the Gods. The weather still reminded us that Mother Nature always has the upper hand. We were treated to spectacular sunrises, sunsets and even a rainbow. Using our Mexican “discada”, (basically an old plow disc welded up into a portable wok), we had some wonderful meals with Marc, (a professional chef before he turned to building expedition campers), handling preparations. It was a great way to wind down after an exciting weekend. As we drove out the gravel road that twists its way through the Valley of the Gods we were reminded why we were Overland Travelers.

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South Korea 9 – 12/2014

May 12, 2015

Coming to the End of a Great Adventure is always a little sad. We headed south toward the megapolis of Busan. With a growing population of 3.6 million, we had no reason to drive into the city center, and in any case, we probably would not have found a parking place for The Turtle V. Aside from being the only city in the World with an United Nations Cemetery (see South Korea Blog 2), perhaps the most interesting claim to fame in the records of Busan is that on October 2, 1274, Kublai Khan, the grandson of Genghis Khan and the head of the Mongol Yuan dynasty, felt that Japan would be easy to subdue. With over 20,000 Mongol troops on board 900 ships sailing out of Busan Bay, the attempt to conquer Japan was a failure.

We continued west to the Port of Masan from where our expedition truck would be loaded for its journey home to the Port of Long Beach, California. We spent our last night in The Turtle V camped on a wharf in a small fishing village overlooking the glassy waters of the East Sea. In the morning, fishermen were busy hauling in their catch and tending the numerous abalone beds in the bay. By parking in front of a small café we had Internet connections. This morning we tackled the job of preparing the truck for its homeward voyage. It basically involves removing anything that can be easily stolen like our PIAA auxiliary driving lights and the front Total Vision camera. The cab was emptied of easily pilfered items and all doors were double locked except the driver’s side.

Propane tanks were turned off and the propane compartment was double locked. We had learned from discussions with customs agents that many ports and shipping companies require propane bottles to be emptied and purged. However these pertain primarily to those big visible tanks mounted on the outside of motor homes and trailers. Our twin Manchester tanks are locked in a vented compartment so the question never even arises.

Dropping the truck off and double-checking all the paperwork was a pretty quick process set up days before by Wendy Choi, Aero International Co., Ltd. (wendy@aerointl.kr). Suddenly we were tourists on foot. Fortunately Korea has excellent transportation systems so it was a quick ride back to Busan where we would spend a couple of nights in a cute hotel in the Chinese Quarter, waiting to make absolutely sure there were no problems with shipping. This gave us time to do some last minute shopping, wander around town like real tourists and sample some more of Korea’s interesting cuisine. We still resisted the overpriced snow crabs.

With confirmation that the TARAGO freighter of the Wallenius Wilhemsen shipping line was headed east toward California, we hopped on the Panstar ferry for the overnight trip to Osaka, Japan, a country that had long been on Monika’s bucket list. If we didn’t do anything else, we had to see Kyoto and the Snow Monkeys.

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South Korea 8 – Markets – 12/2015

April 29, 2015

Markets. Yes, we’re market junkies, and we’ve seen some pretty interesting markets in the last couple of years, but really, the people in China and Mongolia and now in Korea, well, they eat things we really don’t have names for. Of course they have the regular stuff like chicken, beef & pork and vegetables. And then the rather unusual things like dog meat. (We couldn’t tell whether it was an Irish Setter or a Golden Lab.) Actually, the primary breed raised in dog farms for meat consumption is the Nureongi and differs from those breeds raised for domestic pets. There is a large and vocal group of Korean people that are against the practice of eating dog meat but BBC claims that 8,500 tons of dog meat are consumed per year, with another 93,600 tons used to produce a medicinal tonic called Gaesoju.

Korea Blog 7 29There were plenty of grains of all kinds including various types of rice. Spices galore in case you want to make your own kimchi. There was even one lady selling fresh pressed sesame seed oil.

So after the chicken, the dog meat and the pork you get to the fish market. Amazing in a word. We’re pretty familiar with fish but there were a lot that we had never seen before. Dried fish, salted fish, fresh fish, cooked fish, snails, clams, mussels, and that’s not to mention squid. It was squid season and trawlers went out at night with long strings of high-powered lights that attract the squid. Big squid! Thousands, no, maybe hundreds of thousands of squid. What you do with a hundred thousand fresh squid? Calamari? Spread them out on the cement pads. Keep them doused with fresh seawater so they don’t die on you, and package them up quickly to get to the market. We were not really sure where they went but obviously, some people in Korea and other countries really must like fresh squid.

Korea Blog 7 28It was afternoon by the time we finished being amazed at all the fish and clams and other critters. Food stands were selling all sorts of deep-fried fish. That’s when we spotted the huge tanks full of King Crab or Snow Crab, basically the same thing. Grab one for lunch we thought? We took a closer look and picked out a nice fat specimen from the live fish tanks. We’ve seen Alaskan King Crab legs in the local supermarket in California at an astounding $18 a pound, so we figured here in Korea, with the tanks packed with thousands of them, they might be a little cheaper. Not! The crab we picked out and had weighed would set us back about $132. Of course for that price they cook it, prepared it for you and give you the tools to open up the legs. It’s served with a variety of small dishes including the famous kimchi. We sort of choked at the price and went looking for something more reasonable. The next time I see Alaskan King Crab legs in the supermarket for less than $18 a pound I’ll buy a few and think it’s cheap.

The clock was ticking down so we headed to Busan and the port from where the truck would be loaded onto a “Ro-Ro” and shipped back to California. We still had packing and preparations to do; taking off all the lights and anything else that might be stolen in transit, perhaps an unnecessary precaution. Our truck would not fit in a container. A “Ro-Ro” (Roll-on, Roll-off) is simply a giant oceangoing ferry/freighter. No passengers allowed. With a couple of weeks to spend before The Turtle V would be arriving in Long Beach, we headed for Japan. Kyoto and the Snow Monkeys! More on that soon.

 

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South Korea 7 – Food – 12/2015

April 24, 2015

If there is one thing that makes travel in foreign countries exciting it’s the food, and Korea has some of the most interesting dishes we had experienced in the 22 countries we crossed to this point. We always like to taste local cuisine. In Korea it’s easy. Just walking down the street, restaurants had their menus posted outside. Now at first glance, most of the things in the pictures did not look particularly appetizing to our eyes. In some cases they looked more like bait than food.

Finding a menu that was tempting, (we couldn’t read a word of it), we went inside and were graciously seated at a table. Being unaccustomed to sitting on the floor with our legs crossed, we sometimes opted for a restaurant with chairs and tables. We pointed on the menu to the photo of the dish we thought looked good and from there it went to the kitchen. Everything was scrupulously clean.

Korea Blog 7 27Once we ordered a grilled mackerel. It came accompanied by a variety of small dishes and a plate of Kimchi. Kimchi is a national Korean dish consisting of fermented Chinese cabbage, chili peppers, vegetables, garlic, ginger, and a salted fish sauce. Health Magazine has cited Kimchi as one of the world’s five “healthiest foods”, with the claim that it is rich in vitamins, aids digestion, and may even prevent cancer. We tried several versions but never found one that we really liked. It’s an acquired taste.

Back at our table, in a few minutes the waiter brought a large wok and a propane heating plate. He then prepared the dish stirring and mixing all the spices and ingredients together. By now it looked nothing like the photo we pointed to, but it smelled great and tasted even better. The aroma of seaweed, ginger and chilies was enticing. If it was a soup type dish they gave us spoons. Otherwise we were stuck with chopsticks. I (Gary) would probably raise smile from the waiter if I brought in my own fork but it’s not a bad idea.

For just a snack, the streets were teeming with fast food stands. We found everything from French fried sweet potatoes to hot dogs on a stick to something like an omelet cooked in a seaweed broth. There were some unique desserts like “Strowberry Amond” or “Bapple Cinnamon” Waffles. Never mind the funny spelling. For dessert, the little custard-filled puffballs were delicious.

By far the most popular Korean alcoholic drink is Soju. There are many different varieties from a light rice wine to vodka-like liquor. We did visit the nationally famous Soju distillery in Andong that produces a version using traditional methods and typically running 90 to 100 proof. With its government protection/regulation seal, it commands more than 20 times the price of the light Soju every little corner grocery store sells. Feeling a little homesick, we found an occasional bottle of California wine in the popular chain of “7-Eleven” stores. (There are 7,064 7-Eleven stores in South Korea).

Since we do most of our own cooking, we headed for the open market. After all, that’s where the food comes from. More on that in the next blog.

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