Tuesday, March 29, 2016

The Happenings of Our First Two Days in Fukuoka

We made it through immigration and customs just fine. On the other side of the gate, Ka san was waiting for us holding a sign with Kayleen and my names written on it. (Ka san was the owner of the hotel that we were going to be staying at. He had offered to come pick us up from the airport and drive us to our hotel.)

Kasan and our taxi cab driver took our heavy bags from us and began loading them into the back of the van. Kayleen and I exchanged mortified glances as they struggled to fit them all :) At last, we were driving through Fukuoka, getting our first glimpses of Japan and taking in everything!
It took me the whole three weeks to get used to the fact that we were driving on the wrong side of the road. This was especially hard since I had just gotten my driver's licence.

Then there was just the whole feel of the city! I used to think that Portland was big...but Fukuoka, with it's towering buildings and everything being so close together, just felt so much bigger! There are these large billboards all over the city as well...and everything as far as the eye could see was written in Japanese :)

The view from our room

When we finally arrived at our lovely little lodgings, Ka san and our little taxi cab driver began carrying our bags up to our room. I could tell that both of them were really straining and breathing very heavily. When I offered to take my carry-on bag from our taxi guy, he didn't even hesitate :-)   Ka san, on the other hand, refused our help informing us in a very strained voice, "I'm a man. I can do this." I was now officially mortified :-\ And here I thought I'd packed light for this trip :-)
Our room was at the top story, and Ka san was glad to be relieved of our two "lightweight" bags :)
 Ka san took us around and showed us how everything in our room worked and where everything was. It was kind of a guessing game for Kayleen and me later trying to figure out what buttons to push on a couple of the appliances, like figuring out how to turn the heater on in our room :)
Our little room

Soon after we'd gotten settled in and freshened up after two days of traveling, we went downstairs to contact Ryusei. By 1:00 that afternoon, Kayleen and I were sitting outside our hotel, and we could just see Ryusei coming down our street still wearing his school suit coat :) We didn't wait for him to come to us, but we ran to go meet him :) It was so good to see him again! It had been two years since he had come to stay at our house here in Hockinson :)

First thing on the schedule that day, Ryusei was going to take us to Hakata station, a huge shopping mall in Fukuoka. These malls can be as big as seven stories tall and the floors are divided into different sections for the food, some for accessories, and others for the clothing :-)

I was more then thrilled to find a very large Ghibli (Japanese anime) shop among the mix of shops :-) ....with half the items in the store dedicated to totoro :-D
Even though we'd basically been up for two full days, Kayleen and I were still running on adrenaline highs and didn't feel the effects of it at all! That is, until Ryusei finally walked us back to our hotel around 5 that evening. We finally collapsed up in our rooms. 

We were both realized how tired we were, and yet, we still had to eat dinner. Kayleen was in favor of just skipping that meal and going straight to bed. That was out of the question of course, especially since we hadn't even had lunch that day! Kayleen thought that we should not venture out into the streets, especially at this time of night. She was worried that if we went too far, we might get lost, with absolutely no ability to speak the Japanese language, no cellphone reception anywhere and nowhere to get internet access so that we could contact Ryusei. But my logic was...we couldn't be lost...I knew where we were...we were in Fukuoka :) And if we were lost, hey, we'd just be lost in Japan :D Of course, being the older sister of the two, I tried to keep some sort of common sense about me :) I thought that if we could find another option, I would be more then happy to stay within the limits of our hotel....though the adventure of trying to find a place to eat did sound a bit exciting :-) 

Thankfully, we found that there was a little restaurant in the downstairs room to our hotel. It wasn't very busy. In fact, Kayleen and I were almost their only two customers. The workers there spoke only Japanese, and we couldn't read a word on the menu. We just looked at the pictures on the menu that looked good and pointed to them. It was a bit like Barney when he ordered off of the menu in France...though we ended up with food a bit tastier then escargot :)  We managed to survive off of the two words that we knew...'Hello' and 'thank you' :) I wasn't quite brave enough to try using my little Japanese dictionary that I had brought with me, having absolutely no idea as to the pronunciation of the words. I did manage to ask for tea...though it turned out that they brought iced tea to their two shivering customers. I filed away in the back of my mind that I needed to learn the word for 'hot' for tomorrow night's dinner. 

The next morning, we woke up feeling completely refreshed and re-energized for a new day! There was just such a thrilling feeling that I got waking up every morning in our own little hotel room in the middle of Japan with an amazing view of the city from outside our window and wondering what new adventures lay in store for us!

Kayleen began to suggest that morning that we skip breakfast as well because she thought that we shouldn't try looking for a place on our own again, and the hotel restaurant didn't serve breakfast. I had to put my foot down on this one :) It was a matter of survival...I was afraid if I left some of those greater decisions to her, I'd starve :)
Breakfast :)
I suggested we venture out just far enough to see if there's any place to eat on a street near where we were staying. She must have been all too aware of my tendency at being directionally challenged because she decided that we should at least contact Ka san before we leave our hotel and get his help. I willingly conceded...with thoughts of breakfast not far off.  Ka san told us that anywhere we would go for breakfast would be highly overpriced. Just for a breakfast he said, it would cost up to 6,000 yen ($60). We'd be far better off going to a little grocery store and picking up whatever we needed there.

Right outside our hotel
Kasan drove to the nearest Family Mart and then video called us from there, taking us on a little tour of the store. He showed us our different options for breakfast, and explained that there were certain kinds of ramen that we should avoid. Holding up one of them, he explained that it was probably made in America or China  because it was horrible (Ka san was Chinese :) The stores even provided hot water dispensers so that you could eat your ramen there. Before he hung up, he sent us a picture of the store along with a map.

That was all I needed....we were out the door. But finding it was a little harder then I'd thought. After Kayleen and I had gone up the road a little way and seen nothing, I finally suggested that we should stop in at a little coffee shop and try going from there. (because nothing makes sense until you've had your morning cup of coffee :) After a hot americano, we asked the workers if they knew where the family mart was. The Japanese people are so eager to help, and they rattled off in their language using hand motions to translate what they were trying to say. They quickly got two pieces of paper and drew out a map for us! It was pretty much a straight shot from where we were :) We thanked them and headed out the door.

When we finally made it to the family mart, Kayleen and I went nuts inside the store having our pick of any kind of Japanese food that we wanted. I couldn't quite make up my mind, so I just bought tapioca tea, a plate of sushi, and a tray with rice and breaded chicken on it :) I was in my glory getting to eat sushi for breakfast!!!! :D

Kayleen and I discovered that there were few traffic laws in Japan...and whatever laws they did have, they didn't really follow. I was crossing the street one morning while on our way to the family mart and suddenly, two cars drove directly in front of me. I paused, and did a double take, making sure that I wasn't crossing on a red. Sure enough, the crossing sign was green :-)

I was waiting for Ryusei outside of our hotel room on our second morning in Fukuoka. There were  two big machine with all kinds of Japanese drinks in them right outside of our hotel. I thought I'd give them a try, so I inserted my Japanese coins and chose out a can of coffee...what do you know, my coffee came out hot! I was SO happy :) America really needs to adopt this part of the Japanese culture :D

Manga dress shop
(I didn't notice the 'no pictures' sign till I got home :D

Our second day was spent shopping at Tenjin. Ryusei informed us that Tenjin was translated as "heaven of the gods". In Japan, it is very commonplace to see temples and idols to the different gods all over the place. 
Ryusei brought us around two very large shopping centers and showed us different things that were unique to Japan..like their manga dress shops, and the shelves stocked with bento boxes :) He was so sweet trying to find the different shops that he knew would interest us...namely, tea shops :) I'm sure he cringed ever time we passed one, but he'd always graciously ask us, "Would you like to go inside?" :) Half an hour later, we'd finally make it out of there :)
A couple of the shops had some really unique sounding desserts, like sesame chocolate and matcha cookies. I enjoyed seeing the different kind of snacks that were unique to Japan :)
Our favorite tea shop :)

We visited our first temple in Tenjin as well. It was a very sobering sight seeing people coming into the temples and writing out their prayers to pin on the walls as if their gods would hear them and answer. Others came up to the temple door, and after clapping their hands several times, they would bow before the entrance.

"The idols of the nations are silver and gold, made by human hands.They have mouths, but cannot speak, eyes, but cannot see. They have ears, but cannot hear nor is there breath in their mouths.Those who make them will be like them, and so will all who trust in them." Psalm 135:15-18

And that, my friends, is the account of our first two days in Fukuoka Japan...stay tuned for more posts in the upcoming weeks :)

Thursday, March 10, 2016

And So It Began

The normal hustle and bustle was going on at the Spafford household, everyone carrying on with their daily routines. But for two girls, the last two weeks had revolved around making plans for one very special trip. In fact, such was their excitement that they found themselves packing a week in advance! 

Throughout the process of planning and preparing for travel, these two girls found that they were very different from one another in how they went about planning for things. While one worked at figuring out the finer details of immigration and customs, the other thought more on the level of what kind of food would be available when they arrived at Japan. The one worked with great intensity, while the other was a constant scatter brain, with her head in the clouds ;-)  Of course, the latter girl realized that she owed most of the finer details of this trip to her younger sister's careful planning. And she could most of the time be found to be very compliant, except for when it came to the decision of whether they should find their gate first or the food court.

Grandpa had given Kayleen and me two passes to the United Lounge Club to use during our 5 hour layover in San Francisco. After we'd landed, picked up our next tickets, and located our gate, we made our way to the lounge area. When we first walked in, I felt a little like a fish out of water with all of the rich, business-like people walking around in their suit coats and strolling around their fancy bags. But I soon felt right at home when we walked into the lounge and saw the free food area. Needless to say, we took full advantage of this part. (I use the "we" very liberally :-)

We ended up traveling for two full days. Our flights took us from Washington to San Fransisco. Then from there, we went to Seoul, before landing at our final destination... Fukuoka Japan! Since we were traveling with three different airlines, we had to go outside of security each time we landed to pick up our next set of tickets.

The whole flying experience was amazing! I couldn't believe the size of the plane. For Kayleen and me, this was our first international trip and I'd never seen a plane with three isles that spanned four rooms. Of course, they make you walk through the first class section before you reach your seat at the end of the plane. But Kayleen and I were very content with our little window seats at the back of the plane. The only real big advantage I could see from getting first class seating was that they got served lunch and dinner first.

There was classical music playing when we first got on the plane which Kayleen and I thought made our ride seem all the more elegant. And the flight attendants dress to the nines in their beautiful Singapore dresses :-)  The plane also provided movies and music, but, to tell you the truth, I just didn't want to miss one small detail of this trip.There's something just so thrilling about the sound and feeling of being up in the air.

We got to the Seoul airport and there was a whole 13 hours ahead of us. But, we were in the Seoul
 Airport for goodness gracious, so we'd have no problem figuring out ways to fill that time :-)  Not only do they have some of the best shopping centers available, but they also had an amazing selection of food as well ;-)   Strangely enough, we weren't that hungry when we first got there, but we were extremely thirsty, so we opted to just settle for a jamba juice. The shopping malls were open till 10 so we took off down those halls as fast as we could getting in as much shopping as we could before everything closed.
When everything finally did close, the airport became very quiet and still.  It was kinda ghostly silent. In fact, when Kayleen and I were ready to turn in for the night, there were only about 10 people remaining in the airport besides us. We found two chairs close to our gate and tried to get some sleep. It was a bit difficult ignoring the fact that it was icy cold and there was no place to rest our weary heads. I must have been a wee bit too enthralled with the whole experience, because it didn't bother me too much....not enough to look for a room. There was a small little lounge area with reclining chairs, but after Kayleen had peeked her head in the opening and discovered it to be mainly men in there, she resolved that we should bear with our current surroundings rather then go in. I knew that sleep would not overtake me until I had gotten something more substantial in my stomach. I told my half-awake partner that I was going to seek out a small smackeral of something to eat. I strolled the empty airport where only a couple twenty-four hour shops were open now. I reached the end of one of the halls where there was a hamburger and fries shop open. I somehow communicated with the little guy that couldn't speak a lick of English that I would like some chicken strips and fries. He let me know the chicken would be another 20 minutes, so I settled for just a bag of fries. Unlike me, Kayleen had not gotten any sleep on the plane, so when I got back, I gave her two benedryl tablets and told her to close her eyes. I don't think that either of us got much sleep that night.

In fact, by 2 AM we were both wide awake and a cup of hot coffee was beginning to sound very agreeable. I didn't  think that Dunken Doughnuts held much hope for providing a strong cup of coffee....but it would be hot! It didn't end up mattering either because they served the coffee to us in two of the cutest little Pooh coffee carriers that you'll ever see :-) Kayleen didn't really believe it when I said that I was hungry again...in fact, all she could think to say was that I adjusted very quickly with both my eating and my sleeping schedules :-)  It was true! We scrounged up some seaweed crackers and waited till morning to eat.
By morning, we knew the Seoul airport like the back of our hands....that is, till it began to fill so full of people that we thought we'd never find our way.

We eventually found our gate and boarded for our final flight at 7:30. Within two hours,
our plane began its last descent, and as I looked out the window of our plane, I couldn't believe it. We were actually landing in Japan! I was looking at the place that I had anticipated seeing now for months. We were finally here. I had planned on this trip ever since the girls visited Asia in May two years ago! And I had no idea the many blessings that awaited Kayleen and me there over the next three weeks! Had I known, I might have just purchased a one-way ticket ;-)

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

The World Travelers Part 1

Hello Everybody,
Kayleen and I have returned from Japan! And what a wonderful time we had there, both in Fukuoka and Nagasaki! We were immensely blessed by the dear people that we met during our three weeks there. I'm planning on writing up a few blog posts with memories from our trip, but in the meantime, I've put together a 20 minute slideshow with pictures of our time in Nagasaki :)