Oct 24, 2008

Tick, Tick, Tick...

I'm leaving Japan.

I'm leaving in the first half of February, and I feel great about it. I've had this planned for a while, but this past month I've gone through the official channels at my work, written a letter of resignation, and am prepared to leave my job behind in less than four month's time. This is happening, I believe, at precisely the right time. As of tomorrow I'll have been in Japan for two years. Over the course of my time here I've learned quite a bit, changed much more than I thought I would, and had a wonderfully unexpected experience. But, it's time to go. I find myself going through the motions at my job without passion or a feeling of being challenged. In some ways, it's great to not have to think much about my work. In other ways, it feels maddening to be underutilized. Arrogant as it may sound, I know that I've got skills that my current position will not allow me to use. At work I may be busy in a technical sense, but in more meaningful, intellectual ways I'm quite idle. I aim to fix that.

So, I'll be back in the States in February, though not permanently. At least that's the tentative plan. In February I'll be taking the Foreign Service Exam, and I hope to get a job at a U.S. embassy or consulate somewhere around the globe. I thought that a stay in Japan would get the urge to live as an expat out of my system. Instead, it just got it more into my system. What's more, I know that I will be continually unsatisfied if I merely read about, talk about, and think about politics and world affairs all of my life. I want to work with it in some small way, to put that political science degree to some measure of use.

I know I'll be out of Japan in four months, back in the States in five, and no idea where I'll be in a year's time. Right now, I wouldn't have it any other way.

Gyeongju: Hills of Tombs, Mountain of Buddhas

I should have finished this up a while ago- this is my last post on Korea.

J and I grabbed Korea's high speed rail and zoomed our way South of Seoul on Korea's answer to Japan's Shinkansen. We pulled into Gyeongju, the old capital of the country, a place awash in all manner of outdoor historical curios. Many of them looked something like this:

That there is a tomb, an earthen encasement of the bones of someone who used to be rather important. Gyeongju has quite a lot of them, and they were about as interesting as earthen mounds filled with dead people could possibly be. Far better than the hillock-tombs was the highly nifty national park known as Namsan. J and I rented a pair of mountain bikes and spent two days in the place, a rather picturesque hiking are with stuff like this:

And this:

And this:

And this contemplative looking fellow, a rather large Buddha carving that we encountered at top of the mountain on our second day. It's exceedingly satisfying to sweat, huff and puff up an incline, and then find a nifty giant Buddha waiting for you. It's sort of like getting a message that the Powers that Be approve of your healthy, active lifestyle.

And, I'm going to leave it there. I'm sure there's plenty I've left out, but J has also recorded his take on the trip over at his blog. He's kvetched a bit about me scooping him, so I imagine he'll appreciate filling ya'll in on the stuff I've missed.

We now return to your regularly scheduled Japan blog....

Oct 10, 2008

The DMZ: Extra Special Dress Code Bonus Post!

I wrote the last post in a frame of mind wherein I forgot the most amusing detail: The DMZ's dress code!

We had to agree not to wear any overly baggy, tight, or distressed clothing. The reason? To prevent the North Koreans from taking pictures of us that could be used in potential propaganda. Potential propaganda that would say something like "Look at the pathetic South Koreans/Westerners/Japanese! They're so poor that they can't even afford clothes that fit/don't have holes! HAHAHA! Communism and economic isolationism rules! HA!"

I certainly wouldn't want my picture on a poster like that. Anyway, J and I had to forgo our hot pants, ripped jeans, fishnet shirts, chain mail, and assless pants when we visited the DMZ. I'll admit, I had visions of myself posing in front of North Korea wearing spiked shoulder pads and platform boots, but it was not to be. Alas...