Posing for Passport Control.
Onward to Seborga and points Europeward.
After fitful sleeping on the Delta/KLM flight to Amsterdam, I spent an hour having a leisurely lunch in the Amsterdam airport. There’s a huge mall in the center with a fairly good food court and I could charge my phone while I waited. Then I went to check the gate for my next flight and learned that it was the very farthest gate away from where I was. The walking time was listed as 24 minutes. I had 20 minutes before they began boarding. So I sort of scamper-walked and made it in almost exactly 20 minutes. Then I got on the plane and immediately fell asleep. The flight attendant had to wake me up to tell me to fasten my seat belt. At least I wasn’t drooling.
I landed in Nice and got through passport control in about five minutes, with no customs declarations needed at all. Really, is every country easier than the US? Anyway, I found the rental car desk with no trouble, and there was Lobo. He actually found the right place and got there on time without supervision.
We got the car and took a stupid selfie, which Lobo dubbed a stupie.
We drove to Seborga and found the place with no difficulty, thanks to Lobo’s ancient and quirky GPS device, which I think was a cheaper one even back in whatever decade it came from. But it worked well enough and we got there and the place is spectacular. It’s situated on a hill above Seborga.
The landlady, Sabina, speaks perfect English, and I’m pretty sure she was the same person that my mom and I talked to in the Seborga restaurant in December of 2000.
Singapore airport has a butterfly garden. No apparent reason; it’s just there. It’s a nice one, though. I would even go so far as to say that it’s the nicest airport-based butterfly garden that I have ever seen.
But things took a dark turn when I went through security and they spotted the kaya spread that I had bought as a gift. It was larger than the allowable size, and thus had to be confiscated, presumably to eliminate the threat of explosives made from spreadable condiments.
I’m now in the Taipei airport with five hours to kill. I was going to take the train into the city and go to the night market, but that would require filling out an entry form and going through customs and passport control in both directions and then security again, and all of that sounds like much more trouble than it’s worth. I’d rather just sit here in the food court.
I went to Malaysia for lunch.
I took the express bus across the causeway to Johor Bahru (known as JB). This was a short drive on a remarkably verdant freeway to Singapore passport control, at which point we all got off the bus to get out passports stamped, then got on another bus for a five-minute ride to JB. Then through Malaysian passport control, past customs (really, I just walked by it), and into a cavernous bus station with no clear idea of where to go next. I wandered around and around the station and the attached mall, looking for a bus to the center of town, before realizing that the station itself was in the center of town and where I wanted to go was only a few blocks away.
The mall attached to the station is big and new and the equal of anything in the US. Once you walk out the front door, you bump into the third world. Or at least the seedier areas of Los Angeles. It’s as if south-central LA and Beverly Hills were on the same block. I was barely out the door before some sketchy guy tried to sell me an iPhone.
Further on, it’s more of an amalgamation of small shops and restaurants catering to Malaysian, Indian, and Chinese customers. Kind of interesting to walk around and look at, but not something that takes a lot of time. I had lunch (mee mamak and ice kopi) at the Restoran Hua Mui (established 1946), then headed back to the station.
It was pretty much the same process going back. The trip itself is only 10 or 15 minutes, but you have to go through passport control for both Malaysia and Singapore. Nothing complex, but it does require getting off the bus and being routed through a large building, only to come out the other side and get on a different bus.
The walk back to the hotel from the bus station is about a half a mile, and I had only just gotten off the bus when it started to rain. It rained progressively harder, but I was mostly able to stay undercover until I was about four blocks away from the hotel. By that time it was a full-scale cloudburst. I decided to run for it. I sprinted for about a block and a half before I realized that there was no point. I was already as wet as I could possibly be. So I just strolled the rest of the way.
One nice thing about the tropics is that even if you’re drenched, you’re not cold. Not until you enter an air-conditioned building, at any rate.
English is widely used in Japan. It is in Korea too, but not to anywhere near the same extent. It’s in business names, book titles, and other places that don’t seem to be aimed at foreigners. French also shows up more than I expected, and French bakeries are de rigueur. There’s even some occasional Italian. But mostly it’s English.
In both Korea and Japan I’ve seen a lot of shirts purporting to be from places in the US, usually done in a collegiate style. And you don’t have to travel abroad to get them.
Almost all of them are from places in the US, but they can be from other places too, as long as you have that look.
A shirt might look authentic until you read it.
But Japan also has bizarre sayings, something I did not see in Korea. As I was going through passport control in Fukuoka, I saw a Japanese girl with a shirt that said, “Sweet Holic the Most.” I’ve seen plenty of others since then.
Some are semi-understandable.
Some are not.
Some have a simple message.
Some have mustaches.
And some take things to another level entirely.
I had read that riding in a hydrofoil feels like being inside a washing machine, but it wasn’t like that at all. Not that I’ve ever been inside a washing machine, but it does evoke an image. The hydrofoil felt more like riding on a train.
The trip to Japan took three hours. Passport control was more stringent than in Korea, but not bad. Similar to New Zealand, really. The customs guy questioned me a bit about the purpose of my visit, but let me through when he found out that I had a rail pass. I guess “American riding around on the train” is an identifiable type.
I entered Japan at 5:30 PM with 83,000 won, 150 dollars, and zero yen. The only bank in the terminal had been closed for two hours and the only ATM wouldn’t accept my card. I had no hotel reservation, but I had identified several hotels around the train station, which was where I would want to be the next morning. There was a bus that went straight there from the ferry terminal. For 220 yen. Which I didn’t have. So I walked.
I didn’t take a very efficient route. What’s with these guide-book maps? Eventually I found the train station and got a room at Hotel Active! The exclamation point is part of the name, and appears as a monogram on the pajamas they put in the rooms. It’s a business hotel, which was supposed to make it cheaper, but it wasn’t. It included an all-you-can-eat breakfast, though.
The train station includes vastly more than mere train-oriented services. It’s an 11-story shopping mall with a department store and two stories of restaurants and who knows what else. The department store has a currency exchange desk, so I exchanged my dollars for yen. The rate wasn’t that great, so I decided to keep my won for now, in the foolish hope that I’ll get a good rate somewhere else.
I had dinner at an Okinawan restaurant. The waitress spoke pretty good English and was very excited to meet an American to talk to. She’d studied English at Queen’s University near Toronto. The food was really good too: chicken with roasted garlic and some kind of salsa.
Then I walked back to the hotel and went to bed. Next up: Nagasaki.
Sometime in the last 25 years, hanja seems to have disappeared. That makes Korean a lot easier to read for us non-Asian types who didn’t spend 12 years learning Chinese characters in school.
You won’t get mugged in Korea, but you might get run over. It’s the only place I’ve seen someone talking on the phone while riding a motor scooter. On the sidewalk.
Korean people don’t seem given to wearing shirts with bizarre English on them the way Japanese people are, but almost every shirt I saw with writing on it was in English, usually an American brand of some sort. I think some of them were fake brands (one shirt simply said “Authentic Genuine”), but they looked like American brands. That seemed to be the main thing.
Passport control was just a matter of taking fingerprints and a photo (Japan did that too) and stamping my passport. Customs just took my form and put it on a pile without looking at it. I think it was the easiest entry I’ve ever encountered.
Other than the traditional hanok-style buildings with the sweeping roofs, there isn’t a lot of what you would call architecture in Korea. On the train from Seoul to Busan, the cities I saw were all miles of high-rise apartment buildings done in what you might call a Soviet style, with a smattering of Christian church steeples.
Everyone in Korea is doing something on their smartphone at all times. It goes far beyond anything in the US. Not surprisingly, most of the phones are Samsung or LG.
In Busan I saw a man wearing a shirt that said, “The Funniest Man in the World.” So that’s where he lives. Busan.