The Kimchi-ite: Life As A Foreigner In Asia

As a tall, blonde-haired, blue-eyed, white American living in Asia, I tend to stand out in a crowd. It’s an interesting and bizarre thing that has become a part of my everyday life. Even living in Seoul, one of the biggest cities in the world, where more and more people of different ethnicities come every year, children on the subway stare at me unabashedly, store employees sometimes get visibly nervous when I come to pay at the counter and my students frequently ask me why I have gold hair.

When I was living in the smaller Fuji City, Japan, my presence as a foreigner was much more pronounced. While waiting at a crosswalk one day, a high school girl beside me turned and jumped, screeching “ah! Gaijin da!” “Ah! A foreigner!” I remember once at a hostel in Fukuoka, Japan, a middle-aged Japanese woman was asking the staff for directions to a certain temple when I popped into the conversation and told her, in Japanese, what train station it is near. The woman gave me a confused look, then asked the receptionist, “did he just speak Japanese?” To which I responded, “Yes, that’s right.” Again, to the receptionist, she replied “Wow, that’s interesting.”

Be sure to check out all the other Kimchi-ite posts here.No matter which Asian country you live in, there seems to be a certain subset of questions and comments that the foreign community constantly received. People will ask if you are capable of using chopsticks. Any use of the local language will yield extremely flattering praise, regardless if you simply said “hello” or if you gave an in depth appraisal of surgical medical equipment. Sometimes, white Westerners may get a little bit of superstar treatment, people coming up to them at bars, buying them drinks and saying that how much the Westerner looks like a movie star with a “small face” (the above photo is the result of a night like that).

But, the good comes with the bad. Once a friend of mine here in Seoul tried to set me up on a blind date with his female friends, and more than a couple turned me down simply because of the fact that I am a foreigner, saying that I am simply passing through Korea and not looking for something serious. Also, a foreigner can live in an Asian country for the majority of their life, get married, have kids, obtain citizenship, but to the public at large, they will always be seen as an outsider first. This comes with the territory. It’s important to know that people are often not intentionally being rude or discriminatory; they are just unfamiliar with foreigners. This possibly being one of the few times they have ever had to interact with one, having grown up in a homogenous society where 99% of people are of the same ethnic or racial background.

Growing up, I remember more than a few times when my teachers told the class, “You wouldn’t want to live in a world were everyone was the same race, with the same hair, skin and eye color, would you?” The truth is, not everywhere is a soup of diversity, even within the United States. The world is certainly heading in a much more connected, multi-cultural direction and it’s exciting to be bridging that gap between east and west.

[Photos by Jonathan Kramer]

Photo of the Day (12.15.09)

Today’s Photo of the Day comes from Flickr user Buck Forester – shot from a kayak in Mono Lake, California. The picture was shot (drumroll please) on film using a Canon Elan 7 and Fuji Velvia 50 stock. The photographer “had a 2 mile open water paddle back to shore and got caught in some high winds” along the way…which suddenly makes me think that I need to get out from behind this computer and go have an adventure.

Mono Lake is an alkaline and hypersaline lake believed to have formed at least 760,000 years ago.

If you’re inclined to get out from behind your computer and go have an adventure – bring your camera and submit it to Gadling’s Flickr Photo Pool! We might just feature it as our Photo of the Day

Big in Japan: Fun facts about Mount Fuji

There is only another week or so left in the Fuji climbing season…

While most of you probably won’t get the chance to scale Japan’s most iconic peak this summer, fret not as there’s always next year! In the meantime however, here is a list of fun facts about Mount Fuji (????, Fuji-san) to get you excited about the climb…

Did you know?

– The Japanese characters for Fuji, ?? and ?, mean ‘wealth’ or ‘abundance’ and ‘a man with a high status,’ respectively.

– Every summer, more than 200,000 people climb to the top of Fuji. Some years, about a quarter of all of the climbers on the mountain are foreign residents and tourists.

– In the Japanese language, there is a dedicated word that describes the sunrise at the top of Fuji, namely goraiko (?????).

– The summit of Fuji is high enough to induce altitude sickness (??????, kouzanbyou), though it’s possible to buy bottles of oxygen along the climbing route.

The list goes on, so keep reading!

Did you know?

– Mount Fuji has been regarded by the Japanese as a sacred moumtain since the earliest recorded history on the archipelago.

– An anonymous monk first reached the summit of the mountain in 663. However, it was forbidden for women to climb until the Meiji Era (1868-1912).

– The first ascent of Fuji by a foreigner was in 1860 by Sir Rutherford Alcock, the first British diplomatic representative in Japan.

– Gotemba 5th Station, located between Subashiri and Houei-zan peak on the south side of the mountain, is one of Japan’s most famous take-off spots for paragliding.

– In feudal times, the town of Gotemba was used by the samurai as a remote wilderness training camp.

– Fuji is an active volcano, though it is classified as having a low risk of eruption. The last recorded eruption started on December 16, 1707, and ended on New Year’s Day of 1708.

– Fuji’s eruption during the Edo Period is known as the ‘The Great Houei Eruption,’ which resulted in cinder and ash raining down across the surrounding countryside.

– Mount Fuji is located at the point where the Eurasian Plate meets the Okhotsk and Philippine Plates (think lots and lots of earthquakes!).

– The forest at the base of Fuji, which is known as Aokigahara (青木ヶ原), is reported to be the world’s second most popular suicide location after the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco.

– In the ancient days of Japan, people believed that Aokigahara was haunted by evil demons. Poor families used the forest as a place of abandonment for the very young and the very old.

– While long lines occasionally form near the summit along the Kawaguchiko route, the Yoshida route is so remote that bears are occasionally spotted by hikers.

Want some tips for climbing Fuji, Japan’s most iconic mountain peak? Check out this past Wednesday’s installment of Big in Japan, entitled ‘How to Climb Mount Fuji.’

** Special thanks to my climbing partners! From left to right: Kei-chan, me, Tomori and Will-san **

Big in Japan: How to climb Mount Fuji

There is only another week or so left in the Fuji climbing season…

If you’re living or traveling in Japan, and you haven’t yet climbed the country’s most famous peak, get to it!! And of course, if you happen to need a little inspiration for the 12,388 foot (3776 meter) climb, then hopefully today’s Big in Japan will fit the bill.

There are few images more iconic of Japan than Mount Fuji (????, Fuji-san), the country’s highest mountain, which also happens to be a near-perfect volcanic cone. In a country obsessed with order and harmony, Fuji is a natural manifestation of Japanese ideals.

Straddling the borders of Shizuoka and Yamanashi prefectures, Fuji is located just west of Tokyo, and is visible from the city on a clear day. Considering that the mountain is within easy striking distance of the world’s largest megalopolis, it should come as no surprise that Fuji attracts legions of would-be climbers every summer.

While you certainly need to be in reasonable shape to attempt a summit of the mountain, you needn’t be a professional climber. Want more info? Keep on reading (^_^)

The official climbing season for Fuji runs from July 1st to the end of August. Although the snowcap is absent during this time, you still need to be prepared for subzero temperatures at the summit.

Dressing in layers is a good idea, as is bringing along a hat and gloves. While you don’t need technical equipment to make it to the top, good hiking shoes are a must, as is a reliable flashlight (torch).

If you’re coming from Tokyo, JR Highway Buses depart from the bus terminal outside of Shinjuku Station West Exit (新宿西口), arriving at Kawaguchiko 5th Station (河口湖五合目). While there are many routes up to the summit, the Kawaguchi route is the most popular since it has ample places to eat, drink and rest along the way.

Indeed, this is Japan, so you shouldn’t expect a true wilderness experience. On the contrary, there are actually ramen shops, vending machines and souvenir stalls at the summit! However, half the fun of the climb is slurping down a hot Cup o’ Noodle with other climbers, and there really is nothing quite like the taste of ramen at altitude.

With that said, don’t underestimate the difficulty of the climb. Tradition dictates that you must watch sunrise (御来光, goraiko) from the summit, so you will need to set out from Kawaguchko 5th Station around 8 or 9pm, and climb straight through the night. While times vary, the ascent takes on average 4-8 hours, and the descent another 2-4 hours.

Want to learn more about Mount Fuji, Japan’s most iconic image? Check out Thursday’s installment of Big in Japan for ‘Fun Facts about Mount Fuji.’

** All images were taken by yours truly, which is proof that we here at Gadling actually do visit the places that we write about!! **

Daily deal – Fuji 8.2 megapixel digital camera for $99

Today’s deal of the day is for the Fujifilm J10 point-and-shoot digital camera.

This 8.2 megapixel ultraportable camera features a 3x optical zoom, a 2.5″ LCD display and 16 different scene settings. The camera takes several memory card formats; xD, SD and SDHC. No memory card is included, so expect to invest an extra $10-$30 for a storage card, depending on the size you require.

The Fujifilm J10 digital camera is on sale through for just $99. It is however currently out of stock, you can still place your order, but it may take 3-4 weeks to ship.

A very comprehensive review of the Fuji J10 can be found here, or if you have a spare 10 minutes you can watch a full product introduction video here.