Surviving Japan; or, How I Almost Died for a Stick

When I was younger, I had been a fan of popular Japanese-related fandoms such as Power Rangers, Pokémon, Dragonball Z, Final Fantasy, and various anime. I grew more into the fandom—or otaku—nature of it all as I came into my teens and befriended others with the same likes. In fact, there are three franchises that I credit with basically changing and/or altering my life to make me who I am today. I’ve already talked extensively about Final Fantasy and Harry Potter.  But before those, at the start, was Pokémon. Prior to that series, I was a very casual gamer, with some Mario or Sonic here and there (among other games, of course). But it was Pokémon that first made me addicted to something. I played; I collected the cards; I watched the show; I read online fan-fiction; I even, at one point, knew all 151 original pocket monsters in numerical order. You get the idea. And then I moved to South Korea in 2013 to teach, and suddenly Japan was a stone’s throw away. Tokyo had been a dream vacation of mine for over fifteen years by the time I had a chance to visit. When I first heard about vacation breaks and knew Tokyo was a pretty cheap flight from Korea, I knew that would be my #1 destination, no matter what.

Unlike other vacations I would take, I decided to explore Tokyo without any kind of travel agent or tour guide (outside of friends’ advice). This was my trip, and I was going to do it my way. Turns out, my way involved an insane amount of walking. When people told me there would be copious amounts of walking in Tokyo, I believed them. However, I wasn’t worried much about it since I had already spent 5 months in Korea at that point and experienced the insane amount of walking there. I figured it couldn’t be that much worse.

Oh, how wrong I was.

Don’t get me wrong—there were specific reasons why the walking was so much more here than in Korea. First and foremost, I had no idea what I was doing, where I was going, or how I was to get there. In other words, I got lost. A lot. The second reason, well… we’ll get there.

Day One

Monday morning, I finally pulled myself out of bed by 8 or 8:30 to get ready for my first big day in Tokyo. I was understandably excited. I would be visiting Akihabara. Akihabara is, for lack of a better description, an otaku paradise. Many flock to it like a nerdy Vegas strip. It was my #1 destination stop, and I couldn’t wait.

Not only was it raining, but there were chances of thunderstorms the entire week. This was a particular bummer considering most of my activities planned were outdoors. I would not let this stop me, however. I bought an umbrella from a store inside the hotel and ventured out anyway. 

The first step was to find Shinjuku Station. It was about a 10-minute walk from the hotel. The downside was that I wasn’t exactly sure in which direction. I didn’t have an international plan on my phone, so unless I wanted insane roaming charges, I was stuck to Wi-Fi signals. But unlike in Korea, Wi-Fi access in Tokyo was very limited and almost all of it password protected. So there went my ability to use any map apps.

I eventually found my way to one of the many entrances to the station. Shinjuku Station is the largest and busiest subway station in the world. The place is like the Catacombs of Paris—equally able to get lost and die and never be discovered. Turned out, it was not the entrance I needed to be at. So after about 5-10 minutes of me basically spinning in circles, I took a long walk to the JR Station area. This is where I find the green Suica machines—Suica cards can be given to put transportation money on for easy train access. Unfortunately, it appeared that after about 10-15 minutes of fidgeting with the machines, none of them were equipped with the ability to give you the card itself (though I knew this was possible… somewhere). So I ended up just buying a ticket instead.

It’s a rare thing in life to build something up so much, to set your expectations for something so high, and then end up coming out of it completely satisfied. And that continues to be the case here, as I must admit that the Electric City, while definitely interesting, left me a little disappointed. When otaku think of Japan, they think of Akihabara—the multi-story arcades, the manga stores, the figurines, and anything else you could think of. But between the rain and my earlier morning venture, many shops were closed or gated up. In other words, I started off my big Akihabara adventure walking around aimlessly in the rain and humidity with nowhere to go and nothing to see.

I wandered around a while, even played briefly in an arcade. It was also at this point I was starting to get hungry and my legs were really starting to hurt me. Now, I had been dared to go to a maid café while in Tokyo, and I wasn’t about to back down. I searched for a good one for about an hour before actually finding one. It was after noon before I somehow found a proper sign that not only told me of a maid café but told me what floor it was on. A maid café is a little restaurant that caters to particular otaku fetishists. The waitresses are young women in cute maid outfits who act like cutesy, girly servants to you, their master. They serve your food, talk to you, sing you songs, etc. Both a friend and my sister challenged me to visit one (the former for the experience, the latter to embarrass me).

I survived this particular adventure, and although mildly embarrassing, it wasn’t as weird and creepy as you’d think. And the food was pretty good. I even got a picture out of it.

You’re welcome.

I was full and done with the first half of the day. I headed back to the train station, actually running into a maid from the café—she was out advertising for the place. I then actually found the correct machine to give me a Suica card (the single most important moment of the trip–a moment that would save my life later), so I snatched one of those and headed back to Shinjuku. And what should have been a 10-minute walk from the station turned out to be at least 30 minutes, if not longer, to find my way back to the hotel, and my legs were killing me.

After some research back at the hotel, I found exactly what I needed: In an 8-minute train ride, I could find a place called Nakano Broadway Mall—a new mecca, more or less, for otaku culture. It was everything someone could want from Akihabara, but better, and inside a single building. And it wasn’t hard to find.

I traveled over 4 floors of this heavenly otaku landscape. There were stores filled with wall-to-wall manga. There were bookstores, DVD stores, toy stores, video game stores, card stores, doll stores, train stores, clothing stores, art stores, knickknack stores, and so much more. There was a store that sold old Japanese movie posters (even if the movie wasn’t Japanese, it was the Japanese version of the poster).

This was so fun to go through.

There was a store that focused primarily on kaiju (i.e. Godzilla) figures, another store that focused on sentai stuff (think Power Rangers, but original Japanese versions), another store that focused on figurines that could fit in your pocket, and other stores that sold/auctioned original artwork from anime and manga artists (like original print sketches of famous shows/movies). Unfortunately, everything was absurdly expensive. The closest I came to splurging was for a set of original Dragonball Z sketches from Jump, the company who put out the original manga, but the set was over 80 bucks, and I just couldn’t bring myself to spend that kind of money on them, no matter how cool it would have been. (Not spending that money turned out to be the best decision I made that week.)

That sign says not to take pictures. But these were so cool.

Heading back to the hotel, I walked in circles around Shinjuku for an hour. It was getting dark by this point, and I was utterly exhausted. Oh, and for those curious, Japan has Denny’s! I know this because I came across the same one three times from three different directions. I was really close to snapping when I realized I was finally finding my way.

Day Two

Tuesday was actually up in the air for me. I had originally wanted to visit Ghibli Museum, but I couldn’t get tickets. I thought about Skytree, but reviews said it wasn’t worth it. That took my schedule down to Shibuya Crossing, which was basically something that could take no more than 20-30 minutes if I stretched it out. So I decided to visit Ueno Park and Zoo, as well as Harajuku and Meiji Shinto Shrine.

Ueno Park and Zoo were fantastic. I had no idea what I was getting myself into and could have spent the entire day at this park alone. The place looked really nice and was filled to the brim with museums and more. But it was the zoo that caught my attention the most, particularly since I knew there were pandas. And that’s about all I knew. I spent roughly 3 hours at the zoo, and it was worth every minute of it. If I didn’t really want to see the other places on my agenda, I might have stayed at Ueno the entire day. But there was Harajuku to see!

I’d been to a number of temples and shrines in Asia by this point, so I was pleasantly surprised by Meiji’s charm. As you enter the shrine, you come across a large, wooden Torii, the traditional gate most people associate with Japanese culture. You walked along a long, rock-laden road lined with trees that offered welcome shade. Despite all the people, it remained a serene journey. I paid a small fee to venture through the Inner Garden and to Kiyomasa’s Well, which was so worth it for the beauty and peacefulness alone. The Well was a power spot–a place that brought good luck to those who visited. The shrine itself was bare bones, though there were hundreds of wooden planks hanging on a wall with different notes in every language you can think of.

The Torii at the entrance.

Next was Harajuku, famous for its fashion. Its busiest day is on Sunday, which is when you can supposedly see all sorts of crazy outfits and styles, though I still saw a handful of them on a Tuesday afternoon. Takeshita Street is a long pedestrian-only street filled with cute and stylish shops, predominately for young girls. Shopping wise, it wasn’t very interesting to me, so I mainly used it as just another sight-seeing experience, brought down by the men crossing rivers of people to try and drag you into their shops, not accepting no for an answer. The highlight? Their crepes. If you’re ever in Tokyo, take a trip down to Takeshita Street and buy a crepe. Trust me.

Shibuya was basically right next door to Harajuku. I found my way to the world famous Shibuya Crossing—the Times Square of Japan. Now, I’ve never been to Times Square, but as far as Shibuya Crossing is concerned… man does it look bigger in the movies. I people watched from a Starbucks viewing area upstairs before I went down and crossed it myself to get back over to the train station. It was like crossing chaos, but it was a visual experience I won’t forget.

I hopped back on a train and went back to Shinjuku. (And yes, I got turned around again, but not nearly as bad!) But I needed to rest up, because I knew the next day was going to be even crazier. Why? Because the next day I was going to Disney.

Day Three

We had three trips to Disney World when I was a kid. The first one was in the Summer of ‘95. I was 9 years old, and my grandpa—my dad’s dad—had just died. The trip had already been planned when it happened, so a trip to Indiana for the funeral happened right before. At Disney, we stayed at the Fort Wilderness campground, or at least we did for most of it. The last couple days of our trip, a hurricane decided it wanted to meet Mickey, too, and we were all evacuated to a hotel lobby where we had to sleep on the floor with hundreds of other people. The second Disney trip was Spring Break of ’97, and I had Strep Throat the whole time. The third time we went to Disney was in 2000, and it almost didn’t happen. My parents’ van stopped working, and we were stuck in the parking lot of a local mechanic all day before we could even leave town. I had yet to have a Disney experience that wasn’t negatively affected.

Tokyo has two Disney theme parks: Tokyo Disney and DisneySea. Tokyo Disney is more or less Tokyo’s version of Disneyland. DisneySea, however, was special to Tokyo. It contained rides and attractions that no other Disney theme park in the world had—it also sold alcohol, which was rare for a Disney park at the time. In short, DisneySea would be my choice, as there was nothing else like it anywhere else.

I ended up only getting a little under 6 hours of sleep that night. I didn’t quite know how to get to the bus that would take me to the park, but after some figuring and walking, I found the bus station (and the reason I kept getting lost coming out of Shinjuku Station—I was leaving the wrong exit!). I also had issues at the park entrance, as the ticket window woman couldn’t read English for my printed-off reservations. After about 10 minutes and more confusion, I entered the park.

The second you enter the park, the magic, wonder, and scope of it hits you in the face. And after 3 days of non-stop walking and sore legs/knees/ankles, you know the most difficult thing about traversing a foreign language-based Disney theme park for 12 hours? Doing it alone. I actually didn’t think this would bother me that much, and to be fair, I think I handled it well enough. I liked the freedom of doing whatever I wanted whenever I wanted. But at the same time, waiting in all those queues would have been so much better with somebody to talk to. In fact, my legs hadn’t felt that rested since I got to Tokyo with all the standing and sitting I did. And the language barrier didn’t bug me much. I got the gist of everything, and almost everybody spoke at least minimal English if I needed help. The only things that went over my head were backstories for rides or dialogues for shows, which were in Japanese.

The only other downside was that it was supposed to rain in the morning, so I brought my umbrella with me. And, of course, it did not. I wasn’t the only one walking around with an umbrella, but there weren’t many. It was awfully annoying having to carry it to all the rides and then figure out what I needed to do with it. I won’t get into the endless details of the long queues and ride reviews—let’s just say it was a fun day where I got to do everything I wanted, and some of my favorite things were the ones I didn’t plan. It was a full day—I didn’t get back to the hotel until about 10:30—and I was tired. And despite everything, my craziest day still hadn’t happened yet. Because the next day, I would attempt to climb Mt. Fuji.

Day Four (& Five)

Oh, Mt. Fuji. While this wasn’t the stupidest thing I had done over the course of my year abroad, it was way up there. As some minor backstory, when I was preparing to go to Tokyo, a good buddy of mine gave me some tips. See, he had lived in Japan many years prior and knew some things. One of these said things was that I really needed to experience the sunrise from the top of Mt. Fuji. Now, I’d been walking quite a bit in my Asia journey and was in far better shape than when I had arrived. So I thought, why not? And while we’re at it, let’s schedule it to be the very last thing I do, the night before my plane back to Korea, and after a week of walking around Tokyo, as well as the day after walking DisneySea for 12 hours. Because who needs strong, rested legs while climbing a mountain? Not to mention Fuji wasn’t the only thing I had planned that day.

After a late morning of sleeping in from the previous day’s adventure, I was finally going to visit the Pokémon Center. Around the world, though originating in Japan, there are huge shops called Pokémon Centers (so named after their video game counterparts) that sell anything and everything Pokémon related you can think of. Turns out it was super easy to find, as it was in a building that was almost right next to the train station (and there was even a sign in the station that pointed you in the right direction). And I think I probably spent a good hour inside just wandering around and looking at everything. But this isn’t the part of the story you care about.

I headed back to the hotel for a quick lunch, wrapped things up, and hurried off back to the front desk for an early checkout. They would hold my luggage until the next day when I returned for my trip back to the airport. I would purchase an airport bus ticket at the hotel upon my return. For now, I simply bought some water and snacks for the big trek.

For the trip, I had reserved a there-and-back-again bus ticket from the Shinjuku Highway Bus Terminal. It would take me right to the Yoshida Trail 5th Station halfway up the mountain and then back again in the morning. Long story short, I got lost, couldn’t find the right bus terminal, and nobody could help me. I then followed a few guys who also looked like they were going hiking, but they also had no idea where they were going, and they eventually got away from me. My ticket reservation time had passed, and I missed the bus.

That’s when I saw a couple white dudes, also with hiking gear and water, say something to the effect of “There it is!” and enter this tiny little corner shop that’s not particularly labeled properly. I entered and, sure enough, there it was. But all the buses we needed were booked. So the lady ended up booking me the next bus for some place called Kawaguchiko and said something about a transfer. So I put my life in her hands, trusting she knew what she was doing, and bought the ticket.

As it turned out, Kawaguchiko Station is right near Mt. Fuji and has direct buses to the 5th Station. So after a 2-hour bus ride to that station, I bought another ticket (which thankfully also acted as a 2-way return ticket the next day) and took another 50-minute bus ride halfway up the mountain.

Blurry night shot of the 5th Station

I finally reached the 5th Station, which was more or less a big convenience store, and bought my walking stick. The giant, wooden walking sticks could be emblazoned with stamps at the different stations up the mountain to show how far you got. I also bought another, smaller water bottle to compliment my larger one, just in case. I must also share with you my mountain hiking attire, which might be one of the most embarrassing aspects of this venture, because… what was I thinking? Regular shoes; a light polyester-style jacket not meant for extreme temperatures or wetness; jeans (for real); a hat; a head-lamp; a backpack; and a large plastic poncho for the rain.

While not too terribly cold at this point, it was already starting to sprinkle. It was 9 PM and dark, and I was not quite sure what to do. Just start walking? Wait for a group and tag along? How did one go about climbing a mountain in the middle of the night? I didn’t even know which way was up. So, finally, I put on my head-lamp began my trek into darkness. And yeah, it was dark. Very dark. Then the clouds and fog hit, and my visibility went down more. I was also worried because, despite climbing a mountain, the very beginning of this ascent had me going, well, downhill.

Then the uphill began. Oh, how I missed downhill, because by “uphill,” I mean Up. Hill. It wasn’t long (5, maybe 10 minutes?) before I began questioning myself. The trail started off rather basic. There was a slight incline on a wide dirt path, like you have attempted to go up a few notches on your treadmill “just to see.” Except there was no button to go back down, and after a while at a mild incline (and a greater altitude I was not used to), I was already tired. I hadn’t even done anything yet! What began as an inclined dirt path soon becomes even steeper. The path narrowed greatly, sometimes with only a rope or chain on the side of the hill (and sometimes nothing) to stop you from falling to your eminent demise. The dirt ramp then became dirt steps with a rock-laden incline on either side. At first I was like “Awesome… stairs! I can take it slow, one platform at a time.”

Wrong. Such wrong. Avoid the stairs. Avoid the stairs at all costs. That’s what I learned.

It was much easier to brave the side of the incline where it was just hill, which is what I found out most people actually did. And not only did it go up, but it began to zigzag all the way up. So it went up, up, up and then suddenly turns the opposite direction and went up, up, up some more. I had just transitioned from treadmill to Stairmaster, and I desperately wanted the treadmill back.

I was exhausted and out of breath. My heart was pounding. I had to stop for a break every 15 steps. Every 10 steps. Every 5 steps. I wasn’t aware at the time, but I had started getting acute mountain sickness. It also didn’t help when we got signs saying the summit was still another 4-5 hours away (not including breaks).

I eventually made it to the 6th Station without copious amounts of excitement. Finally, I could rest and get out of the elements! Except it turned out to be more of an information hut. And it was closed. With this gut-punch of information, I just sat down on the concrete slab, outside in the cold, misty drizzle. Despite my poncho, my clothes were already soaked, and it was getting colder. But I had to carry on, even with that little voice in my head telling me to turn back now. What would happen if I turned back now? I wasn’t too far along. I could get back to the 5th station in an hour or less. But then what? Hang around the store until my bus the next morning? Sleep on the concrete slab? I hadn’t come this far to give up.

The steep climb continued on for quite a while, and then I finally saw it—the stretch of hut lights. I had never been so happy to see lights. However, I didn’t realize just how far away they actually were. They were like a mirage I could never reach, or a dream figment that kept staying the same distance no matter how long I walked. I still had a long way to go to actually reach them, and the terrain shifts weren’t over yet.

No, it got even harder. The incline slanted higher, and I hated every second. My hands shook from lack of oxygen. My legs barely functioned as legs. I was drenched in rain and sweat—my socks, jacket, jeans, and underwear all needed a good drying. I thought I was going to die. If I didn’t die of hypothermia, the altitude was going to get me. I was starting to panic, because I was stuck on the side of a mountain in Japan in wet clothes and sub-freezing temperatures in the middle of the night, and I was completely alone with altitude sickness. And just when I thought I couldn’t go on, I started to see the layers of huts. I had reached the next group of stations!

And then I looked ahead of me.

The dirt path turned to almost pure rock. That you climbed. Not like a vertical climb, but pretty close. There was no way to get up these stretches without using both your feet and hands. I was basically rock climbing. And did I mention that, of the 3 or so paths available to make this hike, this was the easy and popular one

As the huts rapidly approached, the terrain was a mix of rock climbing, then stairs, then more rock climbing, so on and so forth. I was having trouble breathing, even after long breaks. But I finally reached Station 7.1 (there’s more than one)! There were people, lights, buildings. It was like a tiny village on the side of a mountain, though you had to keep climbing in order to get to the next area. I took yet another long break outside this one and realized just how wet my clothes were. I knew at this point I wasn’t going to make it to the top. Honestly, I knew an hour before that I wasn’t going to make it to the top. I was exhausted, both from the hike thus far and the lack of sleep. And this stretch from Station 5 to Station 7.1 had taken me almost 2 and a half hours. It was about 11:30 PM at this point.

But I couldn’t stop just yet. Even if I were to give up, I didn’t have the energy or mental fortitude to make the climb all the way back down. I knew some of the huts offered beds to rest, so at the very least, I’d find one of those. I moved on to the next hut and figured I’d try to make it one more. The next hut was actually Station 7.2, the last big Station for a while. So I made it, barely, and knew I couldn’t go on. There was no way my body could handle it. I went inside the hut and was immediately asked by the guy if I wanted my walking stick stamped—two brands for 300 yen (about $3). Sure, why not? Might as well get something out of this. It had now been over 3 hours since I left the 5th Station, and it was after midnight.

I didn’t want to leave the warmth and safety of the Station. While the man burned the stamps onto my walking stick, I noticed a family was sitting and playing cards, and they soon went into a back room. I realized this place must have beds.

“Do you have beds?” I asked the man.

He nodded. “5,500 yen.”

That was about $55. I didn’t care at this point. It was 55 bucks or death, so I paid up. He took me to a back room with bunk beds and told me I had the top bunk (more climbing). They were basically like a barracks—large, hard wood bunk beds attached to the walls with curtains over the front. I changed into a dry shirt and settled into my plank.

Now here’s where new issues arose. I realized this as I paid the man, because I had to weigh the potential consequences of this option. I knew Tokyo was going to be expensive before coming, though I did not plan it out very well, becoming a particular spendthrift at DisneySea the day before. Prior to paying for the room, I only had roughly 7,000 Yen left to my name. The room for the night was 5,500. That left me with roughly 1,500 Yen. The bus back to Shinjuku from Kawaguchiko was going to cost me 1,700 Yen. But hey, it was a major transit station. I assumed they’d take credit cards. Either way, it wasn’t like I had much of a choice.

So I decided I would get a few hours of sleep—it was about 1 AM by this point, and sunrise was at about 4:40-ish. I had no idea how well I would be able to see it from where I was, but I might as well try and get a look-see, right? At this point, I was just trying to ignore the horribly annoying boy who couldn’t sleep and made sure everyone was aware of it. I set my alarm to go off so I wouldn’t miss the sunrise. I slept on and off for the next few hours. Come 4:30, I heard rustling about in the shared dorm area. I was still pretty tired. I did eventually pull myself out of bed by 4:45 and hurried outside where everybody was looking at this:

I’m not sure how different the view was from the summit itself, though I can’t imagine it being too different from this. Just… higher. So I stood around in the freezing weather watching the gorgeous sunrise for a while before coming to another stark realization: I had to walk back down. And not the descending path that you’d take from the summit, either. No, I had to make the Walk of Shame down the ascending path, back the way I’d come (fortunately, I wasn’t the only one). I passed tons of people who were just starting their climb. They were almost all very friendly, saying good morning and even a few asking about the climb itself. And some people were cheating with horses.

I was surprised at how difficult going downhill was. My knees were still weak from the climb up, so going downhill made me pretty wobbly (and not to mention the reverse rock climbing was not a fun experience). Granted, I would still take downhill over uphill any day. And remember that first part that was confusingly downhill? Now it was all confusingly uphill. After an incredibly long day and night, that was not a fun cherry on the Fuji Sundae.

The trek up might have taken 3 hours to where I stopped, but it only took an hour and a half to get back down. Then all I had to do was wait for my bus to Kawaguchiko to show up at 8 AM. I had to buy some more water because I had run out, and I was dying of thirst, so there went another little bit of change that I couldn’t afford to lose. Finally, my bus arrived. I waited behind people who had not bought their tickets and were instead paying cash or using their Suica transport cards. But finally, I got on and began the return journey.

As I’m sure you have guessed by this point, because that’s how tragic irony works, the station did not take credit cards of any kind. So I was legitimately freaking out. I just straight-up did not have enough money to get back to Shinjuku. I only had 1,200 Yen, and I needed 1,700. I paced back and forth in the lobby as a few others bought their tickets. Pushing my anxiety was not only being unable to get back to Tokyo, but the potentiality of missing my flight back to Korea. My flight left that afternoon, and it helps to be at the airport and not at a rinky-dink bus station near the foot of a mountain.

And then it hit me. I recalled someone who got on the bus at the 5th Station used their Suica card to pay for their ticket. I pulled out my Suica.

“Can I use this?” I asked the lady.

She nodded, and a great tsunami of relief flooded over me. Until the next realization: I didn’t have enough money on my Suica, either, and she wasn’t allowing two forms of payment. There was 870 on the card. Otherwise, I had a 1,000 Yen bill plus other loose change. However, after a little confusion, the lady was able to charge the 1,000 onto my Suica and then use the card to pay for my ticket. I now had 170 on my Suica and 200 Yen in my pocket (about $3 altogether). My lucky visit to Kiyomasa’s Well the other day was paying off.

I took the 2 hour bus ride back to Shinjuku. Then I went to my hotel, got my luggage, and bought my ticket for the airport bus (they thankfully took credit card). All week, I had actually been worried about not being able to get to the airport on time from Fuji. Turns out, my real concern should have been actually getting back from Fuji in general. I spent the last of my pocket change to buy yet another bottle of water for the airport trip and then made my way there.

At the airport, the check-in guy looked at my Fuji walking stick–my prized possession for surviving a night of near-death and unimaginable horror.

“Security may not allow on plane,” he said, in regards to the stick.

Oh hell no. I had been told it could be taken on the plane, and I wasn’t going to abandon it now. I checked my regular bag then went and checked with security. Sure enough, it was considered a security risk, so I had to go all the way back to the check-in line, wait again, have them wrap it up in a special bag, and had me take it to the over-sized luggage department, where it was finally checked in.

I’d like to say that was about it… but it wasn’t. By the time I got back to Seoul, through immigration (etc.), the trains into Seoul were closed for the evening, so I had to figure out the bus system. Once I got my ticket, which thankfully wasn’t too hard, I hopped on a bus to Sanbon, the downtown area near where I lived.

If it were only so easy.

The bus did not take me to Sanbon itself; rather, it dropped me at some random bus stop in the middle of nowhere, a few roads over. At first I had no idea where I was or how to get anywhere. I had no Won on me, so a taxi was out of the question. So there I stood, yet again stranded in the middle of nowhere, this time with multiple bags of luggage and a giant, packaged walking stick. I also did not miss the Korean humidity, which had hit me like a big, sweaty brick wall.

So I walked. I walked until I recognized something, which eventually led me to the bus station I was familiar with. I waited for ages, sweating like mad, for my bus to actually show up. I made it back home at right around midnight, more stressed than I was when I left for vacation.

But at least I got my stick.

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