Thursday, April 3, 2008

su mi ma sen

I've lived in Korea for 12 years and had never taken a trip to our neighboring country, Japan. So when I went on a business trip to Korea last month, I decided to give Nippon a try.

I didn't do much sightseeing, but walked a lot through the city; watching people, smelling the streets (smells a lot like Korea), and eating. It was the little stuff that I will remember most about Kyoto.

My first meal in Kyoto: A delicious bowl of Chinese Ramen. A typical hole-in-the-wall noodle house; limited seating, packed with fashionable teenagers and suits getting off work, and a line of hungry people waiting to be seated. As I walked in solo, the host/server/busser eyed couple of empty chairs at occupied tables and asked (I assumed) if I wouldn't mind sitting at a table with another patron. Plopping myself down in the chair, my dazed and confused look and flailing hand gestures must have been an indication that I did not understand him, I found a laminated English menu make its way in front of me. Two minutes after pointing to my selection, I was face deep in the steaming bowl of noodles.

100 yen for a "fairly good" fortune which I keep in my wallet. The quiet oases of temples tucked away amidst the bustling downtown streets.

Tako-yaki. Sake. The smell of fish permeating through the Nishiki Food Market. Not only did Kyoto smell like Korea, it felt like it too. Despite the language barrier, I never felt out of place, except for the time when a waitress at a local pub yelled at me for keeping my shoes on. So when in doubt, remember, "su mi ma sen!"

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