Mamiya C220f. Two ladies exploring an international festival in Kagoshima’s Tenmonkandori area.
International festivals were always great ways to discover how isolated expats tend to be from each other unless they’re living in foreigner ghettos like Haebongchong in Seoul or Roppongi in Tokyo. You get there and, “Where did all these people come from? I mean aside from different countries.” crosses your mind. “Man, I really am out there in the boonies!” quickly scurries after it while giving your mind a sheepish grin.
Isolation is something that you will have to deal with as an expat unless you have particularly lax standards for the people you spend your time with. Even if you don’t you do have to make allowances for personalities and traits that may set your teeth on edge in normal circumstances. This is very true if you’re someone who is uncomfortable with their own company. I view “Comfortable with your own company” to be one of the most important traits to have when you embark on The Path Of The Expat simply due to the bad company you inevitably find yourself with when the idea of doing anything by yourself is frightening.
A sign warning kids away from the outskirts of Miyakonojo Station. Shot with a Mamiya C220f.
Miyakonojo Station shows every sign of once being a much busier station than it is today. The train yard still has three platforms, but there’s far more space than that on the grounds. I don’t know if it was used to store trains at night or if there were more frequent trains heading towards the other small towns of Miyazaki-Ken and Kagoshima-Ken. Today the traffic pretty much just runs east-west between Miyazaki city and Kagoshima. One line does head north around the Kirishima volcanic mountain range towards the “cities” of Kobayashi, Ebino, and Yoshimatsu. I often wanted to take an exploratory trip to the end of that line but the every-three-hours-ends-at-dinner-time schedule turned me off of the idea.
There was another train line heading south from Miyakonojo that was discontinued in the 80s. I assume it went to Shibushi* because there isn’t much else down there. I did bike down this route one spring. A good ten kilometers of the line had been converted to a public trail for use by joggers and cyclists alike. Something similar happened here in Nova Scotia with our abandoned lines, except this one was paved for its entire length and no one would have thought it funny to use an ATV to destroy the path by spinning doughnuts.
This is why we can’t have nice things in the Maritimes.
*You know how to use Google Maps. Look these places up.
Some film, money, and a passport in a small Taichung apartment. (Edited for a better crop)
If I ever have the money to retire (Which I won’t because the Plutocrats ate all of society’s wealth and I’ll die on the job… if I’m lucky.) my plan is to grab my camera and live out of a suitcase. Seeing everything the world has to offer and documenting it for future generations who won’t be able to see it themselves as they’re going to become the technological equivalent of serfs thanks to the successful efforts of the above mentioned Plutocrats.
My only source of illumination and heat when I first arrived in Japan. Shot with a Mamiya C220f. Scan of a print.
I found out at the time that I could be an incredible skinflint if I put my mind to it. You kind of have to when you first land. Strangely, finally getting money in my pocket didn’t result in a sudden spending spree. Not that I remained a skinflint. But I was a lot slower to buy things that had a large price tag and I still ate like I couldn’t afford a better quality of food. Making sure the lights and power were off was something I still do regularly.
Slightly related: I also refuse to leave dirty dishes in the sink. You don’t want to see what hangs out in your sink full of dirty dishes in East Asia.
I had forgotten that I had taken a second picture at Incheon Airport that day with my Mamiya. This is also the third image in a row with someone walking off camera to the right. I wish I had planned that.
I’ve been exchanging emails with a number of recruiters in Korea this past week. It seems that a TESOL certificate is desired since there are so many applicants these days. I’m hoping that over a decade of experience helps set me apart from the crowd. I’m also hoping my manly beard does as well. I’d hate to have to shave it off given that I have the face of an infant. Regardless, they can’t do anything for me until my documents come back from the Korean Consulate along with a thumbs up. Hopefully sooner than later. I never really gave much thought about being refused. I can’t see any reason why, though it would derail a lot of my life plans. I guess I’ll bumble across any bridges I come to in the next couple of months.
Maybe I shouldn’t put all of my eggs in that particular basket…
High school students enjoying what little there is of summer in Halifax’s Point Pleasant Park.
And I doubt they have much else to do given that most of the entertainment venues teens can get access to in the city are an hour away by bus. If they can afford the movies. Adults face the same problem here which is why everyone fills their days with booze and TV… And stealing or breaking things if they’re confident they won’t be caught, which is something else things teens and adults have in common here.
I suppose it’s the same all over. Not much to keep your body and mind engaged. Maybe some sports if you’re geared that way… or haven’t let the shitty food and lack of options that comes with being poor or deep debt turn you into a slug. You do see parks get widely used in Korea and Taiwan. Japan’s parks occasionally have kids after school but largely remain empty unless they’re a famous location like Ueno Park in Tokyo. It’s cold most of the year in Halifax so the parks go little used during the day, and you can’t really enjoy the parks at night anyway. Only the angry drunk/ high assholes are there because the authorities pressured everyone else out.
Not that you can access much without a car. All entertainments, events, places of interest, and living areas are designed for the automobile. Point Pleasant Park has a dedicated bus and isn’t too far from the city core. Ueno Park is next to a highly busy subway station. They’re exceptions. Halifax has a number of nice parks that are on the wrong side of a busy street, or hidden under a bridge, or in the outskirts of town. They don’t get as well used as they should due to either poor planning, or due to trying to work around poor planning. And lacking a place to sit makes them generally unwelcoming.
All this rambling leads me to my point: For all its cultural and business culture flaws, Korea excels at public spaces. Especially in the newer neighbourhoods. A lot of thought seems to have gone into urban planning and living spaces. There will always be a small park in an apartment complex. There will always be a small entertainment and dining district nearby. Groceries can be bought within eyesight of your home. A hill or mountain for the nature lovers isn’t far away either. Public transportation is abundant even in small towns.
I keep going back and forth on this image. The exposure was off and lots of ‘shopping was done, but their attitude is great.
Reversal film in a medium format camera in a roofed over shopping arcade. I think I tried to eyeball the exposure. If I had been using monochrome or even run of the mill color film the exposure would have been fine. As it is, I had to desaturate the image and mess with levels until I got it viewable. I don’t feel bad about this “post” work since even Ansel Adams did 90% of his work in the darkroom. Dirty cheater. Well, not really. A photo isn’t done until you’ve presented it to someone else’s eyes and everything from putting the film/ SD card into the camera until that point is part of the job. I’ve always maintained that if he had been around today he’d be Photoshop’s celebrity pitchman.
Still, I wish I had exposed it correctly the first time. That way I wouldn’t have had to crop out my old pal Peter from the shot. He was looking like a serial killer in the gloom.
I got lost in Kagoshima once as well. I wasn’t smart enough to get a map like this lady.
I had gotten off the tram at the shopping/ bar district of Tenmokan and decided that I could follow the tracks back to Kagoshima Chuo Station and my hotel. Inside the shopping area I had gotten turned around, and when I made my way to the tracks I would up following them in the wrong direction. I had been walking for quite a bit and felt that I had gone far enough that Kagoshima Station was in my immediate future. Stations are generally twenty minutes to a half hour apart by foot and I was worried that I would get on the tram in the wrong direction, these being early days in Japan for me, so I pressed on.
I wound up at the end of the line at Kagoshima Station. Kagoshima Station looks like something that’s been around since 1901, though I assume the current building dates to the middle of the last century. From there I grabbed the tram back to my hotel and spent the rest of the night soothing my sunburned head. I started wearing a hat after that.
I was certain that I had posted up this photo already but it seems that I didn’t. Well, I probably did on a different website. I tend to shed them like holey underwear when they outlive my interest in/ will to continue with them.
It’s End-of-Year-Sales Eve, a.k.a. Day Before the Not Birthday of Someone Who Likely Didn’t Exist Anyway Day, as I write this. The first time in over a decade I’ve spent it in Canada. I’ll be honest, if the holiday wasn’t constantly in my face, I wouldn’t have noticed it passing. I’m the same way about my birthday. Largely uninterested in it beyond the day off of work. Christmas, that is. My birthday isn’t a day off but it will be once I become mad dictator.
Being here comes at the worst time for since being the proud owner of a Hiatal Hernia means the typical food served now sends me scrambling for the Pepcid AC within the hour. Not that the Spam and kimchi of Korea or the KFC of Japan would suit me any better. Too many food temptations for me, though. Like trying to quit drinking soda in the American south or quitting pot as a musician.
This image was taken in Miyazaki with a Mamiya c220f. I cropped it for interestingness. Unless you find walls interesting, in which case I apologise.
I remembered that I had a few CDs of photos taken during my time in Taichung, Taiwan. I’ve just started going through them and here’s one I liked. It’s cropped down from the 6x6 frame of the Mamiya c220.
Several of the CDs are a mix of Taiwan and my last days in Korea. Both image sets are more of stuff I saw that I wanted to record for memory’s sake so they’re not very well composed nor are they of interesting things and people. There are a few night shots like this taken around Taichung that I felt I could crop into usable images, so I’ll be looking at those over the next few days.
Taiwan is cheap. The living expenses are low. Then again, so are the salaries. Conveniences are on every corner assuming you can speak passible Mandarin. Unlike Korea, few people are putting in much of an effort to use English so you won’t be able to muddle through that way. Even the names of the McDonalds menu are different. “Da Mike” not, “Big Mac”. It has all of the problems you expect from a tropical country in an earthquake zone: Tremors, giant cockroaches, regular typhoons and landslides, and it’s hotter than an oven so you’re sweating buckets. Your black clothing will have salt stains on them as the precious minerals pour out of you along with the two liters of water you just drank.
And the taxi drivers are all the “Travel via traffic jams” type of crooks. You’ll never have to tell them to keep the meter running because it usually started ten minutes before they saw you.
These seem like a pile of negatives, but all they are is a suggestion that you adapt. If I was in the right frame of mind at the time I would have stayed longer. It would have saved me a lot of headaches later on.
I find the big difference between the rolling little hills of Nova Scotia, and the jagged mountains of East Asia, is in how you perceive your place in the world. The mountains make you think, “What’s on the other side?” and the relative flatness of the rolling hill makes you realize, “Oh… it’s just more of the same.” I can’t imagine living on the prairies. It could explain their deep love of crystal meth there.
Cities get called “the concrete jungle” because of the view that everyone living in them are unfeeling animals. Humans are unfeeling animals everywhere you go so this is wrong. It’s a jungle because you just don’t know what you’ll get when you turn a corner. The weird little cul-de-sacs. The wonky streets that ignored the grid laid upon the rest of the city and still meander where the cows used to five hundred years ago. Odd buildings that stick out like a sore thumb in their neighbourhoods. Businesses that have hidden themselves away in a corner somewhere because customers have to really be serious about entering and they’re not going to let just anyone in.
I much prefer cities. Though I give the rural parts of East Asia this: It was a lot easier to leave them. Trains, buses, and even taxis were willing to take you out. Where I’m at now you’re screwed unless you own a car.
This photo has been cropped a dozen ways from Sunday. It hasn’t been cleaned up. I think you can agree that the dust adds to the image. But so many crops.
One crop, A4 dimensions, hung in a few galleries around Miyazaki one year. I’d be proud of myself if the show wasn’t part of a government effort to show how much their foreigners love living in Miyazaki. To not get in the show, I would have to simply not apply. Which I did the remaining years I was in Japan because I couldn’t be arsed to come up with images that fit their stated themes. I suppose that I could have bullshitted. Bullshit is the biggest tool in an artist’s box after all.
I’m really bad at that sort of thing. Blowing smoke up someone’s ass. On resumes I need to be as neutral about what I did in my previous jobs as possible. I reach forward to put the cherry on top of the shit sundae, but I always wind up flipping the table instead. A few months ago applied for a part time job at a local home items business. The application form was four pages long and was basically the job interview in text form. The question came up each time, “Why did you leave this job?” Seriously, it’s like they’re trying to see how well you can remember the lies you told when you applied.
It’s not like they’ll accept “The owner was a bullying, evil, little bridge troll and as a result the work environment was a toxic stew of pettiness and betrayal.”
But getting back to the “Foreigners Heart Miyazaki” art show: A friend of mine picked up on the promotional nature of the event and submitted photos that showed how cool and awesome Miyazaki folk are. He won first prize.
Unless I practice something daily, my memory for it fails.
Names, for example. If I don’t address you on a regular basis, I won’t remember your name. I think this is natural for most people. But even if I do meet you regularly, if I don’t use your name in the conversation, the best I can tell people is that I was talking to “That Person”.
This also holds true for life memories. I do remember moments that were intense, but everything around them has faded to nothing. Old girlfriends. I might remember the climax of an an argument, or a happy event, or even something sexual. If I push myself, I can remember the environment of a discussion, but not the discussion itself. But those are snippets. Disjointed events without context. Even their face is a vague memory and without having a photo I wouldn’t remember enough to pick them out in a crowd.
Childhood memories are even vaguer. I’m always astounded when someone tells me of something they did when they were five. I doubt it happened as they’re remembering it given that our brains are a gray mush of evolution not screwing up long enough to specialize. But that they remember it at all is something. I cannot remember being the age of the lad in the photo. I can remember the feeling one gets while getting lost in something minor like the gravel at your feet. But remembering when the world was full of new things and how I experienced that newness? No.
I think that’s why I feel compelled to travel. It’s the adult version of staring at the gravel.
It was early March and the far-too-short spring sakura bloom was just a few weeks away. Still no leaves to be seen on those few trees that did shed their leaves in the short Kyushu autumn. Only a few species of tree changed their colors and dropped their leaves in southern Kyushu. It rarely got colder than five degrees. It might hit zero in the middle of the night in the dead of winter. But it’s nothing the more hearty species can’t shrug off.
The morning had been cool and I was wearing my heavy jacket and I wound up sweating by lunch. Miyakonojo, being up on a plateau surrounded by mountains, was generally cooler than Miyazaki on the Pacific. Japan was still new to me and what Miyazaki city had to offer remained a mystery. When I find myself in a new place, I always try to get lost. Getting lost is easy in most cities. It’s also just as easy to get un-lost if you keep your wits about you. A forest is just a blur of trees and brush and treacherous holes. It’s almost designed to swallow up an unprepared human. Cities, for the most part, are logically laid out and have plenty of landmarks to guide you back.
Also, you can just ask someone if you’re headed in the right direction.
I wasn’t much in the mood for getting un-lost that day. It was a day of discovery. You bring a camera on those days. I found a few things in Miyazaki. The river being one of them. Sure, you always cross it when coming into the city. But things are different on foot. On foot you get a more human perspective than you do by train or by car. You understand distances better when you walk them.
And people stop being a passing thing. Not that I found many people that day. Maybe it was because everyone was at the giant Aeon Mall. But I did find this levee and the empty benches upon it.
Maybe you are one of those people who see all of humanity as a rainbow fountain that you wish to drink deeply from. Every person is your friend, you are welcome wherever you go, and your name is Gandalf.
For everyone else in the world, your friends tend to be people that you have a lot in common with. Unless we’re talking about Internet friends. Then it’s just because you haven’t insulted each other over a TV you both watched. Your commonalities can include shared interests, but there’s also shared world views, shared culture, shared education, shared pains. There’s a lot that goes into how we choose our friends.
This gets thrown out the window as an expatriate.
For the most part, your expat friends will be chosen by how often you see them at your favorite watering hole and that they can speak English. Your expat friends will be that famous “Port in a storm”. Navigating your way through a second language is hard enough. Throw on top of that navigating through the cultural eggshells that surround you as well as the typical workplace minefields, and “Hates their job too” will quickly become your sole criteria for friendship. It will even become your criteria for your love life. I’ve seen untold expat couples who had no business being together. I’ve seen inter cultural couples together that have no business being together. They’re together because being alone is far too difficult for them.
This is not to say that firm friendships and strong couples can’t come out of the experience. Don’t be so binary, you contrarian Internet ninny. I have a couple myself. But most of the time, when you or they move on from your shared experience in whatever nation you happened to have been in at the same time, your relationship will quickly fade. Leaving them as just a face in a photo and maybe an interesting story to tell.
Not that you’ll have many chances to tell those stories. But that’s another blog.