How does one attempt to describe what it’s like to travel and experience the culture, the beauty and the people of places like Japan, China or South Korea? It is an experience which grasps you in such a way that it is difficult to capture completely in writing. It is a feeling which accompanies you with every single person you meet, every new meal you try, every sight you behold.
I have visited other parts of the world but my focus for this piece is on my travel to East Asia . If there was a word to describe my experience in Japan, China and South Korea as a whole, it would be reverent. Every moment of every day spent in those countries was filled with new discoveries , cultural wonder and utter delights. Words are inadequate to describe those moments beyond that. I would like to share some of my most memorable moments with you starting with:
1. A little girl stole my heart moment
Permit me to start by describing one of my most delightful moments in South Korea and the little angel who stole my heart. As my friends and I drove around Seoul, we pulled up next to a school bus at a traffic light. I looked over to my left and there was a little girl with her head leaning on the window. She looked adorable and her eyes were sleepy. I apologize for the poor quality of the picture below. Focus on the adorable sleepy head in the middle :).
It was around 9 am in the morning. It was just endearing to see a little girl so tired and so sleepy. It was a moment I had to capture. The little girl stole my heart that morning. She made an impression on my mind and thoughts of her lasted all day. What on earth had she been up to? What caused this adorable angel to be so sleepy at 9am in the morning and on her way to school? I wondered.
2. The Nanta Show moment
There are moments in life when one gets overdosed with laughter from light-hearted moments. An overdose so profound that it actually hurts and one could proverbially die laughing. I do not believe I have laughed that hard consistently for a period over an hour as I did at the Nanta show.
The Nanta show is the longest running show in South Korea. It is a musical show with three cooks attempting to finish preparing a wedding banquet within a strict time limit. Their incorrigible manager makes the task more complicated by placing his incompetent nephew among the kitchen staff. The show has everything; magic tricks, pandemonium, acrobatics, music, drumming, dance and audience participation.
What made this experience unique and memorable for me was when one lovely lady cast member found me in the audience and pulled me on to the stage to be a participant. Not only was I just a participant, I was to become the groom getting married that day! Needless to say, I did not wake up that morning thinking I was going to be married off by the end of the day.
I had so much fun on stage. I also had fun watching all my friends riddled with laughter at my silly and confused face on the stage.
While I was visiting a historical part of South Korea the following day, I heard synchronized utterances coming from a group of people; “Nanta!” “Nanta!” “Nanta!” they exclaimed. I curiously turned around and to my surprise, I saw a group of tourists who were present at the show the night before. They were ecstatic to see me. Despite the language barrier, we laughed and joked about my brief performance on stage using sign language. They politely asked to take a picture with me as seen below. I was more than happy to oblige.
For a short while, for a mere 15 minutes, I was a recognized celebrity in Seoul. Amazing! 15 minutes of fame I will forever cherish.
3. The South Korean Students encounter moments
South Korea is a nation whose citizens display a culture of humility and respect. These cultural traits is resilient in their daily lives. A tourist is immediately noticed and treated with a lot of kindness and respect.
One of our amazing student tour guides in Seoul
My friends and I encountered groups of students who did not only treat us with kindness but also asked questions about life in the United States and our experiences in Seoul. We found out from a tour guide later on that these conversations with tourists was also a way for students to practice and polish their oral english language skills. Below are pictures with some of the students I encountered.
4. The skinny woman in a red dress moment
Ever the consummate bachelor, I was captivated when I encountered a super skinny woman on the streets of Seoul. My attraction to skinny women is an open secret. There she was, striding down the street in her lovely red dress, oblivious to all the admiration emanating from this foreigner at the sight of her. A unique and refreshing sight indeed on a lovely sunny afternoon in Seoul.
China is a fascinating and incredible country. My trip there transformed my perception of China from the bleak and hardline image it sometimes has in the Western world. I learned a lot about the Chinese, their everyday life, the culture and their rich history. Old customs and habits hang on as modern skyscrapers go up every second. I love China’s display of reverence for their past. A reverence which has led to the preservation of their historical sites and structures in their original forms.
1. The beautifully dressed lady on the Great Wall moment
A visit to China is incomplete without a trip to the famous Great Wall. I met a lot of friendly people on the great wall. I thought it amazing how friendly people were on the wall. Strangers stop and ask if you needed a bottle of water; if you were having a great time; if you wanted them to take pictures of you with your camera.
On my walk up the southern side of the wall, I turned a soft corner and sitting on a set of stairs was this petite and attractive lady dressed in a traditional attire with a lovely white hat.
She was a sight to behold! Quite unique I might add. For a split second we locked eyes and smiled at each other. She did not speak a word of English and was dressed differently from all the other tourists and locals on the wall. She was not a tour guide either. She was up there alone. What was her story? Where was she from? How did she materialize on the stairs?
I coyly sat next to her and said hello in mandarin. She smiled and gave me a thumbs up, a universal sign to say “all is well and good.” I pointed to her attire and gave her a thumbs up. She laughed and nudged at my shoulder. She pointed to my camera. My photographer instincts kicked in and I jumped at the opportunity to take a good picture. One of my friends from the United States happened to be with me on this particular encounter. We took the picture above together.
2. Karaoke night in Beijing moment
Angie, my friend and graduate school mate, had friends in Beijing. Her friends trekked to the hotel we were located and took us out the day we arrived. We went to what I will describe as “Bourbon Street of Beijing.” Just like Bourbon street in New Orleans, this “corridor” was lined with bars, shops, restaurants and people. I remember thinking repeatedly,” are we really in China?”.
Like any other first-time visitor to China, one hears stories of government censorship, control and of course the Facebook ban. For a while there, it felt as if it was just a regular night out on the town in Los Angeles.
Every other bar was a Karaoke joint. I had no clue that the youth in China was that much into Karaoke. To add to it, most of the songs being sang if not all, were American songs! Huge Shock!! Beyoncé, Adele and Rihanna appeared to be the most popular. One bar in particular had one of the best Karaoke singers in Beijing so naturally, we went there to chill. Their brand of karaoke did not involve the traditional Karaoke machine; they used live bands ins some cases. I captured one of the top Singers on my cellphone. I have shared the clip below.
My friends and I had an amazing time. We joked, talked and listened to music throughout the night, all the while sampling bottles of Chinese local beer. I had the pleasure of meeting the Karaoke star of the night and I got to take a picture or two with her. It was a fun and memorable evening.
3. The Bund Waterfront moment
One cannot fully appreciate a trip to Shanghai without a visit to The Bund. The Bund is a world-famous waterfront attraction. It is regarded as the symbol of Shanghai and most important landmark for hundreds of years.
Almost everyone in view at the Bund, locals and tourists alike were busy taking pictures. As I was taking pictures with my friends, I was hit with the realization that I was not fully appreciating the majestic landmark with all its sights and sounds. This was very likely a once in a lifetime experience. I was not about to miss out on it.
I tucked my camera away and for the next couple of hours, I savored the sights, the sounds and breathtaking views of The Bund.
The Bund at night
I fell in love with Japan on my first visit . On drives around Tokyo, I had my hands and face pressed against the window like a little boy imbibing the sights at Disney World for the very first time. My Camera was in ready mode as I was eager to capture the city views, the people, anything unique and interesting.
1. The Samurai moment
My friends and I visited a university in Nagoya and had the pleasure of attending a class with the students. We had lunch in their cafeteria and went out to tour some historical sites.
Great student tour guide in Japan. In the lunch room at a University in Nagoya.
It was at one of such historical sites that I got to dress up like a distinguished Samurai Warrior. I indulged myself in a little make-believe and become a part of a centuries-old Japan tradition. The wonders of travel!!
2. The Candy called Ghana moment
Who knew that in one’s travels, one would come across candy named Ghana and in Tokyo of all places! I was completely blown away when I caught a glimpse of the name of the country of my birth on two types of candy in a convenience store in Tokyo. In that instant I was not sure if I was offended to see candy named Ghana or shocked at the coincidence, if indeed it was even a coincidence. Needless to say, I was in awe.
Who cooked up this idea ? What did it taste like? How did this come about? Further inquires from my Japanese hosts provided the answers I sought. Japan imports a lot of cocoa from Ghana.
As a tribute to their trade partner, they named some of their candy after Ghana. Terrific!!
Alas, it was time to say goodbye to East Asia. It was a goodbye filled with melancholy but as it goes in life, good things come to an end. I may plan another visit to Asia one day to explore more of this beautiful continent. Who knows where my travels will take me next time. Until then thanks for allowing me to share my experiences with you :).
By Kwadjo Panyin..
Kwadjo Panyin is a Ghanaian born relationship and lifestyle blogger located in Los Angeles, California. He holds three degrees; a Bachelors degree from Rutgers University in New Jersey, an MBA from Franklin University in Ohio and a Masters of Science degree from Northern Kentucky University in Kentucky. Kwadjo is a business professional who blogs for fun. His articles are about the challenges of dating and relationship anomalies. Writing, blogging, world travel, and photography are his favorite hobbies.