Merry Christmas to those who celebrate it. To everyone else, we hope you are happy and healthy this entire holiday season and in the New Year too!
Our main interest in visiting Hiroshima over any other city in Japan, was of course, its history. We were interested by this city’s historical importance and being so close we had to take up the opportunity. It was well worth it.
The city has done a wonderful job memorializing the event of August 6, 1945 and all the people who were killed or otherwise affected by the first use of an atomic bomb. They have taken an area of town at the epicentre of the blast and created a park with numerous monuments to specific groups as well as museums and fountains. It was beautiful and moving.
Seeing the images of the city in the days after the bomb were very shocking. Even though I am sure that I had seen these images before in history class or when watching TLC with my family, they had a much more moving impact when you were standing in the city where it all occurred.
On top of that, it was impressive to look around and realise that this gorgeous city is brand new, as everything had to be completely rebuilt in the years following 1945. The ONLY building that remains from before the blast is the famous Atomic Dome (as seen above and below) or Genbaku Dome as it was called prior to the drop of the bomb.
We were both impressed by the entire feeling of the park and its museums. The memorial park and its museums never pushed a feeling of victimhood. Rather, it attempted to present a complete picture of what happened in the time leading up to and following the bombing. There was a lasting message about the importance of remembrance of what happened and what should never happen again in the future.
Relatedly, something that was really important to us since living in Korea was the recognition of those Korean folk who were affected by the blast. Impressively, there was explicit recognition of the Korean people that died that day who were in Hiroshima under coercion because of the colonial rule by Japan.
Hiroshima is now recognized as the “City of Peace” and actively pursues the end to all testing and use of nuclear weapons.
Being polite is very important to Sandy and I, being Canadian and all. Of course there are plenty of rude people who live in Canada but generally one aspect of our culture is politeness. From compulsively holding doors open for others to apologizing when someone bumps into you we have our conventions that emphasize consideration for others, even to the excess. Even so, interacting with the niceties of another culture can make you damn rude!
One piece of etiquette we have been trying to incorporate into our daily lives is using two hands. Giving and receiving drinks and food, handing money to a cashier, most things we pass to one another in our daily lives, we may do without much thought. Korea has asked us to reconsider. Using two hands or using one hand while placing the left to support the elbow of the right is how to make a very casual (perhaps too casual) gesture into a friendly and polite one. One Korean friend told us that it is not essential to use two hands when giving or receiving something from, say, a cashier at a store. They are supposed to be very polite to you as you are the customer, and you have some leeway as to how polite you are back. But, when giving gifts or dealing with people of higher rank/older age than yourself, you need to be cautious of your hands to avoid offence.
Check out this video from one of our favourite Canadian blogs. If you are interested in Korean food, places in the Seoul area, or all things KPop, make sure to browse their site.
There are LOTS of things that rock about Korea, but here are a few that come to mind in these first few days…
1. 온돌 Ondol (in floor heating): I was excited for this feature before we arrived. I am always cold, especially my feet, so it seemed a perfect fit. I had forgotten all about it until we arrived at our hotel the first night, stepped out of our shoes and ahhhhh! So nice on the tired toes.
2. In-suite washer: I know that this is not specific to Korea or even this part of the world but coming from numerous apartments with per floor communal washing machines, this is great! Interestingly, however, there are no dryers. Great for the environment and do we really need to have a machine to warm and dry our clothes? We did miss it for our towels however, as those took two days to dry…
You may notice that the stove top is actually above the washer. Ovens are rare in homes in South Korea and the stove only has two burners. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why there are so many cold side dishes to a Korean meal.
3. 반찬 Banchan (side dishes): with meals at a sit down Korean restaurant comes a variety of small dishes of food. Common varieties include Kimchi, sprouts, and egg dishes. More on this later as we have yet to experience it to a full extent!
4. 김치 Kimchi!: this fermented cabbage dish is one of the icons of Korean cuisine. It is eaten with every meal and uses the commonly used condiment고추장 gochujang (red pepper paste). Made from red chilis and other ingredients it is spicy but mildly sweet . There are hundreds of varieties, some of which do not use cabbage at all but other vegetables instead.
…do as the Osan-ians do! And apparently that means being friendly and helpful. We Canadians, with our polite sentiment, may feel more at home here than stereotypes and quick suggestions originally suggested.
Our first experience in Korea (and of course every person’s experience will be different) was with a wonderful Korean woman that we met on the plane from Vancouver. She very gratefully offered to help us buy our bus tickets to Osan and pointed out where the correct bus would arrive. Yesterday, while looking bewildered at the sheer amount of different kinds of rice to choose from an Ajumma (older woman) came up and motioned that the kind we held was no good and to go with the one she pointed to instead. We communicated through sign and presumption but my partner and I went away feeling we had been fortunate enough to have had someone come by and help the out of place foreigners.
Less than a week in and we have already had so many exciting experiences and wonderful surprises. We hope to share with you even just a small amount.