i took a drive to remagen. it was stop and go on the highway and my throat hurt, but i kept singing to occupy my mind. i arrived just in time, but my doctor didn’t open the door, when i rang the bell. i texted him.
“are you stuck in traffic?”
no reply. i waited another twenty minutes before i rang the bell again. this time he opened the door. the doorbell broke a couple weeks ago, he wrote a note onto his hand: fix the doorbell. he was a mess. so was i. that’s why i liked him.
we sat down in two cushy, black armchairs facing each other.
“what’s up?” he asked and i leaned forward, exhausted.
“i’ve been feeling pretty shitty and i kinda hoped, that i wouldn’t feel this shitty so soon after my last shitty episode”.
he nodded and we talked. talked about solitude and existential loneliness. about dating and friendships. about my hatred towards my japanese classes and about abusive relationships, that hurt people we loved.
he made me smile too. the first genuine smile in a couple of days, that actually made me feel slightly better.
“i started playing the piano again”, i told him, “it’s been five years since i last played”. the keys felt odd under my fingertips. an awkward caress, min yoongi had called it. the keys felt comforting too. i was shaking hands with a younger self i had forgotten.
back home, i pulled a pink plastic bag out of my letterbox. sent by lee hyun cha, it said, from korea. the book i pulled out of the bag felt heavy in my hands, even though it wasn’t that big. it was beautiful. hardcover. a black skin and ‘pieces of you‘ written in delicate golden letters. even before i opened it, i knew, that i held a beating heart in my hands.
two years ago. i finished my first book and when it arrived and i held it in my hands for the first time, it felt exactly like that. because i had poured my soul into it. so did tablo. ‘his stories offer a warm hand to the shoulders of anyone who is lost, anyone who is struggeling to discover the subversive concept of self‘, lee byung ryul wrote. the man himself, left a handwritten note on the first page. small handwriting. february 2009. a signature. ‘my heart was closed. cold. i was self-conscious and cynical […] here i am, choosing to kick away the ladder so that i remain by your side. i understand your solitude. i see your shadow‘.
i immediately started reading. headphones in my ears. today it’s sufjan stevens, who sings harsh words in his soft voice. ‘oh, the dead. twenty-seven people. even more, they were boys, with their cars, summer jobs. oh my god. oh, are you one of them?‘ there is a piano somewhere in there too. or maybe not. but for me, pianos are everywhere. piano boys are everywhere too. with broken hearts and bleeding souls. i am one of them.
I finished the first story on my way to university and when i walked to my classroom, i had to hug the book to my chest, because it hurt. it hurt so much, his words, but at the same time, it felt like a hug as well. it hurt, because he spoke the truth and he did it in a comforting way, holding my hand, telling me: it’s alright. i understand your solitude. i see your shadow. he really does.
i am hurting. i am physically hurting in this great solitude. my fingers yearn for the pianos keys. i miss the piano at the clinic. a friend made me want to play again. he taught me the first song in five years. i miss him, but i miss myself the most.
The title says it all; I climbed Mt. Fuji two days ago. And honestly, words can’t quite sum up my experience, but I’ll still try my best.
I started my journey in Nagoya in the afternoon. I took a Shinkansen to Mishima(90-minute ride, one-way cost: around ¥4000, but the Shinkansen is included in the Japan Rail Pass) and that was already amazing, because I’ve never traveled by Shinkansen before (but I’ve always dreamed of it). The trains are very spacious and comfortable and you hardly feel a thing as you speed through Japans beautiful scenery. From Mishima I took the Fuji Kyuko Bus to Kawaguchiko Station(one-hour ride, one-way cost: ¥2100) and from there I took another bus to Mt. Fuji’s fifth station (55-minute ride, round trip cost: ¥2100). It was in this bus where I found my first new friends. A couple of women who also planned to hike up Mt. Fuji at night. We quickly agreed to leave the fifth station early and hike up the mountain together.
At the fifth station I bought myself the token Mt. Fuji walking stick (middle-size, cost: ¥1300) and I paid the entry prize for Mt. Fuji, which is ¥1000. So why do I keep writing about the costs so much? Because my budget is around ¥2600 a day and this trip fucking blew it. Mt. Fuji is so expensive and I wasn’t prepared for the costs, so I want to write about it, to hopefully prepare some future mountaineers.
And so our trip started at 8pm. Oh boy. We took the Yoshida trail up the mountain, which is said to be the easiest trail and the most manageable. The sun had already set (so be sure to bring a headlight or else you’ll see nothing!) and since there weren’t any trees, we had a beautiful view over Kawaguchiko and Fuji-san City at night. We arrived at the sixth station after an hour and were pretty pleased with ourselves, because it seemed easy and it wasn’t cold. We were such idiots. After the sixth station the trails curves slightly and you’re confronted with the first stairs and that’s when you realize that you’ve made a big mistake. At the sixth station I also got my first stamp for my walking stick, which cost ¥300.
It took us around 80 minutes, I think, to reach the seventh station and that’s when I started freezing. I bought myself some gloves for ¥300 and the others bought themselves something to eat and we sat inside the station for a while to warm up. Problem: I didn’t buy myself something to eat, so they kicked me out of the station (it was really expensive, even drinks cost around ¥600, and I wasn’t even hungry). I told the others that I would wait outside, but I started shivering and freezing and they sure did take their time to eat, so I ditched them (because I’m an asshole) and joined two dudes from Belgium instead. Their names were Abdil and Frédéric and we hit it off instantly.
Abdil, Fred and I steadily climbed up to the eight station, which took us a lot of time and I spent around ¥1000 for more stamps. The trail from the seventh to the eighth station was the worst. It reminded me more of free climbing than of hiking. So if you decide to climb Mt. Fuji, be sure that don’t pack too much stuff, so that you’ll be able to climb as well. I did kind of regret buying my walking stick at that point, but it was manageable.
When we arrived at the eighth station we were exhausted. Fred was the fittest of our group and he went ahead of us, with me closely behind him and Abdil falling behind us. At every mountain hut Fred would wait for Abdil and me before continuing. By this point I realized that it was a good idea to join them, because our pacing fit well together and we had a good chemistry and that’s important when you climb a mountain that’s nearly 4000m tall.
The climb to the ninth station took forever. Abdil fell behind more and more and I didn’t feel my toes anymore because of the cold. At some point we were so exhausted that we decided to spent some money on food (even though we had brought plenty ourselves) to rest inside a hut for a while. We got ourselves some instant corn soup in a plastic cup, which cost around ¥500, and were allowed to sit down inside for 15 minutes (but they didn’t close the door so it was still pretty cold). Abdil took a short 15-minute nap and Fred gave me one of his hoodies, because I had already put on all of my prepared clothes but was still cold. He even gave me one of his spare pants, but I didn’t fit into them because he’s got thin legs like a chicken unlike me.
It was already 4am when our short break ended and the sun would rise at 5am, so we had fight our way up the last part of the trail to make it in time. And boy did we fight. Fred sprinted ahead and I could only concentrate only on the next step. Abdil and I stayed together for a long time, but at some point he just sat down and hugged his backpack and told me to go on without him, which I did (again, because I am an asshole).
I was alone and could already see the summit at this point. People were queuing at this point, because everybody wanted to reach the summit for the sunrise. 200m before reaching the top, there was already staff telling everybody “another 200m! If you continue now without stopping, you’ll reach the summit in time for sunrise! Fight on! It’s just another 30 minutes! You’ll make it!” All I could think about was how wonderful a hot shower would feel like. I was still another 100m away from the summit when the first sunrise lights illuminated the sky in a red color and I thought to myself: “no. I didn’t climb this mountain for nine hours to give up 100m before reaching the top” and so I rushed up the last part of the trail and reached the gate to the summit. I sat down there, took out my camera and that’s exactly when the sunrise began. That’s also when I started crying. After three years I had finally returned to Japan and after half a year of planning and preparing, I, a tiny weak asthmatic nerd, actually climbed Mt. Fuji. It hit me hard and I silently cried as I watched the sunrise.
After the sunrise I looked for Fred at the summit and found him after a couple of minutes. We grinned like to complete idiots and hugged. We made it. We continued to stand at the railing for some time to watch the sky turn blue slowly and after another 20 minutes or so, Abdil joined us as well. We also hugged and laughed and took a lot of pictures. After Abdil the women from my first group arrived as well and we also happily and proudly smiled at each other.
I got myself the special sunrise stamp for my walking stick (¥400) and we looked at the volcano crater. With the first beams of sun, it instantly became warmer, which was such a relief, because my whole body was shaking and my finger tips had already turned blue.
We didn’t stay at the summit for long and we also didn’t walk around the crater (which would take more than an hour), because we were all so drained and exhausted. Abdil, Fred and I returned to the fifth station. The downwards trail is different from the upwards trail and it took us four hours to get down. The way down is a slippery slope and I tripped and fell two times. At 10am we arrived at the fifth station. We quickly bought ourselves some food and took the bus back to Kawaguchiko. The guys fell asleep instantly, but strangely I wasn’t that tired.
Our ways parted in Kawaguchiko, but we agreed to stay in touch and joked about meeting in Japan every year from now on to climb Mt. Fuji. It may have been exhausting, but seeing the sun rise over Japan was worth it. I’ll probably do it again in the future. Because I am an idiot.
Friday September 8th, 2017
by Kay Safonov 2 Comments
Tuesday was a weird day. I woke up early and lazily packed my two suitcases and then I texted with some friends and went grocery shopping with my neighbor. I didn’t feel as though I was flying to Japan later that day. Was I nervous? Was I excited? Not really. I was calm. After three years of working towards this day, I couldn’t really believe that it was finally time to return to Japan.
The late afternoon came around and I took the train to Frankfurt airport. I arrived, exchanged my suitcases for boarding tickets and still had four hours to go until the actual flight, but time passed quickly and before I knew it, I boarded my Air China flight to Beijing. I spent the eight-hour flight with reading, watching movies and sleeping and suddenly I was in Beijing. Landing in Beijing was phenomenal; our plane circled over the city and the surrounding mountains and since I’ve never in China before, it was really interesting to look at the city.
I spent five hours at Beijing airport and it was great. I’ve never seen a more beautiful airport before! And I think it’s due to the time I spent there, that I didn’t get a jet lag when I arrived at my final destination. Back in Germany I had traded ten Euros into forty-five Yuan and I used that money to buy myself a refreshing drink and a small souvenir bracelet. Time passed quickly and I boarded the plane to Nagoya. Since I was very tired at this point, being awake for nearly twenty-four hours, I fell asleep as soon as I sat down in the plane and when I opened my eyes, we were already in Japan.
When I left the plane, a wide grin spread across my face. I’ve made it. I’ve actually made it! And everything worked out without problems. I exchanged my money and checked into the airports own capsule hotel for the night (I was done with customs and everything at around 10 in the evening). Staying at the capsule hotel was bliss. I locked away my suitcases, took a long shower and huddled away in my comfortable capsule.
The next day I exchanged my exchange order for a JR Rail Pass and took the train to Nagoya central station. I locked my suitcases in coin lockers at the station and went to explore Nagoya a bit. I walked across the city and did an excursion to Nagoya’s castle. I really liked it!
Later, I got my suitcases again and walked to the Sharebase in Nagoya. It’s an interesting place, where various people can work or relax together and up to four people can sleep. I quickly became friends with my hosts and we went to get Okonomiyaki for dinner.
Now it’s official: I’ve passed my second semester Japanese exam! And that means, I don’t have to re-do the exam in late September and that means, I don’t have anything to do in September and that means, I can go back to Japan in September! And I get to stay there for a whole month! AAAAAAAAAAAA.
Returning to Japan has always been the plan. But every year this plan was pushed a little further into the future. “I have to concentrate on school”. “I have to move out and also start university”. “I have no money”. “I have no time”. But not anymore! Because I have the money and the time and especially because I have: the plan.
The core of my plan is pretty simple actually, like most good plans. I will fly to Japan on September 5th, arrive on Japan on September 6th and have my base camp in Komagane. Which means I’ll storage my suitcases there and stay there a couple of days at my host families place, but not to long, because I don’t want to exceed their hospitality. When I’m not at my host families place I will travel across the country with a JR Rail Pass and do a lot of couchsurfing (because I’m still kinda broke). I also want to climb Mt. Fuji before the season ends on September 10th. And at the end of the month there is of course Manamis wedding. AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA.
I know most of this is a child’s dream. But guys, maybe dreams can become reality sometimes.
Saturday July 15th, 2017
by Kay Safonov 0 comments
Already it’s July again and another Rotary orientation for outbounds, who are going to either Japan or Korea, and future host families, who will host an inbound from Japan or Korea, is taking place in Bonn. I can’t believe how fast the time has passed. Around this time last year, I was in Bonn for the first time and checking out the university here and now my second semester is nearly over already.
So yeah, this weekend is an orientation weekend. For the 2017/2018 Rotary Youth Exchange. The Japan/Korea orientation is a special orientation for all concerned German outbounds and host families. I first went to this orientation around four years ago, right before I left for Japan myself. Now it’s my second year in a row participating a rebound and being hopefully a helpful resource for all outbounds and host families involved.
It’s a strange feeling to be in midst all these exchange students again. They bring a lot of joy and energy into my life. On the one side we have those, who just returned from their exchange. They are still super excited and have not really arrived back in Germany yet. Their feelings, of wanting to return to Japan/Korea are something I can still understand completely. Not a single day passes, on which I don’t think about Japan and wish to return.
On the other hand we have, of course, the outbounds. Some of them are actually flying to Japan or Korea in less than two weeks. This orientation gives them a lot of input of course, which will either excite them even more or maybe frighten them a little bit. They are just beginning their Rotarian journey and I wish them all the very best for their exchange. Hopefully they will make a lot of wonderful memories.
The community, which has been created in these past years between all exchange students, who went to Japan and Korea, is incredible. We’ve become even more than just friends, we’ve turned into a small family, that’s growing year by year. And I’m so thankful, to be surrounded by these amazing people and I hope to contribute a small portion to this community.
Sunday November 20th, 2016
by Kay Safonov 0 comments
All for the Game is a book series by Nora Sakavic, which was published in 2013 and 2014. The series is a trilogy and consists of the books: The Foxhole Court, The Raven King and The King’s Men. Earlier this year, I read the book series The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater, which was a life changing experience, and afterwards I had this kind of vacuum where I needed another series that got to me again – All for the Game managed that.
The protagonist of the series is called Neil Josten. He is a runaway and the only thing he’s passionate about is Exy. Exy is a fictional sport, which is best described as a mixture of rugby and American football. It does sound really brutal from time to time and as if it really triggers the adrenaline. Neil originally escaped his father, who is the boss of a criminal syndicate and known as the Butcher, together with his mother. However, after his mother died, he had to continue on his own and enrolled at a high school in Millport. He also enters the local Exy team and even though the team itself is not very successful, Neils talent and potential does not go unnoticed. He gets an invitation to join the Palmetto State University Foxes and therefore, play Class I Exy. He accepts the invitation, even though it is his death sentence, since he’s supposed to be on the run.
When I first started reading The Foxhole Court, I wasn’t immediately hooked. The series took a while to grow on me. As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve started reading this series after I had finished The Raven Boys and even though, the book series are a bit alike, the writing style is extremely different. The Raven Boys is all about aesthetic writing. Maggie Stiefvater has this genius ability to describe and lengthen seconds into decades and it’s mesmerizing. All for the Game, however, is all about the characters and the dialogues. Only after I got to know the characters and started caring for them and cheering for them, I’ve started to really enjoy this series.
The characters in All for the Game are all wrecks. The Palmetto State University Foxes are famous for enrolling renegades and problematic players and giving them another chance. Alcohol and drug abuse are the least of the problems mentioned in the books, there are other things like extreme homophobia, murder, abuse, rape and the whole story about a branch of the Japanese mafia which is hunting down some of the Foxes. The books are very explicit and if you can’t deal with that, you shouldn’t read the series. Neils father is not called the Butcher for nothing. The first two books are mostly filled with explicit violent content and the third book contains some explicit sexual scenes.
So it was the characters who made me love this series and made me re-read it a second time already. I have this urge to just put blankets around all the foxes and hand them hot chocolate all the day and to fight for them. At the end of the series I had this feeling that I myself had become a Palmetto State Fox. A part of the family. And that’s why I love this series so much, because it gets you hooked and gives you refuge (somehow). And I love how multi-faceted the Foxes and their problems are. Also, Exy is a co-ed sport, which I find extremely fascinating and you don’t even need to like sport to like this book series, because, again, it’s all about the characters.
All in all, I can recommend this book series to whoever has no problem with the explicit scenes. It is definitely worth a shot. The kindle version of the book series is also very cheap, around one to two Euro/Dollar per book. Sometimes they are even free, so why not give the Foxes a chance? In the end, all I want to share with you is this fan trailer for the series from YouTube:
Sunday November 13th, 2016
by Kay Safonov 0 comments
The second annual Korea-Day took place on the 12th of November at the Ruhr-University in Bochum, which was organized by the Landesspracheninstitut (ain’t German words fun?) and the Korea Foundation, and I went with a couple of friends. It didn’t take us that long to get from Bonn to Bochum, only around two hours by train and another 30 minutes by underground and loads of walking. It was a bit cold though. It was my first time in Bochum and of course, I just have to say: our university is prettier.
The program of the day sounded very promising and I really looked forward to this day. There were mini languages courses, fairy tail tellings, noraebang, taekwondo demonstrations and workshops about the tea ceremony, traditional Korean music, drumming, Dance Dance Revolution, Hanbok(which you could try on), calligraphy and k-pop dancing. In the end, however, it wasn’t as good as it sounded. There were simply to many people and it was all very disorganized. You couldn’t take part in most workshops because there were to many people already and the building itself was just stuffed with people.
Another problem was the sheer number of k-pop fans who were nothing else then k-pop fans and had to tell the whole world. We were run over by people more than once. Often you also had this feeling, that they limited Korean culture only on k-pop and that’s not cool. Really not cool. Esspecially at such an event. Half the people behaved as if it was a BTS concert or something. Also, singing and dancing to k-pop in the underground sounds like fun, but it’s really annoying for the other people around.
Still, we had fun, because we had each other. And we were still able to try a couple of things. We watched a traditional tea ceremony and tried the tea and the snacks (which were both really delicious), danced a bit Dance Dance Revolution(which was fun, because Orange Caramal Lipstick and G-Dragon Heartbreaker), tried some Korean tongue twisters and won some posters and we also got a lot of information material by the Korean organization of tourism and tried some Korean food. The day was alright. I was in good company.
Tuesday October 25th, 2016
by Kay Safonov 0 comments
April was a really shitty month, because I had to take my A-Level exams and that was a lot of work. To make it all even shittier, I got a message from my host sister Manami, two days before my history exam, that said: Hey, I’m in Frankfurt right now. My host parents actually told Manami not to tell me sooner, because I was supposed to focus on my studies and on my exam and that was very considerate, but it also broke my heart. I spend the whole day messaging with Manami and sending pictures to each other. I cried a lot. It was devastating to have her so close, but not being able to actually meet her. Anyways, she was on a business trip in Europa at that time and only stayed in Frankfurt for two days. Unfortunately, we were not able to meet each other, but she gave me hope and told me, that she would return to Europe in October.
It’s October now! And I live in Bonn. And Manami is yet again on a business trip in Europe and her boss allowed us to meet after her work is done! Yaas! So last night, at 9pm I took the train to Koblenz and walked to Manamis hotel and there she was! Wow. It really happend. I can’t believe it.
After nearly two and a half years, I was finally able to meet my host sister again. Unfortunately, we did not have so much time together, but we enjoyed every minute of it. We talked a lot about our lives, what has been going on these past two years, gave each other presents and hugged a lot. My host mum packed Manamis suitcase full with sweets and food for me and I am so immensely happy right now, because I have actually met Manami!
At one o’clock in morning I took the last train back to Bonn and wow, Koblenz at nine in evening is exactly the same as Koblenz at one o’clock in the morning.
On the 19th of October in 2013, so 3 years ago, I met Manami for the first time actually. Crazy how fast time passes.
19. October 2013 – I had European food for the first time while I was in Japan and a wonderful friendship started.