Traveling with Korean Air

As mentioned in the past, I decided to try something different when flying to Japan this time. Flights to Japan are much more expensive now than when my wife and I were first married. This is because:

  • We have more family members. :)
  • We now fly during the summer months which is expensive, but that’s when there is no school in the US. It’s much cheaper to fly to Japan during the Winter or Spring from what I can see.

So, to save money, I took an indirect flight from Seattle, via Korea to Japan using Korean Air. My wife flew with the kids directly via ANA, but since I was coming later, I decided to try and save some money, and try something different. I saved about $500 which is a lot, but it also took 5 hours longer to get there. Years ago, we flew using United Airlines, which was OK, but then ANA opened a new route from Seattle to Tokyo, and we love to fly ANA. ANA is truly a great airline. If we fly directly, it takes 10 hours to Japan, but 8 hours back because the plane is flying with the currents.

Flying with Korean Air was great too though. I flew economy-class, but as I boarded the plane, I was surprised to see a bottle of water waiting for me on my seat:

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This is apparently water from the famous Jeju Island. That was a nice surprise. I also got a small bag containing slippers, a toothbrush and toothpaste.

Since my feet are 31cm, the slippers were too small, but the toothbrush and toothpaste were appreciated.

The dinner I had was a Korean dish known as Bibimbap (비빔밥), which is a kind of mixed bowl of rice, vegetables and beef:

It even came with a small tube of gochujang, which is the famous Korean red paste used in many dishes. The bibimbap was actually quite good and even came with a Korean soup called miyeokguk (미역국) which I mentioned here previously. Definitely one of the better meals I’ve had on an airplane.1 Also, I’m not the only Westerner who feels this way. After the meal, I had some hyeonmi nokcha (현미녹차, 玄米綠茶):

Korean nok cha (녹차, 綠茶) is just green tea Korean green tea2. Specifically though, this was hyeonmi nokcha (현미녹차, 玄米綠茶) which is the same as Japanese genmaicha, which is green-tea mixed with roasted brown-rice. I’ve actually never had any kind of nokcha before though, because the Korean restaurants I go to usually have different teas. Anyhow nokcha was very light and tasty. I enjoyed it quite a bit. Since we have an H-Mart near Seattle, I found a similar brand and am drinking it as I write this.

The flight to Japan, via Korea, was very comfortable because I had an empty seat next to me, so I could stretch more and even sleep a little bit. The flight back was very crowded and I sat next to another big fellow (this happens to me a lot…bad karma?) so I wasn’t able to sleep, and I slept near the emergency exit, which let me stretch my legs, but the seat was more narrow than usual. That was my fault though because I checked-in late. Korean Air has a nice “web checkin” feature on their website which lets you pick your seat, but I didn’t have a reliable computer in Japan, so I couldn’t use it. I used it from Seattle to Japan though and it worked well for me.

Also, the flight staff on Korean Air were great. The attendants all spoke Korean, English and Japanese. They’re English was pretty good (minimal accent, good communication) and from what I could tell they spoke good Japanese too. I was kind of impressed.

Anyhow, it was finally nice to get to Incheon Airport in Korea after 11 hours, but that’s a story for another day. :)

Suffice to say, Korean Air was great. It was comparable to ANA (another great airline), but I also saved some money, yet still had a great flight experience. I don’t know if I want to do an indirect flight again in the future, but if I do fly to Korea3 (or indirectly to Japan), I will definitely fly Korean Air again.

1 Air France also had very good meals, though the service was either really good, or really rude and awful. ANA has great food too, but more Japanese-style of course. I liked their soba. :)

2 I’m pretty sure that nokcha is a cognate to Japanese ryokucha (緑茶). They’re basically both green tea.

3 My wife and I talked about visiting Korea in the future, but after my experiences, she wants to visit even more. :)

Posted in Japan, Korea, Travel | Leave a comment

Which Japanese Kanji Are Worth Learning First?

Hello,

I was writing this post prior to my trip to Japan, but I finally have time to finish it. As readers might recall, I’ve been using the Heisig Method to learn Japanese kanji (chinese characters), and have learned about 1,250 in 2 years. Since I have 2 kids and work full-time, I guess that’s pretty good progress. However, I noticed that the Heisig Method teaches kanji in a very non-standard order, so you often learn low-frequency kanji before you learn more useful ones. It kind of forces you to learn all 2,000+ “joyo” kanji required for basic literacy, before you can really read/write.

Sooner or later, you have to do this, but if you’re a busy person or just impatient, it’s nice to learn high-frequency, more useful kanji first. Especially if you just came to Japan, or about to arrive.

But which kanji are worth learning first? This is a surprisingly tricky question.

First, there’s the traditional grade-school method, which is pretty good and what my daughter uses. The “grade-school” method means learning kanji the same way that Japanese grade-school students use. This helpful site breaks down the kanji by 1st grade, 2nd grade, etc. My daughter goes to school in the US, but she does distance-learning and is technically in the 2nd grade in Japan so she’s learning 2nd-grade kanji now.1

This is a good strategy overall, but some kanji might be more useful for children like 森 than adults.

So, I did some research and I found that there are lists of frequently-used kanji for newspapers too. This website provides a list of the frequently used kanji in Japanese newspapers, starting with the most common 日 and so on. You can click on them too to learn the readings. If you compare this with the grade-school lists, they’re somewhat different, but do overlap a lot.

But also, there are lists for names too. Certain kanji are used very often for names, and some of these overlap with grade-school and newspaper lists (田 for example is a very good one to learn first), but not always. For example 藤 (fuji) appears in an lot of names, but is otherwise fairly uncommon in Japan.

In other words, there’s no perfect solution about which kanji to learn first. Learning the Heisig Method is definitely worth your time in general because it will help you get beyond the first few hundred kanji to full literacy. However, if you want to dive in and learn to read at least some kanji first, you may want to review the lists above for grade-school students, newspapers and even names. You might start with at least 1st and 2nd grade kanji, then branch out and see what other kanji are useful for newspapers and names. Or do what is most useful for you. :)

1 – It’s one of her favorite subjects besides math. She’s just like her dad. :)

Posted in Japanese, Language | 4 Comments

I’m Back

Hi Everyone,

I’m back in the US as of a couple days ago. I had to rest and recover from jet-lag, plus take care of other things, but life is returning to normal now.  I was hoping to do a couple blog posts while in Japan, but as I said before, I didn’t have any way to write them (I tried though), and just didn’t have much time.

However, I have a few posts planned already from my adventures in Japan, and in Korea too,1 so please stay tuned.  :)

1 Just the airport, actually, but still very interesting.

Posted in General, Travel | Leave a comment

Where’s Doug?

Hi Everyone,

People might have noticed that I haven’t updated the blog in a week. Plus people who follow me on Twitter might have noticed I’ve been tweeting from Japan, not the US.

As mentioned months ago, I was going to visit Japan in early August, but I didn’t bring a laptop, so I haven’t been able to write anything. Plus, we have a lot of family activities right now, so I haven’t had time anyway.

Anyhow, I’ll be updating the blog soon with more stuff. Just didn’t want people to think I disappeared.

See you soon!

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My First Book

Well, I’ve hinted at it for years, but I finally did it. I finally published a book. This is not something closely related to the blog, or topics in the blog. It’s something I started writing 10 years ago and has changed a lot over time (just like I changed). I hesitated publishing for years because I didn’t have confidence, and also because the book-publishing industry is kind of daunting. But then I learned about self-publishing online, and I decided to try it. Since I have a nice, stable job, the goal wasn’t money, it was just something I enjoy doing.

That said, the book is probably not for all readers. It’s a science-fiction book that touches on religion and other subjects a lot, but it’s also dark and pretty violent at times. Just as this blog expresses a lot of my ideas, I guess the novel does too. Since I’ve never professionally published a book before, it might be terrible, but I did enjoy writing it a lot, so even if it fails, I feel satisfied that it’s done.

Anyway, I feel relieved. I don’t expect a lot of readers, and don’t expect a lot of fame, but for me, I’ve lived with this story, its places and characters for so long that I just wanted to finally get it out there. It also gives me an excuse to finish book 2 and 3 which are only partially complete. I’m particularly excited about book 2. :)

For now though, I can enjoy a small break, and stop editing and re-editing the same book over and over, night after night. Book 2 awaits!

Posted in Literature | 2 Comments

Buddhist Shrines, American Style

Lately, while visiting the Rissho Kosei Kai temple here in Seattle, I’ve been getting some good sources of inspiration for my Buddhist shrine at home. As mentioned before, the services at that temple are usually divided between English service, and Japanese service. The English service was led by an elderly American fellow and the chapel room was very nice and Japanese-style: a large altar with an image of the “Eternal Buddha” from the Lotus Sutra, lacquer chairs, Buddhist bells, etc. But then I noticed that the food offering (fuse 布施 in Japanese) before the Buddha looked a little strange. I thought they were potato chips, but it turns out that the offering was breakfast cereal (specifically Special K).

I thought this was kind of clever. In traditional Asian Buddhist altars, people offer rice, because it’s an important staple food. People express gratitude, offer food for their ancestors, and also offer it to the Buddha which is a wholesome act. It’s an expression of giving. Since we eat rice at home too, we offer rice sometimes, but it’s not always practical to do this. So, for Westerners, including Asian immigrants who grew up in the West, it makes to offer a more “local” staple food like bread, oatmeal or breakfast cereal. It’s the same thing: an important staple food, and still express gratitude and generosity. So, it’s a perfectly valid Buddhist offering.

Also, I noticed that the English service at RKK is entirely in English, not mixed. At first, this felt a bit weird because I’m used to chanting in Sino-Japanese, but actually it’s perfectly sensible to chant Buddhist sutras in one’s own native language, at least for home services. Liturgical languages are very useful in religion because they provide a sense of consistency and anyone, anywhere can recite it. But for practical purposes, it’s perfectly fine to read a sutra out loud in English at home, or whatever your native language is.

So, lately, I’ve been adopting this approach. Using a cheap, saké-dish (the kind used to sip saké from), I started offering Honey Nut Cheerios to my Buddhist altar instead of rice.1 Why Cheerios? Because they’re good!2

Buddhist Offering of Cheerios

Plus, I’ve stopped reciting Buddhist sutras in old Sino-Japanese. Instead I read them out loud in English. English sounds kind of stupid when you chant it (in my opinion), but I try to read it aloud in a nice, clear voice. The last time I visited the local RKK temple, I purchased a copy of their English service book:

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This mostly contains English-translated excerpts of the Lotus Sutra, and other things you’d expected in a typical Buddhist service: praise to the Three Treasures, dedication of merit, etc. I’ve been using this a lot, though sometimes, I use my own little sutra book instead. I don’t recite mantras in English though, because they’re supposed to be recited in the original language.

Anyhow, the point is: For Buddhists (or any religion), it’s good to adapt traditions from other cultures, but it’s also good to adapt your local traditions too. Exotic isn’t always better. :)

P.S. More advice on making a Buddhist altar, but a great Buddhist teacher.

1 I also started doing this for the little Shinto shrine we have too. Same logic. Shinto is about expressing gratitude and humility, so why not do it using something important in my culture?

2 My ancestors are probably not on a diet anyway. Hopefully they’re not diabetic either. ;)

Posted in Buddhism, Family | 2 Comments

Was It Worth It?

Recently, I was shocked to read the story of the death of a high-level executive at Google named Forrest Hayes because of a drug-overdose given by a prostitute. Read the article if you don’t know the story already. It’s kind of disturbing. Another article mentions his obituary:

“More than anything else he enjoyed spending time with his family at home and on his boat…”

When I read this, it sounds like Hayes was living two lives: the public life of a family man, and the shady secret life: he was 51 years old, and sleeping with young prostitutes and doing heroin.

The worst part to me is the children. How can anyone explain this to his five children? That’s hard to imagine. I think it will really affect the kids for the rest of their lives. It’s really important to remember that even if kids can’t see what you’re doing, it still has an effect on them and everyone around you.

I wonder: was it all worth it? I really doubt it.

I guess it’s a lesson for us all.

P.S. A similar post from a few years ago.

Posted in Buddhism, Family | Leave a comment