Allow me to introduce myself

Hi, I’m Adamu, and I’ll be one of the contributors to this site. Whereas Roy focuses more on technology and photography, my interests are more abstract: the domburi. Most of my posts will be translations of Japanese news articles that don’t make it to press on other sites or news publications. I call and categorize these Jappanica, named after my old website of the same name. From time to time I will also be posting old articles from the site.

Adamu is just my online handle. No, really. I lived in Japan for two years, learning the Japanese language and irreparably damaging my psyche in the process. Right now I live in DC, working on various projects with high-profile clientele (Again, don’t ask). Otherwise not a whole lot to tell about me. I like video games, hip hop, politics (I’m a radical liberal but also a pragmatist), North Korea and dreaming of one day making it big in Tokyo. The rest I hope you’ll figure out as we go along.

So, dear readers, I hope that gives you an idea of who I am and what I’ll be doing here. Thanks to Roy for all the hard work involved in setting this thing up.

Hong Kong City

Various photos of urban Hong Kong. The HSBC photo was discovered on my previous blog by a Hong Kong based PR firm that offered to buy it from me for use on some kind of promotional postcard, possibly for HSBC themselves.

Fortune Teller’s Tools
Taken February 28th 2004.

Temple Street is one of the main market areas in HK, with everything from fake name brand clothing to old fashioned Chinese fortune tellers like this. There are maybe a dozen fortune tellers clustered together where Temple Street passes by a small public park. Most of them have a sign advertising their services in six different languages.
In this picture, the sign in the background is written in Japanese – clearly for the benefit of tourists. Translated it says “Can speak Japanese. Palm-reading, Face Physiognomy{Divination by form, I’ve never heard of that before}, Fortune-telling, House Physiognomy {according to my dictionary, determining whether a house is lucky or unlucky based on it’s location, position and architectural plan using methods derived from the five classical Chinese elements of Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal and Water}.

Korean DMZ

See accompanying photos here.
In 2002 I went on a short trip to Korea with a few friends for the week of Christmas. We mostly stayed in Seoul, but one day we took a guided tour to the South Korean side of the DMZ (DeMilitiarized Zone) surrounding the border shared with North Korea. Driving from Seoul, only miles from the border itself, into the DMZ is a strange experience. My knowledge of the geography of the Seoul area is far too weak for me to try to describe the passage from the heart of the city, so all I’ll say is you pass through thick suburbs on the way to the surrounding less populated areas. After leaving the boundary of the greater Seoul metropolitan area the building density drops dramatically, and after passing the first military checkpoint is almost zero- except for the occasional watchtower or guardpost. They are very serious about these military checkpoints, guarded jointly by South Korean and US soldiers.

The highlight of the tour, and in a way of the entire trip to South Korea, was the invasion tunnel. According to the museum, the invasion tunnels were first discovered by the South Korean military with intelligence gained from Northern defectors in either the late 60’s or early 70’s (I don’t remember the date) and over the next few years three more were found. According to the best estimates of South Korean and US military intelligence there are around twenty more tunnels waiting to be discovered, but none has been uncovered in many years. The tunnels aren’t very wide, but it is said that 30,000 North Korean troops could pass through one every hour in the event of an invasion.

When the invasion tunnels were first discovered by the South Korean government, they naturally asked the Northerners for a statement of some kind. At first they tried to claim it was a natural geological formation – for some reason occuring in a North-South straight line about the height of an adult human. When the next tunnel was found, the North tried to claim that it had been dug by the South. This story was easily discredited when measurements of the tunnel showed that it sloped so that water would run out of the Northern mouth. With the next tunnel they claimed it was an abandoned mine shaft. To back up the story they pointed to the coal residue coating the walls. The South pointed out that mine shafts generally go downwards at some point, and more importantly tend to have chunks of coal in them, not just coal dust spray-painted on the rock surface.

The third tunnel has been turned into a museum for tourists like us. Of course photography is prohibited but I managed to snag one fantastic shot of the end of the tunnel – at least the farthest point any tourists are allowed to go in. (I’ll post it tomorrow.) The invasion tunnel was the beginning of my fascination with North Korea.

Here is an article about one tunnel hunter in South Korea, ostensibly from the Wall Street Journal.

Seoul, continued

I was planning to write earlier, but the power was interrupted by construction. While my laptop battery gave me a few hours of functioning, the building’s LAN was completely out, making it impossible for me to actually post anything, so instead I just played Knights of the Old Republic for about an hour and a half.

I left off with Tuesday-being brought to Hanguk Foreign Studies University’s campus by Jongmin. It’s a fairly tiny campus, with less than a dozen buildings in total, although all are decent size. The building I’m staying in contains a dorm for foreign students, but the dorm only seems to actually occupy the top 5th floor of the building, with the ground floor actually departmental offices for something or other, and other floors being used for god knows what. Strangely, the only toilets in the building are on the 1st and 2nd floors, women’s and men’s respectively. I was told that the showers in the building are on the 4th floor, but as they are currently out of order this is rather a moot point.

The room is a fairly tiny double, but I am the only person here (perhaps vacant because of summer vacation?) so it’s quite big enough for a 5 day stay. There is a small with about 100 channels in a bewildering array of languages. Foreign Studies indeed. Of course there are the basic Korean channels, including the US Armed Services network, which broadcasts throughout the country. I also saw BBC World, CNN and a couple of other of the international news channels, including what I think was probably Al Jazheera. I can’t really confirm that, being unable to say anything except ‘hello’ in Arabic. Japanese and Chinese public television were both represented, along with several Arabic and Hindi channels, as well as a lot of others that I was not nearly bored enough to catalogue. Of course being Korea there is also excellent internet access in the room. All I had to do was plug in, no silly registration required, which is lucky because it might have been more than I could handle.

The lack of showers is probably related to the massive demolitions going on outside. It seems that the campus was up until recently surrounded by a rather thick wall, which is currently being destroyed bit by bit. From a diagram I saw by the front gate, the plan seems to be to replace it with an attractive and easily permeable light hedge, with a lot of small un-gated entrances around the perimeter, in an attempt to bring the campus more into the community. This plan seems to be working already, or perhaps it’s goal was achieved before it even started. When walking around the campus at night I am amazed to see the numbers of young children and families skating, playing sports or just hanging out. I assumed at first that the figures walking circled around the sports field would be a university team or club of some sort, but were in fact mostly women of what I would assume to be retirement age. I have absolutely never before in my life seen a university campus used as a community area by so many neighborhood people utterly unconnected with the school as this one.

The campus isn’t in what you would exactly call downtown, but it is an extremely active and energetic local neighborhood, and not just due to the influence of the school. HUFS is located only about a block away from a subway station conveniently named after it. This seems to be one of the primary lines, and it only takes 20 minutes or so to get to what really looks like the city center. There are of course dozens of restaurants, bars and things as well as little stands selling traditional Korean street food, some of which seem only to open after dark. If you go a bit farther away you get a proper street market, which is certainly more for for the sake of proper families than it is for the students. There are several convenience stores in the Japanese model, including the Japanese Family Mart chain. (In other parts of Seoul I also saw 7-11. I wonder if they belong to the US 7-11 corporation or the Japanese conglomorate that the US company sold off their Japanese branch to.) Across the street from the gate is a Dunkin Donuts where I actually had the first proper bagel I’ve ever seen in Asia. Of course it was nothing compared to the fresh New York bagels I’ll be eating in two or three days, but compared to the vaguely bread-flavored torus-shaped chunks of cardboard they sell once every third fortnite in select Japanese supermarkets it was incredible. Also an impressive number of Pizza joints. The first time I have ever seen pizza sold by the slice in Asia, a genuinely moving moment.

There are PC Rooms on every block, and sometimes even more than that. Restaurants are the only thing that outnumber them. Even though Seoul has the highest rate of installed DSL lines of any city in the world, PC rooms (PC Bang in Korean) are still extremely popular places to play net games, watch DVDs (downtown I also saw some specialty DVD viewing parlors. I stepped in for a moment and seriously wondered what percentage of patrons actually use the no-window-in-the-door private rooms to just watch a movie with their date.) or just generally hang out.

As for what I’ve actually been doing here: not so fascinating. Wednesday I went on a tour to the castle wall of Suwon City, where the capital was briefly and unsuccessfully moved about 200 years ago, and then the recreated Traditional Korean Folk Village. If you’ve ever been to one of those Colonial Villages in the US, it’s about the same idea. There was no English language tour running that day, but I joined a Japanese group and had no trouble at all. Getting to try traditional Korean archery by the old castle wall was kind of fun- I didn’t hit the target, but at least I overshot instead of falling short. Following that I went to the Yongsam electronics district, which with the focus on PC computer parts I actually find to be a somewhat more satisfying visit than the far more famous flashy, consumerized , and vastly overrated Akihabara in Tokyo. By the way, I also stumbled upon a quality bow case for my archery gear while exploring the electronics district.

Thursday I briefly met the president of the university in the morning, and then went over to Yonsei University with Yongmin to get some information on their language program. I talked to a couple of students there, a Korean-American girl and a couple of Japanese guys. Overall impression -good teachers, too many foreigners, building isolated in a bizarre location separated from the main campus by a bloody annoying hill.

Yesterday I was supposed to go on a tour to that blue gate in the DMZ, which is the only point where North and South Korean soldiers actually meet (legally), but the taxi driver took me to the wrong damn hotel. Following that I decided to take a long walk and had some minor misadventures not really interesting enough to share.

Today I woke up to find that construction required the power to be off until afternoon, but I survived. In the afternoon I went to meet Ejung, a high school friend of my girlfriend Hyunju, who studied at Duke for a year and is about to head back there to begin a PHD in Pathology.

Tomorrow I go home!

Right now, I go eat! Maybe later I’ll post a couple of pictures.


As I said the other day I’m currently staying in Seoul for a few days. I’ve been to Seoul once before, about a year and a half ago, but that was at a time when I knew almost nothing about Korea and hadn’t even yet gotten fully adjusted to life in Japan. Since then I’ve pretty well used to Japan, and even a little tired of it for the time being, and the language, spent several weeks traveling in China, and even learned a tiny amount of the Korean language, all of which makes this visit a very different experience.

Despite having shipped 4 boxes of various sizes, I was still slightly over my legal baggage allowance. While flights bound for the Americas allow you to check two pieces of luggage weighing up to 30 kilos each, flights bound to Korea only allow a single piece of checked baggage weighing 20 kilos or less. Of course when transferring flights you’re allowed the allowance of your final destination, but staying for 5 days in Korea I was supposed to follow the stricter rules of that country. I called the airline to double-check their luggage policy and was told that every kilo over 20 costs 700 yen each, which is about the same price as shipping by boat. I figured it was worth the risk, and packed about 27 kilos. They didn’t even say a word about it at checkin. Until I entered the plane I was also nervous about my carryon luggage. I had my laptop backpack, stuffed fill with electronics and cables, as well as a soft duffle-bag half filled with books, as well as an small over-the-shoulder I had picked up in Hong Kong, and was carrying my jacket. I was under the impression that luggage checks were tight, but I went through the lightest security check I can remember, nobody even glanced once at the size, shape or amount of my luggage, and I collapsed into my seat like a rock.

I arrived tuesday afternoon feeling utterly dead, having spent the entire previous night getting ready to leave and only slept in spurts of a few minutes every time I rode in a vehicle. The taxi shuttle to the Kansai airport in Osaka, the plane flight to Korea, the bus ride from the airport to Seoul- these all took just about an hour and a half each. I took a bus from Incheon airport to the Plaza Hotel in downtown Seoul. Of course on my budget I was not to be staying in such a place. I was actually there to meet Son Jongmin, who was to show me to the place I actually would be staying-the student dormitory at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies (韓国外国語大学). Why would I be staying at the dormitory of a strange university for only five days when I’d never even met a single person there? Well, my mom’s cousin Marian Palley, who is a professor at Delaware University, is close friends with other professors at several universities throughout Seoul, including both the president of this one, as well as Professor Kim Inchul, who was one of her students when he was studying for his PHD at the University of Delaware about twenty years ago. When I emailed Marian to tell her that I was going to stop by Seoul on my way home she insisted that I contact her friends at Hankuk University, and Kim Inchul arranged for me to stay for free at their foreign students dorm and to have his graduate assistant help me get there.

I’m pretty tired so I’m going to head off to sleep and finish this tomorrow.

B eijing, The Summer Palace

Here is what Aisin-Gioro Pu Yi, the last Emperor of China (as seen in the film by Bernardo Bertelucci), says about the Summer Palace in his autobiography.

When he was made responsible for the founding of a navy my grandfather misappropriated a large part of the funds to build the Summer Palace as a pleasure park for the Empress Dowager. The busiest stage in the building of the Summer Palace coincided with exceptionally heavy floods around Peking and in what is now Hopei Province, but a censor [a kind of eunuch advisor] who suggested that the work should be temporarily suspended to avoid provoking the flood victims into making trouble was stripped of his office and handed over to the appropriate authorities to be dealt with. Prince Chun, however, said nothing and worked his hardest to get the job finished. When the Summer Palace was completed in 1980 he died. Four years later the so-called navy he had created came to a disastrous end in the Sino-Japanese War, and the marble boat in the Summer Palace was the only one left on which so many millions of taels (ounces of silver) had been spent.

March 7 2004

We did eventually make it to the Summer Palace.

Unfortunately, due to being lost we arrived quite late and didn’t have enough time to get inside any of the museum buildings. Still, there were some excellent pieces outside within the grounds.

The sun sets, the palace grounds close.

Bird Flu in Beijing

Beijing West Station
April 4 2004

After I took the train from Shenzhen to Beijing (a dreadfully boring 24 hour ride) I found these wonderfully informative signs in the lobby. Take special note of the crying bird in the lower-right section of the second photograph. I can read quite a lot of the words in this sign, but I don’t know nearly enough about the actual grammar of Chinese to do more than a dodgy and innacurate translation, so I won’t even try, aside to say the obvious, that it warns against birds that have not been disinfected and explains the nature of bird flu.


Office Building Face in Shenzhen
March 3 2004
Shenzhen City, Guangdong Province, China

Construction visible from Shezhen University.
China has a reputation as being constantly under construction and from what I saw this is more visible in Shenzhen than anywhere else. Here we actually see five identical large buildings in a row in the same stage of construction.

Shenzhen University Dorm Room
Standing in the middle of the room is my friend Henry, who studied here at Ritsumeikan University in Japan for a year. This is the room he lived in before he studied abroad in Japan; he now lives in a much roomier room actually intended for foreign students, which he got into because he works part time for the international office.