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Image copyright Alex Gray

It seems some people in the world are just born with their dreams in the palm of their hand. It takes a lot of work and strife, but they eventually get there. Some of us are born to be normal people, others are born to change and shape the world, or at least share a unique talent, and make a healthy living from it.

Some of these people include Steve Jobs, Patrick Stump, Slash, Buckethead, Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, Tom Waits, Ben Gibbard, Richard Branson… I could continue. These people have had various ways of making themselves successful, but one common thing unites them. They are all doing what they love, and getting paid for it, in a substantial way. While doing what they love, they are contributing to mankind.

I can hear the laughs now… the lead singer of Fall Out Boy contributing to mankind… Mike what have you been smoking? It’s not that he cured cancer or unfolded the human genome. He inspires people. Ben Gibbard, the singer and songwriter for Death Cab for Cutie has written some of the most inspirational and vivid poetry I’ve ever read. Slash from Guns N’ Roses… his riffs (from the 80’s and 90’s anyway) speak a story, and express his soul. Buckethead, through his ridiculous guise, exudes pain and loss through his riffs, be them shredding or melodic.

These musicians express themselves in the ways they know how; with their instruments and their words. They were all born with natural talents. Not everyone is born with something special. Remember how your grade 3 teacher told you that everyone is special? She lied. Very few people are special. Luckily, I’m one of them. My gift is the ability to express myself through photography and writing. There are others with a more diverse style than me, and there are definitely better writers and photographers than me, but I am still utilizing my gift in the only ways I know how.

The difference between Tom Waits and me is a few million dollars, and a smoking and alcohol habit. I’d much rather have the former.

Just as Steve Jobs was ousted from Apple in the 80’s, perhaps this is my ‘rock bottom’. But how will I rise up? Will some bigshot agent from National Geographic or Digital Photographer magazine stumble upon my blog and offer me a nice big fat contract and all the gear I need? Likely not. But hey, miracles happen.

This is one of my self-centered posts that’s basically me thinking out loud. I’ve been told many times how I’m talented, special, and lucky. That’s true.

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Alright, I know I go on and on about Hiroshima. This blog is called Mike in Korea, not Mike in Hiroshima, but this trip has changed me as a person, permanently I think.

Never before have my eyes been opened to the power that we possess, and the ways we use it. Standing at the place where so many people died, it’s like I could feel their souls. Yeah it sounds cliché, but that’s the honest truth. Reflecting back on it now makes it feel even more real to me.

Yesterday I was showing my conversation student pictures and telling her about the history of the war and what happened there, and she started to cry. That was a really moving moment to me, because from my understanding, Koreans learn more about the torment and strife of their own people, rather than that of other countries. Granted, us Canadians don’t really learn a lot about Asian history either, which is understandable, because we’re busy learning about North American history.

All I can say is that this trip has changed my outlook on life, and further highlighted my drive to become a photojournalist. If anyone has experience in photojournalism, I’d love to hear from you. It seems like a really tough job to be good at. I need security in my job, so freelancing doesn’t really feel like a reliable job.

I’ve actually upset some of my Korean friends when I told them how I was moved so deeply by seeing Hiroshima. They argue that the Japanese had it coming, and that the Korean people have suffered as well. I am well aware of the struggles that Koreans have fought through throughout their entire history. It’s just that I haven’t had a chance to actually visit a place where so many innocent people died. A lot of innocent people died in Seoul at the hands of the Japanese, and Japan colonized here most recently from 1910 to 1945, I think.

My stance on all of this is that any war is in my mind deemed ineffective the moment that an innocent person dies. I doubt there has ever been a war where only the fighting parties were involved, so I guess that means that all war is ineffective. It’s just my hope that the world can learn from its past mistakes and use advances in technology to develop precision strike weapons, instead of those which obliterate an entire city with the push of a button.

In the paraphrased words of the great Bill Hicks, let’s stop spending money on wars, and come together, every country, as one group of people connected in love and respect. Let’s put all the money we spend on wars and weapons development towards spacecraft, and explore space in peace and love together.

One of the greatest quotes of all time:

The world is like a ride in an amusement park, and when you choose to go on it you think it’s real because that’s how powerful our minds are. The ride goes up and down, around and around, it has thrills and chills, and it’s very brightly colored, and it’s very loud, and it’s fun for a while. Many people have been on the ride a long time, and they begin to wonder, “Hey, is this real, or is this just a ride?” And other people have remembered, and they come back to us and say, “Hey, don’t worry; don’t be afraid, ever. Because this is just a ride.” And we…kill those people. “Shut him up! I’ve got a lot invested in this ride, shut him up! Look at my furrows of worry, look at my big bank account, and my family. This has to be real.” It’s just a ride. But we always kill the good guys who try and tell us that, you ever notice that? And let the demons run amok? But it doesn’t matter, because it’s just a ride. And we can change it any time we want. It’s only a choice. No effort, not work, no job, no savings of money. Just a simple choice, right now, between fear and love. The eyes of fear want you to put bigger locks on your doors, buy guns, close yourself off. The eyes of love instead see all of us as one. Here’s what we can do to change the world, right now, to a better ride. Take all that money we spend on weapons and defenses each year and instead spend it feeding and clothing and educating the poor of the world, which it would pay for many times over, not one human being excluded, and we could explore space, together, both inner and outer, forever, in peace.

– Bill Hicks, 1993

I am in the airport bus waiting to leave Hiroshima Station. I can’t believe that 3 days went by so quickly.
This trip did many things for me. It gave me a chance to get away from Seoul. Again, don’t misunderstand. I love Seoul, but it’s nice to get away sometimes.
Here are some funny things that happened while I was here. I found myself accidentally speaking Korean to many of the people I interacted with. In Japanese, to say yes, you say ‘hye’. Of course, in English, ‘hye’ means ‘hello’. I would walk into a convenience store and the cashier would welcome me in Japanese, to which I would reply ‘hye’. So to them, I wasn’t greeting them back; I was saying hello. An old man working at a 7-11 near Hiroshima port was completely blown away by my camera. “Ohhhh… Good! Handsome cameraman! Ohhhh very professional… so good. So good.” I had a lot of awkward moments with some of the staff at the hotel. Just as I’d wave and say hello to anyone who’s helped me, I saw them walking in the hallway and went to smile and wave, but they buried their head in her shoulder. This made me really uncomfortable because I’m not a pervert. Maybe it’s just a cultural difference.
The weather in Hiroshima is much warmer than Seoul. The warmest it was while I was here was 15 degrees, and the coldest was 0. It never dropped below 0 degrees. One night it was 10 degrees in Hiroshima, but -10 degrees in Seoul.
Another thing is the language. Korean Hangul (한글) is MUCH easier to read compared with Japanese. Also Japanese has 2 kinds of characters, kanji, which is very close to Chinese characters, and kana, which is more close to Korean, using each character as a syllable of a word. Korean is much easier to learn, in my opinion. Once you know the Korean alphabet, you can read Korean very easily. My opinions on this are obviously biased, since I have spent much more time in Korea, and only a week total in Japan.
I did miss Seoul, for many reasons. First, it’s really cheap to eat in Seoul. You can get a full dinner with 5 side dishes for about $4 Canadian. Not so in Japan. Even McDonalds here is expensive. I enjoyed Japanese food, and had some really awesome udong noodles, but I missed my Korean comfort food, like kimbap and bibimbap. Also, transportation in Korea is very cheap. A typical subway ride anywhere in Seoul is usually about 80 cents, and rarely more than $1. In Hiroshima, the streetcar system costs 150 yen (about $1.75). I paid $1.75 to go 3 stops. A typical taxi ride in Seoul is usually around 2,500 won, or about $2.50. I don’t go very far, so I rarely pay more than that. Taxi fares in Hiroshima start at a minimum of 500 yen, or about $5.75. I know it’s not a huge difference, but if I were living here and taking taxis as much as I do in Seoul, it would get really pricey.

It’s hard to compare Hiroshima to Seoul, because Seoul is a much bigger city with much more resources to move people around cheaply.

Wow I’ve been posting a lot. Please scroll down to read from my previous days’ experiences, as well as my New Year’s Eve post.

Today I purposely got lost. I find that the best way to experience a place, without a motorbike, is to get lost. I still knew where I was, because I am really good with direction. I wandered around for about 4 hours. I ended up at Hiroshima Harbor. Nothing too exciting there. From there, I followed the river back to familiar ground.

Nothing too exciting today. I just wanted to get out and see parts that I haven’t seen before. The people here are so friendly to me, and I’m surprised at how many of them speak English. In Korea, store clerks and such don’t bother to try to speak English to me, but I met a lot of people who did. In Korea, it’s usually the younger people who speak English, but in Japan, it’s mostly the older people.

Tomorrow morning, I have to wake up at 5am and catch the first streetcar to Hiroshima Station in order to catch a bus to the airport so I can be early for my 9am flight back to Seoul. I plan on being ridiculously early because I don’t want a repeat of my previous experience. 🙂

I just had a thought. What the heck am I gonna write about when I’m finished in Korea? My Thorold adventures don’t seem too intriguing. I wish this could be my job… to travel the world writing about the places I visit. I can honestly say that I would never get tired of that. I’ve only spent a week total in Japan, including my visa run to Fukuoka, and my time in Hiroshima, but I found that any place in the world can feel like home once you understand and experience it.

This blog and my talents wouldn’t be possible without the support of my friends and family, as well as the people who somehow stumble upon my blog in search of information on Korea, English teaching, visa runs, etc. My photography skills would likely not be what they are today without the guidance of my high school art teacher. Her name escapes me at the moment. She saw how awful I was at drawing and painting, and suggested photography. Boom. My world exploded. The concept of photography had never really interested me, but I do remember as a child that I would take my parents’ camera and use up all the film on them.

I started photography using black and white film, doing all the processing, including chemicals and manually exposing photo paper. I briefly experimented with rayograms, which were a really awesome way to make some psychedelic art.

Anyway, the last few paragraphs don’t quite fit in this post. I will likely add these to an ‘about me’ section of my blog later.

Due largely to the fact that I was alone throughout my entire trip, I spent a lot of time at the Hiroshima Memorial Park. I spent the last 2 hours of 2009 sitting at the park, taking some photos, and reflecting on the year. I had noticed a trend throughout the year… I was always motivated to do things for others. This year, 2010, is the year of Mike.

I was sitting on a bench, and every minute, on the minute, they would ring the peace bell. Its sound was hollow and bleak, and absolutely bone-chilling. If they rang that bell once for every life lost, they would have to ring it about 140,000 times. If they did that every minute on the minute, it would take 38 hours, or over a day and a half. I made a video trying to express the feeling in the air, but I don’t think the video does the feeling any justice. The bell chimes at around the 25 second mark. Here it is:

Absolutely soul-wrenching.

A small group of elderly people were gathered at the dome praying for peace and prosperity in 2010. If there’s one place in the world to pray for peace, I’d say this place would be it.

More HDR shots from New Year’s Eve here.

As planned, today I went to Hiroshima Castle. Of course, like every other museum or attraction in Hiroshima, it was closed. It took me about a half hour to walk there. It was a really nice day with a lot of sun and flurries. It was about 0 degrees, but it felt a lot warmer than that, until I had been outside for a couple of hours. Then I got cold.

Anyway, yeah. Hiroshima Castle is a beautiful example of Japanese architecture. I can see a lot of differences between Korean and Japanese architecture. It seems to me that Japan uses a lot more dark colours, while Korea uses bright and festive colours.

The castle is located inside a huge moat with massive koi fish swimming in there. These things are seriously about 3/4 the size of me. The area surrounding the castle is also pretty interesting. The walkways are lined with holly trees, and there were a lot of trees that I found to be really characteristic of Japan, whatever that means.

It was a really cool experience, but I would have really loved to go inside. I came at the time when any kind of tourist attraction is closed, including the Hiroshima Memorial Museum, Hiroshima Castle, and pretty much anything else you can think of. I’m trying to pace myself so that I’ll have something to do tomorrow.

Oh, and happy new year.

Side note: Hey, National Geographic, if you’re looking for a young, fit, and brilliant guy to equip with the latest Nikon gear, and ship around the world to write, I’m your man. My blog here is mainly vernacular, in order to reach a more broad range of people. My writing skills extend far beyond colloquial English.

I woke up this morning around 9am, and dragged myself to get outside. It was a nice morning, but a bit cloudy. Anyway, after a couple cups of coffee I headed to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park to see what I could see. And I saw a lot.

This is a shot from across the river of the A-Bomb Dome. It is the building closest to the hypocenter that survived the blast. The feeling in the air was solemn, as if the trees themselves knew the horrors of the bombing of Hiroshima. My parents warned me that it would be a moving experience, but I didn’t expect this.

This is the Children’s Peace Memorial.

This part of the park really got to me. This is a burial mound for tens of thousands of people who were incinerated instantly when the bomb went off. Most people near the hypocenter of the bomb were literally vaporized. Those on the oter parts of the blast were burned. This mound is a collection of tens of thousands of people’s ashes that were found throughout the city. There is no official number of deaths resulting from the bomb, but my research shows 140,000. My city has 18,000 people in it.

This clock statue is set at 8:15, which is the minute the bomb was detonated above the city.

This picture shows one of the original street cars that survived the bombing. I can’t remember where I read that, so I can’t cite it, but as you can see, it’s pretty old looking. The streetcars here are easy to use, and relatively cheap. A trip from Hiroshima Station to Kanayama-cho was 150 yen, which is about $1.75 Canadian. Much more expensive than Seoul, where a typical trip is about 1,000 won, or about 90 cents.

So. It’s been an interesting day. I plan on heading to Hiroshima Palace tomorrow. I don’t think I can make it to Miyajima island, because the weather will be pretty crappy. That’s too bad.

Still, I consider myself incredibly lucky to be able to experience this. Very few people will be able to see this in their lifetime, which is a terrible shame. I think the leaders of every country in the world should visit the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park.

Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.


This illustrates one of my favourite things about Japan. Don't be a bad smoker.

I left my apartment around 1pm. I’m at Gimpo airport now waiting for my express train to leave to Incheon airport. My flight leaves at 6:30, and it’s now 3, so I’ve got time. I have to run to the immigration office to get a re-entry permit, since Korea sees it fit to only give Canadians a single-entry visa. If I weren’t to get this, I would forfeit my visa and would not be able to teach. I could get back into the country for maybe 2 months, just enough time to get my stuff.

Anyway, I will be in Hiroshima from December 29th until January 2nd. I am really looking forward to some peace, being on my own in a place I’ve never been before. I don’t have much of an itinerary, since I’m pretty sure that the museums and such will be closed No matter, I am still excited to see a place I haven’t seen before, without any hindrances or things to worry about, aside from finding my way to the airport at 7am on Jan 2nd. My train is on its way now. I will be updating this blog every day during my trip, and will definitely have hundreds of photos of Hiroshima and the surrounding area.

I wrote that last bit on the train to the airport. I’m in my hotel now. I met some really nice people who helped me figure out the streetcars. Although they gave me wrong directions to my hotel, I can’t blame them. I found it easily enough. It’s about 11:30pm now, and I’m gonna head to bed soon so I can get up early tomorrow morning and check out the atomic bomb dome. That’s the first thing I’ll check out. I hope to go to Hiroshima Castle tomorrow.

BTW I should plug my travel agent, who’s been really cool in dealing with my constant questions and changing of plans. His name is Joshua, and he works for a company called Kyobo Travel. His email address is oasisk@hanmail.net. If you’re in Korea and looking to travel, he’s matched every price I threw at him, and he’s been really reliable with following up with me on the phone as well as email. He didn’t ask or tell me to do this, I am doing it on my own volition.

Image from Wikipedia

On December 25th I am heading to Hiroshima, Japan for a 4-day vacation. I decided on Hiroshima because I’ve always wanted to see it, and I feel that I kind of owe it to humanity to see where the first atomic bomb was used against an enemy.

I’ve begun to prepare an itinerary for myself.

I’ll arrive at my hotel around 9pm on Friday. I’ll go to the Hiroshima bomb memorial and see what I can see. I’ll sleep and get up the next morning to see it during the day time.

I will also go to the Itsukushima shrine, which is a shrine on the island of Itsukushima. It is a short ferry ride from the end of one of the tram lines in Hiroshima. It’s considered a sacred place, built around the year 500, and since then, nobody has been born or died there, in order to preserve its purity.

That’s not my image. If it were, it would be straight. I got it from Wikipedia.

I’ll also check out the Hiroshima Gokoku Jinja shrine.

I was inspired to go here by my cousin, Warren, who was attending the Tokyo Game Show, and stopped by Hiroshima as well as some other cities during his stay in Japan. He’s got my dream job, basically. He runs a game promotion and development company.

Anyway, my parents saw Pearl Harbor when they went to Hawaii, and my mom told me to prepare myself for a really emotional time. It’s kinda funny how my parents saw the cause of the bomb being dropped on Hiroshima, and I’m going there myself.

I got a really good deal on my flight, and my hotel as well. I went through a private agent for my flight, and Agoda for my hotel.

Should be an interesting Christmas.

I woke up at 11:30 today and saw how nice and sunny it was outside. I couldn’t let myself sit around my apartment playing xbox all day, so I decided to head out to somewhere I’ve never documented before. That place is Namdaemun Market (남대문 시장). It’s located at Hoehyeon Station (회현역), right between City Hall and Myeongdong. Myeongdong is another huge shopping area in Seoul, but has a bit more flash and allure.

Namdaemun Market is the largest market in Seoul. To get an idea of how huge this place actually is, check out the map I set up to show you exactly how big it is. What you see is pretty much 90% made up of the market.

You can find anything here. I saw ripoff Louis Vuitton stuff, fish split wide open, dentists, restaurants, you name it, really. I didn’t see much  in the way of electronics though. Nothing can beat my favourite place, Yongsan electronics market.

The place was completely buzzing because of the holidays coming up. I saw this really creepy Santa robot kind of thing that was doing the robot dance. I also saw some great bad Engrish shirts and hoodies, but I’m saving my pennies for my Hiroshima plan for Christmas. I am not 100% sure if I can afford to do it, but I know I will lose my mind if I have to sit alone in my apartment for the 9 days we get off for Christmas. I’d honestly rather work than sit at home doing nothing.

There’s a Salvation Army in this area, too. I went there and found this:

This used to be some kind of bakery with the Salvation Army attached to it. Now it’s being gutted and redone. I doubt the Salvation Army will be back there.  Sad.