what goes around comes around – being a guest on the way

Without people we have met on the way, their help and knowledge, our trip wouldn’t be the same! In Japan those random meetings happened more often than we had expected, we didn’t wait to be invited to someone’s home for a night or even coffee. In Korea we realised that language barrier wasn’t really any obstacle for the Koreans and they were more than willing to talk to us.

Michi and his mother, Japan, Biwa Lake area

Part of our meetings was organised before. Thanks to Warmshowers portal designed for touring cyclists from all over the world. Before landing in Tokyo, we wrote emails to some people much earlier, more than a month ahead. In that way we could see if their profiles work and if they reply to our messages at all. It gave us some time to get to know these people a little and prepare something nice for them. Our hosts also had time to read about us and about Poland, which was very nice of them to pay attention to these matters. We even ate Polish dishes, as they prepared them for us.

We spent Christmas with a lovely Japanese couple, Izumi and Tetsuya, who we call the hippies, they were definitely far from being a stereotype Japanese couple. We celebrated Christmas with them and their friends – artists and musicians. These were very special two evenings, we tried to explain Christmas tradition in Poland, how we prepare beatroot soup with dumplings (we offered them instant one with tortellini) and share wafer with our family. Very valuable moments.

Our New Year’s Eve was full of new information, spent with Patrice, an English teacher, living for years in Japan. She was fascinated with sumo wrestlers, the Japanese tea ceremony and Kamishibai theater. The foreigners who live in Japan can compare the two cultures and they do speak English, so we could share the experience.

Sometimes, when my mind wants to run away from things around me, my imagination travels to the veranda of hundred-year-old Japanese house in the mountains.

Cool air inside smells of wood and tatami mats made of straw. But right now, I’m sitting outside on the wooden bench, reading a Murakami’s book. Nothing spectacular will happen, as yesterday and the following day. Or maybe the postman will knock the door, maybe the neighbour will come, the elderly women will pass by surprised by my existance there. I won’t check the e-mails, facebook nor read any news. But I can go for a walk, plant flowers, pick veggies from the garden, the perfect plan. In the evening, we will cook together, talk and listen to music.

The time we have spent with Clive, the English guy living for years in Japan, is so precious to us. We visited him twice, built the relationship that is still lasting. We support our ideas and exchange the news. I’m sure we are going to see each other one day!

What can you do as a guest?

We know that having guests is always a kind of an effort. You have to change your plans, maybe do some more shopping, share your time. And we do appreciate that! Most of the people we met, trusted us fully, they kept leaving keys under the doormat, or somwhere by the door, which was almost touching for me. All we had known about each other was sharing some cyclist stories and that’s probably enough. Warmshowers is not about money, but something far more precious – time and help one can offer. We always try to help – cleaning, gardening, chopping the wood, cooking. Also, if possible we try to have a kind of gift for our hosts – painted pictures, postcard from Poznań, some delicacies. Maybe a bottle of wine, or a baked cake, pancakes or desserts. Something nice that always make me happy being on the other side, as a host.

We also had meetings that we haven’t planned before. And maybe Japan is not second Georgia, where people can almost force you to eat dinner and stay with them, but we managed to melt down the hearts of a Japanese family at one freezing night in January. The Japanese fear hurting someone’s feelings or offending someone, what means that they pretend not to see you or they fear to offer you anything. Only practising may teach you seeing their real intention, as not many Japanese are able to show their curiosity at all.

Our real inspiration is a Korean couple – Stacey and Jowrney, who had travelled three years on their bikes, searching for their own way of living. They both worked voluntarly for instance in South America, at cocoa farm or in Bulgaria picking rose petals. They finally came up with their own idea for business – hop farm in South Korea! They host cycling guests and volunteers. We were both of the mentioned.

The Hallasans – that’s how we call our Korean hosts who we met in the Hallasan National Park. By chance we asked them if it is possible to put our tents in their garden. At Jeju island we planned to explore Hallasan’s trails from the early morning, but it was foribbiden to sleep inside the park and the forest by the trail entrance was quite dense and difficult to camp. We saw a house, went to ask for camping possibilities and it worked, easy recipe 😉 Lack of the common language wasn’t a barrier to offer help. We spent lovely evening with coffee, baked potatoes and chats that meaning can only be guessed.

To conclude the host and guest stories, I will write a few words about our another meeting with JK. Another one, because we had met this guy before in Poznań, in our tiny flat, hosting him and his friend on their way to Moscov (they found us through WarmShowers). We helped them to plan their journey, do some shopping with all those Polish products and organise accomodation with our friends on the way. When we arrived to South Korea, JK and his family were waiting for us. We couldn’t stop talking, laughing and… eating! We all felt amazing about that meeting on the other side of the world, it became a perfect beginning of our Korean adventure. After a few days, we continued our journey, saying goodbye with tears in eyes.

There were plenty of meetings like those described above. Some of them very short, simple small talks by the shop, a bottle of water given by a motorcyclist who saw us on the uphill, warm coffee from a truck driver, energy bars from a cyclist who was driving that day, a moment shared but valuable one. There are people who helped us and are still helping, like Michi, who as a firefighter tried to warn us about coming typhoons in Japan and now became our ‘translator’ and cooking advisor 🙂 Let’s the good energy stay among us!

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