IMTP 2020: Walker Glasoe Shares Practical Travel Tips | Technological Leadership Institute
The following is a personal account of the international residency from M.S. in Management of Technology Class of 2020 student Walker Glasoe, a manufacturing engineer. He traveled with his classmate Mariah Marx to Japan before joining the rest of their classmates in Korea and Vietnam.
A Novice’s Guide to Traveling Asia
After walking a few kilometers on a winter night from Ōmiya Station, I collapsed onto the couch of a rented family home in Saitama, Japan. 20 hours of flying, two hours on multiple trains and a few moments of confused panic led to my first calm thought on that couch, “Maybe I didn’t do enough research.”
While I wouldn’t change a thing about the trip, in retrospect there are a few key subjects that I wish I had known more about beforehand.
In Japan, public transit is the primary means of transportation throughout the entire country. There are numerous private companies that operate railway lines, but Japan Railways (JR) is the primary provider. JR is made up of six regional companies that cover different areas across most of Japan. Japan Rail passes (the JR pass) are available to foreign tourists exclusively. These must be purchased before your trip. They seem expensive, but once you realize how dependent on public transit you will be, they are very cheap. The JR pass only applies to JR trains; private trains traveling to less common locations aren’t applicable.
If you don’t have a pass (for sure get a pass), tickets must be purchased in person from a kiosk. They do have an English option, but it isn’t obviously placed. Purchasing tickets in person requires cash, in ¥ (Yen). You may purchase a rechargeable card to prevent using the kiosk every trip, which I strongly recommend. When purchasing a ticket for a destination, the value of the ticket must be assigned at the kiosk. You can determine how much money to place on the ticket by the number of stops you’ll be traveling. While this is daunting at first, all kiosks have a chart showing the value required to get to your destination. The ticket will be used to enter the station after being dispensed from the kiosk. If the wrong amount was placed on the ticket upon leaving the station, there are friendly attendants at every exit that will either refund or request funds. This just takes time and is not a big deal.
Similar to Japan, tickets must be purchased at a kiosk (most require cash but some take credit). They come in the form of reusable and rechargeable cards known as T-Money cards. Cards are charged based on the number of stations traveled and they are used to exit and enter the station. Adequate funds must be available to exit. If they are not available, the card must be recharged at a kiosk. In an effort to reduce waste, there is no single-use disposable option. Upon leaving Korea, the remaining balance on a card can be refunded.
In Korea, age is a huge factor in almost every interaction. Naturally, this plays a critical role during social drinking. When drinking in Korea there are a few important things to keep in mind. First, the youngest pours. Second, nobody should ever fill their own glass. Be proactive about pouring drinks for your seniors, but don’t get overzealous. Enthusiasm is contagious and less damaging in moderation.
Download Grab. It’s the equivalent of Uber or Lyft for Vietnam and the surrounding area. Most city trips can be made on the back of a motorbike, which is intense. Though the motorbike might seem dangerous or frightening, it really isn’t all that bad. Somehow, in all the chaos, things just work themselves out. If you have more than a backpack, Grab can also provide a car. This is the best way to get to and from the airport as it is one of the few things you can use credit for in Vietnam.
The history between the U.S. and Vietnam gave me pause before I arrived. I was concerned that there would be friction. After all, how could I be welcomed after everything that happened some decades ago? Somehow, it was more relaxed than I anticipated. The people of Vietnam have a fundamentally different outlook and have had a more recent war with China. I will never be able to summarize their perspective, but it’s a safe place to learn and listen.