I met Paul in July 2008, in a little hostel in Beppu, Japan.
Even though that day was more than four years ago, I’ve never written about how we met. And I’ve covered everything on here from chafing to my love of the golden arches so it’s not like I’m wanting my privacy or anything.
So sure, I mentioned him at the time, but it was probably lost in amongst references to sumo wrestling, sushi trains and green tea ice cream. I didn’t want to go on and on about this random Dutchman as I had no idea as to how long he would feature both in my holiday and in my life in general.
So now seems to be a good time to tell our story. There’s nothing special about today’s date, it’s just another normal day we’re spending in our little apartment in Dordrecht. So let’s cast our minds back to the days when George W Bush still was President, when Hawthorn was just about to win a premiership and when I headed northwards for a three-week jaunt around Japan and Korea.
This trip was my second solo adventure and I wanted it to be different to the first. Of course it was shorter – three weeks compared to five months – but the other main difference was that I had a lot more money in my back pocket. I had a fantastic part-time job working for a politician and this meant that I could do a hell of a lot more than in Europe. I booked the best hostels, promised myself that I wouldn’t succumb to packet pasta and that if anyone asked me to join them for a day, I would go along.
This theory worked a treat – I was hardly alone for most of my trip. I went geisha-spotting in Kyoto with a girl I’ve since caught up with in Melbourne, I got ridiculously drunk on soju with locals in Seoul (still one of the worst hangovers of my life) and completed a 7-Eleven pub crawl, a Japanese institution, with a bunch of Germans in Hiroshima.
Even if I hadn’t met Paul, I would look back at the trip as probably the most fun and carefree of my life.
But I did meet Paul. And I was in no way ready for this. It was in Beppu, a small town on the southern Japanese island of Kyushu. I’d spent my time there onsen-hopping and eating sushi with an English guy. I can’t remember his name for the life of me.
After a couple of days, I packed the Beast and got ready to leave for Hiroshima. As I packed my things away, I got chatting to a dormmate; a German guy called Manuel who had been studying in China. He was also walking down to the train station, but had to wait for two guys he’d been hanging out with. I agreed to wait, and after a few minutes I was introduced to Ed from England and Paul from the Netherlands.
Actually, that’s a bit wrong, when I think back. Paul was just introduced as Paul, and after exchanging pleasantries I enquired as to whether he too was German.
Let’s just say we didn’t get off to the best start.
We all chatted away happily on the train, laughing at each others travel stories and swapping bits of advice. I vividly remember that at one stage, someone asked why I wasn’t planning on climbing Mount Fuji. Before I had a chance to respond (which would have been along the lines of ‘I’d rather put my arm in a blender’) a little voice piped up.
‘I’m not climbing it either, don’t worry.’
I looked at Paul, who was smiling. I smiled back. I liked this guy. He was cute and he had an accent. Definite winner.
However, our train was pulling into Fukuoka and we were going our separate ways; Paul was off to Nagasaki. I kept going to Hiroshima and subconsciously put Paul into a mental list of people I’d met on my travels, but whom I’d surely never see again.
Fast-forward about forty-eight hours. I’d just arrived in Osaka, and it was about to get dark. I figured a good way to get my bearings of the city was to head up the Umeda Sky Building, one of Osaka’s new skyscrapers. So off I went.
I circled the observation deck a couple of times, waiting for the sun to go down and then playing with the effects on my camera. I was getting hungry and started to contemplate leaving and finding some food. It was going to be the first solo dinner of my trip, I realised. Then I spotted him.
He was crouching down, trying to get some good photos like me. I wanted to approach him; a year ago I would have just kept walking. But I just couldn’t remember his name, so I did another lap whilst silently chanting different boys’ names to myself. It was a simple one, surely it was a disciple… Paul! And with that, I boldly went and tapped the Dutchie on the shoulder.
He remembered me, he says now, but at that stage I wasn’t so sure and introduced myself again, ‘Hi Paul, it’s Caitlyn from Beppu’. I thought that line was fantastic, including all the crucial elements. We chatted away about God knows what (we never do stop talking) and then he asked me out for dinner.
In backpacker world, this happens. It wasn’t a date; it was just two solo travellers who were hungry and wouldn’t mind a bit of company. We ended up finding a little restaurant where Paul accidentally ordered horse, and followed up such hilarity with wandering around Dotombori together, and me completely flooring Paul by telling him that I was obsessed with Olympic stadiums. He reckons he knew it then.
It was kinda the perfect night, and I didn’t want it to end. Thankfully, Paul was thinking the same thing. We arranged to meet two days later for the Gion Matsuri festival in Kyoto, and went back to our hostels with giant grins on our faces. He’d already emailed me by the time I got some Internet time later that night.
The only problem was that the Gion Matsuri festival was actually quite boring. Once we figured that out, we spent the rest of the day getting to know each other over bowls of ramen and pints of Kirin. When he asked to kiss me goodbye that night, I giggled and stood on my tippy toes. He pecked me on the cheek and that’s when I realised I well, really quite liked this Dutchie. This had the potential to become quite inconvenient.
The following days went by in a bit of a whirlwind; we explored Kyoto’s temples and gardens, headed down to the beach town of Shirahama for a lazy day in the sun and discovered giant Buddhas and wild deer in Nara. We even sped up to Yokohama to see some Japanese football at one stage (thank you, Japan Rail Pass).
After less than a week, I really started thinking that this was all very inconvenient indeed. This wasn’t just a holiday fling; I really, really liked this guy. And he happened to live on the other side of the world, almost as far from Melbourne as you could possibly get.
I hated saying goodbye at Yokohama Station.Tears were streaming down our faces, with Paul reassuring me, ‘I will see you again’. I still didn’t know if I would, and his determination had us book another trip to see each other in Southeast Asia only a month or so later.
So that’s how Paul and I met. That’s how that Dutch guy first made an appearance on this blog back on 21 July 2008, and has been a regular staple ever since. Thank God he has a simple name that I could remember easily, or else I might never have approached him that night atop the Umeda Sky Building.
And we still haven’t stopped gasbagging.