Sunday, April 30, 2006

grr?

$&"#%#"()'%')("#)'(!!!



ok, I wrote a really long blog full of venting and screaming and other such niceties, but then after re-reading and seeing that it was just a whole bunch of whining, I decided to delete it and just say that some people suck, others should get their heads out of their arses and the rest of you - well, the rest of you should stay as sweet and wonderful as you always are.

Other than that, I've been to Japanese Ikea, and I'm not sure what surprised me more -- that everything was written in Japanese (why did I foolishly expect it to be in English?), or the hour long queue just to get inside the store. I went with two Ikea virgins. Hatim for some reason has never visited Ikea, despite living in Chicago and I'm sure being in fairly close proximity to one at all times. Madoka, on the other hand, had no choice, as this is the first ever Ikea to open in Japan, and with that in mind, we queued. Mind you, we waited as orderly and patiently as all the other eager customers, and when we finally made it inside, I was excited to see their mutual astonishment at the showrooms and Ikea furniture, which I've sadly grown used to. In fact, I felt nostalgic seeing all the items I bought to furnish my condo.. my sofa.. my bookshelves.. my desk.. my comfy chair.. my bed.. my dressers.. my dishes and kitchen utensils.. carpets.. art.. even plant holders that were the same as back home. It's strange to think that if I wanted, I could find an apartment in Japan and furnish it to look identical to home. Strange, and a bit surreal. (I think I'm over using that word.. but everything lately is really really feeling surreal!).

Walking through Ikea, (although we only saw 2 of the 5 floors), I was amazed at how many people there were in every single nook and cranny. It was intense trying to keep my cool, and there were times when I just needed to get away from everyone for a minute before the phobia set it. (crowds just make me uncomfortable). In fact, at one point I just emailed Lukas and must have sounded so frantic that he answered all concerned just to see if I was okay. [ thanks L, nice to know I can still come to you with all my crazyness sometimes :) ] and with that in mind, I was as happy to leave Ikea as I was to have gone there in the first place. We couldn't leave without fulfilling the Ikea tradition of a cheap hotdog on the way out, and although I payed for that all night long (ugh, hot dogs really make my gnarl), I'm happy with my purchase. -- New sheets, finally!

Friday, April 28, 2006

well.. what can I say?

I had a lot of my time on my hands tonight, and I needed a creative outlet for some pent up energy. Re-vamping my blog seemed like the logical choice, probably because it involved being alone, not thinking about school or studying for a few hours, and because it was a project I knew I could undertake within a limited amount of time. Now that it's done, I'm not sure how I feel about the new look.. I wanted something sleek and modern. This isn't really either of those things, but it feels more mature than the last style I had up.

Thoughts? Comments?

I wish I could invest the time it would take to create a web page that looks the way I want, but it's just not enough of a priority right now. I suppose the content is more important than the way it looks, but it's still nice to have something pretty to look at. Hopefully the page will have a calming aura now; I could use something peaceful in my room - it just seems to get smaller and smaller, and I'm feeling extremely claustrophobic in here, despite the fact that it's still a safe zone, so to speak.

Maybe if I could fold my laundry and get it out of sight.. I suppose you have no idea what I'm talking about? Well, because the psychotic pigeons have scared me from ever stepping foot on my balcony, I have no choice but to hang my laundry to dry inside my room. This means, that while it dries (sometimes this takes 3-4 days if I don't have the window open or the heater on), it is hanging from a bar that I've set up across the room above my bed. Here, a picture is worth a 1000 words.

Now that I think about it, I've never posted pictures of my room, have I?

.... ....

from the window : : : kitchen : : : and my desk. yikes.

but do not be deceived! my room is the DEFINITION of tiny. my bed is directly in front of the balcony windows, and on one side, the desk is squeezed between the bed and the far wall, and the other side, as you can see, holds my bookshelf and closet. The kitchen is as crowded and cramped as it looks. It also includes a tiny bar fridge, and by tiny I mean half the size of what I used to use in Toronto. Directly across from the kitchen is the washroom.. which I was standing inside of and pressed up against the back wall to get the picture of the kitchen. Beyond the washroom/kitchen area is an 'entranceway' that actually just holds the water boiler, and in my case (because I am one of the few lucky ones) enough room for about 3 pairs of shoes.



anyways, I also decided to take a break from the whiteboard. . comments are still welcome, but it was a bit of an eyesore and I want to keep this page as simple as possible. Sorry to anyone who found it more convenient, but leaving me messages is still as simple as MSN.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

I'm going to Hokkaido!

thank you to both Lukas and Natasya for helping with flight stuff. my travel plans for Golden Week are as follows

Tuesday 5/2: Tokyo 13:00 --> Sapporo 14:30

Saturday 5/6: Sapporo 8:30 --> Tokyo 10:00

I will be staying at Hokkaido University with Lora, exploring all of the sights I missed from the last time up north, and I'll still be back in time to get homework done for the next school week. maybe ;)

Other than that, I have a bit of a cold so just hanging out in my room sniffling, and waking up from bizarre dreams (both the night AND day kind) that leave me feeling sort of surreal. I suppose it's the affects of combining various medicine & strange Japanese TV.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

coincidence?

Interestingly enough, I was privy to 2 conversations yesterday about Judaism, Nazis and European anti-semitism - both conversations friendly enough, but I didn't realize at the time that it was Yom Hashoah. さすがに、かな。。。
Israelis mark 61st anniversary of Nazi Holocaust
04/25/2006
Israelis marked the day, beginning at sunset Monday, by closing bars, discos and other places of entertainment. TV and radio stations broadcast the stories of survivors.

Israelis marked the 61st anniversary of the Nazi Holocaust on Tuesday with two minutes of silence. The annual Remembrance Day began late on Monday with a ceremony at the national Holocaust museum, Yad Vashem, where survivors lit six torches in memory of the six million Jews exterminated by the Nazis.

On Tuesday morning at 10 a.m. (0700GMT) as Israel remembered those murdered by the Nazis and their collaborators, a two-minute siren blared across the country, bringing life to a halt for a moment of silence.

Israelis marked the day, beginning at sunset Monday, by closing bars, discos and other places of entertainment. TV and radio stations broadcast the stories of survivors.

Israeli officials warned in speeches that anti-Semitism has not yet been eradicated in the world. Speaking at the opening ceremony Monday evening, Israeli President Moshe Katsav called for vigilance.

"I call on the Western world not to stand silently in the face of the nations that are trying to acquire nuclear weapons and preach for the destruction of the state of Israel,'' Katsav said, without mentioning Iran by name.

Iran's president has called for Israel to be wiped off the face of the earth, and Iran is widely believed to be trying to manufacture atomic bombs.

..........

just something to think about.. despite my recently being told not to take life so seriously

Monday, April 24, 2006

:: Metropolis Tokyo :: "Summer Sonic '06"

Oooooh, I wanna go!!


Day one: Green Day, The Flaming Lips, Hoobastank, Deftones, Keane, くるり, The Charlatans, The Rapture, Avenged Sevenfold, Matisyahu, Taking Back Sunday, Phoenix, Stone Sour, Hawthorne Heights, 65daysofstatic, The Feeling, Devendra Banhart, Plan B, Spank Rock, Lady Sovereign, Amusement Parks on Fire, and more.

Day two: Muse, Massive Attack, Tool, Arctic Monkeys, My Chemical Romance, Fall Out Boy, AFI, Andrew W.K., Ellegarden, DJ Shadow, Nelly Furtado, The All American Rejects, The Kooks, Little Barrie, Secret Machines, Mum DJ Set, 10 Years, Two Gallants, Living Things, Lady Sovereign, She Wants Revenge, Emilie Simon, The Cat Empire, and more.

Chiba Marine Stadium and Makuhari Messe, 8/12-13, 11am, ¥14,500 (one day), ¥26,500 (both days). Info: 0180-993-030. http://www.summersonic.com/.
Tickets: metropolis.japantoday.com/tickets

Sunday, April 23, 2006

videos

as mentioned, this was Kai's first time ever trying DDR. A decent attempt, but who would look good next to the monkey? (jump Hatim jump!)







and this is Stephanie's DDR moment - look, she can keep up with Hatim!

Saturday, April 22, 2006

i want ice cream

Sunday afternoon and I'm procrastinating. nothing new, I suppose, but still worth mentioning because in truth, there is nothing much else to blog. Amed came up last night and we caught up. I haven't seen him since before I left for Hawaii, because he's been in Australia! In fact, he got back sometime last week, but has been busy with an old friend who flew in to visit him for his birthday, and yesterday, he came directly here from the airport. (nice guy, eh?) We chatted for a good hour before Daniel came up, and then the 3 of us grabbed Hatim and went out for a quick dinner. It was nice catching up, and spending time with the 'guys' again, but even nicer to come back to my room for a quiet night of chatting and reading. In fact, I've been spending so much time alone in my room lately that it's starting to be my favorite thing to do.. me and my old anti-social ways are coming back in full force, but I figure that will all change with group study sessions, and warmer weather. Besides, with all of the classes I'm taking, I won't have much time for anything other than studying and homework anymore. Which is what I wanted.

As for golden week, (Aprl 28th - May 5th) plans are still in the works. Laila wants to plan a group trip to Fujikyu, a roller coaster amusement park somewhere by Mt. Fuji, and I'm thinking about taking another quick trip up to Hokkaido. This time, it will be just me and Lora says I can probably crash at her dorm somewhere. Also, the weather is much nicer so it will be easier to travel and see things, unlike the last time. Plans are unclear, mainly because I don't know which days during the holiday have classes, and which don't, but when I know more, I'll blog.

Friday, April 21, 2006

partied out


Inpromptu Porch Party : 04-19-2006



For some reason, I needed to get some air the other night, and headed downstairs for a little walk. Instead, I ran into Pu and Bingo (both Thai) and sat with them for an hour or so just talking and laughing. At some point, Kai and Lukas came home from a late dinner, and Kai joined us for some laughs. As the night progressed, Lukas came back out, Claudia and Dirk came downstairs, Anthony showed up and finally Natasya, and we sat around drinking, laughing, and just enjoying the warm weather again. The boys, without planning (I hope) were all dressed the same, and I inspired them to take some fun photos. Anthony suggested copying the Beatle's album cover, and Claudia went with them to the brick wall at the combenie and they snapped the photo. Unfortunately, it's on Dirk's film-camera, and we won't see the picture until after he gets home and develops his film. But I think it will be worth the wait. At least I hope so!




Dan's Birthday Party : 04-20-2006



After heading downstairs, I met up with Claudia, Dirk, Natasya and Hatim. We found Lukas at the combenie and walked our way to the bar (K's Dream). Checking in, I felt like some sort of royalty when we had to find our names on the guest list, but it was short lived - I was 5th! Hmph!! Anyways, we signed in and went inside where we ran into Kai & Anthony. Kai was being moody as usual, so Natasya and I headed downstairs to look for Dan and enjoy the live music, while the boys stayed upstairs. The band that was playing was a group of 3 girls, who despite their decent tunes, were so nervous and stiff on stage that we felt more sorry for them than anything. Apparantly it was only their 3rd time playing in front of a crowd, so I guess they'll get used to it eventually, but like I said, the music wasn't bad so we enjoyed it as people slowly arrived for the party. As 8 o'clock neared, 'Tasya and I headed back up to the main level and eagerly grabbed the comfy chairs before everyone else got a chance. The group slowly migrated up to the bar level and joined us at the reserved tables, and finally, at 8:30 ( a full 1/2 hour late ) the party officially started with the unlimited food and drinks arriving at our tables! From that point on, the party went as expected, with lots of eating, lots of drinking, and lots and lots of socializing. At some point during the night, we toasted Dan, surprised him with a cake, and continued on with the drinking. I got to see some of his Japanese friends again (yay Kenzo) and caught up with them, and although I spent most of my time keeping an eye on Natasya who had wayyyyyyy too much to drink, I still got to visit a little bit with some other friends.

At one, Natasya, Hatim and I headed home, making sure she had plenty to eat and drink (water) along the way, and then after a quick shower, I crashed for the night.


BBQ : 04-21-2006



After waking up and going to school, I was happy to come back and sleep for the afternoon after Dan's party. Surprised, I was woken up around 7:30 by my phone ringing, and although I missed Eugenie's call, I was awake enough to hear noises coming from the quad outside my window. Peeking out, I saw a surprising number of people gathered downstairs, and after checking my MSN message from Stephanie, discovered that there was a BBQ going on. I grabbed a hoodie and headed down, although I wasn't ready to eat anything.

Downstairs, I found a mix of international students and Japanese friends, all huddling around a tiny fire that Hatim had constructed out of a hammer, a rag, and an unusual amount of cooking oil. It gave off a surprising amount of heat, although I think the group huddling so close together might have helped too. Anyways, after snapping some pictures and eating up most of the food, the group decided that they wanted to head to the game center for some DDR. (Dance Dance Revolution, a Japanese arcade game that has become known around the world.. including a playstation version) and although I had no intention whatsoever of playing, I was thrilled at the idea of snapping pictures of Kai jumping around next to Hatim (the virtual monkey).

After running up to my room for my camera, I stopped by Hatim's room where the group was enjoying some playstation (Tekken) and then we headed off to the game center. There, I mostly watched as everyone took turns playing DDR and the racing game, although at one point, we (Stephanie, Pu and myself) took turns trying to help Kai pass the levels from behind without him knowing. We failed and ended up kicking him more than helping, heh, but it was fun none the less.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

atarashii

quick update before I leave for Dan's birthday party? I made it to school on time today, but as I mentioned, spend the class time with Lukas. Had a quick lunch with the group and then I rushed off to German class with Anthony and Mi Ran. What an experience. Besides all of my hesitations to take German class, I decided to try it once and see how things go. I'm not sure how Babi would take the news, so everyone back home, please don't mention it.. instead, you can just show her my fancy new specs! ok.. I know the picture sucks, but since Mi Ran (my across the hall neighbor) isn't home right now, I took the picture myself and tried to get as clear a shot as possible of the glasses. I'll have more pictures after the party tonight, so I might just swap one later on.

Anyways, after Econ class today, I was in Niikura-sensei's office when Lukas called and asked me out for coffee, so after 2 weeks of practically no contact, today I really got my fill. He'll be at the party tonight after 'baito, but I'm going to try my best to give him space (and vice versa).. there's nothing worse than over-saturation to send him back to his fleeting ways.

Ok, Claudia just emailed so I'm off to the paaaa-tay. Dan's 28 today.. 28! I can barely predict what life will be like at 25, and even that's only a couple of months away.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

karma

it's strangely surreal sitting in the library watching Lukas, or anyone for that matter, reading my blog. Bah - skipped Thursday class again. I really cannot stand Itoh sensei, and it didn't help that roaming around campus with L sounded more fun. We found a mysterious room in the Law/Econ bldg that was full of misc items and german books. L's theory was that the room belonged to someone that died and these were his last remains. On that notion, we snuck back out of the room and carried on.

I hope the dead man's karma stays with his things? Maybe I shouldn't have touched anything..

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

i should be in bed...

in fact, I should be fast asleep, but sometimes there's just too many other things on my mind and I need to get them out in order to get any rest.

For starters, as I mentioned in my tag board, internet is FINALLY up and running. 100 Mega Bits per second, via LAN, from the privacy and comfort of my own room. I have finally been able to download programs and software onto my PC that I've been missing, and been able to spend the time I wanted to fine-tuning my blog site. (anyone notice the tiny changes? they shouldn't be very noticeable, but there are still more to come)

In addition, I can now have MSN/Skype/Email/Etc open at all hours of the day/night which means that you can leave me a msg whenever you feel like it, and vice versa. My email replies should come much more often and on time now, as well as my blog entries, since I can do so whenever the mood arises, rather than based on the schedule and availability of the university computers.

Anyways, with internet at my fingertips, I've spent a surge of time and energy online today, but I feel it was worth it because I got a whole lot accomplished that I've been needing to. Important things like banking and organizing my schedule for the next few months, catching up on blogs and school things, and then some stuff that was more fun than anything, but still important after the last couple of weeks.

What am I talking about? Well, the past 2 weeks have been somewhat of a rollercoaster, emotionally, physically, mentally, etc. Since coming home from Kyushu I've been feeling sort of cut-off from friends and the life that I was used to here in Chiba. After spending more than a month apart, Lukas & I have been living completely separate lives, and I think it will take some time (and effort) to figure out where our friendship is heading. Claudia has been as awesome as ever, but busy with Dirk, her boyfriend who is still here until this upcoming Saturday. I love the guy, and wish I could communicate better with him (and therefore spend more time with them) but his language restrictions, and I suppose mine as well, are an issue. (Dirk only speaks German, and mine is of course limited to the bad words). Natasya is really busy at her lab since we've gotten home, and while Stephanie's back and single again (Rob's been back and is now in Taiwan), she has had no problem returning to her old lifestyle of rarely leaving her room. (Although she did stay on campus to eat lunch with me once already this week! It was her second time since school began last October, and therefore blog-worthy! Thanks Steph!!)

Richie has been up for a visit; I helped him do laundry and we caught up. Katya has been up and we had a nice heart-to-heart, as well as some good laughs the last few days. She has also been an incredible help with my other problem these days, which are my eyes. BEFORE YOU START WORRYING, I have already been to the eye doctor and have been assured that there is NOTHING wrong with my eyes, or more accurately, that there is nothing ABNORMAL, which is almost better by Japanese standards. Now, let me start at the beginning. At one point in my Kyushu adventures, my eyes began getting irritated. It was only mild discomfort at first, and I assumed it was because I was nearing the end of my contacts' month-long-life-cycle. Also, combined with the last few days of the trip (which I -will- blog soon, I promise) and the extreme lack of sleep, I was really unconcerned despite the irritation and redness. In fact, after getting home, I tossed out the old contacts, slept for a night without anything, and then put in a fresh pair the next day. From that point on, however, my eyes have been getting tired and a bit irritated some nights. It hasn't been too serious, although still a nuisance. But, I kept stubbornly thinking it was nothing to worry about, and didn't say much to anyone.

Until it got worse. I suppose the combination of whatever was irritating my eyes combined with the long hours I've been spending studying and reading lately (less time with friends = more time in my room studying, probably a good thing school wise..) but my eyes starting bothering me earlier and earlier in the day. In fact, yesterday at school it got so bad that during Politics class, I had to take my contacts out and spent the rest of the class staring half-blindly at the teacher. Afterwards, I was heading off in the direction of the eye doctor when I happened to run into Katya who willingly came with me and helped me through the eye-check up process.

Not only did she do that, but she helped me while I tried on glasses, picked out a pair, bought them, and answered the 3 billion questions that the 'friendly' man at megane su-pa- kept throwing at us. She stayed until almost the very end, barely leaving in time to make it to her dance practice, and she even emailed me today to check on me and see how I was. A sweetheart to the end, I bought her some flowers to say thanks, and she wrote me that she didn't even deserve them for just spending time with a friend! What a doll.

So to sum up, because this might not be the clearest blog entry I've ever written, my eyes are sore and irritated, but perfectly healthy. I have ordered new glasses (which I'll pick up on Friday) and will be taking a break from my contacts, despite their convenience, and Yes, I will post pictures of course. For the record, I got my new contacts today from Dad (thanks) and put in another new pair for the week just to see if it will make a difference, but I'm not worrying because the doctor told me not to. Also, he gave me medicine - eye drops - (super-cheap-and-probably-not-worth-mentioning-but-medicine-none-the-less) which I am putting in 4 times a day until it's empty.

Other than that, on the friend/emotional front, I talked with Lukas last night for a few hours, and tonight had a nice time out for dinner with the Germans. Dirk kept us entertained and I got to just spend some time hanging out with my old group, just like I like it. It was nice to be included again, and afterwards I had a quick but really good chat with Claudia and despite the fact that it's passover, she brought me up a yummy-looking apple pastry for breakfast tomorrow.

anyways, sorry if this was incomprehensible.. but at least it was written and posted in the middle of the night when I actually wrote it, unlike all the others that had to wait for school!

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

level up...

I should explain, that level-up in Andrew's mind is much more exciting than the reality. Level-up, or so he calls it means that because we began 2nd semester yesterday, everyone, and I do mean every single student, has been placed in the next consecutive language class, or in effect, they/we are all up one level. Really, nothing to be excited, not congratulatory about. It's as simple as finishing one semester and beginning the next.. something I've done once or twice before, ne?

"Waiting for the Bus" Kumamoto - 3.21.06

Waking up on the morning of the 21st, I felt prepared knowing the time that we wanted to catch the train up to Mount Aso. Tidying up our room and eating our pre-bought breakfast, I thought we would have plenty of time to make it to the station, which was really only a 6-7 minute walk away (despite the numerous times getting lost the day before).

However, as we stepped out of the elevator, I decided that the 100 or so photos left on my camera's memory card would not be enough for the day, and I quickly plugged it in to the available computer at the hostel/hotel's front desk. The computer was not quite as fast as I had hoped, and the transferring of my pictures from the camera SD card to my USB Flash drive took nearly 5 minutes. The 5 precious minutes we had needed to walk to the station. Instead, we ended up jogging, losing our breath and probably looking like the frantic tourists we were as we shot up the stairs to the station entrance, hoping desperately that the sounds of a train leaving the station wasn't ours. It was, of course, but before we knew that, I tried to enter the station using my Suica (the pre-paid card that I had stocked full of $ before heading south) and was informed by the station attendant that my card couldn't be used in Kumamoto. In fact, it couldn't be used anywhere out of the East J-R district, which is cut off somewhere around Kamakura, I think. Frustrated, we retreated to the ticket machines and bought the cheapest ticket, hoping that when we got to Aso there would be someway to find a cheaper fare. (there wasn't).

Arriving on the train platform, we checked the timetable and were devastated to find out that because we had missed our train, we had another full hour to wait for the next one. But, because there was literally nothing else to see around Suizenji station, we just sat and waited the hour out. I suggested maybe changing our plans around and making it the day in Kumamoto and saving Aso for the following day, but after thinking about it for a bit, Natasya said she preferred to wait and spend the day in Kumamoto the following day, mostly because there was a better chance of getting up to Aso today with no rain in the forecast.

An hour long wait at the station left us bored and restless, but since there was nothing more to do, we waited. After the train came and went (this time, with us on it) we traveled for nearly 45 minutes to a small town called Higo Ouzu, where we had another 1 hour long wait before the train up the mountain arrived. Here, I suppose because of the number of people that make this trip, we were able to leave and re-enter the station without paying or dealing with our tickets. Also, I suppose nobody ever chooses to stay in Higo, because frankly, the town felt deserted.


For example? Just across from the station was a community center, bordered with a water park. But if you check our photos, you'll see that the park has been dried up for eons. We got a few fun pictures out of the place, but quickly left it behind in search of something more exciting. We ended up at a bookstore, which thankfully can keep both myself and Natasya entertained for hours, (or a 1/2 hour as was needed in this case), but I think we were both happy to get on the train and leave Higo behind.

The train ride from Higo to Aso was actually quite picturesque. Unlike the coastline we'd seen on our way south to Kumamoto, there was more of a mountain view, with occasional tiny villages along the way. Most of the train stations consisted of only a tiny platform without even an attendant manning the gate, and barely anyone got on or off along the route. As we neared the volcano, the mountains grew taller and thicker, and we had clear views of forest fires that spread along the tops. Unfortunately, between the train moving so quickly and the distance between us and the mountains, the pictures are not as clear as I remember them.

Arriving in Aso, I was surprised to see a tiny mountain village that actually wasn't so tiny. There seemed to be a city that must have started just beyond the ridge because I could see street signs pointing in all sorts of directions, but the evidence of urban life was missing from the station area. Beside the station was a visitor's center, with maps and other info regarding the volcano, and Aso National Park. We checked with the bus station attendant and bought our tickets for the bus ride up the mountain, and spent our wait time (another 40 minutes) enjoying the free internet services in the visitor's center.

The bus ride up was a lot like the drive to Banff. A lot of trees, occasional views of the mountains, and a few genuinely amazing view points, one of which the bus actually stopped at and allowed us a few minutes to snap photos.

Finally, arriving at the 2nd visitor's center, we wasted no time in climbing the stairs to the rope way entrance, and caught the first tram to the volcano's crater. The pictures speak for themselves at this point, keeping in mind that unlike what I expected, the Aso 'lava' seems to be some sort of green sulfuric substance.



After nearly an hour of viewing the volcano & its crater, we took the ropeway back down and headed out to the bus stop. Checking the schedule, Natasya figured out that we had nearly an hours wait before the bus would depart, and instead of waiting, we decided to walk down to the next stop where we remembered museums, gift shops, and other various tourist attractions. What we didn't realize as we left the tourist center, was that we would be walking for approximately 45 minutes, covering the 3.5 km walk back to Kusansenri (the name of the area we finally ended up at), and that when we got there, nothing would be available except for a Takoyaki/Hamburger food stand being operated out of the back of a truck. Yummy. (ugh)

Another 20 minutes was spent eating gross food (IMHO) and then the bus took us down to the train station where we waited another 30 minutes for the train. At least this one was direct back to Kumamoto, and by the time we finally returned to Suizenji station, we were so tired that we picked up Bentos and returned to the hostel for an early night and plenty of sleep.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Saturday, April 08, 2006

"ユースピア" Where are you? - Kumamoto 3.20.2006

On the morning of the 20th, we woke up early to take advantage of the ONE HOUR window in which we could shower and enjoy a free breakfast at the Youth Hostel. Breakfast consisted of homemade Miso soup & fresh onigiri (warm rice balls wrapped in seaweed), and was well worth the early wake-up. In the dining room were various other hostel guests, and I enjoyed trying to figure out where they were from (mainly a group of European guys). After our meal, Natasya and I wasted no time in packing up and heading back down the mountain side (okay, it was just a really big hill, but it felt like a mountain the night before) to the tram line and back to Nagasaki station where the bus depot was located.

Leaving (or rather, stuffing) our bags into a coin locker, we confirmed our departure time for Kagoshima and then caught the tram to Dejima.
For those of you unfamilliar with Japanese history: a short lesson. Dejima (which translates as out-island in Japanese was an artificial island that was constructed in Nagasaki Bay back in the 1600s. During the 200 years of the Edo period, Japan's ruler (the Shogun) enforced a strict policy of isolationism. Dejima was the single port on which Dutch traders were allowed any form of commercial or cultural exchange with the country. During the Meiji Restoration, the island was re-connected with Nagasaki via landfill, and in 1957, the city restored the former Dejima warehouse to a historical monument.
We worked our way from the tram stop to the waterfront, admiring the Dutch architecture and other various European influences along the way. The actual wharf was fairly uneventful, except for a really interesting ship that was docked across the harbour. We took pictures, but we're not sure who the boat belonged to.. China, perhaps? What do you think?

After the boardwalk, we followed the bridge towards historical Dejima. Along the way, we found what was left of the train tracks that once connected Dejima the island with Nagasaki. The bridges had been constructed in other areas over the river, specifically so that the tracks and this wheely thing could be left as a monument to the past. I had no issues with stepping over the 'security' rope for a better photo - I hope no out there minds?

When we found the old Dejima factory, we were dissapointed to see that it was under construction. I guess it makes sense that they would need to make repairs every now & then, but it sucks that it was while we were in Nagasaki. Shouganai, as we say. So instead, we got to see 'mini-Dejima', which is a model version of the old island, and feel free to browse the photos for an idea of what it once looked like.

From Dejima, we returned to the bus depot and walked the 150 meters or so (uphill, of course) to the side of the 26 martyrs of Nagasaki. As the only city with European influence for all those hundreds of years, it is also the city with the most Christian influence & accordingly, tragedy. With the above mentioned policy of isolation, the Shogun also insisted on a banishment of Christianity, and these were the 26 women who were martyred at the time.

Nagasaki Day 2 Photos


Finally, after a whirlwind 24 hours, we returned one last time to the bus depot, but this time we boarded our bus and headed south towards Kumamoto. Luckily, we had the front row which awarded us an extra-scenic trip, which of course gives you lots of photos to look through and admire. The bus stopped a few times along the way to pick up random drifters, but otherwise drove straight through, making the trip relatively smooth and uneventful. We enjoyed the scenery, ate bentos (boxed lunches) and nodded off for a bit, eager to continue our adventure but happy for the brief chance to sit back and relax. And after arriving in Kumamoto, I'm glad we did.

The bus depot was large and a bit overwhelming. Not compared to Tokyo station, of course, but after Fukuoka and Nagasaki, I was surprised at how large it seemed. Then again, it was Only a bus depot - Kumamoto station was actually a few stations further along on the tram line. But, since we were used to travelling without the assistance of JR, we headed in, bought our bus passes and hopped onto the first 'green' bus we saw, hoping it would lead us in the right direction. I should explain: our Kumamoto bus passes were good only on the tram and on 'green' busses, which operated within the city center and a radius of only a few miles. All of our tourist destinations, our hostel, and the major stations were within this radius so it served our purposes, but still, it restricted our bus access to the 'green' ones, which ran fewer routes, less frequently, and offered little-to-no help in terms of maps or other orientation services.

Instead of panicking, we sat quietly, listening to the stop announcements, hoping that my lucky sense of direction would bring us close to Suizenji station where we needed to be. After nearly a half hour of riding the bus, Natasya's nerves gave way and she jumped up to ask the driver if we were going in the right direction. He seemed alarmed that we were lost (while on his bus, mind you) and quickly established that our best course of action was to get off at the next station and take a different bus in a different direction. He was more clear, offering Natasya a shakey set of directions and nodding us off as we de-boarded, but to be clear, the 2nd bus which we got on took us exactly ONE stop to the station. ONE STOP. Our friendly bus driver could have mentioned how close we were to said station, rather than letting us sit and dwell in our ignorance. Gah! Anyways, from Suizenji station, we thought it would be fairly easy to find our Hostel. We were wrong. Wrong wrong wrong.

The teeny tiny map that was inside the youth hostel booklet seemed to aim us directly away from the station. So we walked, and walked, and walked, all the while schlepping our bags behind us. We walked so long that we ducked into a clinic along the way to ask the receptionist for directions. He tried to decifer the map and assured us that we were on the right track, so we continued walking. After another 10 minutes or so (btw, the map said that the hostel was a 7 minute walk from the station), we gave up and called the Hostel for directions. They seemed to think we were close and that we could navigate our way there through side streets and sketchy landmarks (such as the 'park' and the 'combini'). Needless to say, (doesn't my title give it away?) We didn't have any better luck finding it the 2nd time around, and instead, we ended up on a main thoroughfare, feeling completely lost and hopeless. Neither of us wanted to call again, and I was silently thinking we should just pick a hotel, any hotel, and check in, when suddenly and completely out of nowhere, we saw a sign in the distance pointing towards our hostel. It was still off the beaten track, situated behind the buildings on the main street, but we finally found it. Finally.

Check-in was simple enough, and after getting the list of rules and other misc. info, we found our room (thankfully a private one this time) and dropped off our bags. Without waiting around, we rushed back downstairs and to the green bus stop that was DIRECTLY in front of our hotel. (Interestingly enough, we never figured out which bus it was that would drop us off there.. ) Worried that it wouldn't take us towards the castle, which was where we wanted to go, we instead headed back to the main street and caught the bus there with a nice Japanese woman who was happy to verify that it was the right bus and which stop we needed to get off at. It took almost 30 precious minutes, and as we ran, okay, speedwalked from the bus to the castle, Natasya explained the following little anecdote to me.
2 years ago, as a JPAC student at Chiba University, she arranged a homestay for herself in Kagoshima, a city in the southermost part of Kyushu. Travelling down by herself, she saw a few of the cities that we were visiting on our trip, but actually didn't get to do much sightseeing. On her way south, she stopped in Kumamoto and headed towards the castle, much as we were doing at that very moment. She had wanted to visit the castle so badly, but unfortunately, the summer hours that her guidebook listed were longer than that winter (which includes fall & spring) hours, and she arrived to find out that the castle was closed. She left early the next day to her homestay, and therefore never got to see the inside of Kumamoto Castle.
And it was as though she had jinxed us. Rushing across the busy intersection and over the bridge, we both kept hoping that today would be different. Alas, we were too late, and the castle was closed. Disgruntled, we traipsed our way around from one gate to the next, eagerly hoping that we could sneak in (much like Claudia & I did at Enkakuji in Kamakura), but security was tight and the gates were all secured with chains & the like. We couldn't get in, and even the sakura surrounding the castle did little to appease our frustration.

With nothing left to do, we wandered for a while through the shopping arcade admiring 'downtown' Kumamoto. Eventually, we found ourselves back at the bus depot, and exploring the other side of it, found a giant bowling alley which answered my silent question of what people do at night in Kyushu. Wandering through the game center, we found an abandoned dance hall with a table full of gifts. I really wanted to snatch the one labelled 'booby prize', but Natasya's scornful gaze discouraged me, and instead, we returned to the bus depot. Wanting to see more of the city, we decided to hop on a random bus and go for a ride. Unfortunately, the city was relatively boring, and we were having an interesting conversation, so we lost track of which way the bus was going, and when we got off, had no idea where we were.

Lost in Kumamoto for the 2nd time that day, we searched for an address or street sign to tell us where we were. Noticing one down the street, we rushed over and read that we were in Suizenji 1-chome, (our hostel was in Suizenji 3-chome) so we knew we were close. We just didn't know which direction to walk, but feeling brave, I suggested north (or at least the way I thought was north) and off we went. We walked and walked, until we saw a set of train tracks. Remembering that we knew the hostel was near Suizenji station, we walked alongside the tracks, getting worried as we noticed the surroundings getting shabbier and shabbier, but still feeling that the tracks would lead us in the right direction. That is, until we ended up at Suizenji park. The park, although a tourist destination and something that we both wanted to see, was way past where our Hostel was, and again, lost, we had to break down and call for directions. It turns out that we had actually been on the right track, but at one point (after veering away from the tracks) we were supposed to turn at one of the 'combini' landmarks. Oops.

So we did, and finally, after finding our hostel, we headed up to our room where we ate a quick dinner, continued our conversation, and actually got some studying done. It seems important to mention that during the above, Natasya got a call from the front desk checking to make sure we found our way back, which although made us feel extra-stupid, is probably reassuring to some of you back home.


Photos from the Busride to Kumamoto

Kumamoto Day 1 Photos

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Sunday, April 02, 2006

mini-update

Ok, I'm sitting in the super-pricy internet cafe, multi-tasking the #&%$ out of this poor computer. I wanted to let everyone know I'm still alive and sort-of kicking, and vaguely aware of my blogging absense the last little while, but I've been hella busy. Hawaii, Kyushu, and now studying for the placement exam on Friday. I also managed to organize and label ALL of the Kyushu photos (@ 903 pictures, that is NOT an easy feat), and do my best to keep up with friends across the globe.

Internet news: April 17th. FINALLY. Assuming that all the bugs and problems with the service are etched out during the first week, I should be online once and for all by the end of the month. Then I suppose I will have no excuse for late blogs & email replies, but at least I'll be able to chat and maybe get some stuff done at my own convenience for a change. Until then, please bear with me, and remember that while the tag board is a fun & painless way to keep in touch, I can't read it from my keitai. If there's something you want/need to say to me, email is still the best choice.

XOXO

C

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Fukuoka 3.17.06

Fukuoka 3.18.06

Fukuoka 3.19.06

Nagasaki 3.19.06

Nagasaki 3.20.06

Bus Ride to Kumamoto 3.20.06