Wednesday, August 30, 2006

goodbyes

I've already explained that the end is in sight, and my days are now focussed on September 14th as this point in time where once again, everything will change. For better or worse, I'm not sure, and its with a sense of trepidation that I enter into this blog entry, because I'm not sure what will pour out of my heart as I allow myself the opportunity to head down this path.

I'm not afraid of goodbye. I'm in fact, I see 'goodbye' as a chance to say things left unsaid, and to often times gain a better understanding of relationships and friendships. Since my life in Japan has been so solitary since being ostracized, I am very anxiously waiting for my departure date, with hopes for the future and a reprieve from the heavy burden on my heart. Sometimes, things here seem so impossibly difficult that I think about leaving early; about cancelling my travels and just dissapearing. I'm convinced nobody would notice, not as a tribute to any sort of inner-martyr, but because the only contact I seem to have with the very few people who seem to care, is via emails on our keitai. And an email across the dorm, or an email across the oceans.. frankly, I don't see any difference. But for me, being away from them, the people who have reduced me to a blubbering pitiful pit of despair and loneliness, will be one of the healthiest changes in my life to date.

...

I asked someone once, about goodbyes. I thought she might have something sagelike to say on the subject, as someone who's both said goodbye to me, and re-welcomed me into her life. (sortof). In response, she reflected on a past experience, and she didn't dissapoint.
... I have always been and will always be grateful that I have been given the priviledge for this kind of opportunity. For getting to know all these people and having learned so much from them and having myself grow into a (hopefully) stronger and better person ...
I'm not sure I share her sentiments when it comes to what I've achieved in my time here, but her words still remind me to take a step back from the problems that continue to cloud my heart, and remember why I came here in the first place. To focus on what drew me to this opportunity in the first place, and making sure that I fill my last remaining moments with experiences to fulfill my hopes and dreams for my future.

I know that goodbye's are different for most people.. and each of us approaches them with varying levels of apprehension. For me, the apprehension lies in missed opportunities, which is why I've already said my one and only truly difficult goodbye. The rest, whether they end up as farewell or see you later, I know that the emotions attached to them will be bittersweet. A tearful goodbye accompanied with the happy memories we've built along the way.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

A Day of Culture

I'm not sure how anyone else might have reacted, but I was super excited when Katya suggested we visit Ueno on our last outing together. I've been meaning to go for ages, and finally, the moment had arrived! We agreed to meet at 12, and I planned to wake up a few hours earlier and get my errands out of the way.

Friday the 25th, I headed to the nearbye branch of my local bank. I thought that given enough time, even Chiba Ginko would be able to manually process a withdrawal from Visa. But I was wrong, so so wrong. Dejectedly, I backtracked to the station, where I tried calling Hatim. Getting no answer, I figured he was sleeping through the outing, and I entered the gates and found my way onto the train platform. Not even 5 minutes later, as the train was noisily rushing past me before stopping, Hatim called. He tried to explain that he was up and on his way - I say tried because he was talking while simultaneously brushing his teeth. I agreed to wait, sat down in one of the now empty chairs, and watched the minutes tick by on a nearby clock.

When we passed Ichikawa, Hatim sent a quick message to Katya, and she was waiting for us at Akihabara when we arrived. She led the way to a bank she knew of, hoping that they would be able to help me. They weren't. Neither were the people at the Post Office able to get any money off of my Visa, and frustrated, I gave up, not wanting to waste any more of our day fighting with the useless credit card. Instead, we began our 20 minute walk to Ueno, stopping every now and then to look through the shops along the way. Katya and Hatim kept pointing out banks that we were approaching, but I stubbornly said No and we went past without going inside for more dissapointment.

My first time in Ueno Park was at night, with Hatim and my former group of friends. The 5 of us, Hatim, Lukas, Kai, Claudia and myself hadn't known much about the park, and since it was too dark to do much sightseeing, found our way to the grand fountain and sat down on the nearby steps. While drinking some beer and eating Hatim's Ice Cream treats (he loved Pino back then), we laughed and did our best to stay warm. Lukas and Hatim played around with a lighter and different exposures with Lukas' camera, and managed to come up with some interesting photos.

This time around, my impression of the park was significanly different. It was green and lush, and full of so many people from different wakes of life. I discovered that there were statues and sculptures, temples and other religious buildings, and more museums than I've ever seen before in my life. There was a children's playground area with a merry go round and other simple rides, an assorted array of eateries spread out over the park, and there was not only the one grand fountain that I'd sat next to in my earlier visit, but also a second fountain in the entrance to the Tokyo National Museum, which was where the 3 of us chose to spend our afternoon.



Tokyo National Museum - Ueno Park; Beautiful kimono, carved wooden Buddhas, and ink paintings are some of the traditional arts you can see in the permanent collections at this huge complex.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Goodbye Anthony

And poof. Just like that, he's gone.

My favorite line from my favorite movie, and it seems to fit so well with how I'’m feeling right now. This morning saw what I'’ve decided should be called a milestone, when Anthony's time in Japan came to an end. Somehow, his leaving feels differently than the departures that came before, and also represents the beginning of the end to those of us left behind. I guess Anthony's leaving has been different because during his time here, he seemed to affect nearly every life he came into contact with. Sometimes that was good, and other times.. well...somehow, he always managed to leave his mark. For me, I did a lot of soul searching yesterday after feeling like such a fool. I decided that despite being hurt and rejected, there are times in our lives when our decisions have lasting effects, and last night, I decided to put my feelings aside and spend the night with him and the other people he invited to his last farewell Karaoke party.

It was honestly, the most uneventful Karaoke I've ever been to, but with everyone who'd been to the beach with him the night before being hopelessly exhausted, and his Japanese friends meekly sitting by as an endless stream of English songs made their way into the queue list, what more should I expect? I for one, sang very little. I just couldn't bring myself to ask my former friends to sing with me, and while I have no qualms about singing along, just didn't feel like it last night. Mainly, I spent the night surrounded by a few of the people I can feel relatively safe and comfortable with - Hatim, Mi Ran, Pu, Kai, Jose - and did my best not to make eye contact with the others.

Last night, Anthony was the star. He out-sung the rest of us both with his much improved singing voice (Natasya has been giving him voice lessons) and in the number of songs he sang, often accompanied by Natasya's background vocals. To take care of his voice, he spent the night (in between songs) nursing a bottle of honey, and by the end of the night, had drank so much of it, that he felt sick.

Packing..saying goodbye..all the last minute things that none of us really wants to think about... watching Anthony go through it, and hearing even the last minute airport details, was an eye opening experience to me. As a result, today, after waking up and eating my first real meal in days, I began going through the scary pile of papers on my desk, and preparing myself mentally for the end. I know the huge job I have ahead, the ridiculous amount of packing I need to finish before I leave for Kansai and again before Nikko. I don't want to spend my last day trying to get things done, so I have begun. I have packed my first box, and planned out at least 2 more that I will eventually send home via the post office.

sigh.

Goodbye Anthony, and at the same time, goodbye to my time in Japan, because somehow, theseevents feel intertwined.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

chump

That's what I am, and I can think of no better word to characterize myself. a sap? doormat? sucker? fool? I suppose the word is unimportant, as long as the meaning gets across. I am a chump.

Last week, before leaving for Hiroshima, Anthony invited me over for spaghetti. The entire year, while I've been living on take out and fast food, he's perfected his spaghetti recipe, to the enjoyment of friends and neighbors alike. Unfortunately, his key ingredient has been cheese, and so I hadn't had the opportunity to try out his culinary feats. Last week, he modified the recipe to my dietary quirk, and for the first time in a long time, I got to sit around a table with people I thought of as friends and enjoyed a meal.

To show my appreciation, I washed the dishes and tidied up his kitchen for him, but didn't feel that was thanks enough for the feeling of being included that he'd given me. Quietly, I decided to do something for him that might make him feel as happy as I'd felt that night, and I began my internet search for a rare/collectable David Bowie album (one of his alltime favorite musicians). What I found, was that there were so many to choose from and no way of knowing what he might already have, so I browsed through a few stores here in Japan to narrow down my selection. I chose David Bowie - A Reality Tour (2004), because I thought it looked like something that might spruce up his collection, and that he possible doesn't own. I ordered it online, and waited anxiously hoping it would arrive before he flew home on the 28th, this upcoming Monday.

Yesterday, it arrived. I got a call from the post office, and between my fear of phone calls and my broken Japanese, managed to understand that it was ready to be picked up. I borrowed Hatim's bike, since mine is practically dead, and was happily riding home with my gift in the basket, when across the park, I saw a group heading towards me. Quickly, I veered into the street and wound my way out of sight and towards home, but I spied Anthony, Lukas, and Hatim, among others, heading away from the dorms. Since I'd left Hatim practically snoring in bed only 10 minutes earlier, I was a bit surprised to see him up and awake, but figured, whatever, and sent off a quick msg to thank him for the bike.

Now, to my point. CHUMP. A while later, maybe 10 minutes or so, I decided to send a quick msg to Pu to see how she was feeling, since Anthony's leaving so soon. In response, she phoned me to tell me that everyone was at Tengu, a nearby restaurant. "Everyone?" I asked. Her answer, like ice through my veins, "Of course, Claudia, Natasya, Kai, Anthony, Lukas and Hatim. You should come."

Hah. I should come. Because spending my afternoon with a group of people that don't want me, didn't invite me, and couldn't care less about me is going to make any of us happy? Thanks a lot Pu. Thanks a lot Anthony. While I was off picking up a gift for him, he was busy organizing a last meal with "everyone" that didn't include me. I didn't get an original invitation. I didn't even get an afterthought invitation. All I got was some sort of pity invite from Pu after everyone was already at the restaurant and I was foolishly sitting in my room worrying about her.

Chump.

So. I was upset. I cried. I got mad at myself, and stopped to think about the situation. "Maybe it was some sort of misunderstanding?" I thought. I emailed Anthony, to tell him that even though I'd originally said I would be away this weekend, plans changed and I was around. Maybe we could get together before he leaves to say goodbye? He answered that he would try to make time, but it couldn't be that night because he was cleaning and preparing his room for departure.

No problem, I can totally understand that. God knows packing up to leave the country isn't going to be an easy job, and I was content leaving him be to get stuff done. Then again, a few hours later when I sent a quick email to see how the cleaning was going, I find out he went out. This morning, an email from Hatim confirmed it - Anthony had a party last night. Thank god that at least this time didn't come with a pity invite.

They really know how to make a girl feel unwanted.

Chump, Chump, Chump.

Friday, August 25, 2006

stupid #$87)"#&)('#&"# Japanese ATM machines

Grrrrr. I wish I could say that my last few weeks in Japan will consist of nothing but happy memories, but since I didn't know I would be extending my stay half way through September, I didn't budget for it. As a result, I am out of yen in my Japanese bank account and (shudddddder) I have to find a way to access my money from home. As if I have nothing better to do with my time, right? I already know from past experiences that my Visa will NOT work in the Japanese ATMs. I don't understand why, and the people working at the banks here in Japan, also have no clue. On the phone, Visa tells me they see no attempts to access the card, despite the numerous attempts I've made in ATM machines across Tokyo and Chiba, and I am at wit's end. I need to find a bank that will take the money out manually, but I don't think any of these banks exist anywhere even remotely accessible to me. SO FRUSTRATING. I have a credit of something like 1200$ just sitting there, taunting me. I want my money. I need my money! AAARRRRGGGGGGHHHH.

Maybe I wouldn't be so stressed right now if I hadn't already spent most of the money I actually have left, but I was so excited to buy my ticket for Kyoto that instead of the 125$ cash in my wallet, I have a shiny ticket to the city of my dreams, and a big empty whole where my money should be. Katya offered to lend me money while I try to deal with the bank mess, and I know I can always ask Hatim too. But I hate borrowing money. Gah.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Tokyo Dome

What a day. What an adventure. When I emailed Laila last week and told her I wanted one last day together, I never expected it would be so much fun, or that it would be one of my happiest days in Japan. Sometimes, the simplest surprises are the nicest ones.



Tokyo Dome is a mini-city within central Tokyo itself. The Dome itself lives up to its former nickname, the "Big Egg", and is the home stadium of the Yomiuri Giants - Tokyo's famed Baseball Team. The dome also lends it's name to the nearby area which is called Tokyo Dome City, and includes an amusement park surrounded by shops and restaurants. The amusement park, Laqua, is where we spent the day. First, exploring, taking pictures, and making general fools of ourselves. Then, at 4pm sharp, we quickly paid for our 3000 yen "free passes" which gave us unlimited access to the rides until the park closed at 10pm. From there, the 4 of us, Laila, Desy, Hatim and myself, rushed up the stairs to the Thunder Dolphin. This roller coaster is one of the best I've ridden - not because it does anything particularly exciting, but rather the sheer volume of Laila's screams everytime the cars left the platform. They were so loud, in fact, that some of the Japanese girls that were riding ahead of us, turned around while the roller coaster was operating to ask her if she was alright. We all loved it so much, Laila included, that we rode the dolphin 4 times. Four times. Oh, and did I mention that the roller coaster passes through a giant hole in the side of a building, and through the center of the ferris wheel? It was a blast! So much so, that I paid the extravagant price to buy the pictures that captured all of our screams at various points along the ride, which despite all of our preparations, we always failed to pose for. I think maybe we were having too much fun!


The other ride that kept us coming back, was a roller coaster called the Linear Gale. It was terrifying, first forwards, then backwards - moments where we could see nothing ahead of us but the never ending sky, or worse, the 180 degree drop to the ground below us. Back and forth. Up and down. Laila screaming the entire way. The few seconds of weightlessness between up and down, however, made it all worth it. I felt these tiny moments of complete serenity between the jostling excitement of the roller coaster itself. Truly inspring. After getting off the ride and taking a step back, I really noticed for the first time that there were these giant roller coaster tracks sticking up into the air. It looks at first glance like it is still under construction, but as you can see in the following picture, the roller coaster to nowhere is running endlessly on its halfpike.


Finally, in response to my silent curiosities about what could possibly serve as the perfect ending to a perfect day, we headed down to the haunted house, for one last thrill. It began before we even made it passed the entrance - ahead of us in line stood a korean couple. While we were trying to calm down the trembling Laila who was not very keenon going into the house, the girl ahead came screaming out from behind the door seconds after going in. The Korean was so completely terrified that when the woman ripping tickets at the door tried to give hers back, she refused and continued to make as much distance as possible between herself the the haunted house that lay ahead of us. The same woman explained to us that there wasn't room for 4 to enter at once, so we divided into pairs. Hatim and Desy went first. Laila was ready to turn and run for the exit, but I held on to her, insisting she not make me enter alone. I think she might have bolted if we hadn't heard Desy's laughter coming from inside. (As it turns out, Desy laughs after she screams.. adrenaline maybe).

To be honest, I don't remember much of the house. I couldn't concentrate much, since I spent my time inside it trying to protect Laila who was clinging to me so tightly that I could barely walk. The haunted house was designed to match its name, "13 doors", and we had to weave our way through the dark maze and over 13 thresholds. 3 of the doors stand out in my memory. These were the times when even I got scared; these were the points when I had to comb the hair of a woman (albeit a mannequin) sitting with her back to us. Each time, a sensor in the hair that would cause the door to unlock. Combing the hair, as a result, was unavoidable. Besides unlocking the door, however, it would also signal the various actors working inside the haunted house, to jump out at us from their various hiding places, and scare the living daylights out of me. Laila and I made our way through the house so quickly, that at the end we caught up to Desy and Hatim who had gone in ahead of us. When we made it out, all 4 of us were laughing at how scared we'd gotten - comparing what we remembered and what we thought was scary, and just basically relieved to have gotten through it in one piece. I guess I could say that for my first haunted house, real haunted house, it was quite a success.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

sky therapy




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Tuesday, August 15, 2006

I'm going to Kansai.

I think it would be safer for me to leave my room during daylight, because when I don't, I plan on spending lots of money. Then again, my Kansai trip, booked approximately 10 minutes ago, looks pretty exciting.

I'm going to ride both ways on the bullet train, both because it's surprisingly affordable, and because it will offer me the famous sight of Mt. Fuji. I'm going to stay at the equally affordable Guest House Kyoto Costa del Sol, which is only a 10 minute walk from Kyoto Station, and will make my life very easy when I leave in the mornings for the following various day trips.

Monday, Sept. 4th -- Kyoto

arrive from Inage 14:20 via Shinkansen

JR Kyoto Station & area

Toji Temple & Pagoda 500 yen

Gion & Pontocho Alley


Tuesday, Sept. 5th -- Bridge of Heaven

Ama-no-hashidate




Wednesday, Sept. 6th -- Nara

Fushini-inari Shrine – torii gates FREE

Kofuku-ji Temple – 5 storied pagoda 500 yen

Nara Park – sarusawa-no-ike pond, grazing deer

Todai-ji Temple – the Great Buddha 500 yen

Nara National Museum 420 yen

Thursday, Sept 7th -- Kyoto

Higashiyama – the sightseeing center of Kyoto.

Kiyomizudera – drink the spring water (which is said to have healing powers) below the famous wooden terrace 300 yen




Friday, Sept. 8th -- Nagoya

Nagoya Station – JR Central Towers

Sakae – 3 dimensional park

Nagoya Castle – Dolphins on the Roof, yippee! 500 yen

(Toyota – factory tour – possible, but depending on if I get in touch with Mariko early enough)

depart for Inage 20:21 via Shinkansen

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Godzilla Rampage

Last night, after a number of 'urgent' emails from Jose, I found myself sitting in on an impromptu jam session between Anthony, Jose and Salvatorez John. The 3 of them each brought their guitars, and spent the night drinking beer while they experiemented with different chords, lyrics, and even instruments. (Somehow, and I can't even think of the words to describe it, Jose made sounds using a piece of paper and a comb. How is Costa Rica not known for their musicians?)

As fun as the night was, it was about 4 am when I finally made my way back to bed, already dreading the 9 am alarm I'd set in preparation for the next day. As always happens when I know I have to get up early, I couldn't sleep, and as a result, 9 am came in a fog of weariness and dread, contrasted with my excitement at seeing someone from home that I hadn't seen in over a year!

We agreed to meet at Ikebukuro Station at 11 am. I didn't know in advance what I was getting into, and if I had, I suppose I would have hit myself over the head a few times with a mallet, but as I say all the time now, 仕方ない。Ikebukuro Station is the 2nd busiest station in all of Tokyo, and probably all of Japan. I looked it up on the net before hand, and read that it was divided into East and West exits - each of which corresponded with one of the 2 giant malls that Ikebukuro is famous for. I told Kristine to meet me on the Seibu side of the station, outside of the train wickets, but had no idea what an experience it would be trying to find each other with only one keitai, no landmarks, and not even close to enough sleep the night before. After 30 minutes, and 2 calls from random pay phones, I managed to make my way out of the station and up to ground level where I found Kristine. What a reunion - we hugged and stood like idiots in the middle of the busy sidewalk taking pictures of each other and of our first shared Tokyo experience. I was so happy to see her, and I think she was happy too, because we walked back and forth across Ikebukuro just talking about how nice it was to see each other, and about things we each wanted to do together. I took her to the Sunshine City Tower, where we went up and took pictures of Tokyo from 60 stories above the ground.

I wanted to stop at the Toyota Show Rooms and try out one of the exciting sports cars, but Kristine isn't really into cars much, and there were too many people for me to wait around hoping for a chance, so after snapping a few quick pictures, we were off. Lunch was at a cute little Italian restaurant, but my sleep deprivation was in full swing and my stomach ache had me practically doubled over in the restaurant. I couldn't eat a thing, and barely managed to keep up my end of the conversation while Kristine chatted about her JET placement.

Walking seemed to make me feel better, so we wandered around the station for a bit, and then I decided to introduce Kristine to Kinokuniya - my alltime favorite bookstore. We took the train to Yoyogi, but despite the fact that it should have been a simple 4 minute walk to the bookstore, we spent nearly another 30 minutes trapped by the torrential rain that appeared out of nowhere. Yoyogi Station isn't one of the biggest, and only one of the few exits had a convenience store where we could buy umbrellas. After watching the rain and trying to capture the severity of it in our respective cameras, we headed back underground and to another exit where we picked up some pretty new umbrellas. From there, we ventured out into the rain, which was finally letting up a bit, and scurried to the bookstore where we spent hours browsing the translations of Japanese literature. I'm happy to say that I exercised some self-restraint, and knowing how much I already have to pack for my way home, limited myself to 2 books - one for me, a book of Engrish, and one for Lukas to read on the plane trip home he was taking the next week. Kristine indulged her literary passions and for the first time ever, I spent less than someone else on a visit to Kinokuniya!

By this time, it was nearly 5, and I wasn't feeling much better, so we decided to return to Kristine's place for the night. The train took about an hour, and I watched the scenery from the train windows change from the bustling central Tokyo decor to the spread-out greenery of rural Saitama, where Kristine had been placed for her year as an English teacher with JET. Hidaka City welcomed me with the following sign next to the station's public restrooms. I knew from the moment I got off the train, I was going to have a memorable visit to rural Japan, and I was so excited to share it with a true friend.





Besides being both immediately impressed and immediately enchanted with Kristine's apartment, I was amused to see she had chosen a plastic Godzilla as her first お土産 to decorate her new home. She filled me in on the Godzilla legacy that resulted in endless pranks within the East Asian Studies Department this past year, and the eagerness with which she came to Japan searching for Godzilla relics. Her stories were so entertaining, that I couldn't help but join the ranks of her pranking army, and I did my part by taking a picture on my keitai of Godzilla rampaging over the Canadian flag, and emailed it to Ambury-sensei, our Modern Japanese Literature Professor. (For the record, this was the first contact I've had with him since saying goodbye last April, and his email response came swiftly 2 days later despite Kristine's adamant belief that no answer would be forthcoming. I wonder what her reaction will be to his simple yet concise "Nice! Another convert!!"?)

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Kamakura - Round 2

Thursday the 10th, I planned a mystery tour to Kamakura for Hatim. The last time, he'd really wanted to come, but slept in and missed the train south. At the time, I remember he had been extremely dissapointed about missing the opportunity to visit the temples and bamboo forests that he'd heard about during one of his English classes, and I told myself that before the year was up, I would take him down there.

I was also intent on bringing Pu to Kamakura for the chance to visit one of the Zen Temples that she'd been researching and dreaming about for so long. Her research project this year was basically a comparison between Thai and Japanese Zen Buddhism, and she'd always meant to visit Kamakura as part of her research, but never made it down. Along with Hatim, Pu and myself, Desy (Indonesia), Jose (Costa Rica), Javier (Argentina) and Francisco (Cuba), found us sleepily making our way south on the train to Kamakura.

The day had its ups and downs, but was mainly filled with random shenanigans and hi-jinx that make me laugh when I look back on all the pictures. Hatim was great at restraining himself around the various holy sights, and as a reward, I included a mountain hiking trail where he could climb to his heart's content. For Pu, I made sure to visit Enkakuji and Hasa Dera, the most famous Temple and Shrine in the area. Everyone was intent on seeing the Buddha Statue, myself included, although by the time we made it through the hike, I was happier to sit down and rest rather than do much else.

Kamakura, as much of a cultural landmark, is also a city trying to earn its place in a modern Japan. To help bring summer tourists to the shores of the ancient city, a fireworks display was scheduled for the same day we were there, and so after 5 o'clock, we found ourselves perched between eras as we lay stretched on the beach amidst the Japanese and Foreign tourists alike. The fireworks show itself was actually longer than any I've ever seen before, but not particularely extravagant, according to Jose and Hatim, who had seen a better show in Chiba the week before. I was still happy to be there with friends, new and old, who seemed to have enjoyed their day. I'm not much of a tour guide, but at least I brought Hatim and Pu somewhere they probably wouldn't have gone to on their own, and I got the chance to experience a visit to the past one more time before heading home.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Farewell Stephanie

I didn't think it would hit me so hard when this time of year came, but last night, with our first farewell dinner, I realized my time in Japan is nearing the end. Stephanie was the first friend I made here, and although our relationship consisted more of chatting via MSN across the dorms than going out on a regular basis, I think we shared a connection that I will miss. I suppose I'm lucky, New York and Calgary aren't drastically far from each other, and our MSN chats should still be easy to maintain. Then again, now that Steph will be back home with her boyfriend, I don't think she'll spend nearly as much time online, if at all.

Anyways, dinner was planned for 7pm, but I was feeling sort of strange about meeting Steph to say goodbye. Instead, I went to my roof and watched the sunset, wishing there were fewer clouds and much more time. When Stephanie called me, I realized I'd let time slip away from me again, and I rushed out to meet her & everyone else. As you can see, dinner was fun, and the group, diverse.




As for the movie afterwards.. well.. I've definately seen worse - but, at least I was invited, which is more than I can say for the follow up film @ Hatim's 映画館 tonight, which Jose was nice enough to point out to me. It was a great ending to a day spent planning and organizing Hatim's mystery trip to Kamakura. Now I'm just asking myself, why do I bother? I think they'd enjoy it more without me. Bah.

Today's just been unbelievably emotional. First, I made the decision to not go with Steph to the airport. I couldn't face saying goodbye there.. it seems to final. (Maybe that's because when Claudia said goodbye to me before Hawaii, she really meant it?) But Stephanie wasn't going to let me off the hook so easily, and I woke up to an email that she much have sent minutes before she boarded her flight. She too didn't seem to want to say goodbye, and instead, promised to email me when she got home. I'm happy to know she was thinking about me, but I hope when she gets home she enjoys her time and life with Rob.

And then as if her email has triggered similar emotions in other people, I got an email from Kai asking for long term contact info and pretty much saying he won't be around much anymore. I broke down. I'm not ready to say goodbye to him, not yet. I tried to say so in my reply email, but I doubt I got the message across. Sometimes I just can't get the words right... Sigh.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Yugawara 湯河原旅行 (day 1)

5:15am. I wake up to a very sleepy Katchan standing at the foot of my futon. The next 30 minutes are a blur, but somehow we make it down to the street and into a taxi by 5:50, making it to the eki promptly at 6.

6am. Waiting for everyone to arrive, Katya and I stand around watching the pigeons who she describes as 'already at the beach'. A fountain waits for someone to flip the switch and the pigeons, with a false sense of security, slowly make their way further towards the center. I can foresee the mayhem; spraying water and pigeons flying upside-down through the air.

7am. We're off. Japanese tunes on the CD player, a sleepy Russian in the seat next to me, and never ending traffic on the road ahead. And even though our driver, Daisuke-san, claims to not have a pet cat, my allergies are in full swing. I hope this is not the beginning of a cold - that would really put a damper on beach time.

海老名 Ebina. On the highway between Tokyo and Kanagawa, there is a rest stop that is practically an attraction in itself. More toilets than at the Tokyo Sports Arena (武道館), convenience stores within convenience stores, and every type of Japanese fast food cuisine imaginable packed into a corner of the highway just this side of the tollbooths. Shaved ice and Baskin Robbins have made their mark as people of all ages and ethnicities walk past us carrying various frozen delights. And the few unlucky dogs to be paraded by (in the over 30 degree sunshine) each offered us their own take on fashion, like the mini-daschund who wore a single red sock on his front paw.

11:30am. As the last car to arrive – we’re nearly an hour behind schedule, but still early for the BBQ. The boys (there are 14 of them) set things up while Katya & I visit the nearby public toilets to change. On the way back, we fill up our water guns for some afternoon mischief. Returning to the BBQ site, we found Akira-san standing guard over the BBQ. Everyone else seemed to have their own jobs; either chopping onions, handing out plates and chopsticks, or pumping the keg. I decided to wander off and take pictures – how could I resist? The sky, ocean, smell, sounds.. everything was drawing me closer to the shore.

Lunch included mori-kimchi, yakiniku, nabe and yakisoba, with foamy beer flowing from the keg the entire time. After the first time, Katya announced that she was going swimming. I followed, only intending to take pictures, but her screams of laughter and the waves lapping against the rocky shore were too inviting. Within seconds, I was inching my way back into the Pacific, and I finally got a chance to use my waterproof camera in the water!

After swimming for a while with half of the group who’d thought to wear their swimsuits, we found ourselves back on shore drying up in the sun. Katya and Ilya had a water fight with the water guns, and the guys had fun pouring beer on each other. Since we’d only slept about 3 hours the night before, Katya & I opened our beach mats and lied down for a nap in the sun. at 3pm-ish, when they woke us up, all signs of the BBQ, had been cleaned up and the group was making their way back up to the cars.

4:00pm-ish, we arrived at our Ryokan. Hotel Akane: “Government-registered Tourist Hotel Japanese-style”. Akira’s car was the last to show up – nearly 40 minutes late because they got lost finding their way up the mountain. He checked us in, and everyone eagerly took the elevator up to the 3rd floor where we were divided into our sleeping groups. Katya & I were with the 3 other girls, and the boys were all split into groups of 4. Almost immediately, the girls headed for the ofuro, where we found a door that led to the gorgeous outdoor pool. I wanted to swim, but felt bad going in covered with sand and sea water, so decided to leave it for another time. The only unusual moment in the ofuro was while Katya & I were showering (Japanese style, of course) we could look out the window and down on the pool below. The glass was frosted and we thought we couldn’t be seen; that was, until Akira-san looked up at one point and waved right to us. 恥かしい!!

Dinner was scheduled for 6pm sharp. The 17 of us were seated around an unbelievably long table. The food was amazing; fresh sashimi, tempura, tofu, crab, shellfish, lobster, shrimp (all sizes) and salad. The meal was all inclusive and the guys all took pleasure in making sure each other’s beer glasses were never empty. I still don’t like the taste of beer, but I enjoyed unlimited juice, and 日本酒 with Akira-san. Dinner lasted for 2 hours, and at 8 o’clock, we all headed outside to the front of the hotel for our very own 花火大会. The fireworks were so much fun – they had brought so many different types that I haven’t seen before, and it was at least 30 minutes before we finished them all. From there, everyone began saying goodnight to each other, and returning to their rooms for the night. Katya and I looked at each other, agreed it was way too early to sleep, and decided to go for a walk. I changed out of my Yukata, gt a map and directions from the front desk, and left in the direction of the closest combenie.

The walk took us a half hour. We had to wind back and forth across the mountain side, as we followed the roads and the map in the darkness. I stopped to take so many random pictures, including an attempt at capturing the biggest cockroach I’ve ever seen on film. By the time we made it to the 7-11, we both dreaded the walk back to the hotel. Not only was it uphill, but it would take us another 1/2 hour and we weren’t sure we could remember the way. Instead, we flagged down a taxi and happily paid the 660 yen for the easy trip home.

We had expected that when we returned, we would go to our room for the night. Instead, Katya recognized Ilya's voice on the 2nd floor, and we found everyone sitting in the Karaoke room halfway through the 2 hour session that they'd booked. Happily, we joined in, impressing them with our versions of La Bamba and Don't Speak. One of the guys sang 粉雪 with me because I was too shy to sing it by myself in a room full of Japanese people. I also wanted to sing with Ilya (Katya's boyfriend), but he kept insisting that he was tone deaf and so we just chatted instead - our actual first conversation. The night was so much fun until karaoke finished and I went back to my room. It was at this point that the drama unfolded.

Sigh.

My camera was missing.

Again.

At the time, I ran back to the karaoke room and searched high and low with the bar staff for it. Katya spoke with the front desk clerks, and Miyuki-san, the Japanese girl in our room phoned the taxi company and gave them a description of the missing camera. Ilya and the rest of the guys went out drinking after Karaoke finished. Apparantly at the time, he and Akira-san were searching the whole way for my camera, including a bit of a surprising moment when, after hearing I had possible left it in the taxi, Akira opened the door of a random cabbie and demanded he hand over my camera. We searched and searched, but at 12:30, agreed there was nothing more to be done. Lying down for the night, this is what I wrote in my journal.

So, as it turns out, I am the biggest idiot in the history of the world. I lost me camera again, and there are no excuses. What is wrong with me? I finally start to enjoy my time in Japan again and ruin it like this? I don't deserve to get it back, except for all the pictures that are in it for Katya. Sigh.

I really felt dumb at the time. And I probably still would had I not woken up the next morning to the voice of a hotel employee explaining to the old lady in our room that someone in Tokyo had called the hotel and said they had found my camera! I was shocked, and woke up, but being first thing in the morning, and my head still a little muddled from the karaoke/drinking the night before, I anxiously waited for Katya to wake up and translate the information for me. As it turns out, sometime between the 7-11 and getting in the taxi, I must have dropped my camera. In fact, I know I had it up until then because I had a picture of a cat for Katya that we took after the combenie, and I know I put it in my bag when we started trying to find a taxi. While I was getting drunk trying to convince Ilya to sing with me, a Japanese family was on their way home from Yugawara and found my camera on the ground. Bringing it with them back to Shibuya (where they live), the mother was smart enough to look through the pictures. Within them, she found pictures of the Hotel (Thank God I take so many pictures of every little thing!!), and so she called the front desk at 1 am to explain that she had found the camera. Katya called her after we ate breakfast that morning, and I managed to meet up with her and her family in Harajuku Sunday night where I exchanged many heartfelt 'arigatou gozaimashita's for my camera.

What a relief.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

getting ready for the beach, and other oddities

5pm-ish.
Shit. Slept in again, until ridiculously late. I was up until 4:30 maybe trying to write my paper the night before, but still, that's no excuse. I really need to fix my sleep schedule because this is crazy. When I got out of bed, I noticed Katya practicing dance moves in the meeting room across the field. I went out on the balcony and got her attention. We communicated for a bit using sign language, and when I couldn't get my meaning across, I sent an email with a simple "lunch?". It took some time to set up a plan, and so we didn't make it downstairs until nearly 7, when she, Hatim and I finally headed out hoping to find someplace where I could eat, Katya could drink coffee, and Hatim could wait for sunset to break his fast.

7pm.
Food, finally. I can't remember the last time I felt so faint from not eating, but then again, a tuna sandwich has never tasted so good. After gobbling down my food, we headed up to Daiso to pick up some much needed items for the beach. And Katya had never been to Daiso before!

My first goal was to find a decent beach mat. Something I could use at the beach but that wouldn't be too heavy or annoying to carry around with me. I actually had to wander around for nearly 10 minutes before I found them. (I think I'll have to take a few pictures or videos of the 100 yen shop for those of you who have never been to Japan. The dollar stores back home are a joke compared to their Japanese counterparts.) While I looked, Katya decided to pick up a new beach bag for herself, and I decided it was a good idea. With beach mat in hand, I picked out a bag for myself, and then decided I would need some other goodies to fill it up with. I found 2 water guns that I immediately tossed in my basket. I also grabbed some new face towels for wiping sweat at the beach, and a spray bottle (to fill with water and use to refresh myself in the sun). Katya's purchases included a badminton set, a sun hat and sunglasses. Now, between her bug spray, my suntan lotion, and all the other goodies we each have, I think we're ready for the beach!! When the store was closing, we paid for our purchases (including Hatim who bought himself a cowboy hat), and headed out for dinner. I had the sandwich to tied me over, but I was still starving!

8pm.
Dinner at a strange curry restaurant close to home. I didn't like it. Hatim did. And Katya got a phone call before our food even came, and she had to rush off to the eki so she didn't get to try it. And it was her choice! LOL.

9pm-ish.
Walked back to the dorms with Hatim and found 2 groups of people outside to sit and visit with. The first, the Indonesians on their way to Hiroshima, and the second, the Koreans and Eugenie just home from a school day trip. It seems as though their faculty actually cares about them.. the faculty I should have been a part of. Grr, damnit. Seriously, why on EARTH am I in the Law/Econ. faculty? My major is Japanese Language & Culture. Gah. Anyways, after visiting with both groups, and chatting with Amed who came by, and Jose, who woke up, I headed back up to my room to work on my Econ paper.

12:30am.
Economics essay is finished! Yahoooooo!! I finished my conclusion, proofread it, and emailed it away. I can't believe I managed to write something I'm even semi-proud of. I really can't get interested in Economics, and writing about something I'm uninterested in just doesn't work for me. Still, I really want the credit for this class when I get home, so I pushed myself to finish it, and now the relief is incredible. I think I'll take the rest of the night off to just relax and enjoy the freedom I'm feeling.

12:30 - 2am-ish.
Meeting room with the latinos. I love the guys, they just laugh and talk and laugh and talk, and while I can't always understand the Spanish (which they tend to fall back into whenever they get into heated discussions), what I can pick up, and what they translate for me, keeps me amused. Conversations with them can go just about anywhere.. there's a freedom I never felt with the Europeans, although at the same time, the feeling that a closeness can't develop. 仕方ない. We talked about things like the amazing viagara-like powers of unagi (japanese eel), Nostradamus and Tom Cruise's ongoing Hollywood career. And somewhere in between we had Jose perform card tricks, Francisco declare that he liked getting naked and John gave us his impersonations of various spanish accents (like English with a Cuban accent, and Japanese with just a hint of Argentinean).

2 am-ish.
I went back to my special place tonight, and just sat there thinking and staring at the stars. It's been such an amazing year, and emotional, and really left me in a sort of limbo. I don't know what's going to come.. I have trouble figuring out how I've gotten to where I am. I'm not ready to come home, and yet there are times where I just don't want to be here anymore. Then again, 'here' is of course a state of mind, so coming home won't fix me. I'm not really sure what will anymore.. or that I really need fixing, but just a sort of spiritual cleansing. I wonder who I am sometimes, and what I'm doing here. I look around and see what other people are doing and wonder if I'm missing something? I know there was a time when I was much happier, but I still can't figure out what it was that made everything change.

3 am-ish.
Emailing with Lukas. Nothing important, but still enough to give me a glimmer of hope. I know the connection is still there, at least.. I have reason to believe it is. I suppose until we actually find a time that works for both of us to go out for the movie/dinner he promised me for my birthday, I won't really know. I know I'll never have the casual friendship with him we once shared.. the question is just what lies ahead? anything? I hope so.. but we'll see. I really miss the conversations we had; the times when I felt like I was talking to someone who was interesting and interested in what I had to say.

And at the same time, reading a blog that is one of the few 'less-known' ones that I'm privy to. I've turned to reading it at times when I feel really disconnected from the author.. which lately is more than I'd like to admit. Reading it, I'm drawn back to thinking about past events/things that have happened, and slowly.. so slowly I might be given another point of view on a period in my time here that is still really vague to me. I hope that I can use it as a way of answering the questions that have burned their way into my head, and maybe find a way to move on before I leave Japan. It would be nice to feel that all of my past issues are over and done with before I leave. Loose ends will always stay loose, and I'm the type of person that will eventually get tangled up in them.

4:15.
Now. Listening to Pink Floyd. Staring at someone's name on MSN wishing he would send me a msg, even though he's probably asleep. Thinking about sleep, but honestly not tired. How could I be when I woke up only 11 hours ago? It's almost dawn. .I can see light in the sky, and thinking about going back to my spot to watch sunrise. My head is swimming with thoughts and questions. There is so much I need to get out, but when I sit down to write, other things surface instead.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Sheep?

What a typical summer's day. And not only did I wake up early enough to enjoy it, but I have emerged from my cocoon long enough to experience it! To begin with, I decided to motivate myself by buying a new notebook (-->) to journal in. Second, I made a lunch date with Tasya and we went to the Konnichiwa Italian Deli at the eki. The wall to the outside is made up of windows that open up, and so we chose a table that let us enjoy the air conditioning from above and the warm breeze coming in from outside. Lunch was nice, talking, catching up, and a welcome distraction from my raging keitai that has been ringing non-stop all day. (Ironic really, since lately it has been feeling neglected from lack of use). Amidst the strange phone calls from home (strange because there is never anyone on the other end when I answer, Dad!) and misc. questions & answers from other people, inlcuded an invite from Katya to join her in a pre-beach sun tanning session. And what better way that to welcome the summer?

This is how I found myself sipping a cold beverage, the condensation dripping off the bottle soothing my boiling skin, and my pen tapping in rythym to the music Katya thought to bring with us. She was actually surprisingly well prepared for the inpromptu outing, with her ipod, beach mats, and even a pillow. She brought me an extra mat to lie on, and I used my t-shirt for a pillow (since I usually wear one over a tank top these days). She was even dressed in a bikini-style outfit to maximize her exposure to the rays, but I was content with rolling my jeans up and just letting my skin melt under the heat. I know it well enough to recognize the signs of burning, and as anxious as I am to get a tan before heading home next month, I'm willing to get it slowly, rather than waste a week in Japan getting over a sunburn.

In other news, Murasaki and Carter have arrived! Since both of them have expressed the desire to keep their blogs and other Japan activities under the radar, I'm going to stick to their respective nicknames, as long as I remember to0. (hee) My plan to meet them at Narita fell through.. I suppose because I was too lazy to ask them for their flight numbers before the weekend, and maybe a bit because of the random sleeping patterns I've been following. (Sleeping through the day is such an easy way to avoid the heat though!) For now, I'll just be waiting to hear when they have a break in their intense orientation/training course so that I can go visit. I'm so excited to see them again, even if it means they won't be waiting for me back in Canada like the rest of you. It's still exciting to know that instead, I always have people and places here I can come back and visit. (and that goes for all the long term students here, Jose, Tasya, Endoru, I hope you all have extra futon, because I DO plan on coming back!)