Saturday, September 30, 2006

se7en

I suppose that at one point in our lives, we each succumb to one of the seven deadly sins, but I wonder... am I limited to only one?

Greed
Am I greedy? The question pops up every now and then.. but I'm not sure I'm objective enough to judge.
Envy
Jealousy is something that seems to ooze from my pores as I make my way through life.. sometimes it rages its ugliness in much larger quantities than others, but it always seems to be bubbling, just under the surface, ready to come out. Most recently, I find myself green at the news that Kristine & Jose are going clubbing tonight in Roppongi. I can't help it - I want to be there with 2 of my friends from different wakes of life, living it up in Tokyo. I want to be the one they each call on to drink and dance into the early hours of the night, in Roppongi, Shibuya, anywhere. Sometimes, life is just not fair. 仕方ない. Besides, I know they both love me, and one day I'll be back in Japan being spoiled with sleepover parties in Saitama and private concerts in Inage.
Sloth
I've been home 2 weeks and spent the entire time on a bizarre schedule of sleeping, eating, watching TV and playing on the internet. Sure, every now and then I make time for Nintendo, or to sit back with a good book, but really, has there ever been any doubt?
Lust
Hmmmm... I think a "no comment" would be safest option here.. or I could mention that tonight while watching a movie with Stephen, the word "yummy" might have slipped out when Matthew McConaughey showed up tanned and half naked on screen. Stephen's reaction? a somewhat startled "I've never heard you say anything like that before!". To be fair, I suppose not many have.. I know Richard for one would be esctatic if I would sit around and talk boys with him. S'probably a good thing he doesn't read my blog.
Gluttony
Have I mentioned how much I miss my midnight combenie runs?
Wrath
I don't angry very regularely.. pissed off, sure, but full fledged wrath? Rare.
Pride
Who me? Nah... I'm the humblest person I know. Wouldn't you agree?

Friday, September 29, 2006

so you think you know movies?

Well, now is your chance to prove it.


On the Hollywood Stock Exchange, you get to buy and sell shares in your favorite actors and movies, and try to out-do all the other movie buffs out there that think they know what will be a hit, and what will flop. Stephen told me about it back when we were all still in Japan, but after coming back home and being around all the movie hype and hollywood drama again, I find the website and the chance to try and predict the "stock market" a better use of my time that reading random profiles on mixi. Besides, the chance to earn more "money" than my kid brother is motivation enough to check the stocks on an almost daily basis.

If you think you know something about hollywood and think you can invest the 2 million fake dollars they'll start you out with wisely, sign up! it's free, it's fun, and it's easy.

And besides, if you give me credit when you sign up (my login ID: corisan), I get s'more fake cash. Tee hee.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

my brain is on standby

There is a cruel twist of fate at work right now.. and I'm feeling trapped. So many happy memories and past heartaches are still with me, holding me back from moving forwards with my life. I wonder why I haven't learned yet not to put faith in people.. I am always inevitably let down, either by my own hyper-expectations, or by the reality that eventually makes itself known to me. Sometimes the reality is better than the illusion. A truth that develops into a sincerity that warms my heart and gives me strength. Other times, it takes on an ugliness that looms and leaves me to watch things that I've grown to love slowly fade away.

I've tried to be honest, with myself, and with all of you who take the time either out of concern or curiousity to read what I have to say, but that too has come to bite me in the @$. I've been attacked for my words, and my feelings torn apart. There are so many people I wish I could reach, and yet their silence and empty words of the past haunt me as I close my eyes at night.

How peculiar that I've come home, to a place that should feel safe and inviting, and give me the support I need to move onto the next phase of my life... and yet here I am, struggling to regain a sense of normality and embrace the opportunities that lie ahead of me. My brain keeps telling me what I should do, but my mind continually holds me back. My broken heart is not ready to let go; holding onto daydreams and imaginary scenarios that can never come true.

Who am I? What does my future hold?

How can I move forward when my thoughts and my heart are trapped in a distorted memory of the past. And when will I be free?

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

lots happening - not much time to write, but..

Hatim, Jose, Eugenie, Mi Ran, Eun Jung!!

きれいな葉書がもらった、ありがとう!!

Sunday, September 24, 2006

oh Mary...

I'm sorry.

I didn't know, and now that I do, I'm sorry I let you down.

Life is so cruel sometimes...all the times I couldn't be there for you, you still found a way to be there for me, and now, even in your absense, I find strength in re-reading your letters.

I wish things could be different. I wish you had been happier. I wish there was something more to say.

Goodbye, my wifey, goodbye.

Llama.


Wednesday, September 20, 2006

TV; the boob tube at its finest

Wow. I think I've watched more TV since getting home than I did for the entire year I was in Japan. And not the downloaded TV shows that I grew so fond of back in Edmonton, but the full fledged original programming on the big screen complete with teasers for upcoming shows, panic inducing news updates and an array of product commercials. It really is like an accident you pass on the highway --> I can't turn away.

Dad & Stephen have always had this habit of not being able to sit in the family room without the TV on, and there was a time when I could tune out the background noise and have a conversation overtop of it. Now, I try but the lights and noise and craziness coming out of the box is too distracting. My eyes are drawn to it, my ears unable to distinguish between all the voices and sounds coming at me. Sometimes, I find myself watching for hours with no idea what I've seen because with the combination of my jetlag and my newfound fasination for the chaos of the television, I can't be bothered to try and wrap my head around anything that requires more attention.

Then again, when I talk about the shows with Stephen, the new fall line-up sounds like there will be some really intriguing ones to test out. If I will watch them or regain my disinterest in TV remains to be decided, but for now, as long as Simpsons continues to be aired, I'll be happy.

Birthdays, Birthdays, Birthdays


Oh, the agony. My wallets - yes, both of them - are in pain! What is normally an expensive time of year for me, was especially tight this year, what with coming back from Japan and Dad's 50th. I know he didn't want us to make a fuss over it, but Stephen and I both agreed that we wanted to do something special. We weren't sure what that something special would be, but trying to find something to commemorate the big day was on our to-do list after I got home. We searched and searched, and finally decided on a massage chair, which we ordered to be delivered sometime in October.

I also needed to find time between my erratic sleep schedule and my shopping excursions with Squidge to find something for his birthday too. He surprised me this year with a karaoke machine, one of the things I was looking forward to the most when I was coming home, and I wanted to find a gift for him that he could be equally excited about. Also, I wanted to find something that would remind him of the year I spent in Japan, not because I'm worried that he or I would forget about it, but because being there was such an incredible experience, I wanted to find a way to share some of that with my brother. I decided on a set of Samurai Swords. I couldn't bring them back from Japan, for obvious border complications, so I bought some online for him. They won't be here for his birthday, but I can at least show him a picture and I should be here when they arrive. Dad's & Stephen's birthdays are on the 18th of September, but it looks like both of their gifts will be late this year. Oh well, good things are worth waiting for, right?

Finally, Mom's birthday was a few weeks ago, at the end of August. Steve and I usually try to do something together, and this year was no exception. He waited until I was back in Calgary, and we went out together to pick up her gift. We wanted her to have a night out with a friend, to relax and have some fun, so we got her a gift certificate for one of her favorite restaurants and 2 passes for the movies, to enjoy when she wants to get out one night this autumn.

After buying the 3 birthday gifts, and spending a ridiculous amount of $ shipping home the last of my things from Japan, I am not pretty much broke. No money, no job prospects, but no bills to speak of. This is always an expensive time of year, but I got through it relatively easily, and it's only a matter of time until I'm back on my feet, figuratively, of course.

I just hope everyone likes their gifts :-)

Jetlag: The continuing saga

Jetlag is killing me. I'm up all night, and sleepy all day, but since getting home, there have been so many things to do that my tired days are filled with errands and responsibilities. I'm barely getting any sleep, and without the supportive comments and emails I'm getting from friends all over the world, I'm not sure how I would keep my mood up under these conditions. God knows that sleep deprivation is my #1 cause of grumpiness & unproductiveness, so yikes!! This better pass soon, I need to catch some Zzzzz's.

Part in parcel with my jetlag-induced-insomnia are the unsatisfied midnight cravings for Playstation in Hatim's room and the combenie ice cream selections. I have my Nintendo again (the original, grey box, 8-bit), and it is still my absolute favorite gaming system, but there was just something comfortable in the familiarity of Hatim's Game Center that I don't have anymore. I guess because after the floods in our basement last-last summer, and my leaving literally 1 week after my room was finished, I never got to be a part of putting the rest of the rooms together, and they feel so alien to me. I never thought I'd feel so out of place in one of the 2 homes I grew up in, but there it is. I feel so displaced - am I home? am I a guest? is there a word for something in between?

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

first day back

The flight home was so long and so drawn out that by the time I made it home, I was a basket case. I remember bits and pieces of my walk through the 2nd round of customs. While things had been a breeze on the American side, for some reason, the Canadian custom's inspector was not impressed with the way I'd filled out my form. He insisted that after a year away, I must be bringing stuff from Japan with me and I therefore had to declare it and pay the taxes. I explained that I had bought souvenirs, but sent them through the post office and would pay any appropriate taxes when I picked them up next week (or whenever they arrive) but this just seemed to upset him more. Finally, I agreed to write down that I'd purchased my digi-cam and my keitai in Japan, but since the value of both were under the 1000$ max I am allowed to bring into the country, he let me through without having to pay anything.

My luggage was one of the last to come down the revolving ramp. I guess because I'd checked it in so early in San Francisco, it had been tagged, put aside, and ended up last to be loaded onto the plane. As a result, it was the first to come off, and placed at the bottom of the pile. By the time I walked through the final set of doors and into the terminal, I was probably the last person. On the other side, Mom, Dad and Stephen stood waiting for me beside a half-wall that formed a hallway within the bigger room. When Mom saw me, she rushed around to my side of the mini-wall-thing for a hug. I could tell she could barely keep her tears in, and she just kept saying something about how long it had been. Dad hugged me next, over the wall, and seemed relaxed about seeing me again. Stephen, in true "little brother" fashion, sat on the wall and looked up at me with a slurpee attached to his lips. The brat didn't get up or hug me or anything. He just sort of waited to see what I'd say, and of course, after craving a slurpee for nearly 12 months, I focused on that.
Me: Nice slurpee.
Stephen: Isn't it? Want some?
Me: Nope, I just want to sleep.
Stephen: (smug grin) Some things never change, welcome home!
Hee, the brat! From there, I too was on the brink of tears, although for me it was because of how tired I was. I asked if we could go, and we walked to the car. The drive home was a blur of lights and buildings that looked so familliar but felt like they were out of a dream. Everything seemed so normal except that I felt so strange. I don't know if we talked or anything... I was so exhausted and heartbroken to not be in Japan anymore, all I wanted was a bed and my computer and the privacy to finally let the tears and sobbing out that I'd been holding in since saying goodbye to Natasya & Pu at Narita. When we got home, Mom said goodbye and left for her place. Dad watched for a few minutes while I got re-acquainted with Karma, their dog, and then he went to bed. Stephen brought my suitcases in for me, and then we went downstairs (his room and the guest room are both in the basement) and we visited for a bit. Finally, I was alone and hungry for the first time in days, but I was too tired to go upstairs and search for something to eat.

The next thing I remember is Stephen standing in the doorway telling me to wake up. I couldn't understand why until I was awake enough to hear him say it was 5 pm, and we had Friday Night Dinner (this is a weekly tradition in my family) at Babi's house. I'd slept 13 hours or so, but I was still so tired and confused that I think I started crying and called Mom to ask about the dinner. She didn't know much (Babi is Dad's mom, so my Mom isn't really involved in the weekly dinners) but tried to calm me down and tried to make arrangements to see me. I couldn't promise anything, especially since all I wanted was to shrivel up under the covers and sleep for an eternity. Instead, I managed to shower and get dressed, make my way upstairs and get into the car for the 2 minute drive to Babi's.

The meal was a gong show. Honestly, they always have been, but with my state of mind at the time, it seemed like something from a sitcom. The entire family (well, Dad's side of the family) was there. Me, Stephen and Dad. Of course Babi (my grandmother 83), and her other son and his wife, Sam & Esther (Uncle 59 & Aunt 58). Their 3 daughters were there, Marnie (32), Mara (31) and Becca (26), and Marnie had Jonah, her 1 year old son with her, and this was the 2nd time I've ever seen him. (The first was when he was 7 days old last September - feel free to look it up in the archives.) People kept coming and going, conversations kept bouncing around the table, and my head felt like it was swimming in some sort of twisted dimension.

The only moment I remember clearly from dinner was when Marnie had Jonah sitting in his high chair next to her at the table. To keep him happy and occupied while she was helping clear dishes, Sam, Jonah's grandfather, gave him Marnie's spoon to play with. Jonah seemed determined to find a way to fit the soup spoon into his mouth, despite the fact that his mouth is still so small that it is literally impossible. When our chicken soup was served, with my favorite noodles for me, and matzah balls for everyone else, Marnie tried giving Jonah the colourful baby spoon she'd brought for him, and taking her soup spoon back for herself. Instantly, the baby was in tears. His screams brought me out of my daze long enough to remember the episode and I watched as Marnie helplessly returned her spoon to settle him down. The rest of the meal progressed with Jonah trying to spoon food into his mouth, food which would inevitably fall back onto the tray and be finger fed to him by either Marnie or Sam on either side. Marnie had to eat with the baby spoon while the rest of us were too stunned to say anything.

I wasn't really prepared for the transition in my oldest cousin. Before I left for Japan she was an aggressive lawyer for a high end firm in Edmonton. She was one of those people that seemed to always set goals for herself, achieve them, and move on to the next one. She was highly successful, outspoken to a fault, and always in complete control in practically every situation. To see her as a parent giving in to the smallest whim of the baby sitting beside her.. to watch her eating her meal from the plastic spoon designed for a 1 year old.. was shocking, to say the least. I wasn't coherent enough to talk to her and ask about Jonah or what the last year has been like for her, or to talk to anyone else about their lives either, but I think the change in my oldest cousin would be the biggest change I've noticed since coming home. I guess because I wasn't here to see the progression of career woman into mother.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

so, what are you doing with the rest of your life?

...if I knew the answer to that, things would be a lot easier right now...

possible ideas? suggestions? advice?
  • translation (but I don't think my language skills are high enough for this yet)
  • freelance journalist/writer (who would really want to pay me for my writing?)
  • something in the travel/tourism industry (but this means back to school for a year or 2)
  • leech on society (wait... I think this might be what I am right now)

Thursday, September 14, 2006

culture shock

Beginning the moment I stepped onto the plane, I could feel the change in the air. I found my seat, happy that I managed to upgrade to United's Economy Plus, which means a little bit more leg room. On top of my upgrade, I managed to get the "front row" seats, which meant no seat in front of me, and almost twice the legroom. Awesome, right? Actually yes, it was awesome. I spent the flight trying out dozens of different positions with the freedom to stretch my legs out at will, cross them, uncross them, rest them on my bag, lean them high up on the wall, etc. However, despite the unexpected freedom for my lower extremities, the rest of me had to try to cope with the somewhat large American sitting beside me. Now, for me to call someone large hopefully gives you an idea of what I mean? This man was so hefty that his toes were more robust than my thumb. I know this because they bulged so clearly within his socks that I actually felt slightly nauseated at times during the flight. My neighbor decided that he would lay claim to the armrest between us - which I'm sure is a common source of frustration on flights - but my problem wasn't in having a place to put my arm. Instead, if you remember, there were no seats in front of us, which meant that my table tray was located inside the arm rest. In order for me to pull it out at meal times, or put it away, I had to ask the man to please excuse me while I interupted him and his massive arm that were in my way. 失礼だ!

After the plane landed, I waited patiently in customs hoping to get through early enough to catch the 11:30 flight home. No such luck. Again, I found myself surprised at the littlest thing. When I approached the customs counter, the agent began with the usual niceties, "Good morning, how are you doing today, maam?" I didn't think it was anything important when I replied, "Fine thanks, and yourself?" but he actually took notice that I'd asked, thanked me, and waved me through with only a passing glance at my passport. After all of the crazy security measures I have been hearing about pre-departure last night, simply being pleasant at customs is enough to get through that quickly and painlessly? Huh?

These are some of the other tiny details I've already noticed back on this side of the Pacific. I wonder if things will be the same at home, or if these are uniquely American traits..
  • screaming children. everywhere.
  • super-size beverages (man, it was a mistake to order the large mocha)
  • disorganization - people here do not want to line up in a nice orderly fashion, not when they can push and try to sneak their way further up in line
  • space. there is so much space that even now while I write this, the closest table is over a metre away from me
  • no vending machines. what will I do if I get thirsty in this country? assuming I ever finish this mocha ...
  • security security security. Okay, I realize I'm in an airport and it is not representational of what life is like outside the doors of this building, but coming from Narita, I can still say there is probably a 10:1 ration of people in security uniforms. Granted, I've seen most of them either riding around on bikes chatting with each other, or standing in line for their own giant mochas... but still, lots of badges and walkie-talkies
  • PDAs. Public Displays of Affection, if you can call mauling someone's face off while you paw at their ass, affection.
  • no keitais! nobody here uses their cell phones

view from above




Wednesday, September 13, 2006

last night in Japan

well.. my private dinner with Katya tonight turned into something slightly different. Although the plan was to meet the 2 of us, go to our usual restaurant, eat, chat, and laugh the way we used to when she lived in Inage, things changed, and I did my best to adapt to them.

Last night, Amed called and asked if he could come by to say goodbye. Natasya and I got home around 9, and I caught up on some emails while I waited for Amed to show up. The dinner I bought on the way home sat on my desk, but I never ate it.. my appetite just wouldn't come back.. I was really unhappy to be back in the dorms, without Hatim and Jose around they just felt so empty.

At 10:30 or so, a knock at my door turned out to be Daniel, who came in and visited for a bit until Amed showed up. The 3 of us had a few laughs, a few serious moments, and they guys even went to combenie and back bringing me a bag of chips which I'd requested to try and urge my stomach back to life. I mentioned the long day I had ahead of me, and how lonely the dorms felt, and Dan decided he was going to be around for dinner with me. I didn't really know what to say, or if he was really serious or not, so I just sort of said okay and left it at that. With the previously mentioned long day ahead of me, and the guys each having their own respective jobs to go to the next morning, we parted ways around 2 and I quickly fell asleep.

When I woke up this morning, it was to a very late email from Pu saying that she'd been at work all day yesterday, and again today (despite her earlier promises to help me with errands all day...). She wanted me to wait for her for dinner, not knowing about my earlier plans with Katya.

Today, when I was in Francisco's room drying off, he asked me if he could join me for dinner tonight. He wasn't going to eat, since he'd been cooking all day and had a ton of food in his room, but he wanted to sit and spend time together before I left. Again, I couldn't say no.


Andrew (Endoru) who didn't come to my actual 'farewell' dinner last week, and who has mentioned in a few comments already that he wanted to come by today to say goodbye, sent an email asking me about dinner.

Without much choice, I let Daniel, Francisco, Pu and Andrew know that I was leaving for the restaurant at 7, and wondered how the night would turn out with such a unique group of people.

When I went down at 7, I met Dan and Nico who was apparently also joining us for dinner. Francisco came out and the 4 of us walked to the restaurant, where Pu and Katya were already waiting. As we sat down at our table, Pu looked out the window and said she saw Natasya walking by herself. I guess she emailed down and invited her up, because the next thing I knew Natasya was at the table sitting down next to me. I didn't mind, but was just surprised.. with the Nikko trip, and her help this morning with my insurance paper questions, we'd spent more time together this week than nearly the entire semester.

Menus went around, we picked what we wanted, and put through our order. Everyone was having fun, laughing and enjoying themselves. I gave Katya the very special gift I had prepared for her (a jar of single yens which are equivalent to pennies), and everyone cracked up laughing, most of all, Katya herself. And then suddenly, my stomach dropped when Claudia showed up at the door to our room. What she was doing there, how she could even know about it, I had no idea. I was in tears instantly. I could barely breath. I was scared and upset, and wanted to leave but didn't want to make a scene. I wanted to scream and shout, but didn't want to ruin the night for everyone else. I pulled my legs up against my chest trying to feel warm and safe, but all I could do was stare at the table biting my tongue so hard trying to keep the tears from streaming down my face. I couldn't believe she was there. That she had the audacity to show up and ruin yet one more night of my time in Japan. Who the hell did she think she was? And why did it take so freaking long for her to leave? Everyone sitting at that table knows how badly she's hurt me. I don't understand how she could come and sit there and terrorize me with her presence like that, and nobody said anything. I couldn't tell her to leave, and none of my friends could see how she was affecting me enough to step in and do it for me?

I'll never understand. Never.

In my current state, I couldn't eat, I couldn't drink.. I could barely function long enough to ask Natasya to cancel my order. The waiter seemed confused, but agreed to cancel it and I just sat silently in shock as other dishes were brought to the table. Nobody seemed to know what to say or do while we sat there. Through my tears, I kept telling people to eat, and to please not let me ruin their time, since I continue to do my best to be absolutely NOTHING like Claudia. They still didn't seem to go back to normal, until finally, after nearly 20 minutes, Claudia finally left.

At that point, they still didn't know what to do or say, so I fought the stabbing in my heart and forced myself to talk and joke around with people so that they would at least go back to normal. During this time, I found out that Pu had INTENTIONALLY invited Claudia. I cannot understand. I thought she was my friend. I thought she cared about me. But I keep getting hurt because I can't seem to learn how important it is to stop trusting my heart. I obviously cannot honestly tell when someone cares about me, and I keep believing when people treat me as a friend when they really could care less. Pu of all people.. I thought she was so sweet and innocent, I thought she was different. I thought that when she told me over and over that I was one of the 3 people she considered a true friend here in Japan, that she meant it. But after everything.. after all the tears and nights talking about how I needed her to stop trying to force Claudia back into my life.. she pulls this stunt.

The rest of the night is sort of a blur. When everyone finished eating, I posed for a whole bunch of pictures that Andrew has promised to put up on his blog and also email me. I still wanted my time with Katya to be special, and I suggested we make a quick visit to the game center for one last stint at the racing game, where she kicked my ass. From there, Daniel led the way to a cafe he insisted had really good parfaits, and Katya said goodbye to me at the station. She checked her schedule and thought we might be able to have lunch tomorrow, but just in case, I hugged her and said goodbye thinking it was the end.

The cafe did in fact have gigantically huge parfaits, and a new waited that caused a bit of a commotion when he served Daniel, Natasya, Andrew and Pu their giant sundaes. He waited until they all had their food before informing us that since there were 5 people at the table, we needed to order 5 separate things. I was still unable to eat anything, with my stomach screaming from within at even the thought of food. Nobody really knew what to say, and I told them to tell the guy that I hadn't decided yet. The poor waiter couldn't very well accuse me of lying, so he left the table, and thus progressed the 20 minute discussion about whether I should have to order something or not. While they all ate their ice creams and talked about it, Mom called and we talked for a bit. It was nice to vent about Claudia so soon after she hurt me, but hopefully it will be for the last time and I won't need to vent again any time soon.

After they finally finished their desserts, we returned back to the dorm, and Pu left to her room for a shower. She said she would come meet me when she finished. Natasya and Andrew came up with me, and Dan rode home to get a jacket and a back pack for some of the stuff he was planning to scavenge from my room. I divided my last few possessions amongst the 3 of them, and when I got an email from Kai asking where I was, I finally told them all it was time to go. I grabbed his souvenir from Nikko, that I'd painstakingly searched out while Natasya and I visited practically every souvenir shop in the city, and went across the field to his building.

Our visit was as awkward and yet casual as every other time I've gone over to visit him. It always feels like he needs to put on a show for me, and I try to sit watching the pictures he sets up on his computer wondering how long to wait before being able to just talk. The pictures make it easier, he explains where they are, or stories that go along with the pictures, and that leads us into actual conversations. I like the pictures, of course, it's always fun looking at where other people have traveled, and sometimes its a way of being a part of someone's life when you can't be there in person. But tonight, I wanted to talk, and I managed to bring the conversation around to things unrelated to the pictures. I was enjoying our time, knowing it was the last, but happy to be there none the less, when a knock came at the door.

Pu's Thai friend, the one that has been supposed to come and pick up my microwave for over 2 weeks now, was standing at the door looking for me. Pu, instead of coming to meet me like she'd said she would, instead, told her friend where I was, and suddenly, without any choice, I was ripped out of Kai's room, and my last chance to be a part of his life, and sent trudging back across the field with two Thai girls in tow. They took the microwave, which I was happy to finally be rid of, and I was left to sit in my room alone wondering what had just happened. I know that when I left, I asked Kai if I should come back or just say goodbye, and since he was waiting for his email from Claudia about some movie they were watching together, he decided to just say goodbye then. With the briefest of hugs, and a non-committal comment about maybe emailing me one day, another goodbye had snuck itself into my life.

Oh, and one final vent for the night? On my way up to get the microwave, guess who's voice I heard drifting out of Claudia's room. That's right, instead of meeting with me and spending my last night together, Pu would rather be there, doing god knows what. I sent her an email telling her I was home, and asking her if she wanted to meet, but the only answer I got was an hour later saying a simple goodnight and she'd see me tomorrow. I asked her if that was seriously all I was going to hear from her tonight, and she poured out some nonsense about how it wasn't important to spend my last night together because as friends we could meet anytime.

Sure, I got the same song and dance in an email from Richie.

In the end, I'm sitting here alone, and their consciences are clear. Yippee.

oh, and for the record? I never did eat anything for my last dinner in Japan. What a legacy.

last day errands

I've never lived in another country before, and never had to deal with all the errands that accumulate before going home. Some of them are obvious - packing, etc., but there are some that would never have occurred to me before. When I woke up this morning, it was with a list of all the things I needed to do. Not all are unpleasant, and a few nice surprises have even found their way onto my schedule today. And yet it seems as though as I cross things off the list, they just get replaced with other things I never expected to come up today.

My day began with opening my 2 ridiculously large suitcases to finish packing as many pieces of clothing into them as I could manage without the zippers bulging. Surprisingly, I managed to fit everything except a few miscellaneous t-shirts and some shoes into them, and I think I will have everything I need with me when I get home tomorrow. What's left in my room now is only my school books, hundreds of pieces of paper to go through, and stuff that as much as I want to, I will not be bringing home with me. All of my kitchen supplies (pots, pans, glasses, cutlery, tupperware, cooking utensils, etc) are in a box already packed and labelled for Kristine. I will be sending it with the post office to Saitama, where she lives now, because frankly, the box is too big and overbearing to make her suffer through transporting it herself on the train. My bedding will go to Natasya. I decided that when I come back to Japan, her home is the most likely place I will crash at, and so I want to make sure she has extra pillows and futon for me when I get there. On top of that, I will toss in all of my hangers and random laundry clips from my room, because what she can't use herself, she will distribute out to new students in October. Daniel has laid claim to things like my garbage baskets, wall hooks, and if Pu's friend doesn't pick it up by tonight, my microwave. For Andrew, I have a pile of garbage bags that he will doubtlessly be thrilled to get for free. And finally, my last day's worth of odds and ends will go into my carry on with my computer, camera, and anything else I find.

With my suitcases stuffed and my drawers empty, my room feels remarkably familliar to me, and today has been filled with a strange sense of nostalgia for last year in October when I sat in a room with similarly empty walls and shelves, wondering how the year would turn out.

After packing, I decided I needed to get out and get some other things done. I went to the office and paid my last month's rent, my water bill, and arranged for my final room check tomorrow morning at 11. This means I will have to have everything packed and out of my room before then so I can clean it, but I want to get things done early because I will be having lunch with Pu and then off to one last bowling match with Dan and Amed before leaving for the airport with Natasya around 3. The office people told me that someone from the U of A actually arrived in Japan today, and I was surprised. I had no idea there was anyone coming to Chiba Dai, but since this person has never made any attempt to contact me for info/advice/whatever, I don't feel too bad about not leaving stuff for them. Besides, nobody ever left anything for me, so meh.

On my way to the ward office (municipal building where I would be paying and cancelling my insurance) I stopped by Natasya's room to exchange pictures from our Nikko trip. While the files were transferring, I got an email from Desy asking me if I was around, and I called her on my way down from Tasya's room. She wanted to go for lunch, so we agreed to meet at the ward office, ironically down the street from her friend's apartment, where she'd been staying recently. About this time, I was crossing the field, and Francisco called out to me from his room. He met up with me at the front door of his building, and lent me his bicycle for the afternoon. (Woohoo!!) I grabbed his bike and headed out, making my last attempt at riding a bike in the rain while huddling under an umbrella perched over me as I tried to steer with my left hand.

At the ward office, I went directly to the last window where I'd previously payed my insurance. Instead of accepting my money, the lady requested that I first cancel the insurance policy, and then pay out the balance that I owed them. I walked across the building to the far window and explained that I was leaving the country tomorrow and wanted to cancel. They sent me to a 3rd window, where I got the form I needed and finished the cancellation application. Everything went surprisingly smoothly, and I returned back to the original window and paid my 6500 yen (approx 65$) fee. Desy was waiting inside the building for me, and we decided to eat Tako Yaki for our last meal together. (Again, I was hit with nostalgia as I remembered our first meal at the Tako Yaki restaurant back in October. Desy, me, and a group of other foreign students headed there for lunch during our orientation, and it was my first official meal as a 留学生 versus tourist with Dad.) Lunch was nice, and afterwards, we headed across the street to take purikura.

After lunch, I stopped by Francisco's room to drop off his bike key, but seeing me standing there drenched despite the umbrella I tried to use to protect myself from the rain, he insisted I come inside and warm up before heading home. I dried off and looked through the spanish map of Tokyo he had out on his bed before heading back out into the rain. Instead up coming up to my room, I went back out to Maruetsu where I went up to the 3rd floor 100 yen shop, Daiso, to find more boxes to finish packing. There, while one of the employees went running to the back to get me some empty boxes, I ran into Mey who I didn't think I'd have a chance to visit before leaving. Together, we decided to take some purikura of our own, and used the machines nearby. They actually cost 1/2 the price of the machines we usually use at the game center, but we quickly learned why when our decorating time was limited to 1 minute. The pictures came out cute none the less, and Mey also said she is going to try and come to the airport tomorrow.

When I finally got home, I realized it was 3:30 and I wouldn't have time to have the post office come pick up my boxes today. I started packing anyways, hoping that I would finish by the time I left for dinner tonight, but got sidetracked looking through all my papers and blogging while I was packing. I tried finding the phone number for the post office, but had no luck. I emailed Natasya, but she didn't have any idea what the number was either. I'm running out of time, but hopefully when I call in the morning (and by me, I mean Pu) they will be able to come ASAP. Otherwise, Pu will have to do it for me after I go.

At 6 pm sharp, my phone rang and I gave the Electric Man the number code to get into the building. He took 5 minutes figuring out my final electricity bill, and I handed over another precious 10000 yen bill. My funds are dwindling down to next to nothing, but since I'm heading home, I suppose that's the way it should be. I still have a few 100$'s worth, but I think I'll convert it back to CDN $ at the airport tomorrow after cancelling my keitai account and checking in. If I'd had more time before leaving, and been less lazy I suppose, I would have also stopped by the bank and gone through the experience of cancelling my account.. not so much because I need to do that before leaving, but just to see what kind of chaos would ensue. For now, I've paid up my rent, water, electricity and insurance bills today. Tomorrow when I cancel my keitai, I don't think there will be any more errands left unfinished, although I never know what to expect with this country.

And finally, as I head out to dinner where I will spend some long overdue time with Katya, and a few stragglers who want to join us, I can't help but feel this is really goodbye. My last night with her, my last dinner in Inage, and my last night in Japan. For now, of course, but now is what is filling my thoughts and my heart. I'm not sad, although I'm not exactly happy. I don't know what is in store for me back home, but hopefully at least a few days of peace and time to reflect on myself and my time in Japan.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

I never believed this moment would come.

But it did. And I can't stop crying.

It's not the goodbyes that hurt, it's the feeling of losing someone. I remember when I moved home from Toronto.. it was the same thing. I cried the entire flight back, knowing somehow that despite emails and msn and all the times I would go back to visit, things would never be the same.

How can I find the strength to go on without Jose's laugh and his hugs - the only thing that could lift me up all the times I was down. What will I do without Hatim and his room - my haven - to escape to everytime the walls in my room were closing in on me. As much as it drove me crazy, I don't want to face a day in the dorms without Eugenie's screams echoing through the hallway. And Mi Ran.. no more massages, no more cute little emails, no more knocks on my door for random hugs.

That group of people that welcomed me in when everybody else shut me out, said goodbye to me about 15 minutes ago. They did it with flair and with style, and it broke my heart to stand in the doorway and watch them leave, but I couldn't bear to cry in front of them. There were so many things I couldn't say, so many times I couldn't express how much it meant to me to be a part of that. To be accepted for who I am, and appreciated for it. I can't believe this was the end. I can't believe it's over.

love hotels and pachinko: a farewell I'll never forget

Tomorrow I leave for Nikko, and after getting back Tuesday night, I'll really only have time for running errands, finishing my packing, and leaving for the airport. Before time runs out, I made plans with some of the more important people in my life, giving us a chance to spend some quality time together before saying goodbye. I mentioned to a few people last night that I would be busy all day with a few dates, and they laughed that I was worse than Laila who had 3 dates in 3 days before she left. (I had 3 planned for today!)

Date #1
First was Richie. He couldn't make it last Friday to my impromptu farewell dinner, and since he spends every second of his life busy in Tokyo, its not easy to get together. We emailed back and forth a few times while I was in Kyoto, and agreed to meet up Sunday morning. His last email said he'd head out here at 10 am, and so I got up this morning to be ready for 10, just in case he was early. At 11:30, when I still hadn't heard from him, I sent a 2nd message (the first at 10 to see if he was on his way), thinking he was running late, but kidding about being stood up. Then again, it turns out my 2nd message woke him up, and he had no intention of coming to Inage to say goodbye. In fact, he made it obvious that he has no idea what is going on in my life by asking if I'd be home Tuesday morning, to which I reminded him that I would be in Nikko, and typed out "Goodbye Richie."

He never replied.

Some goodbye huh? Maybe I should have got that divorce after all... I'll have to talk to my lawyer (Amed) one last time before leaving.

Date #2
This date was unplanned, and for a good reason. I didn't want my last meal with Hatim to begin unlike any other, and so it was with a grin on my face that I knocked on his door feeling mischievous about waking him up to eat. He didn't seem too dissapointed that I'd come by, but it still took him nearly 30 minutes to get out of bed and jog over to the combenie to pick up some breakfast. (I'd brought mine with me). I had a really nice time, just talking and laughing together. It's rare that I get to spend time with him alone lately, and it was special to have that time, even if it was with a foreboding sense that this was the end.

Date #3
Last week when I put my impromptu dinner together, I didn't invite Kai.. mainly because I'm still not ready to say goodbye to him. Instead, a few nights later when I was in Hatim's room (as usual) with Kristine (who'd come to visit!) and the rest of Hatim's harem, a bunch of the guys were standing around outside. Kai was there, and he must have heard from Dan and Amed that I was leaving soon because he came to Hatim's window to say goodbye. I asked him to come inside and we chatted for a bit. We decided to meet up today, Sunday, to spend some time together and share pictures from all the traveling we'd been doing since school ended. I'd emailed him again yesterday to confirm, and he let me know he'd be free all afternoon until 5 when he was heading to Tokyo.

After lunch with Hatim I said goodbye and headed over to Kai's room. Before I could get far, Hatim came running after me in the hallway and slid into a hug to say goodbye. It was adorable, and heart breaking at the same time, but I reminded him that we would see each other later on tonight, and he left it as a 'just in case'.

As I crossed the field between Kai's and my buildings, I saw that his curtains were drawn, and there were no lights inside. I knocked, but wasn't too surprised when there was no answer. I was dissapointed, but not too surprised.. after all, he'd been at a 飲み会 the night before, and I know he's one of the few people that need sleep as much as I do to function normally. I retreated back to Hatim's room and sent Kai a quick msg to find me when he was up. His reply came nearly an hour later.. he told me I should have gone in and woken him up (?) but instead, he came to Hatim's room to say goodbye to me. We figured out that I still had some time left on Wednesday, and agreed to try one last time to get together, because he had to leave right away for Tokyo and I still wanted to see him before I leave. I'm crossing my fingers.. but not getting my hopes up. For someone who is so laid back and spends so much time relaxing in his room, it is strangely difficult to find a time to meet up.

And this brings me to Date #4
An unforgettable night, with an unforgettable friend. I mean who else besides Jose would both indulge my ridiculous desire to visit a love hotel in Shibuya (as friends) and make his own bizarre request to try Pachinko in the same outing? When 6 o'clock rolled around and we met outside the dorms, I knew I was in for a night to remember. With conversation never a problem between us, the train ride passed quickly - too quickly, in fact - and we decided to continue our chat over dinner before beginning our Shibuya exploits. I decided on Royal Host, a family style restaurant with a huge selection of western, asian and Japanese style dishes. They even had tacos on the menu, which neither of us dared try in Japan, but happily took pictures of for posterity's sake. While looking through the menu, we both announced that we wanted to try one of the sinfully decadent desserts, but after our meal, we were both anxious to find Shibuya's kinkiest hotel room, and skipped out on the ice cream sundaes we had eyed earlier.

I should pause for a minute to explain Japan's love hotels. As with every other country in the world (most likely...) there are a certain number of hotels that cater to guests that want to rent rooms by the hour. In Japan, these hotels, rather than being hidden away in seedy neighborhoods or on out-of-the-way rest stops, the hotels are clustered together in some of the most happening areas of Tokyo, Osaka, and other cities. They are designed to offer discrete entrance by couples (and occassionally single women looking for a place to relax for a few hours during a busy day/night in the big city). Anonymity is kept up inside as well, through a combination of picture walls displaying the available rooms, automated cash/key dispensers, and occassionally a tiny hole in an otherwise blackened window behind which a clerk handles the money/key exchange.
As Jose and I headed up the hill in Shibuya, we had no problem finding the entrance to Hotel Hill. Surprisingly to both of us, the area was extremely well lit, large, and packed full of nearly 50 hotels that neither of us had ever seen before amongst our numerous visits to Shibuya. Beginning with the first one we came across, we eagerly entered hoping to find the room we were looking for. Instead, what we found was a dissapointing display of pictures (consider it a room menu) that showed relatively normal rooms - if only slightly larger than the average rooms I've seen in previous hotel experiences across Japan. In fact, across the 50 hotels we visited, most of the rooms had horribly outdated decorations, such as floral or paisley patters across the walls and bedspreads. Some included sofas, or TVs. There were rooms with playstations, rooms with mini-bars, and rooms with crazy underwater scenes done up in lights on the ceilings. But none of the rooms featured revolving beds, spanking horses, or anything even remotely shocking. We searched and searched.. I even tried asking one of the ladies behind the black windows, although by the way she giggled and got embarassed about my asking for a dungeon-style room, I'm inclined to think they don't exist anywhere in Tokyo.

Nearly 2 hours later, and both amused and dissapointed by the hotels we'd come across, Jose and I headed back towards the station. We'd tried our best, but eventually had to give up or else pay for a room that we wouldn't have been happy with. Since we still had enough time before the last train home, Jose chose a pachinko parlour, and we braved the noise and cigarette smoke as we headed inside.

There's really not much I can say. Pachinko has got to be the single most boring thing I have ever experienced. Worse than slot machines, worse than economics classes, worse than anything I can currently imagine. It's possible that sharing in the bonding experience of visiting a pachinko parlour will tie me and Jose's lives together forever, but only because of how completely foolish we both felt afterwards for having put 1000 yen each into the machines, and sitting there for the 5 minutes it took to watch silver ball after tiny silver ball ricochet off the little pegs inside the machine and tumble into the large opening beneath. I wish I could tell you what the point of the game is - but I'm afraid there is no point. Between the pegs there is one tiny hole that is supposedly what you 'aim' for, although aim is a poor choice of words. The only control we had over the tiny balls was the speed with which we released them. By turning a knob, we had the option of 'slow' or 'fast' momentum. The rest was up to fate, sort of reminiscent with the Plinko Game that Stephen and I used to get excited over watching on The Price is Right. We knew it then, and I knew it at Pachinko - the player has no control, and only luck will bring any sort of rewards.

After Pachinko, neither Jose nor I could believe we'd wasted our time and money going. We cannot understand how anyone can get addicted to the game, or why there are Pachinko Parlours lining the streets next to every JR station across Japan, each packed with cigarette-smoking, mind-numblingly braindead addicts. I think we were both slightly embarassed for having gone, and yet comforted with the knowledge that we will never have to endure an experience like that again.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Kyoto - a wrap up.

Greatest moment this week?

Sitting on the bus watching the rain streaking against the windows. Why? Because it was then that I remembered who I am. I remembered why I was in Japan. I remembered that I am a strong and independant person who is better than all the nonsense that's happened here the last six months. It's funny, but with the end so near, everyone is philosophizing and summarizing their experiences. And I don't want to do that. I want to look forward, to the next time I'll be in Japan, away from all the horrible people and frustrating situations that I've dealt with. Kyoto will always be Kyoto, and no matter what is happening in my life, I think it will be a place of serenity for me; the place that is truly the Japan I love and the Japan I came here in search of. The Japan where I finally felt like I belonged.

and if it had to end, at least it ended with a ride on the bullet train

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Kyoto 9.6.2006

I woke up today to the sound of rain outside my window. Groaning from the disappointment and the pain in my legs, I rolled over and decided to spend the morning in bed hoping my day might be easier if I had a later start. I settled in to watch one of the movie’s Hatim had given me last week, and chose Clerks 2. I love Kevin Smith. His movies always make me laugh, and despite the hype over this movie, I was enjoying it until the movie cut out and I realized that Hatim had accidentally downloaded an incomplete file. I want to know how the movie ends! (I put in an email, hopefully he’ll have it for me when I’m home on the weekend, until then, nobody ruin it for me!) I wonder if he’ll do anymore movies with the same characters? The Dante/Randal thing really makes me laugh. I wish I had friends like them, then I could just laugh and laugh and laugh all the time, and argue and argue and argue all the time.

Aaaaaanyways. Kyoto.

So around 11, when the movie cut out, I headed out to find the rain had stopped and I had a few hours to enjoy the day. Since I was already limping, I caught the bus to Kiyomizudera 清水寺, one of the most famous temples in Kyoto. It is at the top of Higashi Mountain, and is more like a resort than any other temple grounds I’ve visited. It took over an hour to walk through the compound, visiting the numerous shrines and charm shops within. The view from the wooden veranda is breathtaking, and had the sky been sunny and clear, I’m sure I would have spent another 20 minutes taking pictures. As it was still cloudy and threatening to rain on me, I continued on to the piece de resistance: the healing water which the temple was named after. I stood in line, drank the water, and waited for the healing effects to begin. Frankly, hours later, I’m still waiting, but maybe the mysterious water works in preventative measures? I haven’t developed any additional blisters.. hmmm…

From Kiyomizudera, I made my way down Higashiyama Boulevard, which was lined with souvenir shops and restaurants. I found dozens of things that I wanted to buy, but pressed with the thought of schlepping things around all day, I decided to wait until my last day, or at least until I would be heading back to the hostel. I decided against pulling out my map, and instead followed the waves and waves of people making their way down the street ahead of me. They led me to Maruyama Park where I sat under a tree and read for a while. The park is famous for the April Cherry Blossom viewing, and while there are no flowers this time of year, it was still rather beautiful in a quaint sort of way. The park borders Yasaka shrine, which in turn borders Gion, and so I once again made my way across Gion, but this time, during daylight. The rain started up around 4, and while I’d bought an umbrella in preparation, I didn’t feel like navigating my way around all the people huddled under various eaves and crowded in store entrance ways, so I found a Chinese restaurant in the Hankyu mall and sat for an hour or so.

When I returned to the street, the rain had slowed down to a light drizzle, and while the streets had cleared out a bit, I took advantage and decided to visit Pontocho alley to see if I could catch a glimpse of the Maiko/Geisha at work. Imagine my surprise when one came rushing up the alley headed directly passed me. I was so shocked when I saw one, that I didn’t think to pull out my camera in time, and I missed getting a picture of her, but it was still so thrilling to have seen one in real life instead of in the movies.

From Pontocho, I caught the bus back to Kyoto Eki where I window shopped and tried to find a new wallet. I’ve been searching forever, but I’m not willing to shell out 50$ which seems to be the cheapest I can find here, and which is ridiculous. I am making due with what I have, but since the zipper completely broke in the coin pouch, I know have to keep the always growing number of coins in my pockets, and sometimes I am very self-conscious about the jingling noises when I walk down the street.

And finally, after returning back to the hostel around 8, I took advantage of the selection of guidebooks and leaflets in the lounge and began planning some places to go when I’m in Nikko next week. I got an email today from Natasya saying she’s not sure about the trip now.. but I hope she doesn’t cancel on me. She did the same thing with Kyushu and then everything went smoothly, so I’m hoping for the best. I think going together and having the chance to spend time together might be the only way to really save our friendship. Then again, if she does cancel, I might just go by myself. Kyoto on my own has been a great experience, perhaps Nikko could be too – if it comes to that.

Kyoto 9.5.2006

I left the hostel this morning with just enough time to walk to Kyoto Eki, pay for my ticket and walk to platform 31. The train ride, thankfully, was comfortable and I was able to sleep on and off for the 2 hrs. When I was awake, I snapped photos and then let the motion of the train and the hum of my ipod in my ears lull me back to sleep.

Stepping off the train, it felt more like I was stepping back in time. As if in a dream, I found myself the only foreigner for miles. Asking at the info booth for directions was entertaining as they scrambled around trying to find English resources despite the fact that I’d asked them for directions in Japanese. The kids tugging at their parents sleeves to turn and gawk my way, well… I can’t believe how many Japanese are still green when it comes to seeing gaijin.

Today, all bets were off. There were times when people stared at me for such a long time that I struck up conversations with them. There are a few little ojisans (who I thought were adorable) who insisted I was “intelligent” because I could introduce myself and say a few niceties in Japanese. Of course, there were the curious few who stared from a distance watching to see how I would react to things and if I would do anything “barbaric”. Then again, there were times when there wasn’t another soul in sight. Despite it being a Tuesday (weekday) and rainy (only in the morning before I got there), Amanohashidate was remarkably uncrowded.

Amanohashidate 天橋立 (literal translation: Bridge of Heaven) is quoted as being one of the 3 most famous scenic locations in Japan. The name comes from the Japanese legend of creation, in which the god Izanagi and the goddess Izanami crossed the bridge coming down from heaven before giving birth to the islands of Japan.

When I left the station, I was confronted with the choice of taking the nearby lift up to the first viewing point, or visiting the bridge/sandbar itself. I decided to take advantage of the weather and cross the bridge while the rain had stopped. I chose not to rent a bicycle, thinking that the path would be full of puddles and muddy, which it was. Besides, the walk was really pleasant, especially since I was virtually alone the entire time. The path ran down the center of the sandbar, and was surrounded by trees on both sides. The coast that was open to the Japan Sea was lined with sandy beaches, and scenic views. The opposite side of the sandbar was less charming, but the trees and other vegetation were more dense. Throughout my walk, I spent time thinking about my time and my life here in Japan. Seeing the Bridge of Heaven was something I have been wanting for a very long time, and being able to achieve that felt so satisfying – which is something I haven’t felt for a while now. In fact, while I was sitting on one of the beaches listening to the waves lapping at the shore, I knew that my heart was finally beginning to heal.

Reaching the end of the bridge, I found the entrance to the second viewing point, and rode the chair lift to the top of the mountain. (It may not be as exciting as a roller coaster, but the view was amazing!) At the top, I watched the Japanese tour group that had gone up ahead of me. People of all ages were each taking turns performing the ritual mata-nozoki viewing of the bridge. It is said that by viewing it in this way, (upside down and between your legs) the bridge will appear to be floating down from heaven. I had to battle with my inner-humiliation complex, but in the end, decided I was more of an outsider by not following suit than I was foolish to stand with my ass in the air and my head between my legs. Then, since some of the nearby Japanese tourists were amused at watching me approach the platform, I asked one of them to take my picture so I could enjoy the embarrassment for years to come.

After riding back down the mountain, I was regretting my choice to not rent a bicycle. It was already 4 and I knew that although the last express train back wasn’t until nearly 7, the other viewing area would close at 5. The 4 kilometres with my growing blisters would take me at least an hour to cross, so I decided to shell out the 500 yen and ride the ferry back to the other side. The ride was unexciting, since it was in the lagoon and offered no real view, but I was across with enough time to head up to the 2nd view point and compare the sights. I decided that I preferred the atmosphere of the first viewing area that I’d visited. The people there seemed somehow more appreciative of the area, and I felt like it was more special having crossed the bridge to reach it. The 2nd viewing area had the nicer view (imho). The beaches along the coast of the sandbar were visible, and I thought it created a nicer image, although the viewing area was completely commercialized with a roller coaster, ferris wheel and snack bars for the teenagers I came across while there.

All in all, I had an incredible day. I slept on the train ride back to Kyoto, but when I got back, my blisters had grown so big and my muscles so sore, that I virtually limped back to the hostel and soaked in the tub for nearly an hour, hoping to soothe my muscles for the next day. Regrettably, as I mentioned, my bed isn’t very comfortable, and it is not helping much with my weary body. I’m tempted to sleep on the floor, because I think the tatami might offer more comfort than the foam-covered-board that I’m currently sleeping on.





Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Kyoto 9.4.2006

I should have known that when Pu woke me up last night, it would not be an easy departure. I was happy to see her though, and hear about her trip to Nagoya, and it also gave me the chance to run down to Hatim’s room and copy out my hostel info (since I no longer have internet in my dorm room, wahhhhhh). When I got back to my room… well, if I’d been able to sleep right away, there’d have been no problem, but as it turns out, I was tossing and turning until 4 am.

I didn’t sleep through my alarm, but I did hit snooze 3 times, using up 15 precious minutes in the morning before I left for the station. As a result, I didn’t have the time to bring my laundry in from the balcony. I hope it doesn’t blow away, but at this point, there’s nothing I can do, so 仕方ない。The train ride to Tokyo was uneventful, and the 新幹線 (bullet train) to Kyoto was incredibly fast. And I was lucky enough to have a window seat facing West, which meant I had a view of Mt. Fuji through the haze for nearly 1/3rd of the trip.

Spending the good part of my day on the train, and the following hour exploring Kyoto station, I wasn’t really aware of the scorching heat outside. I’m not sure why Kyoto Eki is considered a sightseeing destination.. It’s got a big open space, which is nice, but all of the escalators and stairs cutting across each other results in chaos and frankly, makes the station nothing more than an eyesore. After a nice lunch in the underground mall, I tossed my bags in a locker and caught the train to the next station.

Toji Temple 東寺
Without explaining the history behind the temple, it is best to focus on what drew me there as one of my few cultural visits in Kyoto this week. Toji Temple is known as a treasure house of Esoteric Buddhist art, due to its large number of cultural assets brought back from China in the 8th century. There are so many in fact, that they are housed in 3 separate halls, each of which is open for viewing but which strictly prohibit pictures of any kind. The statues were incredibly beautiful. I wish I could have taken pictures, but then.. pictures can rarely express the true magnificence of seeing it in person.

From the treasure houses, I made my way to the Toji Five-Storied Pagoda – the highest in Japan and a symbol of Kyoto. I believe it has been standing since the 1600s, and it appeared to be going through some sort of minor restorations. The Pagoda stands on the edge of an intricately manicured Buddhist garden. I circled it slowly, taking in the sights and smells, and admiring the Pagoda from various angles. By now, the sweltering 34 degrees outside had me sweating in places I didn’t know sweat glands existed, and yet I couldn’t bring myself to walk back to the nearby train station with Kyoto open and available to me. Instead, I walked back downtown to Kyoto Eki, weaving my way through interesting streets lined with shops and restaurants. I came across quaint little homes nestled between bustling fruit markets and recycle shops. I found a park where an old man sat feeding birds that were milling around his feet, and I took a walk through a computer college for a brief reprieve from the sun.

When I got back to the Eki, I found an information center and got a map of Kyoto with directions to my hostel. I made my way there, hoping to check in and have a shower and a nap, but was surprised by the absence of any clerk at the entrance. Instead, a note informed me that he was out and would be returning by 5, so I made myself comfortable in the lounge area and began typing up this blog entry. He arrived shortly, and checked me in to my private suite on the 2nd floor. It cost me a little bit more than the dormitory style rooms, but this way I can leave my bags and my computer behind a locked door while I sightsee and travel during the day. I figured that the money I would spend on lockers at the stations and other miscellaneous expenses were practically on par with what I’m paying, so in the meantime, I get to enjoy a bunk bed and washroom to myself.

Unfortunately, the hostel’s limitations come in the form of shower times. Unsurprisingly (this has been quite common in Japanese hostels), hot showers are only available between 8-10 am, and 8-11pm. So, without being able to shower, and too excited to spend the night in my room by myself, I headed back out with my map and a very large bottle of water, and headed North East in the direction of Gion.

Gion 祇園
Rushing past meandering tourists, I tried to make it to Pontocho Alley by dusk in hopes of catching sight of a Geisha, Geiko or Maiko. I failed, again, and remembering that I would be here all week, moved on without worrying about it, to take in the sights of Kyoto’s night district. The famous alley was lit up with Japanese lanterns and glowing lights from within the teahouses. Coming out from the alley, the lights and sounds of Gion welcomed me in ways that Shibuya never could. I felt so at home watching the people coming and going as I weaved my way through the shops and bars along the main streets. I wish I had the words to describe it, but somehow it just felt right.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

irony

A few weeks ago, Lukas received some fairly upsetting news in his life, and at the time, I was one of the last to hear about it. When he went to people for solace, I was not one of them. At this point, and although it nearly killed me to do it, I wrote him a letter saying all the things that I’d held in since March, and I said goodbye. Despite the message he wrote on his birthday, and the card he wrote on mine.. perhaps in part because of the so many times and chances that evaporated under his determination to end our relationship.. I just couldn’t hold on anymore. I wasn’t strong enough – not enough for both of us.

The letter was from my heart, and to his. I didn’t expect him to respond.. but I was still disappointed when he didn’t. I guess whatever connection we had is truly over. He told me once that the reason he pulled away was because it had felt like we were dating. What it feels like to me, is that I’ve just gotten through one of the worst break-ups in my life. How ironic.

coffee, oreos and porn

After a very late start on Saturday, Kristine & I went down to Jose's to see his new room. The move had been a good choice, because his new room felt much bigger than the last one. And it was a good thing too, because we made ourselves comfortable on his bed while he made us coffee and oreos for breakfast. Ironically, he had been chatting with his Dad when we showed up, and his father had sent him to a link which brought up a feed of the TV channel that his Dad was watching in Costa Rica. The feed? Porn.

And so Kristine's Saturday morning Inage experience consisted of Coffee, Oreos & Porn. And I should mention that while we sipped away at our freshly brewed coffee, Jose stepped into the shower, giving us a bit of a show as he dressed himself half in and half out of the little cubicle. I suspect it was a morning she'll never forget.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Kristine Came to Visit!

After my visit to Hidaka, Kristine and I found ourselves eager to get together one last time before I left for Canada. As her first day of school approached, Kristine's weekdays got busier and busier, and the weekend was a logical choice. The day before her arrival as I sat on my bed dictating her train route, we shared what begas as a long series of "lasts" in my time in Japan. The earthquake took us both by surprise. For Kristine, it was the first she would experience, and she seemed to find herself in a state of awe as the ground trembled beneath her feet. For me, well, it turned out to be my last. I remember watching my bottled water on the desk. surmising silently about what took place just inches from my seat on the bed. It was like a moment of clarity; all I had been going through these last few months in Japan could be characterized so well by such an easily forgotten object during a practically common event in this country. The bottle stood stoicly in place while the liquid inside violently rocking within its plastic confines.

With Kristine's arrival planned, I sent out a massive email to everyone on my keitai contact list. (well.. almost everyone). I explained that I had a friend coming to visit, and wanted to use the opportunity to both show her what it was like to spend a night out in Inage, and take the time to have a farewell dinner with all the people I wouldn't get a chance to see due to my travel plans starting the following week.

Most of my invitees RSVP'd right away. Most of them seemed surprised that I was saying goodbye so soon, but understood how busy I would be and were making the time to meet up with me and Kristine. Some of them, like Katya and Richie both promised to try and make it, but were honest when they said they were so busy in Tokyo they might not be able to come by. I understood, and told them that as much as I wanted them there, I still had one more night I hoped to spend with them before I left, and promised to write them more after my Kristine weekend had passed. Others again couldn't be bothered to respond, let alone RSVP. I guess I continue to expect more from people that I should, but someone like Andrew who reads my blog almost religiously and has something to say about every single thing I write.. well, I really thought he'd care enough to come by for dinner. Desy too, but I was wrong. And then of course there were those that I couldn't bring myself to invite. I know that nobody, including me, understands why things with Kai are still so difficult, but I was afraid to invite him and have him say no. I know that he would never pick a night out with me when given the opportunity to spend time with Claudia and Lukas, and I thought it would be better not to ask him to choose - I would just be melancholic over his answer anyways.

~~~

The day of Kristine's arrival, I had arranged for everyone to meet me at the dorms around 7pm. Kristine called me from Akiba to let me know she had missed one of her connections and would be running late, so I had everyone stop by Hatim's room for a visit and I rushed off to the station to meet up with her. As she made her way down the escalator and out from behind the ticket machines, I couldn't help but smile at the ensemble she had put together for her night out. Inage may be on the other side of Tokyo than Hidaka, but I'm not sure it really warrants the time and energy to accessorize like she had. Now don't get me wrong, the never ending necklace, the 3 different bags hanging off her shoulders, and the not-so-delicate cowboy boots are part of an outfit I would still call subdued in the face of Tokyo fashion, but compared to my usual jeans & t-shirt outfits, Kristine was definately decked out. We took up our conversation pretty much where it had left off the other night, as I led the way back to my dorm. I tried to take her on a route that would show her the busy streets that Inage has to offer, but by the end of the weekend, I'm pretty sure she'd realized that there were only 2 of them. Anyways, we got back, headed up to my room to drop off her stuff, and then rushed to Hatim's room to find everyone.

Our dinner group consisted of Amed, Daniel, Hatim, Jose, Mi Ran, Eugenie, Laila and Natasya. For the 10 of us, I had originally wanted to eat at Tengu, my 2nd favourite restaurant in Inage, but without a reservation (my bad), they couldn't seat all of us together. Rather than waiting, we walked across the street and found ourselves sitting at 魚民, an izakaya that has big enough rooms for all of us to sit comfortably around the table in a private room. And the private room was a good thing too, because we were talking and laughing so much that I guarantee it would have disrupted Japanese groups had they been able to hear us.

Videos from my Farewell Dinner

After dinner, which was yummy, we went downstairs to the game center and spent a few hours challenging each other to DDR, racing, Guitar Freaks and even the drumming game, which apparantly I'm quite good at. (I guess because Stephen taught me to play when he had a set at home?). At some point during the night, Natasya and Laila said goodbye; Laila wanted to go home to sleep, and Natasya fed me some line about needing to make a call. As it turned out, she had someplace better to be - I'll give you 3 guesses, and the first 2 don't count. The rest of us made our way back to Hatim's room when the game center closed, and sat back to let Kristine experience the wonder than was Hatim's Eigakan. By 3 am, when we finally made it to bed, I had a feeling that my tentative plans to visit the nearby waterfall the next day were not going to happen, but I didn't mind. I had shown Kristine a fun night in Inage, and more importantly, she had really hit it off with my friends - something that had cheered her up immensly at a time when she needed it most.

Pictures of my Kristine Weekend