Saturday, June 30, 2007

Day 2: The Quickening

I woke up early, energized and ready to take on the tasks at hand: #1 Money. #2 Sheets & Stuff #3 an ethernet cable and other sundry doodads. Shouldn’t be too hard, right?

It turns out that most ATMs all over Japan only handle domestic cards. I would have known that if I had just bothered to check a Lonely Planet or any other guidebook. Sad, but something I should have been on top of. However, post offices were said to hold magical ATMs that would take international cards hooray for globalization and all that. So, I check a very sketchy map that they had put out in the common room last night and headed off into the early morning sauna.

Oh, did I mention it’s kinda warm here? I left the hotel at about 7. I passed a big digital readout on the way that said it was 28 degrees. That’s over 80 for those of us still stuck in the stone age of Fahrenheit. At 7 in the morning. Now, that’s actually not hot enough to combust crows out of the sky (lots of crows here), but it’s hot enough. Add to that, of course, a very very high humidity that feels a bit like Houston in the summer, and, well, not to put too fine a point on it, after a good stretch of walking, I’m well beyond the glistening phase, and closer to the basting phase. I have never really handled heat well. I am more of a artic kind of guy.

I actually love walking around a new place. For me, it’s the best way to get my bearings, and Japan seems to be fairly walker friendly. Like I said earlier, my hotel is in a very residential area, and it takes a good 7 or 8 minutes of hiking (we’re kind of on the top of a hill, too) to get out to the main roads. A little bit further and you’re to the train station. A bit more and you’re to the home furnishings store (it’s still closed though – too early). A bit more and you’re… where exactly? A bit more and… hmm wasn’t the post office supposed to be around here somewhere? Nice walk though. I ended up going well past the post office (it was down another street and there was a sign, but it was tiny). Sooo, I turned around and found the turnoff and went down a lovely tree covered road to a very blocky and imposing building that claimed it was the post office. In fact, the first sign that said post office (in English, I should have known better) turned out to be the cleverly named ‘Post Office’ corner shop. Alas, as I had only a couple of yen to my name, I left in search of a more suitable post office. As a side note for confusion’s sake, there was an ATM at the Post Office corner shop – domestic cards only.

One door down was the actual post office, with actual post office boxes and such, and thankfully I giant sign with an arrow pointing to the right with big blocky letters (English again, I should learn to be wary) saying ‘ATM.’ Good and nice. Unthankfully, the arrow pointed directly to a giant metal garage-door looking wall with a neatly stenciled notice in Japanese saying that the ATM was open only from 9-12 or so on Saturdays.

So the ATM was closed. Now, I’m not sure I understand the workings of banks or post offices, to say nothing of the post offices that act like banks and corner stores that seem to inhabit Japan, but isn’t it kind of the idea that ATMs are available 24-7? Isn’t the basic concept that because live tellers cost wages and benefits and such that ATMs are used to take care of basic transactions when and where you can’t afford to place tellers? Well, show’s what I know. Apparently, the labor laws in Japan are strict. Even the machines get time off. Shows what happens when you give too much authority to the robots.

Anyway. It’s 8. The ATM doesn’t open until 9. Harrumph. Well, let’s just walk around a bit more.

It’s another of those things that shouldn’t surprise me but does. Japan is a very green place. There are trees and bushes and plants – there are even a couple of posts given over to gardens inside the residential area. I’m a bit more happy than I should be to find vending machines everywhere. They are almost always drinks, and occasionally smokes. Alas, to date none have had the mythical Cucumber Pepsi, also I guess I’m not in the right area for used panties in a tube. Fret not, I’ll go into Tokyo proper soon.

A good deal of walking and the settling of a vaguely distilling image of the area in my mind later, I return to find, almost anti-clamactically, that the ATM works like a charm. Zip-zop, thousands of yen in my pocket. The side story to this is that usually when I do these kinds of outings, I have to do them on a credit card because I never get my funding money until I get back, sad but true. The problem is that I can’t seem to use my credit card for a cash advance there. I’ll have to try again maybe somewhere at a Citibank or something. The downside is that, of course, using my debit card eats away at money I need to fight beasts back home – rent, sundry other bills, and I simply don’t have enough cash on hand for this trip. Stay tuned. I could end up a shopping-cart pusher in downtown Tokyo! It’s probably as financially rewarding as grad-school work.

The rest of the day muddled along slowly. I found an electrical converter (they use the same plugs as in the US, but none of my sockets in my room have a grounding socket – and I thought I had that one covered!), ethernet cable (fun and flat, not round like in the states), bedding (try to imagine shopping for bedding when you don’t know how to say any of the following: Single, Double, Twin, mattress, mattress cover, sheet, duvet, duvet cover. Oh, and you also aren’t really sure what the size of your bed was to begin with. Fun!) I also picked up a selection of snacks (lovely candies I remember from the last time I was in Asia, lovely crackers I remember from the last time I was in Asia, debatably lovely ramen noodles – oh, and some juice, tea, a cup, bowl, and some chopsticks). It’s also worth noting that I really really really do support stores not giving away free bags, I really really really wish I had known that the grocery store didn’t do so, because juggling all that stuff on the way home (plus camera bag) was less than joyous. All of the purchases were basically reasonably priced, but when taken together, they put a fair dent in my walking around money. We shall see how this goes.

There are updates to the purchases.

When I got home another manager suggested that the ethernet cable was probably not worth it. The internet at the hotel has gone bananas, and isn’t reliable (and costs a monthly fee). I may still use it because, let’s face it, I’m an addict, but I’ll probably hold out for a couple of days to see how available public internet is.

While typing this, a very kindly older gentleman knocked on my door and delivered a mattress pad, a duvet and a pillow… and something else that looks like another mattress pad, but made out of what seems to be a towel-type material. Oh, and a pillow case. Of note there is no sheet or sheet-like items, save the pillow case. I did talk to the manager-guy about this, and the whole bedding thing seems to be a mixup on the schools end. They generally provide all this stuff before the students arrive, but didn’t this time around. Frankly, I’m still glad I got my own stuff. Oh, I forgot to mention that I also bought a towel – with a giant playboy bunny logo on it. Har, har. Photo-worthy, no doubt. I should hang it on the wall to decorate my swingin’ pad.

So, it’s getting late on day two, and although I don’t feel jet-laggy, I’m a bit tired, so I may just saunter down and see if I can log on to the public computer and post this, and then maybe head to sleep. We shall see.


BrightStar said...

Thanks for posting these updates. I am enjoying hearing about your adventures. I admire how you're able to go with the flow.

jayfish said...

super crazy adventure! wish i were there...

Ianqui said...

Holy crap. You seem to be holding up well under the circumstances. Looking forward to more stories!

Scrivener said...

Sounds like fun, in a tiring and disorienting sort of way.