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.

Day One

It:s actually not really 24 hours though - time zones and datelines - who knows how long it was.

my appologies for formatting and such - I am using a public Japanese computer mostly cut-n-pasted from my laptop, and I am not really sure what I am doing.

General news if you don`t want to read the whole thing (it is really long): life`s good, I will get pictures up hopefully soon-ish :)

Well, I made it. I’m here in Japan, and I shouldn’t be surprised, but things have been both wonderful and wonderfully frustrating already. So - beginning the beginning.

Now we’ve already covered the whole idea that I’m not a respected scholar hosted by a fine academic institution here. I’m just a traveling student barely a step above the backpack and youth hostel crowd. Actually, maybe a step below. More on that under the ‘wonderfully frustrating’ heading in your hymnal. Because I had to get the ticket at such notice, I didn’t really get my first option for flying. That would be first class on a direct flight from my front yard to my hotel here. I had to settle for a coach flight from Hub of Doom to Taipei, then a connecting flight to Tokyo. It’s fun to look on the map and see that my plane flew very nearly over Japan on its way to Taiwan. If only I could have gotten a hold of a parachute I could have saved many hours off my itinerary. Also as a side note, I paid about the same price (within $50 I think) of the price offered three weeks ago. And I bought my ticket around 12 hours before wheels up. Fun, eh?

Props for the airline, even though we fly jets mainly now. China Air (not to be confused with Air China – next time I’ll make sure the shuttle bus driver understands the distinction) had monitors in the back of the seats, each of which was wired to a little video controller that slid out of the armrest. Hours of entertainment could be had playing poker, shoot-‘em-ups as well as various and also such games. I chose the movie channel. I got to see The Namesake (good but a bit muddled, even though I think that was the point), The Curse of the Golden Lotus (just awful, but quite pretty to look at. Maybe I should have turned off the audio), and Words and Music ( ?) (Very cute, and just what you’d expect it to be – mediocre mind-fluff)

All is well at the Taipei airport. I got a nice congee with peanuts and cucumbers and then set off to the plane switches were made with minimum fuss (although we were security screened again after we got off the first plane – eh?). I was off the ground again and on my way to Narita airport in Tokyo.

Now, I write that last bit as a joke. The airport codes might lead you to believe that Narita is in Tokyo, but that’s a cruel joke. Narita is hours away from Tokyo, but I get ahead of myself. I came in at about 12:30, cleared customs – a bit frightened to realize on completing the entry paperwork that I only had $12 in cash on me, and got my bag with only a minor kerfluffle (bag was - like Amazing Grace - thought lost, but then found. However, still to my knowledge cannot see). There was suppose to, but wasn’t anyone there to meet me. Or rather she was there, but at the wrong terminal, although I didn’t know that at the time. No, worries though, right? They’re probably late I’ll just hang out here for a while. A while goes by slowly. I’ll just call the school and let them know I’m here and they’ll figure things out. Except I don’t have any yen. No problem, I’ll find an ATM. All of which seem to be for domestic cards only. Ah ha! At last a Citibank ATM appears and I get some cash, buy a phone card (and a Coke – no cucumber Pepsi to be found yet) and call.

Why yes, she is there, she’s paged you a few times already and getting worried. Hooray! After an hour-long comedy of errors in which I’m convinced that she’s in the wrong terminal and she’s convinced she’s not, we get everything straightened out through the good offices of the information booths and a lot of paging. Thing is, she’s picking up some others over in that terminal. Apparently, that’s why she was over there in the first place. Sigh. No worries, I’ll wait over here until you pick them up.

Good thing I had a book, right?

Tah-dah and she arrives, leading me to a little café where I can sit and meet the others she has gathered while she goes off to find another wayward duckling. The crew so far is a big beefy Bahaman wearing a suit which miraculously is in perfect shape after about 20 hours on planes and even – gasp! – going through ATL, a tousled Hong Konger who once opened a snack shop in Shanghai – ‘it went pretty well while it was new and exciting, but the new wore off and then it didn’t do so well,’ and me. I learn that our poor guide isn’t the one normally tasked to do this and she’s really afraid she’s screwed the whole thing up.

In fact, she’s done quite well in shepherding the last of our gang, a French man who speaks flawless English with only a hint of an accent, to our table. Then we strategize on how to get to the hotel. Our Japanese is abysmal, but her English is passable, so we eventually tease out our options. It’s now about 4pm-ish, and we can take the ambitiously-titled ‘limousine bus,’ which she worries will be hopelessly caught in traffic, or we can take the train, which she worries will have too many transfers and ‘maybe there won’t be any escalators.’ I should mention that at this point, the idea that we’ve got another 3-4 hours of travel ahead was not cheer-inducing.

In any case, no one seemed to have any strong opinions on the matter, so because I’m nearly always a fan of trains when I can be (I’m looking at you Amtrak), I say let’s take the train, and whoosh, we’re off. The train was actually really nice. There were only two transfers and fairly easy ones, although there was a little squishing and shoving on the last train – nothing worse than in NYC though, and it was mainly because of our luggage. After the last train, we get out at the station nearest our hotel and because it’s getting dark, and starting to drizzle a bit out intrepid host springs for a couple of taxis for the rest of the trip.

Now, all this time I’ve been calling it a hotel, but it really is more like a student hostel or a foreigner commune. It’s nestled in a very residential area about a 10-15 minute walk from the station. Pretty cozy, really. However, there are some unexpected surprises. First – no sheets. No towels. No pre-wired internet. Bathroom down the hall and shower downstairs. Now, honestly, most of that isn’t a big problem with me, but the thing is I didn’t know about it beforehand. So I didn’t bring sheets or towels or anything else – hangers? Who packs hangers?

The manger on duty seemed a bit surprised that we didn’t know about all this, so I’ll lay the blame on the school for not getting the info to us. The other downside is that it’s already 8:30 and everywhere that we might have been able to get such sundries is closed. And in any case, my last yen went to pay the deposit for the room (that one was my fault. I was told about the deposit before). The manager very kindly lends us some sheets (but no towels are available – no shower tonight after nearly a full day in the air for you!), and while the rest of our merry crew heads out to get a bite to eat, I’m feeling oh-so tired (I did a 4 mile run before I realized I was going to be on a plane that same night – not such a good idea as it turns out), so I crash on my borrowed-sheet-clad bed.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

...Pre-Flight. Zero Hour, 1am...

Ok, Since I'm as packed as I'm going to be (read: whatever I've forgotten to pack is already forgotten) and It's a bit early to head to the airport - a little more info about the trip.

This was the summer trip I mentioned a long time ago that was very pending on me finding funding. Then about 2 or 3 months ago, the main school I was heading to filled up and I was on the wrong side of the waitlist line. There was another school that I could go to (and still use the partial funding that I had finally gotten), and bonus - they accept late enrollment. Hooray for the enablers of procrastination!

Then things got weird. er. So I applied to attend a July 2nd to August 27th class, but there was a problem with my application and then I applied again, but the class I applied for was full, but then I realized the class they tried to put me in was not the class I needed to be in because I needed to be in that class over there, which suddenly also was full, but they could get me in the same class but shorter, starting July 17th.

But then, this morning I get an email saying hey - remember that class you're taking? You can take the one that starts on the 17th like we arranged, but someone canceled out of the one that starts on the 2nd. Do you want that one?

Yes and thank you I do.

Oh, but you need to be here Friday before close of business because the place you're staying won't be open to check you in if you get in late.

So. That's how I get the 1am plane tonight. So I can get there noon-ish on Friday in time to check in before everyone goes home for the weekend.

So I get a weekend in Tokyo before class starts.

Did I mention that I know nothing of Tokyo and my Japanese is awful? I'm pretty sure I haven't. I think I'd remember if that had come up in the past.

For Scrivener: The Humanities is (are) a harsh mistress. She teases me with summers in Tokyo, and then crushes me with the black patent leather spiked heel of un-hirable-ness. On the other hand, I got my poetic license on the cheap so I can make up words like 'un-hirable-ness'

For Brightstar: Well, in all honesty, a lot of it is my own blasted fault, so I really don't have a whole lot of room to be miffed. In the end, I'm going to Tokyo almost entirely on grants and fellowships (I'll still be in the red when I come back, I'm sure, but not as badly as it could have been. My department even ponied up a little bit - yeah department!). I'm pretty happy on the whole. Ask me again after a bazillion hour plane flight.

For Ianqui: I will most certainly be on the lookout for Engrish. It will be so much fun not having to hide where I am! I'll be in Japan! Can't really hide that :) On that topic. I took a really freaky-amazing photo today, but it's freaky-amazing in a 'Only in X' kind of way. Alas, I won't, because it would seriously give me away, but ah, sigh...

My apologies to all for being a bit dodgey and not talking about the trip, but it really was touch and go for a while, and I didn't want to get my own hopes up my writing too much about it.

Wow. That was a really long post. Did you actually read it all? Yeesh, especially that 3rd paragraph. Who let me into grad school?

Change in Plans

Original plan: Go to Tokyo to start a summer class on the 17th.

Changed plan: find out this morning plans drastically changed. Find out this afternoon plans have dramatically changed. Class now begins on the 2nd. Of July.

Tonight: Pack and get on a 1am flight to Tokyo so I can check in to the student housing on Friday - damnable international date line.

Where to start?

Needless to say, I'll be a little off on the 365 shots and blog. On the plus side, I should be getting some great photos over there :)

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Let's All Go To The Lobby!

Online Dating

Aaaaand We're Back

We being myself and the frog in my pocket.

So I took a bit of a summer vacation on really short notice - That's why I didn't give notice here. After my google-enforced disappearance earlier, I should have been more kind and let you all know. Sorry about that.

Anyway, I flew way over to visit my family up in the incredible bay cities. There was a mom, a sister-blogger (arguably - she doesn't update much :) ), a brother-blogger, a couple of nieces a brother-in-law and even a Zero-blogger. Add in a couple of cats and several days of wandering all over the area, and much fun was had by all.

Naturally, there were billions and billions of photos taken. I'm editing and uploading as we speak. Of course, you won't get to see the people pictures. There are several painfully cute pictures of the nieces. You'll just have to imagine those.

I'll post a bit more about the trip later