Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Smoking and Drinking and Wearing One-Shoulder Dresses

Hurrah! As of today, I am officially on holiday. None of this beating-about-in-the-bush business (which is almost a pity, since it sounds kind of fun, if somewhat pointless and also dirty), with sitting at a desk and staring at computer screen and bemoaning the fact that work-internet blocks TradeMe so I can't even look at ridiculous things I would buy if I had the money, like horses and cafes and ghosts in jars. I am in bed. I intend to stay here, mayhap until 2011. Probably may not hap, but one can dream.

Last night I celebrated in proper style. I bought a new dress. A new headband. A new necklace. All from Japan, but all from stores blatantly flaunting the fact that they are not Japanese. The headband and necklace were purchased from Claire's and the dress from Zara, a chain which I personally think rivals Top Shop in excellent dress selection. Their designers are also clearly as fully in the throws of leopard-print addiction as I, and so I wandered around in a happy wild-cat daze, looking at shoes and boots and shoots and skirts and ponchos and scarves and dresses and skirts, all goldy and spotty and begging to be worn. However, leopard-print as a addiction presents a problem, being so striking and statementy. It was OK when my addiction was the colour black, a stalwart fashion choice that has maintained me for some years, but this current obsession is reminiscent of my 3rd/4th form obsession with stars and stripes, which often led to outfits which consisted of: a bandanna fashioned from an American flag, small blue earrings shaped like stars, a sleeveless tank top emblazoned with an impressionistic flag, a denim skirt covered in white stars and striped red and white socks. Looking back I am ashamed and disgusted and slightly judgmental of the deficit in parental attentions which must have occurred to allow me to leave the house with such a tiresome political agenda literally covering me from head to toe. (Aside: is this not perhaps the longest sentence in the entire world?).

And then I look down and discover myself to be wearing boots with leopard print cuffs, a big leopard print jersey, a (admittedly beautiful, and expensive) leopard fur coat and leopard fur earmuffs. I suppose I have to then shift the blame from my parents to myself, because they can hardly be expected to exercise sartorial authority over 23-year-old offspring located halfway across the world. But someone really should try. THINK OF THE LEOPARDS.

I've totally forgotten what this paragraph began with.

Ah! Zara. I ended up purchasing a most excellent boho-print one shouldered dress, which I paired with a crystal studded headband to great effect. I have my friend Di to thank for my new penchant for dressing to mismatch - there's something very freeing about no longer having to match your belt to your boots. When you have hair as red as I do, nothing really matches anything - my mustard coloured scarf provides a particularly painfully wonderful clash.

Man I am good at digressing. And talking about my hair. Get on with it.

So attired, I proceeded to TK6 to meet with a JET friend and her JTE and tequila shots. Happy hour proved happy indeed. And sweetly flavoured with international irony. At one point I found myself seated at the bar, with three Moscow Mules arrayed before me, engaged in deep conversation with a Russian woman named Olga. She had been living in Tokyo for 16 years, but was currently in Sapporo doing job training. She missed Russia a lot, but tried to go back every year to - yes - Moscow. She complimented my hair. I complimented her on her big, green Russian eyes. A love affair was born. Upon discovering that I planned to be in Tokyo for New Years, she immediately supplied me with business card and phone number, offering to squire me and my friends around town in the Big Smoke. I think it extremely likely that I will take her up on the offer. How often do you actually meet a Russian woman named Olga (if you lived in Russia, probably all the time, it's probably about as exciting as meeting an American named Sarah or a Brit named Clare, but this was my FIRST RUSSIAN that wasn't a COCKTAIL)? I could have chatted with ol' Olga for quite some time, but the group was stirring... t'was time to relocate.

Relocation was found just around the corner in a tiny, smoky, dark bar which specialised in sheesha (for the uninitiated, a flavoured tobacco smoked through a large ornate pipe). We were directed upstairs into what can only be described as an attic - the ceilings were low enough to bump your back on when you were bent double, and there was junk lining the walls (my first attempt to sit down resulted in a painful union between my ass and a foosball table). It is entirely possible that the bar staff were just trying to hide our rowdy, red-cheeked selves, in an effort to attract more desirable custom. But there was a table, and beer, and a pipe, and once the hookah was flowing, the Japanese bartender fished out a projector, which projected (duh) on to the dusty wall scenes of a night sky, across which a meteorite would occasionally flash. It was surreal. Our small group of five quickly doubled when another JET arrived, bringing with him 5 male Japanese co-workers, all fresh from their end-of-year Xmas party. They were courteous and interested - not being English teachers, conversation with me did not flow as easily as it might, but they asked about my country, complimented my dress (yussss) and, with the aid of electronic dictionaries, described me as 'elegant' , which made me glad that I'd kept my tequila shooting to a bare minimum. It was a soothing, smoky atmosphere - the tobacco (a house speciality) was a mix of liquorice and peach and some other flavours I failed to identify. I attempted some Gandalf-style smoke rings which got me so dizzy that I sat on the foosball table again (elegant).

Outside, the snow was falling heavily, as it continues to do even now. It's gonna be a White Christmas, methinks.

At about midnight, the group began to disperse. Some proceeded on to Booty, but others, like me, soothed by smoke and snow and Sapporo, wended their way home through the falling white, just in time to catch the last subway. Getting home at 1 am, I immediately proceeded to cook a full feed of nachos, complete with spicy chicken and home-made guacamole, while "don't drink and fry, don't drink and fry' echoed around my head. Snug in bed with Mexican food and American television, I felt that my celebration of the end of the working year was complete, though sadly devoid of dancing. I'm glad that I cut it short when I did, however, though no doubt Booty would have supplied some hilarious anecdotes (particularly since it has a strippers pole in the middle of the dance floor). My wallet is heavier than it might otherwise have been, and I am ready for Christmas, for the arrival of friends, and for travel.

Come on Liz, Abby, Aravin. The harajuku girls - and Olga - are waiting for us.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Christmas Approaches

And my holiday has offically begun! OK, so far it is off to a slow start, since although my school has closed, my paid leave doesn't kick in until the 24th, so I am back at the BOE, back on the computer, eating Goldfish crackers and drinking green tea. Still, I am not at my desk, pretending to work whilst actually playing Bejeweled Blitz, and so things are clearly on the up.

This positivity is tiring. It doesn't come naturally. So just to tempter it with some more chacteristic moaning, I have GIANT blisters on my left heel from my beautiful, but ever so slightly too small, new boots. This causes me grief not only because I am forced to hobble like a drunken sailor, which has all kinds of ramifications on the icy roads of Sapporo, but also because I am one of those people who must wear anything new IMMEDIATELY. Four out of five purchases I wear out of the store, forcing the long-suffering sales assistant to wrestle the tag from the nape of my neck (or the crack of my butt, if they're really unlucky) and provide me with a carry-bag for whatever sweaty discard I need to bear away. Thus, it is causing me inordinate amounts of grief that I cannae wear my leonine lovelies. I think of them, squatting sadly (can shoes squat? More to the point, can they feel emotion? Feck it, go with it) in my cold landing, all soft and un-scuffed, wondering what they did to be so swiftly replaced with my old boots (boots which cost $400 and are beautiful, so I'm hardly suffering from bootlessness, which is lucky, because it's a terrible disease). Bemoan the plight of the demoted boot.

WARNING: This post is about to shift in tone from grumpy and relaxed to sad and metaphysical. If you're not up to the mental segue, I suggest you part ways with my words here.

By rights, I ought to be hungover today, but the universe rebelled against this prediction in an awful manner: last night was supposed to involve the Christmas leaving party thrown by my school, but was cancelled due to the sudden death of the wife of one my teachers. No better excuse to postpone a party, really. She died at 5.30am on Monday morning, suddenly, of a brain hemorrhage, leaving behind three young children and a shell-shocked husband. Japanese culture still focuses heavily on the role of the woman as child bearer and raiser, and so I do not know what will be the fate of these children, or of the husband. All I know is that there is no way to prepare for this, no way to recover, and no karmic retribution cycle that justifies decimating this family so suddenly, so awfully, so close to Christmas.

I am aware that I have belittled the state of the Japanese family in former posts, but the shocking news made me realise that family, no matter how it is structured, no matter how the various roles play out, is family. For these children, innocence and trust is gone. The husband's life has changed forever. I can't even imagine the depths of the shock and horror and pain that he must be feeling, so I'll leave the subject, and the post, here, departing with intimations of mortality.

Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting;
The Soul that rises with us, our life's Star,
Hath had elsewhere its setting
And cometh from afar;
Not in entire forgetfulness,
And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come
From God, who is our home:
Heaven lies about us in our infancy!
Shades of the prison-house begin to close
Upon the growing Boy,
But he beholds the light, and whence it flows,
He sees it in his joy;
The Youth, who daily farther from the east
Must travel, still is Nature's priest,
And by the vision splendid
Is on his way attended;
At length the Man perceives it die away,
And fade into the light of common day.

Monday, December 20, 2010

My Last Working Monday of 2010

... not to say that this Monday, 20th of December, didn't work, per say - it was, more or less, a standard representation of all my Mondays in Japan thus far. There were classes to teach and meetings to attend. There were trains to catch, and many a Japanese verb to be absorbed. What this title is meant to convey is that holidays are imminent, Santa has boarded the sleigh, and all desire on my part to function as a desirable and worthy employee have flown the whatever. I wouldn't want to give you the wrong impression though - I haven't been slaving away to any particular degree, I simply feel that I have clocked enough hours in 2010 to satisfy karma, and it's time for some R&R (Rice Wine and Restaurants). Tomorrow's post will likely be entitled similarly, with a "Tuesday" substitution. Creativity only flows so far.

This weekend was just gone was spent at the abode of my errant manfriend, who is currently earning his keep nurturing the young minds of Niseko. He is also nurturing a healthy ego, given that the question he is most commonly asked by his winsome charges is "How big is your penis?" It seems that the black man stereotype pervades all four corners, and the blurred boundaries where Sri Lankan meets African American don't seem to matter much when tens of small Asian fingers are groping for your long-john clad package.

I departed on Friday afternoon, directly from school, which involved the carting of one small but densely packed suitcase through the slushy, awful streets of Motomachi (yes, I need a suitcase for one weekend's visit, no I didn't wear all five dresses that I packed, no, no lessons have been learnt). Manfriend is lucky that I love him. The train ride was uneventful (Aside: was totally, utterly engrossed in newest over-priced book purchase, The Windup Girl by Paolo Someone (odd name, but he never gets anyone else's mail) - 'tis a Brave New World for our braver newer world, and comes highly recommended) and it didn't seem like long before I was in the arms of Manfriend in the cold streets of Kutchan (actually, we restrained ourselves 'til we were indoors, Aravin being loathe to publicly disclose both length and girth to the inquiring public). Kutchan is the main township in Niseko, though the majority of tourism occurs in nearby Hirafu ('coz they've got the slopes. Dude). It is small and perfectly formed, and the snow didn't cease during my whole visit. Aravin's apartment is much the same as the suburb in which it is located, so it is lucky that his only piece of furniture is a futon. His apartment is an accurate reflection of everything you've ever read about Japanese living - this kitchen is in the dining room is in the bedroom. Nonetheless, the smallness makes for easy heating and the lack of furniture forced us to remain in bed. Don't cry for me, so.

That night, we partook of Genghis Khan in a nearby restaurant, then of vodka in an adjacent bar. Everything about Kutchan has that kind of indie/local feel that can never be imitated. The staff were friendly and receptive to foreigners without being overwhelmed, and it was a wonderful feeling, after the lengthy commutes I face daily, to know that we were dining a stone's throw (and I really, really do throw like a girl) from bed and warmth and sleep. I am a city girl, no doubt, but my laziness likes the life lived within a kilometer diameter. It's the Wellington in me singing for its supper (Matterhorn, preferably).

Saturday, we did stuff. For reals. We walked in the snow. I bought some gloves (snow is COLD). I saw my first ski slope (still immune to the charms of slope-schussing, but am aiming to fix this. Sometime). We explored Hirafu (which is to say, we walked 100 meters down a hill, found an Italian restaurant, and ate feta for the rest of the afternoon). Hirafu is a unique area in Japan, described as being the place where the Japanese go when they want to experience a foreign country, but don't care to actually get on a plane/learn another language/experience Western racism firsthand. Hirafu is a key destination for skiers and boarders and, to my horror, Australians. All the staff at the Italian restaurant were Italian. All the walkers we passed on our brief sojourn outside were Australian. And I spent a full ten minutes in the company of a fully Australian family in a bus stop, at the conclusion of which encounter I was ready to put my face to a barbeque (my brain just made some connection with Australians and barbeques, sorry if this is too graphic, what with the mental image of my eyeballs melting through the grill and whatnot).

The night was spent in the company of Alistair (and an extensive collection of his friends), a JET local to Niseko, celebrating a birthday (you can tell we're heaps close). We ate, we drank. A nomi/tabe was provided at Wild Bill's and I got to play my first game of pool in 4 months (I lost, but I'm pretty sure that Aravin cheated, and there was an earthquake and I broke my arm). After dinner, we indulged in yet another uniquely Japanese celebration of drinking culture - a night at a club, in which one paid a $30 door charge in exchange for free drinks 'til dawn. I fail to understand how this is even legal. After the first half hour, everyone in the club was totally soaked and thoroughly inflammable, as people (Australians) embraced the concept of "free drink", and expanded it to include "free tequila power shower for all and sundry".

Sunday arvo, I trained back on in to the Big Smoke, and here I am, blogging away once more. I'm a little jaded right now, suffering from a Clothing Failure (one of the worst kinds of Failures). I wore my favourite boots to school today (ones which fulfill the dual Japanese requirements of being both waterproof and easy to remove (their penchant for the removal of footwear is wearing)), but said boots chose this Monday of Mondays ("tell me why...") to fail at the former requirement. My socks were soaked before the end of the driveway and I had been properly introduced. Thus, when I got to school, I carefully arrayed both socks and shoes (aside: the Japanese word for "socks" literally translates as "under shoes". Genius, no?) in front of the heater and left them there for some three hours. When I returned from class, my JTE met me with a concerned expression and the intriguing words "Are your boots ok? Their mouths are open?" Fearful that my boots had succumbed to temptation and eaten my socks, I investigated, only to find that the temperature and veracity of the heater, combined with the cheapness of the boots had resulted in the unfortunate parting of the upper of my boot from the sole. They looked exactly like overheated dogs, with tongues hanging loose. It would have been amusing, had it not been so heart-breaking. It is REALLY hard to get size 8 shoes in Japan.

I swore. A lot. Everyone else in the office was unsympathetically amused.

After brief contemplation and a failed experiment with staples, I took my now dry but utterly useless boots to the janitor. With some gentle mime, he managed to understand my predicament, and I am now the proud owner of two carefully superglued boots.

I'm also the new owner of a pair of $200 Timbalands with leopard-fur inners (they're a size 7.5, but toes are overrated). Today's wisdom: boots from the Number One Shoe Warehouse are not worthy adversaries of Sapporo Snow.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Japanese Friends and a Foreign Weekend

Hi Friends. Just so's you know, I'm sick and crabby and I just sneezed all over my brand new MacBook, so this blog post might have five shades of bitterness that I don't usually add. I got woken up at 9am this morning (UNGODLY) by a pair of Jehovah's Witnesses (GODLY) - a group who represent the only pushy breed of Japanese people, and whom specifically target foreigners dumb enough to put their names in English rather than Japanese on their mailboxes - who SHOULD have taken one look at me and backed away slowly with their hands over their mouths (which would have resulted in their falling down eleven flights of stairs, but oh well at least they're going to heaven, right?) but instead opted to talk me, word for word, through a 5-page colour brochure luridly depicting the glory of Christ. Not until I gave them the same treatment as I did my MacBook did they allow me to close the door and crawl back under my 3 duvets.

The reason for my illness is, I think, this: a desire for change. I have been living in Japan for four months now, and there comes a moment when you are forced to realise that brevity of time in residence is no longer an excuse for having such a scarcity of Japanese friends. This realisation occurred, for me, on Thursday and Friday of last week, during which time I was occupied in attendance at the JET Mid-Year Conference. This involves the reunion of all JETs in your prefecture (in my case, the whole of Hokkaido) in one hotel, and opportunities to discuss lesson-plans, living situations and life in Japan. During the conference, I got the distinct impression that JETs fortunate enough to be situated in Sapporo existed on the outskirts of these conversations. You see, Hokkaido is large and cold and mountainous and snowy. Roads become impassable. One's closest neighbour might live in Russia. So many Hokkaido JETs face extreme loneliness and possible depression. In contrast, if a Sapporo JET should become homesick, he/she could immediately go buy some shoes at Top Shop, drink a Starbuck caramel macchiato, then visit the local English bookstore for the latest Phillipa Gregory offering. Tastes of home are easy to find, and this, it appears, strips us of any license to complain.

There were definite good sides to the conference. I enjoyed immersing myself, albeit briefly, in some Kiwiana - there is only one other Kiwi in Sapporo, but a fair few of them spread thinly across the fields of Hokkaido (I could feel my accent getting broader as the conversations progressed). It was nice to observe some European fashion doing the rounds. And I got to wake up at 9am rather than 6am. But so many gaijin in one room was, truly, overwhelming. We are so loud! So tall! I can't even imagine what it must be like for those far-flung JETs who've not seen blue eyes in four months.

It got me thinking - why don't I make more of an effort to ingratiate myself with Japanese people, when such a concentration of foreigners makes it abundantly clear to me how much I have come to enjoy Japanese company? (PS: Can you tell that I've been watching waaaay too much Sex and the City - "I couldn't help but wonder..."

With that in mind, this weekend just gone saw my most concerted effort to make Japanese friends. Was I successful? Hai.

Friday night, Fay, Pui Wing and I effectively crashed a Japanese Bon Enkaii, which is a party to celebrate the end of the year. When I say crashed I mean that we were invited, but we were invited last Saturday night at a gaijin bar (the one with the Dalmation and Stephen King, if you're a dedicated reader) by a Japanese girl under the influence of three too many tequila shots, whose recollection of the invitation must have been hazy at best. Despite this, we were welcomed warmly, and sat down at a table with some 30 other Japanese people. Their English was fantastic, and my Sex and the City reference was provoked by the women with whom I conversed most - 30-something single, gorgeous women with jobs and goals and truly fantastic legs. One in particular, whose bottom I had spent some time admiring as we climbed the stairs to the restaurant, whom I would have categorized as model/trophy wife/designer transpired to be in the ARMY, which makes me almost wish that Japan would go to war again, just to see how invading forces reacted when it was a Japanese Heidi Clume who raided and plundered (apparently in my mind, warfare involves pirates).

I consumed nabe and sashimi and lotus root...

...and basked in the company of fabulousness for nearly 7 hours. Much alcohol was imbibed and food eaten. I formed many friendships (we're now FaceBook friends, there is no greater recognition).

The men started to falter:

But the women soldiered (PUN) on:

(The one on the right is GI Jane).

This night was fabulous for many reasons, but the most important of them is this: I learnt that my impression of Japanese women is stereotypical and flawed. True, many of them are abject husband hunters. True, the moment I mentioned that I had a boyfriend of 4 years, all eyes flickered to my ring finger. But, these women were strong and sassy and educated and independent. They flirted with the myriad handsome men who were present, but didn't fall at their feet, nor desert their friends to court them. Despite all cultural memes to the contrary, they were Samantha, Carrie and Miranda - they weren't Charlotte.

This revelation was worth a Saturday spent, in pain, in bed.

Saturday night was a different experience - an attempt to break out of the JET mold by spending some time with non-JET foreigners, those who have been here some 7-30 years, those who look upon JET as the kindergarten of foreign experiences. I was invited to this party to an adorable Japanese girl called Emily (Emiri), all five feet of her (we had done some bonding last Saturday):

The party was at an apartment about two minutes walk from the centre of town. During this walk I was introduced to Colin, who I immediately identified as a Kiwi, and who, it transpired, hailed from the same tiny Auckland neighbour-hood as myself. Devonport must be diversifying. The apartment was 18 floors up, an apartment which made JET accommodation look like a bomb shelter. The view alone was worth extracting myself from my sick bed (this photo does not show it as well as it might):

Though hosted by a true-blue Ozzy, the party was filled with many Japanese women cut from the same cloth as those from the night before - young, bilingual and gorgeous. They brought blue cheese! They drank red wine! They were... me! I didn't last very long at this party (I swear I have the PLAGUE, ok), but I stayed long enough to taste true, multi-cultural Japanese life.

I know I sound wanky, but this weekend really was a revelation. I know I am the worst kind of foreigner - I can only make friends with locals who speak my language, I'm only brave enough to attempt it when vodka has been taken - but I feel like I made an effort, and that this effort was rewarded.

In other news?

You can buy strawberries at the supermarket now:


They're only $20 a punnet.

Odori Park is all gawdy and gorgeous for the White Illuminations:

(As you can see, the Japanese fetish for all thing kitsch has not been stymied by the use of the word 'White' in all posters advertising the event).

And... there's only one full week of work left before Christmas and New Years and Tokyo. Hurrah! Also, I'm traveling out to Niseko next weekend to indulge in a little sex... outside the city.

Ha! Bye!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Books and Dogs and Bars

This weekend was my first since the departure of Manfriend, and so it was absolutely essential that it not be spent exclusively lurking beneath the covers with Sex and the City and chocolate. I am determined not to become one of those depressives who functions only in the vicinity of their other half, and so I turned to an old friend to help me through the hurdle: tequila.

It is because of this errant friend that I have not been outside in daylight since Friday afternoon. It hurts my eyes, ok?

Friday night kicked off with a delicious Thai dinner in Susukino. I had been craving Thai for some time, largely due to an unsatisfied addiction to corriander. I would have thought this herb sufficiently Asian to be found in these parts of the world, but it is nowhere to be found in the supermarkets of Sapporo. My Tom Yum soup was, therefore, extremely well-received, though so spicy as to remove large sections of my tongue. If my night had ended there, I probably would have gone to sleep, pleasantly fragranced with my favourite herb.. Alas. Upon the insistence of one seasoned Sapporo drinker, we ended up in the local tequila bar, somewhat ominously named "Raw Life" (which, amusingly, when spoken in Japanese-English comes out sounding like "Low Life"), where one can find 101 different types of tequila. My clearest memories of the night include: reading a book at the bar with two Japanese girls entitled "White Rabbit and Black Rabbit" (I'm pretty sure the rabbits got married at the end; I'm also pretty sure the book was in Japanese, so I have no idea how I actually managed to read the book); giving a Michigan girl advice on what medical condition to feign in order to pre-emptively terminate her contract with a Japanese Catholic school (if memory serves, we settled on endometriosis); finding a Clive Cussler novel in a corner of the bar and sitting down to read it with a Choco Pie I found in the bottom of my bag; and, finally, having to hold a fellow JET upright by means of a head lock in the taxi cab on the way home, in order to prevent him from causing a fatal accident (he had fallen fast asleep on the taxi driver's left arm, who was far too polite to tell him to feck off, and was therefore attempting to handle 3am traffic single-handedly).

Why do I always end up reading?

Anyway, Saturday night was the annual Christmas party, held by one Sagara Sensei, Japanese teacher to the majority of JETs living in Sapporo. It was held in a seedy part of Susukino, surrounded on all sides by host bars promising, among other things:

How do you turn that down?

Despite the location of the venue, the interior was far from seedy. No naked girls, no Man Baths, no dancing entertainment. I did find, however, this:

So I can't say I wasn't warned about this:

Why? Why? Why the bread? Why dogs? Why are they on the bar? Whyyyyy?

Once I managed to turn my eyes away from this confusing scene, there were good times to be had. Crab legs to be eaten. Moscow Mules to be drunken (yes). Bingo to be won. Karaoke to sing. After all, Taylor Swift wasn't going to sing herself now, was she (though that would be cool. Aside: do you think pop stars actually DO sing their own songs if they ever find themselves in karaoke booths in Japan? Because they really should. And imagine, for example, Britney Spears singing Miley Cyrus "Party in the USA"! What fantastic fusion!). Anyway, I got into the Christmas spirit:

Because it's not really Christmas unless you're wearing a battery-powered Santa hat, is it?

After the Christmas party, it should have been home time, but it wasn't. So about 15 of us set out for Pete's Bar, a gaijin bar a few blocks away. But not before really capitalizing on the location:


At Pete's Bar, I found tequila (which tasted like nail polish remover, which should have warned me AGAINST taking four shots thereof, but I never learn, do I?), but I also found this:

AND these:

WHAT is with the proliferation of books and dogs in bars in Japan??

Anyway, been distracted by the above prevented me from participating in the below:

Which can only be a good thing.

(PS: You can tell I'm blogging hungover because I'm using all my photos in order to distract you from the fact that I'm not writing much. But it might be a welcome change from my usual novel-length postings. So soak it up. Be visual. Enjoy the colours. I'm going to go read some of the books I stole now).

Thursday, December 2, 2010

So I Can Eat It, Too.

This post will have to be given a title at the end, because I have no real concept of what I am writing about. The reason for this post is: boredom. Remember how in the blog post I wrote like five minutes ago I made allusions to my predicted discontent about living solo? The discontent has ARRIVED. It is HERE. I have laid down the futons and bought it a tooth brush.

I swear I USED to be good at entertaining myself. I'm pretty sure at age 7 I could have constructed an elaborate scenario in which my parents were cunning kidnappers who had stolen away with me, and it was up to me to find some way to communicate to the outside the world that this had happened, and I had to do so through telepathy because said evil kidnappers had performed amateur surgery and removed my voice-box. With their teeth. Or something. Anyway, the sum total of this self-entertainment would have been me sitting in the middle of my bed THINKING really hard, and would have distracted me for HOURS.

Right now, not even FaceBook is cutting it. Note to my 457 friends - you are not digitally active enough. It is like being sexually active, but instead of having sex you MOAN AND BITCH ONLINE IN A MANNER THAT IS HUMOUROUS TO ME. Get on to it.

Go out, you might say. Well, I say in return (in an irritable and punchy manner) I can't. Someone delivered me something, and I wasn't home to sign for the something, so the someone who delivered the something left a note informing me that the something could not be successfully delivered by the someone, and that it would be withheld by another someone, until the one for whom it was destined (me) rang the other someone and organized another time at which the something might delivered.

So: I did. And because I live in Japan, I know they will turn up at precisely between 7-9 this evening with said something, because they said they would, and therefore I am unable even to go for healthy stroll around the block in order to work out some of this snappy energy that is causing me to rage at Facey and my absent 7 year old self.


I don't even know what's being re-delivered for me. I have swamped my family with so much unnecessary communication that I think it very unlikely that they might have sent me a package; and if they have sent me something it probably contains a note bearing the legend "GO AWAY AND ANNOY PEOPLE WHO ACTUALLY LIVE IN THE SAME COUNTRY AS YOU" and a notification of adoption and five jars of Marmite (which I HATE). Probably, it is a bill. Probably, I have racked up so much Japanese debt with my scalding showers and inability to turn off the heater at night, that an ordinary envelope did not suffice for the quantity of BILLAGE and so they had to send me a parcel to fit in all the 0's.

You know what living alone also means? It means losing all enthusiasm for cooking (and I was distinctly lacking in this particular zeal right from the get go. Aside: Get go? An interesting phrase. Get going? Get gone? Right before the go was gotten? Gah). Dinner so far has consisted of a large pile of boiled green beans and most of a tube of Salt and Vinegar Pringles, and I don't envisage the situation improving any time soon, unless the anticipated package contains a CAKE or a variety of cheese and chutneys. Which would be lovely.

I wanted to make toast, but then I realised that all of my cutlery was still on loan to a friendly American couples who had absconded with it on Thanksgiving (thanks for NOTHING). Rather than walk down two floors to retrieve a knife, I spread my peanut butter with a chopstick.

I vaguely considered boiling some water (as I have discovered a taste for mugs of hot water, a drink only marginally less lazy in execution than simply going out onto the balcony and licking the snow) but ran out of energy before I turned the tap on.

I was going to put pajamas on, but when I took off my jeans and remembered that I was wearing stockings underneath, I couldn't move myself to shuck that second skin, and I so I'm still entirely dressed, just notably lacking in PANTS.

I always feared that I had tendencies towards hermitage, and this, my first night alone in A LOT OF YEARS is proving my fears to be not only rational, but possibly vastly understated. I'm going to end up like that man who has had his hand raised in the air for *insert number of years here* (too lazy to Google) so that all of his fingers have melted into his palm like wax; but, instead, my tights are going to meld with my skin, so that I resemble a closely-shorn faun; and instead of having religion or faith as a disclaimer, I can only claim lack of motivation to BEND OVER.

NB: I think Sapporo itself has a problem with my indolence - I have been disrupted from fruitful blogging no less than TWICE in the last 30 minutes by earthquakes. When tectonic plates, which are themselves less than lively, start to cajole you into movement, that is when you might reconsider your nightly routine.

YOU might.

But I won't. I'm waiting for my cake.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Nudity and Cats in Equal Measures But Not At The Same Time

Hi Friends (capital F to show that you're Important)! Apologies for hiatus - but I have a better excuse than the usual combination of minor depression/hangover/abject laziness: a visitor from across the world!

Yes, this last week I played hostess with the mostest to my friend Nicole, on the second leg of a trip that includes Australia, Japan, Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Europe, the UK and Abu Dabi. I don't even know where most of those places are (ok, all of them). She arrived in true travelling style, clad in a blue ski jacket and wearing a backpack that was fully as big as the average Japanese man (entirely possible that that is precisely what it contained, she is vicious when provoked). I spied her through the gates of the train station (not difficult, as she was sporting a Japanese man on her back) and hollered to her in a most un-Japanese fashion. A familiar face! But she was dozy as fuck from an 11 hour train trip and simply stood there, gawking at the unfamiliarity, clearly afraid that if she moved one foot, she would fall down the rabbit hole. So I approached the woman manning the ticket box with an expression akin to that which one might wear upon dropping one's only child onto the train tracks, feigned some frantic Japanese accompanied by some manic facial expressions, and she waved me through, clearly afraid that I might spontaneously decombust in Dickensian fashion if left to brew a moment a longer. I ran up to my errant friend and grabbed her from behind, upon which she screamed and jumped, clipping me violently beneath the chin with her luggage.

Her first words to me in Japan? 'Oh! You look like Princess Leia!' (I was wearing my new favourite fashion accessory, a luciously furry pair of leopard print ear-muffs. Also probably because I'm alarmingly attractive and hold myself with royal poise). We hugged, we laughed, and then I towed her back through the gates, where the ticket-woman was still peering anxiously after us, clearly expecting that her acquiescence would be taken advantage of, and that we were primed to sprint for an un-paid-for train. She was probably subsequently soothed by the obvious fact that Nicole was so exhausted that she could barely walk.

It was so strange, and yet so wonderful, to have something so familiar in such a foreign environment. Nicole is one of those people who radiates comfort and surety and capability, as if you could lock her naked in an underground dungeon for a year, and when you finally went in to check on her decomposing corpse, she would be sitting there calmly watching Scrubs and eating Pad Thai, having fashioned clothing and shelter and a television from the very walls themselves, and created full meals from the animals and vegetation contained therein. She would then talk you calmly through your reasons for imprisoning her thusly (she is a Psychology major), before laying you flat with a single blow (she is a Combat regular and alarmingly strong).

So even though every Japanese person in the vicinity of the station was noting her for her strangeness, both in attire and in appearance, I was being transported back to New Zealand and to high school by her presence.

Nicole was my very first visitor in Japan, and as such I was eager to show her the best time possible. I was eager to show her everything. Everything. I perhaps took this too far on Tuesday, when I encouraged her to partake in public nudity, in that very Japanese manner: the Onsen, natural mineral hot springs that bubble from the volcanic mountains, and can only be properly enjoyed as God intended it: naked.

We bussed out to Jozankeii, a mountainous area about an hour out of Sapporo. The scenery was beautiful, but I was preoccupied with attempting to un-fasten my bra through nine layers of clothing, fearful as I was of unattractive red lines on my breasts. Why was I mindful of my naked appearance, given that I would be appearing only to a pool-ful of sweaty Japanese pensioners? Welcome to the depths of my psyche. Dive in. The water's very, very, very cold.

Turns out, the only really awkward moment was that first strip, where everything is revealed for the first time. Each onsen goer is provided with a 'modesty towel', a strip of white towelling approximately the size of the tea towel. So it is the choice of the wearer whether to use said tea-towel to cover either both tea cups or one's bowl. I opted for the former, though I was very aware of the latter. (NB: the pubic wax is not a phenomenon embraced by the Japanese. They don't shave, they don't wax, they don't trim. Thus, though everyone was naked, Nicole and I were the only ones who really LOOKED naked, if you get my drift, which I imagine you do). By mutual consent, Nicole and I walked side-by-side, thus avoiding the very pertinent 'who gets to study whose butt' issue. The first step in onsen-ing is the clean down, as the pools themselves are filled with natural hot water and are not improved by the addition of Western perspiration. This involved sitting on a little stool in a long line of naked Japanese woman sitting on little stools, soaping up, and rinsing down. The appropriate procedure was a little obscure, and Nicole's face must have revealed it as such, as a tiny, tanned, bird-like old woman took it upon herself to squat before her and demonstrate proper use of the shower head and soap. Nicole handled herself, and the little Japanese breasts jiggling before her nose, with aplomb. Once we were suitably sanitary, the little lady proved to be a useful guide, as she then showed us through an obscure door to the outside onsen.

I don't know why ANYONE would use the inside onsen.

The air was freezing, probably two degrees below. The pool itself was about knee deep, steaming hot and faintly sulfurous. It was designed to look natural, as if carved out of the very mountains, and so was surrounded by boulders, all of which were thickly capped in snow. As we quickly sat down, so best to hide goose-pimpled flesh and winter-white thigh, snow began to fall, melting immediately as it met the steam. It was infinitely, amazingly relaxing, and the absence of swim-wear only seemed natural in the perfect environment. Nicole and I quickly relaxed into comfort in our nakedness, and did out best to appear as the natives did. This was unsuccessful, and not only because we giggled nearly constantly. We had been told before entering the onsen that the modesty towel should be removed before entering the water, and that the best thing to do with it was to put it upon ones head. So, before entering the water, I encouraged Nicole to fold up her towel and balance it upon her head, in the manner of someone practicing deportment with something easier than a book, which we both did. Upon surveying the other occupants of the pool, however, it became apparent that 'putting the towel on your head' actually meant 'wrapping it elaborately like a turban so that your hair doesn't get wet'; and that our attempt made us look like three year-olds who had dressed themselves for the first time and ended up with pants on inside out and backwards.

It didn't detract from our pleasure any.

After the onsen we partook in curry. Whyyyy there was an Indian restaurant in the midst of such a very Japanese situation, I know not. I did not complain. Onsen and naan bread - the makings of a perfect day.

Topping this experience the next day was going to prove difficult, I knew, but I think I was successful in my quest, when I managed to locate for Nicole a uniquely Japanese experience: the Cat Cafe. These establishments are principally to be found in Tokyo, but there is one in Sapporo, called, appropriately, Love Cat. Good. We had no idea what to expect, and having an open mind proved to be the best possible approach. Upon entering, we were instructed to wash our hands thoroughly. We then entered a room, about the size of the average living room filled with: cats. About 17of them. All fully grown and large, all perfectly casual in each other's company. Sitting in the midst of these cats was a Japanese salary man, clearly on his lunch break, playing with the cats like a toddler. The room was filled with towers and couches and toys and cages and - yes - catwalks, for the entertainment of the langorous moggies. It was a truly weird experience. Nicole and I had no idea what to do. We couldn't have been more awkward if we were naked again. We perched on the couches and watched the sole other occupant of the room indulge in what was clearly a well-developed feline fetish. It was interesting, I'll give it that, but there was one cat with a diaper on, and no kittens, and it DID smell funny. The proprietor of the establishment did her best to give us our full half hour $8 worth, furnishing us with toys and catnip and attempting to teach us the names of each kitty (I should have told her not to bother, I can't even remember the names of my students) and I can say that I'm glad I went, if only so that I can say I have done so, and state definitively that I will require smothering with a pillow if I ever demonstrate ANY tendency towards becoming the fabled crazy cat-lady.

So, all in all, an interesting week in Japan, in which I was able to abandon my (flawed) attempts to assimilate with all things Japanese, and flagrantly indulge in being a tourist.

Nicole left this morning, but not before a pretty serious earthquake shook her up some. Snow, nudity, cats and an earthquake - the woman can't say she got anything other than a full, unadulterated Japanese experience.

In other news? My lovely manfriend has been snapped up by INTERAC for a full-time, four-month teaching job in Niseko, a skiing village about two hours out of Sapporo. I am pleased for him. I am. I am. But I am also deeply sorry for myself and my new single status (we are not actually separated, I just like alliteration and exaggeration in equal quantities), as living alone does not appeal much at all.

That said, his departure prompted the purchase of a lovely new MacBook, so the flashy technology and bountiful me-time will no doubt result in relentless blogging. And TV series watching. And red wine drinking. And, mayhap, my first step in the direction of Crazy-Cat-Lady-Hood. Pillows at the ready, readers.