Kyoto, thoughts and an onsen

Lots of wandering around on a semi-swollen ankle and roaming thoughts about nothing in particular. Since the beginning of September, I have been in Tokyo for 8 days, Osaka for 1.5 and now in Kyoto and will be here until the 17th of September.

Currently in Japan, it’s 1:18am, Wednesday September 12th. Instead of sleeping as I should for a big travel day tomorrow, I’m in front of my laptop – thinking too much. It didn’t even register that ‘yesterday’ was September 11th. The – gasp, debate – September 11th. I probably wouldn’t have realized 9/11 had just passed if it weren’t for all the related tweets. Instead of thinking of the tragedy, September 11th, 2012 was reduced to ‘Tuesday’ in my mind. I woke up early, had breakfast, enjoyed conversation, learned about various Japanese preserved vegetables, visited Fushimi Inari shrine, got lost, went to see monkeys then turned myself into a prune in an onsen. On just a Tuesday.

Tired now since I woke up at 7:30 in the morning… but there are thoughts I want to remember. For example, always sit up straight and walk straight and maintain good posture. That’s important. Have healthy eating habits and work on portion control! Also, must remember to bring sketchbook and art-things while traveling at an onsen pace. It’s okay not to see everything and have everything checked off. Remember where you’ve been and where you will go – next time.

People are funny. Always have pen and paper ready for that hilarious conversation. Breathe deeply. Go to an onsen. Go to sleep…

In the meantime, cheers to “On Being Nothing” and Correcting Creativity: The Struggle for Eminence”.

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The beginning of Japan – Tokyo, Day 1, Ack!

What a… surreal sort of day. Things that happened are like those scenes from movies we all love to laugh at… or at least snicker a little.

It all began at 5:40am when I had to get up. Or rather, when my first alarm began sounding. I had called for a cab at 6:30am to avoid morning rush hour and had to fold and pack-up laundry before then. So there I was, hobbling around trying to pack and get all my stuff together before 6:30 comes around when the taxi driver calls. Did I mention I have a sprained ankle currently? I do. I’m suppose to stay off it, but in the past week I’ve moved house and have taken a trip to Tokyo, where I currently am. Yes. The taxi man has been driving for 39 years and 5 generations of his family have all been in Beijing. I fell asleep on the way to the airport.

At the airpot, while waiting in line for check-in, the lady behind me asked if she could follow me through to boarding. Her husband, whom she hasn’t seen in a year, lives in Tokyo and she was on her way to join him. She’d never left China before then. We spoke, I tried getting through in my broken Chinese… we determined that we already change the world by existing because our unintentional actions affect other people’s worlds all the time. We sat next to each other on the plane and complained about the terrible food. Eventually we found ourselves with a pushcart full of suitcases exiting customs. Her husband was magically there in less than a second and we embarked on a Tokyo train adventure. Thankfully her husband was familiar with Tokyo, and I met a girl on the train fluent in English who explained a bit more to me. There are the metro trains, the private trains, the JP trains, which are somehow separate… some other sort of multi-colour-coded-confusing-as-hell systems where they require different tickets and… I suspect they do so to intentionally confound visitors. Like me. It’s those rare meetings with such nice people that makes things all okay.

This couple, one and two years older than me respectively, are doing something amazing. The man studies during the day, works from 5pm-midnight every day and has a part time gig for when he doesn’t have class. He’s as skinny as a twig and probably overworks himself on a regular basis. The woman, who taught me about the village she’s from and all the various dialects within the province, was eager to take Japanese lessons and start contributing to household income. They’ve been married for over a year. How can someone be so brave? Just… up and move to some place completely foreign? Not understanding the language, culture… not having people to fall back on. Even while just travelling, I hesitate…

The couple got off the train before me and I found myself leaving the transfer station myself. After trying, and failing to buy a metropass (the poor man apologized more times than I can count, kept on bowing and pointing me towards another sign) I realized the only visible way to the Tozai line was down some stairs. My suitcase weighs about 20kg. I’m not going downstairs with a sprained ankle and that. I tried and tried to ask for where the elevator was. “Excuse me, do you know where the elvator is?” “Excuse me, is there an elevator?” “Excuse me, elevator?” At one point, I stood in front of rush hour people exiting the metro and said “Elevator??” to everyone who passed. Some shook their head and apologized, many continued on their way. I felt like an idiot. Eventually, after being misdirected in several directions, I found the elevator which was in the middle of the roundabout thanks to its medium-small sign. There was a little clearing courtyard place… and the elevator. What.

So I find the elevator, go down to B1… only to realize there’s another flight of stairs. And no elevator. Thankfully I had asked to buy a metropass (successfully this time) and the guard guy actually carted my suitcase down the stairs. O_O He looked very… delicate and I was impressed. But the lack of elevator and escalator continued. I got off at the metrostation closest to the guesthouse and at that point I was cursing silently under my breath, limping, sweating under 30 degree weather and dragging a 20kg suitcase. I struggled up the stairs of Kagurazaka station, all the while muttering to myself. An old man stopped to help. His wife was with him and undoubtedly muttered how dumb he was to risk his back on a stranger’s suitcase. I was incredibly grateful.

The little side roads around here were rather difficult and temperamental to navigate and at one point I realized I hadn’t properly followed directions and was in the middle of these tiny nameless roads without very many people passing. The friend who’s also staying at the guesthouse wasn’t answering her phone and I was on the edge of panic. However! However, I had a photo of the area’s map from the metro station. That guided me – correctly – to Tokyo Guesthouse. Travel tip: always take photos of any magnified maps you see. It will save you.

That’s where I am now – Tokyo Guesthouse. The rent is 1400 yen per night and 70 people stay in this small, 6-story building. The 6th floor roof has showers and laundry machines. The 5th floor is the common living room and kitchen area. The 4th, 3rd, 2nd and 1st floors, with one room per floor, hold people. 70 of them, of us. It’s a bit pod-hotel-esque, actually. A bunk with a little curtain is what we have. A little bit of space beside the mattress for a suitcase. There’s a whole lifestyle here that’s so foreign to me. I’m in the living room now leaning against the wall surrounded by Japanese people, most of whom don’t speak English (or don’t answer when I speak. I’m not that intimidating, am I?) Some are watching tv, some reading manga, others are on facebook.

I’m here for a week… 8 days, I’m hoping. But it feels like some people live here year-long. They’re so familiar and comfortable here and they know each and every person who wanders into the living room. It’s a friendly atmosphere and that I’ve missed, especially while living in a studio by myself. There’s definitely a trade off between having precious space and privacy and the friendly sense of community they have here. And it’s always a difficult trade to make…

As minutes pass, I’m getting more and more frustrated. I want to ask them questions, I want to interrupt their tv-watching, I want to ask for restaurant recommendations! I want to communicate in addition to typing out all my memories from today. Most of the places I’ve been to, I’ve been surrounded by others who were similar – those who travelled, those who spoke English, those who lead a life similar to my own, those who’re facing uncertainty and indecision and opt for escape… This frustration made me wish I had chosen a typical hostel where the like-minded gather, where I could be jabbering away about plans for tomorrow and the day after… but that’s not really seeing the city, is it? The gathered sense of anticipation from the ghost-story tv show isn’t something I’d get from a foreigner-filled hostel. One by one they come, with plastic bags filled with food…