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Journal: Feburary 16th, 2005

Journal by lingqi

Feburary 16th, 2005 (13:08)

It's snowing outside. The snow is not as heavy as earlier this morning, but it still continues. A thin layer of snow has already accumulated on the ground, and the rice fields, resting from the previous year's excertion, rests silently beneath the feathery white duvet.

Actually this morning there was a pretty big earthquake too. Probably about a four where I was. It was the first earthquake that woke me up. I opened my eyes from the undulations and the squeaks the wall made under the strain, decided that I didn't want to go climb under a table, and fell back asleep - both a little scared but yet with some comfort, like lying in mother earth's cradle...

It's not without reason that I felt that way. On my way back from the airport I seriously wondered if I would experience another earthquake before I finally returned to the US. I suppose Japan wanted to make sure that I felt fully that I was indeed back here. True, the cradle may be of the reaper rather than a more benevolent being, but somehow I have faith in the latter.

During lunch I looked outside to realize that the familiar world usually present before my eyes have disappeared. It is like a masquerade of all things - trees, houses, roads, fields. Everything puts on another face to tickle your sense of adventure, your sense of curiosity. Few feelings can be compared to being the first to walk on a small winding road covered by snow, and then look back to your footsteps - and it is just as exciting to follow an existing trail between the shrubs and over bridges, to see where it lead, to wonder where the previous traveller had stopped and pondered, to inquire the grass and the birds if the scene he saw was as tranquil as the one you are staring at right now.

I like this feeling, when you look outside expecting to find the usual but is instead greeted by a surprise. The first thing I did was put on my sweater and went for a walk, looking at small snowflakes tangle themselves onto my body and melt into tiny beads of water, glittering.

Standing in the middle of a small road that surround my company, I came to the realization that this feeling is a part of me I do not want to lose. I thought I wanted to live in California or San Diego where the weather is never changing, but suddenly begin to find it incredibly boring. Variety is the spice of life, right. Finally do I appreciate the finer point of having four seasons, and why Japanese are pround of this aspect of their country.

The other thing I thought about recently stems from the two movies I saw. One is "Closer," the other "Million Dollar Baby." Both are rated reasonablly high. The most dramatic contrast between the two movies is that in Closer, while all the characters are constantly expressing love for eachother verbally, I felt no such emotion expressed - yet in Million Dollar Baby, not once was the word used, but the love was so thick it made me cry. I come to wonder how important really is it to say "i love you." If you really love someone, he / she should feel it through your actions and saying it would just be a waste of breath - and if your action does not show what you say in your words then the words are empty anyway... either way, it seems like either a wasted effort or a empty promise - both meaningless. I seem to be the only one who thinks this way, apparently...

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Journal: Feburary 15th, 2005

Journal by lingqi

Feburary 15th, 2005 (4:33pm)

It seems like fate always somehow catches up with you.

The forgotten speed ticket I have gotten from a million years ago (actually, about 10 monthes prior, to be precise) has finally entered its final stages of development. Kumagaya police contacted me in the past few days about getting me over there to decide on the actual amount of punishment.

With only 6 weeks left of my stay in Japan, this came just at about the worst possible time. If it had just been a tad later, I could have escaped back to the US with more or less unscathed - but 6 weeks is exactly a point where I am really too busy to deal with such a think but long enough that I can't just toss it aside. The worst thing is that they want me to pay up by the end of this month. They have taken their sweet time, but when it's finally up to me they are all suddenly in such a great hurry? Sometimes I simply can not accept some of the stupidity that we are expected to endure.

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Journal: Feburary 14th, 2005

Journal by lingqi

Feburary 14th, 2005 (9:56am)

Lots of things had happened. Obviously lots of things tend to happen with the welcoming of a new year. Today is my first day back in Japan after a relatively long assignment in the US, which was followed closely by a trip in China for Chinese New Years.

The most interesting of recent happenings was that I got my results from the Japanese Language testing board. I was Goukaku with 300 points out of 400 (actually not such great score at all).

The sad thing is, I did not know how to pronounce Goukaku when I received the notification - I knew what it meant (besides, it had english translation on the side) because of my chinese background, but it is terribly ironic that I have passed an exam which I couldn't even read the "passing" note. Of course, I still think I should have failed, the aforementioned reason being one, and the other that it's a great injustice to people who had studied very hard for the said test.

I should mention that it has come to my attention that in general japan likes to publish a lot of statistical data about all sorts of stuff. It's a obsession somewhat similar to the obsession with trivia in the US. While trivia usually yields amusement, however, statistics yield some insight into useless trivia as well.

The one that was especially enlightening was the separate "domestic test takers" and "international test takers" statistics on average score by category. on the listening comprehension portion, the test takers in japan scored a whole 12 points above those outside - clearly demonstrating that immersion is still the key to learning a foreign language well. I am sure this can be generalized to many other languages, of course. On one hand, I am glad that there are some empirical (scientific, even) evidence that my times spent here is of value, but it makes me wonder just how much is the challenge if I ever want to take on another foreign language without the benefit of living in the said country.

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Journal: December 26, 2004

Journal by lingqi

December 26th, 2004 (7:47pm)

I'm sitting on a little stool in my kitchenette, waiting for some cold pasta to heat up in the microwave.

When I came back here to SJ, I forked over the miles to get a business upgrade. These days on AA, it seems that beside getting able to borrow the most excellent Bose noise-cancelling headphones, there is always this pack of "SpAA In Flight" thing with socks and eyeshades and some moisturizers etc inside. I didn't take much notice last time but this time I took the time to read the package. It had something like:

Bag, Eyeshades, Socks, Toothbrush, Tissue Pack and Brochure - Made in China
Packaging (Paper Strap, and OPP Pouches) - Made in China
Toothpaste and Earplugs - Made in USA
Mints - Made in Spain
Plastic Toothpick - Made in Taiwan
Lip Moisturizer, Foot Moisturizer, Lotion and Cleanser - Made in United Kingdom.

All that, for a package to be given away to everybody who takes a seat in business class on a flight.

Update Jan 10, 2004 (10:08pm)

Lesson to self: Don't ever leave journal entry half-finished.

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Journal: December 17, 2004

Journal by lingqi

December 17th, 2004 (9:47am Pacific Time)

I have been in the US for about 10 days now, but it actually feels a lot longer. I think the concept of time for people is generally associated with the amount of different things one experienced rather than the actual amount of time passed. Isn't this why adults always feel that their life slips by their fingers at a tremendous speed compared to childhood? I suppose that for a child, everything is new. I cannot imagie how horribly would a life in a cube-farm do to the chronological perception of even the best of minds.

For that, the last 10 days felt like a month or more. After arriving in CA, I took a weekend and went to NY and went through about what felt like a week of activities in just one day - after that I am in Folsom, CA this week as a precursor to some onsite support project that will begin soon. Prior to coming here, of course, I had my Japanese Language Skills Exam the day before my flight to the US.

I was hoping to jot down some details of the test before the memory thereof totally fade into oblivion.

The way I studied for the test was a little more than unorthodox. I _planned_ to sit down the night before and read some grammar notes (my weak point), in the hope that i would remember at least a few of them the day after, but instead the "oh just one more" mentality set in after popping in the Fullmetal Alchemist DVD and i watched that nonstop for maybe 8 hours - from 10pm Saturday (this would be the 4th of december) to 6am Sunday - i.e. right up to the morning of the test.

The test was scheduled to begin at 9:45am (i think), and it was located in Saitama University in Urawa. The plan was to start scooting over at about 8:00am, get there around 8:30 under the naive assumption that there are not so much sunday morning traffic, and start taking the test without sparing a single minute in the whole "studying" thing. But as fate would have it, the assumption about sunday morning traffic is an incredibly naive one after all.

Skipping the details of anxiously stuck in traffic, I get there around 9:30 but notices that there are still legions of students flooding into the school much like a typical weekday morning. (On that point if everyone was wearing uniforms it would look a lot like Sanyo on a typical morning) I was very surprised by the lack of punctuality of all the students - The thought did pass through my mind that since the majority of the test takers are chinese + koreans, that maybe the test administrators planned to start the test late intentionally.

I got to my classroom with about 2.8 minutes to spare, and the room was at most quarter full. It turns out that due to strong winds, one of the JR trains from utsunomiya (i think) was delayed, and a decision had been made to push back the test start time by an hour.

I suppose part of the problem was that this location handled students from a huge area, encompassing all of northern Saitama and at least extending into Gunma prefecture - unsurprising if it was responsible for the foreigner population in Tochigi prefecture to the east as well. I do not think it went so far as Ota, as there were very few people of Brazillian descent there, but then again, maybe they simply don't bother with taking such tests.

I was not too sure if I should feel that there are many or few foreigners taking the test - while numerically speaking (about 3000) it is an incredible sight as buses come packed to the brim and leave empty one by one, but this is just one test location responsible for a huge area. As I was made to understand, within Tokyo several such test stations must be secured to accomodate the test praticipants in just the city itself. It is no wonder that it seems that in Shinjyuku everywhere I turn I would bump into some foreigners.

The classrooms had many rows of tables, the last 1/3 or so was on a weak incline. there were four columns and each seat two people, added with around 30 rows of tables, the entire classroom, no bigger than two of your typical US elementary school classrooms, have the theoretical capacity fit some 300 plus students. The hallways is way too thin for such a number of people, and we pushed and shoved around to get to our classroom to which we are assigned. Each seat is numbered with a serial number that corresponds with the examinee's number on the little test voucher he received. After you find your seat, you can sit and wait for the test to begin.

A curiosity, or certainly a warning to any test taker, is that the bathroom line, especially the female one, becomes very long during any kind of breaks. In fact, I don't quite believe "very" describes it well because it would conjure up the imagination of a line maybe 20-30 people in length. In reality it's more like a wait for a popular ride in an amusement park, where the line folds back onto itself several times to accomodate the sheer amount of people. Just about everybody in the line has a terribly grumpy face - that of a person longing for immediate gratification but is denied almost indefinitely. The guys' side sometimes got a little line going too, but nothing like the monstrosity for the fairer sex. The best advice is probably to go before you come to the test and drink as little as you can. While mild dehydration may not be beneficial for the test score, I somehow feels that bloated and waiting for a prolonged period of time would do much worse.

The test itself, when started, was kept on schedule. The broadcasts were a played tape insntead of by individual and to ensure nothing goes wrong there were multiple audio tests beforehand. A person per column distributes the answer sheet and the test booklet for each student and collects them similarly. You cannot open your test booklet, but it was so thin that if you flip it over you can read the last few questions. Not that it helps or anything (especially since you have to figure out blurry gana+kanji written backwards.

The test was broken into three parts. The first was Vocabulary, Second is Listening Comprehension, and third Reading and Grammar. At the beginning I thought grammar would be combined with vocabulary; I didn't think the section was too bad, and the Listening comprehension was just a tad easier than I expected (though not as easy as I had hoped), but in any case by lunch I actually got quite a good feeling that I might actually pass this test because I know I don't usually do too terribly in reading.

Just then, I get the last test and over half of it was grammar.

It was so difficult for me that I did not even have time to finish it and penciled in half a dozen questions in a simple mechanical fashion. To be honest I did not know how to properly answer a single one of the 36 questions, with only two that I was somewhat partially sure of. The only thing I could have hoped for was to eliminate as much of each question as possible so the random choice left behind would be higher than 25%. It was a sad state of affairs, and no matter what happens, it would be impossible for my other scores to be high enough to compensate for the terrible mess that is in this last section.

Depressed, I finished the test and with "this exam is now over" message left the room, into the crowded halls outside and flowed in the great river of people, over 50% chatting on cellphones in chinese complaining about the test, out to the open grounds where the sun almost set. A bit sad, actually - the last day in Japan for quite a while was passed by doing something and with so little results. But to be truthful, I don't think it would be fair for those who put in so much effort for their exams if I was lucky enough to pass.

Just one mention - all the announcements during the test were in Japanese, I suppose that for level 1, they sort of expect that you already have the basic ability to understand test directions. Maybe you can even think of it as an unplanned listening test of sorts.

The last great spectical for the day was the ultimate line of students waiting for the bus to go home. Buses simply do not come enough for the huge outflux of students and the line stretched several hundred meters long. I think the most unfortunate are the level 1 test takers - as our test was the longest, we are stuck at the end of the line. I rounded up two of my friends who were also taking the test on the same day, and we went to Red Lobster for a quick bite (the food was sold out completely during lunch, and I did not even have breakfast), and by the time we got back about an hour and half later, there was still the same line left, about two buses worth of students waiting, some shivering in the chilly evening wind.

The results are out Feburary. I guess that's also a kind of "welcome back" thing I should look forward to when I return to Japan.

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Journal: December 3rd, 2004 1

Journal by lingqi

December 3rd, 2004 (4:35pm)

This is the last day I will work here until middle of Feburary next year. I cleaned up my cubicle and even took the time to wipe tea stains off the table surface, all the while feeling irony dripping from every pore of my body: why is it human nature to clean something when it's _not_ going to be used?

To my own disbelief, I have surprisingly little I really feel like worth saying despite this being like the last day before I go to work my ass off all the way through Christmas and New Years. The good news is that apparently a shiny new IBM T42 is being prepared for me with a humongous 1.5GB RAM - which in a few years will probably become standard, but currently, that's about as much as I ever dreamed of having on a laptop computer. Bye bye swap file.

I should probably also mention that the coming Sunday is the japanese language proficiency test for this year; I am signed up to take Level 1, but I have zero confidence in passing; All the mock tests place me at about 50% for grammar and vocabulary. Passing is 70% and no way my listening comprehension is good enough that I can make up the difference.

It seems that everyone from this entire area is congregating at the Saitama University in Urawa for this test. It's kind of nostalgic: Urawa was the first excursion I made in japan in my search for recycle shops on my first weekend here. I am sure walking down that road will reawaken some interesting memories. It's amazing how much changed in the past two years and half as well, while two years ago I walked down that road with anxiety and trepidation, I expect that I would be right at home this time, and I am even at peace with the unfortunate fact that I will be failing the test this time, as I honestly had no time to formally prepare for it.

I read somewhere that on Eienstein's last visit to Princeton, he was looking around, eyes dashing from place to place, as if to capture and store all that he could for his memory; I find myself inadvertantly doing the same, gazing from the small china tea-pot (kyusu) to the workstation wrapped in bubble wrap to damp some high frequency noise the motherboard generates (seems like an electrolytic capacitor is about to burst but has been teetering). What's this power with familiarity? When did I fall pray to it?

My cousin in London seem to love that city, and to be honest, I really did not find the city particularly charming. I mean, I do appreciate London in my own way - that it is a city where history and culture seeps from every corner and every umbrella and every teacup, but it simply wasn't my cup of tea; I didn't feel that people there were distant and cold, most seemingly hiding behind some veil of politeness and contempt. I attributed the city's attraction to her as that it is a place that she can call home - after all what is a home but a place where you are a part of? Like when you have lived in a neighborhood for so long that you recognize some crack on a wall formed in some trivial storm many a years ago, or notice that the favorite passtime of a neighborhood old uncle's is to sit at the corner on weekday mornings to watch the school children go off to school, these familiarity ties you to a place that becomes home, to a point where you appreciate its beauty and drawback together. I admit I felt that ever tiny bit of contempt - that she had committed herself to London like so; yet it's ironic that this cubicle that I rediculed so much when I first moved here would draw my eyes as it is right now.

Maybe similarly, "love" is just a similar feeling that extends to a person; and that emotions can indeed be cultivated with time. Who knows.

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Journal: November 30th, 2004

Journal by lingqi

November 30th, 2004 (4:16pm)

In a few days I will embark on a very long business trip to the US to support one of our larger (erm, largest) customers. I will be there from the beginning of December all the way till the beginning of Feburary, living out of a suitcase and eating things that are probably not the healthiest for me.

In any case, it's always change that brings understanding of what's around. I was made aware of an aspect of Japanese business life that I have never touched upon before, the beauracracy of the whole thing.

An international business trip seems to be a big deal. I mean, with a fairly large company of several thousand people and many overseas offices and customers, international trips would be quite frequent. However, every single one must be reported to the president himself directly, and without his approval, the trip will not take place. This is not just our company, apparently, but pretty much everybody - the only difference is whereby our company only have one president overseeing a few thousand people, companies like SONY would have fleets of presidents for this purpose on a much grander scale.

For this purpose, there is a weekly or sometimes bi-weekly (depending on the number of trips that needs to be approved) meeting of high-level managers including the president that hears about all the planned international business trips and approves or denies them. This makes an interesting schedule for the person doing the trip: For me, I must submit all the documentation (trip purpose, estimated expenses, export control documentation, etc) for approval well in advance so that they can be stamped by seveal levels of managers, and then approved by the regional director (who will attend the high-level manager meeting mentioned above), at least before the last high-level manager's meeting before my scheduled trip takes place. It's a shocking amount of paperwork. Plus, besides all the expense reporting and daily activity reporting, upon return the traveller must submit a detailed trip report along with the expense related reports, etc.

People always kind of wonder why Japanese companies move so slowly - I think this is one of the main reasons. There is a tremendously strong mindset of beauracracy within the company, and the rules are always followed, all the time. Well, I have to say, inasmuch as the beauracracy exists, i cannot deny that they are at least quite efficient about it, unlike some devil-incarnate organizations usually known by letters D, M, and V in most states, especially NY and Illinois, I think.

Another thing.

Recently there was a big commotion about the pension system. The short of it is that the government pension is in trouble, and while the company is trying to cover the slack, it is unable to keep doing so. The company asks everyone for approval to reduce the pension payment, which is a permanent change: the pension received by those retirned now will be reduced, and those currently employed will also look forward to a smaller pension when they retire.

Nonetheless, everybody was eager to agree to the proposal because it helps the company. Even though it does not even affect me, I was asked to vote so that we can pass the resolution. It's one of those times that you can almost reach out and touch that huge culture gap that hangs between Japan and... as far as I can tell pretty much everywhere else. I know for a fact that the US isn't like that, and China has not been like that for a few decades now. The whole world operates on the "dog-eat-dog" principle, and I can understand why people here take solace in their ability to depend on eachother to make sacrifices for the common good. The company depends on the employees to be selfless, and the employees depends on the company to take care of them through the rough times. This even extends to the society as a whole. Of course there are always exceptions to this rule of conduct - after all the lure of greed and power has great abitily to corrupt - however, I do think that it gets quite tiring after a while when you have to watch your back for your whole life. Maybe that's why longevity is renouned on these islands; you are always part of something greater and it takes a great chunk of stress out of one's life.

On a smaller note, I turned 25 a few weeks ago; wondering where are the cheaper insurance rates, cuz I sure don't seem them here.

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Journal: November 4th, 2004

Journal by lingqi

November 4th, 2004 (4:47pm)

Today is my first day at work after coming back from a combination NY / London trip. It took a very long time overall, but the most heartbreaking is the time flying between continents apparently consume. I lost about 4 days from a 12 day vacation to simply "getting there," i.e. 1/3 of my time I should have been spent relaxing is instead spent stressing out on a tiny seat tens of thousands of feet above ground. If anybody could make faster travel at similar prices, or even twice the price to today, I would be the first one to jump on board.

I had some back pain on my flight from Tokyo to NY two weeks ago. As such, I requested to get maybe a better seat to the gate agent, hoping that I get to try one of northwest's new fancy business class seats with there big 10-inch personal TVs. The agent looked at me, and said, well, alright, row 28 is empty and the flight is pretty empty too so why don't you take 28D (isle seat on a four-seat row) and you can lie down.

Well, it's not an upgrade but I have no quarrels about getting to lie down on a four-seat row, from experience the said row fits me perfect. I was a little disappointed, but it was alright.

A few minutes before the flight departed, some woman from the back apparently decided that the row looked awfully tempting, and planted her ass on the other end of the row. We did some evil staring at eachother for a couple hours, and some space hogging the next few, when I went to the bathroom and came back, she took a whole three seats from the row that was supposed to be all mine, sleeping on her side like a swine feeding her little piglets who chew on her mud-stained nipples with their brown, grotesque teeth, yelping whatever discordant sound that muddy swine tends to yelp.

I was quite fed up, so I notified a flight attendant of the situation - after all, she wasn't sitting in a seat where she was ticketed to. The flight attendant woke her up and asked her to move, actually in not-the-friendliest tones. She nodded in shame when asked to confirm that she wasn't ticketed for this seat, and moved to another seat giving me this evil look. To be truthful, I kind of felt bad about it - I didn't really mean for it to turn out that way; the best thing that could have happened was probably that they upgraded one of us, so both of us can live in peace, but oh well.

A bit after dinner, I was doing something on my laptop before going for the awaited long nap. The woman came over and fumbled with one of the seats and left, looking like she was looking for something. I glanced at her and didn't say anything. After that, I stretched out and slept.

A couple hours later, I touched my pants and something the texture of dried mud was flaking off it. I took it off without opening my eyes, but soon my hands landed to another patch. I became curious and sat up. Apparently, the woman took a browny (that was one of the more unappetizing part of the dinner) and placed it on a seat near me, so that when I slept, I would rub myself all over it. It worked pretty well, with all due respect to her espionage skills, I did get it on my pants and my socks - Luckily the browny was kind of dry, so most of it became powdery and I promptly placed them in a vomit bag and tossed them away.

It's incredible how childish some people can be! I didn't really know if I should have been laughing or angry, because it was like a little revenge that a kindergardener would do. I thought that a proper revenge for her would probably be stealing her passport and writing VOID over her visa to the states, or even better something like "suspected terrorist" which would really get her into trouble; but it's really not worth it - especially since she provided me with such entertainment with such a child-like act.

On the way back, it was no less interesting. Inasmuch as I slept almost the whole way on the flight back from NY, it did not prevent me from hearing one of the many annoucements the captain made. It seems that day by day the flight cabin crew gets more loquatious - are they just so lonely up there? Are we some kind of forced audience for them? Anyway, in one of the long annoucements whereby the captain relayed all the information that we could have easily have obtained on the flight-map video screen, in my astonishment he broke into japanese and tried to repeat the 10-minute monologue. I say tried because while there are many foreigners who speaks very good japanese, with all due respect to the said captain, he wasn't one of them. I mean, he kept getting even the the numbers wrong, and let's not talk about the pronounciation. So the guy went something akeen to "welcome to... erm... Northwest, we depart three erm four thirrrrrrty two oh yeah two. [long pause] we arrive, erm, erm, japan, four, erm, forty three erm four okthankyou [click]" The last part was him saying "arigatou" in the fastest possible way and hung up immediately after that. Laughter echoed in the cabin.

The flight attendants, on the other hand, didn't dismiss his attempt as just an attempt, and because either they did not want to upset / embarass the captain, did not make their annoucements as they always do, and just kind of hung out minding their own business. While I really appreciate the fact that upon perusal the information is still available, I can just imagine what kind of state I would be left in if I was just a japanese person who didn't understand the english annoucement beforehand and was looking forward to a proper japanese translation.

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Journal: October 22nd, 2004 4

Journal by lingqi

October 22nd, 2004 (7:34pm)

Well, i am about 15 minutes from going home, and about 20 hours away from a plane carrying me to NY for a few days, and I really havn't finished all the work that I should have finished before getting on the said plane, but the last 15 minutes is not going to save my life.

Typhoon 23 finally passed over japan with a lot of casualties - while typhoons here doesn't have the whole "off-goes-the-roof" effect that Florida keeps experiencing, possibly due to, at least in part, that there ar way too many do-it-yourself roofers in Florida, there are always some associated floods and landslides and ocean waves going over banks (or, in 23's case, ripped off a piece of old bank that was build too long ago), and subways flooding etc. Even Tokyo was not spared, as a deserted Shibuya was under several inches of water.

Not too sure what I can say - except that global warming has got to stop or this planet is turning into Venus in a handbasket.

The romantics within the office hung up Halloween decorations - to liven up an otherwise somewhat boring office space with dashes of orange here and a plastic pumpkin there and a paper skeleton in the middle. The effort was not concerted by the entire floor, of course, and it ends up to be just about the wrong amount of it - there was too many to stash into for the "Halloween accent," but too little for an all-out display, so the few pumpkins and skeleton and bats just kind of hang from the ceiling without much corrolation to eachother, more like a sign of "beware! this is what happens to skelectons and bats that tresspass into this area." Not that anybody here except me would even have an opinion on this, anyway.

Hmm... seems like my 15 minutes are up (Wow I type slow). Tomorrow there is a 14 hour plane ride for me in economy class - and yesterday something weird happened to my back so I am not the happiest camper, faced with the necessity of sitting for 14 hours with an only partially functional back.

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Journal: October 17th, 2004 (another late post)

Journal by lingqi

October 17th, 2004 (3.53am)

I have just finished watching many episodes of the Simpsons, and there was an earthquake about 3 seconds ago and the apartment is still shaking as i am typing this... It's kind of eerie to be up at the middle of the night and then everything start to shake all of the sudden, mostly in a quiet manner as the sofa sways under you. For a moment you pause and wonder if this is "The Big One" as the swaying increases in strength but then let out a nervous sigh as it seem to not grow in magnitude, and eventually settles and slowly fades, until you are not sure if it's really shaking or just your residual imagination. Besides the obvious fear for death involved, it's actually comforting in a way to know that the earth is relieving the tension buildups in small doses instead of pending it up for a big one. It was a long time (maybe almost a year) before we had a significant earthquake in Kanto, and while life went on as normal, people did have in on their mind and wondered if something big was going to happen (it kind of did) - kind of like that familiar face you see on the subway is missing for an extended period of time.

--- continuing on the hiking trip last weekend ---

The starting point for the hike was officially at Tateyama station. The road past that is off limits to private vehicles, and you can either walk or take the bus / cable car. Since it's an elevation of some 2,000 meters and several kilometers from the train station to the start of the hike at Murodo station several kilometers away, walking is just an illusion of an option and you have to shell out for bus tickets. As we have all should know now, monopoly means that the tickets are incrediblly expensive: one way trip was some 2,500 yen and roundtrip would cost a hefty 4,410 or so. Considering that a trip from here to the airport (some 120km) is only 2,000 yen ("only" in a relative sense), the price is extortion even by japanese standards. Worse yet, once you try to board the bus a guy comes over and asks to weight your bag - over 10kg means another 300 yen for the bag-fare.

The bus departs and enters the checkpoint where all private cars must turn back, and pays a toll. Since no normal cars can go through the toll did not reflect how much it would have cost, but for a bus it was certainly expensive at over 25,000 yen. Not that the bus didn't make money from all of us at ~50 seats filled to the rim at a fat chunk of change each, but nonetheless I did feel somewhat better (for reasons I cannot, at least at such an early hour, explain) knowing that i would have no way of affording the toll if they did allow cars up there.

The ride up to Murodo was uneventful though quite beautiful. Most of the way we were climbing and in only a few minutes we could look out the window and the road from where we came from would be on the other side of a valley and many meters down. Autumn already begun to paint the mountainside with a palette of yellow and red, and as the bus drives by suddently a patch of wonderfully shaded red colours would flash past the window, against a blue sky dotted with clouds - picturesque like a painting in a way that can only be after the passage of a storm.

On the way, we passed a long waterfall on a distant mountainside. The bus driver stopped to let us look at it temporrarily. It was far away and long - while it did not have the sheer raw power of Niagara falls or the sheer length of drop of the Nikko fall, it incited quite some excitement among the passengers. A few minutes later, we passed another fall, aptly named "sou-men taki" as "noodle fall," as the water hits a sloped mountainside and takes many routes down, very much like a a bundle of noodles drying on a bare surface.

-- continuing some other time --

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Journal: October 14th, 2004 (admittedly unfished and late)

Journal by lingqi

October 14th, 2004 (8:33pm)

Today is my 2 year anniversary of coming to Japan. I am not so sure if this is a good thing or a bad thing. Originally the plan was for me to get back to the US around now, and that I can have my driver's license (expiring in a month) renewed, get my low insurance rate as I hit 25, and go forward with whatever the road of life takes me. Spending the 2 year anniversary here in Japan, though, means that a lot of plans made back in the days are no longer meeting my needs: I have no idea what to do about my license, my warrenty on my car is expiring soon, and I would definitely be spending my 25th birthday here - and japanese car insurance rates drop at 28... I need a lesson in planning contingencies, I think.

I wish there was something insightful I can say on this occasion, though - something about the passage of time, the integration of a alien body into a unfamiliar culture, or the loneliness and fulfillment that comes from not having a traditional concept of home - but really, today is just like another day, and unfortunately one of those very un-insightful days for me.

The past weekend was a three-day weekend. Japan have all these awsome holidays for all sorts of interesting reasons. October 10 is a day that usually have good weather and the Tokyo Olympics was held and since they it was "excercise day" and a national holiday. The next holiday will be Nov 3rd - "culture day." It's one of the things I like about Japan - the days are celebrating human endeavours common to the human race instead of some policital, national, or religious cause. Unlike most countries, Japanese currency do not have past political figures but contributors of science and culture for the heads. Maybe I am just being idealist but it's a good system that should be adopted in other places as well.

The point I was trying to make, though, is that I went hiking during the three day weekend. My motivation was not related to the exercising day - but rather that this would have been my last chance to hike Tateyama and Tsurugi-dake. The hike requires that I stay in a hut and the past sunday was the last day of operation for the hut. Besides, the mountains would become covered with snow any day now and it would not be a good ideal to attempt the "hardest hike in japan" under such deteriorated conditions.

One of the problems was that though October 10th and thereabouts is supposed to be the best weathered days in Japan, on this particular weekend Typhoon #22 - the biggest typhoon in 10 years - was heading straight toward us at an alarming speed. The original plan was to go to Toyama on friday night, hike saturday and sunday, and then take a slow day on monday visiting some local attractions and getting back. Unfortunately, around mid-day friday the typhoon probably had a revalation or something and headed directly toward Tokyo, increasing its pace from a leisurely 10km/h to some 60km/h.

I didn't mind the speed so much - if meant that it was possible that the typhoon would pass over this area on saturday and sunday should be beautiful blue skys with white puffy clouds. I ended up glued to the television for the entire day on friday checking the typhoon's progress. NHK has this tendency of cancelling *all* of its regular programming on the occurence of some natural disaster and provide round the clock coverage thereof. For the entire day saturaday, NHK was "The Typhoon Channel." Luckily the typhoon veered right and passed Toyama prefecture relatively untouched, and the trip officially started at 9pm saturday night.

The destination prefecture is Toyama, stuck between Ishikawa and Niigata prefecture on the Japan sea coast. The mountain ranges, Tateyama, is in its eastern side and very famous for various things - most of which I don't remember. One of the more interesting is that the mountain range gets a lot of snowfall during winter, and to keep the roads open massive plowing operations proceed through winter and the resulting road is flanked by walls of snow twenty meters high, the opening of which every april is a highly anticipated event many tourists. Another is that under the mountain is a fairly famous dam called Kurobe dam. It's an arch dam much like the hoover dam, though not quite as big. It's another attraction that draws many people every year.

The hike was to start at Murodo, on the west side of the mountains. There are two ways to reach the start of the hike, one is from the west, and another from the east that's very expensive, as it involves many segments of bus ride in specialized tunnels inside the mountain, and seveal segments of cable car. The bus also passes across the kurobe dam as well - which is one of the reason that even though the route is quite expensive, it's still fantastically popular. The other way is more conventional - the only problem is that since there are no other ways across the mountain range, one have to swing around above it on the ocean side - making the trip near 400km each way, even though linear distance is at most some 70% of that.

-- added Oct 17, 2004 (about 4am) --

Ok, continuing in another file.

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Journal: October 4th, 2004 2

Journal by lingqi

October 4th, 2004 (4:21pm)

Urgh! I am so busy these days.

October had swung by and the weather cooled off tremendously. In the perpetual wet cloudy days, every day another patch of rice field, the day before full of arched rice stalks from the weight of the fruition of a year, become barren and nothing left but cut stalks and the muddy ground below, rice peels in a pile burning on the side of the field, producing noxious smoke. I hardly have time to take my time to reflect on such change of season anymore. Time flies by like wind, not only is it fast, it comes and goes intangibly like the blotches of colour outside flashing across the window on a fast moving train.

NHK morning drama has entered a new season. I think I finally got the grasp that the said morning dramas are always about 6 monthes long. I admit to my schadenfreude for the previous series's completion, because while the main actress is indeed very pretty, the show was a warehouse of boredom compressed and cut into 15 minute segments. I am not here to talk extensively about NHK morning drama (which as far as i know a very small percentage of japanese male population ever casts eyes upon), but rather that I realized that the new series would probably be the last one I will be able to watch extensively. While I am not a zealous fan for the particular, erm, art form, watching the show on my morning commute as a diversion and a practice for listening to something besides the news had become a ritual here. A notable indicator of this particular lifestyle that I have settled into. To be confronted with these indicators of the end of an accustomed life, no matter how foreign it started out originally, is admittably the cause of some anxiety. Ironically the life that is supposed to be familiar (the life back in the US) now seem to hold many unknowns and undoubtedly many surprises.

The supermarked called "Big House" near my residence is truly an amazing place. I have many times mused at their fine and eclectic selections of fish, but I am repeatedly tempted to go at it one more time. Last weekend I took a stroll there to find some harmless salmon and tai (bream) for a simple soup dish, but ended up staring in amazement at a huge Ankou (angler fish) and bought home some haze (goby) and some ankimo (angler fish liver). It did not end there, of course. Of the things I didn't buy there are many. In fact, a tropical fish that I frequently seen while diving also made it onto the shelf at the supermarket. There were also plates of these other tiny round but extremely thin fishes. They were about the size of a coaster, and are not much thicker either. I cannot imagine how they would be cooked, as they appear to belong in an aquarium rather than on the dinner table.

The Ankou was humongous. It was a bit bigger than a deflated basketball with a disproportionally small tail. They laid the fish bottom up in the styrofoam container, and the bottom was slimy and white. The large mouth that opens upwards could not be seen. When I peeled the fish in an attempt to look underneath it (look at its "up"-side,) thick columns of mucus lingered from its black and disagreeably textured skin on its other side onto the container's bottom, as if the fish is part of a huge snot-ball some giant just sneezed out. As much as ankou is one of my favourite foods, I decided to leave the snivel covered fish alone.

That said, goby fish is no any more pleasant to look at. (Disclaimer, I am no longer so sure what I ate WAS a goby. Maybe it was a specie of frogfish) This is another fish that drells on the bottom or near stones, so the unexposed bottom side is white and... sloshy. It was about 30cm long, with a bony head and many protrusions from it. The eyesocket sits well above the head and bones make these two alcoves where the tiny eyes look out, much like a frog. The shelter/alcoves shares small resemblance to arches of Sydney's Opera House. The skin was slimy but prickly at the same time. Many lines of these little hook/teeth-like protrutions run along the back side of the fish, under a layer of slime-like substance. The stomache was exceptionally soft and sloshed, like a rubber bag with questionable durabitily half full of water. Touching it was of no pleasant experience.

Nonetheless, I decided that for 250yen, it would be a reasonable amount to try to see if this would taste good. A general rule I follew is that the uglier the fish the better they tend to taste. I unfortunately did not have the requisite 4,000 yen to spare on that huge ankou just for experimental purposes, and besides the fact it was large enough to feed a small army - or at least drive the appetite thereof away for a while, which in some sense serves the same purpose.

My experiment did not produce encouraging results. I was to find out later that the skin should have been peeled before cooking, along with whatever that was sloshing along the interior. While I was eating the said fish, a bladder-like organ that was either the esophagus or the stomage broke open, and its interior - undistinguishable substance of questionable colour and a whole, small shrimp, spread into the plate. While I consider myself fairly adventurous in dining, the sight of partially digested food of my food somehow brought about some unmitigated horror in my stomache.

---

Probably will continue about hawaii in the next episode. With all my being, I hope time will allow that to be tuesday. Must run off to Piano now.

p.s. speaking of Piano. Debussy has an uncanny ability to make incredibly difficult pieces of music seem easy, much to the dismay of my hands.

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Journal: Sept 27th, 2004 1

Journal by lingqi

September 27th, 2004 (9:24pm)

I havn't wrote anything for so long. One reason is that I was in Hawaii for the majority of last week.

The itinerary was not a particularly usual one. My flight to Hawaii departed Tokyo on Sept 17th at 6pm or so toward San Jose, arriving there at 10am the same day. Four hours later a regional jet would wisk me to LAX (Los Angeles), where a transfer would take me to Honolulu, arriving at 7:30pm, STILL the same day. Basically, after about 24 hours of travel, I arrive at my destination after some 8,000 miles, and the actual time only elapses about two hours...

On Friday, I still had work for half a day and I took off from the office around noon. This would give me just about enough time to make it to the airport. about three and half hours later, I arrived at Narita Airport and greeting me was the Airport as busy as I have ever seen it. hordes of people pourd out from the underground train terminal and oozed into the airport entrance, and dispersing but always re-coagulating around the checkin counters and security checkpoints. The security checkpoint had lines fifty meters long on either side.

That said, it was still fairly painless to go through. Albeit some waiting was in order, it was faster than I have anticipated. I guess with the coincidental holidays appearing in the same week, most everyone is taking this opportunity to go on a vacation and the airport was ready to handle this surge of travellers as well.

Not much happened between then and my arrival at Honolulu. The reason I went to San Jose was to pick up some cheques from my company (i.e. US branch office). One thing I think foreign expats must keep in mind is that cheques have a expiration date of 6 monthes. This is the cause of great inconvenience and I really begin to like the japanese system of bank transfers. Inasmuch as the fact that a fee is involved in the said tranfer, it is never very much and one have to consider that checkbooks also cost money and have a much higher tendency of getting lost and not being brought and all that.

The flight between San Jose and Los Angeles was on a tiny jet the size of a large sofa. It could only fit three seats at each row, and those were even seemingly reduced-size version. I have never flown on such small airplane before (yes I do realize there are airlines based solely on cessnas), and it was a shock to me how space-starved they can get.

Fast forward a few hours, and the plane (this time a venerable Boeing 737) touched down in Honolulu.

Honolulu airport did not have the "tropical island" feeling of Saipan. It was also quite big. One unique feature of it is that between terminals, there are many open-space corridors. I suppose the weather is predictable enough that they can do such a thing. The air was mildly warm and humid; but nothing like the suffocating thick wetness that Saipan shoved in my face. The sky was black; a new moon, just a thin arc like a big grin cracking open in the sky, hung motionless behind the loose, hurried clouds.

The biggest impression I got from Hawaii is, actually, its _horrible_ traffic jams. It might be because the accomodation was located in Waikikki, but despite being near 10pm, the traffic was slow and viscous. This was to turn out to be a theme on this vacation. How did such a small island develop so much traffic problems? Just exactly where do all these cars come from?

The Hotel was called Hotel Prince Waikikki or something. It overlooked a harbor and was very close to one of the large beach / park of Waikikki. It was also within walking distance to Ala Mona Shopping center. As much as I am not much of a shopping person (or at least i think that of myself), it was comforting to be near the vicinity of a mall after a long deprivation from it.

The primary objective for this trip was diving. A total of 6 dives were planned, which was to double my lifetime tank count to 12. Two was to be in O'ahu and four more (same day, no less) was in Hawai'i. With the traffic, arrival at hotel was already very late. The dive was to start quite early the next morning so not much got done that night. Well, there was apparently enough time for eating at Tony Roma's world famous ribs. That's something else that one develops a craving for after a lengthy deprivation thereof. For some reason I never went to the one in Roppongi.

The dive shop was on the north side of the island, in a quaint little town. The road there weaved through expansive fields with mountains in the distance on both side, and forward one can see the gleaming pacific, quiet and blue under a canopy of scattered clouds. I am sincerely impressed by this aspect of Hawaii. It is the mix of almost everything in the world: mountans and ocean and plains and volcanos and beaches and cliffs, all minaturized and arranged beatifully for maximum effect of presentation.

The first two dives was just a tad bit under my expectations. One thing about Hawaii, the thing that must not be underestimated, is that when somebody tells you "Hawaii do not have so much fish," he really means that there are not so many fishes. Compared to the Pacific rim where you can't reach out and not have some fish scatter out of the way to avoid being touched, the water in Hawaii (O'ahu, anyway) is crystal clear but few fishes are in sight. The few that are around swims nonchalantly in this huge cavity, occassionally diverting toward the coral reef to peck away some food. This is the rural suburbs of the ocean and the Pacific rim the business district of a metropolis.

The dives did have their moments though. The first amazing thing about the waters is that the corals form structures unlike anything I have seen. caves and arches and protrutions and cavities abound, and I float above and below and through them, weightless. Seen from below, blue light seeps through some holes on the canopy above, pattern shifting with the gentle mesmerizing undulations of the wave.

The other awsome thing was that I saw an octopus in its natural environment. Octopus are quite shy creatures. They hide in the crevices and look out with their alert eyes. The dive guide, hoping to show us the octopus, he keep sticking his finger inside the little hole, and every few seconds a tentacle would come out and wrap around his arm, and realizing that there is no effect, suddenly retract back into the hole again.

Finally, the octopus decided that it had enough with the harassment. It dashed out from hole where it was hiding and flew away with such incredible speed and disappeared in a nearby wall of coral, leaving two blotches of ink in its wake between the group of us. The ink is black but in a sense, not "ink" as I have imagined since I was little. The ink left was tenacious, mucus-like, floating and slowly dispersing, nay, disolving, into the water. It is even tangible and is more likely than not edible as well. While originially I thought the purpose of the ink is to render a large area invisible while the octopus escapes, in the end it was probably much more like a diversion tactic as employed by sea cucumbers.

-- let's continue some other time --

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Journal: September 13rd, 2004 1

Journal by lingqi

September 13th, 2004 (22:36)

It seems that updating this journal has became an luxury rather than a daily fact. I am not quite sure what is attributing to this. Are there still 24 hours in each day for me?

Recently was mostly just living. The most significant achievement was probably that I bought a new set of tires. Japan has nearly no all-season tires for some reason. The standard tires are always summer tires and most people opt to buy a set of winter studless, which always seems to come out very expensive. I would not have such economical resources, so despite the onset of fall and winter, I bought a new set of Michilen (sp?) economy tires for ~52,000 yen. This is the first time In my life that I bought tires and I honestly have no idea how expensive that is. I also bought it in the tire center in Costco Tamasakai, which sort of robs me of the "japanese experience" therein, though my coworker assures me that I am saving at least a hundred bux by doing so.

I am also getting pretty good at making fried rice, a feat which I am very pround of. I have to thank my father for making some excellent fried rice when I dishwashed in the restaurant where he was a chef.

Speaking of food, I have been noticing that unlike the US, chicken breast does not demand its premium for being "white meat." In fact the various portions like leg quarters and wings and winglets are usually quite more expensive. Now, I should point out that when I say "does not demad premium," it's very much a relative thing - as usually the cheapest of breast meat is still about 50 cents / 100g, which translates to about $2.25 / pound. Comparatively unprocessed leg quarters, generally the cheapest of chicken, can be had for as low as $0.29 / pound if one looked hard (Argyle, Chicago). The price difference in food is simply staggering. I cannot believe I am only getting compensated 1.3x for cost of living - it's simply not true.

Anyway, a little research reveals that japanese are, however, also interested in white meat, they are just a whole lot more picky about it. For those who have ever disected a chicken, you'd probably realize that the chicken breast consist of the outer layer of meat and an inner... layer closest to the chest bone. these are generally lumped together (with skin) when sold in US for "chicken breast," but here the inner layer - it's actually tube-like - goes by the name sasami, and demand a huge price premium. It's supposed to be high protein and low fat and very good for you, etc. It would seem that the japanese definition of white meat is even held to a higher standard...

-- continues on the trip a long long time ago in a place far far away --

When I got out of the capsule hotel at an early 5am, it was already past dawn. the lifeless streets and alleys are bustling with life and activity, much like what you would imagine a city in renissance London would be like, except the whole scenery where the sky is darkened by various wires covering the little sky that can be seen between the apartments and other buildings closing in from the sides of the narrow street. Old ladies nonchalantly swept the sidewalks in front of their residences, tiny garbage trucks pauses ever so frequently to pick up neatly tied white bags, though few are sometimes punctured and torn by scavenging crows, who are now also awake and alert on the roof ledges, eyes sharp on those trash bags and the pankakes or bread any businese men might be holding in their hand as they hurridly headed toward work.

The train was no longer of the zombie feeling, but rather filled with people in prestine clothes reading for another workday. It was pretty crowded - or at least more crowded that I have thought a train would be at such an hour. The train arrived swiftly at the airport, and like the train itself, the airport was also beginnig to fill with people all looking purposeful and busy. While visibly not at full capacity yet, the entire place looked ready with the rows of self-checkin machines and beside them the row of impeccably decorated airline attendants in their pastel coloured uniforms.

I checked in, and got onto the airplane. Before the plane could take off I had already closed my eyes and did not open them once in the flight. The plane shook on touchdown and we were all thrown forward by the strong deceleration that followed. I woke up and the sun was at a much lower angle above the horizon and shone this warm orange light, instead of this white "wake up and get to work" light that seem to bath Tokyo.

The Hokkaido New Chitose Airport is large but it was quite empty as well; Much like the south parts of the US, where time simply seem to pass slower, Hokkaido also gives off this feeling of a warm sunday afternoon. I dashed toward the exit and felt very out of place in the action of dashing. In the airport was some huge omiyage stores, though unlike similar stores in other airports that generally sells processed food along with plastic toys and whatnot, the omiyage store here sells huge frozen crabs and honeydew melons and watermelons and various other fresh produce or seafood. I looked at the crab, drooled, and decided I really should consider getting some breakfast.

There was a bento-shop, and I was able to get some uni-don for, if I remember it right, 1,200 yen. It was very cheap and I don't think I have ever seen uni being part of bento anywhere outside of hokkaido. The entire time as I gulped down the cold but nonetheless delicious food, I thought to myself that Hokkaido is really worthy of its reputation for agricultural and marine products. (In Japanese, Sasuga Hokkaido)

Before I forget, I should mention that the TokyoSapporo route is *the* world's busiest air route, as shinkansen does not quite reach Hokkaido yet. Just a bit of useless trivia. Christian was surprised that The airplane servicing the short hop are all but the largest of 747s, though in reality even such monstrocities are still insufficient, and they fly back and forth many times in a day to satisfy all the customer needs, almost like an air shuttle service.

To get to the rental car counter is a bit tricky. The departure lobby is on the first floor but one actually have to traverse to the second floor and go through an enclosed walkway and then down again into this rental-car area. The rental bus then wisks you off to this place a few km away, where several rental car companies congregate on these huge lots filled with cars glistering under the sun. I pulled into the Mazda rental building (shared with Japan Rental and Mitsubishi), and despite being a "small fry operation" compared to the likes of Toyota and Nissan, hundreds of cars awaited outside. To give an idea of the difference of scale, Mazda rental usually have all but maybe 10 cars in their dealers in my area. Again, sasuga Hokkaido.

-- It's nearly midnight and I need to get some rest. --

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Journal: September 10th, 2004

Journal by lingqi

September 10th, 2004 (0:21)

I was thinking recently about all the friends I made in the past few monthes. Not that I am gossiping about them or whatever - just that they generally share something very common: almost everyone are gaijin like me.

Or not so alike. I think everyone is an english teacher... The social network for foreigners here is very interesting, because invariably the majority thereof are english teachers and as an english teacher you immediately get access (contact information, etc) to all the other english teacher in your area and upon landing in japan, you would have already been tangled in this intricate web of foreigners' social circle.

Not that there is anything wrong with that - obviously life here is not the easiest thing and since everybody involved would have something in common right off the start, people makes friend of all kind. I have been told on more than one occasion that the friends made here are often people that would never included in the social circle at home.

I was, however, originally not part of the said circle. One reason is my job, the social circle which did not intersect at all with all the other foreigners, and then I don't appear "foreign" which would mean that i am simply ignored on the street. Christian, when he was here, made several friends by simply BEING himself - one such occasion is whe he was walking through the station and came face to face with a canadian guy, both stopped and was basically like "hey! another gaijin! let's be friends." Only in japan would such things happen. (though not to me)

So what I was actually thinking is that maybe i am going about it in a completely opposite way. Usually I would have though the path of a foreigner in japan is to first be cradled by his circle of foreigner friends and as language levels increase and he wanders deeper into japanese culture / social groups, he would eventually be partially assimilated. I seemed to have gone backwards: thrust into the middle of everything without a single foreigner (my age) in sight, and contrarily I began to hang out with them when I am almost about to leave this place.

-- continuing onto the story -- (this is turning into the great american (erm, japanese) novel or what? it's getting insanely long...)

It was not a terribly long distance between the keikyuu station and the JR station, but that night it really felt like a march between Paris and Moscow. Inexorably, it is human nature to be anxious about the unknown, and it was unknown that laid in front beyond the dimly lit streets. Steets devoid of people and any sign of activity. Even the crows, usually busy fluttering about tokyo, seemed to have decided that it's past their bedtime and are nowhere to be seen.

All of establishments along the road that resembled a hotel looked empty. Several had lights lit but an empty front desk, which added to the desolation. I was becoming quite worried about my prospects - it was already very late but not late enough that I was going to spend 4-5 hours on the road walking around.

Hotels, however, did increase as I approached the JR station, and i found at least one that was open still. I was much more at peace knowing I still had the prospects of staying on a bed that night, despite the fact that I did not quite have the spare 7,500 yen that particular hotel advertised. The worst case is I have to come here, I told myself.

However, about 100 meters forward I came to my destination. A capsule hotel came into view with its blinking signs and I was overcome by joy and rushed toward it. It did not even cross my mind to check if there are any other capsule hotels in the area that was cheaper. I found my oasis in the desert and it had occupied my mind in entirety.

Capsule hotel are indeed very cheap. A whole night costs 4,000 yen there. But one can charge by hourly rate of about 600 yen after the inital 2 hour block for 1,400. Since I did not have any reason to stay there beyond 4 hours, I chose the hourly rate because it was much more economical.

I should point out at this point that for the times when money really matters, one can stay at manga-kissaten (manga cafe), for very cheap and comes with internet access and shower. The only thing that's not available is a bed, but instead you have a very comfortable chair to pass out in (so I heard). Every hour is only a couple hundred yen and so far it's the cheapest way to stay in tokyo if one misses the last train. It does kind of creeps me out that the said stores have showers - as it reminds me of horror stories in korean internet cafes, but I do appreciate their convenience.

The guy at the front desk gave me a key and told me my capsule is on the third floor top bunk. I went in around the desk and into the building.

The hotel layout is as follows: the first floor is the locker room and the front desk. Second floor is the lounge and bath. Third through seventh (maybe eighth) are the capsules. In the locker room there are tiny full length lockers but it was impossible to put my backpack in. In the locker was a jimbei and a towel.

The capsule was bigger than I have previously imagined, and is actually quite a lot more comfortable than I have imagined as well. My idea was something like a single person version of a front-entry coffin sized room much like the concept shown on The Fifth Element. In actuality, however, the capsule is actually have an entry of about 1m x 1m, with two capsules stacked vertically and reaching the ceiling. inside the capsule is surprisingly roomy as well, you can sit upright inside, and it comes with radio, alarm, a small ceiling mounted TV, and of course the myrad of lights. What it did not have was a door - a curtain can be pulled down from the top and latched to the bottom which served to block out the light from outside and shield yourself from public view. A guy's said curtain was up while he slept inside, and I don't think he was wearing underpants. I looked away before I could clearly distinguish if he was or not - but it simply serve to illustrate that the "shielding yourself from view" part is as much for yourself as it is for everyone else.

Since there was so much room, I piled all of my junk into my capsule and went to take a bath, which was one of my main purpose of visiting in the first place. I was amazed that the bath actually had a... bath, instead of just some shower stalls. The floor was small and the bathtub was also quite small as well. Another guy was grooming himself when I went in, but both of us were too tired to strik up conversation, so the bathroom was filled with only the sound of water pouring over the rim of the bathtub and the occasional sound of towels as he washed himself.

The bathtub was about 2.5m x 1.5m, and the entire thing was made of stainless steel. There cannot possibly be a bathtub made of more un-natural material. The steel was warm to the touch. I slowly lowered myself in, acclimating to the hot water, and felt the day's tiredness slowly melt away. It was a good thing that I came here, I thought to myself. On the wall above the tub hung some poster talking about the awsome beneficial effects of the water I am currently soaking in. There was lots of these things in the hotel - for example, the water I drank from the water-fountain was supposed to be triple-filtered ionized water. The water I was soaking in also had some mix of minerals and whatnot shipped all the way from somewhere I never heard of before in China, that's supposed to cure me of all sort of illnesses. There were also lots of advertisements all around too. Most advertising for hair-loss solutions, and circumcision clinics, and various other stuff targeted at men. I should say, targeted at salary-men who would frequent such hotels. I actually felt really sorry for the guys who stays at this place on a regular basis; I probably have a stereotypical idea of what such people are like: middle aged and balding, worked so late that cannot go home to see family or simply doesn't have a family to begin with, and worried about all the superficial things like hair and what kind of ionized water to drink and yet all he needed is to get away from this insane lifestyle and this cursed capsule hotel. I kind of felt like these guys are like modern slaves. I cannot imagine living like that at all.

After the bath, I settled into my capsule and surfed through the channels. There were not many (and no pay-per-view, which is good, because the curtain certainly blocks no sound). By that time, my eyelids already weighted like lead, and I fell asleep easily in that little square, dark capsule to the sound of distant muffled sounds of men sleeping and snoring.

(null cookie; hope that's ok)

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