Samantha in Japan

Archive for January 2009

Uh, long story short, my laptop suddenly can get on the internet in my room. So I now, temporarily, at least, have the ability to post pictures. Scratch that. My whiny roommate kicked me out of the room to the computer lab because she couldn’t sleep~~ And I was being conscientious about typing softly. Maybe I’m an ass by reiterating the fact that you’ve slept in all week, maybe the reason you can’t sleep is because your body doesn’t need it. Well, then, so be it.

Luckily, I devised away to get the pictures from my laptop on these old-as-dirt computers.

But before I get into that, let me brief you all on my biggest frustration at the moment. I’m currently in a dorm, which has been established, obviously, but anyway, it’s one out of three traditional “dorms” here. The fourth living option they have is a building with apartments. The other option is to live with a Japanese family in a homestay. Given my past positive experience with living with a host family,  I picked the homestay option.

All the students who picked that option had a meeting today (looooong, rules-of-the-house type of thing), and afterward, a list of when we move in with our families (we were told either Saturday or Sunday) was posted up. So once the meeting finished, the rush began to the list. As I was standing around, I saw a big, bold “Feb. 5” beside one of the names, and some people mumbling in confusion about that.

“February 5th?” I thought. “Ugh, that poor soul. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for Saturday, and they have to wait until next week!”

As the people in front of me started filtering away, complaining about getting Sunday assigned as their meeting date, I shuffled up, and my jaw nearly hit the floor. That one poor, unlucky soul who has to wait until next week… was me. Fantastic.

I saw no meeting time mentioned on the list, so I marched over to the main desk for an explanation, and I got taken back up to the meeting room to meet with, well, it must be whoever’s in charge of this program. At least she was expecting me. She told me that my family is vacationing in India right now and will be back Wednesday, and that I’d have to stay in the dorms until Thursday, Friday, or Saturday.


But that’s not even the best part!

She then told me that I had to move out of my current dorm room, and dormitory altogether, move over to another room with a new roommate for… four days, and then have to move out when my family meets with me later in the week.

I’m really starting to feel like a vagrant now. At the beginning of this week, I was getting that same feeling when I was the last one in the room and saw the extra futon waiting, all rolled up for me, and I had to stash my stuff in empty spaces because I couldn’t unpack.

Now I have to pack up, move, and repeat the process. Head, meet desk. I hate not being able to settle in yet. Right now, my stuff is a mess. Just semi-exploded suitcases sitting around with bags and containers and wires sprawled out all over the place that I have to rummage through all the time. I only have a tiny corner to myself, but stuff always gets lost in there. I’m not quite sure how, but every day, I lose something in that mess and it takes forever to find.

I can be a very pleasant roommate when I at least have a place to put my stuff. But in the meantime, I can be very loud and terribly inconvenient for my other roommates. But you know what? I’m feeling rather unapologetic today, so here’s me not giving a shit.

So that’s what I get to do tomorrow– move out to another temporary “home.”

But anyway, let’s get to the pictures before I get too moody.

These first two were taken during my layover in the airport in South Korea. Hence the Korean flag-like symbols on the planes. Korea was very… very different. Very quiet. The information booth people were nice, though. And it was just weird to realize you’re this close to one of the most baffling countries on Earth. No, not Japan. North Korea. I’ve always been fascinated with just… the whole darkly bizarre nature of the country.

This next one is of the Kansai Airport. Nothing too special there, just a cute little sign I took a picture of while I was waiting around.

This one’s just another view of the Kansai Airport.


This next one… I don’t care what people might tell you, or what your feelings might be about the packaging… DO NOT DRINK THIS. This was my first crazy-ass Japanese beverage, and it was a, very literally, sour note to start off with. It looks cute and inoffensive. You know, it’s just lemon, right? WRONG. It tastes like… fifthy thousand lemons of DEATH soaring at your tongue and whipping your tastebuds with putrid acid. Since I like lemon-flavored things, I’m willing to give another lemon beverage a try here, but I will not go near this stuff ever again. Here’s hoping C.C. Lemon is better.

After waiting at the airport, I got deposited into my first temporary room, so here’s a few different views of that.

Before I got the bulk of my stuff into my little corner:

This was the sight I cringed at upon walking through the doorway. See those rolled up mats? Yep, that’s good old futon number three in the double room, just waiting for me.

The shoji screens are cool, at least. Also note the window in the background. There’s just this big, massive pattern over it. It barely serves its purpose as a window.

When I saw futon number three, I laughed, and said, “Nuh-uh.” When it was time to go to bed the first night, I dragged my futon away from the wall-to-wall futons of my roommates’ and made my own space. Sorry guys, I need my personal bubble.

No shoes allowed in Japanese rooms.

… no, seriously, they’ll come get you if you forget about that.

I spent some of today in Kyoto, which was nice, but… an absolute rush. I was only able to see one temple before I had to leave. The trip was arranged in the middle of the afternoon, and we had to get back before 10 PM. I think it’s safe to say that 90% of the time was spent on public transportation, and the other 10% was actually spent visiting the temple itself.

The entrance to the Kinkaku-ji Temple:

I’m… not sure what this was, but it was pretty. Also gave me kind of a European-meets-Asian architecture vibe. It was raining (boo), so don’t mind the umbrella in the corner.

Again, not sure exactly what this was, but it was pretty. It’s also funny to note how my flash makes it look like it’s nice and sunny, but it was raining and gray when I took this picture.

The Kinkaku-ji Temple, or the Golden Pavillion.

Another view:

Pretty little islands in the water outside the temple:

Not quite sure exactly, but seeing as there’s coins around it, I’m thinking it’s comparable to a wishing well. (Personally, I kept my coins. Public transit’s a bitch.) Sorry for the blur.

Ohmygosh! This picture has ORBS! Submit it to some ghost TV show for examination! Orbs = rain.

Waterfall along the way. Again, sorry about the blur. It was kind of a high-traffic area. Also, let me remind you all of my obscene flash. This was not a happy summer day like the picture below may make you believe. It was raining.

Not sure, but it looked cool inside.

This! Definitely what I expected to see at a temple. This is another good luck thing (oh, while I remember this– they were seeling Hello Kitty good luck… prayer things at the souvenir shop, lulz)– you go up, I think you put coins somewhere, shake this huge rope leading up to a bell, clap your hands together, and make a wish. It was cute.

And now for the funny/miscellaneous stuff. Mainly Engrish. First, we have Asty Road. Did the ‘N’ fall off? I’m not saying it was nasty. It was very clean, in fact. I just had a laugh at this… very random use of English in the Kyoto Station.

While we were looking for a place to eat, I saw this advertised– “Mano’s Cafe. We offer intelligence, excitement, and infinite dream.” Well damn, why haven’t I been eating there all my life?

And finally, my personal favorite, a candy bar with an unfortunate name.

Mmm, let’s get some Crunky!

It’s January.

In New York, January’s one of the months of cold, snow, ice, and… well, just general unhappiness with the weather.

By the way people speak about the weather in Japan, you’d think it’d be the same there. People are always going around saying, “samui desu ne?!” and other variations of the phrase, meaning, “It’s cold, isn’t it?!”

If this is “cold,” I’ll take it! The weather has been in the 40s-50s F. Cue the snickering from anyone who’s from up north. But seriously, the Japanese people talk about how cold it is with such impassioned voices all the time, you’d really think you’d entered Siberia if you didn’t know better.

I met my speaking partner yesterday, and he was all bundled up in a jacket, looking freezing when we went outside. We were walking down the street to find a place to eat, and I saw he started shivering. “Samui desu ka?” I asked him. He responded with a big, emphatic, “YES!” and asked if it was the same for me. I explained that this was not cold AT ALL, this was very nice!

Honestly, I love this kind of weather. A few days ago, a few people and I ate breakfast outside together because it was so nice out.

Let me reiterate– it’s January.

This is like… spring weather for me, and it’s coming right in the middle of winter. Sorry, Canton, but I don’t miss you one bit. 😀

There’s no snow or ice in sight here. And yet, I’ve seen people taking out those little ‘hot hands’ packets when they go outside.

Some of the international students from more southern countries, or the south US, at least, also think it’s pretty cold here.

Seriously guys, visit northern New York one day. I suggest brining along some kind of portable heater.

This post’s title is taken directly from my very first Engrish-spotting sign. Absolutely brilliant, this giant pachinko “amusement space.” Very “exiting!” For those of you who don’t know, I have a fondness for Engrish, the adorable butchering of English words into random Japanese signs/whatnot. I think it’s the cutest… almost-language on the planet, so I love running into these little things.

So anyway, I managed to barely escape the boring halls of O’Hare to get on that 14-hour flight. Of death. I don’t understand how I went through that without flying first class. The first few hours were okay, they had a bunch of movies playing for free, and they served us dinner. I passed on the dinner, though. It was served at around 2 AM Chicago time, 3 AM New York time, so I wasn’t very hungry at that point. It looked like dog food, too. We had our choice of steak or… some Korean kimchi stuff. The two girls sitting next to be got the steak, and I’m still glad I passed on that. So, after sitting through “dinner” and gulping down tons of water, I zoned, and tried to sleep. That was awful. The guy in front of me kept his reading light on… all night, even though he never read anything and was sleeping too, there were people coughing, babies crying, and… those chairs were just nightmares. Breakfast was pretty good, at least. They served pancakes with fruit rolled up into them, sausage (which didn’t look like dog food, they did it right that time!), and some other stuff I didn’t mess with. Let me just say that I’m ecstatic that I won’t have to do that again for four months. It’s not an experience I want to have again very soon. (Upgrade to first class, dearest mom and dad? :D)

So, I got to Korea, and it was… different. Some guy came up to me, speaking in Korean (do I even look… remotely Korean?), had to go through security… AGAIN, and then wandered around the airport. For the record, EVERYONE wears a black suit in that airport. EVERYONE. Ironically, the information desk people were dressed up in flourescent traditional-style clothing. Easy to find, at least! Anyway, the information desk guy helped me find my gate, and then I had to zone for another four hours. There WAS stuff to do at this airport, but I had no Korean money to spend! I was sad. And freaking thirsty.

That’s another thing, I’ve been INSANELY thirsty ever since leaving NY. Virtually NO appetite, but I’m constantly looking for liquids.

So I got on the plane to Japan after four hours, left Korea, and got there in pretty good time. They served a Japanese-style meal on the plane. I tried it. I wasn’t messing with the stuff that looked like sushi, but I had the rice, the apple, and this AMAZING cake… thing that they had on there. I looked at it like, “Well, I’ll try it, but it looks like it’ll taste like orange-flavored cardboard.” But once that cake hit my mouth, I was like, “OM NOM NOM! WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN ALL MY LIFE?!”

Landed in Japan, and it finally struck me that I was in, “WHOA, FREAKING JAPAN!” I got rushed through customs, spoke Japanese with the customs guy who had to look at my baggage, went through the gates to meet the two people holding the huge “KANSAI GAIDAI” signs. The woman asked for my name, gave me a sheet, and said, “The bus leaves at 3:15! You have a lot of time!”

… NOT what I wanted to hear. At that point, I was SO sick of traveling and waiting, and I just wanted to take a SHOWER. I was just… ugh, so grody. But no, I had to wait another three hours… for a bus ride that would take… an hour and a half! AAAGH.

Airport was pretty… boring. They didn’t have much to do there, at least in the section I was roaming around, dragging my luggage around with me (even the customs baggage guy said my luggage was heavy!) But there was one girl here– blonde, clearly stuck out from the sea of Japanese people, and she asked if I was going to Kansai Gaidai. That was a relief, because I was wondering that, myself. When we got talking, we discovered we’d been on the same flights since Chicago! Anyway, she and I have been hanging out quite a bit since. She already told me she wants me to put in a good word with my host family when I move out of the dorms so she can come and visit and escape the madness. I don’t blame her!

So! Kansai Gaidai– yesterday was exhausting and confusing. Once we got done with the bus ride (only FOUR of us were on this big bus– me, the girl I’d met already, and two new guys that just got there before the bus arrived), where an Australian guy was marveling at the fact that I’d been traveling for like… 30 hours, got rushed to check-in at a dorm that wasn’t mine, got taken over to my actual dorm, and just deposited in my room. Literally. Like “OH! There you go~ your room~ have fun!”

I have two roommates. It’s a room only fit for two people. And I was the last one there. D’oh!

The futons were all up against one wall– the two on the sides rolled out, and the one in the middle all rolled up, just waiting for me. I saw it and cringed. The room is SO cramped with three people and all their luggage in it. It doesn’t help that my two roommates, both of which I’m pretty sure are staying in the dorm and not moving to a homestay, haven’t unpacked very much, so all their suitcases AND mine are just stowed away in this tiny compartment closed off by shoji screens, where their desks are. I promise I’ll post pictures of the room (and more) once I get my laptop connected. I have to go to laptop registration tomorrow, and hopefully they can approve my laptop and get me onto the network. The computer I’m typing from is a public one, and it’s as old as dirt. SO slow, and I have nowhere to store pictures if I upload them.

But anyway, yeah, the room situation– not so good. For the record, I moved my “middle” futon out from its original position and put it along one of the other walls, because I NEED some semblance of a personal bubble.

As for my roommates themselves, one’s good, one’s not so good. One acts like an absolute know-it-all, and seems to think my (and the other roomate’s) questions are annoying. Whatev. I hang out with the other girl more, anyway, who’s a hell of a lot nicer. And, on that note, I’m pretty sure I’m the only roommate not to break down crying yet. Yay, me! The nice roommate came into the room this morning while I was getting ready and collapsed on my futon, crying because she missed people from home. And the not-so-nice roommate was crying about… something, I don’t know, earlier in the week.

OH, MY SHOWER. So, right– got to Kansai Gaidai, my hair was still grody, so the minute I got a chance, I was like, “AGH, NEED SHOWER!” I dug into my suitcases, and found that I was lacking SHAMPOO AND CONDITIONER. I talked to mom today and she insists they’re there– I haven’t checked yet, but I will later on. But it was incredibly distressing. So I threw on my shoes, went down to find some local students who were signing people in, and asked how to get to a place that sold shampoo. She found a group of American students who were leaving to help me, but they only took me, uh, about two minutes out, and then gave me directions to a supermarket because they were going in a different direction. So I set off. My two thoughts were, “AGH, NEED SHAMPOO,” and, “I’ve been in Japan for a little over two hours, it’s nighttime, and I’m heading out into the city… alone… to buy some shampoo.” It was just sheer… OMGWTF.

But I found the place with no problem, and got back in one piece, and hurried off to take my SHOWER. (Ironically, some girl complimented my hair later that night. That’s what a head of hair that needs washing and a bottle of supermarket shampoo get you. Go figure!)

I went to bed around 11 PM. Which is … insane for me. But I was exhausted. I remember looking at the stuff on my cell phone (which is an AMAZING investment– so useful so far, plus I’ve had other foreign students staring in awe at it,– (” OMG HOW’D YOU GET THAT CELL PHONE?!”)), and apparently I dozed off, because the next thing I remember is being startled because my phone was vibrating, telling me I had a voicemail message. Reception SUCKS in the dorms, too. 😦

But … I won’t have to deal with that much longer! I seriously cannot WAIT to GTFO and go to my homestay family’s house. It’ll be such a fantastic change. I still haven’t found out where I’ll be living, or the family I’ll be staying with. (Even one of the local students was like, “WHAT?! They STILL haven’t told you?! That’s awful!”) I’ll find out on Thursday. Boo.

Um, anyway, today was okay. Went up to the school (and back again, because I’m dumb and forget vital things like… my passport), which takes about 25 minutes to get to on foot, to do orientation stuff. Had a language placement test in the morning (which was silly– they made everyone, except those who had NO Japanese experience, sit through ALL levels of listening comprehension. I was so lost at some points), then ran back to my dorm to get my passport, ran back to open a bank account (which was a BEAST– I had to fill out the forms THREE TIMES, because I would make a mistake on the SIMPLEST things (writing a letter in a different style (like pointy, not loopy) than it was on my passport, and they had to throw out the whole form! SO frustrating)), then I had to go to this other language lab orientation, got back to my room (after getting confused about where the hell my dorm was, and getting one of the local student advisors to help me find the entrance), only to run out again a few hours later for this “supermarket tour,” since I missed the city tour they did earlier because I was stuck up at school. Found that Engrish sign from the post title while out on that tour. And met a guy from Ohio who uses internet speak while he’s talking. Keeper! Just got back from that a little while ago. I’m still exhausted and jet-lagged, but I’ll be taking a shower soon and passing out, because I need to get back to campus at 8:50… AM. SO NOT COOL.

Anyway, I think I’ve rambled enough. Like I said, pictures will be coming ASAP, I just don’t have any way to upload them yet. But for now, I need to get back to my room, try not to take up my roommates (the nice one was asleep when I got back, and that was only at 9:15 PM, while the not-so-nice one was on her way to take a shower and sleep, I’m assuming), and take another lovely shower. Oh, by the way, the showers are different here, too. The water flow isn’t constant, you press a lever, and it gives you about 10-15 seconds of water and stops. So… pretty much a navy shower. (But I was just happy to BE in a shower last night!)

To close this post up, some random things I’ve found interesting about Japan:

  • There are vending machines EVERYWHERE. EVERYWHERE. Out on the street corners, in front of shops, in front of houses, on campus. EVERYWHERE. I love it!
  • There are also WALLS everywhere, enclosing in what little “yards” people have here. The houses are placed EVERY WHICH WAY so they can SQUEEZE the most space for homes out of what little they have. You have not seen a crowded neighborhood until you’ve been to Japan.
  • Cars don’t look out for pedestrians. Pedestrians look out for cars.
  • SO MANY PEOPLE ride bicycles or mopeds here (after taking the 25-minute walks around the city constantly today, I can’t blame them!)
  • People decorate their houses with SO MUCH STUFF SOMETIMES, it’s funny. So many plants and trees shoved into a yard that’s three feet wide.

So, yeah, sayonara for now! I hope you crazy people over in the states aren’t having too much fun without me!

Hey guys, since I was peer pressured lovingly encouraged to keep photos and a journal of all my adventures in Japan, I figured I’d set up a blog that you can all take a look at.

Right now I’m sitting in Chicago’s O’Hare Airport, working on a laptop with a battery a less than half power, and paying for Wi-Fi service. I suppose the $7 investnment was good for giving me an hour and a half worth of amusement via internet access.

Getting to my terminal alone was a nightmare. When I checked in back in Albany, for some reason, United Airlines couldn’t check me in to my next airline, so I had to go through the process all over again once I landed in Chicago. So I got off when I landed, walked for ~5 minutes in the wrong direction, stopped to ask some lady for directions (“Asiana Airlines? Are you SURE that’s the name?!”), and spent a good… 20-30 minutes just trekking around O’Hare, following signs to the elusive “Terminal 5” and getting NOWHERE. I’m not even joking, one sign said, “Terminal Five –>” so I head down the hallway– at the end of which is a sign that says “Terminal Five <–” pointing the exact way from which I came. So I tracked down a security officer, and he told me I had to get on some train to get there, since apparently the building is detached from the rest of O’Hare.

Long story short, after two hours of waiting for an agent to even show up and get my boarding pass from and going through security a second time, I’m now sitting in the Asiana Airlines lounge (I love how they make these seating areas sound like they have potential to be jam-packed with activity), parched because all the concession places are either closed or off-limits (I had water… from a water fountain), and actually looking FORWARD to getting on my plane for the next fourteen hours just so I can have access to some food and beverages!

Oy, I can’t wait to just land in Japan and get to Kansai Gaidai. Well, let me correct that, get to my host family’s house, whenever that will be. So not looking forward to sharing a tiny room with three people.  I think it was Artie who summed up my feelings correctly, after showing him the video of what the rooms look like with three people crammed into it– “Prisoners get bigger cells than that!”

Alright, my battery is giving me the “20 minutes left” warning, so I’m off to go check my email before my laptop self-destructs.

  • None
  • Isa: No, there can't be two ninja dogs in Kyoto. But in April it was in Arashiyama!
  • Paula: Hey: I'm so glad you are swine flu-free. A little over-kill, don't you think? Anyway, I'm so glad you are enjoying your last few days there. Live it u
  • Paula: There's no place like home, there's no place like home!!! Can't wait to see you...we are counting the days.