General Life

Playing Catch-Up

So, it’s been over three weeks since I embarked on “April’s Big Adventure,” aka “April’s Mid-Life Crisis,” aka “April’s run off to join the rodeo.” Still feels somewhat like a dream, although being in an office 8+ hours a day again is starting to bring me back to reality somewhat. Anyhow, here’s the adventure so far….

To roll back, a bit …  I wrapped up my time at ARINC mid-afternoon on the 1st, finished packing up that evening and then the following morning packed an amazing amount of stuff into the car, then myself and the cat, and headed down to Georgia. The drive was uneventful and somewhat boring, aside from the landscape getting greener and more spring-like the further south we went.  Yohji was a real trooper and didn’t say a peep after somewhere around Quantico, which certainly made the trip easier. Only stopped twice for gas (you really don’t want to road trip with me;  I’m all about powering through as quickly as possible) and so made good time and was at my parents’ a little after 6 PM.

Spent the next few days wrapping things up, including selling my car, which left me, for a few days at least, keyless. Ultimate freedom, no car, no house … well, still some worries. Serious props to Car Max for making the selling process quick and painless, and offering me exactly what I’d wanted to get for the car. It was a good, reliable car, but I won’t miss it, gas prices or that 40+ mile a day commute. Not in the least. Enjoyed the time with my parents, and hopefully having me there made the transition to a new place easier on Yohji, though he and Miss Kitty were still on hissing terms when I left.

The time flew by all too quickly, and on the 10th, me and my stuffed to the gills bags took off on my trek around the world. I’ve been very spoiled, flying ANA. Yes, they’re more expensive, but I get on the plane in DC, get catered to en route, and 14 hours later crawl off at Narita. No fuss, no delays. But since the company will be reimbursing most of my flight cost, I had to consider ticket cost this time. Delta came out the cheapest, but involved 21.5 hours of travel time, starting with a 6:30 flight from Savannah to Atlanta. Then Atlanta to Seattle. Then Seattle to Narita. The flights were all on time and relatively comfortable, but I was definitely missing ANA’s 777s and food. And the flight tracker was inoperable on the flight from Seattle, so I had no sense of time, which made the flight drag on somewhat.  Only two small quirks on the flights:  the PA system wasn’t working at Savannah airport, so the gate agents had to rely on their voices. And the Atlanta flight, because we were fully booked (all the flights were) carrying a lot of luggage and cargo, and there was no headwind, had to pull to the side before taking off so we could burn 400 pounds of fuel off. For the record, that only takes a couple of minutes, apparently. Certainly didn’t improve my opinion of take-offs….

Got to Narita fine, got through immigration and customs fairly quickly (there were two immigrating kitties in line, made me miss Yohji already) and with minimal questions about my “business trip.” Lugged my 80 or so pounds of luggage down to the train level to discover the line for getting rail passes was 90 minutes long. After 5 or 10 minutes, I gave up and just bought a ticket on the Narita Express (but full price; there’s supposed to be a special running right now, hrm) and waited half an hour for the train. We left on time at 6:15, but somehow didn’t get to Ikebukuro until 8:15. Not very express-like at all. Needless to say, by the time I got to the station, I found the easiest way out and grabbed a taxi to my hotel. Best 730 yen I’ve ever spent. Checked in and signed up for a Toyoko Inn member card, since I will be using them frequently this summer. I think I checked out the wireless, ate  a power bar and crashed hard.

Saturday I had breakfast at the hotel (Swedish meatballs, salad, rice balls, pickles and soup – Toyoko Inn breakfasts are an adventure!), got my rail pass in just a few minutes and headed out for geeky shopping. Stopped first at Starbucks to have one of their new lattes and to convince my phone to talk to the wireless device I’d rented (success!) and then puttered around Animate, K Books, Lashinbang and Mandarake for a few hours. I was very good and bought only a few small items.

SlothTook a short nap at the hotel, then met my friend Nancy in Takadanobaba for the Shirokuma (Polar Bear) Café, which was having a special fair for the Sloth character. We chatted for a few hours and then headed back to Ikebukuro, me to my hotel, her to the train home. Sunday I ran around to electronics shops looking at adapters for my laptop, so I could charge it. Ended up not buying anything, which worked out, since Nancy and I found one later at a 100 yen shop. Around noonish, met Nancy at the station and we headed to Odaiba for lunch and the Granrodeo “Motto mo” live radio recording/mini-live to be held at the Diver City Zepp. The show was, of course, fantastic and tons of fun (I wrote up the details here). Can’t wait for the live tour later this spring!

And this is the point where it kind of dawns on me that even though I’ve just been to a Granrodeo show … I don’t have to fly back to Maryland the next day, or the day after. Definitely a surreal feeling.

HasederaMonday I slept in, had breakfast at the hotel (shumai and macaroni salad this time) and then headed down to Kamakura. Hasedera temple is one of my absolute favorite places anywhere, and I hadn’t been there since 2009, when I went back with my friend Winnie.  Took a gazillion pictures, as always. And enjoyed a meat bun for lunch, keeping an eye on the gorgeous kite that was wheeling around overhead (there were signs saying to beware, since they like to swoop down and steal food). He was definitely mindful of all the people below him, but never got closer than maybe 10-12 feet (my first thought was it was a golden eagle – but he wasn’t quite that big).

From Hasedera, took the electric train back to the main Kamakura station and hopped a JR train to Kita-Kamakura, the next station to the north. There’s a handful of temples near the station I wanted to visit for some time now. Kita-Kamakura station is … well, it’s kind of an after-thought. The platforms are very long, with two tiny entrances at the south end. I can’t speak to the west gate, but the east one had one IC card reader, and a very sleepy guard who never looked up to check my rail pass.

MeigetsuinI skipped the closer temple and headed to Meietsuin Temple, about a kilometer  away, tucked into the hillside off the “main” road. In Japan, there’s no man in the moon, but rather, a rabbit, and as Meietsuin temple has ties to the moon, there were bunnies, both real and inanimate, at the temple. The first was a cute little bunny and turtle sculpture on the bridge leading into the temple, and back by the main building, there were a handful of live, hopping bunnies (caged, not free-range). I wandered a bit, lost in the beauty  and my headphones. Until a nice older lady stopped to ask me if I was having fun (in English). I responded that I was, and then in Japanese, that it was enjoyable. And she uttered the phrase we all hate to hear:  Your Japanese is so good. I of course promptly told her that I had a long ways to go….

My feet decided to completely protest at that point, so I skipped the rest of the temple grounds, and the next temple and headed back to Tokyo. Did tea at a wonderful place in the Seibu department store there at Ikebukuro station, then met up with my friend Michelle for dinner where she handed over all my Granrodeo goodies (tickets, fan club pamphlet, dvd order form) and then crashed hard.

TamagawaHad planned on going to Nikko on Tuesday, but the idea of four hours on a train (2 each way) and walking around even more didn’t sound appetizing, so I researched a little temple my friend Riko had told me about, where you take an underground passage beneath the temple, pitch black, as though going through the belly of the Buddha, where you can contemplate things as you walk along. Surprisingly, didn’t have that much trouble finding it and good directions there. So I headed out to the Tamagawa area and headed off into the neighborhoods in search of it. Not too much trouble finding the actual temple, but figuring out where the entrance was … well, it’s a good thing some other people showed up and headed actually /into/ the temple building, which I would not have thought to do. So I paid my 100 yen, wrote my name down in the temple book and slipped on some sandals before heading down into the darkness. And it was supremely dark, which didn’t bother me, unlike the sloping path, which kept going up and down. You pass from darkness to lit rooms of statues – 1 with 88 figures, to represent the 88 temples on Shikoku (why spend a few weeks traversing the island when you can visit all 88 temples at once?), another I’m uncertain of, and another with 33 variations on Kannon. I felt a bit awkward, as the family in front of me were there to pray, but I generally managed to stay out of their way. I would have gotten more out of it had I been able to go on my own – the shuffle of sandals, and the giggling of one of the girls ahead of me disrupted the serenity of it all….

Back in daylight, made a beeline to a little coffee/tea shop I’d seen on the walk over and enjoyed my first rum savarin ever. It came with 2 little syringes of rum that you could inject into the brioche. Heavenly. Headed back to Ikebukuro, relaxed for a bit at the hotel, then headed up to Urawa to meet Nancy for dinner. We ended up at Denny’s, because nothing appealed in any of the department stores, and we were both craving salads. Though my “salad” was an avocado salad over hamburger steak, so perhaps not as healthy as it could have been. Chatted for a bit, and then I headed back.

Yokohama ChinatownThe next morning, turned my bags over to the hotel to send them to Fukuoka via courier – best decision ever. Had breakfast there (I forget the meat, but there was potato salad this time) and then grabbed a train for Yokohama. Changed trains in Yokohama to get to the north side of Chinatown. And then spend a couple of pleasant hours wandering the streets taking pictures, inhaling all the yummy smells and, once I noticed the restaurants posted pics of celebrities who’d dined there in their windows, looking for the restaurant Granrodeo ate at while filming their Rodeo Club TV show. No luck, though. Did find the confectionary store I went to last time and bought some almond cookies, and then bought a huge char siu meat bun and headed out to the waterfront to enjoy it.

Weather was glorious, if windy. Enjoyed my meat bun, then wandered around a flower sculpture exhibit on my way towards Minato Mirai. Stopped at the Aka Renga (red warehouses) to admire more flower displays, but didn’t go into any of the stores. Finally made it to the Pacifico – hadn’t been since Rocket Punch on Valentine’s weekend 2010 – where I grabbed a drink and sat on the harbor side for a while. Wind finally got to me and I headed back to the train station. Zipped back to Ikebukuro, where I hung out in Starbucks (and had the staff ask me if I was British, which still amuses me) until Michelle caught up with me at 3:30. We nipped into Animate to pick up a CD single she’d preordered for me, and then to Cinema Sunshine, where we caught the 4:30 showing of the Sekai Ichi Hatsukoi movie. Still only caught bits and pieces of the dialogue, but it was enjoyable, on the whole. Saw the preview for the new Kenshin movie, which looks to be as good as the first one. (but hiding Fujiwara Tatsuya behind all those bandages … a waste!). We then wandered around Bic Camera a bit, pricing printers and TVs for me and ogling the 4K TVs. Wow … just wow.

Back at the hotel, packed up my carry-on bags and crashed early, since I had to be up by 5 to catch my train in the morning. Ride to Fukuoka was uneventful, and oh how I was glad not to be squished into my seat with my suitcase, duffel AND carry-ons. Changed trains in Osaka after 3 hours of travel, and then another 2.5 to Fukuoka, mostly in tunnels, much to my chagrin. Only pic I grabbed was the baseball stadium in Hiroshima. Grabbed a sandwich in the main Fukuoka station, then grabbed a taxi to the Edanz building. Met my office “mom” (Yukari-san) and “dad” (Sean), both of whom are so much younger than I am! Yukari showed me to my apartment, and the Sean and my teammate Luis carried all my boxes in. I signed for my key and spent the afternoon puttering around the apartment, mostly putting clothes up, and getting set up on the wireless. The apartment is huge for one person, but lacks any storage whatsoever. I can fix that, though. Thought I might nap, but hunger won out and I hit the 7-11 next door for food and ended up crashing around 8:30….

…only to wake up around 1. Ack. Microwaved the combini pancakes I’d bought (the things are addictive), which is how I found out the microwave is a combination range/microwave/convection oven/grill. Dude. Talk about multi-tasking. Chatted with a friend briefly online, then crashed again. Friday was spent picking up my suitcase from the office (carried over for me, thankfully)  and locating the post office and grocery store, both of which are super close. Stocked up on groceries and then proceeded to put more clothes away and contemplate what storage I’m going to need (bookcases, dresser, jewelry box and bathroom storage, at a minimum).

Tenjin shrineSaturday I walked to Tenjin, which is a big shopping area about 40 minutes on foot from the apartment. Preordered some CDs/DVDs and ate lunch, only to emerge into cloudy and cool weather, which dogged me as I wandered around trying to find the department store housing my favourite tea chain. Did finally find it – only to discover a tween/teen idol group singing between the two buildings. Loudly. Escaped inside to buy my tea, and discovered they have a tea café. May try that out next weekend.  Then hit up a 100 yen store (Can Do) for more spices, olive oil, broom, mini-swiffer, kitchen items and more. 100 yen stores are indeed da bomb here. Back home, had to run back out to the grocery store for some items, then put things up and wrangled with the washing machine. I now know what the standard cycle button is, and that “dry” means less water, not a dry cycle. Really need to invest in a fan, for while I can get lots of wind on my balcony, if I need to be out while things are drying … they won’t. Only with the dehumidifier on, or with the balcony door open will they dry. So, note to self:  wash clothes on days off.

Sunday I skyped with my parents and then puttered around some more, moving the table around, reorganizing kitchen stuff and then, around 4, my boss came by (in from China for the week) and we chatted for a couple of hours over coffee while waiting for teammate to free up. Around 6 they took me to an area chock full of restaurants, intending to take me for ribs, but the place was closed. We ended up at a yakitori place, which was heavenly … and not just because of the “bacon-wrapped” section of the menu (though let me tell you, bacon-wrapped cherry tomatoes and bacon-wrapped bamboo shoots are to die for). Had a number of grilled meaty things on sticks, including heart, which was tasty, but entirely not the texture I was expecting. We ate and chatted until around 9, at which point we headed back and I crashed.

Work has been much like getting started at any other job, introductions, new accounts, learning the ropes. Still getting the hang of the morning Skype calls with the team in China and all the different systems we have in place. Everyone is very, very nice and helpful. And there is always food. There was birthday cake on Tuesday. Wednesday my boss brought us combini pancakes with sweet potatoes for breakfast, because we came in early. And then he gave us shortbread in the afternoon. Today were pastries from Okinawa and curry rice crackers (super hot!) from Kyoto after lunch. And there free lunch with my office parents on Wednesday too. Today was bento lunch in the little waterfront park in front of the building with my boss, one of the QC editors, my teammate and his wife and little girl. Very pleasant. And after work tonight is supposed to be Mongolian hot pot. I really must start walking every morning…. Though the 3 flights up to the office is good exercise too.

This weekend I need to pick up more stuff at the 100 yen store, hit the post office and pick something up at Animate. I plan on exploring the huge park near the closest train station. It has a lake, museum and more. Hopefully I can walk there in the mornings. Next week I have Tuesday off (Showa Day) and then a four day weekend as the following Monday and Tuesday are off too. And now that I have a loaner phone, I can order the storage that I need.

My visa process is underway – turned in the necessary papers to the immigration lawyer on Monday (had to run out and get pictures taken at lunch – yay for random photo booths). Met with him again on Friday to fill in some gaps in the paperwork and he’ll be back again on Monday. Hopefully all goes quickly.

First trip to China will be sometime this summer, hopefully later in July. Looking forward to seeing Beijing.

I think I’m settling in okay. My apartment is super quiet, which makes me miss Yohji something fierce. Didn’t realize how much I talked to him. Or how much I relied on the background chatter of the TV for noise. (Amusingly, the NHK fee man stopped by on Saturday. Told him I didn’t have a TV and he went away.) Looking forward to having friends visit soon, and to heading back east to visit other friends on various weekends. And hopefully making new ones here!

(Click on the pics for bigger versions — and I’ll upload everything to Flickr soon.)

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