Saturday, February 9

Tokyo Jaunt, p.3: スカイツリーと花見 Sky Tree and Hanami 7/04/2012

Friends Forever - two best friends enjoying the weird Japanese sweets shaped like 竹の子take-no ko (top of the bamboo). We decided to call them szyszki, pine cones in Polish. Pink one was supposed to be strawberry flavour.
Setting off from Sensō-ji, in the direction of the magnificent Sky Tree

Hanami (flower viewing) on the river bank. Note the horribly blue foil spread underneath the trees (sitting space).

Golden poo, golden worm, or maybe a windswept candle? Futuristing design of Asahi Beer Hall by Phillip Stark proved still as puzzling as ever. 

It seemed to be so close, just behind the corner... Took us AGES to get close to it!

Hanami... I'm not a big fan of flowers of any kind, but there is a tear in my eye when I remember how pretty and pink it actually was there.

How much I wished I had a proper camera which would focus on the tree and 'smudge' the tree... Would have been a great picture.

When we finally found it, it really was impressively big. So big it didn't want to fit in for the picture!

Art in the service of recycling: an example what one could do with some waste and talent. It's important not to waste any talent. (huhuhu, sorry, couldn't resist a lame joke)

Isn't that beautifully subtle? (especially considering the material used?)

AHA! - bellowed my best friend upon noticing a kebab place. Apparently, the Turks had discovered the Land of the Blossoming Cherry.

The Thing I'm Missing The Most

What I miss about Japan the most? Politeness. Oh. My. Gosh. How much I bloody miss that.

I really miss the fact that one can go out in public and have a rather stress-free interaction, safely cushioned (if not: cocooned) in polite formulas and significant amount of bowing. That you can just go out, do your business, run all the errand and that nobody - unprovoked - would start exerting their power on you and make you feel like utter manure.

This year I'm living in a student residence managed by so-called UNITE in London. It is a shitty place, not only cheaply built, but extortionately priced for what it's worth. But that's not the worst. The worst is, by far, the scum that happens to work there.

Do you judge me now by calling people names? Believe me, I'm the last person to judge and call people names. I'm a rather shy, insecure and very quiet person minding her own business, the kind that has her imaginary life much more developed and fascinating as a result of over-intense introspection. I am polite to people I deal with, observing the rules and taking care never to offend. I am a person extremely difficult to upset, and even if that happens, I try to withdraw rather than argue pointlessly or be unkind to anyone. But this year is definitely thickening my skin. Yes, the UNITE bastards (as I came to pet-name them as early as two weeks after moving in) are definitely teaching me how to be rude, as they are living example of how much one can disrespect and push people around. And you know what? People that live here are mostly foreigners that barely speak any English, so the bastards grow to think they are masters and commanders, to patronize and offend.

Take, for instance, the parcel collection. In my residence, they are kindly signing in and taking your parcels for you, so that you don't need to go to the post office depot if you need to collect your parcels. Great, one would think, and yes, I admit, it seems awfully convenient. But let me tell you, I wish I could go to the depot and just get my bloody parcel myself, really, rather to deal with the aforementioned UNITE scum to retrieve it. 

The moment the parcel arrives, it gets signed for. They even send you an e-mail that there is a parcel for you. Great, you think, and rush to collect it, just to discover the reception is 'temporarily' closed. Wondering where did the e-mail come from then, you make a mental note to come later, and when you do, you notice they yet again changed the opening hours, so now it's not 8pm anymore, it's 7:30. Teeth gritting, you return the next day.

Make it today. I had a tough week, I've been very anxious and rather depressed and fearful. I tried to come up with some work on my dissertation, but instead did my very best not to succumb into panic, really. I came downstairs, hungry on top of all that, just to collect my parcel. There were at least 2 people already dealing with the Arab-looking guy at the reception, and then there was a group of three or four black girls just standing nearby. Not sure whether they waited or not, I stood there politely, halfway inbetween. I waited patiently. One person dealt with the guy. Then the other. Then the group approached and started talking about something.

I was standing, waiting politely, trying not to think about how long I'm actually waiting and that my stomach rumbles. Then I heard the door and observed some Spanish-looking guy dressed in a very red shirt flip-flopping his way to the reception. He approached, glared at me and stood behind the girls, waiting.

The moment the guy working behind the counter saw the guy he asked what he wanted. I was appalled at this obvious injustice, but then learned that, apparently, it was an emergency of 3 mice in the kitchen (just to confirm to you how shitty this place is, the building was completed in 2009 and is too far from Central London to shift the blame for rodent-stricken location), and his three female neighbours were standing on top of the table, screaming, refusing to touch the kitchen floor ever again unless he reported it. Ok, I thought. Let it be. I can wait.

The guy behind the counter looked at me, finally, and started to make some phone call somewhere (probably regarding the mice), and asked me what I wanted. I told him about the parcel. He completely ignored me, or didn't want to reply, or maybe he was just too thick to do two things at the time, reply to me and listen to some waiting music on the phone. Anyway, I started to get annoyed, but didn't say a thing.

After a minute or two, I reached for the file with the parcel numbers, the one we have to sign to get our parcel. They are supposed to be doing that for you, finding your number and then the parcel, but he was obviously too busy. I wanted to show him my name so that he could find a parcel the moment he finished talking on the phone, and go home, as they were supposed to work till 7:30pm, and it was already past this time. The moment he saw me, still not looking at me, so I didn't notice that he was talking to me (mind you, he still had the telephone receiver tucked in between his cheek and shoulder, and tapping something on the computer), he started with 'Don't touch my stuff'. I looked at him, apologetically, but also a bit amused, trying to smile and explain that I just wanted to collect my parcel and find my name in the binder, so he could go home earlier, as I could see he is on the phone. He avoided eye contact with me and still was on the phone, although not talking, so it annoyed me even more how rude can one be. If you could only see his body language. He started showing me the phone, telling me I need to wait as it's not my turn, and as I am touching his stuff, I will need to wait even longer. It was so rude, especially that he did see me before and somehow decided that the guy that came after me was more urgent/important to deal with. I told him that I was before this guy anyway, and I didn't want to do anything, I wanted to wait politely, I just wanted to make his life easier and show him my name, so he could find the parcel after he'd have finished the talking. He started, and I'm not joking, taking the mickey, blabbing in a weird voice, telling me that NOW that I'm so impatient that I tried to do that (?), and that it's his stuff, NOW I would need to wait even longer. I'm telling you, readers, it was as if I turned back time and were back in kindergarten.

I was so flabbergasted that the shadow of the smile froze on my lips, and I could feel the rush of blood on my cheeks. I just wanted to stab him. I found myself telling him to be reasonable, and look, I just wanted to help him with his best interest in mind, as it's just a parcel and I knew that it is past after their closing time, so I don't want to take his time longer than necessary. He started (mind you, he was still 'on the phone') telling me off, that he will not close anyway before he doesn't deal with all of us. I snapped back that I was the last one and just wanted to be polite and make the process quicker FOR HIM, and that this is not HIS STUFF anyway. (Note to self: For fuck's sake, I need to stop being so fucking considerate and try to help people if they are not asking for it. Sorry for the Latin.) He started, in angry English with some Arabic accent, that now I would need to wait even longer. I just looked at him in disbelief. The only thing missing was the tongue sticking out with 'la la la' song to it, followed by some loud raspberry blowing.

There were many things I wanted to tell him. He was looking at me, with apparent glee that he was causing me so much inconvenience, and probably marvelling on of how powerful and important he actually was at the moment, keeping me waiting and uncertain whether I get it today or not. In his sneaky eyes I swear I could see a spark of mischief - he was probably wondering whether he could refuse me MY OWN parcel on some dumb pretext, close the office and get away with it, pretending nothing happened. But for the time being he decided to ignore me. Ok, I thought, if you want to play games, I actually AM in a position that I CAN wait almost indefinitely as I live here, but you have to stay here till you're done. 

I felt warm tears of abasement forming under my eyelids. This should not be happening. I just wanted to peacefully collect my parcel, just have it over with. Forcing myself not to show any weakness in this stupid and completely unnecessary 'duel' I looked at some artificial plant and started using my all-time favourite tear-blocker, laws of thermodynamics (you need to focus and try to recite them word by word, they take your mind of what's currently happening; with some practice you can rend them useful in temporary tear production). I managed to withstand the overwhelming sense of misunderstanding.

After half a minute of sitting, I could hear him opening the binder. I ignored him and turned to him, trying to look as interested as if I observed a cockroach in a jar, with my sight unfocused. He was blaberring something. I asked pardon me. He repeated whether I'd  known my referrence number. I replied that I did. Silence. He asked whether he could have it. I told him coldly that no, as he was so busy on the phone I could wait. After another minute or two he was asking the room number. I told him. He found my name and crossed the place to sign. I looked at him, faking a polite interest, and didn't take a pen, as he didn't carry the parcel yet. He looked at me in a pantomime of 'you stupid bitch, sign it'. I looked at him patronizingly and told him, courtly, that in order to sign for anything I need to see the parcel. It took him another 10 minutes to 'find' it, while simultaneously he was talking to somebody about the vermins (?). I revised my Physics once again and tried not to lose my composure. When he finally turned up, I had the 'you're slow, aren't you' followed by 'it's because of such black Arabic scum Britain doesn't resemble itself anymore' on the tip of my tongue, but decided to swallow my words this time. Not even looking at him, I coldly thanked him, grabbed my parcel and went to the shop to do some minor shopping.

I always try to be compassionate. I alwats try to be nice to everybody. I try to explain people and their behaviour, thinking about why they behaved in a certain way. I have a tendency of blaming myself and trying to use every encounter as the lesson for the future, trying not to make the same mistakes/avoid similar controntation. But sometimes I just have enough. These idiots working here are teaching me one thing: NEVER PUT YOUR GUARD DOWN, because the moment you do, you'll be attacked. Of course, not all of them are like that. I do like and respect few of them, because they were never rude to me, always gentle and polite. But when they caused much inconvenience once, messing up the credit card and causing my dad a lot of woe, NONE OF THEM ACTUALLY PAID ATTENTION until I sent a rude e-mail that finally went through the stupid system and made somebody react, even if the initial intention was to teach me manners.

Today's interraction about such trivial thing as a parcel was so upsetting and unnecessary. The guy finally listened and sorted the thing out AFTER I LOWERED MYSELF TO HIS LEVEL. Is that how communication should look like? Is that how my life would look like from now on? Is the only way to escape that getting really rich and being able to afford not to deal with the scum like that, a scum that would attack you without a warning when you least expect it?

One could say that what goes round comes round, and that I've been rude to them once, so maybe they're just paying me back. The difference is that the previous situation was obviously their mistake that had serious consequences, and they are, after all people you need to deal when such unpleasant situation occurs. Not only were they wrong, they also bothered my father (a guarantor) unnecessarily, and caused me many sleepless nights. They were threatening me with their stupid e-mails about 'legal responsibilities' and similar crap, almost threatening eviction, and I needed to shout to be heard. Now, whenever I came down to get a parcel, I was always really polite. Going downstairs in your pyjamas (well, almost, a home tracksuit) to get a parcel is when you least expect it somebody to upset you by being rude to you.

Now, why would this scum do such a thing, I repeat, completely unprovoked? Why did he do that? Did it have anything to do with me, or was completely unrelated? Did it have anything to do with paying me back for being rude to UNITE once? (Mind you, I've never spoken to the guy before). Was it because I'm a woman? (He was most obviously a Muslim). Or maybe he is just a mediocre and insecure little creature living his shitty little life, with no real power or significance, and that was his only way to feel great and important for a second? 

I came upstairs with my shopping and unwrapped a damn parcel all this fuss and emotional upset was about. Inside, there was a Rafaello sweet box spontaneously bought by my boyfriend. I found it so touching and thoughtful that I finally burst into tears. Felt better.

Thursday, January 31

Wow, I'm back! Thanks Google!

Hello again, dear Readers (or: Tadaima!* - I'm back, an expression used when you return home),

I'm really sorry for disappearing so suddenly and for so long - but in my defense - it wasn't entirely my fault. One of the main contributors have been the good old uncle Google, who relentlessly tries to sqeeze its nasty adds for new more or less stupid innovations, updates and programs, and have you join all possible accounts with every possible website you ever visited, or even accidentally opened. As a result, every time I tried to quickly drop a line or two, I was welcomed by a weird screen that gave me a choice of something and something (don't ask, I couldn't even been bothered reading it through), and threatened me that unless I decided how I want to proceed from now on, I won't be able to access the content. Being my usually anxious and melancholic self, I decided that it wasn't urgent and withdrew, coming back occassionally and checking whether the problem solved itself on its own. 

You see, maybe it's a result of my watching all these crazy science fiction films from the seventies where computers came to life and sooner or later threatened the humans with a plethora of endearingly choppy and 'einfach', if you let me borrow from German, special effects, I am a rather weird young person when it comes to technology. I am more Black Mirror than Apple. I love it and have usually nothing against it, but I am also very careful while using it. I have my little red netbook and I own a smartphone, but can't even figure out how to make a phone call sometimes, let alone upload pictures or browsing the internet. And speaking of the internet, I stay away from dodgy sites and always read the rules before clicking 'I accept', just in case. So suddenly having that almost Herculean choice in front of me (which path to take, easier or harder, left or right, blue or red pill), I decided to withdraw till I had time to solve the mystery of Blogger. And today a miracle happened - the problem resolved itself. I found my own Blogger screen at last, no strange join accounts with Google Plus or Minus - just an account and a few comments to moderate (thank you). Thank goodness!

So what's been going on with me? Not much, really. I had a pretty miserable, insuferably hot Japanese summer because of my certain - so I thought - 'friend'. You see, I'm a very private person. I'm also very loyal and devoted, and once I establish a relation, I literally am giving people my heart then. Yes, I do love these few Special People around me. Unfortunately, this time the person had a different idea about our friendship. Once she found herself a real girlfriend, she probably decided she needen't bother with me, or maybe didn't know how to deal with me anymore. She left me completely on an emotional dessert, ceasing any contact for days and weeks quicker than I could say 'Quidditch'. It really hurts when all of a sudden a person that used to spend a significant chunk of every day with you, talking and exchanging experiences, suddenly seems too busy to even say hi. But it's not the worst, one can survive that, especially that in the light of the new boyfriend/girlfriend appearing on stage, it's more than natural that all friends are put on a back line. The worst was emotional wall that she put in-between. You see, she somehow did find time to keep making new friends, however insinificant they were to her when we spoke about them before. She did have time to post some insignificant pictures on nobody's facebook walls, but if we finally managed to meet, she would not even listen to whatever I'd say, and needed two weeks to notice she has got an e-mail from me, and three more to reply. She used to say how she's got so many people around, but 97% of them would forget about her within a year. Well, the irony here is that she came across most loyal and loving me, and kind of dumped me. That's why it felt like such a smack to get rejected so suddenly. 

I stayed in Japan till just after O-Bon (16-18 of August - it was great to experience it in Kyoto), and returned home on August 20. Since October I'm back in London, doing my final year Undergraduate and (gulp) writing my thesis and millions of more or less fascinating essays and translations on more or less useless subjects. As I still have countless pictures of Japan I've got to share with you (and a looming final dissertation deadline), I will be most likely be here more often than I should :)

Take care, and see you soon,


*You should reply Okaerinasai! (Welcome back!)

PS. Please, do watch Black Mirror if you have some time to spare. It shows how terribly wrong our love for technology can get us if we're not careful enough!

image source

Sunday, June 24

Troubles in Paradise

- Wow, I expected Japan to be far more expensive - I keep hearing from people coming and going, the temporary visitors. - I prepared so much money, I was prepared for such a dent in family finances, but I'm taking so much home!

Japan is one of these countries where high-tech trains and gadgets just give you that luxurious feel. It's the halo effect of the extortionately priced plane tickets - if you pay that much for a plane ticket, you just assume The Other Side must be worth it, and be equally expensive and extravagant. That's kind of subconscious, a part of a deal.

And then you land in Japan, and after you've paid for your hotel and transport, you notice that eating out is cheap like hell. Being a temporary visitor, you have no other choice than to rely on the restaurants out there.

At the same time there is me - a pretty normal twenty-something girl with not much, and not even wanting that much. I'm extremely fortunate to be able to study and follow my dream. I owe everything to my parents that pay for my dwelling, my food, and occassionally, for my attire. Of course, I try to earn money whenever I can, I just have limited possibilities to do that when I'm practically studying for 18 hours a day.

I do not eat that much. I do not have extra money for entertainment, or anything particularly fun, because it takes a hell lot of money (if I remember correctly, last time I went karaoke was in January). I do not go to clubs, as I don't particularly like it, and it's really expensive (2000-3000 yen plus drinks at least 500 yen each). I do not do that much sightseeing, partly because I've seen most of it, but partly because each visit to the temple, shrine, or even a museum is certain to rip you off at least 500 yen each and every time, not to mention the bus or train fare you need for the trip, each around 400-500 yen return (it has become really hot recently, and the sun is really strong, it's kind of dangerous to have too far bike rides now). Since I've fallen out with my best friend here (long story short, I thought I had found a real friend while she just needed a close acquaintance to kill some time with till she could get a real girlfriend. When she finally did, she made it very clear she didn't intend to spend her limited time with people she's not intetested at anymore. Still painful, as now I wish I hadn't wasted time with somebody like her.), I haven't gone out for weeks. I get myself a book from time to time, but if I do, it's hardly for fun, rather for further study or furture enjoyment once I finally master the language enough to understand what I'm reading. My last lavish expense were 3 dresses from Pepperberry and a discounted cardigan for autumn, hardly a designer label, but things that finally fit my boobs and not make me depressed every time I go to the shop.

The only things I buy on a daily basis is food. The only thing that cheers me up is to get some ingredients and cook something edible, which frankly is a hell of a challenge here. Food is the most expensive thing here, yet and inavoidable expense. And, it's the well-known truth worldwide that the processed, unhealthy crap is the cheapest. A cup ramen (instant chinese noodles) will cost you just 98 yen, but to make exacly the same ramen from the scratch will set you back at least 1000 yen. It's not really worth it when you realize you can get a good one from ramen-ya (ramen shop) at something around 800.

I'm cooking my food from the scratch. I always have, and I would always like to. I feel healthy and fit eating my way, a fast food or chocolate being a very rare treat. I thought that I've put my all resources wisely, investing in food. And it's not that I go and spend it on anything lavish or extravagant, just normal vegetables, occassional fruits (very expensive) and meat. Just soy milk, eggs and butter. An odd chocolate or an ice-cream. A very rare and expensive treat, salami. Not particularly good, but tolerable bread from a bakery. I thought that from all I was doing, at least I got SOMETHING right.

That's why I was saddened by the e-mail I got from my parents, urging me to 'limit my consumption'. What shall I limit? It's so tough to limit what I already am limitting, plus food was my sole entertainment here. But the most unfair I find is that they repeatedly fail to understand that the food is priced differently that back in Poland, and keep bombarding me with the argument that my monthly food expenses exceed the food cost for all three of them. Yes, I want to say, but give me your shopping list for a week and I would convert all your food expenses into yen, we'll see whether it's still twice as low as mine.

I just feel sad. Really sad, because the tone of the e-mail suggests that I'm a shoppaholic and I got 'lured by an easiness of operating the credit card'. I am not. I seriously am not. Every time I draw the card I'm making sure whether I need something or not. Every time I get something with it I am thanking my father for being so generous. I do not get myself lavish designer shoes I don't need or hell knows how unnecessary caviar or semi-fermented coffee beans pooed by some monkeys, the most expensive coffee on Earth. 95% all all my expenses goes on food anyway,

I just feel that recently everything is so against me. The studying is so tough right the moment, there is so much stress building up in this last month. I feel I'm not achieving as much as I should, as I'm just not as bright as everybody else. I got my sister placed on my shoulders in the last week of my study here, which is the last thing in the world I need or am looking forward to now, to be honest, and it's just infuriating I was in no position to refuse, as it would have been perceived as ungratefulness. The fact that I have to pack all my life in few bags and boxes again and move, whist still not having anywhere to go to live in London from September, is weighing on me heavily. I won't have any holidays this year either to forget about all that (not that I'm a sissy that needs holidays every year, I am fine without anything, really, but I realize one can't expect much after being generously offered  a year in Japan plus return tickets, even if that was barely a holiday). Then I'm so stressed and hurt by having trusted someone and being dumped like an old, unnecessary rag, and now, on top of that, I obviosly can't manage my resources, which I thought was the only area I was kind of coping well for the time being.

I try not to take it personally, I know that times are tough and one has to save, but I'm just so tired of all that. I'm tired of Japan, this country full of seriously limited people in many regards. I'm tired of studying. I'm tired of not having anything to look forward to. Now I seriously spend all my days in my bed, either sleeping or crying, which is definitely cost-effective, as you don't eat much. I just wish I could disappear. Just like that, pop!, and be gone. No fuss and no drama, just... vanish. Without anybody noticing.

I often dream of that. Feels so... refreshing.

Tuesday, May 22

Sky Tree!

The Sky Tree finally opens to the public today! I'm so excited, it's one of  (if not the most!) attractive fallic symbol of all fallic symbols defining modern big cities. Opportunity arising, hopefully during the next Tokyo trip, I will not fail to climb it and take lots of lovely pictures from the above!

Sky Tree through blossoming Terrestial Tree; Asakusa,Tokyo, 6/04/2012
More information on Sky Tree here.

Thursday, May 17

宮島 Miyajima (The Island of Miya), 30/04/2012

Straw barrells of sake, Itsukushima Shrine, Miyajima

During the Golden Week (ゴールデン・ウィーク, gouruden uiiku - a series of consecutive holidays lasting from the end of April till mid-May) I joined my mostly Italian circle of friends (plus one German and one Peruvian) on the trip to Hiroshima. Having probably one and only chance in the world to actually go and see the famous picturesque floating torii of Itsukushima Shrine, the shrine build directly on the sandy beach of Miyajima, how disappointed were we to discover that: a/ the torii itself currently undergoes some maintenace, and is planned to stay covered... till mid-June; b/ the weather couldn't have been more ugly, unwelcoming and picture-spoiling than that very day, as we were all well soaked by the freezing streaks of continuous rain, and c/ there were maintenance teams all over the place to spoil the experience even more, should it even be possible. At some point even the flash of a neon-coloured tractor failed to really surprise me. To make matters worse, the afternoon tide didn't want to rise high enough to even partially make up for the disappointment, and actually make the 'floating' buildings float! We left Miyajima absolutely soaked, feeling cheated. 

That makes one place in Japan that probably neither of us would ever miss!

Awaiting a ferry from Miyajima-guchi.
The ferry itself. There are two operating companies, both with ferries leaving every 7-10 minutes.
Famous floating torii... barely visible through the scaffolding.
Maybe changing the angle of the camera would make the scaffolding less visible...?
Lovely tame deer munching on the pine needles in the square nearby the ferry quay.
Soggy Miyajima shore... Looking at the crowds, I wonder how the area looks like when it's actually sunny...
Miyajima torii... still unflatteringly covered and less than photogenic.
Deers bothering the crowds for snacks. They were surprisingly brazen and smart at the same time, heading for the most obvious locations - bags and pockets.
Before the tide - people 'enjoying' the torii view from the beach level... or maybe just crossing?
The true size of the torii... On the picture - my two friends who decided they were already wet enough to try to walk along the underwater sand passage leading to the gate.
Steaming mountain after the first minutes of rainfall.
The pagoda of the nearby buddhist temple; viewed through the buildings of Itsukushima Shrine.
The iteriors of Itsukushima shrine. When the tide rises, the water fills the prepared areas creating ponds. Reminded me of the ponds one was digging on the seaside with their plastic shovels, waiting for the water to fill them.
Floating buildings of Itsukushima Shrine... plus the workers.

Barrells of sake, Itsukushima Shrine.

A stage for special Noh theatre performances.

And THAT'S how the main attraction of Miyajima was supposed to look like...

image source
Interested in torii? Check this out! I think it's one of the most informative articles on the subject.