Golden Week 2012: Kickin’ it in Kyoto

I know, I know, it’s been  like a month since I went to Kyoto and I’m now posting this, but here’s the thing…I think I did Kyoto wrong. Yeah, I visited temples, petted the deer in Nara, drank from a magic waterfall that’s supposed to give me luck in love (and I think it worked ;) ), but maybe I built Kyoto up too much in my head. Maybe it was the constant gloominess and rain while I was there, or maybe I was just all templed out, but though I had some novel experiences, Kyoto wasn’t *ALL* I expected. I think I need to go back…when it’s sunny. I will not give up on you Kyoto!

However there was one outstanding stand out: I got to see a Maiko Show. I couldn’t understand a thing but I was still enthralled, enchanted enticed and other words that start with “E”. At first there was some kind of Romeo and Juliet-ish star-crossed lovers’ story, then individual and group Maiko dances. I am a fan of the arts and this show was very artistic. Yep.  I loved the dancing, the shamisen music, the singing, the costumes, all of it. I couldn’t take any pictures though. I really, really, wanted to just sneak and do it anyway but I had this horrible vision of the noise or flash stopping the whole show. Imagine: everyone goes silent — the actresses, the narrator, the audience, and turns to look at me in pure disgust while I’m holding up my iPhone. I wouldn’t even be able to play the gaijin card ‘cause there were signs in English everywhere that said no video or photography…or else you will be subjected to a humiliation so thorough it will drive you mad. You will never be the same. At least I think that’s what they said, I can’t remember exactly.

I did of course have lots of fun taking pictures elsewhere, as always. Would you like to see?

Kinkakji, the "golden temple"

The View from Kiyomizu temple

Giant Buddhas at Todaiji Temple in Nara

Capsule Ryokan

Above is my little capsule at the hostel I stayed it. I really liked it. See, I am the opposite of claustrophobic, so I loved having my own little screened off space including my own T.V. that had Fox network. I watched House. You heard me, I went to Kyoto to watch House.

I’m Comfortably Uncomfortable

But its Tokyo

This could be any big city, but it's Tokyo.

Right now, everywhere I go I feel like I’m listening to everyone talking with a towel over their mouth or something : Japanese sounds familiar, it sounds like something I should understand, but nothing makes any sense. It’s a strange and unsettling feeling, and one I’m anxious to fix. Too anxious, it seems. Here’s a story:

Every day on my way to work I pass a small family- owned (I assume) grocery, where a little old man with a bent back stands stooped over his vegetables. He always gives me a nod when I walk past, and I got it into my head that I wanted to be friends with this old man. He would become my unofficial Ojiisan (Grandpa), and he would teach me Japanese, and be delighted at my adorable attempts to learn his language — and he would give me free groceries.  So the other evening as I’m walking by, I gave my best casual wave to him and called out “Oyasumi”.  My roomate, who’s walking next to me, bursts out laughing. I’m thinking “oh man, what’d I do now?” She tells me I basically told the old man something along the lines of “you have a good sleep now”. It was about six in the evening. The old man’s response? He just nodded as usual, as if to say “yup, as expected.”

Sigh.

If I had my way I’d be fluent in Japanese in the next month, too bad that’s impossible. But I still feel I’ve made an excellent choice in Japan, specifically Tokyo, as the place where I will begin to expand my horizons. It’s like slowly dipping into the cold ocean. Even though I’m well out of my comfort zone, there’s something so familiar about this place. It’s got the same big-city feel as Toronto. And I’m finding, to both my amazement and relief, that it’s perfectly possible to live here without knowing how to speak Japanese.  Yep, I can get by just fine on the King’s English, but can I learn anything? Can I really understand this place, and in doing so better understand myself? No, I don’t think I can.

And although there are quite a few things that are familiar, there’s still a lot that’s different.  Say I go out and buy lunch. I take it back to work. I’m the break room, laughing it up with the coworkers, having a good time right? But then it comes time to throw out the container. I’m suddenly darting my eyes around, waiting for someone to make the first move, because I never quite know where the hell I’m supposed to throw the thing. It’s plastic, but there’s still food in there. Or it’s plastic, but what about the chopsticks? The garbage system here freaks me out man, because  –  and no one’s told me this officially yet but — I’m pretty sure that if I throw something in the wrong bin red lights will start flashing and alarms will go off, and a spotlight will centre right on the criminal who so thoughtlessly put non-combustible material in the combustible bin, and Japanese police will rappel down from the roof and crash through the windows to haul me off to garbage jail. I must have been lucky so far, but I’m dreading the day it happens.

Countdown to J-town — Week 1

Forest Shrine

This week’s post is a little early because…oh yeah, I’M MOVING TO JAPAN TOMORROW!!

I was thinking that since I wasn’t working this past week, it would be a nice vacation, with no responsibilities, just doing whatever I wanted to do. Um…how about no? No, this week was hectic! I made trips to see friends one last time before leaving, went on an epic quest to find a decent suit, got interviewed twice, got stopped in busy yonge and dundas square for a street interview about New Years’ Resolutions (look Ma I’m on the news!), ate all the foods I can ‘t get in Japan, packed and unpacked and repacked, saw the new Narnia movie (two thumbs up) and finally got the details on how to get to my new home from the airport. Phew!

The hardest part has been the good-byes. I’ve never been hugged so much in my life. But the boss fight is tomorrow, when I say goodbye to my immediate family at the airport. I’m just really lucky I’m able to see and talk to them on Skype. There’s so much I want to get out of this move, but most of all, as I’ve said before, I want to grow up.

The Deep Sleep Crew

The Deep Sleep Crew From Left: Lil' Leo Leonardi, Young Sponge, Polar Ice and B.I.G BlueBear-y

And that’s why I also have to say good-bye to my homies, the Deep Sleep Crew, but I’m not worried. I’m sure they’ll become just as tight with my sister when she moves in.

Well here I go, down the rabbit hole. I doubt I’ll get any sleep tonight. I’ve got way too much going on in my head right now. I’m excited, nervous, scared, happy and bewildered. It’s hard to get my brain to accept the fact that this is finally happening, that I’m moving on to life, stage 2. This moment is so ripe with potential. I wonder what will happen in the year to come?  I hope I can face the challenges with grace and calm, and that the benefits far outweigh the hardships.

I’ve got a ton to do before I leave tomorrow. So for now, Sayonara, and wait up for my next post coming from Tokyo, Japan!

Countdown to J-Town — Week 2

Countdown to J-Town Week 2

I’ve started saying my good-byes, and started the monumental task of packing. Damn, this thing is really happening. And even though I have a week to go, there’s still so much to do. But I wonder, can you ever really be 100% ready for such a drastic life change? There are so many variables, so many dark spots – imagination can only take me so far, and who knows what’s in store for me in Japan.  I’m sure mental preparation is just as important as physical preparation for me right now.

Last week was spent tying up a lot of loose ends, especially financially. And I’m all about spending time with friends and family right now. My overall mood is one of excitement, but there’s sadness there too. I sometimes wake up in the morning, sit up in bed, look around at the room I’ve lived in for over 10 years, decorated in my own paintings, and think “wow, no more of this.” But this move is about more than seeing Japan, or teaching, it’s about growing. I live in a flower pot, and it’s cushy and safe, but I can only get so big in here, so I’m transplanting myself to life’s garden. Oh sure there will be squirrels and gophers, and the soil is different than I’m used to, and cats might try to piss on me from time to time,  but there’s also pure unfiltered sunlight and most importantly, infinite space, and infinite possibility. I could be a redwood tree, but without room to stretch up I’d never know it.

There are so many things I will miss, but it’s only temporary (I think), and I try to focus on all the new experiences, new friends and new wisdom I’ll gain in Japan. And you know what, I’m proud of myself too. I’m proud because instead of sitting and thinking about it, wondering about it, or fantasizing about it, I took the steps and made this happen. I researched, I weighed the pros and cons, and I made this decision to move with no fear or regrets. To anyone out there who’s thinking about moving to Japan or any other country I say, why not? Really take a long stern look at whatever is holding you back, because sometimes what you think is an iron door is really just its reflection on fragile glass.

Well, I have tons of packing (and re-packing) to do, so bye-bye for now. But look out very soon for my first post in Japan.

Countdown to J-Town — Week 3

Countdown to J-town -- Week 3

Last week was spent spreading — what’s it called again? Oh yeah, “Christmas Cheer”. I did this in the form of spending way more money than I ever intended or could afford really on presents, but what the hell, it’s Christmas!

I have to say, I’m really grateful that I’m moving after Christmas. I was ready and willing to go before, but you know what? As I was hanging out with my cousins eating good traditional West-Indian food including my mom’s legendary black cake (that’s fruit cake with rum in it) and laughing as we made fun of each other’s stupidity while playing Cranium, I was really glad to be home and I realized I would have had a major case of the long face if I’d spent this Christmas in Japan, since I wouldn’t have known anyone yet.

Preparations to move are coming along nicely. I’ve got my work visa so I’m ready to wreak clean, civilized mild-mannered havok in Japan (mwahaha Japanese government you know not what you have done).

The next big hurdle will be my birthday, although that’s a while after I move, so by then I should have some acquaintances at the least. Still, the Christmas scenario has got me thinking – am I about to get my ass kicked? Seriously, am I about to get straight samurai-ed by Japanese culture? I mean I’ve always been good at adapting, and “putting up with” things that are less than ideal, and I think I’m being realistic about what to expect when I get there,  but no matter how you try to prepare the reality never matches the theory does it? And that language barrier is going to be killer. Oh, God I should to go study hiragana and katakana from this moment until I leave.  Right now I read like a little kid, one letter at a time, partly because I don’t really know any words. And I find it kind of hilarious, but I bet it won’t be so funny when I’m trying to decode the name of a train station to know where I’m going and I have 30 seconds to catch the train. I was talking with my cuz about the differences reading your native language and a second language. For example, tihs snetnce soulhd be esay to raed, for most English readers, even though the letters are all messed up, because we’ve memorized the words whole, so all are brains really need to understand are the first and last letters to be able to read. Not so with Japanese for me just yet.

Still I’ve got a shiny work visa in my passport, and all signs are go. If others with less neurotic personalities who didn’t feel compelled to research for six months while waiting could do it, so can I and there’s no going back. It’s on Japan!

Countdown to J-town — Week 4

Countdown-to-J-town-week-4
I’m like Mario hurdling the barrels of life.

Week four is down, and with about three weeks left until I leave, it’s on like Donkey Kong. I spent last week getting all the stuff I need to file my work visa this, learning more about where I’ll be living and frantically trying to memorize Hiragana, Katakana and the Core 2000 Japanese words on smart.fm. I haven’t crammed like this since first year university. And for what, really? My comprehension of what’s happening around me will still get hit with instant babality regardless of what I try to self-teach myself in the next few weeks. It’s probably best to just roll with, but still it’s my nature, I just have to know about things, you know? I gotta feel prepared. Also, sorry for all the old video game references this week, I guess contemplating big life changes makes you nostalgic about your childhood.Babality!

Still, one benefit of trying to learn Japanese is that it’s reminding me what it’s like to be a student. Sometimes, even when you want to learn something, it’s so damn boring and repetitive. When I’m teaching I’ll have to find ways to make thing seem like they’re new, even when they’re not. I’ve got my work cut out for me on this one — if I want to do a good job that is.

And finally, after almost 10 years since I first started driving, I got my full Canadian driver’s license — just in time to move to a country where I’ll probably never drive. It’s cool though; I really, really wanted to get it before I moved away because it was set to expire next year. Where I live, there is a graduated license system — a.k.a the licensing process is split up into three parts. I was on the second stage, where I could drive on my own without alcohol and there were some other restrictions, but I can’t remember/never knew what they were. Anyway, if I had let my license expire while I was still in the second stage, I would have had to do the whoooole thing over again: getting the learner’s permit, taking the test to be able to drive on my own again etc. So how’s that for pressure huh? But I did it! So that’s one less monkey off my back. Next up is the big step of submitting my work visa application. I keep forgetting I actually need that to get into the country.

The next three weeks will be pretty hectic, and I can already tell I have no hope, none, of fitting everything I want to take with me into two pieces of luggage plus a carry-on. My hair stuff alone could fill up the damn carry-on. So I better learn some ancient secret folding techniques somewhere or learn to live with less.

Countdown to J-town — Week 5

Countdown-to-J-town-week-5It’s the half-way point. The pressure is on, but things are starting to come together. I’m expecting my COE this week. It’s the document I need to apply for a Visa, and thankfully the company took care of getting that together. I just have to take it to the Japanese consulate, prove to them I am an upstanding citizen, and they’ll give me a visa so I can get into their country.

On my living situation in Japan — I’ll be living in the guest house, but it’s not all bad. I can’t check out apartments until I move to Japan anyway and I need a place to stay. And in the guest house I’ll be closer to where I’m working, internet will be included and I’ll be living with other people who can possible help me out while I try to decipher Japan. If you can’t tell, I am one of those people who likes the ”see the silver lining”, even when that “silver lining” is really just the inside of the trash can (not like that’s the case here or anything). Still, I really hope I have socially functioning roommates. Those who are religious, please send me your prayers. Those who are not religious, please send me money so I can put together first and last month’s rent faster to move into my own place.

And on the learning Japanese front, I’ve been whipping through hiragana (one of the three Japanese alphabets) like nobody’s business. Thanks to those who recommended smart.fm, I can’t believe that site is free. I’m pretty confident that I could have all the hiragana characters memorized before I leave. It’s both humbling and exciting learning to read again. I’m a bookworm, and to this day I can remember the pride I felt when I was six years old and I read my first complete book. I remember the shock at realizing the lines and squiggles and circles on the pages actually meant something, and the happiness at being able to understand them for myself, no longer having to ask my parents “what does that say?” Years later I would look at a paragraph and think “how could I not understand what that says?”

Well, once I’m in Japan I’ll understand what it’s like to be illiterate again pretty quick I’m sure. Wow, am I really up to this? Am I really ready to become an immigrant, an alien, a bona fide FOB?

Yes, yes I am.