Thursday, December 24, 2009

Happy Holidays!

I'm thankful for all the wonderful blessings and the little things that give joy to life.

Have a happy Christmas everyone. :)

Friday, December 11, 2009

Baka Gaijin - The Tokyo Dome Experience

Sometimes, I still can't believe it was only a week ago that I was circling the perimeter of Tokyo Dome, buying Arashi merchandise while trying to catch the sounds from their concert!

The minute I got confirmation that I'm really going to Japan, I checked Arashi's concert schedule and got the next best news - their Tokyo Dome concert coincided with my last week in Japan! I promised myself I would go there, even if I have no idea where Tokyo Dome is, or how to get there, even if I had to go there alone. :)

So, as it happens, I really went there alone. After the physically punishing (but oh-so-rewarding) pasyal we did (plus, the mentally exhausting work), they have to beg off from my yaya. Me? I'm just as tired as them, but I'm a girl on a mission. Armed with my map and digicam, with my reliable nano for company, I set off from Yokohama to Tokyo Dome.

From Yokohama to Tokyo was easy; we had a lot of practice taking the Minatomirai/Tokyu Toyoko line from Nihon-odori to Shibuya. From Shibuya, I took the Tokyo Metro Hanzomon line, then at Nagatacho station I transferred to Tokyo Metro Namboku line which would take me to Korakuen station, the station nearest to Tokyo Dome City.

It was with much anticipation that I got off at Korakuen. It's not just because of all the Arashi goodies that I'd be buying, or the slight chance that I'd get to hear the ongoing concert, it's also because it was my first time going to Tokyo Dome City and I'm very excited to see the place. While I was exiting the station, I noticed some Japanese ladies lugging around rolled up papers wrapped in plastics of various colors and I know with certainty that those were Arashi posters! (Well, for one the colors of the plastics matched the assigned colors of each of the members). My pace quickened; all the while I was debating with myself whether to buy a poster. I promised I would only limit my Arashi goodies to their eco bag, cellphone strap and notebook. Let's see whether I stayed true to my promise!

And then - I was greeted by the huge stadium, the bright lights, and Arashi fans everywhere! Back in Manila, I don't personally know anyone who is an Arashi fan and now all of the sudden, I was surrounded by Arashi fans. It's kind of a nice feeling. :) And they come in all shapes and sizes and ages! I'm amazed that Arashi is supported by this very diverse set of fans. I was feeling quite gutsy and wanted to chat some of them, then I remembered I don't speak decent Nihonggo and I was overcome by shyness and intimidation. So I just went to find the booth selling the goodies. I didn't have to look long and hard as the booths were quite near the entrance.

Now the challenge: there's a sign with a drawing that means "no photos", but other than that, I can't read the instructions. I made my first mistake: I went in on the wrong side, so the staff tried to stop me and pointed me at the right entrance. I got in; since the concert had started already, there were no lines on the booths and you can flit in from one booth to another. I bought the eco bag, cellphone strap and notebook. As usual, I got what I wanted by pointing at the stuffs. The staff selling the goodies are non-English speaking, but they were very pleasant and helpful and not at all that surprised that a non-Nihonggo speaking idiot was trying to buy their goodies. THEN I also bought a clear file folder, the concert pamphlet (which was actually a photobook!) and A POSTER. The poster I had a hard time buying; it was a spontaneous decision and naturally I don't know how to say poster in Japanese! I couldn't do the point-and-buy method because the posters were not displayed prominently. After much pantomiming on my part, the staff finally understood and gave me what I wanted. Whew. I got the group poster; before I make another spur-of-the-moment decision and buy INDIVIDUAL POSTERS OF EACH OF THE FIVE MEMBERS, I immediately exited the booths. Until now, I'm still justifying that decision to myself. :( I didn't regret buying all those stuffs, I kind of regret not getting the individual posters. Aargh.

After I exited, I soon become aware of the sounds coming out from inside the Dome. And - shoot - I never felt so frustrated in my life than at that moment. I was there, really there, I was near Arashi, and I couldn't even get a glimpse of them. Then I noticed the other fans in the area who were paying much closer attention to the concert noises than I was. Some were subconsciously waving their arms in tune with the songs. Some had their ears pressed close to the walls of the Dome. I realized that if I'm feeling frustrated, then some of these fans would be feeling the same way, if not more.

I decided to walk around. I become aware of the venue and it was a pretty and dazzling place. I love the lights and the yellow autumn trees and the bigness of the area. I took a lot of pictures; I found myself in the Tokyo Dome front entrance and the Arashi anniversary bus was there, and even more Arashi fans. There was also another merchandise booth set up and I was immediately seized by the urge to get all the posters. Must. Resist. Then I clearly heard the opening riffs to "Happiness" and knew I must get away from the Dome. Must. Fight. These feelings of frustration and envy. Envyyyyy...

Tokyo Dome City was really big and pretty. I liked that I was there at night, all the more to appreciate the dazzling show of lights. I stopped at a burger store near the Dome to eat and rest my tired legs. I was leisurely eating a set meal when I heard a buzz outside: the concert has ended. Group by group, the fans exited the Dome and some of them even went to the burger store! Before I go mad with jealousy, I left the burger shop and went to a souvenir shop I saw earlier to buy some Tokyo Dome City souvenirs. I met more fans lucky enough to have watched the concert: most were wearing the Arashi t-shirts and some were cosplaying Uta no Oniisan! At the souvenir shop were more Arashi fans - the store started playing Arashi songs. When "Still..." was played, I stopped for a few seconds and said to myself: I WILL WATCH AN ARASHI CONCERT SOMEDAY. So from that day on, "Still..." will be the song that will always remind me of this experience and my dearest wish to watch an Arashi concert.

Going back to the Korakuen station was slow because a lot of concert-goers were going that way as well. It was quite tiring, but I feel I've accomplished so much. I roamed the streets of a foreign city on my own, I bought the stuffs I wanted (and more!), and found something to aspire for.

So I guess this much is obvious: until now I'm still on Arashi-high. :D I appreciate that the internet has allowed me almost free access to Arashi media, but it's a nice feeling that I get to support an artist I like, even if it's just buying their concert merchandise or a photobook. And to be surrounded by people with whom you share a common passion, even if you can't actually talk to them about it - there's just so much happiness in the air that night.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Baka Gaijin, Part 1

I’ve neglected this blog for such a long time and it feels good to be writing again, however mundane this entry would turn out to be!

I promised myself I would blog about my Japan trip because I really, really enjoyed it and there's so much I learned when I was there. I wasn’t able to blog about my China trip, which was unfortunate, because while it’s not as fun and adventurous and educational, it’s still important to me because it was my first trip abroad.

Anyway, I don’t know how to go about blogging my Japan trip. There are some stuffs I want to talk about immediately *cough*Arashi*cough but I think that could wait a little longer, when the need to fangirl has subsided a bit. :D

Shoot, so where was I? Right, I’m trying to make a very structured post but if I continue planning I won’t be able to write anything at this rate. And - what the hell - I found a good starting point at telling my story: I went just a few minutes ago to the washroom and it occurred to me to write about the toilet system in Japan . Yep, this is a very inspired post, I tell you.

What I noticed was that all the restrooms in Japan (at least the ones I’ve visited) had bidet toilets. Heck, even my tiny, tiny hotel room (why do I keep referring to it as hotel anyway? It’s an inn!) had a bidet toilet. It had settings for uh, posterior cleaning and uhrm, feminine cleaning. One can also adjust the water temperature and pressure. The toilet at the office, on the other hand, had an air dryer! There’s also numerous other buttons the function of which I haven’t had the courage to find out. Then there’s also this apparatus which at first I thought was some kind of deodorizer. When you press the button, it makes a flushing sound, but I couldn’t detect any smell or any other use from it. I asked one of my male officemate if they had a similar gadget in their washroom but he just gave me a blank look. So I checked the net, and guess what? According to Wikipedia, "many Japanese women are embarrassed at the thought of being heard by others during urination". So this apparatus, or Otohime (thanks Wikipedia!), was meant to mask the sound of "wiwi". :D

The toilet at the hotel lobby was quite high tech as well. I meant to take a vid, but forgot about it so you would have to do with my description: when you enter, the light automatically opens. When you get near the bowl, the cover automatically lifts for you. The bidet buttons attached to the seat are more complicated than the one installed in my room. The thrash can, soap dispenser, sink faucet have motion sensors as well.

And speaking of hotels, the hotel, I mean, the inn that we stayed in was so small, even our Japanese colleagues were making fun of it! One of the joke was, the TV in the inn was so high tech, you don’t even need a remote control to operate it. You just extend out your arms and voila! you can press the buttons already! Of course, that’s a bit of exaggeration on their part, but you get the idea. Here’s a picture of the room for your better appreciation:

There’s a bed in the corner (which is the single biggest thing in the room); on opposite side is a long table that functions as a dresser, TV table, laptop table and dining table. There’s a chair you can sit in for grooming, for watching TV (if you prefer watching near the TV) (the TV, by the way, is flat screen HD-quality and I want to steal it), for eating (if you don’t like to eat on the bed), and for laptop use since the telephone and internet cable are also on the dresser table. The safety vault, water heater, thrash can and mini-ref are under the table. There’s no closet in the room, only a wooden clothesline pole where you can hang your clothes (but not everything at once; probably 3-5 sets of clothes piled on top of one another). A note says there’s enough room under the bed to put one’s luggage. I assumed that’s a nice way of saying that I can use my luggage as closet for the other clothes I can’t put up. Then, while everything else has its instruction translated in English, someone thought it’s a nice idea NOT to put English instructions for a very important appliance in the room: the heater/airconditioner. I did trial and error on the buttons to get my desired room temperature, but after 2 nights of alternately breaking into sweats or shivering from the cold, I just turned the unit off, let the room temperature stay at the same level and curl up inside the comforter.

But despite these complaints, I liked the inn that we stayed in. Unlike in China , some of the attendants can speak or at least understand English so it was easier to communicate with them. They’re also very friendly and helpful, and that’s saying a lot because it’s the type of inn where you don’t expect to get pampered. They don’t have security guards (a phenomenon very common in Japan that impressed me so much), they don’t have valet, room or laundry services, they don’t have bellboys. The guests are expected to carry their luggage, do their own laundry, flag down a taxi on their own. But the staff try their best to help you get directions, or explain how to use the laundry or the printer in the lobby. When one of my officemate had a mild complaint about the heater in his room, the staff apologized profusely and offered to transfer him to another room. So even if the inn is a like a dorm-type dwelling, everyone still makes sure that the guests are comfortable and secure.

There! Done with first Japan trip-related entry! (BTW, baka gaijin means "stupid foreigner".)

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Once In A Lifetime

The Japan adventure has now ended. As I was walking alone in the streets of Yokohama, I was both counting down the minutes until I get back to Manila and at the same time wishing for each second to slow down and I could spend more time here. When the plane began its ascent towards the rainy sky, I was holding back tears. I’m leaving Japan, and it might be for forever.

The Japan adventure has now ended. The things left are the photos, the souvenirs, the lessons learned and the wish that someday, I could go back.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

This Is My Way of Saying I'm Back (Part whatever)

I’m writing this on my second to the last night here in a tiny hotel room in Yokohama, my home for two weeks. I’ve come to view its smallness as a source of comfort; every night I would come home to this place tired and sleepy, but knowing it’s been a very satisfactory day, be it at work or at exploring different places in Tokyo and Yokohama. Yet each time I wake up in the morning, I feel excited for the day’s events and panic that each new day means I’m one day closer to my departure date. It’s such a classic case of so little time, so much to do.

While I miss my family and friends dearly, I really enjoyed being in Japan and I’m so, so sad to be leaving. And it’s not just about the places I visited and the places I have yet and so badly wanted to visit. It’s not about the generally helpful and friendly locals I’ve met who made this non-Nihonggo speaking foreigner feel she’s not such a nuisance for asking one question too many. It’s not just about the wonderful contrasts of technology and culture that made Japan such a unique place.

The thing is, I like who I am when I was here. This is such a clichéd thing to say, but it’s true: some things are yours for the taking, but only if you have the courage to grab it. I never knew I have enough guts in me, but I took the chance. Because I love to see so many places in Tokyo, I didn’t let the language barrier nor the intimidating transportation system nor the distance nor the effort to stop me. Yes it’s scary, but it’s quite liberating as well. I did the things I never thought I could and the payoff was great – not just making it to my chosen destinations, but the getting there.

And yes, it might sound mababaw, thinking that being able to go from one place to another without getting lost was such an accomlishment. But I'm not the type to take this kind of chances. And to have this kind of feeling, feeling like you're capable of just about anything, I don't feel that way often. And I like that I get to feel that.

After a long time, I finally have something concrete that I really, really want: I want to go back to this country, on my own terms. I don’t know how long that will take me, but I know one day I will make it come true. If not, well, it’s the journey, not the destination, remember?

~ less serious, more irreverent, more detailed story of my Japan adventure coming soon! I hope. ;) ~