Natalie Goes to Japan

40 year old very married blonde woman having a midlife crisis who heads to Japan alone to follow her dreams. Be careful what you wish for ... you just may get it.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Sleeping Figured Out

A couple of weeks ago I was talking to my Mumsy and saying that this winter seems much easier in Japan. Like the rest of the world this winter has been milder than the last one. But it's more than that. I got sleeping figured out now. "Uh...excuse me Miss, but anybody can sleep!" you say? Well, it wasn't quite so easy to sleep through the night when the temp hits freezing inside your apartment as well as out. Especially for a gal from warm climes who never lived without central heat before. My heater beeps every two hours to let you know that it's still on. And at three hours it turns itself off if you don't hit the damnable button. And you have to turn the heater off, if you want the timer to work. And I love the timer. So, it gets downright cold in here at night. I learned that cotton sheets on the futon were not good. Everytime you turn over you get shocked awake by their coldness. So I sleep between two fake fur like blankets. But that's not enough. I wear a t-shirt, under a long sleeved fleece mock turtleneck and sweatpants. The t-shirt must be tucked into the sweats, and the pantlegs of the sweats must be tucked into the socks. Or else cold shock will wake you again when turning over. Okay, that's nice for the parts below the neck, but what about the head? Yes, that's a problem. A regular pillow just won't do. Talk about cold shock when you turn over! If your face hasn't frozen to the pillow already. So far the thing that has worked the best is the shawl I bought in Mexico, wrapped around the pillow. But I think I finally have this sleeping thing all figured out. Think I'll go practice a bit more to make sure.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Going to Fuji Go-Ko

The day after my mysterious attack I had plans to go look at Mt. Fuji and the surrounding lakes. I actually live in the same prefecture as the famed Fuji-san...well, half of it is in Shizuoka prefecture. But other than a faint ghostly view I had of it right after arriving, I've never seen it. So one of the older men from Eigo Mura offered to take me, as he's quite knowledgable about it. And he said the best time to go was in January, when the cold air keeps the clouds from covering it. But like the rest of the Northern Hemisphere, we have had a mild winter. And January has seen lots of rain and clouds. But the Monday planned turned out to be rain free, so I didn't let a little old poisonous attack from an assasin bug keep me from my intended venture. My eye was still very swollen. But I just wore sunglasses to keep my physical deformity from scaring the locals. Koichiro and his friend picked me up at nine, and off we went. Our first stop was a rest area coffee shop with a lovely view of the Mountain and decent hot chocolate. The plan was to circle the Mountain and stop and look at a few lakes. But first we stopped at Shiraito-no-taki (White Strings Waterfall). It was pretty chilly, but quite nice. Then we jumped back in the car to go to the first lake, Motosu. By the time we got there Fuji had wrapped itself up in a big white duvet of clouds. But the lake was nice. We stopped for lunch there. Koichiro bullied the restauranteurs into making something vegetarian for me. I felt a little uncomfortable. As we sat in the restaurant the clouds parted for a few minutes, so I was able to get some nice shots out their plate glass window. We toddled off to go to the next lake, but as it was off the road we never actually saw it, or the next lake. But the roads were nice and forested. Koichiro wanted to take me to a particular spot on the 4th lake, Kawaguchi. But when we go there, the clouds had completely covered Fuji again. We seemed to be in a game of hide-and-seek with this mountain. Who knew a Mountain could be so playful. We drove on to the next lake and then to a less known spot Koichiro highly recommended called Oshino-Hakkai. A lovely spot in the middle of town, with old traditional buildings and eight incredilbly clear springs. Fuji showed itself again while we were there, and did a little number with the winter sun and wind blowing snow of the summit for added entertainment. I think it was just getting jealous of all the attention we were paying to the springs. And then it was time to head back before the sun went down, and all the roads re-iced. Got some great pics and had a lovely time with my hosts. I'd really like to go back again. This was a really interesting area. I give it a very favorable review.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Attack of the Enigma

So, Sunday morning I'm asleep and I sorta wake up because my wrist itches. No biggie, just a bug bite. I scratch, and turn over and go back to sleep. Then I wake up an hour or so later for real and I open my eye. Wait a minute. I have two eyes. Yet only one has opened. The other one is swollen shut. I've been bitten by the stupid bug below my eyebrow. And the bite on my wrist is red, rashy and very swollen. Well, that's damn annoying. So, I turn on my computer and then head to the kitchen to grub up some breakfast. Man, my stomach doesn't feel so good, maybe I'm just really in need of some food. So I turn on the electric kettle. Oh, I really don't feel good. I break out in a thick layer of sweat. And then I begin to shiver pretty violently. Oh, God, I'm gonna puke. I run to the toilet. I have nothing in my stomach. But I continue to dry heave. And I'm sitting on the bathroom floor, pretty sure I'm gonna pass out...and then die. And nobody is going to find my body for days. I force myself to crawl out to the foyer and find my cell phone. I go back to the toilet for more dry heaving, sweating and shivering. I push the button to call Mr. M., which is stupid. He never answers his phone except during business hours. No answer. Will I die before I have a chance to make a second choice? No, I have enough strength to call the Suzukis. Mikio picks up quickly. Within 10 minutes I've been bundled into their car and am on my way to the hospital. The shivering and sweating seems to have subsided. And the nausea is tolerable. Mikio fills out the hospital form requires just the vitals: name, address, phone, date of birth. That's it. Five minutes later I'm being seen by a doctor. He at first wants to diagnose me with the stomach virus that is going around. But I am adamant that it is only some sort of reaction to the bites, and I want antihistimes, not antibiotics. Okay, he comes 'round to my side. I had recently read on other blogs that Asian doctors prescribe IV fluids for everything. This doctor is no exception. But, as I'm to get the antihistimines and an anti-nausea med, too, I don't protest. For one thing I feel like hell. They get me to lie down on the gurney/exam table and cover me with a thick duvet. And then they start searching for a place to stick the needle. I've been turned down for giving blood, as my veins are smaller than the needle...but that's for whole blood, and IV needles are a little smaller. They decide on a vein, after refusing several sites. And then the poking begins. First the shot of antihistimines. Then the shot of antinausea meds. Then the IV. Ouchie-wa-wa. But then I'm connected and left alone. Obviously, the Suzukis are panic stricken. And, although it's Sunday, Mikio has to go to work. I tell him I feel fine, and the doctor spoke English well enough, that if I need anything I feel confident he can understand. The IV is gonna take a couple of hours, so Yoko will come back and pick me up later. I tell them I'll be fine, don't worry. Then, the gurney, IV and I are rolled into another ward. The IV drip ward. It was quiet in the beginning. And I just laid there, thankful I wasn't dead, and feeling guilty at the same time that I had had to drag the Suzukis into the whole thing. After a while I get very cold. I've given fluids to animals enough to know this is normal. And after another while I get very hungry. I never did get breakfast. The ward gets pretty noisy as more people come in. The swelling in my eye gets better, and I can open it a little. Eventually Yoko comes back to my rescue. She has gone shopping and brought me a whole bag of food to choose from: boiled egg, salad, 2 types of yogurt, peanuts, chocolate biscuits, cheese, etc. I take just enough time to peel the egg before inhaling it. The drip is finally done. I give them money as a down payment, and am told to come back within the week for true bill. Then Yoko takes me home. Except that my eye was still swollen, I felt fine (it took 2 days for my eye to get back to normal). But now the problem is...What the Hell Bit Me? It couldn't be the notorious Mukade (Japanese poisonous centipede), as that would have been painful at the bite location and all my lymph nodes. I checked my bedding when I came home. Nothing I could find. So I spent the rest of my Sunday, washing and drying the bedding, purchasing bug spray, and spraying down the aparto and unsuccessfully trying to find over-the-counter antihistimines. It seems to me, I was bitten by something once before here in Japan that made me swell up. Maybe two bites was just too much. I don't know. It's a mystery.

PS...My total bill at the hosptial came to about $100. Isn't that amazing. I'm completely floored by that.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Clog Convert

One of the fabulous things I have discovered in Japan is the clog. I know, I know. Shouldn't I have discovered this in Holland. And shouldn't I have discovered something very high-tech in Japan. But No. I discovered the brilliance of the low-tech clog in Japan. I adore them. And they are perfect for me. Unfortunately, my footprint is the shape of a triangle. I have a very wide ball, and a narrow heel. So most shoes I buy are fairly wide to fit the ball of my foot. And then the back of the shoe doesn't grip onto my heel. My mother used to drive me 5 hours to get good shoes when I was a kid (and then I would lose 1 of them, but that's another story). But clogs...they have no backs! Therefore there's nothing to give me blisters on my achilles. This is just one the most wonderful things ever. I now own several pairs. Why, oh why didn't I try them before?

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Passing of the Daruma

It's time for the passing of the Daruma for me. Last year's Daruma did such an excellent job of leaning the fates in my direction, of getting me my desires, that I knew I needed another one. Notice the old, faded Daruma has both eyes painted in. That means I got my go to Thailand and Benelux. He threw in Mexico for free. Isn't that sweet. So the new Daruma's job is to keep up the good work and help me go to China in the spring. And Nara, sometime before I leave Japan. I think he's up to the tasks, and is very serious about his job. I think he's going to work out just fine.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Akimashite Omedetoo

Happy Very Late New Year. Although people in Japan say their version of "Happy New Year" all throughout January ... kinda like we say Merry Christmas for weeks before Christmas. This year is the "Year of the Boar", and the Japanese have done a great job making wild pigs into cute, cuddly little cartoon characters you would be gladly invite to come to tea with Peter Rabbit and Winnie-the-Pooh. According to one I-Ching forecast for this year of the boar...
4 yins to 2 yangs mean “woman” power will continue to overshadow “man”. It is especially in favour of middle-aged women. This I-Ching symbol indicates fire on top of earth. The world may have to suffer from many wild fires, arguments, battles and wars as well as internal confrontations. Many countries will have to go through huge revelations which in turn lead to political changes. This I-Ching conflict is the result of a “Yang” at the top with many “Yin’s” at the bottom. Such foundation becomes very shaky. Hence there would be a lot of accidents involving height, such as outer space adventures, satellites malfunctioning, bridges collapsing, high-rises becoming unstable and airplane problems. Volcanoes and earthquakes would join in the rack.

So it should be a good year for me, as long as I don't watch the news or go into space. The picture at the top shows the Boar Bell I bought (wow, serious alliteration), and the New Year's post cards I sent out. If you haven't recieved one, don't get your feelings hurt...I only sent them out about an hour ago. In all the holiday hullaballoo, they got forgotten. But better late than never...which could describe my whole adventure in Japan.

Enough rambling, but let me wish you all a very Happy "Boar"ing Year.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Taking It Even Slower

Our last 2 nights were spent in the dusty little seaside town of Progresso. They do get cruise ships docking there about once a week, and in the summer the locals from Merida flock to their beach homes to escape the heat. But compared to Merida it was very quiet, with very little to do. Which was just fine with us. The weather cooled off to much to swim in either the ocean or the pool at the place we stayed. It's hard to call it a hotel, when they only have 3 rooms. They are in the proceedure of renovating, so new rooms are on the horizon. But the Dutch family that runs it was very nice. And the bed was much more comfortable than the place in Merida. We walked along the beach into town, twice a day to eat and browse and be serenaded by wandering minstrals. The beach is quite "unremarkable" to quote my guide book, and strewn with seaweed (but no garbage, unlike Japan). We spent some time lying in the hammocks in the courtyard, reading, or sitting at the tables in the restaurant chatting. And time just disappeared, until it was time to come home. Hasta Luego Mexico, we will be coming back.

The entire batch of photos can be seen on flickr.

Magic and Mystery at Uxmal

We wanted to celebrate New Year's Eve by going to Uxmal and seeing the light show there. We would by no means be staying up until midnight, but still... But since Mark hadn't been feeling all that well, we hadn't made reservations the day before. We hadn't had problems making same-day reservations, so we weren't really worried. But, of course, all the tours were booked. So we looked into a taxi. The tour would have cost us $60, and a taxi cost us $120. Which seemed very reasonable to us, so that's what we did. Although our taxi driver spoke NO English, he was still very nice, and took us the scenic way there. I'm not sure taking a taxi would have been a good idea in summer, as he didn't seem to have airconditioning, and we drove the hour and a half with the windows down. But it was still nice. Then we arrived at Uxmal. It was really breath-taking. There was this very serene park-like feel to it. The place wasn't empty, but nothing like Chichinitza. And as it was late afternoon, the light gave the ruins a glowing appearence. And the rulers of the kingdom were now the animals that lived there. The warrior iguanas, posting sentries in all the sunny spots; stray dogs, who acted like princes with no responsibilities, lying anywhere they liked; and the multitude of bats inside the crevices of the Governor's Palace, waking up and stretching, and making peeping sounds as the sun went down, ready to fly and practice their magic over the enchanted land. And then the whistles were blown, and everyone was hustled out of the park for an hour and a half, until the light show. We chose to eat at the restaurant on site. It was surpisingly good for an onsite business. Then we were allowed back in to see the show. The weather was lovely. We forgot to rent the translator earphones. And it was certainly no high tech laser show, but it was still really cool. And I kinda enjoyed only understanding phrases here and there. I made it seem more mysterious. And then we took the taxi home again, in the warm Mexican night. It was the best New Year's Eve, ever.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Another Slow Day in Merida

It was Mark's turn not to feel so great, so we spent another day in town. We mainly walked around. We did visit the Modern Art Museum in the in an old Spanish mansion. We visited the Cathedral, built by the Spanish by destroying the Mayan buildings onsite and using the stones for that. The thing I liked the most about it were the memorial floor stones. But I didn't like being in that building for some reason, and I can't tell you why. We tryed to go into the city hall, but guards refused to let us enter. They told us to come back in 10 minutes. After browsing the bookstore we returned again, and once again we were refused entry. So we went in the back way. They were having some sort of party, but we just walked right through it. Then we went to the Governor's Palace, which is really just a government building, but it was built in the old Spanish courtyard style. It has lovely, intense murals. After a nice siesta (and doing some laundry) we took a taxi back out to the Paseo. It only cost $3, I could really get used to that. We visited the really cool Anthropology Museum, with some very important Mayan pieces from all over the Yucatan. After that we meandered the the streets again on a warm balmy night, until we arrived back at the hotel. Although the hotel was nice, the bed was rockhard. We would both wake up and take pain pills first thing in the morning. And the breakfast was not particularly cheap and was pretty crappy. But the staff was helpful (except for the bed thing), the location was very good and they had a vending machine that dispensed beer as well as soda...Mark quite enjoyed that little perk.

The Unpronouncable Site

For our next trip we wanted to go to a very nearby Mayan site called Dzibilchaltun. Which took we a week to learn to say. But it looked like the tours wouldn't spend much time there so we thought about taking a bus or a collectivo, which would have cost us nearly nothing. But then we looked into taking a taxi. For $25 bucks they'd drive us there, wait around for several hours and drive us back again. We are certainly not big spenders, but that sounded very reasonable (and cheaper than the tour). When we got there we decided to hire one of the local tourguides to show us around. He was very smart, and answered our questions very thoroughly, but not exactly a cheery dude. Oh, whoever said Mexicans are slow never had a Mexican tourguide. All three of our various tourguides were about 5 feet tall, cute as buttons and walked me into the ground. This was the hottest day so far, and I just let the guys go on ahead and went slower. Dzibilchaltun is really cool. It's not a very massive site, and the temple isn't very tall, but it really has an ancient feel. This site was only ever populated with Mayans, not Toltecs. And it has a very down to earth feel. I could almost imagine having lived there. Chichinitza was more "oooh, aaaah". Notice the god's face in the second pic, that's the rain god, and he has his tongue stuck out. You got to like a god who sticks out his tongue to catch raindrops. Well, then came the Spanish and they tore up the sacred stone road and used it to build a chapel, which is now a ruin, and much less grandiose than the other temples. And then I went swimming in the cenote. There are no rivers in the Yucatan, so these freshwater limestone sinkholes were considered sacred. Of course humans do stupid things so the Mayans/Toltecs used to thrown in human sacrifitial victims into them...thereby despoiling the freshwater. Water was cool, but not cold, with water lillies growing to one side, and happy fish swimming throughout. After we got there (Mark declined to swim) a large group of college students came along to take a plunge as well. The atmoshere was very joyous and exuberant, and reminded me of those movies where kids all go to the local swimming hole. Some sat along the sides and sunbathed, some got in and just paddled around, some did flips off the sides and others went down into the depths with snorkling gear. After I dried off, we walked over to the very new and bright museum to take a look. And then we were ready to find our driver and head back to town to eat more food and drink more margaritas and beer. It was the best day so far.

The Tour of Celestun

The following day we signed up to do a tour of Celestun. The Celestun reserve is a protected area, most notable for it's resident flamingos. They picked us up at the hotel by van, and transferred us to a bus. Edwin was the tour guide, and he was pretty good, especially since he had to do everything in Spanish, and then again in English. The bus ride was interesting, through the towns. The towns were filled with houses made from any available materials. But because of the weather, I don't think people hole themselves up quite like people from more northern climes. When we got to the reserve they loaded us onto several little boats, and hightailed it out onto the estuary. It was a pretty chilly 20 minute trip. And then we arrived at where the flamingos were feeding. Since my summer working at Sea World I have a soft spot for flamingos. They are this combination of beauty and hilarity. The truly odd color, that only a bird could get away with, yet it's not really as flashy as a parrott. They are tall and graceful, and yet bicker with each other and stand on one leg, with a backward knee. There was this constant low squawking as they feed and communicate. They are so large, that to take flight, they have to run on top of the water for a short ways, before they lift off. But it is a magnificent sight. Watching them was all to short, before we had to take off to go into the mangrove trees. It reminded us both of the Jungle Ride at Disneyland, only it was real. I spotted a large bird, camoflaged in the shadows. I later found out it was a Bare Throated Tiger Heron. And there were these huge termite nests in the trees. Really, at any second we expected a mechanical hippo to raise out of the waters. After a short walk on a boardwalk, it was back to the boats and on the bus again. It was much too short a trip for me. If we go back, I think I want to rent a guide and do a whole day. They then took us to a pretty good restaurant on the beach, and gave us time to go swimming or sunbathing. Unfortunately, Mark and I didn't know anything about this, so we hadn't brought our swimgear. Mark walked to the plaza, while I laid out on any scraps of clothing we had brought and got a little sun. Then it was back onto the bus and the return trip to Merida. Back in Merida we went out to dinner, and then sat in the Plaza Mayor again and people watched. Who were all these people, and why weren't they home watching TV? And why were they spending time together in family groups? It was very exotic and confusing.

Strolling the Paseo

The next day we decided to take it easy. Well, we didn't have much choice, as I wasn't up to par. Maybe it was from brushing my teeth with tap water, or maybe from eating different food, but most likely it was the two margaritas from the night before. Our hotel was not in the lush part of Merida, and we loved that about it. Busses parked right out our door, local women selling peeled and cut fruit on any spare patch of pavement, the thin strips which passes for a sidewalk, the street sweepers cleaning up the filthy streets each day. I can't imagine how pungent it is in summer. We decided to walk over to the Paseo de Montejo, and stolled up this lush boulevard, where most of the tourists stay. We sat and drank these lovely sorbet drinks at a sidewalk cafe. We took photographs of the lovely old buildings, some in great repair, some barely standing upright. We walked past the Wal-mart, yes Wal-mart...built to blend in with the local styles. And back down the Paseo, stopping to sit on benches and watch Mexico go by. There were art pieces all up and down the boulevard. Went back down to the Plaza Mayor and browsed the shops. That night we went to one of the plazas, and they had live music. We watched all the locales dance along. Everybody was dancing, it was in business suits, teenagers in skimpy clothing, old ladies in the traditional dress, fathers dancing with their small daughters, groups dancing with anybody, vendors selling nuts, children playing on playground equipment, and people watching from sidewalk restaurants. And let me remind you that it was December, no coats needed. I could really get used to that (as I sit here in my chilly aparto, because I ran out of kerosene).