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.

Monday, April 23, 2007

The Bride Looked Beautiful

My student Junko got married yesterday. And it was lovely. I'm not a fan of weddings. Okay I actually abhor them. But this was different. Maybe it helps not to know what they are saying? It only took an hour, including photographs. This whole thing was a slight surprise. When I met Junko she was pretty adamant that she would not be pressured into getting married by society. She hated that her mother and family were constantly after her to get married. But something happened. And I think that something might be that she met the right guy. Toshi is smart, funny, cool headed and most importantly I think he adores her. I had not told I coulndn't go to the reception afterwards, so after the ceremony Hiromi and I went to Foo-Rin for lunch and chatted. Hiromi was supposed to be my "guide" for the wedding, but she didn't know anything. And her stomach started growling during the ceremony so we had a hard time not cracking up. We had a nice chat at the restaurant and she promised to call me sometime. Oh, and after Foo-Rin she drove all the way back to the grocery store next door where I decided to go shopping to give me my keys that I left in her car. Only one problem, they weren't my keys. The people in the grocery store kept looking at us strangeley trying to figure out why we were laughing so hard.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Last Hurrah with the Sony Gang

The students from Sony and I got together for one last hurrah the other night. We went to my favorite conveyor belt sushi place for dinner. The 6 of us sat at a booth just barely big enough for us, and started at it. You can get your sushi in several various ways. The first being grabbing it off the conveyor belt as it goes by. Unless of course you are at the opposite end of the booth from the conveyor belt, in which case you yell "that one, that one" at the person sitting next to the conveyor belt. The person sitting next to the conveyor belt was me, and I'm pretty quick on the draw, so it worked out okay. You can also use the electronic menu and stylus to order, and your sushi will arrive on the conveyor belt with a little signboard with your table number on it, so nobody will take it first. You can also just yell at the cooks in the middle of the conveyor belt circle with your request. Or you can flag down a waitress. And we did all these things over and over. They charge you by the number of plates you have at the end. The 6 of us ate, drank and desserted all for less than 60 bucks. And we were stuffed. Then part two was to get silly and bowl. And we were really good at the first part, and sucked at the second part. I only broke 100 in one game out of three. But they were a lot of fun to play with. Yusuke is a wildman when throwing the ball, but he's got a lot of power, so it works for him. Toranosuke has only been bowling a few times in his life, and not at all for the last 11 years. So he was completely erratic, but was having such a good time, he kept us all laughing. Misato the mouse kept rolling the ball so slowing that I was afraid it would bounce off the pins. But sometimes when you bowl really slowly it works pretty well, cuz the pins just drop so randomly that they knock over more than they should. Yuko was pretty decent and would be good competition for me, should I be playing better than I did. And Yumi sucked, so sometimes we competed at who could suck the worst. In the last game we tied for worst score. Man, I can't believe how much laughing went on without any alcohol flowing. I might end up doing something with some of them again before I leave, but I'm not holding my breath. But it was a nice way to part, if it is indeed the last time we meet.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Stolen Meme

I stole this meme off somethingunderthebed. But, I'm not really doing it all the way. You are supposed to do it like this....

Italicized = books you want to read
Bold = books you've read
Strike = books you wouldn't touch with a ten foot pole or wish you hadn't
* = never heard of it
+ = on your shelf

But, as I don't think there is a book I would ever say "Never" to, I'm not doing the strikes. And I wish I could read all the books, so I'm not doing the italics. Although I have to admit that I have tried to read The Hobbit on 3 seperate occasions, and could never even make a dent in it before I gave up...and I almost never give up on a book. I worked in a bookstore for a bazillion years, so of course I have heard of all of them. I'm reading one of the books right now, and another is on my shelf and will be read in the next couple of weeks, so I'm just marking them as already read. But I am gonna suggest that the original meme was a little odd. There were two books by Wally Lamb, and none by John Grisham. Every Harry Potter was on the list, and I think that's overkill. So I'm making changes (it does not change the number of books I have read, I'm not cheating). I hope it improves the list.

1. The Da Vinci Code (Dan Brown)
2. Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austen)
3. To Kill A Mockingbird (Harper Lee)
4. Gone With The Wind (Margaret Mitchell)
5. The Lord of the Rings Trilogy
6. Murder on the Orient Express (Christie)
7. Adventures of Tom Sawyer (Twain)
8. Anne of Green Gables (L.M. Montgomery)
9. Outlander (Diana Gabaldon)
10. A Fine Balance (Rohinton Mistry)
11. The Firm (Grisham)
12. Angels and Demons (Dan Brown)
13. The Golden Compass (Phillip Pullman)
14. A Prayer for Owen Meany (John Irving)
15. Memoirs of a Geisha (Arthur Golden)
16. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (Rowling)
17. Fall on Your Knees (Ann-Marie MacDonald)
18. The Stand (Stephen King)
19. Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing (Blume)
20. Jane Eyre (Charlotte Bronte)
21. The Hobbit (Tolkien)
22. The Catcher in the Rye (J.D. Salinger)
23. Little Women (Louisa May Alcott)
24. The Lovely Bones (Alice Sebold)
25. Life of Pi (Yann Martel)
26. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (Douglas Adams)
27. Wuthering Heights (Emily Bronte)
28. The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe (C. S. Lewis)
29. East of Eden (John Steinbeck)
30. Tuesdays with Morrie (Mitch Albom)
31. Dune (Frank Herbert)
32. The Notebook (Nicholas Sparks)
33. Atlas Shrugged (Ayn Rand)
34. 1984 (Orwell)
35. The Mists of Avalon (Marion Zimmer Bradley)
36. The Pillars of the Earth (Ken Follett)
37. The Power of One (Bryce Courtenay)
38. I Know This Much is True (Wally Lamb)
39. The Red Tent (Anita Diamant)
40. The Alchemist (Paulo Coelho)
41. The Clan of the Cave Bear (Jean M. Auel)
42. The Kite Runner (Khaled Hosseini)
43. Confessions of a Shopaholic (Sophie Kinsella)
44. The Five People You Meet In Heaven (Mitch Albom)
45. Bible
46. Anna Karenina (Tolstoy)
47. The Count of Monte Cristo (Alexandre Dumas)
48. Angela’s Ashes (Frank McCourt)
49. The Grapes of Wrath (John Steinbeck)
50. Black and Blue (Anna Quindlen)
51. The Poisonwood Bible (Barbara Kingsolver)
52. A Tale of Two Cities (Dickens)
53. Ender’s Game (Orson Scott Card)
54. Great Expectations (Dickens)
55. The Great Gatsby (Fitzgerald)
56. The Stone Angel (Margaret Laurence)
57. Wizard of EarthSea (LeGuin)
58. The Thorn Birds (Colleen McCullough)
59. The Handmaid’s Tale (Margaret Atwood)
60. The Time Traveller’s Wife (Audrew Niffenegger)
61. Crime and Punishment (Fyodor Dostoyevsky)
62. Metamorphosis (Kafka)
63. War and Peace (Tolstoy)
64. Interview With The Vampire (Anne Rice)
65. Fifth Business (Robertson Davis)
66. One Hundred Years Of Solitude (Gabriel Garcia Marquez)
67. The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants (Ann Brashares)
68. Catch-22 (Joseph Heller)
69. Les Miserables (Hugo)
70. The Little Prince (Antoine de Saint-Exupery)
71. Bridget Jones’ Diary (Fielding)
72. Love in the Time of Cholera (Marquez)
73. Shogun (James Clavell)
74. The English Patient (Michael Ondaatje)
75. The Secret Garden (Frances Hodgson Burnett)
76. The Summer Tree (Guy Gavriel Kay)
77. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (Betty Smith)
78. The World According To Garp (John Irving)
79. The Diviners (Margaret Laurence)
80. Charlotte’s Web (E.B. White)
81. Not Wanted On The Voyage (Timothy Findley)
82. Of Mice And Men (Steinbeck)
83. Rebecca (Daphne DuMaurier)
84. Wizard’s First Rule (Terry Goodkind)
85. Emma (Jane Austen)
86. Watership Down (Richard Adams)
87. Brave New World (Aldous Huxley)
88. The Stone Diaries (Carol Shields)
89. Blindness (Jose Saramago)
90. Kane and Abel (Jeffrey Archer)
91. The Remains of the Day (Kazuo Ishiguro)
92. Lord of the Flies (Golding)
93. The Good Earth (Pearl S. Buck)
94. The Secret Life of Bees (Sue Monk Kidd)
95. The Bourne Identity (Robert Ludlum)
96. The Outsiders (S.E. Hinton)
97. White Oleander (Janet Fitch)
98. A Woman of Substance (Barbara Taylor Bradford)
99. The Celestine Prophecy (James Redfield)
100. Ulysses (James Joyce)

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Lots of Free Time

As I mentioned I have a bit of free time on my hands at the moment. Two of my students got pregnant and quit classes. I don't really feel comfortable trying to get more students when I'll be leaving the country shortly. And as of the new school year I have no night classes. As you know Skyland got bored. Sony always quits at the new year, and always signs up later. But Pulstec also quit. They went under complete reorganization. My two most regular students are Yasunori and Kiyoshi (pictured above), and they have worked for the company for 29 and 26 years respectively. And when this reorganization was announced they were both fairly sure they would be forced into early retirement. And it doesn't quite mean the same thing here as it does in the states. They wouldn't get full retirement, and the chances of them getting other jobs and zilch. The way it works here is if you go to work for a company the salary you draw depends on your age. It has nothing to do with seniority, or experience. So why would companies want to hire an old guy, when they can hire younger people for less money. And Yasunori has one kid in high school and another in college. So forced retirement would be horrible for him. Kiyoshi is single with no responsibilities, so he might actually like retirment. Well, when the company asked for voluntary retirment, they got so many applications they had to turn some down. So in the end Yasunori didn't have to retire. But as they closed his department he was transferred to a subsidiary. So now he can't take my class. Even though the subsidiary is actually located on the premises. Actually just down the hall from his old office. I don't really mind that the class is over. The drive was an hour each way, and although the guys were very nice, the structure of the class drove me crazy. The structure was that I couldn't teach, it just had to be conversation. And Yasunori only ever talked about sci-fi movies, which is okay, but not every week. And Kiyoshi only ever talked about on-line trading. Which is really boring. But now I have a lot of free time on my hands, and I'm doing nothing constructive with it. Yuck, I'm such a slacker.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

One Way to Kill Time

I have an awful lot of time on my hands at the moment. And I have been doing some hiking. One day I went hiking up at Atera Taki, which had some lovely falls. Afterwards I went to Yuyo to take an onsen. There were two areas, that were open air and looked out over the river. I was a little surpised because it only had one little "Pre-Cleaning" place, without an actuall sprayer and no shampoo or conditioner. It was a little chilly so I hurried through my "pre-cleaning" by splashing a little warm water on myself, soaping up my underarms with the liquid soap sitting next to the faucet, and splashing more warm water on me to rinse off, while the four women who were already sitting in the onsen gave me funny looks. The pool was quite small, but enough room for the five of us, but I was unable to look out at the river until they left. I was a little surprised to see a few people strolling around on the other side of the river. They could see me sitting in the pool, or at least they could see me from the shoulders up. After soaking for long enough, I decided to get out and try cleaning myself again, as I didn't think I'd done a very good job. But when I sat down in front of the faucet I couldn't find the liquid soap. And then it dawned on me that soap must not be provided, and I must have been using those other ladies soap! Oh, well, it was an honest mistake. After my bath I went walking along on the other side of the river and took some pics. In the last picture, if you enlarge it, you can see a guy sitting in the other pool at the same place I onsened.

Monday, April 16, 2007

First Week of Class

Last week was the first week of class. And it went much better this year. I knew to expect toddlers crying through the whole class. I knew to expect that some older kids didn't know their ABC's. I knew to expect that some of my favorite kids would not come back. I knew to expect that some of the kids who graduated to the 4 and 5 year old class would have trouble being without their mothers. And all of these things happened. But I think it all went much better this year. Mostly because I knew what to expect. But I also think the kids are handling all of the above much better than last year. I'm quite excited that my Let's Go 1 class on Saturday, seems to be filled with really smart kids this year. And in my Let's Go 3 class I have a returnee kid. And by that I mean she lived in the States for several years, and now she and her family have returned to Japan. And she seems to be a really nice, if a bit quiet girl. And my 4 and 5 year old kids classes are completely filled with my favorite kids, so I'm pretty happy. First week in BabyKids class I had them learn colors and then we do some water color painting. And it all went marvelous. I'm hoping it all stays so good for awhile.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

I've Been Forced!

Google finally did it. They forced themselves on me. If I wanted to log onto my blog ever again, they said, I had to start playing by their rules. And give them what they wanted. I really feel like they are the Jack Nicholson character in "The Departed". And I don't see any benefit. Well, I gave them my backup email address, and if I start getting spam I will know it was them. Google has strong armed me. And if I weren't leaving Japan in less than 3 months I would switch my blog somewhere else. Not to mention I wasn't very gung-ho about posting anything in the first place. Oh, ruined the Blogger search engine. You used to be able to put in a word, and only get matches from other Blogger sites. Now you get matches for anything on the web that Google deems a blog...and most of it ain"t blogs. Oooooh, I'm so pissed I could scream. Google Sucks!

Friday, April 06, 2007

An Email Story


I wanted to let you know that I have to go to the doctor this morning
... I woke up at 1:00 a.m. with really bad abdominal pain. It doesn't
seem gastrointestinal (I took stuff for that, which always works) and is
much worse on the right side than left. I never could get back to sleep
and it was most painful when laying on my left side or back. Very puzzling but I'm going to get it checked out. I feel like shit. I'll
let you know what happens.



How did the visit to the doctor go?



Okay, I haven't heard from you and now I'm starting to freak. Do you have appendicitis, a hernia, twisted intestine, pneumonia, aids, berryberry, malaria? What? Are you still in the hospital? Are you having surgery as I write this? Should I be getting on the next plane? Where are you?


Hi Natalie,

Mark had an appendectomy today (Wed., 4/4/07) and is currently recovering at St. Mary's Hospital. His contact information is: John Mark Davis, Room 6002, (706) 389-3000. He is not sure when he will be released. We'll keep an eye on him for you and make sure Pricilla is fed. I hope all is well with you. Take care.


*** That was yesterday. I have talked to him twice, and he's now been released and is at home recovering. He says he's fine. I don't believe him.

My Boss Makes Me Crazy

So, I get back from China on a Tuesday so I can do preparations for classes on Wednesday and jump into classes on Thursday. Except that when I return there is an email from my boss telling me he has rearranged the schedule so that my first class isn't until next Tuesday. I realize I shouldn't be complaining because I have extra time off, but one little thing is making me crazy. I could have stayed in China an extra 6 days. I could still be in China right now. China is a big country, there were lots of things I didn't get to see. I could be seeing them right now! Errrrggghhhh!

Thursday, April 05, 2007

The Big Let Down

Other than having to get up at some crazy hour, my trip home was uneventful. My flight to Nagoya was at 8:30. So you need to be at the airport at 6:30. So it takes about an hour to get to the airport from downtown Beijing. Unless of course you are driving around at 5:30. I was at the airport, checked in and at my gate by 6:13. So I had a little time to kill, and some souveniers to buy. So I used up the rest of my RMB, buying candy, a tea set and Beijing Olympics paraphenalia. The plane boarded unbelievably fast. And in the air on time. Landed on time. Took two seconds to get through customs. Picked up bag quickly. And only had a 10 minute wait for the bus to Hamamatsu. Then, two hours later I was in Hamamatsu, at the bus stop to take me home, where once again I only had a 10 minute wait. Got home and sat down. My head was so abuzz I didn't know what to do. So I checked my email and unpacked. I decided I should break out the DVDs and see if they really worked. So I went looking for Six Feet Under. Only it wasn't there. Scrubs was there. Heroes was there. Deadwood was there. Friends was there. Wait a minute. I didn't buy Friends. Friends was in the maybe pile, not the for sure pile. I don't really think it was an on purpose mistake. I think Friends was in the Six Feet Under Box. I think it's about the same number of DVDs, too. And it's not like I ended up with a show I hate or anything. But I was so looking forward to seeing Six Feet Under. I was really bummed. And of course I had post-vacation blues, too. Big Sigh.

Coolest Thing Ever!

For my last day I chose to the 8 kilometer hike from Jinshanling to Simitai on the Great Wall. The van picked 6 of us from the hostel at 6:30, and we picked up another girl from another hostel. So it was a crew of 4 German kids, an adorable Italian girl who was excited about everything, a male model turned photographer who lives in Hong Kong and me. It took an hour to get out of Beijing and another 2 hours to get to the starting point. But as it was my last day I just absorbed everything I could and enjoyed the journey. When we got to the parking lot I seriously considered abandoning the whole thing. The wind and the cold were so bitter and nasty I just didn't think I could do it, but I buckled down and decided to try. And ye gods am I glad I did! Along the trek just to get to the wall a group of Chinese people joined us, trying to sell us stuff. Eventually, as we drifted apart (each going there own pace) a single one would attach themselves to each group. I adopted a lovely lady with just the sweetest face. She tried to sell me the book and postcards in the beginning, but I said I didn't have room in my backpack. I really didn't. Once we started really hiking the wall, it got pretty tough. The first bit was really steep and took my breat away. So I had to switch my heavy coat, for my lighter jacket, and the big coat barely fit in my backpack (with my bottle of water, bottle of orange Fanta and 2 Snickers bars). But I agreed to buy the book at the end. The group got quite strung out, and there were times I was really alone, except for the Chinese lady. At the halfway point, she turned back and tried to get me to buy the book. I didn't want the book, so I just gave her a couple of dollars and said thanks for her company. And then I walked the rest of the way by myself. And it was so totally amazing and beautiful. The blue sky, white clouds, chilly breeze, this amazing stucture built among a stark piece of earth and me. It was like walking on the spine of a sleeping dragon, the way it twisted and turned. I ended up walking the last few towers with this couple from Britain, and we all felt like we didn't want it to be over yet. I have never done a hike that I didn't want to end. Eventually I made it to the group meeting spot with just enough time to go buy a sweatshirt. On the 3 hour ride back in the Italian girl just glowed with happiness, until she and everyone else, excluding the driver and I fell asleep. When I got back to the hostel I had to much energy to sit down, so I decided to catch another cab and go shopping again. When I went to the common room I hooked up with Mr. Male Model again, and a dweeby boy from Kansas, who also wanted to go shopping. The hostel recommended we go to the Silk Market. They probably used to sell primarily silk, but now they are just another indoor market selling knock-off clothing and bags, and lots of jewelery. I wanted to pick up some more tacky souveniers to give to friends back in Japan, and just maybe find some TV DVDs. First we decided we needed to find somewhere to eat though, as Male Model and I hadn't eaten a decent lunch. But as we were walking around we were approached by a guy trying to sell DVDs. I asked if he had TV DVD's and he said yes, follow him. We walked a dozen yards over to a van. He asked me to get in the back. EXCUSE ME? I don't get into the back of strange vans, especially seedy ones in a foreign country. He could show me the DVDs from the side or no deal. We walked away. We walked into the Silk Market building to see if they had someplace to eat, but the directory didn't say anything about food, so we walked out again. We were approached by another guy selling DVD's. I asked if he had TV DVD's and he said Yes he had lots, just follow him. So we followed him, only he kept walking and walking. I told him I wasn't getting into no van. He kept just saying a little farther. Really we only walked a block, up a busy, well lit street. And then he directed us into a very nice little restaurant, where we were given a center table and immediately lots of TV DVDs were brought to the table. They had a TV and DVD player, so I felt a little better about the whole situation. And they guys were having a ball with the whole situation. I was especially looking for the second season of Six Feet Under and maybe a season of Scrubs. Well, these guys were really hooked up. They had the complete series of both. Plus I picked out Deadwood and Heroes. I ended up with 86 DVDs for $70 bucks. They played one of the DVDs I picked out to show they were okay, and the owner of the restaurant gave me his business card. The DVDs came in these huge velvet coated boxes, which I didn't want or have room for, so we unboxed everything and I left with them in a plastic grocery bag. So we went looking for someplace to eat. First we tried one restaurant, but Mr. Geek from Kansas thought the place across the street looked better, so we went over there. We sat down and looked at the menu, and he hated everything. So we got up and walked around the corner, and never did find anything. When we asked the employee at Starbucks where they liked to eat around here, she said TGIFridays. Well, that didn't sound good, so another employee suggested we go to floor four of the Silk Market. So we trudged back to the Silk Market, and floor four only sold jewellery. But on floor six we found a couple of restaurants. One was a pizza buffett place, which didn't look appetizing, so we walked over to the Duck place. Normally at a restaurant I found that asking for a Tofu dish was always a good way for me to eat, so as we looked at the menu that's what I did. They said yes, look here. Tofu in ducks blood. Okay guys, that's where I draw the line, I just couldn't eat there. So back to the Pizza place for us. The pizza turned out to taste just like microwave pizza, and the tables were really grimy. But the view was lovely. When we finished we headed back down to the Silk Market, to be completely shocked that everything had closed. Well, almost everything. There were a few stalls on the first floor still open. Mr. Picky Geek wanted to go check back on a jacket he had seen, and the place was still open. I popped into another stall and bought a little spring skirt and sleeveless top. While Mr. Picky was bargaining with his vendor, she turned vicious on him and started calling him an idiot, a pig and used the phrase "you people". This did not entice him into buying a jacket from her. So we left. Mr. Picky never got his jacket, Mr. Male Model never got his gift for his girlfriend and I never got tacky souveniers for the Japanese. So we headed back to the hostel. I took a shower and went straight to bed, cuz I had to leave at the crazy hour of 5:30. Yikes, and still no souveniers!

Taxi Drivers Galore

One of my favorite things about Beijing is how cheap the taxis are. The most I've paid for a taxi is about 5 bucks, but most of the time it's 2 or 3 bucks. Which is about what I pay to ride the bus in Japan. The first taxi I grabbed took me to Beihai Park. As it was a Sunday, there were many locals making a day in the park, so it was very busy. Lots of little pavilions, and old fashioned buildings and a temple or two surrounding a lake. It was fun poking around this corner, and peeking around that one, to discover the many nooks and crannies of the place. My favorite place was the Seven Dragon Screen. Also there was this fabulous temple with hundreds of buddhist carvings mounded in the center. Unfortunately, you are blocked from going around it, so you can only see the front and parts of the sides. I would really have liked to go all the way around. And some good mood lighting could have made it even more special. Then I took the ferry boat to the island in the lake. Brrrr, was that cold. The island wasn't as fun for me. It was really cold, and they were doing construction, and it was too crowded, so I breezed past the sights there and made my way over to the oldest part of the park. This is the area that Kublai Khan ruled China from. There is almost nothing left from his reign there, but still it was cool to be in the same location. I then hailed the second taxi of the day and had it take me to Wangfujin, one of the famous shopping areas. I found a few places to barter for some tacky souveniers and quickly walked through the malls. But I got grabbed by one of the cosmetic ladies and let her moisturize me. China was brutal on my skin, and I was always very dehydrated there. Of course she only moisturized one half of my face, so that I could see the before and after. And she used one of those horrifying good mirrors that shows every wrinkle and pore in your skin. I looked so bad I ran screaming from the place (the moisturized side looked a little better than the non). I grabbed another taxi and went to the Friendship Store. It's more expensive than the markets, but then again you can trust what you buy is for real. I knew for sure that every time a market vendor told me it was "real silk" or "real jade" that they were blatantly lying. I didn't find anything I wanted, but the real reason I had come was outside. My book told me this was the best place to find DVDs. And what I was looking for was TV series DVD's and hadn't found any so far in Beijing. So I thought there would be stalls outside. Wrong, just a couple of guys saying "Pssst, lady, want a copy of Dream Girls?" while flashing open there coats. Well, I went ahead and bought a few, even though they were all movies, and no chance to prove they were any good, but I was getting a little desperate. I jumped in the last cab of the day and headed back to the hostel. I had made arrangements to go see an Acrobatic show in the evening. It was okay, but not particularly amazing. It was called "Top Acrobatic Class" and all the performers were children. And they did a lot more hamming it up than amazing feats. Although the thing the girls did with juggling and twirling umbrellas with their feet was really spectacular. Oh, and I ate some good popcorn, too. But I took a van there and back, no taxi.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

A Palace, a Temple and a Dive

A very young, sweet, busty girl from the hostel and I went sightseeing together. First we caught a taxi and headed for the Summer Palace. This being a lovely retreat for the royals, when living in your standard palace and being considered a god got to be too much for them. A lovely lakeside cottage the size of a small city, where they could fish and read and catch cool breezes under the trees. The architecture and artistry and landscape is fabulous, those royals might have been despots, but they had some good taste. It was pretty chilly, but it was still nice to walk in the sun among all gorgeous buildings. My companion for the day was very chatty, and I learned all about her love life, including how it was probably coming to an end shortly, and that she had come to Beijing in part to run away, and hopefully tick him off. We were getting pretty hungry, and these places never have restaurants in them, and we hadn't seen any place to eat around the entrance. So we hopped in a taxi and went to the next place on my list of places to see, that being the Temple of Heaven complex. Outside ToH there were a couple of restaurants, but neither of us were thrilled by them, so we got a recommendation from the coffee place to head about a block or two down. Turned out to be a dive, but great food. Miss Perky has been living in Shanghai for a few months and most of the Chinese she has learned is about food. So she ordered us four dishes to share. However, Shanghai dishes are about twice as small, so we ended up with a table covered in food, that we couldn't possibly eat in a week. But, damn it was good. And the total came to about $4. We waddled into the complex, and man was it swamped with people. We stood on the alter, which is the center of the earth, according to the Chinese. And since I am actually the center of the universe, and I stood there, so it was true for about 30 seconds (long enough to get a picture). We were herded past the two temples, and went through the park and saw the people singing and dancing, but not nearly as cool as the first morning at Jangshan Park. We grabbed another cab back and hung out in the common room drinking tea and chatting with other guests. About that time she calls previously mentioned boyfriend to remind him to pick her up tomorrow at the airport, while he tries to talk her into staying in Beijing for another day or so. Long story short, another 2 phone calls and 20 text messages later, she has broken up with snobby boyfriend, told him to move out, and is on the verge of throwing her other 2 roomates out as well, as they are friends with snobby boy. I had mentioned shopping earlier in the day, and she suggests we go shopping together as she could use the therapy that purchasing useless objects provides. I was unable to find anything I wanted, but she was able to find several things to throw her money away on. We end up eating dinner at a very fancy Pizza Hut. Yes, I said fancy, with a waiting list and a cool decor and everything. And the pizza was thick and gooey, just like it should be. And by then I was very tuckered out, watched a little Sex in the City with an older Italian lady in the common room. I love meeting all these various adventurous people from all over the globe.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Old Time Train Travel

Wow, what an adventure! I woke up later than I planned and missed the 7:30 train to Luoyang. The girl told me the next one wasn't until 11. I told her No there was a train at 9:03, she said yes but only sleepers. No problem. The trip was 5 hours and I was on the middle berth, which gave me a strange view out the window. As soon as I got to Luoyang I went straight to the ticket window to get my next ticket. I had to stand in a line I wasn't sure was the correct line, and when I got to the guy 45 minutes later he spoke no English. The train I wanted was booked and after 10 minutes of pictionary I was booked on a much earlier train than I wanted, but at least I got a sleeper. So, I was there already 2 hours later than I wanted, and had to leave an hour and a half earlier. So it was quite the crunch to go visit the Longmen Grottoes. My book said the bus was outside the train station, but when I couldn't find it after 5 minutes I hailed a cab. I happened to pick a female cabbie. And we did some communicating, but it was really hard. But she was great, and friendly and smiley. Something I really haven't seen here in China. The Longmen Grottoes were wonderful . Thousands of Buddhist statues that have been carved into niches along the stone, just yards away from the river. Most of them were defaced during the Buddhism Purges a thousand years ago, some were actually stolen and have ended up in foreign museums, and then the Communists defaced some more. But the biggest ones (about 17 meters tall) are in perfect condition. And they were originally painted, but only slight hints of the paint remains, giving it an old glorious faded feeling. And even the ones that were defaced have a wonderful, beautiful feeling to them, almost ghostly. But I couldn't poke around long, and started to get nervous about catching my train. So I headed back quickly, picked up my luggage from the baggage check and hung out waiting for my train. Got a hard sleeper this time, which turned out just as good or better than the soft sleeper, as there was no door to the cabin. This meant no waking up everytime someone went to the bathroom and the cabin didn't get as hot and stuffy. I slept well enough and got off the train at 6 in the morning. Getting a taxi was a bear. It was nuts, crowded with lots of pushing and verbal threats being hurled around. But eventually I made it to the front of the line and got me a taxi. Gave the guy the hand written name and address of the new hostel I was staying at (Lotus Hostel) and he didn't look very sure of whether he could find it or not, but he was willing to try. And he did. He couldn't go up the alley (one way street), so he hopped out and asked someone to make sure the hostel was up the road. It was so nice of him to be worried about me. Got booked in, had a cup of Ginger Honey Tea, some breakfast and a hot shower. And then I was ready to start another day.