Archive for May, 2006

Osaka: Day One

May 27, 2006

Okay, I think I'm going to be able to stay connected long enough to post this. This is an account of my first full day here.

On my first real day here I decided it was probably a good idea to go check out the city, so I hopped on the subway and went to Namba, a process which was surprisingly painless (other than the hour or so I spent wandering around the Namba subway station, trying to figure out the best way to exit to get to the city… okay I guess it wasn't entirely painless). The first thing I noticed walking around the city is how different it all is. That seems obvious, but it really does hit you when you’re walking around that it’s a completely different culture.

The other thing I noticed is that much of the shopping areas in the city are sort of indoor/outdoor type of dealies. By which I mean they’re outside and on roads, but they’re covered by a roof of some sort, and cars for the most part aren’t allowed to drive on them. They’re sort of like that area in Vegas, if you’ve ever been there. Here’s a picture of one of the many areas like that. You’ll notice it looks pretty empty. I took this picture pretty early in the morning. By late afternoon all these areas were so crowded you could barely walk.

It was probably around ten at this point (which was a mistake – most stores here seem to open at eleven). It was definitely too early to eat anything, so I just wandered around for a bit. Here’s some random pictures I took:

Here’s a slightly odd picture. Take a look at the billboard in the middle of the picture. Is it just me, or is that kid flipping the bird (and so happy about it, too!). The Flickr image is kinda small, so you've gotta squint. But it's there.

Here’s a theatre playing nothing but the Da Vinci Code. It was just a bit past ten when I snapped this picture and there was already a fairly large line for the 11:00 shows.

Take a look at this Wendy’s menu. Looks pretty normal at first…

…But wait. What’s this? A shrimp burger. I made a mental note to try this at some point and moved on.

At this point I was getting pretty parched, so I decided it was time to get a beverage from one of the many, many, many vending machines. An odd thing about these vending machines: despite their abundance, I have yet to encounter a single machine selling food. It’s all drinks, and occasionally cigarettes. Do the Japanese not snack? Curious. Anyway, I decided to go with Bubble Man Grape, mostly because I liked the snazzy astronaut on the can.

This was actually surprisingly decent. It basically tasted like carbonated Kool-aid. It was better than it sounds, though. It probably helped that I was really thirsty. I wandered around some more, and then I saw it: a vendor selling Takoyaki, or octopus balls.

I’ve been hearing that these things are an Osaka speciality, so I knew I had to try them. I approached the guy at the stand, and he immediately said all this stuff in Japanese, none of which I understood. I looked at him blankly, and at that point he realized I couldn’t understand anything he said (I really should learn to say “I don’t speak your damn language, so stop with the gibberish,” or something a bit more polite to that effect). So he just said “Six?” and I repeated “six!” and we were in business. I got my six balls and the whole thing ended up costing the equivalent of three or four bucks.

Now, before you get too excited, these are, disappointingly, not the actual balls of an octopus. They’re a piece of octopus, covered in some kind of dough, and cooked in molds:

They’re also covered in some kind of sauce and garnished with fish shavings. Maybe my expectations were too high, but I was a bit disappointed by these. The dough itself was a bit soggy; it probably would have been better if it were crispier. They were fine, I guess, but nothing I’d particularly want to eat again. Maybe at some point I’ll try to find out where the best place to get these are, and try them again. I mean, you can find these everywhere, so there must be something to them.

To wash down the balls, and while still impressed with how good that Bubble Man Grape was, I decided to get another grape soda.

The first thing you’ll notice is that the packaging obviously pales next to good old Bubble Man Grape. Aside from that the drink itself tasted pretty similar, but it seemed worse somehow. Maybe it was just the absence of the funky astronaut. I don’t know.

Next I went to an internet café, where I wrote that post you may or may not remember. As I was paying, I realized I had to go to the bathroom to take care of some business. The cashier said something in English, so I just assumed he could speak it, and I asked where the bathroom was. He looked all confused and repeated “bath…room?” So I just made a washing motion with my hands and he pointed me in the right direction. And that’s where it happened. An incident which I’m sure will go down as the single worst thing that will happen to me in this crazy country. I present to you… The WORST TOILET EVER.

The first thing I noticed when I sat down was that the seat was warmed, which I’m not sure I like too much. There was a control panel for the toilet on the wall next to me, but obviously all the buttons and knobs were in Japanese. I saw one knob, and I just sort of assumed it was to turn down the temperature. So I dialed it back a bit, and then suddenly I heard this mechanical buzzing noise coming from under me. The next thing I knew a powerful stream of concentrated water was shooting up you-know-where. I almost yelled out in surprise. I quickly got up but the damn thing kept shooting out water, almost to the ceiling it was so powerful, so I had to cover it up with my hands. Finally a few seconds later it turned off on its own. Who would like that?? Who wants water shooting up there? It was awful! I’ve never felt so violated in my life. I think that toilet smoked a cigarette after it was done with me.

I walked around a bit and tried to recover from the toilet incident, and then decided it was probably a good time to finish the lunch I started when I got those octopus balls. I headed to a department store (I can’t remember the name of it) and went to the basement. As far as I can tell, if you go to the lowest floor of most department stores here, there’s a big area where they just serve food. So I walked around down there for a bit, and finally settled on some sushi.

This was actually a bit disconcerting at first; I thought it was tuna, but I guess it was ground tuna or something because it was really soft and squishy. It actually wasn’t bad once I got used to it. To accompany the sushi, I got some apple juice. As you can see, the packaging almost rivals Bubble Man Grape in terms of snazziness.

I walked around some more, but I was really starting to get tired. It was probably three or four at this point, and I had been walking all day. I guess I’m just not used to this amount of walking, because my legs and feet really couldn’t take it anymore. So I decided it was probably time to find a subway and head home. But before I could do that, right in the middle of the city was this little garden/temple area. So I walked around there a bit and snapped a few pictures. It was actually a pretty good place to sit down and relax a bit.

At this point my camera’s battery ran dry, but I was pretty much done taking pictures. I sat around for a while on the benches you can see in the first picture there, then I found a subway and went home.

Here’s a few more random pictures I took throughout the day while walking around:

And finally, a fairly perplexing bit of mangled English I found outside a barbershop.

Wow, formatting, uploading and posting all these pictures took an absolutely ridiculous amount of time. I think you can expect less photos in future posts. Maybe I'll just post a few and put a link to my Flickr account or something. Jeez. Plus, all the pictures don't seem to want to center properly. That's it. I give up. Posting this entry has officially become the most frustrating, harrowing experience of my life. Expect a much more plain blog from now on, otherwise I think I'll end up punching a hole through the wall.

The Arrival

May 26, 2006

I just managed to connect to a very spotty wireless connection in my apartment, so I think I'll try to post this while I've got a chance.  I wrote this the first day I got here.  You can expect a couple more posts soon if this connection holds up.

Well, I got here in one piece.  The day, however, was bookended by two terrible, terrible events (particularly the second one — you'll see).  I'll start with the first one and, naturally, end with the last.

So I got to the airport, and after checking in and dropping off my luggage and all that stuff, I went to go wait at my gate.  See, the ticket said gate 151, so that's where I waited.  Do you see where this is going?  So it was around 8:25, and I had been waiting there for a while.  An I'm thinking, this is odd, because the flight is supposed to leave at 8:30.  But I was sure I was in the right place; the ticket said so!  Plus, I was like the only non-Asian in that little area, so I thought it must be right.  Well then I hear my name over the loudspeaker, which I was sure couldn't be a good thing.  I went to the desk, told them what was going on, and was promptly informed that I missed my flight.

"What do you mean I missed my flight??"

At that point she called some number, told them what was happening, and then told me the real gate and said, "you can still make it, but run!  Run!"  So I made a mad dash to the real gate and was greeted by a surly stewardess who seemed quite put off by my lateness (I think it was ten minutes past the departure time at this point).  She muttered something under her breath, but the only thing I caught was "ten thousand dollars."  What's ten thousand dollars?  Did I somehow cost the airline that much by delaying the plane?  I guess I'll never know, because I wasn't about to ask her to repeat it.

The flight itself was pretty uneventful.  The in-flight movie was King Kong (which I would occasionally look up at and watch for a few minutes at a time), and no food was served.  The second flight (the ten hour one) was a bit more interesting, as I was sitting with some other Nova people.  The in-flight movies were Tristan and Isolde, Tootsie, and Aeon Flux.  I watched none of them.  Lunch was some mediocre chicken, some rice with a weird, chewy texture, potato salad, some smoked salmon and vanilla ice cream for dessert.  The whole thing was about what you'd expect from a frozen dinner.  Dinner was more of that chewy rice and a bowl of fruit for dessert.  I spent most of the flight reading the Last Juror (which is not bad at all, so far) and occasionally making small talk with the girl next to me.  Plus I was sitting next to the emergency exit, which meant I had enough leg-room to stretch out all the way, which really helped make the flight bearable.

Then we got to the Osaka Airport, and one bus ride and another subway ride later, I was at my apartment (with the help of a really nice Nova guy who guided my all the way from the bus station to my apartment).  The apartment is tiny but fine; it's not dirty and it has air conditioning, which is all that really matters.  I'm only here for eight days, so even if it was a dump it wouldn't really make a difference.  I'll post some pictures tomorrow once I get my camera cable from my luggage.

But here's where the second disaster happened.  I got settled into my apartment at around 7:00, and I decided to explore the area a bit to pick up some food and maybe some water too.  So I started exploring the area (which is CRAZY, by the way — it's like being on another planet, everything's so different).  And I was trying to remember landmarks so I could get back to my apartment (I couldn't use road names for obvious reasons).  But by the time I got back to the area where my apartment is, it was all dark, and everything looked different.  Plus the whole area is all these tiny interconnecting roads with all these weird little shops that ALL LOOK THE SAME. I'm not kidding.  So I ended up wandering around for almost an HOUR trying to find the damn apartment.  By the end there I was so frustrated I was just about ready to explode, and I was this close to going back to the main road and trying to find a hotel.  Five minutes longer and I probably would have done it.  Plus the food I got ended up being crappy.  I'll post a picture and go into more detail later.

Hopefully tomorrow will go a bit better.

I`m here!

May 25, 2006

I'm sitting here in an internet cafe in downtown Osaka. This is going to be a short one. I arrived here yesterday. Last night I wrote a pretty long post on my laptop about the flight and all that wackiness, but I wasn't able to find a wireless signal I could connect to for more than five seconds. Plus today I`ve been walking around the craziness that is downtown Osaka, and I`ve been taking a bunch of pictures. So you can expect another post about that, hopefully soon. Here`s something to whet your appetite for those two posts: yesterday I got terribly, terribly lost, and today I ate octopus balls.

Two weeks… Two weeks… Two weeks

May 11, 2006

Well, I just picked up my Visa, so this seems as good a time as any to start this thing. For those of you just tuning in, I'm going to Japan in a couple of weeks. For a year. To teach for these guys. As you might imagine, I'm getting a bit nervous (putting it mildly).

I'm going to be living in Osaka. I was hoping for Tokyo, so that's a bit disappointing. But then again, I just read this in a guidebook I recently purchased, which makes me feel a tad better:

"Osaka is famous for its food and its citizens are known to the rest of Japan as Kuidaore, or those who will eat to physical and financial ruin."

Sounds like my kind of place.

Anyhoo, I'm leaving on the 23rd, so you can expect some more updates soon after that (assuming, of course, that I have access to the internet).