Thursday, July 31, 2003

One month; five countries
How many different sets of weather conditions, I wonder?
So far on the spare bed, I have: jeans (1 pair plus belt), fleece (1), shorts (2 pairs), T-shirts and strappy tops (14; why are they all green or blue?), summery dresses (3), swimming things (3 sets), skirts (6), trousers (4), shirts and loose tops (5), a scarfy wrappy thing, a headscarfy thing, a light jumper, enough underthings to fill a case on their own and a sunhat. Does that sound like enough? Too much? No matter what I take, I will end up washing and wearing two or three things constantly while other items never make it out of the case. Too bad you can't know which is which before you leave.
Later: cameras, books, toiletries. Pressies. Guidebooks and computer printouts. Fret fret fret what will I forget?

Wednesday, July 30, 2003
The car-hire company no longer has any sporty cars because they were 'too popular' (?! I think that would make me get more, not get rid of them altogether. But I am no businesswoman, what do I know.) So we're having a nice sensible golf. I am a little concerned my heaps of luggage might not fit in too easily and am sure Cameron will still get cross when I press the accelerator. I suppose the temptation to do so will be less than it might have been.

Tuesday, July 29, 2003
Because the rainy season has Finished, we got soaked when caught out in the downpour yesterday morning. Apparently one of Cameron's colleagues told him that it was only to be expected; the weather is unstable because the rainy season has finished!
And last night the rain was so heavy it woke me up to wonder whether we will skip summer altogether this year, seguing from rainy season to typhoon season.

Author-boy Adrian's first book is published! Go and see him and congratulate him. Or go here and have a look at the front cover/read the first chapter/order your copy. I feel quite privileged myself: a Real Proper Published author leaves comments on my site!

Monday, July 28, 2003
da na na na na na na na
The Japanese word for those black umbrellas typically carried by British businessmen (you know, the ones in bowler hats) is komori-gasa, or bat umbrella.

Fuji rocks
From GumX (a Korean band) to Iggy Pop, by way of a troop of Japanese comedians (fireworks and orange jumpsuits; enormously popular), GoldFrapp, The Raveonettes, Asian Dub Foundation, another Japanese band (sorry, I am hopeless, I have no idea who they were), Coldplay, John Squire (he played Stone Roses songs!!), a little Primal Scream, The Music and just a touch of Bjork. Fab! We left Shinjuku at midnight on Friday and got maybe 2 hours' sleep total on the way up so were kind of knackered before it even started - I've told Cameron I'm only going next year if we can stay in a nice hotel! The bus arrived at 6.30 am; the doors didn't open until 10 so we camped out under a cover (it was raining), ate sandwiches, tried to nap. It was *very* muddy underfoot but fortunately the rain stopped mid-morning. Cameron said Asian Dub Foundation were best and they did sound pretty good but I'm afraid I fell asleep for most of it as we'd finally found a bit of ground big enough and solid enough to spread out a groundsheet! I just can't hack it any more. The Music (in his opinion) were second best, and I probably agree with that, though GoldFrapp were pretty good too. Bjork, bonkers as ever, wore a feathered white suit and a blue feathery headdress, and had blue circles painted on her cheeks like a budgie. Coldplay were OK but not that exciting - the good (for which, read familiar) songs were good and the rest kind of samey. I spent their set looking for Gwyneth but I don't think she was there. Cameron has to accept that the music young people listen to today does sound like bands he listened to in his youth; he can't expect startling originality from everyone! That, or give up trying to keep up-to-date. It happens.
Another overnight bus ride (oh, but we slept like logs) saw us back in Tokyo at 5 am with clear blue skies and fluffy white cotton-wool clouds. Looks like the rainy season has finally gone!
We've got some nice photos. I must try and find that software.

Sunday, July 27, 2003
two more
  • a bacon sandwich
  • radio 4 (how could I forget!)
    And, thanks Jessie for reminding me - Bounty bars. I'll be as big as a house with no teeth by the time we get back here again!

  • Friday, July 25, 2003
    I had a wander through Yoyogi Park this afternoon. I like to do this from time to time, when I'm getting complacent: it reminds me that I'm not in Kansas any more. (Toto.) Not too much weirdness going on today, but fairly busy considering it was about 3 on a Friday afternoon (don't these people have jobs? schools? to go to?) but interesting nonetheless. From the group of frisbeeing American boys with their audience of Japanese girls (wild applause when the frisbee was caught, loud groans and giggles when missed) to the busker, alone but for his guitar and microphone and a large pile of CDs he was trying to flog, singing a dreary dirge about the sky. (I think he was overpriced, myself - his CDs cost about 1000 yen (£5) more than those in HMV!) The obligatory single-sex groups were practicing their dance routines and there was a mixed bunch who were either rehearsing a catwalk show (though none of them walked like a model) or learning some sort of folk-dance; everyone clapped while pairs or fours walked up and down. Somebody was blowing a bugle hunting horn thing (tallyhoo!) and I saw a beautiful butterfly, big as my palm. As you approach the Harajuku end, near the ogonomiyaki stalls, there seems to be a ranking system in place for the trick cyclists and skateboarders. The first ones you pass are pretty good - one shirtless chap was whizzing his bike round and round so fast it was a blur. The skill levels deteriorate until, just before you leave the park, you pass young boys trying their best just to jump onto their boards without falling flat on their faces.

    What a difference a year makes
    When we left the UK, Cameron was the sort of man who, when asked what car he drove, replied a white one. If anything, I was more into cars than him (and I am *not* into cars). Here we are, a year of working in motorsport and with car-y people later, and he's turning his nose up at the focuses and mondeos offered by UK car-hire firms! He wants something a little sportier. So we are getting a Rover MG*, assuming it's available. I bet he'll still tell me off if I touch the accelerator.
    *I have no idea, except that it's not an MG MG - it has 5 doors. The website says average people drive average cars. Leave them to it. And leave them behind. So I imagine it's sportyish.
    So I think that's all essentials for our trip - all flights, accomodation and transport organised. I still want to do an overnight trip to Halong Bay from Hanoi, but at present am thinking we'll book it once we're there - our Hanoi hotel has a travel centre and the only company I can find online is the one recommended by the Lonely Planet and it seems a little, well, budget. Not that I want to pay a fortune, but I think we are past the stage of sleeping in a huge shared room (hark at me! Just 2 weeks ago we were sharing a shelf with perfect strangers halfway up a mountain. And tonight we are sleeping on a bus on our way to the festival.) I just have to buy a decent mossie repellent (they do love me, and my doctor doesn't want to give me antimalarials - we are only outside Hanoi/Halong Bay (safe areas) for 24 hours and Vietnam requires Larium so I think he is right) and some sensible flat sight-seeing sandals.
    I am looking forward immensely to our holiday but most of all to being back in blighty. It's been a whole year! Most of all I looking forward to
  • Chips. Egg and chips, fish and chips, chips and chips. And roast potatoes. Jacket potatoes. Mash!
  • Sweeties: rolos, refreshers, extra-strong mints, liquorice. Citrus polos. And spira bars, crunchies, mavericks.
  • (gosh, it's all food!) I *need* an ice-cream mars bar. Ooh, and a frozen opal fruit thingy (starburst now, I suppose).
  • Shopping in Boots. (That's just reminded me, I dreamt about doing a big shop in Boots last night - I spent £300 and was horrified but too embarrassed to put anything back. A premonition?)
  • Clothes that fit without visiting the outsize section. Clothes that are marked in sizes I can understand so I only have to try on two of everything instead of four. Clothes in styles I can imagine wearing. Shoes that don't look like they'd fall apart if worn.
  • The sheer relaxation of effortlessly understanding all around you. Eavesdropping on conversations, being able to read adverts and signs without spelling them out laboriously. You just feel your brain drop down a notch. British telly!
  • Being waited on hand and foot (I hope our families are reading and taking note!)

  • Thursday, July 24, 2003
    Life is so quiet here at the moment; I can't decide whether it's better to post random wiffling about nothing or to keep quiet until I have something to say! (Clearly I have opted for the former.) Cameron has been working quite long hours and I have just been mooching about, shopping for stuff to fill up our cases (so they are empty on the way back ready to fill with british clothes, sweets and teabags, roman shoes and vietnamese 'stuff'). Yesterday I bought myself some new pyjamas too, not to fill my case but because I liked them. If anyone reading this who I didn't email to ask wants anything brought back (not pyjamas!), please just let me know. Within reason; I can't carry a sumo wrestler and a geisha girl would kick and scream all the way.
    The rainy season, officially scheduled to finish on July 14th, is now forecast to end this weekend. Let's hope so (I've been out doing my sun dance) as we're off to the Fuji Rock Festival and it will be pretty miserable if it's wet. Last year it was a relief to get into the mountains and away from the Tokyo heat; this year I'll be wearing a jumper if it's any cooler than it is here.

    Tuesday, July 22, 2003
    I've just realised I missed my one-year blogging anniversary last week! I had no hard drive to allow me to celebrate. I think I'll have a party today instead; yay me. Drinks all round and I'll cook some sausage rolls later.

    There's a bar at the bottom of the hill that I'm sure is either a cover for something shady or (my favourite theory) a piece of performance art. During the day the blinds are closed and the lights are off but a blackboard in the window lists drinks and prices. After dark, somebody switches on the (soft) lighting and opens the blinds so you can see in - a long bar, traditionally equipped with pumps, optics, glasses, stools, and some small tables. Only there's never a soul to be seen. I did see a man behind the bar on one memorable occasion - he seemed to be looking for something - but never anything as crass as customers. And the one time I thought it might be nice to go in and have a drink - it looks like a very pleasant establishment - the door was firmly locked (despite lights, blinds, et al).

    Monday, July 21, 2003
    Last night we went to Yokohama to see some summer fireworks. Ufortunately I've mislaid the software for the camera so I can't show you our photos but suffice it to say they were spectacular. I've heard of fireworks that make shapes - faces and things - in the sky but never before seen them, and it went on for an hour! My only complaint would be that an hour is a long time when you are sitting in a constricted space on a concrete floor (it was very busy). The Japanese word for firework, hanabi, literally means "flower fire", which is rather lovely. They did look like flowers too - like alliums or dandelion seedheads with the occasional weeping willow. Fab! I'm just sorry we'll miss Tokyo's turn next weekend (but we'll be at the Fuji rock festival which I expect will be adequate compensation).
    Now. Anyone reading this who knows I usually read your site, please leave me a comment! I've lost all my bookmarks and it would just be so much easier if you could remind me rather than me having to try and find you.

    Saturday, July 19, 2003
    Wheee!!!! I'm back! Did you miss me? I missed you, horribly. A lovely lovely man came and took away my computer and gave it a new hard drive (disgustingly expensive and means I've lost everything that was on it but I am just happy to be back online! And he came out at 7.30 on a saturday night!)
    In the meantime, I've been rediscovering what people did before they had the web. I saw Patti Smith in concert (Ok, we were going to anyway), visited Disney Sea with a friend and her two small lively children, and I've been reading loads.
    I have to go revel in my ability to surf but I'll be back soon (busy re-establishing my bookmarks)

    Tuesday, July 15, 2003
    Arg! Computer dead. Nasty whirring clicking sounds, loud distressed beeping and a refusal to boot. Am in internet cafe (I need my fix) so excuse typos as it keeps tring to turn m,y words into japanese squiggles and all the keys are in the wrong ple\aces. and i have to type fast because like everything else in tokyo it costs a bomb!
    thought i:d better let you know as there won:t be any updates for a while, not until my baby has been nursed back to health. Don:t email me either, not if it:s important+ either contact Cameron (his address is on the left there) or phone me (bit radical that, I know).
    Back soon I hope

    Sunday, July 13, 2003
    Tsukiji snaps
    (Not too many dead fish)

    Friday, July 11, 2003
    Yesterday I got up at 5.30; the cats had to be woken for their breakfast! We were meeting my cookery teacher (and my two Dutch classmates, Fiona and Inge) for a tour of Tsukiji fish market. Well, we met the classmates alright but somehow failed to meet our teacher despite waiting for over half an hour and phoning her (non-english-speaking) husband. (She did ring last night and said she'd waiting for an hour so I'm guessing her 'where to meet' map was flawed. What a shame though.) Eventually we gave up and went to the market anyway - photos to follow shortly. So many fish! So many weird unidentifiable sea-creatures, and what enormous tuna. Much bloodier than when you see them all cleaned up at the supermarket or fishmonger; Cameron said he thought it was like a zoo where someone had killed all the animals. Which is a nice image.
    Sushi for breakfast then Cameron had to go to work while we girls went to Kappabashi - Kitchenware Alley. About a kilometre of kitchen shops, everything you could possibly need if you were setting up a restaurant, or mildly obsessed with Japanese stuff. I bought some bits I needed and then a wildly extravagent lacquer bowl that I didn't need but do like very much. And some presents, so quite successful. The girls have arrived recently in Japan so bought bowls, dishes, other essentials.
    A quick dash home to dump the bags and have lunch, then back out again to meet Fiona (Inge had had to go home) and see Charlie's Angels, which I thoroughly enjoyed, what a romp! More shopping then home to have the traditional Friday-night veg, only we had to watch Traffic on DVD because they've taken Morse and Frost off. Poo. It was very good actually - I've been wanting to watch it for a long time but the local rental shop only had a video which is no use because the subtitles are in the wrong language - but not a romp at all.

    Thursday, July 10, 2003
    29½ today, 29½ today!
    It's OK to celebrate being 29½, right? Happy half-birthday me! In just 6 months I'll be (shh!) thirty; how on earth did that happen?
    And I have knackered my neck. I suppose it's one of those things that happens as you get old. Do you remember how miserable I was last September when I hurt my neck and couldn't really move for 4 days? Well, I seem to have done it again. Turning over in bed I felt something go twang! and the pain now spreads from the base of my skull all over my shoulder blades. I can walk, but only if I stick out my bottom and my tummy and hang my head down so I look like some bizarre hybrid of Donald Duck and Princess Diana, peeping out from my eyelashes. I'm not being coy, I promise.
    I dosed myself up with painkillers to go cooking but all I want to do now is curl up on the bed. Unfortunately it's maid day so I can't possibly look as though I'm not working while she does all our ironing. I've an icepack clamped to my neck but it's not helping.
    OOoooooh pooor meeeee.

    Wednesday, July 09, 2003
    Tracey at sh1ft (she of the May Day project) has another project: 26 things - a kind of photographic scavenger hunt, I suppose. I've missed 9 days of July but think I might still give it a go (it will give me something to do!). Anyone else?

    so you want to learn Japanese. Oh, I identified with this!
    Link pinched from badly dubbed boy who thinks it's a shame about the disclaimer at the end. I agree, but these are strange modern times.

    words of wisdom from my trash thriller
    that's what you do, not who you are. Never confuse the two
    Maybe I should listen to more master-criminals.

    fruit and whinging
    I love peaches. I love their sun-warmed scent and the feel of their soft furry skin on my cheek. I love the sweet juice and the sharpness of the flesh around the stone. So why do they hate me? Why give me sneezes, itches, a streaming nose and a pounding head? And I only ate half of one. 'S not fair. Meh.
    Been quiet here again of late. I spent Monday trying not to move, apart from limping down the hill to sit in the gym's jacuzzi for half an hour. Yesterday, movement still made me wince but was feasible, slowly and with care, and I went to my writer's group and then for lunch with a friend and generally took it easy again. Today I am climbing the walls (see my legs move!) trying to occupy myself so I won't worry and fret about my career prospects when I go home again - no work for 6 months doesn't bode very well or look good on a CV, does it. Oh, and I'm bored. I finished the trash thriller that was all I could face on Monday and can't be bothered starting something new. Mostly I am mooching. I have booked a hotel in Hue and tried to get a reservation in Rome (but I'll have to wait until Europe wakes for a reply). And even worse, Cameron won't be home until after 10 so I have a whole evening to fill!
    My reserves are running dry. Perhaps I should try and get a job in MacDonalds. (Except I can't even do that, they'll want someone who can speak the language.)
    Sorry, feeling very sorry for myself. Think I'll mooch off downstairs for a bit.

    Monday, July 07, 2003
    Apart from no longer feeling tired, I feel much much worse today than I did yesterday. Everything south of my ribcage is stiff and sore - I am camping out upstairs as much as possible today as descending is such hard work - my right eye is weeping and I'm deaf in my right ear, and for some reason my brain feels entirely elsewhere: I can hardly feel my fingers to type (this might be down to the 13-hour sleep I had) and my body is shaking. My account of the climb can be found here.
    In other lovely news, some chap called Charlie (I'm not linking him, I'm sulking) has taken it upon himself to 'review' Japanese weblogs. He charmingly says of this site: I'm glad they're not my friends. In fact, I have few expat friends. I find them generally tedious people with little to say and they remind me of why I left the West to begin with, revealing rather more about himself than our site I feel. Humph.

    Sunday, July 06, 2003
    We're back. We're alive; we survived and we made it to the top. Too tired to type though so I'll tell you about it tomorrow.

    Friday, July 04, 2003
    all packed and ready
    wish us luck!
    And if I'm not back here blogging on Monday, send out a search and rescue team.

    stayed in bed all morning just to pass the time
    it is so hard to motivate myself day in day out, with no work coming in and many of my friends already away for the summer. I am usually pretty good - I generally get up about 7.30 with something planned for the day - but not today. Cameron was away in Nagoya last night, which probably didn't help as I was only disturbed by the cats wanting their breakfast, not by him hitting snooze every 9 minutes for about an hour before finally dragging himself up. Got up at 10. Does that make me a bad person?
    It probably is OK to have a slack day every now and then. I have a few last little supplies to get for tomorrow (water, chocolate, paracetamol) and I suppose I'll have to put together a high-energy, slow-release dinner (or, I don't know, pizza), but otherwise...nothing. I am not very gripped by my current book so that won't prove much distraction, and television is never a distraction here. I am listening to a PD James novel on CD but that somehow feels wrong if it isn't dark and rainy outside. If we weren't climbing Fuji tomorrow I might even be bored enough to go to the gym but it would be bad to be stiff and sore for the climb.

    Thursday, July 03, 2003
    I would blog tonight
    (but I haven't got a thing to say)
    Only that I met two nice new girls at my cooking class today. I went off them a bit when I found that one of them will be in Tokyo for just 6 weeks and the other 4 months. It's a common feeling among expats; when you meet new people what matters is not whether you hit it off but how long they will stick around for. Sigh. Anyway, we did get along pretty well and they made my day: they had intended to come Wednesdays for the next few weeks but when they found out that I cook Thursdays they decided to change and come Thursdays too! How nice! Of course, they have just arrived and are probably desperate for friends but they must have liked me, right?
    I am starting to get very excited about our holiday. In particular, about being back in Britain where I can just read things without thinking about it, can eavesdrop on conversations everywhere I go, don't spend half my time apologising for not understanding and asking people to repeat what they've just said (but slowly please) and where I can read the labels in the chemist (without lurking shiftily around the aisles slowly spelling things out, trying to peel off stickers covering up the english or trying to break into packets to see what's inside). I never think of everyday life here as especially stressful - only when something stress-inducing occurs - but going to an english-speaking country makes you appreciate how easy it is there and correspondingly how tiring it is here. On which note I will go to bed.

    Wednesday, July 02, 2003
    shop shop shop
    Today has been filled with household tasks (I even cleaned out a drawer!) and errands. All of which I'm afraid makes for a very dull blog.
    I did stumble across Shoe Frenzy! in Takashimaya, at the summer sale. It would have seemed churlish not to join in given that my feet are the only part of me that's not freakishly large so I elbowed and shoved with the rest. I wanted some flat, sensible, sight-seeing sandals for our hols and some (flat) flipflops to replace my old knackered ones but, well, Takashimaya is not the sort of place women go who think that 'flat', 'sensible' or 'comfy' are suitable words to describe a shoe. (Which is why I usually like it.) I am also restricted by my refusal to consider shoes that are sold as small/medium/large instead of proper sizes, as so many are here. I tried on umpteen sandals but they were all wrong so I consoled myself with some funky new trainers*.
    I then went to the outdoorsy shop to buy provisions for Saturday - including oxygen canisters! The shop assistant told me off for trying on the T-shirts (why do they have mirrors placed around the shop if one isn't allowed to test the products?) though it's possible she was just fed up of refolding them. I did buy a new fleece and some walking trousers. They are quite good; they unzip above the knee to make shorts, but I fail to understand why they every pair had a nasty elasticated waist. It's just not flattering (I bought them anyway since I expect the last thing I'll be thinking as I puff and gasp my way up that huge mountain, fending off hypothermia and gangrene and all sorts, is does my bum look big in this?!)
    *Anyone - this includes you, Cameron - who feels it necessary to question just how many pairs of trainers one woman needs should be warned that I have forfeits prepared as punishment for such cheek. The answer is, of course, one more than however many I have at present.

    Tuesday, July 01, 2003
    Lisa's cookery section
    Pottering about the kitchen this evening considering dinner, I switched on the CD player and remembered Saturday morning. Coming downstairs I was greeted by the smell of fresh-brewed coffee and the soprano trilling of the pearl fishers; I thought I'd been transported into another, more civilised, reality. (To be fair to Cameron, he pointed out here that he nearly always makes proper coffee at the weekend, and so he does. It's just usually accompanied by the White Stripes or Patti Smith).
    So. I gutted a fish last week, fair enough. I felt quite pleased with my non-squeamishness. But I've just unpacked my defrosted quails ready for tonight's dinner (clearing the freezer in readiness for the summer's predicted power cuts) and found they still have their heads! I am the first to complain at people who won't deal with where their food comes from - as Kate says we are just too mollycoddled in the UK (she also says she thinks it would be therapeutic to cut animal's heads off so she clearly has her own agenda) - but heads! I am going to have to be brave and go downstairs and cut them off as I can't possibly cook them heads and all. I just hope the french writing on the pack means ready to cook (cuire anyone? Does that mean cook?) because if they have guts in too then I am afraid we'll just be having spuds for tea.

    I let him sleep - he came and rang my bell on the dot of one. At which point exactly it started to rain so he couldn't do the gutters after all! If only I'd been uncouth and woken him at 12.30 he might have made a start. I though we were communicating quite nicely - I opened the gate for him to have a look out the back and we agreed that all the gutters needed to be done, and there was something about a long ladder - only it seems we weren't because he rang the agency and passed his phone over so they could explain that it was raining and that he'd come back later in the week. I wanted to say I know! I understood him! but, ever mindful of my manners and not making anyone else feel silly, I kept stum. Apparently he can do it when I'm out because he will use his ladders to get over the fence. I hope he doesn't get arrested for burglary. I must also remember to dress fully before opening the curtains in the mornings!
    Now, I want to tell you about Norah Jones. I expect you all know about her already, have done for months - I feel so out of touch at times. I rushed out and bought the CD after hearing it at Kavitha's house last week and she has such an extraordinary voice, bluesy and mellow, I want you all to get it too. Can she really be just 17?

    etiquette dilemma
    There's a man asleep in his van on my driveway. I imagine he's the man I'm expecting to come and clear my gutters in half an hour. Do I let him sleep? Wake him up at 1, the time he was due? Wake him up now?