Archive for December, 2007

Baby It’s Cold Inside…

Monday, December 31st, 2007

The apartment is freezing. After months of moaning about the heat and the humidity in the summer now it’s time to complain about the cold. I don’t really like central heating but tonight I’m thinking that maybe it would be nice for the bathroom or the kitchen to be warmer. We have one electric heater on in the living room and it doesn’t seem to be making a lot of difference. I suppose I could put my coat back on.

I know it’s not warmer outside as we went out at stood on the balcony at midnight to hear the gong ring 108 times for the start of the New Year at the local Buddhist Temple.

Happy New Year!

Dangerous Weapons?

Tuesday, December 25th, 2007

My sister-in-law arrived today from the U.K. This was only the second long-haul flight she has ever taken and she wasn’t sure what she was allowed to bring in her suitcase. She had heard a variety of people complaining about having metal objects taken off them at the airport and was concerned about some of the things in her case. She decided to ring the airport in advance just to make sure that everything was allowed. I don’t know how the person she spoke to stopped themselves from laughing as she actually asked them if under-wired bras would be classified as dangerous weapons!

Who Drinks This Stuff?

Friday, December 21st, 2007

I asked Marty to get me something to drink when he was out at the local convenience store. I was hoping for some fruit juice but he has arrived back with something that describes itself as “Cider Meets Condensed Milk”. Does he really think I am going to try to drink that? He then tried to convince me that the English description was nonsense but the Japanese description of “White Cider Strawberry” isn’t exactly making it sound more drinkable.

I’ll put it in the fridge and give it to our visitors.

… I Shall Wear Purple

Friday, December 21st, 2007

I’m supposed to be cleaning but instead I’m playing with my computer and listening to Sarah McLachlan sing Christmas Carols.

Marty was asking tonight if I thought we would ever feel old and I told him that “When I am an old woman I shall wear purple”. He had to point out that I am currently wearing a purple jumper.

Hair Ball Home

Thursday, December 20th, 2007

I’ve finally arrived back to the apartment. It’s taken 20 hours since I left the London hotel but I don’t feel too bad. I left the monster case with a delivery company at airport and it should hopefully arrive in the next hour or so. I really like that I can pay to have my case delivered. It would be easy enough to take the case on the Narita Express but I hated the thought of trying to pull it through Tokyo and Shibuya station.

I went through the new security procedures at Narita for the first time today. It was really quick as they have added a queue just for foreigners with re-entry permits and there was only one person in the queue when I arrived (I used to join the same queue as Japanese nationals). It doesn’t take long to take the prints from your two index fingers or to take a picture. The machines are different from the American ones as they have a scanner for each hand. I also don’t get asked any questions about my reasons for being in Japan as the re-entry permit gives away the fact that I live here and have a visa in my passport.

I am tempted to lie down and sleep but I know that would be really bad. Our first Christmas visitor is arriving on Saturday and this place is a tip. There is hair in great balls mimicking tumbleweed in the hall. Marty has been ignoring the floors. Well, I suppose he has managed to cover the floor in the living room with rubbish. When I rang him from the airport he asked me to please not scream or cry when I saw the state of the apartment. I’m going to clean instead as that might be a more useful thing to do.

Horrible Heathrow

Wednesday, December 19th, 2007

After a while the horror of travelling through Heathrow fades. Unfortunately since I’m sitting in terminal 3 the horror is very real. My arms are aching from carrying hand luggage that is too heavy for me and from dragging a too heavy suitcase through the airport. And these bag are not full of things that I bought or too many clothes (I’m feeling a bit sensitive after having to listen to taxi drivers laugh and make jokes about women and their clothes and shoes. I am travelling with one pair of shoes which I’m currently wearing). My luggage is all too heavy because it’s nearly Christmas and I’m carrying home presents from my friends and family. Thankfully Virgin didn’t charge me for the extra weight though I did have to pay Flybe 36 pounds on my first flight.

I never travel with extra weight and was dreading getting my luggage through train stations and airports. But people have been surprisingly helpful. Someone (a guy called Brad who told me that he used to be in a boy band in the early 90s) lifted my suitcase off the train last night and someone else carried it down a set of steps at the train station. I was quite surprised as I don’t really expect anyone to help in a city like London.

Check-in at the airport was particularly poor today. I’m flying Premium Economy with Virgin and they have a dedicated check-in for this class. However, they only had one member of staff checking people in and multiple flights going out. At one point the queue was moving so slowly I estimated that it would be another 60 minutes before I reached the front – and this with only 5 people ahead of me. Thankfully it did speed up. The security queue was horrendous but the staff at Heathrow were in good form so it didn’t seem too bad. One staff member was making jokes and singing Christmas carols which was a welcome change from bad tempered irritated personnel.

Once into the terminal I got to queue again to buy a bottle of water. The terminal is so busy there is a queue right round W H Smith. They have a staff member running up and down the queue asking people if they wish to pay in cash. This sounds good but he can’t give any change and I didn’t fancy paying nearly twice the amount owed so I wouldn’t have to queue.

Now I am going to see if I can find something to eat. I didn’ want to do this because the restaurants are all so full but I think my plane has been delayed. There isn’t a notice saying this but since the gate isn’t opening until about 15 minutes after the flight is scheduled to leave…

Relaxing Massage?

Friday, December 7th, 2007

I managed to talk Marty into going for a relaxing massage tonight. This was the first time we have been to a Japanese spa and it wasn’t quite what I was expecting (the other spas I have been to in Japan have been Thalassotherapy salons). First of all it was noisy as the massage room was right beside the locker area full or children and adults changing for the natural springs. It also didn’t feel very relaxing. (Actually at one point I thought that the tiny woman who was massaging me was going to succeed in pulling my head off.) I was pulled, thumped, rubbed, slapped, stretched and straddled. Every bone and muscle was poked and prodded and then manipulated.

Thankfully I do feel relaxed now. As Marty said afterwards it was much more of a “you are broken and we are going to fix you massage” than any we’ve had before. I wish I spoke more Japanese so that I could have asked what exactly needed fixing.

More Enka Please

Thursday, December 6th, 2007

I am not a fan of Japanese Enka but I really wish the singer in the hotel lounge would sing more of it. She has a pleasant voice and is a talented pianist but she keeps insisting on singing songs in English with the occasional Enka song thrown in. It’s not her voice that’s killing me but the pronunciation of the songs. I can’t cope with songs like “When I Wish Upon a Stair”, “Mimories”, and “Shimwhere Over the Lainbow”. Why am I still sitting here? It’s the only part of the hotel with a wireless network and I wanted to play Scrabulous. But I think I’m just going to go to bed.

More Food in Okinawa

Thursday, December 6th, 2007

Marty and I decided to have a less expensive meal tonight and went to the hotel’s buffet dinner. The word buffet can conjure up images of horrible generic dried up food but the food here was really good. Too good as it was hard to decide what to eat – though Marty seemed to have some of everything. I ended up having a prawn and papaya salad followed by steamed swordfish in a black bean sauce. I did have one dessert too many though as they had a chocolate fountain and I love fruit dipped in chocolate. I also like cake and had some of the coconut and pineapple cake as well. I probably shouldn’t have bothered with the chocolate ice cream but it just looked so tempting. Marty went for some sort of pancake as they had a chef who was making a variety of desserts. The only thing I would change is that I would notice sooner that the sparkler on my Mai Tai was causing bits of charcoal to float into my salad!

Going to the Theatre

Thursday, December 6th, 2007

In the last couple of weeks Marty and I have been to see two stage productions: The Lion King at the Shiki Haru Theatre; and a performance of Carmen given by the Leningrad State Opera at the Orchard Hall.

The Lion King was amazing and since I know the story so well having this performed in Japanese didn’t really bother me (and since I really like opera which is rarely in English the concept isn’t that new to me). I have seen this musical in London but was horrified to work out that it has been around 8 years since I saw that performance. I still expect people to dress up for a musical like this and I think it might be the first time in ages that I have braved multiple train stations in high heels. When we got there I was really surprised by how the Japanese were dressed. The performance was quite early in the evening and nearly everyone was dressed casually or in their work clothes. It felt more like going to the cinema as before the performance people sat outside the theatre and ate bento and drank tea. We didn’t need to queue up in the same way I’ve done in London or New York as the entrance to the theatre was more like a cinema entrance with lots of places to sit around and relax before the performance began.

I went to see Carmen after sitting the JLPT last Sunday. This wasn’t an ideal time to see anything but Marty had gotten the tickets on short notice from someone in his office who could no longer go. I was wearing comfortable clothes as I didn’t want to sit an exam in a dress. We weren’t sure where the Orchard Hall was in Shibuya but when we got nearer to the venue I told Marty to just follow the women in formal wear and furs. He did say they could be going anywhere but really where else would you be going dressed like that on a Sunday afternoon? I was right and this time the Japanese were really dressed up. The clothes were amazing though I did see far too many dead animals draped around shoulders. I love the Japanese style formal wear but the taffeta dresses and black tie looked good too.

The Japanese are crazy about opera. Tickets for this event had sold out more than eight months ago. I have seen Carmen performed before but this was certainly the most expensive performance I have seen. They had a large chorus, full orchestra, a dance troupe and, a very expensive set. It was fun seeing the lead role played by two different woman – Carmen the dancer and Carmen the singer. The dancer, as would be expected, was slim and flexible and no one was going to believe, no matter what stage tricks they tried to pull, that the singer was the same woman. But it still worked and in Opera you always need to suspend belief when watching as the dark sexy hero is usually short, ugly and fat. We have been spoiled by Hollywood films where how a person looks is often more important then whether they have talent. In Opera the key thing is being able to sing.

I wasn’t sure that I liked the voice of the lead singer. She managed to both swallow and project her sound all at the same time which was rather strange. When she didn’t pull the sounds back into her throat she had the most beautiful alto sound but at other times she just sounded strange. The lead soprano on the other hand was utterly amazing and practically brought the audience to their feet at the end of each aria (and yes the Japanese yell “brava” which does sound rather strange not that I ever think it sounds normal). The Opera also didn’t start well as one of the lead males was flat in the first act and there seemed to be problem with all the singers keeping in time with the orchestra. This improved though with every act and by the fourth act the performance was brilliant. I also think we were watching the opening performance so it isn’t surprising that they had some problems with the sound set-up initially.

Marty had lots of fun reading the Japanese sub-titles. I was tired after the exam and didn’t bother to do that or even try to translate the French. Mind you the French pronunciation was quite strange and it took me much too long to realise that they were singing in French even though I knew that it was written in French.