Wednesday, March 31, 2010

My trip to surprise my mother.

Over the weekend I went to Tokyo. In the process I popped off to New Zealand for a party.

It all started in July last year when I was in the UK visiting my sister. She told me that she had been speaking to Dad and that she was going to go home for Mum’s 60th birthday and not tell Mum. Here’s me thinking ‘now how the heck is this going to work? We’re not known for our ability to not tell each other things like this.’ She also suggested that I come too. So, I paid off my credit card in over time and in January I booked it. Home for 2 days with a day either side of the flying in Tokyo.

On Thursday evening last week I made my way to Tokyo. Spent the night in a lovely hostel in Asakusa then spent Friday in Ikebukuro with my friend who used to stay with my family in New Zealand when she was an international student at another school. We visited Sunshine City and Toyota’s show room.

In Sunshine City we went to Namja Town which is owned by Namco and houses Ice Cream City, Gyoza Stadium and a fantastic curry restaurant that has Miracle Fruit (I’m going back just for some of that because I couldn’t afford it this time!). Ice Cream City is home to many many different, and we’re talking really different, flavours of ice cream. I decided to try Charcoal Ice Cream. It was actually quite nice. Tasted more of less like normal ice cream just with a bit of a gritty after taste. We also encountered a place called Restaurant Napalm. I told my friend that I thought it was rather offensive and she reminded me that the Japanese don’t tend to understand why these things are offensive. I wanted to ask her what she would think of someone calling a Japanese restaurant in the West ‘Genbaku’ (atomic bomb) but I thought it might be pushing it and this was the first time I had seen her in 10 years ish. Things like that can be somewhat awkward when it comes to cultural understanding.

The Toyota showroom was enlightening. It looks like most of their new models are going to be hybrid. I hope they’ve fixed the ‘acceleration issue’.

At the top of Sunshine City was an observation deck. It was fantastic. We could see the whole of Tokyo and maybe caught a glimpse of Mt Fuji in shadow. It wasn’t quite clear enough so we don’t quite know.

At 8pm on Friday evening my flight took off from Narita. 15 hours later, at 3pm New Zealand time I arrived Auckland. I was met by, dun dun dunnnnnn, an alarm going off in the customs area resulting in the backing up of 5 flights worth of passengers. I eventually got through customs and immigration after finding out that my luggage was sent to a different carousel to the one on the board and found my sister and former neighbours who were waiting patiently in the arrivals area for me.

We made our way home where the neighbours told Mum that they had brought the pot plants (or potted plants for those of you who think a pot plant is a certain type of not so legal plant) and could she come and help get them out of the car. My sister and I had slunk right down in the back seat. When she opened the back door we popped up and she got the shock of her life. She was rendered completely speechless and may well have been shaking. The whole thing was beyond belief for her. Especially having received some amazing cupcakes from us saying that were were sorry we couldn't be there in the morning.

We had a dinner of fish and chips and curry from the shops up the road and the lady who runs the fish and chip shop called me crazy. After dinner we watched the two NZ teams playing in the Super 14 get beaten by a South African team and an Australian team, both were good games, though. We were all exhausted by the whole big surprise so we went to bed reasonably early.

Sunday was Mum’s actual birthday so we took our time getting up and had pancakes for brunch. Dad and my sister went off to the new local mall, that my sister had yet to ever set foot in, while Mum and I sorted out the 17.8kg of random unnecessary stuff for storage until I get back. In the afternoon a host of people that Dad had invited on the quiet came over to wish Mum happy birthday. Including my uncle and his wife who had thrown her off the scent by calling to wish her happy birthday in the morning before driving up to celebrate with us. They had in fact been in the same crush as me at the airport the day before but they were in the front and I was in the back, most annoying and interesting.

It was really good to talk to a bunch of different people who have lived overseas and what not about the feelings that I have been having towards Japan at the moment. I think it’s been interesting here and my family friends were able to recognize that in what I was saying to them. However, elements of being here are starting to wear thin and that’s how I know it’s time to go home. That and the fact that I didn’t want to leave to come back to Japan on Monday morning.

Arriving in Japan on Monday night was good though. Free Japanese style curry at the hotel I stayed in at the airport! Also internet, to help me plan my day on Tuesday before cruising back to Takaoka.

I popped into Akihabara briefly before realizing that it’s not really where my interest lies with Tokyo. Then I popped into Shinjuku before realizing that the store I wanted to go to was in Shibuya. Then I found out that I didn’t need to go all the way to Shibuya if only I waited until the next time I can get to Kanazawa. YAY! Lush has finally opened in the Hokuriku!

I am now back. I am exhausted. The whole thing feels like a dream, but it was most certainly worth it!

Mum received the letter that I wrote to her and sent for arrival after I left on Monday afternoon or Tuesday morning (one of the two) and she is apparently very pleased by it. As a result of this whole trip I am marginally refreshed and ready to face the next 4 weeks of work before KOREA! Roll on Korea!!!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Observing Strangers

It’s amazing what traveling can make you notice.

I find when I travel that I get a) very aware of my surroundings and b) very stressed out. The stress isn’t really anything I can do much about. It’s that fear of not being able to relax when you are supposed to be relaxing or of missing that next train because you decided to swing into the place with the latest models of car on display. It’s the fear of having to sprint in heels up and down flights of stairs. But those are things I can deal with. You live, learn and survive right.

What I’ve been noticing today, and indeed, yesterday is the kindness of strangers. The Japanese man in Tokyo who says ‘thank you’ in English when I tell him to go ahead of me because I’ll have luggage on the escalator and he won’t. The one year old Japanese baby who looks me right in the eye and nods as I say ‘hello’ in English then smiles when I say it in Japanese. The lady next to me on the plane who tells me how best to sleep in that most coveted of seats, the middle aisle on the exit row (muahaha I love me an exit row!). She then asks if and how I slept when it comes time to disembark. It’s in the little things you know, like the Junior High Student letting his teacher go to the toilet before him even though she got there after him.

I’ve been noticing that people will often actively go out of their way to help someone else. It’s one of the things that make us intelligent. We help each other. We have morals. We seek to do right by others, or should I say other humans at least. Even a 1 year old child knows when they are making someone else happy.

Just now I witnessed the honesty of a café staff member. She accidentally double charged a customer. When she realized she brought the money back to the customer. The customer was so shocked that she insisted that the money be put in the tip jar. The staff member replied with ‘are you sure? Oh you’re very kind ma’am’. Watching this interaction made me tear up a little I must admit (I promise you I am not soft, I am just very tired!!!!! うそ!). I like seeing people be kind to each other. It increases my esteem in humanity.

Part of the reason that I am traveling at the moment is because my aunt is unwell. Her job is an incredibly tough one. She sees the dark side of humanity daily. It’s no wonder she has become ill. I would too if I had to bear witness to such things every single day of my working career. I love my aunt and I know that it would please her to see the numerous random acts of kindness that I’ve seen in the past 36 hours.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve also seen some of the slight more annoying sides of humanity in the past day too. Like a Japanese boy actively mocking my Japanese while I was within earshot me having attempted to help the flight attendants get this massive group of kids to move down the ramp and onto the plane so that other people can pass through. Or people pushing me out of the way because I’m foreign. I’ve also heard stories of how difficult it was to travel around Japan for an Australian couple who speak no Japanese whatsoever. They told me that they had no expectations but were still sorely disappointed. Darn. But all these things are outweighed by the huge list of random acts of kindness that I’ve seen.

I’ve even had someone who doesn’t know me at all go out of his way to find information I need about a university course I’m interested in for next and find a way for me to not have to live in (shock) Palmerston North for me. He didn’t need to do that and it was so kind of him.

So here’s the point of what I’ve been writing about. A kind act witnessed by a by stander will affect them too. You don’t know how your kind actions will affect all those around you and I think that’s great. I feel good this morning, maybe that’s the real coffee though, or is kindness the real coffee? Who knows? I’m now at the point of confusing myself.

Oh my goodness I just saw someone drinking beer at 7:30AM!!!

The end.