Posts Tagged ‘travel’

OTpjfeb

A poor, lonely, desperate Englishman, with nought but a dry bowl of rice and one chopstick has somehow survived a horrifying encounter with a ‘regular Japanese insect’. Unbeknownst to many foreigners coming to Japan, the monsters that appear in Godzilla movies of the 1950’s, 60’s and so on, are all based on factual encounters, and many of those inspirational creatures are still alive today.

I kid you not, the bugs here are pretty insano.

I like bugs, I have always liked bugs, and everybody goes on and on about how bad the bugs must be in Australia, and how scary they must be and so on, but here in Japan the bugs are so big that when you approach, you can literally see them turning their head around to look at you. Like a cat or a bird.
You sometimes see them in a field playing rugby or football, or digging holes or mugging/eating old people.

That is an exaggeration, but, it’s not too far from how I felt after first encountering one of them. The hot, subtropical environment of Japan, plus the varying degrees of radiation poisoning and pollution make this place the ideal incubator for giant mutated creatures. I don’t think Americans have realised that by using nuclear weapons to end a war, they have condemned the whole world to a far worse fate.

I was walking around a lake on my way to work, (a large-ish body of water) a pretty good lake too, filled with big fat carp and loads of turtles and ducks, and as I made it about halfway around, through the undergrowth to a clearing, a massive black thing flew past me. My immediate reaction was ‘WTF IS THAT’. I then tried to follow the creature. It was foraging around tree trunks, obviously not interested in me. When I got a better look, it seemed to be some kind of jet black bee or wasp. I’m not sure which. I was filled with a kind of wary fascination.

After that encounter, there have been more than a few occasions where I’ve stepped out of my front door into the blistering heat, only to leap back into the house at the sight of some small helicopter whirring around my tiny front garden. It’s always a surprise when there’s a helicopter in your garden, you know?
And like, the helicopter is still on. And nobody is going to get out, and the helicopter might not land anywhere and it might attack you too. It’s a very fast, erratic helicopter.
I realise all those things very quickly, and it is always a big surprise.

‘Woah there!’ I exclaim,’what are you doing in my garden?’
That’s how I react, except with more swearing, and more frantic searching for weaponry.

That black bee was just the first of many varying kids of massive beetles and wasps and bees and spiders and mantis’ and bugs that I would encounter. It is clear to me that Pokemon could not have been imagined in any other country. Even hundreds of years ago, a rudimentary version of Pokemon might have been a reality in rural Japan. You probably couldn’t get them to fight without one of them dying though. I can only imagine the fascination of the first explorers here!

As it stands, my bestiary is growing on a daily basis, but, I fear I will never complete it. Every foray into this dangerous new world is another roll of the dice.

One of the big bad guys here in Japan is called the Oosuzumebachi, which literally translates to ‘Giant Sparrow Bee’, or Giant Japanese Hornet, and it lives up to it’s name. Every year these big bastards kill 40-50 people in Japan. I’ve included a photo. Now you know what nightmare’s are made of.

James

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Japantown

Posted: May 20, 2016 in Japan, Non-Fiction
Tags: ,

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Japan, or as the locals say, Japah; the place where I expected to find the craziest bunch of crazies that ever walked the big blue earth.

Turns out they’re not so crazy after all, but they do do some weird things.

I’ve been here for a while now, not sure how long. The first week was difficult. I quickly found that my usual preparations for visiting a new country were, on this occasion, woefully inadequate.
Without even knowing it, my travels had lulled me into a false sense of security, thinking, surely every being here on earth knows English by now. What a fool I was!
The places I’ve explored, they were merely former British colonies! Practically my own back garden.
I was not prepared for a place that does not use the Latin Alphabet, does not understand me or my noises or provide much assistance in doing so.
It’s taken me until the age of 28 to truly empathise with foreigners in my own country. I cannot tell you how isolating and lonely and frustrating it is to start a language from scratch, a language which shares no similarities with your own mother tongue.

After being dropped off at my place of residence by my new employer, with no japanese mobile phone number and no smart phone (in hindsight, not a smart decision), I was left to fend for myself, a task I have never found particularly difficult.

So, after a night of rest, I began my quest. The first thing I found was that my house was hidden away in back streets, and in fact, everywhere in japan is hidden away in back streets, even the cities and big buildings and trains, all in a muddled back street (unsurprisingly perfect for ninjas), and my house was difficult to find. It had taken my employer and me over two hours to find the place.

The reason for this was that the street numbers here make no sense whatsoever. The ward (like a suburb) I live in is separated into large square-looking areas, which have a given name, then within that area the houses are given seemingly random numbers, which do not relate to the house next door to it or the street. They seem totally random. There do not seem to be any street names, except for main roads. So, I was worried to stray too far from my house, fearing that I would not be able to find my way back. But, I had to get food, and on top of that, I found that there were no adaptors available for australian plugs that have three prongs. Some australian devices have two prongs, and there are adaptors for those, but my laptop charger for example, had three, and so I had no means of contacting anyone or finding anything or looking at google maps.

So, I picked a direction and started walking. I was tempted to leave a breadcrumb trail, but had no bread at the time. I walked for hours looking for a place to buy a map or a dictionary or a computer shop, (not knowing that there was a massive shopping centre 5 minutes from my house in the opposite direction). Eventually I found a place to buy a map, but all the names on the map and in the directory were in japanese script, and so, the map was useless. It took me the first week to find out where the hell my house was on the map of Nagoya. Anyway, to cut a long story short, I became lost many times and have had great difficulties due to not being able to read anything around me. It truly is crippling not being able to read.

Going to the supermarket for the first time was like going to a tropical zoo. I knew only a few phrases in Japanese, and one of them was ‘kore wa nan desu ka?’ which means, ‘what is this?’ I must have said that twenty times on my first visit to the supermarket.
Even now my supermarket trips take me atleast an hour as I try to figure out what the hell things are and whether I can or should eat them.

I live in a town called Arimatsu, which, as far as I can tell, does not get many foreigners. I figured this out rather quickly, due to the gawking stares and gazes of wonderment. I’ve had some rather extreme reactions though. I’ve had two occasions now where a person has seen me and fled, presumably for their dear lives. I’m sure it wasn’t the Godzilla t-shirt I was wearing. I’ve also had students who have burst into tears upon realising that I was their new teacher, and/or refused to enter the classroom.
I’ve actually got one class who have cried for the last four weeks straight. Every time they line up for my lesson they start to tear up. I’m really not strict or mean or anything, I’m just huge and white and terrifying!

You don’t have to spend much time in Japan to see the effects of the hundreds of years of isolation. For a long time the military leader of Japan, the Shogun, made it illegal to leave Japan, or for foreigners to enter (punishable by death), and this law only ended in the 1800’s at the intervention of the American navy.

One unpleasant experience I have had recently was at an onsen, or public bath. It’s quite normal here to go to the public bath on a regular basis, and my housemate was excited to bring me on my first try.

You strip off completely naked and get into a bath with a bunch of other dudes.

Me and my housemate, Dae Ho, went outside to the hot bath area, and I had two japanese guys sat on either side of me, not even trying to hide their awkward staring, and one nine or ten year old boy stood at the edge of the water staring down into my crotch. Previously I had been under the impression that everything down there was rather normal, but apparently not.
It was very uncomfortable, so I just had to close my eyes and pretend they weren’t there. Maybe I should have jumped up and down and shown them the dance of my people.

People in Japan are very polite, and will often try to help, and when you do meet a Japanese person who can speak some English they are always super keen to speak with you. The people are so polite that you can often find yourself having bowing/thankyou matches with shop staff, just seeing who can out-bow the other one. It’s a little ridiculous. Sometimes it is quite nice though, like, even people in cars will often bow to you while driving past you, and they often give way to pedestrians/cyclists. In fact, I’ve liked every Japanese person I’ve met here. But, you never forget that you’re a foreigner.

There is so much more to say, but I don’t get paid to stay up late writing long blog entries, so it will have to wait til next time. If you have any questions in particular, or anything you’d like to know, feel free to ask me and I’ll address it in the next entry.

Sayonara

Singapoor

Posted: August 25, 2011 in uncategorised
Tags: , , ,

Greetings brave adventurer,

My name is James, I sometimes inhabit these parts. Today I’ll tell you about Singapoor. I KNOW RIGHT. Funny wordplay. It’ll make sense by the end of my story. Or perhaps you’ve managed to grasp what I might perhaps talk about just from the title?

Anyway, I’ve been in Melbourne for about five days now, looking for a job, looking for smiling faces, blooming clouds and fruit bats. Before I came here myself and my family stopped in Singapore for two days. What a fascinating place. Since coming to Melbourne I have had the opportunity to talk to a few native Singaporeons/Singaporites/Singapese. Their stories shed some light on what I came across during that brief stay.

The heat is pervasive. It immediately clings to you like stepping into a sauna. Any exposed skin becomes sticky within minutes. And yet, there are no insects. The country is wholly tropical in terms of weather and location, yet there are no flying bugs whatsoever. In the time I was there I saw loads of fish, a turtle, and maybe ten rats. But no bugs.

I think, out of all the races of the world, the one that looks the most alien and strange to me is probably really dark skinned indonesian people. Second to that is probably really dark skinned Indian people. Anyway, though Singapore is a tourism-run city, I and the rest of my family were aliens there. I finally understood how the very few black people in West Wales felt walking down the street and in crowded places. Feeling the gaze of strangers.

The city had the most amazing architecture I think I’ve ever seen. Yet it struck me one day, not the architecture, but a thought. Me and my brother spent a whole day walking round the city, and at one point we went to an incredible shopping mall where I did not feel comfortable going into a single shop. Not because the shops were dirty but because they were rich rich rich. It was filled with the kind of clothes shops that have only three items of clothing in them. A bag, a hat and a tie. or some other assortment. As if they were some kind of cloak room for a particular wealthy chap. The aforementioned thought that struck me occurred ten minutes later when we continued our walk through the city. I thought Plymouth (my previous home) had poor people, beggars and such. Turns out I was wrong. The poor people in Singapore looked like they were too sick to be begging. I felt like calling an ambulance for one or two of them. I dont think I’ve ever seen such a gap between the rich and poor in such close proximity. And the real beggars don’t have the energy to sing songs or play instruments. The real beggars there are at deaths door.

After hearing some stories, it turns out that the government who restored order after the british left decided to get rid of all farming, all wildlife, and harvest all the natural resources they had, which wasnt much. Essentially it worked. As a tourism hotspot it makes more than enough money to feed its 5 million inhabitants. Everything gets shipped over from Malaysia. And its growing. Thousands of tons of soil gets shipped over from Vietnam every year to effectively turn what was once ocean into ground for more skyscrapers.

A lot of the T-shirts and holiday items have ‘Singapore: the fine city!’ written on them. The reason for this is that there is a hefty fine for doing almost anything remotely rowdy. And the default fine is either 500 or 1000$. I’ll give you some examples of things that would get you a big fine – cycling on the paths that go under bridges, eating or drinking on a taxi/bus/train, littering (pretty much anywhere), and then there’s a truly severe justice system for things which are of a more serious nature. The government is pretty much a dictatorship, with the same family running the country since 1965. If you don’t work, the government will train you in a job. If you are disabled/handicapped or lazy, then get out of singapore. If you are a citizen and you get sick, the first month of medication is free, then it gets very expensive. Basically, singapore is a country for non stop work,  with most jobs starting at 8am and ending at 9pm. There’s no time for breaks. 778km² of squeaky stamping business men carrying a thousand tons of steel girders up mountains of rats. Trying desperately to reach the sun.

Who knows, maybe they’ll make it. Or maybe the sick and the poor will pile up enough to topple one of those skyscrapers.

I’ll write something more upbeat next time.

Something happened to me the other day that rattled me somehow. I’ll tell you what it was. I live in a place called Llanelli for the time being, its in a place called Wales, which is in a place called the UK. Whenever I need to go to university I have to catch the train. So I spend a lot of time at train stations, hanging around, picking my nose, writing nonsense, etc. As I was sitting at the train station a man approached me with a bag full of beers. He looked pretty haggard.

Usually I dont think I’d stick around. But it turns out this guy was going to the same place as me, and not only that but he didn’t know his way around. I tend to carry maps a lot of the time. So I stuck with him. Sat with him on the train, walked with him to the place he needed to go.

I talk a lot in the real world, but with this guy I was pretty silent. Turns out his name was Matt.

As we walked Matt told me all about his life, told me his dad had thrown him out of their house due to his drug habit/violence, and about seeing a man stabbed to death when he was sixteen, in prison. I believed him. Some how it was far more inportant to this guy for me to just listen with him, to him. Rather than prescribe to this guy whatever I felt was the right course of action in his life I just listened. I dont really know what to make of that encounter, but I remember that just before he came along I was thinking to myself  ‘what in the hell am I doing in Llanelli’. And this wasn’t like I was reaching out and doing some kind of good deed. I felt privileged to be imparted with this shot of reality. It made me wonder how much sorrow people will take in their life before reaching out for someone, anyone.

Sorry for the sombre note, I’ll post a story I wrote now 🙂 Its for big kids really