Thursday, August 31, 2006

lightheaded due to hyperventilation

I told myself earlier today that I wasn't going to post again until I had something interesting to say, ie., after some weekend exploring. Well, shit happens, don't it?

Namely the thing we've been expecting (and have several times imagined was happening whilst lying in bed at night). Things were shaking just now and it wasn't just us adjusting to our new boxspring either.

It happened a few minutes ago, at 5:18 p.m. JT. Since Alain was still at work, I was alone upstairs sorting laundry when suddenly, everything was seriously jiggling wobbling rocking. I rushed downstairs while immediately beginning to hyperventilate. I dove under the kitchen table, as the safety pamphlets recommend, and tried to control my breathing while thinking, "This is scarier than I thought it would be."

Then I remembered that you're supposed to prop open your front door before taking cover so I dashed out and did so and then dashed back under, where I remained whimpering, even after it had stopped. A minute or two passed and then the phone rang.

I was afraid to get out from under the table because I wasn't positive it was the actual earthquake that I'd just experienced. What if that was a fore-shock/advance tremor and the real one was still to come? (I apparently haven't read enough about earthquakes.) If that was the case, I thought to myself, it was going to be a doozy.

I dashed out nonetheless to grab the phone in the den. It was Alain, as I had suspected, and he laughed when he heard my breathless hysteria. I told him that I had been under the table and he was happy to hear it. I neglected to ask if he had been under his desk. When I told him I was afraid it wasn't over, he reassured me that it was. And then I was laughing too (incidentally, laughing helps relieve hyperventilation). Apparently the fore-shock, or whatever the hell it's called, happens seconds before the actual tremors. So in other words, it was over. This time. Dunh-dunh, dunh... she said, mischievously.

It's all good people. Laugh with me!

hello Goliath?

So I wrote to Blogger to ask if I can change my address to pinchme instead of pinchmi because I finally went to see pinchme and is it not unfair that the person who has it, took it years ago to post a single test post and never used it again? Now I'm just waiting to see if Goliath (Blogger is now owned by Google, which in case your head has been up your ahem, is huger than huge nowadays) deigns to answer me.
See it's really no big deal, it's not like I really care what my blog address is. The whole thing just got me going because after accidentally typing in pinchme and remembering that it had already been taken when I created my blog, I thought I would just e-mail Blogger and ask them if they could take the old pinchme down and let me have the address. No harm no foul if they said no, it's just worth a shot.
But then came finding an e-mail address you can actually write to! Customer service, hello? I understand that they don't want to be inundated with stupid annoying questions from idiots who are too lazy to read help files and stuff. But seriously, it took me half an hour to find out how to contact them. Grrr!
Anyway, we'll see what happens. If ever you loose me at pinchmi, try pinchme, is all.

Monday, August 28, 2006

another techno step

After a foray yesterday to a Bic Camera store (like a FutureShop but 20x more stuff) we're now hooked up to internet telephony and I feel so hip. Well not really but at least we can talk for free or cheap to our techiest contacts!

As to talking/video conferencing for free, a lot of our friends have different tool preferences (NetMeeting, AIM, MSN Live Messenger, Skype) so we've yet to resolve that issue. But this morning on the not-free-but-pretty-darn-cheap end I made some Skype-out calls to Canada, using the computer headset/micro and phoning someone on their phone, and I'm impressed. It works pretty decently and is much cheaper than our long distance plan, da fo' sho.

So anyone have an opinion on any of the above tools? Anyone want to exchange IDs for future chats? Drop us a line.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

sore feet

Well yes, we spent another Saturday walking our already-skinny butts off. And it was well worth it. We fell in love with a neighbourhood called Ueno, which is more old-Tokyo (ie. down-to-earth) than where we live, which is about 11 metro stops away.

Ueno not only features a bustling market area full of great food (and everything else under the sun) but we also explored the huge park full of temples and statues and fountains and lanterns AND we went to the Tokyo National Museum.

Needless to say I'm gonna sleep like a baby tonight.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

just a list

recent addictions:

1) the icemaker on our ugly-ass fridge

2) iced cafe au lait made with said icemaker

3) flying sushi, as A calls it. some sushi restaurants have long conveyor belts that snake along the counter and diners just grab whatever they want and are afterwards charged per plate (plate colors differ depending on price)

recently developed dislikes:

1) those giant damn cicadae! they're the size of hummingbirds and if they land on or near you and you flick (or kick) them, they BARK at you, I swear it

2) maniac cyclists who careen along busy sidewalks

things I miss:

1) my pals (duderonopus and Miz H)
2) my bike
3) not needing to shower 2-3 times a day

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

ohairi kudasai

(Come in please).

I've just posted some pix of the apt on my Flickr page for anyone who's curious. As you'll see, it's spacious to say the least. I'm just anxious for our sea shipment to arrive because it has all our lamps (the ones supplied are quite ahem, austere shall we say), decorations and knicknacks. Then I'm dying to find an affordable fabric store to cover the huge livingroom-diningroom window with a colored sheer curtain to spice that area up (beige and white, such an exciting color combination)!

But most of you don't come here to read about home decor, I suspect. So back to our little adventures then! Last night we took a walk along the nearby mainstreet -- one we often take and the embassy's on, it's called Aoyama-dori -- with the intention of exploring some sidestreets off of it that we've never seen. Well we found a nice one and wandered down it, enjoying the quiet sidewalks (unlike Aoyama-dori, where at 6:30 p.m. we were dodging speeding bicyclists and business folk rushing home) and all the trees and little shops.

When we started to get hungry we decided to just take the first street left (direction of our place) and take our chances that it would lead us back home. We were a bit wary because by this time it was dark and all we could see was that it curved up a big hill. Well we sure lucked out. It was a street that cuts through the local cemetery. And I mean that literally. There were tombs right next to the road (which incidentally, was not really busy).

Though it was already dark out, and there were no lights in the cemetery itself, we could still see quite well since this is Tokyo after all and the light pollution here is probably highest in the world. The cemetery is quite beautiful. Lots of trees and nicely paved paths cutting through it. Not to mention the sidestreets, shops and homes! Yes, that's right, the cemetery is interspersed with little groupings of buildings. Walking through it we admired the Japanese's relationship with death. Us Westerners have developed some strange complexes about it, while here they invite the spirits of their ancestors back once a year (the recent Obon Festival), and live amongst the tombs. But that's the Christian versus Buddhism/Shinto contrast for you.

Anyway this morning I searched it up and discovered that Aoyama Reien Cemetery is not that old (established in 1872) but was the first park-like one in Tokyo, is Tokyo's largest and one of Tokyo's best cherry blossom viewing spots in the spring.

Once we got through the cemetery, we still had a few blocks to go but again, instead of cutting up one of the main streets we knew, we continued via sidestreet. We don't often do this because they're so narrow and twisty that it's often hard to tell where, if anywhere, they'll take you! That since we can't read the "dead end" signs, were there any (note to self, look up street-sign kanjis!). So again, we lucked out. The sidestreet we took for the last few blocks home was so precious! Some great little houses, unexpected little parks, stray cats and even a very intriguing tiny bar we'll have to return to.

I'll have to redo that route during the day with the camera after I upgrade my Flickr account (the free version I currently have doesn't let me upload that many pictures, I'm already almost at my limit for August).

Koko ga daisuki desu (I love it here). You would too.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

romaji error

I logged on mostly to correct the spelling of my Japanese name (in romaji, or roman alphabet), which appears all over my blog and profile. At the end of my first Japanese class earlier this aft, I asked my teacher if it was correct and as I suspected, it was wrong! I must've misunderstood Aran when he gave it to me orginally. Of course I know my family name, Sumisu, is correct because it's all over my text book as an example (of the dumb gaijin/foreigner).

So I'm not real impressed with the teacher that gives the free class at the embassy. She seems to prefer chatting to teaching. But it's a good start anyway. Before I sign up for an (expensive) intensive, I need to retrain my brain to language study mode and work on my discipline! I was telling Aran yesterday that I think I have A.D.D. or something. Every time I sit down to study, I end up looking something up in the dictionary or at the back of the text and getting side-tracked by something that's not part of my lesson. Or worse, I get snacky and decide to go to the kitchen or decide to study "later" and go out now.

Aside from that, not much is new. Yesterday I adopted a bunch of plants that were left in the community coordinator's back yard by people who've moved on. I put most of them (the biggest ones) outside in front of our front door where there's a big landing with plenty of space because I'm afraid of bringing too many insects into the house. I've already seen one too many jumping spiders (I don't mind spiders so much, I just don't love it when they jump). I'd put them on our patio but we never go out there. Maybe we'll go out more in the fall. Anyway, I'll take a photo of our front jungle.

Oh and it's cooled off a bit, or I should say it's not quite as hot. It's 31 right now, 35 C with humidity factored in (I found a website that factors it!). So that's an improvement from 40. Which is why I think I'm going to go out for a walk now.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

antique heaven

Roppongi Hills at night
So last night we visited the future (see photo of Roppongi Hills) and this morning the past via a little outdoor antique market.

And now I've just washed my pretty new miso soup bowls (they've got special lids to keep the soup hot). I only wish I had some tape so we could temporarily hang the antique soap advertisement posters we also bought (gotta find a framing shop). I should shoot and post pix of these posters because they're really beautiful.

Anyway, we saw some stunningly beautiful and very very old porcelain, and tons of old kimono/yukata. I had heard that kimono were really really really expensive but I guess that's only when you buy them brand new. The Japanese don't seem to be big fans of used clothing. Especially designer/trend obsessed Tokyoites. Oh, except some younger people don't seem to mind the retro thang. Last weekend we found this huge second-hand clothing store in Shinjuku that was packed with really funky, cheap stuff in awesome condition. I've got to go back there soon without Alain (he's really no fun to shop with.) It will be hard if not impossible for Tokyo to convert me from tomboy-ish Thrift Queen (right Buzz?) to a kitten-heeled, lace-fringed, designer bag-toting kawaii (cute) femme.

Anyway, now I'm off to the gym. I think I'm addicted to the elliptical thingy which is good cuz I certainly haven't been getting any cardio lately since all the walking we do is at half pace in this heat.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

lazy heat

It's getting near time to go out and get some groceries. Just spent a couple of hours studying after going out for a (huge) lunch cuz we had no food in the fridge and it was too hot to walk to the grocery store, the best one being a good 15-20 minute trek. It must've hit 35 (again, not including humidity factor) this aft.

Anyhow, lunch was nothing fancy but very filling. They sure like their carbs here (don't know how come everyone is so skinny!). We went to one of many little places in the shopping area of our metro station, which is a 4 minute walk from our place. My menu or teishoku (a tray with several different dishes on it) included a small miso soup, a bowl of rice with unagi (grilled sweet eel), a big dish of cold soba noodles (buckwheat) and the requisite pickles, wasabi and sauce. Yummy and only 10 bucks!

Tonight we might go to Roppongi Hills (about a 25 min. walk) to check out some more Obon festivities and eat more street food. Last night in Azabu Juban we pigged out right good on three different dishes but there was soooo much choice we kept regretting ours! My fav was grilled squid on a stick! Alain had some kind of delicious looking crepe for desert but I was stuffed so I only only grabbed some ice cream at our nearby convenience store later when we came home. I made the unfortunate mistake of choosing green tea which apparently has lots of caffeine in it -- I couldn't fall asleep until 3:00 a.m.

But I put my sleeplessness to good use, tidying up downstairs (the messy den mostly) and writing cheat sheet reminders of people's names while they were still fresh. See Alain drags me to the weekly embassy happy hour every Friday after work and since these aren't people I see everyday, their names can fade away, which isn't polite, is it!? Anyway, I've actually been quite surprised to meet some really down-to-earth and interesting people, including Alain's new boss, who seems like he'll be easy to work with. He's brilliant and discreet yet we've heard he has a killer sense of humour. So we'll see but not at all a bad bunch it seems.

Friday, August 18, 2006

tech issues

Originally uploaded by mookE.
How handy Flickr is! I'm posting this via Flickr because I can't get onto Blogger. We just got hooked up at home yesterday so I don't know if Blogger's down or my IP sucks or what. Anyway, enough of that, I'm sure no one cares about my tech issues!

So I have a lot of catching up to do because of the library closure. Someone pointed out that I neglected to explain why the library was closed. This week was the Obon Festival so a lot of people are on vacation. The other night we watched a long and very beautiful fireworks from a balcony at the embassy. It was nice to see a lot of people (not just Japanese invitees and staff, but some Canadians too) dressed traditionally in kimono and yukata, especially the kids. The part I really would love to see is the floating of the paper lanterns. Oh well, next year!

Tonight we're off to a street festival in a cute neighbourhood nearby called Azabu Juban. I fell in love with that area last Friday. It's more village-y than Big City like most of the other popular neighbourhoods nearby, with their Times Square-like lights and huge department stores/designer boutiques (I've already seen two Louis Vuitton stores).

This weekend (it’s Friday eve here now) we’re probably going to finally go to the Imperial Palace, which isn’t far but we seem to have wanted to see all the Big City sights first and now that’s mostly done. I also have to fit in some studying because I start class on Tuesday (it’s free at the embassy but just once a week). I still haven’t registered for an outside intensive, which I’m pretty sure I’ll be doing soon.

Yoi shuumatsu o (have a nice weekend).

Friday, August 11, 2006

no post

Got the boxes today. Been unpacking all day. The library is closed next week so I likely won't post for a while.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

mr. ambassador

I just came from meeting the ambassador. Not that we're special or anything, it's standard procedure for him to sit down for 15 minutes with each newly arrived employee & their spouse. Anyway, he seems like a pretty down to earth gent. He loves Japan and has come back to work here many times for a total of 16 years in all.

Aside from that, I don't know where to start today. Maybe with a note about the photos. I guess I forgot to mention in previous posts that I can't upload any photos until our computer arrives and we get hooked up to the internet at home (there's no disk drive on these library computers). So unfortunately it will be a couple of weeks or maybe Alain can upload a few for me from work once we get our computer. But he'll be pretty busy next week as his boss is arriving on Tuesday (he's a newbie too).

Anyway, it's raining again today because there's a typhoon around somewhere. It's supposed to miss Tokyo I think. I should check on the web. We get two English TV stations (CNN and BBC) but nothing local so it's hard to get news. I got woken up this morning by a bilingual public address anouncement warning about flooding in low-lying areas & basements. There're speakers on poles everywhere, I guess because of earthquakes. Speaking of earthquakes, we got our "earthquake kit" yesterday and I stashed it in the entry-way closet. It includes a first aid kit, a stove and some fuel cannisters, a couple of construction hard-hats, a couple of back packs filled with stuff (I didn't look but I assume it's blankets, and such), and a big huge water cannister which I filled in the bathtub and had to leave it sitting there cuz it weighs a ton. Hopefully Alain & I can heave it down the stairs together (the master bath is upstairs between the bedrooms). Anyway, don't freak out anyone. The buildings here are built to withstand earthquakes. It's just in case.

Okay so that's it, I gotta run. We're going out for lunch, which will be only our second restaurant meal since arriving. God, we really have to live a little!

Tuesday, August 08, 2006


Tuesday. August 8, is it? I'm still so messed up with the day and time, probably because I'm not employed. At least I think the jet lag is slowly winding down. I didn't get sleepy as early last night, but then I did have a nap yesterday afternoon after venturing out to the bank machine and to get an iced latté at Tully's, our favourite chain of cafés (there are Starbucks everywhere but I prefer Tully's, which I believe are Japanese). Anyway, it's just odd because our body clocks seem to gotten stuck on a new schedule, to bed at 10 and up at 6:00. I guess it's because it gets dark earlier here (right now in mid-summer it's pitch dark by 7 p.m.) and the sun seems to rise super early (it's bright out by 5 a.m. if not earlier). Our new schedule allows us a leisurely breakfast before Aran (the Japanese pronunciation of his name, in case anyone was wondering) has to head out to work at around 8:50.

So it was raining this morning and is still fully overcast. Which is fine because it's a bit cooler (probably about 30 + humidity, instead of 35 + humidity)! It's nice to have a break. After posting this I'm going to go for a long walk along the main street that the embassy's on to a big department/grocery store where we found good baguette. It's going to be tough to wean that man of mine off of his baguette and cheese (though we've only bought one small brie since we arrived, which is pretty good). But I can't judge him because I can't see myself giving up coffee! When our stuff arrives I will buy some green tea though. Sans teapot we've only bought bottled green tea that's meant to be drank cold. It's unsweetened and tastes pretty authentic.

Food has occupied a lot of our thoughts since we arrived, I must admit. Many of our various walking and metro-riding expeditions in our first few days involved locating various grocery stores. If you go to the wrong one, the prices can be very steep. So we've compared a few and found the best bread, cheapest beef, etc. in our neighbourhood. Though no matter where we go, most of the store is filled with things we cannot identify. Japanese home cooking seems dauntingly complicated. There are SO many types of packaged dried or pickled things (mushrooms, herbs, fish, and so many which we don't recognize), hordes of different nori (seaweed) products, and rows upon rows of sauces and vinegars, etc., etc., that I can't even begin to imagine how to prepare a meal. We have decided to pick something mysterious to try each time we shop and so far, so good, we've discovered a couple of yummy things!

Tokyo certainly seems food-obsessed, just like us. Apart from the grocery stores, there are restaurants EVERYwhere. Be they fast foodish bento shops (they sell you a special combo type of meal that is made up of several different small dishes, which incidentally is a pretty common way of serving food in Japan), or sushi, noodles, and yakitori (skewered stuff) restaurants. That's not to mention the markets. We went to one in Ginza on Sunday that was so huge I could not even get my head around it. Try multiplying Jean-Talon by 20 maybe, or the Byward by 50. I am not kidding either.

That's the thing about this city. I've been to some other huge cities in my day; Bogota, Mexico, New York, Vancouver, L.A. But Tokyo seems bigger to me, I'm assuming it's because of the density. Though I don't know if I mentioned this yesterday but another thing that surprised us is that it's not as crowded as we thought it would be. I'm talking people-wise, walking down the sidewalk. I found Vancouver's downtown sidewalks worse! The most jarring thing about the sidewalks though are the cyclists. The streets are so narrow (and the drivers seem rather speed-obsessed) that you'd be nuts to ride your bike on the street so they don't, they ride 'em on the sidewalk! Which though I say they aren't overly crowded, are always busy. And most cyclists don't go slow either! If you hear ring-ring behind you, you better jump out of the way.

I have so much to say, as you can see, but I'll have to leave some for other posts. Next maybe I'll talk about the fabulous architecture (I took and will go on taking photos, photos, photos), or the sharpness of fashion (everyone is dressed to the nines, no matter how hot and I haven't seen a tramp-stamp since we left North America!) or maybe about the people, though we haven't really cracked that nut yet (folks are not as friendly as we had heard).

Ja mata. (See ya later)

Monday, August 07, 2006

day four

As can be surmised from the title I picked for this blog, I still can't believe I now live here. Though the apartment feels quite homey despite the hideous furniture (okay, not all of it, but the bulk) and lack of all our personal items (our air shipment is supposed to arrive by the end of this week), I still feel like I'm on vacation in the coolest city in the world.

Today is Aran's first day at work and I'm happy for the break. We wore ourselves (or at least me!) out our first three days checking out various neighbourhoods around ours. We are really right in the heart of Tokyo, with hot/happening neighbourhoods surrounding ours in practically every direction. Ours is called Akasaka and it is not exactly quiet (in fact I don't think there's a dull neighbourhood for many many many miles!) but is more of a business/embassy one with some swanky shops and rich folk living here.

Our apartment is very quiet though, seeing as the building is sandwiched between a narrow one-way street (more like an alley really, which seems common for Tokyo side streets), the embassy, and a quiet walled park. The noisiest thing are these huge beetles that make a sort of chainsaw/car alarm sound (like a cicada that studied opera). Which makes me realize that I forgot to mention how hot it is. The humidity must be in the 40s. Anyway, that's another thing about Tokyo that suprised us; it's very green and jungle-like. There have been so many other surprises too but that's it for today.

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