Juggling Japan – Day 1

When I said “childhood”, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? Sitting in the sand box and building sand castles? Running around the jungle gym while screaming bloody Mary? Or playing house with your imaginary friends, along with your adorable stuffed animals?

The most vivid memory I can conjure when it comes to childhood is me sitting in front of the telly, watching Japanese cartoons (anime) on a peaceful Sunday morning. No fuss whatsoever, I would sit with my sippy cup, hair all messy and tangled, and watch the hours went by by staring at an animated robot cat named Doraemon. That is my earliest memory of being exposed to a tiny piece of Japanese culture, and since then my fascination towards the country grew and grew. So you could only imagine what I was feeling sixteen years later, as I was standing on a wooden balcony on a clear day, staring at the majestic Mount Fuji, the epitome of Japanese culture. God knows the struggle I went through to hold back the urge to scream, “BLOODY HELL, I AM IN JAPAN!!!!!”

My seven-day Japan-vaganza started on Sunday, November 18th, 2012. My friend and I intentionally chose November so we could see the beauty of Japanese autumn first hand. We could just picture the breathtaking scenery: rows and rows of yellow leaves, mixing together with reds and orange, along with the hypnotizing smell of freshly brewed green tea (ocha). Aaaah… the hard life 🙂

Unfortunately we had to wait a little longer because the plane landed in Haneda Airport at approximately 10:30 PM. With the long (yet very effective and efficient) line at the immigration and baggage claims, it was already past 11PM when we were finally free. Unfortunately the last train heading to downtown Tokyo was around 12 at night, and it would be a huge gamble to go straight from the airport without knowing any directions whatsoever. We didn’t want to take the risk of getting stranded in the middle of nowhere on a cold night, so we decided to crash at the airport and start fresh the next morning. I was worried the airport officers were going to throw us out, shoo-ing us for sleeping on the hard-cold benches, but alas! we weren’t the only crashers! Slowly but surely people started to claim spots on the benches, stretching their legs and using their long coats as blankets. The airport officer just stood and watch like a lifeguard, which actually made me feel safe. I’m telling you, you could might as well be carrying a golden Buddha statue in a Seven-Eleven plastic bag and you wouldn’t be worried about having anything stolen from you! There’s just something about Japanese’s discipline culture that reassured you.

The next morning, we woke up in high spirits. After some time in the toilet doing some washing and tooth brushing, we carried our bags to brace the Tokyo’s autumn air. Oh! Speaking of toilets.. I saw in many Hollywood movies how complicated Japanese toilet seats can be. To be honest, I was quite intimidated by the fancy buttons when i first entered the loo. There was a button for bidet, a button for spray, buttons to modify the water pressure for the bidet, a button for fan to dry your, ehm, area, after you’re done and even a button for sound effects! It was like trying to figure out the best fighting combo on your Mortal Combat game!

Japanese toilets

Thankfully the buttons were also written in English – at least the toilets in the airport, anyway – so it was actually not as complicated as it would seem in the movies. AND it actually makes everything a lot better. I felt – for lack of a better word – cleaner. The bidet sprayed things that needed to be sprayed, and the fan dried things that needed to be dried. Coming out of the toilet, I felt… sanitized. This, therefore, got me thinking. If the Japanese toilets are considered complicated and too tech-savvy for the Westerns, I wonder how clean they actually are after a session in the loo. You know, without the bidet and the fan and the… well, you get the picture!

Anyhow!

From Haneda airport, we took the Keikyu express train to Shinjuku station, which is the epitome of downtown Tokyo. Shinjuku station is the world’s busiest train station according to Wikipedia, so you could imagine how scary it was for us two tiny Asian girls, trying to find our way around without getting trampled on. First thing’s first, we rented a large locker inside the station to store both my backpack and my friend’s suitcase. It cost 500 Yen for 24 hours, which is a real bargain because we could split the fee.

With heavy burdens now out of our way, we strolled casually out of the station to our first destination: Icho Namiki, a famous street in Tokyo. What’s so special about Icho Namiki is the pedestrian walk in both sides of the street, which is decorated with rows and rows of stunning ginkgo trees. Standing in the middle of the pavement, we feast our eyes upon the gorgeous yellow leaves. At that moment, a sudden realization hit me. I’m actually here, in Tokyo, staring at ginkgo trees.

Tokyo, Nov 19th 2012

It was an out-of-body experience, and it lasted for a few seconds until a creepy black crow suddenly came swooping down and scared the hell out of me. Yes, you heard me. A crow. A huge, horrific crow that made me scream at the top of my lungs as it made its way towards me and my tuna-filled onigiri. It wasn’t my fault, okay! My stomach was screaming for some food, so I just had to pull out from my carry-on bag a couple of onigiris for breakfast. How was I supposed to know that the beautiful pedestrian walk was occupied by crows??I couldn’t help but imagine its huge beak destroying my already-flat nose and turning me into Voldemort in a matter of seconds. Did I mention that it was also trying to steal my water bottle AND gloves?? Stupid winged creatures, ruining my morning! Further on I discovered that there are actually A LOT of crows in Japan. I saw them every-friggin-where, not just in Tokyo. Some countries have pidgeons, others have strayed cats. Japan has crows. Creeping crows…

Despite the traumatic interruption, in a true asian-touristy style, my friend and I didn’t miss the chance to take some pictures. We took turns taking pictures of each other, and just when we were trying to figure out how to get both of us in a single frame, two kind lady approached us and offered to take our pictures. There was no catch whatsoever! These two ladies were enjoying their morning walk and just like that, they decided to help us capture our Icho Namiki moment. How lovely!

From Icho Namiki, we went to our second destination: Kawasaki. Kawasaki is a little bit outside Tokyo and can be reached from Shinjuku station using the Odakyu Odawara express Line for approximately 30 minutes. Kawasaki is the home of Japan’s most beloved comic (manga) artist: Fujiko F. Fujio. Remember the robot cat anime I mentioned earlier? Mr. Fujiko is the creator. Doraemon (the robot cat) is arguably the most lovable Japanese cartoon characters ever existed. It is impossible to find a Japanese kid who doesn’t know who Doraemon is. As a kid growing up watching Doraemon, it would be a sin for me to come to Japan and not visit this museum.

“Door-to-anywhere”

at the rooftop playground

It cost 1,000 yen to enter, and you have to purchase the ticket in advance. But the trouble is well worth it once you’re inside. I got to learn the life of Mr. Fujiko and the story behind the creation of Doraemon and his other famous works. I felt like a kid again when I stepped into the rooftop playground, which was decorated with various Doraemon characters. I’m telling you, this trip is one not to be missed for the kid in you. However, please bear in mind the weather when you’re there because a lot of the spots that are picture-worthy are mostly outdoors. It had just stopped drizzling when I arrived, and boy, was it cold !!! I lost count how many times my teeth were chattering! Well, I guess this is what you get when you’ve lived in a tropical country for 22 years *sigh

picture taken from flickr.com

After a huge portion of lunch at a nearby station (this is not a sponsored blog post, but I will say this: Yoshinoya restaurant saved our lives more than once), we went back to Tokyo to meet my Japanese friend, Yuya. I know Yuya through AIESEC –an international student organization – and I helped him during his two-month internship in Jakarta. Yuya and his family had kindly offered to be our host family for two nights, something we could never be able to thank them enough for. Yuya had agreed to meet us at Shibuya, at the famous Hachiko statue, because he wanted to go sightseeing with us. The three of us went to Ramen Museum in Yokohama, then to Roppongi and Ebisu Place Garden, both in Tokyo.

I could go on and on about the places my friend and I have visited on our first day in Tokyo (and I may as well already have!), but there is nothing that I want to share more than the generosity shown by our friend Kishimoto Yuya and his family.

It was already around 21:30 by the time we left Ebisu Place Garden and the three of us were exhausted. After getting our backpack and suitcase from the locker, we went straight to Tsutsujigaoka, the train station located near Yuya’s house. My friend and I were cold and honestly starving by the time we were on the train, but none of us said a word because we didn’t want to make Yuya more tired than he already was. But alas! The second we stepped out of the Tsutsujigaoka station, Yuya invited us to have dinner in his favorite sushi restaurant, and he told us that his mum was going to treat us! At that exact moment, I could see Yuya and his mum with wings of an angel, heaven-sent to save this poor, low-budgeted travelers. Yuya took us to a unique sushi restaurant where the customers could order sushi from a touch screen menu and the food would be delivered to you through a mini conveyor belt in minutes time. Well, at least it was unique for us. I’m pretty sure it’s nothing new for Yuya and the rest of the Japanese citizens. Yuya taught us how to order from the screen and recommended us some of the most amazing sushi I have ever tasted. It was such an experience!

Having filled our stomach with delicious feast, we went straight to Yuya’s house. On our way, I kept imagining different scenarios about how our first encounter with Yuya’s parents were going to be like. One thing was for sure, guilt came over me as I realized how late it was by the time we arrived. It was near 23:00 when we finally got there, and the last thing we wanted was to wake Yuya’s family up. But again, I was touched by everyone’s friendliness and generosity. We were greeted with such warmth as if we were old friends. They even allowed us to rest under their kotatsu (a low, wooden table covered by a thick blanket with a heat source underneath. Source: wikipedia), which was extremely comfortable. I swear, after a looong day of shivering cold, I could live under that lovely table and became a human cocoon.

Now you’d think allowing the guests to rest under the kotatsu is enough for winning the host family of the year award. But nooo…. Yuya’s family went above and beyond by providing us with, wait for it, toiletries! Words can’t express how touched my friend and I were as Yuya’s mum began to explain the stuffs she had prepared for each of us: towels (a small one for drying our face, and a large one for our body), a toothbrush, a shower cap, a plastic mug for gargling, and a loofah to wash our back. Did I mention that she bought everything in double quantities, one for each of us??

After a few minutes of small talks while sitting under the kotatsu and watching TV, it was finally bed time. Yes, each of us got our own bedroom because Yuya has two older brothers who already had a place of their own.

with Yuya-san at Roppongi

It was only our first night at Yuya’s house, and I was already almost in tears because I was so overwhelmed by his family’s kindness. When Yuya asked what the highlight of the day was, both of us said Ramen Museum and Ebisu Garden Place because those places were unique and beautiful. But when my friend and I chatted for a bit as we got ready bed, we both agreed that Yuya’s family was the highlight of the day.

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The Tiny Traveler

Praise the Lord!

My blog is still alive !!!!

I thought the invisible hands have voluntarily erased my WordPress account from the face of the cyber world due to the lack of posts I have made since God knows when! And now that I am back, I am pleased to announce –to all of you who are still kind enough to stick around and continue subscribing to this deserted ground (bless you!) – that I am going to add a new category in this blog.

When I started this blog, I mentioned two things I’m passionate about in this world: writing and reading. But now, I’ve come to realize that I am also passionate about traveling.

God, I love to travel! The sensation you get when you step on a new territory or when you explore every nooks and crannies of an unfamiliar ground, the adrenaline rush when you’re lost in translation. Everything about traveling humbles you. Therefore, I have decided to add The Tiny Traveling category to share my experiences to those who might be interested.

Please bear in mind that my traveling posts may not be filled with tips and tricks. Hell, it could even be filled with my nonsensical rant about everything and nothing. But who knows, maybe you’ll learn a thing or two anyway 🙂

Alrighty then. Let’s get to work, shall we?

Movie Blogathon: Small Roles…Big Performances

A few days ago, Ruth from Flixchatter created this interesting Blogathon. It really sparked my interest because of how challenging it was. The idea is to” shine a spotlight on the unsung heroes, the overlooked performers who add so much richness and entertainment value to the film no matter how brief their appearance is, but yet they don’t get the credit they so deserve.”

 

 

The general rules:

  • Highlight a performance from an actor [classics or contemporary] in a supporting role or cameo, it can be as short as five-minutes, as long as that particular scene is memorable and/or makes an impression on you.
  • I’d ask that you choose a performance that was NOT nominated for major awards and as much as possible choose an actor that isn’t generally well-known, the more obscure the better!
  • You could choose to do a write-up of ONE or several (up to three to keep things from being too long) performances. It’s up to you how long you’d like it to be, I don’t want to restrict you if you are passionate about a particular scene, but I think 150 – 400 words is ideal. Write why you love that particular scene and how it’s touched you, be as specific as you’d like to be and you could even elaborate on the actor or share some trivia about the movie in relation to that performance.
  • I recommend using clips/photos/quotes as you see fit. I LOVE what Sati does with her weekly scene spotlight, but feel free to add your own spin to it :D
  • You can read the full blogathon guidelines here.

 

Alrighty then! Let’s get right to it!

#3. Emily Blunt (The Devil Wears Prada)

I’ve never read the book, but I have a feeling Blunt’s portrayal of the snarky Emily made the author proud. My favorite scene of hers would be near the end, where she found out that Anne Hathaway’s character (Andy) has decided to give her all the free clothes from Paris. You could see the genuine shock on her face, then she got all teary-eyed and turned to Andy’s replacement to say: “You have some very large shoes to fill. I hope you know that.” LOVE her!

#2. John Krasinski (It’s Complicated)

I really didn’t intend to put the married couple on the list on purpose. It was pure coincidence, folks! 🙂
John’s character, Harley, is the epitome of perfect fiance/future son-in-law. And I love watching him went along the crazy-dysfunctional family ride. I’ve never watched The Office, so this is where I discovered John’s ability in subtle comedy. My favorite Harley moment would be when he tried to stay cool as Jane (Streep) went all passive-aggresive on Jake (Baldwin) in the family kitchen after she got stood up. I laughed hysterically when Harley took the knife from Jane’s hand.

 
#1. Thomas Brodie-Sangster

Love Actually is one of my favorite holiday movies of all time, and this adorable, excessively romantic kid is my number one reason why. Let’s face it. The cute puppy love is the reason for many people to glue their eyes on the screen for 135 minutes. He is such a scene-stealer! My favorite scene?

“Okay, Dad. Let’s do it. Let’s go get the shit kicked out of us by love.”

Nuff said.

 

So who are YOUR scene-stealers, folks? 🙂

P.S. Thank you for the awesome blogathon, Ruth!

One Small Step

It’s been a while since my last Creative Writing Ink post, hasn’t it? So many things have happened since then, many ups and downs. But we’re not gonna focus on that, are we? No. We’re gonna focus on what’s really important, which is Writing. Writing, creating, and healing. Yes, healing. Because writing soothes me and it takes away all the awful things in (my) life.

Let’s get right to it. I’m getting so rusty here, so bear with me, people. I was in a romantic mood when I wrote this. Just a tiny warning for those who can’t deal with excessive romance 😉

OK. Without further ado, I give you:

One Small Step

Two days ago, I was staring at my computer screen, browsing through plane tickets. As I ignored the tiny voice in my head that tried to warn me, I entered my credit card number and all other stupid information that were necessary. The next thing I knew, I had booked a flight to London.

Ten hours ago, I was standing a few meters outside Heathrow airport, figuring out the state of my mental health. I knew I was crazy. I must have been. Because I could have just easily turned around and bought the next flight back to Chicago. But instead, I pulled out the National Express Coach ticket from my pocket and went straight inside that giant bus. The next thing I knew, I was on a two-hour trip to Bath.

****

“Just a few more minutes, I promise.”

Your voice pulls me back. You are a few steps ahead, smiling at me with guilt. The warm autumn sunlight falls perfectly on your freckled face. “Sorry?” I smile back as I shift my backpack from the left to my right shoulder.

“I know you’re exhausted, but we’re almost there. I’m going to make you a nice cup of tea, I promise.” You touch your right palm on your left chest, as if making a pledge.

“I’m not tired.”

You stop walking and raise your eyebrow at me. “James, we’ve been exploring every historical sites that ever existed in Central Bath for almost seven hours.”

“Yes, and as soon as we recharge out batteries, we’ll go straight to Wiltshire so I can finally see the Fox Talbot Museum.”

“You’re insane, you know that?” You shake your head as you adjust your pace so we are walking side by side once again. “We can go there tomorrow. It’s not like you’re only staying in Bath for a day.”

I swallow my words and pretend I didn’t hear that last sentence. I know that if you saw my face, you would realize in a heartbeat that I’m hiding something, so I look to my left instead and stare at the small lake on my left as if a fish monster would jump out and eat me alive. You must not know the truth. Not yet.

Your arm is linked around mine as we walk along the lake. The crackling twigs under our shoes are the only sound that penetrates the comfortable silence between us. I can stay like this forever.

****

Eight hours ago, I was stepping out of the express coach with my cell phone in my right hand.The coach took off a few minutes later and there I was, stranded alone in Bath with an empty stomach. My heart was pounding as I stare at my phone screen and went through all the names in the Address Book. This was it. There was no turning back. I felt like I wanted to throw up, and that was not because of my screaming gastric. I took a deep breath.The next thing I knew, I was talking to you on the phone and inviting you to brunch because I just ‘happened to be in the city’.

Seven hours ago, I was having the time of my life with you. We went through all the nooks and crannies of the city, observing and taking pictures like a proper tourist. You were smiling and laughing. I was bewitched by your beauty.

Seven hours ago, we were back to where we were a year ago.

****

“Right. Should I go first,then?”

Your voice pulls me back again. I blink and stare at you. “Go where?”

“Across.” You point at the stone footpath stretched in front of us. It’s long, winding, and –to tell you the truth – rather scary. Sensing my fear, you touch my arm gently. “I know it’s a bit tricky, but it’s the fastest way to get to my house.”

“Than what, swimming?” I respond sarcastically.

“Don’t worry, it’s not as dangerous as it looks. Here, I’ll go first.” And just like that, you’re standing on the first step. A second later you jump to the second one. Then the third. You move so quickly and lightly as if you were the fairy of the golden forest. I can’t take my eyes off of you.

Halfway down the winding steps, you stop and turn around to find me still standing on the ground and staring at you. From where I stand, I can see you carving a wide smile across your radiant face. With the yellow trees in the background and the clear water under your feet, you are the picture of the perfect autumn. The next thing I know, I’m taking a leap of faith. Then another leap. And another one. Every leap I take brings me closer to you. Then you start to jump again. “Wait up, Sarah!” I pick up the pace, trying to catch up. I can hear you chuckle and I can’t help but smile. Your chuckle turns to laughter, and my smile turns to a wide grin. Like a couple of eight year olds, we race to the other side of the lake. I want to beat you at your own game, but you’re way up ahead. By the time I’ve reached half of the footpath, you are already on the other side of the lake, standing safely on the ground.

“Come on, James! A nice cup of tea is waiting for you!” You cry, cheering me on. Seeing you there, waiting for me, my heart skips a beat and my blood rushes in my veins. I lose my breath in every leap, my chest tightens as I get closer to you. And closer. Your face is beaming. Your auburn hair is tangled because of the autumn breeze. Your smile is enchanting. Your laughter is contagious. I want you. Forever. Can I?

Five more steps. The words are clogged in my throat like a giant fist.

Three more steps. My heart is about to explode into million little pieces. I look down, to the water. They’re clear as day. I want to drown myself. Drown with you.

“Almost there!” Your voice pierce through my inner thoughts.

Two more steps. I look up to find your green eyes looking into mine.

One more step. We’re face to face. You brandish your hand. I take a deep breath and spill the truth.

“I’m getting married.”

For a millisecond, it’s as if I have never uttered a word. You’re still smiling. Genuinely so.

Then the colours drain from your face. And my heart plummets to the deep, dark water. Your eyes are still fixed on mine, but they’re no longer alive and bright. Your brandished hand is now stiff instead of warm and inviting like it has been all day in mine. I can feel your heart shattering, just like mine. I bit my lip and gulp what’s left in the air. “I’m getting married. In a month.” I repeat, as if that would make things a tiny bit better.

Your jaw tensed as you look away. Your hands are on your sides, awkward and idle. You stare at the leaves, the water, then back to me. “Why did you come here?”

“I wanted to see you.”

“Then what?”

“I…I don’t know.” I falter. “I haven’t thought this through.”

“You’re bloody right you haven’t!” Your face redden, anger boiling on the surface. A single tear runs down your cheek, but you quickly wipe it away. My fingers twitch. They ache to touch you.  I’m suffocating, trying hard to fight the urge to pull you into my arms. You look away again, arms folded in front of your chest to protect your heart from me. You shake your head and let out a bitter chuckle. “Of course you’re getting married. I’m such an idiot.”

“No, I am.”

“I didn’t say you’re not. You definitely are.” You retort with a quick glance. Despite myself, I smile. For a millisecond, you return the favor. We faintly smile at each other, before you look away again. An uncomfortable silence stands between us like a barricade. You look up to the sky, close your eyes, inhale deeply, then turns to me. No matter how many times I’ve seen those green eyes, they will always make me weak at the knees. The next thing I know, I blurt out that single question that’s been ringing in my head ever since I laid my eyes on you this morning:

“Did I make the right choice?”

I don’t know to what extend the question goes. Did I make the right choice by coming to Batch? By seeing you? By getting married? The voices in my head are throwing me off course. I hold my breath as I wait for your answer.

Your arms are still folded in front of your chest, but they’re no longer tense. You let down your guard, even just for a fraction. I can feel your glance slowly soften. You crack a weak smile as your eyes glimmer with tiny tears.

“Congratulations, James.”

You didn’t answer anything, but you told me everything.

And just like that, with just two little words, I’ve fallen in love with you all over again.

Maybe all this time, I’ve never really fallen out of love with you.

I look over my shoulder, to the winding footpath that will lead me back to Chicago. Then I look down to my feet, to that one small step that separates me from you.

“James?”

I look up. Your arms are on your sides now, letting go all your defenses. I take a deep breath.

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Before The Worst

Greetings!

It’s been a while since I posted something for Creative Writing Ink. In fact, I’m getting rusty, so bear with me 🙂

This week’s picture is intriguing. I’ve always pictured a couch (or bed) as a symbol of the comfortable domestic life. A symbol of settling down, per se. So when I see the picture of a wrecked and disheveled couch, I immediately thought of a relationship that’s hit a wall. The kind of relationship that has become so sour that the only way to fix it is to end it before it takes its tool. Before it gets worst.

As always, constructive criticisms are always needed, expected, and welcomed. Thanks for dropping by 🙂

Before The Worst

Just turn off the lights

Don’t expect a spark

Can’t be a perfect sight

When both of us are in the dark

 

Pull the curtains down

Take a look around

We are the wounded ones

In a raging war that can’t be won

 

Tried our best to stand

But our hearts won’t mend

No longer can pretend

Better let the story ends

 

Before we turn to dust

Before the dawn arrives

Give a kiss goodbye to the chapters of our lives

 

Before it leaves a scar

It’s best to let it go

Let this be the greatest story the world will never know

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