Thursday, April 14, 2005

Arrival In Japan

by Kristin

A.J. and I had a superb flight from Bangkok to Osaka. We flew Singapore Airlines, which is rated the best in the world (I believe). It's too bad it was a red eye flight. I really wanted to stay awake and take in as much of the wonderful service as I could. I think it was only a six hour flight. We landed in Osaka early in the morning.

It was such a huge ordeal lugging all of our bags through three different train stations. Once we left the airport, we took a regular train for about 45 minutes (JR- Japan Railway) to the Shinkansen station (bullet train). There were no luggage carts in the train stations. So, we dragged our 3 large army duffel bags and carried our other small, various bags throughout the train stations. It was the worst traveling I've ever done. I'm now convinced to ditch the army sea bags and go for large suitcases on wheels (I've got my eye on a couple that are made out of aluminum from Germany).

Anyway, my very first impressions of Japan (just from the airport and train stations) were "Oh shit...people here don`t speak ANY English and there's not nearly the amount of sign-age in English that I thought there would be. I also noticed all of the vending machines, which sell cold and hot canned drinks, cigarettes, phone cards, beer, etc. You can get a plethora of items from the vending machines here. Somebody told me they saw one once with heads of lettuce and other veggies in it.

Going back to the language barrier, I've been in many countries but have never experienced a barrier such as what is here in Japan. When I lived in Korea, everyone was dying to come up and talk to me on the street...just to practice their English. Living in Thailand, English wasn't a problem because it's such a popular tourist destination. I would experience difficulties trying to speak Thai because I would mangle the pronunciations, since it's a tonal language. But the Thais would blurt out the little bit of English they knew and it was always enough to get by. I suppose I've gotten by with bits of English in the other countries I've been to because I would be backpacking around hitting touristy areas.

So, Japan is already proving to be a whole new experience as far as language goes. One positive aspect is that it will force me to pick up some Japanese. Also, the few phrases I've learned thus far have been understood when I speak them. Japanese is not a tonal language and therefore much easier to pronounce (yay! ).

Some other first impressions of Japan was all of the recycling bins (which they're quite strict about; recycling is very regulated here; I happen to be quite excited about that but have been illegally dumping my trash at night because I can't figure out the overcomplicated process of recycling; I have to be careful with the illegal dumping because I read that the police are out at night looking for such activity) and the smoking situation.

The smoking situation is such that some public places have sectioned areas for smoking but others don't. For example, A.J. and I accidentally stumbled onto the smoking car of the Shinkansen train. So, while there was an actual car for smokers, I've been in a Subway eating right next to a guy smoking (and I mean right next to him...he could have been in my lap he was so I've experienced in other countries, space or lack of is an issue here) because the whole second floor was smoking (the first floor, for non smokers, only has a few bar stools to sit at).

Well, we got to Hiroshima after a super fast bullet train ride from Osaka. The train was scheduled to depart at some precise time like 10:17am and it sure as hell did. I had heard of the preciseness of time here but seeing is believing! So, we took off on our smokey train ride, going about 180mph on a sleek looking train that could have been out of a science fiction movie. We were picked up at the Hiroshima station by one of our bosses. We were due to start a three and a half week training 5 days after arriving.

There were 6 other new teachers coming from Vancouver, Canada; somewhere in England (?); Toronto, Canada; San Francisco and NYC. We were all put up in a really nice (but compact...everything seemed so small at first) hotel for the duration of the training. I've finished the training and am just finishing up an 11 day break before getting my schedule tomorrow and starting work on Friday. E-mail has been rather difficult due to money and time. There was a courtesy lap top in the hotel lobby. However, I was basically just reading e-mails and not really able to take up the time to respond. There are a couple of computers at the school. However, it can be difficult to find one that doesn't have somebody on it or waiting to get on it. Plus, they're really slow.

Right now I'm at an internet cafe. I really haven't been utilizing these (like I did in Bangkok) because they're not cheap. I would pay less than a dollar for one hour in Bangkok's internet cafes. These are more have to sign up for a specified amount of time. If you go over that time, the charge for each additional minute is pretty high. It's kind of cool, though.

In Bangkok, the internet cafes are simply an open room with tables and chairs and computers. Some of them might have drinks you could buy. This particular internet cafe that I'm in right now is much more of an experience. I'm in my own little cubicle with a desk, desk lamp, phone (to call for an order of food or drinks to be served to my cubicle), etc. It basically feels like my own little office. I can also get courtesy soft drinks, coffee/tea, a blanket, pillow and slippers if I want. People come in here to get on the internet, watch dvds or play video games. I think this place is open 24 hours, too. I could also having my own smoking cubicle if I wanted (of course).

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