Without further ado, Happy New Year’s to anyone who cares to gloss over this post! I realize I’m about a week late, but better late than never, someone once said. New Year’s in China was a bit underwhelming. Only one person in the entire city of Huangdao felt the need to celebrate the induction of the New Year with a half-hearted fireworks display. About 5 minutes of fireworks with only several different colors and shapes. I also lost royally in the German board game similar to Risk – Settlers of Catan. Although the New Year’s festivities were pathetic, the Chinese New Year will far outdo our American one. It starts on January 24, goes for 15 days, and permanently damages city dwellers’ eardrums with a barrage of fireworks. I plan to purchase some myself and launch them from the roof of my 11-story building. Yes, the Chinese version of New Year’s will be much more exciting than its American counterpart.
Just a few days after New Year’s Day, I packed my clothes and other necessities in a forest green suitcase, jammed all my electronic devices into my backpack, and boarded a ferry heading to Shimonoseki, Japan. No, this wasn’t some impulsive, rash decision to forsake the Chinese language and embrace the Japanese dialect or to experience the life of a stow-away in the Far East. I just wanted to explore another country and visit my friends, the Murrays, in Hiroshima. For a $350 round-trip ticket and free lodging with my friends, a trip to Japan was worthwhile and affordable. There are many worthwhile sites to visit in this world, but for a debt-ridden, grad student who can’t afford a car, few worthwhile sites are also affordable. Thankfully Japan was one of the few that survived.
After a 27-hour ride on the Orient Ferry, I arrived safely at the port of Shimonoseki. I knew Japan was an island, but I never realized how mountainous the country was. Shimonoseki lies in the southeast part of Japan, slightly north of Nagasaki and southwest of Hiroshima. Practically the whole city is hemmed in by mountains that are several thousand feet high. An impressive welcome by Japan I must say. I received another unexpected welcome when I passed through customs in Japan. A middle-aged Japanese woman approached me and asked if my name was Paul. Apparently she taught the Murrays Japanese, discovered my intention to visit them and wanted to be my tour guide in Shimonoseki. I gladly accepted her offer.
She passed the tour guide test effortlessly. We first took a necessary stop at Starbucks where I chugged down a chai tea latte before our visit to the shrines. Then we visited several prominent temples in the city. Apparently most shrines are either Buddhist or Shinto. Having already visited a Buddhist temple in China, I was happy to visit Shinto ones in Shimonoseki. One of the shrines had a bright red entryway with a golden family crest emblazoned on the door. In the courtyard, you could buy good luck charms for yourself, your child, your looming exam, and probably even your treasured goldfish. Some Japanese would write their wishes on a strip of cloth and hang them on tree branches. Some wanted to pass their difficult exam, others wanted to become more beautiful (hopefully that was just the girls), and a few just wanted to have some significant other enter their life. Maybe I should have tried my luck at it. Nah, too expensive.
After the visit to the shrines, my Japanese friend treated me to a traditional Japanese dish that I cannot pronounce. I thought I was just bad at Chinese, but now I’m bad at pronouncing Chinese and Japanese. Despite my inability to pronounce it, I had no difficulty in consuming the dish aside from a few rubbery squid suckers. After the delightful meal, she then took me to the train station where I waited for the bullet train to Hiroshima. At a steady clip of 500 km/h, bullet trains offer comfortable and ridiculously speedy transits between cities. Unfortunately, speed comes at a cost. My 40-minute ride to Hiroshima cost $80. At least Japanese bullet trains have a much higher safety rating than the inexpensive bullet trains in China. Sometimes you do get what you pay for.
After my arrival in Hiroshima, the Murrays met me at the station and took me to Mister Donut (Japanese version of Dunkin’ Donuts) at the nearby mall. We chatted for a bit as I ate my chocolate-covered tofu donut (may sound gross but is fairly tasty) and then headed for their domicile in a typical Japanese neighborhood. A two-story dwelling with 4 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, kitchen, living room, dining room, and a basement. Add some wood flooring and a heated toilet seat (a pleasant surprise) and that comprises the house. I will be staying in the guest chamber – a traditional Japanese bedroom. It’s a 15×15 ft. square room with straw matting as the carpet. One wall has sliding doors that lead into the dining room. Two other sides have paper-covered sliding doors with wooden frames that conceal a glass sliding door and glass windows. The other wall has a small wooden desk and a closet (a former spot for the family shrine). My bed is composed of a furry white carpet square with a futon and comforter on top. There’s also a nifty heating blanket that makes sleeping an enviable task. I may have to covertly transport it back to China as a farewell gift to myself.
Such was my first day in Japan. I will attempt to update this blog bi-weekly in Japan, but I make no promises on that point. I’m sure I could easily bloviate daily about my stay here, but then I might overwhelm you with yet another bundle of information bytes that continually bombard your phones and computers in this delightful Information Age where Google may soon become the path to enlightenment and revelation. So I will refrain from being such a pesky nuisance, but if you are interested in my stay in Japan, I will try to keep you updated during my brief stay. Thanks for bothering to look me up, and don’t lose hope on achieving your goals and resolutions for 2012. There’s only 357 days left. 🙂