Monday, November 27, 2006

A vistor from home

Sorry for the lack of posts over the past week. My friend from Purdue, Sam, dropped by over Thanksgiving holiday. We had a good time here. She's not very much the tourist, so it was a bit challenging for me not to just drag her to the usual touristy places.

I met her up in Tokyo on the 18th, right after a preliminary visit to the eye clinic to determine my odds for successful lasik eye surgury. That was quite an interesting experience. After the standard eye check, they took me into a darkened room with rows of machines, each with a young lady, decked out in identical nurse outfits, behind it. So this is where they keep all the cute, just-out-of-university girls! It looked like something out of the next Austin Powers flick. One machine would light up a bright orange spinning spiral when you looked at it, like one of those old hypnotizing machines, then the candystriper would tell you to move on to the next machine. At the end, the matron of the flock of birds gave me some funny eyedrops and had me exit to a waiting room. After a while, my eyes were sufficiently dilated, and they had me lie down and put some anasthetic drops in, then used a funny little machine to tap on my eyeball, I presume to test the pressure or thickness of the cornea. It was really bizarre because the lack of sensory feedback from your eyeball means you notice your eyelid blinking over your eye. In addition, every time the machine would tap, you'd see a ripple go out from the point of contact. Really strange. I wonder what the surgury's gonna look like.

Anyways, after a while I spoke with a doctor, in English luckily, who informed me I have very healthy eyes (besides the obvious) and a thick cornea, which makes me a good candidate for lasik. I'm scheduled for December 16th. Wish me luck.

So after that, I ended up walking to meet Sam at the hotel she got for us. I have to say, I'm quite impressed. When Aaron and Molly came, I found a decently located place, but the rooms were pretty boring and bland. Sam got a really nice European style pension. It wasn't huge, and while it was in the middle of Ginza, the ritzy shopping district, it wasn't terribly convenient like my first pick. But I have to say I was impressed, I'll definitely head back there if I need to stay in Tokyo anytime soon. Sorry Aaron and Molly, maybe next time.

I took last Monday off and Thursday was a holiday, so I had some time to spend with Sam, showing her around. She took off on some long walks around Hiratsuka while I worked the other days, and on Friday she hit Yokohama's Chinatown with a girl who lives surprisingly close to me (as in the next building over in the same complex) who we'd met in a bar earlier that week. I can't see the appeal to wandering around Hiratsuka all day, but her curiosity really reminded me of how I felt when I first arrived, how everything was strange and new and goofy. That's worn off in the 2 1/2 years since, but having it rekindled now and then reopens your eyes. On Saturday we went to Hakone, a mountainous area west of Hiratsuka, and did the typical tourist loop around the area. It was a beautiful day and gave Sam her first look at Fuji. We topped it off at an onsen, for which Sam needed a couple stiff drinks before working up the courage to go parading around in front of a bunch of Japanese women in the buff. But she pulled through, and actually stayed so long I was contemplating having her paged so I didn't get too bored.

Sunday I did a 5k run at Tanzawa Lake, in the Tanzawa mountains NW of my town. It's a real pain to get to. The way there was about 1.5 hours, and the return trip was over 2 hours due to an hour wait at a tiny train station in the middle of nowhere. Boring. But the run was fun. I finished in under 26 minutes, which shocked me because I usually just set the treadmill at the gym to do it in about 35 minutes and go, plus the fact that I hadn't been to the gym in over a week since Sam was around.

Sam was smart enough not to come with us, and after sleeping in she hit Kamakura, the ancient capital. She left today, so I'm sad she's gone, since we get along so well, but I'm sure we'll hang out next year when I head back for a visit, probably in March. Now, the question is, who's next to come for a visit?

Monday, November 13, 2006

A slight lack of downtime

Well, with my one anchor, Julian, gone and unable to keep me semi-boozed up after classes during the week, I felt I ought to do something productive with myself. Not only would I get more accomplished, in theory, but I wouldn't have all that free time to go out and blow cash.

Well, it's worked, and then some. Last week I didn't get home before 9pm at all, not to mention time to sit down, relax, and veg out. Saturday, however, was rainy and generally crappy weather, so I stayed in the whole day. Not that it was terribly fun. So that's the balance I've chosen, I suppose. It won't last for long.

My friend Sam from Purdue is coming to visit. She'll arrive Saturday the 18th and hang around for a week or so. I'm taking Monday off to hang out with her in Tokyo, plus a fortuitous holiday gives me Thanksgiving Day off on the 23rd. Ironically, it's also called "Thanksgiving Day," but the meaning is something more akin to Labor Day for Americans. And I don't recall it ever landing on the actual Thanksgiving Day last year or the year before.

I haven't quite thought through what we'll do, but the first couple days we'll be in Tokyo. Sam got us a hotel somewhere up there, so we'll check out places. She swears she'll be able to hold up against the jet lag and wants to go out, so I'm arranging to meet up with some friends her first night out. A not rare sight in Japan is to see 2 or 3 people out at an izakaya (kind of a restaurant with lots of booze available) with one or two people eating food and texting on their mobile while the other is passed out face-first on the table. That might end up being Sam.

After that, she'll probably have to entertain herself for a couple days. The last weekend she'll be here, I'm scheduled to do a 5k run in the mountains northwest of Hiratsuka, so she gets to come cheer me along. We'll probably go up a night or two before and do the onsen thing beforehand. Should be fun.

Anyways, that's my reason for not being so quick with the posts. Not to mention I've got the Japanese Language Proficiency Test coming up on the 3rd. I'm worried about that, I haven't done very well on the practice tests. Oh well, at least they won't deport me if I fail.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Welcome to Aki

I love fall in Japan. I've spent the past 6 months bitching and moaning about sweating day in, day out, the heat keeping me from falling asleep at night. I'd sleep with my windows open, the fan blowing on me, and no sheet or blanket, yet I still felt hot at night. It's that bad, sometimes.

But now, now it's fall. Well, I guess technically fall was in September. At that time, the temperature started dropping at night, it was cool and refreshing. But the days were still hot, and the humidity still lingering like a sweaty T-shirt stuck to your back. It didn't get to really be fall around here until a couple weeks ago. At that time, we had a huge storm blow in, and after that, it hasn't really gotten hot at all. Occasionally, on a sunny mid-day, you might wish for a fan. But any other time, and you've got your jacket on.

My favorite thing about fall is being able to wear jeans and a jacket out, without breaking a sweat while walking a block. The cool air freshens up my lungs, and then there's always the first fall viewing of Mt. Fuji from my house. Sure, I gotta lean over the balcony to glimpse it between buildings, but it's visible. That's what counts. The other thing in my list of favorite things about fall has to be the boots. The girls here seem to favor a nice miniskirt and some tall boots, which is something you just don't see back home.

Ah, fall.