Thursday, March 22, 2007


I had high falutin plans for the final post in this little adventure but in reality I have so many things on my mind at the moment that I feel like I am stuck in the middle of a very fast lazy susan and no one will let me off!

Enough of the whinging.

I have led a very charmed life for the past 18 months and although I once complained that I had to go out for lunch five days in a row I am sure that there might come a time when I am knee deep in nappies and will wistfully look back on such decadence. Somebody once said that if there was such a thing as reincarnation he would come back as a "Mazda wife", not such a bad choice I reckon.

Without wanting to sound cliched living in Japan has been a chance in a lifetime, we have had some wonderful experiences and made some great friends along the way too. Many people have said "oh but the language must be such a barrier" and while it is difficult it has never prevented us from doing anything. During our first week here we went to a restaurant with a menu entirely in kanji, unfazed by this we managed to ask the waitress to bring us as much food as our budget allowed. Fortunately we're not picky eaters and we dined like kings that night. I think the moral of the story is that if you think something will be a barrier then it will be.

When I have explained to some people that I do not have a 9-5 job here they have looked at me in horror and said "But what do you do all day? Aren't you bored? It must be a long wait for Martin to get home at the end of the day". The way I saw it was that there was a whole new country out there to explore. And explore we did. I spoke to a couple of Japanese ladies at lunch (I did go out for lunch a lot!) the other day and when they asked me where I went to in Japan they were surprised to hear that I had visited places they had not been too. When I wasn't going on off on adventures I took Japanese lessons, taught English, finished a course in Art History, worked for a translator and started a book group. None of these things were particularly demanding or stressful but I enjoyed them all, learnt lots of new things and met many new people because of them. I was certainly not bored and most definitely did not sit by the door waiting for Martin to get home at the end of the day.

Nevertheless, it was lovely to see Martin at the end of every day. For the first time in our nine year relationship/marriage I got to see my husband seven days a week. Most people take this for granted but before we got married it was a long distance relationship and when we got married Martin was working in Germany a great deal of the time so being able to spend so much time with each other was a big bonus in coming here. I know it sounds corny but spending so much time together has been one of the best things about this whole experience.

We have made some lovely friends here and it is even harder to say goodbye when you know that it will be such a long time, if ever, that you will see people again. On the plus side it will be lovely to see our friends at home who we have really missed since we've been away. Being away from them has made me appreciate them even more and I really treasured all the phonecalls and care packages of Green and Black's chocolate and the Sunday Times Style section!

Well that's the end of my blogging and the last of my tales from Hiroshima. If the next couple of years bring anywhere near the amount of tales, travels and tribulations as the last couple then I will be very lucky indeed.

Sayonara from Hiroshima, a great city to live in.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

"Time stop"

I read a book last year called "The Lady and the Monk" about a young English guy who goes off to live in Kyoto for a year and falls in love with a woman called Sachiko. Whenever her boyfriend introduces her to something new and exciting Sachiko would always say in her broken English "time stop". I think I speak better English than Sachiko but I really wish I could "time stop" right now.

Our time in Japan is almost over, this day 2 weeks we will have moved out of the apartment and in three weeks we will be at home in England. After Christmas we were really excited about getting home and would list off all the things we were looking forward to when we got back, mostly family and friends but also little things too like the pub, the Daily Telegraph on a Saturday, sausages, going shopping and actually finding clothes that fit ! Now it's time to go I find myself thinking about all the things I will miss when I leave Japan and the list seems to grow each day. I wish we could stay just a little bit longer.

Last week I spent the afternoon with my friend Ryoko at her parents house. Ryoko was my Japanese teacher and would come to the apartment every Wednesday and Friday to teach me to try to read, write and speak in Japanese. I am far from wonderful but I learnt enough to shop and eat and travel to all the places where I shopped and ate. Like me Ryoko loves baking and handbags, so our lessons always included an opportunity to have a break for tea and cake and handbag talk. I gave Ryoko some baking lessons, she now loves traybakes and her grandfather is very fond of caramel squares. (I'd like to think this will become Northern Ireland's contribution to Japanese cuisine and increase the sales of condensed milk too.) I will fondly remember the morning Ryoko arrived with her latest handbag purchase, a Kate Spade number in brown corduroy with beautiful pink script on the front and back saying "Hello" and "Goodbye". When she came in the bag was held to say Hello but as Ryoko left she laughed and got in a fluster because she hadn't turned the bag around to say goodbye. It was all these little things that so endeared me to Ryoko, always smiling, pretty, thoughtful and considerate.

Her family are just as lovely and it was real treat to be invited into their home (mostly Japanese people entertain outside of their homes). Her grandfather was so sweet and enthusiastically showed me around the garden and all the lovely stone lanterns he had built. Their home is a very traditional Japanese style house with lovely tatami rooms and shoji screens.
Ryoko's Mum had gone to a lot of trouble and made me feel really welcome, she even put on an exhibition of Hina dolls!

Ryoko and the Hina dolls.

I think I'm doing well if I give someone tea in a cup and saucer but this put me to shame. Each of us had an individual tray with bonsai plant, banana leaf, powdered green tea served in the finest Hagi pottery and mochi inside beautiful red lacquer ware bowls.

When I recognised the pottery her mum was so chuffed that I liked Japanese pottery that she ran off to give me some plates that she no longer used. On top of this she made me a notebook, a lemon cake complete with a piping bag of cream, a fruit hamper, mochi, rice crackers and even dressed me up in her engagement Kimono. Somehow the little basket of cookies and flowers that I arrived with seemed very inadequate for all this hospitality and generosity. It was lovely to be made feel so special and I will really treasure all these little experiences when I leave Japan.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Looky, looky and Lazy Susans.

Despite my concerns about Air China I'm safely cocooned back in Hiroshima. What an adventure! Since we were with a Japanese tour group (and therefore the source of much intrigue) we packed into four days what most people would normally do in six, wake up calls were received at 6 each morning and meals were wolfed down at frenetic speed from round a Lazy Susan. I will never be able to look at a Lazy Susan again without thinking of China and the scrum we endured at every meal just to get a morsel of food inside our mouths. For the rest of the tour group round our table you would have thought they'd never seen food before and then when you tried to whizz the lazy susan your way they'd put their finger on it and hog it for ages! In fact, there was enough Lazy Susan whizzing to give anyone a dizzy head.

The weather was pretty grim so all my photos seem to be engulfed in a grey haze but hey ho I still made it to the Great Wall of China...

and when I got to the top there was a camel...

and a roller coaster too. How odd I thought.

Not as odd as the Starbucks slap, bang in the middle of the Forbidden City though. I wonder what Mao would say about that.They had to remove the huge Starbucks sign from outside the store as they thought it wasn't complimentary to the surroundings. You think?

The surroundings were mighty impressive though.

Tiananmen Square is just across the road from the Forbidden City, it's vast and foreboding.

After that it was back on the bus and up to the Temple of Heaven.

I have to say that the driving in Beijing was crazy and way worse then anything I have ever seen in Italy (well almost, I saw a man drive over the top of a roundabout in Naples). Sometimes it looked like there were five lanes of traffic in a road meant for three and there were hundreds of cyclists darting in and around this craziness. We drove past an incident involving a bus and in the absence of traffic cones they had used a fire extinquisher to alert oncoming traffic. Let's hope no one drove into the fire extinquisher.

Whenever we arrived at our destinations we would always be greeted by hoards of people trying to sell us something and poking at you saying "looky, looky". When you thought you'd escaped the worst of it you'd see a fake Fendi or the like being shoved through a fence accompanied by the familiar call of "looky, looky". There are many beggars too and coupled with the desperation of the people trying to sell you stuff it is really quite sad but I guess that the people living in Beijing have it a little better than those in the country. There is an obvious sense that things are changing very quickly and there is building work everywhere in Beijing. There are also swathes of rubble from where the old hutongs have been torn down in advance of the Olympics. Hutongs are traditional narrow lanes with houses in the form of quadrangles on both sides where close knit communities of families live. We were lucky to have a peek around some of them.

Like the man in the last picture I was pretty wrecked at the end of my adventure but had a great time all the same. It was interesting to see glimpses of the old and new China and I was really impressed by how eager people are to speak English. I was even approached by a waitress in a cafe with a pen and paper who wanted me to give her a quick English lesson. After a few minutes of writing and talking I left and she seem so chuffed with her piece of paper and the new English phrases she'd learned that she said "cup of tea don't money" - she was very sweet.

After this mammoth post I'm off to make a cup of tea myself.

Ps. Apologies to anyone who was eagerly anticipating Martin's blog post. It was clearly just a rumour and he was too busy eating sushi to put fingers to keyboards.