I officially turned one quarter of a century old last Tuesday. D’oh!
Although I hadn’t made any birthday plans whatsoever, it actually turned out to be a surprisingly eventful week. Shigeru Miyamoto, the big cheese over at Nintendo wanted to take a look at our game’s progress so I figured I’d be far too busy to celebrate until at least a week or two after – but thankfully, Push Mode ended earlier than expected and some free time opened up. As a result, my week turned out thus:
Saturday: Took my first long-distance bike ride in months, since my mountain bike “broke” (I broke it) and I once again reverted to an old dilapidated shopping bike as my primary means of transportation. The trip consisted of a 40 mile ride into the rice fields of Kameoka, a smallish town just past Kyoto’s Western mountains. The original plan was to locate a remote Zen Buddhist Monastary which specializes in training foreign practitioners; for only 3000 yen a night, one can experience all that life as a Buddhist monk has to offer. However, I was so drenched with sweat by the time I arrived that I decided to call it quits; I figured I could always return by bus or train sometime in the future and knock on their door looking a bit more presentable/enlightened.
It was interesting to get back out into the Japanese countryside after spending so long hopping around Japan’s bigger cities (Kyoto, Tokyo, Osaka, Kobe – yes, I’m still a few posts behind). Its surprising how easy it is to forget what it feels like to be an oddity (celebrity) in a foreign land when you spend all your time in “on-the-map” locations. But travel just a few minutes outside the big cities and, well, let’s just say that I saw my fair share of curious little faces smudged up against car windows trying to get a glimpse of the curious-looking white-skinned cyclist. At one point I even noticed a middle-aged woman pointing at me from her driver’s seat with apparent great excitement. But when she flipped a U-Turn and said hi, I realized why – it was Erina, my coworker’s wife, in the car with her family on the way back from the local video store. Although she was originally pointing to indicate “Look, another foreigner!” to her (British) husband, the reaction I witnessed was at the realization that said foreigner was actually someone she knew.
The day’s ride also motivated me to finally repair my bike’s odometer, which hasn’t worked since before my dad’s visit this April. It now reads just over 1,300 miles (over roughly 5 months, from November to March). That’s 70 gallons of gasoline saved and dozens of hours of beautiful outdoors exercise. Way to go, Japan – for not requiring a trip in bumper-to-bumper traffic to pick up a simple bag of groceries!
After returning from my ride and passing out for several hours, I knew that I wouldn’t be able to fall asleep anytime soon. So I headed for downtown with no particular plans in mind. As always. And I ended up staying out until roughly 7am. As always.
The evening started as I wandered to the Kamogawa riverbank to enjoy the atmosphere and watch some fire dancers who’ve been performing regularly for the past couple of weeks. With the arrival of the nice weather, the Kamogawa has reverted completely to its “all-out party zone” state. Within minutes of my arrival I spotted two acquaintances from Doshisha University who I briefly greeted before continuing on my way; but just moments later, three more guys walked up and said hello. It was Miho’s ex-boyfriend and his two buddies (who I shamefully barely remembered meeting). They were stumbling around with bottles of wine and beer in their hands, asking if I’d like to join. But of course! So we sat, drank, and laughed at their neverending attempts to procure female company for the evening…until Nakanishi, a “little-too-friendly” Japanese guy who I’d met at a WhyNotJapan party, showed up with several more friends from his soccer circle. After a bit more riverside pre-partying the group finally decided it was time to head to a club. We first tried World, where we were told we couldn’t receive the “foreigner discount” due to a special event that night. How dare they!! So we proceeded to Sam & Dave’s instead.
And that’s where we stayed until morning. Inside, I ran into Kosuke (a kimono-maker who I met at A-bar, and who by total coincidence works in a small house directly across from my apartment); M. (no surprise here – I run into him probably 3-4 times a week on average); Miho (ditto, but only on weekends); Yukari (a girl who I’ve chatted with several times on Mixi but met only once in person – I was shocked when she recognized me); Andy (well, duh – he bartends there); and NoName (a friendly Israeli who I met at the same club several months earlier). After leaving, I ran into Ai (a regular at Hub, one of Japan’s more gaijin-oriented watering holes) and Ali (also a Hub regular) on the way to Wendy’s for breakfast (a tradition among late-night partygoers…sort of like Cotixan in San Diego).
Crap. I just realized this post is starting to get boring. Oh well. I spend so much time blogging about out-of-Kyoto excursions that I decided its time to document some day-to-day life as well…and it just so happens that weekends are much more interesting (to me) than weekdays. Or maybe they’re just more worth remembering. In any case, its great fun to be able to roam around outside with a cold beer in your hand – something you definitely can’t do in the US – and run into tons of random friends along the way. I mean, could you imagine going out in LA and running into even one, let alone FOURTEEN people you know in a single evening? I just hope that when I look back on this post 10 years down the line I’ll have managed to preserve a bit of that feeling.
Sunday: On Sunday I did exactly what I’ve been doing every Sunday for the past few weeks – went out to lay by the Kamo River and enjoy the nice weather before meeting up with a friend and strolling around Downtown until dark. Then I proceeded to Starbucks, where instead of studying ended up chatting with Mike, a seven-year veteran of Kyoto (and practically a landmark of the place) and Chris, a friend from Switzerland who’s been here on vacation for the last two months (curse those Europeans and their incredibly long vacations!)
Which reminds me. During our conversation, I pulled out my Nikon D40 to compare it with his Canon Rebel for size. And upon switching it on, learned that its, um, circuitry had, uh, broke. This was most troubling, seeing as my smaller Canon Powershot SD400 had mysteriously died just one week earlier, leaving me with neither a “nightlife” camera nor a “quality” camera. I’ve since sent the D40 back for repair, but don’t expect many new pictures for the next couple of weeks 😥
Monday: On Monday I did exactly what I’ve been doing every Monday for the past few months – worked until around 7:30, headed to the gym with Kitti, showered, and rode my bike home. Except this time I made a quick stop for some milk at QQ, the 99 yen store just two blocks from my apartment. I was immediately approached by two foreigners asking if I spoke English. Apparently the couple had been searching for a hostel somewhere in the immediate area – and since I’m always interested in improving my familiarity with Kyoto’s offerings, I told them I’d be happy to help them out. I was shocked to find that the hostel is literally three blocks from my apartment, right on Marutamachi doori where I ride my bike every single morning on the way to work! How I never noticed it I simply do not know. But hopefully it’ll come in handy one of these days.
During our conversation I mentioned that my 25th birthday was just an hour and a half away, so they told me I had no choice but to come out with them for a drink. I tried to turn them down, but they just wouldn’t take no for an answer. How unfortunate! So I spent the first couple hours of Age Twenty-Five sipping beers and eating Salmon Salad with two perfect strangers at Ippai2, the 181 yen draft beer-serving izayaka from back in the days as a student at Ritsumeikan. Because it also just happens to be 3 blocks from my house. Ya gotta love the convenience of Kyoto.
Tuesday: At 7:20pm, ten minutes before I was to finish work, a friend from Gold’s Gym emailed me to say that some previous plans had spontaneously been canceled and she’d be free to go out and celebrate my birthday. Damn, this week is starting to get bad. But trying to stay awake the next day at work was worse. 😛
Wednesday: Work, nap, work, sleep, and…
…Relocate my workstation to one of only TWO window seats in the whole office!! Ever since I started my job I’ve had a great deal of difficulty adapting to the lack of fresh air and sunlight – regardless of the temperature outside, the supervisors seem to insist on keeping all of the windows closed and the shades drawn. I’ve made a great effort to change this since my arrival, but due to my seat’s location in the middle of the room, even with the windows cracked opened I still feel the suffocation of a day’s worth of computer-heated recirculated air. I’m convinced that this recycled air has a lot to do with why I’ve now been sick EIGHT times since arriving in Japan eight months ago. Like how people often get sick on airplanes. But after witnessing attempt after attempt on my part to remain even slightly connected with the natural outside world, they decided to grant me a new haven. I’m still not allowed to open the window, but even the sunlight that filters in through the tinted glass fills my eyes and keeps me about 500% more awake and alert than I’d ever been at this particular office. Victory is mine! 🙂
Thursday: An average weekday: Work, Jog around Nijo Castle, Work, Gym, an hour or so of Slingbox, Sleep.
Friday: Work, followed by an All-You-Can-Drink party with a few coworkers in honor of Kitti’s birthday (he’s exactly two days younger than me). Followed by Karaoke at Shidax, one of Kyoto’s Karaoke mega-centers, with Patrik, Reagan, Nakanishi, and a few others. And yes, I actually sang! 😛
Saturday: Fireworks with Nakanishi and a bunch of his friends at The Delta, a fork in the Kamogawa about 10 minutes North of Sanjo, followed by beers at the usual Sanjo spot, running into Zane (a previous employee at Ritsumeikan) and Mike (one of the two guys from Doshisha I’d run into on the previous week – different from Starbucks Mike). Followed by Club World with Patrik and Reagan until 8am. Followed by breakfast at Wendy’s. As tradition dictates.
Man, this week has not been very good for my liver, has it?**