Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Rocking Tiger

Yes, yes...I realize there has been a delay. And you'll have to wait a little longer. I am a bit frazzled right now. First there was that 8 day work week from hell and then immediately afterwards I got sick which meant I was pretty much going to bed as soon as I got home from work. Now I am trying to catch up on my workload that has seemed to have piled up out of nowhere.
There is a light at the end of the tunnel, however. I will be turning in my mock exam grades this friday and the week after next is midterms which means things get easier for me (no lessons to plan or homework to correct). Right now I am in super efficient mode which means things are getting done and I am feeling good. I am digging myself out of this hole of things that need to get done.
Soon I shall post the next part about Japan. You'll just have to be patient a little longer. There will be at least two more entries about Japan to look forward to. Also, I am going to try and particpate in the November Blog Writing Month, which means posting everyday. The entries probably won't be as long as they usually are, but you'll get a month of constant updates.
To hold you over I thought I would post this picture. Isabelle unfortunately had to go back to Germany to finish up school, but she asked me to babysit her electric guitar. And by babysit...I play it. Lucy brought it over and we rocked out. While she's with me, this guitar shall be known as "Rocking Tiger". That way the two guitars in my apartment will be "Rocking Tiger" and "Shadow Dragon".....yes, I am a dork.
That's it for now. I will update as soon as I can.
Much love!

Monday, 19 October 2009

Japan Part Two: Kyoto and Geisha Makeovers!

Alright...continuing with part two!

We woke up in out hostel in Nara. We took some quick showers and checked out. We went to a restaurant nearby for "breakfast" (I put it in quotes because we both had non-breakfasty sandwiches). Then we went to the train station and headed to Kyoto. We had a little trouble figuring out how to get out of the train station at the exit closest to our hostel (There were lots of trains and hostel in this trip). We ended up chatting for a bit with another traveler from Canada. She was looking for a hostel to stay at for the night, so she decided to join us and check and see if there was an empty room where we were staying. It was POURING rain, so we decided to split a taxi rather than walk. That was another culture China the taxis are cheap enough so I don't really bat an eye at the idea of taking one even for a short distant if I'm carrying something heavy or the weather is bad. In Japan, this was the only time we took a taxi.

Once we arrived D'Arcy and I checked in. Our very brief travel companion was not so lucky, however, since the hostel was full. She asked the desk clerk where she could find another, I gave her one of my disposable ponchos and we said goodbye. Again we had to take our shoes off at the door. It was around this point I realized why D'Arcy wears slip on shoes. I got really tired of tying and untying my shoes. For this one, our room was on the 4th floor, which made dragging my suitcase up the stairs a LOT of fun. Ugh.

After checking in we went across the street to get some lunch. We got katsu pork, this kind of breaded and fried pork with a yummy sauce on top. It was delicious. It came with rice and this red miso soup.
Next was one of the things I was MOST looking forward to. The geisha makeovers! Technically we were being dressed up as "maiko" or geishas in training. We kind of lucked out that it was raining on the day we were planning on being inside. We hopped on a bus to head to the studio. Turns out we got on it heading the wrong way so we had to ride it for a long time. Oh well. It was a chance to check out the sites. Once we arrived we got a bit lost. We asked an obaasan (grandmother/old woman) for some help, which ended up getting us more lost. We eventually arrived though.

First we stripped down and put on the under robes and tabi socks (the ones with the big toe seperate)...boy did those feel weird. Then we were ushered into the makeup/wig/kimono room were we picked out our kimonos. At first I was drawn to one that was black and covered with flowers in all different colors, but D'Arcy suggested I get one that was blue and red. It did look more like the ones I think of when I think of a traditional kimono. D'Arcy also picked one that was blue, but with purple flowers.

Here you can see the room we were in. The kimonos are all lined up in the back.
We sat down in the makeup chairs and they put this weird hairnet thing on us. Then out came the makeup! The speed with which this woman worked amazed me. She started painting my neck with the white paint, brushing it on and then blending it all in. On the back of my neck she left a little of my bare skin without the paint which just made me think of Memoirs of a Geisha where the main character talks about that part of the makeup process.
Next she washed my face and put this pinkish reddish blush around my eyes and cheeks. Then covered my face with white paint. Again, the speed was ridiculous. One minute nothing, the next, Casper the Friendly Ghost was staring back at me. I just wish I could have had my glasses on ( know...good vision) so I could see the details of the whole process.

Here is D'Arcy post-white makeup but pre-everything else. Creepy, huh?
Next she went to the eyebrows. She started with a red pencil, drawing the shape in, and then switched to a black one. The eyes were the same, done first in red and then in black. I enjoy the sensation of someone else doing my makeup for me, so I kind of just half dozed while she was doing all this. I loved hearing D'Arcy commenting the whole while saying things like "Oh my god...that looks so cool" or "Weird! She's coloring your eyebrows red!". Last came the lipstick and mascara. And I was transformed! I wish I could have gotten more pictures of the process but it really happened so quickly. I would have taking more pictures of D'Arcy's but once I was done another woman came in and started dressing me in my kimono.

We were already wearing the white under robe. Next came this red skirt with white flowers. Next came this white fabric with flowers that they wrapped over my back and shoulders, which became the inside collar. Next came the kimono. Then they wrapped this wide red fabric around me from my chest to my hips. Then another layer of fabric, red with white flowers. Then came the black with gold (which I thought was a little weird since it didn't match at all) obi, complete with the giant back piece. And last was this weird ribbon like belt thing with a metal clasp in the front. Each layer got tighter and tighter. I could feel myself standing straighter and straighter. It felt a little like wearing a corset or Renaissance dress bodice (something I actually enjoy) except that instead of trying to create an hourglass figure, I was being turned into a tube. According to D'Arcy that's the look geishas try to curves.

Here you can see D'Arcy's whole outfit and all the different layers.
This is the only full body shot I have with me in it right now, so you can see the layers on my outfit. It's a bit blurry. Sorry. And yes...we are being Charlie's Angels.
The last piece was the wig. They tried to put one on me, but it didn't fit. Little known fact...I have a huge head. Side story: In the Medieval club back in college, we had to take our measurements so that if the costuming department ever had to make something for us, it was already on record. That included head size for hats and such. Out of all the people that had their head's measured, myself and I guy we called Panda were tied for the largest head in the whole club. Yeah.

ANYWAY. I was actually a little worried they wouldn't have one that would fit me, but the second one did the trick. Boy did that wig feel weird. It was heavy, for one thing, so I felt a little like falling over. It really was impressive though. The hair around the scalp was designed so that it was attached to a nearly invisible mesh piece. When you wear it, it looks like the hair is growing out of your head. As soon as I was all geisha-ed (or maiko-ed), I was rushed out of the room and down the hall to the photo studio.

The photographer guy had some music playing and spoke enough English to tell me how to pose. I posed holding this weird but interesting small fabric ball (called a temari?), with a fan, and with a big red parasol...not all at the same time of course. The worst was when he had me put on the big wooden sandal/shoes thing. They DID NOT FIT. Half of my foot was hanging off the back. He arranged it so my kimono was covering up the back of the shoe so it looked like they fit. I REALLY felt like I was going to fall over. While he was taking pictures he would say things like " this" and then would turn his own head the way he wanted. He kept telling me to smile more. I was aiming for the demure smile I always associate with geishas. Oh well. I was worried about letting my teeth show. I've gotten a few compliments in my life about the whiteness of my teeth but anyone's teeth would look yellow next to a white painted face and bright red lipstick. I then watched D'Arcy go through the same thing. After we took a few pictures with our own cameras and then got stripped down and washed the makeup off.
I was disappointed to find out that our printed pictures and the CD with all of the shots won't arrive until after a month goes by. We decided to send everything to D'Arcy (cuz it was cheaper and easier) and D'Arcy will send them to me when they arrive. I really can't wait. When it arrives I will be sure to update better geisha pictures.

We were both kind of wiped out after our makeovers. We headed back towards the hostel to rest for a bit, then got some dinner. After that we took a bus to Gion, the famous geisha district. We got a couple of beers and just walked up and down the streets. We chatted and people watched. I tried not to stare too much whenever I saw a woman in a kimono (unlike this incredible rude foreigner who followed a woman in a kimono with his video camera for a few blocks...ugh). We looked into the window of D'Arcy's favorite shop (which was sadly closed at the time), which makes jewelry and other things out of old kimonos. We walked for a while on a small path next to the canal. It was cool to just be in a place that had so much history and culture.
It was also on the streets of Gion that I experienced a "man" (man here rhymes with Han, as in Han Chinese or Han Solo). For those who know what baozi is, it is really similar. It's a steamed bready dumpling filled with a tasty filling. Niku man is a meat one, piza man is a pizza filling. And it's DELICIOUS. I think I had around 10 piza mans during my stay in Japan.

We realized it was getting late and we didn't feel like paying for a taxi. We took the last bus back to the hostel. We stayed up a bit longer watching silly videos on the iternet and chatting with the two women who were sharing the room with us. Then it was bed time.

We did more stuff in Kyoto the next day but this post is already WAY TOO LONG, so I'm going to lump it into the next post.

More soon!


Sunday, 18 October 2009

Japan Part One: Arrival and Nara

So I realized after an e-mail from my mother (and then further urging from Lysse) that I still hadn't talked about my trip to Japan yet. So here we go!

I made sure to have everything ready the night before, so the day I left was mostly waiting and cleaning my apartment. I asked the gate guard if he could help me to get a taxi to come to the apartment building (way at the back of campus) since it was POURING rain. I was worried at first that my attempt at communication had gone badly, but the guard showed up at the door with a taxi exactly when I asked. I bargained with the driver to take me all the way to the airport for less than the meter price because I didn't feel like switching over to the maglev. I had some noodles at the airport for dinner, then boarded my flight to Japan.

The customs paperwork was simple and the flight was only slightly more than two hours. We still got a meal, which was ok. I felt really fuzzy brained when I got off the plane. Whenever anyone spoke to me, I thought it was Japanese, even if they were speaking English. I think I am so used to the Chinese accent that the Japanese accent was just bizarre for me for the first day or so. The poor customs guy had to ask me the same simple question three times before it sunk into my thick skull and I could answer. I got my luggage, exited the gate and saw D'Arcy. YAY! We talked for the whole train ride from the aiport to the center of the city, then while walking from the train station to the hostel and then for another few hours at the hostel. We had about 6 months of news to catch up on. :-)

The next morning we packed up and headed to the train station. We took a 2 and half hour bus ride to Kyoto and then a train to Nara. When we checked into the Nara hostel I had one of my first culture shocks. I knew about the Japanese custom of taking off your shoes at the door, but I didn't think we'd have to do it at the hostel door. D'Arcy just laughed at me when I asked if it was safe for us to leave our shoes at the door. "Won't someone steal them?" I kept asking. "This is Japan." she kept saying. I also didn't know that there would be shoes just for the toilet. They even said "Toilet Shoes" on them. And the door to our room in the hostel didn't lock! Apparently Japan is either a lot safer or more trusting (or both) than either America or China.

We took a bus to the deer shrine and big buddha in Nara. There were deer EVERYWHERE. They just wander around. They aren't scared of people (since the people there feed them) so they come right up and sniff you and you can pet them!
We walked through, taking pictures and petting the deer, until we reached the temple with the big carved wooden Buddha
Entering the temple I showed D'Arcy what a nerd I was. Before coming I did a bunch of reading on line about Japan (language, culture, customs, etc) and read somewhere that before entering a temple the correct procedure was to wash your left hand, wash your right hand, fill your left hand with water to wash out your mouth and then wash your left hand again. Yeah...the whole time in Japan I acted like I was going to be tested afterward.

Here's the water and ladles you can use to wash your hands.

There they had something called "ema", these small wooden planks that your write a wish on and hang it up in the temple so it comes true. We wished for health and happiness for our friends and family and that our friend Tom (who was supposed to come but wasn't able to at the last minute) could come see Japan someday.

I found out that my Chinese credit card was accepted at the temple gift shop so I got a few small things for some friends and coworkers. After that I got some deer cookies so we could feed the deer. That was INTENSE. As soon as we had food for them we got REALLY popular. I got bitten on the butt and then on the thigh hard enough to leave a bruise. OUCH!

D'Arcy is being mobbed here...
We got "soft cream" (soft serve ice cream); mine was green tea and vanilla mixed and was quite tasty.We met up with D'Arcy's friend Masako for dinner. I chose a "mother and child" rice dish, which means chicken and egg. It was pretty good. I had a weird moment of shock eating it because I think I assumed it was going to taste a certain way from looking at it (probably because it looked like a similar Chinese dish) but it tasted completely different from what I expected. Once I got over that, I enjoyed it.

Masako and I at dinner.
We went to Mr. Donut afterward for dessert and coffee (since I was exhausted). We walked and ended up at this nice pond. We sat and hummed for turtles (long story, but some of my blog readers will understand). We talked about ghosts, which was a little freaky to talk about in the dark. Masako believes in ghosts 100% and told us of some of the ones she has seen. I'll believe in ghosts the second I see one and not a minute sooner, but the conversation gave me goosebumps.

We walked towards the train station but were sidetracked by an arcade. There is something called "purikura" which is really popular. It's basically a really intense photo booth. You choose different frames and backgrounds and such and then afterward you edit the pictures by drawing, writing and putting clip art and special effects on them. Then the pictures are printed as stickers that you can put on your phones/notebooks/whatever and share with your friends. I only ended up doing it twice in Japan. We also played a taiko drumming game. It's like Guitar Hero...except instead of a guitar your playing a taiko style drum. It was a lot of fun.
Then it was back to the hostel and to bed.

More soon!

Saturday, 10 October 2009


I am back safe and sound in Shanghai. My flight was delayed for seven hours, which made Thursday a stressful and not-fun day. Details later, I suppose.
I am back at school now and things are a bit busy right now. Did I mention that I have an EIGHT DAY WORKWEEK? As in Friday to Friday? Yeah. It sucks. Anyway, I will hopefully have the time to post and tell the whole story of Japan later. For now I just wanted to say I survived the TYPHOOON.
Hopefully this silly picture will hold you all over (and hopefully peak your interest!) until I can write my real blog entries about the trip.
Much love!

Wednesday, 7 October 2009


Tonight is my last night in Japan.

I am staying at a hostel in Nagoya so I can make my flight in the morning.

Apparently there is a typhoon coming in (bad enough so that the students at D'Arcy's school don't have class tomorrow) and I am worried about my flight being delayed or canceled. Blech.

Here's hoping I will be back in Shanghai before noon tomorrow, safe and sound.

Then I can tell you all about my trip!

Much love,

Friday, 2 October 2009

I`ve Arrived!

In Japan.
Been on trains a lot.
Pet some deer.
Saw a giant buddha.
Going to Kyoto today.
Much love,