Friday, 25 December 2009

Merry Big Ones

Well, a tad late, but I figured I'd treat you all to a nice Christmas gift in the form of another lovely blog entry. I hope you all had an awesome Crimbo, filled with many Big Ones, and that you'll be getting ready to see in the "one-ders" in style come December 31st.

As you no doubt have gathered based on my last post, this Christmas was most definitely not to be like any other. There was no turkey (goose, duck, or any for of poultry) planned, no gifts under the tree (no tree for that matter), and no family with which to take it easy and be merry. In fact, the only indications that I have in my room that it was/is the Christmas season, are the two Christmas cards on my shelf, and the Christmas hat I got from my secret Santa. Nonetheless, it was a wholesome Christmas which I spent with my girlfriend (and her family), and one that I shall not forget. Italian and Japanese Christmas dinner was more than satisfying, and I was very grateful to have such considerate people to spend Christmas with.

Anyway, I'm sure you're all anxious to know what the crack was with Shanghai.

Shanghai is a pretty rad place. It was however, not what I expected. I'm not really sure what it was that I had expected, but suffice to say, I was wrong.

The first thing I noticed upon my arrival was the haze which covered the city. It was as if there was a permanent fog in the distance. I had heard about the effects of pollution on the cities in China, but this was the first time I had seen it for real.

We arrived at Pudong International Airport about 9pm local time, but it was then an hour coach ride to our hotel and by the time we arrived, we were to shattered to do much and so went practically straight to sleep. The following day we had a city tour, and were therefore woken at 7am. The hotel breakfast consisted of toast, jam, noodles, fried rice, sweet an sour sauce, Chinese dumplings and various other foods that I would not have classed as "breakfast cuisine".

The tour was a mixture of cultural sites and advertising. By which I mean we toured zen gardens, and latex mattress show rooms. Nonetheless, it was an exciting experience. One of the areas we visited had somewhat of a local market street where thy sold all manner of foods, including small roasted birds on sticks. Lunch and dinner was much the same as breakfast, minus the toast and jam, but it filled a hole, and was interesting to try the various dishes which were laid out on our table. I would like to point out here that, contrary to what I had been told by certain friends, Chinese food in China IS similar to the stuff we get at home. The flavour is more "authentic", but it still seems to be the shiny, greasy food you can buy at the local Chinese place in England.

The second day was our "free day", and we got up early to go to a clothes market Naoko had read about on the internet. It was basically 5 massive multi-floor buildings, each housing a variety of stalls and "shops" (much like suppa-shoppa in Kings Heath, but a lot less organized and a lot noisier) which sold a multitude of knock-off goods, and tack. Some of the "finer" establishments sported shop names such as "Armarini", and "Dainholl", and sold things that appeared to be of passable quality.

We then got a taxi to the other side of town, which was almost the exact opposite of the clothes market. The shops were all designer (Gucci, Rolex, Omega, Maserati), and it was a much cleaner and well kept area of the city. I hadn't expected to see such a place in Shnaghai. The architecture was European, and the road and city layout only added to this. We even stumbled upon a Marks and Spencer, complete with food floor and all.

Just before dusk, having walked from the expensive posh area to the "normal" Shanghai, we got lost and ended up wondering down another market street. This time it was a food market held in front of people's houses, and it was fascinating to see the different kinds of fish and meat on sale (including dog). They also hug a lot of the fish on washing lines, right next to the clothes that were drying.

The last major thing we did on our free day was to go and see the view from the highest observation platform in the world. Visitors are allowed to travel up to the 100th floor (474 metres), and the view is pretty incredible, despite the high level of pollution/haze.

Our flight was a 10am the following morning (Chrsitmas day), and so we didn't really get a chance to do much else, but all in all, it was pretty cool. One of the things I noticed though, is that China is by no means as cheap as I thought it would have been. Most of the stuff you buy (apart from food), whether made in China or not, is of a similar price to that in Japan/UK, and for that reason, I wasn't able to go on a mad shopping spree as I had hoped.

Something else i noticed as I walked down the street, is that I often heard people hucking up lots of phlegm, before planting a fat glob right in the middle of the pavement. Nothing wrong with getting rid of the phlegm, but a little decorum if you please.

All in all though, Big Ones, as you can no doubt tell.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year guys and gals.

Friday, 18 December 2009

Winter Woes

Well, it has certainly been a long time coming, but I shall finally allow for another glimpse into my life out here in Japan. The past month and a half of not blogging has been filled with various events, some good, some bad, and some... well, pretty ordinary.

First things first, I have decided and confirmed (by handing in an official notice), that I am definitely moving our of this dorm come the end of February. The decision came about based on a number of factors, and it is a choice I am yet to regret (although saying that, I am still currently in the dorm).

- A lot of the friends I have made in this dorm are leaving/moving out come the end of February. This is either because they too, have grown sick of being treated like a child, or it is because their year abroad time has finally come to an end.
- The "Ryoucho" (Dorm boss) and the rules he imposes are beyond a joke. I appreciate that they are not HIS rules (they are the rules laid out by the company that owns the dorm), but his strict enforcement of the rules just ruins the whole "living" experience. Not being allowed to go to the rooms of the opposite sex, and not being allowed to stay in the common area after half 11, forces us to either go out, or to just go back to our own rooms. We went to another dorm for Rikkyo students yesterday for a party (something we could NEVER do here). The Ryocho there actually came up to the room, bringing some alcohol and snacks and joined in with the party!
- Naoko has practically given up coming here any more, due to the fact that it's becoming increasingly hard to sneak her in. My friend here managed to sneak his girlfriend in, and was called down to the Ryosho's office at midnight to be told that she had to leave, despite the last trains having already gone, meaning she wouldn't be able to get home. He ended up arguing, and finally convinced him to let her stay until the next morning. (If you're wondering how Ryocho knew she was here, there are camera's all over this place).

Rant over, I'll be moving to an apartment with a Belgian guy, and hopefully there we will be able to have whoever we want over, whenever we want. It also gives us the opportunity to provide temporary accommodation to any friends who happen to be visiting...

With Christmas only 6 days away, I am afraid to have to disappoint you all as I will not be honouring you with my presence. I chose not to split my year abroad in two by going home for Christmas. That said, I am somewhat regretting the decision, as it doesn't feel very Christmassy here. The streets are all decorated, and the shopkeepers wear Christmas hats, but there is a lack of that Christmas rush that you always feel around mid-December. Japan, being a non-Christian nation, treats Christmas very differently to England. New Years Day is more like the Christmas day I am used to, as Japanese people get together with their families to see in the new year. The 25th on the other hand is supposed to be a "couples" day, much like Valentines day, which they also celebrate here. The exchange students at the dorm have organised a mini Christmas dinner for this Sunday, but with the lack of an actual oven, there's no chance for turkey or any of the normal roasted delights. (Japanese cooking doesn't tend to require an oven, and so most houses don't have one!). Even so, it's an interesting experience, and while I long for mince pies, roast turkey and all the trimmings, I find the differences fascinating.

(It's small, but I've never heard of turkey and paella for Christmas dinner...)

With the lack of any concrete Christmas spirit here, I feel less guilty about going away just before the 25th. SO, leaving on Tuesday, Naoko and I are going to Shanghai for 4 days getting back on Christmas day itself. I've been told mixed things about Shanghai, but am looking forward to in nonetheless. It's supposed to be a lot cheaper than Japan, and will provide a good opportunity to buy some cheap goods, and experience a different Asian nation.

In other news, I had a bash at the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (level 2) a couple of weeks ago. It's an internationally held exam that certifies your Japanese ability. There are (currently) 4 levels, 1 being the hardest. Suffice to say, I'm pretty sure I failed, as it was bloody solid. It doesn't matter though, as I planned to use that as a practice, and take it again in June next year (when it's held again).

Well, I hope that's enough of an update to keep people happy for a while, and I wish you all a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

I'll leave you with a photo of the effects of an all night clubbing session:

Oh, and one last thing. RAGE for NUMBER 1! I bought my copy.

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Time is of the Essence

A new entry is on the way, I promise. Things have just been pretty hectic around here at the moment, and I haven't really had time to sit down and write a nice long tale of all my goings on. (Well, I have had time, but have filled it with other mindless activities which seem to whittle away the time.)

Well, talk to you soon.