Dr John Hawkins
Welcome to my bit of the Maison de Stuff,
home to a huge load of pictures,
and my daily blog.
My email address is as above - I've put it in an image in a vein attempt to reduce the amount of spam I get.
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Main Index (text only)
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Maison de Stuff
- Recent Entries:
- Christmas Day
South to North Wales
A Day in Abergavenny
London to Abergavenny
Back to the UK
Last Day at Work
Moving the Sofa
Start of the Last Week
The Day After
Day Before the Big Day
Doing My Own Thing
Out and About with Lorenzo
Back to My Former Self
- Christmas Day
- [Monday 25th December]
A very nice Christmas day spent surrounded by family at my Dad's house in North Wales. The morning was occupied with the usual phone calls to family members who weren't there, and then the obligatory present opening ceremony.
We had a light lunch as we were having the main meal of the day at dinner time and then went out for a bit of a walk in the afternoon to build up an appetite.
Dinner was of course the usual feast, the carnivores had goose, and I knocked up some baked mushrooms for myself which were jolly nice.
- Christmas Eve
- [Sunday 24th December]
Today is also Alex's birthday, so we went out for lunch to a nice little country house hotel called Bron Eifion. Very nice too.
After lunch we went for a walk on the beach, although the weather was a little bit unpleasant so it remained a fairly short walk.
Dad was out in the evening so I assumed the role of chef, and knocked up a quick lasagne for all "the young folk". It's been quite a while since I've been able to make one of these properly, and I have to say I rather enjoyed it.
- [Saturday 23rd December]
Had a day doing very little in North Wales, basically just stayed in all day and relaxed.
After a long search for the right sort of power adapter I managed to get the Mac Mini set up, and for the first time hooked it up to a proper monitor (in Japan I either used it with the TV or via VNC). The display looks really smart indeed, a joy to use.
Other than that not much to report really. I spent a lot of the day looking at various pictures - I showed the "official" wedding pictures to Dad and Vera (I'll hopefully be uploading some of these some time soon, so watch this space), and also looked through Alex's pictures from his stay in Russia earlier this year.
- South to North Wales
- [Friday 22nd December]
Yet again I woke at 4AM, but each day the amount of time it takes to get back to sleep again afterwards gets shorter and shorter. So hopefully by the end of the week I think I'll be more or less back to normal.
After a brief trip to Waitrose, then breakfast and a quick cup of coffee with Louise (my aunt), we set off for North Wales. The four hour trip from one corner of Wales to the other corner was very pleasant - at times there was thick fog and fabulous wintery landscapes, and at time we ascended above it for glorious views out over Welsh mountains. We just made one brief stop on route at Rhayader for the proverbial "bag of chips on the way home" (possibly a phrase only used my my family?), and we'd arrived at my Dad's house by just after 4.
Again, the evening was spent basically just sitting and relaxing. The rest of them had pheasant for dinner, and I knocked up a quick vegetarian dish of roasted asparagus and emmental which I then jealously guarded from the carnivores (why should I always have to eat a subset of what everyone else does?).
Oh and we tried my "home vatting". When we moved out of the flat in Tokyo I was faced with the dreadful task of possibly having to throw whisky away, because there was no time left to find a good home for it, and we couldn't carry any more. So at the least minute I came up with a controversial plan of pouring two bottles into one - a special edition Yamazaki and Hakushu. I hadn't actually tried the resulting vatted malt until tonight, and despite some initial scepticism, I have to say it wasn't actually all that bad.
- A Day in Abergavenny
- [Thursday 21st December]
Yet again I woke up at 4AM, it seems jetlag is going to be really hard to shake this time! Again though, I think I did actually manage to get back to sleep again after a while, so it wasn't all that bad.
Anyway, for the first time in what seems like ages we spent the whole day staying in one place, and without actually much to do. Yes - we could actually have a bit of a rest!
We went into the centre of Abergavenny with Vera towards the end of the morning to do a few odds and ends of shopping, and then when we got back to the house in the afternoon Chie and I set about wrapping up Christmas presents. With the exception of actually buying the presents this is the first Christmasy thing I've done so far this year and I have to say I quite enjoyed it. Well, to start with at least - towards the end it had becomea tad monotonous, but still...
I made toad in the hole for dinner, one of those dishes which would have been impossible to make in Japan in the absence of a proper oven and vegetarian sausages. I served it with new potatoes and brussel sprouts, and a port gravy I knocked together. Although I say so myself it was rather nice.
Dad arrived later on in the evening - he'd been working down in the South East of England, and was returning to North Wales via South Wales so he could take us up there the following day. Again it was really fantastic to be surrounded by family after having spent (what was for me) so long away from them all.
- London to Abergavenny
- [Wednesday 20th December]
Jetlag seems to have really got its teeth in this time - for the second time in a row I woke up at 4AM, but at least this time I did manage to get back to sleep, albeit after lying awake for a couple of hours.
We checked out of our hotel at 11 (having been rudely awoken by the cleaning lady at 9). We'd originally planned to make the most of the morning doing some more shopping etc before heading on to Wales in the afternoon, but in the end this got refined to basically having lunch before setting off.
We decided to go and visit Square Pie at Spitalfields Market for lunch. Whilst the pie was more or less as nice as I'd remembered it (I went for my old favourite of Wild Mushroom and Asparagus) we were struck again with another manifestation of reverse culture shock - the UK (I suppose London in particular) is just so expensive. I paid the princely sum of £6.50 for pie, mash and peas, served up in a cardboard box, and eaten outside with a plastic knife and fork. As Chie put it, in Japan people woudln't even consider paying that much for that kind of lunch.
Still, I don't want to put the nice people at Square Pie down, they do make very nice pies.
From there we headed over to Chancery Lane. We did a bit of browsing for jewelry first at Hatton Gardens, but in the end though nothing really caught Chie's eye, and so we gave up, and instead just went for a couple of nice malts instead. It was nice to be back in the relaxing atmosphere of the Whisky Society again. I just had two drams this time - an interesting Glen Scotia and a monstrous Laphroaig.
After our early afternoon buck-me-up we went on to Paddington and got tickets for the train to South Wales. Again a bit of the predictable malaise about being back in the UK set in here - I was reminded again of the depressing state of our public transport system.
Still, we got to Newport, and the train was actually more or less on time. Robin met us at the station and we drove from there through thick fog to Abergavenny where Vera was eagerly awaiting our arrival.
It's hard to put into words just how nice it is being at Vera and Robin's house in Abergavenny - and it's not just me, Chie loves being there too. We had a really nice dinner (vegetable Moussaka) and then just sat and relaxed for the remainder of the evening, feeling quite blissful.
Again, I realise now it was probably a mistake to spend any time in London so soon after returning to the UK - we should have just come here first to "acclimatise" before facing the big wide world.
- [Tuesday 19th December]
Jetlag was up to its old tricks - as absolutely standard I woke up around 4AM this morning. I made use of the time to write a few blog entries on the laptop, but didn't actually get a chance to upload them to the web yet.
My brother gave us a lift to the station around 9:30, and from there we got a train into London.
The first port of call was to go and visit my new office - although I won't be starting the new job until January 8th, the recruiter suggested it might be a good idea to come and take a look round before that to meet the team etc. The office was a big, airy open plan type affair, but other than that it was hard to get much of an idea of what the new job was going to be like. We had lunch at the cafeteria there (which is all completely free!) and that was quite nice at least. It was also quite cool that they were happy for me to bring Chie along as well, so she could also enjoy a free lunch.
After leaving the office we set about finding ourselves a hotel, and I took over this task in the knowledge that Chie would get us into some nasty fleapit somewhere. So I went towards the other extreme, and booked us a room at the recently refurbished Sloane Square Hotel. We immediately went and checked in so we could drop off our luggage, and after a bit of a rest we headed out for an afternoon of shopping.
We visited the usual places - Harvey Nich's first as it was fairly close by, and then given that I wanted to buy some foody type Christmas presents we headed from there over to Fortnum and Mason's. In the latter we saw Rowan Atkinson doing his Christmas shopping, I would very much have liked to go and say hello, but I'm sure this was the last thing he would have wanted. Sadly he didn't get up to any Mr. Bean antics in there, like the time where he wanted to buy a frying pan, and got a big fish out of his pocket to measure.
Once we'd got ourselves fairly laden up with shopping we went back to the hotel again to drop it off.
For dinner we wanted to eat something that we wouldn't have been able to get in Japan - so settled on Lebanese food. We'd been told there was a "Lebanese Restaurant" near the hotel, but it turned out to be more of a kebab shop. Instead we headed over somewhat wearily to Edgeware Road. By this time we were getting pretty tired and it seemed like a hell of a trek. I found us a reasonable looking place and we had an assortment of mezze (including of course the all important halloumi). I think we were both feeling pretty tired and a bit out of sorts by this point though, and so it wasn't a particularly fabulous night out.
Upon returning back to our hotel we had a bottle of rosé champagne which we'd picked up in F&M earlier and had very little difficulty getting to sleep.
It had felt kind of weird being back in London today, and not in an entirely good way. Spending time with my family back in the UK immediately feels comfortable and relaxing, but it seems being out and about in public actually induced something akin to culture shock. London in particular can be a bit overwhelming and I wonder now in retrospect if it was such a good idea to go there today. Oh well.
- Back to the UK
- [Monday 18th December]
Our flight to London was scheduled for midday, and as we'd stayed in an airport hotel it meant we had a fairly leisurely start to the morning. We check out of our hotel just after 9, got on the little shuttle bus to the aiport, and were all checked in and past security/immigration/etc by about 10:30. This was nice as it meant we could spend a while waiting in the NorthWest lounge (good old gold card).
We flew with Virgin this time, and I think on balance they're probably my favourite carrier for going between Japan and Europe. The flight was a bit late leaving Tokyo but somehow they managed to make the time up en route (how do they do that?). I watched a few films and TV shows during the flight, the highligh for me was a show called "That Mitchell and Webb Look", which I hadn't heard of before. It's those two guys from Peep Show, which I'd also found oddly rather entertaining.
We landed in Heathrow just before 4, and no great delays were encounterd during immigration / baggage reclaim / customs, so we were able to get out of the airport relatively quickly (although we did have to wait quite a while because of a broken elevator). So we got on a coach to Woking, and from there a taxi to my brother's house in Guildford.
This worked out brilliantly, as my Mum was stopping off there en route to France. So for a couple of hours at least we had a big family gathering - me, Chie, Mum, Keith, Adrian, Liz, William, Katie and Daniel. Much better to arrive back in your homeland to this sort of thing rather than an impersonal hotel.
- Moving Out
- [Sunday 17th December]
There really were no excuses by today - the estate agent was coming at 4 in the afternoon to take the keys, and so the flat had to be basically empty by that time, save for the bags we'd be carrying out with us.
I was reminded just how much bloody hard work it is to pack up a flat, even a relatively small one like we had. There was so much junk to throw out, I think I made at least ten trips to the recycling room in our block of apartments, which is something of a pain as it involves several flights of stairs.
Similar to the previous day there was a stream of delivery men, and people from the gas company, phone company etc etc. It felt like the door bell rang almost constantly.
One of the disappointments of the moving process was that we hadn't been able to find a good home for my half whisky barrel and the two olive trees which had been out on our balcony. We couldn't bear to just throw them out, so instead we "donated" them to the apartment block. There's a sort of communal area on the ground floor with a bit of a garden in, and we thought our additions fitted in very well indeed. Not sure if the rest of the residents will agree, but then it's only a very short trip from there to the recycling room, so they at least have the option this way.
Finally the guy from the estate agent came just before 4, and save for a last few odds and ends we were basically all done by that time. Considering the dreadful state the place had been in when we woke up this morning, I felt this was something of an achievement. The guy made a quick initial assesment of the state the place was in and it sounds like the chances are we'll get the bulk of our deposit back, minus some (relatively) small cleaning costs. So I think we did rather well in the end.
So by the end the two of us were left standing outside our aparment block, with a collection of luggage, waiting for a taxi to take us to Shinjuku. Chie had one last box to send off, which for some reason needed to be sent from the Post Office rather than the by the very handy door-to-door delivery people, so we got the taxi to drop us off at the main Post Office in Shinjuku, which apparently is open 24 hours a day. After that we then lugged our bags to the station, and I persuaded Chie (somewhat against her will) that we should put them all in coin lockers so we could have an hour or two of freedom before getting our train to the airport.
For dinner we settled for Pronto - the vaguely Italian café bar place in Shinjuku station, and as we sat there drinking from those strange brnoze cups and nibbling on caperberries for the first time this weekend I actually felt relaxed, which was quite a wonderful sensation. After that we popped to the Keio department store, and got some Christmas presents for my niece and nephews.
We got on the last Narita Express train of the day at about 7:45 (not sure how you get to the airport if you need to go any later than that), and again I was filled with a sense of being wonderfully relaxed. It had been a really busy week, but now the "to do" list was all ticked off. Very satisfying.
We stayed in a hotel near the airport, which involved a short bus ride after the train arrived. As one final treat to round off the week, a CD of our official wedding photographs was waiting for us at the hotel (we thought it might not get there in time if we'd arranged for it to be sent to the flat), and so just before going to bed Chie and I looked through the pictures. They're a lot more comprehensive (and of course a lot better) than the few I'd got with my own camera, and so it was really great to see them. I think the deal we did with the photographer means we completely own the rights to the images, so it should be OK to upload some of these to the site at some point.
- Packing Up
- [Saturday 16th December]
So now the ardurous and unenviable task of packing up and moving out the flat was upon us. We basically just had two days to get it all done in. Today consisted mainly of a stream of assorted delivery people and so on coming in to pick up various boxes and things. Most of the larger domestic appliances and items of furniture had been earmarked to send to various friends which all worked out rather well.
Looking back we probably didn't take things all that seriously today - I was pretty knackered after my last week at work, and other than shipping out the various things we'd arranged to have collected today we didn't really do any serious packing or tidying up.
On Monday of this week we had planned to go and meet up with Watanabe-san for a last goodbye, but we'd had to cancel, so I'd promised we would pop in tonight instead. So in the evening we pretty much just said "sod it!" to the moving/packing activities, and went off to Ikebukuro. I'd hoped we might also get chance for one last meal at Rohlan, but to my disappointment it appears they're closed on Saturdays. So instead we went to the tempura place which we'd been to the first time we came to Ikebukuro, and there was a nice kind of symmetry to this.
So after the tempura we popped in to Quercus to see Watanabe-san for a while. Given that the spectre of packing was still looming, we didn't stay all that long, but long enough to enjoy one last Ichiro's Malt (from Chichibu distillery - pretty much impossible to find outside of Japan) and a 30 year old Lagavulin.
It was quite sad to walk out of the door to that bar which had become something of a home-from-home. Again, I'm sure I'll be back at some point, and hopefully we might get a chance to see Watanabe-san in the UK next spring. Still though, there's nowhere quite like this place in the UK, and this will be one of the chief things I'll miss about Japan.
When we got back home Chie made an admirable effort to stay up for a while and do some packing. I on the other hand was just plain knackered and rather selfishly left her to it whilst I dozed off.
- Last Day at Work
- [Friday 15th December]
So at last the day had come - my last day in the office, my final day working for that well known software company. Amongst one final flurry of handover meetings I did all the usual last-day-at-the-office type things, like clearing up my desk and handing in ID cards, and going round saying goodbye to people.
I was in a highly productive meeting right up to 5:30, and at 6 just before I left there was a final gathering of my colleagues to say goodbye, again a short speech ensued and so on.
The previous evening's soubetsukai had been a slightly informal affair - organised by one of the guys on the team I don't really know all that well, and with everyone on the team invited. Tonight though I wanted to have a bit more of a low key affair - a chance to say goodbye to just the people I regularly spent time with outside the office. Those people who I'd refer to as "my friend from work" rather than just saying colleague.
For a change from the usual work night out venues - Chofu (area where the office is) or Shinjuku - I decided to invite the chaps to the area around where I live. So after a very quick first drink in Chofu, we got on a train to Daitabashi - the station nearest to our apartment. There's a small street of shops and restaurants there called "Okinawa town", including one particular restaurant I'd been to a few times before. So there we had our first few drinks and nibbles, including of course a couple of Orion beers and a bottle of Awamori (a traditional Okinawan spirit).
From there we headed in the direction of my other nearby station - Sasazuka.
We started off there in a Masako-san's bar (I can never quite remember the name of the bar itself), which also served as a good opportunity to say goodbye to Masako-san, who I'd had a number of chats with over the past few months.
Fellow Englishman Tim was still over from US HQ, and it was great to have him join us on my final leaving do. I've not often used the word ex-pat to describe myself during my time living in Japan, but it seems once I find myself in the company of someone from the same country, a certain amount of the stereotype behaviour that goes along with that epiphet begins to come out. So of course there had been plenty of drinking over the past week, but in addition we'd also explored that strange phenomenon that ex-pats seem to swear a lot more. Possibly this is a combination of voicing the daily trials and tribulations of living abroad, along with the sense of comfort it brings, not to mention the wonderful liberty that comes from knowing nobody around you understands what you're saying.
Let us just say that had the conversation in the bar tonight been televised, the profanity buzzer would have been worn out.
As Tanaka-san lives a fair distance from the centre of Tokyo (more like Yokohama) and Tim had a plane to catch the next day, they both decided to head off in time for the last train (some time between 11 and midnight). So we said our goodbyes then. I'm really determined I'll see both of these fine chaps again, so I tried not to get too upset over the whole thing.
A small group of us - me, David and Shig - were not yet ready to call it a night, so we headed to an izakaya opposite Masako-san's bar (again, the name escapes me). Later on David's wife Megumi-san also joined us, as it was more or less on the way back from her night out.
I'd particularly wanted to go to this izakaya because of the tomato tempura I'd had on a previous visit. Yes, it sounds revolting but I'd found it oddly compelling. Initially when I ordered it the waiter told me it wasn't available any more. Shig, however, had a chat with the guy a bit later on and was very insistent indeed. Sure enough a few minutes later the tomato tempura arrived, and there was much rejoicing.
I don't really recall all the conversation that took place during that evening, I guess it was largely a postmortem of the time we'd spent working together, the highs and the lows etc. We stayed at this place right up until it closed basically - some time around 3:30AM I think. So we left, and a final round of goodbyes ensued - again these are great people and I sincerely hope I will see again in the future, so I tried not to get too emotional over the whole thing.
Then I trotted off home. It was a strange feeling on that short and solitary walk back to the apartment. A sort of "Well, that's it then" feeling which is hard to put into any other words. My career in Japan had, for now at least, officially come to an end, and all that remained was to pack up the flat and head off back to Blighty.
- [Thursday 14th December]
Tonight was the night for my soubestsukai - the "official" leaving party with the people I (used to) work with. This was held at a very Japanese style restaurant by the station nearest to the office. It had been a long running theme that on these work nights out we'd go somewhere very Japanese which had no real concept of vegetarian food, and I was strangely reassured that tonight was not an exception. In fairness they did seem to get their act together about half way through the meal, perhaps the chefs changed shifts or something, and the food went from the "no large identifiable chunks of flesh" school of vegetarian cookery, to something I would actually be prepared to eat with a fairly clear conscience.
Naturally there was the usual giving of presents etc, and I was also asked to make a speech, which I realised I was totally unprepared for. Given that I'd basically not had all that great a time working at that office, it was somewhat hard to come up with a spontaneous monologue like this, but I think I more or less struggled through.
The soubetsukai finished fairly early - around 8:30, after which most of my colleagues went home. However a few did stay on for a bit longer. Initially we went to a café/bar called "Buns", in which fellow Englishman Tim became quite animated about the fact that their default beer was Budweiser, which we didn't realise until we'd ordered it. He actually confiscated the glasses from us, and wouldn't let us drink any.
Then we rounded off the evening with one last bout of karaoke - "for old time's sake". I found Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive" to be highly apt for the situation, especially the line "I should have changed that stupid lock", which I rather skilfully (or so I thought) rendered as:
I'm glad I changed my !%$£^ job.
Probably I was the only person present who really appreciated this improvised piece of lryical inspiration though.
- Moving the Sofa
- [Wednesday 13th December]
Tonight a gap was made in the final-week-leaving-party-marathon in order to move our sofa. Despite the fact we'd be handing over the keys on this coming Sunday, this was in fact the first serious bit of moving effort that we had done. Chie's little sister had offered to take the item in question off our hands for us, so with the help of a bit of Yuka's friend Tanaka-kun (not to be confused with my friend Tanaka-san), we took it to Yuka's apartment, about a 10 or 15 minute drive away from where we live.
I surprisingly found I was slightly reluctant to let go of the sofa, it had been a great aide to slobbing about in our flat, and I have to admit I'll miss it slightly. Anyway, as we've kept it in the family, there'sa good chance we might be able to go and visit it some day.
Once the moving business was out the way, the four of us went out for dinner at a nice little Italian place near where Yuka lives.
- [Tuesday 12th December]
My manager was over from the US for a very short trip, along with fellow Englishman Tim who was staying the whole week. So the daytime at work was the usual round of meetings, also with a big team lunch in the middle of the day.
As tonight was my boss's last night in Tokyo, and Tim was keen to see a more traditional side of Japan, we had decided a trip to Asakusa was in order.
Originally I'd planned a visit to the famous temple in Asakusa (Sensoji) followed by some Denki-Buran in Kamiya Bar, then a Super Dry at the bar at the top of the Asahi world HQ, and then finishing up with a meal at Kobayashi-san's (Tanaka-san's friend) restaurant.
The first part of the evening wasn't a huge success though, Sensoji seems to be almost deserted at nighttime, and though I'm suprised to hear myself say it, somehow it loses its charm without all the tourists and the shops and everything. After this another disappointment as it seems Kamiya Bar is closed on Tuesdays.
From then on though things went a bit more smoothly - the Asahi HQ bar was open as usual (although we were basically the only customers), and the golden turd produced the expected level of mirth among our guests.
After this we then headed on to Kobayashi-san's restaurant, which, incidentally, was recently featured on TV. It is in a district of Asakusa famous for having lots of Ryoutei - traditional (and very expensive) Japanese restaurants, complete with Geisha and everything. Kobayashi-san's restaurant, whilst not a full blown Ryoutei, is very traditional and does get the occasional passing Geisha as customers (I think they go there at the end of their shift or something).
Whilst there were no Geisha in the restaurant itself tonight (there were on my previous visit), I was pleased at least that my guests did see a few milling around outside - so another item checked on the foreign tourist's check list of traditional Japanese things.
Whilst the majority of our group headed home after leaving Kobayashi-san's restaurant, me, Tim and the boss decided instead to make one final stop off in Shinjuku. My boss has a favourite karaoke bar in Shinjuku, to which we've often been, and this was probably going to be the last time we'd go together. So we rattled off all the old standards - Piano Man, that song by the Proclaimers, and so on.
It turned into something of a late one for a school night, I think we left the bar around 3AM, and walked back to the hotel where Tim and my manager were staying. As the boss would be flying back the next morning, we said our goodbyes in the hotel lobby, and it was oddly a slightly emotional incident. For all the woes of this job, I'd actually got on really well with my manager, we'd had lots of long meandering chats about life, the universe and everything, and I was genuinely quite sad to see that come to an end.
I got a taxi back home from there, but unusually I didn't go through the usual routine of trying to practice my Japanese with the taxi driver. Maybe it was because I'd been picked up at a big international hotel, I don't know, but I'd just decided for once I wanted to pretend I could only speak English.
- Start of the Last Week
- [Monday 11th December]
So today I was back in the office, for my final week with my present employer - that well known software company. The day was fairly uneventful, as noted on yesterday's post a guy is over from HQ to do a series of handover meetings, and as it happens my manager was also over for a couple of days.
In the evening I'd originally planned to go out for a farewell drink with my friend Watanabe-san and his wife. We had to cancel it though as Chie seemed to still be rather ill with her stomach bug.
So instead I spent the night staying in looking after Chie. I also spent a bit of time on the computer - I went and installed GimpShop on the Mac Mini in order to make a mosaic for the page of wedding pictures (see here). The results weren't all that stunning, but I was quite impressed with the software, considering it is completely free and everything.
- [Sunday 10th December]
I'm going to miss Chie's Mum's miso soup. There is something quite sublime about it, not quite like any other. For a time last year I had sort of resisted the idea of Japanese breakfasts - the traditional rice and miso soup, perhaps with umeboshi (pickled plum) - preferring instead the Western standard of a bit of toast. Now though I find myself delighted at the opportunity to have a proper Japanese breakfast, this simple but delicious meal is a real highlight of staying with Chie's family.
Anyway, we said our goodbyes and got on a Shinkansen for Tokyo at 11:30. Chie slept for a large part of the journey, but unusually for me I sat and read a newspaper (The Japan Times - it's written in English) pretty much from cover to cover. One article that particularly caught my attention was one about Globish.
It's basically an informal categorisation for International English. It was interesting to me to read that actually sometimes two people who have English as a second language can communicate more effectively than between one ESL speaker and one native speaker. Initially this seemed counter-intuitive but since I started thinking about it I have observed a number of examples which support this theory, particularly at work. Native English speakers often don't have a good grasp on which words and phrases will be understood easily internationally, and which words are in fact just part of their own particular variant of English (for example British English). Recently I can think of a number of occasions when I've had to stop my American and British colleagues mid-sentence because they're using a word which will be quite meaningless to anyone from another country. Indeed, there are plenty of words which don't even cross the British/American language barrier.
Tanaka-san has often told me he finds my English very easy to understand - I had originally assumed this was because I was speaking British rather than American English, but now it occurs to me it is probably more to do with the fact that I've spent a lot of time with non-native English speakers over the past few years. I think without realising I've got into the habit of using clear, dialect free English when speaking to people from other countries. I'm already fluent in Globish and I don't even realise it.
Anyway, back to today - the Shinkansen arrived in Tokyo at around 3:30, and we headed back to the flat. Chie again went for a little nap - she seemed to have picked up a bit of a bug - whilst I busied myself away on the computer trying to sort out the first set of wedding pictures.
Tim, a fellow Englishman who works at the US office, was going to be in Tokyo for my final week at work to do some handover meetings. Perhaps the management thinking here relates back to my point about Globish - the required communication would be most effective with someone speaking the same dialect. Anyway, as he landed in Tokyo tonight I took it upon myself to form a small one man welcome committee, and we went out for okonomiyaki (of the Osaka variety this time) and a few beers in Shinjuku.
- The Day After
- [Saturday 9th December]
A number our friends had stayed on for today, so in a very low key way the wedding celebrations continued to rumble on. We got up at a fairly respectable time, and had breakfast with some of our other guests who had stayed at the same hotel. This morning after breakfast concept has been a feature of a few weddings I've been to and I rather like it.
After breakfast Chie took her friends out on a bit of a guided tour of Hiroshima whilst I popped back to her family's place to get changed and drop some things off. I was back in the city centre around midday, and headed over to the Gennbaku Dome (a famous building which partially survived the atomic bomb blast) where I met up with Tanaka-san. We didn't spend long there, but this brief moment in front of this important historic landmark seemed quite poignant somehow.
From there, we met up with Chie and her friends and went for lunch. Being in Hiroshima there was of course one very obvious choice - okonomiyaki. Hiroshima okonomiyaki are quite different to the other commen style in Japan (from Osaka). The Osaka ones are basically sort of pancakes, whereas the Hiroshima ones are somewhat more complex, involving several layers and including soba (noodles).
Tanaka-san was flying back to Tokyo in the afternoon, so after lunch we parted off from the rest of the group to go for a final quick chat over a coffee - a sort of debriefing session for the wedding I suppose. I was really grateful that Tanaka-san had been able to come - not just because of his excellent piano playing (which had also enabled me to do my song at the reception) but also because we'd had many long chats about life, the universe and everything over the last year or so and it was very reassuring to have somebody there who understood the inside of my head, if you know what I mean.
I met back up with Chie again a little later on in the afternoon, and the two of us wiled away an hour or two in another café, just sitting and watching the world go by, and talking about how nice the previous day had been. The plan is to have another ceremony when we're back in the UK, and I have to admit to occasionally waivering in that notion over the last few weeks given all the effort involved in organising this one. However, having now actually had the wedding, the opportunity to do it again is genuinely quite appealing.
The final, final wedding related celebration (albeit by now somewhat tenuous) was held in the evening - we went out for dinner with two of Chie's friends who were still hanging on in Hiroshima, and one friend who hadn't been able to make it for the day itself, but had come the next day to see Chie. So the five of us went to an Italian restaurant in the centre of Hiroshima called Monte Tina (I'm transliterating from katakana there, so I may have spelt that wrong). Chie and I had been there a few times before, and the food was rather nice as always.
We had planned to have an early night tonight as we were obviously a bit tired following the big day yesterday, but the conversation and wine kept flowing at the restaurant, and in the end it was getting on for midnight by the time we got back to Chie's family's house.
- [Friday 8th December]
So today was the big day.
[Click here to read more...]
- Day Before the Big Day
- [Thursday 7th December]
Chie and I spent today going round Hiroshima doing final preparations for the wedding. Amongst other things we visited the cruise ship company to sort out the final schedule for the reception, and also the dress hire company to decide on the suit I'd be wearing for the reception.
A few of Chie's friends who'd come for the wedding arrived in Hiroshima this evening, so we met up with them. Whilst Chie was doing some preparations I apparently wasn't required for, I went for dinner with Dale, Erina and Kittichan. After dinner all the girls got together for a bit of a natter, so Dale and I took the opportunity to go off and have a bit of a boy's night out.
We went to Molly Mallone's - the Irish pub in the centre of Hiroshima, and there chewed the cud over a few beers. Whilst there we got talking to the people at the next table, and somehow it came out I was going to be getting married the next day. This prompted a very nice response - lots of "omedeto gozaimasu" (congratulations) and even a spontaneous round of applause when we finally left. Lovely.
- [Wednesday 6th December]
Spent the morning tidying up the flat a bit, then headed out around 2 to go and catch the Shinkansen (bullet train) from Tokyo station.
It's a four hour journey from Tokyo to Hiroshima, this time it seemed to pass rather quickly. This was largely thanks to my iPod - I had converted The Da Vinci Code into iPod viewable format (using the ever excellent Handbrake). I'm not sure I enjoyed the film that much, but it certainly passed the time well.
Another highlight of the trip was a bit of a glimpse of Mt. Fuji - although it was quite cloudy there was a narrow gap in the clouds through which I could see the majestic summit. As always I was transfixed. In the last few months I have developed the distinct impression that Fujisan has a personality, and I feel on some level we communicate. Today I determined I was getting a gentle nod of approval from the great mountain for the forthcoming wedding. Perhaps even a suggestion that he'd try and do something about the weather for me, despite gloomy looking forecasts.
Upon arriving in Hiroshima I met up with Chie and her parents in the city centre and we headed straight to an izakaya for dinner.
- [Tuesday 5th December]
Another day like the previous one, off work and by myself in Tokyo.
I'd had grand plans for all the things I could get done in these two days, but in the end I was overtaken by a wave of lethargy and so in the end nothing really materialised. Just spent some time in the afternoon tinkering with the blog engine basically.
In the evening I headed over to Ikebukuro, and having been to Rohlan recently decided instead to dine at Great India. The food was very nice as always, and I also had a bit of a conversation with the chef. He enquired where I was from, and upon telling him England, I was rather taken aback by his enthusiastic response:
"That's the best country in the world."
Maybe he always says this regardless of the response, but still it put a big smile on my face.
After dinner I headed over to Quercus for a chat with Watanabe-san and a few great Islays. Didn't stay all that long though, went home and had a nice early night, concious of the busy few days that lay ahead.
(Incidentally I wrote this entry using my mobile whilst on the Shinkansen, which hopefully excuses any mistakes).
- Doing My Own Thing
- [Monday 4th December]
Chie headed off to Hiroshima today, to spend the next few days doing the final preparations for the wedding. I'd booked the week off work, but had decided to stay on in Tokyo a bit longer, mainly so I could just relax and do my own thing for a couple of days.
It was a very uneventful day really - I didn't leave the apartment all day. I spent most of the day making minor improvements to the blog engine which, in retrospect, wasn't really a great use of my time.
That's it really.
- Busy Sunday
- [Sunday 3rd December]
There were several items on the TODO list for today:
1) Only a few days left until the wedding now (this coming Friday!) and so a haircut was very much a requirement. I went to the usual place, very close to our apartment (I've always been too lazy to look for anywhere else). I think it was my seventh time to get my hair cut there, it's always the same guy, and so we've sort of got to know each other a bit - in that slightly superficial way you do with people who cut your hair. I told him today that this would be my last visit as I was going back to the UK, given that it was a bit far to come from London for a haircut. He seemed to agree that this was reasonable. I'm not going to say it was a particularly sad occasion or anything, but, you know it is always a bit weird when you say goodbye to someone you know (even superficially) on the basis that, realistically, you'll probably never see them again.
2) That done, I headed over to TK's house near Yokohama to spend the afternoon there. The main reason was to practice the song that I've somewhat foolhardily decided to sing at the wedding. I know I'm never going to be any good at singing, but I think after a number of rehearsals we managed to get it to at least passable. TK of course does an excellent job on the piano, compensating for my vocal inadequacies. The other reason for the visit was to see TK's family - apparently his little boy had been asking when I was going to go and see them all again. Unlike the guy who cuts my hair, I am confident I'll see TK again after I return to the UK, and hopefully his family too.
3) After leaving Yokohama around 5ish, I headed back into Tokyo and over to Ikebukuro, where I met up with Chie and Lorenzo for a bit of an evening out. It was, of course, the absolutely standard course - dinner at Rohlan followed by a few choice malts at Quercus. Both places were excellent as ever!
- Out and About with Lorenzo
- [Saturday 2nd December]
Spent the daytime out and about with Lorenzo in Shinjuku. We had lunch at Al Dente, the usual spaghetti place, then wandered around for a bit, vaguely shopping. First off the standard Bic Camera (a chain of electrical goods stores here in Japan), then after that a few clothes shops. Oh and along the way we managed to fit in a cup of tea and a slice of cake, which was very civilised (the conversation we had at the time, however, wasn't).
Our tour of retail establishments eventually brought us to Zara - and - oops - it just so happens that this place is opposite an Irish pub. Apparently Lorenzo has had something of a craving for Guinness of late, and it was clearly the polite thing to do for me to assist him in satisfying that craving.
Chie joined us a bit later on (having gone to bed some time after 6AM, she'd naturally wanted to sleep in a bit), and the three of us went for dinner together. We decided on a kaiten sushi place which was nothing particularly out of the ordinary but fairly passable. Then after that we did a bit more shopping, and took a quick tour of the illuminations near the South exit of Shinjuku station, which were jolly nice. We rounded off the day out with some ice cream, and then as we were all a bit tired decided to call it a day around 8PM.
- Friday Night
- [Friday 1st December]
Well, December is here, I've finished my penultimate week in the office, just one week left to go before the wedding. Not that I've ever felt I needed any more of an excuse than it is a day of the week ending with a 'y', but tonight seemed like good timing on a number of fronts for a bit of a big night out.
So TK and I went out around Shinjuku, on what was effectively a sort of stag night. We went to a number of different bars, and had a very good time indeed.
As TK lives some distance from the centre of Tokyo, he had to leave relatively early to get the last train. So I think I was back home well before midnight - maybe around 11. To my surprise, when I got back to our flat it was full of people. Chie had invited some of her friends over for a nabe party. So it seemed the night was not over! I eventually fell asleep some time after 2, but I'm informed Chie's friends all stayed until 6AM or so - when the first train in the morning goes.
- Eating Out
- [Thursday 30th November]
The previous evening's plan to eat out was rescheduled for today, and we went to a little Italian restaurant nearby one of our nearest stations. We'd been passed it a few times before and it had always looked a bit posh from the outside. In actual fact it was more like Italian "home cooking" in style. Still, it was nice enough, albeit a bit pricey for what it was (probably the bottle of wine was chiefly responsible here).
On the way back home we decided as December was about to commence that it would be appropriate to buy an advent calendar.
- Back to My Former Self
- [Wednesday 29th November]
I think today I can finally say that I had made a full recovery. I went into the office and managed to eat a proper lunch (Chinese for a change).
In the evening I had wanted to celebrate my return to health by going out for a few drinks and a nice meal. However, Chie had gone to visit a spa with one of her friends in the daytime (what a hard time these housewives have), and didn't get back until quite late. So I just went for a rather lonely couple of beers by myself at the bar next to one of our two nearest stations, where I have got to know the woman behind the bar (Masako-san). That's it really.