Saturday, 3 September 2011

Japon y va

After a lovely evening with Stefan « Mr Stefan » Liberadzki, I met the future Japanterers at Heathrow at around 4 o’clock. They are and will remain:
Laurie (Fitz)
Matt (Fitz)
Dominik (Fitz)
Ina (Fitz)
Henry (St Anne’s)
Rob (St Anne’s)
Maddie (St Anne’s)
Sarah (St Anne’s)
David (St Anne’s)
I had been in email contact with all of these people prior to coming, of course. They are all charming adventurous people, though I reserve judgement for such time as I have known them for more than a few hours, or days, or weeks, or however long it’s been.

Despite the jet lag, and a weird, possibly connected, nauseous feeling I have, I shall endeavour to describe the journey to Japan, one not without its fraught moments.

Here we are, leaving ‘Eafrow:

I love jumbo jets. I love food. Give me food on a jumbo jet, and the scene is already set for something wonderful. Add into that nine hours of sleep and Grahame is, as they say in the Lords, content. Before I knew it, then, I was in Incheon Airport, Seoul.
The flight was relatively unremarkable, save that the further east we hurtled, the more Asian people’s behaviour became; I was sitting at the very very back of the plane, in the middle aisle next to the toilets, with an area of empty space between me and the exit door and the elderly Asian gentlemen commandeered this as their Tai Chi area. Lots of Koreans, clicking and crunching, until one of them decided to stretch his hamstring by putting his foot up on the exit door, much to the consternation of the air hostess, who promptly dismissed him and the rest of the calisthenics team. Bless ‘em.
Dinner was a dish that involved a lot of effort from the passenger: you had to add a huge wodge of rice to some dried veg, and then mix together a sauce with the pepper paste and sesame oil you were given, before mixing the lot in a separate bowl. This was served with seaweed soup. Mmmmmmmmmm[1].

Incheon, in Seoul, is a huge, convenient, attractive, if soulless airport. We tried to add some soul to Seoul by taking the free “Soul of Seoul” tour, organised solely by Seoul airport; but we were so-late for the “Soul of Seoul” tour that some ar-sehole would not give us the say so[ul] to do it. So instead I had coffee. In Seoul.

Here is Incheon:

Reading glasses for varying levels of blindness:

The food on the connecting flight, Incheon to Fukuoka, was a lovely Japanese rice dish, with prawns and the pickled ginger everyone loves. Given my tiredness, I too was something of a pickled ginger.

The cobwebs were soon shaken off however. A flight to Osaka that had been due to depart just before us had been cancelled because of a Typhoon ripping its way through Shikoku and central Japan. Our flight was not affected, except in its final stages. The wind was certainly something, so much so that, for ten minutes, I knew real terror for the first time in my life. As we broke through the cloud over Fukuoka, I had still not finished aforesaid rice dish. The air hostess, attempting to clear it away, was thrown backwards violently, as the plane dropped and lurched. The cabin lights went off, and the emergency lights came on. Many of you will know that I am not a confident flyer, but it’s normally during take-off that I cling painfully to the seat’s arm rests, and hope silently for the noises to subside. This time it was pre-landing: twice the plane lurched to the side very quickly, the metal structure groaning, and the wings flapping. I’m not sure if it was the wind or the aircraft that was roaring so painfully. On two occasions, the plane went into a five second free fall, at which point, for the first time in my life, I heard screaming on a flight, and saw fear in the eye of my neighbour, hitherto a stranger.
She had tears in her eyes, when she smiled and laughed and clapped as the bloody thing finally came safely to earth. I need not say that I too was shaken.
A dramatic start to what I hope will be a dramatic year!

Customs was a doddle, and I got my first chance to practise my domo arigatos, and my first few hundred bows.
There was a hugely shameful incident in which an elderly lady picked up the wrong bag, only to have its true proprietor come forward and point out the mistake. There was a rapid, nay frenzied, exchange of bows, unheard apologies, and a retreat. Shame rectified.
People in England might see this as awkward and verging on ridiculous. And yet: there is something satisfyingly definite about a bow. You can’t bow without making a decision to bow. In England, in a similar situation, there would be a rapid exchange of half hearted, scarcely articulated apologies, and thank yous, and don’t worries and nervous giggles and everyone would feel daft and everyone would look daft. In Japan, apologies are a serious business and are treated as such.

We were met at the airport by an extremely nice man called Seb, an expat of long-standing who works in our Uni, and seems to be the go-to for all of the inevitable difficulties we’re going to have sorting out our lives here. There was a bus waiting for us and through the night, on the left-hand side of the road, past mountains, grey sprawl, and a church-themed fast food restaurant called “Ringer Hut” - a ruthlessly descriptive appreciation of a church - home we came.

[1] This is not in the slightest bit sarcastic. I have decided to love seaweed. 

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