Two weeks done.
Two really long weeks that have been both slow and fast.
Fast when I look at work – we’ve gotten a lot of stuff done. Still so much more to do on my key project, but I still feel confident about the positive impact I’ve had on it. I’ve worked a lot – I’ve dedicated at least one day of the weekend to getting things done, but it’s helping to keep me organized and on level. It’s done with music playing, regular breaks and the knowledge that I’m accomplishing something. I hope that given the deliverable that comes up on Monday, next weekend won’t require a dedicated day. At the same time, I’m not so sure I know what I’d do with it!
It’s been tremendously slow when I consider being apart from my friends and family. Susan, Olivia and I have spoken at least once or twice a day each day, but the Skype quality has been kind of poor. That’s a combination of a slow internet connection at her parent’s house as well as the low quality built-in camera on her laptop. She’ll have a new camera in a few days and I’m hoping for a bump in quality. I’ve also spent time talking with Christine, my work confidant, de-stressing about the challenges in the office. I can (and do!) share all those things with Susan, but Christine ‘gets it’ differently than Susan does. Being apart from everyone has been a bit tougher than I expected and these two hear that from me pretty often I think.
The title of the post, however, comes from my walk back from dinner tonight. Today was my work focus day, so I didn’t leave the hotel until around dinner time. I took the opportunity of living in Ginza to drop into one of the department stores – Mitsukoshi. That store has a special place for me because it’s the same store in Epcot! I had visited last year and found it to be quite amazing. Tonight was no different, and perhaps changed my impression even more.
First, this place has 13 floors above ground and 3 below. The B1 – 6th floors are aimed at women – fashion, jewelry, cosmetics, etc. The 7th floor is fancy men’s stuff – cigars, watches, eyewear. The 8th floor, my target, had clothing. I was here to buy (and likely pay too much for!) handkerchiefs. You see, there aren’t always paper towels or hand dryers in toilets – the office for example has turned off their hand dryers to save energy. After washing your hands, you’re a bit stuck if you don’t have anything… which I haven’t for two weeks.
I wandered out onto the 8th floor and aimed for the ties. I figured ties are similar to handkerchiefs, so that must be the right direction. I then drifted into underwear – oh man, are they crazy about men’s underwear – and finally found the handkerchiefs. There were a vast selection of colors and materials, but 90% of them came from fancy brand names, so they had fancy prices associated. I located the bottom right corner with the ‘everyday’ brand that were much more reasonably priced. After making my selection I decided to browse the floor a bit, as well as stake out a cashier’s desk.
Yeah… I made about 2 laps without finding a cashier. Eventually, when I was staring at a Japanese map (I look at a lot of Japanese writing hoping somehow it’ll make sense – more on that later), one of the floor walker ladies approached me. We’d made eye contact earlier in one my laps and she was obviously keeping up with me because I looked clueless. She asked, in strained English, “may I help you?” I said “cashier” and she indicated she could do that. I was curious, given that I hadn’t seen any signs about cashiers in all my laps, but I followed her because she would know better than me.
We got back to the place where I selected the handkerchiefs and she offered me a seat in a cozy chair. I chuckled, accepted and sat down. I had seen people congregating around these chairs when I first arrived, but I figured it was for something more important, or they were important, or something. No – we’re all important here. I sat, flipping through a catalog, while the ladies took my purchase, removed the price tags, wrapped them neatly and came up with the total. A woman walked out with a calculator showing the price and the little leather tray for payment. I pulled out my Yen, placed them in the tray and she left me again. She returned with my change, my receipt, and my bag. She carefully offered each item to me, allowed me to put them away, then bowed and thanked me.
A $15 purchase.
As I left the floor, the first lady approached me, thanked me and we shared a fantastic smile. I took a few more steps and another, completely unrelated lady, also thanked me for my purchase. I went down the escalators with a big stupid smile from the experience.
From there I went to the B2 and B3 floors where the Mitsukoshi “Food Garden” was. I must have spent an hour just walking in circles down there. Similar to the place I found in Asakusa, there were lots of different vendors with lots of different food stuffs. B2 was really heavy on sweets and B3 was really heavy on the fish. The fish probably comes from the Tsukiji market around the corner – it all looked sooooo fresh. Oh! And the beef! I found tons of shabu-shabu meat available there – it’s cut very thin and is fatty so that it ends up dissolving as you cook it in the hot broth. I kept thinking I’d choose something to take back to the hotel and eat, but I just couldn’t do it. Choice overload.
I left the store and decided I’d go eat. But where? I walked for close to another hour, just wandering from street to street. I thought I’d go to a ‘new’ ramen place or the udon place close to that but when I found them I was massively intimidated. I found the udon place first, mistaking it for the ramen place. I could see the vending machine from the street – there were two of them and there had to have been 30 buttons on each of them. No pictures, just colors, prices and words. Then I found the ramen place – it only had a menu above the chef’s head, all in Japanese. No thanks.
Then I thought I’d go to the ‘old’ ramen place, but didn’t want to do that because it’d be silly to eat there a 3rd time when I have so many choices in front of me. Instead I decided to go to the tonkatsu place for a second time! However, once I got there, I found a line out the door. My map said there was yet another ramen place nearby, so I headed there. Again, it was pretty heavy on the Japanese writing, including the prices.
Let me take a break here – almost all of the places have a menu outside so you can see what you’re getting in to. The vast majority of places list all of the available dishes in Japanese only, but the prices are often written in romanji making them understandable. I commonly find myself studying the Japanese only menus, comparing the prices of things. If the top-end prices seem reasonable, then it’s probably a place that would work out for me. They mess that process up, though, when the prices are written in Japanese. That said, I still feel pretty silly standing in front of all these menus, looking at all these undecipherable symbols as if they’ll suddenly make sense.
So, back to the ramen place. This was another no-vending machine place, but it was a hipper place than the other one, so I decided to dive in. On top of that I was now starving to death. I had skipped lunch and then spent the last 2 hours looking at or thinking about food. Screw the details, I needed food.
I stepped in, was greeted and seated. The guy then proceeded to talk a lot of Japanese to me. Someone else wandered by and mentioned an eigo menu, to which I thanked him. I was actually able to spend some time comparing the Japanese and English menus, and wrote down a few of the numbers in my notebook. I’ll fill in the gaps later.
I ordered a dish – I don’t know, something about miso and spicy – then hung out for a bit. This ramen was a soupy one, differing from the less broth-y dish I’ve been getting at the other place. I was able to slurp a little better this time. I burned my tongue, like usual. Eventually my tongue will either get numb from being burnt over and over or I’ll finally figure out how to deal with hot things… I burn my tongue a lot. I ate and ate and ate… then paid and left.
As I made my way back to the hotel, the title of this post came to me. I had a full belly. It was a beautiful night out. My ears were full of Japanese voices. I’d had a great experience with the shopping. I was finally getting more comfortable with this place.
Tomorrow I will move from my hotel into a short-term apartment that is 10 or so stories below our long-term apartment. This provides me with a bedroom that is separate from the living room. It provides me with a kitchen and laundry facilities. It gives me a balcony. It gives me comfort and joy to be out of the hotel.
Boy, it’s nice to be at peace. Now – let’s get you guys over because I can’t wait to share all these things in person!!