Saturday, August 15, 2009

ANd then the wheels fell off...

I think I've inadvertently poisoned myself by consuming too much wheat today. You know those days where you just feel BLEAUGH and then realise the state of BLEAUGHness has actually been accumulating over the past week or so? Flight anxiety, diet change, nowhere near enough this weekend is very boring and recuperative.

Also, spent about 4 hours on the phone yesterday morning pep-talking parents into calling a teacher NOT me (I'm full, sorree!) and doing Suzuki-counselling. I'm allergic to the phone. Would much rather text/email/meet up in person. Maybe that's the REAL source of my malaise.

And... My darling husband finally succumbed to the delightful bronchial plague I've been carrying about for the last month and so the two of us are holed up watching West Wing. The pug couldn't be happier with all the quality lap time. Had many more coherent and sensible thoughts while driving home from ballet but alas they have succumbed to brainfog...perhaps in the light of a Sunday breakfast they will resurface.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Random luckiness

I should mention that I was fortunate enough to have a Suzuki philosophy teacher in my life. My mother took me to weekly lessons (and much, much more) from the age of about 4.

My teacher was a kinder teacher in a previous life. She is a thinker, a researcher, a very devoted grandparent and I just spent an hour on the phone to her. Actually, an hour and a half. It's 22 years since my first lesson with her and it's not a relationship that will ever end.

We parted ways as 'official' teacher and student back in 1993, but she has rejoiced in every exam result, supported and encouraged my own teaching journey, attended my fledgling concerts and applauded at my wedding. She's given me books and recordings and countless hours of her time and experience and thoughtfulness. And tonight she wanted to hear all about my pilgrimage to Matsumoto.

I'm so very grateful. I know she was a great influence on my mother (and since I was homeschooled, support was not always easily come by for her choices) and they still talk frequently. I think this is the difference I'm talking about - philosophy vs. method.

At one point she said she'd spoken to a woman recently and the topic turned to their mothers.
Woman: "My mother had such good health. She lived to 98 and she was a really well woman. But she never really did anything with her life."
My teacher's response was to suggest that this woman was really doing everything she could with her life because you get to a point where you look back and want to see what you did. And because she felt her mother did so little she was making MORE of an effort to live well.

Which got me thinking... people either do BECAUSE OF or IN SPITE OF. Doesn't make a whole lot of sense on this level, I know, but it's a little like being proactive/reactive to circumstances.
I think that's personality developed by very early influences like parents. They encourage or disparage, and do so in such a way that we want to please them or displease them.... and these things inform character from a very young age.

And that's why we have to teach the child, not the lesson, and keep listening.
All the time.
And be grateful for the awesome teachers we find.

Home sweet home.

Don't get me wrong. It's lovely to be back in cold, wet Australia (ok, not that wet) in the bosom of my family and friends, and if we were to move cross-continentally I would need to convince about twenty people to move with us. But we are so damn rude and stupid as a nation. Actually, that's really negative. How about: We have great potential to develop humanity and respect for others. Great potential.

It's been lovely to be welcomed back by my students this week: I feel heartened by what CAN be achieved in Australia without the benefit of cultural support of Suzuki's philosophy. To clarify: A lot of what makes Suzuki's philosophy tick is embedded in the Asian psyche.

Parents are expected to be their child's first teacher much more actively than we practice; Japanese children can read and write kanji characters before they start school. Seeing under-twos playing with origami paper, imitating their mothers' absent-minded folding and smoothing was such a wake-up call to the different levels of stimulation that these children are exposed to as a matter of course.

Even simple things, like HAVING to remove shoes when transiting indoors and having very simple but very definite rules from infancy about behaviour and social interaction (let me be clear that these things only work and become clear when the PARENT visibly and actively engages with them) change a child's ability for self-discipline and participation.

When a teacher engages a child with respect and equality from the beginning, that child feels what a privileged thing it is to be a student and (hopefully) will continue that desire to learn and to be in that position of privilege throughout their life. Similarly, they will want to teach others; to assist and guide and give effort to helping someone else develop that joy of learning.

I think the most important lesson I learnt in Japan was that being a student is a privilege. You don't "graduate" to being a teacher, and if you think that that precludes your ability to keep learning (from the three-year-old, from their parent, from the newest teacher trainee to the most advanced/intuitive/brilliant teacher available) you surrender a very privileged status.

Much better to exist fluidly. Be the teacher who says "Please teach me; I am ready to learn!" to the student. Remember that you too, once knew very little, and that you still do know very little; even if you know a lot, how much of it do you PRACTICE?

Stay a student. And be grateful to your teachers who will give you their time and their respect and seek to learn something from every encounter.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Nearly home

Currently in the air between the gold coast and melbourne feeling sleepy. Overnight flights are fantastic when you can SLEEP. They're not quite as good when you doze for about two hours.

Checking in for the second flight I was nicely told I couldn't have violin as hand luggage and that it wouldn't fit in the overhead lockers.

Um, you're telling me this now, for the first time, on my fourth flight (yes, with the same airline) in eleven days. Now, I understand that the case does not comply with company policy, but exceptions for a valuable and fragile instrument have never been a problem before. It ALWAYS fits in the overheads. And if anything was said about weight issues I was quite happy to get on the scales and wager fifty bucks violin + my body = less than average passenger naked and hand-luggageless.

The funny part was that after I explained for the third time that I would not and could not check my violin, I was told it would be taken from me at the boarding gate and put on a later flight to melbourne.

As hand luggage?
No, checked.
Hm. I don't think you heard me. I can't check this.
His parting shot: I'm just preparing you so you won't be upset when they take it off you at the boarding gate, because I'm going to call them now and warn them it doesn't comply with j*%star policy.

Mine: well, I'm not returning to Melbourne without it, and now that you've made the policy so clear I'll certainly never fly crapstar again, so good luck with that. (nb I didn't actually say crapstar as that would be antagonistic.)

Of course, after waiting two anxious hours to board my flight, sweet nothing was said by any of the boarding staff or flight crew. I guess the call guy no.1 made turned into "So, this crazy girl..." and they decided it wasn't worth the hassle. It's kind of a shame, I was looking forward to behaving like a non-compliant two-year-old!

...and touchdown at Melbourne! I'm very lucky this is a little plane, so everyone else can stampede past, I can chill.

Hooray for my sweet husband picking me up and returning to the land of plentiful fruit and vegetables :) as a nation we may be lacking in manners, but we have peaches that don't require a second mortgage.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009


Laforet, aka bliss, paradise, Mecca and the place I kwant my soul to inhabit when I die, is on the edge of harajuku and is quite possibly the epitome of style. So, as you walk in is an exhibit/haute couture setup, surrounded by concept storelets. Alannah Hill's inspiration? Perhaps.

Harajuku market is also bliss and very, very dangerous. There was a particular cosplay store screaming my name, and although the last remaining treble-clef-and-stave dress fitted me, eight different shades of pink (ALL of them somehow candy) weren't so stunning.

I know it's not an original observation, but one of the best bits is people-watching. Especially outside Laforet, where all the people paid to be artistic seem to pass.

I especially like (surprise, surprise) the tribal nature of fashion here, particularly because of the interbreeding and resultant mutant spawn (!).

There're the chainstore kids, a little bit of punk, goth, cosplay (think manga), Lolita, sweet happy life, and so cool I picked up the first ten items off my loft floor (too cool for such mundane things as a bedroom), put them on in random order, possibly insideout, and I don't actually work here, I just deign to show up occasionally and let people pay me.

Actually, that conveys a bad attitude, which is certainly NOT the case. Everyone has been delightfully helpful and polite during my stay, even when they must be thinking "You're huge! Our jeans won't fit you!".

The most difficult thing about shopping is waiting for the sales assistant to pull the garments off the coathanger before she'll give them back and i can try them on. Oh, and doing the math of dividing everything by 80. Maybe we could move to japan...

Last sushi

Yep, flying home today. Woke this morning to the sound of our building swaying and a distinctly unsteady feeling: another earthquake.
Felt a tremor on sunday night too; but it's much scarier when lying in bed on a bottom bunk on the eighteenth floor.

Immediate reaction: leap up and stand in the doorway. Then realize other nine people in the room haven't stirred. They did, of course, once the vertical blinds were swaying so hard they kept hitting the walls.

When I realized I was not actually going to die today I looked at my watch (it's light outside, of course). Great! 7.10! I can get up and take a shower (permissible from 6.30-8.30).

Gather all my stuff, sneak out (everyone else seems to have gone back to sleep, which I think is a LITTLE odd, but hey, they're mostly Swiss/German so maybe that's their thing... Oh yes, you got it. Freshly showered, not feeling quite so dopey, I put my watch back on and do a massive double-take.
It's ten past six.
AFTER I've performed all my ablutions and taken quite a long, heavenly shower in blissful solitude.

Clearly my addled brain performed a bit of mirror magic and reversed my analog watch. Or the tremor broke something in my brain. I suspect the latter. Upside: hopefully I'll sleep better on the flight tonight.

So, this is how I come to be blogging at quite such a ridiculous time. War-walking the streets of iidabashi and hanging out for the "precious special moment" coffee place to open.

Sounds better than starbucks, doesn't it? Who wouldn't want some precious special moments with their latte?

*and now that I have latte and comfy seating in my possession - very clever seating arrangement here: tables for pairs and larger ensembles are up the back, facing the wall (at a comfortable distance!) are lounge chairs with built-in table and a cane basket at the foot for your stuff.

This way you can come solo without feeling like a social pariah and have room to read or blog or generally zone out without taking up valuable table space. Love it.

Anyway, recap of yesterday's adventures. Went to harajuku but exited the wrong side of the station, so wandered aimlessly a little.
Fell across a shrine which was the centre of the district in the 1600s when the government subsidized melon farming. Apparently this vegetable was highly prized as a fruit in the days when sweet food was rare.
Found my bearings again when I encountered signage for the metro, which is a different entity from the train system and is probably the "fine-tuning" way of getting around the city.

Went to shibuya, which is one of the huge stations with a mall on top. Well, half a mall. The other half is just down the street a little. Insane. I think it would be possible to live and work in japan without ever seeing the light of day.

Downtown shibuya is manic. I now know that you can assay the style of clothing in a store by the assistant's hair color. The blonder/more bleached it is, the younger and tighter the fashion.

Speaking of, I am a clothesholic. Everyone's well aware, I not only like to WEAR clothes (well, who doesn't?) but I like them. They're socially and historically interesting and if I was more pretentious I'd refer to my wardrobe as "The costume department, darling!" so anyway, I think it would be great to buy a pair of japanese jeans.

Let me be clear, I'm certainly not a size 8 model, but I'm not overweight (by Australian standards). I'd prefer to say curvy rather than chunky. And although there are a LOT of spindly-legged asian girls trotting about in knock-kneed-baby-deer fashion, there are also a lot like me.

Or maybe I'm fatter than I think. Most stores have three sizes: small, medium, and large (or, as I like to think: prepubescent, anorexic, and I-eat-one-meal-a-day.) Some stores have two sizes: small and medium. If you need a large, they don't want you sullying their image.

And in the couple of places I DID find jeans to fit, they were... okay. You know, the jeans you put on and pull off again because there's got to be another pair more flattering than that lurking in your wardrobe.

Ironically, the highlight of my day came when I discovered sass & bide pants on a sale rack. I may have squeaked aloud in joy. Real clothes! Now I just have to overlook the fact that I came to japan and bought a pair of pants made by australian designers IN australia for a third of their australian retail price...

A, there was sushi train last night and it was great fun. I did come in a little late, so only got a couple "rounds" but then we went to the "make to order" which was almost better. I think my wasabi tolerance was being tested, so I asked for more with second plate of tuna sushi.

And now? Back to the hostel so I can check out on time. They have a storage locker so I can have the day unencumbered and then catch a train to Narita Airport around five. Home soon!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Explore Tokyo day

Breakfast at the hostel was not an experience I want to repeat.

One fried egg (tepid) one piece pressed bacon (cold) and one thick piece bread (faintly sweet, untoasted). The best part of the experience was the toaster. Each table had it's own toaster, the cord of which was plugged upward into a dangling-from-the-roof extension cord. So looked like lots of little toasters on iv lines... Or maybe I just think too much.

GREAT showers though. Marvellous water pressure.
If only I'd taken my own shampoo and conditioner upstairs though... The combination of 2-in-1 and the incredible humidity has made me the frizz monster from hair hell!

Love the train system now I can understand it and have a MAP! On my way to harajuku!

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Will busk for wi-fi

Loving the random wi-fi which means I can lounge against a random street light and check email.

And reply to it.

And upload the blogposts I wrote while in transit today.

And check facebook.

I could EVEN chat with my darling husband who must be missing me TERRIBLY by now (the pug just thinks I've magically gone to live inside the computer, since she's been included in our Skype conversations) BUT he's nowhere on the world wide web to be found.

Must be building the Death Star.

Oh well. I'll just have to console myself with an icecream. What a tragedy.


A new day dawns in Tokyo and everyone else flies out tonight. Finally! No, I'd be happy if BJ was staying on, but will be blissful to embrace my inner (only) child and explore Tokyo solo. Today I check in at the International Youth Hostel for two nights before I fly home on Tuesday night.

We've just had lunch at a Japanese spaghetti cafe: some kind of laksa-ish pasta with shrimp and mushrooms; cheap and TAsTY!

Now to sort out BJ's luggage: for some ridiculous reason you're allowed to take 20kgs of stuff OUT of the country, but only bring 20 BACK. Any woman (indeed, anyone who KNOWS a woman) can immediately see this logic is inherently flawed.

I believe the thought process goes a little something like this:

"OF COURSE I'm going to take my full 20kgs with me! That means I can take those sneakers I MIGHT need, all my full-size toiletries, and a spare pair of jeans, and, and, and!..."

Several days later, return now imminent.

Being in another country and all, I've magically acquired more stuff.
How on earth did THAT happen?
The stuff itself is regrettably not of a magical nature, and so is not weightless.

Or (magically) shrinkable.
No amount of "shaping" underwear is going to shrink my stuff.
OR make it weigh less.

And I LIKe all the stuff I brought with me.
It's not like I'd lug all my LEAST favorite stuff to a different country so I could discard it.

Ask the hotel to ring the airline. Every kilo over is $8, apparently. So that's not SUCH a drama.

Except that when making a subsequent confirmation call, BJ discovers the penalty rate is actually FORTY dollars per kg.

Ah, but by employing our shared genius, a solution is found at the nearby post office, where six kilos of stuff can be sent via sea for $40.
But how do we know if that's adequate? Easy. Go back to the hotel, retrieve suitcase and weigh on post office scales.
It's 25.75kg. PACK THAT BOX!

And yes, changing to (heavier) winter clothing was factored in. Brilliant us! We finally split up today; BJ off to the airport and me to the Tokyo international youh hostel on the 18th floor of Central Plaza, Iidabashi (thank you, lonely planet lender!) Dorm room is 4300¥, which gets me a shared bathroom and includes breakfast and a locker big enough for my case, day pack AND violin.

I've had a lovely wander this afternoon and I think tomorrow I'd like to go to Harujuku (yes, fashion people, that IS the district you think it is!). Now, if only I could find a free wi-fi I'd be perfectly happy :)
And some scales. Just in case I see some stuff tomorrow that I can't live without. Or something ;)

Coming to you from the centre of the world

A brief recap: last night went to a little backstreet bar and said "Feed us please!" had lots of little taster plates of simple but marvellous food. Sake served in small bowls for ¥500, our meals ¥1000, so very well satisfied for about $20.

The hilarity began when our four vegetarians all decided to sit separately. You'd think it would be clever to clump so that when three "regular" plates and one vegetarian plate came out the omnivores would share with omnivores and the vegies... Obviously this piece of brilliance was rejected and we spent the night saying "This is the vegetarian plate! Pass it on! Have you had enough? No, this has bonito; this is chicken..."

Fortunately the brilliant BJ could see that if I sat next to a particular person only one of us would make it out alive, so she gracefully placed herself in between us and occasionally said random things like "Wow, I love green beans. Don't they just have the best flavor?!"

After a trip to a circle K and brilliant mint choc chip icecream naughtily consumed while walking along the street, my good behavior and tightly leashed (did I say leashed? Sorry, I meant cuffed hand, foot, straitjacketed and locked in isolation in a padded cell) self-control. I too was surprised and impressed.

I let myself be talked into Tokyo Sea Disney. Disappointed?

Well, my rail pass meant it was free to get here and it was only 5800yen ($70). However, I'm finding Disney by committee a little challenging. Instead of splitting up and regrouping, we're all lumped together in the queue, surreptitiously eating lunch or not, being told not to eat because we'll throw up, hearing about what we would have been better off doing and how much faster it is in wintertime. . .

We are afflicted by the presence of some accomplished killjoys. I am saying very little because I may otherwise say something very nasty.

For instance, one member of our party has boycotted this ride and chosen to stay outside to eat and look around and everyone is concerned about her. We're talking about a forty-something woman who has raised two children.

And a bit later... At five thirty, after plummeting from the Tower of Terror, we finally managed to separate from the amorphous blob with eight bickering heads and go on our own sweet way.

Much delight ensued from an excursion Under the Sea complete with nostalgic jaunt on jumping jellyfish, then some more rollercoaster action before... Arabia! Great Aladdin show - live action and 3D, then curry chicken with rice and naan and a live Bonfire Dance show ... Then more rides! I think we covered all the adult rides and a few of the kiddie ones too!

Didn't leave till the park closed and then enjoyed a peaceful ride back to Tokyo. Well, we got on the right train without incident and my arches only got stomped twice. Really, it was a remarkably successful day :)