Monday, October 17, 2005

Locked and loaded...

Well ladies and gents, the trip is shaping up, I checked a few local travel agencies today and finally decided to call Number One Travel in Tokyo to book my flight to Beijing. While I didn't get the price quoted on their web site (as they say, the price is subject to change without notice... and that's ok) I still got a much better deal (anywhere from 200-600$ cheaper!!!) than any of the places I visited today. My agent is working on my itinerary right now, she'll send it to me by email and after confirming the details I'll give her a call back and make the payment. After that, I'll need to make a trip to a travel agency and have them deal with my visa application... then visit the local immigration office and get a re-entry permit so I can come back to Japan... then book my hotel in Beijing... figure out if\how I'm getting to Xian and book hotels for that as well.

Yesterday I headed out to a couple of stores to look for Lonely Planet: Beijing guidebook... they didn't have it. When I went to the counter at one of the places to ask if they had it in the back room or something, they didn't speak English so I had to use my rudimentary (read: mostly pointing and gesturing and writing on paper) Japanese to see if they could order it. Then to prove that Japan is a small country, I spotted Wasim (AEON teacher from Oyama, originally from Montreal) and ran him down to help me, he's practically fluent... turns out it would take 3 weeks to order it in, so I said daijobu desu, and did some shopping on last night instead. Quite the coincidence to see Wasim in there with Japanese GF just as I needed some Japanese assistance! Utsunomiya and Oyama are about 40 minutes apart by train and they were in town shopping... it's a small world we live in folks... So I bought both Lonely Planet China and Beijing for the price I would have paid just for the China one, and added some DVD's to the shipment since I was paying for shipping anyways... should be here in 5-8 business days then I can start planning the nitty gritty details of my trip. Woohoo!!! It's a great feeling to see an amazing trip like this starting to shape up! China! The Forbidden City! Great Wall! Birthplace of the oldest still-existing civilization on the planet!!! Should be an amazing trip.

As for this weekend, it was pretty mellow. Friday night I went out to Yatai Mura, an outdoor restaurant stall place, really neat... maybe 20 or so little individual restaurant stalls, seating maybe 4-10 people each... very cool. Here's a blurry pic I took on Friday, I should have stabilized the camera against a wall or something... but it's still a cool picture.

Yesterday, I did pretty much nothing but go to the bookstore and grocery shopping. Watched a couple of South Park episodes (Priceless!), checked out some of Robin Williams' standup on DVD and watched I, Robot again... Today, met up with Scott-o at Tully's for a coffee then we took a walk out to Tsutaya for him to pickup a book, dropped in to the travel places to check prices and then parted ways. Not much planned for tonight... Curry Rice for dinner, some music and a book or something... nice relaxing weekend. Here is an amalgamation of pictures I took today in my travels.

First on the list is another shot I took to try and prove I am in fact eating well in Japan, and no, I'm not eating just raw fish... Here's a quick breakfast I whipped up this morning, fried eggs, sausages, tomatoes and toast... mmmmmm. Next week I may splurge and buy Bacon!

Unfortunately I wasn't fast enough with the camera to catch the main event here... but this is just one example of the AMAZING service you get here in Japan. This elderly gentleman had exited Nagasakiya with his grocery purchases and was in the process of unlocking his bike and getting ready to unload his bags into his basket when this staff member came out from the store to: 1) dry off his bike seat with a cloth because it was raining 2)help him load his bags into his basket 3) take the cart back into the store for him. How cool is that!!!

On our walk, we came upon this impressive display of vending-machine worship... from right to left: Cigarettes, Cigarettes, Beer, Drinks, Drinks... impressive how many of these machines there are. Even more impressive is the fact that I have yet to see a vandalized beer vending machine. Can you imagine having one of these on a street corner in Canada\USA??? It would be broken into and emptied on an almost hourly basis!!!

Couldn't resist taking a picture of this "random-use-of-English-on-a-sign" example... Hair Make R Hearts... my kind of hairdresser...

This is I think one of the poorest apartment designs I've ever seen... looks like a prison for god's sake!!! The font doors to the apartments (which you can kind of see to the left of the pic) face each other on either side of a narrow hallway... looks like the typical design for prisons with cells on either side of a main hall!

This is a shot of an old church with Tobu department store parking in the background... taken from Scott's apartment building.

And finally some Fall shots to finish up... it seems some trees here are more susceptible to the cold then others. Some are already bare, while some are still perfectly green???

This is a picture of Kencho near my place, the tree lined street linking the Tochigi Prefectural office at one end with the Utsunomiya City Hall at the other. Every day, an army of these folks with brooms head out to collect the fallen leaves... an especially difficult job after a day of rain like we had today, with the leaves sticking to the sidewalk... god bless 'em for trying!

So that's about that for now, will keep youz all updated on the progress of my plans, and on the wonders of life from the center of Utsunomiya city, Tochigi prefecture, Japan, Asia, Earth, Solar System, Milky Way Galaxy, Universe...

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