A full belly is not the stomach of a scholar.
That’s just one of the many useful proverbs out of a book I got from L. – he’s divvying out his unnecessary items tonight before he moves to his new apartment and job across town.
And where’s the story of the trip into the mountains, you ask? Well, I think I’ve been eating too much in the evenings. Really. I need to start writing before supper. After eating supper, watching the news, filling in the corners, and listening to Bob McCown, I’ve got no drive. I always put things off until tomorrow. Unfortunately, the next night I often find scarcely more time than I had the first night, and the problems with not craving something – not really really wanting something – come around again. It’s good to stay hungry. I don’t mean going ana, I just mean getting your work done before you eat. And when I’m not on a work-a-day schedule, I often do that – I couldn’t have done things like edit Artifact otherwise. I miss that luxury. I’m bound and determined to get it back again, so that’s why I’m scraping so hard to save money so I can go back to school. Art necessitates some degree of underemployment. (But be careful!)
I did get a few things done today, though. D. got me making a bunch of cardboard cutout cherry blossoms, and I also got my homework done for – and we later had – our weekly Japanese lesson. I vacuumed. I went for a walk with F. and Mt.’s dog.
And, at lunch, I went to the post office.
I was dreading that the errand, which had to be done at lunchtime, because the outlet closes at five (or maybe even four), would take up the whole lunchtime and leave me little time to eat and relax. But D. and F. dismissed this inquietity, saying it would be only five minutes to bike there and Bob’s your uncle.
So off I go. I get there. I want to mail DVDs along with a postcard. Any envelopes? Nope. The (nice, I must say) lady told me I had to go to Sunkus, a convenience store. There was one a few blocks away up on the main drag towards Aizumi, and she even pointed it out on a map.
So I go to Sunkus. I ask in Japanese where the envelopes are, but there’s probably something wrong with my pronunciation because I had to say “post” and pantomime mailing before they understood. “Doko wa futo des ka?” I think I was asking. And the clerk shows me.
There are envelopes, but none in the CD-mailing size that I need – they’re either too small or way too big (the kind you could slip an Apple Air into). The clerk apologized and suggested I head across the street to Satya, a book store. They’d have lots of envelopes there, she said.
So I go to Satya. I managed to befuddle three employees simultaneously with my request for an envelope. And then one told me that they didn’t have them – try Sunkus.
Oh, for Pete’s… I laughed and said, “Sunkus blahblahblah [pantomiming talking] Satya! … Satya blahblahblah Sunkus!”
At this point they took pity on me and one searched behind the counter and another one showed me what they did have, but these envelopes were just for writing girlie notes and were even smaller than the letter envelopes at Sunkus.
But one girl found me three envelopes – in a pack! – and handed them to me, “present-to.”
Are they serious? They’re just giving this to me? I made an exaggerated motion of reaching for my wallet.
No, no, “present-to.”
“Wow! Really? Why?”
She laughed and smiled.
“Why?” I tried to coax.
But she wouldn’t or couldn’t answer. I thanked everyone profusely and left, astonished at my good fortune. I rent DVDs from this Satya occasionally, and you can be sure I will continue to do so.
(A digression: I’ve changed the firmware on my laptop’s optical drive to one that will reset the region-change counter at every reboot – I highly recommend this to others. It’s a highly robust, hardware-based solution that should last the life of the drive. All you usually have to do is find an appropriately patched firmware update for your drive, or a tool that will modify the firmware update file for you. Sometimes some people have to wait a while for their manufacturer to release an update for their drive, which others can then patch, but for many drives there is an established region-free procedure.)
I get back on my bike and ride to the post office. It’s already twenty after twelve. This was an extended lunch break due to the relative inactivity at S.G. this week and next, but this was still taking longer than I’d wanted it to.
I got to the post office again and tried my new envelopes. The first envelope tore as I tried to shove a DVD-R disc in – they were probably the same size as the ones I passed over at Sunkus. So I went to the counter and asked again if they had bigger envelopes. Hmm… nope.
I’m starting to get a little (more) frustrated, because time’s a-wasting and I’d like to get this chore over with. But then I notice that while they don’t have envelopes, they do have boxes, and the smallest one was only 100 yen. So determined to get something out of this trip, I drag out a 20-pack of CD-R Audio Recordables I was going to send to my mom anyway, and ask the clerk how much it would cost to ship by air and how much by sea.
The CDs in the box weighed more than a kilo – the air rate was well over $20. But the sea rate was a very reasonable ¥1080 (¥1180 including the box). How long would the sea option take? “About one month,” she replied. Hmm… that’d be good for sending the concert DVDs too – I’d videotaped a concert for Mom in early December but I only had time to edit it once I got here – which I had intended to send by air. So I folded over two of the envelopes from Satya and taped them to make a little wrap around the DVDs, and I put those in the box. And I also put two postcards (one for each hitherto-intended mailing) in the box.
Suddenly the price went up to $29.
What the hey?
She took the postcards out of the box and closed the lid. Then the price went back down.
It actually took a few goes at this before I realized that the postcards were the problem. “Why?” I asked. She couldn’t answer, but she made a writing gesture and then a forbidden gesture and said, “Seamail, no.”
“Why?” I asked again.
She still couldn’t answer, but then I said, “Oh! These… these aren’t postcards. They’re pieces of cardboard with photos on them, and chicken scratch on the back – that’s not writing.”
She laughed nervously and acquiesced, holding her finger to her lips as she said, “Secret, OK?”
We sealed up the box with its illicit content inside, and I wrote up the address and filled out a customs declaration. “CD-R Audio Recordables for Mom: ¥1800; DVD-R of Mom’s concert: nil.” The only really irreplaceable things in the box are the postcards, but I hope just the same that this doesn’t get embargoed.
So anyway, by the time I got home from all this, it was ten to one! I basically had to pop into my apartment and walk right back to the school again! Man! And all this to mail one thing!
With no time to even heat something up and eat it, my lunch was two slices of bread. I tore them into pieces and shoved them one at a time into an empty, but not yet rinsed jar of strawberry jam to gather its remaining contents.
At school, when I told this story to F., I’m sorry to say that I lost my cool as I was telling it – she had to tell me to calm down. Even on my walk in and out of my apartment, I just wanted to kick a hole in something. My frustration had reached new heights. But at least now I know a bit about how the post office works, and my next visit there won’t be a tenth as painful or confusing, but it will be ten times as efficient.
I still have a few Artifact DVDs to send, but where am I going to get the envelopes? I guess I’ll try the central post office on Saturday – I think they stay open. Or at least I can just get the envelopes at SOGO, the big ten-storey department store downtown. Pardon my thinking out loud.
While Japan isn’t all fun and games and sushi, it’s still quite ok. It takes a lot of getting used to – picture trying to live in Halifax and deal with things there but without knowing any English and you might get an idea of what it’s like. Japan is a fine country, but not a better country except if you’re doing statistics on things like public transportation, bicycle ridership, dining options, luxury cybercafés, and musical toilets. No, it’s just a fine country – Canada is a fine country, but not a better country except if you’re doing statistics on things like total area, and… um… maple syrup production. Just kidding; I love Canada. But do you see what I’m trying to say here? Appreciating Japan is no easy task because when it comes down to it, yes, it’s a special country, but so are the other 128. And then there are the barriers, especially the geographic and linguistic ones that may well and perhaps should persist forever.
I’m starting to see, though, how one could easily spend a lifetime getting to know and appreciate Japan. It remains to be seen how far down that path I’ll be willing to travel. I’m definitely going to give the upcoming language classes my all. Some of the participants here have given up the language in the past. It’s two tragic stories in one – the experiences they don’t have with Japan, plus the experiences the Japanese won’t have with them.
This weekend: Haircut! My 800 yen place near Max Valu has become a cram school. Seriously; you walk by and you see people on padded chairs with the hair dryers still attached, staring at a chalkboard with mathematical formulae. Finding a place that’s even just twice the price that that place was will be difficult; F. and I talked to a barber near S.G. tonight and he charges ¥3300. Yes, that’s $33 for a haircut. Yeouch. If I find a place between $15 and $20, I’ll just have to be happy with that – let’s just say that I’m going to get them to cut it really short.