Leaving Sapporo, Hokkaido, as my visa has run out. I'm tired. Noisy hotel room. Very little sleep last night, bad day today. People I ran into today were really nasty, especially the expensively dressed ones. I'm amazed that people in Sapporo are willing to be so directly rude to one's face. I hate leaving my hotel room, even though it is too noisy in here. I'm starting to get the "wherever you go, there you are" feeling. Nothing I do seems to help. I felt better when I left Sapporo for about 3 weeks. Maybe that will help. I really don't like this town. I bought a lot of things here but I couldn't enjoy them, so I threw them out. The people here are cruel, stupid, and vicious. They are just good for shopping and spending money. That's all they do.
Update: Also, oddly, this place is fairly dirty, which is not something you usually associate with Japan. I've been to a few quite high-end boutiques and tried on clothes that smelled. I bought one expensive piece that had to be thrown out because of a mysterious stain I hadn't noticed in the change room. (I was in a rush). About half the hotels I've been to have had some sort of issue with dirty sheets, sheets with holes, garbage, etc., - including expensive hotels. This is a great city if you're feeling suicidal and need that little extra something to overcome the self-preservation instinct and push you right over the edge, but I do not require that particular service at this time.
Update 2: No more Sapporo. It's one of those places with a declining population and difficulty attracting tourists. The locals will never figure out why. This is much better. How can I be depressed when the S. Koreans were kind enough to arrange a free clown show at the airport? [link]
Also, when you pay for a Jamba Juice here, they give you a little plastic strip that buzzes when your drink is ready. Neat.
Update 3: I've been to North Korea. Booyah.
Update 4: No, seriously. You can take a tour. There's even a children's amusement park located quite close to the border. Here's a pic as evidence of my trip [link]. I'm a little worried about posting it. My hotel manager said it was okay, but really, I've got the dumber 80% of the Ontario Medical Association hating my tail; as well as a good chunk of the population of London, ON; several people at McGill; possibly one or two people from Sapporo, Hokkaido; and a light-fingered American shoe fetishist currently at large in Seoul, South Korea. I can handle the OMA, but I'm just not up to dealing with North Korea right now. Dear North Koreans: I WILL take the photo down if you want me to. Signed, CuffButtons.
Update 5: There's a Museum of Chicken Art in Seoul.
Update 6: Dear South Korea Sales Clerks Who Have Been Following Me Around Way Too Closely In Shoe Shops And Jewelry Stores (note - this only applies to South Korean sales clerks who have been following me around way too closely in shoe shops and jewelry stores, as opposed to the South Korean sales clerks who haven't been following me around way too closely in shoe shops and jewelry stores): Knock it off. I learned my lesson the hard way in Sapporo - I keep my hands in plain view as much as possible, and I don't fiddle with my bags. You're just being incredibly bitchy. I am not going to steal your shoes - they are far too small for me, and I can get better elsewhere; and I'm certainly not going to steal your jewelry - it's really not all that and a bag of chips. However, you do run the risk of having your picture taken and being made fun of on the Internet.
Update 7: It occurred to me today that there's probably a bunch of doctors in Ontario who have to leaf through my tourist photos on the off chance that I mention them by name. (Nadeem Hussein! Hi!)
Update 8: There's a Museum of Rolling Balls in Seoul.
Update 9: I have stayed at The Most Exciting Hostel In The World. It is Is@k House in Itaewon. It has earned its title because my drunken and/or drugged out flat-mate kicked holes in my locked bedroom door very early last Sunday morning. I was standing in my bedroom with my back against the door while she threatened at the top of her lungs for 40 minutes to kill me. She was angry because I had locked her and her drunken friends out of our apartment. She didn't understand why I would do such a thing. [link]
To Eun-Lee Kim of the Canadian Embassy in Seoul, South Korea
Dear Silly Bitch,
I realize your grunt-level position is something of a sinecure, and requires little more than reasonably good hair and a certain low-grade competence in passive-aggressive bitchery. As you can see from this blog, I myself have claims to talent in that second area. Unlike you, however, I have enough brains to know when to apply it. I do not have a job as a representative of the government of Canada in Seoul, South Korea. My daddy apparently did not screw the right people. However, if I had such a job, and were interviewing a Canadian citizen about a report of attempted assault last Sunday at Is@k House in Itaewon, I would not try being bitchy to the alleged victim unless I was absolutely, absolutely, 100% sure she was not running her voice recorder app on her ipad throughout the entire conversation. I think I made essentially this post yesterday about the sales clerks in the shoe and jewelry shops in Seoul. Since the general message didn't get through, I will rephrase: If you don't want white anglophone/francophone Canadian women in the Canadian Embassy, just stick a sign on the front door. See you on YouTube!
Update 11: On a more serious note - I don't know if Eun-Lee Kim is a dumb racist bitch, or just a dumb bitch, but on the off-chance it's the latter, I would recommend that any Canadian dealing with the Canadian embassy in Seoul record conversations and get names of the people you are speaking with. As civil servants, they are your employees. Tax dollars are paying for this crap.
Update 12: There is a Museum of Teddy Bears in Seoul. They apparently enact scenes from the Joseon Dynasty.
Update 13: I took a K-pop dance class! I'm mostly withholding judgement, because I only lasted half the class. I was worn out from hunting for the Chicken Art Museum. I'll have to try it again, but initial impressions make me wonder who decided to resurrect mid-eighties aerobics. I know I'm supposed to be embarrased to remember that - I don't - the style held on until the early nineties on Vancouver Island. On the other hand, I only learned one third of a K-pop dance, and that very badly.
Update 14: I did not find the Museum of Chicken Art. It's apparently close to the Owl Museum, but I couldn't find that either. I did manage to find the Museum of Embroidery, as well as the Knotwork Studio. I've been making fun of these museums, but they actually very cool. There is a museum on every street corner in Seoul. Of course, I went mostly to the mainstream museums, as evidenced by my photos. But the S. K. government has clearly gone to a lot of effort to make Korean culture accessible to the public, including foreign tourists. Entrance is typically free, or next-to-nothing. (It takes some of the pressure off - if you get tired, you can always come back next day). There are usually English/Japanese/Chinese signs, or a free/cheap audio headset tour. All the museums, galleries, and palaces I have been to have been very well kept up. I regret not having seen the Museum of Chicken Art, and I am also sad I didn't see the T.um technology museum, which is so in demand that you have to make a reservation days ahead.
Update 15: Japanese men, please stop snorting at me when you see I look confused on the subway and I stop to read the subway map. What, I've been back in Tokyo four days now, and I'm suppose to know the whole thing off by heart? Besides, what is the the alternative to reading the map? Standing there and bursting into tears? Taking a cab? I've taken a cab twice since I've gotten to Tokyo, and both times the taxi-drivers (male, Japanese) have gotten lost with
GPS. This post also applies to Englishmen, actually, when they see confused North Americans on the London tube coming in from Heathrow after a 6-hour flight. Also, Japanese men, no snorting when I start off on the right side of the escalator, then switch to the left when I realize my mistake. I just got back from South Korea, and they keep to the right on the sidewalk and escalators, at least theoretically. I don't mind walking on the left. It was fun to walk on the "wrong" side of the sidewalk in London (England, not ON) and watch the businessmen politely make way for me.
Update 16: Schulich, Make Yourself Useful! [link]
Update 17: The Japanese Are Now Big People, Both Tall And Wide. When I was here in 1996-97, I watched petite, dainty women barely being able to lug around huge, enormous babies. The babies didn't seem to be all that much smaller than their mothers. In Canada I occasionally wondered what happened to those freakishly huge babies, and now I know: they grew up into enormous, hulking teenagers. In '96-97 I took it for granted that I was going to be the tallest, fattest, worst-dressed woman in my car on the Tokyo metro, or at least two out of three, but that is no longer the case. I still tower over a lot of the Japanese men on the metro - especially in two-inch heels - but I also tower over a lot of my French-Canadian relatives, and a lot of the people riding the Montreal metro.
Update 18: The End Is Nigh - They Have Run Out Of Crazy In Harajuku (c.f. www.cracked.com). Actually, I haven't been able to verify this entirely to my satisfaction, as I've only made one trip to Harajuku so far. However, I have made a few trips to Shibuya and Ueno Park, and the situation doesn't look good. Again, in '96-97, the kids were doing "ganguro" - painting their faces brown, with white makeup, and gluing oversized school socks to their legs to keep the socks from falling down. I missed the Lolita thing, but read about in Canada, and caught what appears to be the tail-end of it in Sapporo. Entire shops dedicated to people who want to dress up like a Victorian doll. Utterly terrifying. I wasn't up to doing the full Lolita, but I bought a shirt and a skirt with lace trim, because I liked them, and because it seemed in line with what other women were wearing. I arrive in Tokyo, and - holy Christ on a cracker - I swear to God - these people are doing GRUNGE. Japanese grunge, but still grunge. They're wearing FLANNEL. They're wearing PLAID FLANNEL. They're WEARING GREY AND NAVY BLUE. It's HORRIBLE. I stood out by simple virtue of the fact the I was wearing a bright yellow scarf with a sunflower pattern as a shawl. It was a Japanese scarf! I had checked before I bought it. Honestly, more or less all muted, faded colours on the subway. One woman had a pink shirt, and another was wearing a type of outfit I remember being quite common around Tokyo at one point - a delicate white sweater over a pretty print dress, with a few nice pieces of jewellery. Otherwise, it was uniformly grubby neutrals, really boring. Before I came to Tokyo, I was wondering what the next big thing would be - people painting their noses green and their elbows blue? Hats containing topiary gardens? Purses carved from octopus heads, with the straps made from tentacles? Transparent, aquarium dresses filled with thousands of tiny, living, swimming, golden fish? In fact, the next big thing seems to be .... wait for it .... stripes
stripes. Slanted stripes for the really daring. This doesn't even seem to be a Tokyo thing, especially. Comments fom Tom and Lorenzo's site suggest they are getting much the same stuff in the US. In any case, I now own a navy flannel skirt. It's too much. I have to go lie down. Japanese business men in Tokyo now are dressing pretty much the same as they did in Tokyo '96, and also in Hokkaido - navy blue business suits. On the other hand, they tend to look good doing so. No point in messing with a winning formula, I guess.