Thursday, April 25, 2013

Culture Shame

welcome to Japan Narita Airport by

I arrived in Japan from China much later than expected since I missed my original flight. I was tired from what had become a long day and the first thing I noticed as I walked away from the plane was how quiet everything was. Despite hundreds of people walking through the terminal, it was extremely quiet. I stepped onto an escalator and unlike China, it did not start talking to me, telling how and where to stand. Instead there were just arrows indicating which was the standing side and which was the walking side. Silent, but clear directions.

The only noise I heard next was a sole woman bowing and saying something in Japanese that I can only assume was, "Welcome to Japan." She could have been saying, "everyone stay quiet" though and I wouldn't know the difference. But it was nice, welcoming...and I wondered how much she was paid to stand there all night bowing at arriving flights.

I also noticed how clean everything was, but not too out of the ordinary since Frankfurt airport is extremely shiny and I wasn't surprised to see a bright clean airport.

Still in a bit of a daze, my friend met me and we boarded the Narita Express train to Tokyo Station. The train seat had a little hook to hang your jacket and a little cup holder. The leg space was more than ample. I had never been on such a well-thought out train. It seemed so civilized. There was even a little ledge on the window to rest your arm and fall asleep comfortably.

We got to our hotel and the bathroom amenities included a razor with shaving cream and disposable toothbrushes. They even provided pyjamas. They thought of everything - in fact, I could have arrived at the hotel with nothing and would have been comfortable. This sort of thing was standard everywhere I went in Japan. I wondered what the Japanese must think when they come to North America and check into a hotel. "Where is my toothbrush? Where are my pyjamas? What will I do?!"

 My friend and I went out for a walk to the nearest mini mart to get some snacks. The streets were spotless and the roads smooth. Everything seemed to have a place and a purpose. There were specified ways to do everything, from simple payment transactions, to how to board a train. I loved it. Once you knew what to do, it was easy.

I experienced something upon arrival in Japan that I had never experienced before. It was not culture shock. It was a mix of awe and maybe envy. It can only be described as culture shame.

We (North Americans) are so loud and aggressive. We don't take the time to do simple things. We go where we want, when we want, however we want and it causes chaos. We don't really respect other people. When a Japanese person comes here, I can only imagine they think us to be wild barbarians and I found myself embarrassed by my birthplace.

I usually return home grateful for all I have, but this time I was humbled in a different way. I saw so many ways my society could improve and just ashamed of how things are.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

#CrazyBad Beijing Air Experienced First Hand

Now I don't like to speak ill of places I visit. Obviously, we're all going to like some places more than others. There were many things I liked about Beijing and Tianjin - the food was awesome, the people were nice, the Engrish was hilarious, the architecture was cool, the speed trains and subways were comfortable, the drivers were badass and I felt very safe.

But one thing that didn't feel so safe was the now infamous #crazybad air. It was bad in Tianjin as well, but worse in Beijing, I think. Hard to say because ALL my pictures came out with a nasty smog haze cloud in them, and it had nothing to do with my photography skills or my camera.
That's just not right!

If it did that to my pics, I can only imagine it took a year off my lung's useful lifespan!

I'm saying this, not because I didn't like those cities or those people, and not to discourage people to visit, but because before I experienced it, I simply could not fathom that it could be THAT BAD.

Look, Montreal has smoggy days in the summer now and then and they tell people to stay inside. I've seen it. I've had problems breathing in it even.
I've visited NYC and I've seen their smog. But you know what? NYC ain't got nothing on Beijing! I didn't want to believe it was possible, but it is. My brain didn't have the capacity to understand the badness. I brought masks, yes, I was prepared, but I didn't wear them because I was STILL in denial while there.

I now regret not wearing masks outside because I ended up with a smoker's cough for the time I was there. I couldn't make this stuff up if I tried.

china crazybad air pollution by
Both of these pics are from Tianjin...on a bright sunny day! lol

china crazybad pollution haze by
While trying not to choke on the air, don't fall asleep at the wheel

Friday, April 19, 2013

All That You Can Leave Behind

u2 all that you can't leave behind
These guys have all their bags
If you know me, you'll know I'm a HUGE U2 fan. I have all their albums - some even in vinyl and cassette format. Oh yes!

No surprise that on the way out the door to my most recent trip to China and Japan, I was thinking about leaving my family behind and humming, "Walk On" by U2.

The only baggage you can bring
Is all that you can't leave behind

You're packing a suitcase for a place none of us has been
A place that has to be believed to be seen

Leave it behind
You've got to leave it behind

Except that, I'm not a person who usually leaves things behind anywhere. I'm not the type to lose stuff. Ok, well there was that one time I left my passport on a restaurant table in Heathrow airport, but um, let's not talk about that right now. So aside from that, I had a good track record for keeping it together. All that failed with this trip.

I left sort of cocky. Oh yeah, this is old hat! I've traveled so much before, this was nothing. I wasn't even nervous.

Everything was pretty good until I left my iPad charger at the hotel in Beijing. I'm pretty sure I left it plugged into the wall. I'm happy I wasn't so out of it that I left my iPad, so it could have been worse, but still! Grrrr.

Then I got to the  Beijing airport and missed my flight. Oh yes! That's a pretty BIG error. So I did what any reasonable adult would do in my situation - I went into a bathroom and cried a bit. lol
Eventually, I found internet access and booked a new flight using Travelocity.

At the same time, I also realized I had lost my departure card for China. Right. I had successfully hung onto it ALL week and somehow lost it on my last day!  Luckily, they provide extras when leaving - I wasn't sure how strict China was about things like this. The back of the card says not to lose it!

Next day, I was in Tokyo and it was raining so I bought an umbrella. I later left that umbrella in a taxi cab.

I swear, there was some sort of strange lost-items karma that was attacking me for getting through childhood and half of adulthood without so much as a lost mitten. I mean for real, I never lost anything!  I can proudly boast at having gotten my own child to the age of three without losing one tiny item of clothing also. This is how on the ball I am!

Oh man. So this trip was all about making me humble or something and leaving everything behind. At least I didn't lose myself :)

Monday, April 1, 2013

In Beijing

Internet is spotty and I'm trying to update from my iPad mini, so it's not the best interface, but I'm here, in Beijing! Off to the Great Wall today and hopefully some pictures up soon!