Google+ Sandra's Stories

Monday, 25 February 2013

Trigger happy weather forecasters

Last week I wore hiking boots, a ski jacket, and heavy duty gloves to work because the weather report said that it would snow. It didn’t snow, and I was hot. It was the final betrayal in a series of weather-related treacheries…

When I was growing up my mum was a big fan of giving weather related advice. Every day she would predict the weather and give me suggestions about what I should wear. Mum was always right and I spent many days feeling smugly comfortable in my weather-appropriate clothes. I didn’t know how she did it but her weather predicting abilities were incredible.

Then I moved out of home. Without my mum’s help, I found myself to be a daily victim of the weather. I was always too cold, too hot, or rain drenched. One day I complained to my mum about how I was suffering. She was flabbergasted. She said ‘Sandra, the only reason I know about the weather is because I check the forecast!’

I was shocked. All those years I’d thought that Mum was an amazing oracle, only to discover that her powers were freely available to everyone. Since then I’ve been a convert to the forecast and follow it carefully. However, a few weeks ago, without any forewarning, it snowed heavily in Tokyo and the whole city shut down in panic. Train services were cut, the highways closed, and the footpaths became dangerous piles of icy slush. It was chaos. The trains are packed out at the best of times; this is what happens when services are reduced…
Kawasaki station  when services are cut: That's a lot of salary men!
Photo courtesy of poor Nana who had to commute in this.
That day I got stuck for five hours on a bus crawling along a highway outside of Tokyo before I managed to catch a train home. Everyone had a horror story that day. People were enraged that the weather forecast had failed to warn us. Like me, they felt betrayed and there was a lot criticism directed at the weather forecasters.

Well, the forecasters were obviously ashamed about what they’d done because ever since they’ve become extremely trigger-happy. At the slightest drop in temperature they predict snow but so far hardly a flake has fallen. I find myself frequently dressing in heavy duty snow gear, only to be disappointed (and hot) when the snow doesn’t come. I don’t know who I can turn to if my mum isn’t an oracle, and the weather report can no longer be trusted.

Note: The day after I wrote this blog post, it snowed so my faith in the forecast has returned.

Friday, 22 February 2013

Chapter two of The Deadly School Camp is out now

Chapter Two of the Deadly School Camp has now been released on The Deadly School Camp page. You can read the new story as it unfolds!

Monday, 18 February 2013

Footpath fury

One thing that I was looking forward to when I moved to Japan was a life free from road rage. Since I never have to drive here, I’m pleased to report that my dream has come true. Instead, I expected to be traumatised by the crowded commuter trains, however catching the train has actually turned out to be a pleasant experience. The other passengers are polite and considerate so there is no reason to get angry. What I didn’t count on was a different type of rage… footpath fury.

I live in Central Tokyo in the business district so to get to my local train station in the mornings I am joined by a swarm of salary men walking to work. After finally emerging from the jam-packed trains onto street level, people are quite keen to get on their way. The footpath becomes a passive-aggressive battlefield. Each person has their own strategy for getting ahead, whilst at the same time, everyone politely feigns innocence and pretends that they aren’t doing anything.

Footpath crowds near my local train station

For example, my tactic is to take extremely small, fast steps to fill in any tiny space that is in front of me. This way I can continually move forwards, even if there isn’t enough room for me to take an adult sized step. It also prevents other people from darting into the tiny spaces in front of me.

‘I’m-the-fastest-walker’ arm pumping is another strategy. This is when someone pretends that they are an Olympic walking champion. They run a few steps to overtake you and then pump their arms quickly to demonstrate that they are faster than you, and thus had a right to jump in your path. The trick is that their leg speed doesn’t match their arm speed so they gain your front position in the footpath crowd but still get to walk at a leisurely pace.

However, the most effective tactic that I’ve seen so far is footpath chicken. This is where someone walks headlong into oncoming pedestrians (pretending not to see them) so that the other pedestrians have to jump out of the way. It is a high-risk, high-return strategy. The other day I saw two salary men playing footpath chicken with each other. As the pair approached each other they built up speed to scare the other person off. Unfortunately neither of them pulled out at the last minute. They slammed into each other head-on at full speed. It was pretty funny to watch, especially because afterwards they both looked really angry but were too polite to say anything. They just stood there flaring their nostrils at each other for a few seconds before walking off.

Monday, 11 February 2013

Unlearning old tricks

When I was in high school, I spent a lot of time trying to learn novelty tricks - like how to spin a pen continuously around my fingers and how to speed read. I was convinced that learning these tricks would be a long term investment in my future.

Unfortunately, these skills haven’t rewarded me with the lifelong admiration and coolness that I was hoping for. In fact, they have turned out to be terrible habits that I can’t shake. Whilst I’ll admit, I did get a few compliments for my pen spinning in high school, the praise quickly dried up once I graduated. At university my lecturers’ eyes always seem to narrow and glare in my direction if I tried pen spinning during their lectures. And at work, I’ve noticed it tends to make my colleagues flinch… particularly if the pen scuttles across the workstations towards them. I’ve tried my best to stop but when there’s a pen around, my fingers itch to spin it.

By far the worst skill that I learnt was speed reading. I think I must have missed some key points when I learnt this one. Previously, I would read every word, no matter how long it took, or how boring the writing was. Since learning to speed read, I now find that my eyes glaze over and slide down the page sightlessly, but at record speed. I take in at most, two words per page. Then I have to force myself to read it again at a normal speed to actually get the information.

Speed reading gets me into all sorts of trouble in my personal life. For example, the other day, I thought I’d signed up for a bus and hotel weekend package. However when I turned up for the bus, I discovered that instead of staying in a hotel, we were going to be driving all night and using the bus as our accommodation. This was all detailed in the information email which I’d speed read. After a horribly uncomfortable night on the bus, I cursed once again, my high school efforts to be cool.

Monday, 4 February 2013

Rule breaking deviants

Living in Japan has been an incredible experience. Every day is an exciting adventure and I’m constantly being challenged to discover new things. However Japan wasn't the easiest place to get used to. The language barrier is difficult, of course. But it was actually the small, unimportant things that were the hardest… like the fact that I can’t eat at my desk at work. Or on the streets, on trains, or in department store food courts.

At first I really wanted to fit in so I tried my best to follow all the subtle social rules. I didn’t jay walk; I avoided speaking loudly; I always apologized to others when I entered a lift; I thanked people numerous times after they did something nice for me; I gave up blowing my nose in favour of sniffing; and most difficult of all, I began eating only at approved venues and times.

A hot food stand at Ebisu station...  But you're not supposed to eat at the station?

It seemed like there were rules for every moment and every situation. Trying to follow all of them, I started feeling really repressed. Holding back all my natural instincts stressed me out and I felt like a lifeless robot. I could feel my hair turning grey with all the self-restraint.

Finally after a visit from my sister and a few well placed “you’re turning into a weirdo” comments, I realised that I was losing my mind and that I couldn’t do everything right all the time. Other foreigners told me that I needed to loosen up and that I shouldn’t try to be perfect. My Japanese friends agreed. They told me to stop worrying because no one expects me to act like I’m Japanese anyway.

So I gave myself a break about following the rules. I decided that I would continue trying to follow them, but not to the point where I felt like I was losing a piece of myself. Giving up was a great decision. It has made a big difference to how comfortable I feel in Japan.

Now after almost two years in Japan, I find the rules humorous, instead of feeling crushed by them. When I’m out and about, I enjoy spotting other deviants. It’s a rare occurrence, but if I keep my eyes peeled it’s possible to catch locals breaking the rules. It gives me a thrill when I see a local doing something which is completely normal overseas but considered to be bad manners in Japan. The other day I saw a lady on the train sneakily eating bread out of her handbag. When she realised that I’d spotted her eating in public she looked guilty and embarrassed. We both knew that I’d identified her for what she was: a deviant.


Monday, 28 January 2013

Handshake gone wrong

One thing I really like about living in Japan is that people don’t usually touch each other when they greet. The great thing about this is that you always know what to do: nothing. There is zero risk of an awkward handshake. In Australia however, I’m always a bit clumsy when I meet people. Should I shake hands? Or should I be more ladylike and warm and give them a hug or a side-cheek kiss? Or is that too familiar?

An awkward handshake

My handshake awkwardness started early in life – during year nine of high school. I experienced a handshake that went terribly wrong, and I blame it for all of my future greeting mess-ups. It happened when I was taking table tennis for school sport. My friend and I had been playing a game against one of the teachers. Let’s call him Mr Tennis. The bell had just rung for the end of the period…

Mr Tennis approached me with his hand outstretched. I assumed that he was being a good sport, and wanted to shake my hand. So I shook his hand and said ‘good game’. But then, Mr Tennis put his hand out again. For some reason, my stupid brain instantly interpreted this as: ‘Mr Tennis is challenging me to a hand squeezing competition’. So I grabbed his hand and I squeezed and squeezed and squeezed. When I’d finished squeezing as hard as I could, I released his hand and looked up at him triumphantly. Mr Tennis said ‘Wow that was a strong hand shake. Now give me your table tennis racquet. That’s what I was asking for.’

And so began my lifelong affliction of graceless handshakes...

Monday, 21 January 2013

Big foot attacks mens changerooms

My gym in Tokyo takes convenience to a whole new level. Every time I show up I get freshly washed gym wear, shoes, and socks. It really beats lugging a heavy gym bag on the crowded trains every day. There’s just one problem… my average sized Aussie feet are considered to be ridiculously large in Japan. With size 26.5 cm feet, I can’t fit into ladies shoes. What’s a Big Foot to do?

The answer is simple: wear mens shoes. But in reality, nothing is simple when you’re a totally conspicuous and communication-challenged foreigner like me.

At my gym the mens shoes are kept in an alcove outside the mens changeroom. The men can help themselves. It’s an honesty system and it actually works. Amazingly, no one steals the unsupervised brand-name shoes.

So, all I had to do was sneak into the mens alcove and grab the shoes…

The first time there was no problem. It was early in the morning and there weren’t many members around. I just walked straight in and took the shoes. When I finished my workout I put them back into the men’s return slot. No one saw anything. I survived a day in Japan without getting busted breaking any rules.

Unfortunately, the next time I went to the gym, there were more people hanging around. I managed to grab the shoes from the men’s alcove without getting caught, but when I went to put the shoes back, things got complicated. Just as I entered the men’s alcove, the changeroom door sprung open and a man came out. He looked very unimpressed when he saw me trespassing. He told me (in Japanese) that this was the men’s area, and that the ladies changeroom was on the other side.