Saturday, August 05, 2006

What Next For The Englishman?

Well, that's pretty much it for An Englishman in Nyu-gun. Since I'm no longer actually in Japan there seems little point in continuing...

If you're a new JET or teacher, or you're just thinking of coming to live in Japan, I hope you find this blog useful and interesting.

If you're one of the guys and girls who've been reading from the very beginning, I hope you've enjoyed reading my rambling, awkward prose. It's been fun, ne?

Of course, there's loads of things I never quite got round to writing about - like the fascinating love/hate relationship Japan seems to have with South Korea. Foreign relations between the two countries could currently be described as "frosty" to say the least, yet the Japanese public just can't get enough of Korean TV drama. This has led to a proliferation of magazines entirely dedicated to Korean celebrities with fantastic names like "Power of Korea", "Rabu Seoul (Love Seoul)" and my personal favourite: "It's Koreal".

I never quite got round to writing about my girlfriend Flick's brilliant performance in the Sabae half-marathon either. Not only did she come a respectable 19th in the women's category, she also smashed her time target. I'd like to think her performance was aided by me cycling ahead her on a bicycle, shouting words of encouragement. Having said that, I was a little lacking towards the end - her iPod broke down and so she asked me to talk at her instead to give her something to focus on. All I could think of to talk about was the new series of Doctor Who, which didn't go down too well. She may even have sped up to get away from me.

That's just the beginning - there are loads of other things I've been meaning to write about, but, unfortunately, I've simply run out of time. Besides, I've waffled on for long enough already - it's time to say goodbye.

Thank you to everyone who's been following the adventures of An Englishman in Nyu-Gun - I never thought there'd be so many of you (over 40,000 hits last time I checked!). Thanks to everyone who's ever left a comment, even (perhaps especially) the weird ones, and huge thanks to everyone who's emailed me with their messages of support. Thank you.

Very soon I'll be heading off on a 3-month round-the-world trip via South America, New Zealand, Australia and Bali, but once I'm back in the UK I'll be starting a new adventure - becoming a journalist. (By the way, if you happen to be the editor of a successful newspaper or magazine, feel free to send me an email if you like what you see. Wink, wink, nudge, nudge, pleasegivemeajob.)

Finally, once I get back from travelling in late November I'll begin my new blog: An Englishman At Large. See you there.

Sayonara. For now.

Friday, August 04, 2006

The Englishman returns to England. Here's me enjoying a delicious, foaming pint of nut-brown ale in the warm confines of an English pub. God bless the Queen and all that.

Back to the Motherland

First of all, sorry for not updating the blog sooner - the past couple of weeks have been pretty crazy. If you're wondering what happened to me, I spent my last few days in Japan in Hiroshima, then got a nightmarish flight home from Osaka.

Word of advice: Never, EVER, fly with Air China. No matter how cheap it is.

Flick and I had a bad experience with Air China before on our trip to Thailand (the plane was delayed after smoke began pouring out of one of the engines before take off) but we decided to give them one more chance for our flight home. This was a big mistake.

The first leg of the journey went relatively smoothly. We landed safely in Beijing after a short flight from Osaka, but very quickly it all began to go a bit pear-shaped. The queue for transferring flights was insane - after queuing to obtain our boarding passes from the unforgiveably rude staff at the Air China desk, we had to queue again to go through immigration. Bear in mind that we weren't actually leaving the airport, yet we still had to have our passports checked, have our boarding passes stamped several times, fill in two entry and exit forms and then go through a security check. Despite having 2 hours between our flights, we only just managed to make our connecting flight on time because of all the bureaucracy we had to go through.

That was only the beginning though. Our 747 bound for London eventually took off after boarding delays, but about an hour into the flight a message came over the loudspeakers in Chinese which caused several passengers to wail in dismay. A strangled, almost inaudible English translation followed, which we managed to decipher as: "The plane has a mechanical fault and will be heading back to Beijing". Not exactly the kind of thing you want to hear whilst flying over Siberia.

After the plane turned around, Flick spotted something coming out of the wing. At first we thought it was smoke, but then I realised it was fuel - the pilot was dumping fuel. Oh. My. God. Isn't that the kind of thing you do before performing an emergency landing or something? Images of us perishing in a giant plane-shaped fireball flashed through my mind for the next hour, as Flick and I continually exchanged nervous glances. Needless to say, I was just a little tense as the plane came in to land...

Luckily we touched down safely, and we never did find out what the mysterious "mechanical fault" was (although I think I'd actually rather not know). However, the next 12 hours became equally hellish as we were churned through the machinations of Beijing airport, starting with a shocking evening meal served in the dismal confines of Gate 1. It was awful - everyone was served a can of Coke which went out of date a month previously, and Flick discovered a maggot in her vegetables after eating half of them, yet when we complained the catering staff just laughed at us. Eventually, Flick did receive some compensation for the meal after finding a manager to complain to, but the damage had already been done.

After that the airline informed us that we would have to spend the night in a hotel about 40 minutes away from the airport, so everyone wearily piled onto buses for the next stage of our hellish trip (after passing through immigration AGAIN). Upon checking in at the hotel we discovered our flight was scheduled to leave at 5am the next morning, meaning we had a wake-up call at 2am, and a grand total of about 3 hours sleep. Joy. To cut a long story short, we eventually made it home (after one more trip through Chinese immigration) approximately 2 days after we left Japan. Never. Again.

Interestingly, although on an unrelated note, I found out about a year ago that the Chinese government actually blocks my blog, so I'd like to say a big hello to any Chinese censors who may happen to be monitoring this post right now. Hello Chinese censors!

Anyway, now that I've finished ranting about Air China, here's a pictorial guide to what happened during my last week in Japan, starting off with the final, final, final sayonara party in Bear's Bar...

The final, raucous night in Bear's Bar. I miss that place already...

The legendary Master-san - manager of Bear's Bar. Ah, the times we've had within the walls of that legendary ex-pat drinking establishment. Thank you Master-san.

A few famous Fukui faces: Karl, Beata, Chris, Christina, Mac and Jon enjoy a beer. Or two.

And, of course, there was lots of karaoke. Here you can see the girls wailing through some classic Madonna. (L to r: Laura, Flick, Tania, Caitlin (see you in Packwood Caitlin!) Celeste and Kate.)

Fukui city's most famous African and I enjoy a moment together - see you in South Africa Ruan.

I took this picture just as I was getting into the taxi to leave Bear's - a final, final goodbye. So long Fukui! I'm gonna miss you!

After saying our goodbyes to Fukui, Flick and I headed off for a short holiday in Hiroshima before getting our flight back home from Osaka. On first impressions Hiroshima looked pretty much like every other city I've seen in Japan, although it's obviously set apart by its tragic history - reflected in the many monuments to the victims of the nuclear bombing in the centre of the city.

This is the A-Bomb Dome - despite being situated right under the explosion of the nuclear bomb in 1945, most of the building (which used to be an exhibition hall) miraculously survived. The local government has vowed to preserve the structure forever as a reminder of that terrible day.

This mound contains the ashes of thousands of victims of the nuclear bombing - grim stuff. After wandering round the Peace Park and the accompanying museum - with its graphic photos of burns victims - I was certainly in need of a stiff drink. Looking at Hiroshima today, it's difficult to believe the utter horror of what happened in the past.

On our second day in Hiroshima we took a ferry over to the tiny, picturesque island of Miya-jima, which was definitely the holiday for me. Of course, no trip that me and Flick undertake is complete without a spot of mountain climbing - here's me at the summit of the island's tallest mountain, Mt. Misen.

After spending the best part of an hour sweating our way up the mountain, we wisely decided to take the cable car on the way back down. It was well worth the money for the views alone.

Believe it or not, despite travelling all over Nippon during the past 2 years, I've never seen a monkey in Japan. Until now that is - I finally spotted my first simian at the entrance to the cable car on Miya-jima. Get in! I'm so glad I don't have to leave Japan without a monkey sighting...

You've got to watch out for them monkeys though - one false move and you could be on the receiving end of a vicious monkey shakedown.

Here you can see probably the most famous landmark in Hiroshima, and one of the three "most noted views of Japan" - the torii (gate) of Itsukushima shrine. At high tide the gate looks like it's floating on the water, but at low tide intrepid tourists brave the estuary mud looking for photo opportunities. I find I'm usually disappointed by big tourists sites like this, but I actually thought it was really impressive.

However, my favourite part of Miya-jima had to be this - the world's largest rice paddle. My look of utter astonishment and awe says it all - I mean, it's not every day you see a 7.7 metre long rice paddle.

On our very, very last night in Japan Flick and I decided to take the plunge and sample one of Japan's most peculiar and famous inventions - the love hotel. After a bit of internet research we stumbled across one in Osaka called Hotel Pamplona which featured this absolute gem - the Hello Kitty Room (check the Kitty bedspread). Cute? Disturbing? You decide.

The room even had karaoke - awesome. Not quite sure why there was a microwave in there though - presumably some couples like to bring their own microwavable ready meals into the boudoir.

Possibly the most sinister part of the room was this sex-toy vending machine placed under the regal gaze of Kitty herself. It's like she's judging you with her eyes or something. Brrrr.

And here I am back in the UK! Bizarrely, a Japanese restaurant opened up a couple of months ago in the tiny village where I live, so when Flick came to visit a few days ago we thought it would be a great place for a family outing. It's great that I'll have a little taster of Japan right on my doorstep. It's pretty authentic too - they even covered my tofu in katsuoboshi, just like in Japan. Damn you katsuoboshi.

Finally, I took this photo in Russell Square a few days ago, on my way to visit a friend. Here's looking forward to a bright future in London...