Thursday, August 13, 2009

London Calling, London Drinking, London Sleeping.

We left France via the Chunnel. Which ... is apparently not what they call it in either the UK or France. But, anyway, we met some nice actor named Chioke on the train. Oh, and we went first class because the tickets for some bizarre reason were the same price as coach. That meant we were offered champagne. Champagne. I had a beer instead.

Anyway, we got into London and stayed in a hostel for two nights. It was our first experience away from the high-society living, and I really enjoyed it. We met some nice people, the place was clean and felt safe. We did a free walking tour of the West end of London, and later went out on a pub crawl. Joe and I had a great time, we made pretty good friends with a Canadian Dr. who is on his way back from a few months in Tanzania.

I was especially proud of fooling a few people I met that night with fake accents. I told some British guy that I was from New Zealand, and he totally bought it! For like ... hours. And then I tried out my Australian accent on a few Aussies, and they bought it ... for a few minutes. But, still, that's a pretty good step up for me. Last year, I couldn't have even told one from the other.

We got really drunk and had a great time until we ended up at some dance club. Man, I always thought I didn't like those places - now I'm positive. I guess to be honest, I was having a good enough time until everyone else paired off with a girl - even Joe. I just got so bored and sick of pretending to dance that I took off. Joe met some nice lady (who went by the name of "Dream" ... I'm positive that wasn't her real name) and stayed out til about sunrise. I was powerfully hungover the next day, but we managed to get out to Wolverhampton to see my friend Alan. He's such a nice dude. It's funny how I only really met him two times - once in Hiroshima and once again in Tokyo - but I feel like he's a dude of mine. Like, if he needed a favor and I could help him out, I'd jump to do it. And he's definitely helping us out by letting us stay.

Though, I must say that the Black Country is not as tourist-friendly as London. We had a good time last night at two local pubs, and had a good chat with the owners of the Ace of Spades Pub, Penny and Andy. Today, though, we were going to go to the Black Country Living Museum - you know the kind, a bunch of dudes in a village pretending it's two hundred years ago. I was pretty enthused about it, actually, but the prices were way too high for us. Almost 20 US Dollars for admission is just too much for us.

So, we went for a bit of a walk around Alan's place. But, I was a bit startled. Some young Chavs (British teenage troublemakers) were out for a walk as well, and one of them decided to piss in broad daylight next to the canal, as we walked by on the other side. As we walked away he said "Hey, dickheads, were you looking at me? Were you faggots looking at me?" or something, to which I replied "Uh ... well, I'm looking at you now, because you called me a dickhead. But, I don't even know you, man." I was just so caught off guard by that kind of a thing. I've been in Japan too long! I got used to people just minding to themselves mostly, but I guess I better get used to the occassional angst-ridden youths. *shrug*

Anyway, we watched Blacula this morning, as we did laundry, and now we're watching Scream Blacula Scream. I fucking love Blacksploitation movies.


Sunday, August 9, 2009

Paris - The city of Love (or Louvre, I forget which…). I admit that my last post was a little severe, and not necessarily a true reflection of how I actually find Paris now. Basically, Joe and I were having little spats following each other around the city with our packs on during the hottest part of the day. After we found the place and began to settle in, we went to look for a nice coffee shop around our hotel. And … basically, I just forgot that in Paris, you need to possibly learn how to speak a little French. It was awkward, I got flustered, and the people at the cafĂ© thought we were a pair of total retards. For a second, I could tell that Joe was maybe hoping I could translate here as well as I did in Japan, but my Jr. High school lessons just wouldn’t return to me that quickly.

I’m happy to say, however, that everything’s come back - and more. After just a few days, I’m finding it fairly easy to order in French, follow basic instructions and other such things. In fact, I think I’m growing into Joe’s image of a translator. One thing that I’ve definitely learned from this trip is how easy the European languages I’ve encountered are to decipher. There are so many cognates, so many similar grammar rules, that essentially they are just strong dialects of the same language - which, they are. As the Roman empire fell (over the course of several hundred years), Latin grew into a regionalized version of the language of Empire. And since I speak fluently a language strongly based upon Latin (for all the words not connected to the day-to-day business of living like mother, brother, cow, pig, etc., but for words expressing complex ideas like constitution, fraternity, legality, etc.), it’s very easy to decipher.

Basically, I’m trying to justify moving to Europe. Which actually might be a great idea. In Amsterdam, speaking Arabic opened a whole window of Holland’s culture. Right now there is a huge cultural clash between the Dutch legacies - those whose Dutch families can be traced to Holland for generations - and the new arrivals - the Africans, Muslims, the racialized “other”. If you remember about the Dutch cartoonist being murdered for printing an image of Mohammed in a satirical comic in a Dutch newspaper, you’ll be familiar with the kinds of strain put on the communities there. The Dutch are hard-line Freedom of Speech supporters, and the new Muslim arrivals feel that some of their culture of Islamic religious rules should follow them.

Anyway, when I spoke Arabic with a guy selling falafel for 2 Euro, he gave me a discount on drinks, and kept saying nice things to me. Undoubtedly, he just felt really happy that, in a country where everyone expects him to learn their language, someone went through the trouble of learning his language. Though, speaking Arabic with shop owners also gave me a strange encounter in a corner store. He was from Iraq, and I could tell from his dialect, so I used a colloquial expression to greet him, and he totally assumed I was US military. He wasn’t exactly angry, but it did get awkward. He said “I’m from the country which your country bombed for 15 years,” and other things. Of course, I took the time to set him straight about how I feel about all that bullshit, but it seemed to blow up into this thing I hadn’t exactly foreseen.

The bottom line, I suppose, is that my Arabic skills have come in handy more often than my meager ability in French. People are almost always surprised and appreciative, and it feels a lot more friendly than the people I try to speak French with. It honestly makes me wonder if there’s not a chance that I might try to live in Amsterdam or Paris, because I could use my Arabic skills to deal with the Muslim communities here. In the same way that Spanish comes in handy working in the US, Arabic will certainly come in handy in Europe in the coming years.

It’s actually been a huge surprise to me, after coming from culturally homogenous Japan, to come to Europe and find it to be far more Muslim, African, and Middle Eastern than I expected. In a way, it obviously makes sense. It’s great that the people aren’t ghettoized, and if I were coming straight from America, I probably wouldn’t have been surprised in the slightest. But, coming from the cultural ghetto of Japan, it was quite a shock.

Sadly, however, my trip to Europe hasn’t been the only thing on my mind. Before I left Japan, I gave S-Lan (again, my helper-friend) around 200 US dollars to pay for my moving fees. Due to some Japanese bureaucratic bullshit (as always), payment to the moving company is only accepted from Japanese bank accounts. …Which is bizarre, considering it caters to people who are moving overseas. Anyway, they are charging me 430 dollars more than what I anticipated, and I have to try to send it back to S-Lan as soon as possible. It’s totally frustrating, and I’ve already totally overspent my budget in Europe. So, basically, I have no cushion money at all once I get back to the States. And if I can’t find employment, I might be in a bit of trouble for a while. But, hey, I’ll settle that when I can. It’s just … pretty frustrating. Especially frustrating, when you consider that nothing I own is worth anywhere near 630 dollars. Fuck’s sake…

So, because of overspending the budget, and the extra expenses to get my stuff back to the states, Joe and I are trying to live much more cheaply on the road. So far, so good. But, because of all the nice hotels we’ve been staying it, it’s an interesting mix of high-class hotels and low-class living. As I said before, I think, we were washing our socks in the sink, and hanging them in the glass and marble shower, of the most expensive hotel room we’ve stayed in; somewhere around 500 dollars a night. Last night, we were staying in a 200 Euro a night hotel, and we shared a pack of ramen noodles from two coffee cups. And we used coffee stirrers as forks. And just tonight, after buying some wine, bread, cheese, olives and salami, we looked for a good bench to sit at, but couldn’t find one. When we did find one, it was near a stairwell that smelled like pee, across the street from some fancy eatery, with a beautiful view of a brick wall covered in graffiti. Also, we smell bad.

But, it’s been a lot of fun. Last night, we met some weird girls at the Arc De Triumphe, and we went to the Eiffel Tower together and watched it sparkle at night. They were a little weird, one Aussie and one American girl, about 18 years old or so who were being au pairs in Germany. And today, we were at the Louvre all day, around 8 hours. My dogs are barking, and my legs hurt, but it was totally worth it. I thought that the Louvre might be an old lady museum, but I was totally wrong. It ruled hard. My favorite section was the Greek/Roman sculpture. They had all my favorite emperors, including the hilariously named Pupienus. We leave for London the day after tomorrow. For the moment, we are drinking Unicorn Beer (don’t ask, the French are just weird people), and watching some weird French clip show in the TV before going to sleep. Damn, it feels good to be a gangster.

(This was written on my computer when I wasn't on the internet, then copied and pasted into the Blog. Please forgive any errors, I don't have time to correct them just now.)

Thursday, August 6, 2009

So far, Paris is full of jerks.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Going Dutch.

Yesterday, Joe and I rolled into Amsterdam at three pm local time, after a twelve hour flight. The poor ladies on the plane actually cut us off (unofficially), though we weren't even drunk. Despite our best attempts at being charming to get them to like us again, the "Steward, we need a little something" button remained on for what is likely a world record. Around two hours or so. It was like a cold war, really. Only, hey, the workers really do have all the power. The strike totally broke us; I ended the flight with a tomato juice rather than Heineken.

The worst part was that an hour or so afterwards, the lady next to us (have pity for the poor thing, won't you?) pressed her button and had an attendant immediately. Meh, I guess two unwashed Americans have that effect on stewardesses.

It's so strange to be in Amsterdam, after being in Tokyo. There's good graffiti around, lots of brick architecture, and the people are huge. I am handling it all very well, but there are so many things about Western culture that I'm re-acquainting myself with. I'm picking up some Dutch words, and I'm totally shocked to find that I can mostly comprehend most signs, because of all the English or German cognates.

Also, the morning of our second day, we ran into my friend Sarah outside of a middle eastern restaurant. She's the one person I knew in Amsterdam, the girlfriend of another friend of mine, Tara. And, though we sent a few emails before the trip, we didn't have any solid plans to meet yet. Somehow, in a pretty good-size town, we just ended up running into her on her way to see a museum. It's strange, but I've almost come to expect weird shit like that to happen to me all the time.

In any case, we had a really excellent time today. Red Light District, the Gay Area during the Pride Parade, etc. The Gay Pride stuff was really fun. Granted we only kind of walked through and listened to a transvestite DJ playing dance music, but somehow that seemed like a fun and quirky thing to do.

I would definitely consider Amsterdam as a future living area, if at all possible. It's just like a giant college town, only I guess all the "students" are tourists. Which ... is us. I guess I am learning a lot. ... Just squinting through the haze, really.

I did go to the Van Gogh museum yesterday, and had a good, long look around. Man, that guy fucking loved colors.

My new favorite Van Gogh is, I think, called "Crab on it's back."