ben griffiths
an insight into the mind of a genius

Posts Tagged ‘plane’

welcome to the orient!

Tuesday, August 23rd, 2005


Well I’m finally here, my year in another country has began, however even though it is probably the most advanced country in the world, i STILL don’t have internet access!!! I am therefore unable to keep up regular contact (no phone line either) - so apologies for the lack of communication.

The internet (100meg :p), phone (ip phone) and cable tv are all being installed in a week, so expect much more regular updates.

Also apologies for the awful look of this blog, but it will get a lot better when I get net access and don’t have to work offline for everything.

Anyway, I shall begin….. let’s get back to the UK.

Thursday 18th August

As you may or may not know, instead of chosing the direct flight to Tokyo, I decided to go via Shanghai and have my chums at the travel agents swing it so I would get a free night in a 4 star hotel and have 24 hours to explore. After getting on the plane however, I wondered if this was a mistake.

I was in the middle section on the end, with luckily no one sitting next to me, so was able to stretch out a bit (which was lucky to say the least, the legroom was awful!!) Then the next shock, this plane had no personal inflight entertainment… doh! So basically you had to watch what everyone else did. For the first 2 hours it was some V-TV chinese pop television thing, which looked absolutely awful and I couldn’t understand anyway…. (I passed the time by eating my dinner quite slowly - pork and rice).

Next up was “Swordfish” (with John Travolta and Halli Berry (sp)) which was in English, and quite a good movie so I was happy :) After this I had decided it would be best to try and sleep the rest of the flight out (or at least until 2 hours before the end when the wake you for breakfast), however this was easier said than done due to the cramped conditions. I did manage to make some sleep here and there though, so wasn’t completely shattered when we finally got to Shanghai.

Friday 19th August

The plane landed at Pu Dong (sp) Airport, Shanghai at about 4pm local time (and quite a bouncy landing too, causing a few people to scream, haha) to the most murky looking weather ever. You soon realised when you got off the plane however that these looks were deceiving, as it was about 28 degrees!! I then had to join the longest queue *ever* to get through customs (1.5 hours) before finally heading off to get my luggage and going to find the shuttle bus to the hotel.

When we got to the hotel, a porter came to the bus and picked up all our luggage. I felt quite sorry for his as he obviously wasn’t expecting the weight of my case to be so much and almost dropped it :) I told him not to worry and carried myself into one of the most impressive hotel lounges I have ever seen! Really high ceilings and marble throughout, it certainly looked the business.

After checking in to room 352 and being given the keycard for entry, I headed upstairs to drop off my baggage and have a quick shower. I must admit, I did get a bit distracted by the free broadband so sent a few mails (but hey, if not you wouldn’t have heard from me at all!) - a quick msn chat or so, then back to the lobby to find a taxi to the center of town.

The consieurge (sp) called a taxi for me, and told me it would be about 130 yuan (£8.66) - which didn’t seem to bad. This cost seemed even better after an hour and 44.6km later!! (let’s see a black cab do that).

I wasn’t sure where I was going (it was all on the recommendation of the guy in the hotel) - but it seemed to be a central restaurant/bar square where there were lots of people. I was quite hungry by now and just wanted something to eat and fighting the urge to try and Chinese McDonalds, went off in search of some authentic Chinese food.

In the large mall just off the square was a quite authentic (but modern) looking place, so in there I went. I wish I hadn’t now as the food wasn’t so good. (The cold chicken with mashed up bone was particualy yuck!) - but I did eat enough to get full.

After this, I was unsure what to do. Find a bar and sit on my own, find a bar and try and talk to a random person, or just go for a walk. I took a wander back out to the square to survey the situation (and almost tempted by the “Very Sexy Cabaret” with Chinese girls in school uniform) but in the end decided the “random train philosophy” would be much more beneficial.

Random Train Philosophy - Go to station, pick random station, visit. (repeat X)

A train here costs about 14p (or 20p for a further journey!!) - so it seemed like a good idea to go as many places as possible. (trying to descretly work out where using my map, so as not to look too much like a tourist :)) - i’m not sure where I actually went, but there was a big tower with a round ball about half way up and a “Super Big Mall” (or something) - which was obviously just a shopping centre.

Alex had told me to try and find “English Corner” at Shanghai Park, but I couldn’t find Shanghai Park on the map (loads of other ones, just not Shanghai) - which was a shame, as it would have been nice to chat with some locals, but hey ho…

I did manage to find a Chinese night club (which was playing that song you like so much monk, the foreign remix of “groove is in the heart”) - but was so tired I decided I just wanted to go back home.

Fell asleep in the taxi on the way back and woke just before the hotel, paid my £10 (it was night time now … haha) and staggered upstairs to bed, bumping into the 2 American girls smoking just outside the lift for good measure….

Saturday 20th August

The idea had been to get up for 9 o clock to have breakfast then go and explore Shanghai at daytime, however when I woke up at 12:10, I realised I had kinda missed this opportunity :) I therefore changed plans to go to the airport for 1 o’clock to check my luggage in (plane was at 4:15) - then catch the Magna Lev train into Shanghai. Unfortunately, the checkin desk didn’t open until 2, so I had to wait around an hour, however when it finally did open, I was at the front, so got the front set (by the door) by the window. (shame it couldn’t have been for the first flight … oh well).

I was then free to find the Maglev Train (though it was now 3:10, so I didn’t have much time).

The Maglev Train is a magnetic levitation train (as in it doesn’t touch the track, it’s kept up and moving by an electromagnetic field) and as such, is able to go much faster than a usual wheel based train. You think the Eurostar is fast, take a ride on the 442km an hour (276mph) Maglev, which has the benefit of being very smooth (no bumpy track) and very quiet (there is no friction to cause any noise). It took 8 minutes to go as far as the taxi did in one hour!! I just had time at the other end to check out the Maglev Museum, before catching it back again to the airport to get the China Eastern flight MU719 flight outta there! :)
I think I fell asleep again on this flight (and it had no TV!!) - so not much to really report there.

Landing in Japan was a lot different to last time. I remember before thinking everything was so “wow!” and “look at that”, but this time the same fascination wasn’t there. I guess it’s because I now see it as my “home town” :) Of course, there was the customary 40 minute queue to get through customs, however there was no problem and picking up luggage was a breeze (it was already off the conveyour belt, so just had to get it off the floor).

Finally, I was able to head downstairs to the station to get the Narita Express to Shinjuku. It may have been an express, but it still took 1.5 hours!! I’m sure I remember it being closer last time, but hey :) I then got a train transfer to head to Shibuya to meet Seiko and Shiho in front of the metal dog.

Walking out of Shibuya station, everything started to come back to me and I must admit a wave of happiness came over me, knowing that this would be my home for the next year or so … sugoi!

Seiko and Shiho arrived about 10 minutes later to get me, which required another train journey (and no down escalator.. doh!) but was only 2 stops (and about 5 minutes) - so I thought cool, not far to get to school. However, we then had to transfer to a different train (which was about a 5 minute walk away…) before going for 3 minutes to our real home area of Wakabayashi.


Now to say this area is slightly residential is a bit of an understatement. Well I said I wanted to be thrown in at the deep end, so I guess I got what I asked for. There is litterally nothing here. A small supermarket, convenience store and…. well that’s it :) I am most definately the only foreinger here (which I actually like… strange…) with the nearest shops about a 15/20 minute walk away (and even then there aren’t that many) - the nearest bars (Shimokitazawa - which was supposedly near) took me about 35 minutes to walk to)….

I guess you could say i was a bit annoyed (though maybe too strong a word) at the location, as I thought it would be straight in the action…. however, more of a shock was yet to come.

Rent in Tokyo when you share gets quite cheap (around £300 or less per person) so when I found out the rent for me was £410, I kinda figured we must have a pretty good place. I realised the request to Seiko for a “not too expensive flat” must have gone over her head a bit when we arrived at the entrace to our place (about 5 minute walk from the station)

Welcome to the Chez Griffiths and Co.


Now come inside…


And here you go… the front door of

4-33-14-312, Wakabayashi
Setagaya-ku, Tokyo-to, Japan


Now since we moved in, we have aquired a bit of furniture, however on the first day, there was nothing… not even lights!!! I didn’t have a bed, nor were there any curtains in the house!!! However a bit of that has been rectified now….

After a bit of investigation I have now found out this is one of the most expensive apartments in the area and is famous for rich people living here!!! I’ll admit, it is a nice place (and has started to grow on me since I got a bed…) - but well…. judge for yourselves (it’s only just been built, so we are first tenants :))


Now a special mention has to be made to the bath. As you can see, the shower is next to it (so you just shower on the floor, and what an amazing shower it is!) - but I couldn’t work out how you fill the bath up (there are no taps)…. may I introduce you to the bath computer..!!!


Yes, our bath is computer controlled. The temperature on the left is for the shower (so ignore that), then the time, followed by a set of bars. These bars are how high you would like the water level (I kid you not), followed by how hot you wish the bath to be (constant temperature, not a one off fill).

You then input all this info, press the red button and your bath is run for you. When it’s ready, all the hot water controls in the house speak to you and tell you everything is set!! You can even set the time, so your bath will be ready for you when you arrive home!!!

Couple this with having a small park right next to the apartment block (green space is very rare in Tokyo):


And a playground opposite


And I guess you can see why the place costs so much. When I get a job and have an exact knowledge of my income, i guess I won’t worry so much, but now it just seems like this is going to be a very exensive year!! :(
Right, so that is the house done… now where was I…a yes…

So we arrive here, dropped all my baggage off and then went to visit one of Shiho’s friends “Shimpei” who lives a few blocks down. Luckily for me, he can speak English so was able to tell me a bit about the area, what there is to do (ie nothing… haha) and very kindly offered to help me out if ever I need it. He is a painter for a living, so always at home, which will be very handy.

Seiko then fell asleep, so we headed back home.

Sunday 21st August

To be able to sleep here you have to be able to put up with the constant insect noises. We’re not talking a little loud here, we are talking incredibly loud, both rustling noises and sometimes bird like screeches. I managed to get a photo of one kind, but the flying ones are higher up in the tree and couldn’t get focused.


Needless to say, I didn’t sleep so well, and woke up at about 2pm. Already round was Shiho’s boyfriend Toshi and his friend (who can aparently speak english, but is very shy)

They both left, leaving us to do my first ever Japanese Food Shop :) If you wonder about Japan being expensive, somethings are (mainly foreign style imports) - but Japanese food seems incredibly cheap:

250g Chicken Breast - £1.20
Bottle Beer - £0.60
Equivilant Alcopop - £0.50p

Hmm.. actually that isn’t too good a graph, as all I really can remember was the alcohol and chicken :) But take my word for it, it does seem a lot cheaper here (Though I am still working in pounds earnings…. maybe when I start to earn in Yen everything will seem to cost more…?)

We then headed out to Shibuya to buy lights, light bulbs, curtains and a rug - before going to an Italian for dinner (my choice :)) though you have to eat it with chopsticks. Which involves grabbing a load, then sucking it all in your mouth…

Shiho then went back to stay at Toshi’s house, leaving me and Seiko to take everything home, then have a very slow 2 hour conversation about not very much … hahah… i don’t think I can start my Japanese School soon enough… (conversation with Shiho is even harder, generally involving lots of hand movements and random noises….)

Yup, living here is definately going to accelerate my learning so much, as long as I am confident enough to keep trying (be strong my son!)

Monday 22nd August

Everyone had stuff to do today, so the flat was empty when I woke up. I decided I wanted to try and find “Shimokitazawa” which Shimpei reckoned was a 20 minute walk away as it has many bars and arcades. So after getting ready (and forgetting to turn on the aircon when I got up, so having to do so in 30 degree heat :(), I braved the noisy bugs and headed outside into the hottest day so far.

Seiko informs me that the temperate in Tokyo is a pretty much constant 28 degrees (even at night) until October, so I hope my body starts to adapt soon, as I was sweating like a pig after only about 5 minutes!

After following the map for about 15 minutes, it soon became aparent that Shimokitazawa was not 20 minutes away, and I arrived there another 20 minutes later. I must admit, I could have probably made it quicker had I knew exactly where I was going, but would have had to run to make it in the 20 minutes Shimpei reckoned it was.

Shimokitazawa is how it had been described though, full of young people, clothes shops, arcades, restaurants and bars. I was pretty fed up by now though and wasn’t in the mood for sightseeing, so just headed off to the station to get the train to Shinjuku where I wanted to go to Sofmap to get a camera.

First stop however was the internet cafe, which soon turned into a 2.5 hour net session (it was so nice to be able to read something in English) and involved scouring my Japanese Penpal Site to try and find some English speakers to meet up with plus sending a few emails.

Then it was off to Sofmap to get a new camera. I was originally going to go for a high end one, like the Canon IXY 600, or the Casio Z750, however after trying them out, I decided I would prefer a smaller (and therefore cheaper) one. In the end I settled for the Canon IXY 55 (IXUS 55 in the UK) - so Justin you can be happy I now have a Canon - for about £150 plus a 1 gig SD card for £40 :)
By now it was about 8pm, so I headed back to the station to get on the many trains (3) back home - arriving back the same time as Seiko and Shiho. They had brought back a matress and some curtains for my room, so we put all that together, and my rooms feels a lot more homely now :)
I just need to buy a load of paper to cover the glass doors (it lets in too much light, so I get woken up when the sun rises) and buy a light and a desk and the room will be complete! w00t!

Tuesday 23rd August

Well this is today, and I’m just sitting on the floor (we have no chairs) - writing up all I have done so far. When this is done, I am off to Shibuya with my list of things to get:

1) Ceiling light
2) Desk lamp
3) Laundry Basket
4) Paper
5) Scissors and Sellotape
6) Shower Gel
7) English -> Japanese Dictionary

Plus I need to

1) Upload this :) 2) Pay Egg Card
3) Open Bank Account

Spent an hour or so this morning with Shiho trying to have a conversation, involving lots of translation book reading :) But I do need to get the dictionary to help me a lot more. Where possible I’m using the Japanese I know, but realistically it’s not helping me too much.

Friday I will go to the school to enroll, which then should begin on the 5th September. So by October I should be a little more useful in conversations…. haha

Anyway, I better go, been sitting on this floor for a good 2 hours now and my bum really hurts :)