As though one day’s rest wasn’t enough, I woke up sick today. I didn’t want to move a limb, let alone get up from the bed. Such days are awesome when at home. But here at a new place, with nobody to talk to, with nothing to do, I felt like I was caged by my own body. It was a dull tiring boring day, until Divya showed up in the evening. By then, I had enough energy to get up from bed and move around. And I sat down talking to her. I now relate to a lot of people, who have had most of their lives just waiting for someone to return home and have human company.
After the long day yesterday, we all slid into our comfort zones for today. The routine continued – some washing, some cooking, some cleaning. It was a plain simple day and the lull had begun to set in. And then Vidya calls me and reminds me how ‘boring’ I am. She makes fun of me how I have more of amma in me, who was apparently doing the same washing and cleaning and cooking. Kids these days! 🙂
Weekend again and we planned another trip; this time to Nara – the deer park. Getting to Kyoto, we took another train to Nara without much hassle. It was a reasonable long journey, in a fairly crowded train. We didn’t get nearby seats and I sat with three women, apparently a daughter-mother-grandmother trio. In less than five minutes, with no language whatsoever, they struck a rapport and offered cherry blossom candy to me. And in return, I offered them Kaccha Mango bites. Them, as me, were surprised by the new taste. The oldest of the ladies was very excited to talk to me, and she did; but all in Japanese. It was less awkward and more fun trying to tell her that I had no idea what’s happening in the conversation.
After a 45-minute journey, we reached Nara station. Gathering enough info from the tourist information counter, we set out to see the deers in and around Todaiji Temple and the famous Buddha shrine. The UNESCO World Heritage Site was a sight of awe and admiration. The 50 meter tall shrine of Buddha was more close to heart, after the briefing by our guide, Taka. Taka, a nice gentleman who appeared to be in his late 50s or more, took us around the place and explained the history of the temple. From him, we learnt that Nara was once the capital of Japan, and that the stone pavement in front of the temple had a story, and also that India was a dominant part in the shared history of the two countries.
I have never felt so proud to be an Indian as I now feel in a foreign land, where I go crazy about the Indian stones in the pavement, about the sculpture that resembles Lord Krishna, about the Sanskrit writings inside the temple, and a lot more. I went so crazy that I started randomly talking to a lady. She was looking at the lantern on which was the sculpture that resembled Lord Krishna. And I felt ‘obliged’ to let her know the possible Indian connection of the lantern! It was then I was first confronted about the ‘mysterious’ tattoo-like thing on my forehead. She wondered if my bindi was perhaps the third eye; popular belief goes something like, Buddha’s third eye is where the cosmic light originates from. I was baffled by the unexpected question, but all the more wanted to explain about Lord Shiva and the third eye as well. Thanks to Divya for stopping me from going out of control!
It was deers everywhere, and also were the sign boards that said that deers are wild animals. Honestly, I was scared. I didn’t want to linger around much. I tried and walked past a crazy lot of deers, as Divya and Saikat stayed back and fed the deers some rice crackers. That’s when I got my hands on the cherry blossom ice cream. Sakura is a fad, and yet I fall for it! It tasted good, but not awesome special! Perhaps, that’s the last time I fall for Sakura.
With a brief little shopping, we called it a day at Nara and took the train back to Kyoto. Meanwhile, I found a French cafe finally at Nara station. I have been looking for one since I somehow hope to find something vegetarian to eat at a place that’s not authentic Japanese. I am glad I did, and I hope to find more of ‘Vie de France’ in Japan! My food happiness rose to a whole new level at Kyoto station, when we found a store that sold MTR ready-to-eat aviyal! My faith of survival has been reinstated, once again!
Once in a while, Divya pings me or I her for a break from work. And we just walk by the campus reflecting on the day so far. And sometimes, it goes into a deeper conversation about a lot of other things around us. Today was one such, perhaps the longest conversation I have ever had with her. The beauty was not in the duration, but in the realisation that we did not see time pass by. The best thing about talking to her is how she just randomly brings up a person’s name and start talking about them. Not for once have I asked who the person is. I like how the story unfolds and I slowly learn more about the person as she goes on. I wonder if she has ever known this about herself!
I got pretty excited about this new route I discovered on Google Maps to get to Friend Mart. The highlight was that I could avoid the 100 steps. With a map screenshot (since WiFi is non existent outside the campus!), and the route engraved in my mind, I set out for a solitary walk. I had nothing specific to buy. It was just a walk I needed, and some time to myself. Exploring the place and the new route were cool add-ons! I was greatly disappointed when I learnt that the gate was closed and I couldn’t really explore the new found path. Google Maps aren’t so accurate after all; blame the locked gate! Nevertheless, I went by the regular route, anticipating new things. Walking by the pond, there were more people than ever in that scenic route. Ladies walking their dogs, kids playing, and some daring ones, leaning on to the pond, fishing, elderly on their evening strolls – the place finally looked like a residential area! That’s where I met this old man, who turned out to be an alumnus of the University. His enthusiasm on learning that I am from India and studying his University was real and moving. He kept talking in broken English, with a vigour that is seen only people from the older generation. The grace with which he walked with me and said goodbye at the supermarket is one of the many reasons that makes one look upto people in Japan, especially the elderly.
Another intriguing aspect about people here is about the kids here. The tiny little tots to school going teenagers are all known for their self sufficiency, here in Japan. But it amazes me to see kids play in the muddy mushy grass, go fishing without adult supervision, hop on to a bus all by themselves and a lot more. Its hard to catch such a glimpse back there from where I come to see kids relishing the nature without health and safety ‘concerns’! That’s new-gen parenting for you, where parents have no clue what to freak out about and what not. It was a heartwarming sight that kids here have the childhood that kids in India had two decades ago – the one with freedom to embrace nature at its best!
When everything goes wrong, you turn to food. Rather, I do. Nothing was so wrong today; just another dull day. Divya wasn’t around either. All the more reason to be bored and dull. And I walked to Shiru Cafe for an iced coffee. But what awaited me was the most amazing cake I have had here so far. Soft chocolaty layer, topped with almonds, one bit tasted like rich chocolate, another like premium plum, and yet another like some crazy soft cake! I have not enough words to describe my satisfaction biting into that chocolate delicacy!
All that said, I begin to doubt myself and wonder if I have lost my mind in all the lack of food options. Maybe this is all my desperation hyping it up. Or maybe, the muffin was just totally awesome!?
The drizzle that never stops is annoying. But very homely annoying. It reminds me of the incessant rains back home, that annoyed me while I went to school, college and later office. Rain was always a part and parcel of life. And when it continues here on the other part of the continent, I am home sick. I don’t miss amma and appa, or even Vidya much. I see them, talk to them, and almost feel like I am with them – thanks to the technology! What technology still hasn’t progressed on is the tiny little feelings like this. I miss the rain at home. I miss getting drenched in the downpour. I suddenly missed home horribly when Vidya said she came home fully drenched in the rain. It feels like it’s been ages since I have been home, or seen the rain there. I miss home.
Other than the rain, nothing stay in my memory. Ah well, the medical checkup! That part was fun, where I had to go for the blood test. Every instance of conversation with a Japanese person paves way for a blog in itself. Neither do I understand what I am saying, nor do they get me. But we still keep trying and get things done somehow! It was the same this time, when a lady there wanted me to write down my address on an envelope. I figured she was asking for the address only because she gave me an envelope. God knows what would have happened otherwise! Somehow passing through that, I had my blood sample taken and had a tiny bandage around the tiny prick. I was directed to a table and a chair by the same lady, where she placed an hour glass. The rest was understood, just by exchanging smiles. And I sat there, counting the sand grains dripping down, smiling to myself. I guess such small gestures are what set Japan apart. Blood test wasn’t a new thing for me. But this care was new. And it felt warm, especially when you aren’t home anymore.
Finally, two weeks in Japan! One more week to the end of April and one third of the entire trip. Time is flying and I was kinda wondering if I am losing track of the research. My professor appears as a divine intervention at the right moment, and tells me he has some time to discuss, finally! Such small incidents reinstate a greater deal of confidence and faith in oneself. After a fifteen minute discussion, I felt way more directed and inspired to move forward from wherever I was. I came back to dorm sooner than usual; one because I was hungry, two because I felt I made huge progress for the day already! Things were all good until I licked off the last morsel of puliyodharai. The empty container in which amma packed the pulikachal was my nightmare coming true! What next? Will I die hungry in this strange land that doesn’t understand the concept of vegetarianism? My food dreams were crushed over and over, the more I looked at the erstwhile ‘pulikachal paathram’!
The trip postponed from yesterday was realised today, and it was a complete success. One of the main agendas of the day was to figure out where to get some worthy souvenirs to take home. In that respect, it was a success; also in terms of food, for Divya and Saikat. Reaching Kyoto city, our morning blues were wiped off by the crowd. After all the lamenting of not seeing enough people around, a Sunday morning in Kyoto station was more than what we anticipated. People filling up every nook and cranny of the station, we lost each other for a brief moment in the rush. The meticulous queues and discipline hold true only as long as you are not running late; even in Japan. The well-mannered crowd suddenly shed skin and ran around in frenzy. But as you move out of the station, the order and discipline falls back in place. We stood in a 30+ people long queue, to get into a bus to Shijo Kawaramachi; meticulously. A queue for a bus, really! Reaching the shopping street at Shijo-dori, we needed no map. We walked as the mind desired. Picking up random stuff, we immersed ourselves in the street shopping ‘exercise’. It was tiring and I didn’t want to shop anymore. But each store had something new to gain our attention, I gave in to my curiosity; shop after shop. Somewhere then, we entered Nishiki market. And it was a relief to me, as I had nothing to buy there. The famous food street of Kyoto wasn’t famous for their vegetarian delicacies, obviously.
As the two of them treated themselves almost at every shop to all the ‘crazy food’ possible, I remained awestruck. All that said, I found an amazing burnt caramel ice cream in a cone, delicious honey lime and a filling potato cheese ball for myself. That, and some dry fruits are pretty much the entire vegetarian option in the entire street! Strawberries and cotton candy are add-ons.
The most ‘adventurous’ we got in this otherwise normal trip was when Divya wanted to go to a particular shop for a particular thing! Trust me, it was shopping and it was boring. The only thing that kept me driving through the entire day was the curiosity to find something ‘Japanese cool’. Connecting to the ‘Kyoto free Wifi’ was also cool; the whole city had Internet! Navigating was not a problem, and we found the shop, bought the stuff and started back to the station. What else did I see? A ‘cat cafe’! A place where you sit and drink your coffee as cats ‘purrrr’ around! And people find it cool?!
It was a long day, and we had completely drained ourselves out already, by hardly 6 in the evening. We headed to the nearest bus stop. I have heard of ‘pushers’ in Japan, who stuff people into busy trains. Almost saw one at a bus back to Kyoto station from the busy streets of Shijo. He wasn’t pushing anyone, but was pretty much yelling at people to make some space for people boarding the bus. That’s the loudest I have heard a Japanese speak here. He reminded me of a typical bus conductor back in Kerala, yelling “Angottu keri nikkanam chetta. Football kalikkanulla sthalamundallo akathu!” (roughly translates to the same what I think the Japanese ‘pusher’ was trying to say). In no time, we boarded a train and reached Minami Kusatsu, and soon, i-house. With a long list of people for whom I wanted to buy something special, it was not even half the list and I was already bored of shopping! Is Amazon Japan a smart alternative? *deeply in thought*
A Saturday morning with a drowsy head is so bad! I didn’t go for a walk, I didn’t even get up on time. We had made plans to go out. Nothing felt good! But there’s always food to compensate! Made food, and more food, and succumbed to my cravings. Watching a movie, reading a book (first time after coming to Japan) and sipping on hot coffee, I missed people and the merriment. But again, such time and space are what makes you you! It was a quiet evening for some loud retrospection!