Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Transportation

Well, although it's really January 9th, I'm going to go back through and write out the events of each day of my trip back to Shimane as if I were posting that day. Fourteen days worth of posts...fun.

December 27th.

Up and outta bed early to finish packing and make sure I had everything I need for this trip. Since I am going to be away from the apartment for two weeks, I pack a week's worth of winter clothes and two sleeping bags.

Two?

Hey, Shimane apartments are cold. I may need them both.

Luckily, I have an enormous bag to pack everything into. I bought it off of Marcie, a Shimane JET, for 10 bucks. She was leaving in July and didn't need it anymore. I was in the process of getting ready to move up here and figured I could use all the big bags to pack stuff in that I could get my hands on. It helped on the move, and it'll help out this time.

Then I lifted it.

Hmmm...

I always pack too much. This bag is heavy.

Ah well, I'm sure it'll work out just fine.

So I pack up everything, check and double-check for my tickets, and after a quick shower, I was ready to go.

Hiroshi came over and picked me up, then drove me to the bus center. After several days of nice weather, it had decided to snow the night before, and the roads were slick with fresh powder snow.

Please, oh God, please let my plane fly...don't make me be stuck here in Muroran during winter vacation.

So I get to the bus center, thank Hiroshi and wish him a Happy New Year, and head in to get my ticket and wait for the bus out to the airport.

I got a good deal on a round-trip ticket, so I was feeling good. The big thing was that come this evening, I would be in Shimane. Weather permitting. Considering that the buses were running a little late because of the snow, I was still a little concerned.

But then my bus showed up. Off to Chitose Airport!

An hour and a half (or so) later, I was there. I go to the ticket counter, check in, check my big ol' bag, and then proceed on to the first objective of the day.

Eat ramen.

Naturally! Chitose Airport has a fantastic ramen area up on the third floor. Ramen from different parts of Hokkaido. Hakodate ramen (salt-flavored soup). Sapporo ramen (miso-flavored soup). Asahikawa ramen (soy-flavored soup). I'd eaten at the Hakodate ramen place before, and while it was quite tasty, and the chashu (roast pork slices) was the biggest I'd ever seen, today I was in the mood for something different.

So I walked around the different stores until I found something that caught my eye.

Obihiro ramen. Not a ramen that you hear of very often. I tried it once before in Sapporo, and it wasn't very good, but the shop at the airport looked tasty. So I ordered "pork ramen".

I haven't been out to Obihiro yet, so I can't say for sure, but it is supposed to be famous for dishes that include pork. This ramen had a miso-based soup (red miso - my favorite! - it has a really rich flavor) and instead of chashu, it had boiled pork slices. It was, as they say at Harvard, "quite the flavorful bowl of soup and noodles. I think I'll have Jeeves order some next week."

Or maybe not. But it was, as I say, a damn fine bowl o' ramen.

I also ordered a beer from a microbrewery in Chitose. It was a tad pricey, but really good. Yep, beer and ramen at lunchtime. Living the healthy life!

Then it came time to get on the plane. At least I thought so. Everybody else took his or her damn sweet time getting checked in and on the plane, so we couldn't get out of the airport on time. Plus, the road out to the runway was icy, so the plane had to taxi out slowly. We finally took off, and after two hours in the air, we arrived at Okayama Airport. After I grabbed my (damn heavy) luggage, I headed out and caught the bus to Okayama Station.

The plan upon arriving at the station was to check the highway bus times and see if there was a bus I could take back to Izumo. I had a fallback plan that I didn't particularly want to fall back on, but I had it all the same.

The Yakumo.

A rapid transit train that travels between Okayama and Izumo on the Hakubi Line. Also, one of the worst trains you could possible ride on in this country.

I never get motion sickness, but this train has made me feel a little less than well more than a few times.

It shifts back and forth on the rails, and tends to sway just enough to turn you a little green around the gills. And that's if you're lucky.

Here's the kicker: For as uncomfortable a ride as that train is, it costs 6200 yen (around $60) to ride from Okayama to Izumo. And that's just unreserved seating. Plus, it can take up to three and a half hours to get to Izumo. Rapid transit, my white butt.

So I was hoping beyond hope that I wouldn't have to take it, but just in case, while I was on the bus, I checked the time for the next Yakumo.

6:20. 5:00 now, I should have enough time to check the bus schedule.

Except that we hit rush hour traffic. What takes thirty minutes now took an hour. Next Yakumo leaves in twenty minutes. If I miss that, I have to wait in Okayama for another hour.

No thanks.

I shell out the cash and get a seat on the train, sending off a few mails telling folks I'm on my way.

Funny, the rocking and swaying of the train was nostalgic, in an odd way.

We come over the Chugoku Mountains and start heading towards Yonago. I start seeing familiar scenery (even though it's dark and there's lots of snow outside). I also start wanting to get the heck off of the train.

Finally, after three hours on that darn train, I arrive in Izumo.

I step out of the station, and a big grin crosses my face.

I'm back.

I'm easy to understand that way. If I have a big goofy grin on my face, I'm probably enjoying myself.

So I take a taxi to where I'll be staying while I'm in Shimane.

Lisa's apartment. Lisa is one of the ALTs in Izumo. She lives at the Friendship House, a building owned by the city that houses two ALTs and one CIR (Cooridinator for International Relations) employed by the city. Not a bad place. There's a room that is used for JET parties every once in a while. That can be fun. A tad cold in the winter, though.

Why am I staying in Lisa's apartment? Well, she's back in the States for winter vacation. So no one's there. To take care of her pet cat.

Jiji (loosely translated: Spawn of Satan). I'm a cat person, and Jiji gets on my nerves. I'm not sure how Lisa does it. One day in late Novemeber, she e-mails me and says, "Hey Dustin, you need a place to stay while you're here, right?"

Hmm. I was starting to think about who I could ask to let me crash at their places.

"Yeah. What's up?"
"Take care of my cat and you can stay here. I'm going home for Christmas and I need somebody to feed him."
"Okay. Can I use your car while you're gone?"
"Okay, but be careful. I don't have insurance for other people."

Sweeeeeeet. A place to stay and a car to drive. Shimane's a great place, but if you don't have wheels, it can be a bit rough.

So I let myself in with the spare key, stop Jiji from running outside, feed him, put my bags away where he won't tear them up, vacuum up kitty litter that's on the floor, go over to the next apartment and say hello to Rusty, Satoko, and Jason, and then it's off to the races.

I mean Daikan-cho.

Aah, good ol' Daikan-cho. Where the alcohol flows in the bars and the vomit flows in the gutters. An unpleasant picture, but not as much of an exaggeration as you would think.

For one and a half years, Daikan-cho was my place to hang out with friends and spend way too much money. Now that I live up in Muroran away from the bars, I'm saving money. This is a good thing.

First place I pop into is Bamboo, an Okinawan restaurant across from the station. I'm good friends with the owners, and I wanted to say Hi.

"Hey guys!"
Vague looks from the staff, then slowly, recognition.
"DUSTIN!"

This was a pattern that happened all night. The fewer pounds and hairless face threw a lot of people.

"Wow, you've lost weight!"
"Wow, you look younger!"

Oh, shut up. Flattery will get you everywhere.

So I sat down and shared a drink with the owners, and then they fed me. Upon arrival in Izumo, I realized that I hadn't had anything to eat since the ramen I had at noon. My stomach was not pleased. Until it got some good Okinawan food in it, that is.


That's me with the Bamboo staff on my last night in Izumo before I left to move up to Hokkaido.

We chatted a bit, and then it was off to my real hangout.

Ken's Box. Minako and the gang were there. Sayuri, Yukki, Saki, Tsuyopon. I walked in and said, "WASSSSSSSSSSUP!" Yukki saw me, recognized me, damn near jumped on me and gave me the biggest hug I've gotten in a long time.

Too long. Umm, yeah. Moving on.


Me with Sayuri, Yukki, and Saki. And some dude.

Minako and I.

Jin wasn't there, but I figured I would catch her around. I called up my drinking buddy Jara and told him to get his butt over to Ken's ASAP. He said he'd be there soon.

So I'm drinking and talking with everybody, and having a generally good time, but Jara just isn't showing up. I figured while I was waiting, I should make a quick run around and pop in and say hi at a few other places I hung out at.

Over to Number One to see Eiji. Only Eiji's not there. Apparently he works at a different bar now. So one of the staff shows me to where his new bar, Ri-Way. I pop in, and after he recognizes me, he insults me (as always). I follow that up with my usual retort of, "I don't wanna hear that from someone like you." We laugh, he asks me what I want to drink, I tell him I gotta run back to Ken's but I'll come in and drink there before I leave, he says okay, and tells me I'd better be at the countdown event they have planned for the end of the year. "I'll be there!"

Eiji and I.

From there, I go over to Juice to say hi to Aki-chan. Pretty much the same routine as before.

On my way back to Ken's, I run in to Masaya, the guy who runs Bar Soul, another Dustin hangout. He looks REALLY surprised to see me, but I promise I'll go in and get a drink there soon.


Masaya and I in front of his bar.

Back to Ken's. Jara's waiting there for me. We swear at each other and insult each other's immediate family members, like all good drinking buddies do. He's originally from Obihiro, up in Hokkaido. His dad was a member of the Self-Defence Forces, and they moved here while he was still in elementary school. Very cool guy, fun to hang out with, fun to BS with. I'd share his stories here, but I try to keep this blog fairly clean. He had a doozy of a story for me that night, though. Heh.

Jara and I.

We drank for a while, and then a few of us headed on over to Liberate to cap off the evening.

That's me with Kenji, the guy that runs Liberate.

We drank until four in the morning. I managed to ride Lisa's bike back to her apartment, and then, after a long, but immensely enjoyable day, I went to bed. End Day One.

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