A Travellerspoint blog

Steadily Approaching One Year

... and I missed my six-month entry

It should be obvious by now that I am terrible at keeping a blog.

But since I am rapidly approaching one year of having lived in Beijing, I will attempt to list a few of the highlights of the last nine months of it, since the last time I updated this thing.

JUNE 2009
This was the month in which I finally got a job. After nearly three months of bumming around with nothing better to do than see the sights, I got a job with an internet startup company that wasn't really what I was looking for but, let's face it, paid the bills and got me a visa. Speaking of visas, I decided to use my return ticket home to get a short-stay business (F) visa in Sydney, which would have been a great idea... if I hadn't gotten a tourist visa (I didn't find out until December). The trip home was brief but exciting, whirlwind with social engagements, and gave me the story of the Hong Kong-Beijing Through Train trip, which I shall never forget. A stand-out moment was: getting incredibly drunk the night before my flight home, and turning up hungover only to have to deal with a very complicated ticket. Another highlight was earlier in the month: a gig that remains on my top three - Convenience Store & SuperVC at Mao Live. High energy crowd and performance, one that I will never forget.

JULY 2009
The month I attended a Digg Meetup! I've been a fan of Diggnation for ages, and knew that Kevin was coming to China, but it was a stroke of luck that I was bored enough at work to use a proxy to check Twitter just after Kevin had updated talking about a Beijing meetup. I invited my friend Leslie, and despite initial nerves, I ingratiated myself into a conversation with Hippy Glenn, and ended up hanging out with him, Kevin Rose, and a bunch of other people. Some photographic evidence. The month was otherwise hot and sticky.

AUGUST 2009
The highlight of this month was: Lauren's protracted going away-ness. Lauren is a good friend I made through Michelle, as they both had stayed at Vinny's place at some point or another. She spent most of the summer (from the time I left for Australia until the beginning of August) travelling around China, doing Yunnan and Sichuan and Guizhou and all those gorgeous southern provinces, travelling by train and just generally adventuring around. She came back to Beijing with just under two weeks left, and I saw her a lot in that time. We had dinner and shared our summers, we had an Arashi night where I showed her ridiculous Japanese boy bands traipsing around haunted houses, and she insisted we check out Dos Kolegas, a very sketchy dive bar just on the border between everywhere and nowhere. Dos Kolegas was great; it's definitely a summer venue, and we spent half of the night inside listening to bands and half of it outside talking to people. She also shared a going-away party with Clayton, which was a night of much fun and revelry around Gulou. At the end of August, I went to Hong Kong for the I've-Lost-Count-th time, which was fun and interesting because it was not only ridicuously hot and sweaty and gross, but I also went to an outlying island called Lamma Island. I ate some sweet tofu dessert and walked way too much, through hills with no shade that made me sweat on my ARMS. Here are some photos from that trip.

SEPTEMBER 2009
This month, I met up with friends from America. Within the same week timespan, I was contacted by two people I used to know in Brookline, asking me if I'd like to catch up. The first was Joanna, a friend from Driscoll, one of the first people I probably ever met, and someone I took Chinese with all through high school. She's been living in Beijing for the last little while and we caught up for dinner, which was right near where I work. The second was Aaron, a friend from BHS who had come over for a theoretical computer science conference at Tsinghua University. I went to KTV and a nightclub with him and his theoretical computer scientist friends, two of whom I have since caught up with a few times for concert-going. That same month, another friend from high school contacted me about coming over, but so far that one hasn't eventuated. Also this month, Kat returned to Beijing. She'd stayed with us in April, but she came back in September for a three-month stint studying Chinese. She became a fixture at our home, and we spent much of our time watching television, going over her Chinese compositions (lots of sheep in fields...), and bicycling around. This was also my birthday month, but I was sick for my actual birthday - all I remember is Kat and Garth staying up late to talk with me about random things after I'd been watching TV from the couch all day.

OCTOBER 2009
National Day holiday! I posted about this previously, but it was still interesting. Kat and I bicycled around the perimeter of the blocked off area, which was most of central Beijing, and marveled at the extent of the policing of each and every hutong and main road entrance to the restricted area. That month also marked a renewed spark of interest in going to gigs, having met someone online who shared my interests and passed on the contact details of Samantha, an American girl who was studying and looking for someone to go to gigs with. Kat's birthday also fell in October, and we went to one of the many infamous Japanese all-you-can-eat, all-you-can-drink teppenyaki places to celebrate, with a stop at Sanlitun afterwards. Neither of us remember how we got home, exactly, but we managed to stay in our heels all night. I also did an overnight stint in Hong Kong that doesn't even bear mentioning because I did absolutely nothing. I also saw the second of my top three gigs in Beijing: Convenience Store's last gig at Yugong Yishan. Unbeknownst to me and, it seemed, much of the crowed, they announced their hiatus that night, and it made for an amazing gig.

NOVEMBER 2009
The month of the Beijing Gig Guide. I started the website properly this month, and everything finally clicked into place when I started the Beijing Gig Blog and the Gig of the Week newsletter. I went to a gig every week this month, wrote about them faithfully, and kept the guide up to date. It was a big task, but now that it's been going for a few months it's gotten a bit easier. But so has not going to to Gig of the Week. ;)

DECEMBER 2009
Arashi month! As previously updated about, I went to Tokyo for five days to attend an Arashi concert. It was whirlwind and amazing and made me want to go back to Japan as soon as I can. December on the whole, though, was very busy. I kept up with the gig guide properly and found myself a new job working at a company that helps Australian businesses work in China. I started taking Japanese tutoring lessons with a lovely Chinese girl my sister's age. On Christmas Eve, I went to a party at Caroline's house where there was much fun to be had with the whole Hua Dan crew. For New Years, I went to Mao Live with Samantha for a concert that also ranks on my top three, with some brilliant bands but most notably Life Journey, who we went and said hello to after the show.

JANUARY 2009
I continued with the momentum from December and was social and active in January. I went to birthday parties and dinners out and day trips within Beijing and movie nights, because it's good to not get too stagnant in the winter. I went to gigs (though not as many as I should have) and kept up with my Japanese studies. I also started my new job, which can only be described as amazing, though busy and confusing.

FEBRUARY 2009
Has continued to be amazing. For the first week of the month, work had me so occupied that I could do nothing but stare at the wall or watch How I Met Your Mother when I got home from work. I have not, actually, been to a concert this month, which is not only my fault but the fault of everything closing down for Chinese New Year. Last weekend, I spent Chinese New Year with a co-worker of mine and her family, eating dumplings, watching television, setting off fireworks, and going to a Temple Fair at a park in west Beijing. I am going through the ever-present ordeal of getting a new visa, which is nothing to write home about but something to be considered. I also suggested my sister for a job to my boss, so Hannah is arriving in Beijing on Saturday, to stay for who knows how long for who knows what purpose.

And that's been the last nine months, in a nutshell. I'm not sure how things can get better than this, but they keep doing so.

Posted by alexifer 00:53 Comments (2)

5x10: Arashi Anniversary Tour

A concert report, of sorts.

rain 10 °C

So the idea of writing a concert report is very intimidating, because I have a shocking memory, and also the word "report" makes me feel like I should have findings and conclusions and things like that. It also requires me to have set lists and memories of what outfits they were wearing or when the green laser lights came on but honestly I cannot remember everything. Even when we got home that night, I had already forgotten what Sho's solo song was. Instead of writing a report, then, I'll just list the highlights - the things that made the concert memorable and special - and all the details I can remember, as well as my general impressions.

So I guess maybe it is a report, but if I don't call it that I won't feel so intimidated. Okay?

Okay, so.

Buying Goods.

I've never really understood why everyone makes such a big deal of the experience of buying goods. You stand in a line for a couple of hours, ask for things, pay for them, and then get out. That's kind of it. Sorry to break it to you, but it's no experience. What was great about my time in the Epic Goods Line, that stretched almost all the way around the Dome and up flights of stairs and everything, was that I had three wonderful ladies accompanying me, two of whom were waiting and helped buy things when they already had their goods. It wasn't a painful experience to wait when the company was so good, the conversation flowed, and also the line moved fairly consistently and quickly. At one point Jenny and I jumped out of the line to go to the bathroom and by the time we got out we couldn't find them for a while, haha. The buying process was sort of annoying, but they send out the goods list with the tickets, and we'd all seen them online so most people knew what they wanted. It was an in-and-out process, and I don't really know what to elaborate on there.

Six O'Clock Approaches.

This was by far the most harrowing half an hour of the entire experience, if not my life, and in part I feel responsible for it. I'd left my pen light in my goods bag, which was in Lydia's hotel room at the Tokyo Dome Hotel. Though we knew that the elevator issue would be dire, we went up to her room, used the facilities many times, got everything sorted, and then tried to leave just after 5, when the show starts promptly at 6pm. The lifts were... ridiculous. When they did stop at our floor, they only had room for one person at a time, and there were other people waiting. It was absolutely ridiculous, and we sent Jenny down first, and then Lydia because I was sure she was going to pass out.

It was just... okay, so it's nearly time to go to the BIGGEST event you've ever been to, which is nerve wracking enough, and then there's a chance you're not going to be there on time to catch the opening moments? We were absolutely shitting ourselves. Heather and I managed to make it down shortly thereafter, though, after running into a hotel staffer as we were about to make a getaway in the stairwell (everyone has something they'd walk down 28 flights of stairs for). Us and the other women waiting were taken down using the service elevator at the back and all was well.

The jitters cooled off as we crossed the rainy expanse of concrete from the hotel to the venue, but they returned as soon as we were inside. We collected our final attendee and made our way into the pressurized (without anyone asking to see Heather's membership card and a perfunctory "do you have a camera" question at the doors), and a whole new wave of freaking out started. The view of the main arena was blocked off by huge black curtains, with gaps in them for every aisle, and as soon as I caught a glimpse of the arena through the curtains I nearly wet myself. I think I'd talked myself into believing that I wouldn't be able to see anything, that this would be just like when I saw Hanson for the first time and they were no bigger in my sight than my thumbnail held at arm's length, but even from rows and rows behind where would be sitting, I knew that I would have an amazing view just from what I could see of the catwalk.

So I hid myself from the view for as long as I could, concentrating on buying drinks and finding our aisle, but eventually we parted with Jenny, found our own aisle, and I had to confront how close I would actually be and how clear a view I actually had of the entire arena. It was so overwhelming, I think, that I couldn't really process it. I watched the crowd, watched people filing in and the people around us and on the arena floor (thinking "those lucky bitches") and across the other side of the venue and in the press boxes and behind the baseball net, and I steadfastly did NOT think about the fact that sooner or later, the lights would go down and Arashi would be gracing the stage. Because I would have just about died.

As six o'clock drew nearer, something happened much similar to what happened at my first Hanson concert. At the Hanson concert, a spotlight adjusted on the wall beside the stage, and everyone started screaming; it's a detail I've never been able to forget. I'm not sure what happened at the Tokyo Dome, but suddenly everyone was out of their chairs and screaming. We all got up, and nothing happened, but we stayed standing anyway, me clutching my pen light and trying to get my heart to stop beating so damned fast. And then, as some stragglers were running across the arena floor (lucky bitches), the lights did go down, the music started, the screams were deafening, and everyone's eyes were cast skyward.

A trip, skip, tumble down memory lane.

So this is where things get a little fuzzy for me. Fuzzy in that way where I cannot for the life of me remember the progression of three hours of music, because everything starts to blur together.

I remember that they started the show on high wires, their sequined white jackets with black buttons glittering in the spotlight.

I remember them dancing with vegetables and in clear plastic jumpsuits in front of a VTR that juxtaposed the old performance with the new.

I remember a very different Aiba solo, all dark with reds and heated energy and shorts with hairy legs you didn't need binoculars to see.

I remember fireworks going off and water spurts.

I remember the huge cloud and sun balloons as Ohno sang Kumori Nochi, Kaisei dressed as Yano Kenta.

I remember Nino's completely unsubtle Ohmiya moment, deliciously manipulative and clearly planned and beautifully executed, that had all the fangirls screaming and me giggling even though it was just Nino putting his arm around Ohno's shoulder.

I remember laughing at the MC, even though I couldn't understand every single word.

I remember the outfit Sho wore for his solo - a sequined hoodie that reminded me way too much of Jun's Yabai-Yabai-Yabai getup. I still don't remember what song he sang.

I remember the beautiful simplicity of Jun's solo, and wanting a DVD of these shows just to have this solo. I didn't say much to anyone during the concert, but I remember leaning over to Heather and saying "you cannot get more perfect than Jun and Broadway together."

I remember the thrills that ran through me as they came around on the trucks, waving in our direction, and how the embarrassment of waving a stupid pen light back as though they could really see me wore off quickly because it didn't matter that they couldn't see me; I was a part of something they could feel.

I remember looking around at everyone else to do the furi and giving up because it was just easier to wave my light out of time and enjoy myself.

I remember the scrapbook slideshow that made Lydia cry and the girls behind us sob, and I remember wishing I could feel the same way.

I remember singing my lungs out to songs I never remember the meanings of, getting incredibly excited at the songs I did remember, and just watching the stage and the rest of the crowd during songs I didn't know.

I remember not understanding why they were doing encores with the house lights up, but loving that the idea that they could see everyone as they looked around the crowd.

I remember their thank you's and not caring if they'd said them a thousand times because this is Arashi and they always mean it.

I remember them teasing Aiba and Jun tripping over his words and Sho owning the MC and Ohno getting into teasing himself and Aiba and Jun play-arguing and Jun with his stupid death wish fan service and Nino playing everything so cool.

But those are pretty tantalizing snip-its, I'm aware, so I'll go a little deeper for you.

The prose; aka the details.

Okay, so. I'll split it up.

THE FANSERVICE.

Okay, so maybe this was just me, but there wasn't a lot of fan service at the concert. There was the Ohmiya moment I alluded to, which was literally just Nino putting his arm around Ohno's shoulder, but it was so deliberate and teasing that I loved it even more than if it had been casual. He went for it really slowly, as Ohno was singing, and just sort of grabbed at Ohno's chest at the last moment. Everyone screamed, and I squealed and then giggled because it was so perfectly manipulative and perfectly Ohmiya that I couldn't help but enjoy it.

The only other thing that I really remember was Jun staring down Ohno in that way he likes to do sometimes. You know, when he stands really close to Ohno, towers over him, and just stares, with that tiny little corner-smile of his that might eventually spill over into a real Matsugrin if you're lucky. It was, predictably, adorable, and I love Jun for it, and Ohno for putting up with it and ♥

But if we're not talking about the gay stuff, but just getting involved with the fans and making them feel loved, it abounded. Of course.

If you've ever heard that Aiba makes you (as a concert-goer) feel like you're truly loved, and doubted whether it's possible, I will tell you that it's true. There is something about a grinning, waving Aiba who gets so excited he forgets to sing or riles the crowd at the wrong moment of a song, that makes you feel as though you are supremely adored by him in that moment. Even though he probably can't see you for shit, you know his heart is out there, sucking in all your feelings. It's kind of gorgeous and I wish it wasn't so cheesy to explain but there's no other words.

Sho, of course, is all about the upper seating, as always. Which I'd be thankful for if I was sitting up there, so I won't say anything bad about it, but it's one of those things that, you know, you see on the concert DVDs but you don't realize that he really does do it? Or something like that. But he was also super playful, mucking around with the cameraman when he was on his truck going around the edges, hamming it up, it was gorgeous.

Nino, as per usual, was brilliant for fan service. He sat on the edge of the transparent moving stage and waved down at people as he is wont to do, and also played with the cameras on the trucks, and waved like a mad man. His little limp-wrist wave was just so fucking catchy that I had to do it back. There wasn't any way I couldn't have, it was just as hilarious and great in person as it is on a DVD.

Ohno did his waving and peace signs and was also completely adorable. As we all know, though, his best moments are close-up, because while he waves out to everyone, his eyes always seem the brightest when he can connect with someone. So I didn't feel like I got a lot of feedback from Ohno, but that didn't stop me from waving like a crazy person when he came around.

And then Jun. Oh Jun. Taking his shirt off at the beginning of the MC (because he just has to be different), climbing on top of the dugout to take an Ohno uchiwa from a fan and dance around with it, hanging on the netting, running tantalizingly close to the fans, generally flaunting himself all over the place... it was so very Matsujun.

THE MC/THANK YOUS/ENCORES.

The MC was adorable! Occasionally I felt a little annoyed that I couldn't really understand what they were saying, but I managed to pick up the topics they were talking about and, surprisingly, all of the teasing that went on. They talked about FNS (which went over my head because most of my understanding really needs context and I haven't seen FNS). Aiba talked about My Girl, admitting that he hadn't watched it the night before because he had gone out to eat. Later, he nearly gave away the ending, which Jun stopped and everyone teased him about. They talked about the drama with all of them, Sho's dramas and specials and stuff... Then Jun butchered the name of his drama which was a-dor-able because he got all annoyed with himself and closed his eyes and started over again. Then they asked what Ohno was doing, wherein he listed all their regular TV shows and the others feigned ignorance about them with "oh that's interesting" noises. They asked him what he was doing the next day and he said "oh, a concert at Tokyo Dome!"; they asked about the day after and he said "off", haha.

And yes, I pretty much understood everything that I just listed there. Go my Japanese listening skills.

Their thank you's were fairly standard; any of the heart-warming details were sort of lost on me but I was too busy watching the screens for signs of crying. I might be a mean person but I really sort of hoped that one of them would at least choke up a little. It didn't happen, but that's okay too. I felt their thanks anyway; the whole cheese factor was not lost on me.

The only other speaking part that is worth mentioning is at one of the encores, Jun was saying how glad he was for the concert (yokatta or however you spell it), and asked everyone else in turn to answer. Sho gave a hearty response, Nino answered even though he looked a little "lol what are you doing" about it, Ohno looked pressured into it but that was adorable, and Aiba goes "yeah, it's great, but..." and Jun just glares at him. "Sorry, what?" or something in that vein. "Isn't it great, Aiba?" "Yes, it's great, but..." "It's great, isn't it Aiba?" "It's great, but asking the other members...." "It's great, isn't it Aiba?" Beaten, Aiba said "Yes, you're right, it's great." And bows. And I love them ♥

THE SCRAPBOOK SLIDESHOW.

Jesus, way to tug at the heartstrings, boys! When I first heard that people were crying at this segment, I was like "god, fangirls are nuts aren't they?" But after having seen it in real life, I can completely understand why that happens. It takes photos of them from when they were little all the way through their childhood, through juniors days, once they were debuted, along with clips and sections from shows and other concerts and I can imagine that for anyone who has liked Arashi for a significant period of time, it's like a recap of your own life, the life you had growing up with Arashi. I imagine I would have felt the same, a few years ago, if there was a ten-year Hanson concert that was building up all of this and then showed clips from their youth - from my youth - that I would have felt the exact same thing.

Not only that, of course; the girl behind me was bawling with just as much feeling as I recall someone doing at a Mountain Goats concert, and it reminded me how much a band can give someone. With the Mountain Goats, because their music and they talk frankly about child abuse and how to get through it, they have touched people in a very meaningful way; with Arashi, because of their unwavering spirit and energy and happiness, I know that they have provided good role models and have drawn just as many people out of their feelings of despair. The music might be different but the message is the same - be strong, trust yourself, and strive for happiness. And I think that's a message anyone can get behind. (I am sure that it's sacrilegious for me to have just compared the Mountain Goats to Arashi, but whatever.)

I did feel bad, at the time, that I didn't have the same history with Arashi that some fans who didn't get to go would have, but it didn't stop me from enjoying the moment.

The beautiful part, though, was the fact that this segment led straight into a high-energy, fast-paced medley of some of their most fun songs: A-Ra-Shi, Sunrise Nippon, Kotoba Yori, Sakura Sake, Wish, Love So Sweet, Kitto Daijoubu, Happiness, Believe, and a bunch others I don't remember. Sweeping away the cobwebs of the emotional outbursts with some amazing songs - that's what I like to see.

THE SOLOS.

Aiba's solo was first, and a remake of Pikanchi, which is a song I have only listened to once or twice. I don't know what it sounds like usually, but this felt really dark and had a fierce sort of energy around it. There was flag-waving and some really tight dance moves, all reds and blacks and heavy beats and it was really interesting but not like Aiba solos usually are at all. I want to say I was disappointed I didn't see the giggly, happy Aiba you so often see in his solo performances, but he was like that the rest of the time so I can't say anything bad about it.

Ohno's solo was adorable, as you could expect from a performance that involved him getting into his Uta no Onii-san getup and playing Yano Kenta for a little while. It was adorable, and the huge balloons were a really nice touch, even if they didn't quite move as fast as the moving stage he was on, haha. It just reminded me of the drama and the little girls we had seen at the hotel earlier dressed up in the same gear, and it was very happy and completely adorable.

And I'm sorry, Mr. Sho Sakulai, but I just don't remember much about your solo. There was the sequined hoodie, the dancing around with juniors, and I knew it was a remake of an old song, but I don't remember it very much at all. Maybe it was because it was an unfamiliar song coming straight off the MC segment, but either way... well, you looked good? What can I say.

Nino~ redid Kotoba Yori Taisetsu na Mono, busting out his guitar skills to play a few chords on the electric guitar while he sang. It was an interesting rendition, because it had to be slowed down a little for - I assume - Nino to keep up with as well as sing along. He did pretty well; he was a bit pitchy and while the guitar was cute and I'm glad he busted it out, I would have preferred to see him on the piano. That's mostly because in my everyday life I see many a guitarist better than Nino, but not often a decent pianist. BUT the performance was good, and that song just reminds me of Stand Up so much I just love it.

And, last but by no means least, Matsujun's solo. Now, I should say in advance that I am not a fan of Matsujun's solos. The only one I thought he pulled off at least halfway decently was Yabai-Yabai-Yabai, but that's pretty much only because of how ridiculous the whole premise was and how he seemed to embrace looking like a fool and totally go with it. Oh, and La Familia because it was fairly sedated and laid-back in comparison to some. The other solo performances I have seen of his have either made my ears bleed or made me stop watching because of how embarrassingly hard he was trying to be cool and just failing. HOWEVER, this concert gave me the perfect Matsujun solo and I cannot wait for the DVD of it. Seriously. It's WISH, done in a jazzy style, with all these Broadway motifs, and he's dressed in black slacks and a white shirt and I think suspenders, and of course a hat, and it's just fucking gorgeous. The dancing is brilliant, he pulls it off perfectly, and the whole thing is just... it's so Broadway musical that all parts of his performance - the dance, the camping it up, the singing - is just so appropriate that it worked really well. And he didn't butcher the song; he did quite well, and that goes for most of the concert, really. A++ to Matsujun's vocal stylings.

THE SONGS.

Participating with songs is just the best. A Day in Our Life, Sakura Sake, Carnival Nights, Oh Yeah!, Hadashi no Mirai; those are the most fun to be there waving your light to. Plus, the furi for Hadashi no Mirai is so damn easy and there's lots of Sho's little "wo-woo!"s which I just love. The other songs I loved were mostly personal picks, because I will always get into a song more if I recognize it and can sing along, so the medley at the end was a favorite, with all the newer songs. And I have a terrible feeling that I'm going to start listening to some of the awful songs I wrote off at the beginning, simply because I've seen them live. It's a bad habit of mine; I start forgiving songs that I once thought were horrible, because I've seen them performed and listening to the (still terrible) recorded version brings back the memories.

The only - and I mean the ONLY - thing I wish they had sung was Tokei Jikake no Umbrella. But who doesn't wish that?

After-thoughts.

I think that at the beginning of the concert and directly after it let out, I didn't really understand what the concert was about. I'm very much used to a concert that is a room no larger than a house, with three to five dudes on a stage with instruments, where you can stand close enough to touch them and get sweat sprayed on you, where you can dance as much as you want, or get drunk at the back while nodding along with the beat, where you're right there with the performer and you can see their mood on their face, where I can understand their words, where you can go up to them afterwards, shake their hands and ask for a hug and go on your way feeling like you connected one-on-one with the person because there is exactly zero fourth wall in most of the gigs I go to.

So when I attend a huge arena concert, with a fucking boy band who doesn't play their own instruments or write their own lyrics (largely; let me make my point first), it's just so different from what I'm used to that I didn't understand how to interact with it. I did what I could, and got into it as I could, dancing and waving and singing out loud and it was so much fucking fun but afterwards I still felt a little like, "well what was the point of that?" I made the mistake of thinking that if the performers can't see you, they can't feel you, and just because you can't see the beads of their sweat from a foot away, you don't get anything from them.

But sitting back from it after a couple of days, I have to say - and this might be me rationalizing my feelings and making the whole experience more important than it was but I don't really give a shit - that I was completely wrong. Maybe they didn't look me in the eyes, maybe I couldn't study their every pore, but Arashi has instilled in me the knowledge - not just the faith - that their concerts are a definite coming together of group and audience. They feel every single person's presence, and they give back exactly the same amount. It's hard, coming from an individualistic Western mindset, to believe that just being a tiny insignificant speck should fulfill and emotionally satisfy me as much as one-on-one contact, but I believe it. I trust it.

And in the end, whatever. Some bands I've seen so close they've sweated on me won't remember me any more than Arashi; it's all an illusion I create on my own selfish part. I'm just as happy - if not happier - to be part of a 50,000-person crowd that filled Arashi with the overwhelming feelings that must still come from filling the Tokyo Dome, even if they've been doing it for ten years.

And after that ridiculously long report, I'm going to get a late dinner, and watch something ridiculous and not-emotional and stop listening to this song because it just makes me think of Aiba crying.

Posted by alexifer 21:05 Archived in Japan Tagged events Comments (0)

A Fan's Trip To Japan

We skipped the museums for the pop culture landmarks.

sunny 12 °C

So I suppose you should all know, upfront, that the impetus for my trip to Japan was for a boy band concert. It's not as though I never wanted to visit Japan otherwise, and in some ways I wish I'd had the chance to go before having a whirlwind trip focused on mass-produced popular culture, but this is the way the cookie crumbles, and I left plenty of things to see next time. And trust me, there will be a next time.

With that in mind, I will tell you that my five days in Japan were mostly consumed with eating, watching television, finding landmarks related to said boy band (henceforth: Arashi), and seeing a concert. This was not the trip to Japan most people take, but it was fun. We did see some of the landmarks, but time is short when you've got concerts on the brain, so don't expect much in the way of regular sightseeing.

Without further ado...

On my first day, I got into Narita Airport at about 3. I was way early, after an okay flight (pros: exit row, no annoying person; cons: disgruntled staff, massive turbulence), and had to make my way to Kashiwa, a city in Chiba prefecture, all by myself. It was okay, Japan is full of English, but it was weird, okay? I get through customs, get some money out, and the first real Japanese I am confronted with is a shift change at the airport convenience store. It's an exchange I've seen on dramas about a billion times before - "I'm going now!" "Thanks for your hard work" "You too! I'll take my leave now." "Okay, take care" "Thank you, see you tomorrow" (Japanese people say a lot of words :/) And it was just... surreal, okay? Then the convenience store man talked to me all through me buying a bottle of water and some Hi-Chew, and it was. It was weird. I even said "sorry" because I gave him a large bill, and just about set my face on fire.

Getting to Kashiwa was easy, but the thing I remember most is that I would not have been nearly as calm if I couldn't read everything. All the place names are in kanji (Chinese characters), so it was comforting to be able to read them, even if I couldn't pronounce them in Japanese or anything. It took ages to get to Kashiwa, but I did, and there I met my friend, walked to her house through streets that looked SO much like television sets that I think I said that about a billion times, went to the convenience store, and headed home. It wasn't a lot to do, but it was a lot to take in. Everything looked so familiar, but not. We spent the night inside, watching television (it was sort of amazing how much I could understand, despite not knowing Japanese; I just know the cues) and talking.

The next day I spent the morning walking around Kashiwa. The thing that struck me most (apart from the gorgeous weather) was that everything was so clean. Coming from Beijing, which is a dirty and polluted city on its best days, walking through Kashiwa (and my impression was the same in Tokyo, even) was a little... surreal. Almost off-putting in how clean it was. People wearing face masks made me not want to cough lest I spread disease, and I felt bad for tracking footsteps into shops. Everything was pristine, neat and orderly. I wasn't in China anymore.

I went to a CD shop, just to walk around, and there was a whole section for Johnny's, the agency that spits out boy bands every few years. I knew it was an institution, and in hindsight I wasn't surprised that there was a Johnny's section, but it was one of those things. You hear about something, but it's another to be confronted with it. Just like seeing Arashi's face every time I got on a train (if it wasn't their new mobile phone commercials, it was an ad for a magazine they were on the cover), it was a reminder that what I've been watching on downloaded television for a year is actually real.

Weird.

That night, I met up with the girls that would be my tour buddies over the weekend. Heather, the person I was staying with in Kashiwa, was the one who got the tickets, and extended the invite to the three of us - myself, Jenny, and Lydia. Lydia was in Japan already, taking her honeymoon, so her fiance was along for the ride as well. That night we had nabe (like hot pot but not spicy) and went to karaoke, which was almost entirely comprised of Arashi songs. It was all kinds of brilliant, and though it was slightly awkward at first, we all got along and they are all wonderful women without whom this story would not be so fun to tell.

The next day, Concert Day, we all met up in the morning at the venue (Tokyo Dome, which seats 50,000 people and was sold out for the three-day stint Arashi was on) to stand in line to buy merchandise. Two hours flew by with the four of us chatting, and though there was a little bit of me getting completely flustered and almost forgetting to buy stuff for my sister, it was a breeze. Felt like a waste of time, but no matter.

With that bit of fannish indulgence out of the way, we did a little bit of touristing. First, we went to Shibuya to take a photo of Hachiko, who has a much better real history than the Richard Gere movie makes out. Then we went on an almost-goose chase for the Johnny's Family Club, which is the headquarters of the agency fanclub. It's hidden in the basement at the back of a building in a laneway. Which sounds dodgy, but it's not. It's just a little room with someone manning the desk where you sign up for the fan club, along with walls of memorabilia - acting awards, signed copies of photo books and concert posters, and because it's new years there were wishes from every active member of the agency.

Then, we headed off to Harajuku, to see the Johnny's Shop (this will come into the story later), and glance at the Meiji Shrine, but since it was raining we all decided to leave and head back to Lydia's hotel room, at the Tokyo Dome Hotel. I've already written up my experience at the concert, which is a long and very fan-oriented read if you must, but in short: it was amazing. Everything I expected, and more. I had a lot of fun and felt very connected to something much larger than myself. It was an emotional night, but I had a lot of fun.

Sunday, we went on a whirlwind tour of the major Tokyo sights: crossed Nihonbashi, took a stroll through Ginza, toured the NTV building, took a touristy trip on the monorail to see Odaiba and Fuji TV and other things we didn't have time for. We whizzed past Keio (took photos of the name on the subway though), took some photos of another shrine, and browsed the Tokyo Tower gift shop. It was great, and tantalizing all at once, and is much of the reason I want to go back - to see these things in more depth. We were on concert time, though, and had to get Jenny and Lydia back on the train for their concert that night. After parting, Heather and I took the pilgrimage that every Hana Yori Dango fan must make, to Ebisu Garden Place. (It's a site that features heavily in the drama one of the Arashi members is best known for. I only saw it a few weeks before visiting, but it was dorky and great to see.) We had okonomiyaki for dinner and ditched watching Kiroi Namida for helping me put on my yukata for the first time.

Monday I had to myself. I woke up early and went back to Harajuku and the Johnny's Shop. It was intimidating, because there are stories of people who line up for hours only to be told that the shop is closing and they can't get in. I was just worried that I wouldn't be able to understand what they were telling me. In the end, my worries were for naught, because the guy at the door pointed me to a very short line that I spent about a minute standing in, and then I was let inside. The Johnny's Shop is a shoebox of a store (as most are in Japan), white and filled with rows and rows of photos. That's all the Johnny's Shop sells - photos. They're Y150 each, and there are easily upwards of 6,000 photos in the store at any given time. Each set has a shelf life of about a year, depending on how often the groups do things and how popular they are. You take a sheet for each group you want, and mark down the number you want next to the number of the photo. It sounds simple, but faced with 6,000 photos it's a little overwhelming. Thankfully, you can spend all day in there if you want. I went around marking all the ones I wanted and ended up Y6500 over the amount of money I had in my wallet. It was heart-wrenching to get rid of ones I'd already marked, but in the end I managed to pick 60-odd photos and come in under my Y10,000 limit.

Then I headed to the Meiji Shrine, which is just across the way from Harajuku station. It was gorgeous, and a nice day, so it was lovely to see. It's a nice walk to the temple from the main entrance, and it was nice to relax after the insanity of the Johnny's Shop. Inside, I wrote on a votive panel, sending wishes for my friends and family and Arashi, and made myself cry. It was all overly sentimental, but unfortunately that's what watching Japanese dramas and listening to silly boy bands does. I survived the sentimentality, though, and it was lucky I had spent the time, as on my way out I caught a traditional wedding procession. Everyone was dressed in traditional clothing, and the bride was so ornate and beautiful. It all made my heart swell.

Then I navigated the streets of Harajuku to find a furoshiki shop to buy presents for home. That was also a wonderful experience - the woman at the shop didn't speak much English, but I spoke what little Japanese I knew ("mother... present... pink? ... also, little sister?", haha) and it was just a really nice experience. And made me want to learn Japanese a little more than I already did.

After that, I met up with a friend from Sydney. We talked a little, catching up on the last year or so that he'd been in Japan and I'd been in China, which was also interesting. He'd moved to Japan a year ago, with completely different interests than me, and so I found myself not only hearing about all the things he'd experienced and telling about my life in China and how it differed, but also telling him about Japanese popular culture. He was never into the mass media, so I had to tell him about Johnny's and introduce him to the bands by pointing out their advertisements around the city.

That night Heather and I had the Japanese version of chuanr/meat skewers, yakitori. While it was awesome, I definitely prefer the Chinese version of meat on sticks. We watched a movie (with subtitles) and some television and then went to sleep.

The next morning, I took my time packing everything up, speaking with my sister as I watched some awful mid-morning television, and finally went to the airport, stopping off at the bookshop first. I was planning to buy some of the boy band magazines, but with the money I had left I bought one magazine and a photobook of a concert that another band (KAT-TUN) had just done (called Break The Records; they sold out a ten-day stay at Tokyo Dome earlier this year, the first time ever). I'm only telling you this so that I can proceed to my next story.

At the gate waiting for my plane to leave, I bonded with a girl sitting next to me. Bored, and wanting to leave my book for the plane, I flipped through the photobook. The girl next to me caught sight of it and asked if it was KAT-TUN (even though she'd have known perfectly well from ten feet away that it was). She made herself known as a huge fan and we looked through the book together. She was really cute and got a little emotional over it, but she took a photo of us to commemorate it, and I wish I'd given her my email address or something. Sentimentality took me over once we were separated on the plane, and I wanted to give her one of the KAT-TUN photos I'd bought. I looked for her at the airport in Beijing but couldn't wait more than I did, as the last train was leaving. So I didn't get to pass it along, but at least I met her.

And THAT, my friends, was my trip to Japan. I wish I could have kept it shorter, but at least I wrote it before the year ticked over to 2010.

Posted by alexifer 20:16 Archived in Japan Tagged events Comments (0)

National Day Parades

An Inconvenient Rehearsal

overcast 21 °C

I'm not sure what the state of international focus on China, so I'm going to give a little background before I write about this. This year, 2009, marks the sixtieth anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China, which in 1949 marked the end of the civil war that had been raging between the Communists and the Nationalists through the course of the second world war (though they did, of course, "band together" for general morale's sake against the invading Japanese). China's National Day is October 1, which is one of China's two Golden Week holidays (the other being Spring Festival, or Chinese New Years), and this year is going to be a ripper. Not only is it a nice round anniversary, but Beijing is still in its post-Olympics haze, the memories fresh in the nation's mind, and this celebration is going to be massive.

Of course, practically, it's making living in Beijing a bit of an inconvenience. Because of political sensitivity, being a foreigner is even more annoying than usual: visa rules have been tight for months, access to websites have been restricted, registration checks at your apartment gate more frequent, and rumors about restricted access to the outside world for the duration of Golden Week are flying. It's not just foreigners getting burned, either.

For the last few weeks, there have been sporadic road closures that nobody ever seems to be warned about or prepared for in the south of the city near Tiananmen Square (where the celebrations will be held) for logistical planning. The other night, we heard practice fireworks going off (though they were too low for us to see), and they've been doing practice runs of other pieces of the celebrations as well. Today, however, is the first time I have been personally inconvenienced by these practice runs.

Today, they are running a practice parade through the entire south of the city, spanning most of the CBD as well as the area around Tiananmen Square. My building is in the path of the parade, so all of the businesses and office buildings in the path of the parade are being shut down from 1pm. We have to leave the building by 1pm, and while I'm sure people will try hanging around to see the show, that's a lot of people to turf out. I'd be surprised if it was under a million people that they are sending home early this Friday - possibly closer to two, considering some of the high rises the closures are cutting through.

Of course, I'm not about to say no to half a day's work, but it's not just being turfed out. Buses will stop running altogether along the south section of the city, and the subway will be running reduced in all places from 3pm and closed in other places from 4pm. While there will still be taxis, the road closures will make driving in the south of the city a nightmare, though I'm sure a bicycle will still be able to worm its way through the traffic jams. For that, I am incredibly thankful.

One rule that does not affect me directly but makes me a little sad is that, in the area, residents have been asked to refrain from kite flying and releasing their pigeons, from September 15 to October 8. This is a habit of a lot of old Beijing residents, and it will be a shame not to see them around the city. It's a small prohibition, on the scale of prohibitions they could be making, but one that I feel is worth noting.

I don't bring this up to point at how China Is Big And Scary And Controlling, because I hope everyone who has lived in a large, central, capital city will recall a time when their city was at the centre of something large and politically sensitive that inconvenienced them in some manner and caused them to feel watched. I'm thinking, of course, of a very direct parallel in my own and many Sydney-siders' history: the APEC summit in 2007. While APEC didn't affect me and my life directly (I lived on the North Shore and worked in Hornsby at the time), my sister was greatly inconvenienced by road closures and re-routed buses and limited public transport. And another friend of mine, who is of Portuguese descent and has dark skin and dark hair and a few piercings, got stopped and questioned by police just for walking around in the area just outside the road blocks.

So I don't think anything of the road closures and the tightened watch on foreigners in Beijing is anything sinister. If anything, it's perfectly natural. China's a big country, with lots of foreign investment and interest, and the government knows that being Communist is seen as dangerous or at least contentious for lots of Western nations, so as they gear up to celebrate the sixtieth year of the founding of their Communist nation, it's only natural that they're a little cautious.

I don't know why they don't want old men letting out their pigeons, though.

Posted by alexifer 19:31 Archived in China Tagged events Comments (0)

Bike Crash

Wound Update

sunny 33 °C

So, about ten days ago I had my first proper bike crash on the way to work. It wasn't too bad, in fact it was fairly mild, I just sort of... didn't slow down enough, didn't swerve when I could have, and bumped into an oncoming electric bicycle. I somehow ended up turfing out the chick who was being dinked on the back ('dink' is apparently an Australian term; I'd never heard it until I got here though) and sat on the back of their bike, instead of falling off my own bike. They laughed good-naturedly at me, I apologized profusely, and we both went our separate ways.

So the crash wasn't too bad, but somewhere in the mix, my pedal exacted its revenge on my calf and bit a chunk out of it. Pedals are evil things, as anyone who bicycles will tell you, and inherently hold a grudge against legs. Mine are no exception, and my poor calf was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. I got a wound, which looked at the time to be a nice, neat cut about three inches across the back of my calf and a bruise spanning my entire muscle. I got to work, cleaned it with water, and wiped it with some disinfectant wipes. I then got some bandages on the way home from the pharmacy.

The bandages are an amusing point in the story, because they were the only large bandages you could get in the pharmacy, and they were laced not with disinfectant but with 云南白药, or Yunnan White Medicine, which if you consult Wikipedia you will find is a hemostatic medicine that was used on the field in the Vietnam war in powder form. What it says on the packaging is STATE SECRET PRODUCT, which is hilarious. It didn't do anything one way or the other to my wound, but it did seem to dry it out a lot.

On Saturday I finally stopped wearing bandages during the day (on about Wednesday I stopped wearing them to bed) because it's now scabbed up very nicely. The skin around it is dry as anything and I have to take care not to touch it, because as soon as I touch it, it gets itchy and I am terrible with scabs. This is probably really gross, but I love picking scabs. So I have to remind myself not to do that. Because this is one wound I don't want to relive. It's in way too awkward a place to take care of all over again, and it's already been way too long healing and I don't want to go through it.

If you likewise enjoy gross things, I took some photos of my wound for my mother so that she wouldn't worry, which you can see here. This was from the day I got the wound, and then maybe... three days later? I might take more if there's popular demand for it, but now it's pretty boring. Also, it is seriously difficult to take pictures of one's own calf muscle.

Since the bike crash, I've slowed my biking down a lot. Crashes happen to anyone and everyone, but they're only dangerous if you're going too fast. I just took a bit too much of a risk and my depth perception failed me, so I'm taking it easy. I only added about ten minutes to my morning commute, and now I don't turn up to work nearly as sweaty and gross as I did when I biked faster.

Posted by alexifer 02:50 Archived in China Tagged bicycle Comments (0)

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