Saturday, December 31, 2005

Happy New Year's

After passing out at 8:00 pm and missing new year's in Thailand two years ago and living through the L.A. riots-looking new year's eve fires of Ecuador last year, I was up for anything this year and Japan did not disappoint.

Taking the train into Tsujido, a small surfer town just outside of Tokyo, I met up with Hooper. We dropped by his apartment first and I was shocked by how tiny it was. It was like living in a closet! We quickly downed a bottle of champagne and headed out for dinner and some drinks.

Wyeth folks will be proud to know that I had some raw horse meat at dinner. It was actually good, so I am fairly certain that it was imported from Brandon, Manitoba. Mmmmm...tasty and helps to keep the symptoms of menopause in check.

After dinner we wandered in to what I can only imagine is the Japanese equivalent of the Broken Cue in Nepean - a local bar frequented by people who grew up together in Tsujido and have known each other since Junior High. Being Hooper's local bar, we were immediately warmly greeted and grabbed a seat at the bar next to Erico. She was a cute and stylish Japanese girl who had a habit of laughing and hitting me (as if I had just said the most hilarious thing) any time I said anything, even though I don't think she understood half of what I was saying. She shared some of her new year's noodles with us and tried to teach me a bit about Japanese new year's traditions.

Being the only foreigners in the place, we seemed to be at least a little interesting to most people. Hooper was especially interesting to the ladies, who kept asking if he was my boyfriend. He tells me that some of the guys called me "cute", which is supposed to be the highest of compliments, so that was a nice ego boost. I did try talking to a few of them, but their English is obviously limited and my Japanese even more so. One guy told me that he liked the Teriyaki Boys, a Japanese hip hop group that is supposed to be quite big. Hooper told me that these guys went to school with some of the guys in the Teriyaki Boys. I listened to a little bit of their music on someone's I-Pod.

Just after the countdown, which I didn't realize was even going on because I don't speak Japanese, a large new year's stew was brought out for us to eat. After a few more drinks, we narrowly avoided Karaoke, despite my initial drunken pleas. Glad that we skipped out on that and instead stumbled back to Hooper's at about 2:30. It was an amazing night of fun, weirdness and cool people. I don't imagine that I will have many more new year's eves like this.

Happy New Year's!

Friday, December 30, 2005

Harajuku Styles

Yes, you all know Harajuku from Gwen Stefani and her Japanese entourage. Just think Queen St. West, then notch it up about 20 times, throw in shops selling bizarre costumes that the teens wear out on weekends, shove about 20 times the people into one small area (throngs of cool, fashionable Japanese teens), loop Gwen Stefani songs in the stores and you have Harajuku.

Scott, Hooper, Brian and I wandered the street in Harajuku, checking out the shops selling crazy cracked-out Little Bo-Peep dresses, vinyl nurse and maid outfits and Rock Junction-like ripped black and plaid clothing featuring white skulls and safety pins. Oh, and don't forget stores jammed with the cowboy boots that all the women seem to be wearing here with their mini skirts.

I understand there are entire magazines devoted to Japanese costumes worn as fashion around town. I love it. Apparently it's often like a screwed up version of Halloween around Harajuku most of the time. We saw a few girls dressed up, but weekends are supposed to be when they come out in full force. Plus it's a little cold to be wearing red trashy corset lace cowboy outfits. I guess that's more of a summer look.

After spending the afternoon browsing - I would say shopping, but there really wasn't all that much that was practical to buy...I don't really see where I would wear a rubber slutty cop outfit covered in feathers around Toronto - we wandered down to Shibuya. It was dark and lit up with so much neon flashiness that you could barely tell that it was night. Shibuya has that massive intersection that has literally one thousand people crossing at once, you would recognize it from Lost in Translation. So I got a good feel for just how many people are crammed into this city.

We wandered over to get some cheap beer - yeah, a little too much beer - and cooked up our own meal of tongue, beef, chicken, squid, mushrooms, squash and peppers at the Korean BBQ. Then we all broke out the bo-peep dresses we bought and caught the subway home.

I'm bringing all of these looks home in six months. It'll be hot. You'll love it.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Chowing Down on Black Eggs in Hakone

So the Rollins siblings decided to hook up with the Hooper siblings (along with Meg's boyfriend Nick and his brother Mike) to check out Hakone. Rushing to meet up with everyone, I managed to get Scott and I on the wrong train. My attitude towards these things has always been "Whatever, it all will sort itself out..." and it seems to be working for me so far.

Fortunately for us, Haz, our new Japanese friend, guided us for the next 45 minutes to Yokahama. We discovered that Haz is the musical director for Muscle Musical. And yes, Scott and I did think this was strange, especially when he excitedly ripped open his jacket to show us the t-shirt with the Muscle Musical logo on it, but he was fascinating. The language barrier made it difficult to understand exactly what the muscial is about, and upon checking out the web site,, it appears to be a cracked-out Japanese version of Stomp... I think. They leave for Las Vegas in a month and may soon come to Toronto, or so we're told (the poster he gave me confirmed they are going to Las Vegas, but I see nothing about Toronto). Haz gave us his card and promised us seats when they arrive in Canada. Random. And we would never have met him if I didn't screw up the trains.

In Hakone, I was immediately struck by the stink of rotten eggs - sulfur. After a scary gondola ride, we arrived at the top of the mountain, which looked a lot like what I think Hell would like like - barren except rocks, dead trees, billowing clouds of steam and crows. Lots and lots of crows. So it was a little weird when Hooper bought us six black eggs to eat because black is the colour of rot or death, not of eggs. Admitedly I was a little hesitant about eating a black egg, but Hooper assured me that eating it was supposed to add seven years to my life. So I just ate my black egg and washed it down with a beer.

Following the crowds to the billowing steam further up the mountain, we passed a sign that read:

WARNING - A lot of injurious volcanic gas are drifting around this Owakudani train. Please don't stop and stay here long. Sulfurous acid gas has a strong stimulus against respiratory organs, and breathing this gas can be FATAL.

At this point, I began to wonder if this was such a good idea...

At the top of the hill, the smell of sulfur was overpowering. There were pools of sufurous liquid, billows of steam and hoards of Japanese mowing down on black eggs - just shoving these things into their faces like they were chocolate. There were tables and tables covered in mounds of black egg shells and other than us, everyone seemed to be acting like they were at a pic-nic, instead of surrounded by Hell and eating black eggs. It was bizarre. I loved it.

So here's to a longer at least seven years...

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Would You Like Some Smarties?

I have discovered that candy helps make friends. Today on the train to Kamakura, I broke open some Smarties. Half-jokingly I motioned to share around the car. Surprisingly, most people took some and one girl started talking to use and soon I was asking about Japanese music and taking down the name of her favourite Japanese band. So I just listened to Tokyo Jihen online and think that I might become a fan even though I don't understand a thing being sung. had some samples.

After spending an hour trying to get my railpass activated, involving several people making large "X"s with their arms to indicate what I can only guess is, "I don't speak English and you can't activate your pass here so please go away", we spent the day in Kamakura. I especially liked the shrine where your money is supposed to double when you wash it. Unfortunately all I had was about $6 in Yen. Glad to know that the $12 I can soon expect should help me pay for the $13 worth of cheese I have already eaten at my aunt's. Cheese is so expensive here!

After a hike through the hills, where Scott almost killed a 90-year-old Japanese woman while helping her down a steep portion of the trail, we arrived at an impressive giant Buddha. What is it about huge objects that we find so fascinating anyway? Giant apples, kiwis, geese...not so fascinating when small, but a major tourist draw when they are massive. After some more visits to shrines, we headed back into the city for Shabu Shabu, a meal that involves a large pot of boiling water, thinly sliced beef and various noodles, vegetables and tofu.

On the train ride home I bribed another Japanese woman with some Smarties and she reciprocated with some Japanese chocolates. I think that I am on to something here. We'll see what happens when I break out the Sour Kids tomorrow.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Making a Trip is All Right

Have you ever received a fortune or horoscope that was so great that you wanted to believe in it and hoped it would come true? A fortune that you wanted so badly to be realized that you actually suspended all rationality and skepticism?

After taking the ceremony seriously at the temple today - all the right washing, clapping, bowing, dropping of money etc... - my family all drew fortunes. Unfortunately my mom drew a "bad fortune" (it's actually labeled that) and had to tie it up and send it back to the gods. Uh oh. She eventually drew a "normal fortune" along with my aunt and uncle. My brother, father and I all drew "best fortunes". So here it is. What do you think?

No. 9 Best Fortune

If you try to be famous, it will come out as you hope. For example, if you have three kinds of hopes, three will be completed.

Gods will come and where he points to, flowers and fruits grow timely. Good fortune will come and it brings you happiness.

Your wishes will be realized.
A sick person will recover.
The lost article will be found.
The person you are waiting for will come.
Building a new house and removal are good.
Marriage and employment are all good.
Making a trip is all right.

Not too sure about the famous part. I don't think that I'm cut out for fame. I do like the idea about the "person you are waiting for will come." Sounds good to me. The best part is that I do think that the "Making a trip is alright" part is a good sign. I think that I can push aside my well-documented cynicism and believe in that.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Christmas in Japan

As you can see, I arrived. No horror stories like my flight to Thailand.

My flight was relatively uneventful, just long. So damn long. A 14 1/2 hour flight, followed by an hour long processing through immigration and a 2 hour ride into the city feels like eternity, expecially when the 3-year-old in front of you keeps repeating "Tokyo Disneyland!" for the duration of the flight.

I got held up in customs when Japanese customs searched my bag. Upon discovering my toiletries, he seemed worried about all the pills I was carrying - my malaria drugs and birth control. Motioning towards them, he asked about the malaria drugs first. Somehow he easily understood what they were for. However, when I tried to explain the birth control, it ended with me a shade of fuschia, saying "Oral contraceptive?" "Birth control?" "No pregnant? "No baby??" Just as I was about to start to mime the process of intercourse, the egg and sperm traveling to meet one another, he finally waved me through.

I was immediately struck by how it didn't feel like Christmas. First, there was no snow. I have never not had a white Christmas. Second, according to my time, it was actually only the morning of Christmas Eve. Finally, there were only a handful of Christmas decorations. No singing, no giant candy canes, no bells ringing. I did see two sad Santas - tall, wirey Japanese men draped in Santa suits outside the 7-11 selling DVDs and Harry Potter Christmas cake. Strangely, one wore a large afro wig.

That night I passed out in the middle of the living room, surrounded by my family watching It's a Wonderful Life. Unfortunately I woke up the next morning at 3:30 am ready to start the day. Christmas involved opening a stocking lovingly put together by my family that held a number of bizarre Japanese gifts bought from the 100 Yen store (like the dollar store, only weird). Things like kleenex with two puppies that says "Sleeping Dogs" and strange Japanese liquor.

After a quick tour of the neighbourhood, we sat down to a traditional Christmas dinner with some friends of my Aunt and Uncle. After the meal we were met by two Japanese girls who work for my Uncle's airline. They spoke a little English and seemed quite entertained by our Christmas party. In speaking with one, I discovered she had recently been to Las Vegas. I asked if she saw any shows there and she nodded yes "Magic. Cirque du Soleil. And strip." I guess these Japanese women aren't as shy as I thought.

After some language lessons, which involved the Japenese women teaching my family (at our insistence) some Japanese swear words and how to say "drunk" in Japanese, we repaid their generosity by teaching them how to say drunk in a variety of ways in English, inlcuding "hammered" (which they liked), "sloshed", "trashed" and other terminology. I think they were impressed that the English language has so many different ways of saying drunk. Most likely, they think my family is inasne. All in all, it was a good, educational and cultural exchange and I passed out at 9 pm.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005


So in true PR style, I have posted the answers to all your burning questions about my trip in the form of a short FAQ. These are all real questions that people have actually asked me. And yes, I have been media trained on all of my responses.


Where are you going?
I am leaving for a six-month trip. I start in Japan and then fly into Bankgok, with the plan of seeing Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos. Then I fly into Delhi, with the plan of seeing India, Nepal and Tibet. I have a ticket back into Tokyo, but no flight home yet. My itinerary is loose so we'll see where I end up.

How long are you going for?
Right now my ticket takes me out until the end of June, but I might travel for longer. We'll see...

When do you leave?
My flight into Tokyo leaves December 23rd.

What are you going to do for Christmas?!?!
My Aunt and Uncle live in Tokyo so I will be staying with them for the holidays. My mother, father and brother will also be there. You know, the traditional Rollins family Christmas. It will be strange with it being just our family. We always seem to have other randoms at Christmas my parents are the Humane Society or something, bringing in all the strays.

Why are you going (usually accompanied by unapproving glare)?
That's a stupid question. People, stop asking me this. I don't know. I'm going because it's something I want to do?? The next person who asks me this gets a drop kick to the head.

What are you doing with all of your stuff?
I am relying on the goodwill of some very kind friends to watch over some of my stuff. Oliver and his lovely girlfriend Anna have generously volunteered their basement to take in the bulk of my stuff. They are wonderful, beautiful people and I promise to bring them back something nice - a young Thai houseboy or an elephant? Gary and Corrine McMann are generously watching over the Honda Civic for the next six months.

Are you traveling alone?
Yes...stop looking at me like that.

Are you bringing a dowry?
Of course. The two goats are packed up along with a few trunkloads of gold and china. My parents will mail my hope chest from overseas upon consumption of the marriage. And yes, obviously a main goal of this trip is to find a husband. I am clearly seeking the stability of a marriage. That is exactly why I quit my stable job, put everything into storage and am wandering around Asia with a backpack. I embrace stability.

What are you going to do when you come back?
I am not sure yet. I might come back to PR. I might reinvent myself. We'll see. That's six months away right now and I have a lot of time to think about it.

Any job suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

I am a Yard Sale...

It's true. I am a Yard Sale...

Thanks to Richard Dahl for inspiring the title of my blog. I'm a little unclear on exactly how the conversation went down when Richard called me a Yard Sale, but I believe he and I were discussing a certain Workplace Hottie (WH) that I had a crush on at the time.

I think I was sharing one of the many torturous stories of stupid things I had done in front of WH (yes, many of you have seen me re-enact the now-famous Hunchback of Notre Dame moment, involving me limping while carrying several trays of food and holding the door open with my head when WH appeared), when I asked Richard why WH didn't like me. Richard responded saying, "It's because he's a J-Crew catalogue and you're a yard sale."

I have to agree that it's a pretty accurate description of me. I am a yard sale. Slightly random. I embrace my yard sale-ness.

And for the record, I would rather be a yard sale than a J-Crew catalogue any day of the week...