Tuesday in Osaka

(Please excuse my swapping from past / present / past / present text.  I wrote this in a book while in Japan and am too tired to edit)

I’d read that I may encounter some difficulties when attempting to take out money using a MasterCard in Japan, and I was anxious to test that I could use regular ATMs.  I navigated from the gate, via a monorail, to the terminal and rushed over to the first one I found.

It worked.  I stuffed my travel wallet full of Yen and felt at ease – and on the hunt for omiyage.

The airport and train station seemed so quiet.  There wen’t a great number of people at either.  When I went to buy a train ticket I forgot all the Japanese I had prepared and practiced and the vendor assumed I required two (something that became a bit of a trend), but I managed to explain with broken Japanese and some gestures that I was alone.   I took the train to Tengachaya, with the intention to swap onto the subway.  I felt utterly overwhelmed at the station.  Names of stations are clearly spelled out in Romaji, but I was on another deserted platform and worried that I’d end up lost, with my luggage, and that I’d be too transit tired to find my way home.  I had a legitimate, approximately 3 minute, freakout.  I pressed myself up against a wall at the train station to stay out of the way, one hand clutching the handle of my bag tightly and the other thumb and forefinger on the bridge of my nose and eyes.
(Below – trains / airport train station / some advertising / The view from Tengachaya station)
Sanity prevailed, I took a leap, and found myself happily in Nippombashi.  Train / subway stations in the middle of Osaka are always conveniently located, except they are large, with many exits.  Finding the right exit can be difficult and somewhat disorienting before you remember that most of these places are tourist friendly and flag down a staff member for assistance.  A kindly man assisted me, pointing me toward the exist I needed (and memorised!), and I found myself above ground with a vague sense of where I needed to go.  My hotel was situated at the opposite end of Namba than my last visit and there were a lot of new sights to see, but it is ultimately very easy to get around.

Something I forgot to mention – something that a select few know about me – I have a deep, abiding, all consuming and constant craving for okonomiyaki.  At home, at work, in the shower, driving, eating, breathing – always, always okonomiyaki.  Not the rubbish we have in Australia.  I mean visiting an Okonomiyaki restaurant with the hotplate and yakisoba and beer.  Thick savoury pancakes with delicious morsels of octopus, prawn, pork, beef – carefully prepared by a talented chef, gently covered in tonkatsu sauce and served, steaming hot, to your table – after which you get to add your own mayonnaise, seaweed and – to top it off, all the thin, smoky wonderful katsuobashi you can eat.  I’m salivating.  My stomach is morse coding okonomiyaki to me.  It is contorting into the ESL for “okonomiyaki”.

Have you seen the episode of the Simpsons where Moe steals the Flaming Homer and everything becomes Moe?  This is me.  I am Homer.  Everything is Okomoemiyaki.

Below – The okonomiyaki restaurant, menu, beer, toppings, and the glorious – glorious – okonomiyaki. 

I digress.  After checking in, before getting my room key, I asked the woman at the front counter to point out a good okonomiyaki restaurant and after unceremoniously dumping my bags in my room, I set off to Dotombori.

Nearing sunset, the city was so beautiful.  The sky was stained with orange and pinky purple, which reflected off the canal.  It was a surprisingly peaceful contrast to the bright flashing lights – the welcome intrusion of colour and neon – gaudy figurines / mascots of restaurants loom overhead, street vendors offer their food, vending machines beckon, music blares from pachinko halls and stores and people – people everywhere – converging on the eateries and bars – with the beautiful, serene sunset pinned neatly behind.

Below – Dotonbori

Picture

Post meal (I would describe it in detail, but I feel like I have covered the topic of okonomiyaki enough, for now), I wandered around Dotombori avoiding the side streets because I didn’t quite trust my sense of direction yet, and returned to my hotel.

Considering how affordable my room was, it was extremely nice.   Even without the low cost to offset any unpleasantness, it was great.  It had a separate entry with a couple of pairs of roomy pyjamas, slippers, a small but very functional bathroom, a bidet (which I couldn’t figure out how to use right away), a giant bed, remote control and automatic lighting, and air conditioning.  I unpacked a bit, plugged in my electronics to charge, said hi to Tim and the kittybads and promptly fell asleep.

Monday – Malaysia

The flight from Sydney to KL went better than expected.  Despite temporarily misplacing my jacket and accidentally writing “Kuala Lumpur” instead of “Malaysia” (I’m sorry, customs lady, I promise I’m not a complete idiot – just really excited) on my customs departure card, I managed to dig up a wholesome dinner and mostly restrain myself in duty free.  A cheeseburger is wholesome, right?

To my delight, I discovered that I had an entire row to myself on the flight.  All plans of watching TV shows promptly evaporated and I enjoyed ~6 hours of somewhat deep, valium propelled sleep.  The food on the plane was surprisingly good, and we had a very soft landing into KL.

Picture

I’ve often wondered whether the racist Australian traveller stereotype was deserved.  I’ve seen bogan idiots partying in Bali on the news and read stories on the internet but I wasn’t all the way convinced.  I was displeased to learn that it isn’t as isolated or overhyped as I’d hoped.  As Air Asia services many asian countries and accommodates guests from everywhere, most of their in air announcements are repeated in many languages for the benefit of all travellers aboard the plane.  During one of these, a younger Australian man (21-25?) commented loudly enough for the entire front cabin to hear – “I think she just ordered 4 fried rice”.  At the end of the message, almost as loud as before “thank fuck that’s over.”

It was really unpleasant.  I felt tremendously embarrassed and a bit mystified as to why he’d even bother travelling abroad.  He might’ve just been showing off to his mates – perhaps they’ve got a connecting flight from KL to Indonesia?  That said, I should probably be happy to report that those experiences were the only negative part of the first leg of my flight.  I snapped a photo in the terminal that, upon review, happened to have him in it – the Australian flag pillow should’ve been a dead giveaway.

Picture

The LCCT itself is strange.  I’ve read reviews in preparation for my journey and conjured up images of a sparse, sterile /cold building with sprawling hallways and a rushed atmosphere.  In reality, it feels like a smaller country airport or large bus station with a duty free tacked on the side.  The contrast between the dingy, not terribly modern (but clean) terminal vs the wonderful beckoning fluorescence of the duty free store is striking.  The staff are friendly, warm and efficient and while the terminal could use a bit of love, it is a pleasant place to spend a few hours – one whole hour of which I occupied by watching the new Game of Thrones.  It was worth the wait, but I found myself shielding the screen for fear of offending other travellers.  There is a premium lounge available – I poked my head in and it looked quite nice.  In all likelihood, we will spend our September stopover using the internet in there.
I hadn’t realised it until just now, but I’m really looking forward to being somewhere – immersed in – a place where I don’t really understand the language.  If eel like I’m on high alert in my day to day life.  I can’t sit at a cafe and relax and be alone – utterly alone – with my thoughts as I find myself distracted by conversation and people walking past.  The idea of being surrounded by sound – just sound, not parts of conversation and familiar music and people that I can think about or relate to – I imagine it feeling peaceful.

The plane to Osaka landed as softly as the previous flight.  I occupied my time with food and television, and all was well.