Osaka, Japan

Where to start?

I remember it was a summer two thousand and five. It must have been August, because it was raining everyday and the Sun was going down pretty early. My mum was on holidays with my little sister and I was left home alone with dad, pretty cool time. We both have always been horrible cooks, so I didn’t have to come back home at any certain time for a dinner. Instead I was getting some twenty zlotych to get myself a pizza and was let free. Twenty zlotych is not a bad money for a fourteen years old, who reminds more of a bony boy than a girl, and can survive a day on big cup of hot chocolate. These days twenty zlotych felt like you got a freedom.

That summer they opened the big shopping center in the town, twenty minutes walk from home. It was a pretty big thing and a great first step in forming my generation of consumers. I remember how after school we were all going there and window shopping all the things we couldn’t afford. Anyway, that end of summer two thousand and five was particularly boring. So I was taking my twenty zlotych and going to this shopping center. I remember they had a big book store. It was a proper thing: with all the CD albums you could think about, rows of books and red sofas, so people could sit down and read a book. I remember it was a pretty cool thing.

I went around that bookstore and grabbed some books with nice covers. When you’re fourteen you only want to read books with nice covers. I got to the sofas hoping that any of these pretty books wasn’t totally boring so I could sit there still for a short while and look smart. These sofas were always full of people looking smart, especially these days.
There was one book looking particularly interesting. The cover was pink, the kind of Japanese cherry blossom pink, with the name of the author written down to up. It was Murakami’s Norwegian wood.

When I think about it, it is actually quite funny that this was the first Murakami’s book I bumped into. Even thought I think he has many greater novels, this is the one that has made him famous in Japan and all over. Apparently you can find t-shirt and pens with that title in Japan. It is the only one of his books ever filmed. I am not a particular fan of it now, but that day I was miles miles away, and hardly even noticed how it became completely dark outside. By that time I was the only person reading on the red sofas.

That was my first trip to Japan.
It was a first trip to many other things in my life too. It was my choice of later studies and many other choices too. But let me tell you about Japan.

After Norwegian came all the others: South of the Border, West of the Sun, Dance, Dance, Dance, Sputnik Sweetheard – from this one I still have a picture of a woman imprisoned on a top of a still Ferris wheel in my head and I remember it every time I look at one, 1Q84, later Tony Takitani, Wind-up bird Chronicles which is still my favorite book, Kafka on a shore, Sleeping woman and blind willow in a hard cover that I got from my childhood best friends for eighteenth birthday. All of them.
I used to be pretty obsessed about Spirited away which was the beginning of my romance with Hayao Miyazaki movies. When I remember Howl’s Moving Castle it makes me want to get into bed and watch it over and over again. At uni I discovered Kazuo Ishiguro.

Saying all that, I had a pretty vivid picture of Japan in my head when I was boarding on my Osaka flight. It probably doesn’t make me the best person to tell you about Japan. I have pretty much loved it, long long before I even knew I will ever get to see it.

I must have looked pretty stupid using my both hands passing the tiny chopsticks, bowing million times saying “arigato” and doing all that just to be at least a little bit Japanese. Japan is a good lesson on culture.

First thing that made me smile once I got to my room was a toilet. I know it sounds ridiculous, but Japanese toilet is the highest art of technology. I don’t want to tell you too many details, but once a European person sits on the heated toilet desk and see around four or five buttons with other toilet shower options, it feels a bit confusing. A light shower, spraying shower… let’s not go into the details.

Osaka is busy. If you don’t know where are you going, you will be lost after passing two crossings. Hundreds of people run somewhere, they all look like they knew where they are going. Heads up, look straight. They wear white shirts inside the black office trousers, some of them have surgical masks on the faces. Women hide their white skin under umbrellas. Some people look straight into my camera. Later on I find out how empty these looks are.



The trees are singing. Everything is Japan is living. Streets are full of people, grass is full of grasshoppers. Osaka is loud, but not noisy.

After getting lost in the massive underground train station and struggling with buying a ticket we went to Arashiyama, the bamboo forest. Arashiyama is a small place. It looks exactly how I imagined Japan when reading all these books. It is green and quiet. You can hear the birds singing, it is green everywhere around. Ice cream shops sell two types of ice creams: milk, white one, and a green tea. Everything is a bit smaller than in Europe, the ceilings are a little bit lower, you take smaller steps on the stairs. Seventeen meters high bamboos give a misty light to the path. It feels very spiritual. Girls in kimonos walk slowly in their high Japanese shoes looking like they were some forest creatures. Some of them hold the phones in a pink cover and text somebody. Geishas must be texting somebody too.

In the middle of a forest there is a wide river. Maybe fifteen meters wide and maybe forever long. It has the colour of the trees. The forest is so dense you can’t see it properly at the first sight, but it is there, surrounded by the mountains. When you look at the water you can see it’s moving in all the different directions. It is full of fish, turtle. There is a three meter snake sunbathing with half of the body out. Pilot is running around trying to take a photo of it from every possible angle. It makes me laugh. The little girl in kimono covers the face with both hands when I try to discretely point my camera at her. I feel like I discovered the sense of sight for the first time in my life, that is how beautiful this place is.


After the walk we catch a train to Kyoto. There is a boy and girl sitting on the opposite side, I can see them taking photos of us and laughing. Me, pilots and the other girls must look for them like some crazy creatures from a different world.

Kyoto is much much older and quieter than Osaka. Have you seen Rob Marshall’s “Memoirs of a Geisha“?

Imagining little geishas running between old Japanese houses for their music lessons comes pretty easy. Me and another girl went to the tiny hidden local sushi place for a dinner. Even though we probably have made the older lady who was serving us a little bit uncomfortable, you could see we were a bit of an entertainment. There were only us and an older local lady eating something from her tiny bowl with chopsticks. I ordered sushi and the other girl tried to communicate with a lady and order a same thing, but at the end it didn’t work quite well. The older lady tried to talk to us, and the fact we could not understand each other at all gave her a great laugh. The place was tiny and very tidy. There was a quiet traditional Japanese music in the back, and it all smelled like a seaweed and a green tea. I loved it so much that I almost left a tip, which is a rude thing in Japan. Yes, that’s right – no tips.


My impression of Japan is just the same as it was nine years ago when I read the first serious book in my life sitting in the bookstore.
It sounds like Claude Debussy’s Clair de lune and smells of million scents. It is full of helpful hands and kind-hearted, focused faces.
Everything goes smooth like a wide river.
If you lost your cat than you probably should go on a walk to find it and if it takes five years, it doesn’t matter. If you decided to invent planes, you go to school and invent planes.
Life is so easy – This is how I feel in Japan.
The cherry tree blossoms, people run to work. If it starts at eight, be there at seven. Some people hold hands. Their skin is very fair. Girls are very skinny, they hide their doll-like faces under colorful umbrellas. There is a man with an electric guitar playing on a street.
I buy two bottles of sake in a local market and go back to the hotel.
It’s time to go back.



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NZ: about kiwis and sheep

First of all Kiwis don’t like Aussies.

And Aussies don’t like Kiwis.

It’s actually pretty offensive when Aussie’s call Kiwis “Kiwis”, but Aussies get offended once Kiwis call them “Aussies” too.

I asked one Australian lady on the New Zealand flight whether she would fancy any milk in her tea. She looked at me surprised and said “milk? We don’t really drink tea with milk in Australia. Only kiwis do”.

If you’re a bit confused, and still don’t know what do I talk about, let me clear it up.

Ladies and gents, this is KIWI. I know you thought it’s small green and tasty, but it’s not. It has feathers, big nose and it’s not suitable for vegetarians.

What’s the relation between this small funny thing and the New Zealand? Let me ask you what is the first think that comes to your mind when you think of Australia. Is it big, jumping and carrying a bag with its baby on a belly? I guess I got it right. Basically as much as kangaroo means Australia, kiwi means New Zealand. Or probably even more, because I’ve never heard anybody calling Aussie people “kangaroos”. That would be actually quite funny: “you know Kiwis drink tea with milk, but kangaroos just don’t”.

I hope this post hasn’t offended any sheep so far. Because sheep means New Zealand just as much. The Sheepland. The Promised Land of the Sheep. Everywhere you go, there’s some sheep randomly hanging out with its sheep friends, buying fridge magnets and postcards with sheep. There are sheep key rings, and sheep t-shirts too.

Okay, I’ve overdone it a little but. Beside tourists shops full of sheep souvenirs, you’re not going to see any of that. You’re not gonna see a sheep in the Auckland shopping mall, neither on the street. It is a stereotype. Just as much as people will associate Russians with vodka, England with tea, they assume that every New Zealander is a sheppard. And how New Zealanders laugh at this stereotype and turn it into touristic catch-up phrase only proves what an amazing, self-distanced and relaxed nation they are.

People in New Zealand wear relaxed clothes and do relaxed things. The houses look more cosy, shop assistants are more friendly. There are no Ferrari cars driving in Auckland, even though it’s ranked as the third city on the Mercer Quality of Living Survey, among the cities such as Zurich, Geneva, Vienna. The difference between these cities and Auckland is that New Zealand simply doesn’t seem to care about the surveys. Nobody seems to be bothered whether the city goes up or down in the survey, nobody seems to care about Ferrari car and Chanel bags. Luis Vuitton store is just next doors to the tiny souvenir shop. People know how to enjoy their life and the life is good: there’s no point in making too much fuss about it. There are small dodgy looking weed shops just next to the noodle stores, there are parks, there are seagulls and the ocean. Nothing seems forced, everything looks a bit slow, a bit like it was taking its time. New Zealand feels a bit like it could be the philosophy of how to live your life.

This calm and relaxed atmosphere does not match very well with the extreme entertainments it has to offer. Stuff like bungee jumping, jumping from the tallest tower in the country, throwing yourself up to some 400 meters high in the metal ball are the things that people seem to be doing for fun. There is one particular picture that comes to my mind when I think about this funny relation between relaxed and extreme. The two friends of mine, the other crew I went to the town with, got in one of these crazy machines that sends you up to the sky and back. The picture I hold in my mind is the guy in his casual home clothes with two massive grocery bags in both hands looking up at my friends being thrown on some 400 meters up. He doesn’t seem impressed at all, he looks more like he was reading the ingredients on his muesli pack, he just stops for a second, looks up, and goes back home, or wherever people with hands full of grocery bags go. The reason why this particular shot comes to my head every time I think of New Zealand is because, this is exactly how New Zealand feels like.

It is a crazy, amazing place. You can see the Vulcanos from almost everywhere you go. It has the most beautiful islands on the world, places where penguins just cross the roads as it was the most normal thing on the world. If you feel a bit down, you can jump from the highest tower and stay alive. It’s where they shot “The Lord of The Ring”. Basically, it is a magical place. But just like the man in his too big flip flops carrying the potatoes and beer back from the grocery store, nobody makes too much fuss about it. Nobody is going to build there a new Burji Khalifa, if you know what I mean.

What I can say is, I love New Zealand and I love its people. Even when sometimes their accent makes me absolutely clueless. It is not the kind of place where I would take my family on the dream trip to shock them. It will not surprise you with “the biggest, the richest”, it is not a kind of place that would impress everybody. If you love Ferrari and starve yourself for a Chanel bag you’re probably not going to like it. Actually it’s going to bore you to death.

But it is okay too.

P.S. Have a look at this too: The 25 hardest things about living in the New Zealand. It’s pretty fun.

 



SYD, Australia

I was planning to write about Sydney since a while.  While it comes relatively easy to write and talk about faraway places that are so so different from all you know, it is not an easy task to write about Sydney and to show it the way I want to. The places like China, Sri Lanka, Nigeria, they shocked me. I loved them just like I love Sydney, but that was a different kind of love: a love to something new, shocking, unpredictable. In Asia people eat bugs on a sticks, in Nigeria sell shoes on the highways, Sri Lankans ride these crazy three-wheel vehicles on a busy roads: you cannot believe what you see, but it’s a fact, it’s a thing you can’t deny. Nobody eats bugs in Sydney (at least this is what I hope for), and all the cars look pretty normal. You get your shoes from topshop or h&m and there’s no much fuss about it neither.

Being a cabin crew gives you some new, different perspective. You go and see places, but you don’t live any of them. Most of the places don’t become anything personal for you. You get a general definition, but you see them from some kind of distance. I suppose it makes it much easier to write about them. I guess I’m able to tell you in few words what is Bejing and quite probably I will hit the nail better then a person who lives there for years. Does it mean that I know it? Not at all.

Believe it or not, but this 24 hours distanced perspective I get makes it much easier to describe and compare what I see. Have you ever noticed that the look of people faces in the certain places are so much different? Some places are made of proud faces, some of the tired ones, some ashamed. Living in one place makes you loose the ability to see that. Living nowhere makes you see it black on white.

In a way Sydney became my home for three nights and three days; even if the timezone change made nights the days and the other way round. Anyway, this most faraway place I will probably ever get to see, was not faraway at all.

In fact, it was so much  n o t  a faraway place that in the beginning I felt a bit confused. After a 14 hours chasing the sunrise flight, switching your watch to some crazy timezone in which you message your boyfriend saying “goodnight” in the morning, you do expect something shocking. More specifically, you expect to open the doors and get out to Narnia or something like that.

But Sydney just looks like it could be home.

I suppose it is shocking in a way. It is a place that comforts you. It is a place where older people hold hands walking in the park, where dogs look like they were smiling at all times and their tails go left and right, left and right. There’re no prices in the local grocery stores so after a while you decide to stop bombarding the shop assistant with billion of questions and just buy what you feel like. Massive buildings are surrounded by the parks where parrots chase you for a biscuit, people lie on a grass or go on a beach to say hello to the seagull. Maybe you’ll see some young couple getting married near the Sydney Opera House with all the strangers standing around, smiling and taking photos, just like they got a special invitation. People don’t seem to worry much in Sydney.

Time zone makes me wake up really early and really hungry, so I’ll go out as soon as the Sun comes up. I’m feeling restless in bed. I like these busy week mornings in a city a lot: people wear smart suits, they talk on the phones and walk fast. The sound of heels mixes up with the honks of the cars and seagulls singing, it wakes you up better than a coffee.

At the same time there’s a different reality going on five minutes away on feet. The high fence surrounded by the trees full of singing birds separate the busy, crowded Sydney from the Sydney of people holding hands and babies chasing the parrots. And I think this is my favourite one. Doesn’t matter how many times you go to Botanical Gardens: every time I get lost or find a path that didn’t know about. There’s a field full of birds not bothered about photographers, there’s a spices garden that makes your nose go funny, there’s a path next to the Sydney river full of boats going there and back, a small Greek garden and a palm house. And in all these places children run, people smile and dogs get their tongues out looking happy.

It does sound like a dream, and it does look like one too. But this dream has its price too.

There are no prices on the grocery stores and it’s okay coz I just buy a small coconut water. It’s relatively cheap, but still the most expensive I had. On a flight back I talk with the couple of European immigrants. They told me the Sydney gets more and more expensive. It was their heaven on the earth, they said, but they can’t afford this heaven anymore.

Is it the way of not getting the heaven overcrowded? I suppose so. I’m pretty sure there are more immigrants in Sydney than Aussie people. It may, or may not be a good thing. And as much as I’m trying to be objective and distanced, I cannot blame anybody who moved the half of the globe to spend there their life. It just seems like a right thing to do.