Friday, December 17, 2010

Just like the prodigal son I've returned

That's right, for the next couple of weeks the title of this blog is rather misleading, as I'm back in sukottorando. I arrived in Edinburgh late last night after an epic 24-hour journey involving a car, a bullet train, a conventional train (on which I befriended some eight-year-old boys, letting them play Angry Birds on my Archos), two planes, a bus, and a chilly but nostalgic walk. Thankfully, Edinburgh largely dodged the recent snowfall, so the only hitches were waiting for 45 minutes in Amsterdam while our plane was de-iced, and me upending an entire glass of water into my lap during the subsequent flight. I'm still pretty jetlagged, so apologies if this is a little unfocused.

From tonight I have a hectic social schedule, so I'm taking it easy today. I just went for a long stroll around all my old stomping grounds. It's a very strange feeling being back. On the one hand, it's like I never left. But it also feels very unreal; for the last 16 months Edinburgh has only existed for me as a place inside my mind, so it feels a bit like I'm walking around in a dream. Maybe that's the jetlag talking. I'm expecting Leo DiCaprio to show up with a spinning top that doesn't make any sense.

Anyway, I had a successful jaunt, opening my foreign foods account with a falafel and hummus wrap from my Mediterranean take-away of choice on George IV Bridge, which I ate by the castle. I washed that down with some much-missed ginger beer, and then managed to bag some re-usable chemical hand warmers. I happened to mention these in a conversation with Marie, and she reacted as if I'd just casually referred to my teleportation device: grilling me with skeptical questions about how such a thing could possibly work. While hokkairo are commonplace in Japan, it seems they only have the single-use disposable ones for some reason.

A few things have struck me about re-entering my culture. I should remind you that I've come from a rural town of 34,000 to a cosmopolitan capital city of 478,000, so as an experiment comparing Japan and the UK, this is pretty badly confounded.
  • First, something that just about everyone in my position says: everyone around you speaking a foreign language is a good thing. When you can actually understand the conversations of random people in the street, you realise that 90% of what they're saying is at best inane and at worst actively annoying.
  • I'm having to make a very conscious effort not to speak Japanese in shops. It's only a matter of time until I slip up and confuse a barman or something with an "arigatou gozaimasu".
  • Things are a lot more multicultural here. I've seen a lot more races and heard a lot more different languages on the streets of Edinburgh than in Yamagata. In fact, the high proportion of East Asians is helping to smooth the transition for me a little.
  • I'm sorry to say it, but Edinburgh is just dirtier than Japan. The streets are strewn with litter and dog turds, and I had to dodge several "pavement pizzas". It's not even the weekend yet!
  • There are a lot of young, attractive student types around here (I'm staying in Newington). Nanyo really lacks a compelling reason for people to stick around past their eighteenth birthday.
  • Beggars. I've already had to turn down several requests for spare change (very nearly saying "sumimasen"), which never, ever happens in Nanyo or Yonezawa, and you don't even see much of in the big Japanese cities.
Alright, I'm off to try and insinuate myself into a neuroinformatics Christmas party.

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