Been tardy with dispatches from the front lately, due to my unbelievably ineffective immune system. Time has blurred somewhat; I know for certain that it was only the first day I had a hangover, and all the subsequent sick days were genuine sickness. Not sure whether it was a cold or the flu or what – achy joints, my shoulder hurting, headaches and nausea but no vomiting. Regardless of what precise ailment was ravaging my nervous system it was a vile experience. Being sick is bad enough, being sick away from home even worse, and being sick in a foreign country is almost unbearable. Chris is a terrible friend to have when you’re under the weather. I would be FINE with indifference (caring is for mothers and girlfriends), but he treats the ill with some bizarre form of contempt which sometimes borders on outright hostility. In any case, I was trapped in our room for a period of roughly 48 hours with virtually nothing to eat, and no company except Japanese television – which is quirky and amusing from the comfort of one’s own home, but frightening and alien from a sickbed within their borders. I longed for an Australian voice, and I’m not sure why I didn’t think to Skype my buddy Mike or the Hills. It all made me painfully homesick – a feeling which hasn’t entirely left with the return of good health, and which is not at all welcome.
Yesterday I was feeling better, though not entirely 100%, which was good because we drove into Sapporo to see the 60th annual Snow Festival. Our lodge provided us with a young Kiwi driver who was a nice guy apart from his puzzling disdain for Japanese culture: “A___ says I’ll have to learn to work like a Japanese person, eh, and I’m like – I’m not Japanese!” Yeah, I thought, except you live in Japan and work at a Japanese business. (Edit, September 2009: Having now lived in Korea and worked at a Korean business, I can understand why he felt this way. You need to… hold on to something of your culture, especially your working standards. East Asians work like ants. Civus occidentalis.)
It was snowing real heavily, and it took us about two-and-a-half hours to get through the mountain passes down to the city. The thing about growing up in a snowless environment is that you see it as a whimsical wintry wonderscape experience; you don’t realise that it’s an actual weather condition with consequences. We were walking around Hirafu for several hours on our first night, in light-to-medium snow, before realising that we were in fact getting wet.
Our driver drove us around through downtown Sapporo for a while, as we gradually realised that he didn’t have a clear idea of where we were, before doing a few u-turns and dropping us off at the edge of the street near the central arcades. We ducked into the underground labyrinth of shopping malls and plazas via some kind of gambling parlour where the music was insanely loud, and tried to naviagate our way through the maze to emerge in the parks where the snow festival is held. Chris and I were both wearing our loud red snowboarding jackets, which was quite a contrast against the legions of drably attired Japanese. Posting photos to WordPress is a bitch – I have to resize them in Paint and then put them on imageshack – but I like this one, so here we go:
If WordPress has any kind of integrated image-posting system, I may retroactively add photos to these posts when I get home. (edit: doing it now, in May, and it’s still a bitch.)
After buying a six dollar cheesburger from McDonalds (the Japanese Yen still sailing strong through the economic typhoon, while the HMAS Australian Dollar long since went plunging down into the Marianas Trench) and a delicious chocolate donut from some kind of bakery, we emerged into Odori Park, the centrepiece of the Snow Festival. It was snowing heavily, wind was howling around our neckwarmers and it was FUCKING COLD. We retreated back down intothe subterranean halls of consumerism and decided to wait till nightfall – when everything is illuminated and prettier, and the snow would hopefully have died down.
After some more aimless wandering and purchasing by those members of the group less fiscally prudent than myself, we headed back upstairs with fingers crossed. Not a drop of snow was falling from the now darkened skies. The wind had vanished. The Sapporo TV Tower loomed above the parks like an enormous blue Eiffel. Perfect.
The Snow Festival was beautiful. I suggest you flickr it. Certainly not worth a trip to Japan in and of itself, but we were fortunate enough to be in the area when it was on and I’m glad we were.
It was very fucking cold, though; the meter on a Kirin billboard said -2, but I swear it was at least -10. Towards the end I couldn’t feel my feet, and my face was so numb I was having trouble pronouncing my words properly. I bought fries from McDonalds that cost six dollars, but those beautiful, salty, WARM things were worth every penny.
The street we’d arranged to be picked up from was, incidentally, a neon paradise of glory and splendour. Here is another photo I like:
Sapporo has a population just shy of 2 million. That’s not much more than Perth. If they can do things like that, why can’t we?
Today I was back to feeling completely healthy, THANK FUCKING GOD, and had a hearty breakfast for the first time in days. I also hit the slopes for the first time in days, and it was pretty good. I got lost early in the morning but managed to meet back up with Chris, Ellen and Jamie, and while we were having lunch at the 1000m Hut Steve caught up with us.
We ended up going to Annapuri, on the western slopes, which I hadn’t been to before. It was pretty cool – a lot of forested area which is fun to snowboard through. I still suck hard at it, and I will still suck hard at it when we leave, but I do enjoy it. I took some good photos of Chris (naturally a natural) going over some jumps, and ended up following him to the terrain park to take some more. I regretted this, because it was on the other side of the mountain, and meant we had to head back up to the peak to snowboard home just before sunset, when the temperature plummets. My fingers were so cold and painful I was yelling as I snowboarded.
Anyway after a nice evening of watching Simpsons DVDs and eating chocolate bought from the bar downstairs (had my first 3 Musketeers bar – identical taste to a Milky Way – disappointing), I’m about to head off to sleep. I’m reading Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell, which is really good. I was reading Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami, but reading a book set in Japan whilst being very sick in Japan is a good way to hate it.