Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Tokyo Sojourn (Part IV) - Lodging, Kawaii Stuff & Finale

Alas! The last of my lengthy postings about Tokyo Sojourn!

Humble Abodes

Prior to going to Japan, I've heard stories of how tiny their hotel rooms can be (I was even worried whether with my expanding belly, if I can fit into their toilets/shower rooms!), so I went with really low expectations of minuscule capsules for rooms...

On our first night, we checked into Prince Hotels & Resorts, outside of Tokyo city centre. There was much grousing initially on why we are not staying in the city, of how we were being short-changed for a hotel in the outskirts etc (cos it's nearer for us to head off to Hakone the next day), but we heard from local friends that this hotel is relatively "bigger" and has nice rooms, which is quite true. Rooms in Japanese hotels have "pay per view" channels, or in Japanese, they are "有料" channels (i.e. soft porn lah!), so I took the brochures from this hotel - no scintillating photos, which is surprising, because aren't they supposed to entice the men to want to watch and pay for the movies? Hmmm...

On the second night in Hakone, we checked into a hot springs resort, Hotel Heian - I know, it reads like darkness "黑暗", but in Japanese, it means "平安" - we slept on tatami mats, but this hotel was soooo old, they had ancient-looking fridge, TV, phone etc in the rooms, and I swear the day curtains in my room had blood stains! The room does look like something out of a Japanese horror movie where the killer chops bodies up into a hundred pieces and stuffs them into the ancient-looking fridge...thankfully I did not agree to getting a single room as my office Admin Manager so nicely offered (I figured I'd need help with my luggage, and in case I needed someone around at night, so my roomie for the trip was Chen Yi, my university mate who is now my colleague, heh!).

There was nothing much to do around this hotel area after dinner, and my colleagues and I heeded the advice of our Taiwanese tour guide who suggested we go to a hypermarket "not too far" from the hotel. It took us 40 minutes one way to walk there, and we had to rest along the way.... it turned out to be just a one-level supermarket where I ended up buying a bunch of champagne grapes, a packet of milk, and sweets! Wah lau eh.....at least the air was fresh and it was a leisurely walk, but still! As we walked along the way, we chanced upon a red light district street, and also came to the conclusion that all the rest of the hotels/resorts look less seedy and are much nicer than the one we were staying in!

By the time we walked back to the hotel, I seriously needed a bath (rest of the folks took their baths in the hot springs, which are segregated by gender - as seen in signs such as those in the right picture), but in my condition, I could not soak in the hot springs at all and decided to bathe in the room.... where to my bad bad bad luck, the room had no hot water at all!

So... I had to bravely (well, Chen Yi sweetly accompanied me though she already had her bath) go to the hot springs area, and though I did not soak, I had to take a bath in the communal area! Yes, baring my pregnant birthday suit in front of my colleagues and taking my bath in the steam room! Can die...luckily there were not too many colleagues there already as it was late, but I completed my bath in 5 minutes and thank god I did not have my spectacles on to view the other naked bodies...yikes!!! But it's either that or bathing with cold water...or not bathing at all...

I got quite worried whether the hot steam room would be harmful on Rosabelle, and actually developed a red, patchy skin on my tummy the next evening (could also be due to me shopping around the next day under hot weather), but after checking with AmCare, it should be fine, but it was an experience I'd very much rather forget man!!! (Luckily I didn't soak in the hot spring as one of the female colleagues revealed she could see the whole hot spring from the comfort of her room - i.e. view everybody else naked if she wants to - aiyo!!)

Our last night was spent in Tokyo City centre at U-Port Hotel, again much "bigger" than I expected, but after we rushed back on the subway (thank goodness we had our colleague's friend to bring us on the ride as the subway system is totally confusing), we still checked in late as the coach had to pick up the folks who went to Disneyland, and came back an hour later than agreed (it was holding all our luggages).

We had all our breakfasts in the hotels, so it's not anything to hoot about, but one thing we noticed is that there are alot of luuurve hotels around Japan (i.e. budget hotels with kinky themes for short-term/hourly use)...e.g. this below hotel that's literally called "Love", and another we spotted in Hakone called "Hotel Oh! Oh!" - my colleague and I exclaimed "Oh! Oh!" at the same time...it was hilarious...

Kawaii Stuff

We were allowed to bring along friends/family members (they paid for their own trip expenses, of course), and on this trip, we had four children tagging along. When it comes to group tours, having kids around will make everyone moan and groan as it's believed that the folks with kids will always be late, be the most troublesome etc etc...but this time round, other than some one-off instances where some were late (and got chastised by all), they performed relatively well.

See this really sweet photo of the two younger girls dressed up for dinner...

As well as this other photo of this baby at Hakone who was wearing watermelon shorts (of towel-like material)! So cute I wanted to kidnap (or just bite her buttocks)...

Other than being entertained by the cutie pies, I also spotted alot of other interesting Japanese stuff on this trip...e.g. a classic -- their "oh-so wonderfully high-tech the only thing it does not do is serve you coffee whilst you are peeing" toilet bowls - they had buttons to wash and blow dry your "er-hem" after you are done; buttons that can play waterfall/singing bird chirps in case you make embarrassing noises whilst doing your business; and also the toilet seats are all comfortably warmed so you don't get butt freeze! (But this last function almost killed me when I went to the toilet during lunch in Hakone - the toilet seat was so warm it warmed up the whole toilet cubicle, which was already very small and stuffy...thought I'd faint over from the heat!)

Unfortunately, Chen Yi revealed to me the "ugly China tourist" when she said one of the mothers of the girls who went on the trip with us made her daughter STAND on the toilet seat to take a pee. See, in China, they have this perennial fright of toilet bowls and would rather have squat pans, so this educated woman (I think she is?) made her daughter STAND with her DIRTY shoes on the wonderful, high-tech toilet bowl.... really makes me roll eyes in disgust.

Another thing is they had toilet signs in Chinese that requested for users to throw their toilet paper into the toilet bowls. Now, this is OBVIOUS for us not staying in China, but in China, where the plumbing system is not as sophisticated (in the past), they are brought up (and used to) throwing their used tissue in the bins to avoid clogging up their bowls. So, yes, even in my CBD office building in Beijing, I still have to do my business next to bins overflowing with such "used tissue"....and when local folks visit my house, I will hide my bins and remind them to throw whatever into the bowls (no way am I going to empty THAT kind of trash for them!) but in Japan, they obviously face the same problem with these Chinese tourists, so it was common to see overflowing bins as well...EWWWW...

Enough of toilets...the signs that I saw around Japan were all also very cute and camera-worthy, and for Sanrio/Hello Kitty fans, it was heaven for them (not me lah...).

However, not all signs can/should be taken literally, especially if read directly in our Chinese language. For example, this sign below means making love "作爱" in Chinese, but it's actually referencing a legit restaurant name...haha!

The streets were also filled with other intriguing things that I would have paid more attention to had it not been a mad dash around on the trip... e.g. that of a young boy drawing the street scene (to excruciating detail); nicely-painted store gates; floor depictions etc... am sure I would have enjoyed them all more if I had a leisurely time in Japan.

Final Musings
Many colleagues were surprised that I wanted to go on this trip, and without Wayne chaperoning us at that, and marvelled at how I trudged through with Rosabelle. I knew I wasn't going to be taking a vacation for a long time to come, and in my second trimester, this is actually the best time to travel (no more morning sickness, more stable pregnancy, tummy not too big yet etc etc). Further, the air and freshness in Japan was a good respite from the Beijing pollution, and the R&R away from work for a few days would do myself and Rosabelle good, heh.

However, following a tour group from China does have its cons - we tend to get marginalized (also because of the way they expect Chinese tourists to behave, which as I depicted in "stand on toilet bowl" incident above, is sadly true at times); get pushed back to the back-end of the plane (I had to fight for my emergency-landing seat with extra leg room); get booked on super-cheap airfares (my mileage points was zero to-fro!); had a super-lousy guide who followed us from Beijing (he got ticked off by me many, many times over!)... and of course, on a group tour, the itinerary is highly inflexible and we passed by sights only on the bus. We wanted to catch the Tokyo Sumida River Fireworks Display that took place on our first night (July 26) but as it could not fit into our schedule, those who wanted to go had to arrange their own transport...sigh!

But still, for someone like me who had never been to Japan before, and considering it's an all-expenses-paid company trip, in the caring and helpful hands of my fellow colleagues, it was still a good eye-opener. It's breath-taking sights like these that make me forget (but momentarily only!) all my grouses...

So...until our next road trip with Rosabelle (where Daddy Wayne will likely have to be involved to), here's Mummy Wendy signing off on the report about our Tokyo Sojourn - hope you enjoyed it!

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