I´m currently lying on a not so comfortable double bed, feeling the train shaking as if I were experiencing an earthquake.
This is something I didn´t take into account while purchasing my train ticket in second class.
I thought I was going to write today about my adventures in Chiang Rai. However, there´s something really hard about being a traveler and that is ‘keeping a schedule’.
Things come up on the way and force you to change your initial plans and come up with new and better ideas.
The thing that came up his time was partying until very late the previous night, oversleeping and missing the bus.
Therefore, I never made it to Chiang Rai since there’s no point in sailing off on a six hours day-trip when it was already noon.
Now, I honestly believe in the phrase ‘things happen for a reason’ and the reason for me was that I needed to explore Chiang Mai more deeply.
Couldn't help being disappointed because I wouldn´t get to see the Giraffe Women- women wearing long ring necklaces which over time make their necks longer-.
However, the front desk guy from my hostel told me that there was another group in town that shared the tradition.
Apparently it was a tribe from Burma, and yes, women were all wearing the rings on their necks.
Truth is, despite of the fact that it is somehow interesting to see how these women look with their super long necks, I wouldn´t go back nor recommend the tour to anyone.
I couldn´t help feeling like I was in some sort of sad ‘human zoo’, walking along a path that took me house-by-house to see the ‘attractions’ doing their day-to-day work.
It was a little disturbing.
Later I was offered tickets to the Snakes and Monkeys Show, but I rejected them since I'd already had enough of those ‘zoo experiences'.
Besides, honestly, I'm running out of money already and still had a long way to go.
Finally, I ended up deciding to try an activity I had wanted to try for years.
It was cheap even for my tight Argentine, and the low rate made me wonder if I would be safe for that price. I went bungee jumping.
The structure on the lake didn´t seem very high from the ground. However, once you get up there the thought of jumping down by your own means can get terrifying.
You might need more than one countdown or even a little “push”, as so happened to the Japanese lady who jumped right before I did.
The sensation of falling, though, is amazing. The adrenaline and freedom running through my body at that moment were a hundred times better than the highest and fastest roller coaster ride and I have ridden plenty.
Surprisingly, the worst moment was not the fall, but the waiting to be pulled back to the shore.
See, I was literally hanging with my head down,
facing a lake and feeling how the five glasses of red bull and vodka I had had the previous night were inevitably running back through my throat.
I used all the mental control I could to hold the puke and finally, after what seemed hours to me,
I was pulled back to the shore and saved from experiencing what could have been one of the most embarrassing moments of my life.
When I left the place it was still early afternoon.
I had lost my hostel reservation for the night in Chiang Rai, of course, so I decided to book a little “jungle tour” for that afternoon-evening and the morning of the following day.
That was the day I met Jessica, a Spanish girl living and working in Japan.
When you travel on your own, on the opposite side of the world and all you listen to is thai- a language I can't speak or understand at all-
people who speak a language you can more or less understand quickly become your friends.
However, when you find someone who can not only speak a language you understand, but, your native language,
that person becomes your best friend forever... or at least for as long as your journey lasts.
That's how Jessica and I, suddenly were best friends.
You don't see many South Americans around these places, but Spanish do come to Southeast Asia apparently, must be because they earn euros, not pesos.
We spent around three hours walking through the jungle, surrounded by a gorgeous landscape of trees and little cascades.
We could hear nothing but our own steps and the river's water running.
The trekking was not really hard, the only negative side was that I was not wearing proper shoes, since I decided to join the tour only a couple minutes before it started.
Finally we stopped at the elephant camp to have the traditional ride.
Our adorable 'driver' was not happy with our weight on his back, so he decided to play the fireman; and throw water at us.
Literally, the animal sucked water from a bucket using its trunk as a hose to attack us.
After an hour of more walking we made it to this little village where we were going to spend the night.
Every house had it's own little farm, and I was impressed by how close people slept from where the animals were. Houses didn't have bathrooms, but a hole on the ground outside.
I couldn't have picked a worse night to wake up at 3am wanting to pee and not being able to because the 'toilet' was downstairs, outside
and I could have been attacked by some wild animal in the darkness of the night.
I had to wait until dawn to empty my bladder and those three hours from the moment I woke up to sunrise will always be remembered by me as the longest of my life.
Yesterday I opened my eyes after some hours of poor sleep on a top bed of a train being poked by a guy who was part of the staff.
It was pretty terrifying to wake up to the shouts of some dude whose language I can't understand and who had his unkind face too close to mine.
It took me a couple seconds to recover consciousness and realize the guy woke me up cause we had had arrived at our destination: Bangkok.
I walked along Khaosan Rd, the classic backpackers' district with cheap hostel options, nightclubs,& shops.
The appeal I felt right after I got off the plane some weeks ago on my first day there, quickly transformed into fury that day.
The touts wouldn't stop bugging me. Offering me some fake jewelry, braids, clothing and, of course, 'tuk tuks'.
This peculiar means of transport was pretty useful to reduce costs- since evidently they are cheaper than taxis- just don't take a moment to think of safety conditions.
I got on a couple of those myself, but at that moment all I wanted was a cheap bed to rest my body and put my thoughts together.
Listening to the words “tuk tuk” over and over again from every single driver that saw me was freaking me out. Also, the heat wasn't helping.
I finally got to a five-dollar-a-day place. It was just a bed in a shared room, without windows but at least it had a fan.
All the guests happened to be outside exploring the city, which was convenient - I didn't feel like going out at all, or even talking or listening to people around me.
I was still listening to Jessica in my head, thinking how Japan could be the right choice for me, or not. How important is it for me to return home?
I would go back to meaningless classes, hoping a diploma would save me from my currently disastrous financial situation.
I'd be bored to death a week after returning to Buenos Aires, wishing I had traveled more when I was on the other side of the world.
How could I afford another expensive plane ticket again, getting paid in a low currency such as the Argentine peso?
So here I am now, on my way to the land of Pokemon.
After all, if this place looks anything like what I've seen in my favorite animes, I'm sure I'll like it...
That's probably every beginner’s error: thinking Japan will be exactly as we see it in animes.
After my plane lands I will take the modern Japanese subway- I'm excited about that- and head to Asakusa, supposedly one of the most traditional neighborhoods in Tokyo, full of temples.
I also have an interview at a “hostess club” in Ginza, this is the posh borough, on Monday, three days from today.
When I got to Haneda Airport I was not only shocked but terrified. I was starting to think this whole idea had been a mistake.
I didn't have a working visa, which meant I was going to work illegally, I could neither understand, nor read the language, since everything was written in Karakana or Hiragana or Kanji or god knows what.
When I got to the subway I was supposed to be able to find my way easily, but I couldn't understand the alphabet, they were not showing characters in the western one.
I looked at the symbols on the subway map and tried to find the name of my station on the screen, but it was impossible, they all looked the same to me.
Finally after a couple minutes of desperation went by, I realized the screen actually went from Kanji to western alphabet every now and then...duh.
That's how I got on the right train to Asakusa Station, and feeling the air-con and seeing some advertisement from the Pokemon Center on the wall made me feel better.
That night after leaving my luggage in the hostel and taking a very necessary shower, I went out to start looking for a job.
My amateur search took me to Ropongi, the nightclub's district, full of hostess bars.
It was quite a bizarre experience to walk down the street meeting potential employers who wanted a foreign hostess.
The clubs and bars were small and usually located on the top floors of the buildings, which I found unusual considering in Buenos Aires all nightclubs and bars are on street level.
That's one of the first things that caught my attention about Tokyo, everything is narrow and high. It feels a little suffocating being used to my city where everything is wide and low.
I am already missing open and green spaces. It's not that Tokyo doesn't have parks, but I don't think there are that many green areas, and I live quite far from Shinjuku or even Ueno.
As I was walking down the main street in Ropongi, I was stopped by some guys- mainly Africans- who surprisingly offered me jobs in their clubs.
My Spanish friend who encouraged me to look for hostess jobs in Ropongi gave me a quite different description to the one I was perceiving.
She said hostesses in Tokyo were sort of modern – less skilled- geishas, who would mainly converse with clients, pour drinks, sing at the karaoke and look cute. Period.
This clubs didn't match Jessica's description.
The conversations with clients had to be flirtatious, you had to make them buy a minimum number of drinks, and let's not forget the 'private dance'. At least that was optional, if you wanted to make some extra yens.
Also, they had this thing called 'Dohan' which meant basically going on a date with a client. Of course, you were expected to go out with customers at least once a week if you wanted to keep your job.
The more clients you brought to the bar and the more bottles you made them order, the better cash that went in your pocket that night.
I was depressed and regretted having been so naive to actually believe finding a job- a decent one- would be piece of cake in a country that seemed to love gaijins (foreigners).
After my pathetic job hunting tour, I returned to my hostel only to find that there were some new guests -who snored terribly loud- sharing the room with me.
That and my concerns about running out of money kept me awake for most of that night.
So here I am this friday afternoon, feeling better.
I got a job as a hostess at a decent club- decent as in no private dances or being forced to date clients or “accidentally” touch client´s knees pretending you were into them-.
They still want me to have 'Dohans', but at least I am not obliged to do it if I don't feel like it. The whole being a hostess yet feels bizarre to me.
I don't really understand what's with these guys coming to talk to these gaijins and paying to do so.
Most of them, to my surprise, are married. So why won't they just go back home to their wives after work?.
I usually find my work pretty easy. They are quite demanding when it comes to table manners though.
I can't look bored, I got to keep my legs crossed, I can't keep my arms crossed, I can't lean against the table.
Also, I always got to keep glasses full. Both, my glass and the client's, and the more and faster I drink the better too, since the client pays for my drink too, naturally.
The girls at this club are quite nice to me. Most of them are French, and the rest are Russians.
Sometimes I got to sit down at the table with these girls and clients who speak only French or only Japanese.
These are the times when it just gets awkward and I basically smile and nod, like if I could understand any of these languages.
However, like I said, the girls are quite nice and they make me feel comfortable despite of the language barriers, especially Lisa, a girl from Paris with whom we are getting along really well.
We've been going out together quite often, since Jessica didn't return any of my emails.
Of all the girls I've met at work there's only one who I don't really like. This girl is amazingly a classic stereotype of the villain of a Mexican soap opera.
She is blonde, blue eyes, gorgeous figure, dresses up well and speaks Japanese fluently. Customers love her, she is a perfect Russian Barbie doll.
What they don't know about her is that she actually rolls her eyes as soon as customers turn around.
She always has a negative comment to say about her co-workers and her smile is the fakest- and creepiest- one I have ever seen.
Seriously, I thought this only happened in soap operas, but this girl actually laughed at my dress to my face the day she met me.
She told my boss I should get fired because I couldn't speak Japanese and she literally kicked me on purpose – and hard- while I was on my knee trying to tie my shoes.
Despite of the Barbie bitch, I am truly doing better. The job pays well, and I could upgrade to a single bed room at the hostel. This means I don't have to put up with people's loud snoring.
Still I can enjoy the benefits of living at a hostel, being the main place to meet people.
In fact, tomorrow we are going out with my group of friends from the hostel:
A guy from Quebec, a guy from Minnesota, another guy from Glasgow and my friend Lisa from work, whom I invited to fight back such an amount of testosterone.
So far this trip is going far better than my last one, to Egypt, where I went on a camel ride for supposedly ten dollars that later turned out to be thirty if I wanted to get back.
Anyway, considering the way those guys looked at me I consider myself lucky it was only thirty dollars and I didn't get raped.
Japan gives me a job, illegal but oh well, people don't stare at me as if I were some exotic creature just because I'm a woman traveling alone.
I can drink tap water and the place I'm staying at has a bathroom with a toilet that plays music to cover the noise you make when you fart.
My friends and I got on the Ginza line to travel from Asakusa St. to Suehirocho St. and finally explore the historic Otaku district of Akihabara.
The place was overwhelming. Arcades and comic stores everywhere, people wearing cosplay costumes - serious ones- and even those who were not in disguise were dressed up in a “weird” way.
There were signs everywhere and I could never understand any of them. After entering places, I discovered most of my guesses when trying to interpret signs turned out to be wrong.
We finally made it to this maid cafe the boys wanted to go to. We thought it was going to be a different experience to what Lisa and I do at the bar in Ginza, even though it was still a hostess club.
Different it was. The hostess at our table was dressed up like a fairy. She had this magic wand Sailor moon's style and did some “magic” on our drinks.
The magic was moving her wand and saying some stuff in Japanese which of course I didn't understand. We all had to close our eyes and repeat the unknown phrase after her in order to make the magic happen.
Later when the bill arrived we found out the 'magic' turned out to be quite an expensive addition to the total price.
Honestly, the real entertainment of that evening to me was starring at the guy. He looked amused starring at the weird fairy maid.
While he was starring at her, I was making plans in my dirty mind on how to get sometime alone with him and get rid of the other two guys and Lisa, who also thought he was hot stuff.
Too bad you don't speak much English Lisa and this guy doesn't speak any French at all.
By midnight, right before the last train was gone, we all returned to the hostel. Lisa shared my room that night and ran away the following morning, luckily without been seen by the hostel's front desk guy.
We all exchanged emails to plan another night out, so I hope the dude calls me back sometime soon.
The day before yesterday I went to work normally and afterward I checked my emails at home to find a new one from an unknown address.
I opened it hoping it came from the hot Scottish boy but instead it was the Yankee guy asking me out.
Yesterday was Sunday and I had the day off, so I accepted his invitation since I had nothing better to do with my time.
That's how I got to Sensoji Temple in Asakusa, secretly hoping this guy had invited the whole group so I could see Mr. hot Scot again.
The temple is fortunately just a couple blocks away from where I lived.
After I got to the place and saw no one but this guy, I realized it was just the weirdo and me.
Sensoji temple is a true wonder which happens to be Tokyo's oldest temple. It has a particular smell as a result of people's sweat, smoke from the candles and food that's being sold everywhere around.
In spite of how strangely combined the smell sounds, it was not unpleasant.
In fact, it is said to bring good luck to receive the smoke from the gigantic pot that was at the entrance of the main shrine, people would stand by it and try to bring the smoke towards them.
It was Sunday, and we soon realized it was the wrong day to attend this place cause it was heavily crowded.
So I decided it was enough of that after an hour of just walking around slowly and carefully to avoid pushing people while moving.
Therefore, I went for a special lunch together with my Yankee friend, the weirdo.
I suppose I should stop calling him like that. It was Lisa who gave him that nickname anyway, but yeah, he's not that weird after all now that I got to know him a little better.
It´s just that he dresses up in a peculiar style and you can never tell what he´s thinking unless you ask cause he´s always quiet, looking above.
Also, after being to Harajuku and having seen how guys there dress up like, his big hats and pants don't really seem to be bad.
Yesterday afternoon before work I went to a place to get my legs waxed. Japan is all about appearances. Fake colored super long nails, fake hair, high heels, lots of make up.
So, when I took my pants off to get my jungle lopped, the girl looked at me and said: “wow... you haven't had a boyfriend for a long time, have you?”
I held my tongue that was dying to scream out a couple things to her, not knowing that my real fury would show up a couple hours later.
Up until that day work was tolerable. The only negative sides I would say were the strict table manners I was forced to keep like a little child, and the bleached bitch.
Usually I just dealt with this issues trying to obey, that regarding the table manners, and ignoring the Russian lady.
Sometimes she would shout at me things I didn't understand in Russian or Japanese and I would respond insulting her in Spanish, with a big smile on my face.
That night however, she went beyond unbearable.
She interrupted me while I was having conversations with the clients at my table, she turned off the karaoke computer while I was singing and she kicked me -again!- while I was trying to put on my shoes.
That was the cherry on top of the cake.
I decided I had enough of the bleached bitch and a second after she kicked me and threw me to the floor I grabbed her leg and got her down with me.
To make this story shorter, let's just say that it almost turned into a mud fight, which was quite a scandal and ended up in my dismissal.
I explained everything to Mama san, my boss, but of course at that point, considering the circumstances, they had to choose between her or me.
I can't really blame them for choosing her, since she has been working at that place for a long time and, let´s face it, she´s truly more attractive than me.
I know none of the other girls can stand her either, but no one stood by me, you don't mess around with the Queen B.
Later, Lisa told me everyone said this girl apparently hated me so much because I was the best one at the karaoke contests and she was “losing customers” - Dohans, I suppose- due to that.
It was my weirdo friend's last week in Tokyo and this time it was I who invited him out.
We went to Shinjuku Gyoen, an outstanding Japanese garden in the middle of the city,
Yet, it was quiet and peaceful in such a way I swear while I was there I forgot that I was in one of the most crowded metropolis on earth.
I told my friend how I screwed up things at work thanks to the bleached bitch and he thought that my boss actually did me a favor by firing me.
It was dangerous to keep working illegally as I was, he said. Immigration police could have caught me, it was true.
Maybe it is time for me to leave the land of Pokemon and smart toilets.
After all, everyone I love is leaving already. The hostel has new guests, with whom I didn't really get close at all.
Lisa had started dating a Japanese guy and barely saw me lately, Jessica seems to have vanished from this planet since she never returned my emails or calls and, last but not the least, I don't have a job.
The magic of this city that astonished me from the very beginning suddenly is starting to fade away with thoughts of career obligations and lack of family and friends to support me.
Two years have passed since I wrote these memories of my trip on my notebook. I just found them and thought they deserved an epilogue
I did leave Tokyo right after that.
I left due to loneliness and economic conflicts mainly, but also because I was feeling guilty about having dropped out of college at age 23 and my mother wouldn't do anything else but ask when I was going to get back.
I still keep in touch with some of the people I met during this journey.
Lisa ended up marrying her Japanese boyfriend and stayed in Tokyo. I honestly wonder if her decision to get married was determined by her love for the guy or for the city.
They are actually separated now but remain married so that she can keep her visa happily ever after. I don't really know what sort of arrangement they have, but as long they are cool with it, I don't judge them.
Jessica finally responded, three months later.
She said she had a problem with her email account and that she also lost her phone and had to change the number and some other excuses I'm not really sure I believe. Anyway, I don't really care anymore.
My friend the weirdo -by the way his name is John- came to visit me last month, during the Soccer World Cup. He's so blonde everyone in Buenos Aires thinks he's German.
When we lost the final against Germany I had to put on him Argentine shirts, hats, horns, flags and whatever light blue and white crappy merchandising I could find so that he wouldn't get murdered by the angry horde.
As for myself, I finally finished school. Tomorrow it's my graduation ceremony... but I don't feel any excitement.
In fact, now that I've read this old journal I've decided that tomorrow, right after receiving the stupid diploma, I'll call John.
I'll look at him through the little pathetic webcam with a smile on my face, and tell him the words I'm sure he's been waiting to hear for a long time: “Let's go back”.