Haruka's Diary
Chasing After Rainbows: March 2013

20 March 2013

649th post: Testing out twitter embedded tweets

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647th post: Getting around abroad

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In recent years, I had travel to countless number of different countries around Asia. I travel because I hear so much about different countries, but never actually visited them.

Back then, I had thought that you could only go abroad through "packages" by travel agencies, which I found expensive and inflexible. Not a fan of tour guides that travel around in large "herds" I see around me either. Just visiting a tourist spot near where I live and I could already see how expensive it is over the "less-touristy" ones.
  • Expensive: Hotels they offered, which is typically 3 to 5 stars, and may include meals containing food I do not want to eat.
  • Inflexible: They have schedules that are made up of mostly visiting tourist places and, looking at it, there is only little time where we aren't herded around except perhaps arriving and departing days, which, depending on what time of the day, can be short or long. I hate following schedules.

Anyway, during my travels abroad, I usually brought about 2-3 pairs of clothing (more for underwear and socks) and other random stuff that would fit in a haversack and still have room. Since I'm also boarding a plane without any check-in luggage as much as possible, I did not bring along toothpaste, soap, and shampoo. Actually, you can bring these along, as long you check it in, total liquids you are carrying does not exceed 100ml in a transparent bag (which is troublesome to measure), or non-liquid versions of these. These kinds of things can be found at the destination country's hotel or stores anyway.

Another thing is to take note is to keep an eye out for the exchange rate between your currency and the currency you are visiting for a few weeks. Depending on the rates, you may need to change early, or right before the trip. If there are stopovers in a different country, exchange a bit of that country's currency (US$100 should be more than enough if you are just buying a meal) too. Depending on the country and place, rates from the ATM or outside the airport might have a better exchange rate. Note: Excluding the local currency, coins are generally not accepted or given at money changers.

Anyway, here are the things I find about a place that other countries do not have or are in a different way.

Malaysia (Kuala Lumpur, Malacca, Johor Bahru)

Getting around is kind of straightforward, but not so easy if outside the capital, Kuala Lumpur. Everywhere you see are likely to notice are car models that you would not see anywhere else in the world. The atmosphere feels kind of fierce, strong influence of a particular religion is noticeable too, and the crime rate there doesn't make me feel easy there. Even though the cost of things there might see high, the currency exchange rate against my home currency actually makes it cost less than back home.

1 USD is about 3 Malaysian Ringit

China (Shanghai and Shenzen)

I only made a short visit to these cities as I need to travel to get to elsewhere in an another country, so I don't really know much. Easy way to calculate is to think of it as divide the amount by 10 to get the amount in British Pounds, a currency more familiar to me.

The first thing I noticed is that the side of the road and tracks buses and trains travel on are at the opposite side from what I'm used to. I actually found myself wondering how to get around as it wasn't planned. Cost of things are cheap compared to back home, and probably at par with Malaysia. Can't put a rough number on it though.

Hong Kong

The reason why I mentioned being to Shenzen is because it was part of a side day trip from Hong Kong. Macau was considered, but did not go there in the end. The HKD rate may be 0.8 yuan or 12 yen per dollar, but the cost of things are actually that of between China and Japan. The Hong Kong coins are the thickest, heaviest, and largest (in size) that I have ever come across. Excluding the HK$10 note (issued by the government to replace the coin version), the banknotes are distributed by several different banks instead of a central bank, which is the weirdest thing I have come across for money.

As I get around, there are actually features that help the blind at pedestrian crossings and the ends of escalators, along with brale signs. Just crossing the border with China (Shenzen) and you would notice how different things are, form the standard of English, to cleanness. Signs are bilingual (English and Traditional Chinese) everywhere.

To ride on public transport, I obtained an Octopus Card (or 八達通 in Chinese) to save the hassle to dig up for coins, and exact change in some cases, to pay for buses, tram and trains. You could also use it to pay at convenient stores (though the cashier seem reluctant when I asked) and vending machines too. I am not sre about this, but apparently paying by Octopus Card might be cheaper than paying in cash too. I never paid in cash for transport except to top up the card, so I don't know about that.

Kansai Region (Kyoto, Osaka, Kobe)

Visiting this region feels like being in a different country than Tokyo. It may not be for neighbouring Kyoto, but in Osaka (and I forgot to mention earlier: Hong Kong too), people riding the escalator stand on the right instead of the left.

The trains uses a non-rechargable magnetic card that can be use instead of queuing up at long queues for the ticket machine, but you still pay the same fare. Like other cities in Japan, but not outside, you can use it even when the value is low and chose to pay for the insufficient difference either in cash or with another similar card. I bought several of them of 1000 yen each (minimum you could buy, but it's worth about less than 5 trips anyway) for the card design.

There are contactless card, but those are linked to your phone bill and obviously not accessible to the foreigner. I hear it's also compatible with JR West's ICOCA card, but I hardly ever come across any JR West station. The ICOCA card itself is also compatible with the SUICA card of the Kanto region (including Tokyo) and vice versa, but the PiPoPa doesn't work with the SUICA card.

Singapore

What you would notice is how similar it is compared to Hong Kong due to both being former British colonies and small land area, which relates to infrastructure and such.

If you will be taking public transport a lot in Singapore, get the ez-link or NETS Flashpay card from the ticket counter (or customer service at the ticket barrier if there isn't any) as not only would you pay cheaper than by cash, it would be less of a hassle to pay the bus fare as there is no facilitation for change and therefore need to pay in exact change (or more). On top of that, distance-based fares means that no matter how many buses and trains you take, the total fare you would pay is just one long mode of transport. The only catch is that time between transfers must not exceed 45 minutes, not take the same bus service number more than once, and not take the train more than once.

These cards contain a $5 deposit, which is included in the card balance. You cannot use this card if the balance is less than $5 for trains, or, for buses, less than the maximum fare at where you board the bus (which includes transfer discounts from buses and trains you may had taken up to 45 minutes earlier). Don't forget to tap out as you had paid the maximum when you tapped in or you would not be refunded for the fare difference.

As for taxis, prepare to pay in cash even though various modes of payment are displayed on the door. You would be charged more on top of surcharges anyway. Yellow and black taxis are privately run and are less likely to support payments anything other than cash. At the city center, taxis are not allowed to drop or pick up passengers besides taxi stands and private roads.

Thailand (Bangkok, Kanchanaburi)

The cost of things you would find in Thailand are very noticeably cheaper than the other countries I had been to. Being from where the cost of things is higher, along with a higher exchange rate with the baht, means that it's so cheap that I would go "that can't be right". Of course, that also means that if I were to settle there, that would mean that I would be (likely to be) paid less than back home for the same job. I feel safer here than when I was in Malaysia.

The Thais would usually take the the bus as the BTS Skytrain is considered expensive for them, but for the more well off and foreigners like me, it's still cheap. When you first enter Bangkok, you would notice the motorcycle taxis and vehicles that are louder than what I'm used to. If it weren't for the language barrier and cases where tourists are cheated, I could had rode them. For the buses, they seem kind of old. Fare is paid to the conductor, so you just board the train and the conductor would come to you where you would pay the fare, if they noticed you.

For the Skytrain, you would buy a prepaid card, just like the one in the Kansai region, but paying only for the trip you are travelling. Except for the newer ones, the machines accept only 5 and 10 baht coins. Use the newer machines (which can have a long queue) or the service counter next to the ticket gate to exchange. The new underground subway system uses the same method as the new ticket machine, but dispenses a (plain) round token. There are ongoing developments to develop a card that works on both the Skytrain and the subway.

But if you are headed to places like River Kwai section of the Death Railway near Kanchanaburi (about 200km Northwest from Bangkok), you are better off taking a tour bus or with your own transport. Sure there is a bus terminal there to and from Bangkok, but the bus terminal is about 2-4km and, at the Bangkok side, you would have to take a bus from the city centrer to a terminal some distance away that is at the outskirts of Bangkok. If you can't speak Thai, you are going to have trouble asking for help.

17 March 2013

Disorientated Feelings (Part 53)

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We got around Kyoto by bus and train to places like the Fushimi Inari Shrine (伏見稲荷神社) for the countless number of the arches, and Kinkaku-ji where the famous golden pavilion is. What they did not mention is getting around is seemingly long and endless that people don't go far from the main entrance, or the other things those temples had the guide didn't mention. What we saw along the way might have changed since I had went there on my school field trip, but the attractions themselves remain unchanged.

However, I couldn't escape the nightmare from home of seeing an increase of the number of young females. I noticed more young females and the absence of the elderly. With people like my dad already turned into a girl far younger than me, it's obvious what happened to the elderly and where the surge of young girls come from. Sadly, that would also mean that it could happen to me one day and lose some of my memories, like knowing who my middle school classmates were as it could become irrelevant.

Authorities and experts on the human body are aware of what is happening, but without knowing what is causing the transformations to happen from a scientific point of view, they are unable to come up with a way to reverse this or stop it from affecting more people. During an interrogation of a man known for committing a lot of crimes at the police station, he randomly turned into a girl, including belongings and clothes worn. The girl could remember who she was before the transformation happened, but not the crimes she did as a man, and neither did she looked like she would do any more crimes. Further medical checks on the girl revealed that her body structure is that of anyone who was born female with the body biologically at the age of puberty. However, the last check up as a male had showed no sign of being intersex, and completely male with minor signs of aging. This is what researchers are baffled about: how is this even possible?

People are unsure if this should be treated as urgent as it's happening to everyone, but nobody is dying or getting sick from it either. In fact, anyone who had disability or health problems had those gone without a trace after transformation. As a matter of fact, crimes actually fell rapidly, and none of those caught were the transformed people, including those known to have committed crime before. The government is facing problems finding these people a place to study due to the law of mandatory school attendance up until middle school, even though more than 90% chose to continue on their studies.

The government came up with a way to track people's actual and biological ages. To avoid discrimination, the use of a person's biological age, instead of actual age, should be used. For date of birth relating to biological age, it would be the day they are transformed, minus their biological age. In the possibility where already transformed person transforms again, that age is carried over. I don't know how people would come across this, or react when they age of what they think they are is completely different from on this site. The latter situation is likely happen to those who had their memories wiped, or born after everyone had changed.

Taking a break from Kyoto, we decided to take side trips to Osaka and Kobe. It's funny how there are still women-only carriages on the trains to there when a large majority of people these days are women. Isn't it sad that more and more men are disappearing? Kind of as good as them gone completely as all the "tough men" are gone since the very first wave happened.

The first wave involved a lot of people: which included tough men, and the elderly at that time. This did not happen for the subsequent waves, but their memories were wiped clean as if they were really born a girl, and anyone who used to know them wouldn't remember, but of course, nobody could ignore the sudden increase of girls that nobody was able to tell who exactly. I know I had grandparents and great grandparents, but I have no memory of them as they are likely to be the first batch of transformed people and erased from my memory. Since my parents transformed later, they remembered me, but it's awkward talking to them as girls younger than me, probably the same biological age as my only son.

The purpose of this holiday with my family is enjoy the way we are now before my children gets older, and the inevitable and unpredictable moment where I will be reborn as a younger girl and possibly loose some of my current memories to some degree. I don't know how the concept of marriage and family would work in the future if everyone is a female of about the same age.

05 March 2013

Yononaka no Okugi (Part 1)

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It has been days since I saw the magazines that opened up my perspective about what the world was like in the recent past that I previously never knew about. I hadn't told anyone else about it because I don't know how they would react to it. It is also hard to convince them too as the current world looked as if it has always been that way for years. Neither have I yet to find any convincing evidence which, in an age where pictures and video could be edited easily or, if looked at without context, be misinterpreted.

The magazines aren't a reliable source for what life was like and what the publisher wants you to do or buy, but they do tell you the fashion, trends, or whatever makes you feel good or desire for in those days. There's hardly anything else that would tell me what life was like, no matter how difficult it might had been. I need more sources to confirm if my suspicions, but where? There are too many places to look at, but I know for sure that my local and school library is not likely to have them. Online... where do I even start?

Well, a hint appeared in the newspapers: job postings as language translators. I had heard of rumours that, excluding translating to and from English and Japanese, none of those job posts have been filled up for many years: nobody alive today could understand any of the many hundreds of languages that were spoken in the past. Anyone who tried learning them found themselves unable to learn it as they would have completely forgotten it in a few hours, as if the brain is actively rejecting the learning of all but the only two specific languages that everyone knows. Computer-based translation that has existed for many decades is the only thing that can help us what the extinct languages are saying, but the accuracy is questionable that gets worse if you can't input it as text. I'm guessing the job postings are meant to find someone who could understand enough to fix this problem, except that nobody could understand them even if people did tried to learn it.

Another hint: mass immigration from rural areas to urban areas, design of old buildings, and the amount of books and signs in extinct languages that varies by location. Many people moved with the common reason being that the house they were living in we're awful. Why did they suddenly say it was awful and wanted to move if they have been living there for generations?

As mentioned earlier, everyone looks like a young "woman", so naturally the buildings built everywhere today are mostly contemporary style from here, even at areas far away from Honshu where older buildings of a different, but extinct, culture are present. Just what happened here? How did their "race", culture, and language all disappear completely without a trace in just less than a quarter of a century?

Well, the places they used to lived could have been vacant if it were not for the people from here who settled there, but in every single village, town, and city in large numbers that looked like a coincidence?

The population of people living in Honshu a quarter of a century ago seemed unchanged compared to today, and certainly nowhere near to fill in the population elsewhere, so, where do these people living outside Honshu come from? I find that suspicious. Unless these people were the original inhabitants of their hometowns before they were changed, there is no explanation for it. The fact I saw people with different colored skin, eyes, and hair that don't exist today could support what happened to them as they were probably turned into young "women" that look like the kind around me here at happening at the same time the "man" disappeared.

Anyway, let's talk about my school. It was founded about half a century ago. This school isn't particularly special, but did get some reputation for having the current president of one of the largest medical company to have graduated from this school. Not that I care about well known people, but hearing them coming from a normal school instead of prestigious ones like Mihara or Mizuho is surprising once in a while.

Like other middle schools elsewhere, the only people who attended the entrance ceremony as year one students are a handful of people, made up of mostly people whose given names are in kanji or hiragana that would soon become the minority. Everyone else seems to have transferred during the year. I am one of the transfer students last year, but I don't remember what I was doing before I transferred in within a week after my 13th birthday... Wait. If my current real age is only 1, doesn't that mean I had only just been born when I transferred in?

Everything around me looked looked controlled and perfect, but yet on closer look, people are not being controlled and are actually following rules. The world around me has evidence that it was completely different decades earlier, but I was born after it happened and I had nearly non-existent information about the past, so I don't know. All of my classmates seem to be living with one or two other people who share the same "upper name" (surname / family name), which is too coincidental.

I would like to think that people today are shaped differently than in the past, but the old magazines proved that we looked the same as them. At least, from what I could see on the outside. I'm guessing that everyone has been changed to make up for the fact that the "man" thing that is no longer around today but, again, I don't know enough history or biology to know what the changes are. I could be seeing it everyday and not realize it.

What are my options should I want to continue finding out more? I could look up at old newspapers at the local academy's library, but without knowing what headline or year to look out for, this is not easy: there's too many to look through! Well, maybe I could search for when it happened by looking through my school's yearbooks and see when the final batch of students who had the majority of their names in kanji was and subtract their age from there, or look at past population statistics and see where the spike of the female population happened. I don't think it will be easy searching for these.

Chapter 1
Prologue | Part 2

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中野区, 東京都, Japan
帰国子女 英語能力は堪能。趣味はアニメや漫画やプログラムコードを編集。通常、あたしの小説を英語で書いてです。Grew up abroad &travelled to different countries. I write my own fictional novel on my blog.