Haruka's Diary
Chasing After Rainbows: May 2013

28 May 2013

Europe Trip Preparation: Packing

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With experience from my previous travels, I have learnt on what to pack, and what not to pack. What complicates this is what could (or rather not) be brought through the airport and customs. Another thing to consider is the type of bag to bring along, and, if it has wheels, the "retain" it would be brought through outside the airport.

You know those big fat bags with built in wheels and a handle that many people passing through the airport seem to be bringing along? You don't need to have/buy those bags. If it weren't for the handle, it would be difficult to carry, but what makes it difficult to carry in the first place? The shape of the bag, and, because of the bag's capacity, you tend to fill it up and even exceed the allowed weight of check-in and have to pay more (not cheap) if you still insist on not lightening the load to drop to the limit. Don't forget that the weight of the bag itself, including its handle and wheels, has its own weight. Also, those bags scream "I am a tourist" out loud to people around you. Not a good thing if you want to avoid being robbed.

If you have carried anything for long periods of time, no matter how light or heavy it may be, you would find that the item seem to get heavier even if it's actual weight never changed that could turn out to be worse if it's heavy. Don't forget, every single thing, no matter how small or light, adds up to the total weight!

There are also things that you might think of bringing along, but you don't actually need. There might also be essentials, but you could just buy it at your destination city instead of bringing it along. If it's liquid based, you probably can't bring it through the airport security anyway.

Here are some things that you do not need to bring for a holiday:
  • Toiletries
    • You can buy them later
  • Bags that uses the vacuum to make it air tight
    • It doesn't reduce weight, and also, what are the chances of coming across a vacuum during the trip?
  • Laptops
    • Heavy, and you are likely to find a PC with internet or Wi-Fi hotspot at your hotel anyway
  • Several/Thick books
    • I know you want to kill time on the long flight, but these takes up precious space and weight
    • Use an e-book instead. Just one of these is far thinner and lighter than that physical copy of that Steve Jobs book you are so interested in. In fact, you can put in several hundreds of book content on to it and still not take up additional space.
  • Pillows
    • Hotels provide them, or you can use your clothes, or your bag (assuming that it's not hard-shelled) as subsitute
    • You would be surprised how many people bring them along. Saw a lot of people while queuing at immigration at the Bangkok airport.

Now, excuse me while I figure out what to pack: departing at the night of the day after tomorrow... *looks at time while writing this section* I mean tomorrow night.

26 May 2013

Europe trip preparation: Accomodation

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One of the most important aspect of traveling far away from home is finding a place to stay, especially if there isn't anyone in that area to stay with that I know of.

Not including my online friends that I have never met in real life, not many people I know of lived abroad. Heck, most of the people I know of hasn't even been abroad. Basically, I have no one.

Due to the flight being booked less than a month prior to the departure day, that also naturally meant that hotels aren't booked earlier since the exact dates aren't known before booking the flight.

As Paris was the first destination in Europe, that naturally means that the accommodation dates are closer, which also translates to lesser odds of finding a room at a good hotel as other people had booked it, way earlier. Sure there may be vacancies, but of non-consecutive dates, or of an undesirable price. I ended up booking an apartment, which works out to be cheaper than the available hotels I came across by as much as half.

Have yet to book accommodation elsewhere due to uncertainty of balancing the days following that.

The clock is ticking, and with each passing moment, a room at a hotel is being booked, but that's the problem with traveling with someone else who is too particular about things.

22 May 2013

Europe trip preparation: Inter-city travel

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As part of planning, how do I get around plays a large part of how much things cost, where and how to get to and from accommodation, along with related activity relating to getting to and from there.

Taxis in London are obviously out for me.

Before I talk about intercity travel, I did take a look at getting to Paris from London via Train + ferry + Train combo as opposed to taking another plane or taking the more famous Eurostar. The cost seemed only marginally cheaper, though Eurostar might be cheaper if booked months in advance, but hey, we didn't even book the plane to Europe until less than a month to departure, and obviously I can't book a train with dates unknown. The big turndown was that, this route, meant that I could have possibly missed the last train into Paris after alighting the ferry at the France side of the English Channel. The town we would be stuck at seems like a small town with only a few hotels. We decided to take the Eurostar in the end.

Either way, how do I get around within those cities?

Well. The subways of course. Once I could figure out the unfamiliar names of the stations and the lines that is.

With all the discount tickets and such, figuring out what ticket is the most cost effective requires some advanced planning. Some cards are promoted to visitors can end up costing more (or very close at the very least) than normal fares. Those additional discounts they offer at select stores with that card? Ignore that: it's of stores/items that I'm not interested in, or the validity of the offer is in such a way that its easy to use it in an invalid period if you don't pay attention.

What is clear, however, is that using things like the Oyster Card (London) or buying tickets in sets of 10 (Paris) turns out to be cheaper than a single regular ticket.

Still have yet to figure out transport around Venice and, tenitively, Rome.

20 May 2013

Europe trip preparation: Entertainment while travelling

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So, apart from making calls and using the internet, how do I pass the time during the long monotonous wait while travelling? Well, perhaps the plane taking off and landing, or train departing and arriving, and when on board meals are being served when I don't really feel bored.

But what do you do when on a 2 hour train ride, or a 9 hour stopover at an international airport that doesn't have much facilities that I could access without paying too much? You can't expect me to just stare into blank space like a zombie or walking around aimlessly forever. (Walking around for that long is tiring.)

Well, apart from going online, I could just play games, music or do some work, but I'm not bringing my iPod or gaming console, or my laptop. I could just stare at each individual stamp in my passport of the different countries that I had been to, but that's no fun when you have so many hours to kill.

Well, it turns out that I have the kindle with me. The one I bought in December, which was certainly not planned. Since I had it, I have finished reading more books than I ever had than as a physical copy. This includes some volumes of Harry Potter and Haruhi Suzumiya novels, the Steve Jobs biography, along with many tens (possibly in the hundreds) of volumes of manga. One thing I should have done is to get one with front-lit (not back-lit) display that has twice the memory space. But hey, I never seen an e-ink display before getting this kindle and it's the cheapest anyway. Good quality for the price too. Remains very readable even under bright sunlight. Compare that with a back-lit LCD screen: you can't see anything!

The battery could last for about a month (with airplane mode) of regular use.

What else is there? Surely I can't be reading or doing the same thing for long periods of time.

Talking to people... maybe.

Europe trip preparation: Phone and Internet

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Among the different phones networks here, I am already using a phone that is commonly used around the world, which happily includes Europe. However, overseas roaming charges are there. Calling a local number while in the country, with the SIM card of the operator back home inside, is technically seen as an overseas call, which means higher charges. One way around it is to get a local SIM card or use a payphone.

Problem with getting a local SIM card is that I would be travelling to an another country, making the call while in that other country also seen as an overseas call. In addition for prepaid SIM cards, I can't get the refund of unused balance. The same for using a phone card for payphones.

How about using coins for payphones? Well, if you have several coins of specific denominations, that wouldn't be a problem, but, for overseas calls, that means inserting coins more frequently. In practice, who would even carry so many coins of the same denomination? Sure the payphone says that they accept higher denominations, but they also have this (possibly hidden) rule saying that any unused credit (of the denomination of the coin you inserted) would not be refunded. This effectively means that you would end up spending more for what, in theory, should have been less.

Using data while roaming? You got to be kidding me: the cost of just 1MB of data can buy you several meals at MacDonald's, although some operators are kind enough to place a daily cap if you select certain mobile operators of the country you are in. But still, even with the cap, using it for several days (especially a whole month) is just not cheap.

What about Skype? Well, Skype is definitely an option I would recommend, provided that you could even go online (You would be crazy to use the mobile data while roaming.) with a wifi spot or hope to come across a computer with one installed. Best of all, it's free! (excluding fees to go online and period of use) Hope the other person is online.

The nice thing about adding credit to your Skype account is that you can dial any number in the world form anywhere and get charged about the same as a local call. You can also dial toll-free numbers of certain countries using skype and you will not be charged, even if you have no credit in your balance at all. Another way those credits could be used is to use it with "Skype Wifi" on your PC or smart phone and connect to wifi spots that would otherwise require to jump through some troublesome registration, along with fees that charge you by the block instead of by the minute. I had not come across any supported network that works myself though.

Hope that I can come across a PC that I could at least get online. Even better if I can use skype with it or upload my pictures.

18 May 2013

Europe trip preparation: Currency

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With the introduction of the Euro in 2002, the hassle and fees of changing currencies has largely been eliminated for this trip. The problem is that my home currency is not the Euro, and the UK still uses the British Pound.

At least France and Italy, two of the countries I'm visiting, uses the Euro.

Guess what. The flight I'm taking makes a stopover in a small country in the Middle East called Quatar. (Near UAE and north eastern corner of Saudi Arabia if you didn't know where) It has its own currency called Qatari Riyal, so I don't know how am I to obtain that. I don't recall seeing it at the money changers I have been to or walked past.

On closer look, it does have money changer and has ATMs (unclear on fees or if international cards are accepted). It's not clear if my home currency is accepted there, but what is certain is that the Euro notes that I'm already bringing along would be accepted. (Some money is lost in the conversion though.)

Sadly, I can't find any more info about the Rial or the cost of things other than it being pegged to the USD at a rate of 3.something rial per USD. Travel guides seem to suggest that there is nothing there for tourist to see. Oh well.

When I asked people about the Qatar currency, they don't even seem to know such a country exists! *sigh*

Europe trip peperation: Camera

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I'm preparing the camera for my trip, so I am gathering all the SD memory cards the camera uses. Check the battery, charge it, and such.

Found several mini and micro SD cards that are, at most, 2GB. Ugh... these tiny, easy-to-lose cards... At least I have the adaptor that turns it into a regular SD card. The camera may come with 2 8GB SDHC cards, but on a holiday, I want to reduce the inconvenience of changing it and, if I'm not near a computer I could use, have enough space for more shots. Oh well, something is better than nothing.

The camera is a normal point-and-shoot kind, 12.1 mega-pixels, 1080p video recording (with the capacity of those <2GB cards I mentioned earlier, that works out to less than 5 minutes. Total. With nothing else on it.). I had used it for my travels last year (2012) and I kind of like it better than other cameras I had used. What I liked is the 4x optical zoom. Handy for taking pictures of animals (or people) without getting too close and risk them running away. As a future proof, it supporting SDHC means that I can use up to 32GB for SDHC cards, or 2TB (2000GB) with SDXC cards. Sadly, I currently do not have any readers that supports SDXC besides this camera.

I am bring a phone with a camera, but unless there is something wrong with the other camera (usually low battery) or happen to be holding it when an easy-to-miss opportunity comes, I won't be using much.

Why do I not like using the phone camera? Here's a list of it:
  • No optical zoom, only digital zoom
  • Not responsive, or vulnerable to being interrupted by phone calls
  • Need to look at the screen to take picture because the button is there and you can't feel it
    • There are ones that lets you use a hardware button, but it's not really comfortable to press.
  • Memory is shared by other apps
  • To change memory card, you need to either turn it off, or navigate to the settings somewhere to unmount it before safely removing it. Oh, did I say that you need to remove the cover at the back of the phone to get to it, and the memory card is that annoyingly tiny micro SD card?

While preparing, dad gave me an 8 megapixel camera that uses 2 AA batteries instead of a rectangular thin rechargeable battery, which my analog cameras and my first digital camera uses. The camera is twice as thick as the first camera I mentioned here. Unclear if that is due to battery or the (unknown) era the camera is from. I doubt this thing could even record 480p, or if it could, having the battery to die out in the middle of it.

Although it has an 8GB SDHC card inside, it doesn't support SDHC. I know because it worked when I used those micro SD cards with adapter mentioned above. Doing optical zoom produces a loud mechanical sound. I don't really like this camera. Had taken some pictures with it, but had not viewed it on PC.

So, I took that 8GB SDHC card an used it as an additional memory card. Total now adds up to about 32GB, but I'm not sure if that is enough.

13 May 2013

Teary Promise (Part 18)

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Woman: "Ah, I almost forgot. There are several spare uniforms at the staff room you can wear. We keep spares in case our students stained theirs with paint or blood, or gets torn apart. Wait inside the girl's toilet of the nearby park. You will attract attention if you don't change."

Why are they keeping spares at all? Why at the staff room instead of the storeroom? What is with the mention of blood and tears? Why wait inside the park toilet instead of the outside? This sounds very wrong, even for a school away from the city.

Me: "Is the bullying that bad?"

She had an odd expression on her face when I said that.

Woman: "Not all the families of the students can afford the uniform, and you know, bullying cases where they tear them apart. Some are... Left behind by students. There's a set prepared in the first cubicle in the toilet."

Why did you already prepare the uniform when I had only just met you? I felt that the conversation was very awkward to me. I somehow sensed that the uniform in question once belong to someone that has something happened to her. Unclear if related to the recent tsunami or not. Nevertheless, I continued following. At the same time, I sent a coded message in secret to my brother and Hisakawa-senpai that meant as a cautionary notice that I could be in danger of being attacked.

The park in question seems deserted, and not of the one I had been to. The woman went ahead to the school just visible in the distance. There are two toilets next to each other, one for each gender, but why am I seeing a urinal in what is marked as the female toilet? Why is that there? Only boys can use that. Nevertheless, the said (female) uniform is in the first cubical.

It feels as if I'm being watched while changing... Have I walked into a trap? If so, why did I knowingly walk into one? It's possible that someone might had saw me talking to that woman, who could possibly isn't with her, and led me to the wrong toilet by swapping the signs as, clearly, there aren't supposed to have urinals in the woman's toilet. (Not my first time seeing them: Saw men using one of those when dad brought me in the mens room when I was a small kid wanting to use the toilet, but with only dad instead of mom around to ask.) Would someone attack me once I get out of this cubicle?

Wait. I'm hearing a commotion outside. Sounds like there are boys fighting outside, along with a familiar voice.

Unknown girl: "You two, why are you switching the toilet signs?"

She said that with a frightened voice, but frightened girls wouldn't even involve themselves to begin with. Wait. There's no other toilet besides the one I'm at within earshot.

Male 1: "Do you want this knife into you? Mind your own business."

At that moment I received an email from Hisakawa-sempai. It said: "My senses tells me that you are in the park's male toilet and I caught two men changing the signs. One has a knife and some ropes, the other with a gun." Two armed men? Huh? Another message? "There's a possibility that I might 'die' confronting these men. lol". Why the quotes and laughter on being killed? More importantly, how is she sending me these messages while dealing with hostile people?

Male 2: "Hey. Get out of our way, unless you want to get raped like the girl we have trapped inside that we planed."

They really do want to rape me! Why did I knowingly walk into a trap?

Hisakawa: "Y-You would have to take me on first! Don't g-give me the special treatment just because I'm... a girl!"

I don't know what happened exactly out there as they seem to have moved out of earshot of me. Some time later, I heard gunshot and, a short while later, a scream of the woman I was with earlier.

Woman: "Murderer! Come back here! Hey!"

Man 1: "Hey, you shot that girl in the head..."

Man 2: "Oh no! I didn't mean... Let's get out of here!"

I received a message from Hisakawa again. It said, "You can come out now, though a woman saw me being shot. Technically, I am not dead, but my body reacted as if I was actually dying. Kind of an annoying feature to have for an immortal girl like me. On top of that, they deliberately made me unable to fight."

Wait. She is immortal?! Also, what is the point if being immortal if she couldn't fight?

"Hurry up and revive me. I can't revive myself when people are looking, including via security cameras. You just need to bring my body away from watching eyes or something.", said a more recent text message.

I got out of the toilet, already changed, and, to my horror, I saw Hisakawa-senpai lying dead with a bullet on her forehead. I started wondering if this messages I'm receiving from are fake. I messaged "How are you sending messages to me? Prove to me that you are that dead over there and not some pretender".

"Well... someone closed my eyes, so I can't tell what's around me besides indistinguishable footsteps and voices. Your phone does not support, or is inaccessible to me, to link up with my status... But you probably wouldn't understand what you are seeing if it does. How I am sending this to you? I don't know how myself: I just think of you and what to say, and you would receive it as a cell phone message. You could say it's part of how my body works, except that no one told me everything it is capable of."

Was this how I received a message from her during the school field trip where my phone has no signal coverage? Still, no normal human could send messages by just thinking, especially to an electronic device that doesn't use analogue signals. Appearing to be dead in front of me on top of that. Lets see what happens if I attach a picture of her dead body to her. There was a slight delay before I received a reply.

"Yes... That is me right there. I would love to send you a picture of what I can see, but, after someone closed my eyes, there is nothing but black space. My body is in a "dead" state, so apart from being able to hear and feel, I can't do anything. Try forcing my eyes open."

I did as I told and got another message. It was a picture of my lower half while squatting with what was underneath my skirt partially visible. "Sorry about that angle of you, but that is exactly what I'm seeing with my current head position. Is this enough evidence?" attached. Well, since I did it without a thought, and Hisakawa-senpai being someone I known for a while who is a girl and immobile, I shall overlook that. Even more so when I was saved from being raped not too long ago.

I tried to carry Hisakawa's body to the toilet area, but the teacher whom I was with earlier came back to the park after chasing those men. She saw me and had a horrified look.

Woman: "Hey! Leave that body alone or the police would label you as the culprit instead of as a victim. Especially when there are no security cameras in this area."

Me: "B-but..."

At that moment, something odd started happening to Hisakawa's body. Blood that was scattered on the pavement came flying back into her body. Any injury, or clothes being torn, or dirtied, during the fight was reversed. Her body is now back to what it was before the attacked happened.

Hisakawa: "That was a horrifying experience. Now I know what it feels like to have been shot by a bullet into the forehead. Can't say that I didn't feel the extreme pain of it. Funny how they made me immortal, not that I asked for it, but defenceless and fearful when attacked too."

Woman: "You- You...!"

Hisakawa looked at her, before wearing the look as if realizing something.

Woman: "You are that famous Powell founder! Hisakawa Saeko! Your company has helped a lot of people and we don't know how different things would had been if the company did not exist."

Hisakawa-senpai seem to not like her own company being mentioned. Most likely for being inappropriate to the situation or how often she has been asked of this. I honestly was surprised that the teacher did not question on how Hisakawa came back to life after very convincingly appearing to be dead, especially after having been shot in the forehead. No normal person is supposed to have survived that.

Awkward silence soon followed as no one said a word after the teacher.

Woman: "Those boys has just been expelled from school for bullying that resulted in the victim ending up being admitted to hospital, or worse, even suicide. I never thought they would go to the extent of murdering... you. It's technically murder, but you are alive as of it never happened even though I witnessed it. Still, they can be charged for attempted murder and possession of illegal weapons. Except for their current whereabouts, I know everything about them."

She was indicating towards Hisakawa.. Despite mentioning how Hisakawa has come back to life, she did not express shock or even question how that was possible, which I find very odd.

Hisakawa: "Nishizawa, you can stop trying to avoid mentioning how I came back to life. I already told her myself."

Seems that Hisakawa and the woman I just met called Nishizawa knew each other before today, but where?

Hisakawa: "So, this is Nishizawa. She's one of the people who occasassionally works at a department at Hatsuya behind... me."

She seemed reluctant to say it.

Nishizawa: "What are you talking about? You are our most important thing to our company! Those old lab rats and theories don't represent how humans would accurately react, and we can use you over and over without worrying about the police. Plus, your reaction is an accurate representation of how people would react our untested medicine, products, and theories."

Why the mention of lab rats?

Hisakawa: "I never wanted to be your lab rat!"

She seemed angry.

Nishizawa: "Yes, but that was the condition for whoever stumbled into that machine at Mihara Academy your girlfriend, Miyazawa has set up, which happens to be you. Since that machine created your body as what you were at that time, you are technically our property and forever stuck as a female. An android with your own official serial number from those guys who approve electronic devices as safe to use, so that legally means that you are not human or an animal and we can get away with whatever we do to you. If it weren't for you being an existing employee, and Miyazawa herself emotionally attached to you specifically, we could have kept you like a prisoner."

Who is this girl named Miyazawa? Is what Nishizawa said true?

Hisakawa: "I AM VERY MAD! I CAN'T TAKE THIS ANYMORE!"

She said that in a sad, crying, voice despite the angry words.

All of a sudden, Hisakawa stabbed herself in her chest with the knife the attackers left behind. It was too quick and sudden to persuade her to not do it. This time, nothing happened. The knife just stood there partially into her body with no blood around it.

Hisakawa: "Why can't I kill myself? I have experienced the extreme pain of being killed too many times! How am I still living?"

Nishizawa: "I told you: test our untested products and theories. Should those actually result in death, you will react as such, but made it so that you aren't actually dying. That also means that you are immortal. We didn't want you going against us, so we deliberately made you helpless and unable to express anger, even if you were to be attacked like earlier. These are hardwired into your body, so that can't be change with anything presently accessible to you. We can also trace you anywhere in the world even if you try to escape, and you can't stop sending to us what you are seeing or hearing."

Hisakawa seemed like she has given up living, and knowing that she couldn't die even if she wanted to. Who want to live on forever? Even in movies, I've never ever heard of an immortal person who is also scared and defenseless. However, I could sense that Hisakawa is unable to express what she is truly feeling inside.

Nishizawa took out something and press some buttons. Hisakawa's crying and anger abruptly stopped and wore an expression that looked as if she is a receptionist waiting to greet someone. The knife that was in her fell onto the floor with no blood stain, not even from earlier, and the cut into her body and clothes reverted too.

Hisakawa (in a pleasant and polite voice): "May I help you, Nishizawa-San?"

Her eye movement tells me that she has no control of her body.

Nishizawa: "Hold on. Those eyes of yours don't seem right."

Uh oh. She noticed that too. Now I can't tell if she's forced to behave that way, or has been brainwashed.

Nishizawa: "Now that is out of the way, shall we head to the school? We has lost a lot of time."

Hisakawa: "Understood, madam."

This feels akward.

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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.