pergamond: ([PoT] Kaidoh // not listening)

Japan. The only place where a normal end to a conference is to get naked together in one big bath. 

I was at a three day "Leadership Workshop for Female Faculty" which --despite its rather wooly title-- has consisted of well thought-out sessions covering each of the main roles in a faculty position; conference presentation, academic writing, course design and mentoring. It was held at a Hilton hotel situated at the foot of the Mount Yotei; an active stratovolcano sometimes referred to as 'the Fuji of the north' due to the physical resemblance with its famous southern cousin and the similarly exciting possibility of violent death by lava. 

So far, however, I had not appreciated either the scenery of the luxuries of the hotel. As soon as we left Sapporo, fog had swept over us in an exciting bid for Autumn. When I pulled back the curtains in my hotel room this morning, I had to raise a hand to check I wasn't missing an extra net blind that had turned my view to white. I had not: oblivion was outside my window. Normally, there is a mountain. I've heard it's ace. 

Still, the workshop itself was not for mountain gazers. We were timetabled through until 11 pm (not a typo), where the last session was listed as 'optional' but with a footnote that made it clear it was as missable as potty training. 

Fortunately, everyone treated the long hours with an element of humour that causes you to band together to form a brave front. Plus, they compensated us with food. I'm going to have to be rolled out the door tomorrow.

Wrung through and full of information, I headed down to the hotel's onsen to relax in the hot spring waters. There's the benefit of the active volcano; possible horrifying death, but great baths until then. 

This was the point where I caught up with the rest of my colleagues and I had the very genuine problem of recognising them without their clothes on. 

To go to and from the onsen, the hotel had provided traditional Japanese yukatas; a simple version of the kimono typically worn during the summer or while visiting the onsen. Overheating in the 42 C water, one of my non-Japanese (this fact will become important shortly) friends and I bade everyone goodnight and went to dry off, folding our yukatas around us and tying them closed at the waist. 

As we turned to leave, one of our Japanese friends caught us with an expression of deep amusement:

"You've tied it wrong," she indicated the yukata, where we'd folded the right edge over the left. "That is only for dead people!"

Either it was a mistake, or it was an unconscious reflection of how we felt at the end of that day.


Photo was the best I managed from my window during a semi-break in the fog.

pergamond: ([Bleach] Rukia // fed up)
It is a sad fact that my head of group has a penchant for torturing students. It truth, I wouldn't really mind all that much, except that he has picked me as his tool for unimaginable mental pain. Newton's third law[*] tells us that this doesn't do anything for my own well being.

Friday night was the department party to welcome new physics undergraduates to Hokkaido University. The first set of students I would actually teach would be next year's intake, but I went along so that my face was known, senior undergraduates would recognise me as a possible project supervisor and --ultimately-- because I was told to...

... by my head of group

... who is secretly evil.

The form of torture was simple; creep up behind an unsuspecting undergraduate about to tuck into a piece of sushi. Then insist they come over and talk to me in English.

None of them wanted to. Many tried to literally hide behind their friends. Neither of us knew how to end the conversation. It was awkwardness supremo. Yes, I did make that word up. Such vocabulary acts probably didn't helping the situation.

Fortunately, once we got over the initial "Hello, my name is ..." part, things relaxed a little. For a start, I could also manage a basic self-introduction in Japanese which put us on a more even footing. They gave their rehearsed spiel in English, I gave mine in Japanese and neither of us knew what to do next. This sometimes gave them the confidence to ask a question. Eventually, they found a reason to escape (work / friends / dead grandmother / ooh look squirrel!) and we moved onto the next victim.

After an hour and a half things eased up. This wasn't due to a pause in our relentless pursuing of innocent young language sacrifices but due to the fact that said sacrifices were getting hammered. The legal drinking age in Japan is 20, so students in their second year and above were indulging in the large bottles of Sapporo beer scattered liberally around the tables. Since they would inevitably be the ones unable to run, we ended up in enthusiastic --if unintelligible-- conversation with two or three until my head of group decided the lack of terror was not nearly so fun and suggested we left.

Next time we do this, I'm sneaking in early and drinking one of those large beer bottles prior to the party starting.

[*] You push me, you feel the same amount of force back.
pergamond: ([Bleach] Rukia // fed up)
"Did you say, Buffalo?"

Finally! After 12756 tries (or there abouts), Continental Airlines automatic phone system had detected the airport I wanted to leave from. Now we just had to ...

"Please give the name of the airport you wish to travel to."

I closed my eyes, pinching the bridge of my nose with one hand.


"Did you say, South Korea?"

May I just point out that is a country and not an airport? I suppose I should be grateful that I would at least be heading in the right direction rather than starting in Russia and ending in Mexico. I wondered how many virtual airports I would have to tour before something approximating a flight to Japan was being considered by both parties.

"Did you say, Sapporo, Japan?"

Bullseye. Second try, no less. Still, we weren't out of the woods yet.

"Please give the date you wish to depart."

"March 21st."

"Did you say March 28th?"


"Sorry about that. Please give the date you wish to return."

... What? So we have unequivocally established that you did not record the correct date for my departure so you're going to apologise and just ... carry right on? Apparently, I was not the only one getting annoyed here. Continental's phone system had clearly decided I should be grateful for any flight at all.

Strangely, at this stage in the proceedings, I was pretty much in agreement. Just get me to Japan for some period of time; I'll sort out the rest from there.

... it was preferable to calling this whole thing off.

pergamond: ([Bleach] Ichigo // -.-)
"Please give the name of the airport you wish to travel from."


"Did you say, Finland?"


"Sorry about that. Please give the name of the airport you wish to travel from."


"Did you say, Barcelona, Spain?"


I was attempting to communicate with the automatic telephone system for Continental Airlines. While the pleasant sounding male voice appeared to have an extensive knowledge of world cities, it was apparently rather less good on world accents. I pulled a face and tried to think of a different way of pronouncing 'Buffalo'. Buuuffalo, perhaps? Buffaaalo?

"Did you say, Boston?"

Well, at least we were in the right country this time. Perhaps I should just have said 'yes' and driven there. Indeed, I promptly regretted not doing exactly that when we moved onto:

"Did you say, Campeche, Mexico?"

How does one go from 'Buffalo' to 'Campeche, Mexico'? How is it that a voice recognition system can cope (presumably) with a southern drawl and not with a British accent? Could this plausible sounding recording actually be a particularly annoyed employee having a laugh? Maybe it was someone taking an extended lunch break by wiring up the phone system to keep the customer on hold until gone half-past two. If so, I had to hand it to them; it would be a hard crime to prove.

"Did you say, Perm, Russia?"

Then again, a tape of this conversation ought to nail the skiving bastard.


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May 2013

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