Vertigo...

Trip Start Oct 27, 2007
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Trip End Feb 27, 2008


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Friday, November 30, 2007

A couple of weeks before my scheduled return to Japan, I had a weird experience at work which threatened to jeopardise my trip before it had even started. As per usual, I was doing my best to fly under the radar of the various supervisors and managers who were milling around, and I must admit that I was doing a sterling job, sat in the canteen reading Phil Tufnell's autobiography (such an intellectual!). Nothing unusual there then, but that changed when I suddenly looked up only to see the entire room go 'wobbly' for a split second. I wondered what the hell had happened, and bizarrely, my first thought was that there had been an earthquake, but I subsequently knew that something was wrong as for the proceeding ten days or so, I had the feeling that the ground was moving beneath me, like when you have been on a ferry for a long time...

I had a bad migraine the weekend before my departure, but my balance issues had improved, so I opted not to go to the doctors as I seemed to be on the mend. Indeed, I'd barely mentioned my symptoms to anyone so as not to cause any worry, and of course I naively wouldn't let anything get in the way of a return to Japan, something I'd worked hard to make possible in the months leading up to it. Hindsight is certainly a wonderful thing...

So doing my best to forget about whatever was wrong with me, I headed off to Tokyo and settled nicely into K's House again, a wonderful little hostel that feels more like an apartment that you are sharing with your mates. There was an especially nice crowd of people there during this period, and while there were quite a few good nights out, one particular one sticks in the memory...

I remember sitting down to watch TV after eating dinner, and I gradually became more and more engrossed in the 'human ten pin bowling' that was being shown. Naturally, it involved people sliding head first into the skittles, hoping to knock them all down, with the successful contestants progressing to the next round, where the pins were more numerous, and densely packed together. The ridiculous PC brigade back in England would have had a field day, scribbling letters to Points of View before the programme had even finished, especially as the increasingly high density of pins were causing the contestants' necks to crick/bend alarmingly upon impact! Personally speaking, I thought it was bloody marvellous and such displays of wackyness are what makes Japan such a fun place to hang out in...

More and more people seemed to gravitate towards the TV as the 'competition' progressed, and there was a good atmosphere as the beers were consumed. I'd already been to the karaoke with a couple of the guys, including the wonderfully named Calvin Crane, as well as a jolly Danish guy called Anders. He was actually really good company, but we had a fair bit of banter when it came to choosing karaoke songs. He wasn't into the English indie bands that I was into, and he had a bit of a moan on one occasion, so I half-jokingly approached him and said into the mic, "Look, we've given you The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and The Who. What has Denmark given us? Fucking Aqua and Barbie Girl!" I was quite proud of that one...

By about 10pm, around ten of us headed into Asakusa for a couple of beers at a nice bar that we'd been to previously, and I really got on well with Ash, an English lad who was having a stopover on the way to Australia. He was a massive cricket fan so we both dissected England's pathetic Ashes performance with an Australian couple who were with us, before we all inevitably headed to the karaoke at around midnight...

We were given a massive booth because there was a lot of us, so we were able to get up and prance around like fools. As usual I kicked things off, being something of a karaoke veteran, and produced a storming version of Acquiesce! Thankfully Ash was into the same kind of music as me, so we did some top notch duets, including a flawless Sally Cinnamon! I could sense that Anders was getting a bit tired by about 3am, so I belted out Barbie Girl and that seemed to cheer him up...maybe! It was a legendary karaoke session that lasted until about 4.30am...

Back at the hostel, I still felt good and so decided, along with a few of the others, to go down to the famous Tsukiji Fish Market. The earlier you go the better, as the auctions take place between 5-6 am, and this is when you get to see the huge tuna being auctioned off for tens of thousands of dollars each. However, it's quite hectic at this time in the morning, as we soon discovered when various vehicles passed within inches of us down the narrow aisles, seemingly unconcerned about the safety of innocent tourists! Actually it is completely understandable as they are trying to earn a living, and the last thing they want is a bunch of pissed up backpackers getting in the way!

We had fresh sushi for breakfast, before getting the subway back to the hostel at 8am, only to find that it had been invaded by a group of 30-40 Korean school children. Was it a dream? Probably not, since they were still there the following day, but at that precise moment, all I wanted to do was collapse into my bed...and that's exactly what I did! It had been a long night, but a brilliant one nonetheless...

I travelled down to Kyoto on the Shinkansen a couple of days later, my first experience of the bullet train, and I was suitably impressed by the smoothness and spaciousness - it was certainly an improvement on the futsu (local) trains. It was quite expensive of course, but the journey takes just two and a half hours on the Shinkansen, as opposed to the eight hours (with four or five changes) on the local ones.

Ahmed, an Egyptian guy who'd also survived the all nighter in Tokyo, greeted me as I arrived in Kyoto - he'd travelled down the day before. He was probably the friendliest, most sociable person that I've ever met, and if you couldn't hear him talking, then he most definitely wasn't in the building!

By chance, I arrived on the fourth anniversary of the opening of K's House Kyoto, and they were having a party that evening to celebrate. Again, there was a good atmosphere as everyone tucked into the large buffet in the dining area, and I had a good chat with the owner of the K's House chain, complementing him on the quality of the hostels, and the friendliness of the staff. I now refer to him as "Mr K," and maybe the "K" stands for "Karaoke" since he was eager to accompany a group of us to a local karaoke bar later in the evening...

I got on particularly well with a cute German girl that evening, and had a few duets with Ahmed - it was a fun night all round, made even better when Mr K paid half the bill at the end, which was very generous as it must have been a hefty one!

The plan at this point was to stay in Kyoto until the New Year, hopefully picking up some private students to keep my bank balance ticking over. However, despite having a great time and making lots of friends, I was always concious of not being in perfect health. The dizziness would come and go, but the headaches were getting more frequent (maybe in hindsight, the alcohol didn't help!). In all seriousness though, I couldn't sleep at night and I was getting weird pins and needle sensations on the left side of my head - it was scarey stuff at the time...

I remember chatting to an Australian girl for a few hours on the night when everything came to a head, and feeling increasingly lightheaded as midnight approached. I needed to get some fresh air, but this didn't really help and so I just went and collapsed on my bed...but of course, I woke up an hour later feeling like someone was drilling inside my head! I went for a walk around the station area at around 2am, contemplating my options, one of which was to go to hospital there and then, but if I was going to be ill, I didn't fancy a stint there with my family having to travel over, particularly as most of them can't use chopsticks! So I decided to fly home pretty much immediately, deal with whatever was wrong, and hopefully return to Japan in time for my brother's visit in early January...

A couple of days later, sitting in the doctor's surgery back home, it was such a relief when he diagnosed an inner ear infection...I was convinced something was wrong with my brain. Apparently my left ear drum was inflamed and covered in fluid, resulting in a form of Meniere's Syndrome, or Vertigo, and after prescribing some medication, he said that it could take 6-8 weeks to get better. I'd definitely made the right decision to go home, not least because you can't beat turkey and Yorkshire puddings on Christmas Day!
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