aug 2018

"Give me a second, I need to get my story straight."

My impression of Hokkaido was somewhat overwhelming and I’m truly lost and have no idea where to start. Really, I've been trying to write this properly for 4 months already! Okay, let’s try with a short prequel.

End of July. Late afternoon. I just finished one of the last remaining study reports and bravely left my nicely air-conditioned lab to grab my usual miserable microwave dinner from a nearby convenience store. It always takes some courage to go outside these days, because the moment you open the door into the corridor you get the same feeling as if you entered a steaming turkish sauna after spending an hour in cool swimming pool water. But that’s just a corridor, you think with desperation. A suffocating ride in the elevator is a kids’ game, too. Brace yourself for what awaits you outside of the building: a fully legit bloody hell! Sometimes when I walk in this heat I’m not sure if that one inhale was enough to supply the air my body needs to keep moving so I start breathing with double gasps like an idiot only to discover it doesn’t help at all. The air is just too dense with water vapour to make you feel satisfied with your lungs’ work. So that evening I imagined if there's one level of literal hell with an unescapable copy of weather in Tokyo of this summer, I would not sin my entire life. As the thoughts about turning myself into a buddhist monastery and living righteously the rest of my days in a cold tiny cell (cold is the key word here) were infecting my brain's sanity, I felt sweat dripping from my legs after just a two minute walk. In fact, all my body was already covered with a layer of sticky vapor mist, and I'm a type of person who never sweats unless runs a full marathon.

These days, however, my clothes would get drained everyday twice when I commuted to/from school and at least once more partially wet when I had to buy some food out. It was so naturally unavoidable l even stopped getting mad and started wearing skirts everyday to wipe the sweat easier. Never left home without an umbrella and a bottle of water. If I did, I’d just get drowsy after a 5-minute walk. Well, I guess you get the picture. Now you know why asian tourists carry their silly sun umbrellas everywhere they go. The only reasonable place to spend the days was my climate-controlled laboratory at university and life became unbelievably dull: home, train, school, microwave food, school, train, home, terrible nights spent in desperate efforts to save up on air conditioning. By the third week of this cycle I started doubting my identity as a human being, drowning in irregular sleeping patterns and not having any personal wishes apart from the most basic needs. And one especially miserable evening, on my way to convenience store (that I started describing at the beginning and got carried away) I got finally hit with a dramatic “I CAN’T TAKE THIS ANYMORE“ punch from an autonomous emergency thought generator at the back of my mind. “I’M FLEEING UP NORTH”, it said. As an obedient empty human shell I was at the time, I agreed.

Back at the lab with a cup of instant ramen I planned a trip in a couple of hours, just like that - opened skyscanner, saw some affordable plane tickets to Sapporo (110 euros for a roundtrip considering the usual Japanese prices for transportation was hard to believe), struggled a bit with finding cheap accommodation as next week turned out to be some huge Chinese/Korean/Taiwanese national holiday but finally managed to book three different places that I really liked, located quite far from each other though. That posed a problem of travelling around the island, but gladly I remembered someone from the dorm praising a very profitable unlimited 5-day Hokkaido bus pass for about 70 euros only so that solved every remaining doubt in a second. Even if it didn't and I had to hitch-hike, I was seriously ready to throw myself anywhere on earth with an average temperature lower than 30 degrees C with no further questions asked. It’s amazing how prolonged exposure to elevated humidity coupled with excessive heat can change people’s behaviour completely (or rather, strip away anyone’s remaining sanity).

In the morning on the first of August I packed three T-shirts, a pair of jeans, a sweatshirt, a windbreaker, 3 pieces of underwear, 3 pairs of socks and one toothbrush into a hardly-4-kilo bag and dispatched to Narita airport for my full-9-day escape. The number of clothes I took with me is no joke - just try living in a meditative zombie-self-denial state for three weeks in Tokyo summer and you’ll feel like your survival wouldn’t really depend on any earthy belongings anymore. Physical objects lose meaning. And people wonder why Japanese are all about minimalism.

Deadly-desperate-minimalist approach also affected all of my route planning. For instance, two first hostels that I booked turned out to be terribly far away from each other and I just made a wild guess that one day should be enough to take three highway buses to get from one place to another, without even checking if the transfers were at least theoretically possible. I’ll be honest: this resort to unpredictability was partly intentional. What I thought was "Alright, I’ve been living abroad by myself for full 5 years already. Always made sure to stay out of trouble, be responsible, pay bills on time, meet the deadlines and plan my life in general as best as I could. No unnecessary expenses, no wild partying, no crazy randomness. And this is my first big trip alone, a perfect opportunity to make up for usual absence of adventures".

To be continued...