Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Japan versus Kazakhstan

(Just a random blog post based on thoughts while walking back from train station)

I went to the train station today to buy tickets to Echigoyuzawa, where our rice farmer friends, Kevin and Tomoe, live. I had looked up the information on the Internet and had all the information about which train, times and costs. Every time I go to do something like this, I feel sick to my stomach...

In Kazakhstan, buying train tickets was a nightmare. You almost always had to take a a local friend to help you understand the intelligible Russian of the station attendant shouted through the thick glass of her booth. You never knew if there would be tickets available or what the cost would be. And if there were no tickets, you never knew why or when the next train would come. The prospect of having to go to the train station would make us nauseous...

After awhile, we learned to bribe a local friend with dinner if she would go to the station without us and buy the tickets. It was just easier without two foreigners hovering around in the background, and the cost was usually lower.

Then, there was the actual train journey. Once on the train, you never knew if the conductor had sold your seat to a passenger that had gotten on earlier without a ticket. Sometimes you would have to share the bench/bed in the compartment. Worse case, you had to stand in corridor until a spot opened up, often for hours on end. And the trip to the capital, our most common train trip, was 26 hours. Oh, the nostalgic memories...

I love Japan. I told the conductor where and when I wanted to go. He checked his computer, swiped my credit card, and handed me the tickets. No hassle, no fuss, no bribes... nothing.

People ask us, "So, how's Japan? Having any culture shock? What about Japan is driving you crazy?"

I say, "We lived in Kazakhstan. It was hard there. This is Japan: EVERYTHING works, and everyone is polite. There's nothing really to complain about here..."

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