Thursday, October 1, 2009

Big City - How do I love thee, let me count the ways

After roaming the countryside for three weeks, I was ready to get back to Sapporo. Being born in Moscow and recently living in New York have made me a city girl. I was sure I`d love the country, and I did, but I did not realize how much I would really miss the big city until I was back.

Sapporo met me with bright lights, nasty fumes, large crowds and outrageous noise. I loved it! The city cradled me back into its arms and I felt home. I guess the appropriate phrase here would be: You can take the girl out of the city but you cannot take the city out of the girl.

My host, a Japanese PhD student, met me at the Sapporo station. I was about to find out that fate has set me up with yet another amazing person.

Yukiko and I hit it off right away and we talked all the way to her house. She had the apartment all set-up for my arrival and took great care to be a perfect and accommodating host. In the morning, she cooked a delicious breakfast and allowed me to wash my clothes in her laundry machine.

That week, Sapporo was hosting an Autumn Festival to celebrate Silver Week and we decided to visit Odori Park to check out the seasonal delicacies, local foods and souvenirs. The night before, we met a Korean girl in a restaurant and she was joining us with her friend in the park. We spend several hours roaming the park, eating yummy crab and watching young school girls, wearing tiny skirts, singing their hearts away for a large, uninterested crowd (except for a few boys and men here and there). As we were walking back, Yukiko asked if I was ok riding a bike. She had two in storage and it would be much easier for us to get around the city if we biked instead of walked.

Up until that moment, I rode a bicycle only several times in my life. I felt extremely insecure on the bicycle. I felt no control over my hands and feet. And considered bike too powerful for me.

“I would never ride it on the street”, I told Yukiko. We were walking through her campus so she offered for me to try to ride her bike while we were still on school grounds and there were no cars around. Unwillingly, I agreed. It started pretty bad. I was all over the road. Couple times, I almost hit pedestrians. A few times I hit the brakes too hard and felt my body jerk forward. Trying to keep balance, staying positive, and not wanting to disappoint Yukiko, I peddled on. Soon, I felt myself getting better and started to feel more confident; that is until the campus ended and we hit the road. I refused to continue on the bike but Yukiko kept encouraging me and believing in me and so I moved on. My heart fluttered every time I heard a car approach. I was concentrating so hard on the bike that I felt my muscles tense up and started to ache.

Slowly but surely we were approaching Yukiko’s house. All the way, she kept talking to me, trying to take my mind off the matter at hand so I would relax. I felt her energy: positive, light and gentle flow into me. I was feeling more and more confident with each passing minute. By the time we got to her place, I knew, tonight, we’d be riding bikes together.

If there is such a thing as a New York minute or New York day, then I had an equivalent of that in Sapporo that day. We rode her bikes all over the city. We went back to the Odori Park to watch the TV Tower change colors after the sunset. We watched young boys breakdance and trying very hard to impress us. We ate a delicious Indian curry dinner in the authentic Indian restaurant. We rode to Tanukikoji Shopping Arcade and took silly pictures together, raced cars and played drums until we were exhausted. We watched Sapporo’s Crows on street corners recruit boys to work in their clubs and flirt with girls, offering them their services.

It was an unforgettable evening. That was my first true Japanese experience. I spent all day with a Japanese girl, doing things that Japanese teens do. It felt amazing. I went to sleep with a smile. The next morning, Yukiko prepared breakfast again and walked me outside. She stood by the door of her apartment building and waved me good-bye until I turned the corner.

As I was walking away, I was reliving all the things we’ve done in two days, all the stories we’ve shared, and cherishing the bond we’ve created. Yukiko helped me overcome my fear of bicycles. Yukiko gave me a gift of an incredible night which I will never forget. And Yukiko was the first person who gave me the reason for why I’m doing this trip. It was exactly the same reason I’ve had on my mind since the beginning but I never really voiced it to except a few people.

As I continue on with my travels, I hope this reason will either become reality or be replaced by another. We’ll see.
I will see you in Tokyo, Yukiko!

Couple bad pictures of the Crows.  Taken from far away.  Crows are very good-looking young men, dressed to the T, who recruit girls into their dance clubs and offer boys and girls, men and women their services.  Their clubs have anything from soap/oil massages to srip dancing to hostesses.


  1. As I was reading this entry, I was wondering how things were going in terms of finding whatever it is that you're looking for over there. And then you mentioned it at the end. I'm glad there's been some kind of development.

    Love and miss you.
    PS - that last pic is simply adorable!
    PPS - I know the feeling w the bike... I know I need to get one, but I haven't been on one in years. Glad you got over that fear though!

  2. You just have to do it. Don't think about it. Get on the bike and start peddling. (try to do it away from pedestrians first time around :) )

  3. fantastic post. i was preparing to comment about how great it is to get around sapporo by bicycle (something i've done often and look forward to doing again), when you mentioned the bond you created with yukiko. i barely know you, but am so proud of you. i'm glad something spurred me to check on you today. keep the posts coming!!