Surviving Norovirus with sweets, cats, octopi and other strange things

From a deep and peaceful sleep one night I was awoken to the unprecedented retching of Andrew at 4:00am.  Without warning this crazy intense virus took hold and Andrew was sick basically every hour on the hour.  What a great opportunity for me to to learn how to navigate the Japanese healthcare system! Let’s just say I’ll be happy to never have to try to explain vomit and diarrhea in Japanese again whilst being in a clinic full of other people with all the same symptoms where nurses don’t believe in gloves and beds aren’t changed between patients and hand sanitizer was no where to be found! Japan is supposed to have one of the highest levels of healthcare in the world apparently, but their infection control was such that I ended up getting the virus almost exactly 24 hours after our visit to the clinic.  Anyway we’ve survived although it was an exhausting and scary experience to be so sick in a foreign country.

So this month we have been laying low.  I’ve been challenging myself to continue buying and trying new things despite the winter months that are seeming to affect us both a bit.  We have both been missing comforts of home and have been getting frustrated with things we found funny before.  More and more I find myself craving foods from home and good deep conversations with people who can speak and understand english as well as us and feeling less motivation to go out and try new things.  My parents generously mailed us some peanut butter and I actually felt emotional about it when I finally received the packaged and smelled the natural peanut-y goodness.  Being sick didn’t help either as when you’re sick usually all you want is your ‘go-to’ comfort food like mac and cheese or ginger ale and soda crackers.  When we finally started eating again after our stomachs settled all we had in the house was soy based products and rice.  “I HATE white rice!!” was all Andrew yelled before putting the pot on to boil a pot of it.  We just finished off a 12kg bag of rice.  12kg of white rice in 4.5 months is saying something.  We never even used to buy white rice ever in Canada.  We are also on our 4th 1L bottle of soya sauce.  This is mind boggling to me since I felt like I never got through that single bottle I bought in undergrad when I first moved to Vancouver.  I felt like I just chipped away at it every once in a while, moving it with me through all the different places I lived over the 7 years I was in Vancouver, only to throw it out 3/4 full when we left Vancouver for good.  Slimy is also another feature of much Japanese food.

“Slimy is so good!” my friend Ryoko tells me.  Well here is a picture of natto, another soy bean product that looks like it is covered in mucus.  If I close my eyes it actually tastes pretty good.  Andrew loves it to no end.  It’s apparently really healthy for you and it’s very cheap and controversial here.  There are two schools of thought–people originally from Eastern Japan love love LOVE natto and people originally from the West of Japan abhor it.

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You’re probably thinking this is how we got so sick, but in fact it is not.  There are tons of slimy foods here, okra is cooked specifically to make it as slimy as possible, as opposed to the way it’s cooked in Southern (USA) cooking where the sliminess is minimized as much as possible.  IMG_2036

This is another slimy favourite.  I don’t know what it’s called but i was served it as a side dish one time and it is the consistency of phlegm.  It’s actually really tasteless if you can get past the texture, but I’ll be honest it’s not my favourite.

I went to the Nagoya fish market the month and bought fresh octopus, fresh squid, fresh baby clams and scallops  as well as mussels.  All for ridiculously cheap prices.  The only downside is having to clean and prepare them all myself.  I screamed bloody murder when I went to scoop out the scallop from its shell and it clamped down on my knife with the unnatural force of some satanic being.  I didn’t feel any better when they’d randomly move as I was ripping the guts out.  It took a lot of deep breathing and telling myself I needed to embrace fresh local food.  It tasted amazing but I think I’m going to take a break now and go back to tofu.

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I googled how to clean the squid on You tube where I watched multiple videos that honestly make it look the most fool proof easiest thing a person can do.  In all the videos the head just easily slides out with all the guts and insides and you just throw it away no problem.  Not mine!  Maybe it’s because these squid were about 15 times bigger than the ones in the video I watched, Im not sure but again the heads were attached by a force stronger than me and I ended up rupturing one of the ink sacks and spewing black ink all over and again screaming bloody murder out of fear and shock while the squid’s big black eyes kept staring at him.  It was horrifying and I’m sure our neighbours think I have an anxiety disorder.  But I ended up with some calamari after extensive swearing and oil burns from trying to deep fry these suckers.

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We’ve tried another Nagoya specialty, miso-nikomi udon. This is a great winter dish because it’s so heart and warms you up. It’s served in a clay pot scalding hot and still boiling.

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Post illness we tried another onsen and are practically experts now :) We also went to this really random place called “Sweet Castle ” which although it might be obvious to some that this is a place for children mostly, all I heard was this place calling my name.  It’s a castle where they have art sculptures and exhibits all made out of sugar, like confectionary art.  You can go and make cookies and cakes and donuts and there is a sweets buffet where you can have all-you-can-eat sweets!!  I actually had trouble sleeping the night before I was so excited.  It was strangely juxtaposed in an industrial area and there happened to be an anime convention on the day that we went so there were all these people dressed up in crazy costumes which seemed even weirder being hyped up on sugar and being surrounded by kids who were in the same boat.  Walking through the industrial area we felt like we were in the movie “Spirited Away” as the route google maps told us to take led us along narrow paths between  buildlings that became more and more treed and forested until the path actually disappeared and turned to grass and bushes and we thought we were heading to an alternate world when bam! The castle appeared.  It was weird.

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Here’s a replica of the famous Neuschwanstein castle in the Black Forest of Germany, made out of a an obscene amount of sugar and other random baking ingredients.


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Here’s the sweet castle, picturesquely located between factories.

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Crazy people dress up as anime characters for fun–everyone had these startling eyes.  We tried looking up some of the characters when we got home but couldn’t recognize any of them.

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Yes this is all made out of sugar.


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I can’t say that we have learned to appreciate anime although we have tried a bit, if anyone of you already has an appreciation for it, I’d love to hear from you so you can help me relate to this popular Japanese phenomenon.

On another day of clossal failures I spent the day photographing Nagoya and finding a random place called a cat cafe where you can have a nice drink while cuddling with cats.  Any of those who know my childhood obsession with cats will know how thrilled I was.  But this is also an experience I will not be repeating.  As soon as they led me into the cat room I became immediately uncomfortable.  None of the cats seemed to want to be pet.  A couple hissed at me when I approached them and then just glared with hostility at me.  2 cats got in a fight at one point and when one started making this weird gutteral noises and coughing up a rat sized hairball I suddenly felt very hot and sweating and like all I could smell was cat pee.

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Andrew and I also tried going to one of the big beer factories here.  We rode our bikes since it was beautiful and sunny out only to be told that since we rode out bikes unfortunately we couldn’t be served any alcohol. There’s a zero tolerance drinking and driving policy that includes driving your bike.  They then proceeded to give us nice name tags with a picture of a bike and then a picture of a beer with a giant X through it.  What made matters worse is that if you walk or take a cab then after the tour you get 1L of free beer to drink while you are there, and you are given 20 minutes to drink it.  What the heck!? Why couldn’t we just have had a couple sips of each type of beer and responsibly and safely bike home.  Nope. You have to get intoxicated and take a cab or stay completely sober and bike or drive home.  Sheesh!

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Can you see our nice name tags? Apparently most of the barley for the beer is imported from Canada and Australia.  Also they have testers at the factory whose job is to sample beer all day.  I’m assuming they are walking to work everyday.IMG_2056

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis was just a funny sign I saw at a train station.  I think it is targeted at all those people that took the Asahi brewery tour and then got to drink their 1L of beer in 20 minutes and walk home.

Here are some shots of our big city.

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This is the main train station in Nagoya.  These giant cylindrical towers make this train station the largest station by floor area in the world.

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This is on the 15th floor of one of the towers in the station.  People are always just chilling out here checking out the view.IMG_2033

This is the view from even higher up on the 51st floor.  There’s a cafe here I finally got to go to. The clouds reflected off the glass table I was eating at to make a cool picture.

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Downtown parking can be tight.  I’ve already been ticketed once.

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A giant ferris wheel downtown.

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My latest Ikebana with one of my 4 kimono’s that I bought at a second hand store.  I couldn’t resist I actually was overwhelmed how beautiful some of these Kimono’s were and they were incredibly cheap, like from $1-$10.  So I bought 4 thinking I couldn’t go wrong.  My Ikebana teacher though has informed me that my arms are too long and that I can’t wear a Kimono properly because they don’t make any my size.  There’s all these undergarments and belts and clips and pads that need to be worn under a Kimono if you are to wear it properly and then you get fastened with this big belt and more cloth.  Apparently I won’t be able to have this experience though because apparently I have  obscenely long arms.  Oh well guess I have 4 new dressing gowns. Andrew says I look like a wizard but I’m not bothered.

Also I apologize if any of you have been receiving notices in your email of a new blog post only to find I’ve not posted anything.  I’m still getting used to blogging and I seem to somehow end up doing something that sends out these false alarms.  Anyway sorry!

Until next time! :)

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