Sunday, September 29, 2013

Flower Fragrance Dorm: Home is What You Make It

(BGM: "Doesn't Really Matter" by Janet Jackson, 2000)

September 2001: Less-Than-Perfect First Impressions
That's exactly right. Gullible little me saw that JJ vid before coming to Japan and thought that my dorm room, sponsored by one of Japan's most influential universities, would look similar to this -Aibo robots and all. 

Reality Check: There were plenty of Aibo robots around Sapporo at the time. Just none were waiting patiently in my room for my return. I had to go to Yodobashi Camera (a major home electronics retail chain) to watch them play in their pen. The ones in Janet's video were more agile, though.

If you read the blog before this one, you already know what my first impressions were of the aptly named Flower Fragrance Dorm.  To dispense with all pleasantries, in my ethnocentric closed-mindedness, I thought the dorm was a complete mess. Despite the whole place sporting a bright and very appreciated fresh coat of paint, I realized very quickly how blessed we were in the States to have professionally-cleaned buildings and handymen on-call to fix any major issues like broken heaters or expired light bulbs. At my old dorm in AK, the only thing we lacked was a decent grocery store on upper campus that sold more than instant ramen. Flower Fragrance Dorm didn't even have fire detectors in the rooms! (Hopefully things have changed in the 12 years since I lived there). Looking at this incredibly dangerous obstacle course of a hallway, you can see how fire safety regulations were disregarded as a legitimate concern. Every week people's things were accidentally knocked off the shelves onto the hard linoleum floor. 

The Facilities

Ah yes, the traditional Japanese toilets of Flower Fragrance Dorm. For the sake of taking the least offensive photo possible, this was the cleanest loo I could find and it isn't even on my floor. Note how the toilet paper is missing (probably stolen, as was often the case. I always carried my own). Each floor had a room with four toilets and every stall was less than 5 feet wide. It's squat-style, meaning spray can get on your shoes if you're not careful. If you're not standing forward enough or if your balance is off, you can risk getting the floor behind you soiled as well. Weak-kneed, disabled, the elderly and larger people always have a hard time on these things. They aren't recommended for the squeamish, either, as you get very used to smells, sights & sounds you would otherwise never have to deal with on Western toilets. (After the first few weeks of torture, I found out that there was a clean electronic Western-style toilet at the 7-11 convenience store just in front of the dorm! My knees and pride were saved!)

The communal sink on each floor was in a bit better shape, but it only had a cold water faucet. Women in a hurry, too cold and busy to run four floors down to the showers, would sometimes wash their long, black hair in there, clogging it up and leaving it that way for the other residents to contend with. There was only room for 2 people to use the tiny, notebook-size mirrors at a time. We'd carry our toiletries with us in brightly colored plastic baskets and brush our teeth, do our makeup and preen as fast as possible, since there as always a line of girls waiting to use it.

The kitchen at Flower Fragrance Dorm, however, was spacious and inviting. There were two tables with chairs big enough to chop veggies on or have a quiet morning breakfast while gazing out over the Sapporo mountainside. With plenty of sink and gas range space, even a small collection of microwaves, you could tell the kitchens were the heart of every floor. Everyone had their own refrigerator, freezer and cupboard space and we all shared cookware, which was a definite bonus.
I spent lots of time here my first few weeks, chatting it up with my new Chinese and Japanese mates, who became very much like sisters by the end of the year. They were always cooking up something wonderful. Pictured here is my "little sister" from China whipping up a scrumptious batch of homemade pot stickers filled with lots of tasty minced pork and garlic grass! Yummy!!  

Having established some sort of rhythm to life at Flower Fragrance Dorm, I was soon able to enjoy the little things like gabbing with friends over a hot cup of cocoa or settling into my room with a mug of hojicha tea and relax after a hot bath with some enka music on my AM radio. I would just sip and relax, watching the heavy autumn clouds hang menacingly over Sapporo. The weather was quite dramatic that year (2001). Perched up high among the towers, I felt like a bird who had finally found a place to lift up my wings and weather out any storm that came along. Flower Fragrance Dorm would serve me just fine.

Emergency Dorm Re-Make! 
Tada!! Doesn't look all that bad, now, does it? Just days after moving into Flower Fragrance Dorm, my friends Masaru and Shiori drove me to several second-hand shops and Nitori  (now a major nation-wide home furnishings chain, more popular in Japan than Ikea). I loaded up on appliances to make my life easier like a water percolator for hot tea, a VCR/TV combo and a ceramic coil heater (since the big radiator didn't get turned on until November). Brrr! With a few token things kawaii (cute), and a few zabuton cushions strategically placed to cover the coffee stains and puke, I had a very comfortable, study-worthy home away from home. And besides, I was only paying 7000 yen a month for the privilege of staying here (a virtual steal)! Of course I would make this work. I could even have fun, here! It had everything I needed -different from what I was used to, yes. But that didn't make it bad. Flower Fragrance Dorm was my first lesson on how to carve out a new life for myself with my own two hands. I was determined to enjoy it!  

 Copyright 2013 Genkilee, Gen. All rights reserved. No part of this blog (written or photo content) may be reproduced or reprinted without the expressed permission of the author.

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