Posted on 2008/06/22 17:12:43 (June 2008).
[Saturday 14th June]
Andy is a hugely entertaining chap who we got to know through Chie's former colleagues, from when she used to work in Maidenhead. Last time we saw him he told us he'd recently got engaged to a Japanese girl, who was coming to live in London. Given that she'd inevitably be suffering a bit of culture shock, and didn't really know anyone else Japanese in London, he suggested it might be nice for her if the four of us could meet up and go out for dinner.
So that's what we did this evening. I'd initially suggested we ought to go somewhere very British - like a pie and mash shop or something - but after some consultation she apparently preferred the idea of going for a curry. Andy had proposed Brick Lane, but all the advice I'd ever had on the subject suggested to stay well away from Brick Lane itself, and instead go elsewhere in the general area.
So after a bit of research on the web, and the Time Out restaurant guide, I decided we should give Cafe Spice Namaste a go.
We met up at Aldgate East, and had a quick drink at a dodgy looking pub on Brick Lane, mostly because Andy was desperate for the loo. We then headed from there to Cafe Spice Namaste.
I have to admit to being a little underwhelmed. The Time Out review had been a glowing one, albeit that it had mentioned the place was a bit on the expensive side. The menu did sound quite interesting, a break from the usual standard fare of Indian restaurants, but ultimately nothing I had was really that exciting. Strangely there was a whole section on the menu for "vegetarian accompaniments" but not really any actual vegetarian main courses. So I ended up with what amounted to a couple of side dishes, and frankly I have had better in cheaper, grottier Indian restaurants. Andy was rather more upbeat about his meal (although he does seem to be much more of a glass half full type), but the girls weren't exactly bowled over. Chie left some of hers, and all our other dining companion had to say about the place was how expensive it was - she didn't issue forth the almost obligatory "oishii" (Japanese for tasty) even once.
I felt rather downhearted by this. Not that I'd had a bit of an overpriced and underwhelming meal, but that the new arrival from Japan appeared to be really very down in the dumps, clearly experiencing a lot of culture shock and home sickness. I had hoped some good food might cheer her up a bit, and the one thing I thought we could do reasonably well in the UK was Indian food. Especially given that I had actually researched this place and everything...
It was quite a surprise really, how clearly unhappy she was. Japanese people, particularly women, are not often very open about their feelings, particularly with people they have only just met. She, however, really seemed to have nothing positive at all to say about being in the UK. When asked what she thought of London, her immediate response was "dangerous!", and that was it - not followed up by any mild compliments or anything.
I couldn't help but feel sorry for her. Chie, to some extent, had always been cushioned somewhat in the UK - both at university and in the jobs she's had since then, she has always been surrounded by lots of other Japanese people, right from the start. That's not to say living away from home isn't still hard for her sometimes, particularly how difficult it is for her to visit her family, but she has never been short of a Japanese ear to confide in whenever she has needed it. Andy's fiancee on the other hand doesn't really know anyone yet - although I'm sure that will soon change, there's a pretty strong Japanese community here in London, the downside being that she isn't currently working, so she doesn't have so many opportunities to meet new people. I completely understand what it is like when you first go and live in a foreign country without anyone from your own country around you. Whilst I look back on my time in Japan with fondness now, at the time (as this blog well attests) there were many trials and tribulations, and I was frequently quite homesick. I never really had the support of a group of fellow ex-pats - the whole time I was there I never got to know any other British people there at all (OK, apart from Dale, but he lived in Kyoto and I lived in Tokyo, so we didn't see each other very often).
Anyway, after dinner, given that finding something Andy's fiancee might actually like about London had become my new goal in life, I suggested that we take a stroll over Tower Bridge, as it was only about 10 minutes away from the restaurant. This, I thought, would be a sure fire hit - even though I've spent a good three years of my life in London (and a few more living not too far away) I still get awe struck whenever I see some of the grander parts of the Thames, particularly when they're all lit up at night.
So, it was a very pleasant evening, the sky was nice and clear, the bridge was lit up beautifully, and there was a great view along the river... I was all set up to hear the usual excitable Japanese utterances in these sorts of situations ("sugoiiiii!", "kireiiii!"), but alas nothing was forthcoming. If she was in any way impressed, she was doing a very good job of hiding it.
I had actually pre-planned the little stroll as part of my research earlier that day, even to the point of locating a nice little pub over the other side of the bridge - The Anchor Tap. It was my first time to go to this place, and to me it was a beautiful little pub - Andy also seemed rather taken with it - but once more his fiancee seemed pretty non plussed. Well I suppose women in general don't get the same sort of hazy eyed reaction to lovely old pubs that us chaps do, but still, there aren't many opportunities to drink in places that are over two centuries old in Japan, and it ought to still provide some historical / architectural interest.
We stayed in the Anchor Tap until closing time, then Andy and his fiancee got a taxi home. Chie and I decided to walk back over the bridge to get the tube from Tower Hill. To our delight, Tower Bridge was actually opening up just before we were about to cross, so a tall ship could pass through. It is quite a spectacle to behold and we both thoroughly enjoyed it - I think the last time I had seen this up close I'd been a small child, visiting London with my family. It's a real shame this hadn't happened a bit earlier, because then Andy's fiancee would have been able to see it from their taxi. It almost felt as if the bridge knew this. You know, like fairies won't show themselves to people who don't believe in them.
So all in all a bit of a shame, my meticulously planned evening out, full of what I expected to be safe bets for showing off London to a newly arrived Japanese person, was a big flop.
Still, it wasn't a total loss - Andy said afterwards that his fiancee did really appreciate having the opportunity to talk to Chie though - they had spent most of the evening chatting and we did actually see her smile now and again.
No doubt we'll have more opportunities to do this sort of thing again, and I shall keep endeavouring to find something about London that she can actually enjoy.
Face it you are crap at organizing tours! (well having said that the last one that you set up for me was rather great, but I am easy to please!) :D
Posted by Lox at 2008/06/24 02:26:40.
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