Tuesday, May 10, 2011

the good, the bad, and the ugly

First: The good! There's quite a bit of it.

Today was my first day of work at Design 1st, a (very) small firm (I think it's just the principal and maybe one or two other people) that mainly restores machiya, traditional Japanese townhouses, in Kyoto. The "office" -- actually a small machiya which is currently in the process of being renovated -- is maybe a mile and a half south of my apartment.

The house itself is pretty tiny. The practical person in me cocks a brow at the amount of work it will take to make it really habitable (in a non-camping and non-Mom-living-in-the-old-church kind of way -- flood reference for the win), but the historian and the architect are still going, "SQUEE SQUEE SQUEE SQUEE SQUEEEEEEEEEE!" It's such a neat little structure.

I think my boss said in an email that this house was 200 years old. It's at least a hundred years old, that's for sure. It's probably about twice as big as my studio apartment in total floorspace, and constructed of dark pine beams (stained or aged, I do not know), plaster, and wood paneling. I drew a little picture (see below) to help understand the layout, but basically it's two living rooms, one in front of the other, elevated about 1-2 feet off the ground on platforms. The front one has a screened-in bay that faces the street. There is a ground-level hallway running alongside the two rooms that is two stories tall. In the back of this hallway is where the kitchen area used to be; there's a skylight/smoke opening and the remains of a brick stove. This hallway is sort of the "mud room" area -- the floor is concrete-ish and dirty, you can wear shoes and there are storage cabinets there -- while the two living rooms are the nice areas, where you're supposed to take your shoes off. There's ladder in the hallway that leads to a little platform which opens onto a loft over the back living room (the roof slants down so that there wouldn't be room for a second story in the front room.) The hallway continues straight back to the tiny courtyard with one tree in it, where the plumbing services are -- toilet and what I think was probably a shower, each in its own cubicle. I didn't put this in my drawing, but I think the space between the two cubicles and the back living room (which looks out onto the courtyard through a glass sliding door) had a big dry sink (or wet sink, not sure) in it. (edited to add: drawings not to scale. sort of, but not really.)

Basically they've already restored the two living rooms -- the back one has tatami mats and everything -- but the kitchen/service corridor and back courtyard are still in a primitive state. I suspect as soon as it stops raining I will get to clean. My desk is in the front bay, which is very nice. The front room has what smells like cedar or pine planking for flooring.

I sat on a little green cushion, as you can see, which saved my butt from sadness. My boss said that in a few days he'll try to bring in a higher table and chairs. We shall see. I'll likely survive either way.

I made a rough panorama with photos taken while seated at my desk in the front window. I actually managed to sit on the floor the whole day without killing my knees or any other important joints. I still can't kneel for more than 5 minutes without having my feet go numb, but it's a start. (I didn't take my computer to work, so the stitching-together all happened after I got home. :P)

Today I worked on a model for a temple in Nagoya. They're designing a new repository for ashes behind the temple and some structures in the inner courtyard. My job was to put paper "tiles" on the roofs, and I spent all eight hours of my work day finishing half of it. That said, it was an enormous relief to be given a task on the first day that was relatively straightforward and that I could do well with little to no help. My modeling skills aren't the best, but after 4.114 they're a lot better, and I thought my roofs looked very nice and crisp. I should finish that tomorrow, as well as meet the other guy who works in the office. Both my boss and coworkers are Americans, which, while it's not improving my language skills any, is frankly a lot easier on me.

The bad: It rained all day today (it's still pouring disgustingly now), so I was pretty soggy by the time I got home. Also, because Google Maps told me it was about a mile away, I set out about 30 minutes before I was supposed to be there. Alas, I had not bargained on the fact that I strained (not sprained and not even a full-on spasm, but it hurt) a muscle in my calf yesterday when walking up the hill in my Birkenstocks to Ginkaku-ji. (Probably should have let the legs rest a bit the day after the 10.5 miler. . . oops.) So I was walking much, much more slowly than usual. . . and somehow I just got confused about where I was? I wasn't really lost, per se. . . I never made a wrong turn. But I kept stopping and looking around for extended periods of time because I was convinced I ought to either be there by now or that maybe it was just one more street? Anyway, I was 45 minutes late. Distressed face! But. . . I still ended up working until 7:30, or about 8.5 hours total, plus the time I was there for lunch (which I cooked last night but forgot -- grumble grumble grumble -- I had onigiri and a pastry instead -- but at least I had it for dinner when I got home), so it made for a long day.

Also, I don't think I like NPR news. Or maybe I just don't like news as background noise in general. I think it's the same reason I hate hearing a TV in the background unless I am actively watching it. Something about people talking at me when I'm not really listening just . . . ugh.

I sat on the floor all day, but I more or less confirmed that there is no position that is comfortable for me on the floor for more than 10-15 minutes. I lose circulation in my legs really fast if I don't keep moving them around.

The ugly.



These are the oh-so-modern bathroom arrangements at the house. I was alone there today (my boss was teaching while I was working on the model), so I felt weird about leaving the unlocked house to go to the bathroom in a convenience store three blocks away. So I used this sucker. (Note also the fabulous sink-bucket.) Let me tell you: Squat toilets suck just as much as I remembered. Show me anyone who tries to say that squat toilets are MORE SANITARY than sit-down ones, and I will punch that person in the fact repeatedly and beat them to the ground with a frying pan. ARGH.

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