Tuesday, March 27, 2012

On Balor's Needle


In my teens, my favorite author was Tamora Pierce. Pierce writes historical fantasy books about --and I quote the author-- "girls who kick ass". In one of the later books, her heroine Keladry is forced to confront her fear of heights by climbing down a rusty iron staircase that winds around an observation tower named 'Balor's Needle'.

I couldn't honestly say that the outside staircase to my apartment bore a strong resemblance to the decrepit death trap in the novel, but it was close enough to make me cling to the hand rail. While the concrete steps and their high outer wall did not suffer from rust, I was fighting large patches of ice and snow that always seemed to appear at the critical point where the stairs narrowed to turn the corner.

The reason I was taking the stairs was because the elevator was down for maintenance between 11 am and 12 that day. Why I was home at all during that one key hour when I am never usually near the building, was because I had forgotten my access number for the super computing system in Tokyo. It was the only time since I started my position in Japan that I had ever returned home for something. It was also the only time the elevator had been out of use. Since I had started that morning with my trousers on back-to-front, I couldn't honestly say the day was going all that well.

There is no inside stair to my apartment, just the elevator and the outside steps I was now slowly plodding up. Such a design is popular in Japanese apartment buildings, possibly because the probability of such an exit becoming unusable because of fire is low. That said, with Sapporo's snow fall, it seems likely the stairwell would become blocked by snow for half the year and dangerously icy for panicked getaways. I made a mental note to either wait for such a fire to take hold sufficiently to melt the outside snow or for the bodies of my broken neighbours to pile up in the stairwell to break my own fall. I am all about practical planning.

As I reached the 9th floor, I looked across at the opposite apartment building to where the giant Sapporo crows appeared to be attempting a break-in through the top story door. You had to wonder how those birds got so large. Was it from feasting on people escaping down outside staircases?

The problem with climbing stairs is you have far too much time to think about ice, rust and … death by crow.

I arrived at my apartment to find an immensely guilty-looking cat. The source of her crime never became clear however, so possibly it was reflected remorse at my wasting time to return home at such an hour. If so, her emotional pain continued since I decided my mental health couldn't take the walk down the stairs, and I lurked until the lift came back into action.  I replied to a few emails to make it look like I was really in my office … with the door locked just … hating the world… I'm sure that will give the best impression at work.

When I returned I discovered acquiring my access number was only half the battle to gaining entrance to the desired computer. After a frustrating afternoon installing a variety of programs and burying at least three toads in wiccan sacrifice, I discovered I wasn't allowed to begin using the system until next week.

Mondays. They're just there to annoy you.


  1. Oooh! I LOVED the Alanna books when I was young. I daydreamed Of having my own adventures (although I tended to skip the dressing up as a boy part).

    Sounds like you need to keep a sledding just inside your door so you can get down the icy stairs fast in the event of an emergency! Although the bodies of your neighbours might slow you down a little bit...

    1. Alanna books and the Daine books are still my favourite! I wanted to be a mage :|

  2. Ooh, I loved the Dhana books! I always imagined how nice it would be to be able to communicate with animals - then I got a VERY vocal cat. And with every howl and outraged demand for food my desire to understand the specifics faded... After all, sometimes it is more relaxing to get the general idea but ignore the details, because who wants to hear "Forget the canned food, gimme meat! Meeaaat!" all of the time? Miaowing is melodic (almost like music, especially if voiced at a certain sound level) when incomprehensible...

    But back to the topic, if you guys liked the fantasy world of Tamora Pierce, do you know Lynn Kurland? I haven't tried her romance novels yet, but her quirky fantasy (see "The Nine Kingdoms" series) is the best ever. If you still like swords and dragons, fierce girls and handsome mages ; )

    By the way, sorry for leaving an almost novel as a reply myself! I just stumbled upon your blog and I love it! I have been to Japan quite a while back and your humorous stories about life in general really make me laugh! I hope you don't mind my comments or my reading about your life! I'm an almost 30-something girl from Austria, Europe, and I miss Japan. Need to go back soon! Have fun in Hokkaido - bet spring is coming soon!

  3. I haven't tried Lynn Kurland -- thank you for the recommendation!

    I think the Daine (it was Daine in the version I read -- is 'Dhana' a translation in the German edition?) books are my favourite! Well, I read the Alanna series first which got my hooked, but I loved how the Daine books were set in the same universe, but with an amazingly different twist.

    I'm always delighted when someone new comments on my blog! Where abouts did you go in Japan?

  4. Hm yes, maybe "Dhana" is only used in the German edition and "Daine" is the original name. Weird, why would they change something so essential as the names of the characters? I don't know how they do it nowadays, because I've switched to reading books in English after realizing that there's a whole new world out there waiting to be read and loved! Nothing beats reading the original texts, the way the authors actually meant to write and form their stories! Because sometimes books can be really good but you won't know it after reading the translation. It all depends on the translator, they can make or break the story.

    About Japan, I was an exchange student in Tokyo for a year and even though I am a country girl at heart I loved this city!
    But I traveled a lot, mainly to the south - Kyoto, the west coast, Tottori and so on. Kagoshima/Sakurajima was the southernmost point that I traveled to and it was already nice and warm in early spring when it was still snowing in Kyoto. My favourite place was definitely the countryside with its forests and wilderness.
    I think Hokkaido must be beautiful as well, even if it's colder than the other areas of Japan. There's more nature, more space to enjoy!

    Thank you for welcoming me, I am looking forward to your experiences - have fun!