Friends, it was a rough transition from Japan to Eastern Europe. After an exhaustingly long, though comfortable flight, to get to Budapest, we had two days there before coming to Timisoara. The first night Eric and I went out to get some pizza for dinner. Whether it was fatigue, or extreme jet lag, or just real culture shock, my whole body felt stunned as we walked around. It was a complete reversal from Osaka to get to Budapest, from the slick cityscape of metal and glass to the brick and cobblestone buildings and streets. Suddenly everything became intelligible again, at least to a degree, as we returned to Roman script. Gone was the extreme politeness and solicitude of Japan, and instead the harsh straightforwardness of Eastern Europe.
There were parks, open spaces and benches, which were a refreshing change to be sure.
The next day we took a five hour car ride to Timisoara, driven by a dour man who was clearly agitated at our decision to eat while in his car, and had no interest in even polite conversation. We arrived at our flat in Timisoara, greeted by our friendly host, and settled in. I found the bathroom directly connected to the kitchen, which in and of itself was revolting. I went to use the toilet and the seat slid out from under me and I almost fell on the floor. I noticed that there were five air fresheners in the bathroom, but that did little to cover up the dank odor of stagnant water. The living space and bedrooms were fine, with high ceilings and large windows that spoke to a grander past. The kitchen was filled with pots and pans that were still covered in a layer of grease from whoever was there last. The shower water had two choices, scalding hot or frigid. What a metaphor. It was full of mosquitos, and the girl and I woke up with no less than 14 bites on our faces.
We all set out to find dinner, looking up some places on our phone before heading out. The streets were dark, desolate appearing and had menacing graffiti tags all along cement block buildings. Whenever we walked outside, we felt cold stares of people on us. I’d look back in defiance, only to find that Romanians feel no need to break a stare when caught in one, and we’d end up staring each other for sometimes as much as 15 seconds while walking past one another, looking over our shoulders to stare. There was no accompanying smile or any gesture of friendliness in the stare. A Ukrainian colleague of mine once told me that in Ukraine, there is a saying, “Why are you smiling? Are you stupid or something?” And I felt that this had clearly bled over into Romania.
We made it to a wide plaza surrounded by outdoor cafes and people having beverages. We walked up to one and asked if they served food, and they simply shook their heads. Where can we find food at three pm on Sunday, we asked? The mall, they told us. Try the mall. So we went to the mall, a byzantine complex of shops and no clear pathway from one end to the next. There are modern stores there like Sephora and H&M, but then next to that will be a store selling mops and brooms. We found a passable Italian restaurant where we kept waving away the dense clouds of cigarette smoke that wafted over us from the other patrons.
Before we stopped back home, we went to a corner market to pick up some bread and milk and such for the morning, and found this on the shelves.
At this point, I felt like Romania was literally telling me to eat shit. We settled in for the night with heavy hearts, feeling that the next three months were bound for misery.
It’s looked up considerably since then, but man, that was an unhappy start.