Monday, February 26, 2007

two sides to one coin

I was walking to the local 99YEN discount shop, and I walked past a bar I had seen when Tom came to visit me from Hong Kong. Its a chicken-on-a-stick (yakitori) bar, and sometime around 11 at night me and Tom had walked past it. We were hungry, and the Japanese sign out front read "open for business" so I slid open the door and started to step in (with Tom behind me, not yet through the door) and the owner looked over at me and said (in Japanese of course) "We're not open for biz-nuss, son" (I'm trying to capture in English the feeling of informal friendliness that could also be seen as rude depending on which way you want to read it.) Although that sounded oddly like something from a cowboy movie when the greenhorn walks through the doors, even more so because of the open sign, I decided I must have just caught the bar right as it was closing up. Which brings me to my 1:30 in the early morning walk past it a few minutes ago. It was still open, with customers inside. Heres where we get to the two sides on one coin idea. This situation could be understood as zenophobia or racism or a mix of the two. But it could also be understood in a million other ways too. Maybe the owner's friends came in from out of town. Maybe the customers were yakuza gangsters and the owner was afraid to push them out and close up. Maybe he has special super-late hours on Sunday nights. The list could go on forever. The same two sided coin situation can play in the opposite way. When I got to the 99 YEN shop, I was in a hurry so I just grab my super late dinner stuff and just as I'm thinking about walking to the counter, the register-guy runs over and brings me a basket for my stuff, I tell him I dont need one because I'm buying my stuff at that moment. He responds by bowing and using respect words in a hurried nervous manner that makes me feel important, like he needs to sell me my stuff as fast as he can so I can go home to my warm house. Of course, up pops the two-sided coin. Maybe he was thinking I was a drunk foreigner and when I communicated with him he realized I wasnt one of those two things. (I'm sure you can figure out which!) Or maybe he was feeling guilty for not liking me which translated into rushed service so he could get me out of his hair. Or maybe his rush was fear I would hurt him or speak to him in some freaky language, or both. Theres always more than one way to see the same thing, I suppose.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

visits of souls i know

Thats right. Friends from out of town! Thats always good news. My friend from Hong Kong, Tom, came to visit Japan for about a week. He stayed at my small place, and took the bullet train to Kyoto or Osaka almost every day. (He had a JR pass, so it wasnt so expensive.) It was fun to have someone in the neighborhood, I hadnt ever made that much time to check out local bars and restaurants so much. At the same time, two students who I had taught in Korea came to Japan with my previous boss. I hung out with them for a few days while my hong kong friend was in Kyoto. We went around Tokyo and did most of the tourist things I never do. It was fun to pretend like a Tokyo Tourist for a few days. And yeah, the end result is 34 new pictures that you should check out... just click next in the upper right corner to go through them all! (Well, they arent all about the things I mention above, kind of random actually, I have been lazy to upload recently.)

Thursday, February 08, 2007

The Untold Story: part 1

I have too much stress to sleep right now, and I really need to get to bed. In an attempt to relax the mind, I will tell the story of the first time I came to Japan about 7 years ago. (Time flies when you are living life strapped to a rocket.) Some of you might be familiar with this story, and some might not know much about it. And I honestly have to admit that a lot of it is lost in the haze of my incredibly selective memory. So some of this story will remain lost forever, either by personal choice, by bad memory or simply because I wish to build suspense for a further episode of my look up at the memories blowing away. (Warning this might be a little long.)

Somehow I ended up eating lunch with some international students at my small community college. The "how" of the situation is too much of a bother to explain at the moment. I remember the dull peptobismol-pink tables, the noisy people trying to be cool. It was usually the same table. I cant remember what class I was coming out of or going to. European Art History? Northwest American History? Seemed to have a lot of history classes for no reason that year. I had learned a few words in Japanese from my friends or students. I had been helping out in the tutorial center for about a year or so at that point. Well, I had been helping out with the benefit of $6.50 an hour that helped to put me through my early years in college. I was playing with the Japanese words I had learned and somehow it came to me. Why not go to Japan? The idea of a foreign country was more an abstract glow, I knew it wouldnt be like Canada or California, but I think I was niave enough to not even make a solid picture of it in my head. I dont think I even ran an internet search on it. I just thought, hey, I should go and check it out for the summer. Part of my reason probabbly had to do with the fact that because I wasn't going to go to school in summer, my dorm wouldn't let me live there. If I was "homeless" I thought I might as well enjoy a wild ride of it. I had been saving money for the last few years. I doodled out some ideas. Lets see, after buying a cheap airplane ticket, my budget would give me about 600yen (about US$6 at the time) a day for everything. Food, transportation, lodging, everything. Thats not bad. I showed my Japanese friends at lunch. I suppose saying they freaked out would be an understatement. They told me there was no way I could survive on such a small amount of money. That I couldnt even get a hotel for that cheap. I said that I was just expecting to sleep under bridges or in parks. I really said that, thinking back I either was incredibly stupid or just super happy-go-lucky or some odd mix of the two. Several of my Japanese friends spent the next few days trying to find me options, one of them found several people who wanted to let a "foreign person" stay at their house. Cultural exchange so to speak. So I was off. Not so fast young man! I found out my wisdom teeth needed to be taken out, they were impacted and it was dangerous to go anywhere with out doing anything about them. I got them ripped out and literally went to Japan the next day, with a pocket full of pain pills. My ride over was a haze. The only clear thing I remember through the daze of pills was looking down at my hand after eating some shrimp and seeing the perfect triangle of bumps that sometimes appears after eating shrimp. I must have some sort of odd allergy. I got to Japan, and the guy who I had been put in contact with to stay with first surprised me by meeting me at the airport. Tatsuya. Tall, thin, t-shirt and jeans. Glasses and a friendly but a slightly odd smile. As I got on the local train I realized that the air was thick, and it smelled different. The smell of air is something that always lets me know when I'm in a new country, every country seems to have a unique fragrence twirled into its translucent local atmosphere. I didn't know at the time that the airport was in the countryside, so the endless green streaming past the windows put me into a happy sleepy daze. A glimpse of the light that had begun to fade as we got closer to Tatsuya's and then I lost all my memories until I woke up later that night, a victim of jet lag, a smile on my face in the dark silence. A dog barked in the distance and I was in Japan!
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