May 31, 2012

E-Tales: Guam Diary, Part I

Kids grow up fast, they say. By chance, a few days ago I came across Elena’s diary. I was astounded by the revelations in her daily musings about the life of a five-year-old. I’d like to share a short sample of her take on our trip to Guam last December.

Wed., Dec 21: Departed Yokohama in dead black of night. 0400 up; Daddy annoyingly giddy. Cab driver spiteful; senses we are going to tropical climes? Arrive at the groggy-feeling train station. Little sister—what’s her name again? oh yeah, little miss shitbag—insists on walking up and down aisle on airport train shuttle, collecting laminated instructions on how escape in the event of emergency.  Mommy looking stressed. Airport: on time. Dad lugs our bags grudgingly. Immigration: whaaaa? Won’t let me through? Stare hard at Immigration Guy. Dad sweats the interrogation. Bureaucrat utters something about wrong stamp in my passport. Moron. Parents talk through it. We glide through airport; board aircraft. I screech; demand business class. They give it up—suckers.

Flight good. I work on my art. Marina poops diapers. 33,000 ft. and reeking. Mommy drinks too much. Daddy pretends he doesn’t hear us, reads magazine. Arrive. Warmth and mango smell. Have I been here in a previous life? Palm trees look confident. People drive slower here; look happier. We view Tumon Bay from the windows of our Nissan Murano cab. Water looks like popsicle blue. Hotel room OK, more Havana 1959 than Guam 2011. Marina freaks out; thirty minutes’ screaming equals new dimension of hell.  Sleepy now. Why don’t people speak Japanese here? Daddy drinks local beer; happier than usual. Sign: ABC Store. What, they don’t know their ABCs yet? Morons.

Thu., Dec22: 06:30—Eyes pop open on huge elevated bed. TV squawking SpongeBob Squarepants on Nickelodeon:  what is this shit? Wait…not so bad. Tied on feedbag at hotel breakfast; ate only sugar. Parents oblivious. Little sister quiet, for once. Old marble pillars in ballroom look like my dollhouse. Leave hotel 09:30. Sunny out already. Yay. Sit on hardwood seats on tourist bus; no windows. Feels kitschy but delicious. Wide girth on these folks. Hit Micronesia Mall; coax Dad into many arcade games; roller coaster; boring teacup ride: what am I, three years old or something? Come on. Won lots of cheap stickers from games. Give to sister ‘cuz I don’t want ‘em; win brownie points with parents.
12:35. Lunch. Tried local fare at glitzy-looking food court. Crap. Gimme McDonald’s, please.
Afternoon sun feels nice on neck; usually no ponytail in December. Go to "Largest K-Mart in the Pacific.” Who gives a rat’s ass? Toys look different than in Japan; build quality sucks, though. Japan still has lead in the toy game, I reckon.
Evening: Battle with Mom over…I forget why. Major confrontation. I’m cranky? My ass. Dad avoids issues again by heading to balcony with Bud Light in his mitt. We all sleep well as car horns honk on the tourist drag.

Fri., Dec 23. Another sugar breakfast? Fine by me. Mom and Dad babble about going to waterslide “for you.” Yeah, right. This ain’t Disneyland, folks. Later; eat my words. Tarza waterslide on hill near hotel kicks ass. Water warm like pee-pee here. I could do all the slides because staff pays zero attention to the rules. Rule #1: don’t drown. Everything else is cool. Starting to like these people. Less starchy than back home. Sign: “Tax Free.” Everywhere. Who cares? Spend day in sun; water chutes smoking fun; haul ass up and down hill to various waterslides all day.
Evening. Back to hotel room, out to dinner. Mom and Dad pick steak and lobster place not too far from hotel. Daddy kept going on and on about the goddamn cricket sounds, reminds him of summer, all that shit. I don’t eat any of the swill at the steak and surf joint. Potato chips only, please.

Parents. Suddenly realize they are old. Dad’s breath always smells of stinky coffee in morning; annoyingly chipper. Avoid Mommy until after she drinks her coffee. Hmm…coffee. Intrigued by this magic brew, I stealthily scoff a sip. Tastes like shit. Adults must be insane.

To be continued.

May 26, 2012

More Train Tales

I spend more time commuting now than I used to when we lived in Hiroshima. Besides getting me to the workplace, the train rides offer interesting insights into the Japanese psyche, which still confounds and interests me despite the years I’ve spent here.

Case in point: a man who tends to take the same train as me during the morning rush hour, who spends the entire journey downtown at the very front of the car, standing right behind the driver (separated by a sheet of  transparent glass), declaring each and every stop and other automated announcements about ten seconds before they are actually broadcast. He is oblivious to the norm of near-silence usually observed onboard trains, as he joyously--and in a loud, clear voice –gives his memorized version of the recorded voice announcements. Except for the clickety-clack racket of the moving train, this is the only other readily audible noise in a car with about 100 passengers.

What does this tell us about Yokohama? There is still a collective human heart beating beneath the seeming indifference and distance between individuals created so that millions of people crammed into a limited space can live together without confrontation. My sense is that in Japan there is a premium put on not being a nuisance to others; I get stares at times if I eat a snack while walking in the train station, occasional frowns if my iPod is too loud when wedged against other passengers on trains. Talking on the cellphone while riding the train or subway is a universal no-no. Yet this man, who defies the sacred silence of my morning commute, is left alone to do his thing. Is it the same degree of tolerance that I enjoy as a foreigner when I unwittingly violate public etiquette? Anyway, it’s refreshing to see that this slightly odd, but harmless, behavior is accepted.

Japan is renowned for its cleanliness and the stellar personal hygiene of its people. No argument here about that: anti-bacterial sprays and hand sanitizers at almost every building entrance, white face masks if you’re sick with a cold or to prevent sneezing during allergy season, and a wall of products at every drug store nationwide—all attest to the national attention paid to staying clean and healthy. Usually both sexes do these personal processes in private or stealthily. Yet, given the necessary space, younger Japanese women still apply their make-up on the train, despite public awareness campaigns to try to discourage it.
Why does it persist? I don’t know—boredom? Multitasking in a time-efficient way?  Better than sleeping? I’m not sure, but it sure is interesting to see this very private behavior performed in a very public space.