Why travel is, perhaps, important, but not as important as people say

The thing about travel is that, as a middle class mostly-cis white woman in my twenties and thirties, I have often gotten the impression from others that they see the concept of me travelling is somehow admirable. It'll make me broad-minded, or enlightened, or wise, or something. Or it's brave of me to travel, it shows an adventuresome spirit.

Of course, currently I'm in Toronto, and that's not the travel that I'm really talking about. I know of nobody who would claim that travelling to Toronto is somehow admirable. I'm talking about the kind of travel where you go to places where the people aren't predominantly of your ethnicity or mother tongue. You know, when you travel to those places, you can "learn so much". They are backwards/advanced there. It's different there. It's fundamentally "other".

But really, it's fundamentally the same, a lot of people coming up with systems to fulfill their basic needs on a day-to-day basis. Systems which are usually some combination of broken and working, with occasional glimpses of flourishing. Just like home, in a lot of ways.

Which is not to say that it isn't interesting to travel. It is interesting. And I'm not saying that travelling to, for instance, India and Japan and Australia didn't give me some new perspectives on my life in Canada. It definitely did. It's just not admirable in and of itself.

One of the problem with travelling is that we take ourselves with us. We see the world through the same old eyes. It's easy to judge what we're seeing first of all as though we are immediately capable of seeing the totality of it with all of its implications - we definitely can't.  It's easy to think that we understand our own system totally, but we usually don't do that either, even after years of immersion in it. It's just too damn easy to judge, and that's usually what we do.

I'm speaking very generally, and rather perplexingly at that, and I know I'm missing pretty much every single point I was hoping to make. Writing at 3 in the morning: something I just shouldn't do, and yet I do.

Anyway, when I say that travelling isn't admirable, I should also say that it's not only not admirable, it's actually a symptom of how hugely privileged I am, with a bundle of aspects therein. Not only am I affluent enough to have the disposable income and the flexible work conditions, in general, to travel when I want to interesting locales, I have the vast class and white privilege to believe that this a legitimate way for me to spend my money and time.

And the reason I got to thinking about all of this, beyond the fact that I've spent the last three years reading feminist blogs every day, is that I went for a walk yesterday (i.e., Thursday). I walked up the street to the main drag and then walked along going into all the little shops and reading the signs and watching the traffic, my baby contentedly on my back. And when I finally got home, my host and his roommate both seemed to think it was quaint that I'd gone for a walk in their Toronto neighbourhood, like this was an odd way to spend perfectly good tourist time when I could have gone to the Art Gallery or something.

And I tried, but failed, to say, "Look, your neighbourhood here is just as different in some ways from my home as any neighbourhood in Tokyo or Kolkata. The architecture is different, the ways that people plan their yards or lack thereof are different, the shops and the people in them are different than the neighborhood I live in. Perhaps the differences are more subtle than Kolkata. I have the advantage of a mostly shared language to help me interpret what I'm seeing and hearing, but this is still an incredibly different place."

When you think "February" you undoubtedly think "Toronto"

(Alternate title: When you think "Toronto" you undoubtedly think "February")

Either way, here I am in Toronto. In February. On purpose. Because actually, if dressed appropriately, I like the snow and cold and there's actually very little of that authentically to be found in Vancouver, and the Okanagan has been a bit lacking in those things as well.

This time, however, I did not travel alone. I brought Star with me! (The everyday antics of Star can be found at the appropriately named blog Every Day Star
.) Travelling on an airplane with a one year old is interesting. Things I used to take for granted, like having two hands to grab my baggage off the carousel for instance are no longer simple and predictable.

Nonetheless my excellent plan to travel via redeye flight (leaving at 11 at night) worked nearly perfectly. He slept most of the way, although I definitely didn't. Still, we made it.

One comment I have in particular, however, is that the airline attendant said that transport canada specifically forbade that the child be in his carrier when the seatbelt sign was on. Instead, I'm supposed to hold him up against my shoulder in the "burp" position (her words). If we're told to brace for impact, I'm supposed to hold him against my shoulder with one hand and lay my other hand against the seat in front of me. Really transport canada? Your theory is that securing the child into his carrier, securing him against my body with strong fabric webbing and supporting his head, neck and back is unsafe compared to trying to control the movements of a 20+ pound infant with ONE HAND? This is ridiculous.

I'm staying with Skinnybear at his house in a neighbourhood of Toronto that he was unable to really name. He suggested that "Silverthorn" is really the only name you could give it, but that this is an old name and very few people would know what it meant. But that's where we are. His house is neat, sitting up on a hill and it has a pretty decent view across the city - house after house after house after street of house. But there are a lot of stairs to get to the front door. He suggested that baggage handlers the world round would take up collection to buy me a less heavy bag after lugging said bag up the stairs himself. It's true, they might. The bag, before luggage, is at least ten pounds itself.

On day one of our trip we arrived, got picked up at the airport at a very chilly 7 in the morning, came back to the house and ate an estimated mountain of toast, then went to bed and slept for five hours, which was awesome. Then we went grocery shopping, came home, ate dinner, watched TV, and low and behold, it's time for bed again.

Tomorrow we will be going off and doing something independent of our host, so I suppose I'd better figure out what to do. I kind of suspect I might have a cold, and Star likewise, so perhaps we'll do nothing other than stare out at the great view, watch random TV, work on homework and try to recover. But perhaps if we regain our strength we'll head out to a museum, or just a random bus experience. What's not to love about the bus?
  • Current Mood
    tired tired

More pictures

I've been meaning to post these for a while, but then I just plum forgot, so here's a few more Collapse )

There's more, and I'll continue posting when I feel like it.
  • Current Music
    Obsession ~~ Rest Area

Pictures (crossposted to rainbowk)

I only took 1,243 pictures in total. Holy digital camera batman! That entirely filled up my 1 gig card with a few leftover on the 512K card. I've definitely never taken pictures so profligately, but I figured... eh... digital... might as well, ya know?

I know that all the cool kids are using flickr for this sort of thing now, but what can I say... I'm still on my hopelessly out-of-date version of the internet using one of those 56K modulation/demodulation devices, so uploading these images at their full size would only take several hours. Instead, you get the trimmed, cropped, resaved versions.

Also, these first pictures aren't necessarily chosen with an eye to giving anyone and idea of what Japan in general looks like, what the trip was like or anything useful like that. They're just pictures I enjoyed taking and which I like the look of for some reason. But hey, that's okay, right?

But of course, I'll put them Collapse )

I'll post more soon.
  • Current Music
    Walking Back ~~ The Cranberries

Nagiri, October 31

I'm on the train from Nagiri to Nagoya. Last night in Magome after dinner I went back to my room and lay on my futon and watched a little TV. This time it was a different game show, in which teams of five did various tasks together. It actually seemed to make a certain amount of sense, for once, and then what should happen but the two young girls from the other show showed up. They didn't seem to be participating, just offering comments and generally being cute, or something like that. I think I'll just give up on expecting TV to make sense.

Actually, even in writing this I just realized that I just feel like... being private and alone, even in writing. I want to savour these last moments here as my own. I'll examine them later, but for now...
  • Current Music
    The Star Spangled Banner ~~ Blues Traveler

The happy post you've all been waiting for: Magome, October 30

Oh my god, I'm ridiculously happy to be in Magome!

On the bus from Nakatsugawa train station to Magome I found myself grinning from ear to ear in an excess of joy. Mountains Mountains Mountains!!!

Even the fact that according to the sign in the dining room I can look forward to having an entire fish complete with eyes for dinner is not really fazing me. At least it looks cooked...

I'm on my own! I'm doing what I wanted to do and it's working out GREAT! I'm not an incompetent weirdo, and even though I'm in a rural area of Japan without the ability to speak Japanese, I'm doing just fine. I'm actually finding it's easiest to just listen and nod politely when people are giving me instructions or telling me things and rely on my reading to fill in the gaps of what they're likely telling me. I wouldn't recommend this as a lifelong strategy but for a few days I think it'll work out fine.

I don't seem to have a room key. I wonder if that's a problem? I wonder if I'm supposed to ask for one or if it isn't the standard thing or what...

This is all very disjointed so I'll try to start again...

So, I found the right bus to Magome and got on it with my enormous plague of a pack. As we drove out of Nakatsugawa we immediately were into farmland, with terraced rice fields going up the hills and little tiny garden plots with all sorts of leafy greens and so on.

The bus was on a regular road, and then a highway, and then turned off the highway onto this insanely narrow one-lane street that switchbacked up a mountain. It was insane! Tree branches swept along the side of the bus as itthe bus cautiously navigating the switchbacks... I took ass many pictures as I could, though who knows how well they'll turn out.

I took hundreds, and I mean, literally, hundreds of pictures today. I've almost filled up my one gig memory card. That's over 1000 images! I still have the 512K card with me though, so no worries. Also, an interesting statistic that comes up out of that is that I need four sets of batteries to to have enough juice to take that many pictures. That's a lot of batteries!

So... I'm having dinner. That was then; as I write this sentence, I have had dinner. Confusing much?

So... dinner... good heavens. What a good little adventurer I am! I tried absolutely everything (except for the skewer of what were probably shrimp, because travelling alone means never having to say you're sorry that you don't like shrimp, after all).

I'm actually totally proud of myself, and I discovered many things on the table which were much better than they looked, like the cold little fried fish avec eye, which looked kind of sad, actually, but which tasted sweet and was very tender (I ended up using my fingers to get all the meat off the bones, it was too good to leave), and the tempura vegetables, which I'm almost ashamed to say I've never tried before because I thought they'd be yucky. I was so excited about my fish success that I threw caution to the wind and tried them and they were delicious!

There's three spodgy brown things in a bowl, and I even tried them. They actually seem to be potato, actually, but I'm afraid that although they're not hideously disgusting, they're not that exciting either. There's also... what looks like thinly sliced raw meat in a bowl towards the back. I even tried that. I was laughing at myself as I picked a piece up in my chopsticks and dipped it in the dipping sauce and took three deep breaths and then brought it to my mouth to take a bite. It was... raw meat. It wasn't horrible, but it also wasn't initially exciting enough to tempt me for another bite. But the point is, I tried it!

The table is covered with little bowls with little tidbits and little bowls of sauces, and there's a sort of open clay pot which, ,when I sat down, the tiny little japanese woman who keeps explaining everything lengthily in japanese to me came over and... set it on fire. Dude!

This strange little blue waxy thing inside just burned incandescently with a blue and white flame which curved up and around the lid over the pot, which, on closer inspection was actually a little skillet with a lid, and inside the skillet were various local mushrooms, a big slice of onion, pieces of raw chicken and vegetable and a piece of something grey and wobbly. Okay, I have to admit, I haven't got up my courage to try this one yet, becuase I have a pretty firm rule of not eating things which are grey and wobbly, and honestly, I've been so good, I don't need to push myself any more. Right? Right.

One of the little dishes contained a combination of soy sauce, rice vinegar, green onions and hot peppers and the little japanese woman explained at great length and with many gestures that this should be poured into the skillet at some point. Undoubtedly, she specified which point, but that information didn't quite come across gesturally as well, so I just poured it in whenever I wanted to.

The fried onion was simply to die for. I could do with a whole onion fried that way, it was just so delicious. There were probably three or four different types of mushrooms and they were all quite individual and tasty, which a nice chewy texture. Some of the mushrooms were those long thin stringy white ones you sometimes see in stores in Canada, but I didn't recognize the others, which were small and very round.

Wow! That meal really exceeded my expectations which were so low that I bought myself snack foods should I end up hungry after the meal, so that I wouldn't have to feel resentful about not having dinner. I actually think that was a good idea anyway... I wasn't putting pressure on myself to eat things I didn't want that way.

And okay, so my 4K walk this afternoon probably did a bit to help the attitude, not to mention the heaving my 50-lb (actually, 60-lb) pack all over the countryside all morning. I have quite a bruise coming on my wrist from my pack actually. I'm not sure if I caught the pack strap on the back of my wrist in swinging it down or what. It's not painful to move, just a little to touch, so that's good at least.

Have I mentioned yet that I'm ridiculously happy in Magome? I think I feel like socially the pressure is finally off and I can just be myself, and that, combined with the fact that I'm in a beautiful place in the mountains eating good food and feeling wonderfully independent and free leaves me feeling practically euphorically happy.

It doesn't matter what happens for the rest of the trip now... I've had this moment, and that makes me happy and the trip a success. This moment wouldn't have felt quite this good without all that went before it, and so I accept that too.

I know I should do some more reporting, but right now I think I just want to relax and maybe go for a short walk before I go to bed early and relax. I'm physically tired, in a good way, but sleep will be delicious on my futon on the floor.

Oh! I forgot! First I'll bathe! That's exciting too!

What a delicious day!
  • Current Music
    Sancta Maria ~~ Charlotte Church

October 30, Nagoya and Nakatsugawa

Well, here I am, finally on my own, in a train station in Nagoya waiting for my local train to Nagatsugawa, where I will catch a bus into Magome to the Magomejaya Traditional Ryokan or hotel.

My bag is sooooooo freakin' heavy. I'm glad I don't actually need to do the whole hike with it on my back. I think I could do it, but it would be... very tiring. Too many souvenirs!

Everyone is very polite, and even helpful to this crazy Canadian. I noticed in my time wandering around with the Matsuis that they never, and I mean NEVER make eye contact or smile and nod at people as they walk around. I do this all the time as a matter of course, and so I have to wonder if I come across as this goofily friendly Canadian ever so slightly transgressing on privacy and politeness, but in such a friendly puppy way that nobody has the heart to snub me. It amuses me.

On the other hand, many Japanese make eye contact with me, probably because of the novelty of my being this blond and curly haired white girl carrying an enormous pack. It's probably alright.

10 minutes until my next train. I bought a bento (lunch box, which I'll eat on the train, if I can manage it. It has rice, which I feel pretty confident about, and some kind of chicken or pork cutlet thingy which I feel... curious about, and some unidentifiable vegetables, which I look forward to at least trying.

By the way, when I wrote earlier about the food being no problem I didn't mean to imply that I thought I was eating authentic (i.e., traditional) japanese food. I'm under no illusions about that. I'm eating a crazy modern mish-mash.

Of course, I am eating authentic japanese food in the sense that I'm eating what many of the japanese are eating now, for whatever that's worth. I have to admit I rather imagined I'd come to Japan and spend two weeks losing weight because I couldn't find anything non-fishy or non-crustaceony or non-seaweedy to eat. I'm just ecstatic to find that I can eat many things, and that's enough for me.

I'd better get ready for my train...


Okay, so now I'm at the Nakatsugawa train station waiting for my bus to Magome, which leaves in 25 minutes.

There are lockers here and I was tempted to leave one of my bag in the locker tonight, but after much mime and pidgin japanese on my part and much befuddled non-comprehension on the part of the guy at the ticket desk I believe I understand him to mean that I can't leave things overnight there. Oh well!

I've had two pregnant woman sightings in two minutes! Quite the highest rate of anywhere in Japan so far.

The bus, when it arrives, takes 30 minutes to get to Magome, and costs 540 yen. On the whole, transportation is really pretty inexpensive. I'm glad I have my rail pass now, because I'm really making use of it on this trip. It has the added benefit of basically allowing me to queue jump, becuase I don't need to wait to go through the machines. I just walk past the ticket office and flash the man inside my rail pass.

On the train from Nagoya to Nakatsugawa I could feel my ears popping constantly. I think I'm good deal higher than I was when I started this morning. Of course, the Matsuis live practically at sea level. They're only a mile from the beach.

The first day I arrived with them we went first back to their house, which is very lovely and surprisingly spacious (though they insist it isn't actually). The room they had prepared for me was a traditional japanese tatami room, with 8 tatami mats. The alcove in the wall contained some sort of musical instrument and some beautiful and fresh ikebana (flower arrangement).

There was a TV and a bookshelf full of books. there was sliding paper door/wall on the other side, and it was only on my last night that I realized that the comfy chair on the other side was in fact a fully automated massage chair. Dude! A missed opportunity on my first night!

There was a room with just a toilet and a tiny little sink, and plastic slippers that you put your feet in when you enter the room, and another room with just a sink and a big mirror and cabinets and counter space, and off of this room was another room wherer the japanese style bath was, with the rest of the room tiled so you showered and washed and rinsed just in the middle of the room, and then stepped into the tub to soak. The tub was deep and had three flat covers over it that you could stack to one side when you were in the tub.

There was an electronic control on the wall where you turned on the hot water (it's heated with gas as it comes through the pipes to you, and the water in the tub is heated up surprisingly quickly by a recirculating heating system which is likely also gas. When you don't need hot water, the heating system is turned off, which seems rather efficient to me.

The living room was rather small, and the kitchen as well, though certainly functional. I never saw upstairs.

We went to the grocery store to get some quick lunch food. This was an interesting experience. At one point Mr. Matsui dropped an empty plastic tray. This description doesn't really do the flurry of action justice. Mr. Matsui and his wife, a passing random grocery shopper, and a young woman working in the produce section all exclaimed loudly and then rushed at the dropped plastic tray. It was very bizarre.

After a quick lunch Mr. Matsui and I headed off in the car to do some sightseeing. He suggested that he wanted to take me to Enoshima (a nearby island) and then Kamakura. I knew from reading my guidebook that Kamakura was the site of the "Daibutsu" or big buddha. The karate group had been planning to go there, but it never happened, for one reason or another.

I'll write more later...
  • Current Music
    I Just Shot John Lennon ~~ The Cranberries

October 29, Chigasaki City

"Travelling alone is never having to say you're sorry that you don't eat shrimp" or "Japan: Land of insanely cute pop-eyed dogs wearing shirts and pants" or "Apparently I'm just a goofy Canadian" or "Escalator follies" or...

So, it's been a busy day. The Matsuis decided to take me into Yokohama for the day to show me many things, and so I saw many things, though probably not the same things they were necessarily intending to show me... isn't that always the way?

They are just incredbly generous. I haven't been permitted to pay for a thing since I arrived, and they nearly had simultaneous heart attacks when I offered to pay for lunch. I felt like I'd committed some kind of heinous crime from their reactions. It feels a little awkward, actually, though I don't mean to sound ungrateful.

We took the train to Yokohama (and by the way, yesterday I got some great tape of atmospheric train station sounds at Shinagawa station waiting for my train to Chigasaki) and got off at a train station within walking distance of the tallest building in Japan. Going up the escalator I lost my balance and lurched forward slightly, just as the escalator step rose sharply to meet my shin. Ow. I reflected on the fact that the experience of pain is somehow incomplete when not shared with likeminded friends.

The tallest building in Japan is, of course, owned by the Mitsubishi group of companies (and when travelling with the Matsuis, what isn't?). Of course, we then got to go in and take the elevator to the 69th floor observatory from which you can see in all four cardinal directions and take pictures.

Unfortunately, today was a bit foggy, which gave a rather unreal and infinite feeling to the city... buildings disappearing into the fog in all directions. Yokohama is the second largest city in Japan after Tokyo and it looks and feels it.

I should also say that the Japanese will not call a spade a spade... on the worst days here you can taste the pollution in the air and it certainly looks like smog to me, but that's not what it's called.

Yokohama's also perhaps most famous for being a port city. My first thought about Yokohama was that Phileas Fogg needed to get there to catch a steamer to San Francisco in Jules Vernes' "Around the World in 80 Days". My mind tends to live in a world of books, and it's interesting to see the places I've read about or heard about so many times. Sometimes they're distressingly non-romantic, but if you pay attention there's enough there to remind you of what it would have been like years ago.

Like Kobe it also was home to many foreigners in the beginning of the 20th century. I remember reading a book about a young couple who lived in Yokohama. The young wife was convicted of murdering her husband, but the case was unclear because he was in the habit of dosing himself with massive doses of arsenic and tincture of lead whenever he felt ill (once upon a time, this made sense to people), because he believed it would make him well.

It's actually likely that he overdosed on arsenic and lead and killed himself. She was convicted and imprisoned and then when the Dowager Empress in China died she was released on a general amnesty. I'm not sure what happened to her after that. It was a rather odd book, actually.

Mr. Matsui graduated from University in Yokohama, so he knows the city well. He told me that his wife graduated from the Tokyo Christian Women's College. "But of course, she isn't Christian!" he hastened to explain, which made me smile.

After the observation deck of the tallest building in Japan we walked through the amusement park area down below, past the paddle boats in the water and "Ice World" (whatever that was) and past a simply enormous ferris wheel.

We walked for quite a while until we came to some enormous brick buildings that used to be warehouses (owned by the Mitsbishi group of companies) but were now trendy little boutiques and restaurants.

It was time for lunch so we went in to find something to eat. Mr. Matsui wanted to eat at, of all places, a sandwich cafe, and when asked what I wanted I first thought to order the plain roast beef sandwich, but then my general feeling of perturbation with the entire concept of eating Canadian food in Japan got the better of me so I ordered the bacon and avocado instead (on the Rainbow scale, this is slightly more adventurous than plain roast beef, and if you can't be Japanese, you can at least be adventurous). It was alright, actually, after I removed the raw onion.

Then we kept walking through this park which, after WWII, was the area where U.S. armed forces were barracked, and the family homes were located, and so on, and it suddenly occurred to me that one of the people I did the rebirthing training with last year had been born in Japan in a U.S. army hospital, because his father was in the army, and had lived there for quite some time (three to five years, I think) and that in all probability I was walking on land he had trod or toddled long before we ever met, and that Matsui had been in University in the same city at likely the same time and somehow the concatenation of it all gave me a shiver up my spine.

I've had a few of those lately.

We sat and rested for a while, and watched people and their dogs and children go by. Holy hannah, there are so many insanely cute dogs in Yokohama. And far too many of them wear clothes. Often just little sweaters and jackets (none of which, I assure you, are necessary for temperature control; it was 24 degrees today), but sometimes little baseball jersey and denim jeans specially taylored for their little tails to protrude from. It is too weird.

You actually see a lot fewer children and way fewer pregnant women in Japan, I've started to realize. But that makes sense when you consider that Japan has one of the lowest birthrates in the world. 1.20! Interesting...

Then we walked to Chinatown, which, in Yokohama, is an incredibly lively place full of tiny shops and restaurants and people selling steamed buns out of large steaming bamboo trays and roasted chestnuts by the bag.

One woman gave me a free chestnut, half peeled, as a sample, and I walked down the street in Chinatown juggling a steaming hot chestnut from hand to hand and taking small nibbles of sweet nut, smelling the steamed bun smell, and all the restaurant smells, listening to a mix of japanese and chinese all around me in the warm darkening evening air. It was a rather wonderful sensual moment.

Oh, and now I'd like to go to China some day. Surprise surprise.

By the way, if Japan is any indication the next big style in ladies' footwear is cowboy boots. Imagine my dismay, but there it is. In particular, fake cowboy boots with baggy ankles and stiletto heels. Ye gods. As well, Indian clothing of all sorts, especially layered. I guess I'm ahead of the trend on that one.

By the way, I don't think I mentioned that I sat in a coffe shop and watched a woman apply mascara to one eye for over fifteen minutes! FIFTEEN FREAKIN' MINUTES! She was about to start the other eye, but I didn't have the patience to sit around and time it. It seemed like such a colossal waste of human time, but then... what doesn't?

It reminded me of when MotherChild and I were sitting in the Mumbai airport waiting to leave for home and a young korean woman spent over half an hour applying various creams and ointments to various portions of her face. *dab dab, rub rub, dab dab... dab, rub rub rub, dab, rub* She had the entire alphabet of facial zones I guess, with creams to match. MotherChild was fascinated.

We walked all through Chinatown and then through this incredibly expensive area full of entirely ordinary shops that you'd find anywhere, like The Gap.

By this time I was starting to feel a bit tired and I think so were the Matsuis because Mr. Matsui suddenly turned to me and asked if I minded eating dinner earlier than 6? I said that of course I didn't mind, so we headed back into Chinatown in search of their favourite chinese food restaurant, which they actually couldn't find until we went through another chinese food restaurant, out the back and into the alley.

When we finally got there Mr. Matsui suggested that he would order the best things and so he did and then served everybody at the table and they both again commented on my chopstick facility (again, I think, just to be polite). This was all just fine until suddenly there were shrimp at the table and I had a plate full of shrimp that I was staring at in mild horror and despair, because for some reason after two days of the strain of it all the idea of somehow dealing with a plate full of shrimp was overwhelming.

I don't really like shrimp. I can tackle the occasional small canned shrimp in a salad, but these were very large shrimp-like shrimp. I actually sat across the table from the Matsuis laughing silently at myself and my internal horror at this plateful of shrimp. The phrase "travelling alone means never having to say you're sorry that you don't like shrimp" wandered through my mind and I decided to adopt it as my new motto from then on.

I tremblingly grasped my chopsticks and reached towards my plate. At the last moment I lost my nerve and took a small piece of pepper in sauce instead, and ate it. Then took a deep breath and picked up a shrimp. I brought it to my mouth, took another deep breath, and took a bite. It crunched very unpleasantly, but I quickly chewed it up and with the help of another piece of pepper, swallowed it down.

No. Simply no way I could eat an entire plate. If it had been softer, maybe... and as for flavour, the sauce was very powerful, so that wasn't the problem, but the texture... I ate a few other things for a while before deciding to offer the rest of the plate to Mr. Matsui.

"I hope this isn't rude of me, but if you would like the rest of my shrimp, I would be happy to see them eaten by someone who enjoys them." I said. He thanked me and dug in and they were gone in short order. I suddenly felt much better. See? I *didn't* have to eat the shrimp! It was okay! I felt so relieved.

When the meal was over we walked back out into Chinatown in the night (very colourful) and then back to a train station to catch the train home. The Matsuis both fell asleep on the train, and the train only had a few other passengers, all asleep. I felt preternaturally awake and calm and peaceful on a train full of sleepers, free of expectations and shrimp at last...

Tomorrow I head off on my own.

More posts from abroad (and sorry that they're a little out of order)

Tokyo, October 28

So, here I am on the platform waiting for my train to Chigasaki station. Yesterday when I called Matsui he suggested I take the 9:30 train, but today when I talked to him he suggested I take the 10:00 train. Of course, I called him from the train station, so this wasn't exactly welcome news. I briefly considered going and having a cup of coffee somewhere, but with my pack on my back (it's gotten inexplicably heavy in the last five days for some unknowable reason) going almost anywhere seemed like too much work, so I came down to sit on the platform and write instead.

I can't quite get a wireless connection to the hub at the hotel, although I can see the hotel from here, so I'll have to post this later from somewhere else, lord knows where or when. Oh well.

Well, the group has finally left. It was interesting to travel with them in a lot of ways, and challenging. I'm glad to be on my own. There were several people I really quite liked and would have liked to have gotten to know better, and many people about whom I was entirely ambivalent, at best. I don't think group travel is really for me. Too much seeing other people's sights on other people's schedules, and too much reporting to people and waiting on people.

I went for a walk by myself in Okinawa after letting people know where I was going to be and when I would come back and came back after about an hour or an hour to find my roommate flipping out because I shouldn't be out walking by myself at night in one of the safest countries in the world, where even the guidebooks say that walking by yourself at night as a woman is perfectly safe. I did a little reflective listening to her concerns, but certainly made no promises that I wouldn't do it again. I'm not terribly open to hearing that I "made someone worry". The choice to worry was hers, not mine, after all, and I'm not going to choose to feel guilty about taking care of my own needs (the need to get away from a large group of unfamiliar people for a little while and get centered, for example).

I don't even get the impression that the head people are particularly worried about what I do. In fact, they encouraged me to do my own thing if that's what I wanted to do. For the last day I let them know that I had decided I'd like to do my own thing, and that I wasn't upset or anything, and they laughed at me for feeling I needed to clarify that. As they said, "You paid a lot of money to come on this trip, you might as well do what you want to do."

I think that we, as adults, get to choose the risks that we want to assume and the limitations we're willing to live with. These are very much connected. I'm not willing to live in a limited world all the time, and I'm especially not willing to live with extra limitations related to being female that don't apply to men.

I walk confidently wherever I go. I am aware of my surroundings. Heck, I even study martial arts, though that isn't why I do that. I'm certainly willing to take the extremely tiny risk (and it is a very tiny risk) of being mugged or attacked or worse if it means that I get to walk down to an Okinawan beach at night in the summer warm and see fishermen night fishing and hear the water and smell the sea and take beautiful pictures and listen to music and write and just feel myself at one with the quiet warm night for a little while.

This is my risk to choose, and so I choose it. Some people seem to be of the opinion that if there's any risk at all, no matter how small, you should choose to limit your life to avoid it, and that's sad. Even those people are completely avoiding looking at the very real and far more likely risks they take every day by getting in their cars or any number of other things. That's because they can't limit their lives that much or they'd never have any life to live.
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Chigasaki City, October 28

Well, I have to say, I never imagined that one day I would come to Japan and sit around a low dinner table on the floor teaching 60-year-old japanese women origami. I'd have to say that seemed like the least likely thing I'd ever do with origami, pretty much... ever.

But that about sums up my evening. And I have never been so grateful for all those thousands of cranes I folded or all those books my father bought for me, in Japanese, so that I could only look at the pictures and try and puzzle things out that way. Because wow... what a great evening!

When I arrived at Chigasaki City this morning I met Matsui-san at the train station. He held up his sign with "Canada Kenzie" brushed on in ink and shook my hand and led me out to his car. Once we were in the car he explained his plans for me, and I have to admit that my heart sank a little when he said, "And tonight we are having a dinner party with friends to meet you! All seniors like us, friends from the Mitsubishi company, no young people!" I felt a little overwhelmed, at least partly because I've been feeling socially a fish out of water for oh... about ten days now, but nonetheless I was determined to put my best foot forward.

Later on in the afternoon he asked me if I spoke any Japanese and I explained that beyond a few very simple phrases I basically spoke no Japanese, and he said that was too bad because his friends did not speak English. I think my heart sank a little further at this pronouncement. "Oh god," I thought, "An evening spent acting polite and interested with people I don't know and with whom I do not even share a bit of a language."

Still, I dressed in my suit and orange silk top and tied my hair up and put on my black socks with polar bears just to cheer myself up and readied myself for the evening as best I could.

They arrived extremely punctually and in greeting them they discovered that I didn't speak Japanese (though it's really amazing how far a few yeses and noes in japanese will go towards making people laugh good-naturedly at you). I imagine that at this point they felt a little awkward too, or at least that's the way I read their body language.

We sat down and I was introduced to a man and his wife, and to another woman, all Matsui's age. I immediately and habitually forgot all of their names, as I tend to do even in Canada where names are at least slightly familiar.

I think I need to work on reversing this habit, because it's at least slightly purposeful... there's some inner part of me that discards their name before it can be assimilated because I don't perceive their name to be important... or something. Still, it's polite to remember people's names, and it doesn't lend itself to the awkwardness of having to introduce someone you've known casually for five years and trying to hide the fact that you still don't know their name (I have done this, and I don't really think I got away with it terribly well, because one-sided introductions are obvious, and no introductions at all are more obvious still). Somehow people don't conveniently and urgently call me away from introductions at that critical moment, which would be helpful. Oh well.

Dinner was a special event, so there was all kinds of sushi (though not much with raw fish), fried chicken, potato salad (which is unexpectedly ubiquitous in Japan) and, I think to make me feel "at home" a series of bizarre white bread sandwiches, which everyone encouraged me to eat.

Until you've had a boiled potato and scallop sandwich you... haven't had a boiled potato and scallop sandwich. Enough said.

We started eating and everyone complimented me on my chopstick use multiple times. I have to admit, I have gotten much better, but it's always hard to tell if people aren't just being kind when they say that sort of thing. Either way, it doesn't really matter. It's all meant kindly, and kindness and generosity of spirit are nothing to be sneezed at.

The conversation started slowly, with Matsui generally telling them stories about me and my family learned from my father, and then translating them back to me to tell them what he was telling them. I smiled and nodded and ate.

Every so often one of them would try to speak in English to me and we would all lean in and wait to see what they said. Any time one of them said something in English they would all clap and any time I said something in Japanese (even "arigato" or "hai" or "iie") they would all clap, and there was a lot of laughter going around the table. Once things started to go a little smoother in this way I started to relax and think that perhaps this wouldn't be so bad after all.

In fact, after a while, I just started listening, still not understanding anything, but realizing that if I paid attention in a different way I could feel the rhythm of a story or statement, and where the punchline was, and then laugh or smile or frown or nod seriously with everyone else, even though I didn't really understand the joke or statement or story. Still, this kept me occupied for a couple of hours.

By 7:20 though, I felt exhausted at the strain of it (and at being up at 5:30 that morning) and I could feel my smile starting to falter. It was at about this time that Matsui launched into an explanation of how all Canadians eat too much, twice as much as he did when he was there, and as the sole Canadian at the table I suddenly felt acutely self conscious about the amount I'd eaten (I don't think more than anyone else...), not to mention uncomfortable with the way this sort of comment rubs up against our general societal issues with weight and eating.

It was kind of hard to pull my mood up by its socks after that. Everyone was involved in what sounded (but wasn't) some kind of lecherous story about what the husbands called their wives when they were first married. Apparently, Japanese men do not traditionally call their wives by their first names. I have no idea why, only that they would be embarrassed to do so. Instead they call them by some nick name, like "Oi" or "Mama". Everyone was laughing at this, and I'm afraid my brain went off in a different direction with it (mainly how annoyed I would be to be called "Oi" by my husband instead of my name, which is mine, and which I have as much a right to as anybody does to their own name) and I could feel I was starting to lose all connection to the table out of tiredness.

The woman who was there with her husband had brought origami cranes of a style I hadn't seen yet, all made with reversible red and gold paper. She brought a couple for me so that I would have good luck. Then someone else asked her to show how she had made it, and when she brought out another peice of paper I asked if I could follow along with a napkin because I didn't know the design and she assented, so I did and created a floppy crane out of napkin. It's an interesting design, and very beautiful with the special paper. The tail fans out in gold in contrast to the red body and head. I'll have to make some when I get home.

After we'd done that I made a flapping crane out of a napkin (one where the wings flap when you pull the head and body) and we were off to the races. Itsuko got out some origami paper and we made flapping cranes, jumping frogs and flowers for the next two hours, with me instructing all of the ladies in sign language and extremely minimal japanese.

The frogs, in particular, were a big hit, and soon everyone was jumping them around the table. One landed in a cup of tea and had to be fished out. Everyone was laughing and playing and joking and extremely poor english and japanese flew. Suddenly someone looked up at the clock and it was 9:30! Time to go!

There was then a massive flurry of bows and waves and exchanges of cards and more bows and waves and then more bows, and the car driving down the street while one woman tried to jump in the back seat, and then yelling, and then *more* bows and more waves and they were gone, only to get home and call to talk to me on the phone to tell me brokenly how nice it was to meet me and that next time I come to Japan I must go and stay with them. Of course, I said that when they come to Canada they must stay with me, though I have no idea practically how that work (a one bedroom apartment without even a proper bed, hurrah), but I think it's the politeness of the offer that counts, because nobody goes to Canada from Japan on a whim because they met some sweet young thing at a dinner party who did origami jumping frogs. Or at least, I don't think they do... *worries*
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