Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Last Time I Crossed That Ocean . . .

I've spent over 3 years in the 3rd world and 1 month in Japan, which essentially means I've eaten a lot more rice than you. But that ended a week ago. I've been wolfing down Mexican food and reuben sandwiches for 7 days. How is that possible? Well – I'm back in the US of A!

I own a rental home in Chandler AZ and I've made the decision to sell it. I have more time than money so I've returned to do it myself and save the agent's commission fee. I'm expecting to be sweating it out in Phoenix all summer long.


On my first day out of my mother's house once the jet lag subsided I went to Wal-Mart and then to a motocross event with David Leppert at the Arizona State Fairgrounds. It's what Terry Allen's French wife would call "Deep America" (The last time I saw that many fake breasts I was at Aubergine in the gas lamp district of San Diego drinking $10 cocktails while Nash sold art from the walls). Then 3 policemen on horses rode onto the track while a teenager crooned the national anthem. Later that night I went out to the garage to pull a beer out of the 2nd full size fridge/freezer. How American is that. Yep – I'm back. It's an interesting experience when your own country gives you culture shock.

The Japanese Wrap Up

I'd Like to Buy a Vowel

Their language is a series of easily pronounced syllables delivered in a staccato cadence. It's actually very easy for the western tongue. It's a martial language banged out with a metronome rhythm. There is none of the subtle nasal sounds of the French or the swallowed cluckings of the Vietnamese. However, reading the 3 different alphabets that they use is not easy at all. In fact – unless you are willing to put in years of rigorous study – it's essentially an unbreakable code. Staring at the signage while on the bullet trains feels like trying to read the dashboard of the alien spaceship that has just abducted you.

Screaming at the TV

Karaoke – It's not like back home. You don't sing on a stage in front of a bunch of strangers. You are nestled into a very small room with the TV monitor, the wireless programmer, 2 mics, and the sound system. Just like the Elvis dancers at Yoyogi park – we do it cuz we gotta. It's cathartic. It's $12.50 per person per hour and that includes all the drinks you can suck down. It's one of the most surreal experiences. Imagine singing in English with your American brother and then when your bladder can't stand it anymore, you kick open the door (cuz you just sang a Clash song) and the halls are teeming with clusters of 15 – 18 year old Japanese school girls in their navy-like uniforms giggling in a foreign language with their alien hieroglyphics on the walls.

We did 7 hours a couple nights before I left. 7 hours in a karaoke box. Then we ate some dirty ramen before running to catch the last train out of Shibuya. You can hit the top 40 list as many times as you want, but you haven't really made it unless you get in the Karaoke book.

World's Largest Ant Colony

There was a time when the scientists thought the largest living organism was a mushroom, then they found that a whole forest of aspens actually were connected at the roots making it all one living being, but then . . . they discovered the Japanese. There is something about their culture that Westerners; with their rugged individualism, may never grasp in its entirety. Their way of life puts an emphasis on the "whole" over the "individual". This is why kamikazes where born, and how 28 million people can live on top of each other in the city of Tokyo. They even say that they are one big family. It's an interesting aspect of their culture and I'm still wrangling to understand it. Maybe the hierarchy of human evolution looks like this:

Lowest – Those who won't procreate because they only care about themselves: me
Middle – Those who can put their families ahead of themselves
Highest – Those that can put their communities ahead of themselves

Hmmm, gotta think about that one.

Amateur Anthropological Observations

  • Their hair is so thick, that for the males, going with a "spikey" look is not only the obvious choice but really the only choice.

  • You put an 80 year old Japanese woman next to an 80 year old Navajo woman and I guarantee you can't tell which is which. Bering land bridge? – Absolutely!

  • Their children are cuter than ours. That's true of the pikininis of Melanesia too. Sorry – my blog, my opinions.

  • They can immediately put themselves into "sleep mode", just like your computer, the minute they take a seat on the train. If not sleeping, reading, or text messaging on their phones; they stare. Staring is meditation. I believe that.

Sexually Convenient

Convenience stores sell pressed white business shirts, ties, toothbrushes and fresh underwear so anyone who didn't make it home the night before can still make a respectable appearance at work the next day.

Narita International Airport has goods from all over the world so you can buy your wife a gift from your business trip to Paris even though you really went to Thailand for a sex safari.

Random Observations:

  • And you thought we were good at marketing. They put 16 individuals in their girl bands! Everyone is sure to have a favorite. I like the one that is bold enough NOT to make the "V" sign with her fingers. That's rare.

  • Their culture dictates that they have to take their shoes off and put them on so often that they tend to break down the stern of their shoes so that they are all reduced to clogs.

  • The bikes are ideal. Proper centerline kickstand, the lock is built in, comes with a friction light and a basket. You don't even have to remove the key when you ride

  • Bintoro – Albacore tuna. Maybe the best sushi I've eaten. Super soft. Dissolves on your tongue. Some of the Japanese scoff at it as being low grade. I guess I'm going to be amazed at the good stuff if this is low grade.

Do I Actually Miss the Ocean?

I didn't think I'd actually spend time day dreaming about sailing in deep water since most of my last passages have been no fun, but once I was in Tokyo and away from Barraveigh, I grew nostalgic for the feeling I get when far offshore and a light from another boat is seen at night. There is a sense of camaraderie that is very satisfying and yet hard to explain. We'll never meet, but by seeing each other our existence is confirmed. That doesn't quite capture it but it might give you a small sense of the notion. Seems romantic and fleeting and I guess it is. Kinda nice to know I still have a fondness for the big salty in my heart.

Here's the Plan:

I sell the house, visit friends and family in California, fly back to Tokyo, then return to Bali. Why am I going back to Tokyo instead of straight to Bali? Well – I want to see my brother again and also because I forgot to say "Domo arigato Mr. Roboto" when I was there before and I really need to say that to somebody.

Your man at home,

Land locked Capt Bob

Friday, April 3, 2009

Capt Bob in Tokyo

Hand on the Door

I am standing on the threshold of a new experience. I feel fear and elation. Tokyo is the largest city on the planet. It's intimidating and inexhaustible. In that respect, it's the same as the Ocean, but that's where the similarities end. This congestion of concrete and people is the exact opposite from the sparseness of the Sea.

There have been other changes as well - I went from soaked with sweat by 10 am to wearing 2 layers of fleece and freezing. 3 years in the tropics has thinned my blood. I swapped hemispheres and my entire wardrobe.

Oh the Humanity

Because my mother visited my brother here 2 years ago, she told me to hold onto his belt loop whenever we went out in public. I thought that was a little paranoid. On the 2nd day after I arrived, we were on a train and I stood up a little slower than Skinny. Before the door opened there was 1 person in between us. The door opened and with the crush of humanity we moved off the train, suddenly there were 10 people in between us. We turned a corner and more arteries of congestion merged into ours. There were now 30 people in between us. As we jostled through the bottle-neck at the escalator the distance increased. There were now 60 people in between us. With every fusion the space increased. I kept my eyes on his curly hair and caught up to him as he waited near a column in the station. It created a human eddy and allowed the currents of people to flow around us. I grabbed his belt loop.

The Enigma

We call him Skinny, my only sibling. Amateur: musician, magician, comedian, interior decorator and Japanese man…"but anything else you hear is a filthy lie." He likes to "pish in Yiddish & sneeze in Japanese." He's 2 years younger, 2 inches taller and he isn't ever going bald. For those of you who know us both, I'm sure you'd agree that he's the interesting one. His most recent masterpiece is entitled "TigerLand".

Our Habitat from Humanity

It seems I can't escape the jungle. He has built out his apartment to resemble a bamboo rainforest. He has palm trees, coconuts, vines, moss, 6 foot bushes, flagstones, fake grass, and a pond. That's just on the inside! In addition, there are traditional Japanese woven Tatami mats and sliding rice panel doors. It's wonderful. People drop by just to show it off to their friends. It should be on the UNESCO World Heritage list. I sleep on a convertible futon that is swathed in tiger print. He sleeps inside a closet that is also covered in tiger skins. It seems we're still playing "fort". He in his habitrail, and me in my boat.

Anime for Everyone

In the city of Tokyo, there is a cartoon cat that dictates all the rules to follow. "Don't park your bike here." "Don't get your fingers stuck in the closing door." "Stand on this side, walk on that side." It's Hello Kitty! Yes - Hello Kitty literally guides you in your daily life. It's as if Mickey Mouse was a law enforcement officer.

I Can Speak Engrish!

I haven't had a job in over 4 years or a job interview in over 15 years. One of the reasons I'm here is to earn money. My first interview was a dismal failure. I was overwhelmed and underwhelming. I wouldn't have hired me either. I'll get better at the process. What is the position I'm applying for? Well – that would be English teacher of course. It seems I learned a marketable skill at a young age. The problem is; there are a lot of other people in Tokyo trying to sell it as well.

Your fish out of water,


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