Monday, May 04, 2009

Hunter S. Thompson first proposed, in his seminal work of philosophy, “The Barrel Does Too Fit In My Mouth,” we are “A Generation of Swine.” Unfortunately, as though pigs had developed prehensile hooves, the swine have now come home to roost.

The threat of the Swine-flu has begun to drive Asia batty. Getting on the plane at Gimpo was difficult enough, but for entirely different reasons. As it turned out when I got there, I did not have a return-stamp on my visa. This is problematic and thankfully the nice woman at JAL looked at me and asked, “You do want to return to Korea?”

I made clear I did, and after some third-lingual (the exact opposite of trilingual) hijinks, we figured out that I could go to Japan and come back if I ran over to immigration and paid a bit of money. With that, I was through immigration and totally broke (in terms of won). No problem, as the fucked-up terminal I was in didn’t serve any alcohol.

Instead of drinking, I worked on my auditory classes for next week.

I’m sure that will pay off then, but for the moment it merely served to piss me off.

The flight was uneventful, except for my hatred and rage at the two Koreans who ordered wine and then had one sip, put the cap back on, and then eventually returned the nearly full bottle to the sky-waitress. Right under my twitching nose!

We landed, and I followed a remarkably aggressive halmoni down the aisle of the plane. A good move, because once we got into immigration, it was a clusterfuck. We had to fill out a form (basically, “have you had contact with any dirty beaners?”), but it was worded in obtuse ways that made it unclear when they were asking for your permanent information (that from where you lived) and when they were asking for your information in Tokyo.

This caused a massive bottleneck, but that was ok, since eventually each one of us had to stop and have a thermal-imaging done of our heads. Apparently this would reveal the hot-heads among us, and that would show if we had the porcine-plague or not. I was amazed that anyone passed this, as the queue for this thing was in a room that must have been near 28 degrees, and everyone was sweating and fanning themselves frantically.

As I watch BBC this morning, I guess the problem is spreading. China has suspended flights to Mexico and some poor… ahem … swine in Hong Kong are trapped in their hotel as one of them has turned up positive for the thing. I’m guessing that this whole thing will blow over, after all, the flu (of all kinds) kills thousands of people per year. Either that or the world will end in an internal flood of mucus.

But either way?

I’d hate to be working in the Mexican Tourist Organization right at this moment.

Got off the plane and navigated my way to the hotel, with only one moment of fear as the monorail I was traveling on shot by the Dai-Chi Hotel at least two stops before I got to my station.

I was worried, but trusted my map, and as it turned out, Dai-chi has a string of hotels in Tokyo, and this was just another one of them. Like Seoul, Tokyo has a public transit system that punks the Bay Area.

Got to the hotel shortly after midnight, checked in, and took a walk around.

Looks like no one drives in Tokyo, as the streets were swarming with schools of taxis. What taxis weren’t swarming were parked in lines at the curb. I was about done by 2am (and feeling that late hour this morning) and the cabs still sat out there, largely unused.

Today it is off to a Shinto shrine, to take photos for my upcoming photo essay in EAA and then back to Haneda to pick up Yvonne who, left to her own devices, would get off the plane and somehow navigate her way to the hotel behind the Hotel Rwanda.

You know, that one that didn’t turn out to be so safe?

Finally, I used every single Photoshop Skill I have to put together these two photos of Japanese beer cans. Like their Korean brethren, they make amusing claims – “This “koko & kire” taste cheers your mind” – but unlike Korean beers, they taste good and do not have dour color and design schemes.

Anyway, off to the day!

As it turned out, I headed to the synagogue first, but this was a bad go. The synagogue itself was being rebuilt and thus the Jewish community was housed in a nondescript compound loaned them by the local Catholic Community. A short talk later, with one of the groundskeepers, and I was headed of to the Meiji Shinto Shrine. On the way I got some pics of a church that was poured into a vertical section of the corner of one block. The shrine was also quite nice, and once I was done I headed off to the airport to see Yvonne. She got off the plane eventually, and as it turned out she had not been without difficulty, but worked through them. Her bank had picked this weekend to upgrade its computers, and the physical bank was closed for May Day (apparently this caught more than a few people by surprise). This meant that although Yvonne had been paid, she could not access her check! Fortunately, her director is fond of her, and they took her out to dinner and loaned her 700,000 won for the trip. When she got to the airport there were slight questions about her entry/exit stamp (just like the ones I had when I left) but finally immigration said that she could exit and re-enter, as she would have one day to spare.

So, a win. We came back to the hotel, and tried to wander off to some local gardens. I got up hopelessly lost, so instead we wandered through bits of Ginza, and then back to Shimbasi Station. Yvonne was quite insistent that we do something with the rest of the day, so we headed off to Ueno. Most of the temples were closed already, but the park was beautiful, and we walked all the way through it, marking in our minds the places we plan to visit today. Then it was back to Ginza and a truly delicious dinner featuring some tuna and scallop sashimi that were enormous pieces of fresh, nearly buttery tuna.

I hadn’t noticed this on the toilet/douche/butt-heaters in Korea, but as I looked at the toilet seat in the hotel, I longed for the good old days of the slit-trench squatter toilet from the good old days. No threat of ELECTROCUTION!!! with them.

Yvonne, who normally sleeps in til about noon on weekends, arose at 7:30 and ostentatiously pretended to try to allow me to sleep. Her efforts at ensuring my sleep included random switching on and off of every light in the hotel room, repeated emptying of the pockets of her zippered backpack, and a remarkable display of snorting and nose-blowing that would have beggared any swine-flu clinic in Mexico.

She is currently out hunting coffee, while I have a different kind of breakfast – a traditional glass of grapefruit juice, disguised as a beer. It is shockingly delicious. And as the picture here demonstrates, a lovely 6% alcohol.

Man, I love Asia!

The rest was a trip to Ueno. A beautiful park/zoo/museum site which is a day’s worth, or more, in and of itself. We wandered about and eventually split up as Yvonne wanted some museum time, and I still needed to get pics of religious sites. My endeavour was complicated by the fact that my new camera card is apparently flawed, and it conked out after about an hour of shooting. I had to run back to the three places I had taken photos, and retake them on my old 256 meg card. Once back at the hotel it seems that many of the photos on the bad card are still there, but it was a sketchy moment.

OTOH we saw two insane protests about Gawd knows what, both of which featured semi-armoured cars with painfully loud sound systems attached. As someone who observed several of the idiotic “Mad Cow” protests, I have to say that the Japanese protest volume is completely without equal. With that said, however, it seemed that the Japanese protesters were, at least, scared of their cops (who were dressed in very Samurai protective outfits), who didn’t seem to be a bunch of scared 22 year olds, like the local version. We also saw us some Japanese punks, were amazed at how well the Japanese drive (the cabbies are not homicidal!), and didn’t miss, AT ALL, the relentless spitting of Seoul.

Yvonne and I then went to a German restaurant by our hotel, and had some brilliant bread, some good sausage (a thing Korean restaurants just can’t seem to get right), and a pate that Yvonne snorkeled down at a rate that would have terrorized the livers of two dozen ducks. It was a nice goodbye for me, and I left all my metal money with Yvonne, who is no doubt using it to purchase gifts for all y’alls.

Or, used books.

I slept through my flight, the guy at customs was funny and friendly, and my T-money put me on the train to Itaewon.

A good trip all around.

Except for the pussy-whipped dude who just got on the train, and is sitting across from me as his girlfriend assiuously works at popping a zit on his cheek.

Dude! Sack up!

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