Sunday, October 30, 2016

Banging The Nozzle of the Tube

Some James Brown has just come on from what have been 1970 or so, “I’m Satisfied” (Notably off, I looked and it was from 1975.  Now as I listen it could only have been 1975 and no other year at all.)  I’m just back from a trip to the bike man.  There is an older gent, probably born the same year as me, who drives an odd three wheeled bike repair vehicle up to the tee-junction a half a kilometer up from our compound’s entrance, where he offers bike repair services. 

My daughter’s bike has a flat tire.  There’s a leak and someone has to patch or replace the tube.  These guys used to be on every corner in China.  Enterprising getihu, earning a buck, but bikes aren’t as popular as they once were.  I’m hoping he’ll be there today, as it’s getting late in the afternoon.  I filled up the tire with air and prepared to pedal on over.  My little one then came back from dance class and we chatted, of course, she is going out for her second night of 'trick or treating' at a friend’s compound.  I finally made it out the door and the tire was flat again.  I repeated the inflation routine and prepared to race this time, as fast as I could cycle, to the repairman's corner, before it was limp again. 

Slowly, and then slower, I made it out our compound and up beneath the willows arriving toward his white, capsule.  I notice this time that there was a horse rearing and the Chinese characters for One Thousand Horse Power, painted on the craft.  But the repairman was not around.  The neighboring flower sales lady pointed me across the street and said he was in the white car.  I went to a silver car that had a few men inside.  “Is the bike repair guy in there with you?”  Nope.  Then, he popped out from another side of the bridge, looking even smaller than I remembered and he asked me what was up. 

He took a look at the bike and went straight to work, banging the nozzle of the tube with his pliers over and over, to force it out of the tire’s hole.  Then he separated the tube all around and blew it up swiftly.  I knew the routine and he was now off to nab his plastic water bucket.  He lifted it slowly, as one of his hands is lame, and I wondered how much air would be left by the time he returned. 

He submerged sections of the tube searching for bubbles.  I looked around the intersection. There is no traffic light.  No one has posted a stop sign.  People coming from the north road down always try to insert themselves straight into traffic.  Cars approaching from east or west only occasionally decelerate and so traffic is consistently stopping abruptly.  I imagined what I would do if one accelerated into us.  I’d run.  And I paused to consider if I’d have had the presence of mind to save the repairman as well?  I had the field of sight.  He was working.  I considered a car approaching and allowed it to continue freakishly towards us in my mind.  Well, I could dive low and push him and myself out of the way, perhaps.  I could also leap and then drag?   That’s a bit better for me.  And I reckoned that were it to happen the key would be how much time there was to think.  If there were seconds I’d probably find a way to prioritize my own being.  If however I first recognized that he was in mortal danger and moved quickly, perhaps I would be committed to seeing it through before I could fully weigh my own safety. 

Fortunately no one careened into us.  I asked him what the damage was and he told me ten kaui, which is a bit more than U.S. $1.50.   I gave him a twenty kuai and suggested he keep the change.   This was welcomed.   Riding home I wanted gloves and a hat.  It’s gotten cold.  

The Disturbing Immediacy

Our compound will hold Halloween tonight.  The little one is off with friends to take in all the candy she can.  The Mrs. is off at an event and so the older one and I will hold down the fort. We have done nothing.  There are no decorations up.  I’ll need to get some candy.  Last night I returned from a week on the road to discover the Jack O’ Lantern we’d carved last weekend, had been shown the garbage bin, because it had begun to rot.

Another pumpkin then?  Some ridiculously overpriced candy from the market.  We could always just shut the lights and pretend we weren’t home.  I don’t think anyone would egg us like you might back home.  I’ll rise.  There are worse holidays.  Once the first kid rings the bell, we’ll swing into gear.  Last year I put the bass amp behind the door and as my little one dolled out candy I bellowed a sinister laugh into the microphone that consistently made kids jump.  We’ll do that again.

It’s cool in Beijing.  Not cold.  Clear sky.  I decided to finish off James Agee’s “A Death in the Family” last night.  His depiction of death through the eyes of a young boy is startlingly approachable.  The simple questions he asks, which unnerve the adults, the torment he endures at school by children at school who don’t know any better.  The mystery of the funeral ceremony where he confronts his father again, motionless, spiritless, hands touching one another awkwardly, there on the motionless chest.

I learned later that this was an autobiographical novel, which explains some of the disturbing immediacy.  The early chapter in Rufus on italicized voice seems to capture perfectly his earnest, opaque love for his father.  How the father was proud of him for his reading.  But the little boy surmised his father’s appreciation for his reading was another way of saying the boy was not brave.  His father didn’t brag about his bravery.  Throughout the story we are pulled back to the opening, italicized scene with Rufus and his father enjoying an innocent day at the Charlie Chaplin film, when things were still innocent.

Watched the Puddles Form

I haven’t been on this Narita Express for a while.  These days there are just as many regional flights in and out of Haneda Airport, which is so much closer to the city.  I almost always return to China these days from Haneda.  The ride out the window feels like “classic” Japan departure from a time gone buy when this was the only way to enter or leave Japan. 

Outside it is raining.  A colleague and I walked through Shiba Park, walked up hills, passed trees from the Edo period and shrines and parkways got to our destination only a few minutes before the rain began to fall.  We sat by the window for lunch and watched the puddles form and considered ourselves fortunate.

Outside, it must be Chiba we’re passing now, with all those tracks for trains in to the city for work to be done, day after day.  The train isn’t crowded where I hopped on at Shinagawa Station.  Though once we stopped at Tokyo Station things filled right up.  I had budgeted time to buy a ticket at Shinagawa.  One is supposed to purchase a seat before once get’s on the Narita Express, but by the time I’d found a cab, with the rain, I only arrived at the station with three minutes to spare.  If you use your general payment Suica card to get into the train area, you can or at least you could, ultimately pay it when you reach Narita.  So I did that.

Now I am quietly waiting for the ticket man to come.  I will conduct myself as a dim gaijin and see if that is sufficient to solve . . . It was.  A nice young lady in a cap allowed me to pay cash.  Certainly didn’t seem like there were any penalties for this.  We’re cool.  Fortunately I had just enough cash for this ride.  I was wrong when I guessed the station name before, the map says that we are going through the commuter community of Chiba now, ten minutes later.  It all looks rather similar to the city we just left. 

But from here on in we’ll get more trees, and bamboo and the suggestion of farmland beyond the greater Tokyo ring of Honshu. 

Later now, check in, through immigration, settling in for last-chance sushi.  I’m not overly hungry, but have essentially arranged the day around this stop off.  The slabs of raw fish are laid out in delicate little trays of display.  Some are sitting atop a piece of bamboo skin, or is it another flat leafy plant.  There are small, cedar-like ferns arranged in front of the fish dishes.  The shrimp are decapitated and standing with their tales in the air resting on their sliced throats.  The egg doesn’t invoke the same consideration.  It sits in a square block of omelet with sugar and bits but I won’t be ordering that and filling up with ovals. 

Saba-des.  Buri-des, Kohada-des.  I’ve got another fifteen minutes to enjoy before boarding begins. 

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Observational Faculties Are Required

Hamamatsucho Station heading towards Kanda on the Yamanote line.  Trains draw together in an intersecting path until they become parallel lines as they must, just before we would otherwise collide.  I had a bowel of ramen and shared a plate of gyoza for lunch.  This is how you eat lunch in Tokyo.  You have ramen and gyoza,.  And though I didn’t finish more than half my noodles,  nor my rich creamy broth, I feel particularly stuffed.  It might have been better to have had an apple. 

I managed to get a seat a few stops back.  At Shimbashi this train is now jammed full of people.  I feel a bit guilty, taking up extra room to type but I suppose my train mates would let me know if this was a gaijin no-no.  How did I get this sore throat?  I don’t think I’ve had any such thing for years.  I must have been too near a sneeze or sipped from the wrong glass.  We’ll see if it is on the way up or on the way down.  I’d like to put it out of commission

It’s a good thing I’m expected to speak in this next meeting.  Otherwise, I would be drifting off before long.  Mamonaku . . . We will soon be arriving at . . . my stop.

And of course, during the meeting all was good while I was on point to speak.  But when my colleague arrived and took the floor for a while, it was another matter and I could feel myself fade and blink, and lose consciousness for a millisecond and wonder if anyone else had seen this.  Once it becomes imperative to quietly watch, rather than proactively offer input my mind veers towards a restful mode.  The mind is rather astute.  Nothing but passive observational faculties are required.  I can command to the mind that these moments are important.  But unless I call upon the body to do something other than politely watch, it is almost impossible and my commands go unheeded.

I stand up.  I had to.  The body must balance.  Now the threshold for sleep is much higher.  The penalties for sleep are much steeper when you’re standing and could potentially fall to the ground.  The claws of sleep are still clung into my mind, gently pulling me back to restfulness.  But they no longer have the power to override the body functions that are actively trying to keep me balanced on my feet. 

Second Floor Underground

Finished up a conference in Shinjuku.  A friend asked if I’d ever visited the “Golden Gai” bar street near by.  He said a colleague had told him about it.  I’ve been in this city 100 times but drew a blank.  “Sure, let’s head over.  We’ll have our friend meet us there.”  He showed me some photos on line and I began to suspect that I knew precisely where it was.  Rickety, touristy but uniquely Japanese and sure, as long as we’re over here, let's hit it. 

The cab let us out on a high street, explaining as best he could what we obvious, he couldn’t drive in to the place we were going.  Soon our friend had rendez vous’d with us and we headed over towards the four-alley strip of small wooden constructions.  One friend found a bar with his namesake and after being turned out of a few standing room only joints we headed up to their steep second floor perch and ordered a round.  Remarkably a conversation with one of the other patrons, made clear that she was in fact the daughter of someone he had studied with in Berkeley, many years ago. 

But the music sucked.  And the perch atop the bar was rather isolated, so we made our way on.  One street and then another and before we found another second floor joint that advertised itself as a jazz bar.  Fortunately one of my pals has impeccable Japanese and before long we were seated there in a corner of the bar, while people before and after us were all turned away. 

The bartender was not a very friendly sort.  But he didn’t need to be.  Someone pointed out as he poured a drink that he only had one arm.  Couldn’t say if that had anything to do with his disposition.  He had on some confrontational free form jazz that was intriguing and I asked to see the disc.  (And in this blisteringly modern age of ubiquitous photographic capacity, I snapped a pic of the CD cover so I know through the fog of that night, precisely who it was:)  “Satoko Fujii Orchestra Nagoya”  Had most assuredly not heard of this combo but now that I throw it in Youtube I see there is plenty to explore.  More on this later.

I suggested it sounded cool and tried to connect with the mixologist:  “Here, have you heard of this?”  I showed him a photo of the Takyua Kuroda album “Rising Son” which had been hitting me hard as a funky, contemporary bop, these past few weeks.  He took a glance and acknowledged cognizance as if I’d showed him an Air Supply album.  Right.  You're looking at me as if I'd just declared I was a Loggins & Messina fan.  Of course you know that guy.  He’s blown up and hence he’s off limits here at the second floor underground.  He gave us a bowl of sauerkraut later, which was gentlemanly.  But we didn’t talk about jazz ever again.