Asia Adventure #7: Co-Travelers, Part 3 and Goodbye

Familia in AsiaThis is it, kind readers, my last installment of Asia Adventure. I’m at 10k meters above the earth, (which is good, because the part of the earth that I am currently above is the Pacific Ocean and as nice an airline as Philippine Air is, I don’t think their aircraft does so well in water) have about four hours before touchdown in LA, and will conclude this most excellent adventure. Let me finish up with Co-Travelers, then make some concluding remarks about my trip.

After we left Hiroshima we traveled to Kyoto. We arrived in the evening and were greeted by this marvelous blue illuminated tower. Kyoto had a newer feel to it than either Hiroshima or Nagasaki. We stayed in what Lori called a tree house because the roof slanted down. I felt like Buddy the Elf who was too big for his North Pole home.

The first morning there I went to the common kitchen and began conversation with an Italian man, Federico. Federico has an uncanny resemblance to Hugh Grant and proved a most enjoyable conversationalist.  He was living in Germany where he studied art, which I thought curious because the Italians have some experience with art. He told me that Italy, like the United States, was cutting art programs in schools and placing more emphasis on science and math, much like what is happening in the US. I thought to myself, shit, when Italy is bailing on the arts and humanities, our problems may be bigger than I originally thought. Federico went on to say that Italy is also contending with strong nationalist movements who are xenophobic and anti-immigrant. Hmm, I says, that sounds familiar.

Federico helped me see what I am beginning to see more clearly: Many parts of the world, in particular the West, are embracing an exclusionist policy with respect to welcoming immigrants and refugees. Seeing that this trend is not only extant in the US helps me feel better in someways. I always feel a little relieved when I learn other people are having similar problems as me. It helps me feel less isolated in dealing with whatever  problems I have. Federico also pointed out that even though Italy, the UK, the US, France, and other countries are shifting right, Germany has done better than others in dealing with the crisis of refugees. Germany’s own embrace of nationalism in the previous century turned out poorly. Perhaps Germany has learned its lesson and is choosing a better path.

Federico and I talked for a good while at the breakfast nook and monopolized the small table and its two chairs. When a lovely woman from Russia showed up,  Federico apologized for not waking her up, I pretty much figured they traveling together. Maria studied art as well in Germany and migrated there from Russia at a young age. She listened to Federico and I move on from global interest in politics to our musical pursuits. I was able to play for the couple my song (still a work in progress) Flashes of Light. They liked it and Federico made some helpful suggestions which I think means I am now working with Italian songwriters. Yes, that’s what it means.

That evening, we conversed with another couple from Germany, Franz and Sarah, who lived in Nuremberg. Sarah has been a teacher for about 8 years and Franz works in a supermarket while he trains to be a teacher himself. The couple were on their honeymoon that they had delayed for a year. We spoke of education of course, but also discussed issues with Muslim immigrants and how many people in Germany do fear what the influx of strangers mean.

I liked Franz. He was a sharp guy and challenged some of my assessments regarding the US. He acknowledged that yes, Donald Trump was an asshole, but that it was good DT pushed back at China regarding trade. Such a move would encourage us to start making things again. The older I get the more comfortable I am with my own opinions and so it’s good when someone suggests I’m not as right as I think I am.

I said to Franz and Sarah that I think the US is in decline as it struggles to find its place in a post Cold War planet that doesn’t need or have anymore superpowers. I stated that our educational priority on math and science is a result of a losing competition with China and our desperation to find parity with the Chinese in technological innovation so we too can make good drones and cellphones.

Franz disagreed with me that the US was in decline. He argued NASA’s Mars program indicates not decline but improvement and that no other country in the world does or can do what we accomplish in space exploration. I granted that what NASA does is impressive, but to make my point further about the serious tears in our social fabric, I brought up school shootings and our failure as a government to stop them. Nobody else has the problem we do with respect to school shooting.

Franz and Sarah were a delightful couple. Sarah was in the process of becoming an uber-Teacher (my translation, not hers) and that involved classroom evaluation, etc. She struck me as a great educator and it was great to be in the company of other educators. They had one more week in Japan but we were reaching the end our journey.

I have reread this blog just prior to posting and am aware that it has virtually nothing about the travel we’ve done in Asia, but more about issues we face in the West and the conversations I had with other Westerners. So, now I feel bad and have projected my own recrimination onto you. So, I think that I will endeavor to do some deeper reflection on the trip and the actual places and people we visited. I think my lack of commentary on Japan and Korea has much to do with how different it was for me. I speak no Korean or Japanese and that made it difficult to connect to others who speak only those languages. Still, I can put some things together at a later date….hell, I’ll just do it now and you can be grumpy about not my lack of dealing with Asia, but my excessive word count.

Here goes.

Japan is chill. Korea was manic. The signs in Korea advertising god knows what were omnipresent and infinite. I have no idea what they said or tried to persuade me to do, but there were quite a lot of them. Korea had free wi-fi in just about every place we traveled. Japan did not. Korea accepted debit cards just about everywhere. Japan did not.  I sense that Japan is slightly more conservative culturally.

Inside a tram packed with commuters heading home for the day, it might as well have been meditation time. It was so quiet. It was uncanny how all those folks were simply silent. I enjoyed it very much but wanted to break the silence and tell them how much I was enjoying the BeeJees tune currently being piped into my cabeza Americano.

The Peace Park at Hiroshima was full of children, I mean full. Lots of groups and each child had a cap of the same color to keep track of them. It was the coolest to watch them open their packed lunch and see them go at it with chop sticks. I didn’t see any groups at the Peace Park in Nagasaki. I’d say that Hiroshima gets the lion share of visitors in comparison with Nagasaki.

It was very sobering to be in both of those cities, especially as I approached and walked around area of the city that must have been devastated by the atom bomb. As I may have mentioned in other writing, I came of age in the Cold War and rejoiced when it ended. But to be in the place where the United States actually used a nuclear weapon on a human target has jarred my relationship to reality and to history. Though it is defining for those of us in the West, I don’t think I (we) understand how those to 1945 attacks have affected Hiroshima and Nagasaki specifically and Japan in general. I hope to deepen my understanding of the attacks.

There is an organization and a sense of place that I found frustrating at times, but mostly helpful. Typically, in entering a home or even a hotel/guest house, it is expected that one removes their shoes. I became more practiced at this as time went on, but did get nearly yelled at when I sat in the wrong chair and attempted to put my street shoes back on. That’s the down side of things. The upside is that there is a deep consideration for guests. The soaps were always available as were towels, etc. One expects that at a decent hotel, but at a hostel where prices are more economical, they still took good care of us.

Showering was interesting. Several places had small, plastic seats for one to sit on while they showered. I didn’t quite understand the logic behind it except that it was a little more relaxing. Also, every place had hot water. I’ve been in countries where that is not the case and when it happens that you want hot water and it’s not there, tu dices, Carajo!

Many people wore face masks covering their mouth and nose, not most, but many. That made me nervous because I wondered if they knew something that I didn’t. I didn’t want the Bird Flu, or any flu for that matter, but enough folks wore the mask that made me think I should I be looking into this.

The food we ate everywhere was always spectacular. I don’t exaggerate. No gastrointestinal difficulties. Lots of fish, too. On occasion, we hit up a Burger King or MacDonald’s, you know, just to deal with homesickness. But other than that, the food was typically over the top. It was fresh. It was well-prepared. It was a highlight of our trip and I obsessed about my weight the whole time. I joined the gym before we left Bisbee. I need to get comfortable hanging out there.

Public transportation. Korea and Japan have it down, at least the places we traveled. Lots of trains. Lots of people. Lots of people in the trains. But not too much drama. Some buses and trains even had free wi-fi. That was cool. I liked using my little cell phone based GPS and enjoyed watching its blue dot move along the screen. That GPS came in damn handy when we were trying to find something important-like matrimonial tranquility.

I never felt unsafe. People were out and about at all times of the night. Nobody we talked to, whether fellow travelers or hosts, told us to be careful with our personal belongings or to avoid a particular part of town. There was something very liberating about not having to contend with our own security. Our hands were full with communication and being strangers in a strange land. It was nice not worrying about being jacked. I did overestimate Japan’s level of trust with bicycles, however. Many people ride bikes and, of course, park them all around. I saw no big locks or chains like the ones we are accustomed to in US. I thought, my goodness, they just leave their bikes out and nobody steals them. How wonderful. Then, we rented bikes for a day and the hotel worker showed us how Japanese bikes are secured with what looks like a single handcuff that mounts on the rear wheel. After learning about that contraption, I noticed that every bike in Japan had one. So, Japan is not quite the Peacable Kingdom yet, but it’s close in many ways.

I have enjoyed sharing my/our experience with you and appreciate your interest in my blog. WordPress, the company that hosts my blog, lets me know when and how many people visit the blog and what pages on the blog they visit. It also tells me where the reader is when they access the blog. It’s fun to see folks from China and Kazakhstan and Mexico and Australia and lots of cool places, and of course, from my own USA. We’re back now and dealing with jet lag in a Los Angeles motel. We’ll be on our way shortly toward Las Vegas and then to Bisbee.

It’s good to be home.

Sayonara