Maybe I can figure out something to entertain you, in the near future….
Maybe I can figure out something to entertain you, in the near future….
Said you took a big trip/ They said you moved away/ Happened oh, so quietly/ They say
– “Everyone Say’s ‘HI'”- D.Bowie
I was probably about 6 or so when I first saw him. He was costumed in this dark material, sitting rakishly upon a windowsill. Playing with his balls.
It was not until almost 10 years later, when I heard this amazingly haunting voice call out to me over the radio about Major Tom, that I finally pieced together this mystery man and how he would forever effect the rest of my life.
I was 15 years old, and looking for a sound that I could identify with. Something that I could embrace as my own, as a soundtrack to keep me going through the rough years of being a teenager and already knowing EVERYTHING. At this stage of our story, I have already figured out that that half remembered scene of a man sitting in the windowsill was Mr. David Bowie, and I had worn down my VHS copy of The Labyrinth. (Actually I’m watching my Blu-ray copy at this very moment while writing this – because it it awesome, and because it’s a little too soon for me to process watching The Man Who Fell To Earth.) So now I needed more- I needed to reach beyond the Goblin City.
My very first David Bowie album was The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. Let me just say that this album and I have been through a lot together. First off, middle school is its own level of hell (and an entirely different post topic.) Secondly, my dad was dying from cancer. We knew it was terminal, and we knew it was only a matter of time. And I felt completely helpless.
So I took a lot of walks, with Ziggy as my only companion. From “Five Years” to “ Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide” (and back again), I walked while Bowie medicated me. His music provided 15 year-old me the solace and strength to “climb to the top of the mountain” (and considering how hilly my neighborhood was, I occasionally needed the encouragement). Joking aside, though, I needed that album – I needed to cling onto something that I could rely on and know even better than myself at times.
And from then on, my collection grew. The staples were added, along with the rare and the B-sides. Flea markets were scoured for records. Posters went up all over the walls, causing some visitors to remark at their unease of being stared at by so many Bowie Eyes. (Same silly excuse my husband gives me when I suggest hanging the Giant Half Bowie Face poster anywhere that he might come face-to-face with it.)
(As another quick aside- I could not decide how to title this post, so I just hit Shuffle on my massive collection – “A New Career in a New Town” was the first to pop up, and it seemed pretty appropriate.)
I am glad that I face today’s loss having no regrets, as I was able to see not one, but two of his tours (Earthling and Reality.) David Bowie’s presence in my life has been an overwhelmingly positive one, and will continue to be a source of happiness and solace as needed.
My sadness goes out to another 15 year-old girl who has lost her dad to cancer. I hope that she is able to find her own musical solace that will stay with her for the rest of her life.
My husband is under the impression that I am rather odd. And morbid. Perhaps he used the phrase “Morbidly Odd,” but I am not entirely sure of that fact. I’ll have to check with him at a later time. When he is not making a squeamish face at me.
One topic that he gets very cagey about is Death. For the most part, about what to do with the other person once they die. To me, this is a very practical conversation, and one that can sometimes provide further insight into who the other person is. For example, my husband has alternated between wanting to be buried or cremated with the possibility of the ashes being distributed in many different ways.
I, however, have expressed my current wish to have my skull removed from my body, plated in either gold or bronze (I’m still debating which one), with my name and birth/death dates engraved on it.
Then I wish to have it passed along the generational line, most likely going to the black sheep of the family. Also, it would be cool if it could function as a candy dish. I really like Rolos, but that’s just a suggestion. Mini Reeses Cups could work too.
I’ve a family member who once placed in the request that they are placed in an urn that was capped by a bowl, so you could pour M&M’s in it, and set it on the coffee table. It’s examples like this that make me believe I come by my choices honestly.
On the other hand, Chris recently mentioned something about getting the dog bronzed at the inevitable point when she dies. So maybe he is coming around to the whole Skull Candy Dish idea after all.
Once again I find myself on a train, rolling down the tracks. And because there is currently no access to WiFi on this thing, I’ve been staring out the window and musing to myself. (Have you noticed how hard it is to NOT distract yourself these days? I might have checked my phone twice as I started this post. And then I forced myself to put it down and NOT play more Evil Apples. Because I’m musing here people!)
There is something wonderful about riding on a train. For me, one reason is because you get to see elements of the countryside that you don’t usually get to see. Instead, you see the dirty parts, the industrial parts, the backsides of places that don’t care what graffiti has sprung up on its flanks. Where everything is a bit more run down, and a bit rawer that you would usually see in your other types of travel. You can see the piles of rusted cars and their tires. You can see the gravel pits and lumber yards. And you can see all of the small town charm that these places help to fuel and employ. From a train you can see the panoramic view of the nice townhouses and the rundown abandoned shack, divided only by an overgrown line of shrubs and trees and a lack of awareness.
From the train you get a constantly changing sliver of American life; outside the window, and right next to you.
On the train, there is usually a varied selection. For example, today we have a young man in his 20’s who presents as MR. He is holding a conversation with a grandmotherly type in the seat behind him. Across the way is another young man who I imagine could be headed back to a late college class after a particularly “fun” weekend. On the next row sits a young girl around 12 or 13 years old, who does not look daunted by her solo trip at all. Somewhere behind me I can hear the snoring of someone who has been lulled to sleep by the swaying rhythm of the train.
Back outside, I watch as we pass a homeless camp tucked away in a wooded valley; blue tarps strung up with various piles of random objects collected around the site. A few miles down, there are two box cars situated in a wooded clearing with obvious signs of habitation. Across the street rise the walls of suburbia.
As I sit here, being rocked back and forth, it helps me reflect on how, to me, trains have always been a symbol of movement. Throughout my life, the sound of a train whistle has been the sound of a promise; no matter what going on around me, there is at least one thing out there that is moving forward with a purpose. At points in my life, trains would even be a symbol of escape. When I was in undergrad, I would watch the trains going past campus and see them as something that would take me away from places, people, and whatever it was that was adding to my anxieties. (Perhaps I thumbed through too much Kerouac.) Watching them now, I am able to see trains more as something that can take me to places, instead of just away from them. But whether I am coming or going, taking the trip is something I hope I will continue to enjoy.
My final day in Japan was a long one. From the onset, I knew that I would have to catch a flight late that evening. But first there must be food and a considerable amount of walking to still be done!
Today’s “Let’s what the locals eat” experience took us to MOS Burger, where I tackled a Spicy Cheeseburger. Because I am occasionally dumb and forget that Spicy Foods and I do not always agree. But never mind that now.
Following a fortifying lunch where, once again, customer service was top-notch and beyond what I’ve experienced in many state-side establishments, we hopped the rail back to the Harajuku station. It was time to experience …. Takeshita Street!
We ventured through the crowds, a sea of people, punctuated by a few glamorous mermaids of original fashion. And while I didn’t manage to capture any good pictures of these individuals, I did manage to find some interesting shots nonetheless.
When I travel, I always find it interesting to see what graffiti and the like that gets put up by the locals. Because after a while, it all starts to look the same, no matter where you are.
Venturing off Takashita street, we wandered up to (what I realized after the fact) Tōgō Shrine, located off of Mejii Dori. And while we did not have time to go explore, I have put it on my “Return To” list for the next time. Because I am going back. Yep. Gonna happen!
We continued down the other way on Mejii Dori, towards Shibuya Station. From everything that I have read since the trip, it is said that what Takashita is for the more crazy fashion, Mejii Dori is for the more trendy fashion. I would have to agree – everyone was quite the fashion plate.
However, being me, I was more interested in the odd architecture and random art displays. Because that is how I roll.
After all that walking, we needed a moment to sit down and have an always convenient hot beverage.
While enjoying said beverage, I heard a child yelling. I have no idea who or what she was yelling at, but I’m pretty sure that all the windows in this building were 1) really high up, and 2) closed.
No hair was let down. No keys were thrown. No acknowledgement given. But she still looked pretty proud of herself, so at least she had that going for her. Which is nice.
Finally, after much walking, Nathan announced that we had made it to our final, and pivotal, Tokyo Experience. Which I shall share with you now. It is the crosswalk outside of Shibuya Station.
What is so important or interesting about a crosswalk? Well…
And with that image, dear readers and spambots, we have (finally) reached the end of this epic saga. I hope you have enjoyed trailing along with me on this adventure. And now that it is done, I feel I can start posting more random amusements on this blog. Hope you will stick around!
The beautiful thing about other cultures and other languages is that everyone sounds the same when they are on a roller coaster. The squeals of anticipation, the screams of enjoyment (or terror) the nervous laughter as you find yourself hanging upside-down, and waiting for the breaks to release and send you 90 degrees straight down.
Yes, we are all the same when we ride roller coasters.
I learned this lesson on Day 5 of my excursion into Japan. (Look – I am determined to finish this darn travel essay, so you are just going to have to bear with me, and deal with it. There will be shiny, more up to date things, once I am done here, I promise. So just shoo if you need to and come back later. )
Bright and early, Nathan and I struck out to the famed Fuji-Q Highland amusement park, because the only logical thing to do while you are in Japan is to go view Mt. Fuji from the top of one of the highest roller coasters in existence. So we ventured out from Ōme, Tokyo to Fujiyoshida, Yamanashi, a little over 80km away, with a traveling breakfast, as one is supposed to in these situations.
A steamed pork bun
and pancake sandwiches
…perfect for making your way to a fun-filled day of “Do I really want to go on this ride?” and “ Oh god, why did I want to go on this ride?” And lastly, “ LETS GO BACK ON THAT RIDE!” Because this is how I approach all roller coasters, and important life choices in general. I became more and more excited as we got closer to our destination and I could see the great feat of nature that the park took its name from.
At the time of year that we were currently in, there was still a think blanket of snow covering its top, and being the non-skier that I am, I imagined how fun it would be to ski down Mt. Fuji in a completely safe and not-at-all-dangerous way. Because snow.
Eventually, the ultimate FUN ZONE appeared upon the horizon.
We walked up to its gates.
And we faced our First Opponent.
It was wind-y …… It was tall.
It was AWESOME!
Now that we were warmed up, we decided to go for SPEED over height.
Unfortunately, I was far too focused on OMGFUNTIME! that I did not take as many detailed pictures. So you are stuck with words. Words of power and awe. Words that defy description!
OK, perhaps not that last part.
So, as previously alluded to, the next big coaster we rode was Dodonpa.
It is the hot-rod of roller coasters, with its, ” Hey, Watch this!” attitude as it counts down, and then launches you through a chute at over 170km/h. Or not. Sometimes it tricks you, and makes you think that there is a problem with the launch, only to shoot you out in a surprise move of mechanical prankishness. Because it can.
Next was Takabisha.
I think this was my favorite of all the coasters we rode, for two reasons. 1) Because even if you know that it is going to pause you on that hump, you still find yourself yelling, ” Why?! Why must you do this?!” to the gods and roller coaster engineers alike.
And 2) because this coaster is EVEN SNEAKIER than Dodonpa. “How?” you might ask…. Simple:
Just because that rise you see coming up from the ride is the first thing you can see,does NOT mean it is the first part of the ride…. Oh No. It is not
No, the first part of the ride is in the dark. After a neck-breaking turn. Away from what you think is going to be the beginning of the ride. With many twists. THEN you get to the outside part. Thinking back on it, my first reason is probably directly caused by the second reason. I now have a third reason.
So before venturing off to the final coaster of the day, I shall share with you some other views of the rest of the park.
There were ants.
There were Zombies.
There were Nekos.
And there were Angels.
OK, now that we’ve seen the place a bit more, let’s move on the the big kahuna. The white whale. The ghost pepper hot wing challenge.
This is the mother of all coasters here at Fuji-Q. This is the coaster that you seriously question your life choices before, during, and for some, after riding this marvel of mad engineering.
I tried to get a good picture, but the entire platform insisted on rattling the whole time.
This might have been why.
But we went on the ride. We survived. We did not throw-up.
I did not regret this life choice at all.
And that ended day 5. It was a wonderful way to enjoy that part of Japan, that many outside travelers do not take the time to do. If you get the opportunity, seize it.
I leave you with motivational posters. Or advertisements. Or both.
This weekend, my fiancé and I decided to go camping. At this point in our relationship, we had not actually “gone camping” in any real sense of the phrase. And by that, I mean, we had not strapped heavy bags to our backs and proceeded to hike over rock formations to get to our final destination. Chris wished to remedy this oversight on his part, and declared that Labor Day Weekend was THE BEST TIME EVAR! to fix this problem.
Now I have done a fair share of car camping in my day. Heck, I was a YMCA Indian Princess AND a Girl Scout. I even inherited a hiking backpack from my house. (Short story: I bought a house, and the previous owner gave up on clearing out all their junk, and didn’t want any of it afterwards. In that junk were some treasures, including a good quality hiking backpack. Also, a lawn mower.) What I had never done was use this wonderful treasure out in the wild (or really, ever), so I was relatively little assistance in getting everything that had piled up in the living room actually INTO the pack. I did, however, know how to make peanut butter sandwiches and how to pack them so they would not get squished.
After a lengthy packing process, 45-minutes of searching around the house for car keys (which we did not find), and running by the sporting goods store to buy a new sleeping bag, as mine was woefully too big to even consider hiking with, we started off on our 2 hour drive – in the dark- to start hiking – up a mountain – for the first time – with a hiking backpack strapped on my back.
The first realization that our trip might not be going according to the original plan, was getting lost in a rather backwoods area where we were greeted by the local Cujo. No signal to our phones meant that we were super-glad that Chris had the forethought to bring along a folding paper map. PSA: Kids- Learn to read an actual paper map. It could save you from Cujo and those guys from Deliverance.
Eventually, we made it up a winding, foggy, gravelly, almost fall off the side of the mountain, road that appeared to perhaps be leading to our proposed destination. At this point the clock is creeping on in towards midnight. We had reached a feeling between determination to get to the end of whatever road we have found ourselves on, and terror as to what might jump out of the foggy woods and murder us. We had seen a fox earlier; Also Cujo. Relief at finding ourselves on a paved road leading to the parking lot of the trail-head was great and exhilarating.
My exhilaration tamped itself down as the heavy realization of having to hike up the mountain before we could set up camp strapped itself onto my back along with my hiking backpack. The air was cool, and clammy with mist, and I thought to myself, “We wouldn’t be attempting TOO hard of a hike, especially as this is my very first hike with a pack, and it IS getting on towards 1AM.”
Around 2:30AM I started contemplating my life and the choices I had made in it. My headlamp cut a swath of eerie light through the dense fog, as I waited for Chris to return from searching out the correct trail. We had already retraced our steps, and this was a last ditch attempt to get up the damned mountain before the sun came up. The forest hummed and chattered, and every few minutes Mrs. Dog Dobalina would stand at attention and warn off whatever lurked in the fog and dark that coming any closer would not be in it’s best interest.
To my relief, Chris finally found the missing trail (it was there THE WHOLE TIME!) and I allowed myself to be pulled up the rock face by a very excited and energetic dog. (Truly, this is the only way to hike in an upward motion. Going back down is another risk entirely.) Remarkably, we made it to the top in one piece, and continued to stay in that state as we hopped over the jagged boulders that rose suddenly through the perpetual fog. I looked around, as the wind picked up and whipped through the shrubland, the misty-white fog lazily drifting past my head like whips of smoke. This was a realm that birthed fairytales and folklore. Looking up, I could catch a fleeting glimmer of the stars, starting in patches and then opening up wide enough to see the Milky Way.
(Side note- It was really, really dark and by this point I was not in a picture taking frame of mind, so you are just going to have to put on your Imagination Caps, people.)
Exhausted, we made camp; patting each other on the back for making it up to the top, and vowing to never do that again. (Say it with me now: I SWEAR! I will NEVER do that again!). Another round of recognition went out; I for thinking to make peanut butter sandwiches, and Chris for making sure they made it up the mountain. I must say, that peanut butter sandwich under the open (and occasionally) starlit sky was the most enjoyable wheat product and nut spread I had eaten. (Nutella- If you are reading this, I sincerely apologize. I will always love you.)
Morning broke excruciatingly early, at the sound of the dog protecting us and the tent from the danger of wayward hikers in search of the sunrise. OK, it was a bit after sunrise, and to be fair, it was a great spot to check out the morning view, so I don’t blame them in the slightest. And any hard feeling at being woken up so gosh-darn early, were replaced once I caught a glimpse of the now fog-less view all around me.
Looking out over the vast expanse of a forest bed just throwing off its covers of morning condensation, I realized that it had been completely worth it.
The late hours, the getting lost, the heavy bag, the aches and pains in muscles I didn’t even know I had used; All would have been for not, had I given up and refused to go any further, or worse yet, gone back to curl up in the car.
This was way, way better than waking up in a car after refusing to climb up a mountain in the dark with blinding fog.
And yes, we did find Chris’s keys. Eventually. After days of searching.
They were hanging on the back of the closet door.
So day four started off nice and slow, with an onigiri (or two) that I had picked up at the 7-11 the night before. (It was like I KNEW I’d be moving slowly the next morning.)
I took the time to dump all of my photos from the past few days onto my laptop, and reflect back on the trip so far. Slowly, I was allowing myself to accept the fact that I was actually in Japan. Also, I was realizing that I was completely smitten with this whole country, even more so than when I first started planning this whole trip.
Nathan had set it in his mind that I could not truly experience Japan until I had sampled CoCo Ichiban. Nathan can be very correct sometimes. This was one of those times. CoCo was a wonderful experience, from the moment that we walked in the door and received international menus. Not just English menus. Not just picture menus (though there were fantastic pictures involved.) These were INTERNATIONAL menus. If I had wished to order in Portuguese, I could have. Another wonderful thing I noticed (and this is not just limited to CoCo) is how, at many of these establishments, you have the ability to choose a variety of portion sizes. And this is not just your average fast-food sizing; this is full on personal customization. You want a lot of rice? a little rice? Any of the in-between rice sizes? ALL OF THE RICE?!? You got it! The same goes for sauces and toppings.
As I was not currently conditioning for any eating challenges at the time of our visit, I chose a modest amount of rice and chicken cutlet curry.
As we ate our ever-most-filling delight, I began to ponder where the local Japanese person might go if they were in need of new tea cups, tatami mat, lumber, art supplies, and a hamster, all while checking out a giant tortoise.
So basically we explored all over this wonderful land of ALL OF THE THINGS, and I picked up a trinket or two, but I failed to take any super awesome pictures. Every so often, I like to just enjoy being in the moment rather than trying to capture the moment. I wasn’t being super lazy, I swear!
I did, however, think to capture this gem. I think all elevators should carry this, or similar adorable warnings, to keep me from getting my fingers crunched by their doors.
As we made our way back to Harajuko station, my cousin and I were greeted along our path by a beautiful display of luminaries and projected light.
All of which lead us to a spectacular performance of Kabuki Theater.
As we marveled at the production in front of us, wondering at what cultural heritage event we had stumbled upon, an older gentleman behind us took pity on these two clueless Americans. In halting English, and with many hand gestures, he explained that these performers were actually from Fukushima. All in all, the whole production appeared to be a very big “To Do”, with many people enjoying the rare chance to see the Meiji Shrine and its park after dark.
And why, you ask, was this entire event going on? Well, it wasn’t until after the fact that we realized we’d stumbled into the beginnings of the 100th anniversary of the Empress Shoken’s passing.
But we had made dinner plans already, and we needed to scurry on to Shinjuku and the tasty yakiniku hiding there.
As you can see, there was much tastiness to be had.
I even tried my hand at manning the grill!
Once stuffed full of tasty meaty goodness, we ventured out to find a nightcap. I now regret to say that we did not have the time or inclination to wait for a spot in the Robot Restaurant, but we can all at least sleep happier knowing that a place like this exists in the world. Instead we found a small, hole-in-the-wall cigar bar, where the main table actually wrapped around the piano, and everything was served in crystal.
It was pretty fantastic.
I had spent a wonderful day, out and about, but the most surreal moment had yet to occur. As we took our train home, I experienced the crush of the late night crowd, and maneuvered my way to grab a much-coveted seat. I may have even joined my fellow commuters in fighting off the inevitable urge to doze off once sitting. Once exiting the train, I immediately found myself naturally heading up the left side of the stairs with the rest of the crowd, without even being prompted. With them, I watched in a detached state, as two inebriated salary men began shoving and punching each other on the stair landing.
I continued on my way out of the station and into the slight drizzle; a realization finally starting to bloom in the back of my mind:
“Huh. I’m in Japan.”
Saying goodbye to objects from our past is a difficult and emotional event we all experience. It can be a small object with a closet of sentimentality attached, or a large item that carries only a handbag of memories. Either way, we grow attached to them, and to let them go can feel like burying a part of our past. Some people are never able to let go, and each room becomes a shrine to these attachments, no matter how insignificant.
Today I decided to let something go from my past; from my way, way back past. Growing up, we had a canary yellow ceramic elephant planter. And while I am sure at some point in its life prior to my memories, it had served the intended purpose of holding a plant; this is not how I learned to love it.
You see, my mom possessed the experience of teaching both first and third grades, and so when I came around, she already had a pretty good handle on entertaining young children. (Admittedly, she had to wait a few years for me to catch up to that age, but she did a bang-up job winging it until then.) Anyway, as a precocious young lady of 4, it was in the household’s interest that I be given some direction on a rainy day, lest I create a book tower from everyone’s books in the living room or attempt to disassemble the furniture. Enter the Yellow Elephant.
My mom’s solution was to write down a bunch of different activities (which I got to add to as well) on little slips of paper. These slips would then go into the Yellow Elephant’s back. On a rainy day, the Yellow Elephant would come out, and the papers mixed about. I would then reach my little hand into the hole and pull out my activity for the day. (Looking back on it now, I am pretty sure that mom would make a tactical decisions as to which papers were available to choose from each time.) If memory serves me right, I could draw again if I did not want to do that particular choice, but I could only draw once more. Then I could choose between the two. That was the deal.
As I got a little older and started going to school on a daily basis, the Yellow Elephant took on a new role, one of Weekend Coordinator. If there was a day where there was nothing previously planned (birthday party, out-of-town trip, visitors, etc.) an adventure would get pulled from inside. Sometimes it was the park, or the pool; later, when we lived in D.C. it was often going to a museum or a monument. And because it was the Yellow Elephant suggesting the adventure, I was less likely to be stubborn about the whole thing.
Eventually, I stopped drawing slips of paper out of its back, and the Yellow Elephant was repurposed once again. After I moved out, it came with me, and I used it for various things (mostly to hold my kitchen utensils.) Every time I moved, the Yellow Elephant was carefully packed away, and just as carefully unpacked in its new home. Every time, that was, until this most recent move.
Last May, I packed up my house in Alabama, and moved up to North Carolina to be with my fiancé. Eventually, we bought a house and started the process of shifting all the boxes from my storage unit to their new home. Every day I would pull some of the boxes stacked in the garage and start unpacking, tasked with the difficult job of finding everything a new home. I finally made my way to the box labeled “Yellow Elephant”, and excitedly opened it up, knowing exactly where I would put it.
Except my Yellow Elephant was not there. In its place were broken shards of ceramics; yellow on one side and white on the other.
This was last September.
Almost a year later, I have finally been able to face the contents of that box again. I laid out the pieces that I could find (some of the smaller pieces had been lost in the shredded paper and packing material) and I started to glue them back together. At this point, I don’t see myself keeping the final product. I know that even though it holds its shape again, it can never be the same. But I felt I owed it to my memories to at least try putting it back together, before I said goodbye.
I know that even though the object that gave me all those good memories is no longer what it was, I can still carry on the spirit of what that object meant to me.
Who knows what my children will draw paper slips from on a rainy day….
Perhaps an Orange Hippo.