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Browsing Posts published on November 23, 2007

Mr. Popo

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By now I’m sure all of you back in the states are reeling in pain over how much turkey and stuffing you’re eaten over the past few hours. I am extremely jealous. It’s Friday afternoon here, and it’s also Thanksgiving! Well, kind of. It’s actually Labor Thanksgiving Day, a kind of Japanese Labor Day. Anyway, it’s a convenient coincidence and also a day off over here, so that’s a bonus. While it’s possible to get turkey here, it’s even more impossible to find a way to cook it, so we’re all going out tonight for Korean BBQ at Top Run, the super yakiniku buffet, to gorge ourselves properly.

A quick story to start the day. I had a private lesson scheduled at 1PM today, so I was sitting around at the station waiting for the guy to show up. He calls me at 1:01 to say he can’t make it. Come on! I haven’t decided if I’ll make him pay for the lesson, which I think I’m supposed to do. I probably will. Anyway, as I go back to the illegal bicycle parking area, where I had been towed from less than 2 weeks ago, I take the lock off my bike and throw it into the basket. (Yes, my bike has a basket and a bell. Shut up). I get tapped on the shoulder by this old guy in a windbreaker. Excuse me, can I talk to you for a minute? Great, I figure. There are a few different religious groups and cults who hang around Chiba station trying to recruit people, so I figured this guy was one of them. I was just about to pull the old Sorry I don’t speak Japanese line when the guy reaches into his jacket pocket, presumably to pull either a brochure or a gun on me. Either way I didn’t want it. I’m not a weirdo or anything, I’m actually with the Chuo-Ward Police Department, he explains as he shows me his ID and badge. Crap. I assumed he was going to give me grief for parking my bike illegally along with the other 100 people who had done the same. Not at all.

Turns out him and his partner, who was standing behind me without me previously noticing, were just going around to do checks and stuff. They noticed the built-in lock on my bike had a key in it and looked broken, and just wanted to check. They asked me where I lived and my name. After I said Leong, I think he also kind of assumed me being foreign was part of the reason I was so weirded out by their sudden approach. Sorry to scare you, just wanted to see if your bike was OK. I explained that I don’t use the built-in one so I leave the key in it while I keep the other on my key chain. I use a stronger lock, which I pointed to in the basket.

So that was my first ever stopped-by-the-police encounter here in Japan. They didn’t need to see my ID, didn’t give me any grief, nothing. They were just trying to make sure I knew my bike might have been broken. They were actually some of the nicest random people I’ve spoken to here, which is saying a lot for Japan. It was kind of weird though, because they weren’t just the bike cops, they were actually plain clothes officers. Maybe detectives? Who knows. I’m just glad I didn’t give them any lip or didn’t to ignore them as I rode away, assuming they were cult members. The day might have gotten a lot messier.


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For about a week and a half I was working up in Wako city, which was actually pretty fun. The most painful part of the assignment was the commute, which involved riding trains and subways for about an hour and a half one way. First I rode from Chiba to Tokyo, then from Tokyo to Ikebukuro, then from there up to Wakoshi station. The first leg of the trip was usually pretty full in the morning, and I never got to sit down. Standing for about 40 minutes surrounded and crowded by mostly middle-aged to old men is no picnic, especially when you get a good whiff of “old man smell” that makes you want to vomit bloody diarrhea. And if you ever experience some guy pressing his sweaty back direct against yours, you too will feel the burning rage comparable only to Nick Roberts witnessing someone hawk a loogie onto the sidewalk.

Luckily, the last two trains I rode in the morning were usually less crowded and I was able to sit and sleep for those rides. It’s strange when you start a train routine, even if only for a week or two, because you adapt and start to remember all kinds of weird things, like which car to get on so that you’ll be closest to the escalator when you arrive. You also start to see the same people, whom of course you would never speak to, but there is that silent and awkward bit of acknowledgment in the split-second of eye contact you make when you realize this is the old man who almost drooled on himself the previous day. Or the old guy who was reading hardcore pornography last week. There was also the high school girl who probably thought I was just being creepy, even though I was just trying to figure out how a completely Japanese-looking girl was reading a super thick English mystery novel. Even I don’t attempt books that thick.

And there is no bigger victory on a train commute than scoring a seat, especially a corner seat, on a crowded train. For the most part my return trip from Tokyo to Chiba was always packed, even more than in the mornings. Having a seat was not a realistic goal. Once though, a miracle happened. I was standing in front of a corner seat, swaying back and forth on the grips while staring at posters advertising about 50 different brands of canned coffee. Somewhere around Kinshicho, which is relatively early in the ride, the guy sitting in front of me starts to gather his things and stuff them into his man-bag. I recognized immediately that he was going to get off the train. The seat would be mine. As soon was we stop, however, the greasy salaryman next to me starts to move. OH HELL NO. I casually yet powerfully swing my briefcase, already retrieved from the overhead rack, into the seat space and perform a counter-clockwise spin placing myself gently and smoothly into the treasured corner spot. Middle aged salary man didn’t know what hit him. I slept the rest of the journey in luxurious comfort, not only because I was sitting down after a long day’s work, but because I had just shown the guy now standing in front of me who’s boss of them all since 1983. ME.

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