Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Are there haunted houses in heaven or am I in Amsterdam? I mean Japan?!

Japan is unreal, surreal, and everything in between.

I have returned to the motherland, to the homeland, to a land of mythical proportions. Maybe it`s always this way when you finally go to a country you are supposedly `from` and yet have never been to.
I have had expectations formed in my head about Japan as long as I can remember... What I really never considered was actually being here...
So it was totally unreal to land and actually be here... Can I repeat that yet again?! I can`t believe I`m really here!!!
In fact, it`s taken a few days to really get into it- it took me longer than I thought it would. I was in complete disbelief for the first few days, floating around in a weird kind of limbo. Beijing was just cold and weird for the last week, all alone after three weeks of constant company. In contrast, Japan was easy- convenient and very non-scary... But still new and different. And I had to make a bunch of decisions about my schedule for the next week- I wanted to have a plan to get to see and do everything I wanted before D-Day...

(And by the way, I ended up extending the trip. I will be back on the 24th instead of the 18th. Just a few more days but... I wouldn`t put it past myself to extend it even more. The temptation is too great- I know that once I get back to LA it will be hard to leave. I just want to stay gone... In my dreamy, surreal, traveler fantasyland...)

Anyways, I need to stop saying xie xie, and get used to saying arigato gozaimashita!
Sayonara, not zai jian!
No more bu yao! Nobody`s tried to sell me anything yet!
The toilet seats are heated!
Many people speak English, and they seem more concerned than annoyed when you ask them frantic questions about whether or not this is the right train stop.

So, let me back up and tell you the story of when I first arrived. (No, it`s not that interesting, but let me just tell you anyway!)

I checked into the Khaosan Asakusa Annex hostel, where I slept in the 8 bed female dorm room. It was clean, warm and cozy (with those amazing heated toilet seats!)
Got online and discovered that Gary and Jane were staying in a hotel near by, and we made plans that night to meet up for dinner. It was really nice to see them again and reminisce about the good old days- over a lovely Indian meal with some really nice red wine! They walked me back to the hostel and I bid them adieu for the billionth time...

The next day I met up with a friend of a friend, who had another friend in town from the US as well, so we all walked around Asakusa- visited a shrine, saw a ninja comedy show, and ate deep fried mochi.

Then we went to Tokyo Bay, where we encountered the BEST haunted house experience I`ve ever had- Talk about surreal! This experience now rates as one of my most favorite moments of all time. Not much really scares me, but this time, I ran out screaming!

So, it`s in the mall, this haunted house, and Dee Jae, the guy who lives in Tokyo, was like, you guys should go into this haunted house. And we were like, naw, whatever, we`ve been in haunted houses before. We`d rather save our $$ for sushi. But he was like, well, have you seen any Japanese horror movies? And I thought to myself- good point. Japanese people have really scary ghosts.

Basically, you are sent into the haunted house with a red flashlight and a mission. It`s very small, really. You have to find a table inside, put the card on it, clap three times and bow. That will stop the ghost from persecuting you. It seemed simple enough, but what a concept! We went in together, me and Jasmine, holding our red flashlight. The door swings shut behind us and all you can see is a shabby looking interior of a shack, with the occasional disembodied head or busted Japanese lantern. It was really hard to see anything, and nothing was really happening. I didn`t want to swing the light around too much in fear of seeing something I didn`t want to see, so we`re basically just walking quickly through it. Then the noises started and boxes started shaking. Then it would get quiet again... Then we would walk quickly by whatever it was, and then jump out of our skin as people popped out from behind something else. It got a little mazelike and we had to push past dead bodies hanging from nooses... Once we tried to go back, and a head popped out and said `No!` Man, we clapped so hard when we saw the table with the cards on it, and the ghosts were running up behind us, saying `Arigato! Arigato!` and we ran the heck outta there! It was awesome! Man, the psychology behind it was genius- what an adrenaline rush- tons better than a roller coaster! I don`t think writing about it here really did it any justice- it`s something you just have to experience- thank you Dee Jae!

Later that night we went to an all you can eat/ all you can drink for 90 minutes spot, and I got home quite happy. The next day I spent time at the train station planning the rest of the trip... Which brings me to the next surreal but also most awesome and wonderful Japanese experience.

Two of my friends, Jackamo and Osei, from capoeira, had been called on to work in Japan for a few weeks. I was excited that I would be there at the same time, so I resolved to meet up with them. First of all, Jack tells me they`re at Huis Ten Bosch at an amusement park in the very southern part of Japan... looking it up online was not helpful, because all I find is information in Japanese or Dutch... Dutch?! Yes, Huis Ten Bosch turned out to be a spot-on replica of Amsterdam in Japan- What!!!??? Yeah, they`ve got tulips and windmills, cobblestones, and CHEESE!!!

And of course, the Dream Circus. Jack and Osei were performing with the Kenyan Fire Limbo troupe- yes, ladies and gentlemen, Fire Limbo! Our versatile CBLA capoeiristas are capable of anything, and I have the videos to prove it! (Coming soon, I promise). Again, it was awesome! There was Mitch the clown, there was Tyler, a ten year old juggling virtuoso, there was a woman who came out with like twenty trained cats, trained CATS!!! There was a family who did the tightrope act, and people balancing on poles meters high in the air which in turn were balanced by a man holding the pole on his chin... There was so much. I got to meet the performers and hang with them offstage- lovely people. I even got a bear hug from Funtik the Russian bear- Boris had me posing for all kinds of pictures- me and Funtik! Wow!

Thank you SO MUCH to Winny and Kiyomi and the entire circus crew for being so warm and welcoming. I felt like I made a bunch of new friends, even though I was only there for a few days. It was doubly (triply-quadrupely!) great to see some old friends, good people whom I`ve known for such a long time- it really picked up my spirits and reminded me of how much I do love my life back in the states, and how special my friends are to me... And to all my friends I`ve met along the way, you are all in my life because you are special, and because we found a common bond- life is great in that way. We are all a conglomeration of the love we spread around- and what goes around comes around. I can`t wait to host my new friends when you come to visit! I love you all! sniff sniff- I get so sentimental sometimes!

Anyways, back to the story... breakfast! It had been so long since I had cereal- man, was it good! A huge breakfast buffet in the mornings- Western and Eastern, eggs, sausage, fruit and yogurt, and on the other side was fish, miso soup, rice porridge and pickles! I ate it all, it was so good.

So after seeing the show yesterday, we chilled out for bit, practicing floreios on the mats, teaching the circus kids how to do au sem mao- then we headed for town, in search of the shoe stores and carousel sushi- both of which we found. It was me, Jackamo, Osei and David (unicycler extraordinaire)- we took the train one stop into the town of Haiki. A really nice man helped us with directions, and it turned out he was a janitor at Huis Ten Bosch- super nice guy, with really good English skills. The walk towards the shoe place was peaceful and scenic. It was dusk, and the moon was almost full, starting to shine bright in the twilight. We tried to take pictures to capture the moment. Jackamo noted that taking pictures of the moon can never do it justice. We encountered a shrine along the way- watched a taxi driver stop the car with his passenger inside get out to pay homage- he did the same clapping three times and bowing thing that I was supposed to do inside the haunted house- interesting... Walking over a bridge, we saw a crane walking elegantly across the shallows- such a beautiful Japanese image.

Then... we went shopping!!! Thank god the boys I was with were also into trying on clothes, because I was like a loose cannon in there- `Mac House`- Japanese styles at fairly reasonable prices, at sizes that fit, and I finally bought some new trousers! I mean jeans! I can`t tell you how good it felt to put on some different clothes the next day, after 2 months of the same. I was jumping for joy.

I jumped around even more when we found the carousel sushi place- the only down side was they didn`t have sake, but with $1 plates, who could argue?! They had Sapporo on draft and all was good with the world. In fact, I believe they went back again tonight, while I have moved on to Osaka. I boarded the train this morning, loaded down with a couple more kilos granted by me NEW CLOTHES! Headed off to meet my Grandma`s niece, relatives I have never met. Happy and apprehensive.

Before leaving today I had a chance to catch the MC Escher 3D movie- hyper-surreal, as I see Japan is master of...

And on to Osaka. My mom`s cousin met me in the train station- I don`t know how she recognized me but I was so happy to see her! She was so nice... This story just keeps getting better and better. I didn`t know what to expect, meeting a relative I had never met before, in a country I had never been, which I was supposed to be from but don`t even speak the language. Well, we got along just fine. Her English is fine, perfect for basic communication. We took the train back to the Ashiya station, and she showed me how to get home on my own (where to catch the taxi) and we hopped in her car and zoomed off. We were greeted by George the jumping barking dog, and the meowing cat. (I think that cat might have been hungry enough to walk a tightrope for a meal!) She prepared a wonderful delicious meal of meat loaf, rice, beef stew, and brocolli and crab salad, follwed by azuki bean cake for dessert. And green tea. I was so happy and full. She showed me pictures of my sister and cousins when they came to visit years ago, and even brought out the ones of herself at 22 when she went to the states- my mom was there, my dad and my uncle! All so young- they looked like they could have been friends of mine, in authentic 50s outfits. So then, (this story is about to get better yet...) she shows me the bathroom, where there is a hot bath prepared... Oh my god- I will have to install a Japanese bathroom in my castle one day (when I get a castle ;-) Wow... Next to the bathtub is the shower area, which is bathed in warm air blasting from the ceiling. But the bathtub, the bathtub! It`s like 4 feet deep, and filled with sudsy water kept at a constant 45 degrees- temperature monitored and controlled! What luxury, what heaven!

And to top it all off, there is a laptop in my room and I can sit here typing happily away for hours and hours, free from net bars, free from fees, free from chain smoking Chinese gamers- man I told you, Japan is UNREAL! I finally feel comfortable again, my astral is rising (that`s a Portuguese term) and my faith and wonder in the world is once again, renewed.

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