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Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Amusing Ourselves

Below are many more pictures from Russia, the accompanying stories remain untold for now.

We have finally arrived in Japan, and are staying in Iwakuni, near Hiroshima. This is phase III of operation family-building, a phrase I've borrowed from my former boss Catherine. We are visiting my brother, Kevin, who is an ESL teacher here. His fluency in Japanese has given us a break from the usual linguistic gymnastics, which is nice but has prevented us from learning more than a few words (konichiwa, arigoto).

In China there were other barriers: tonality, pronunciation, the velocity of our throughfare, and poor health. We missed large chunks of what seemed like a great country due to an ongoing game of swapping sickness, which is where first Miia got food poisoning, and once I was sure she had recovered, I got food poisoning. Beijing, as Miia desribed in an earlier post, was a wonderful city to visit, filled with history and mystery, elegant beauty and modern excitement. Shanghai had a nice hotel near the ferry terminal with HBO in English. The hotel was listed in Lonely Planet as a real deal, cheap but stylish with oodles of history, including a visit from Einstein. Somebody must have read that and seen an unmilked cash cow because by the time we arrived it had been "restored" into an over-priced colonial gem complete with bowing doormen and snooty desk staff. We handed over enough cash there to last us, in our usual budget accomodations, about a week, for our overnight. Having just travelled on an overnight train and lugged our baggage across town (twice actually - the first place we checked out seemed unnecessarily far from the ferry), we decided to splurge. In all fairness the rest of the staff there were exceptionally nice, and went so far as to go to a pharmacy and pick up a new thermometre for us when my fever hit 38 degrees. It just seems a shame to me when something goes from being financially accessible to yet another means of exclusion.

As for me, I spent two long wretched (literally) days on the boat to Osaka, while Miia (fortunately) made the most of her good health and made several new Scandinavian, German, and Australian friends, feasted on first rate bean curds, and made the most of the free ping pong table and hot tub. Our bargain basement boat trip turned out to be fully loaded!

By the time our 7-hour train rolled into Iwakuni I was feeling much closer to human and ready to feast on Japanese Indian food. Since then we have visited the spot 500 metres below where the first atomic bomb exploded, and a nearby graveyard. Around that neighbourhood are numberous monuments, including one honouring the 10,000 children who perished in the blast with an eerie computerized megaphone voice emanating from an angelic statue laced with colourful paper cranes, which symbolize long life and health. It is a sad place with a sombre air to it. What a difficult thing to memorialize.

But in true Japanese style we capped the day in the more festive present. If Aldous Huxley was right about the world, Japan is the proof. It is super-happy-joy-of-life land. As the evening descended we enjoyed yakitori, or meat (and veggies) on sticks, and later, kereoke and Japanese whiskey, and beer, Dylan and Costello. The pillars of civilization.

Tomorrow we visit one of Kevin's schools and meet his students, show them pictures of our travels and once more break the linguistic barriers to communication. What a joy to be in a place more than 3 nights, see it through more than a passing window, a clicking shutter. And what a joy to be with family again.



Kert said...

I don't know how you guys do it, but your pictures are definitely art. I love your pictures. Hope you guys remain healthy for the remainder of your trip. Maybe the wasabi sauce can keep the bugs away. Take care Kert

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benjibopper said...

Thanks Kert, you are too kind! Wasabi starts tomorrow, but the high starch rice is doing wonders.