Back in Japan

I’m back in Japan and enjoying myself thoroughly. Thanks to all of the people who have welcomed me back, especially Yuco and her family. Everyone has been so kind.

There are still several individuals who I have yet to meet back up with. It’s admittedly strange to see so many familiar faces and places after nearly a year. There is a vague feeling of things having changed almost imperceptibly. Not that anything is out of place or incorrect at all. Sort of the reverse logic of a deja vu– I know for a fact that I’ve seen this all before but there’s a certain strangeness that I can’t quite place.

In the airport in Shanghai while I was waiting for my flight to Hiroshima, I was filled with a new combination of nostalgia and hope that tickled me. The feeling was replaced eventually by a sort of smug, mostly misplaced pride at being able to flex my meager Japanese knowledge for flight attendants and the Fascists at the Japanese border control.

One interesting thing I noticed in the Shanghai airport that represented a new low for Neo-Liberal Capitalist obsession with CHOICE in action was at the immigration kiosks. As the immigration officer processed my visa, I noticed a little electronic box with four buttons each with either a green or red LED above it. The buttons were printed with a range of smileys– from a very smiley happy face on the far left to a less smiley face to a slightly frowny face to a very unhappy frowny face. The “positive” buttons had green LEDs and the “negative” frowny buttons were equipped with red LEDs. The metallic smiley/frowny box had the following instructions printed in English and Mandarin on translucent adhesive strips stuck to it above the buttons: “If you would please rate your interaction.” The adhesive instruction strips were worn and peeled back around the edges. I wish I had been able to take a photo. But, of course, photography is strictly forbidden in the immigration kiosk area. So after the officer handed back my passport, I did my part to uphold the Police State and participated in the surveillance of the surveillance. I pressed the utmost green smiley button. Smug and Free.

The rest of my sixteen hours in Shanghai were spent in and around a fairly seedy cheap hotel about 15 minute drive from Shanghai Pudong International. The StarWays Hotel on the corner of a fairly busy intersection of two rundown commercial strips was adjacent to several restaurants which appeared to have fairly similar menus. Outside of several of the restaurants young men were roasting bright red crustaceans that resembled crawdads in big metal washbasin style basins. I ended up choosing the restaurant with the biggest most pictographic menu in the foyer. And luckily one of the waitresses there– a younger woman– was enthusiastic about communicating in English, and I was able to order several a la cart dishes which were pretty tasty. I yummy soup with a bitter mustard-looking greens and egg noodles cooked apparently with butter and fatback. A smoky tofu and mushroom dish. A sizzling platter of crispy garlic shrimp with a sunny side up egg in the middle of it. Rice. And two big bottles of what the Japanese would call “happoshu.” Which doesn’t exist outside of Asia as far as I know. It’s basically lager brewed with only half of the malts of a normal beer. So, the brew comes out a VERY light color and only has about 3% alcohol content. These particular 750mL bottles were printed with some sort of National Basketball League promotional something or another, which I couldn’t read aside from the big “NBA” logo. All told this meal was something like ¥75, which is around $12. Cheap and delicious.

On my way back to the StarWays Hotel I stopped by the local supermarket to browse the snacks for any potential souvenirs and picked up a few odds and ends. Nothing exceptional going on in the supermarket. Just a lot of good-natured stares directed towards the white dude with the big sideburns.

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So, I hope to continue blogging with the occasional photo and travel note. Hopefully this will loosen up my typing fingers for the composition of my thesis proposal which I need to draft by the end of June. Still have a good bit of reading to do ahead of that draft, including Dewey’s Democracy and Education. The only novel I brought with me on this trip is Bolaño’s 2666, which I’m about to finish. Brutal, BRUTAL, murderous, fascist and stunningly beautiful novel of the Mexican Desert. I hope to post a lengthier review of that one on the blog soon. Otherwise, I have a Habermas reader and a Ghandi reader and a play by Howard Zinn about Emma Goldman, which ought to keep me entertained this month and next.

Stay tuned.

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