Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Opposite Vacation from the Last One

Yokohama, a city of over 3 million inhabitants (that is, 7 times as many people as live in the country of Cabo Verde as a whole), is cold (it snowed Tuesday night), flat, full of skyscrapers and electronic heated toilet seats (a very surprising discovery in a random subway station loo) with buttons for washing there if you so wish, has malls and amusement parks on every corner and a 24-hour convenience store (Family Mart) in the hotel lobby, endless channels of TV, a ridiculously extravagant consumer culture (judging from the mall I wandered in for a bit yesterday morning when it was still raining), and is part of possibly the vastest, most elaborate train and subway network in the world. A few years ago Ian and I were driving around Scotland, and when we approached Aberdeen near the end of our trip, Ian, who was navigating, described the knot of roads around the city center as a "spaghetti of lines." Talk about a spaghetti of lines. And the fish is served raw.

I'm enjoying wandering around here, getting the traditional Anglophone's chuckle over some of the names: Pocari Sweat for an energy drink; Booze CafĂ© for the restaurant at one of the amusement parks. My first, travel-weary impression of the place, rushing through a crowded train station in the early evening on Monday, was monochromatic, or maybe slightly dichromatic—a population of fair-skinned people with brown eyes and black hair, 95% of whom seem to wear all black to work. Looking out the 22nd story hotel room window in the morning, I'm struck by the sameness of all the hurrying forms, coming and going from the train station at the base of our home. Up close, color announces itself better—some puffy coats are beige or dark green, or even occasionally red or orange. And everyone carries an umbrella, and when those are up, the palette changes considerably.

It's obvious that efficiency is highly valued here—everything works like regularly oiled clockwork, things and people alike. Fans are quiet, the bathroom water is hot almost instantly here on the 22nd floor, or cold almost instantly if you want to drink it. "GOOD FOR DRINKING" says the sign above the sink, so you don't need to ask if it's okay. And it is good for drinking. All the lights in the room have switches between the two twin beds—and all the lights work. People move through the subways at the same fast clip, not even slowing to enter or leave the ticket gates, their Suica subway passes in hand by the time they arrive. To keep the flow of humanity moving, the gates stand open, and only close if you don't have enough money left on your pass to pay the fare. If this is the case, there is a "Fare Adjustment" machine in the wall just next to the exit. People are polite and they wait in line, and wait for the walk symbol when crossing the street—there is no unnecessary rush—but everyone moves with purpose, always, keeping time-wasting to a minimum. The "door close" button is used every time we ride the elevator.

We are cautioned or apologized to about many things in our hotel room: "NEVER HANG TOWELS OR CLOTHES ON LIGHTING EQUIPMENT. DOING SO COULD CAUSE FIRE," or "Please refrain from smoking in bed." I had left an inch of water in our bedroom hot pot yesterday morning, and when the room was cleaned, a notice was left:

    "Dear Guest.

We trust you are having a comfortable stay with us, however we would like to deeply apologize for hotel regulations that require us not to handle any cups, glasses and a pot with liquid inside. This is in case if there is a contact lense or its chemical inside the riquid. if there is any questions.

    Please contact the front desk, and we will deliver new glasses and cups.

    Thank you for your co-oporation.

                        HOUSE KEEPING"

This care, and yet, the hot pot is heated to boiling on a hot plate built into the desk next to the television. And because of the great technology involved, every toilet has an electrical outlet right next to it. Not the habit of plumbing/electrical wiring that we are in back home.

At any rate, I'm having an awesome, if bemusing, time wandering around and just drinking in the foreignness of it. I walked through town yesterday afternoon for a couple hours, searching for a shrine that I'd seen on a map. There are location maps posted regularly throughout the area, so I could check where I was from time to time. The maps aren't oriented N/S, though, but rather in the direction you are facing, which takes some getting used to. Also, we're on the eastern side of this island and so the water is to the east, not the west, and I've had to flip my mental map. I eventually found the shrine, and it was beautiful and strange and not at all what one would expect five minutes' walk from the tallest building in Japan, but it took me the better part of an hour and half. I mean, I couldn't even tell where to look for a street sign, let alone how to read it. Anyway, by the time I got back to the hotel, I WAS STARVING TO DEATH. Dizzy with hunger from the sheer density of stimulation.

And now I get to go and do it all again!

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