Archive for February 10th, 2010|Daily archive page

Sleeplessly wheezy in Tokyo

In illness, japan, travelling on February 10, 2010 at 11:56 pm

I can’t afford to get colds, or get my bronchitis going on this worldwide journey. Whenever I get colds, they are usually self inflicted, damp cold clothing left to dry on my skin. Think out clubbing and leaving that sweaty top to dry on you on the journey home – which is why I usually carry a spare vest and t-shirt with me – irritates my bronchitis and turns itself into a bronchial infection, which means I spend the next week or so fighting to draw a breath, unable to walk further than bedroom to bathroom to kitchen without wheezing and spluttering like someone whose lost a lung. And since I packed away my usual cold relieving remedies, vicks vapo rub, lemsip mixed with honey and rum as a hot toddie, my chances of making it through the second night when the attack comes on hard, without an ambulance being called seems impossible.

I’d been out with Roger, who had graciously invited me to a friends birthday party. A 3,500 Yen all you can drink affair, where little bits of finger food are bought out, and the Japanese smoke like chimneys and talk, and talk, and talk. I would enjoy it a whole load more if I could take a full breath, and I’m tugging on the inhaler like a child on his mum’s nipple trying to get that first feed of the day.

I’ve just spent the day trying to ride to various bits of town, with a chest which I can only draw a quarter breath. I feel exhausted and any sort of incline, which involves me getting out of the saddle and raising my heart rate or oxygen consumption, sends me into a short.

Staccato. Drawing. Every. Breath. Is. Torture. Situation. Where. By. I. Have. To. Pause. Every. Time. Head. Down. Hands. On. Knees. And. Just. Let. It. Pass. But. It. Takes. Forever. And. Hurts. A lot. So Fucking. Much. Who. Knew. Breath. Ing. Hurt. This. Much

So spending time in the smokiest atmosphere known to man isn’t doing it any good, and I’ve already had to stop half a dozen times on the way there, because the walk was killing me. I wonder what the Japanese think of this wheezing black man sitting trying to draw a breath on the metro.

I get back to the hostel after having to stop thrice on the walk from the station, not more than 250 meters at that, because I can’t drag enough air into my lungs, and twice walking up the two flights of stairs from metro to ground level. And I remember that mother dearest has given me some deep heat, and I hope, against hope that I can rub that on me old chest and get through the night, memories of Saturdays sat in a dressing room, with the heady fug of deep heat making your eyes water, make me think maybe there’s a chance. And which in true adapt, improvise, overcome fashion a quick glance at the tube as I sit hunched over on the toilet, shows it has some sort of menthol properties and I’m rubbing it in vigorously before you can say, “Andrew’s hoping this means he doesn’t have to rely on his travel insurance which doesn’t cover him for his pre-existing asthma condition, so would have to pay the whole Japanese hospital bill thing.”

And I spend a restless tossing, turning, coughing night, punctuated with vigorous application of deep heat and inhalations from my inhaler.

It eases the constrictions in my chest enough to enable me to walk and talk the next morning, without believing I’m going to pass out, but as my body fights the infection, my mind seems intent on loosing whatever semblance of coherent thought and memory skills it once possessed, making me so absent minded and forgetful that I have to return to the hostel FOUR! Count them FOUR times to grab something new that I have forgotten and even when I get on the metro, halfway to Shibuya I am jerked out of my seat by the recollection that I’ve only just gone and left something else that I really, really need back at the metro station, when I was buying my ticket.


Don’t worry I’d actually left it back in the hostel and it was there when I returned.

So the next day I’m still clogged up with phleghm and I’m wheezing like an old man with emphezyma, hacking up huge globules of yellowy green sputum. So I’m off the bike (which is a fucker, my travels are built around being on the bike, and I’ve made no provision for the time it takes and the organisation and planning that moving around on public transport requires) and becoming more and more conversant with the Tokyo metro system than I would like. Whilst writing this, I’m on the metro as I travel out to the Ghibli museum (yay!!!) I’ve come to realise that the Japanese infatuation/obsession with portability and miniaturization can be traced to having to make the majority of their journeys via the metro, and the desire to have some way of creating privacy, personal space when there is none.

The metro is nice (really do need to stop using that word) clean, efficient, quick and pretty much all encompassing. You can get everywhere in central Tokyo via the power of the metro, following it’s length and breadth. And if that’s not enough you can jump on the JR (Japan’s equivalent to British rail as it once was) which will take you to the bits of Tokyo which though connected to the city via the stretch of the urban sprawl, are deemed to be sperate entities, getting you wherever the metro doesn’t touch.

On the metro and the trains for that matter people use their mobiles, Nintendo DS’, PSP’s or some other mobile device and while away the hour or so it takes to get from one town to Tokyo, or they read thick heavy manga tomes.

But beware the transfers between stations and lines, isn’t as smooth or as seamless as I’m used to in london, the JR stations and Tokyo metro and the Toei lines are run by different companies who built their stations in different points of the same part of town, so although stations are interconnected on the map, you’ve still got to walk miles to get to the connecting line to continue your journey which adds shitloads of time to it. So in the end just don’t leave your movement from one part of town to the other to the last minute, like I invariably do, because YOU WILL be late, despite the efficiency and regularity of the trains.

Should also say everyone sleeps on the train ride home, and pretty much all of the JR trains have heated seats, which is odd but comforting as the journey wears on. Your arse becoming warmer and warmer, warming you to a snoozy head on shoulder situation. This does actually happen alot. The Japanese slumped forward or to the side, mouth agape, as they sleep on the journey home.

All about the Ride: Chiba Excursion

In all about the ride, bike, japan on February 10, 2010 at 11:02 pm

Headwind or is it a crosswind all the way there, one pretty much straight local road, two lanes and plenty of flyovers, Tokyo has rivers running through it, the sun is out and it makes the grey rivers glitter, Tokyo this far out, in the sprawl between the cities can be quite down at heel, rumpled and crumpled at the edges, but Tokyo is built on a massive scale, the bridges, the buildings, the roads, I roll across a flyover which must be at least two kilos long, and it’s just one of many.

But the massive scale doesn’t preclude moments of intimacy, or human connection: the dip of the head of the taxi driver behind me at a set of lights; the lone pensioner practising his chip shots by the river close to the bridge; the young kids in the bus as it turns right staring and staring and staring, then giggling as I smile and wave, then tentatively waving back; the old woman painfully bent over, cane in hand who walks ever so slowly across the crossing, dignity wrapped around her as she pauses for breath, looks up at the lights then continues on her mission to the kerb.

I ride through a section of town that is devoted to 2nd hand motors Mercedes g-wagons, Nissans, Mitsubishi’s and the like, each one devoted to one make and model. I watch the down and outs collecting scraps by the waters edge, I try not to tire as the wind presses constantly on my chest, a hand placed there slowing me down no matter how hard I try to forge ahead. But I am happy I am on the bike, riding fixed again, track-standing whenever I can and enjoying the constant cadence, the momentum that pulls me over and through the pedal stroke. This is what I hoped cycling overseas would be like, this movement from one part of town to the other, the effortlessness (in parts it feels as if the bike is pulling me along rather than me pushing it) of traveling between the different neighborhoods, knowing enough of the route, or being confident enough with the map to slip off down a side route, a new road to someplace else, an opportunity to see something new.

Londoner in Tokyo

In japan, travelling on February 10, 2010 at 10:53 pm

Whilst I’ve been here the, in Japan, the polite Japanese have given me sidelong glances, double takes, surreptitious stares, hard glares (generally from old

men), the long considered appraisal and amazed looks from kids – who stare directly at you and when you stare back hold your gaze before looking away and looking back moments later when they think your not looking.

I’ve had worse and spending time in Newcastle in the early 90’s kinda inures you to that sort of thing. I’d be more surprised if no one was staring, to be honest.

And on a similar path, the only ones who have deemed me interesting enough to have a conversation with are some old men who have spoken to me about my bike, or seen that I’m obviously not from Japan and decided for better or worse, that I’m the one who they should practice their English on. Now I don’t mind passing ten or fifteen minutes talking about the specialist subject that is me, but I do wonder about the younger generation, friend told me that the old men will speak to you because they have spoken English in their business/working lives so are more comfortable with it, whereas the young who have a better grasp of western culture, and are taught to read and write English at school, won’t speak to you, because they are afraid to get it wrong. As I say everywhere I go, your English is so so so much better than my approximation of your language you have nothing to be frightened/ashamed/embarrassed about.

Misc Impressions of Kyoto

In japan, travelling on February 10, 2010 at 10:48 pm

Now there is no curfew, I’ve just got on the bike and ridden to the edges of Kyoto, (am I the only one who sees that Kyoto is an anagram of Tokyo – coincidence, I think NOT!) which feels immeasurably smaller than Osaka or Tokyo for that matter. I’ve ended up in a surf bar, which serves just shorts and mixers, no beer as far as I can see, and I settle in for a couple, because I don’t need to be back for any particular time and I need a drink, a cool drink to slake my thirst and to decompress after the long/slow journey into Kyoto as I managed to get myself onto the local express train rather than the shinkansen and it took a whole load longer than the 20mins or so I was expecting.

Looking at the tourist map I’ve got in front of me, I’m not exactly sure where I am, I pointed myself in a direction and followed the bright lights until they started to dim and then turned right. Kyoto’s based on a grid system so no turns or winding roads, so it won’t be that difficult to get back to the center just follow the straight road.

The old guy behind the bar asks me a couple of questions, and then settles into the big armchair from which he serves people. Music videos play on a screen just behind and to the right of him, and the music pours out of the speakers.

I’ve ridden here fixed, and its so much fun, I missed it. I was practising trackstanding at the lights the whole way, need to spend some time, doing it with the left foot forward and also sitting down as well. I’ve got nothing but time and with the light sequences taking just as long here as they do in Tokyo – people turn off their engines to wait at the lights here as well – I’ll have plenty of time to work it out.

If Osaka is the city of a hundred bridges, than Kyoto must be the city of a hundred shrines, just looking at the tourist map I’ve been given at the front desk of the new improved, friendlier hostel, fills me with temple fatigue. At least with a bridge you see it, ride over it, its part of your journey, you contemplate it as you move across it. With a temple /shrine, you’ve got to get there, look around, soak it in, walk up, down and around, before heading to the next one. I’m thinking like this and I haven’t even been to one in Kyoto yet. I want to see a couple but not make that the be all, and end of my time here. I’m more interested in the modern city, the shopping precincts, the back alleys, the cultural centers, the cafes and bars rather than the ancient sites of religious piety. And I have a cob on to get my drink on. I haven’t really let, what little hair I have down, so I’ve got the urge to go out and get wrecked no matter the cost, and the fallout the following day. I’ve been very reticent so far about going out and getting amongst it, I think it’s a hangover (did you see what I did there, hangover, I crack myself up sometimes) from my annual no drinking for the first two months of the year, which I extended to three months last year, and also maybe because I’m not the greatest beer drinker in the world and that’s pretty much all they’ve got here, and its not cheap either. So either spend money on a beverage that you don’t like the taste of, or spend more money on a beverage you do like the taste of, but that will last you a third as long, decisions, decisions…

Train of thought

In japan, travelling on February 10, 2010 at 10:35 pm

Osaka, city of a hundred bridges, if its not a hundred bridges it feels like it, big ones, small ones, pretty ones, industrial ones, and the rivers are all shapes and sizes too, some so small as to be canals. Its nice to ride over them, the only way I can orientate myself is to figure out which river I’m riding over, and work from there. The fun, hip part of town is Amer-Maru, or america town/village. There is even a small version of the statue of liberty on a rooftop in there. Its a smaller version of Shibuya, nice kooky (I like the word kooky) little bars, and cafes.

Drank a couple of beers in a place called No Bondage, just me the barman and his friend, who was drinking a cocktail called a red eye, beer mixed with tomato juice, had a taste, wasn’t impressed.

Spent a lot of time on the metro/train system in osaka, all of them are very efficient, but isn’t that the japanese all over (does anyone ever compare the japanese and the germans in this respect, everything so perfectly organised and defined, that it seems churlish to be british and so inefficient, and wasteful) with their points on the platform for where the train doors open and where you should queue up. I’m trying to avoid the trains during rush hour, not looking to have some salaryman crushed up against me, but I did catch the end of it. Let me tell you, you’ve never seen anyone run like a japanese hoofing it for that one train they need to be on. Lots of people, lots and lots of people on the trains, standing, talking, and as efficient and clean as the trains are, if I lived here I’d still want to ride the bike, to get away from the humanity, to be able to set my own course, choose my own direction, not be constrained by timetables set by someone else.

So many trains, so many services, so much urban sprawl to travel across. I didn’t realise how built up Japan actually is, until I managed to miss my shinkansen from osaka to kyoto, and found myself, bike and rucksack on a slower local express train which stopped at numerous stations. Pretty much the cities blend into one, osaka and kyoto just merge together, any place that is flat is covered with buildings, homes, just a mass of people living in a small space. And as you get out of the center of towns, the architecture changes, older, a bit more rickety, the buildings still pushed up against each other, but not as tall, more one and two storey buildings.

I’ve been told that the planning laws/building regulations in japan are slightly looser than over in the uk, as there does seem to be a certain amount of random buildings edged up alongside each other, windows looking out onto the blank walls of a taller building. Seems as long as you provide a certain amount of light to your neighbour, during the day you can build right over them. Seems kinda evil, but you do notice the premium placed on land/space and so it seems people will just build wherever there is space and the devil take the hindmost.