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.

  1. Any photo’s of Roger?

    (roger’s dad…)

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