Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Wide Awake

I'm quite proud of myself -- I went to bed at 11p.m. and slept (... in the loose sense of the term ...) until nearly 5a.m., a very respectable close-to-six-hours, and a definite improvement over yesterday's going to bed at 1a.m. and getting up at 3a.m. Overall, though, I'm substituting coffee for food and sleep this week.

And a few more pictures ...



A look at Victoria Harbor, Hong Kong. The harbor separates Hong Kong's central district from its Kowloon district, and is a spectacular sight at all times of day. At the time this picture was taken, I was standing on the porch of Hong Kong's museum of art.



... and another one. Notice the forest-covered hills in the background? In reality, these are less than half an hour's walk away. (And yes, I admit, it's very hard not to fall in love with Hong Kong.)



A glance from the top of Mt. Koya -- nothing but rolling (and increasingly steep) green hills and bamboo forests for miles and miles. The picture was taken around midday, but by early afternoon the evening mists begin to drift in and lend this beautiful area a profoundly ethereal character.



Thai temples are centers of all manner of learning -- at Wat Pho, probably Bangkok's most famous temple, the monks have set up a number of life-sized dioramas of the Thai geological composition that sprinkle the templegrounds and offer a nice counterpoint to the colorful excess of the temple itself. Here's one, covered with plants and figures of Thai gods.



Tiananmen Gate, entrance to the Forbidden City, the former royal palace, fronting Tiananmen Square, the current epicenter of the Chinese political empire. Like most of Beijing, the Forbidden City is undergoing heavy renovation at this point ...



... and for good reason. The powerful pillar you see here is really just a log of wood covered in many layers of red paint. As you can see, the laquer is cracking and peeling faster than the reconstruction crews can cover over it. Hmmm.



From the Mr. Fuji area, a tip of the nip to all my California friends :)



... and one more sign of the times for the geeks among us. The unremarkable house in Kyoto to which this sign is attached in indeed the place where Nintendo, initially a humble playing card company, was born. It's not been officially declared a place of worship yet ;)

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

A Minor Foretaste

Here are a few, a very few, of my Asia pictures. A more comprehensive spread is in the works, thanks to savvy friends of mine.


The Lakes at Mt. Fuji.


Tiananmen Square, Beijing.


Prayerrequests tied to the branches of a tree at a Shinto Shrine in Kyoto


Sunrise over Tokyo, 5:30a.m. See, the crows didn't wake me up for nothing.


An image from Beijing's forbidden city. The lion is one of a pair that shows up quite frequently in Chinese art and architecture. This one's the male of the pair, holding the world under his paw. The female has a cub under hers whom she's said to protect.


Gravemarkers in the river at a Buddhist graveyard at Mt. Koya. The wooden boards are supposed to mark the graves of nameless aborted children and drowning victims.


The Kyoto Train Station -- a controversial architectural marvel.


A young mother with her child lost in prayer at a temple in Bangkok.


Leaves at a Zen Buddhist temple in Kyoto.

Monday, September 27, 2004

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

The Top Ten Things I Appreciate About Being Back in California

5. Creature comforts. Hot shower? Check. My own room? Check. Car? Check. Grocery store within easy walking distance? Check. Internet connection from the privacy of my own home? Check. TV? No check, but that's because I've never been enough of a TV-watcher to justify the expense. This, folks, is the lap of luxury, and half the time I don't even realize it as the blessing and curse that it is. I'll try to hold onto the sense of childlike wonder at not sharing my living quarters with several rodents and a family of cockroaches.

4. Southern California Anything -- the weather, the pollution, the traffic ... none of it is as bad as it seems from a purely local perspective. Plus, as Morpheus would say, "there is no humidity."

3. A personal library (and several public ones less than a block away!) that I don't have to carry on my back wherever I go. That "2 books/week" habit is hard on the spinal column.

2. A new academic quarter! Excuse me while I happily geek out here for a bit. Now, if I can just stay awake through my evening seminars ...

1. The People. I missed y'all, you know? :)

Top Five Things I Could Really Do Without

5. Britney et al. At the airport, I misguidedly picked up a copy of People Magazine. The front cover proclaimed that it contained "Britney's Wedding Album" or something to that effect, which made me realize that I never, ever, EVER again want to hear anything about Britney, her wedding, her private life, her deep-dark secrets, her pet-Alsatian's dietary habits etc. Ditto for the swarms of low-talent, high-drama "starlets" that populate the popular media.

4. Management Fads. I came across the "Six Sigma" series of management books at the airport as well. My first thought was that my pastor, whom I greatly love and appreciate, must never find out about them :P

3. The Stress. I've spent a month in a foreign continent, with poor public hygiene, little privacy, less than 6 hours of sleep/night, no healthcare and an eclectic and dangerous selection of cuisine ... without so much as a headache?! Methinks there's something to be said for stress being the number one disease-causing agent.

2. Jet Lag. To paraphrase a certain band -- "It's 4:30a.m. on a Monday morning. It doesn't get much worse than this. In beds in little rooms in the middle of these lives which are completely meaningless." Anyone who claims it's all mind over matter, ought to try to get one's mind to overpower the unusually awake bodily matter of a lump of protoplasm moved several thousand miles across the international date line. Now, Starbucks over matter -- that I can buy :P

1. Election Coverage. Why couldn't I just have come back a few weeks later? It's not merely the networks, the newspapers and the search engines -- the blogosphere has gone mad with election fever! Let me be the first to state the value of being informed and casting one's vote (... or votes, for those living in the Chicago area ...), but the selection of a nation's top official does not justify a year-long muckraking, mouth-foaming display of petty partisanry ... especially if no one is paying you to do it. I've seriously come to believe that Paul's "thorn in the flesh" was nothing other than his feverish passion for politics, and that scores of his disciples are following into his footsteps today.

Sunday, September 26, 2004

I'm home.

I sleep now. Or rather -- I try to. Blasted time difference.

And tomor--er ... later today there shall be pictures.

Saturday, September 25, 2004

0 Minus 40 Minutes

Alright, friends, I'm once again -- for the last time for at least a little while -- in the Hong Kong airport awaiting boarding. When I booked a 36 hour lay-over in Hong Kong, I figured I'd not bother to arrange a hostel for that night and would just wing it -- and indeed, I winged (wung? wang? ;) it. Hong Kong, being a rather wealthy city, is terminally short on hostels offering dorm-style accomodations: After a few phone calls, I settled on a room at the YWCA -- a single with shared bathroom for a very reasonable price. I have to note at this point that after a month of low-privacy living, it felt rather odd to have a bedroom to myself -- and perfectly natural to share the shower. (The logical conclusion here is that I need to start sharing my sleeping and bathing quarters once I return to the U.S. Interested parties may submit resume and recent picture to my e-mail address. ;)

The day itself, much of which was spent in the bowels of Kowloon, especially the remarkable Jade market, are another post entirely, but suffice to say that when I arrived at the airport a couple of hours ago, my person and luggage were subjected to scrutiny just short of a cavity search. Whether it was my attire (on the far end of "casual"), my attitude (suspiciously serendipitous), my behavior (randomly sproinging in line) or my passport (European -- no comment necessary), *something* about me screamed "potential threat to the American people." The end-result was the removal of a pair of nailclippers from my carry-on bag into my checked backpack; no grave loss, although my ability to fly the friendly skies free of potential hang-nails has been greatly diminshed. Let's hope that this constitutes *all* of the searches I'll have to put up with for this flight -- otherwise I'll have a fair bit of explaining to do once I get to L.A., thanks to some of the requested and un-requested presents I'm carrying ;) In eotjer case, God willing, I'll be in California by Saturday evening, and back in circulation by Sunday. Cheers to you!

Friday, September 24, 2004

The Beginning of the End

Friend, Readers, Fellow Bloggers ... I'm in Hong Kong, and will be on a plane back to America in a matter of hours. I may see some of you on Sunday night, and I'd love to see all of you -- by appointment, I'm afraid, since the next week will be an exciting one. Expect pictures to be posted in the next few days, as well as some catch-up and post-mortem entries by next week.

And so ... travelling mercies to me, and a particularly good beginning of the weekend to all of you.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Pad Thai & Circuses

One might make an argument that the fact that the only two white chicks surrounded by a sea of surly Asian men at a Muay Thai boxing match are both lawyers reinforces some ugly, ugly stereotypes. :D

Personally, I suggest America change its national sport from baseball to something a bit more ... contact-oriented. Speaking of contact, I forgot to mention that Buddhist monks are not allowed to touch women in any way whatsoever, even accidentally (... the book on the monastic rule for Buddhist seems to suggest that "accidental touches" are ok, as long as the touch was undesired and unintentioned. There, of course, you get to the question -- is a woman's touch *ever* undesired/unintentioned?!) I've been drawing a wide berth around the golden robed guys -- subjecting them to lengthy purification rituals on account of my clumsiness just doesn't seem fair. I was thinking, though -- a couple of slightly more mischieviously spirited girls could wreak serious havoc in one of these monasteries. All it takes is a simple little contest to see who can make contact with the greatest number of these men of Buddha -- let's call it "Monk Tag" (patent still pending ;)

Merton & Mindfulness

"Today is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. In a little while I leave the hotel. I'm going to say Mass at St. Louis Church, have lunch at the Apostolic Delegation, then on to the Red Cross place this afternoon."
-- Thomas Merton, December 8, 1968 (last journal entry, 2 days before his death)


Outside, a thunderstorm rages and hundreds of shoppers on Khao San road are about to be drenched. I'm hiding out with a bottle of water I'm fervently hoping is actually not going to poison me and a dastardly slow internet connection -- the combination is costing me $1 and providing a roof over my head during the storm, so I can't really complain.

Khao San Road and the market that by now covers not just the street itself but the entire neighborhood is Bangkok's backpacker heaven, providing everything that the budget traveller might need: The street vendors alternate Birkenstocks with pot-pipes, silver jewelry with T-shirts, illegally copied CDs with fruit and sweets. The shops behind the stalls cater to the more sophisticated customer: Backpacks and bridal dresses (... never have I seen weddings be an industry quite like in Asia ...), tatoo parlors and hairdressers, bars and massage salons. There's much smoking and even more haggling, all against the backdrop of the National Palace, some of the city's most famous and solemn temples, the democracy monument and the national museum. Much of this tension is of course illusory -- the garish beads on display in the market are reminiscent of the colorful spires of the temples, the persistent smell of fruitpulp and charred meat carries right into Bangkok's holiest halls, and the pushing, shoving and general thronging of bodies and vehicles ebbs and flows throughout the city like tides. At night, the city looks like something out of the Matrix -- sick with rain, the cranes continue to rotate, the cement mixers continue to turn at the construction sites until the wee hours. Traffic never stops, the wheels of the taxis turning as ceaselessly as the prayer wheels in the temples.

I spent this morning at one of the smaller wats -- a minor Buddhist monastery* where writer and theologian Thomas Merton died in 1968, 30 years to the day he entered the Trappist monastery where he spent most of his life. I feel personally, spiritually indebted to Merton, and wandering the grounds on which he died was a moving experience. Merton has singlehanded contributed more to the Catholic/Buddhist dialogue, and more to the renewed appreciation of monasticism in the 20th century than any other person -- his is a name that's simple impossible to circumvent when reading a book related to monasticism, the spiritual disciplines, meditation, inter-religious dialogue ... and that from a man who for 30 years barely left the grounds of the Gethsemany Abbey in Kentucky and spent most of his final and most fruitful days in complete solitude in a cabin in the woods. His passionate writings and corespondences, and his voracious appetite for literature -- and life! -- are humbling and inspiring.

Merton's last decade of life was in part consumed by his love and passion for Asia, a continent that he was allowed to set foot onto for the first time only months before his death -- and a prosaic death it was: Electrocution by a faulty fan. During my own journey, I haven't consciously thought to re-create Merton's travels -- while he desired to go to Japan and had made plans to travel there after Christmas of 1968, our routes didn't overlap, and yet at the end of mine as well as his road into Asia, I find myself in Bangkok (... I have high hopes for making it out alive, though, assuming this shack of an internet cafe is actually protected against lightening. ;)

Before I left nearly a month ago, various friends and acquaintances told me to anticipate clarity and insight into questions I've been facing, and at various points during the past few weeks I have, publicly or not, prodded the recesses of my consciousness for answers. To say that realization is rising from the dark waters like icebergs would be an overstatement, but sometimes I can sense -- feel rather than see -- a peak clear the surface. I'm as encouraged by this as I am disconcerted -- how did it get there? Why wasn't I aware of the gentle shifts and drifts pushing this tip from the sea up into the nightair? How much lies beneath, and will I ever lay eyes on it? Do I even *want* to lay eyes on it?

The rain, for now, has let up, and it's time for me to venture back into the streets. Less time to think, more time for my conscious to work beneath the surface, I'm afraid. Ah well.

* I am deeply gratified to report that Buddhist bookstores are as obnoxious as the Christian counterparts. It's all there: The rows of sermon tapes, the children's corner (... albeit, minus the corresponding Veggietales characters ...), the journals and blissfully irrelevant-yet-edifying texts (... "The Fabulousness of Klimt" is, I think, my favorite ...), the obligatory corner of foreign languages books, where I spent $2 on some enlightening materials I'll be distributing amongst my nearest and dearest. For example, I foresee George benefiting greatly from a Buddhist Sunday School curriculum ;)

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

The Red Carpet Treatment

Oh! I forgot the best part about my arrival:

All the guidebooks warn about the immediate assault upon the arriving traveller by taxi drivers eager to (over)sell a ride, yet when I stepped out into the Bangkok airport in the bright of the afternoon, the entire arrival hall was clear of anyone but travellers and a handful of helpful airport staff. I was pleasantly surprised -- and then the girls carrying large bouquets of flowers appeared. Followed by the photographers, the security staff and the hordes of screaming fans.

Somewhere along that progression, I realized that this was likely not directed at me (... I'd like to say I was perceptive on this count, although I suppose I could have bought into having *one* bouquet sent my way. ;) The fortuitous truth of the matter was the arrival of a Japanese pop-star in Thailand that very afternoon -- in anticipation of her appearance, the airport had been "put in order" ... so much so, that the tourists *wanting* to catch a taxi weren't able to do so -- luckily, the airport buses on which I had my heart set were still running.

I wish I had recognized the name of the J-pop starlet whose grand entrance made my arrival experience so pleasant -- I think I'd buy at least one of her albums ;)

Monday, September 20, 2004

One night in Bangkok ...

... and the world's your oyster. (10 points for the first person able to place that line ;)

One curious thing I've found is that each country tends to have a distinctive scent, one immediately noticeable upon setting foot on its soil, one that's replayed again and again wherever one goes in different ways, like the musical theme in a jazz jam. I figured this was all in my mind until I was asked if I had noticed the "Beijing smell" -- and I have: Its base note is a faint trace of fear caught up in Peking Duck. Bangkok, on the other hand, is an exotic blend reflecting the market athmosphere that holds the entire city in its sway: Succulent fruits, dripping side-walk fried meats, exotic massage oils and the more mundane oils and gases of the tuk-tuks and taxis.

The place I'm staying is a tiny Australian guest-house tucked into the top floors of an internet cafe and pie baking place -- a random combination that reflects insightfully on business, Bangkok-style. The dorms are mixed and the wrought-iron bunks creaky beyond all comprehension, but the rooms are clean and airconditioned (a must during the almost perpetually hot and humid climate of this country) and rates quite reasonable, which is all I require. Above the hostel moves the Bangkok skytrain and the streets, even in this none-too-central part of town, are jam-packed with cars, buses and motorcycles throughout the night. A couple of streets down the road is an alley of brothels where young Thai women dressed in a variety of tourist-appealing costumes linger on the street, the glare of the neon lights from the clubs' suggestive signs ("Pussy Galore" ...) reflecting off the middle-aged white patrons' bald spots. The streets are lined with shacks and carts selling temple flowers, potent pharmaceuticals, shishkabob look-alikes, loquats, tailoring services and Thai massages for less than $5/hour. The stereo behind me is playing the Bangles' "Eternal Flame." In short, I'm staying in a typical Bangkok neighborhood.

As for the city beyond the 2-hour walking radius, I'll be able to say more tonight.

Sunday, September 19, 2004

Beijing/Bangkok

... and a layover in Hong Kong, of course. I've begun to develop quite a relationship with this airport -- one that's substantially furthered by the incredible vistas available to the traveller via the large, floor-to-dome-shaped-ceiling windows: Lusciously green, volcanic hills, the boat-studded ocean, a colorful line-up of planes to exotic locations, and above it all the beautiful, towering cloudscapes.

I am indeed back in the land of the blogging after a three-day respite in Tianjin. The time there was instructive and restful -- while I didn't necessarily sleep more or get out and about less, for the first time this month I was able to let down my guard a bit more. For the lone female traveller, a simple matter like sitting at a sidewalk cafe without burying one's nose in a book while keeping one's surroundings well within one's peripheral vision is an impossible feat. Being a mostly confident and astute traveller, I was nevertheless amazed how much easier a relaxed stroll, walk through an open market, or meal at a local foodstand were in the company of another person (... or two, or three ...) Tianjin itself -- future home to the Olympic volleyball and pingpong competitions -- is a port-city, roughly 1.5 hours South of Beijing proper. Given that environmental regulations in China amount to a policy of quick and dirty, ex-post-facto cover-ups of the destruction decades of neglect have wreaked, Tianjin's actual coastline is apparently more akin to a sewer than even such unlovely sites as the L.A. Harbor. The skies of blue -- which I got to enjoy after all on Sunday! -- tend to be veiled in hues of dusty gray: My lungs, used to years of smoggy So. Cal abuse didn't rebel at the scent of Beijing but were distinctly bothered by Tianjin's airquality.

A few hours out of Beijing and at a minor distance from some of the major tourist attractions, the strangle-hold of the Chinese government is both less and more overt: On the one hand, the number of armed guards decreases somewhat as one moves farther down the radius from Tiananment Square. On the other hand, the lower number of "honored guests" from the West allows for a less polished facade: Police presence in residential areas is more notice-able, laws that prevent Chinese nationals from setting foot onto the grounds of Christian international schools or church fellowships are presented less apologetically. The locals have developed a somewhat schizophrenic relationship with Westerners. On the one hand, Caucasians are readily approached for English conversation and treated with vague awe and reverence (... when visiting the "English corner" at a local cafe, an evening dedicated to Westerners giving locals the opportunity to practise their -- largely quite good -- English skills, my "comrade" was complimented not just on her intelligence and sense of humor, but on her movie-star good-looks and general beauty. I had to agree :) On the other, Westerns tend to be regarded as tourists, uninitiated into the business world of local markets and uncomfortable with customs that prescribe ritual haggling and bargaining -- customs that are ignored at one's own peril and a merchant's profit. More seriously, especially for older Chinese citizens there's a modicum of tension and ambivalence simmer just below the surface: Sentiments fueled by the powerful anti-American propaganda in the ... um ... selective newsmedia presentation, and the self-incrimination Hollywood and the ready availability of American movies heaps upon the U.S.

Christian faith in China deserves an entirely separate treatment and entry -- and perhaps a more sensitively circulated one. If you're interested in reading observations and reflections on the subject, drop me an e-mail or comment and I'll be happy to bring you into the loop. Last but not least, though, for everyone who's been waiting with baited breath for updates on Becki's whereabouts and how-abouts --- she's exhorted me to commend her as doing well to all her friends in the U.S. Foreign teachers in China, in all material respects live in the lap of luxury: Apartment, housekeeping, spending money and assorted conveniences are well provided for. What is missing at times are the higher echelons of Maslov's hierarchy of needs: Encouragement, affirmation, support, communication, mentoring -- in short, community. The Asian mentality that it isn't the squeaky wheel that gets greased but the square peg that's hammered down has infiltrated organizations sending teachers abroad as well. Conformity and composure are treated as virtues, and challenges ought to be limited to the precedented and the easily fixable. Be ye therefore exhorted to send your support and encouragement! Nevertheless a very good time was had by all with enlightening conversation, hysterical laughter, Chinese massages (by blind masseurs!) and, according to local custom, much, much excellent food.

And that's the news for now. When next you hear from me, I'll be on Thai soil, perhaps even in the process of cavorting on Thomas Merton's stomping grounds -- or is it morbid to visit the death-by-electrocution-through-faulty-fan site of this great man?

Incidentally, what do y'all think about Maria going to China for a year?

Thursday, September 16, 2004

Tianjin Tidbits

I'm in Tianjin -- to be specific, I'm sitting in Becki's classroom as her adorable Jr. High students are watching an exquisitely edited movie on the blessing of the American Constitution .. I feel so tempted to poison their burgeoning minds with tales of Marbury v. Madison and McCullough v. Maryland :D

Even for a loner like myself it's shockingly easy to develop relationships with others "on the road" -- in youth hostels, planes, trains and automobiles, or just with other foreigners one encounters on the journey. These connections are much like life-preservers: They are meant only as temporary rescue-buoies to help guide travellers either back to their communities or forward towards new, lasting ties, at which point they will be obsolete and relinquished as quickly as they were formed. Being able to spend a few days with a dear friend and someone connected to my broader group of relations back home is a definite respite -- an island in the middle of the ocean, for myself and, more importantly, for her as well, I think.

One of the most interesting things I've found in the course of these "life-preserver" relationships has been the profound sense of search that many of them bring towards this part of the world. It may well be that all who travel are looking for something, but certainly most who travel to the East are looking for something spiritual. Some, of course, are merely dabbling in these matters -- eager to take home an "enlightened" experience the way others are looking for souveniers. A surprising number, though, are deathly serious about their pursuit, willing and eager to invest time, effort, money in discovering that unnameable *something* that has begun to lay hold of them but continues to elude them. Many of them are looking East either in search of a faith that has been passed down to them in name only by their parents, or for one untainted by their experiences growing up -- something purer, or merely different: their personal path into the desert.

C.K. Chesterton famously said that Christianity had not been tried and found wanting but had been found difficult and not tried. Interestingly, I think this generation struggles with a brand of Christianity that has been emptied of difficulties and filled with either traditions or mere platitudes. They do not merely want to find a faith to live by, but know intuitively that a worthwhile faith will tax their souls, bodies, minds and spirits. One of the most interesting distinctions a number of travellers I've met have drawn without any instigation on my part has been that between religion and philosophy. The implication is always "philosophy - good" and "religion - bad" but even the most eloquent and erudite struggle with drawing a line, or even defining a suitable boundary area between the two. Ultimately, when pressed, their definition of philosophy looks quite a lot like a biblically grounded faith.

In more mundane news, I've become amazingly lazy over the last few years. Most of my reading these days is done in English, with little German, much less any other useful languages to speak of. This really has to change: In Beijing, I traded my "Prayer for Owen Meany" paperback for a copy of Elie Wiesel's "Wisdom of the Talmud" in German; furthermore, a couple of books I am particularly interested in reading when I return to the U.S. have not yet been translated into English as well ... hey, it's a start :)

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Thoughts & Snippets

I'm inching my way back into social contact -- yesterday I had lunch with a couple of Becki's Beijing-based pals (note: alliteration - an amazingly appealing activity). My insides are still groaning under the greasiness of Peking Duck, sausage that would have done my farm-dwelling grandmother proud, egg with a hearty helping of shaved pork and assorted delicacies. I've been eating generally sparsely, in the interest of preserving valuable resources for gratifying my other 4-5 senses, and so my stomach, having become accustomed to balls of rice stuffed with pickled plums or truly authentic cups o'noodles, was no match for this lunch-time feast.

Last night, on the other hand, I attended that famed millennia-old spectacle -- Peking Opera. Setting aside cultural sensitivity for a moment, I would like to note that where I'm from, people who make use of the kinds of voices I endured during that evening are shot. Frankly, the last time I've heard screeching of the nature produced by the female protagonist there were cats mating on my balcony (... I poured water on them, though, I didn't give them a microphone!)

Today, I'm heading to Tianjing, one of the last stops of my trip. It's odd to think that in slightly more than a week, my journey will be drawing to a close -- especially in light of the many invitations I've received to either stay or return speedily for longer periods of time. People I've met on the road want to connect me with schools where to teach English or German; new and casual acquaintances are eager to introduce me to the heads of their companies who are apparently eagerly looking for foreign-trained lawyers. These encounters are flattering and undoubtedly for many people merely a polite way of negotiating having to say good-bye to someone they just met, whom they will in all likelihood never see again. On the other hand, in the weeks before coming to Asia I've begun, for the first time in many years, to think about leaving America -- not dreading the potential of having to do so, not anticipating being thrown out and trying to ward against it, not joking about it, not even thinking about relocating incidental to attending a particular school or participating in a particular program ... just, well, leaving America.

This partly reflects the realization that sooner or later I will likely have to do so. Even if the INS does not intervene, the subject matters I'm studying are best pursued in Europe or the Middle East. Ironically, Germany is one of the places best equipped for the serious pursuit of theology, a fact that causes me at times no end of despair when I reflect upon the last decade I've wasted, wandering around a continent that excels in training professionals in a wide variety of fields unrelated to my own. I know full well the blessings of the last 8+ years (... when I turn 28 in December, I'll have spent more than a third of my life in the U.S. ...) and I recognize the cyclical, upward-spiraling nature of growth and maturity. I am still learning to value the journey and appreciate my own relative youth -- I merely suppose I would have liked to be either better directed or less sure of my own directeness during my early twenties. Well, as a wise man said a few years ago -- what a long, strange trip it's been ;)

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

That's not hair on my head ...

... that's a homing beacon. Most of you have heard the story of my,
um, olympic adventures back in college, at the end of which a wise,
observing (rather than participating) friend tracked down my little
group of runners and commented, hearteningly: "Now, if it hadn't been
for Maria's hair, I would have never been able to pick you out amongst
all those naked people." Thank you, thank you very much. Now, imagine
roughly the same effect taken to the 100th degree amongst a large
crowd of mercifully clothed people (... give or take for some of the
women present ...) on Tiananmen Square. In the Forbidden City. Heck,
at the airport or your average street corner. There's no disguising my
tourist nature, which means that it's open season on the sparse
contents of my wallet and just about anything else. By the end of the
week I will have to have acquired either a very sharp sword, a male
escort, or a more Christlike attitude (... I suspect that the answer
to WWJD? should be rarely, if ever, flipping someone the bird. At
least in that regard, though, my work environment has prepared me
wonderfully for being in China :D

In truth, I've been too tired to journal, too tired to blog even, a
lethargy aggravated by the amazing assortment of computer difficulties
(... where certain computers will allow me to check e-mail, others to
view my blog, still others to actually post, yet never all of the
above in one handy package -- Intel Inside, indeed.) China, like all
the countries I've visited so far, is going through its rainy season,
and yesterday's downpour caught me at the gates of the Forbidden City,
the former emperor's palace (... which would have been a moving
experience, had there been approximately 10,000 fewer people on the
palace grounds. The fervor that especially petite elderly Chinese
ladies display in clawing to the front of the jumble of limbs,
imported video devices and the coordinatedly colorful hats of tour
groups to get a glimpse at, say, the Emperor's bridal chambers is
truly amazing. This is a covert national defense resource if ever I
saw one.)

The Palace itself lies a mere 10km away from the hostel, but given
traffic lights, the obligatory blockages of the ubiquitous accidents,
and other assorted obstacles, this translates into about an hour of
heavy pedaling through deep puddles in the streaming rain. By the time
I got back to the hostel, I looked like I had been entered, much
against my will, into a wet T-shirt (rather: wet everything) contest.
Now, the locals derive enough amusement from seeing a foreigner,
particularly a foreign woman, on a bike under normal circumstances --
whispering, staring, pointing, looking back, and broadcasting of the
only English word most men here seem to know ("hello!" -- an innocent
greeting that can be employed to full harrassing effect) -- but the
compounded effect of being a foreign woman on a bike without a proper
rain-covering in a downpour elicited a broad range of jeering and
jostling.

Karmic cultural revenge came later that evening in the aftermath of a
(rather spectacular) acrobatics show when I went to dinner with a
small group of Irish travellers. Suffice to say that four people who
don't speak Mandarin in a restaurant where the waitstaff doesn't speak
English can create some interesting awkward and confrontational
situations when some of the individuals involved have already been
hitting the beer at full speed. Overall, I've been making the
acquaintance of a wide variety of interesting world-travellers, most
of whom are on the road for more than just a few weeks -- a Swiss
family who's taking their two elementary age boys on the road across
the globe for a year, a London-living-German planning on studying
martial arts in the depths of Mongolia, a civil engineer who quit her
job to traipse around the Eurasian continental mass to find herself
before she turns thirty ... good fun and interesting conversations all
around. For one, I've never come across a conversation starter as
potent as letting people know that one studies theology. As good
postmoderns, everyone's interested in talking about God, spirituality,
life and the bible (... sometimes amusingly so: "I don't really want
to read the Old Testament. Revelations is in there, right? That's so
... morbid." ;) Not all conversations are directly fruitful, but all
are learning experiences -- for me at least.

Finally, from the "communal living" files: I really have no objections
whatsoever to being woken at 4:00a.m. by noisy sex -- on the minor
condition that it involves me. In the absence thereof, I really wish
people would find a place to get their freak on that wasn't in the top
bunk above the bed in which I'm trying to sleep. :D

A funny thing happened on the way to the pub ...

As I think I said in one of my comment responses, it's not that Beijing is getting a facelift for the Olympics -- it's getting a full-body, nip/tuck style makeover. A makeover, I might add, that's entirely aimed to please Western tastes. All that is salvageable of Beijing's cultural resources is being renovated and dressed up to suit tourists' "discerning" tastes (... entire blocks of restaurants and hotels are experiencing what I can only call a garish feedback effect where the style of Chinese restaurants abroad is being re-created and amped up to give American vistors that "genuine Chinese dining" experience.) The inner city is increasingly Westernized as well -- malls featuring the most exclusive American, European and Japanese stores where a single item of clothing costs more than the salary a Chinese worker might take home in an entire year. The Chinese worker, though, is clearly and explicitly not the desired target -- the billboards, advertisement, even window dummies target the tall, strapping, Caucasian Westerner.

Disturbingly, these efforts are succeeding in convincing many of the tourists, even the widely travelled backpacking crowd with whom I rub elbows at the hostel's watering holes, that China is really "just like home," maybe in need of a bit of "catching up with the West," which "will take time" but is sure to happen. The notion that there might be some idiosyncrasies with which the government may not *want* to catch up -- say, democracy and human rights laws -- seems oddly more unreal to those who've set foot into Beijing than to those who've never been to China.

And so a funny thing happened on the way to the pub last night. Wandering along, my little group passed another little group of locals, holding umbrellas in the streaming rain, at the corner of a small sidestreet. After wandering across we stopped to consult our maps and noticed that the group we had just passed had been joined by a number of men in uniform. Several of the Chinese men were lying on the wet pavement, their hands being pressed behind their heads. Within a matter of seconds -- and without making a sound -- they were on their feet again, being lead away, while others passed by the scene without lifting their eyes or giving any outward sign of taking notice.

My companions concluded that clearly the men must have done something wrong for the uniformed men to come down so harshly upon them. Censorship, bugged lines, executions for financial fraud just a couple of days ago ... compared to the modern conveniences tourists are being presented with in China, those seem like ancient myths. And that, I suppose, is the desired effect.

Monday, September 13, 2004

Zen and the Art of Bicycle Riding

I would love to report that biking is a favorite active pasttime for people in China. Unfortunately after twelve hours of riding a rented bike across Beijing, I tend to think of this harmless sport as a mixture of Dodgeball, the direct heir of the rich samurai tradition, and the Celtic Beltane rites. Having proven myself in wheel-to-wheel combat, this evening I fully expected someone to cry out "Sure, she's a foreign devil, but she has ridden with us and will remain one of us forever!" (Of course they would have been crying out in Mandarin, and I likely would have interpreted it as an invective to pedal faster lest I be swept up by the TAXI MERGING INTO THE BIKE LANE ... OH DEAR LORD ... WHAT DOES HE THINK HE'S DOING?!!!)

Today, I've seen cars parallel park on the sidewalk, pedestrians jump onto a bike's non-existent back-seat while it was moving at full speed, throngs of cars blithely ignoring both lane-markings and red lights ... in short, I was moving a maximum speed because I would have been a minor red streak on the pavement were it not for the protective cover of the herd. (I feel that I have received special insight into Ecclesiastes' saying regarding two being better than one and a three-stranded rope not being easily broken -- the author was beyond the shimmer of a doubt talking about the rules of Beijing bike-riding.)

Speaking of the Old Testament, I have furthermore come to special insight regarding Esau's selling his birthright for a serving of stew. I believe that the excrutiating absence of diet coke in Asia presents a direct analogy: If someone offered to buy my dry, un-potable birthright (assuming I had one in the first place) for a large, frothing mug of diet coke, I would be sorely tempted.

... and that's it for now, folks. Updates on the Forbidden City, Mao & Me, and the weirdness that is "Friendship Stores" tomorrow.

Sunday, September 12, 2004

China in your Hand

Last night, some time around 10:00p.m. my plane trundled into Beijing International Airport, and roughly an hour later I wandered into Zhaolang International Youth Hostel, a place ravingly recommended by both China-travelled friends and guidebooks. Being effectively the guest house to one of Beijing's most elegant hotels, the place is clean and cheap, which is really more than I've been able to ask previously (... the Tokyo accomodations did expand my vocabulary, though, so it's not all bad: gokiburi means cockroach -- a vital, vital word to know (and scream!) when living in the Chiba slums ;)

I hate to admit this, but I suppose it was unavoidable at some point during my trip -- I got royally fleezed at the airport: The shuttle to the hostel cost almost as much as an entire week's stay here. Given that the prices are cheap, that's not as bad as it sounds, but it did set me grumbling -- more from embarrassement (... I had been priding myself on being a frugal, savvy traveller!) than from economic hardship. As my mother used to say -- pride comes before a fall.

Beijing, what little I've seen of the city, has a peculiar feel to it: Upon leaving the landing platform, the visitor is greeted by a Hong Kong-style hypermodern airport -- billboards where ethnically ambiguous beauties advertise international products, ads for camera phones and housing developments (... the latest being called "The Yosemite" ;), as well as a large mural depicting China's greatest cultural triumphs ... and pain-stakingly omitting any reference to communism. Once one peeks even a smidgen behind the scenes, though, things begin to look different -- cigarette butts cover the floor, despite a conspicuously placed "no smoking" sign; plasterboard and formica is ripped off the furniture, the floor terminally stained; and that's just the airport main!

Riding in the back of a van through the dark city reminded me of nothing so much as a certain (brilliant) British TV show from the 1970s called "The Prisoner." The protagonist and title character is a British secret service agent who in the first episode of the show quits his job -- and finds himself being forcibly transferred to "the village," a place inhabited by cheery people who identify themselves by number and rank rather than name. He is provided with all of the necessities of a frivolous life -- but he can't leave (.. the show's plot focuses largely on his flight attempts ...) and no one will tell him what the village really is about. The comparison to Beijing is of course stilted and largely superficial. Yet the impression I was left with during those first couple of hours was one of a self-consciously constructed replica of Hong Kong -- a place where large, English billboards advertising everything from Michellin to Nestle flourish for no other reason than that someone on a city planning committee remembered that a real city ought to have billboards ... and, of course, that international corporations were willing to pay for them.

This much (or perhaps: this little) for the first night's impressions. Just how much the corrective influences of the morning sunlight, a hot shower, and a solid 6 hours of sleep will go a long way's towards altering and modifying that perspective remains to be seen.

Why write? Oh, right ...

Note to self: Writers who desire instant gratification, affirmation and public encouragement ought to take up stripping.

It's frequently asserted that blogging is a narcissist's game, and I will happily concede that there is an entire segment of the bloggosphere (... which in its entirety is arguably more an endorsement of the famed monkeys on typewriters verdict than Teilhard de Jardin's vision of a noosphere ...) that closely resembles communal, marginally literary wanking. Personally, though, I've been blogging for a number of years now in different venues, and in my experience there is nothing like a blog to rectify one's overinflated apprehensions of one's importance to the world at large and one's social acquaintances in particular: Frankly, no one's all that interested in reading the thoughts of his/her fellowman/woman. (There are a few notable exceptions -- amongst the anonymous ones, RealLivePreacher deserves a worshipful mention, as does a colleague in spirit of his. Others, whose links I don't have at my fingertips, are notable because they speak from positions of influence or expertise to a more or less well circumscribed set of readers.)

These bloggers distinguish themselves by a.) having something to say that people are interested in hearing, and b.) are for the most part excellent writers, with a deficiency in (a) being compensable through a particular strength in (b) and vice versa. After three years of blogging, from Kaernten to Kyoto, from L.A. to New Jersey, I'm ready to concede: I ain't got it -- either of them! (The short-fall on both counts is, I think, a kindness -- being a good writer with nothing to say or a person with an interesting story and no literary gift would undoubtedly be more frustrating and might actually deprive the public at large far more than being an average writer with nothing of interest to report.)

As such, blogs can function as testing grounds for potential literary endeavors. That obviously isn't always true -- plenty of folks are mentally sitting on wonderful novels but aren't suited to the literary small talk that's the essence of blogging. In my case, though, I suspect that if writing about international hijinx can't raise a readership, nothing will. Writing aims at eliciting a response -- good writings succeeds in doing so. That need not be an overt response, although I've personally, even quite recently, felt moved to write a note of appreciation to certain authors, but a writer who does not stimulate, does not engage the reader in dialogue (something blogs are especially suited for) likely has to ask herself some serious questions.

In my case, that question is -- why bother? Internet time especially when abroad (... and when not stranded, as I am at present, in a Hong Kong airport "cyber lounge"...) is expensive, both in terms of opportunity cost and in hard, cold dollars (yen, yuan, bhat, etc.) I keep a paper journal on me at all times and have filled a goodly number of daily pages with observations, reflections, ideas, conversations, experiences ... the pre-blog alternative to journaling clearly still works.

Ultimately, I think I value the couple of folks who do read this page occasionally, and appreciate having a typed record of some sort of this journey, especially since I type far faster than I write. To put to paper the lengthy dialogue between my housemates (... a group whose composition presents the perfect set-up of a joke: 2 hard-drinking Germans working for BMW, two Irish architects constructing a floating airport in Taiwan, an Italian girl run off to Japan to be with her internet boyfriend, an blonde, 5ft10, underage Russian who considers herself Japanese, a Canadian skaterboi, a French male model/actor, a Moscow mathematician living in Glasgow determined to prove the existence of God, etc. ...) would take several hours -- and a mere fraction thereof in type. Suffice to say, for now, though, it's been an interesting night of wrestling with the demons that befall a deeply spiritually discerning young woman whose religious background is confused, to put it mildly (... for starters, her Buddhist family was forced to receive Catholic-Christian baptism upon leaving the boats that brought them to Brazil ...)

How I wished I could have remembered those famous four spiritual laws or at least the Roman Road in the heat of the action! (... now there's a memorable confession! :D In the end, around 5:00a.m., I was reconciled to my obstinate distrust of evangelical shortcuts -- although I have no doubt that some of my esteemed colleagues could have done a far, far better job of talking spiritual shop. Suffice to say that God has a sense of humor, and there's probably hope of some kind for even the least winsome and most heretical of evangelists ;)

Harry Boy

I am amused to note that Asia's biggest heartthrob, Bae Yung Jon, the Korean star of the incredibly popular "Furi no Sonata" (Winter Sonata) looks astoundingly like a slightly older, slightly Asian Harry Potter :D Have a look -- here, or here. (Sadly, I couldn't find any of the camera ads he's been doing in Japan -- I swear, though, at first glance upon his ethereal likeness on a billboard I assumed those fluffy boy-bangs were hiding a lightening mark ;)

In case you were wondering ...

... what I've been reading:

So far I've finished the following:
After Eating the Apricot
A Prayer for Owen Meany
The Solace of Fierce Landscapes

This one I'm relishing right now:
The Word in the Desert (... did you know that the rise of the paperback and the initial success of Christianity are intricately linked?! :)

Next in line are Zen & The Birds of Appetite (Merton), A Month of Sundays (Updike) and some of the hot controversial young Chinese feminist writers (... talk about defining a narrow corner of the market ;)

In addition, I'm plodding my way through quite a lot of reading about the 19th century German and Swiss pietistic tradition (Blumhardt/Ragaz/etc.) -- predecessors of Barth, who viewed socialism as the incarnatin of the Kingdom of God. This isn't merely an academic exercise (... although it is that, too, given that I'll be thrown into a seminar on Politics & Theology on these topics 36 hours after I return from Asia ...) but some of my personal, familial background -- my parents are both devout Catholics and actively involved in the Social Democratic Party. That doesn't mean that the reading itself can't get a little dry at times :D

Saturday, September 11, 2004

Sayonara, Tokyo!

Time flies!

(... there now, that`s this evening`s cliche out of the way :)

My last evening in Tokyo is well underway -- tomorrow I`ll be spending all day in transit, first from Tokyo to Hong Kong and then from Hong Kong to Beijing where I should be arriving some time around 9:00p.m., local time. I`m particularly excited about this upcoming leg of the journey since it`ll give me the chance to connect with *BECKI!*, our favorite American in exile :) At present, the plan involves my staying in Beijing for the first part of the week before taking a bus out to Tianjin, roughly 90 minutes away, where Becki lives and works and spend at least a day or so with her. (Chris, I know you would never forgive me if I didn`t bring back pictures and detailed reports of everything ;) I`m also (somewhat less significantl) stoked since I`ll be able to bike in Beijing again (... this should have dawned upon me earlier, I know, given that the Beijing travel guide I`ve schlepped with me for the past couple of weeks has a large picture of a bike-riding person on its front cover.)

Tokyo, by the by, is the world capital of shopping, if I`m any judge. Walking through one of the city`s many, mannny department stores is like being that proverbial kid in the candy emporium -- everything your consumerist heart might desire (and quite a few things you never knew you could possibly desire) are there for the asking, not to mention the paying ... soberingly, Tokyo is even more expensive than Los Angeles. I haven`t felt much of an impulse to visit these chain-variety vanity faires, but given that this was my last day in Japan, I felt compelled to pick up presents for "the folks back home" (e.g. Austria, America ...) The highlight of the excursion was a trip to Kinokunya, the fabled Japanese bookstore. I had been to its San Francisco J-Town branch, which paled in comparison with the real thing here in Tokyo, with its seven floors of book-filled goodness.

In the interest of furthering (a.k.a. reviving) my Japanese skills, I picked up a few paperbacks worth of manga -- the characteristically Japanese comic-book genre. The most theological pick was the first installment of "Innocence" -- a manga based on the recently released movie by the same title and sequel to the classic "Ghost in the Shell" (... think Blade Runner, cartoon style -- Blade Runner without the syrupy ending, that is.) Add to that "Gunslinger Girl," a manga following the trite-and-true formula of taking a robot in the appearance (and with the self-perception) of a cute teenage girl, make her fight battles and experience the romantic conundrums of adolescence, rinse, repeat. Finally, I`m ashamed to admit, I picked up the first couple of volumes of a "2nd Generation: Shinseiki Evangelion" series -- a rip-off manga utilizing characters from a classic (and one of my favorite) anime series/movies. But, hey, everything in the service of linguistics ;)

The actual substance of this post was supposed to be reflections on the static and dynamic components of covenants, but thanks to my rambling and limited computer time, you`ll be spared these for now ;)

Friday, September 10, 2004

The Solace of Mt. Fuji

Tokyo drizzle greeted my return from the Fuji Go-Ko. In the barely 36 hours I spent at the Mountain, I`ve been immersed in a microcosm of emotion and experience -- and now that I`m faced with a keyboard, I`m at a loss for words.

Over the past few weeks, I`ve been reading a great deal of apopathic theology -- theology that talks about God`s revelation (... if one can call it that ...) in the mysterious, in His apparent absence. Consider, for example, Moses encountering Yahweh in the cloud at Mt. Sinai -- from God`s hiddenness (... even Moses could not see His face ...) came forth Yahweh`s great covenant with the people of Israel. Apophatic theology is suspicious of anyone who would talk too glibly about Who and What God is or does -- it is a form of theology practised first and foremost by the Desert Fathers and Mothers and those following into their theological and biographical footsteps. Coming to Mt. Fuji then, and finding myself inexplicably (... despite the mountain being even out of season a great tourist attraction ...) alone and face-to-face with the Mountain for several hours both Thursday and Friday, it was no great surprise to find Japan`s highest peak veiled in clouds as well ... in fact, I might have been a bit disappointed, had it been fully revealed. (I lie, of course. Despite all apophatic pretensions, there is always the ego-driven desire for a *special* revelation, a *personal* sign. Belden Lane, an author of whom I cannot say enough good things, and whose book "The Solace of Fierce Landscapes" was both my companion for the last few days and one I heartily recommend to anyone who has ever loved mountains or the desert, or who has ever grieved, points out that in the end "we are saved by the things that ignore us" -- by the mountain that looks the same on the day of your divorce, your mother`s death, the loss of your job, etc. The constancy of a mountain or desert landscape in the face of what we perceive as life itself falling apart is, I think, indeed a grace -- albeit a tough one to swallow.)

My first encounter with the Mountain was almost accidental. Being the world`s second most directionally challenged person, I got lost on the way to the tram that ferries people from the main station to the "Mt. Fuji Viewing Platform" on a lower peak opposite of the Mountain itself. I realized this only after having half ascended that peak on slippery, overgrown paths and continued on until the tracks opened to a beautiful and deserted meadow a bit underneath the platform itself -- secluded and quiet, except for the inevitable sounds of the amusement park (yes, amusement park) built at the bottom of the valley. Altogether, I think this was a face-off with the cloud shrouding Fuji`s upper reaches rather than with the Mountain itself -- a curious experience, both vaguely indifferent (... having let myself off the hook from further forced "spiritual" experiences ...) and comforting. Sitting at the relative foot of the mountain, watching the ever-changing cloud-cover and hearing the thunder from within it (... and yes, there was thunder ...), standing in the place of the Israelites at the bottom of Mt. Sinai --- that was about as much divine intimacy as I could handle and felt deserving of that day.

The descent owes much to Master Santos` sublime summer-mix -- for the first time in two weeks, I pulled out my dilapidated CD player and spent the rest of the evening circling around the largest of the five lakes, singing along to "Summer of 69" and recovering the mojo I had largely left at LAX a couple of weeks ago ;) (I think that not even Mr. Cetera himself is aware how perfect "Glory of Love" is for a retreat from viewing Mt. Fuji.)

I spent the night at a local youth hostel in the company of a young Irish college couple, wisely investing their parents apparently ample funds in a no-holds-barred exploration of Japan. Their choice of a private room left me with the hostel dorm entirely to myself -- a blessing, as was beginning the day being serenaded by Haendel`s Water Music via the hostel`s speaker system in the morning while the elderly couple running the place were cleaning.

My second audience with the Mountain came on Friday before leaving the Fuji-Go-Ko to return to Tokyo. Having taken a bus to the least developed of the five lakes and hiked almost entirely around it, looking in vein for those famed "prettiest views" of Mr. Fuji, I finally sat down a few hundred yards away from some Japanese fishermen --- only to find myself face-to-face, once again, with a heavily cloud-enveloped Mountain. I pulled out my newly acquired set of watercolors here and painted for a while, as well as finished "Solace of Fierce Landscapes." As I said earlier, the entire book is a treat -- a display of the author`s theological training as well as gift for storytelling (... one of my favorite parts recounts his sitting around a campfire in a completely remote area of Utah and telling a Native American story to a number of young pine trees who had moved closer and were silently urging him for a tale.) The final quarter of it, however, was both tremendously applicable (... I left no page without marks, comments in the margin and the occasional "ditto!" ...) but also emotionally harrowing, as the author talks about his father`s death when he was still a child and his mother`s slow passing of cancer, more than 40 years later.

Narratives of illness, old age and death are almost always moving for me -- a reflection, no doubt, of the personal memories these stories hook into, tapping on keys and plucking strings that I cannot consciously manipulate but must rely on others` gifts to set in motion. Fists clenched, gritting teeth I was fighting tears, concerned that I would have no way to explain to the fishermen, should any of them pass me by -- and worse, that I had no words to reassure them that I really was quite alright (... funny how readily we weave a thin web of words over the reality of our very obvious not-alright-ness, and how readily we accept others` doing the same for us.) (Interestingly, for no reason apparent to myself, most of my grief and even anger turned towards the Mountain in its hiddenness -- and the Mountain duely, blessedly ignored me.)

I didn`t notice the first drops of rain until after I had packed up to leave -- the fishermen, more attuned to the weather`s fickleness than myself, had abandoned their spot a while before. As I walked back around the lake towards the bus-stop, I watched falcons soar and kingfishers rise up from the lake`s marshes. I felt a new and perfectly ordinary connectedness with the landscape, and a strange sense that the Mountain I was leaving behind was watching my back for me.


[P.S.: Wadester, I trust you`ll forgive my not taking your advice upon returning to Tokyo -- but the only right reaction to an attractive, well-dressed foreigner following me around is always to run like all the demons hell can spare were on my heels.]

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Creep Squared

I haven`t updated the creep counter in a few days. Suffice to say, though, it is never wise to come within five miles of a city`s red-light district. Especially if that city is Tokyo. As I was making my speedy retreat, I was for the first time thrilled to not understand half of what was being said to me ... only that it was being said to me by 70-something grandfathers. I believe I was scarred for life.

To add to the scarring, drying laundry in this country is apparently a Catch-22 -- the laundromat dryers are too weak to do any good, but when laundry is hung out to dry, girls` underwear apparently has a habit of mysteriously disappearing. I don`t want to know where it goes or what happens to it (... in fact, I really don`t want to think about it ...) but I suspect it probably qualifies for this entry.

Et in Ueno, Ego.*

Tokyo is being overrun by a pack of impetuous warm winds: Typhoons are the Indian Summer`s gift to Japan, it seems. I know this not merely by watching the weather channel but by personal experience -- namely by having my tent rolled over in the middle of the night by gusts strong enough to actually tear the seam of one of the tent flaps. At 2:00a.m. I finally gave up and watched quiet Chiba and moderately quiet Tokyo steaming under my balcony. As a result, I was a wee bit tired today, which turned out to be an appropriate frame of mind for spending a day in Ueno.

Ueno is the historio-cultural part of Tokyo -- a little spot of green in the midst of the city that boasts the highest concentration of museums anywhere in Japan. It could also, in my opinion, boast the tamest and best-fed "wild" birds this side of Venice, a life-sized blue-whale statue doing an inexplicable nose-dive into the ground, and the best shaved ice, anywhere, period (... as well as a 2:1 homeless:visitor ration for the park, but that`s another story.) It has all the trappings of a last strong-hold of nature and culture against the encroaching shogunate of the city -- and if you`re familiar with Ueno`s history as stronghold against enemy forces, that`s not a hopeful prognosis.

Nevertheless, Ueno is rather interestingly located: To the East, the district is girded by no fewer than 12 sets of traintracks running parallel to one another, with a minimum of one of them being occupied by a train at any given point in time; to the West, its boundary is marked by another set of traintracks, as well as a heavily frequented highway. And between these two pincers -- an oasis brimming with recreational and relax-ational opportunities, and brimming with people either frantic to get to where they have to go or frantic to find a place to go (and a reason to go there.)

Sitting in a shady spot, it occurred to me that Ueno is very much a reflection of the present state of my life`s journey: Sandwiched between the business of life (... or rather: of a life I chose ...), there is an oasis of quiet and opportunity carved out purely for my refreshment and enjoyment -- and, much like the people I observed today, I haven`t been sitting and resting for long enough to enjoy this blessing.

Travelling solo, of course, has something to do with it -- with no one to watch my back, I`m always busy looking over my shoulder. The nature of travel itself, with its rare, not-to-be-wasted qualities, is another consideration -- when will I next have the opportunity to enjoy the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum ... and shouldn`t I better do so *now* rather than waste an afternoon lazing about?

More importantly than either of these, however, is the driven spirit that clings to the coat-tails of most people I know, whether they are ministers, corporate lawyers, homemakers or students. Un-productivity, as Thomas Merton notes with reference to the monastic calling, is profoundly counter-cultural -- it threatens the idol of business we`ve created, and dares to strike at our society`s golden calf: our jobs (... and -- dare I add? -- our "purposedrivenness.") There is value in seeing as much of a country as possible; there is value in spending much of one`s time reading, writing, walking and "experiencing." Greater than either of those, though --the value of reflection and meditation, perhaps to give guidance when setting out to cross the tracks on the other side of the oasis, perhaps to direct one`s steps into a different, unrealized, entirely less hurried direction entirely.

In other news, speaking as the ill-cultured Westerner I am, kabuki is probably an acquired taste. For my money, it feels more like a cross between opera and an(impressively budgeted) rustic play I remember from the days of my youth, where men dressed up as women and lots of practical jokes kept the beer (or in this case: sake) flowing.

* This brutal rip-off brought to you courtesy of the original (and far more melodious) "Et in Arcadia, ego" about which you can read more here ... or you can just see the great play by Tom Stoppard titled "Arcadia".

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Sad happens.

Today I was sad.

There really is nothing else to report.

I won`t be leaving Tokyo tomorrow after all; the cost/benefit analysis for going to the hot springs just doesn`t pan out. I will, however, leave Thursday morning and spend the night at Fuji-go-ko, the "five lakes" region below Mt. Fuji. I made my first purchase of the trip today as well -- Japanese paper (the best in the world) and a simple set of watercolors (... my old ones are either lost in storage or else dried out beyond comprehension ...) Don`t get your hopes up -- it`s been a few years since I`ve done any kind of serious painting. With any luck, though, there`ll be some amateur paint splashing while I`m away.

Saturday night, I`ve been conscripted to go to dinner and karaoke. Not the worst way to spend my last evening in Tokyo, especially not when in good company.

Monday, September 06, 2004

City of Wood -- City of Glass

I`ve been in Tokyo for a couple of days now, and have explored most of the major sections -- the famed downtown area, the Ginza shopping area, and Shinjuku, the "skyscraper district," etc. ... One of the things that came to mind is that while Kyoto is a city characterized by wood, Tokyo is a place defined entirely by glass.

This is, I think, both facially and symbolically true: Kyoto, the city of temples and shrines, is indeed built to a large extent from wood -- in spite of the fires that have razed the city and destroyed its castles and temples many times over, they have been rebuilt in wood and bark. Tokyo, on the other hand, is largely built from glass and steel, though primarily, visibly, from glass: The skyscrpaers of Shinjuku, the downtown galleries, most notably of course the ITC, one side of which launches itself into the city center like a humongous glass ship -- their mirror-fronts sparkle, reflect and reveal, in spite of the city`s propensity towards earthquakes and, as one guidebook puts it, "innumerable other disasters."

The cities share a predilection for fragility: Tokyo`s is one of delicate defiance -- a city that knows the price of everthing and denies lasting value to all equally. Kyoto`s fragility is more one of zen paradox -- the very destructability of the city`s organic foundation is the essence of its ongoing historical rebirth ... an architectural phoenix from its literal ashes. Tokyo is glorious -- vain-glorious: a city on display, hiding itself behind the very panes of glass that reveal it, reaching into the sky, shining fingers pointing up. Kyoto, for all its splendor, is both humbler and more beautiful -- to walk it is an organic encounter, just like visiting its castles and temples is a truly multi-sensory experience: The wooden beams, worn smooth by the hands of shogun, servants and visitors alike; the nightingale floors, designed to warn the castle`s occupants of sneaking assassins; the scents of incense and cherry-blossoms, a few scraggling trees of which remain even at this time of year.

So much for my musings as I`m making my way through the jungle that is Tokyo`s public transportation system. Tomorrow I may take the day to leave the city proper and head to one of the warm springs in its neighborhood. The accomodations turn out to have some distinct advantages -- mixed blessings, perhaps, but blessings nonetheless, like being woken at 5:00a.m. by large black birds perched on my tent (... I can`t say for sure, but as between ravens and crows, I put my money on crows ...) and alerting me to one of the most beautiful sunrises I`ve seen in a long time, the sky being entirely salmon colored. And yes, there *will* be pictures :)

The Top Ten Signs You Might Be In Japan

10. There`s a 7-11, an AM/PM, a Yoshinoya and a Starbucks on your block. Yup, yup, the spirit of economical empirialism is alive and well. Of course, the actually fare being offered at these places differs ever so slightly from what you might find in the U.S. ;)

9. There`s a shrine (.. or two, or five ...) in your shopping mall -- and a bar in your temple. Shinto shrines are all over the place -- literally! You can therefore conveniently grab a burger, buy a new pair of shoes and sacrifice to the spirit responsible for good grades (shinto being both highly relevant and highly compartmentalized ;), all without ever leaving the building.

8. You`ve never seen so many Catholic schoolgirls in one place -- and you`re just amazed by how greatly the lengths of their hemlines vary. The Japanese anime cliche of the uniform-clad high school student *is* based in reality! And while there are plenty of innocent (or even grudging) uniform wearers, some girls have clearly capitalized on men`s fetish for the attire by wearing their skirts far too short and blouses far too tight.

7. You notice that the national railway mascot is a cross between a duck and a blue turnip -- and no one else seems to find this strange. (It`s called ICOCCU. It`s even vaguely kawaii -- cute ;)

6. The 80s are dead -- long live the 80s! Mullets? Check. "Desperately seeking Susan" style clothes? Check. Neon tights? Check. Japan IS all about recycling -- even fashion trends that should have died a long time ago.

5. Everyone`s wearing T-shirts with English slogans -- and none of them are making any sense. If you thought the clever T-shirt was big in America, take a look at what Japan (and Hong Kong) have done to the trend: Not only are there a frightening number of slogan-wearers (a solid 40-60% of people you`ll encounter on the streets have English print on them in some form), but the slogans themselves are a-grammatical and non-sensical. The most coherent ones are clearly eBay`ed trophies: I even saw a D.A.R.E. shirt on a stoner kid ;)

4. You`d prepared yourself for karaoke bars -- but what`s WITH all those game and gambling halls?! By far the biggest, flashiest structures around are gaming and gambling parlors -- you can`t miss them, especially since there`s one on very nearly every block. I may have to poke my head into one of them before I leave Japan entirely.

3. You`re starting to take the U.S. Surgeon General seriously -- if not for good diet and exercise, this people would have died out long ago, given the smoking and drinking. Healthy cuisine, small portion-sizes (e.g. Starbucks does not feature a Venti option -- the "short" size, on the other hand, is standard), walking, biking and other forms of exercise are standard. And the country has the longevity to prove it.

2. The bathroom you use has no soap or towels -- it does, however, provide you with a pair of plastic slippers. (Alright, I`ve conflated a couple of phenomena here: The truth is, though, that most Japanese bathrooms, even the most elegant ones, have no soap or towels -- just water for your hands. Hotels, inns and other authentic accomodations, on the other hand, not only give you your own set of slippers to wear inside the building (shoes are strictly left at the door), but make you switch those slippers for more bathroom-suitable ones whenever you venture into the loo.

1. You can`t find a diet coke to save your life -- but the vending machines you notice all over the place have a pretty good selection of beer and hard liquor. It`s true! Diet coke is a scarce commodity -- even McDonald doesn`t serve it, and Diet Pepsi is only marginally easier to get. Beer, sake, winecoolers and other spirits, on the other hand, are not only at ever corner-store (and 7-11) but also in every public vending machine. Kampai!

Sunday, September 05, 2004

Earth-Shaking

In case you were wondering,this was right up my alley, but didn`t do any noticeable damage. Felt just like being home in California, too :P

Tokyo.

I made it. This hostel is, if anything, stranger than the one in Kyoto -- and given that I`m sharing it with a Brit, two Irish chaps, two Germans, a Russian girl and an Italian girl, this stay is likely going to do more for my German and Italian than for my Japanese speaking abilities.

And yes, I sleep in a tent. On the balcony. Connected to the house via a window into someone`s bedroom, through which I have to climb each night and morning. I haven`t met him yet, but I hope that happens sooner rather than when I pop into his shower in the morning. Poor guy. There`s also a rumor of cockroaches. Keep praying.

P.S.: Mt. Koya was lovely, though, entirely worthy of a separate entry -- and that will happen shortly, together with the Dummies` guide to Japanese baths and the top ten ways to tell you`re in Japan :D

Friday, September 03, 2004

Artists & Generals

This morning, I`m off to Mt. Koya (Koya-san), a small Buddhist community in the mountains South of Kyoto. The monasteries offer shukubun, a kind of "homestay" where travellers can join the monastic community for a night, enjoy the meditative peace and (strictly vegetarian) cuisine of the temple, and in the morning take part in the temple`s morning prayer and work. I`m bringing a book on desert spirituality, my jammies, and not much else -- the rest of my cumbersome bookload (... in retrospect, bringing 8 books, some of them in hardback, with me was a very foolish idea.) Tomorrow, then, I`ll be travelling on towards Tokyo, the veritable antithesis of peace in many respects (or so I`m told) and a good several hours` away by train.

One of the wonderful things about this journey is that it is a cumulative rather than a linear experience -- every day adds to an increased appreciation of the whole, the past as well as the future, very much like a blossom unfolds petal by petal but appears far more lovely and purposeful when fully unfurled than when only half-open. Yesterday was a good reminder of this -- the last day in Kyoto, and by far the best of a series of wonderful ones.

I spent the morning at the Kyoto National Museum of Modern Art (note: Hong Kong museums are cheap -- Japanese museums, especially in Kyoto, are epxensive). The main feature at present is an exhibition of very impressive contemporary Brazilian art -- the future of modern art, as the future of the Church, will likely come from unexpected angles! Because I`m marginally more of a theologian than an art-critic, one feature -- an installation by Mira Schendel -- stuck out. Now, I`m not much of a fan of Jasper-Jones-esque scribbles-as-art, and looking at a reproduction of the individual panels of the installation in one of the catalogues, I would have just as soon passed up the room entirely. The overall effect was far more impressive, though: The artist had taken pages on which she had (in Portugese) scribbled parts of the Genesis creation account, encased them in plexiglass and strung these panels from the ceiling at eye-level with fishing line. Wandering through the exhibit, the effect was intriguing -- instead of taking in a painting or photograph, one, quite literally, entered the creation story, moved between the pages of the Bible and within the framework of the world God created. The experience was quite meditative and instructive -- not so very different from what those of us who endorse a Creator behind the creation do on a daily basis when we "enter" the world -- but artistically and consciously realized. (There were a number of other noteworthy exhibits -- most notably a videomontage titled "Devotionalia" by Dias & Riesweg incorporating the stories of several hundred Brazilian children ... as well as wax models of their hands and feet.)

I spent the afternoon in an out-of-the-way Zen Buddhist temple (... so out of the way that guidebooks, in fact, fail to mention it entirely ...), the former home of Jozan Ishikawa in the 16th century. His story is one that ought to inspire the more heroism-minded of my friends: A samurai, he served under Shogun Ieyasu Tokugawa from age 16 onward and fought with him in battle for Osaka castle. Soon after the (victorious) battle, he withdrew to Kyoto, where he nursed his aging mother and devoted himself entirely to studying Chinese poetry. He died unmarried but deeply venerated at the age of 90, a teacher, innovator and originator of Bunjin-cha in Japan. (Now, someone, tell me -- there really ought to be a movie or novel based on his life :)

The home and zen garden he left behind are ravishing -- sparse, but populated with more than 100 varieties of flowers, with ponds and springs and bathed in the sounds of birds and crickets (... and American tourists,if one isn`t careful.) I came too early to enjoy the famous foliage of the Japanese maple that clothes this area of the country in October -- God willing, I will be back some other year in time to see it for myself.

When next you hear from me, I`ll be in Tokyo. Pray for travelling mercies if the fancy strikes you.

Pandering to the Questioning Masses

So, a not-to-be-named young lady inquired whether there might not be any non-creepy guys in Asia. The reason for the question shall remain shrouded in mystery -- surely not even our favorite church could be scarce enough in the "single young men" department to cause anyone to leave the country?! (... and Wade, why aren`t you doing your "connecting" job?! ;)

The answer, is simple: Yes, Virginia, there are hot guys in Asia. The best spot for guy-watching I`ve encountered so far is the IFC (International Financial Center) tower in Hong Kong -- a wide selection of mid-twenties to mid-thirties single men of different ethnicities, each of them impeccably groomed, beautifully attired, internationally versed and top-of-their-class ambitious. As we used to say -- the Ivy League look :D

And now you know.

Both Hands*

I`ve had an entirely wonderful day, spending the morning in the Kyoto National Museum of Modern Art and the afternoon at an out of the way Zen Buddhist temple where I gained astonishing insight into the reason for that infamous phenomenon of "Japanese tourists" -- I feel certain that these camera-toting swarms are merely engaging in ritual vengeance for what Westerners have done to their country. In short, carting a busload of American tourists to a Zen Buddhist temple is like releasing a gaggle of fire-ants into your underwear. ANGRY fire-ants. Think about it.

I may say more about these later. Instead, there`s something I`ve been reflecting on for the past couple of days that has finally ripened to the stage of blog-ability. Whenever one enters a foreign country, one must be prepared to encounter a number of new and peculiar-seeming customs. One of these that provoked more than the usual modicum of thought for me is the Japanese way of giving and receiving thing with both hands at once. I encounter this gesture dozens of times each day -- at the grocery store, the youth hostel, or on the street, Japanese men and women hand me the bill, change, receipt, promotional sample, item I dropped, etc., yes, even the smallest, least significant slip of paper, while holding it in both hands, and similarly receive from me only by holding out both hands towards me.

Being the assimilation-hungry traveller that I am, I immediately tried to emulate this simple custom. I was surprised by how difficult it was for me: It seems that when giving something to another or taking from them, my "free" hand always busies itself -- roaming through my bag, brushing a wayward strand of hair out of my face, steadying myself or merely fidgeting. And yet this problem of "half-handedness" continues to make me feel slightly ashamed, oddly unfocused, and a bit scattered.

The reason for this, of course, is that I *am* all of these things -- my mind and heart are never entirely focused on the exchange at hand (... no pun intended ...) but rush ahead to the next transaction, drift backwards with remorse or longing, or simply wander all over the place without my ever being conscious of it. Moreover, I think this personal half-handedness is symptomatic of a deeper problem within myself and Western society in general. Too rarely are we present in the moment, and even more rarely are we fully present when offering something to another or receiving from them: Our "free" hand, the part of our thoughts that isn`t immdiately engaged are already grasping for something else, something more -- another coin, gift, experience, relationship. Not even for a moment can we keep ourselves "together" -- our hands firmly grasping and unanimously releasing, so that, even for a brief second, we are truly empty-handed, or have sincerely allowed another to fill our hands with their gift or need.

Worst of all, we are that way with God as well: We ask for His blessing, but are too preoccupied or fearful to hold out more than one hand at a time. We implicitly distrust God to fill our hands, our heart, our life with good things, sustaining things -- how will we ever trust Him to fill our hearts with His Spirit? Nor are we ever present enough to make a whole-handed, whole-hearted offer to God. Our forefathers, the Jews, knew how to prepare themselves for such an offering: how to be present before God, how to offer up to Him, and -- that key final step! -- how to let go entirely.

The discipline of both hands isn`t mentioned, to the best of my knowledge, in either Tertullian, Willard, or any one of the "Dummies` Guides to Spiritual Disciplines." Its essence, though -- the presence of self with another and with God -- is one that the scriptures endorse and that the prophets, right down to the greatest prophet of all, Jesus, modeled in their lives and in their teachings. It`s unfortunate that I had to travel to a distant continent to pick up on the matter.

In other news, I think I`m becoming a zen garden universalist. But you knew that was coming :D

*... this concludes the mandatory Ani DiFranco lyric inclusion for the week.

Thursday, September 02, 2004

The Top Ten Reasons Why Everyone Visiting Kyoto Should Rent a Bike

10. It`s cheaper, faster and more efficient than public transportation -- and the public transportation system in Kyoto is quite good. Still, you can`t beat 500Y/day.

9. Bikers are the Lords and Ladies of the city -- and accordingly roam wherever they desire: Care to use the bikepath? No problem. The streets? Of course. The sidewalk? Absolutely. On that great Darwinian food chain of Japanese traffic, bike-riders are way, waaaay on top.

8. I can personally attest to having seen at least 3 different Japanese cartoons where the protagonist trips off his/her bike and lands precariously and compromisingly on top of his/her object of unrequited affection. Hey, it could happen*.

7. Do it for the adrenaline rush! You`ve played Grand Theft Auto -- now experience the true thrill of being chased by countless natives, having multiple riders bear down on you, narrowly avoiding innocent bystanders ... it`s all in a day`s work.

6. A bike`s the ideal position from which to fend off merchants trying to push fliers, samples or other unwanted information upon you. Bonus points if you place a copy of one of Lonely Planet`s guides visibly in your bike basket -- the natives now know that you`ve a.) not sat on the seat of a real bike in a number of years (true), b.) do not own or bear any kind of responsibility beyond that pathetic 1000Y deposit for the bike you`re on at present (indeed) and should thus c.) be considered armed and dangerous (no kidding!)

5. In an equal and opposite vein, a bike provides you with the street cred that says "watch out! I did not enter this city yesterday!" I`ve spotted precious few foreigners on bikes -- and they all have that mysteriously knowledgeable air about them ... when they aren`t desperately leaving through their guidebooks to figure out what intersection they`re on, that is.

4. Your spouse has been hinting you should lose the spare tire. Your most recent significant other left you for someone more "sporty" (... way back in 1994.) You`ve discovered you actually *like* Japanese cuisine -- and biking`s the way to burn calories, especially in those Northern Hills of Kyoto (... although, as a word to the wise, if floppy noodles in cold broth aren`t your thing in the U.S., there`s a good chance that they won`t be your thing in Japan either. Use this information wisely -- I could have saved myself those 350Y.)

3. You`ll get to feel the sun (and rain) on your face, the wind in your hair, the mosquitoes between your teeth -- all without the cost of renting a cabrio.

2. Those tiny, terminally yappy, impeccably groomed lap dogs? Their nippy teeth are no match for the tires of your bike. It`s open season -- go get `em, Tiger!

1. Chicks dig bikers. `nuff said.

* ... although, generally speaking, I`ve experienced far more bruises, scrapes and fleshwounds than moments of romantic tension as the results of such incidents. Don`t let that deter you, though.

In light of such overwhelming evidence, I offer merely three words of caution:

1. Left. It`s the side all of Japan drives on -- and the side all of Japan rides on. This means that if your bike encounters another bike on the bike-path, the way towards a successful evasive maneuvre is to veer left, NOT right. Should you neglect to heed this valuable advice, at least remember that camelia bushes inflict deep painful bleeding gashes upon your arms when engaged in forceful contact with your body -- I beg you, learn from my mistakes!

2. Signals. This is probably a quaint bit of personal history, but when I was a wee little girl of 10 and could finally get my bike riding license (... that`s right: bike, not motorbike. In Europe, many countries don`t award you your actual driver`s license until you are 18, so that bikeriding license was my pride and joy during my Jr. Years. Hey, we took any freedom we could get!) As part of the course preparing us for the scary adventure of riding our bike across the rural roads of Austria, we had to learn to make hand signals -- you know, take your little paw off the handlebar and stick it out in a fashion that will allow those drivers that are not patently intent on hitting you to avoid doing so, and give those who ARE murderously intended less of an excuse. Suffice to say, no one here practises these hand signals, and if you, gentle reader, choose to do so, I will applaud you -- while the rest of the country looks at you as if you had just grown a third leg.

3. After Hours (... ok, 2 words.) While it`s perfectly possible to ride a bike in the evening hours after having consumed more than 3 beers and without having proper lighting installed upon it (... and half of Kyoto seems to be intent on demonstrating this ...) I personally do NOT recommend it.

Creep Counter: 3.5
I don`t look like Drew Barrymore. YOU don`t look like Jet Li. I DON`T want to see your katana. Wakatta?!

Spirited Away.

Just before I left for this trip, someone asked me what my ultimate purpose and goal for the journey was. Since "cheap thrills and free-flowing alohol" seemed like a bit of a shallow answer, I said something to the effect that I was looking for spirituality in all of its manifestations. I think my response came across a bit more broadly and universalistically than I intended it to (... although apokatastasis panton is indeed my pet heresy -- I know, I know, how very postmodern of me ;) but now that I`ve been on foreign soil for nearly a week this very unfocused "goal" has been taking on unexpected shapes:

For one thing, I`ve decided that I dislike photography as it`s commonly, tourist-ly practised. That`s a train of thought that requires its own separate entry, but suffice to say that the reflexive reach for one`s camera that travellers, especially the kind of travellers who wouldn`t touch a camera with a ten-foot pole unless there`s some "occasion", sometimes practise is effectively preventing people (or, less broadly, is preventing ME) from seeing -- once focused on the view-finder, it`s easier to focus on the perfect dimensions of the picture, the right lighting, the potential use of flash, the steadiness of one`s hand etc. than upon that which one is both looking to take in and to preserve for posterity. Better to buy a postcard and save photography for capturing that which one has really seen and judged worthy and personal enough to capture. Personally, too, I find that I tend to really see only on a very small scale -- a fragment of ground, a face, a plant, half a reflection, etc. Sitting on the wooden foundation of Nijo Castle this morning (far longer than I should have -- thanks to the rain, the guards were mercifully unattentive and the gardens nearly deserted), I realized that glancing around for more than 20 minutes, I had only really taken in 3 well-defined but captivating images. Those are the kinds of pictures that I might be able to capture on film and show to others without a sense of rendundancy and deprivation.

So, a small collection of images has been gathering on my digital camera that might be described as "spirituality in Asia" or something catchier -- given that this is largely a Shinto/Buddhist country (... two very different religions with neatly defined spheres of influence. As one elderly gentleman at a shrine said: "Buddha take care of us after we`re dead. Shinto is for needs in life. No fighting [between the two]!") the concept of "spirit/spirits" is of utmost importance. These pictures range from the random and bizarre (... a plump cherub suspended in one of Kyoto`s busiest shopping passages ...) to the expected and inspiring (... zen garden formations, ancestor shrines crowded onto the streets for lack of space in stores in Hong Kong .. ) I`m NOT a good photographer -- this clearly isn`t my medium, but bringing a sketchpad seems a touch impractical, and perhaps the stories I have for each of the images will improve upon the shoddy quality of the image.

Rain today in Kyoto. A couple of shrines, a castle with singing floors ... I wish I weren`t leaving in less than two days.

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

Creep Counter

As a quick addendum, I`m also adding a Creep Counter for the trip -- a handy list for keeping track of the unhappy scores of youths (and not-so-youths) who fancy themselves Romeos to any number of internationally travelling young ladies -- or, more precisely, anything that could hypothetically wear a skirt and not be accused of gender confusion.

Creep Counter as of 9/1: 2.5 (... the 0.5 for a guy who wasn`t really a creep, merely a lonely IT guy from D.C. who had been on the road for a bit too long ... then again, maybe his successfully convincing me that he wasn`t really a creep makes him creepier than the politically hyper-active Germany-living Greek etc.)