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My Web Site -- Japan

The Vicuna by Timothy Chapman

Back to the Beginning · About Me · Resume
2001 Aug - Dec
2002 Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct
2003 Feb Mar Apr

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1 Sept (Dreaming of Good Hair)
Dreamt that I encountered a good hair salon that I used to use back home. I was overcome with excitement at the idea that I might actually have an opportunity to get a "real" haircut. It was like a mirage, and even though I thought it might not be real, I decided to approach the counter anyway and try to make an appointment. So I went up and said to the woman behind the counter, "I live in Japan," and she said, "No shit," or something to that effect and I realized that
I was still in Japan. We laughed and laughed. Obviously, I'm distressed about the state of my hair after not having had a decent haircut in nearly a year, and my subconscious knows it.

2 Sept (The East Indies)
Went to Indonesia for a week. On Tuesday, I arrived in Jakarta. Upon arriving at the dingy, unairconditioned airport, I exchanged 20,000 yen for Indonesian cash. The woman behind the money exchange counter slid the big stacks of bills across to me without smiling, bowing, or saying thank you. Outside, my hosts, Daisy, Lisa, Lisi, and Daisy's driver were waiting for me. They greeted me warmly, hugging me. We drove back to Cianjur from Jakarta. The driver was racing along the freeway at a breakneck speed. The freeway had three lanes, but the drivers totally ignored the lane demarcations, making 4 lanes or sometimes 5. At some point, someone mentioned that in Indonesia, there was no speed limit. I said that I was beginning to wonder. (I have since found out that there is indeed a speed limit, but most Indonesians assume it doesn't exist since everyone ignores it.) After we passed Bogor, the road narrowed and the streetlights disappeared. The passing scenery was all obscured in darkness. All I could see was the dark outline of the hills on the horizon.

I stayed with my host family in Griya, a subsection of Cianjur. The first night, I went straight to bed without waiting for my host, Yudi, to return home from his English lessons. The 4-room house was very small and modestly decorated. The floors were made of concrete and laden with white tile. Immediately upon entering the house, there was a sitting room with a couch, some chairs, and a coffee table with fresh flowers on them. I later learned that all Indonesian homes are decorated this same way. That night, I was awakened by mosquitos that were trying to eat me alive. In the wee hours of the morning, I was awakened by a very loud, deep male voice singing and chanting over a loudspeaker. It didn't occur to me that it was the mosques announcing the call to prayer. I had never heard it before.

The next morning, I met Yudi. We sat and talked for a while. He was of Chinese descent, born to Chinese immigrants, and his English was impeccable as he had lived in New Zealand for several years. His wife came in and served us breakfast, sugared toast and some Indonesian coffee. Indonesian coffee is undoubtedly the best coffee I've ever had. The grounds put into a tall glass followed by boiling water. You have to wait a few minutes for the grounds to settle to the bottom of the glass before drinking. I was a bit put off at first because I could see that it had no cream and there were some coffee grounds floating around the top. But the taste was wonderful! And so strong and sweet, exactly the way I like it.

Afterwards, my guide, Ridwan, came around to take me to the nearby tea plantation. I was introduced to the Angkot, which is the main form of public transportation in Indonesia. We were standing on the dusty road and I these little red vans
with some writing on the side kept driving by. They were everywhere. Ridwan explained that they were public transportation vehicles. I couldn't believe it at first. Turns out that pretty much anything with wheels qualifies as public transportation in Indonesia, including motorcycles. If you offered someone money for a piggy back ride, they'd probably take it. In a country filled with people desperate to keep their heads above poverty, they find a myriad ways to provide any kind of service you can think of. Everything is for sale.

So we climbed inside the Angkot, which is basically a van with the interior gutted and fitted with two low benches. For some reason, the interior lights were always ripped out, leaving a darkened patch on the ceiling with wires jutting out. Everywhere we went in Cianjur, we went by Angkot. The cost was 1,000 Rupiah and that would take you anywhere in the city. 1,000 Rupiah is about 10 cents American. We rode to the tea plantation, taking 2 or 3 different Angkots along the way. This was always the way. Whereever we went, we always had to change Angkots two or three times. All the Angkot drivers careened wildly through the city's dusty streets while holding smoldering sweet-smelling clove cigarettes between their fingers.

On the first day, I was a little shocked by the poverty, the desperation. After all, I had just stepped off the plane from Japan, the land of affluence. Everywhere I went, someone was trying to sell something: a ride on the back of a motorcycle for 10 cents, a box of cigarrettes, food, drink, anything. And everything for a pittance in a country where a dollar is a lot of money for most people, where a dollar will buy you quite a lot. People were unbelievably poor. Most of them wore plastic thongs whereever they went, some of them were barefoot. Their clothes were ragged, dirty, and torn. Everywhere I went, there were men crouched down in the dusty, littered streets, talking and smoking clove cigarrettes, the one luxury most Indonesians seem to be able to afford.

So Ridwan and I walked to the tea plantation. Basically, we just walked around the plantation while he occasionally pointed out the beautiful view, which to me just looked like a forest decimated by over-cultivation. Every single inch of those hills was cultivated by tea plants. There was only a tiny patch of forest remaining. We ran into an old woman carrying a massive load of sticks on her back. She looked like she'd been working like a mule since the day she was born, but she had a big smile on her face as she greeted us.

3 Sept (Back in Wealthy Asia)
I'm in Busan, South Korea now. I've got a 2 1/2 hour layover in a waiting area, a really small one with only a couple of duty free shops selling the usual duty free merchandise: perfume, liquor, jewelry. There's a small stand with drinks and snacks. There was this little Korean man in a suit standing at the counter, thrusting his fat little index finger at his selections and demanding to be waited on. So impatient.

People are milling around, glancing a their watches, talking on their cell phones. When we got off the plane, we had to stand on the tarmac and wait for a bus to take us to the terminal. "This sucks," I thought. A Korean man knocked me in the head with his shoulder bag as he walked past. I remembered what a friend of mine had said about his trip to Busan, how the people were so f***ing rude.

I'm back in the land of the have's, after spending five days in the land of the have-not's. No matter where you are in the world, the rich and poor are all alike.

11 Sept (WTC Anniversary in Japan)
Today, as I was sitting downstairs at Asahi Junior High School, checking my email, the history teacher, Mr. Sakae, approached me holding a slip of paper in his hand. He's very tall for a Japanese guy, a big guy. He was holding this slip of paper and just standing there nervously as if there was something extremely important he wanted to say but just couldn't get it out. Finally, I looked at the paper and saw that it had the word "mourn" written on it several times, misspelled and crossed out. Haltingly, hesitantly, he finally got it across to me that he was sorry for the terrorist attach on the WTC a year ago today. I said thank you and we stood there for a few awkward moments. It was a very thoughtful, carefully executed gesture. So Japanese.

There were a couple of men standing outside the grocery store, holding placards and shouting something about the terrorist attacks over loudspeakers. I couldn't make out what they were saying, but whatever it was, they sounded very passionate about it.

13 Sept (Koshuku JHS)
Standing in class today, a half-English, half-Japanese kid that was sitting near the front kept prodding the students sitting around him with this retractable metal pointer. "Little turd," I thought. Then they were pretending to impale themselves on the pointer, like harakiri. Harakiri literally means "belly slicing". It's a method that Japanese warriors used to disembowel themselves as a means of suicide. And he was doing all this while the teacher was standing only inches from him, trying in vain to teach the class. I thought that it must be so strange to be half Japanese and half Western, to have two feet planted in two so totally different worlds.

At lunchtime, I took my bento (box lunch) to the beach at Ohama. There were people there snorkelling and swimming around in the ocean. The sea was very quiet today. I could hear the voices of the people in the ocean as if they were standing right next to me. The sea was so blue, so beautiful.

I was giving a talk about Indonesia in one of my classes today. One kid stood up and said that he wanted to go to Indonesia so that he could kill Osama bin Laden.