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Unsavvy Gal to Japan, Cambodia

As I am currently enjoying a boatload of over-indulgence, nay, addiction, I will entertain y’all (we sailed yesterday from Galveston; y’all) by serializing an essay which originally published in “The UnSavvy Traveler: Women’s Comic Tales of Catastrophe” (Seal Press, 2002, 2005). Installment the First:


Faces of Angkor: very famous

Some travelers remember trips by pushing pins into maps. I wound myself. New York City: tweaked elbow. Mexico: gash, left foot. Vietnam: strained tendon, right foot. I should just stay home. Instead, I was off again. It was January 2001. Cliff and I were preparing for three weeks in Japan, two in Thailand, and most lusciously, four days at Angkor Wat, the magnificent temple ruins in Cambodia. The night before our departure, in not so neat piles around my strapping new backpack lay approximately eight pounds of clothing, three pounds of hiking boots, and twenty-one pounds of non-allopathic first-aid.

“You can’t possibly need all that,” Cliff muttered, chagrined. I pointed to the electric heating pad and refreezeable gel packs. “Hot and cold contrast, if I strain a muscle.”  Instant ice. “In case there’s no refrigeration.” Arnica gel. “Joint pain.” Chinese herbs. “Diarrhea.” Different Chinese herbs. “UTIs.” Homeopathic tinctures. “Allergies. Should I go on?

“A-ha!” The news editor in Cliff pounced on an inconsistency: ibuprofen.

“When all else fails.” Besides, I reminded him, I carried my own pack. Someone who couldn’t carry her own pack shouldn’t be on the road. First stop, Tokyo.

Noses to our Lonely Planet, we undertook the Top Ten. Harajuku: many cigarettes, throngs of hyper-hipsters organized by apparel. Goth nurses. Rockabillies, twisting and shouting to the degree possible in really tight denim and leather. Modern mythical witches of the Japanese mountains, also called  yamanba, staggered about in eight-inch platform shoes and dyed blond hair and copious blue eye shadow, Goldie Hawn circa. Laugh-In. Not a good look for an Asian gal, but not potentially lethal. What, on the other hand, would occur should a yamanba topple off her shoes? Or worse, off the bicycle one mounted, platforms and all?

Ueno Park: a perimeter of modern high-rises juxtaposed with a pagoda-like shrine; a wide boulevard of trees which, come spring, would burst into pink blossom; cherry blossoms. Then Shinobazu Pond, whose brown-chaffed surface would slowly reinvent itself into summer, the blue-gray water disappearing beneath a blanket of green leaves, white flowers and yellow centers; lotus flowers.

Tsukiji Fish Market, 4A.M.: narrow, cold, and congested lanes lined by booths selling anything you could want pertaining to seafood. Toward the back and near the docks, a whole, frozen tuna, each five feet long, being marked for auction and dismembered—mostly by table saw, but a few Japanese Luddites wielded handsaws. On the moist cement, a fish head the size of a microwave. No corroborative torso in sight.

Was it the cumulative walking of the prior days, or the laze-inspired leap I took in attempt to avoid the short stairs between the tuna corpses and the tanks of live octopi? By ten o’clock, my right foot was hurting. By the next morning, it was officially on strike.

I refused to negotiate. We were an hour from bulleting to Kyoto, a city of more than two thousand temples and shrines. Our Lonely Planet guidebook listed three different walking tours; our Frommer’s, four. I heated and iced every morning, applied arnica gel throughout the day, and failed in my attempts to enjoy the gold, silver, and red temples and the flea market and the delicate, intricate meals and the the long hall housing one thousand statues of the Goddess of Mercy; and the quintessential Zen image to come out of Japan, the rectangular garden of raked pebbles at Ryo-an-ji Temple. My foot hurt too much.

“You should go to a hospital.”

(Dramatic music) What will befall our Unsavvy Heronie? Will she find healing, or will she purchase her own eight-inch platform shoes and end it all? Will the cad Cliff leave her for a foot-functional Goth nurse? Tune in tomorrow or leave a comment with your guesses. Please, leave a comment!

By Alle C Hall, writer!

Alle C. Hall’s flash fiction placed as a finalist for The 2020 Lascaux Prize. Longer work appears most recently in Dale Peck’s Evergreen Review; as well as in Tupelo Quarterly, Creative Nonfiction Magazine, Brevity (blog), and Another Chicago Magazine. Formerly an associate editor at Vestal Review, Alle's additional “wins” include: Best Small Fictions Nominee, Best of the Net nominee; First Place in The Richard Hugo House New Works Competition; and finalist or semi-finalist in the contests of: Boulevard Magazine, Creative Nonfiction Magazine, Hippocampus, and Memoir Magazine.

Claim to fame: interviewed Leonard Nimoy. He was a bit of a pill; disappointing.

• Twitter: @allechall1
• Facebook: Alle C. Hall
• Alle blogs at About Childhood: Answers for Writers, Parents, and Former Children. (allehall.wordpress.com)

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