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Japan, My Foot – Installment 9

Fellow travelers, we started in my living room packing small bottles into a backpack and here we are, approaching Angkor Wat. After leaving Japan:

I spent two weeks in Thailand passing on treks to hill tribes and sitting while others roamed night markets for great bargains. I did none of this graciously. I did it because I wanted a foot at Angkor.

Angkor Wat is named for the most famous of a massive series of temples and palaces located fifteen minutes by car north of Siem Reap. You pay twenty dollars per day to enter the historic area, where you can meander through and even touch what remains of royal mansions and estates constructed between the ninth and twelfth centuries. I couldn’t imagine traveling all the way to Cambodia and missing out on Angkor because of my stupid foot.

Our first afternoon, I forgot my worries as our car approached the ruins. In the back seat, Cliff and I pinched the tender insides of each other’s forearms; we do, in moments of excitement. Behind a moat that had, in the heyday of Khmer power, been filled with territorial crocodiles, was Angkor.

Note there are five levels to climb.

Five towers of gray sandstone shimmered in the afternoon heat, the tallest almost seven hundred feet from the ground. For an instant, it felt as though a thousand years had not passed, as if Khmer culture still dominated Asia from Burma to as far south as Indonesia. As if the archaeologist Louis Delaporte had not removed the finest statues in 1873 for “the cultural enrichment of France,” the United States hadn’t bombed, and the Khmer Rouge hadn’t used the place for target practice. Angkor stood.

I half-expected to see the god-king Suryavarman II, surrounded by the several thousand bare-breasted babes who purportedly attended him. Wrong; thousands of tourists. They walked and I limped along the five-hundred-meter causeway taking us over the moat and to the main gate.

That was one loooong causeway.

Once inside, a second causeway of similar length took us to steep stairs leading to Angkor’s first level, a courtyard enclosed by high-walled, open-aired galleries, a kilometer square. In the twelfth century, Suryavarman II had the breezy stone walkways carved with bas-relief depicting scenes from Hindu mythology, his military victories and, of course, many, many babes and their fabulously bare breasts.

I managed the first of the four galleries before my foot would have no more of it. Dispatching Cliff to see the rest, I perched on a stone bench under a carved arch and tried to convince myself that when you’ve seen one 12th-century Hindu epic carved into a quarter kilometer of sandstone wall, you’ve seen ’em all.

Two long causeways and five flights up, we are shocked, shocked to find more stairs.

I’d stopped crying by the time Cliff returned. Clutching his arm for support, I made my painful way up the staircase to the stone courtyard that was the second level. Crossing it, we found ourselves at the base of yet another flight of stairs leading to the final level, the courtyard of the five towers.

Metal handrails lined these stairs. Screw dignity. I dropped to my knees and used my arms to haul myself up the stone stairs.

Knees aching slightly, I sat in the shade of the mighty towers, watching Cliff clamber to the top. That must have been when he came up with his plan.

Plan? What is this, Battlestar Galectica?

(By the way, one of the white-shirted dots at the top of  the staircase is Cliff.)

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Japan, My Foot – Installment 8

Previously, on “Japan, My Foot.” Now that we’ve covered  that:

Pretty! Couldn't climb./Inner-ed. red-pencils/haiku.

As it turned out, I panicked needlessly. The Uniform who pushed my wheelchair used a freight elevator that left both Cliff and me outside the ticket gate.

I might have noticed that I was outside the ticket gate when I discovered Cliff’s rail pass, but I was too busy being hysterical. Cliff, on the other hand, calmly proceeded from coin locker to TIC, as planned. When I didn’t show, he set out to find me.

We successfully used the wheelchair system to return to Tokyo, then to leave the country. Heading to Narita Airport from Ueno, one of Tokyo’s mammoth train stations, the Ueno Uniform rolled me right up to the main escalator and chained it off behind us, forcing many harried commuters to take the steps. He stopped the escalator at a stair that opened up into a platform and loaded me onto it, all the while providing a constant stream of exquisitely polite narration:

“I am now troubling you greatly by making you wait for the escalator.”

Where is Waldo?

“I am now locking down your honorable wheelchair.”

I traveled from Ueno to Narita, flew to Bangkok, changed planes, flew to northern Thailand, and checked into our hotel in Chiang Mai, taking no more than forty paces. My pregnant dromedary trotted gamely alongside the whole way. Two weeks later, we landed in Siem Reap, Cambodia.

Cambodia? This chick is going to Cambodia? At the very least, she’s bound to stumble into some renegade Khmer Rouge. I’m not counting on her survival, but we’ll find out soon enough.

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Japan, My Foot – Installment 7

If you are just joining us, click here. If you have been a good reader, an attentive reader, welcome back after a long weekend of getting dressed for the Oscars. I’m wearing Armani. Our lame heroine is not. In our last episode, she was wearing little more than her borrowed wheelchair. As we resume, however, she appears to forgiven that cad, Cliff …

What a relief, to discover that Japan’s larger train stations offered wheelchair services. Suddenly, our journey back to Tokyo was looking manageable. Cab to Kurashiki Station, where a wheelchair manned by a station employee in a crisp uniform, cap, and white gloves rolled me to our seats. The employee then radioed to Kyoto, our destination, where a similarly dressed fellow would take over.

Shinkansen arrives./Humorless Uniform waits;/Acquiesce to rules!

The long train pulled into the somewhat familiar, ten-story amalgamation of train station, department store and underground shopping arcade. Waiting on the platform was another white-gloved Uniform. He stood behind a kuruma isu, stood at the precise spot where the door to our car would open. We split up, Cliff to drop in a coin locker the excessive luggage he still carried and me to meet him at the Tourist Information Center.

As if by perverse plan, the moment Cliff disappeared, The Uniform said he could not take me outside the ticket gate.

He said, “This is a Japan Rail wheelchair. It can only be used within the JR.”

“But I’m meeting my husband at the TIC.”

“Then you will have to walk.”

“I can’t walk.” Hence the wheelchair, you lame-o.

The best of my grunty Japanese convinced The Uniform to take me to an elevator that left me fifty feet from a ticket gate. I reached into my fanny pack for my JR Pass.

I found not only mine, but Cliff’s.

Cliff couldn’t exit the JR area without the pass to prove he had paid his fare. He was probably being detained at one of the dozens of ticket gates. In this hyper-honest country, he was probably being bludgeoned as a thief.

I gimped twenty feet, to the Reservations counter, trying not to sob as I stood in line. When my turn finally came, I got out “husband” and “lost” before the waterworks took over completely. The eighteen-year-old behind the counter shook in consternation.

I clutched my cane. If he said my Japanese was very good, I would cave his skull in.

Eventually, I made it clear that he needed to make an announcement. At long last, over the muffled loudspeaker, I heard, “Would Mr. Hall Alle please meet Miss Meyer Cliff . . . ” in the accented English understood only by those who could also speak Japanese.

Really weeping now, I decided I simply had to walk to the TIC. I made it up the first flight of stairs and started across the long passage when I saw a single, shining, white forehead bobbing amid a sea of immaculately groomed black hairdos like a beloved buoy.

Well! I, for one, am quite relieved. For the moment … see you in two days for the next calamitous installment.

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Japan, My Foot – Installment 6

Click here if you are new to the party.

Previously, on “Japan, My Foot”:

We planned a day at Korakoen, one of Japan’s “Big Three” gardens. This would require somehow taking the wheelchair on the train from Kurashiki to Okayama. Kurashiki’s main station had no elevator and no escalator, only a steep staircase and four able-bodied railroad employees. They surrounded me, a precision drill team, turned my wheelchair around and carried me, in it, down the steep stairs. Backward.

“This is a little scary,” I told the team captain.

“Your Japanese is very good!”

The next obstacle: finding a bathroom.

Next to Okayama Station, in Daiei—a department store akin to K-Mart—we were happy to discover that the Japanese love of technology had affected even the wheelchair-accessible dumping grounds of low-end department stores. I pressed a large red button to open the door, rolled in, and pressed a large green button to close it. Cliff thought it would be funny to play a trick we often played on each other back home. He thought he’d turn the bathroom light off with me inside.

Unfortunately, instead of hitting the lights, my husband pressed the large red button. The door slid open, revealing me and my big, white butt.

I yowled as you might expect a person to, should she find herself in a foreign country with her anus on display. Flustered by the murderous caterwauling, Cliff proceeded to punch every button in sight. The door closed and the light shut off, leaving me in the pitch dark, half out of my chair.

These two travel like The Three Stooges. Wanna read more funny bumblings?

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Japan, My Foot – Installment 5

Kuruma isu? Oba-use? What is going on?

Delicate cherry/tree graces ancient canal/but first climb ...

We left Nagasaki for Kurashiki, a city of 500,000, known for its historic district of restored wooden buildings and a long moat surrounded by willows and crossed by bridges. Quoth the guidebooks: an ideal atmosphere in which to amble. I finally agreed to go to the hospital.

The doctor diagnosed a pulled tendon and oba-use. That’s Japanese for “overuse”; I shit thee not. He prescribed painkillers and an ace bandage. (Note to self: add ace bandage to medical kit.) I asked if the hospital could lend me a kuruma isu.

The doctor sucked air through his teeth. This meant what I had asked for would be very difficult. Fifteen minutes later, however, a wheelchair appeared. The seat was brown, the leather cracked and the footrests rusty, but it got me around Kurashiki—despite the cobbled streets and museums lacking elevators. I developed a fierce resentment for those unaware of the difficulties of someone in a wheelchair, trying to make her way through the narrow aisles of a crowded shop. With my cane, I poked meanly at their ankles.

... this!

“You’re being,” Cliff grinned through the beard he was tugging, “a bitch on wheels.”

A break from Kurashiki was in order. We planned a day at Korakoen, one of Japan’s “Big Three” gardens. This would require somehow taking the wheelchair on the train from Kurashiki to Okayama. Kurashiki’s main station had no elevator and no escalator, only a steep staircase and four able-bodied railroad employees. They surrounded me, a precision drill team, turned my wheelchair around and carried me, in it, down the steep stairs. Backward.

(No dramatic music) We can’t even ask questions here, so baited is our breath. Tune in next week for more Foot-less in Japan.