Gotcha with the title, didn’t I? This is not my work, but a piece I edited for jmww journal. (Title in lower-case, indicating depth and literary quality.) It’s by Richard Prins. My Hangover … is Prins’s second piece for me. Come back for his debauched rumble, Already Yesterday.
Someone on Facebook asked for information about maximizing time when on a research trip for a novel. What ho!
- Set a time every day to FaceTime or Skype with your children.
- Have something else going on. For example, I practice Tai Chi. I knew that there would be a lot of parks where the Chinese community practiced in the early mornings. I made a point to be in the neighborhood park by 6am. I met so many caring locals. They told me great places to eat and insider tips about the city that your characters need to know. One also helped me figure out which neighborhood in Bangkok my main character would live in.
- Spend more time on your book than seeing the sights. Limit sight seeing to elements that appear in the book.
- Write or edit on the plane. You write; food arrives. Tea arrives. Life doesn’t get better–until your kids arrive!
- Use your computer rather than a notebook. On days I used my notebook, I was too exhausted to transfer my notes. Still haven’t.
- Go to a library. My novel is set in the mid-90s. In the 90s, no newspaper in Cambodia published on-line. I went to the library at the Hun Sen University and read bound, back issues of newspapers.
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.
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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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?
Kuruma isu? Oba-use? What is going on?
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.
“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.
Raher than rent a car, we decided Cliff would carry everything. He stuffed the contents of his daypack into his main backpack, then donned the now sixty-pounder. Next, he hoisted my pack in front, covering his chest and stomach. With one free hand, he clutched my daypack. The poor boy looked like a pregnant dromedary on its hind legs, forced to carry a daypack. Every time he moved, he clanked and rattled.
“What is that?” he demanded, prevented from tugging his beard by the pack slung across his stomach.
I could hardly say, “Twenty-one pounds of ineffectual potions in individual glass bottles.”
We took the train to Shikoku, the smallest of the four Japanese islands, met our friend, and continued to the next island south, Kyushu. Cliff bought me a cane. Crossing the entirety of Kyushu to Nagasaki, we stayed at Minshuku Fumi. Minshuku are family-run inns, but Minshuku Fumi was run by one extremely sweet guy. He told me his surname several times, but between the Nagasaki dialect and the incessant throbbing in my foot, it wouldn’t stick. I thought of him as Mr. Fumi.
Cliff thought I should ask Mr. Fumi if they might have a wheelchair at our primary destination, the Gembaku Shiryo-kan, referred to by everyone but the guidebooks as the A-bomb Museum. As soon as my sentence hit the word I didn’t know, “wheelchair,” I mimed rolling myself along.
“Kuruma isu?” asked Mr. Fumi.
Kuruma is Japanese for “car.” Isu means, “chair.” I grinned and parroted, “Kuruma isu.”
Mr. Fumi clapped with delight. “Your Japanese is so good!”
(Dramatic music) Again with the dramatic music? Feh. Post more mishegas, already, so I can get to my early-bird dinner.
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:
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!