Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Home! Socks, Driving, Ceremony.

Yes, it's true, I'm back in the USSR. I mean, Seattle. (Anyone get the Beatles reference? By the way, did you know that the LT can't stand the Beatles? I'm dating a man who doesn't like the Beatles and prefers peanut butter cookies over chocolate chip, not that he's the devil or anything.)


So far I have paid all my bills and returned my way-overdue library books, shockingly enough, and Titan and I are getting reacquainted. A few thoughts on returning:

1. Being able to understand overheard conversations is actually not that interesting. Most people don't have casually interesting conversations, except of course T-Town and myself, and we are FASCINATING. I sort of miss being able to tune out the chatter because I can't understand it anyway.

2. If T-Town and I never open up our bikini coffee stand in Whistler, we are opening a sock company in Japan. I've never seen so many socks in my life. Japanese girls do not, under any circumstances, go barefoot. Or bare-legged. If they wear shorts or skirts, they wear pantyhose or thigh highs. (I saw a ton of thigh-highs. With very spiky sandals. At first, the girls I saw looked very tarted-up, and then I realized that to them, bare legs would have looked way more inappropriate than I found their thigh-highs to be.) Because not only are bare legs inappropriate in Japan, but because no one wears shoes indoors, you have to have socks on or else you'll be going around in bare feet, so the style was to have special lacy socks that were meant to peek out from your stiletto heels. Some socks even had straps on them to add visual dimension to your spiky heels. Weird.

3. Umbrellas. Coming from Seattle, where no one uses umbrellas, it was a shock to see rainy streets COVERED in umbrellas. EVERYONE has one, and they don't fold up--they're the old-fashioned kind that look like a cane when furled, no actual collapsing. You can buy clear furled ones, with white trim, at any gas station for three bucks. There's umbrella stands at all doors, at all shops, everywhere, and no one takes your umbrella when you leave it there, and in fancier stores there's an attendant waiting at the doorway with a special plastic bag for your umbrella, with which he or she politely encases your umbrella and then hands it back to you with a bow. Even a three dollar umbrella.

4. Speaking of attendants, for a country so obsessed with automation, Japan employs thousands and thousands of people. Every subway has two conductors, every ticket window is staffed, every store has six people working each small floor, there's a guy who encases your umbrella and a guy who hands you a shopping cart. Their labor charges must be enormous. At ten at night, in a huge camera store, there might be fifteen workers for every customer. No one goes home, no one acts bored. The minute you come in the store they treat you like royalty and don't stop until you leave. I had reason to go in a bank, and the Js and I were bowed at by ten people and ushered around by fifteen more. On the way to the rest room alone.

5. Ceremony. In a country known for mass-production, the Japanese still treat every purchase, every object, like it is uniquely valuable. A four dollar comb is picked up carefully with both hands, shown to you, held while the price tags are gently scraped off, carefully wrapped, and presented to you with both hands. And a bow. I bought a ten-yen stamp--less than ten cents--and the hotel clerk brought out a special book that is only meant to hold stamps, arranged in neat little rows of plastic holders. I picked one out, and the hotel clerk handed it to me...with both hands. And he barely had space for both sets of fingers on that tiny piece of paper.

6. Disorientation. I flew in from Tokyo on Monday morning, and I met T-Town for lunch that same day, and I was surprised about how helpless I felt, driving to meet her and then driving somewhere else, in a town that I had grown up in, for 16 years. I was in a slightly unfamiliar area, but that's not a big enough reason as to why I felt it necessary to write down her directions to the freeway and obsess about how to get to the restaurant. More importantly, I was jet-lagged and disoriented, and most importantly, I was unused to driving. When you're on foot, you can change direction at a moment's notice, you can just stop on the sidewalk or in the subway, you can call people or decide to pop into a computer store or spend half an hour reading a map while foot traffic flows around you. Taking the car, I felt that I had to have a specific plan and it couldn't change. If I wanted to go somewhere else, where would I park? How would I get there? What if I got lost? On foot I felt more secure, and even safer; I don't know why.


alex said...

I don't get the Beatles reference, but does it have anything to do with the "Spokanistan" tshirt my friend was wearing the other day?

Sweet said...

Excellent section on the girls in Japan that wear pantyhose or thigh highs with spikes regularly. My hubby hates it that pantyhose are not main stream, although I enjoy wearing the European pantyhose 24/7, not just because men love the look...but they feel great on my legs, not to mention the daily leg/foot massages I get from y hubby at the end of the day in my stockings.
Again, great article and high quality content.

l-t said...

You know, ironically, your driving helplessness may not be isolated.

They tell submariners to let their wives drive them home from their boat after a long deployment. Part of it is that our depth perception hasn't been exercised, and although we may not notice it, our eyes and brain take awhile to readjust to things being further than 300 feet away at any given time.

The other part of it is that we're not used to moving at high rates of speed (like in a car), or being able to "stop and stand" like you could in Japan while on food.

Aarwenn said...

alex: Do you know that Spokane is the third largest city in Washington State? Is your friend FROM Spokane? I find this coincidence unbelievable.

sweet: Aw, thank you! That sounds like a good bargain to drive with the LT. I'll wear heels and thigh highs way more if I get foot-rubs!

LT: ...on food? :)

l-t said...

Uh, yeah. Isn't that what you did?

Wow. I'm not really sure what happened there. Please note the time I posted that, and the lack of coffee I had since I rode the bike to work.

alex said...

I did not know that Spokane is the third largest city in Washington state. I just knew that it started with an S and ended with a Pokane.

Also no, my friend with the Spokanistan tshirt is not from Spokane, he's from Queens.

C said...

LT- You're probably right...There is absolutely NO WAY I'd have let DH drive home after I picked him up. The first time he came home from deployment I drove home and he drove us to dinner (after his bathing hour). Still scary.

Aarwenn- You can still be in the USSR in Seattle, you know. You're forgetting Fremont. ;) Love the Beatles. LOVE.

PurpleSarah said...

If it's any consolation the physicist also dislikes the beatles.. and he hates tomatoes...
But I am woman enough to look past these faults.

Aarwenn said...

Hi sarah, you are more of a woman than I am. Does he at least eat pizza?

C: How could I have forgotten the big statue of Lenin?

LT: Hi baby, although teasing you is fun, I didn't mean to obscure the point of your comment. Your connection to submariners fresh off the boat was interesting, thanks.

Anonymous said...

On the topic of umbrellas...

I was shopping at our local Wal-Mart (surprisingly not as White Trash as many usually are...) and it was raining. As I walked inside the store with my dripping umbrella, a woman at the door stopped me and put my umbrella into a nice little plastic bag. I immediately thought of you and your umbrella adventures... Just thought I'd share.

Aarwenn said...

Hi hon,

Awww! I'm touched! I, for one, still think of the great weekend I had visiting you in B-more. Hope everything is well.