Tuesday, February 17, 2009

35 million vs. 1/35 million

“May-yi wishes every night that the next day does not come. (as well as the train rides and cold, sleepy, zombie-like faces during those train rides).“

I can't believe that's what I just wrote as my latest status on facebook.

I think it's a clear sign for one thing - I've had enough of Tokyo.

Tokyo oh Tokyo ... The city that I once wished I could trade anything for (i.e. during those miserable, winter nights in Cambridge trying to cram yet another 50-page academic jargons in my head), even just for a day, a night, an hour or a second. All those hours sitting in my Cambridge apartment, looking out into the gloomy, grey sky outside (or looking at the endless blue exam books yet to be graded or pages of small print yet to be consumed - powerlessly yet tearlessly), reminiscing about that day of transit from Taipei to Tokyo (or was it the other way around?), volunteering myself to get on the next flight out in order to win a free round-trip ticket within Asia and a free night stay near Narita Airport.

Of course, the bigger lure than a free round-trip ticket was simply a 2 or 3-hour quick visit to Shinjuku and a delicious meal in an izakaya with friends sandwiched b/t two 2-hour train rides back and forth b/t Narita and Tokyo.

67 km - that's the distance b/t Narita and Tokyo. "Insane!", I thought, the first time when I saw that on a freeway signboard to Narita.

And you consider that the closest int'l airport serving a city of 35 million people?

Is it the figure "67 km" more daunting or "35 million"?

That's how Tokyo - or Japan, one may say - begins to crack one's mind.

萧红 Xiao Hong/Hsiao Hung (given that I've been reading too much about her lately) once had a short, 4-month stay in Tokyo as a temporary getaway from troubles back home. In one of her letters to her husband 萧军, she wrote the following:


一針見血。The unnerving thing is - this was written almost 80 years ago. 80 years later, I found this passage still speaks loudly of what's going on in nowadays Japan.

Except maybe the part that says, 「一天到晚歌聲是沒有的」, b/c one certainly can find enough drunken salarimen exploding their lungs off in a karaoke box. But Xiao Hong is still half-correct there - at the end of the day, the singing is "contained" in a "box" - a karaoke box - not outdoor, not in a park, in an office, in an elevator, or even the public bath.

What the heck is going on with this place?

「我說的不是日本沒有可學的」- Agreed, b/c every time I walk through a office building+shopping plaza+5-star hotel+service apartment complex like Midtown or take an elevator up another mind-blowing architectural beauty like the Mitsui building or catch the right train safely on the dot or bring home a cake considerately packaged in a state of "immobility" so that every fruit on top stands perfectly in place and every artistic embellishment stays perfect intact aside, I can't help but PRAISE this country for all its incomprehensible dedication to perfection, punctuality, meticulous detail, and relentless pursuit for quality.

On the other hand -「為著健康起見,好處也只得丟開了」- Now, this is where things start to get personal and when one begins to fall into a dilemma b/t saying, "agreed," and "agreed, but ..." (e.g., "agreed, but there is a way out ..."; "agreed, but it's not always true ..."; "agreed, but I'm a foreigner so I don't always have to abide to the same rule ..."

(more and more, the very last "agreed, but ..." just doesn't seem to be working anymore).

A few weeks ago, during many of my flea-market-like MRT rides in Taipei - thanks to the non-stop, cacophony of a thousand different ring tones next to me, in front of me, a few meters away from me, also thanks to people's mind-not-your-neighbor type of festive talkativeness (maybe attributed by 9 consecutive national holidays??) - I was missing Tokyo S-OOOO B-A-D.

Missed was the insane silence in even some of the most insanely packed trains during rush hour Tokyo, the silence that allows one to get through the schedule of the day in head before heading out to another long work day.

Missed too was the contagious mind-not-your-neighbor's-business attitude that pervades in the air, allowing one to maintain some kind of privacy or concentration on whatever that's at hand.

Further missed was the clean public bathrooms, warm toilet seats, dry sink area ('cuz people have the etiquette of not mindlessly shaking washed hands in the air but applying handkerchieves), and the considerate design of a makeup area where ladies don't have to fight over the same mirror with those who are doing their washing business when doing some powder/lipstick retouch.

MIssed most, perhaps, was the unfailing good taste of almost any restaurant/cafe/beer house/one-counter bar. No pre-made pasta, microwave-prepped stew, overly refrigerated cheese cakes, water downed wine, or beer with ice. Nor grouchy serving staff.

Yet, third week into coming back to Tokyo, on a jam packed, 10pm train ride home, a new thought hit me - I'd trade anything for a genuine smile from the heart (even if it's flirtatious), a quick exchange of a few words (who cares if it's just about the weather), or a sudden crack of a good laugh (b/c both acknowledge each other's suffering from hay fever!) when two human beings cross their eyes.

But I almost forget - in this country, people don't cross their eyes or exchange glances despite how close of a distance they find themselves against other human beings. Because that, too, seems to be an inconceivable skill of everyday survival that all Japanese have learned to master, well to the level of perfection.

In a city of 35 million people. And me, one among the 35 million.

Which one is more daunting - 35 million or 1/35 million?

梅ちゃん at 12:41:00 AM



Post a Comment