Monday, September 21, 2009


There is a magic word that one must learn before vacationing in Japan, and that word is "sumimasen." This nifty little phrase will come in handy when pushing through crowds, getting a sales associate's attention, you name it. Politeness is decorum in Japan, and I found the passive culture to be strangely refreshing.

As is habit when I travel, I guarded my bag with a ferocity. I soon relaxed as it dawned on me that petty crime is not a problem here. Sure, sexual perversions (maid cafes, anatomically, um, enhanced anime dolls) are a different story, but pickpocketing? Non-existent.

During my trip, I attempted to sketch my way around Japan. But it was hot. And humid. And so this is as far as I got:

There are five things that I quickly picked up on during my first few days in Tokyo:
1) Rare is the trash can on Japanese streets. This is a paradox, as for a city that populated, Tokyo is unnaturally clean.
2) You can buy anything from a vending machine. (Case in point: ramen at a Bourdain-approved restaurant.)
3) Japanese women do not sweat. I notice this as I'm more or less mopping my face while waiting in line for a Belgian waffle in Omotesando. Well-heeled and perfectly kept. They are freaks of nature.
4) Calpis is the greatest drink ever. And apparently, an empire. It also comes in chewable candy form.
5) The Japanese really, really like to gift wrap. Really.

In other news, we ate. And ate and ate and ate. From Michelin rated restaurants (Kondo) to street food in Osaka, I happily chomped away at the likes of sushi, ramen, and tempura shrimp legs.

And I've never seen such a high concentration of logos and luxury brands in my life. Beverly Hills and the Champs Elysees has nothing on Tokyo. Louis Vuitton stores are like Starbucks here - there's one on every other street corner. But the shopping is comparable to Paris more than anywhere else. My eyes perked up immediately at the likes of Comptoir des Cottoniers and A.P.C. with a dash of Y-3 sprinkled in. When in Tokyo, do as the Tokyo-ans do. And so I did. :)

As much as I loved Japan, I did find one thing disappointing though.
The yakuza count: 0. All pinky fingers were disappointingly intact.

Monday, September 14, 2009

In Memoriam.

Among the benefits of the likes of Facebook and Twitter are that you are infinitely plugged in. Amidst tweets of Kanye's latest indiscretion and the elegiac "Nobody puts Baby in a corner" Swayze references, I stumble across another tribute. A teacher from my high school has recently passed away.

I look back at my high school years and can't help but think it was utterly unremarkable - much of it my own doing. Sure I got A's and went on to university, but I had no desire to learn. Not really, anyway. Or more appropriately, I lacked the courage to learn. High school was a means to get by, blend in, and maintain the status quo. A time of intellectual curiosity suppressed, when personal detachment kept me from truly learning. Ends justified the means, which translated to letter grades - letter grades on a page - flat, without depth. And SAT scores aside, the truth was, I was positively mediocre.

I had taken Mrs. Phillips's World History class during my freshman year, and I hadn't understood any of it. From humble beginnings in Ur to ziggurats and a six-wived king, what I recall about this class was being frightened. Frightened of her expectations, frightened that she'd call on me. And call on me she did - the girl with the tiny voice. I still remember the day Mrs. Phillips beckoned this shy, momentarily resentful girl to stand up and yell to her, as if I were calling to a friend across campus. And still, my voice tremored, half-whispered while I lashed out at her in my mind. Her class was outside the box.

It hadn't occurred to me then that history reincarnates itself time and time again, in today's politics, yesterday's civic battles. The cycles of human behavior, gradations between the order and vagaries of life, the need (greed?) for expansion, religious claims from various sects, unapologetic tyranny... all of which constitute history. Each lesson running the gamut from fable to fact for me, as the chronological scale ticked on.

As I'm reading through these posts, I find I am overwhelmed with the regret of not having taken EHAP with Mrs. Phillips. The reason? Simple. It was going to be hard. I didn't learn it when I could have, but I suppose the important thing is I'm curious now. I want to know now, what it was that you were trying to teach me 13 years ago.

I want to know the events that influence our future. I want to envision the fertile grounds of Mesopotamia and the technologies of the day. I want to breathe life into the now impressive relics standing tall amidst tourists in Greece and Rome, and the mythology surrounding them. I want to understand advancements that may not immediately register to me as technology.. and then slowly experience that flickering light bulb moment. I want to learn the religious implications of the Crusades, of the persecution that resulted in so-called dissidents braving scurvy for these shores in pursuit of freedom. I want to know the importance behind Henry VIII's six wives, not just that he had them. I want to know how to argue and write a damn good essay, even though I will probably never write another paper again. I want to learn how atrocities, genocides are in any way justifiable, and how we can learn from them. I want to learn why we reap what we sow, and how we can change from what we know. I want to be challenged.

Thank you for teaching me. I didn't understand it at the time.

Mrs. Adrienne Phillips, may you rest in peace.