Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Japanese People

Are fabulous aren't they?! [grin]

Catching a jeepney last week [it was not a great journey for me]: I overslept and left too late, so the sun was up and the temperature was rising fast. Odiongan was a typical 'ordinary' town - not pretty, dirt roads, mud, dust and petrol fumes.

Luckily I only had to walk to the corner to get my 'Trike'. [A trike is an excellent form of transport: a motorbike with a side car. Inside the side car is actually comfortable, although low to the ground, which is not good if it's dusty. I have seen 11 Filipinos, plus driver, on one trike - next time I'll get a photo!] This was a dusty journey and I wasn't in the best mood when I got to the Terminal.

Backpacking with all my dive gear is no joke - my bags are heavy. I am carrying a 65L on my back, a 30L on my front, plus my fins bag over my shoulder. I had to jump a ditch to get into the terminal. I am so top-heavy if I overbalance it's all over! I nearly fell in - not funny!

The terminal was crowded and all the Jeepney Touts were keen to get me on-board regardless of where I, or they, were going. It was getting hotter [and my bags were getting heavier] by the minute. There was a fish market next door which stunk. I missed my jeepney while I was looking for it. To make matters even worse when I found where it left from it turned out to be very near to where I'd come in - if I'd turned right instead of left... arrrggghhh!

I was getting cross, but fighting it! This is Asia - people bend-over backwards to help you - but if you loose your rag or [worse] raise your voice, all that goodwill will instantly evaporate.

So I'm hot, bothered, sweating [buckets], filthy [already], quietly furious and I'm trying to maintain an easy manner and pleasant smile. I was not having fun.

Another jeepney turns up that's going my way, which is good. The tout/ticket seller/bus-bloke turns out to be an irritating 18 yr-old who fancies himself and wants to be seen scoring a white woman. O joy. But I have met his type before and have recently developed a new way of dealing with them. I am calling it The Parisian Method.

The Parisian Method is simple, cruel and effective. It involves completely failing to understand anything that is said to you. The trick is to be incredibly polite about it. You must listen carefully to whatever is said, with no recognition but a concentrated frown. When the idiot stops speaking it's good to do nothing and not realise. Then frown again, look embarrassed and apologetic, before slowly shaking your head and finally giving the quintessential 'Parisian shrug' which says 'I am trying my best, but I really have no idea what you just said and I'm afraid that it's your fault, sorry'.

It is especially effective if you repeat certain words back to them, as if they might sound familiar but you're not sure: "hoos-bond" you say slowly, with intense focus. Then smile sadly and shrug again.

Works every time. Fools [grin].

So finally I am climbing into the jeepney and there I find myself sitting opposite Noburo.

Noburo is wearing a crisp white shirt and beige chinos, with a crease. His glasses are shiny, he's not sweating. In fact Noburo looks like an Executive who just stepped out of the Office for a moment to grab a quick espresso.

He's carrying a spotlessly clean backpack [without any trailing straps] and a matching day-pack. I don't need to look inside to know that his extensive wardrobe is packed in individual, colour coded, vacuum sealed bags [such a good idea - why don't I do that?!]. Noburo is well-versed in the ancient Japanese art of packing vast amounts into a small space and still managing to take them out looking freshly laundered with all the creases in the right places.

Noburo is quiet and unruffled. He is impervious to the heat, the fumes and the dust. He is not even phased when the jeepney driver parked next to us puts on Bon Jovi's Greatest Hits at full volume [I was trying to surreptitiously stuff things in my ears].

After about 40 minutes of waiting [for the driver] Noburo says he's going for breakfast.
"You'll miss the bus!" I say. He looks around him carefully,
"I do not think so" he replies.
As he gets off I notice he is also carrying a very large fish in a plastic bag. He returns 15 minutes later and 2 minutes before the driver - how did he know?!

An hour into the journey he got off and walked into the jungle. I have a feeling I will see him again.

Interestingly, last week I spent a couple of evenings hanging out with an American who was living in Tokyo, working as a translator. He told me that one of the most challenging aspects of his job is that there are certain Japanese words and concepts that have no equivalent in English and are therefore 'untranslatable'. I asked for examples [yeah I know, he gave me that same look!] He came up with two: "To work hard vigorously" - which is just delightfully Japanese! And [better] "to persevere for no reason except perseverance itself" - I love this! I love that this word exists in any language! And it occurs to me that maybe this is why the Japanese make such excellent and contented travellers.

All travellers are, of course, looking for those 'unique' experiences: the ones that stay in the memory for years to come, that teach us something, that shape us as people, that enlighten, excite or energise [in other words - for the stories we tell when we get back!] Hopefully with the right attitude, patience and a few risks we find them. But in between those times is an awful lot of trogging around: hauling bags on and off buses, breathing fumes, waiting, lounging and generally being aimless.

Some people [the Lonely Planet Devotees] deal with this by furiously sight-seeing and going to as many different places as they possibly can. You can almost guarantee that nothing exciting will happen to these types - and if it does they'll be such a hurry they'll miss it!

Others [the Thai(dyed) Fisherman Pants Brigade] take the opposite approach and stay in one place, doing nothing, for ages. Sometimes they can discover amazing places and make real friendships, but more often they end-up smoking weed with the other foreigners waiting for something to happen to them.

I think to be an engaged [and more importantly] a happy traveller you do have to keep trogging along! Not too fast and be prepared to stop, but do keep moving. You have to allow adventures to come your way. You have to travel for no other reason except for travelling itself.

I am writing this [long-hand] on a pleasant beach. It's pretty, but not special. It took me 2 days to get here. Tomorrow I am moving on to another island. I don't know what's there. Maybe the time of my life! Maybe nothing...

NB. This was written on the 17th Jan.

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