Tuesday, June 1, 2010

old days in new times

so ive been living in this same little neighborhood for about 7 months, and i am finally starting to understand all the ins and outs.  it brings me back to a time before walmarts, supermarkets, and mcdonalds.  within a 15 minute walk from my house there is everything i could possibly need.  mechanic, pharmacy, tailor (who didnt laugh at me when i brought him these ratty old jeans that had a huge hole in the crotch but i just loved too much to get rid of), fruits and veg, rice, and meat market, complete with pigs head hanging from hooks and catfish that are literally bigger than me.  but it doesnt end there, if you need a hardware store, there are 3 within walking distance.  a new door detailed by a skilled woodworker, a paint job for your scooter, a car wash, even a gay massage parlor and the requisite karaoke clubs with the girls withing outside to invite customers for a little...fun. when i first got here i was going all over the city to get things done, because they were places that spoke english, or were just very obvious.  these small stores here often have no signage, but if they do i cant read it anyway.  so i have to walk into the shop to see what they are actually selling.  the fact that i have started language lessons helps, but passing these places everyday to go to the outdoor food market, i finally got curious enough to start bringing my business closer to home.  so last week i got my jeans taken care of, yesterday i walked into the barber shop directly across the street from my house.  he was all worried, saying he couldnt cut my hair.  but it was just getting a little mulletish in the back, so i told him to just clean it up like he would for any man.  he did, it was perfect, and it cost me the equivalent of 1 US dollar.  our dvd player got repaired, and i can have any kind of local food i want, there are stalls, stands, and tiny little restaurants everywhere.  now this does have its small drawbacks, like everyone knows who i am because i am the only white girl in the neighborhood.  and our gas ran out for the stove, and normally when you give them a call, 15 minutes later a scooter pulls up with a new tank.  but today being a sunday, they are closed.  and this country has more national holidays than any place i have been, so at least every two weeks there is some holiday for which everything but the food places are shut.  i found that out the hard way when i took a 13 hour train ride to get a new visa, and found out it was a holiday and i would be waiting around an extra day.

these stores are cheaper with most items than the big supermarkets i can take the subway to, but not always. obviously they have limited time and customer base.  but the feeling on living in an actual neighborhood is great.  i mean, its cool living on a cul-de-sac and playing with all of your friends that live around you in suburbia, like i did when i was young.  but this is just such a different type of feeling.  most places i walk into are pulling what they know i need off of the shelf before i can get both feet in the door.  and everyone knows everyone, a little gossipy but more just in the way that you just know what everyone does for a living, if they are married or not.  most people pass the time sitting out in front of their business chatting to the other shop owners around them.  there is always a relaxed tone atmosphere that settles down over this place, and makes you feel welcome, even as an outsider.

recently i was talking to someone who works i work with that has a an important job with the US government, and she ranted on about how stupid these people (locals) are, how they have no drive, have servile attitudes yet are too incompetent to get anything done properly.  i do have to admit that critical analysis seems beyond some of the people i have met.  but just because they only worry about making enough money to put food on the table and keep a roof overhead, does not make them less worthy as people.  they may not be busting their ass at some shitty job so they can buy a 56 inch flat screen tv.  obviously this is going to be appealing to me, since everything i own can fit into a few boxes in my moms garage.  and moving out here for at least a year i only brought one bag of clothes and a suitcase full of books (my one materialistic need).  but the influence of western culture is seeping in, and in a not so great kinda way.  for example, of my friends here drives this totally customized truck, has the newest phone, and a decent apartment.  turns out he bought it all on credit.  and he can keep up with the payments at all because a huge portion goes to supporting his mother and little sister.  he is the most stressed person i have met out here, and its all about money.  and yes, there are people who are poor, homeless, and forgotten.  but like a taxi driver said to me once, nobody is starving in this country, because there are always people willing to dole out enough food.

now im not trying to bash on the industrialized nations...much.  i mean, i love japan and they are the epitome of working to the full extent of their ability and not being able to enjoy the fruits of their labor at all.  and i know that when i go to the pharmacy, the pills here may be made in this country now, but were originally developed in a country of workaholics.  as for higher education, obviously im all for it, i have always loved school and will probably go back for my PhD.  but it takes all kinds to make the world go round, and i have met people here that have offered to let me into their metalwork/jewelery making classes, or teach me the finer aspects of the local cooking.  there are a lot of things i could learn here that would be way more useful than say...a communications degree.  so i appreciate the fact that there are people out there who want to push the limits of mankinds abilities farther and farther.  but what makes it grotesque is how it is all about money.  free market economy, chain stores putting people out of business, banks trading bogus mortgages.  here, i never get the feeling that people are out to get anything more than the basics of what they need.  some are more ambitious, like my friend who works two jobs so he can build a house on his familys rice farm.  and some are less so, they are basically servants for a more wealthy family.  but even the guy that lives up the street that owns a taxi company lives in a very inauspicious house, and it took me forever to realize that the older woman in the house was the servant, and not the grandmother.  the only thing ive seen her doing when she's not out chatting on the stoop, is laundry.  and im assuming she does the cooking as well.  she is most definitely treated as one of the family.

of course its not always like this. i became friends with the wife of an older man who was of mixed ethnicity (sorry, cant say which), who are known to be more wealthy than the average local, and take advantage of the business opportunities in this country.  when i visited their 5 story house, i handed a bag or grapes to my friend (a rare treat), who then basically threw them at her maid and told her to wash them and bring them out with some tea.  the rest of the time the woman sat in a chair in the darkened kitchen, just waiting to be told what to do next.  i was a bit creeped out.  but i also knew my friend is incredibly kind and compassionate, she adopted an abandoned baby after seeing him on a news report.  so its definitely a mixed bag here.  i can only glean information from my own neighborhood, but it seems that most people are pretty happy with their lot and not in a hurry to change anything or expand their business.  there is this local bag designer that i love (i have mentioned his bags in a previous post) and numerous times i have asked him why he doesnt make a weekender bag, since his other stuff is so great and he's got tons of different styles and sizes, but his biggest is a touch to small for a weekend trip (well, at least if you re like me and need 3 books with you at all times).  and he just replies, well, i really dont have the space to keep them.  he is interested in his bags getting out there of course, and he works very hard, but he still has the same attitude that making money is not going to control his lifestyle.

i wonder at what point in history did humans begin to need things.  there's the little things like the latest iphone, or bigger things like an escalade in the driveway parked next your rv/speedboat, whatever.  and im not trying to be hypocritical here, i grew up as a girl camping most summers, driving around my old beat bronco, learning how to wakeboard, and in the winter, snowboard.  but these (in my opinion) are about the activity, not the stuff surrounding it.  now if i was buying new gear every season or drove my SUV nowhere but on the pavement, thats one thing.  but experiencing the joy that comes with physical or self reliant activities is hard to beat, for me at least.  but being here, i cant really wakeboard or snowboard, and i know it would be fun if i could, but i dont miss it.  the only thing i really miss is not having a motorcycle for the first time in 14 years.  but when i get the rare opportunity, i can rent one for the day and drive through the mountains and see hilltribes, temples, and beautiful, unspoilt green earth.

so the people living here i really think are getting more enjoyment out of their lives by not being so obsessed with materialism.  but i am not immune, im trying to find a used ipod touch since my 6 year old ipod is on its last legs.  but in all my life i have never had a job that i made enough money where i would actually have to file taxes.  and i have snowboarded the mountains of nagano, surfed the waves at browns in hawaii, and camped in the most fantastically beautiful places known to man, like yakushima island, the grand tetons, the na pali coast, and one right out my backyard (in the states), joshua tree.  i have lived dozens on lives, and feel fortunate to have gone through all of it.  but now, for the first time, i live in a place where my job is my life.  but not for the money (obviously, there is none), for the joy of the work and the passion i feel for this cause and the love of this country.  while my dates might never have enough money to do more than sit under the stars at a street restaurant or walk the markets to see all the crazy stuff, thats fine by me.  heck, the best date of my life was when a guy took me to a used bookstore.  recently i was offered an all expenses paid trip to india by a young man i barely know (i know him well enough that im sure hes not dangerous or anything), but i know he wants me to go as his girlfriend, and i could never see him that way, and to act it out just for a trip seems ridiculous.  and my gangster friend here has offered many times to buy that new ipod touch i have been saving up for.  i dont remember the last time a guy paid for my movie ticket, let alone electronics.  but its almost to a detriment, like when i was on my recent visa run, a man that i had met on the train who was really nice and friendly, handed the taxi driver both my and his share of the cost of the trip (there were like 6 of us).  i immediately dug out my share from my wallet and handed it to him, and both he and another guy were like "wow, independent to the last dime are we?".  so maybe i should accept just a smidge more of generosity when it is given with good intension.

but it is rare here that i will have to deal with that.  i am plenty happy that most of my days are now old school haggle market shopping, taking 2 hour walks for the relaxation in brings, and learning a bit about the new culture, language, life.  i will probably never own my own home or vehicle besides a motorcycle, but those things just arent important to me, nor can i see them being all that important in the future.  sure, maybe i'll buy a house together with a bunch of friends like a co-op or something.  but my largest purchase in 7 months was language lessons, at about $90.  as for an actual thing, i cant have bought anything over 20 bucks.  so if living this lifestyle here is having no drive or ambition, than i am happy to be a called aimless or indolent.  but i spend my days doing the most purposeful and exciting thing in the world, supporting people who are after there own freedom.  and whatever they do with that freedom, from jumping on the flashy materialist bandwagon to helping others who are like them reach their goals, it matters not.  because, like i said, we need all types to further science, industry, an so on.  but i sure am contented with my type has turned out to be.  it shows itself in my japanese name, kokaku kino which means a lone traveler and the scent of leaves and new wood.  i'll take it.

1 comment:

  1. ew...i don't like that person you work with...so dismissive of people with different lifestyles...but on a happier note, you sound great!!!! love, tp