Week 53

It's been more than a year, officially. I've congratulated myself, issued pats on the back, slept copiously and taken difficult amounts of time off work to go on road trips. Yesterday I sat behind the wheel of a car for fourteen hours over some 600 km or so. It was slow going because Penelope is eighteen years old and has a top speed lower than most modern tractors. And now I'm sitting back at my desk in the Town of Yubetsu Board of Education, trying to count back over the minutes of the last week, trying to organize my experience since I left Yubetsu on Friday morning.

I remember going to Asahikawa. I remember clinging to a rock climbing wall, remember my wonder at not having slid down towards a total loss of skill. I remember climbing with more vigor than I thought I would, maybe thrilled with

the adrenaline of The Wall, maybe jacked-up on the familiar, the remembrances of a pastime from a year ago, lost wholly in the intervening void.

I remember waking early in the front seat of my car, jolted back to life by the rough nasal sound of Penelope's horn, my forehead on the steering wheel. I remember the uneasy clicking of my neck craned all night against the headrest; I remember the rueful fulness of the hotels and the final decision to sleep in the car -- a decision I had never made in advance, a decision made always out of futility and a lack of options.

I remember driving all day to the flat industrial complex of Tomakomai; I remember moving among tall, Big-Brotherly public housing with tall planar sides and front doors so repetitive and endless you'd think they were part of some bigger fabric, something printed out from a single pattern stitched together at the edges. I remember a vague horror at the compartmentalization of these lives, at the assignment of a number to a person, Apartment 2245, 2246, 2247. Tomakomai is, like Hokkaido in general, a scary place, but for different reasons.

I remember the slight skew of Jozankei, an onsen resort town that appeared to have been built in the eighties by a master planner who had read about resort towns and had maybe seen a movie or two about resort towns but who had never actually been to a real resort town. It seemed like a bad theme-park recreation of something I'm not entirely sure what.

And at night I remember stumbling through the crumbling world of an abandoned sex museum. I remember stepping gingerly across glass, across smashed machines, around dioramas of body parts through bent-off lenses 3-D-ing the world around me. I remember damp carpet and peeling wallpaper, sagging ceilings over taxidermied animals in flagrante delicto, their faces bored, the threading of their body parts amongst themselves and amongst each other coming loose, falling apart, one sexual partner missing the other, meerkats and squirrels and monkeys that fit obviously together but were separated by the span of a wrecked room, faces neutral and hugging air. A moose missing everything forward from the front shoulder, just a big hollow trunk of fur, still standing. We moved through the old, abandoned, vandalized museum as if it were still open rather than as an abandoned place -- we looked with fascinated, lewd eyes at the exhibits, read the diagrams on the walls, joked about dick sizes on horses and zebras and monkeys and what appeared to be Satan, at one point.

I remember leaving Jozankei at night for Hakodate, but then I don't remember much after that, because we just kept driving until we hit Matsumae, which for the record is 300 km away from Jozankei. I remember a period of about 50 km where we tried to follow a train, hurling through the dark wilderness; but we got caught behind a big, slow truck and the train disappeared.

In the morning I wrote this, which I don't remember writing:

Sitting at a Michi no Eki in Matsumae. I'm not wearing a shirt and I'm sitting on a sleeping mat in a vacant parking space. We just drove all night from Tomakomai, where there was an abandoned sex museum that we explored. I stepped in a pool of water and wet one of my shoes and socks, and so I went for the rest of the night without a right shoe or sock, which was interesting when we stopped at combinis for coffee and snacks. At one of the combinis we met three girls that I thought were getting off work at a hostess club but then Oliver said, Maybe they're just sluts, and that was equally likely.

And then we kept driving until we got to Matsumae and we saw the castle and stopped at this Michi no Eki and promptly fell asleep.

Of note: the toilet at this Michi no Eki smells of seawater, a little bit. Like maybe it's seawater in the toilets, although I guess that would probably leave some sort of buildup that someone would have to come by and clean. Anyway it smelled of seawater in the toilet.

I just said, Is that sunglasses, can you make them for me? to Oliver when I wanted him to give me my sunglasses from the front seat of Penelope.

And then we were in Hakodate, and we saw old brick warehouses and a Trappistine convent and the famous night view. I walked out to the edge of Hokkaido and looked out off to Aomori and wondered what it might be like to look off towards Hokkaido in the same way. I got a parking ticket which I had to bring to the police station, where after waiting for some time I was brought into an interrogation room to have it explained to me that because we drive on the left we park on the left.

For some reason I see my life as a sequence of discrete, meaningful moments, brief interactions between a person and something outside of that person. Things like biking to work, or overhearing someone else's conversation, or trying to figure out how to print something -- individual balls in a great ball pit we're all stuck in. But traveling like this, I got so much more of a sense of moving through the world rather than in it, and so my life wasn't made up of these moments at all but a smear of moments, each second blending into the next: waving to children in cars leads into parking between tall laddered service vehicles leads into waking up in a 38-degree room smelling violently of tatami leads into wandering back streets looking for a train station, that sort of thing. No black space of doldrum between memories, which you don't realize it at the time but is really tiring, like psychologically.

So the following Thursday, you've had three hours of sleep and you're running on fumes sitting at your desk in the Town of Yubetsu Board of Education, trying to count back over the minutes of the last week, trying to organize your experience since you left Yubetsu on Friday morning.

Here is your present. Time to write about it.

Everything You Have Heard Japan JET Programme


Week 54

Driving home from Tony's house in the rain.


Week 50

Climbing Tokachi-dake with Emma and Oliver.