Saturday, October 24, 2009

In a Blink

So there I was, back in familiar surroundings. Serving at Cafe Mare. (everyone's favorite Italian Restaurant in Santa Cruz,) When a table of 12 showed up in my section.

All flowed naturally, they ordered drinks, appetizers, then their main courses. After dropping off their apps, and choppin it up with them momentarily, I skated off to another table. On my way back, I looked over and one of the ladies at the table was convulsing. At first, I thought she was telling a story and demonstrating to everyone what happened. But upon further examination, I discovered that she was actually having a full blown seizure.

Talk about traumatic. I'd never seen such a thing in all my days. She twitched back and forth violently, as her friends came to her side doing all they could to prevent further damage. Someone wrapped a knife in a napkin and put it in her mouth to keep her from biting her tongue. And after about a minute, she emerged. Well, kinda.

For me, the moments to follow were even more frightening than the actual seizure. She simply gazed off in no particular direction. With no awareness whatsoever of her surroundings or her friends. From where I stood, she looked dead. I kept thinking to myself, please Lord don't let this woman die right now. It was right about then, that her friend declared, "She's breathing."

After a few minutes of blank staring, she slowly returned to her senses. Her friends did a great job of consoling her and guiding her back calmly. The ambulance soon arrived. And she made her way to the hospital where she was in stable condition in no time. Thank God.

But I must say, seeing something like this firsthand was a mind blower. And more than anything it brought to the tip of consciousness that life is by no means a guarantee. And any of us can cross over (to the afterlife) in the blink of an eye.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

One Final Adventure

Perhaps Japan wanted me to stay a little longer than expected. Or so it seemed, as the moments leading up to departure transpired.

It all began with the typical, "Bags too heavy" juggle that I had to do at the check in counter. Actually, that's a lie.

It began as I stepped foot outside of my place, with two humongous bags. One of which had my garment bag attached. Big, heavy, but still pretty impressive when considering THIS IS MY LIFE. Nothing more, nothing less (well Mom's garage may beg to differ.)

Prior to that moment, I failed to remember that on my way into Japan, I had my bags shipped to my place from the airport. Meaning, this was actually the 1st time I had to carry everything solo. As it turned out, about halfway to the station, I ran into my best friend in the neighborhood, Katsu.

Katsu, worked at a Yakitori stand in the neighborhood. I used to stop by his spot everyday and chop it up with him.

I don't know how many of you have seen the movie "Ghostdog," but there are a few scenes in it, when Forrest Whitaker would stop by the ice-cream man's truck and the two of them would converse. Forrest in English, the ice-cream man in French. The two of them never 'understood' one another, but the subtitles revealed in fact they did.

Well, it wasn't until I had a Japanese friend accompany me to Katsu spot, that I discovered the same was true for us. It was quite an amazing revelation because we were walking away from the place and my friend said to me, "Oh, he speaks English?" And I was like, "Nah, not at all, why?" Apparently his answers to my questions were right on point. It was beautiful, cause he used to always say, we don't speak from our mouths, (Katsu and I) we speak from our hearts.

Anyhow, he dropped everything he was doing, and immediately grabbed one of my bags to escort me to the train. To my surprise, he even got aboard the train and rode with me for a stop just to say a relaxed goodbye. It was yet another sign of the beauty of Japanese culture. And of course, true friendship.

The only obstacle remaining, was the transfer from trains that awaited at Motoyawata station. This would be crucial because there is no elevator and at one point, no escalator either. Or so I thought.

I ended up discovering the lift, and took it up to street level. Once there, I was a bit shell-shocked, because I had no idea where I was or where I was supposed to be going from this unfamiliar exit. Long story short, I ended up walking a good mile+ with these bags as I got directions to the wrong station the 1st go round. At this point, I was grinning and bearing it!!

Once there I actually lifted my bags up onto the platform from street level, before even going through the station, as to avoid the lack of elevatorness. A move that garnered more than a few glances from the rule abiding Japanese folks in the area.

If that wasn't enough, I ended up getting off the train one stop too soon, hence leading to another delay.

But this was no stress, by the time I got to the check-in counter, time was not of the essence whatsoever. That is, until I sliced my thumb open, on a metal record, while attempting to lighten up my bag.

Blood was dripping off my finger, as I asked one of the Airline ladies, if she could help me out. She looked at my thumb, shrugged and said, "I'm sorry, we don't have anything over here that can help take care of that." PERIOD. I was in disbelief. There I was, bags wide open, belongings scattered around the counter and this lady showed not the slightest bit of empathy.

I proceeded to shuffle with one hand, and get everything squared away, before she appeared, this time with one solitary band-aid. I don't know how many Mommy's are out there, but I'm sure you know, you can't just throw a band-aid on a bleeding wound. But I tried!! That tided me over for a few.

At the money exchange, there was a problem with some of my Yen. It had oil spilled on it, so the marker-check failed, hence they refused to change it for me. That took a good 15 minutes to sort out.

Finally I got to security and when I did, the thumb started acting up again. This time, however, the lady working there had a hint of compassion. (She was actually a Sweetheart.) By the time I passed through security, I had tissues for days and enough band-aids to supply an elementary school nurse for a year!!

Alas, my problems were over...that is..until I got to...Immigration? Who has immigration when you're LEAVING the country? As I was waiting in line, one woman asks, "Is there anyone on UA flight 852 to San Francisco here?" I raised my hand, expecting some kind of assistance. She glanced, said something into her walky talky...and that was it. No, express lane treatment. But I was cool with that....until I got to the checker-upper and he decided that because I was not returning to Japan I had to fill out some paperwork. I couldn't believe it.

Meanwhile, they are calling my name on the loud speaker.

At this point, I'm frazzled to say the least. But I eventually pass through. And then the lady, who was absolutely useless, proceeded to walk 10 steps in front of me the entire way to the gate. Glancing back every 8 seconds and waving me along as if I couldn't read the signs above that were blatantly pointing out where I was going. I am mentally chastising this woman, something to the tune of "I know BITCH!" as she continues to chip away at what little resilience I had remaining.

Then alas, I made it to the gate. I took a deep breath, cleared my mind, handed my ticket to the guy and set out for the plane. All was finally moving in a positive direction...that was..until.. a voice from behind called out.. "Security check. Sir I need to look through your bags."



The saddest part of this whole saga was I didn't get the chance to answer any of the thoughtful calls and texts that friends were making/sending. Each of whom knew exactly when I was departing. So sad. But I luff You's!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Lost between Hello and Goodbye

As I dip my Oreo's in milk. A tradition that has kept me rooted in my Americanism nearly every night since arriving. I can't help but reflect on the days that have defined my trip/stay here in Japan.

It all happened in a flash. Many of intentions remain unfulfilled, while many were exceeded greatly. Although music did not add up to my previous projections, I must say, I feel as if I was on the brink of breaking through some of the barriers which stood between me and destiny. (Or something like that.) The same could be said for the realm of basketball. Although my moments attested to experiences far beyond anything I'd previously done, I still felt as if I'd only brushed the surface here in Tokyo.

Yet, as is usually the case with any extensive stay in a country, what stands out most in my soul is the connections with people, friends and community out here that have sprung up in such a short time. The disappointment lies in not being able to remain here to nurture some of these connections to full fruition. However, the moments we've had have been quite venturous.

It's interesting, as the time wound down, and the end drew nearer, many of the surface interests fell by the wayside as the important things (God bless the teacher who told me to never write the word 'thing,' "there is always a better word"...but pardon me) took center stage.

What could possibly be more important than FAMILY? Although I made a great number of friends here in my time, there are 4 friends which really proved to be soul mates through and through. We all came here at the same time. And we each guided one another in our own respective ways while we continued to socialize, yet keep tabs on each other.

It's extremely ironic to speak in such depth about my Tokyo family because when I look through the pictures there seems to far more indulgence than introspection. Yet we seemed to find time for that too. Even if we forgot the next day!

Goodbyes are such a double edged sword. There's the pain of detachment. while entertaining the idea that we may never see each other again. A principal which becomes even more probable as the trips start to mount and more friends slip through the sieve of time. All this juxtapose to the extremely eloquent summaries of times shared that friends offer one another when their moments together are coming to an end.

I've been humbled by many of the expressions friends have shared this past week+. And even moreso, honored by the revelation that I've played a significant role in their recent developments. While many of them have certainly impacted me on a great scale, perhaps it's human nature to downplay one's role in another's life.

Regardless, it's been a rollercoaster of emotions this past 2 weeks. Yet as the departure neared, all I really wanted to do was kick it with family. And that speaks volumes of our connection because this city is full of potential distractions. But looking back, it's all been so majestic as the days have played themselves out.

Zooming out a bit, Tokyo has been quite an exciting chapter on the path. From the music connections, to the Rising Suns experience in Paris, to the discovery of Kyoto. This place has provided the full spectrum of experiences from triumphs to heartbreak and disappointments.

Although my overall perspective on Japanese people remains in limbo, I will say this country, and the opportunities provided within it, have left a lasting impression on my being. And even greater than that. The friends I have found here, will undoubtedly be my peoples for life!!

This is my last post from Japan. I hope to express much more in these ever-so-crucial days of transition ahead.

Blessings and Light..
And Infinite Gratitude to the Spirits of Japan which not only guided my here, but also took good care of me while navigating It's soil.
One Love

Monday, October 5, 2009

Beginner's Mind

Somewhere in my studies, I came across a book entitled, "Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind." The premise of the book, amongst other things, was that we should aim to keep a child-like mind in reference to perceiving the world around us. It is common practice for us to wake up and go through our daily routines without acknowledging the newness and changes around us. Hence, strive to be child-like, not in the sense of naivete, but rather in a state of wakefulness and appreciation in perspective, in which all things are viewed as brand new. Even if we've seen them a thousand times before. (As is always the case, this is much easier said than done.)

Living here in Tokyo, I've certainly been guilty of falling into that 'daily routine' mentality. However, with my departure now 9 days away, "Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory!"

There are a great number of cultural aspects which attest to the rich tradition and heritage that is Japanese life. Many of which, present a sharp contrast to America.

The most pronounced difference I've perceived is the well being and liveliness of the elders in this country. Simply put, old people are everywhere! I didn't realize how hidden our old folks are back in the States, til I arrived here.

Not only are they out, but they've got some spunk wit' em. I've seen 50+ year old ladies walking around with their hair dyed PURPLE! Folks who look to be in their 70's on bikes, cruising throughout the neighborhood. And I'm not talking about a handful of people. I'm talking..goop gobs of old folks! It's amazing. I always thought my Pops was a timeless being for still being able to give me the business on the basketball court at age 60. But these folks might give him a run for his money.

Aside from the activities, I simply see more elders here than at home. They spend a lot of time walking the streets and talking to one another. Riding the trains and still very much living. Not to mention, they are a mainstay on television here to put it mildly. This gave rise to an interesting question. "Why don't we see elders too often on television in the States?"

Is it that we value youth so much in a capitalist society, that we downplay the significance of the aging? Or are we so preoccupied with the next NEW thing that we forget to step backwards every now and then to remember the way things were?? Perhaps it's a result of being brought up in a rootless (ruthless) culture, in which the actual Native's are purposefully repressed in attempt to silence the ugly history that lies at the foundation of our 'Great Nation.' We're raised in a culture where our history is so atrocious, that we scurry toward a bold future, in hopes of overshadowing the wrongs once done. Indeed, I'm getting a bit pessimistic here, but these are certainly factors worth entertaining.

From the elders to the youth. I swear Japanese babies are born warriors! You know that moment, when a fresh-stepper is still discovering the rhythm and balance required to accomplish this thing called walking?

How many times have you seen a child bouncing, ever so confidently, on his way, just to hit an unexpected bump in the road, and absolutely bite it! That's usually when, everyone in the child's circumference takes that collective gasp. And then rushes over to him, if not verbally than psychologically saying, "Are you ok?"

Well here in Japan, I don't know if it's just the parents who don't create that same psyche by staying cool when it happens, or if these kids just have harder heads! But I'll tell you what, I've seen at least 15 of em, take some serious L's (that's losses for the un-eboniced.) The kind where you wince when you see it. And they just pick themselves up...don't even run for Mom's leg or anything, and keep it moving!! Remarkable.

A cultural aspect that I will greatly miss here is that of bike riding. Back home, if you show up somewhere on a bicycle, people look at you like you must be broke. (Well, except for in Santa Cruz.) I remember feeling this internal judgment before I acquired my vehicle back in Cali. There was a sense of personal ineptitude that seemed to accompany my biking days. However, here, you will see the sexiest girl on the block on her 5 speed, WITH A GRANNY BASKET on the front of it!! Riding that bad boy with pride!! And every (bold) guy on the block, clocking her as she goes by. Simply put, bikes are everywhere out here. Every major store has bikc parking which is packed with no less than 50 bikes at a time. It's rather refreshing to have such an option, especially, sans judgment.

So yeah, I'd have to say, between bikes and trains, America is lacking on its' transportation skills. Hopefully Obama will put some of those train issues to rest in his term(s?)

In the meantime, I'm a strive to stay brand new for the last few days. And fully soak in the dynamics that shape Tokyo. I look forward to sharing them with you..

Blessings and Light!