Posts Tagged 'prague'

Spring Break ’03 Part 5 — Tokyo

It’s been a busy couple of days here in Tokyo. On TV right now an announcer is trolling the streets of Shibuya asking overly tanned teen aged girls about current events. One woman thought that America was at war with Hawaii. Another thought that Iraq was the entirety of Africa while America was located in three lonely islands north of Siberia.

Yesterday, I saw Kurosawa Kiyoshi‘s last film Akarui Mirai (Bright Future). For anyone who has seen his other works like Charisma, Pulse, or Cure, you expect a certain amount of oddness and genre-bending, but this film was probably the weirdest and perhaps his most subtle in his canon. It was half a horror film — a bit like Pulse — half a family drama like License to Live and then some other stuff like a mass of day-glo jellyfish and a band of teenage thugs sporting Che Guevera T-shirts, which didn’t really fit in either category. When the lights went up and the audience filed out of the shoebox sized theater, there was dead silence. Finally someone in the elevator in a black turtleneck and pink hair turned to her friend and said, “What the hell was that?”

Yesterday, I also went to my favorite CD store in Japan, Los Apson, located on the sixth floor of a normal looking office building. The place, which not only sold albums that are found no where else but also Mexican wrestling memorabilia and porno posters from the 1970s, was having an Anti-War sale. I took advantage of the 10 percent off for peace discount and bought a couple odd ambient discs (5 Sleepers and Ochi Brothers) while R picked up a few noise albums by Merzbow.

Working backwards, the day before yesterday I saw Marcus, my friend from my University of Michigan days. He’s living in Tokyo and somehow managed to snag a huge (and I mean huge) house in north Tokyo about 15 minutes from Ikebukuro. It has a large front yard, which is about as rare as having a swimming pool in Manhattan. He was evasive on the exact nature of the purchase, but I suspect it was some bankruptcy auction thing. Anyway, he had a few words of advice about living in Tokyo, which if Chimpie McCokespoon continues his march towards an American police state (e.g. if rumored Patriot II becomes a reality) be might be an option I seriously consider.

Three days ago, I met with my friend Tomoe who is 8 1/2 months pregnant with her second child. I met her ten years ago in Boston and she was my first Japanese conversation partner. Since then, I stayed with her family in Mitaka (on the west side of Tokyo) numerous times, and then I caught up with her again in Prague where her husband worked for Toyota and my dad was teaching for a semester at Charles University. She was really happy for me, and gave me a really nice, if heavy, crystal tray she picked up in Prague. Her son, who is three years old, has memorized every train station in Tokyo and told us how to get from Mitaka to Senju. It was impressive for a number of reasons, but most of all, I realized to my great dismay that this toddler could read kanji better than I could.

That night, Yo-chan took us and his girlfriend Mikio to a Kyoto restaurant. He wanted to celebrate our engagement and Mikio’s passing of the nurses exam by treating us to an 11-course meal. Kyoto cuisine consists of tofu, bamboo shoots and very little soy sauce. All of it was terrific. Yo-chan and I ordered shochu (rice liquor, a strong version of sake basically) that came in a flask made of bamboo.

Anyway, tomorrow I return to America, the war, my thesis, and my futile attempts at looking for a job. R is going to be in Tokyo for another two months…

Existential World Tour Part 13: Berlin and Back in Ann Arbor

Well, its the end of the road for me. I went West until it was East and I kept goin’ until I ended up back where I started. In short, I’m back in Ann Arbor, back with a vengeance.

I’ve been lying low in Prague for the past two weeks. I spent my time walking around, looking at Prague’s stunning, spooky and occasionally bizarre architecture, and of course drinking beer, which is literally cheaper than water and damn good to boot.

Last weekend, I went to Berlin. On Halloween night, I happened upon a bombed out (as in from WWII) department store that had been turned into a artist commune. The bottom floor was a disco and a welders studio, the second floor was a bar and movie theater (showing From Dusk till Dawn) and the rest of the building was either gallery space and/or other discos. The whole place was covered with graffiti art and the apocalyptic look of Blade Runner or a Duran Duran video. Across the courtyard in another bombed out building (there were lot in this neighbor of East Berlin, even though it was only blocks from Unter Den Linden and the Brandenburg gate) somebody placed a giant neon sign in puffy rainbow letters reading “Cry me a River.” I loved the place immediately. I started talking to some Anglo backpackers and soon we were doing Tequila shots. Later I found myself discussing Japanese film with a couple intense Belgians well into the morning. Anyway, I realized that after a liter and a half of beer and five shots of Tequila I felt stone sober. I think its time to go home now, I thought.

Soon checking into Betty Ford

Existential Panic World Tour Part 8: Prague-o-rama

Well, I’m in Prague. I must say former Eastern Bloc country or not, after Kathmandu this place seems positively luxurious.

I’m staying with my parents in the outside of the city, but near a metro station. Our landlord, a kindly guy with flamboyant facial hair named Mr. Rippl, took it upon himself to redecorate the place in a style befitting the new rapidly Westernizing Prague. He hired a decorator and spared no expense. The result is an odd combination between the cool modernist sensibility of Ikea and a bordello. The door is covered padded leather, there are at least ten large mirrors in this four room apartment, and there is more gold and pink in the master bedroom than in the Trump tower. Nonetheless, there is a TV with CNN and MTV, a shower with actual water pressure and a refrigerator filled with beer and there is nary a lentil in sight.

Our apartment is in a Le Corbusian soviet-style nightmare development. Soulless blocks of flats, each seemingly designed to outdo the next in sheer modernist brutality, extend into the horizon in almost every direction. The Czech have tried some half-hearted attempts at landscape design, but most seem to have weeded over. Nonetheless, there are no stinking mounds of garbage, no ill-tempered, leech-bitten cows wandering in the streets, no ten year-olds hawking hash nor are there any microcephalic children begging for change. Yup, it’s all very quiet here. Of course there are no snake charmers, Tibetan monks or Himalayas either. Can’t have everything.

Anyhow, I spent my final hours in Kathmandu doing some last minute shopping. I bought a sweater, a book on Yetis, and a handful of T-shirts. In virtually every shop they sold calenders with Buddhist imagery printed on handmade paper. I debated buying one but then thought better of it. I left for Kathmandu airport (among one of the most dangerous in the world because the country’s too damned poor to afford radar) on a cab blasting Elton John’s “Goodbye English Rose.” It was an oddly melodramatic moment. I spent several hours languishing in the absolute chaos of the Dehli airport until I boarded my Austrian Air flight. There everything was jarringly clean and orderly. Oopah music was wafting over the PA and the stewardess in their smart fraulein outfits offered everyone bread, cheese and a drink of their choice. I arrived in Prague after about 12 hours total traveling time and with little in the way of a good night’s sleep. I deposited my bags and headed into town. As I sauntered among the beerhalls, the gingerbread architecture, the Dunkin’ Donuts and McDonalds, and the legions of tourists, I happened upon a small boutique that specialized in Asian knick-knacks. There hanging next
to a pile of Tibetan incense was the EXACT same calendar with the Buddhist imagery that I almost bought in Kathmandu. Suddenly, my lack of sleep caught with me. For one terrifying moment I really wasn’t sure where the hell I was. Was I Nepal? Czechland? Ann Arbor? Fortunately, at that instance my mom slapped me on my back and said, “Let’s go get a beer.” I complied. I needed one.

Anyway, on Thursday I’m off for deepest darkest Russia, which should prove to be at least as wild and woolly as my Nepal escapades.


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