Haphazard views : A snooping psyche dissected

An e-space full of ramblings and mumblings

Nippon : Part 1

Sitting in the waiting lounge of Bangalore International Airport, I had my heart pounding and legs shaking. It could have been due to the excitement of going abroad all alone for the first time or it could have been because of the doubts expressed by my friends about my chances of survival in Japan still playing at the back of my mind. I’m still not sure why, for I was both nervous and excited at the same time.

I boarded the Singapore Airlines flight at 11:00 pm and occupied my seat. We would land at Changi International Airport, Singapore early in the morning and then I would have to board another flight to Narita Airport, Tokyo. I was still not feeling comfortable. I had a feeling that my heart was probably going to explode inside. Somehow I managed to stay calm and tried not to look like a fool, although not knowing how much I succeeded. I closed my eyes and opened them only when the announcement for takeoff was made.

The flight took off. The young guy sitting right next to me was going to Brunei. He kept talking to me about his studies in Bangalore, how difficult it was to convince his family that he wanted to study Electronics, especially so as his dad has a huge shipping business in Brunei and they have been living there for almost thirty years etc etc. He was just bullshitting but he was a nice guy, except that he had a very bad breath – something you don’t expect in a passenger who has just boarded an international flight half an hour back. I offered him mint based chewing gums. Thank God, he accepted.
Pretty Chinese/Japanese/Indian (Yes, there indeed were all three types of them) kept walking around taking orders for drinks, snacks and dinner. I was shocked when I heard myself say “A coke please”. Almost everybody around me was ordering Johnnie Walker Black Label, Jack Daniels, Chivas Regal etc and I asked for just a can of coke!!! Well…I don’t know whether my condition was really that bad but it was for the first time in my life that I felt I shouldn’t drink when drinks were actually available in abundance.
After about an hour and a half I started feeling better. I waved to a pretty Chinese airhostess and was appalled to see a pimpled, oily skinned South Indian airhostess respond.
“This is really turning out to be a terrible day” I thought and sighed and said “Can I have a large Chivas on the rocks please?”
She nodded “Sure. Anything to munch on, Sir?”
“Oh…ummm…yes, some salted wafers would be fine. Thanks”

I had gulped down three pegs of Chivas and one glass of red wine by the time dinner was served. And I relished the excellent Indian non-vegetarian dinner with naan, pulav, mutton rogan josh, chicken fry and salad too.

Changi is the biggest international airport I have ever seen (I haven’t seen too many though). The wonderful shopping plaza inside Changi, especially the duty–free liquor shops are too tempting to stay out of. I put in a lot of effort not to look at them and located the gate where I would check-in for Tokyo a couple of hours later. Then I went to the restrooms.

After freshening up, I starter looking around in the electronic goods shops, perfume outlets. And of course once in a while I was glancing towards the flocks of oriental beauties passing by every now and then. It was a pleasant transit at Changi.

Ten minutes before the check-in time I was back at the gate. Another hour later I was comfortably seated at my window-seat in the Tokyo bound flight. Well, it was actually a Los Angeles bound flight which would stop at Tokyo on its way. I was in a great mood because I hadn’t got a window seat in the night flight from Bangalore but I got it when I could make great use of it - on a bright sunny day. However, this good mood didn’t last for too long as the fat dwarf next to me turned out to be a racist pig (he wasn’t a white guy). I don’t know which country he was from. He neither looked like a pure Chinese, nor like a pure Japanese and his English was even more nasal than the Yankees.
I realized what kind of a guy he was the moment he asked me to remove my arm from the common armrest between our seats as he didn’t want my brown arm get in contact with his pale arm. I couldn’t digest the shock at first.
“I beg your pardon!”
“Please remove your arm from this armrest. I need quite a large space to sit comfortably and I don’t want to be touched.”
“Excuse me. Even I want to sit comfortably. Everybody wants to sit comfortably. This is a common armrest and it’s quite broad. I’ve kept my arm well within the half on my side. You may choose to keep yours on the other half or not to.”
I looked outside the window. We were already in the clouds.
He kept quite for some time, and then asked “Are you a Software guy?”
I pretended not to have heard him. But he continued.
“Are you from India?”
“What if I say yes?”
“Nothing. Just asking.”
“Ok. That’s why…”
“That’s why what?”
“Nothing. Just keep your arm away.”
“Shut up, else I’ll have to show you what I can do with this arm.”
He gave me a look which probably would have turned everything to ashes in the Vedic era.
But then, neither were we in the Vedic era nor was he Durvasa Muni.
Rest of the flight was wonderful, with the exception of the lousy lunch served in between.
I was thanking God for providing me with a nice and heavy dinner in the previous night.

Thirty minutes before landing at Tokyo, there was an announcement from the pilot. “Dear passengers, please look through the windows on the left. The weather is good and the day is bright. You can see Mount Fuji. Yes, Dear Passengers, Mount Fuji, the great Volcano Fujiyama.”
It was great. I regretted not carrying my camera in the hand-baggage. This one view had made me forget all about the racist pig, within seconds.


It’s been more than a couple of months now that I’ve landed in Tokyo. I had come here with a fairly skeptical mind as many of my friends and relatives had warned me about the communication problem, weird food and racial discrimination towards ‘Gaijins’ (foreigners) of the Japanese. They doubted if at all I would be able to survive in Japan for too long.
And, boy, how wrong they were! Let me explain.
Within five minutes of stepping out of the flight, I had lost my way in the huge Narita Airport. The only person I could spot nearby was a Japanese girl wearing Airport Staff’s uniform. I remembered that they don’t understand English so I was thinking about inventing some gestures to ask her directions to the immigration check counter. I held out my passport to her and pointed towards the visa stamped page. She looked at it, then looked at my face, then smiled sweetly and said in Queen’s English “Walk straight and take the right escalator down, Sir. The immigration desk is on the right after two blocks”.
I tried to smile and not to look embarrassed (and I’m sure I was looking like a fool), thanked her and started walking.

The immigration and customs officials didn’t know a word in English but they knew their jobs quite well so there wasn’t much of a problem there. I wonder if there are such well-behaved and jolly customs officials in any other country.
Thanks to the conversation between Uma Thurman and Sonny Chiba in Kill Bill Part 1, I already knew ‘Thanks’ in Japanese was ‘arigatou’ , and ‘Good Afternoon’ was ‘Konnichiwa’. By the time I collected my luggage and came out to the Airport Limousine Bus ticket counter, I had enriched my Japanese vocabulary. I had learnt ‘arigatou gozaimas’ meant ‘Thank you very much’.
The ride on the Airport Limousine bus itself was quite enjoyable. There are smartly dressed, English speaking boys and girls at the bus stop outside Narita to load the luggage in the locker of the bus and then to unload them at every stop. Not really the kind of job jeans and cargo clad teenagers would want to do in any other country.
I reached a pre-decided point near Shinagawa Prince Hotel and got off the limousine.
I called a taxi. A uniformed guard standing at the gate of the hotel came forward to help me carry my heavy luggage to the taxi which was about fifteen meters away. I was in a dilemma now. It felt awkward to be helped by the guard of a huge hotel in which I’m damn sure I would never ever get to stay in my entire lifetime. The minimum currency I had in my pocket was the Ten Thousand Yen note and it was too large a sum to tip someone with. I thought of asking the cab driver for some change. The guard took the heaviest suitcase and put it in the back of the taxi, bowed to me, waved goodbye and went back, without even asking for tips.
The cab driver asked me something in Japanese and I assumed he was asking where I wanted to go. As per my colleagues’ instructions I handed over the printout I had taken in my office in Bangalore two days back. It contained a Japanese map to my accommodation in Tokyo, totally Greek to me but easily understandable to the Tokyo cab drivers, every one of whom has a GPS system installed in his taxi. I didn’t have to utter a word after that and he dropped me right inside the complex I was supposed to be in and left.
Still I was not sure which direction to move to as all buildings around me were identical. It was when I spotted a lady coming out of one building with a tiny animal which I had mistaken to be some kind of a cat but actually turned out to be a dog. I went up to her, bowed and asked “Excuse me, ma’m, can you guide me to this address please?” I held out the map to her. She had a long look at it and suddenly said “Hi”.
I smiled and replied “Hi”.
She said “Hi, hi.”
I again said “Hi.”
She gave me a strange look. I knew I had made some foolish mistake again.
All of a sudden she started laughing aloud and made a hand gesture to suggest I should follow her into the building. I dragged my entire luggage and followed her. She took me to the elevator lobby and pointed to the button ‘8’. I understood that I had to go to the eighth floor. I thanked her thinking she would want to go now. But I was wrong. Only after she was sure that I had reached the flat I was supposed to reach, she gave me lots of advices in her language and left. I didn’t understand a word of it but bowed to her and said “arigatou gozaimas” when she was leaving. Her pet had followed us all the way to my flat and now it followed her on her way back too.
The guy I was to share the flat with was supposed to be waiting for me but he wasn’t there so I collected the keys from the mailbox (as instructed by my colleagues) and entered the flat. At least I won’t have to cook now, I thought. Because the guy had sent me an email asking me to bring a pressure cooker and saying he would keep dinner ready as I would be reaching after 11 p.m.
The flat was a total mess with cockroaches and ants all over. I had never seen a dirtier place than that. I noticed there were two bedrooms and the neater and cleaner one had no sheets on the cot, also the cupboard was empty. So I presumed that to be my bedroom and took my luggage in. It was then that my flat-mate entered.
“Hey man!” were his first words.
We shook hands.
"Any trouble reaching here?" asked he.
"Not at all. Hey, I need to ask you one question - what does ‘hi’ mean in Japanese?”
“What? Hi? Okay, Haai. In Japanese ‘haai’ means ‘yes’. Why?”
“Just asking. Thanks”
“Did you bring the pressure cooker I asked you to? Mine isn’t working”
“Yes but I have to unpack it. I’ll do it tomorrow. Let’s have dinner now. I’m too exhausted.”
“No man, unpack it now. I was waiting for it and haven’t even cooked dinner. Can you cook?”
“I manage to make a few things sometimes.”
“Good. Change quickly and cook something. I’m hungry.”
“I beg your pardon!”
“I can’t cook anything but rice and omelet so you have to do the cooking.”
I wasn’t in a position to argue so I said “I can’t stay dirty. I’ll take a bath and come.”
“Why are you taking a bath now? You'll again take a bath in the morning, right? Then do it tomorrow only. Use water judiciously, man.”
“You don’t use water at all it seems from the look of you and the flat.”
“Nothing. Listen, I can’t unpack the pressure cooker now. Nor can I cook now. I have a pack of maggi with me. It’ll be sufficient for me. You can cook for yourself if you want.”
“What? Okay we can share the maggi.”
It’s not that I’m a mean person but I was so pissed off with this irritatingly shameless creature that I wanted to be as mean as possible to him.
“Nope, dude. We can’t. It’s just a small packet of maggi.”
“You should have brought two, man because you knew there would be a roomie waiting for you.”

It was too much for me to digest now. I retorted “Well, first thing, I also knew that the same roomie would keep dinner ready and second, nobody was waiting for me. I came here all alone. I don’t expect anybody to wait or cook food for me. It wasn’t me who suggested you’d cook for both of us. So I’m afraid you’d have to manage with rice and omelet again tonight.”
“But my pressure cooker isn’t working.”
“To make a pressure cooker work properly you have to clean it after use, dude. I’ve never seen a dark brown Hawkins in my life before this.”
I pointed towards the object on the kitchen shelf. “Judicious use of water, indeed.”

I took a long shower, changed into home clothes and ate maggi. My bedroom was neat and clean because on the previous day my company had sent cleaners to clean it up. The rest of the flat was dirty like hell. I felt some relief after shutting the bedroom door and separating myself from the rest of the flat.

The first mail I sent out at office in the next morning was to the housing department of my company, asking them to shift me to a more hygienic apartment with possibly a tidy flat-mate or no flat-mate at all. I had copied the mail to the HR-Head as well. Luckily for me, they took it seriously and instructed me to move to another flat in the same complex two days later.


Old people in Japan are possibly the happiest, jolliest and most active in the world. They spend their time roaming around, laughing, chatting, partying, smoking, drinking and most importantly exercising. Retired aged gentlemen keep their own housing societies clean. Every morning when younger people (including us, foreigners) from all directions rush towards the Railway Station to catch the trains to their respective offices, a group of old men, in the age range of 60-80 clean the roads, pavements, parking places, even elevarors with brooms and mops. They are all dressed in light blue T-shirts, white trousers and sneakers. They wish everybody passing them a very good morning "O-hai-o gozaimas".
…..To be continued.

Labels: , ,

© 2006 Haphazard views : A snooping psyche dissected | Google Newsby Google News.

See me, know me....