July 27th, 2008

Night in Ikebukuro, Part I

Let's start with the set-up.

I love my life. I really do. I just wish I had had time in the AM to grab my computer before my emergency sub call at work!

I met up with Yuta and Nicole, a new friend and another ECC teacher, for the famous fireworks festival near Kuramae station. (Pics to be posted on klatcher). We were all running a little late and while Yuta and I caught the end of it, Nicole missed it altogether. We crashed for awhile at McDonalds to wait for the crowds to disperse and then hopped into a small izakaya around the corner for drinks and more eating. And guess what: I LOVE natto! LOL. For those of you who don't know, natto is fermented soybeans. A little slimy, but a great flavor. A lot of foreigners have strong feelings about natto. It smells a little like puke, depending on the quality. But taste: natto tastes like soybeans as sake tastes like rice. That's the best way I can describe it. And the natto we had last night was not to pukey smelling..and mixed with meguro (tuna – which im starting to like raw, afterall..its not so strong tasting here in Japan). Would have been nice to break up the slime with rice – im not a slime fan. But, yeah. Yay natto!

So we hung out in the izakaya until a bit after 11. I thought I was ok with the trains because the last one home was 12:44. BUT I forgot about the weekend schedule. It occurred to me, while waiting on the Yamanote platform at Otachimachi, that I was screwed. I texted Yuta that I'd be staying in Ikebukuro overnight afterall...but only after he got on his train back home. I didn't want him to think I was asking to stay over, or anything. So-- I had a choice. I could try and find some cheap hotel and crash out or just stay up and see what happened. I decided to stay up.

I arrived in Ikebukuro, actually, with a small hope that the Tobu line was running. My bed was sounding kinda nice. I ran over there, saw the shutters down, and realized that the weekend scheduled last train must be earlier than 12:44. My cell phone power was low. Id be stuck here all night with no way to communicate with anyone, update twitter, check the morning schedules, watch TV, or call for help if I needed to. I'm so happy my parents were happily ignorant of the situation back in Idaho. It's exactly the kind of thing a Mom would freak out about if she knew...even if her kid was almost 30. haha.

Night in Ikebukuro Part II

I started by walking around Ikebukuro...the restaurant area. Guys were standing around passing out brochures. Other people who missed the train seemed to be looking for places to wait. I wasn't sure where to go and I had no idea how to ask “Where's a good place to waste some time?” (the first of many phrases I needed to translate this night.) Everything was well lit and Tokyo-ish. Some drunk people loitered. A guy drank a soda outside the kombini. I walked in circles, almost hoping to run into someone interesting to waste time. Nada. And no rogue gaijins walking around either. I meandered back near a station exit, spied the 24-hour McDonalds, used my last free iced coffee ticket, and plopped down on the bench outside to start waiting it out.

After a new minutes, a guy sat down next to me. He had 2 phones and kept checking them carefully...like he was syncing them, or waiting for a call, or something. I wanted to say something because I was bored and talkative. I didn't know if it was a good idea or not, so I waited quietly. Sipped my coffee. Watched people walk by. Watched the guy on the bench across from me squeezing the inner thigh of the girl he was with as they sat close and she giggled. My bench guy put away his phones. Time passed. Finally, I mustered up enough courage to ask in some broken tarzan japanese when the first train ran. Seems to be at 4:30am. And he continued to say something...I didnt understand. So, sumimasen! Wakarimasen! Nihon go wa yokunai desu! Yuta said something that people think you don't want to talk to them when you say your Japanese is bad. Like clockwork, he shut up and continued to ignore me. Fine. I wasn't trying to end the conversation...but since I was clueless...why not? And anyway, I knew I'd be stuck here until 4:30. I thought about walking more...but...why? I'd just spend money and I couldn't freakin say anything anyway. I started a vocab list: window, missed (as in missed the train), uniform (as in the guy in the white uniform loading burger buns into the McDonalds is totally hot), frustrating (as in not being able to talk to anyone), motorcycle (as in I wish I had one so I could go home), bench, start/begin....

The guy next to me got up an hour later as a girl approached. They stepped into Mcdonalds, grabbed a drink and headed off down the street. Sip. Sit. Wait. Drunk guy on the bench across from me, homeless guy napping a few yards away. People in and out of Mcdonalds. Some looking at me. Most ignoring. Sip. Wait. The drunk guy comes over to sit next to me. People pay attention suddenly as he tries to talk. I can' t understand anything. Never mind just Japanese words..but slurred and sleepy lingo on top of it. I did hear “doko” I started shrugging with a smile. He copied me. I started doing a thumbs up while saying “Its ok!” He copied that too. Good fun. Slurred talk. People staring. The drunk guy started pretending to ride a motorcycle. Broooom! He weaved back and forth on the bench. “Motorcycle!” I said. He repeated it. “It's ok!” I said. “Motorcycle! It's ok!” Yeah! He rode his imaginary machine for a minute..and then suddenly keeled over away from me an passed out. Nice.

Night in Ikebukuro, Part III

I took the opportunity to switch benches. Some time passed. Drunk guy napped. Someone sat next to the homeless guy – now across from me. They checked their keitai. They waited. They left. The homeless guy stretched out on the bench for a nap an put his hand down his pants. I started writing phrases that I wanted to translate. “Im bored waiting for the train.” “My cell phone is out of power.”

Suddenly, another guy sits down next to me. He's not drunk, at least, not falling over sloppy. Shaved head. Glasses. Shirt tucked into pants. He sits way too close. I scoot over. “Hi” he says. I don't know what his motives are, but I employ him to start translating for me. Make him useful. Window- mado. Missed – maniawanai. Motorcycle- baiku. Bench -isu. Is it correct? I didn't know. He asked if I was sleepy. I said – Nemui, demo...iced kohi nomimashita. Yes, sleepy, but I drank an Iced coffee. “It's ok!” thumbs up. He laughed, tried to scoot closer. And then...LOL...he asked me if I wanted to go to a hotel! Haha! Funny. Yeah, of course. A white girl sitting outside a McDonalds, near the train station exit...writing in a notebook. I MUST be waiting here to be picked up! No thanks I said.. but he kept asking. In fact, he grabbed my wrist lightly and said ..lets go..lets go. No, I said. He sat there, smiling..waiting. Ok, so, he wasn't going to go, he could just look like an ass then. His choice. He waited. kept asking. And then..as incentive..”ok, just 30 minutes!” Really? Just 30 minutes? Thats it? What a gentleman! What a deal! No. And then...”let's study a the hotel!” haha. Really, really? Study at the hotel? Yeah, good line. And finally....I said in fast english “you can sit here all night smiling like a dumb ass next to me, or you can save your dignity and take a hike” “I know” he says. And sat there. Smiling. “I have a boyfriend,” I say. “Hes German and he'll kill you.” Keeps smiling. Oh, you like death? Nice. I decided to ignore him. I wrote down more vocab: “ignore”, “dismember”, “Why are you talking to me?” “Have you been drinking?” “My angry German boyfriend is going to kill you slowly with a spoon.”

“Ok, have a nice night!”, he says, Yeah, cheers buddy. I wave him off.

You know you are in a critical stage of learning a language when you can understand being propositioned but don't know the proper demeaning insults to draw attention and embarrassment.

Night in Ikebukuro Part IV

By this time, it's a little after 3am. I'm in the home stretch of staying awake on random benches. (Woohoo! I now have a spent-the-night-on-a-bench story!) I put my little notebook away and take a look around. A guy in a white shirt has taken up a standing position, leaning on the building wall, smoking a cigarette. Strangely enough, the guy who I originally tried to communicate with, who'd left with a girl earlier, was back in front of McDonalds pacing around and talking on one of his phones. Strange. Whatever. I decide to be productive and delete some of the bad fireworks pictures off my camera. As Im looking though them, a group of middle eastern men walks by. "Hi there girl. Oh, you like photo?" I hardly even look up. What a silly question. But the world is full of silly questions when second languages come into play. They are passing anyway to go crowd around a bench closer to the Mcdonalds. I finish deleting some pictures and put my camera away. As Im doing this, one of the guys walks over. "Hi there, pretty girl. Are you waiting for someone?" "Yes," I say. Of course I am! That person is the train. And besides, what single gal alone is going to say, "No, and please continue bothering me..." "Oh", he says " well, we are over here if you man doesnt come." "Yeah, thanks," Tempting but....

time passes. Im getting chilly. It's the cool humidity or my lack of sleep. Maybe both. It's almost 3:30 and probably obvious that no one is coming for me. While I know that inside the McDonalds will be as boring as all hell, it's getting a little strange outside. I just have this 6th sense to go in. So..I go in, buy an hot coffee (out of coupons) and a fish sandwich sans mayo for Y360 total, and stumble on down to the basement where the rest of the exhausted lay in wait for the trains to start moving again. Coffee and fish sandwich fight it out in my belly.

It's absolutely freezing. The AC is turned down to arctic levels. I huddle around my coffee, and shove my ipod in my ears to avoid the annoying music. At least an hour to kill yet. I make notes for my journal entries today. I watch all levels of drunk people walk up and down the stairs. I see that the wasted motorcycle guy from the bench is passed out across from a 100000 year old lady reading a comic. I write down more words to translate: bag, tray, awkward, bloated... And more phrases: "Why are you talking to me?" "Have you been drinking?" "McDonalds is safe but boring and cold." "It's difficult to sit here and waste time and avoid getting propositioned." and "That girl just poured sugar all over her chicken nuggets!" (True story!)

Wasted motorcycle man gets up and starts wandering. I put on my pretend invisible cloak. It seems to work and he ignores me completely and starts talking to the older gentleman at the next table who's listening to something on his keitai and reading an advertisement magazine. Phew.

It 4:25, I've had about all the sitting I can stand. Im tired. exhausted. I walk out of the McDonalds and down into the station without incident. Tobu line is still closed at 4:30. Rats. Lean, wait. Watch a guy watching me. Pace. Lean. At 4:50, the doors lift and access is granted. The first train -for future notice- is local and leave at 5:05. First express train leaves at 5:30. I hop the local, snare a seat, and turn up the ipod to stay awake. A girl and guy laugh happily together across the way. The train arrives to my stop about 5:40. Walking home, I realize how happy I am. I love my life. It's just so random! Most people would translate it into crazy and careless, but you have to understand that Ive lived in NYC for 8 years. I trust people just about as far as I can throw them, and drunk men even less. Good times.

As I write this, im in a pizza/ italian bistro place in Shibuya. totally lost, but happy to be be so.
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