Saturday, January 21, 2006

Stupid Foreigner, part 7: Pee Wee and Me

So I was on-line last night, looking for cheap accommodations in Tokyo, when I ran across the perfect greeting to a website. Maybe I'll steal it for this blog:
First of all, Taito Ryokan Staffs would like to thank you for your taking time to visit our web site. Among the 6 billion people on the planet, among the 8 billion web sites all over the world, you came to this tiny house home page, we really appreciate this chance, oppotunity, fate, destiny. We are not sure that it is meant to be for you to experience this classic and real basic Japanese style in a wooden house - built 1950 (Showa Year 25). Although, if there was a crossing path for us to meet you, that would be our most pleasure and happiness. Some information and a bit of detail may be refered just a few clicks away, please. All in all, this site provides an unique experience in the heart of downtown Tokyo, Asakusa. This is the Ryokan of Tokyo, Japan.
I agree! Couldn't possibly agree more. But you may be asking why I was looking for cheap accommodation in Tokyo. Is it research for my regular Saturday feature, Stupid Foreigner, where I re-run something I wrote years ago while living in Japan?


I'm in the midst of planning a five-week summer trip to South-East Asia. A friend asked if I wanted to go a wedding in Thailand in July. I checked airfares, and they turned out to be a minimum of $1,200. So, I checked to see if I could use my United miles, and sure enough, there were two seats available. So ... it's back to Asia, for more Stupid Foreigner tales. First a week in Japan, followed by Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, and possibly Singapore, Malaysia, and the Philippines. Why am I including all this information here? Well, because it's Saturday morning, so I'm wasting your time. Plus, this is how I get when planning my next trip. Very excited. Lots of time spent online, researching the perfect itineraries, plans that I'll quickly forget about once my feet hit foreign soil. Anyway, while I bounce around all the travel sites, you can read something I wrote on Jan. 22, 1999:

Recently I've been feeling a little like Pee Wee Herman. No, I haven't been caught red-handed in an adult theater, at least not yet. (Not that I ever watch adult movies in Japan. It's just not worth it because of a local law that prohibits movie-makers from showing pubic hair so they pixilate it.)

Pee Wee and I have something else in common: both of us had our bicycle stolen.

Not exactly shocking news--living in Japan and having a bicycle stolen. I suppose every single person in Japan has had at least one bicycle stolen. It's sort of like being mugged in New York, or being a victim of road rage in L.A., or watching your home team lose yet another game in Chicago.

So, if it happens to everyone, why was I upset? I suppose because it finally happened to me! Plus, my bicycle was special. Understand, Japan has its own version of the lowly bicycle. The common type is called the mama-charii, and it comes complete with a basket, a bell, and a light attached to the front wheel. It weighs about 30 pounds and comes with three speeds, if you're lucky. Plus the color choices tend to be either black or glay. But my bicycle was cooler than the average bicycle. It was a little sleek even. And it was mine.

So you can imagine my surprise when I walked out of my apartment and saw vast emptiness where my bicycle had been only 12 hours before. I almost cried, mostly because I knew I would have to walk to the train station.

That day as I walked along, dodging all the happy cyclists, I scanned every bicycle in my field of vision. I took out my phrase book and learned Japanese for "stop thief!" I wondered if certain bicycles I came across had a recent paint job ("That one looks too shiny, too clean!"). I broke into a sweat, because this was the first time I was actually walking in a long long time. I even considered filing a police report. But mostly I searched for an unlocked bicycle, one I might steal.

I came up empty, just like Pee Wee in much of the movie. I didn't bother following leads stating that my bicycle was in a basement somewhere. Because I knew that Japanese buildings do not have basements. I thought about the times that I "borrowed" unlocked bicycles during my various after-hours escapades.

One night stood out in my mind. After work, I decided to go out for a drink or two with co-workers. Well, the beers at the izakayas tend to be rather large, so two beers took quite some time. As midnight approached, I realized my train would turn into a pumpkin, so I raced over to the station only to see the train pulling out. I checked the timetable. This late, the next train home wouldn't show up for another 30 minutes. In my two-beer state of mind, I thought it would be a better idea to walk home. Five minutes later I realized the silliness of my decision so I started looking for a bicycle. Imagine my happiness when I almost immediately found a bike, on its side, in a nearby alleyway. Without even looking around to see if anyone could see me, I jumped on and headed home.

It turned out to be a long, long ride. The bike just didn't want to ride properly. It was old, I figured, which explained why pedalling was so hard. At one point I started going up a hill. "That's strange," I thought, "there's no hill between Shimizu and my home in Shizuoka." But in my mind I thought it would be a good idea to keep going up. At the top I'd spot Shizuoka and coast down in that direction. I never made it to the top. The bike just wasn't cooperating. I walked it up part of the way, but then, eventually, realized that this hill was on the opposite side of Shimizu. Anyway ... to make a long story short, I eventually got to Shizuoka after a hell ride, which at one point involved me walking the bike across a dry river bed. There are lots of dry rivers in Japan.

By the time I was almost home, the two giant beers were out of my system, so I started wondering about certain things: Will I return this bike tomorrow? Will I remember where I borrowed it from? And ... what the hell is that metal-scraping sound? Two blocks from home I looked down and realized this bike had two flats. Well, not really flats. There were no tires. Just the metal rim scraping on the street. And that's why it was so hard to ride the damned thing!

I finally realized that this was actually a bike that had been thrown away, ready to be hauled off to North Korea or somewhere. In my anger, I jumped off the bike, left it in the middle of the street, and walked the final two blocks.

Flash forward to my search for my stolen bicycle. I figured that "stop thief" wasn't enough to say if I did in fact spot someone riding my bike, so I went to a bookstore and bought a book called "Japanese Street Slang," figuring that I could find a few choice words to say to the thief. The book was a find. I don't remember most of the words, of course, but I learned that the Japanese language is actually quite colorful. One of my favorite words was for female masturbation, something like "manzuri." Literally, it means "ten thousand rubs." Why doesn't English have a word like that? Funnier still is the word for male masturbation, "senzuri," which translates to "a thousand rubs." (More like a hundred, right Pee Wee?) But I never got a chance to use my new vocabulary.

Good news and bad news came the following weekend. I got word that the police had spotted my bike parked somewhere. So a friend called the cops the next day to find out where it was. They told him that, well, it was missing once again. Now that's what I call an example of great police work. They find a lost bicycle only to let it be stolen again.

But a stolen bicycle is serious business in Japan, despite the fact that 100,000 of them are stolen every single day. (Here's a related statistic from a book my employer gave me: On Your Own in Japan: Everything You Need to Know to Survive and Thrive: "In Tokyo, 3,566,391.7 umbrellas are lost on the trains every ten minutes.") My friend had to go to a police station to file an official missing-bicycle report. Not only did they want to know where the bicycle was parked before being stolen, but also in which direction it was parked, and what I was doing while it was being stolen, and what my ATM card's secret number was. Of course I lied about everything.

I'm not sure if I'll ever see my bicycle again. But I know the police will do what they can. I know this because a guy I know was once busted for riding a stolen bicycle. Someone reported seeing a foreigner riding a stolen bicycle to the police. So what the police did is (this is true), they staked out this guy's place, and when they saw him riding away on the bike in question, they blocked the street with a squad car, lights flashing, and actually cuffed the guy and took him to the station.

But I guess that's what happens in a safety country like Japan, where the police don't have much to do. I just hope they never find me in an adult theater ...


Post a Comment

<< Home