Tuesday, February 22, 2005

the new digs

This is the sixth new place in just over two years.

I don't think of myself as a wandering kind of guy. There are tons of foreigners here who blow most of their language teaching salaries on jaunts around Asia, treks to Thailand, Indonesia, China or India squeezed in on a week's vacation. Skews your sense of reality when it's no big deal to hear that someone got a few days off and few to Hong Kong "just to see what it's like." I have pretty much stayed put, both out of a desire to save money and because I always felt there was enough fascinating stuff just around my neighborhood.

Which leads to a lot of cold Japanese Christmases, but has also produced some of my best Japan stories ever. Last winter break my brother came to visit me in Japan, and during New Years we crammed in with several thousand of our closest friends to get luck for the New Year at one of Kyoto's shrines, then ended up in a whole in the wall bar packed ear to ear at long bamboo tables drinking beer. I would be hard pressed to explain how it was we ended up in a massive graveyard overlooking the city with six brand new friends; one loud mouthed Osaka girl who had been ecstatic to show us her grandfather's grave a few minutes before broke down in front of it, The guys behind us stopped the ghost jokes when she began to give a sloppy drunken homage to her grandfather, begging him to forgive her for not coming by more often.

But back to apartments. Somehow I've ended up moving like crazy during my time here, starting at an English teacher job in the deep mountains of Shizuoka's tea country, where my neighbor was a guy of uncertain nationality who called himself Mike and had natural sounding if limited English. I would see him out occasionally with a team of Brazilian day laborers who wore full white jumpsuits, the handful of them waitng by the side of the road with canned vending machine coffee, waiting for their ride, or scooting away somewhere in a van. I don't think it was any coincidence that all the foreigners in town stayed in one apartment block. I housesat in a tidy three room apartment with a garden for six months a colleague while she was away. Then subletted a room in a wonderful old, well kept two story house with a pathological perfectionist for a housemate.

"Jamie, why did you not lock the door? There are many people who could steal our things."
"I walked across the street to get better cell phone reception. It never left my sight!"
"Yes, but you know that these people are very clever."
". . ."

A farmhouse in Yamagata, a wind rattled duplex in a suburb city of Tokyo. Both living in close quarters with people I was working everyday. Which has it's ups and downs. Downs being you don't bring girls over and serve them dinner and drink wine.

Apartment #6 is shaping up to about the same pros and cons as the rest. The rent is reasonable, I didn't get screwed into paying any reikin (literally "respect money") to the landlord, it's a three minute hop from the station, and is smack in the middle of downtown. More precisely it is on the fourth floor of a building that houses an Indian restaurant (first floor), a mysterious business called "Club Maria", which I read off it's faded black doormat, and a beauty salon called "La Reve", and a Karaoke Bar called "OZ2". The karaoke bars noise doesn't waft up to the fourth floor, but everytime I step out my front door I step into the unmistakable odor of real Indian curry.

As I was moving my last few things in the other day I finally met my next door neighbor, an Indian man whose age I can't quite place. We said our hellos and chatted a bit in his stuttered but usable English, and he told me he'd been here for nine years, and that he owns the restaurant on the first floor. Suddenly it all clicked into place: the authentic Indian restaurant, the only place I looked at that said ok to a foreigner. I promised I'd stop by his restaurant for lunch sometime, and we shook hands, off to work. He went to stew out curries for Japanese looking for a taste of the exotic, and I went to teach English to middle aged women seeking the same.

1 comment:

rachel said...

Sixth new place in two years? I've just decided to move into my seventh, although some of them have just been cross-town walks. And you've been there longer than two years anyway...I think that this age (even though you are older than me and have a different age) (oldie) is bound up with a nomadic lifestyle. And why not? Moving around a lot doesn't necessarily make you a shallow tourist, just a fidgety one. I think you can still appreciate a place with some depth after living there for only a handful of months, as long as your perceptors are on full-blast.
There was a word I learned in Chile: "patiperra"--sort of like foot/walk-dog. Just someone who sees a lot of different streets and places. I like it.