Monthly Archives: May 2014

Rolling Up in Osaka

This post was originally published on Beacon Reader, an experiment in crowdsourced publishing that has subsequently ceased to exist. RIP Beacon Reader. 

When my flight finally landed in Japan, I almost cried with relief and a sense of completion that I’ve felt very few times in life. Eleven months and some change of traveling without being able to see an end in sight, and finally, there I was. I had reached the end of my journey.

I’d given myself Japan as a reward because I knew I would love it the most. Ever since I played Katamari Damacy on PS2 when I was 19, I was fascinated by Japanese culture. The robots, the food, the cute, the darkness, and most of all, the weirdness—I wanted to be surrounded by it, rolling it all up with my virtual katamari.

 

I flew through China on a 10 hour flight from Vietnam. I honestly don’t even remember where in China I connected, as it wasn’t a place I’d ever heard of people going. I was the only person not of Asian descent on the flight, but somehow the PA system still addressed me in English and the flight attendants all spoke it. I walked around the small airport and contemplated buying a Kinder Bueno, but it was the equivalent of $7 when the cashier rang it up. I told her it was highway robbery just because I knew she couldn’t understand me, put it back, and left to board the second half of my flight. All the seats were mini, and my knees pressed against the seat in front of me more than usual.

When I arrived, I was so glad to be off the plane and so excited to be in Japan that I said “konichiwa” to everyone I saw. A Japanese attendant helped me fill out my immigration card the way a tutor would attend to a pupil. I thanked him in Japanese and headed to customs. I was the only person on the entire flight that they searched. I didn’t care. The attendant picked up a bag I’d tied off at the top and asked me what was in it.

“Presents,” I said.

“Presents from who?” he said.

“Presents FOR my friends,” I said.

He held out an immigration card listing prohibited items for me to review, and his finger just happened to be positioned next to the clause banning illegal drugs, specifically MDMA, marijuana, cocaine, methamphetamine, an heroin. I looked at him kind of puzzled about what he was suggesting but not totally shocked, and shook my head no. He shrugged. “Welcome to Japan!”

It was only 10pm, but everything in the airport was closing. I was beyond doing research before I got to a place the way that people do when they go on vacation. I was very much in get-there-and-figure-it-out mode, but my incorrect assumption that a technological country like Japan would have had 24-hour rail access made me curse my carelessness.

I couldn’t find an ATM anywhere. Apparently they were all “closed.” I didn’t understand how an ATM could be closed, or if they unplugged them or why they would ever do that, but I figured I could use my card to get where I needed to go. When I went to board the train, they said they didn’t take credit cards. One attendant told me the last train for the night was about to leave. He couldn’t offer me anymore help than that. The train left, and my eyes welled up with tears. The attendant looked away, embarrassed by my display of emotion, and busied himself elsewhere. Then I realized there were multiple train lines with different attendants, so I explained my situation to someone from a different one.

“Come on!” he said, ushering me through the turnstiles. “You have to go now to take train, buy your ticket with credit card at the end of line.” I thanked him profusely and found my way there. At the end of the line, the conductor didn’t know anything about a credit card promise, and he told me the ATM there was closed too.

“Well. What would you like me to do?”

“Go ahead then,” he said in a gesture of kindness and situational discretion that one would almost never encounter via the authoritarian control freaks who work in the public transportation industry in the US. If this had happened in New York, I thought, I would have had to sleep in the subway or beg. The fact that this night train clerk was able to recognize my problem as a flaw in the system and permit me to pass spoke volumes about the culture I was about to enter.

I wheeled my suitcases to my capsule hotel, and set out to find a beer. What I found instead that night was the most insane welcome to Japan I could have ever hoped or dreamed for.

To be continued…

100 Remnants of a Year Well Lived

This post was originally published on Beacon Reader, an experiment in crowdsourced publishing that has subsequently ceased to exist. RIP Beacon Reader. 
Overview: This past year I traveled around the world buying post cards in every place I went. Each one tells a story. As I go through the process of framing and hanging them, I’m going to tell the related story here on Beacon Reader. Please subscribe to my page to support my writing efforts and to get strange tales of faraway lands delivered straight to your inbox—and to get access to all the other great content on this site.

During the past year I spent traveling around the world, I didn’t purchase many things. I bought food, water, the occasional alcoholic beverage, and admission to various sections of land that contained things deemed to be precious in this world. I purchased the ability to sleep in relative comfort on occasion, and the capability to contact other humans over the internet. But I didn’t allow myself to buy many actual, tangible things during my trip. I packed what I thought was the bare minimum amount of things I could live with, and forced myself to sacrifice one item every time I bought something new, as baggage overage charges on airlines can wind up costing a pretty penny; regarding international shipping, in most places you’d have better luck throwing your stuff off the side of a cliff and hoping an eagle would swoop by and carry it to its destination.

The one exception I allowed myself was post cards. Since they’re each so light and don’t take up much space, I would go into gift shops and browse but made sure to leave only a few post cards heavier. I turned my selection process into a craft, going into the weirdest old stores I could find and picking ones that may not have borne typical icons of that region’s beauty but contained a deliberate statement by the photographer. I looked for ones that captured the essence of a place, or the absurdity, or the hypocrisy. I mailed some to friends if the specific place reminded me of them, and if I could find a post office. Others I began incorporating into a scrap book where I arranged all the other pieces of paper I accumulated to denote the chapter. But the rest I kept in a box in the larger suitcase that I would check on airplanes and use as storage while keeping the immediately relevant items in the smaller carry-on bag.

At one point, I think right around the time I left Thailand and had to carry my bags from a boat across a wooden plank the approximate size of a balance beam, I realized that about half the weight of my luggage was paper products. I have never been able to let go of paper. I hoard it. I know—know, deep in my heart—that someday a question will come up and the only way to answer it will be by locating the one specific cocktail napkin that I preserved approximately 27% of the way down in the 2009 box of random NYC paper items.

After finally unpacking yesterday, 21 days after returning to NYC, I went through my post card collection and realize that I had accumulated almost exactly 100 loose ones, even after solidifying about half in my scrap book.

Each one is a mental trigger for one of the crazy stories you may have caught brief references to on Twitter or seen snapshots of on Instagram over the past year, which I consider the most positively formative year of my 27-year existence.

Coincidentally, I happened to find a cardboard box full of post-card-sized empty picture frames that someone had abandoned in my apartment lobby a few nights ago. I decided to create a wall of inspiration with the spoils of my travels and luck. As I go through the process of hanging them, I’m going to tell the related story here on Beacon Reader.

Please subscribe to my page to support my writing efforts and to get strange tales of faraway lands in your inbox—and access to all the other great content on this site.

<3 Arikia

The more things change

I’ve been back in New York for a week now. Walking down Avenue A to the gastro pub where I was to meet Joey, down the familiar streets with not-so-familiar-anymore buildings, I rolled the old phrase along in my brain in a loop: “the more things change the more things stay the same the more things change…” It’s only been a year, but so much is different.

I was 15 minutes early—something else that has changed in the past year—so I took a seat at the bar and drank a water while I read my new copy of Vice Magazine. A few minutes later, a guy came in, exchanged familiarities with the bartender, and took a seat next to me. I continued to read an article about South Sudan. An order of fries came out and landed in front of the guy, who looked super stoked. He ate a few and turned to me:

“Hey, do you want to share these fries with me? I mean, I’m not going to finish them all…”

“Um, sure,” I said. After a year abroad, I couldn’t say no to American French fries, and I’ve never even really liked fries. I told him I hadn’t had them since I’d been back in the USA.

“What are you reading about, Africa?” he guessed, probably from the image on the page.

“Yeah, about South Sudan.”

“Is it good?”

“Well, I’m a couple thousand words in and the author still hasn’t really told us what the piece is about,” I said, flipping through the earlier pages of text to convey the word count. “But he’s a good story-teller.”

I ate some more of his fries. He asked me what magazine I was reading, if I liked Vice, and when I said I did, he asked if I worked for them. “Sometimes,” I said.

“Oh, so do you write on like a blog, or Medium, or a website, or a bunch of publications?”

“Yeah,” I said. “All of those.” I thought it was funny that he mentioned Medium, and then I realized that it was only funny because I was so far away for so long where people barely knew what Twitter was, let alone Medium, but here I was in New York where people were the most tapped into the media out of everywhere in the world. I told him I started a publication called LadyBits, and that it launched on Medium.

“So are you like a journalist, writer, blogger, media person, thousands of followers, tweeter?”

I laughed. “You pegged me. You’re pretty good at that you know?”

“Hey, this might be a really weird question…” he said, trailing off while he waited for my facial acknowledgement that it was ok to proceed, “but did you by any chance write an article about James Deen and Google Glass?”

I looked at him in disbelief. “As a matter of fact, I did.”

“I thought you looked familiar,” he said. “I was just reading it.”

“Ok, very funny. Did Joey put you up to this? Where is he, tell him he’s late,” I said looking at my watch.

“Who’s Joey? No, I swear I was just reading it on my phone, look:” he powered on his iPhone, opened his browser, and sure enough:

FrenchFriesJamesDeenIt was too weird. I felt like a celebrity.

“Well, hi, I’m Arikia,” I said, extending my hand. He shook it like he was shaking the hand of a celebrity. He asked me about my travels and we chatted for another minute until Joey finally came over and greeted me. He hadn’t recognized me when he came in and had walked right past me to a table. I said goodbye to my new friend, thanked him for the fries, and told him to contact me if he wanted to eat more fries someday and continue our conversation.

Yesterday, I was thinking to myself that the more things change, the more they stay the same. I was back in New York, starting to get a little stressed out, a little cynical, remembering all the struggle and the loneliness and why I left in the first place. I was starting to think that maybe I should have just stayed on my paradise island, threw my computer off the ocean cliff outside my $6-a-night bungalow, and started my life over there. I was wondering why I came back, and if I would ever find connections in New York like I did out there.

But here was this guy, this stranger, looking at me with this expression of awe, and I knew in that moment that things have indeed changed. The New York I came back to is not the same New York I left, because I am not the same Arikia as the one who lived here before. I have been renovated, upgraded if you will, just like computer hardware and the stores along Avenue A. I am a better version of me now. On some weird, metaphysical level, I felt like this bizarre coincidence was New York’s way of accepting me back and embracing me; like the city was saying to me “I want you here, and I’m happy you came back.”

Somebody once said that living in New York City was like being in an abusive relationship with the coolest guy in the world. I’m not so naive to think that I won’t get a black eye here and there, but damn, baby, when it’s good it’s really good.