Where He's Been, Part 1

Sep 19,2012

Dear Reader, I'm back after two weeks away and a long, long flight and a moderately long bus ride back to Tottori. I've heard the best way to avoid jet lag is to stay awake during the entire flight and then just go to bed whenever it's night in the country where you arrive. No problem, I say: the flight, for me, is eleven hours of sheer abject terror. Why isn't everyone afraid of heights, and especially of airplanes? Shouldn't it be instinctive? Or do they know something I don't? Why doesn't a wing come off in mid-air, or the floor fall through and drop us to our deaths, or all electronic systems fail and bring the machine down into the ocean, or the engine catch fire and make us all explode into a firey mess, or the captain and co-pilot both wack out and decide to try taking the plane into outer space? Any of those things happening seems infinitely more likely than the fact that I'm still alive and sitting here typing this right now. Of course it's not rational, but fears rarely are. John Allen Paulos, in his helpful book Innumeracy, pointed out that hour-for-hour, we're equally likely ('actually equally unlikely') to die in a car than an airplane, but that more people die in car accidents because we spend more time in cars. Ship accidents are more likely, he demonstrates, water being much more dangerous than people realise, and yet I'm rarely happier than when aboard a ship, and rarely more afraid than on an airplane.

I didn't take these pictures. I didn't even look out the window.

After we touched down in Osaka I hugged my wife and told her how glad I was that we don't have to get aboard another airplane for another two years. But then we had a long bus ride back to Tottori, and the bus kept going over these really high bridges over deep water. Hadn't we had enough of that, I wondered. I finally started to doze off, and every time I woke up in hypnopomic state I thought for a moment that we were still up in the air and never coming down.

But at last, late last night, we made it back home to Yoshinari, showered and slept, and, with the exception of about an hour in the middle of the night, slept until morning and got ready for work. Here I am now, ready to relate my mundane observations for the trip.

With my father and bride, somewhere in New Jersey

The purpose of the trip was to have the closest thing to a marriage ceremony we deigned to have, neither of us wanting any of the trappings of traditional wedddings. At the same time, I wanted to introduce her to my family and to the United States (as represented by each coast), where everything is big. And exciting. And as a very wise man once said bigger isn't always betterer. Actually, there were some things that were awesome, but I'm really glad to be back on solid ground and eating home-cooked, naturally tasty food. That's not to say that Manhattan doesn't have many great restaurants--it certainly has, and we were privileged to have dined in several of them--but the food is just, well, different.

The Borgeois Pig in Manhattan has some excellent cheese fondue.

For one thing, the vegetables aren't as tasty and don't seem as nutrient-dense as here. It probably has something to do with soil quality and mass production on a giant scale. The first food shock we had was in a pancake house, where I wanted to introduce my bride to a classic American tradition, but the egg yolks were a strange colour. They weren't a rich orange like eggs in Japan, but a pale, sickly, almost florescent yellow. I already knew that it's dangerous to eat them raw and that they have very little flavour, but I'd forgotten about the colour.

Then there was the portion sizes. Weak coffee ('sock juice') is served in bowls and cold drinks come in buckets. Of course, you say, everyone knows that American portions are huge. But there were so many things we wanted to try. Eventually we got used to ordering on entree to split between the two of us, and even that was often too much food and too little satisfaction. Surprizingly, I don't seem to have gained any weight.

Typical diner fare: pastrami with what looks like arugula and some weird cheese

On the other hand, there is one thing that America does really, really well, and that is cakes and cookies. I didn't take any pictures of any of these because they aren't much to look at, by the taste is amazing. I ate as much of that stuff as I could, and now I'm sick of sweets--appropriately, since I'm back to being as strict as I was before I left and wouldn't be able to get anything but second-rate sweets in Tottori anyway. If one has to be strict, it's good to be in a place where the vegetables and eggs are superior to the sweets, I suppose.

Now that that's out of the way, the relating of anecdotes and observations from Millbrae, Manhattan, Brooklyn, New Jersey, Woodstock, and the San Francisco Bay will take at least one more post if not more.

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