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1: At the sea front in Victoria there’s a pontoon area with gangplanks and walkways on the water, with elaborate houseboats and cafés. The cafés all have little hatches at the water level for drive-through kayaks. This is the best idea ever.
2: In the local drug store here in Maui, my wife can’t buy nail polish remover because you need an American proof of age card to show you’re over 18. This is because an ingredient in nail polish remover is used in the production of meth. And everyone knows that meth production is only done by under-18s and foreign nationals. Pfft.
3: And don’t get me started on the weak-ass OTC drugs here. I can’t get decent back pain medication the US without a prescription? Did you guys lose a war or something?
4: Audrey has gone from being scared of water (at the beginning of the week) to saying “I love the ocean!” and swimming by herself in the pool (with her floaty).
5: For the first time in five visits to Hawaii I had shave ice today. Fuck me, why didn’t I have it before?
The newspaper today has reviews for two movies. The first is “rated R for a brief suggestive comment and smoking throughout” and the second is “rated PG-13 for language and violence including intense sustained gun battles and fight scenes.”
Should have made that suggestive comment briefer, I guess. Or replaced it with a gun battle.
In ‘crossing things off my bucket list’ news, yesterday I strode purposefully and confidently to a senior military person* and said “so fill me in, what’s the protocol here**?”
*my father-in-law, a former naval commander
**(“the restaurant we are going to tonight is valet parking only and I’m not sure what to do”)
I don’t have a point to this, it’s just something I remembered.
The last time I came to Hawaii on vacation, three years ago, there were protests in the UK because police had shot dead an unarmed man in the street. The protests turned violent and lead to several days of riots.
Now I’m sitting here checking the news on Twitter and it feels like the same thing all over again.
The night before I flew out to Japan, I had a small family barbecue with my parents and brother. We drank, we toasted travel and opportunity, and they gave me gifts. My brother gave me a book of haiku poetry, a collection culled from a project whereby a bunch of artists, writers and musicians attempted to pen one poem per day, for a year.
On the 13-hour flight to Tokyo the next day, I read the book from cover to cover, and came away feeling inspired. I’d been looking for an idea for a way to journal my experiences, and in those days, before blogs were common, this seemed like a neat way to do it. A girl I’d been seeing before I left - a brief fling we both cheerfully acknowledged as doomed due to impending distance - gave me a blank notebook with a hand-drawn cover. This would be my canvas.
As far as projects go, this was not one of the most persistently pursued. For the first couple of weeks, I managed to get my daily three lines written, in between orientations, looming culture shock and jet lag. As time went on, gaps appeared, and some days I committed two poems to paper to make up for the previous day’s failure.
My daily haiku lasted barely six weeks.
On one day, a couple of weeks into my time in Japan, the local area advisors (two people in their second year on the programme) organised a getting-to-know-you dinner for us newbies. We planned to meet at a train station in the middle of our prefecture, easily reachable by all. I lived in a different direction to most of the others at the dinner, so I arrived at the station on a different train, alone, after most others had got there.
I still remember the scene when I arrived, shy and nervous about meeting a bunch of people, some I’d spoken to before, some completely new to me. A busy train station, full of people starting or finishing their evening commute, with a small crowd of foreigners being conspicuously loud and blonde and red-haired and black and white and all generally not Japanese.
And that smile.
That smile was the most gorgeous smile I’d ever seen. It was your soft focus slow motion oh-God-I’m-staring smile. I’ve forgotten so much about that night but the one detail I’ll never forget is walking towards this group, and being blown away by the most beautiful smile in the world.
We walked over to a small hole-in-the-wall restaurant where the advisors had booked several tables. We pretty much took over the place, a gaggle of gaijin, loud and unsure and probably mostly terrified.
She had an accent I couldn’t quite place, a little North American, a little British here and there, some other twangs I didn’t recognise. Somehow I’d managed to wrangle the seat next to her, and as she talked in that ungeographic accent (which later turned out to be Canadian), she came across as funny, intelligent, and generally lovely, and with each minute I was more and more smitten. Then, somehow, the conversation turned towards relationships.
For as long as she was in Japan, she said, she wasn’t interested in starting anything with anyone. We were in an artificial bubble, where any attraction would be falsely magnified by her and the other person being outsiders together. No, for her time in Japan, she was going to be single. I was crushed.
When I got home, later that evening, I got out my haiku notebook, and put pen to paper. I wrote:
Restaurant, Ena City, Aug 10, 2004:
"I don’t want a man,"
She says; I try to conceal
The haiku jumps out at me still on those rare occasions when I read through the book. This was one of the poems that really stayed with me throughout my time in Japan, and long afterward.
I thought about it two years later, when we first moved in together; three years after that, when we were married; and again, almost two years after that, when our daughter was born.
Happy meetiversary babe. I love you.