Monday, August 25, 2003

Fukuoka 2: reflections

It was another weekend visa-renewal flight for the Hominid.

I did this earlier in the year as well. It was exhilarating, that first time, being in a place where I didn't know the language at all. I speak no Japanese (aside from a few lame phrases), and can't read a lick of the Japanese syllabaries (though I can make out some of the "travel" kanji). Quite unlike traveling in Western Europe, where I have recourse to my French (fluent), German (basic), and Spanish (also basic) knowledge, I was at a complete loss in Japan.

That rocked.

Fukuoka 1 involved a stay at the Tokyo Daiichi Fukuoka Hotel, located about four subway stops from the airport (which, luckily, is the terminus for Fukuoka's red line, making travel decisions absurdly easy: both tracks go in the same direction!). Lessons learned from Fukuoka 1:

1. Don't book a hotel while you're outside Japan, ESPECIALLY not online. This is just stupid. I paid around $85 for my room at the Daiichi. When I got downstairs at the international terminal, I saw a tourism office advertising hotel rates around $50-60. Grrrr.

2. When in your nice, modern hotel with heated toilet seat (these are slowly but surely gaining prominence in some parts of Seoul), DO NOT GET CURIOUS ABOUT THE BIDET FUNCTION.

In case you don't know, the bidet ("bee-DAY" [Fr.] or "bih-DAY" [Amer.]) is generally associated with French salles de bain (washrooms, not "bathrooms," exactly, since the French traditionally separate the toilet from the room with the bath & sink). In France, a bidet generally looks a bit like a low-set toilet, or a stubby sink. You squat over the bidet, lower your naked ass onto the porcelain rim, and turn on the water (there're often knobs for hot & cold water). A gentle stream of water, not unlike what might come out of a drinking fountain, will jump out and lick your ass crack. You then scrub away with available soap, wash your hands thoroughly, dry yourself off, and VOILA-- you're all set for that rimjob from Sylvie. Some bidets, instead of squirting water gently into your ass crack, will feature a normal faucet, leaving you to do the ole Scoop & Scrub.

But at the Daiichi...

Trust me on this: you don't want to get NEAR a Japanese hi-tech toilet's bidet function.

I had just finished crapping and wiping, but was still curious about the three colorful, innocent-looking buttons on a console jutting out from the toilet bowl, within arm's reach. I decided to try the bidet function (it was written in English and Japanese). So I hit "BIDET."

I heard a whir.

Something was obviously happening.

I heard the sound of water spraying.

And that, my friend, is when a laser-thin beam of water struck my asshole dead-center and almost caused me to take a second shit in sheer fright. I could actually feel the unwiped chunks of crap being sand-blasted away. When I say "laser-thin," I mean it felt like this fucker was firing a needle into my colon. If my buttocks weren't so large and unwieldy, they'd have snapped shut to block the attack. As it was, though, I let out a yell and turned the bidet function off. My anus was screaming, "No more! Oh, God! I'll talk! I'll tell you whatever you wanna hear! Just don't fuckin' do that again!"

Out of sheer monkey curiosity, I decided to turn the bidet function on while I was standing, so I could see what that whirring was all about. Turns out that, nestled inside the toilet bowl in the rearward part of the porcelain curve, there's a plastic box hiding three extendable plastic arms about 4 inches in length and maybe a half-inch wide. When you hit the "BIDET" button, one arm extends (hence the whirring) and begins firing not one, but three well-aimed streams of water very forcefully upwards. One beam is perfectly angled to bulls-eye your anus. I hit the other two buttons; they ended up doing exactly the same thing. I didn't see any difference.

3. Don't be afraid of the subway ticket machine. So long as the machine's screen has a "push for English" button by it, you're fine.

When I got to the Daiichi hotel, it was nearly 8PM and rainy. So I stayed inside the whole night with nothing but a couple books for company. Had an exorbitant dinner at the hotel's restaurant; they were doing an East/West buffet. In the morning, they did an East/West breakfast buffet; the eggs were fine, but the sausage was laughable.

That was a few months ago. Fukuoka 1.

This time around, for Fukuoka 2, I deliberately skipped out on reserving a hotel room. I wanted the cheap rates. When I got to the terminal's lower floor, though, I discovered that all the major hotels were completely booked. I was given a list of about 20 cheaper hotels and told to call them myself by using the pay phone.

One thing I know from traveling a lot: subways and pay phones are yin and yang. Subways the world over operate on the same basic principles and are easy to navigate-- this was proved time and again in places like DC, NYC, Paris, Munich, Basel (OK, that was a trolley), and Seoul. Fukuoka turned out to be no different once I saw that lovely "push for English" button. But pay phones are the opposite: each country (hell, each city) has its own idiosyncracies. Luckily, the Fukuoka Airport pay phones also had "English" buttons and used purchasable phone cards. It took a bit to figure out the key-in sequence (before you even dial your number, you have to press a button determining the "speed of your connection," and you have to remember to press "start" after you dial your number), but I was calling down my list of small hotels in ten minutes.

Nada. No hotels with available rooms.


So I lumbered back over to the tourism office and spoke in broken English (yes, *I* spoke in broken English) with the female attendants, wondering aloud if there was any lodging left in Fukuoka. "Small rooms are OK, too," I said. Their eyes lit up.


Two things were fortunate: (1) I know enough about Japanese phonology to figure out English (Japanglish) when I hear it, and (2) I'd read ex-Zen monk David Chadwick's book Thank You and OK!, which talked at some length about "capsule rooms" in its opening chapter.

So when the one attendant squealed "Kapsuro!", my heart leaped. Ever since reading Chadwick, I'd been curious what it would be like to sleep in one.

I was given two phone numbers and got lucky. The "Well Be Fukuoka" had plenty of kapsuro. The tourism office ladies gave me a map and through mutual exchange of Japanglish (and some Korean; I discovered the Japanese word for "traffic light" is shing-go, which, thanks to Chinese, is almost the same as the Korean shin-ho), we figured out how I should get to Well Be.

Turned out to be absurdly close. Three stops on the subway, get off at Gion Station, and walk barely 5-7 minutes.

I should mention that it's been pissing buckets of rain in Korea the past few days, but in Fukuoka this time around, the evening and night were clear (and damn hot), quite unlike my previous Fukuoka trip. As a result, I got to see more of the city as I walked along. It was a strange feeling, and I've created a neologism to describe it: metatravoltic.

Remember John "Hash Bar" Travolta's little exchange with Samuel "We Should Have Shotguns" Jackson at the beginning of "Pulp Fiction," when they're talking about Travolta's trip to Amsterdam? Travolta's classic remark, which resonates with American college-age backpackers in Europe, was, "It's the little differences. A lotta the same shit we got here, they got there, but there they're a little different." [I clipped that from an online version of the screenplay, so it might not match the actual movie dialogue.]

If you live in America and go to another country (even to Korea, so long as you stick to what's modern), you can have a "travoltic" experience, like what Vincent Vega describes. But if you're an expat who's lived in a given country for a period of time, and then you go visit another nearby country, you get that once-removed, different-but-same feeling that I think the term metatravoltic expresses quite nicely.

Walking along the streets of Fukuoka, I was struck by how similar many things were to what I see every day in Korea: the tiny, edible cars; the proliferating 7-Eleven-style convenience stores; the redheaded and blond East Asians; the vending machines with their mystery drinks; the general lack of curvy female ass (gotta get used to the Asian steppes; it takes time, if you're into shapeliness, before the Korean gluteal flatlands look yummy). But some things were different: I could see at a glance that the Japanese are less prudish (at least in public) than Koreans when it comes to sexy mags, posters, etc. I also saw some truly creative-- and expansive-- Satan-themed graffiti. I almost never see all-out graffiti in Korea (aside from inchoate scribblings; there's little actual unsanctioned street art on the walls of Seoul; DC would put Seoul to shame, though my favorite place for graffiti has to be Zurich, especially by the Hauptbahnhof). And of course, in Japan, you drive on the left. Those were some of the differences I noted.

The Well Be turned out to be a multifunction building offering a sauna, kapsuro, and a TV lounge in which to sleep (maybe I'm too conditioned by stories about DC homeless shelters, but I wasn't about to spend my light on a La-Z-Boy recliner with thirty similarly reclining strangers). The building staff spoke no English; we got along just fine with pantomime. I laid out 3990 yen (around $34), declined the offer for a sauna (it was already too hot & humid outside, and I've always despised heat and humidity), and went straight to Capsule Room 116.

To reach the capsule, one staffer and I had to take the elevator down to the B1 level. We got out; the place was very quiet, obviously devoted just to sleeping (and, according to Chadwick's book, whacking off to the TV). I was led through a door into a darkened hallway. It was right out of that Star Trek episode from the old series, "The Space Seed," the one in which the Enterprise crew find Khan in hibernation aboard his drifting vessel. Remember the hibernacula? Remember how you had a side-view of the sleepers?

A kapsuro is almost the same thing, almost the same size (maybe slightly larger in volume), with the rooms stacked so that you get a view of someone's head or feet, not the length of their body. The short hallway I was in probably housed close to thirty people. It was 8:15PM, and there weren't that many occupied kapsuro. Number 116 was on the bottom, at the near end of the row where I was standing. The door was barely 2.5 by 2.5 feet; there was room inside only for the bed, a pillow, and a blanket, which I didn't use. There was no door to lock; instead, there was a "blind" you pulled down to "shut" your kapsuro. Obviously not for the security-minded.

The kapsuro reminded me of my childhood days, of being a tiny Hominid splashing in a then-huge bathtub. The kapsuro's interior was molded fiberglass, just like a bathtub, right down to the sickly yellowish color. But I was ecstatic: I was actually going to sleep in a capsule room!

So imagine a fiberglass rectangular parallelepiped roughly 3' x 3' x 7' (yes, the interior's slightly wider than the entrance hole). There was barely room for me to sit upright. There was a TV hanging from a molded niche in the ceiling (I never figured out how to turn it on), a small shelf on which to place your knickknacks, a tiny vent in the back blowing air, and a clock/radio set into the molded wall.

Basically a bed (kind of), and a few cubic feet of air, all for $34.

Luckily, the clock had an alarm function, and since I was dead tired, even at that early evening hour, that was all I cared about. I set the alarm for 5:30AM; I had a 9:15AM flight out. I read a tiny bit, began drowsing, and went to sleep around 9PM. When I got up, I packed my stuff, crawled out (you leave your shoes in the locker bank next to the lobby, by the way; I was barefoot on the carpeted floor inside the building), found a restroom (very clean and normal; no ass-attacking technotoilets) and a bank of sinks, with mirrors, hair dryers, neat stacks of towels, and various men's hair products grouped on plastic trays. I brushed my teeth, washed my face, wet and then blow-dried my hair... then looked down at one of the plastic trays holding the men's hair products and saw what appeared to be either a brand name or some attempt at profundity:

Mandom: Human and Freedom.

Sounds like a candidate for to me.

Left the Well Be around 6:15AM, found cheap breakfast at a convenience store (a very nice, greasy, fried meat/potato combination, whose name I don't recall, plus chocolate milk), and headed off to the airport.

Found myself back in Seoul around 12:30, and made my way to the temple. You know the rest, if you've been reading the blogs chronologically.

Ah, I almost forgot: my walk to the Well Be included a quick flyby of a Buddhist temple (there were tons in that area): according to the English on my photocopied Tourism Office map, it was called "Mangyo-ji." When I saw the temple's name in kanji (Sino-Japanese, like Korean hanja), I saw it was "Manhaeng-sa," or "Ten Thousand Practices Temple." I'm so glad I'm learning hanja. It's MUCH more useful than Korean for getting around, and it's helpful as an aid to learning Korean for us etymologically-minded folks.

So now it's about 4 o'clock in the AM, and I've just finished this damn post. I'm cross-eyed with fatigue and need to get home, so I'll proof this puppy and post it. Might have to proof it again later.


Oh, yeah-- lessons learned on this trip to Fukuoka: get the greasy meat/potato thing next time I'm there.

Mmmmm... greasy meat/potato thing.

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