Monday, October 29, 2007

Yatata about Young Days

Kalamazoo and Boston, spring/summer in 1987:

Very first flight for me. Shinkansen from Kyoto to Tokyo. And to the Narita airport. Security check was heavy because on the same day, Prime Minister Nakasone was leaving for Washington. Boarded a Korean Air flight and stopped over at Honolulu, where I saw military aircraft for the first time in my life. Then, United to Chicago. Finally, a propeller flight to Kalamazoo.

Kalamazoo life. Mornings were almost always cool, crisp. Walk some distance from the dorm (Hoekje Hall) to the classroom. Lunch after two classes. Burrito, macaroni & cheese, sukiyaki rice… all yuck!! The only nice thing seemed orange juice. Two more classes in the afternoon, and go back to the dorm room for Budweiser and some nap. There were days when I went to the library to do finish homework. At the entrance of the Waldo Library, there was a framed copy of the surrender document signed by Shigemitsu Mamoru (重光葵).

In the last month in Kalamazoo, I was there quite often to read the microfilms of the report by Commodore Perry’s expedition to Japan. A young Japanese girl (I was young too) would call me for assistance with her homework. The point for me was to get used to the American environment, though now I know Kalamazoo doesn’t represent America. Classes, especially grammar class, were too easy for me. Dinner… burrito, macaroni & cheese, sukiyaki rice, all yuck again! After dinner, it was still bright outside. Time for volleyball!! Before going to sleep, Budweiser again. Cigarettes were “Merit.” Woooo! I was who I wanted to be!! I was me!

Those are the days and I never imagined years later I would suffer this way… My roommate, Hassan, who would say to me, “Don’t drink too much. Don’t think too much,” and his friend, Dawood, both from Dubai, the UAE. How are they doing now??

When the course end was approaching, I decided to go east alone by Amtrak. All the way to Boston. One of the teachers said, when I told him about my plan, “Crazy.” I took a train at Kalamazoo late afternoon. Detroit Station was all dark and I saw the old Tiger Stadium ahead. Then if I remember correctly, I changed to the Lake Shore Limited at Toledo, OH, and passing Cleveland I found another ballpark on the left. I got off the train at Pittsfield, MA, to board a bus to Lenox. There I spent two nights at a B&B to attend the Tanglewood Music Festival.

Back to Pittsfield by bus. But I didn’t know how to pay for the ride… The driver gave me a free ride. At Pittsfield Station, a girl came over to me to ask how long there would be before the train came. We talked some and she wondered whether I had dreams in English or Japanese. Incidentally, she was going back to Boston and learning that I had no hotel reserved, offered me lodging! She had a housemate, who was half-Japanese. They lent me a sleeping bag.

I walked and walked in Boston. The fried rice I had in the Chinatown was yucky!

The day I was supposed to go back to Kalamazoo, I missed the train. (I confess here that I arrived at South Bay Station well in advance, and I saw the train leave because I wanted to stay another night in Boston.)

On the Lake Shore Limited the other way, tears came to my eyes, thinking that my days in the US would be over very soon. My tuba-playing teacher sent me over to the Chicago Airport from Kalamazoo…

Portland, Atlanta, Topeka, Princeton and New York, fall in 1989:

I arrived at Portland, Oregon, on my way to Atlanta, Georgia. Stopped at the immigration counter because I had only a one-way ticket. I told the officer that my boss had given me only this ticket as he didn’t want me to come back until I finished my work… The officer called up a Japanese staff, saying, “He speaks some English, but…” The Japanese staff tentatively gave me two weeks to stay in the US. At the Atlanta airport, an airport man helped me get a taxi, saying, “You don’t know where you are going.” The hotel (Holiday Inn) was located rather far from the city center. I remember the man who carried my luggage to the room was talking about Japanese cars. (Sorry, I’m almost ignorant about cars.)

As soon as I settled in the hotel room, I turned on the TV and saw Dick Cheney on screen. The Berlin Wall was being torn down!

Next morning, I devoured the Atlanta Journal-Constitution to get information about what was happening in Berlin. But then I had to do some work and asked the front desk staff how I could go to Decatur (I even couldn’t pronounce the place name). It was a day too hot for wearing a jacket. Tried to find the bus stop but after some time what I found was something like a “michishirube (道標).” On bus, I was the only one who was wearing a suit and a tie… Having managed to reach the Decatur company, the boss told me that there was no statistics I needed. He probably lied but I had no way to enquire more. For the second half of the week, my boss joined me in Atlanta.

We flew to Topeka, Kansas, to do… I don’t remember what business we had there. The only thing I remember was to visit a primary school there to mingle with kids. And it was perhaps there where the boss said, observing the electrical work, “See, this looks like a ‘Heian Hakubutsukan (平安博物館).’”

From Topeka, we flew back to Atlanta during a thunder storm. It was a really scary flight. I saw purple thunder bolts down to the plane… In Atlanta, “I think” we met a Japanese man who was working at the commerce department of the state and another man who was perhaps a Japanese consulate staff.

After days in Atlanta, Topeka and again Atlanta, the boss and I went to Princeton, New Jersey, to see a business associate. Funnily, I really don’t remember anything about the business… We stayed at a lodge and went a nearby Japanese restaurant managed by a Taiwan man where no alcohol drink was available. We ordered the most expensive dinner set (funny sushi) and I went out to get some beer. Told it was only ten minutes to the nearest liquor store, I walked and walked… It was ten minutes by car!

We took a train at Trenton to go to NYC. Of course, we had no hotel reservation. My boss told me to try a hotel, near Penn Station, that looked like under renovation. There were vacancies and we stayed there. But it was the most interesting hotel! People staying there seemed all homeless and the shower room was like rubbles of concrete.

I really should have a digital camera to record the rest of my life.

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