MSGs Are My Everything- Apr 08
Somehow the Chodov mall has won awards for its design. This is shocking to me because this thing is the most sprawling ugly monstrosity of a mall in the country, the sort of thing you would see thrown up with red painted plaster walls, P.F. Chang’s, and a Macy’s, if this were the States. So many coffee shops, but I really just want to sit down for awhile. I order an espresso with milk.
“Voda?” she asks me.
“Voda?” she asks me again if I want water. She can’t seem to grasp the fact that I’m going to drink coffee without water. Yes, I would like some water but it costs more than the coffee so I think I’ll survive.
Sitting down, it’s nice and I can write a little, but more importantly I can relax and watch the people walk by. That is easily the best part about malls, the people watching. The women in this mall are in their late twenties, early thirties, and beautiful. When I’m finished I walk around until I can find a bathroom.
Holy shit, there’s a woman in this bathroom. I should be used to cleaning ladies walking around the men’s bathroom, but it still surprises me, especially when she’s just standing there, the first face you see as you open the door. The other men keep going in and out, not even noticing her with her brush and spray bottle, but I’m patient and I wait until she finishes cleaning the urinals.
Sometimes you go out and you know you’re going to get wasted. We buy whiskey before going to Nebe, an underground bar between Old Town and Nardoni Trida. I drink a lot; it’s been awhile since I had hard alcohol. At the club I drink white wine, dance, fall down the steps, and hit on the girls that laugh at me. Things then get ugly.
I get the hick-ups so hard they rock my body. I try holding my breath, swallowing, everything. Finally I go into the bathroom and put my head under the faucet and drink. There is blood around the other sink.
“Sorry I can’t get rid of these motherfuckers,” I say to the boy standing next to me.
I take two steps out of the bathroom and realize I’m going to vomit. I push open the toilet door and spray vomit all over the bowl, the rim, the walls, my shoes, and even my jeans a little. It’s all liquid and I wipe the seat clean. Someone is standing outside waiting to use the bathroom.
“I have no idea who did that,” I say. “Fucking disgusting.”
Round two: I resist the urge to spit on the floor, and drink a beer to get the taste out of my mouth. I hit on an older skinny Czech woman; she leads me to the dance floor. She falls and digs her nails into my hand. It draws blood. She walks past me, and doesn’t turn when I call to her. She is pissed, but fuck her that hurt like a bitch. I put my fingers in my mouth. Someone is dancing by the coat check. Yeah right, right, right, right. For real I need a drink. There is an apple sitting on the bar. There is no one for the apple, it’s squishy and over ripe. But I know someone tonight wants to remember this apple.
My friends find me and ask me to dance. Jamiroquai comes on. The dance floor is mostly empty, but I go crazy. I meet an Iraqi boy and we hit on two girls at the bar. I take the one that speaks better English. She is a bar-slut that is a little older than me, somewhat cute, but with a boyish haircut. We talk for awhile and then make-out, when I look around my friends are gone.
In the morning I remember when we came back to my place, but I don’t remember falling asleep. I’m happy to find that she has smooth skin and looks nice naked. I am still drunk enough that I can’t feel anything for most of the morning.
For the last twelve days I have been out of Prague. I spent ten days in Japan, one day in transit, and one day in Paris. This first entry is about my time in Paris.
On my way to Japan I decide to return to Paris for a night because of a standing invitation from a British girl to stay at her place.
When I land I take three trains into the center of Paris. It startles me to hear French and my natural reaction is to respond in Czech, which complicates things, because by then they’ve realized I’m not French and started to speak to me in English. Everyone is pre-drinking in a small, very Parisian flat that is in full view of the Eiffel Tower which is lit up and has a spotlight on top circling in the night sky.
I drink a lot of Cognac and 1664 and we go to an Erasmus party. The girl I know gets drunk and grabs me a lot on the dance floor. We leave with her friends, she lives in the suburbs of Paris, and it’s a long expensive drive that I have to pay for because she is too drunk to look for her money.
Even at night I can tell that I like the buildings in this suburb. Simple brick and white walls, parts of France look to me how I imagined Europe would look when I was little. There flat is big and located in a grade school, and she has set up a bed for me in the main room, but we go to her room where she tells me doesn’t want to do anything. That pisses me off. I fall asleep before I can try to change her mind.
We wake up late and I half-heartedly try again and she says the bed is too loud. After we dress and walk around the small cute town, eat some quiche and drink some coffee and then go into Paris. We meet her friend, hang out around the Arc de Triomphe, eat again and take some pictures by a pond. I take pictures of the Louis Vuitton flagship because it is ridiculous but without shame. At the top of the store they fly the Louis Vuitton flag, which is a bold and hilarious move in the Champs-Elysées.
The girl tells me that they never check tickets so the whole time in Paris I sneak into the metro with her pass. On the way to the airport I get stopped outside the train by metro checkers and have to pay twenty-five Euros, but I don’t blame the girl because I should have known better than to not buy a ticket while carrying luggage. On the train we say goodbye and kiss awkwardly. I’m two and a half hours early at Charles de Gaulle but I almost miss my flight because the monorail to my terminal breaks down. A German girl who can speak French saves me and I get to my gate as my flight is starting to board.
Somewhere in the thirteen hours between Paris and Tokyo I get sick, really fucking sick. It’s not food poising, but flu sick, and it starts with me thinking there is a chill in the plane. Then the blanket isn’t enough and I’m asking for more and sweating at the same time. I can’t sleep because my stomach is a mess and I have to go to the bathroom constantly, and the whole time I’m just trying not to throw up on the well-mannered elderly Japanese couple sitting next to me.
There is a nurse’s station at immigration and I have them take my temperature. A look of shock comes over the young nurse’s face. She shows me the thermometer- 39.6 degrees, the fuck if I know what that means. I motion high with my hand, and she nods her head. She goes into the back room and I creep away. They scan my eyes and finger prints at the immigration desk, I pretend I’m alright and try to smile. Once I’m through I find a chair and collapse. I stumble and sleep on floors until my flight to Osaka. My original plan was to sleep in the train station at Kobe, but I’m not in any shape to do that, so I pay a hundred dollars for a tiny hotel room in downtown Osaka. The room is clean, and I shower, and in the night my sweat soaks through the sheets.
In the morning I meet my sister at the Kobe harbour. The Japanese are wonderful, and make up for their lack of English with a genuine desire to be helpful. I’m sick but hopped up on medication so I feel alright. Our original plan was to go Tokyo, but I’m exhausted, and my sister is sympathetic so we decide to spend the night in Osaka. We have dinner with her friends and John, an acquaintance through the Semester at Sea program. He lives in Tokyo and tells me that I can crash at his place next week because his roommate is gone. Something is slightly odd about John, I have visions of Hostel, but he seems well enough, and I tell him ‘I would appreciate that’.
The next day we go to Tokyo. We have slight delays due to misunderstandings in English, but everyone continues to be amazingly considerate. Tokyo is massive but it clicks and I have the feeling of being at home, a feeling I had not felt since the first time I came to Prague years ago. Our hotel is in the Shinjuku district. I sleep, and when my sister wakes me my eyes go wide and I sit straight up in the bed. The fever is down but my stomach is still fucked. There is an arcade close and we play guitar video games.
Seven hundred students are on my sister’s cruise ship so when they descend on a country, even one as large as Japan, they take over and everyone ends up in a few places. This night it is the Roppongi district, the club district of Tokyo. Most stay at TGIFriday’s and karaoke bars, but I see them on the streets. My sister and I go to a few places recommended by John, and then head back somewhat early.
The Park Hyatt Hotel, the hotel where they filmed Lost in Translation, is close to where we are staying. It is gorgeous and we have lunch looking out into the courtyard with affluent Japanese families. The lobby is on the 48th floor, the view is impressive, and we take pictures staring at the endless metropolis. We travel the city looking for a FedEx to overnight our signed tax returns. Before leaving for Kobe we go to the Harajuku district, famous for oddly dressed teenagers, and despite the weirdoes it’s some of the best shopping I have ever seen. That night we have sushi in Kobe, tuna so good that it melts on the tongue.
I see my sister off at the ship the next day. At night I go out into the Osaka bar district. I lie and tell people I’m writing an article for Vice magazine. I meet two Russian women in their early thirties, one is half Korean and speaks English well, and the other is white with red hair. In the morning I exchange emails with the red-head. I tell her I have no where to stay until Wednesday; she tells me I can stay with her. I drop my stuff off at her studio apartment, which she shares with her Korean friend. Usually they sleep together on a mattress on the floor, but her friend has found somewhere else to stay for the night, and leaves for work. She makes dinner, and after I take a nap. We watch baseball when I wake up. She is more affectionate and talkative than when we first met. Around ten we leave to go to her work, as we’re walking she tells me she is a pole dancer. We agree to meet at two.
I get drunk on 7-11 cocktails that come in a can. I waste time in Tower Records listening to bands that sound like Radiohead, and try to sober up at Starbucks. When I go to meet her she is eating a hamburger at the bar. I say ‘hi’, and she stands up to leave. I can tell something is wrong immediately. Normally I would assume it is because I’m drunk, but it’s too quick, too definite. We meet her friends on the other side of town and then go home. She showers and I brush my teeth, we lay down into bed, and I try to ask questions, but any trace of the girl from before is gone. We sleep a foot apart; in the morning I pack my bag and take an umbrella as I walk out.
The rest of the week I crash with John in Tokyo. He has a gorgeous and large flat close to the Roppongi district. It doesn’t take long to realize that it’s not his roommate that is gone, but his live-in boyfriend. It’s never a problem though; John’s a friendly and generous host. He has a bed set up for me in his media room, and the amount of times he hits on me is tolerable. During the day I wander the streets of the city, buying video games, shopping for clothes, and visiting temples. John usually has to work but occasionally he joins me. At night I get drunk with his friends, most of whom are European, and we talk and watch it rain on the skyscrapers from his balcony.
We spend a lot of time discussing Japanese culture. I say I like the people that they’re wonderful, and the girls are very pretty. I ask about the men; I wonder how they had become so quiet, so non-threatening.
“After World War Two they took away their samurai swords, and gave them teddy bears.”
He explains to me: how his boss spends his time in his office reading samurai stories, how Japan has the highest teen suicide rate in the world, how you can never totally be accepted as a foreigner, and their fetish for pre-pubescent girls, and the resentment for a life spent working that they carry hidden below the surface. I don’t doubt any of it.
“I think it’s a wonderful place,” I say. “As long as you can stay above that, live here but not become entrenched in the culture. Stay an American in Japan.”
I feel guilty for saying it, but I know it’s true. As much as I love it here, I could never, and would never want to be, Japanese.
My last night in Tokyo is a Saturday. I thank John by spending two hundred dollars on dinner at a French restaurant. We drink another bottle of wine at a bar close by. I tell him we should go scam on girls.
“I can’t, I’m tired, but if you find one, you’re welcome to bring her back,” he says. “Do you have a condom with you?” He hands me one. “Japanese girls don’t use them...”
In Roppongi I try to talk to girls on the street. Mostly they look wide-eyed and scared, and pretend that they can’t hear me. I get some looks from the American/European girls on the street, pickings are pretty slim for them, but I’m looking for a Japanese girl.
I was told by John, ‘They have no concept of bases. If you can kiss them, you can fuck them.’ This was the tame part of his conversation, there was more, the sort of stuff that makes you squeamish. Still it has my curiosity; I can’t imagine that it’s true.
I have a lot of luck on the street in Prague, but it’s no good here, so I give up and go to a bar called Heartland. Spatially it’s an open bar, with no walls on one side, allowing people to move in and out. At the bar in the corner I see a cute Japanese girl by herself. She’s eating olives out of the garnish tray. I move next to her.
“Hi, did you come with anyone?” I ask.
“Hi!” she says. I realize she didn’t understand me, but she seems happy.
“Hi,” I say again with a big smile. “Did you come here with anyone?” I motion around the bar with my hand.
“No, from work, for beer.”
“I like very much,” I say, pointing at my beer. “Very good beer.”
We laugh together about nothing. She’s fun, and even with her terribly broken English it’s easy to keep it moving. She’s from the South of Japan and moved to Tokyo for work. She understands that I’m American but has a hard time understanding that I live in Europe.
“I’m an English teacher in Prague,” I say.
“You’re an English teacher? My English teacher.” We laugh and she grabs onto my forearm.
I like her style. A cream and dark purple stripped sweater, we laugh again because her purple matches mine, and a long slim cut feminine blazer. She is tall for a Japanese girl, probably 5’6”. She makes a few comments about my height, but she is more amazed by my hands. Her feet are tiny and I comment on how cute they look next to mine.
Often when she laughs she claps her hands and jumps up and down which is adorable. She continues to touch my arm, and doesn’t mind when I put my hand inside her coat and on her waist to come close to talk.
With my hand on her waist and my lips close to her neck, I try to kiss her. There is a pause, and she moves her head away slightly. She says she has never kissed a foreign boy, and I whisper that it’s ‘ok’, and lean over and kiss her. After the first kiss she moves closer to me, and when we kiss she kisses back passionately. We talk for another hour and drink several more beers.
“Do you want to leave?”
“Where should we go?”
“Let’s go to Tokyo Tower.” A pretty spot and I know John lives close.
During the night I’m worried that she will wake John, but in the morning when he wakes me he is surprised to find her next to me. In broken English I explain why she has to leave at six-thirty in the morning, she writes her email address on a sticky-note, and I walk her downstairs.
“That was easy,” I say to John.
“Just that, the whole goodbye thing, no guilt, she was all smiles.”
“They’re like that. Did she even give you her number?”
“Uh, I asked for her email.”
John agrees to mail a Hello Kitty poster I stole from the metro to my sister. I say my goodbyes, and meet my taxi. In my pocket I have about ten-thousand Yen, and a chap-stick called Gatsby that smells sweet like nothing I can place.