Monday, 18 November 2013

Finding Diagon Alley

There's a Subway restaurant on one of the short little pedestrian streets that cut back and forth between Kawaramachi and Shinkyougoku. I visited so often the staff learned my order. Japanese Subway isn't quite as good as Canadian, I'm sorry to say, but it's still hard to beat a delicious hot sandwich. Plus, it was located directly across from a Rainbow Karaoke, where we went the night I met Seven and Hyeong, so while I ate I liked to amuse myself by watching the incredibly obnoxious promo video loop constantly.
It's just one of a dozen or so places I took to frequenting in the downtown core area. By the time my year of study abroad was coming to a close, I knew the place pretty well. The broad strokes, at least. Here's a place to buy beer. Here's a place to eat cheaply. Here's a place where you can buy books, and for some reason also clothing. I had a good understanding of where all the little oft-ignored shrines were tucked away. I knew where the karaoke places and the convenience stores were (at intervals of every ten and two steps, respectively).

This is why it was such a start to glance down a gap between two buildings and realise – whoa, there's a couple of people walking around back there. Where are they...? Wait wait, there's more of them! Are they – is there a bunch of cool stuff back there?

As soon as I stepped through – it was really like a doorway – I realised what I'd stumbled upon. There was a whole goddamned town back here! A whole network of thoroughfares and switchbacks, wide enough to drive a car through! Not that you'd want to; you'd forever be getting stuck behind slow walkers. It was a decidedly pedestrian affair, couples, families, old dudes, young girls, everybody just going about their business. I found out that Round1 has a parking lot behind it. OPA has a whole other storefront I never knew about, and it's every bit as ostentatious as the one on the street. There were cafes, a small bar, funky expensive clothing stores, and what might have been a lawyer's office. Or possibly a yakuza branch office; it's hard to tell at a glance in Japan.

As I wound my way around, I realised that I'd seen some of this stuff before, passing between the aforementioned streets. But it had never occurred to me to look any farther; like a hopeless Muggle, I'd been totally unaware of the Diagon Alley that was just out of sight, teeming with life and interest, if you only knew where it was. And really, it's utterly amazing that I never discovered it earlier. Perhaps some of you are reading this and marveling at my density, because you found it on your very first sweep through downtown. But I was amazed that even after a year and a half, Kyouto could still be hiding some secrets right in my territory.


It's one of the (many) reasons I love cities, actually. I'm an extrovert in the truest sense of the word, drawing energy from the people around me, so the more of them there are, the happier I am. Sobriety and mental elbow room be damned! Give me a crowd. Nature and serenity? Get some concrete and glass in there! Likewise, you can talk to me all day about familiarity and sometimes wanting to go where everybody knows your name, but I'd rather have dynamism. A city is like a lover – so complex and so deep, you could know them for a lifetime and still have more to learn.

Sunday, 3 November 2013

The Gypsy and the Hobo

President: I couldn't find any flapper stuff that I liked, so now I'm being Joan from Mad Men.
Rude Boy: What?! I wanted to be a 1920s gangster!
President: Be one of the Mad Men.
Rude Boy: But...wouldn't that just be me in a suit?
President: You could also wear a snazzy hat.

Two years ago I was a cowboy, and everybody ended up asking me whether or not that was my costume. And that really made me have to reflect on the degree to which I've alienated my friends and family with my weirdness, when I dress up as a fucking cowboy on Halloween and they ask if it's a costume or just how I decided to dress that day. I was anticipating similar results for my Don Draper, since, again, really it was just me in nicer clothes, and with very well-styled hair (courtesy of Jugs). I'm sure it didn't help that I'd done a dry run of a possible jacket exactly one week prior, so a lot of people probably just thought I was trying to start Formal Thursdays.

I really tried to get the look down, though. Grey suit, thin lapels. Narrow black tie, white shirt, white pocket square. But for the full effect, I would really have to master Don's mannerisms. I surmised that the easiest way to do that would be to get rat-assed by 11 am and try to keep that going for the rest of the day, so I kept a full flask in the inside pocket. In the other I placed a stainless steel Zippo lighter, so that I would be ready should any pretty young thing require a light, even though I don't smoke myself. I also printed out a photo of Don and put in my wallet, mostly for my Japanese friends, who probably wouldn't know the character, but also in case anybody tried to start arguing with me that I'd gotten one of the details wrong. I didn't have an appropriate hat in my collection and there was the problem that Don is 200 pounds of pure fat and muscle and I barely crest 120 most days, but know what, fuck it.

I woke up to a pic of Udon, in a maid costume, grinning at the camera and curtseying coquettishly. I pretty much came instantly. We still aren't dating, of course – just leaving that option on the table for whenever I make it back home – but you know, benefits. President and I had History together first thing, and I must say we looked quite a pair. Unsurprisingly, the teacher was our biggest fan. “You look like you just stepped out of the 60s!” he exclaimed appreciatively. In mid-lecture, a loud, metallic bang emitted from my pocket, drawing more attention than I'd have liked. Later inspection confirmed that it had suddenly expanded, I guess because I'd filled it too far, so that was my physics lab for the day. Fortunately I was able to pop it back into place.

Now there is an organization on my campus, staffed by two paid employees and bolstered by volunteers, whose job is exclusively to run fun events for international students. Stuff like, say, horseback riding, which is very Canadian and something not a lot of people outside Canada have done, or a wine-tasting tour of the Valley. If you ask me their biggest and best event of the year is their Halloween Party, and it's fucking awesome. It's held in this giant conference room and it's dry but there's like free pop and a ton of snacks and it's all dark and everybody is in costume and yelling at each other and the girls are all dressed extremely slutty because duh it's Halloween and there's like a haunted house and a pumpkin-carving competition and you know a dance floor and then afterwards the festivities continue at the campus pub. Also, international students everywhere. I think one of my main gripes with Canada is that there aren't nearly enough Asians, not nearly as many as in Asia at any rate, but it seems like there's a bit of a spike this semester. You know how it is, there's a natural rise and fall to registration rates. Anyway back in 2009 I was literally the only domestic student at the party, and now, four years later, domestic students going has become just like a thing. Coincidence? Yes, but I still front-ran the trend.

So that sort of started off a tradition for me of Halloween being rad. 2009 I hooked up with a Japanese exchange student. 2010 I started dating a Japanese exchange student. 2011 nothing happened and I moaned about it interminably. 2012 Seven and her friends took me to Butterfly. Would 2013 cement the pattern of two on, one off?! I daren't even dream.

When I arrived back on campus after going for food, President informed me that the handful of Japanese Club members had all gone off trick-or-treating, and would not be accompanying us. “I guess they're just all too cool for us,” she said. On the one hand, I guess if they're not going out at the same time as little kids, and if they've actually put effort into their costumes – well, ok. Fine. On the other hand, what the actual fuck? You motherfuckers are in your goddamn 20s. Seriously. It just strikes me as so fucking disrespectful and childish, far more childish, in fact, than an actual child going trick-or-treating, because actual children are supposed to go trick-or-treating. Am I the only one who thinks that by the time you hit high school, you should be well and truly done with this shit? I get that there's a dead period where kid stuff is boring but adult stuff is off-limits or difficult to access, but when you're in fucking college, there is other stuff for you to do. Jesus.

Later, though, I started to think that maybe this is also symptomatic of a change in Club as a whole. Their reasons for not wanting to go to the party? It's hot, and loud, and crowded, and “not that fun.” Fuck yeah it's hot, and loud, and crowded, and it's a ton of fun. Or at least I've always thought so, and President obviously likes it. But we aren't in charge anymore, and the new people might just be catering to a bit of a different taste, same as a political party undergoes shifts in tone over the years, as situations change and, just as importantly, new leadership steps in. I'm free to furrow my brow and brandish my cane, but that's just the way it is.

It transpired that getting in required a student card, which makes sense in retrospect, but I threw mine in a drawer when I left Canada and never bothered to put it back in my wallet. Luckily I knew some of the people there and talked my way in. This, boys and girls, is why we are friendly and professional with every single person we meet. Once inside we hung out near the food, chatting and waiting for more people to show up. I did have my eye out for a particular target, a girl I'd been priming throughout the preceding week.

Rude Boy: I have her LINE but I can't use it without Wi-Fi. I don't even have her phone number. God, what if it's too dark to see and I never find her? It'll be like fucking How I Met Your Mother.
President: “Kids, your mother was at that party...”

Fortunately, I managed to catch her, and we agreed to do the whole haunted house thing together. She went off to gather her friends but when she came back she was alone, because they were all “too scared.” Did they beg off in order to get us alone together? It's possible. We stood in line for a good half-hour, I kept her smiling and laughing, listened more than I talked, asked questions and delivered compliments, and managed not to be cringe-worthily awkward, so I was pretty much at the top of my game on that front. Inside the house, she did not, at any point, cling to me in terror, nor hide behind me for protection, nor pull me aside for a quickie in the corner of the mad scientist's lab, but at least she seemed to enjoy herself.

So I thought I was doing pretty well, except she fucked off not long after and I kind of didn't see her much for the rest of the night. Ok, I thought, either she's not that into me or I'm just not her main focus during probably the only “real” Halloween party she'll ever experience, either of which is obviously fine. I fell in with some other Japanese people, I chatted, I danced, turns out it's hard to dance in a suit while weighed down by a loaded flask. Thing is, before I lost her we agreed to go to the campus pub together (like, together in a group) afterwards, but she ended up going to a friend's birthday party – BUT before she left she specifically came and apologized and then told me that she's always free, so I could hit her up whenever. Did she just invite me to ask her out on a date? Maybe! Either way it was a fun time, so eh, let's just go ahead and call the night a success.

At 10 o'clock, as the first venue was winding down and people were trying to sort out their 2jikais, Akiba, my oldest Japanese friend, spontaneously appeared, done up in full drag with a Phantom of the Opera mask. It was...really quite something, although the breasts were suspiciously large for a Japanese woman. The majority of people there were being indecisive twits, so four of us broke off, piled into my friend's van, and drove to a pub a few blocks away.

Girl: Are you a good driver?
Akiba: No problem.
(begins backing up with one tire over a median, nearly wheels into a parked car)
Rude Boy: Who the hell gave you a license?
Girl: That.
Akiba: This is safe driving.

One of the girls was dressed as Haruhi. I actually saw her at the Orientation, and pretty much assumed she was Japanese, but had been too intimidated to introduce myself. Silly in retrospect, I could have just complimented her costume, confirmed her national origins, and bingo, conversation. Anyway, she turned out to be really nice. Admiring Akiba's getup, she recalled having gone to some kind of guys-only otaku event at a cafe: “I wore my friend's clothes and bound my chest and went in and nobody questioned it, and the whole time people talked to me like one of the guys and I got treated like a guy. It was weird. And interesting.” The other girl was adorable and from Nagoya, so me and her Oosaka friend made fun of her for not being from Oosaka.

I hadn't anticipated being at this particular pub, with these exact members, or so few of them, but it ended up being great. Akiba I've known for a good six years now, and it's always good to reconnect every so often. And sitting with two cute girls, I could hardly complain anyway. I'm overloaded with coursework this semester and it's starting to get exhausting, and it's only about to get worse. I needed this. Reminds me what I've been fighting for this whole time.


“Japanese people are great,” I said.