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Bad impressions and bad impressionists!

It’s funny how people judge others on their appearance, and I knew that I was being judged as I sat waiting for Miki in Isetan’s foyer. The marble floors that seemed to sparkle under my soiled sneakers and sweat stained backpack should have warned me of the potential social pickle that I was walking into. But after 22kms of steaming Niigata bitumen, I floated dreamlike in the air-conditioned elegance of Japan’s finest department store, oblivious of the stress I was causing one of its patrons as she hesitated to sit in the only empty seat beside me. My first inkling that something was amiss came from sound of someone blowing something beside me. Turning to my left, I was confronted by the horrific sight of an emaciated fox’s face, as it looked at me wearily from the shoulders of an over groomed old woman whose shocking tint and jeweled spectacles left me wondering which of the two sights was more frightening. Then I realized what she was doing. The lifeless fox swung back and forth from her neck as she scrubbed down the seat, blowing away the grime that I had obviously brought with me. As we sat in an uncomfortable silence, she began to read our fundraising sign that was hanging from Pongo’s neck. When she had finished she looked me up and down with a frown crinkling her forehead and asked shortly, “What do you mean by ‘donation’?” After a quick explanation of the challenge, she stood up, shook her head, and with a snort of disapproval turned her back on me and my dirt. As she exited from one set of doors, Miki emerged from the other, triumphant in her search for goodies for her cousins.
“What’s wrong?” she asked as she saw the look of bewilderment on my face. But the moment had passed and it wasn’t worth reliving again. “Looks like you found the cake shop”, I said as the smile returned to my face at the thought of spending our first night with Miki’s cousins.

We whiled away the evening with good food, good laughs and round after round of the kind of shenanigans that can only ever be thought up in the company of kids under 10. It was the one thing that our challenge had been lacking and as the weeks began turning into months, we both realized how much we were missing the company of family and friends. Both of Miki’s cousins had moved to Niigata to get away from the hustle and bustle of Tokyo, and the decision looked like it was paying off. Both families seemed to live with a joie de vivre that we had seen in many who called this side of Japan home. Life was there to be lived, not swallowed up in the pressures of working the crazy hours that many did back in the big city. It was one of the reasons we had chosen to leave so much behind, and our search was starting to teach us some important lessons.

Our appearance on Niigata FM was short, but interesting and gave us both the chance to express to listeners the reasons for doing such a crazy sounding walk. With my Japanese getting better with each day, I was able to say a little more than the polished greetings that had dazzled Hokkaido’s public. Hopefully the listeners here would connect with our message because the amount needed for Pongo’s forest was still much more than what was sitting in our donation kitty.

After two very comfortable days with Miki’s family, it was little surprise that our legs felt heavy and our stilts slow on the day we started headed off from Niigata’s central station. So heavy in fact that we called it a day at the 8km mark, barely 2kms from where we had stayed the night before. Had we become a little softened by the company and the comfort of normal life? Our choice to forgo our usual campsite for a karaoke box seemed to tell us that we had. At $15 for all we could drink and sing for the night, it was a carrot too big to ignore. Unlike karaoke in other countries where individuals fuelled by the bravado of 20 pints are dared onstage by equally pissed up mates, karaoke here is an experience where one’s face is somewhat saved by the segregation of singing groups into their own themed singing booths. Lined with couches and an array of every hand held instrumental accompaniment available, Japanese karaoke with its affordable, all you can drink alcoholic menus is an enjoyable social affair that a first timer rarely forgets, or remembers the next day. For us, it was a comfortable reprieve from our stilting reality for just one more night. That was, until, the businessmen arrived. At the stroke of midnight, we were startled awake by a horrible racket that sounded like a thousand fighting cats struggling with tune of Bon Jovi’s ‘Living on a Prayer.’ The alcohol that was running through their veins was having a profound effect on their vocal chords and their ability to read the words on the screen.
“She says we gotta hole on god… It dada dada dada dada mm mm mm mm not!”
“ ea.. other… and that’s a rot of rub”
When the battle to read at pace got too much for the slurring singer, the words were replaced by the vocal impersonation of Richie Sambora’s guitar solo. As we struggled to find things thick enough to protect our ears from the aural onslaught, the sound of a crashing table suddenly cut short the businessman’s performance, leaving the real Jon Bon Jovi singing softly in the background. As we both listened expectantly for the wail of approaching ambulances, a soft groan echoed out through the microphone, obviously still in the grip of the now crippled singer.

Whatever became of our Japanese Bon Jovi we never knew, but as we walked away toward the border of Toyama, big bags hanging low under our eyes, we both vowed never to stay in a karaoke box again.

posted by Mick and Miki Tan @ 2:52 AM,


At November 26, 2009 at 11:08 AM, Blogger design by ROCKET said...

hey hey guys! I love this story! Am laughing out loud................ oh Mick I can just picture you looking like a crazy homeless person in the middle of department store.
Well keep the stories coming. Thinking of you guys.

Lots of Love Rocket xx

At November 26, 2009 at 12:44 PM, Blogger singtothe said...

that's a really great compilation of songs sure to be one for everyone to sing, i'm planning a karaoke party at the x factor final evening and am getting a custom karaoke CD with all the christmas ones ready!

At November 27, 2009 at 7:58 AM, Blogger loren said...

Hey, there,

I have a piece of writing that I hope cheers you up in the midst of broken stilts, messed up feet, and stuffy old women. It's by Taishi, a current high school 1 student that you may remember from last year. I got his permission to share this (and his first name) here.
Last Thursday, we saw a movie of Mr. Tan's great challenge. Wow, he and his wife walk across Japan with bamboo stilts. When I first heard this topic, I didn't understand why would he do such a terrible thing. Soon after, Mr. Tan told us why would do that. It is because he wants to save the forst in Borneo. I understood the meaning, but it's still unbelievable he would really do that. And then I reached last Thursday. When I saw that movie, I said, "He is really doing that!!" without realizing. I was surprised and had respect for him very much. I don't have any dreams for the future now. But I thought that I want to do such a great thing some time in the future like Mr. Tan.

I'm sure your efforts will have many lasting effects, many that you might not expect.

But I hope you're still having fun there.

At November 28, 2009 at 7:51 PM, Blogger Gram said...

yeah...pretty much what loren said!

but i was going to say...i thought staying in a karaoke booth showed great innovation..the best laid plans of mice and men.

i hope you can come back while were still in class at shibu maku next sure the high school 2's would love to have a class party for you.

are people really cooler down south?...i have been getting a bit sick of the competitive tokyo/chiba vibe myself lately

good luck with the rest of guys are amazing...seriously i mean that, and you know i dont bandy such words about.

you can do it!

At November 29, 2009 at 3:11 AM, Blogger Mick and Miki Tan said...

Rocket - Why in the world could you picture such athing so easily.....?
Loren - Cheers for that. I remember Taishi and if it is the one I remember you must have paid him to write such a thing!! I7ll fix you up when I get back! :-) Thanks mate!

Gram - Congratulations! You are the first person I have ever met who has used teh word bandy in that sense! Remind me not to play you in scrabble! Cheers mate! Yes!! Everywhere but Chiba seems to be cool!! WOndering why I am coming back after!! :-)


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