Yeah the subways work great and what’s with all the smiley glad bowing, but I felt like I could move there for the first few hours and after that it didn’t feel like it would make much of a difference if I did move there. Halfway across the world two times and you still feel at home because you grew up in Capitalism’s gymnasium. The only thing that reminded me that I was in Asia: the time. I felt like I fell out of bed backwards. First morning woke up feeling like I’d slept a year, must’ve been late, was five in the morning so I finally read Ham on Rye. Had been trying to read Pynchon but shit like that’s a big mistake in a stateless hotel room that your father-in-law paid for. Before I got to Japan I finished reading Moby Dick on the plane. Something about the Sea of Japan. It would come for us all, the loss of our limbs and things like that. Nothing you didn’t already know. Melville was a young man when he wrote that, he couldn’t have been sure. And besides, places were different then, and not just in the flavor of their sexual fantasies.

You know what’s great? Service charge. Not tipping. They don’t care, and you don’t care, and maybe everyone hates you because if you came all this way you must have a lot more money than they do. Maybe that’s why my customers hate me. You have to hate the person that reminds you how rich you are and how little you deserve it. I told my wife that, she said she didn’t think like that and didn’t want to continue the conversation. But I was a charity case, it wasn’t my fault, I didn’t choose this hotel, I don’t even like buffets! First meal we had there we were the last people in the hotel restaurant. Everyone smiling so much you didn’t know if they were happy you were there or they were sad that you were walking straight to your death and they were trying to put on a good face for you. Whenever they bowed to you you felt like they had stopped doing that years ago here in Tokyo, probably they still did it in Japan, but the Tokyo people just did it to make you feel like you were really here, you really did spend eighteen hours in a metal tube five miles above the ground. You came here for something right? Oh, just stopping over? How nice. Know Japanese? Oh that’s just fine, yes in Tokyo we don’t even bother…

It was eight courses of tiny food and I know about shit like that but this shit was very small and very expensive and all I wanted was alcohol but there was family everywhere. Twelve dollars for the cheapest beer and anyway that was only a quarter of the price of the first course. The first course was gross as hell, probably a way to set you up so that the rest of the meal tasted better. Some kind of gelatin. The second and third courses were gelatin. The fourth course was gelatin mixed with balls. The fifth course was fucking delicious: steak that tasted like pork belly. I had three bites and took three four dollar sips of beer and then the sixth course came and it was seaweed in the shape of gelatin.

We got the fuck out of there at some point. The people bowed and waved and I said to myself I am sure as fuck going to bow at people when I get home. You can do whatever you want in the interim as long as you bow and smile like a motherfucker at the beginning and end. By the time we got to the end of the trip I had eaten five hundred grams of gelatin at thirty different establishments and I realized that sometimes you just want to have a good time and some other times you just need to eat and you don’t have a fucking oven or a Seamless account and you just have to go in somewhere even though you don’t want to and maybe this isn’t your fucking dream dinner you just need to eat and you’re rich so it doesn’t really matter that this is a five star restaurant. Maybe you’re pissed off, and that was a revelation because before people would come into my restaurant and be angry and I would be like damn no one asked you to come in here, but now I understand. And people who don’t speak English are mostly rude when they come in to my restaurant and now I understand, they probably started out trying to play along (haha sorry don’t speak English, ha I’m pretty dumb, I beg your indulgence) but five minutes into that and you’re thinking to yourself shit I don’t even want to be here FUCK these people and their language I mean honestly fuck me for leaving home these are nice people probably the best thing I can do at this point is shut the fuck up and point at shit on the menu so as not to degrade myself or them any further.

Yeah the whole time I was in that motherfucker I was hungry as hell. I didn’t feel full one time in that country, even though I ate a shit ton of ramen swimming in pork fat which was delicious but all they had to go with it was twelve dollar beer which you couldn’t justify drinking because you only spent fifty cents on the ramen. Shit was cognitive dissonance, especially because I wasn’t paying for shit so I knew that shit was going to look bad. Had been me alone I would have brought in my own six pack. Waiters in Tokyo couldn’t give a fuck about that, they don’t even recognize you as a human. And shit, why should they? You’re probably only there to fantasize about having sex with a high school girl in a ninja outfit, or maybe a ninja in a high school girl outfit, or maybe you don’t like sex with girls and you came there to be trampled by teacup hedgehogs. Either way you can take these twelve dollar beers or leave them, they don’t expect a tip.

Our hotel was in Shinjuku. Woke up in that motherfucker it was a ghost town. Shit didn’t make sense. Thought I woke up in the wrong century. Eleven stories up in the Hilton Tokyo looking out over big ass sanitized buildings and a couple of cranes even bigger than that and only see a lone bird swooping in and out of the frame. Everything is gray and shit. Take some pictures and try to remember the names of Ahab’s friends. Smollet or some such. Where are the thirty million people you heard about? They’re asleep for Christ sake it’s five in the goddamn morning. Come back out at 9 in the morning, still dead. Impossible! Creepy as fuck, we walked to the nearest subway, going the long ass way around and congratulating ourselves like we were Edward Shackleton or something.

Finally, something you recognize from the pictures. The trains whoosh up on time, all efficient and shit. Reminds you of how the all soul of capitalism demands efficiency, one step from expediency. You shake your head though, none of that shit makes a damn bit of sense, and you get on the subway and you’re like damn this shit is on time than a motherfucker. You never have to wait more than two minutes for a train. Everything’s clean. Ok sure that’s great but where are the fucking CROWDS. Not here. I didn’t see them motherfuckers one time. Closest I got was going into the Electric City, or whatever they call the place with the video game statues all over the place and maid cafes and shit, and there was some rushing around. Man them anime video game statuettes were sexy as hell. But shit we went to the mall of Tokyo or whatever the fuck and that shit wasn’t all that crowded even. Downstairs on character street where they have creepy ass kid stuff and calliope theme songs for stuffed animals.

Best thing going was the convenience store, where you could get anything you want. Seemed like the nano-fabricator was working full time back there. Anime porno magazines next to magazines featuring personified tuxedos and cardigans in chaste poses at public beaches. Egg salad sandwiches with MRE tabs at the bottom so you could heat them up instantly if you wanted. Cans of coffee, some of them in the fridge, and above that, in the heater. How they keep this shit hot enough in aluminum? I don’t know. Three different kinds of illegal pickles. People on the register don’t even bother. Those maid cafes and video game stores are for the casual native sex tourist. They know what you came here for, you found it: the real Tokyo.

We took a walking tour and the lady spoke Japanese, or what sounded like it, and English. She was nice as hell. All smiley and thanking us for every little thing we did. I decided I’m going to start doing that same damn thing. Going to smile and thank people for waiting while I respond to their stupid ass comments. “Hey man, how are you doing today?” I’m great, thank you for waiting for my response. This girl, went to the subway machines and bought us tickets and came back and thanked us individually for waiting. Maybe in Tokyo people are like, shit, where’d that tour guide go? I’m out of here! Going to go on Trip Advisor and get my money back. Thanked us every time she did that. Told us how to pray at Shinto shrines. Showed us about mascots. Oh, we love mascots in Tokyo! This weird ass toilet right here? This is the mascot for all toilets in Tokyo. Try jerking off while having water sprayed up your ass. I’ve heard it’s great, unfortunately it doesn’t work for women, unless you have this other kind of toilet that sprays oil. I pushed all the buttons on that shit, it just never got weird enough for me.

We walked through the big ass fish market and we had to pretend like we weren’t on a tour because you’re not supposed to tour in there any more or something but then I started wondering if it’s just intended to fetishize the fish market and if the people in the weird ass barrel trucks weren’t just pretending that they would blithely run you over because it was understood that you liked that sort of thing. We had to wait outside for an hour for sushi and then that shit was underwhelming. Everyone said hi when you walked in, but in Japanese, like they were going to kill you, and then they laughed about it! And you were like, damn I’m culturally insensitive! Here I thought this dude was telling everyone to attack, and they are all being welcoming and shit. Why don’t I understand any Japanese at all? Why would I come here thinking I could understand anything that was going on without understanding one single syllable of this language? And then you realize that you deserved to die after all, but fuck it might as well have some real sushi in Japan, and then you eat it way too late after burning your hands on hot towels, extra special for English speaking weirdos, and you think damn you know where the sushi tastes better is in Long Island and then you realize this walking tour took you to some kind of tourist trap sushi place where the guy out front in the picture’s biggest claim to fame is killing more tuna in hand to hand combat than any other fat bastard since Santa Claus. Then you think to yourself shit am I thinking clearly and clearly you aren’t but it doesn’t matter, time to move the fuck on and you realize you haven’t eaten more than a thousand calories since you landed.

Said to yourself if you walked through that fish market again knowing that you weren’t going to get the real deal sushi, the one they make in Japan, that you’d say fuck it and grab up one of them octopus arms and chomp that shit before anybody could stop you. Probably happens all the time. Octopus arms probably end up a lot of places.

Walking tour girl introduces you to her friend, who works in a maid cafe and she has to talk to you in that high voice and you say to yourself I thought this girl was her friend, can’t she talk to us about the real experience of working in a maid cafe? Hell no she can’t! Don’t be ridiculous. Even in the land of coffee shops over run by illegal penguins such a thing would be unthinkable. Just look at the marketing material: thirty drunken penises surrounding a fourteen year old girl pouring beer in a maid outfit. You can’t even be mad because what the fuck time is it? You don’t even know. You think instead about Pokemon. Somebody should stick up for those little fuckers. Pokemon rights activist: let ’em catch a break. Anime all over the place, anime dude pops out of a curtain when you ring a bell and asks if you want another twelve dollar beer. You can’t get drunk at all in this country. Where’s the Japanese scotch? Where’s Suntori? Who knows, who the fuck knows, the problem with you is you can’t even get decent sushi in Japan, that’s the problem with you. Because you didn’t even get subway sexually assaulted not one time not even close, you hardly even saw a million people walking around.

The one time you break away from the parents, you end up in a bar that could have been in Brooklyn, but you can’t even get by there because you don’t speak Japanese and you don’t have thirty six Japanese dollars and there are three of you. You remember something about Moby Dick that explained everything that was happening but you can’t remember what it was. The waiter says that thing that everyone says to you when you walk into a shop but you can’t figure the fuck out what it is and so you say “3” and the waiter laughs about that and doesn’t give an inch so you say “san” and the waiter thinks that’s even funnier and you look at your wife and your sister-in-law and they are wearing cute cat stickers and holding stuffed mascots that play theme songs and you are in the expensive part of the most expensive city in the world and you turn back to the waiter and you say “Thank you so much!” and she laughs at you and you walk past as if she’s a madwoman and you sit at a table and she seems to protest and you point to the cheapest beer ($18) and you say “Three for the love of Christ” and no one knows what’s the matter with you and you wish instead you were at a convenience store. The waiter brings the beers as if everything is normal and if anything she wishes you would go to a therapist and you drink, not feeling like you’re in Japan, knowing you’re in Tokyo.



Travelling With Parents

There’s unnecessary urgency everywhere. That constant push, that arm motion. Come on! Get closer to everyone. We’re going this way. I realize you’re already going this way, but I need to make this motion. Come on! Maybe even pushing you physically. Into an elevator. Into a camera frame. This way! After you, sir! No, after you.

“Which is more stressful,” I ask my cousin, “not knowing what you’re going to be doing in the next five minutes, for almost every five minutes, or…being at work.” He answers, “Not knowing what you’re going to be doing in the next five minutes. I kind of like it.”

But then he’s been here before. Knows what it’s like to follow wealthy people around, to wave the bell hops off with no tip, knowing that they’ll be taken care of at the next room, where the parents are sleeping. He’s lying across two beds at the City Grande hotel in his underwear and nothing else, watching TV and charging his phone without a voltage transformer.

You depend on the parents for everything: the plan, the money, the talking, the ordering, the tipping, the boarding passes, the lying to customs about the corned beef you are bringing home.

When you’re all downstairs in the hotel lobby in Manilla there’s nothing for you to do and there’s nowhere for you to sit and there are spiky potted palm bushes in all the corners and everyone is on edge. Your aunt asks you where your cousin is and you point at him; he’s surrounded by luggage at the front door. She says he needs to pay attention and stick together and everyone needs to pay more attention but it’s impossible after all that travelling to pay attention to anything when it isn’t at all clear what’s happening and you can’t demand answers from anyone because the man is at the front desk putting down hundreds of dollars for your hotel room. So you just stand inside the thorny embrace of a palm bush and hope no one sees you but of course they do and they call you a fool for standing there but you move and you’re run over by a man dressed in all white who’s sneaking around trying to surprise his friend. So you move back.

Then suddenly it’s to the elevators and you leave your luggage there on the carts and there are twenty people on this elevator, we’ll wait for the next one. And then your cousin is pulling you into the elevator bodily saying, come on! You’re white! Because your cousin is sure that you’ll be held for ransom. And then you’re stuck staring at your family with the door closing behind you and not enough room to turn away.

Guard Rails in Palawan

Hello. I just got back from my trip to Asia. I feel weird.

I wrote some stuff about it. I’m going to post it a little bit at a time. Hope you are entertained.

Here’s the first one. It’s called Guard Rails in Palawan.

I left home thinking I would find something different. I thought that Palawan was a remote place where people collected nests made from saliva hidden in limestone crevices perilously high above a blue and white surf. When I got off the plane at Puerto Princesa, and I saw the banners declaring Palawan the “World’s Best Island” courtesy of both Conde Nast and Travel and Leisure, I failed to adjust my expectations.

When a futuristic Toyota cut through the mob of motorcycle taxis and stopped in front of us, I got inside without thinking twice. I sat in the worst seat, with my Birkenstocks up on the wheel well, not believing that we’d be in a van like this for very long. No doubt we’d need something more all-terrain once we cleared the airport.

Our driver handed us dried plantains dipped in brown sugar, bottles of water, a guest satisfaction form, and a paper with a web address for leaving a review on Trip Advisor. I registered the smallest hint of cognitive dissonance. I ate the plantains and took pictures through our blacked out windows.

The paved road went on and on, and when the turns got sharp I saw guard rails and I shifted in my seat. We came up behind a bus with a man standing on the roof, apparently making sure the baggage didn’t fly away. I tried to take his picture. The bus was so tall it would no doubt fall to its side soon. What would he do then? Men were pouring asphalt on either side of the road. They wore flip flops, shirts pulled up above their stomachs, and their faces were wrapped to the eyeballs in fabric that blew in the wind from the passing cars. They looked like mystics. On and on and on went the road. For five hours we drove, passing motorcycles with metal cages built around them, allowing them to hold families of four and five. Passing more of those buses with the men on the roofs. Passing cows and goats and a giant pig and even a couple of monkeys, all of them along the very paved road to El Nido.

Damn these roads. Why did they build roads here? Why are we still building roads in the 21st century? Who needs cars. How about public air transportation? How about catapults? Evolution doesn’t work that way. You can’t throw away the design, you’ve got to iterate. Besides, when you’ve got a hammer, everything looks like a nail; and when you’ve got a sleek Toyota van and a resort fifty miles from the airport, you put the people to work turning their backyards into asphalt and guardrails.

Adios and Goodnight

Back in the eighties, when Jorge lived here, the poor would leave houses made of aluminum pans in the mountains above the restaurants and come into the village to drink for free.

Every night, when the bars closed, tourists and fraises with money still in their wallets were robbed without enthusiasm by diminuitive descendants of Incan princes holding pocket knives and smoking cigarettes.

When we left the bar, the Southern Cross was hanging over us, and Jorge tried to find someone with cannabis. I was nervous and pretended to be sick. I squatted like a primitive man and drew in the dirt until he gave up and we walked home.

“They’ll come down soon,” said Jorges, pointing to the mountains.

I took out my wallet and pulled out all the pesos I had and threw them into the bushes along the road.

I was drunk of course, and Jorge just laughed. He said, “We could’ve bought a pound of ants with that.”

Birkenstocks In Paradise Lost

Sitting in what Jorges called a public park, I came to understand that I was going to need thicker sandals. I got these in Paris last year, before they were cool.

Jorges said he used to play here barefoot. I made a note in my calendar: get tetanus shot. Also: learn how to spell tetanus.

We are resting now. The ride here was physical agony and Jorges complained incessantly. He told me it was his way of achieving enlightenment, but he didn’t mean it.