it’s been a while since i’ve traveled.  the last big trip i took was the drive across the us to move to the desert.  christ, the us is a beautiful country.  

i digress.

for the past month or so i’ve become increasingly on edge due to work-related matters.  bighouse onthemountain should now read “bighouse inthedesert” but i can’t figure out how to change the title, so screw it.  

last night i dreamed that i was a sex offender.  when i told someone they asked me if i woke up punching myself in the face.  

the night prior i dreamed i clocked a criminal who had chapped lips.  

so i found a deal on hotwire to get me to nagasaki relatively cheap prior to the rainy season.  so, two tears in a bucket.  i’m leaving in 3 days.  

more to come.  

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i hear the term, “go west, young man,” and i want to apply it to my current situation.  but in gay years i’m not young anymore.  i expired when i turned 35.  i better start taking my calcium supplements now to keep my bones strong like sally field. 

all things considered, i’m excited to leave the mountains for the desert.  fall has crept in and so has seasonal depression.  perhaps living in a place where mostly everything’s dead all the time will help improve my mood disorder.  rimshot, please? 

the great thing about the desert, though, is that in the death there is life.  somehow bugs, animals, cacti, and leathery-skinned people have managed to call it home forever.  i hope to become one of them.  

i mean, the desert has birthed mormonism, how bad could it be?

stay tuned–more adventures are on their way.  

it’s hard not to feel twinges of sadness from time to time.  my situation has been provoking these feelings.

namely, i’m going to have to learn to live alone again.  part of me is happy that i’ll have more freedom to lay a turd and not worry about flushing.  hell, maybe i’ll enjoy quality naked time a little more, knowing that my ex can no longer barge in on me. on the other hand, even though the relationship didn’t work out, i will miss the guy.  my cat will probably take an emotional beating.  at times when my ex is not there she will go to his bedroom door and look up in yearning.  hell, he’s been nicer to her than i.

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family is another tough spot concerning this move.  i’ve been a few hours away from home and my parents haven’t made an effort to visit once.  my sister, her three kids, husband, and lover have all dropped by a few times to pay their respects.  hats off to the girl that can make that trip work.  overall, emotionally i will be distancing myself again by moving farther away.  but i feel that it can only be a good thing.  part of me refuses to accept, though, that even though i want parental acknowledgement i’ll have to learn to give it to myself in some other manner.

other emotional moments pop out at inopportune times.  after battling with understanding pittsburgh traffic for the past 18 months, i feel that i mastered it today–only to leave.

my japanese teacher, one of my only friends where i live, will have to find another student.  we’ve grown close, even though our relationship is mainly professional.

i’m working on termination with my therapist, the woman who attempted to “fire” me as a patient when i started sessions with her.

the weather and topography here takes a toll on people.  it’s noticeable in their approach to life.  people here are made of steel, endorse a good work ethic, and battle the mountain traffic in the winter.  garages are often optional.  potatoes, beets and onions grow like crazy during the wet summers.  tomatoes appear exotic even though ohio, the tomato state, is only a few hours away.

every morning, i wake up, let out a rank fart from yesterday’s veggie medley, and wonder if the deer have obliterated my garden.  my next door neighbor feeds them. i make sure to burn my trash when she’s outside.  as i try to put my house on the market i cringe at how her shack-of-a-home may bring down the value of mine.

more to come . . .

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my two undergrad friends and i decided to have a quasi reunion somewhere exotic.  i demanded somewhere international.  but the mother of the group let her passport lapse.  the cheap girl of the group tried to get us to tag along another vacation she had going on in NC at the same time.  i insisted on NEVER going to the south again.  we settled on maine . . . hoping to hike, see beaches, and hear exotic accents in one fell swoop.

i admit, i’ve been very depressed lately and feel like i may have let my friends down since i wasn’t completely present.  at one point i entered the room and caught the tail end of them talking about it.  they then quickly changed the subject.

the cheap girl found a place to stay at an “air B&B” which was my first B&B experience.  we stayed in an awesome place in freeport where we cooked our own breakfast.  cheap girl is also gluten-free (i sigh loudly) so she skanked a whole foods trip out of us along the way.  from there we headed down the fingers of the coast, enjoying the cool breeze and a beach.  cheap girl insisted on going seins nus at the beach.  uncomfortability rose astronomically between us as it happened.  my favorite part of the trip was cheap girl continuing to wonder why she had a hard time maintaining a relationship: “it’s always the other person.  they’re dicks to me.”  riiiiight.

the mother of the group made quite an impression on me . . . even though i offended her by saying, “eeew” when i saw a very pregnant waitress at a restaurant.  i mean, for real, why do women have to wear spandex when pregnant?  anyway, i remembered things i forgot about her including our shared love of reading.  honestly, she’s turned very milf in her years.  a highlight of the trip included an explanation about how we once thought music could not get worse than auto tune and hip hop.  enter dub step and we were all proven wrong.

long story short, i felt that maine was spectacular.  it truly is beautiful, rural, liberal, educated, and cute.  i would totally live there if it didn’t have 8 months of snow there throughout the year.  also, depressed travel is not that fun.  it makes coping with new yorkers during a layover at la guardia very difficult.  no level of klonipin can take the edge off of that level of irritibility.

the next portion of my travels includes a massive undertaking.

this will be the third time i will cross the united states to live in another time zone.

in the past seven years i’ve lived in four different states.  each time i crossed the states, i was awestruck by the diversity and beauty of our country.  and by beauty, i mean a few several things . . . between the states, regional differences are staggering.  it’s much bigger than, “do you say pop or soda?”  the way of life, accents, food, weather, economic and religious systems, skin color, urban and rural mores all have their own motivations and contexts contingent on one’s placement within the 50+ states.

quick example: hawaii (for all intents and purposes) is asia-polynesia . . . located 5 hours by plane from california.  puerto rico is a blend of afro-european culture, hanging off the end of carribean tropics.  in some parts of alaska the sun might not set completely.  i’m proud to be part of such a diverse country, even if we have our fair share of difficulties.

a major difficulty that i have with intra-us travel is the expense and nature of travel.  american travel is a genre of travel like no other.  it requires sophisticated knowledge and a fat wallet.  a car or plane must be used at all costs (unless time is not of the essence).  hotels are insanely expensive.  tourist information is not neatly organized like in japan or western europe.  on this trip, i’ll have approximately one week to travel from the mountains to the southwestern desert.

to complicate matters even more, i have a house to sell and an ex boyfriend who will move out when i leave.

although i’ve lived apart from my family for many years, i am moving farther from them as they’re aging.

i, too, am not getting any younger.  when i was 25, i was more gutsy and adventurous.  now, i have a better understanding of safety.  some say that wisdom comes with age.  i say that geritol and calcium supplements come with age.

secretly i’m shrieking in my mind.

as i sit at the starbucks at narita airport, i can’t help but wonder whether or not i made the right choice by traveling alone throughout japan.  a few thoughts cross my mind.    

1) i got more accomplished than what i would have with another person

my travel to shikoku, fujiyama and hiroshima probably would have been hindered if i were with another person.  it required early transfer times, lots of movement, and flexibility that usually doesn’t happen when traveling with another person.  

2) i probably spent less money

one thing that i hate to do by myself is eat alone in a restaurant.  so i shopped at the seven eleven.  i ate dinner on-the-go.  i probably saved money doing so.  most money i spent was on water and coffee.  oh, and incense.  

3) i got to experience people in a “real” way

this is pure speculation: i can’t help to think that locals might have been intimidated to speak with me if i were traveling with another person/s.  since i was traveling alone, it was easier to strike up conversations with people while riding the tram and metro.  i’m sure that if i were with a woman, people would have probably assumed she were my wife or fiancee.  this could have made interactions more difficult.  

4)  sense of accomplishment.  

i do feel a sense of accomplishment that comes from being in a completely foreign place and hacking it solo.  it is good to know that i am able to make connections, take busses and have conversations with people in japan on my own.  

5) loneliness

while i was alone in japan, i never felt completely lonely.  i suppose it was because i kept myself moving.  i’m sure that if i were here a bit longer pangs of loneliness would have set in.  there are several situations that would have been interesting to share: going to the onsen, going to certain parts of town, etc.  it would have been nice to have someone’s opinion on shopping for clothes or trinkets.  it felt a little weird to be by myself at miyajima.  i often thought of princess diana’s picture at the taj mahal . . . solo.  a friend of mine once traveled to petra alone.  she picked up a pine cone on her trip.  the pine cone accompanied her on each portion of the journey and made its way into all of her solo pictures.  i digress.

it seemed like there were a lot of solo travelers in japan.  overall, though, i do wish that i had a companion with whom to share experiences.  although this blog will continue (even though i’ll no longer be in japan), perhaps i’ll be able to connect with someone who has had similar experiences and expectations.  all your comments are welcomed and appreciated.  be nice.  

 

i don’t know if this is normal, but this week has been hot as hell.  but it’s not normal hot.  it’s mississippi delta hot.  after 5 days of sweating ferociously and wondering whether or not i was suffering from heat stroke, i decided to do like the locals.  i bought a sweat rag.  i figured, at least if i can’t control swamp crotch i could at least control my swarthy face.    

i bought the rag in nagano at a ritzy pottery shop.  the store woman must have thought i was insane.  after pretending to look at expensive items, i decided to spend a whopping 3-4$ on a sweat rag with the picture of a fish on it.  what can i say?  i have no desire for pottery or tea sets.  

nagano is a delightful town.  it’s touristy, but pales in comparison to nikko.  the main temple is 100% functional.  i was able to witness afternoon worship.  i then took a tunnel through the bowels of the site.  aside from feeling claustrophobic, the experience was intriguing.  legend has it that experiencing this dark tunnel is similar to what we go through in death.  i, personally, was afraid at first, but then welcomed the stillness.  

upon return to tokyo i walked from ueno to asakusa (sweat rag in hand).  i felt sorry for those around me.  even cheap deodorant spray can’t save me from this week’s bo.  i like that the sweat rag is commonplace.  i’ll have to bust it out often, given that i might as well be going through menopause. Image

after the nikko experience, i decided to head south to the often ignored shikoku island.  knowing it would take a day to travel there, i booked a hotel on hotwire for cheap in the city of matsuyama.  although the weather forecast called for rain, i didn’t care.  i wanted to understand a different type of japan . . . one that the locals experience. 

when i switched trains at okayama, i realized why it was often not visited by tourists.  a slow passenger train filled with japanese businessmen (i’m determined that they all shop at the same store for similar white dress shirts and black slacks) crept along the edge of the island for several hours until we reached matsuyama.  first off, i wanted to see ishtije-ji.  to get there i had to walk 2 km after taking the tram to its terminus.  upon exiting the train, i felt as if i entered a santana video.  humidity was at an all-time high and even businessmen had to bust out personal fans to keep from melting to the station floor.

upon entering the tram (which is a charming trolly-esque, wooden contraption), i asked a lady passenger if i was on the correct one.  she instantly became chatty kathy with me: “are you american?  you speak japanese?  yes?  you speak SO well.”  she was thrilled to be speaking to a real american and was insanely gracious.  once again, i was blown away by this person’s genuine friendliness to a stranger, and foreigner.  she explained to me that she was born in osaka (in my mind this explained her “awesomeness.”) but her family moved to matsuyama.  she was going to the onsen: “have you been to the onsen?  no?  well, you simply must go.  it’s over 3000 years old!  i’m going there now.  go later, there are less people.  it’s open until at least ten.  yes!  it’s true!  you’re going to ishtije-ji?  it’s simply beautiful!”  a girl across the aisle from us smiled at our intercultural exchange.  upon exiting the tram she pointed me in the right direction: “it’s so nice to meet you!  enjoy!  take care!”  i’m gay through and through, but i’m such a sucker for japanese women.    

on my walk to the temple i met a few men at a convenience store.  they were driving a takashimaya car.  i informed them that i had been to the one in tokyo.  they, in fact, worked there and were in tokyo this morning.  “you too?  eeeh?”  they then asked me if i spoke korean.  i was asked several times in matsuyama if i spoke korean.  perhaps it’s due to the larger korean immigrant population in this area of the country?  then again, that’s putting it lightly.  japan still maintains at least a 98% homogenous rate.  

the temple itself is marvelous.  the best part is that it has several underground temples.  given that it was raining and hot, the tunnels were a respite from the sticky weather.  a fine mist made discovering ishtije-ji like a spooky episode of scooby-doo where fog is so thick it can be cut with a paw’s fingernail.  at each turn a buddha crept out of the dark, surprising me.  i was haunted by the display of buddhas on the walls.  red bibs covered their bodies to keep them warm.  pictures simply will not give this place justice.  

once i found the hotel i was impressed.  hotwire didn’t do a bad job at finding me cheap digs that were chic.  i quickly changed, showered, and went to dogo–the 3000 year old onsen.   

i entered the onsen and confusion set in immediately.  now, i’ve been to public baths before.  hell, i practically lived at the hammam in morocco.  the japanese bath ritual was hard to understand.  go to main floor.  get a locker for shoes.  go to private room.  get locker for clothes.  put on robe and get towel.  get locker for robe on a different floor.  get naked, wash, then soak.  after soaking, dry off.  go to another floor.  get another locker.  lounge.  go to another floor.  get another locker.  go into another room.  wash.  soak.  dry off and leave floor.  climb three floors and go to private room.  lounge.  use locker key, put on clothes.  go down three floors.  go to original locker with shoes.  leave. 

but goddamn was it great!  the ancient baths are stunning.  the water is beautiful.  in morocco, talking didn’t take place.  people were relatively private.  here, an old man struck up a conversation with me: “before i was sick.  i go to onsen.  i’m no longer sick.  this onsen very old.  see that god there?  that god makes this onsen.”  legend has it that the onsen’s powers were discovered after a sick crane stuck its maimed leg in the hot waters.  once it took the leg out it was healed.  this old man was testament to its healing powers.  christ, if everyone on this island is as friendly as the few people i’ve met, it’d be the perfect place to live.       

oh, and for added excitement, i opted for the 500 yen upgrade which gave me a tour of where the emperors sat when they visited the onsen.  their facilities were complete with their own japanese style toilet with sand underneath it to catch their poop.  i actually inquired as to why they wanted to catch the emporer’s poop.  the explanation i was given was to see if the emperor was “healthy.”  that one, my friends, is getting chalked-up to strange inexplicable japanese kink. 

i learned the hard way once.  never travel to a foreign country without a guidebook.  when i lived in france as an exchange student during high school my english teacher took me under her wing, showing me such books as “le bison fute.”  i was a naive 18 year old from rural america.  my social cues weren’t developed, and i decided that i would take the train to places like vienna, barcelona and geneva.  once there, the cultural attractions would simply find me.  oh, to be young and stupid again.  on a college trip to spain (and later egypt and morocco) i discovered the “rough guide.”  it, compared to “let’s go” and “frommer’s,” seemed more sensible.  “rough guide” had lengthy historical contexts included in descriptions of tourist destinations, and explanations of cultural dos and don’ts.  “let’s go” appeared to simply mention tourist traps but had lots of pretty pictures.  

this trip i used a combination of “rough guide’s” japan, and frommer’s “japan, day by day.”  a word to the wise: avoid nikko at all costs, even though frommer’s swears that it’s a “must do.”  it, like the akihabara girls dressed in maid costumes, solidified my opinion (see previous posts).  then again, “rough guide” is so intellectually heavy that its bible-like size and in-depth explanations overwhelmed me.  i’m a stupid american.  i need pictures.   

the woefully disdainful trip to nikko started with me getting up early and transferring trains several times.  on the last leg of the trip i sat next to a strange boy with fresh cuts all over his face.  he struck up a conversation with me about the music on his iPod.  he would glance at me through his biebercut, asking about elvis presley’s, “bridge over troubled water.”  i was dumbfounded.  throughout my travels i’ve noticed that in foreign countries, very specific music artists are liked by the locals.  in eastern france, ac/dc and bob marley was popular in the late 90s.  at one point during this time i can recall a dance remake of “i shot the sheriff.”  marley was also popular in egypt in the early 2000s and tunisia in the 2010s.  oddly enough, dolly parton was well-known and liked in rural morocco in the early 00s.  the guy on the train was pretty intent on getting some answers from me.  he shifted uncomfortably in his seat.  could he have scabies?  a sigh of relief came from my lips when he exited the train.  

so how was nikko? bref, nikko is a tourist trap.  i ended up shelling out 500 yen for a glimpse of a tiny cat carved on a wooden gate.  in the melee of seeing the sights i got stuck with a group of school kids in a temple.  i would have missed the “see hear and speak no evil” monkeys had i not asked a shop owner where they were.  i had to shove my way through the school kids to get a glimpse.  although i know that japan is an aging society, one would have never thought so from my experience in nikko.  

the frommer’s book says that to truly experience this city, a stay for more than one day is a “must.”  screw that. 

Imagealthough daunting, it is not impossible to visit miyajima and hiroshima in one day while based out of tokyo.  in order to do so, hauling ass is imperative, and a mastery of elementary japanese is paramount.  after the trip, though, i realized that i needed to take an extra day to explore the south more thoroughly–it’s gorgeous and almost everyone i met was incredibly friendly.   

get ready to read some fun scheduling maneuvers.  i took the 515ish train from asakusa to ueno, changed stations and arrived at tokyo station.  from there i was whisked to shin osaka.  i had precisely 15 minutes to change trains for hiroshima.  from hiroshima i took the local train to miyajima and jumped on a ferry that took me to the world heritage site.  from there i took the ferry back to the mainland, jumped on the local train to hiroshima, and then hopped a bus to visit the hypocenter of the atomic bomb.  after going to the peace museum, i took the city bus back to the train station (in the rain) and made the last train to tokyo–switching trains in osaka with a 5 minute interval.  once i arrived at tokyo station, i took the JR train to ueno, switched stations and arrived in asakusa at approximately midnight.  the picture of my accomplishment is seen below.  

a few interesting things occured during this crazy day.   

when i switched at osaka i got a feeling that people were different than tokyo.  things seemed raw.  people seemed hurried (like in tokyo) but it seemed more real.  it seemed earthier, more authentic.  i remembered what boy/friend (see previous posts) said about people in osaka.  he claimed that they were stupid, their accent brutish.  people in kyoto, though, have the reputation for being cold, standoffish and snob-like.  their dialect is considered to be “pretty” even though they’re a stone’s throw from osaka.  

as i sat on the train going from osaka to hiroshima, i started a conversation with a french girl seated next to me.  we discussed current events.  i told her that i was happy france legalized gay marriage.  she immediately said, “mais moi, je suis contre.”  she claimed to be conservative through and through, making some bullshit argument about the “nature” of relationships.  in her twisted mind, “natural” relationships require both a masculine and feminine presence.  

“and the kids?” she asked, “what about the kids?”  holding my tongue, i informed her that the vast majority of research shows that children from loving families develop appropriately, regardless of the parents’ sexual orientations.  the next argument was the classic, “it’s the church that decides who can marry in the eyes of god.”  i bit my tongue trying not to remind her that france is a country that prides itself on separation of church and state.  i quickly changed the subject and inquired about her professional life.  “i’m unemployed,” she said.  (wait for it) “all of these immigrants are draining our system.”  yes, the system that she, herself, is draining as well.  i was dying to ask how an unemployed person could take 4 week vacations in japan.  passons-outre.  

when i arrived in hiroshima i was greeted with doting girls working at the tourist information desk.  they found my japanese cute and they smiled as i stumbled my way through asking simple questions to orient myself.  i felt spoiled by their kindness.  i couldn’t help but feel enraptured by their grace and good looks.    

the peace museum, however, is another story.  i was moved to tears after having learned what the survivors and their dead underwent.  i saw a spot on concrete where a man’s shadow was burnt into stone, his body completely vaporized by the bomb.  one mother saved her son’s fingertips and nails after they fell off from severe burns.  she gave them to her husband as remains of their son when he returned from war.  horrible stories of leukemia and cancer followed.  i learned a bit about an atomic blast–i had no idea a reverse air wave happens after the original explosion.  apparently, after the hiroshima blast, nuclear waste crystallized in the moist air and fell to the earth as “black rain.”  victims that lay burning in the streets drank the black rain to survive.  in essence, these people had a double dose of atrocity.  

on a lighter note, while at the train station, i witnessed two women pushing their breasts upward, vigorously.  it was similar to what i saw on the japanese variety show.  oh, and i took the bus all by myself!