Spider, are you crying, or the Autumn wind? ~ Basho
I’ve been in a mental Nowheresville lately. Lou Reed’s passing hit me harder than I can explain or even understand, and of late my day-to-day routine here in south-eastern Korea seems even less meaningful than before. Haven’t felt like blogging or doing anything much at all except listening to old songs, skyping my girlfriend and sighing a lot while I shuffle around.
Guess you could say I’m bored out of my mind.
Yesterday I found myself in a shouting match with a rude old man on the bus. Perversely, I found myself enjoying it, though neither of us understood what the other was saying. He was such a nasty old bastard — in hindsight I suspect that, with my beard, he mistook me for one of the numerous foreign laborers they allow in from Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Pakistan or wherever to do the menial work that Koreans won’t touch. Thought he could tap me hard on the shoulder and bellow in my face like I was a dog.
Bad mistake on his part. I am ready to snap on a good day…
Less than two months remain for me in Korea, so I’m excited about what comes after that. And it’s Autumn at last — an insanely warm Autumn, but the hills and streets are as pretty as they get. I’m making the most of it on weekends and in the diminishing window of usable daylight when I get out of school.
Once this spate of non-Korean posts is over I’ll splash a bit of that colour over these virtual pages. Right now it’s time to drop back to Tokyo — same day as the Inokashira Park visit from two posts ago — and a bit of pre-Autumn light and shade…
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PEAKS & PILGRIMAGE
TOKYO, AUGUST 2013
I was a garden nut when I lived in Tokyo. Even an inner-city suburban walk was a pleasure I seldom experience in Korea, as I’ve always enjoyed looking over people’s fences or through lighted windows (until I hear the police sirens, anyway) while strolling, and there aren’t many front gardens, fences or even houses where I live now.
Several times back then I also paid money to visit famed historic gardens. Koishikawa Korakuen was the first, some time in early 2000. I went back a few times in my first three-year tour of duty, once with my first and last Japanese girlfriend from those days. It’s not huge, but big enough and sufficiently forested, with numerous hills and winding paths, to let you dodge the Tokyo mayhem a while behind its impressive walls.
So this time it was around midday and I was part-way through my first day of extreme sightseeing. This garden is halfway between Iidabashi and Suidobashi stations on the Chuo Line; I got out at the former and strode along in the sunshine next to the canal, swigging from a cold can of Royal Milk Tea for old time’s sake, so sugary and caffeinated my teeth hurt and I was seeing visions.
God damn, it’s good to be free, I thought, singing a little and never sighing once. The garden huddles in the relatively quiet backstreets; I found it without too much trouble. I could have run up a small mountain after that tea, but instead had to make the awkward switch to leisurely contemplation.
Well, not too leisurely: places to be…
The garden dates from the early 1600s and was built by Mito Yorifusa and his successor, Mito Mitsukuni, daimyo (feudal lords) in then-Edo (Tokyo). Like a lot of older stately gardens in Japan, it was constructed on a Chinese model, with trees, ponds, streams, boulders and artificial hills used to evoke an idealised landscape with miniaturised versions of real Chinese locales.
I’d seen the place looking better. Spring and Autumn are its best seasons; the light was a little harsh and the only colour was provided by the spider lilies. Also, some of the ponds had dried up, I’d missed the irises, and there was maintenance going on in a few areas.
Even so, I was in there a couple of hours, long enough for my Royal Milk Tea buzz to wear off.
But I had more sightseeing to cram into this endless Summer’s day: Shinjuku Gyoen, biggest and best park in Tokyo. I headed for the exit…
..and was almost out when I saw the sign advertising matcha (green tea) ice-cream.
Since Inokashira Park hadn’t come through in the caffeinated iced-confection department, I doubled back for a nostalgia hit:
It was great, but within seconds my tongue was burning. It continued for at least another hour.
Pretty soon I was dancing down the street to the station and my ride back into the neon wilderness of Shinjuku.
Now, this leg was a mistake. I didn’t get in the gate till 4:00. The park shuts at 5:00 but at 4:30 a relentless and very Japanese barrage of chimes and announcements begins. I was running all over the wide, soft lawns trying to get my dollar’s worth (surely only in Japan do you pay to enter a park?), when really it would have been heaven to stretch out on said lawns and pen haiku about fluffy clouds and caffeinated ice-cream.
Auld Lang Syne, which the Japanese abuse in every situation when they want you to get the hell out of somewhere, was the final insult. As a westerner, my first impulse was to start slugging champagne and kissing strangers, but instead I joined the orderly throng to the gates, defeated by that wretched Japanese respect for the tyranny of the clock.
Here are a few passable shots I grabbed on the trek back to the gates:
And then it was back into the labyrinthine (damn, that’s a nice word) subway system for the long ride out to the ‘burbs, and another night at Andrew’s. A great day, a fabulous day, but tomorrow the real work would begin…
~ And that’s all the Goat wrote