Thursday, February 17, 2005

The Sun in My Eyes

(by Josie Dew, 2001)

She has just been to New Zealand and is frantically writing up the tales of her exploits here. I am sure it will be as charming as her earlier works, although I wonder how New Zealand treated her. I know that she found the drivers hard to cope with and, poor her, was battling her way to Wellington in February 2004. For those not in the loop - that was a period of 1 in 100 year floods which devastated the Manawatu, and then she was battered by Antarctic wind gusts up to 170 km/hour. Not good. Oh - forgot to mention: she was cycling.

Anyway, several years ago, I read a couple of her books, The Wind in My Wheels and A Ride in the Neon Sun - the latter being her account of cycling around the southern part of Japan. Since the New Zealand book is still coming, I thought reading the second Japan travel book would be a nice way of reconnecting with her. It seems she really is crap at picking the weather: all her research suggested that it wouldn't rain in Hokkaido. But then, just before she crosses over on a ferry, she's told to expect rain for the entire month that she plans to be there. In fact, one fellow, the operator of the ferry terminal, is so concerned that he insists that she put her tent up inside the terminal after it is closed for the night and gives her free run of the place. He even suggests that maybe she'd like to live in the terminal for the month, until the weather settles.

This sort of thing happens to Josie throughout her travels in Japan. And the guys are not dodgy, either. She reports on a couple of occasions where she was really freaked, because she found herself bathing naked with a bunch of naked men (or, perhaps more scarily, with a solitary naked man) and yet it turns out to be really peaceful with no cause for alarm. The guys have their bath, drive off up the road, and as often as not, wait at the nearest vending machine so they can give her a can of Pocara Sweat - the oddly named cold drink which seems to be popular throughout Japan. As do vending machines. And electronic toilets. But the prevailing motif is one of generosity - it seems she hardly ever has to buy food, is often randomly asked to stay in people's houses, or hotels, or schools or, yes, their ferry terminals. I couldn't believe the amount of things she was given - not just cans of drink, or beer, and lots of food and candy bars but also, for example, a pot plant. She's on a bicycle, remember: she is very discreet concerning the fate of that particular gift. And as she cycles, people yell out encouragement - ganbatte! (do your best, have strength, good luck).

The scariest event of her entire trip is the night she's securely snuggled up in her tent, sound asleep out in the middle of nowhere, and a bunch of drunk guys turn up and start making strange noises outside her tent. This is, like, four in the morning. She looks outside to find them playing croquet around her tent!

Cycling around Japan is probably no-one's idea of a walk in the park, and there are times it is hard on her, her knee basically cracks up completely on her at one point. While I feel briefly inspired after reading one of her books to go and buy a bike and cycle to, say, Westport I know the reality is that I'd get as far as, say Mosgeil and that would be it. So, doing something like cycle around Japan (plus the fact that she's cycled a lot of Europe, Norhern Africa, the USA, New Zealand and Australia) - that's huge. She simply grits her teeth (actually she probably smiles) and says shikata ga nai (what can be done? it can't be helped. it has to be.) And she's a lovely friendly person to read along with. Although I must say I don't think I'd want to do group work with her! Her journey actually started in Hong Kong. She resisted the idea of flying to Japan, and eventually found her way there on an Outward Bound ship. She thought she'd be crew, but she was a trainee, put into a group with incessantly inane team building exercises in an attempt to "learn a circle of communication":
Try as I might, though, I just couldn't seem to get into the swing of making multi-legged monsters from the limbs of foreign strangers. Why couldn't I? Everyone else seemed to be having a hoot and coping incredibly well... Finally, monster mission accomplished, Tintin delivered the coup de grace. He instructed us to compose a rallying team chant that could be used to buoy up our spirits and bond our watch for the forthcoming voyage ahoy. Inwardly cringing and dying a death, I found myself being chivvied into a circle ('I like circles') to have my reluctant arm hoisted by an enthusiastic Blue Nine [yes they were numbered, and their teams were denoted by a colour] to join forces with a raised palm-clasping bond of everyone's sweaty monster mits as the new team motto was cried with lusty lung.
Some people like that kind of thing. They probably watch Bum Fighting on the tele. Josie lasted a few days, and then begged to just join the crew and work her passage.

And, of course, since this trip of hers was to the north, she got to see Hiroshima and Nagasaki, where there are very sobering reminders of the bomb - the low key, less flashy memorial in Nagasaki seemed to affect Josie far more dramatically than what was done in Hiroshima, particularly the statistics and photographs of the people affected, and the notice saying that the temperature caused by the bomb was around 4000 degrees (the sun's is 6000).

I do think I'd like to go to Japan, a lot of it sounds really nice, even some of the cities.


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