Friday, June 12, 2009

Happy Birthday, Daddy!


We awoke refreshed from our long trip the day before. Although it was still 2pm May 24th in California, I live by the Chinese Proverb, "Wherever you go, you are there", therefore it was 6 am May 25th, my Dad's 60th birthday. It's weird for me to say that because he neither looks nor acts like what I would expect from a typical 60 year old. His hair has whitened, but I consider it only moderately.

So we wished my father a happy birthday and went around the block in search of breakfast. Somehow we Americans ended up at a McDonald's. We got a little confused because we thought the McDonald's had both a register outside facing the street, as well as inside if you wanted to dine in. After entering the McDonald's it was evident that we had to go back outside and order first.

I looked around and knew this was going to be another stressful meal for me so I prepared myself. The restaurant was semi-filled and all the customers were once again Japanese men in business suits quietly eating their Micky D's. As we ate our breakfast my stress began. Even my mother seemed concerned by "Shhhhhshing" my father occasionally when he got a decibel too loud.

But even she, after awhile seemed to loosen up and get a little loud herself during conversations. You know you're bad when even your mother - the woman who is famous for being a worry-wart - is even less concerned than you. So I got myself together and just dealt with it again.

The streets were calm, quiet, and peaceful even though there were cars, it seemed as if each auto had been stripped of a horn at the manufacturing plant. This was far different than my recent vacation in Peru. There were a few Japanese business men walking the streets or even riding their bicycles to work (the old-school bikes with the basket in front). Javier commented how one would never see that in Peru, due to pride. I just thought to myself how incredibly "green" (environmentally friendly) that was.
Directly in front of the McDonald's was the street entrance to the subway. My dad commented on it, and Javier quickly suggested that we go down. Going into the subway station felt like any other subway station, other than the lack of homeless asking you for money and the fact that everything was clean and immaculate. I would later come to realize that I never caught a gross smell while walking in the city. The only scents I would catch in the breeze were fragrances such as cologne, flowers, or shampoo. Another significant difference was the quiet (can you feel a theme?). There were only a couple of people in the subway area who weren't verbose of course and only the sound of an incoming train. We looked around at the maps and the ticket machines. Suddenly an influx of people were walking towards us - predominantly Japanese business men no doubt from the incoming train. It seemed as if there were 100 of them, but once again it was a tranquil influx. I will never forget what my ears heard and my eyes saw because I felt like I was in an episode of the Twilight Zone. What was audible was only the soft shuffling of 100 pairs of shoes (not even a pitter-patter, just a soft shuffle). Before me were 100 men in black with suitcases all coming at once. The silence, combined with the occasional man in black wearing a surgical face mask was so awkward for me that all I could do was take it all in and process it later. Even now, I don't think I processed it fully.
After that experience, our next experience would be our first and only tour in Tokyo. The Tokyo Morning Tour. We assembled with a group of other tourists and boarded one of those huge sight-seeing buses. Our tour guide was barely understandable. But I learned that his name was Shima and it meant "island". I wondered about my high school friend's little sister, Shima. They were Hindu; did it mean "island" in their language as well? Shima also taught us that "mon" means "gate" and showed us the Japanese character for gate. My mind immediately went to the Japanese cartoon, Pokemon. Did that mean Poke-gate? Then what does Poke mean? My ignorance was evident in the thoughts I was having as Shima-san spoke.
We went to several places on our morning tour. The Tokyo tower was like a Japanese version of the Eiffel Tower only according the Shima-san it was 10 meters taller. We entered the tower and got a nice view of the city, although it was quite overcast. Next we went to a place called Otemachi. I have to admit I'm still not sure what it was. There were many gates, but it was closed for the day so we could only walk around and enjoy the beautiful Japanese landscapes. I think that the emperor's family lived there. We went to a nice little market and Temple called Asakusa, though we didn't have enough time to shop, we knew we would need to come back to this place for souvenirs. Finally, we went to a part of town called Ginza. Shima said this was a very expensive shopping district. Our last stop was within Ginza in a place called Takadashi Pearl Factory. When I first found out we would be stopping at a pearl factory, I told Javier that I should buy myself a Pearl.
Many years ago, Javier was tricked into buying me a beautiful set of pearls during our trip to Hawaii off of one of those oyster stands. They were pink pearls and in total I got 3, a necklace and earrings. Sadly, I only wore them once before I lost them. To this day I truly believe that they are still somewhere in my old room at my parent's house.
Although I thought my beloved pink Hawaiian pearls were irreplaceable, I thought that a Japanese pearl would be even better. When we entered the pearl factory, we were asked to pick a numbered chip out of a basket. I hoped there would be a pearl give-away so I placed my hand over the basket and felt for the energy. I felt the most energy from chip #33, so I grabbed it. We sat down and a lady began her demonstration of how a pearl is made. During her demonstration, she showed us a heart-shaped pearl that they had recently been able to create. It was attached as a pendant on a sliver necklace. She immediately asked me to take center stage and placed the necklace on me; a great marketing move. She said I could wear it for the rest of the demo. Now Javier felt obligated to buy it, and the rest of our tour group wasn't shy to state this fact. During the demonstration, Javier kept whispering excuses that I should use at the end of the demonstration for why we would not purchase the necklace. "Tell her I already bought you one, tell her that you don't like it, tell her... etc." I thought it was funny, and the truth is that although beautiful, silver is not my color and it truly wasn't my style. Though the price tag was not as bad as I thought at a bit over $217.
The lady called on another woman to pick a live oyster from the bucket. She proceeded to open the oyster to see what was inside. She said it was a pink pearl, though it looked pretty white to me. Everyone in the group "ooooo'd" and "ahhhhh'd" as she held it up to the light.
"Now let's see who will win this pearl by playing with this digital Bingo game!" she said.
So I was right! A pearl giveaway! I stared at the Bingo screen as the numbers changed. It seemed to land on 52 then changed a few times more before landing back on 52 (I used to have an old Bingo game that would tip you off before it was finished too).
"52?" she yelled. Everyone looked around, but no one had 52. So she pressed the button again. This time the numbers jumbled and stopped at 33 for a second, and that's when I was almost sure I had won. The numbers jumbled once more and in fact did land back at 33! I won! The lady's face did not show too much emotion when she found out I had won; Javier and I had foiled her marketing scheme! Now I have a beautiful pearl that I must make into a necklace eventually.

After the pearl factory, the tour was over. We took Shima-san's recommendation and ended up at a fish market for lunch. One thing we noted while walking around the fish market was that there wasn't a fly in sight; everything was so clean. Unfortunately, none of the restaurants sold cooked fish, so sadly for my mother and I, we would be dining on raw fish.

It actually wasn't so bad. I ordered some type of tuna dish because I figured that since tuna steak doesn't smell fishy when I cook it, it might not taste fishy when I eat it raw. It was a good choice. My mother on the other hand, ordered a salmon dish with caviar, and did not fare so well. Javier and my father were in heaven with all the seafood. They ordered a mix of fish and shellfish.
After the raw lunch we walked around the city a lot and went to Akihabara, the part of town famous for electronics. We walked around for blocks because we read the map wrong and thought that our hotel was nearby. We even passed our hotel and got lost. By then it was nightfall. By the time we found our hotel, we were ready for bed.