When I first started my blog in HmarNet, it was with visions of myself sitting down at the computer at least once a week typing out my latest offering which would immediately be lapped up by a legion of bloggers and other netters eagerly awaiting my next blog. Needless to say, nothing of that sort happened. I managed a few insipid entries which were read by a few (I had a grand combined total of 12 comments for all my blogs) and as office and other preoccupations overtook those initial visions of moi doling out great gems to an adoring audience, I abandoned my blog except for the occasional visit once in a month or so.
The last serious ‘blog’ I wrote was some six months back – insignificant in the greater scheme of things, but a long time from the ‘political angle’ if one were to go by Harold Wilson, the former British PM who famously said “A week is a long time in politics”. Even otherwise, a lot of changes and things can happen in six months. After all, six months means 24 weeks – and a lot of water has flowed under the bridge, especially my bridge. I am not into politics at all but nevertheless the last six months have been like a lifetime. Within that time destiny has brought me to Tokyo and my family and I have been trying to settle down and begin a new chapter in our journey through life in one of the most developed, if not the most developed, societies of the world. It has not always been easy and, among many other things, I have discovered that despite all the material comforts and a more ‘advanced’ lifestyle that most everyone has access to here in Tokyo, most of the time I would much rather be back home enjoying the company of good friends and the simple pleasures of life that no amount of money or progress can buy.
So here I am with a new blog but without all the grand visions, especially the one about sitting down and typing out deep, meaningful, pieces. With all my various preoccupations I wouldn’t have the time anyway. So, I’m going to start with my ‘Japan Diaries’ which I wrote specially for ‘Delhi Thurawn’, a weekly magazine edited by my brother on behalf of the Hmar Students Association, Delhi. In terms of content and the quality of articles, ‘Delhi Thurawn’ is, by the way, probably the best Hmar-Mizo weekly at present. This is mostly due to Pu L. Keivom, known everywhere in the Mizo world, who contributes an article each week. As every Mizo knows, anything written by Pu Keivom is always worth reading.
Before I go farther and start posting my (so-called) diaries, I must thank all the Mizo bloggers out there. I’ve visited all your blogs though I can’t say I’ve read everything you write (I hope to do that someday), but I’ve at least scrolled through all your blogs. And as for my starting another blog and boring those of you who happen to pass by, you can blame J for linking my blog in her deeply inspiring blog, firstname.lastname@example.org
SEVEN NIGHTS IN TOKYO (ALMOST)
(Japan Diaries – 1)
I remember a night long ago, when we were in our early teens. It was a Wednesday night. It was our turn, me and two friends, to take care of the church services for that month. In those days (even now?), the ‘KTP’ was responsible for taking physical care of the church – from opening and closing its doors to ringing the bells for services, and keeping the church clean inside and out to lighting the petromax lamps. The KTP leaders in turn would assign these responsibilities, especially opening/closing the doors and ringing the bells for all church services, to two/three of its younger members in turn, which was usually for a month. And so, whether one was spiritually inclined or not, it became one’s daily duty to go to church to fulfill one’s responsibility once the dice fell one’s way.
I remember that particular night because it was the night we fast-forwarded the evening service because of a movie that was playing in the old Churachandpur Cinema (aka Sasang a hall). The movie was “Seven Nights In Japan”. Those were the days when we just had to see each and every movie that came to town. English films were few and far between and we eagerly looked forward to them. ‘Trailers’ for the movie had been running for quite a few weeks and by the time it finally arrived on our small town screen, our desire to see it had reached fever-pitch. And so it came to pass that we rang the bell for the evening’s service quite a few minutes before time. It really must have been earlier than usual because no one turned up even as the minutes approached for the ‘second bell’. But we had a mission to complete that night, and accordingly Khumlien (RIP) took the drums and all three of us started on the first hymn we found in the hymnbook. The rhythmic beat of the big drum did the trick and the faithful slowly started trickling in, including, most importantly, the chairman for the service. As we finished one song, one of us ran out and duly rang the bell for the second time (which went se…cond……bell, where you rang/hit the bell twice in quick succession and then after a gap rang it for the third and last time). It was the practice in those days for the chairman to immediately rise and start the service once the second bell rang. The chairman did not disappoint and duly rose and started the service. I don’t remember who the chairman was, but it probably was Pu Doliensung (well known for his brisk and no-nonsense approach to conducting a service and ending them well in time) because from the moment he rose, things moved smoothly and we knew that we were on course. It was also the ‘chang hril zan’ which meant that the fewer the number of church attendees, the lesser the chances of more long-winded ‘chang-hrillers’ getting up to share their ‘changs’. And so it came to pass and we had an unusually short service that night. Though no one commented, I’m sure the few members of the congregation that night must have been surprised by the unusually quick and energetic boys who started closing the church even with the last notes of the final hymn still echoing inside the church.
With just a few minutes left for the film to begin, we managed to finally close the gate and we sped off in the direction of New Bazaar by the shortest possible route which passed through the Sielmat Cemetery followed by the Lamka Cemetery (the creepy feeling one gets while crossing such places after dark was no deterrence that night) and then the steep climb up the road behind the Convention church and on to Red Cross Road and finally, panting and all out of breath, to the Hall. We ran into the hall and sat down exhausted as the opening credits started to roll, congratulating ourselves that we had made it. High-fives would have been in order, had such gestures been in vogue those days.
I have no recollection of what the movie was about. It was probably one of those meaningless B or C grade movies which usually made it to out-of-the-way screens such as the one and only screen in Lamka those days. But, somehow, the movie came to my mind this morning when I realized that we had already spent six nights in Tokyo. And so here I am, typing out my first impressions of a city that will be home for us, for better or worse, for at least the next three years. We left Delhi on a hot and sultry night last Saturday. Our Air India flight was delayed for about an hour and a half due to a typhoon off the coast of Japan.
We left at around 10:30 in the night. After flying all night over China and Korea, daylight only revealed clouds all around. I had fought for the window seat because I secretly wanted to be the first to experience and catch that first glimpse of Tokyo, and to be able to maybe pinch myself to see whether all this was for real. But the typhoon, which ultimately did not affect Tokyo, spoilt all my carefully laid plans for a bird’s eye view of the place where the next chapter in our journey through life was to begin. As our 747 broke through the clouds that shrouded and conspired against my best laid plans, my first glimpse of Japan was a golf course immediately next to Narita airport as we touched down. My immediate next sight was the airport terminal shrouded by mist and the rain that welcomed us into Japan. We landed at exactly 10:47 AM (in a land where meticulousness is a religion, that is the exact time recorded as the arrival of AI-306 from Delhi on 15 July 2007).
Sunando, a friend and colleague from the Embassy was there waiting for us as we came out of the plane. With his guidance, we breezed through immigration and sped through the rain on our way to Tokyo. It took us about an hour to cover the 80 km from Narita airport to Tokyo and the Embassy apartments in one of the swankiest part of town called Azabu. I duly reported for duty at the Embassy the next day and almost 24 hours to the minute from our arrival in Tokyo, at around 10:30 AM, an earthquake shook our 7th-floor offices (I later on learnt that the epicenter was some 160 km north of Tokyo where some five people died and a few hundred were rendered homeless when their houses collapsed). As I went around greeting my new colleagues, the common refrain was that I had been welcomed by two of the most common occurrences in Japan – a typhoon and an earthquake. The rest of the day passed in a jet-lagged blur and I could hardly register the fact that, finally, we were in Tokyo, after all the preparation, dreams and hopes.
Apart from the unusually clean and modern atmosphere of the office, one of the first things I looked out for was whether there were any fellow smokers in office. With smoke detectors in every room and even in the toilets and hallways, I knew at once that I either had to give up or would have to go out every once in a while to get my nicotine fix. The status of a smoker in Tokyo was made clear to me on my second day in office when I went to the bank to open my account. Feeling the urge, I asked one of the officers where I could take a puff. He gave me directions to the smokers’ room which was located down a flight of steps in the basement of the skyscraper. I duly took the steps down and had no problem locating the room which was filled with silent Japanese men and women – fellow smokers all – puffing away to glory. I stepped into the room with a sense of déjà vu as I recalled my first time in a designated “smokers’ room” in Dubai airport. The feeling was eerily similar except that here my brothers-in-smoke felt more brotherly because they were all Japanese with whom I shared the same Mongoloid features. We all puffed in silence and I couldn’t but help feel a sense of pity and shame at the state we were all in. ‘Pathetic’ was one word that came into mind. I watched a ‘brother’ desperately puffing away and stubbing his finished cigarette into the ashtray even as he took out his pack and lit another one – all in the same motion. I felt a momentary sense of pity as I watched him desperately puffing away before the realization hit me that I was no different from him even if I was only smoking one stick at a time, for the moment. Who knew what pathetic smoking desperado I might turn into some day. The sight of all those zombie-like smoking desperados and the experience brought out fleeting thoughts of giving up once and for all. The pathetic sight of a group of some 20/30 grown men and women puffing away to glory within a confined glass room remained with me for the rest of the day. I have come to the conclusion that this would be the best place to finally give up smoking, if I ever really finally decide to do so. Though I must admit that by the time I returned to office, I had already started missing that glass cage.
The streets of Tokyo have designated places for smokers equipped with ashtrays and seats which, by the way, are few and far between. There you will see the same set of zombie-like desperados puffing away in between their busy lives. Other parts of the streets have ‘no smoking’ signs. Most seem to follow the rules though one can see cigarette butts every once in a while in the otherwise spotless city streets. Clearly, desperate measures have been undertaken by one of the ‘brothers’. Luckily, there is one such smokers’ ‘paradise’ just outside my new office which has probably been put in place because of the hundreds who queue up from 8 in the morning for visas. But I’m starting to doubt whether it is such a good thing because it has become that much easier to just step out and join my ‘brothers’ every once in a while.
For three days I bummed a ride in one of my colleagues’ car to and from office till I decided on Wednesday night to try out the Metro. The decision came about after Malsawm came visiting that evening and I finally found someone to teach me the basics in getting the ticket, the routes, etc. Here almost all the signs are in Japanese which is a most frustrating thing. There are plenty of shops and supermarkets which all have the prices printed on them and one can manage even without a word of Japanese. But the problem is that everything is labeled in Japanese and, apart from obvious things like vegetables, meats, etc. which one can clearly see, we have absolutely no idea of what’s inside many of the packets. It took us more than 5 days to finally figure out the salt and sugar packets – literally minutes before we ran out of these vital supplies. About the cost of things here, an example of the most basic item in our family’s diet, BEEF, would give a good idea. On our third night, I came home to a surprise ‘chartang’ of beef that only she can prepare. After a most satisfying dinner, I learned that the meat in our chartang which, by the way, weighed less than half a kilo, cost around 600 yen which is about Rs. 200!! Suddenly, Shahid and the other bawngsa-wallahs in RK Puram have never seemed more dear. We forgive you, Shahid, for trying to charge us that extra Rs. 5 for your bawngsa the week before we left. Turning vegetarian could be an option but when three tomatoes (albeit large ones) cost more than 100 yen (Rs. 35 or so), it is not much of an option. We will probably end up spending all our meager salary on food and return as paupers! The prices are good, but so are the goods. Just thinking about all the goodies in the market can make one’s mouth water. We get almost everything here including ruotuoi, aithang (which, for one, is free because they are like weeds here and there for the plucking even within our own apartment complex) and the range of meat items from vok-ke, bawng-ril/bawng-sung to all manners of fish and other meat items is mouth-watering. (to be continued)
(21 July 2007)