Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The last unknown

Japan will be my last leap into the unknown. Weather or not I make it to Kamchatka, I have experienced the russian culture before either directly or indirectly while going through the old soviet republics.
But Japan is one cultural shock that I don't want to have. I knew I would enter the unknown in China but I was interested in the culture, in the language, I wanted to see the country. Same for Korea, I was ready to face any cultural differences because my curiosity was burning for the country. But Japan? I can't say I have ever been curious about Japan. I have always looked at it as an over-civilised country with people so shy and naive that it overlapped with stupidity, crazily strict laws, no nature, ugly manga comics and weird pornography.
No, I never wanted to discover Japan, it was just on the way, I just wanted to be done with it. So I have never put too much thought about what to do when I get there because the perspective wasn't one that I cherished the most.
Plus, for some reason, Janela had a really bad feeling about Japan, that didn't add to my good expectations.
I am leaving lee shouse

But now I am almost there. I am making my way towards the toll gate, it is 9 in the morning, hoping that some good soul is going to pick me up. I have to check in at the airport less than 6 hours from Busan which is 2 hours away.
I get to the tollgate at 10 which leaves me 3 hours maximum to wait. Daegu-Busan, that's a classic route, I am really not worried about getting a ride. I should be. Nobody stops. After one hour, I start feeling desperate. After two hours I consider taking a bus cursing myself that I have been so stupid. I got the luck of getting a free airplane and I am going to miss it? When you get an airplane for free, you should get to the airport two days before and sleep there until you fly away, that's how much you should secure your flight back!
But no, I tried to have everything at once, I decided to spend one more day in Daegu to edit my video on Lee's computer and now I am stuck in Daegu with my time running out.
In two hours, still no car and I am really worried now. I don't even know weather or not I would have the time to go to a bus station or if it's too late for that as well.
At last, a truck stops. He is going all the way to Busan and drops me not far from the airport. I am saved, I really am. I thank him from the bottom of my heart and I continue to the airport. It is a relief, I almost don't have to do anything fancy there. I don't have to shake heaven and earth to get a ticket, I don't have to go through depressing refusals or weird stares. I just have to hand in my passport like everybody else and everything is taken care of... as if I were a regular passenger.
I say almost because there is a glitch: I did get the free flight but only for myself, not for my luggage. I only have hand luggage allowed and my bag doesn't really fit the qota. It's about twice as heavy as the maximum allowed weight for hand luggage and twice as big too. That's not all, it cointains items that I just can't bring into the plane cabin like a knife or my tent with aluminum sticks.

The second problem was earlier solved by Yongjin who accepted to take the sensitive things to Japan. By coincidence, Yongjin is also going to Japan and only 3 days before I do. He can leave my things in Tokyo at a friend of his and I'll take them when I can. Until I get to Tokyo however, I'll have a rougher time. My tent really gives me the options to sleep anywhere.

But even with Yongjin's help, my bag is still too huge. My winter things are voluminous and heavy and I want to take them all. So I go to the toilet with my bag, and wear all the clothes I can. I really manage to reduce my luggage size twofold and I look like an obese homer simpson.
I am wearing three pairs of pants including the warm ski pants Janela has bought me, 2 t-shirts and 2 jackets, one of which is Tumur's police uniform. My bag passes the volume and weight test and I make it through the scanners. I am sweating like mad in my winter clothing, only wishing to take everything off.
After having passed the checks that is exactly what I do. I reassamble my bag into its original size and I get into the plane. The hostesses look at me with great surprise, not understanding how the hell did their airline let me bring that huge thing onboard but they are Japanese and way to polite to ask me such an incovenient question.
In the plane, with all my luggage

After an hour of flight I set foot in Osaka. I don't want to get out, I spend the night at the airport. I tried to sleep just outside, hidden by an artificial hill but it started raining and I didn't have a tent to protect me. At the airport, I didn't have the best sleep but I managed to get some rest. The next morning, I talked with an australian lady who was waiting for her next flight. She was cool, listened to my story and wanted to give me money for support. I did try to refuse it but ended up taking half of it, 1000 yen which is about 10 dollars. It's a lot but in Japan, it'll be spent really fast.
First thing I do is to up my spirits by going to McDonalds. I don't care about being french and respectful about food. I always liked McDonalds and I don't care if they put radioactive bolds in their food, it takes alright to me. I can go to McDonalds and still be on zero-budget, that's cool. It's not money most effectivly spent but it's an investment into my psychology.

After that, I go out, at last. It is raining outside but I found an umbrella in the trash. It's a perfectly good umbrealla but people have throwed it away just before going through the airport scans because it's an item which is not allowed on the plane. There were about 10 umbrellas in that trash, actually, there were nothing but umbrellas.

Hitchhiking in the rain on the entrance of the highway is not the most effective way to get rides in Japan. Nobody stopped but I spotted a guy staring at me which such a surprised look that he really ressembled to the manga characters which giant eyes and exagerated emotions. This guy looked at me as if he had seen a ghost. His eyes were wide open and turned to the side, he completly forgot about the road.
I would have wished to start hitchhiking in an easier place but I had no choice because of how the airport is situated. Osaka airport is actually on an island. It is an artificial island 2 or 3 kilometers into the sea, only liked to the mainland by a highway and a train.
So here I am hitchhiking in the rain near the highway, hoping for some more unconventional japanese to stop. I was just about to give up and cover the 3 kilometers on the highway on foot when someone called the police on me. They yelled at me "stop" like in American movies when the bank robber is escaping with all the cash.
I didn't really know what to expect from the Japanese police. I knew the chinese cops quite well, nothing to be afraid of, if they were a level nicer, they could play in disney stories. Korean police was a bit tougher but nothing to be alarmed and what about the japs? Rumour has it that the Japanese are the most shy people in the world. Following that logic, the police should give me candy. Wait, that already happened, in China. So they should... I don't know, dress up as disney characters and dance on this nanyang cat song that went viral on youtube.
However, there is one more thing to consider when it comes to police. In a country with zero criminality, police ends up having too much time on their hands and they desperatly seek action the same way a child is imagining an adventure with his spiderman figurine. Except police are grown men and have real guns.
They searched me as if I was arrested for smuggling drungs. Pockets, bags, everything. Everytime I did a faster gesture the policeman was on his guard to grab his weapon, or any means of neutralizing me. It was hilarious. I was obviously just hitchhiking and this guy was really playing an american movie, actor, playwright and director altogether. I let him do this thing for as long as he found it amusing. For the whole time he looked incredibly serious and I barely controlled myself not to burst into laughter.
"In Japan hitchhiking forbidden! Understand? Understand?" he was yelling the last two words, trying to look scary. Unfortunately, he looked absolutly hilarious. But you just can't laugh in these situations. I tried to act as if I was impressed by his performance but I think I just managed not to laugh. Maybe, if this was before my trip began, his yelling could have an effect on me but today I just see a cowboy with low self esteem, low education and hungry for recognition.
"Yes, I understand."
I tried to communicate before but he obviously just wanted to hear this.
"I understand officer." That seemed to calm the cowboy down enough that I could talk some sense (or nonsense) into him.
"I understand that hitchhiking is forbidden but how can I get to the other side."
"Go by train!"
"I have no money for the train"
"You have no money? Go back to your country! Go back to Korea!" He said this with some kind of contempt, I guess he didn't like Korea very much.
"Can't you get me to the other side!"
The policeman opened his mouth in surprise at such request. I was supposed to be too scared of him to ask him for anything, he couldn't believe I would dare negociate with such authority.
"No No No! Not possible! Understand? Understand?"
"Yes of course officer I understand" (wait till he calms down), "So how can I get to the other side?"
I made my speech to him that I have a dream, that I can't break it. His face twisted each time I said dream, he seemed to have that word blacklisted. Dreams are for parasites who don't work, honest people work all day long and don't have time for them.
Eventually, he tired down, they all do and accepted to get me to the other side with his car. He was still watching my every movement as if I were to produce a gun every minute.
After a while of driving, he asks me:
"Are you comultary?"
What the hell is that supposed to mean?
"I don't know what is that."
"You don't know?" His voice is defiant. Maybe he means commentary, or documentary, japanese english has a pretty awful reputation.
"Documentary about my trip? The media?"
"No! Comultary! Russia, North Korea, China! Comultary!"
"You mean communist?"
"Comultary!"
He does mean communist but he is too much self-important to admit that he makes mistakes in english.
"No I am not comultary. We don't like comultary in Czech Republic."
"We are searching for comultary. All comultary go away from Japan. Comultary no freedom. Japan freedom."
That makes sense. Everybody is free but some citizens are more free than others? That sounds a lot like "Animal Farm", that sounds like "comultary talk" to me. I guess the KGB would like your spirit, officer, but they wouldn't hire you because you're still too much of a pussy to scare anyone.
Enough of this police episode, I am now on the mainland, on the border of Osaka but still about 16 kilometers to go until I get to a hitchable place. I won't get there before dark, so I better find a place to sleep. It is raining outside, I'd better find a roof. I try a hotel but they are really sorry, they cannot help me. China all over again but with more sorries.
Near the hotel there is a building with a lot of studio appartments. The front door is locked with a magnetic card. A guy is having a pizza delivered, he opens the door to the delivery guy and I sneak in. Inside, there is a front desk with nobody there. On the right, a common room and a bit further is a gym. There is a single camera pointed on the fitness machines. I carefully make my bed just under the security camera in what might be a dead angle. I can't be sure though, it depends on the lens and these types of cameras usually have very wide lenses.
I hope nobody sees me and I go to sleep. I even get some weak internet so I chat with Orianne and Janela from under the security camera.
I am woken up at about 5:30 AM by two old ladies, probably thoses whose job is to make sure nobody is sleeping under cameras in gyms.
They were really embarassed and surprised that somebody came to sleep in that place. They were also really sorry to wake me up but made me understand that they can't have me here. I am the proof that they didn't do their job right and that would be even more embarassing that waking me up.
As a means of apology, they brought me coffee and some sweet bread for breakfast. That's a really nice gesture and I guess I can call it a alright-slept night, I did get at least 6 hours of rest.
I tried to reassure the two old ladies that everything is alright, that I don't think any less of them and that they don't have to be sorry, in fact it is me who is tresspassing.
I have mixed feelings about all this, still don't know what to think about Japan. What is kindness and what is a means of reduce guilt? Since yesterday, I didn't manage to hitchhike a single car. And things are really expensive here, how will I get food? I still have 300 yen that I can spend freely without counting them into my budget. But what happens after that?