&: Diary (2)
(March 9th, 2019) They took this house down in a matter of days and loaded most of it into the back of a truck. There's a smaller single-family home next door, to the right in that picture, but every other direction, it's packed in with highrises and apartment towers. There used to be a row of old homes on the block, leading to a café that's still there. But this was the last of two holdouts. If they take the other one down, and buy out the smaller apartment six-story tower beside them, there'll be room to put up a new development. Probably going to be a hotel, the way things are going. Right now, it's a muddy empty lot. You ever see Tokyo from a rooftop? I mean, still in the central wards, but outside of Shinjuku or Shibuya or Minato. It's just miles grey. Like, if you take the Yamanote through the section that starts at Ikebukuro, all those stations nobody talks about, Otsuka, Sugamo, Tabata, Nippori, grey apartment blocks as far as the eye can see. I always thought, the Skytree looks amazing, sitting over Tokyo's east end, but since it's planted in the least attractive part of town, the view directly below it, especially when the fog or smog rolls in and you can't see much further, must be depressingly grey. I've never been up it, though. Just the lower levels. Grey, grey, grey, though, from there, even. When I lived further east, around Minowa, the neighborhood had only about a decade of gentrification under its belt, only a decade out from being seen as a no-go zone for respectable residents of the city, a zone of outcastes and migrant workers, a few decades out from hosting street battles, labor organizers and workers on one side, organized crime and the police on the other, fifty years out from being a slum. That means that Minowa is still, for the most part, still grey but the grey comes in more interesting shades, with stretches of it rapidly gentrifying (that means, in Tokyo, putting up apartment blocks, nothing else) and stretches of it still looking as they did a few decades after the war. That won't last forever. But the area around Ueno is already lost. It's the perfect time to put in hotels. It's peak tourism. There's a new APA going up beside the supermarket near Matsugaya, must be at least fifty chain hotels in Shitaya, Negishi, Matsugaya, so even the character of the neighborhood feels less lively than it did in Minowa, more tourists than local residents. 観光公害 is the term used in the local media (观光公害 in Chinese, just simplifying the character, usually "tourism pollution" in English). The danchi 団地 that I live in feels marooned in a sea of fresh development, construction and demolition sites all around. Unlike most other public housing complexes, especially the ones outside the central wards, it's only one building and not really identifiable as a housing project, and I imagine it fit in with most other development up until a decade or so ago when they started to get ambitious with the highrises. When a hotel went up two lots down, it caused anger and confusion. There was a public meeting of the danchi's 自治会 (the complex's own governing board) and the neighborhood committee (in this case 下谷1丁目町会, and probably also the 坂本町会?), where residents were assured that there would be no disruptions from foreign guests. In the danchi, the average age of residents must be around 75, so the idea of a big hotel going in next door, and the changes it might bring, were upsetting. If you've been to Kyoto, or even over to Asakusa on a nice day, you've seen 観光公害 (but a friend that's lived in Asakusa since the '70s assures me that it's always been swamped, just with fewer foreign tourists before, and it's become an issue now that Chinese tourists are coming, a situation that it's easy to find out how the average Japanese feels about). The hotels are not replacing anything particularly interesting and the tourists are mostly glimpsed briefly as they come up from Ueno Station with their wheelie suitcases or stepping out of coach buses. There's no reason to hang out in Shitaya, either, so it's not like they're stirring up trouble. When the hotels and residential projects go up, the developers mostly rip down '70s and '80s-vintage apartment blocks. The neighborhood hasn't been lively since the residents of this danchi were in their 30s, probably, just a nice place to put apartments right between two Yamanote Line stations (Ueno and Uguisudani) and close to a Hibiya Metro Line station (Iriya) and a Ginza Metro Line station (Inaricho). There's still Asakusa (tolerable after dark) and Ueno (no worse than any Yamanote station area and better than half) close enough, if you want some liveliness, I guess. I should start going to 自治会 and 町会 meetings more regularly.
(March 10th, 2019) If I ever write a novel loosely based on me in my twenties, it will end with taking the K600 out of Guangzhou in November of 2013 (five years, three months, fifteen days ago). There's not a story there. I just saw a picture of the ticket I took, and I was thinking about it. I remember, I didn't tell anybody that I was leaving, or, a few people, I told them I was going to Tibet. I cleaned out my rented room and filled a half-dozen plastic grocery bags with garbage and carried them down to the front of the building. I didn't expect anyone to notice, at least for a few days. I didn't expect many calls. I was still using the battered Nokia phone that powered down if left on for more than a few minutes. Somewhere around Shaoguan, I got a call from the manager at Rebel Rebel, offering me a job tending bar, but I'd already given up on the city. What if I'd gone back? I could have gotten off in Chenzhou. Somewhere around Changsha, I got a text message from a woman I had met in Shenzhen. I forget now how we met. I wrote somewhere else once, a story about meeting a prostitute in Shenzhen, who I ate duck blood soup with and took a taxi to see the mural of Deng Xiaoping with, and I'm sure that story is true enough, in its own way, but I set the story in the wrong city, and it was this woman that I took a taxi with to see the mural and walked in a night market with. I was getting a visa in Hong Kong, spending a few nights in Shenzhen on either side of the time in HK. Was she working at one of those bars near the Petrel Hotel? I remember we went back to my hotel but didn't sleep together, took a shower together and laid on the bed, watching a show about pet tigers. All I can remember about her now is that she had unexpectedly curly pubic hair, soft and fine and light brown. She said the reason for the curliness and fineness and light brownness of her pubic hair was that she was an ethnic minority—I could scan the list of the fifty-six ethnic minorities right now and I still couldn't remember which one she told me. I sent a message saying that I was busy with work and that perhaps I could visit her in Shenzhen sometime soon. I didn't tell her that I was on the K600. I didn't tell anybody. I cleaned out my rented room and dumped whatever I couldn't carry into plastic bags and tossed them in front of the building. In a bag, I put a few shirts, a pair of grey Levi's slacks bought before a job interview, my laptop, and some notebooks, whatever book I was reading. I bought a hard seat ticket that morning, the 23rd of November, and waited in a KFC until it was time to leave. I remember, somewhere north of Zhengzhou, they sold, at one of the stations, clay pots with rice and pork. I guess you could throw them out of the window, after you were done? I don't know. When the train was north of Beijing, it stopped at Shijiazhuang and I got off to smoke a cigarette on the platform. Someone took my notebook off the table where I'd left it. I watched it happen. I was too tired to care, just a notebook... Maybe I had something in there that could change this into something with a point. There might have been some moment I forget, some key observation. But there's nothing here. A few months after I got to Datong, I was in a detention facility out in the countryside and then I was on a flight to Beijing and then to Vancouver. That's a turning point, though, getting on the K600 that day. I don't know where I'd be, if I hadn't taken that trip.