11/30/19

&: Diary (13)



(November 24th, 2019) I once almost starved to death in Dalian. I was living in an apartment in Pao'ai in Ganjingzi, just north of the airport. It was scrubland that had been home to a village and a few subsistence farms a long time before, then a landfill, then exurban wasteland occupied by a few factories, then finally, from around ten or twenty years before, apartment blocks. I had a rice cooker than I used to heat up water, which I would empty into a basin in the bathroom, to take baths, and then, eventually, the power was cut off. I spent days away from home, though, and I was splitting my time between a few friends' places. I wasn't working or doing anything but going out every night to party at shitty clubs downtown, sometimes finding alternate places to crash or girls to stay with. When I stayed with my friend Mike, we'd go together to the bath house outside of his apartment, or I'd shower whenever I crashed at a girl's place. I didn't have much money, but it didn't take much. We drank Coke Zero and cheap brandy at KFC before going out and got bad hash off some French students. But I ran out of money a while after the power got cut at the apartment, but I borrowed enough to get another month of electricity. I survived off mantou for a while, then I started digging through discarded bags of leftover takeout food I had tossed into the kitchen. It was the middle of winter, the power had been off, and the radiators never got cold, so the leftovers had kept surprisingly well. When I had no money and no garbage left to eat, I started snatching potatoes and radish from the front doorway of my neighbors. This was—and I don't even remember exactly now but I think—a seven story walkup, so I would alternate, day-to-day, taking food from different doorways. They kept their root vegetables out there to keep them cold. I cooked the potatoes in my rice cooker and ate them sprinkled with soy sauce from a bottle left behind by a previous tenant. I remember going out once to meet my friend Gigi at an Italian restaurant near People's Square, shyly taking her up on her offer of a meal, then, as we walked out, when she wasn't looking, swiping a half-eaten steak left behind at a table near the door. I stopped paying my rent, too. My landlord was a woman in her thirties, who had gone to school in the States and ran a side business renting apartments to foreigners. About a month into not eating properly and smoking bad hash and drinking cheap brandy, I started to hallucinate. I don't know if it even qualifies as an hallucination. It wasn't anything serious. But I saw my landlord, all the time. Her face was always popping up in crowds, accompanied by waves of anxiety.

When I ended up getting my nose broken in a fight at a bar, I couldn't afford to pay to get it fixed, but I managed to beg some money from my mother, which I put towards a ferry ticket from Dalian to Weihai (or possibly Yantai). I told everyone I had bought a plane ticket to Los Angeles. When I got to Weihai, I took a bus 700 kilometers southwest to Xuzhou, where ****** was from, where I had lived with her, and where she was spending a winter after a semester at Guizhou University's School of Marxism. She met me at the bus station. It was about minus fifteen. We took a taxi out to where he parents had moved. The last time I had been there, they had still been waiting for the apartment promised by the local government in exchange for moving out of the factory dormitory. The factory attached to the dormitory was already gone by the time I first went to Xuzhou. It had been replaced by a luxury apartment complex. The taxi out to their new place took half an hour. On the way there, the taxi hit a cat that ran into the road. When we arrived, her mother sat me down beside her bed, filled a basin with hot water, and washed my hair with a rag. ******'s father went out and came back with a roast chicken. The roast chickens you get off the street in China are not the seven pound roasters you'd find in a Safeway back home, but tiny birds, a couple pounds. There was a dish of tomato and egg, cooked the way her mother always made it, the eggs slightly rubbery, and not improved by being left out from lunch, and maybe a dish of pressed tofu dressed with sesame oil, vinegar, and soy sauce. I think it was the first full meal I had eaten in weeks.

During my time in a detention facility in Datong, we ate okay. There was porridge for breakfast, but it usually came with pickles. Lunch was usually more porridge, but it came with some stir-fried vegetables. Dinner was about the same, but we usually got a heartier dish of cabbage and mushroom with a few shreds of pork fat and gristle mixed in. Sometimes we got mantou; sometimes it was mouldy, but I've fed myself mouldy mantou before, too. We got a little bit of doufuru as a treat sometimes, too. There's nothing like doufuru on a warm mantou. And there was a 小卖部 in the 拘留所, which sold stuff like 罐头鱼 and Orion Choco-Pies and instant noodles. I remember one night, when I got sick and tired of eating 小米粥, I bought a bag of blueberry and cream snack sandwiches from the 小卖部 and ***** ate them that night, with our parkas spread out on the floor, watching a miniseries about Chairman Mao. I'm not sure it was enough to thrive on, and I started to get hungry when mealtimes approached. I was always a bit hungry, but the boredom was more of a concern. But anyways, I remember my first meal after I got out—I just mentioned this again, but it was at Real Kungfu at the airport—and the first pack of cigarettes I bought... but my first meal after being deported: I ate butter chicken at a moderately fancy Indian restaurant on 137 Ave in Northeast Edmonton.

A few years ago, when I lived in another part of Tokyo than I do now (this was two moves ago), I didn't really have enough money to eat. There was a Lawson 100 one stop down the Toden Arakawa Line, where I'd put together a day's meal, usually one or two loaves of sweet, sticky bread, a little tub of chocolate spread or strawberry jam, and a one liter bottle of no-name cola. I'd usually have enough left for a pack of cigarettes, but sometimes I would spot long butts on the sidewalk on the way to the Lawson and save them up to smoke late at night. I didn't have a job and I couldn't speak any Japanese. I put an advertisement on a job board for language tutors and got a few jobs. I made the mistake of offering a free sample lesson, so I'd end up having to take a train to some godforsaken corner of the city to sit in a Doutor or Tully's with a mousy OL, who would always tell me about studying overseas in her twenties or vague plans to vacation in Scotland. I got the feeling that these women took a lot of sample lessons and were likely looking for something other than English lessons, since they never showed much interest in my prepared materials. They sometimes contacted me on Line afterwards to make pleasant chit-chat about movies they had seen, but very few seemed interested in paying for lessons. I once took a train way out to somewhere in Chiba to teach English to a pair of ********-year-old girls, whose mother had arranged the lesson. I had made a set of flashcards to prepare for the lesson. I was taking it seriously, since I figured I could charge double my usual rate, and I'd get a paid ride out into the suburbs once or twice a week. Midway through the lesson, one of the girls lifted up her skirt and slowly, while making eye contact with me, ******** * *** **** *** ******. They didn't seem to find that unusual, and so I averted my gaze and continued with the lesson. When the lesson was done, the girls were called upstairs by their mother, who apparently received a glowing review, since she immediately offered to have me come out twice a week for lessons. I told her I'd think about it, then made an excuse about having too many students.

The truth was, I only had a single student, a middle-aged woman that I met with once a week in Asakusa, where she owned a small office building with a pet café on the first floor. She paid me in cash, prepared her own materials, and was a good conversationalist in her mostly-fluent English. I wouldn't eat the day that I taught her. I would take the money she gave me, walk up the street to a 7-11 and buy a pack of cigarettes, smoke a few on the way to McDonalds, buy a double cheeseburger and a Coke and go upstairs to eat. With my belly full and my head buzzing from nicotine, I would stumble back home. The relief only lasted for a short time. I would have to stop halfway home to duck into a public toilet and shit my guts out. I thought it was worth it, though. I did it once a week.

These are stories about being hungry. When I lived in Vancouver, long before both of these stories happened, I used to be part of an unofficial group of friends that would seek out new restaurants, like, maybe a place in Gastown, but more likely some obscure restaurant in Burnaby. I was working as a cook, I think, most of that time, and a few members of the group were also in the industry. I used to write about food a lot. So, anyways, I'd write about the eel and bacon hotpot at a Hunanese restaurant called Aroma Garden on Number Three Road or the rabbit heads at Chuanxiang Ge, which later became a Korean-Chinese restaurant, or even about the pappardelle with veal cheeks at a French restaurant downtown. I think I really enjoyed all of that, but what I really remember is—and goddamn, I was starving then, too, and living off ninety-nine cent loaves of bread from Safeway and shoplifted jars of Nutella—was getting the money together for a meal of steamed buns and steamed pork at the Richmond Public Market and a bottle of beer from the liquor store downstairs. More than any flavor or texture, I like the feeling of being uncomfortably full. I want to eat until I feel sick. And I sometimes tell myself that maybe this is some kind of phenotypic and genetic characteristic, something passed down by my ancestors, who lived on salted seal meat and frozen cod, but it's more likely something from my own experience. 人的胃是有记忆功能的, after all, and I spent most of my adult life a little bit hungry, and the rest uncomfortably overfed.

I'm not sure what made me think of that. As I write this, I am eating grapes, in the dark, checking each one with my fingertips for signs of rot.



(November 25th, 2019) I take the train so seldom that I took a picture of it. These trains run right under my apartment. There is a grate in the sidewalk where I can hear them creaking through the tunnels between Iriya and Ueno. I was on my way to Ginza, too, when I'm usually headed in the other direction, out to Minowa or Kita-Senju. I found myself standing in front of Mitsukoshi, waiting for it to open, accompanied by foreign tourists who pressed in to take pictures of the smartly uniformed department store staff as they made their morning announcement.

"Even if grass were to grow on the roof of the Mitsukoshi Department Store, Japan would not fall, but if the rain leaked through the roofs of five million Japanese farmers' homes, what would become of Japan?" That was what Tachibana Kosaburo said, shortly before the League of Blood attempted a coup and killed Prime Minister Inukai Tsuyoshi. He was an agrarian nationalist, who "took to preaching and practice of salvation through agricultural labour," gathering what is described as a "pretty large following" (see: Imperial Japan: 1926-1938 by A. Morgan Young). I think the quote must be from the multiday speech he gave at trial:
The suspension of the Blood Brotherhood trial enabled the trial of the civilian murderers of May 15th to follow on their court-martial. The twenty accused, with Tachibana at their head, were arraigned on September 26th. Tachibana's opening address alone lasted many days. He gave the court a lengthy account of his life, and how he came to hold the convictions that inspired him to form the Aikyojuku. ... Tachibana described how, in spite of his agricultural brotherhood, the Aikyojuku, rural conditions became worse, so that he became convinced that drastic steps were necessary, and joined the Ketsumeidan—Priest Inoue's Blood Brotherhood. ... On October 5th he was so overcome by his own pathos that the court adjourned to give him time to recover. Another day he dwelt on his fondness for Beethoven and Rodin, and said that it needed a great purpose to induce him to desert these joys for the comany of bedbugs in prison. On October 14th ... he said that had the murder scheme miscarried, they all intended to fleet to Manchuria. ... Asked why the power houses were bombed, Tachibana said he throught it would do the luxurious good to be in darkness for a spell. They had not had a sufficiently severe lesson. Ten years after the great earthquake Tokyo was more luxurious than ever, but the farmers how miserable!
The Ketsumeidan (this is 血盟団, which, as above, is usually translated as Blood Brotherhood), who launched the coup attempt:
...like all agrarian radical societies, owed much to the earlier work of Gondo and Tachibana, but its chief mentor was Inoue Nissho, a Buddhist priest of the Nichiren sect. Inoue's fabulous career had included broad travel experience in northeast Asia, intimate contacts with Kwantung Army men, and service as a Japanese spy. His Ketsumeidan was made up of a small group of young peasants who had pledged their lives to remove the "ruling clique" responsible for agrarian misery. The chief weapon was to be assassination, and after a select list of leaders from the business-political world had been prepared, each member chose his victim by lot! (This is from Democracy and the Party Movement in Prewar Japan: The Failure of the First Attempt by Robert A. Scalapino.)
Inoue and Tachibana's actions helped allow militarist factions in the government and the Imperial Japanese Army to take complete control.

And another distraction here, Mishima has Honda (who shops at the Daimaru department store) in Runaway Horses hearing the news:
After sipping his sake, he took up a steaming bowl of rice in which scattered green peas gleamed brightly. Just then he heard the jingle of a newspaper-boy's bell announcing an extra. He had the maid run out to buy a copy.
The paper, whose ragged cut edges and barely dry ink showed the haste in which it had been put out, conveyed the first news of the May Fifteenth Incident, the assassination of Prime Minister Inukai by Navy officers.
Honda sighed. "As if it weren't enough to have had the Blood Oath Alliance." Honda felt that he was above the usual run of indignant men who arose, their faces dark with passion, to condemn the corruption of the times. He was persuaded that his own world was one of reason and clarity. Now that he was a little intoxicated, its clarity seemed to shine with even great brilliance. ...
Incidents of this sort, arising one after another, were like waves rolling in from a night sea to break upon the beach. First a small crest like a wavering line of white out upon the deep. Then as the wave came rushing it, it smelled enormously, only to crash down upon the sand and melt back into the depths. ...
As for waves such as the May Fifteenth Incident, Honda thought, the beach was incident. It was only obliged to force them back into the deep with inexhaustible patience, preventing them from rolling over the land. To force them back each time into the abyss of evil from which they had arisen, back into the primeval realm of remorse and death.
The translation above is from Michael Gallagher, who once argued in the pages of the New York Review of Books with D.J. Enright after an unflattering review of his translation of Nosaka Akiyuki's The Pornographers. Enright considered himself a Japan expert, after spending a few years there in the mid-1950s, teaching at a university in Kobe. Enright hated Japan and hated most of the Japanese people he met and was revolted by Japanese art and history. "Unable to forgive orthers they have resorted to assassination," he wrote, "unable to forgive themselves they have turned to suicide, in its most agonising forms."

This is just a distraction, following one text to another. I waited outside of Mitsukoshi and went up the escalator. I don't know if all of the moneyed, aging Tokyoites that this place was built for even shop there anymore. It seemed to be mostly—obviously, of course—tourists from China, but they were confined to the lower floors, where Gucci and Louis are located, and upstairs it was mostly deserted. I wandered around long enough that I was around when the restaurants opened, and I ate a simple vegetable curry, made from produce pulled from the Terrace Farm. The dining room was nearly empty, except for a pair of mothers with their toddlers. There was the earthy, maybe slightly Bohemian vibe of high-end dining everywhere, which felt out of place in Mitsukoshi...

It feels sometimes like Japan has held onto some kind of old world, with these big department stores, or whatever, the shopping street I go to everyday that has a butcher shop, a bakery, a string of cheap restaurants, a shop where they make umbrellas and raincoats... Just think, sections of the train I rode downtown on were dug before my mother was born, and the nearby Ginza Line was dug before my grandmother was born. It feels sometimes like living in another time, but you can see it's on its last legs, and Mitsukoshi, the grand department store, is now as charmless as an outlet mall and the shopping street (the second oldest in Tokyo!) will slowly be cleared away to put in apartments, since it's close to a subway station and already surrounded by new tower blocks and hotels...

What would Tachibana make of it? (This is a rhetorical question to somehow bring this back around to my lengthy quotes from the account of his trial, but, how about this? There were eleven million farming households in 1965 and there are only one million now, and Mitsukoshi has a Terrace Farm!)



(November 26th, 2019) Thirty-six bags of radioactive waste were lost from three sites in Fukushima following Typhoon Hagibis.

I realized today that I haven't spoken to anyone younger than me in weeks, except *****.

All the old men working on the project to repave the street that splits the two sides of the shotengai seem to be in their early or late 40s, and the men directing traffic are my grandfather's age. The two men that work the nightshift at the 7-11 I just visited are probably in their late fifties or early sixties. All of the women shopping at Maruetsu are in their sixties or seventies or older. Everyone that lives in my building is ancient. Not long after I moved in, two centenarians died within weeks of each other. This is a dull corner of Tokyo, and these old people will be slowly replaced by younger people (slightly younger, we're not talking about people in their twenties) from the suburbs or beyond, and maybe also by immigrants from China, Vietnam, and India. Maybe "replaced" is the wrong word and I should say "their diminished numbers will be offset by"? These old people are going to live into their eighties, nineties, even older... And we know: the total fertility rate hit a record low in 2018. Tokyo had the lowest fertility rate in the country. And: "Kyushu University predicts up to 7.3 million people, or 20.6% of all seniors in Japan, will be suffering from dementia in 2025. And this will come with the social costs of 19.4 trillion yen ($178 billion)..."

I didn't see the story about radioactive waste on TV, but maybe I don't watch enough local news. I found it looking for another piece of information about Fukushima. The story I saw said they had twenty people hunting for the missing waste. I'm picturing middle-aged men in hard hats and coveralls, walking twenty abreast through some horrible corner of the prefecture, stopping frequently to confer and for the team leader to offer his encouragement and directions.