&: Diary (14)

(June 22nd, 2019) These entries used to be a place mainly to talk about going places—I was in Xi’an or I was in Beijing or I was in Hong Kong or I was in Seoul or I was in Nagoya or whatever—but there’s nowhere to go now. If I left Japan now, there’s no way I could enter again. My visa would expire while I was outside, waiting to be let back in. I don’t have anywhere to go, either. I was planning to be in Beijing at the end of August, but it’s not looking good. And life goes on as it always has. I have work to do. I have checks coming in. I am settled in my corner of East Tokyo. Maybe I’ll never leave again.

I’ve said it before: if there’s a place to feel isolated, it’s Tokyo. The outside world feels far away. I hear things and wonder how serious they are. There’s no way to be sure. I think you could live here and not know that there was a pandemic. You might wonder why the grocery had put up markers on the floor to separate people line up for the cash register, or why the 7-11 put up plastic barriers in front of the tills. You could explain it away as Japanese cleanliness taken too far.

I guess you would wonder where all the tourists are. Their absence is the most visible sign of something going on. The city feels the correct size. I mean, like, in Uguisudani, where they are converting the love hotels to cheap lodging for South Asian tourists, there is still the necessary number of people milling around, but it feels like the place is being used for its necessary purpose.

I like the city without tourists, but this isn’t a call for Japan to remain Japanese. It’s too late for that, even if you wanted it. It’s being buried, for better or worse. How absurd for Aso Taro to talk about mindo 民度 in 2020! The national spirit and the people he imagines to believe in it are dead and gone.

The tourists won’t be back for a while. But businesses are agitating for the flows of migrant labor to be started again. The flights from Kathmandu will start again, bringing in the farm workers, the men that run the cash registers at all the convenience stores, staff the Indian restaurants… Maybe the Vietnamese will be brought back first.

I don’t care. I feel more at home in the projects north of Mukojima, where everyone is speaking Chinese, or a Vietnamese coffee shop in the enclave east of Nishi-Nippori, or even the Foreign Correspondents’ Club, back when I could wrangle an invitation.

But I mean, it does feel good, without the city supercharged with tourists. I can take the trains again. And nobody ignores me in shops anymore or refuses to speak, afraid I might be a tourist. When I went to Mitsukoshi a week ago to buy a birthday present for *****, I was accorded all the fine treatment usually only extended to PRC big spenders, perhaps under the impression I was the first tourist to make it back.

When the tourists come back, it will feel like normal again. It will also mean that I can finally leave again. The trips to Seoul or Hong Kong or Beijing—just three, four hour flights—feel like coming up for air.

(June 23rd, 2019) I’m happiest when I have some piece of work with a deadline but which I haven’t started yet. I was losing my mind a few months ago. Now, I have too much work to do. The entry that crossed out to write this one had me in a hotel near ****** ****** working on a novel. This was months ago. I spent the afternoon with **** ****, who had just flown in from Wuhan (and it could have made me more nervous then, had I known how things would play out, since this was at the end of January or the start of February).

I was talking about getting these stories together that I wrote five or six years ago now, back when I was back in Saskatchewan for the first time in a long time. I was unemployed and living with ****** in my father's attic. I signed up for a provincial jobs program to get everyone off my back, but they weren't giving me much work. I had lots of free time. I used to wake up, buy a tin of Copenhagen and a Mountain Dew at the Bun n' Bottle, then walk down to the library, sit in a carrel with a notebook, try to write for at least a couple hours, and then I'd get high and go for lunch, and maybe go back to writing in the afternoon. A lot of the material from that time comes from working in slaughterhouses. I can't remember if I worked at the pork plant during that period or not, but it was either then or before, and I was at least hearing stories about it from friends, and I had some experience at the beef plant and the pork plant.

I gave up on it. I’ll work on it again when the work dries up. I was writing it at least a bit to comfort myself, I realize now, imagining myself back there. It was like I was renting an apartment over the Uptown for a month, going down to the liquor store in the old train station, coming home with a bottle of Royal Reserve and drinking myself to sleep because I had to get up early and drive over to the flats to dig trenches with Leo and his boys, or still screwing around, getting high and writing in the library in Crescent Park.

I don't even know why. I’m not nostalgic. I hated my life. I was working at a slaughterhouse or digging trenches or working construction, living with a woman that hated my guts. But I think it’s like I wanted to remind myself that I could go back there. I don’t care. It’s been three years and two months since I had a real job, but no matter what happens, even if I go broke tomorrow, it’s not like I started anywhere great. I could lose it all tomorrow and I’d only be going back to where I came from. So, when I was staring at a thinning bank account, it was like I was telling myself, writing about that stuff, that there’s nothing to lose. I don’t know how to write that in a way that sounds defiant rather than inspirational.

And today, I spent the day procrastinating again. *** **********. I booked myself a room at a hotel, telling myself: you can wait until then to start. I need that dose of desperation.