Sunday, 18 November 2007

Shrines, squid, spuds and sunsets.

Today I went to meet The Doc' (See my 'Old Japnese guys and young foreign girls' post for details). My mate, although she had been working the night before and we missed our morning meet up, made it to the hotel just as I approached the corner of the street, which I was AMAZINGLY relieved by, or I probably would'nt have met up with the doc at all.

I get the feeling that to him, even the thought of me worrying about his intentions being anything less than honorable would be really offensive and surprising. I'm sure he genuinely just wants to show people around his town and probably feel like he is relating some knowledge to some foreign 'tards.

But, from my point of view, and of people reading this back home, going into a hotel lobby to meet a gentleman, albeit, a very elderly one, alone, going to his "den"to read through a medical paper before driving into the countryside for an hour's journey seems more than a little bit weird, not to mention risky. But, in Japan, it seems to be a different story.

So, armed with the fine company of a savvy lass (cheers double C), today I sampled the delights of having an older and wiser acquaintance who has the local insight and language skills to show a foreign face around Kyushu. Afterall, I only have four months left, so, for once in my life, I abandoned my doubts and went for it.

And what a bizarre day it turned out to be. They guy's favourite catchphrases are "Ok, lets go", (said in a very abrupt manner as he has already turned to leave) and "I dont know that!"

I'll elaborate more another time, but for now, here are the big bits of the day while they're still fresh in my memory...

We went to the Doc's "den" in Tenjin, his second apartment, where he chills out every now and then. His lived-in apartment is close to his surgery in Hakata, I believe. He met us in the lobby of Hotel Nikko (swanky, and I don't know why there?!!?!) and led us to a big blue Mercedes Benz, which, he said he'd been drivng for 10 years. A very smooth ride, I have to say! Great springs for the bumpy road-but not when you are slightly desperate for the toilet, unfortunately.

Then, we went to his "den" where he gave us a massive dissertation each and explained his theories about the faults of medern medicine. He wants us to read it so he can ensure the lay person can follow it. Nice! As Double C said, bedtime reading...

After some coffee and chocs, we got back in the Merc' and drove for about an hour through some lovely countryside to Munakata Shrine, where there was a chrysanthenum festival and lots of people and families dressed in traditional costumes.

We fed some coy carp, saw lots and lots of trees and flowers, and bought a little slip of paper with a fortune on and a lucky charm attached. Then, walking through the little wooden buildings in the grounds (which were beautiful and really old) we saw someone selling fresh food from a stall, along with....BOXES OF DYSON VACCUM CLEANERS!!! What?!

After the shrine, the Doc took us to a squid restaurant on the roadside on the way back to the city. It was a humble place, with old, cracked, overflowing fish tanks balancing on one another, all perched on a damp, buckling wooden plank over a big concrete pool in the middle of the room. The tanks had big sea snails, lobstery-looking crustaceans and a fish swimming upside down in. The pool, below, was full of irridescent, carefree squid. We were shown to a low table, and settled down cross-legged in our socks on the tatami mat while the Doc did the "science bit" and set the ordering in motion.

First of all, the waitress delivered us each a small brown bowl of what looked like, as Double C said, porridge oats. Howeverrrr, it was, unfortunately "kneaded potato". "Aah, made from trusty potatoes!" I thought, "What can be bad about a spud?" and attempted to eat it, despite it's dubious, sloppy appearance.

However, after a few seconds in the mouth, I felt the urge to retch and sent it down swiftly with a mouthful of green tea. Then, watching Double C soldiering on with hers like a real trouper, despite having a rough night the previous evening, I went for another mouthful.

This time, I unfortunately did retch, which was, surely, bad form. To make things worse, the Doc then said "this dish is very good for the men, helps potency", which did my imagery no favours as I stared at the mulch. I discreetly pushed the bowl aside as another waitress approached.

We had two squid delivered to the table, still breathing and flexing their tentacles, their eyes moving around as they changed colour and flailed on the plate. Their recently dismembered lower body was lying around them, cut into small bite-sized chunks, and for the last ten minutes of their lives their miserable dying heads had to stare as we ate their bodies from the same plate. I felt a bit bad about that.

However, the urge to be polite and grateful was kind of more immediate at the time. We are in Japan, you know, Mr.Kelp..settle down and die honorably, wont you?

Every time I extended my chopsticks for neatly cut rectangle of raw squid, one of them moved it's tentacles into the air. In the end, I gave it a poke with my chopsticks and it seemed to settle down. The sashimi was nice, but very fibrous and difficult to chew, and I swear you can hear a certain sound in your mouth as you bite through the rubbery skin.

Though I really do appreciate the effort the Doc went to to pull off the whole day-the nice drive, the conversation about his job, the shrine and the flowers, feeding the carp, etc etc, the whole meal was quite hard work, and I think the raw squid platter is definetely more ceremonious and for spectacle rather than relaxing.

But then, just as we got back in the 'Merc and the sky darkened, we drove through the country and a vivid, brilliant sunset emerged from behind the mountains. The drive was so silent and peaceful, one of those moments where talking would have been completely useless.

The Doc pulled up at a little beach beside the road which still had a few surfers and people hanging around on it, despite the bitter wind. He waited in the car and me and C went to the beach to scrawl our undying love in the sand with her new Shakesperian quill (pigeon feather). I got caught by the splashy tide and got my boots covered in sand, not good for the Merc' carpet, so, a bit of leg-shaking later we set off again for the drive back to Fukuoka city.

The ride back reminded me of when I was little in my Dad's car, trying not to fall asleep on the way home because I didnt want the day to end. Except nowadays, I dont want the day to end because tomorrow is Monday and now I'm the adult ordering kids around, which is really sad in a way.

Hey,ho! A Starbucks choco mint Christmas coffee later and all was straightened out, back to Kokura on the shinkansen, a quick browse in a record shop and a cycle home. Sunday done. Happy happy joy joy. I can't believe I forgot my camera-what a day of wasted photo opportunities. Still, it lends the words more significance, I hope.

1 comment:

Angie said...

I've just had a look at your blog and it looks pretty interesting.I'm in the middle of reading Josie Dew's book "A ride in the neon sun" about her cycle ride round Japan.