Friday, September 2, 2011

8/15/2011 Takasaki, Japan

I'm standing facing the mirror in a somewhat less than private area where there is a sink next to the washing machine. I'm shaving. Frankly, I am trying to be extremely careful not to cut myself, but I am nervous because 郭洁 (Guo Sie) is watching very intently. Because she is an adult with some experience in the the world, one might guess that she has seen a man shave before – but it seems not. Perhaps she has never had an opportunity to study it in any detail. Perhaps, like other Asians -- her body virtually hairless, she has never bothered with a razor. I muse a bit in a very Murrayesque way that she is just wanting to see if I shave up or down. I am trying very hard not to cut myself as we discuss hair removal using out fingers, shaving cream and a razor.  

Without good use of a common language, the best way to describe what I am doing – shaving, in case you've forgotten – is to point and touch and scrape, and strangely she is surprisingly interested. I grow concerned when she starts pointing out the hairs I have missed. It's a surprisingly intimate moment. I secretly wish in some abhorent fantasy, that she is holding the razor.  

She's not however, so I continue not to cut myself because it's in the world traveler's guide that I hold in my head. This is the list I've compiled over the years, advise of veterans, doctors, things I read in guide books, tidbits from my personal experience. “Do not shave.” it says. “Do not enter a body of water, even if it's a bathtub.” What about a shower? “Never eat pizza in Korea. Don't drink the tap water.” What about ice cubes? “If it's not baked, bottled, or boiled … it goes on ... “Carry Cipro, get vaccinated before you go.” The list goes on. “Never go barefoot.” It's exhausting. “Never try to program the toilet ...”  

In my mind I know that the risk of a trip ending event increases if I break these rules. When I went to get vaccinated, Japanese encephalitis had been dropped from the list of vaccines and there were no advisories of any kind regarding health, health care, or behavior. They did mention however, that if you will have a new lover, an hepatitis B vaccination is recommended. It seems that Japan is somewhat safe to visit as long as you don't have sex with the natives, or get hit by a car because you forget that they drive on the left side of the street. It seems Japan has actually managed to escape from the third world.

When you leave the cities and travel with local residents things can get out of control. You find yourself being offered hot, fresh home grown corn on a farm in rural China that your generous host has just rinsed in well or rain water to cool it off. Suddenly, there's an awkward decision. Do I take the corn and run the risk of dysentery, any sort of odd unknown parasite, bacterias and viruses, or even typhoid, or do I decline and insult everyone, including my kind friends that brought me here. I enjoy the corn and take my chances. I have no idea that just being on a farm in rural China is going to result in a interesting shoe sanitation problem in Customs in San Francisco. But the corn was quite good.

So I have been here in Japan just a few days now and I think I have broken every rule. We went to an outdoor onsen, or hot spring. We hiked in the water at Lake Haruna. Gou Sie is apoplectic, because of my tendency to just walk out side barefoot, and then back into the house. Apparently there's a mysterious invisible barrier where outside shoes and inside feet must never cross. I drank the gifts of the God of Water the at the top of Haruna Shrine. I have been in several bath houses. I have eaten raw fish, there's been an earthquake, I mostly likely have been radiated, and I possibly was struck by lightning.

And now, I have cut myself. It might be a good thing that I brought the cipro.

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