Archive for March, 2007

Blossoms

March 30, 2007

Life is just dressing and undressing – this morning was a bit miz; coming back to the hotel chilled to the bone, and with wet shoes to fly in. Packed and hit the street again with three layers on – but of course by then it had turned into a balmy summer’s day, which dried my shoes. Endeavored to get into the Imperial Palace, but every one of the huge wooden Kurosawa-like gates is shut tight, so I settle for another turn through the National Gardens. At the East Gate, I am drawn through into a shimmering world of cherry blossoms. A flagstone path leads under an arch of pink, and then along the moat.

Across it, the trees line the pedestrian walk with blossoms spilling like a waterfall down the old wall and steep slope to just touch the surface of the moat, perhaps a five-story drop. Gardeners must have been working for a hundred years to create this effect, and now to maintain it. I like the ones with the white flowers tinged in pink, rather than the other way round – each with five delicate serrated petals – a fitting symbol for Japan; I am so lucky to be here right at this time.

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The moat leads me onto a long pedestrian avenue with occasional towering gates looking like a huge Ι sign. Vendors line the pathway, and I sample wares as I go, stepping between the mud and puddles. Dry they are, and I am powerfully thirsty – side effects of the otherwise brilliantly effective cold medicine – hats off to the taciturn pharmacist – but I don’t want a beer. I buy something that could be sake (having zero language makes one so stupid – and the Japanese, if they do not understand you, merely smile and go blank), but what I get turns out to be lemon soda.

At the end of this long arcade lies a scene out of Memoirs of a Geisha – the courtyard full of cherries, framing a large but simple shrine. This turns out to be the shrine to the Japanese war heroes – there are plenty of Japanese bowing and meditating, but I understand the Chinese are less than happy about some of the people being venerated here.

Beside is a display of ikebana in a climate-controlled case. Beautiful timeless arrangements accentuate each element. Who says Tom doesn’t stop to smell the flowers?

At the shrine I stop to buy some little painted votives as small gifts to carry home. The woman selling them strikes a flint against steel, making sparks over them to bless them before carefully wrapping them.

On the way back to get the bus to the airport, I happen on a Japanese cemetery – crowded and tiny like the rest of the city, tucked into a pocket on a steep street – with black granite stones with metal ski racks bolted to the back of them. Loosely inserted into the racks are wooden boards with writing painted on them in black. They are the size of small skis, but untreated wood like large ice-lolly sticks. Some have one or two; several have around a dozen of these votives.
The limousine (read: bus with uncomfortable seats) takes me to the airport, where the plane is going to be late, of course, and I am suddenly again in the presence of Americans: the lady behind me’s brain never has a thought her mouth can’t use. After resting in the comfortable and companionable silence with my Japanese hosts the last few days, her nasal twang going on and on about luggage is particularly jarring.

At the airport is all the Japanese kitsch that has been totally absent in my visit to Tokyo – stores for trinkets, tacky souvenirs, and cheap watches. But I am groggy from the cold medicine and the cold behind it and cannot muster a search for something worthwhile.

Sayonara, Tokyo

March 30, 2007

My last morning in Tokyo dawns muggy, so I am out for my morning walk in my short-sleeved shirt. I was wrong about the cherry blossoms, they are coming in, not finishing, and this walk is a glorious and sublime stroll under the overhanging blossoms on my high path. Periodically, older people are doing exercises, one man stretching as far as he can up a pine tree and pulling down on the bark, as if trying to scrape the tree’s energy into himself, again and again. At the far end of the path, the heavens open. I duck into the nearest subway station to buy an umbrella ($4, and better than your similar NY cheapie) and have a coffee reading the Herald Tribune (feeling quite the world traveler).

But it stays raining, and I join the gluts and clots of people disgorging from the station (I never did take a train at rush hour, and so missed the joy of being pushed into a crowded subway car). The businessmen nearly identical in dark suits, briefcases, surgical masks – distinguishable under their umbrellas only by their ties. The businesswomen are quite the same, minus the ties. It is a negotiation, navigating the street with so many umbrellas, and I am soaked by the time I get back to the hotel. I stop by a pharmacy, mime a cold to the wry-necked druggist. I get some pills I cannot, of course, identify, but with a Westerner’s faith in Oriental medicane, I await results.

Every store has a little tray where you put your money, to avoid inadvertant body contact.

Carbonara

March 29, 2007

The Tokyo workshop is done – successful I think, though it is sometimes hard to tell. Lots of bowing and photographs. It was successful for me – the first chance I have had to explain my developments of Ida Rolf’s work to a bunch of Rolfers, albeit in another language (Salute to Yoshi-san, though, for a great and indefatigable job of translation). Took Yuki and Masa for a beer to thank them for their help in organizing – what a cute couple.

Went to dinner after to meet three PT’s, with another Japanese rolfer, Kaori, as a translator, since they had no English. They were funny – “I can’t believe I am sitting here with Tom Myers who wrote Anatomy Trains”. They all had fabulous business cards – I was ashamed I hadn’t brought any out with me, but would have been more ashamed if I had some – mine are such cobbled together, self-printed things – Tammy, we really must do better before I head East again – and this was a formal handing over ceremony – two hands given, two hands received, coats and ties. A Western restaurant – all I want is sushi, but I had a Caesar salad and pasta carbonara. Want to make a lot of money? Open a good Italian restaurant here in Tokyo.

They all knew Diane Lee – I have her to thank – and this meeting bodes well for future workshops here for PT’s – but when can I do it?

At the hotel, I spend a few minutes showing them Primal Pictures and the new Dissection DVD.  Then we stand in the lobby, saying good night and goodbye, good night and good bye – on and bloody on.  I am being polite, showing them to the door – and trying to get them through it, I am so tired…  Until I twig on to what a friend, an inveterate world traveler said to me: the more honored guest must turn away first.  So finally I just turn on my heel and head for the elevator, catching their smiles of relief as they, too, finally released, can head home.
My fatigue is deepening – really have a cold, dark circles under the eyes, hope I sleep tonight.

On to Korea, and then I welcome the long trip home.

Steel balls

March 28, 2007

It seems not to be the custom to go out to dinner with the workshop leader her in Japan, so I have had all my evenings and morning free.  OK by me, though I would like to get to know the Japanese rolfers a bit better.  Lack of a common language is a problem, and my hat’s off to Yoshi for being a good and faithful translator during the class.

No visit to Tokyo would be complete without a visit to a pachinko parlor, so as I passed on last night’s long walk, I went in.  First, the noise was deafening, not only the machines, but the big fans in the ceiling to suck away the smoke.  The longer I live with Quan, the more I value quiet, so the constant and proximate thunderous cacophony of the place would have disqualified it as a place of play for me.

The machines themselves are a vertical pinball bagatelle in which steel balls bounce off hundreds of pins to end up in one or another slot at the bottom.  Points, maybe, you get, although no counters were much in evidence on the screens, and no winnings that I could detect, except perhaps more balls. Nevertheless, people, mostly men, were seated before these machines with trays of steel balls in their lap, and on the floor beside them, feeding the balls into the spout and reflexively levering them into motion, like someone in Vegas working three slots at the same time.  Many balls would be falling like water droplets through the machine, but they were hardly watching, just concentrating on getting more in there.  The expressions on their faces were blank, even by the reticent Japanese standards.

There is now (I don’t remember this from pictures of earlier iterations) a TV screen in the middle, that has various anime characters on it, and they seemed to be shifting around and changing in response to where the balls went.   I am sure that there was a point to all this, but the noise was just too much to bear, as was the feeling that I had inadvertently walked in on someone who was masturbating.

I tried another one later on my walk – the noise and feeling and deathly pallor of cigarettes was exactly the same.

I also strode into a game room – I loved pinball in its day, and have been known to play an arcade game or two.  There were a few Virtual Fighters engaged in hand-to-hand combat, some interesting interactive football (soccer) games, in which your fingers on the ‘field’ controlled the players, while the TV screen showed the game.  Most in evidence were the fightin’ Mah Jong games, which combined Asian dominoes with some kind of war games.  The most elaborate was horse racing – a large screen that showed the horses in the ring before the race, odds on the wall, complex ‘desks’ for the players to sit at.  I couldn’t tell if this was all live, though given that they were betting on it, it must have been.

These games are beyond me.  Besides, I am falling ill, and wish I had brought some occilloccinum, or whatever it is called.  Too long away from home, too much alone, can’t bear another email or muster the concentration to work on another article – and too much stuff in the air, especially in China, but there are plenty of cars here too, with their gasses trapped in these canyons between the buildings.

Quoth the raven

March 27, 2007

No rooster to wake me here; instead the squawk of the large ravens of Tokyo. Bigger than our crows, their call is startlingly loud, and sounds almost electronic – as so many of the other sounds here actually are.

The observation has been made before, but the only word that adequately describes this culture is ‘spare’. Everything is very clean – despite the ubiquitous smoking, the butts are all gone on my morning walk. I encountered the same street person again this morning as he bent over to pick up a long one – a find. Everywhere – in the stores, the hotel, the classroom – are different containers for recycling everything. The buildings are super clean, inside and out, the architecture superbly functional without being crass, though it feels unadorned to my European eye.

But behind my hotel, which looks like a bank from the front, I found a little water-rock garden, not featured, but tucked away where a man might get a moment’s peace.

Every object is made as simply as possible – the park bench is a log with a twisted seat-belt strap over either end, tied to a ring set into the ground.

A place where soil is washing down is solved by one cleverly placed short berrier; in the States, there would have been a huge costly wall, surrounded by black plastic.

One is unmistakably in the presence of a developed culture, as one feels in Indonesia, amongst Tibetans, in France or Germany, but not, alas, in America.  It need give nothing away, and can absorb everything.
I have found my morning walk for the rest of my time here – a ‘highway’ for pedestrians, far above the railroad bed, maybe some old imperial wall – which winds through the city, lined with cherry trees. Which brings me to the other oft-remarked aspect of Japan – reverence for nature. Hard to imagine among these hectares of solid cement, but the example is so touching: Where the branches of some old cherry block the path below head level, the branch is allowed to stay, and simply wound with a yellow and black tape to warn walkers. Put that scene in the States, and hear the lawyers squawking like the crows, and enter the chain saws, stage left.

The ikebana – flower-arranging – is also always in evidence in both the tiny little oasis parks and inside as flowers; each arrangement making best use of the color, light, shape, texture. One accustoms one’s self to it quite quickly. In the lobby, I saw an arrangement that was out of place, and had the temerity to correct it. I looked around guiltily, but the girl behind the front desk lifted her eyebrows in appreciation. She made a comment, but whether it was “Go to a class, idiot” or “I was thinking of that, too”, I don’t know.

I am trying to learn my few phrases, but it’s slow. Last night I ate my fill of sushi, standing at the bar with the other home-going businessmen. Universal in their dark suits, they stop by the fast-food sushi (in that one stands, and only beer and tea are served). A large bamboo leaf is laid before you – you put your own gari on it, and you are served green tea – given and received with two hands – and then you just keep putting in your orders, which are made immediately and arrive in seconds, hand delivered to your bamboo leaf, checked off on a slip on top of the bar. There are four kinds of toro, three kinds of scallops, five types of shrimp, bonito the color of Chinese silk, as well as some squiggly bits that I forego. I get by with pointing, and making Japanese-sounding syllables under my breath when served. No one seems to mind. The businessmen eat quickly (and probably more temperately) than I, coming and going around me as I say to myself “Well, I’ll just try that one, then I’ll go”. The total bill was $15.

Imperial Gardens

March 26, 2007

When the light creeps in at 5:30, I must walk.

I am in the Kojimachi district – seems like it must be close to downtown, as the government buildings and some central museums are nearby.  This early, it is relatively quiet on the streets as I head for the Imperial Palace.  It is closed, so I circumnavigate it, around the huge moat. (How many Nipponese dug and carried to protect this emperor in this life? Can”t have been done by the Chinese terra cotta guys.)

I duck out of the traffic into the National Garden. The cherry blossoms are just finishing, and I walk on a pathway of petals.  Beside a pond with carp lazily swimming is a stand of trees – perfect for doing Tai Chi.  I am deep into the exercises in the morning cold, remebering the classes in the early morning LA cold in 1973 with the Taiwanese master Benjamin Liu. “You no have idea” he kept saying to me, until one day, fed up and ready to abandon the project of learning Tai Chi, I went through the motions with a ‘don’t care’ attitude.  “Ah, now you have idea,” said Benjamin, who than taught me the next move, and I continued on with him as long as I was in LA.

Lest you think I was getting too spiritual, I had a playlist on my nano going that bounced from Alicia Keys to Bonnie Raitt and back again. But came a noise that penetrated through the earphones and I looked about to see that I was not the only one.  A fellow had set up a boombox behind me, and probably a hundred people had gathered to do their morning exercises to the guided musical tape he had on.  Jumping jacks, hopping, simple stretches – the funny thing was how spread out people were.  Each person – mostly older, but man and women both – had found his own space, m ostly far from each other, so that the whole group took up an acre or so (hence the decibel level).  It was clearly a community event, but each member of the community in his own world.

On the way back to the hotel, I see a street person – the only one I have seen alol morning, clearly rousted by the police – dirty overcoat, limping wide-kneed gait, swarthy face under a knit cap.  I look directly into his eyes and hold them.  His returning stare unmistakably communicates his shame in showing the underside of Japan to a foreigner.  Absolutely no Ratso Rizzo “I’m walkin’ here” in him.

At the Starbucks, a lovely girl in an exquisite silk kimono eating her danish with a fork.

Tokyo Sushi!

March 26, 2007

There is an immediate change in the air in Tokyo – brighter, more effervescent. My own energy was imnmediately released. More westernized sophisticates at the airport.

What a vast urban ‘scape – a nearly two-hour ride from the airport to the center through an endless, tightly woven concrete jungle. The familiar names – Seiko, Toyota, Fuji – in their native habitat. The strangest architecture is usually on the seashore, and no exception here – as we pass by the harbor, strange shapes line the water; fabulous bridges, gherkin buildings – no time to find out what.

Now, NY and LA et al. are vast urbanity as well, so what makes this different? The amount of cement, for one thing, the desnity, for another, and the feeling that it is liable to pop up anywhere. NY has the density of Manhattan, pushing up skyscrapers like flowers, and it melts off into the communities of Brooklyn and Queens, and the bombed out wasteland of the Bronx. LA concentrates in downtown and Century City, but otherwise blouses cheerily down the freeways. Tokyo – at my first glance – seems unrelenting – the high buildings can be anyhere. Clean, efficient, and utterly endless.

The hotel room – no CNN, tiny by comparison with the Taichung room, but large in comparison to what I’ve heard about in Tokyo – let’s just say you can reach everything from the robotic commode so complicated and full of buttons that it seems capable of far more than dealing with my bodily waste – affords internet access for this post, but no email. My phone doesn’t work here either, so it’s all up for grabs for a few days. A higher quality tinkling music – Pachelbel’s Canon, already enslaved by New Ager’s, is tortured anew on an electric something in the elevator.

Here’s what i have found out about sushi in my first meal: you can eat it with your fingers or the chopsticks; it doesn’t come with wasabi (let alone mountains of wasabi), the salad has corn and cheese (?), and my hosts ignore my saki cup for so long I am forced to fill it myself. But, mm-mm, it was go-od.

Taiwan Goodbye

March 26, 2007

The workshops are over, the photos taken, the post-workshop dinner endured (not the company – it’s just that when I am finished the workshop, I am finished – but the final dinner is obligatory) – and this time, once again with the pig intestines. I’ve tried ’em three times, guys, and they’re tough, rubbery, unappetizing looking, and they taste as if someone urinated near them some time before serving. The rest of the food is delicious, however – succulent fresh bamboo, a casserole of tiny thin eggplants, a kind of sandwich thingie of bacon, spinach, ground peanuts and cilantro, dessert is salty plum and sticky rice.  This is Hakkaa food – from the nomadic people of the mountains.

Daniel brought a nice French wine.  I ask him where he gets his English name, he says his wife gave it to him – it involves a long story with the lion’s den that I cannot fowwow as the consonants and vowews get interposed (if I had liked the pig intestines, we would have gone for the ‘peek’s brud’ – pig’s blood.)  Mostly they take an English name in English classes, and use it when they have to give something in Roman characters – say, on Amazon – or when they are taking classes from English-speakers like myself, but otherwise it lies fallow.

Aside from the pig intestines, what will I miss?

I won’t miss the pollution, that’s for sure – my throat is raw, my eyes burn, and my skin is randomly and scarily itchy.  The surgical masks that seemed a bit over the top at the beginning now seem de rigeur.

The rooster waking me up, and the two men who run the red and yellow (of course) exercise circuit in the tiny kids’ park below my window. No old men with wispy beards doing Tai Chi out there in the morning, tant pis.

I’ve even grown ruefully fond of the celesta “Moon River” and “Feelings” in the hotel dining room.

Seriously, everyone here has been more than kind, totally generous, fully attentive, and eager to learn.  The last two days in the hospital were sobering – how much abundance and choice we live in in America, while others struggle against the odds.

It is hard for an American in this intricately kind and gentle culture not to give offense – we are such blunt instruments.  It will be a relief to be able to say what I mean without having to think three steps ahead about the consequences of my words.  Someone went all across town because I casually mentioned that I like coconut milk.  God knows what I said that I missed the consequences of!  But Ben seems happy, and face seems to have been saved all around in general.

Next stop, Tokyo.

Taiwan Bits and Bobs

March 25, 2007

* Went to Geant, a Taiwanese Wal-Mart, to get a small suitcase to carry extra stuff to Japan. Walking the food section was a welter of the familiar mixed with the entirely unfamiliar – wasabi crackers and strange crackers, familiar mushrooms and alien ones, leafy vegetables of unknown provenance, and many packets of I-don’t-know-what along with the ginger chicken potato chips. The rest of the store was entirely familiar, and I got a great rolling backpack for $10.

* Went to see the largest greenhouse in Asia – a tensegrity cake of a glass building, concentric circles holding up a large roof, from which spilled water into the waterfall and pool below, Huge catfish in the pool, trees reaching for the ceiling, a tropical paradise among the towering apartment blocks.

* The other museum exhibit was the terra cotta warriors buried with Chin, the first emperor for whom China is named. I had seen pictures of the huge buried army, but did not realize that they were supposed to awaken in the afterlife to help the emperor in the next world. So much effort went into the afterlife of one man – just like the Pharoahs of Egypt. His son entirely blew it, so that dynasty had only two rulers before being overturned.

Each figure was different, and brilliantly colored in the original, though the color fades qwuickly and completely after they are unearthed, so excavation has been stopped until the technology of preservation catches up. He even thought to create a band, with instruments, along with the fierce warriors, generals, charioteers, and slaves. I didn’t see any clay food, so I don’t know what they planned to eat.

* Also in the museum was something I always wanted to see – a bronze full-size figure with the acupuncture points drilled through the surface. These points would be filled with the same color wax, and the figure filled with water. To test the acupuncture students, they had to insert the needle in just the right place – success being marked by piercing the wax and the water flowing out. There was also a dog, horse, and water buffalo with the acupuncture points inscribed into the bronze.

* Ben showed me a typical Chinese house in the museum, each successive building marked by the natural order, where the older son would live, and the younger, and where the servants would be, and the animals, all accurding to the fung shweh. In the vast industrial wasteland outside my hotel lies one of these houses, surrounded by the city. Is it from here that the morning rooster comes – I hear it every morning, and cannot imagine where else it could be in this frantic cityscape.

* One night after the workshop, Ben takes me to a highway rest area to seee the sea.  The rest area is a tourist attraction – “Don’t stay for more than 40 minutes” says a sign as we come in.  The view is supposed to be spectacular, but the air is sulpherous, menacing, the sea a tiny patch of silver in the haze, the slope between us and it webbed with high-tension wires.  We drive back in silence.  This is the hazy season – summer is supposed to be clearer, but I suspect the pollution is a large part of the weather.  My eyes are burning regularly, my skin subject to random itches.
* The last two days of workshop have been held in hospital physiotherapy departments. My incredible spoiledness revealed in the spaces in which most of these doctors and PT’s work – institutional floors and drab walls, no floor work possible for this supposedly movement-based workshop – I am improvising like mad. The clinics are well-equipped, though, with machines and ramps and balance boards. The head of the department, Dr. Cho, has been present for all six days, and though he doesn’t say or participate much, it must be through his good graces that this set of workshops is happening.

I have covered a lot of material in 6 days, culminating in what I jokingly call, in satire of the Asian way of naming things: The Seven Heavenly Movements of Health – intertarsal gliding, tibio-fibular relative movement, sacro-iliac differentiation, spinal lengthening in breathing, chest deepening in breathing, free movement between the oociput and atlas, and the cranio-sacral pulse.

Though there are bows, and two-handed business cards, and many photos to be taken, there are also hugs (from the men, not the women) and very cheery goodbyes as we finish up the whole project. One of the syudents who rush in to restore the clinic for an evening session asks me to sign her Anatomy Trains book. Later, I learn from Ben that students were not allowed in my classes, only to the talk last Saturday night. Though, he says, they are so steeped in the old language of physiotherapy, and musculo-skeletal relationships, that many students’ reaction to the talk was “What?”

Skeets

March 21, 2007

Swimming up through layers of consciousness to scratch my back, a few more when I realize there are bumps under my fingernails, and fully awake when I hear the tiny whine in my ear – mosquitoes!

How can there be mozzies 14 stories up?  I’ve had the window open the whole week here, rain or shine, night and day – what changed that they’re starting now?