If you are particularly moralistic, or of weak fortitude; proceed no further. Also, if you're my mum or my grandparents, I would probably not read any further. Dad, you've probably heard me say worse at rugby, so you're immune.
Swearing will commence in:
There - I said it. Apparently the first one is always the hardest, and leads to a floodgate effect. Fuck. I guess the eponymous 'they,' were correct again; I can't stop swearing now. Stopping might cause a quantum time loop effect that might well destroy the universe. Best not hold back then. Fuck.
So today didn't start well, the middle was excellent, and the ending was what caused my current annoyance.
Before I begin the story proper, it is important to understand that Japan has three major forms of transport. The bicycle, used by anyone too young, too poor or too infirm to drive. The car, used by a large number of people, and the train; used by a ridiculous number of people. Think a billion a year. Trains then, are an integral part of life in a way that they're simply not in England. Bicycles too, as when I'm out and about I'll see three or four others riding around, every ten minutes. Again, important in a way beyond the scope of comprehension among westerners. (Huh? Every kid rides their bike to school? Why doesn't mum just drop them off? Huh? People with working cars ride to the shops? Are they mad?)
I am often accused of lacking a logical coherence in my story telling, so it begins now.
Today was the day of an enkai (after-work drinking party) for one of my elementary schools. I dropped fourty big ones to get a seat. This included drinks (all you can, despite me not being particularly beer inclined, I wouldn't have minded a glass or some wine) and sashimi, some barbecue stuff and more.
Before the story advances I feel it pertinent to mention that I can't speak Japanese. I make pathetic attempts at learning the language, but it's going to be an uphill struggle for sure. I can remember that Germany has a population of eighty million, England and France have near identical populations of sixty million, but I can't remember the word for 'number,' in Japanese, despite being told a dozen times or more.
So I decided to cycle to the enkai, some ten kilometres away. This is not particularly far, but I'd also wanted to travel to Ashikaga (nowhere near the enkai) for some time now. The astute among you will notice that I used the past tense for the Ashikaga part, meaning I made it there.
When deciding my plans, I noted that I can't hold a conversation in Japanese for more than five minutes at best. Therefore, fifteen people (give or take) times five minutes at best, equals an hour (if we take into consideration that not everyone will talk, and I won't be able to talk for the full five minutes with some). Therefore, I determined that turning up with an hour to go would give me ample time to stuff my face, do the requisite talking, and leave - having 'experienced' enkai (noted for insane drinking and dropping of all social normality (normality = social restrictions, i.e your elders being better than you, social class, rank etc) and some awesome Japanese food.
To make things interesting, and to fulfil a goal of mine, I decided to ride to Ashikaga, hit the station, train it to Tochigi and ride to the bar. A five minute journey from the station to the bar, half an hour on the train, an hour and a half (25km) to Ashikaga, Enkai ends at 9PM. If I leave at half six, I will have plenty of time.
First of all, the wind was fierce. Fierce as fucking balls. 30km an hour sustained windspeed. Christ knows what it was gusting to. About halfway to Ashikaga it started letting up. Now, incidentally, I just threw a paper aeroplane out of the window and it made it all the way to the other side of the street without so much as a deviation. Changeable.
So fighting a divine headwind I made it halfway. Then I got a puncture. Not a nice friendly puncture on the front wheel. A bitch of a puncture on the back wheel. Japanese bikes are not made like western bikes. They are not simple. They have the mechanical equivalent of the Starship Enterprises warp reactor safety mechanisms. The back wheel has two nuts, four washes, a gearing system on one side, a drum brake on the other, a spacer, a kickstand (which, for some bizarre reason, goes on first) and a bizarre thing that stops everything spinning. I don't have the vocabulary to describe what it looks like, or which group of 'things' it falls into.
This cost me the best part of an hour. (Someone stopped to help me, and they had a pump which was awesome, because I didn't! Japanese people can be exceedingly nice.)
Incidentally (again) this is my fourth puncture. Four punctures, four weeks. Japan is not as clean as you might imagine. Apparently, all they do is sweep the detritus to the sides of the roads and let the cyclists throw it in the bin - after using their tyres to pick it up.
Anyway. The wind put me behind schedule, the puncture kicked my schedule in the balls and ran off with its' wallet.
Having finally made it to Ashikaga, I went to get on the train. Except, as it turns out, bikes aren't allowed on trains.
What the fuck kind of logic is that? In a country that relies on trains and bikes, to have them be mutually exclusive is bonkers. It's batshit crazy. I can understand them being barred in rush hour, but when there are a dozen others on the train, it's simply insane. Mental. Crazy. Exceedingly frustrating.
Before I carry on, and before I forget, I feel it apt to mention how I found the station in the first place. A trio of extremely nice middle school kids helped me. We chatted in broken Japlish, and they went out of their way to help me find the station, despite themselves living some way off.
I'm sitting here, smiling at my misfortune, and, now, extremely calm. Primarily because of the people who helped me. I love the fact that I can try little adventures like this, have everything go wrong, and still smile. This is due to the people of this country and I often wonder if they realise how blessed they are with regards to these kinds of small incidents.
The situation right now: My bike is twenty-five kilometres away in Ashikaga, where it will spend the night. Tomorrow, I will pick it up. Now, the ride their was actually quite fun, but the wind is forecast to continue tomorrow and as all bike riders know, it magically changes direction on the return leg, to once again impede progress. So here's my plan: I'm going to take the front wheel off, sling the bike over my shoulder and take it on the train as carry on luggage.
Fuck stupid rules. Stupid rule - simple bypass.
The downside of today is monetary. In the morning I purchased fifty quids worth of university textbooks, and this debacle is going to set me back around fifty five more. (A tenner or so for the multiple train journeys, forty for the meal, five for the cakes and chocolate I bought to console myself on the way home.)
Tomorrow is going to be a busy day, dismantling and remantling my bike.
And now the cathartic experience is complete, and that was my day.
I was feeling particularly artsy the other day, so I made this picture.
It's a high-def resolution desktop I'm currently using. Feel free to use it. Please ask me before redistributing.