My favorite scene in Pulp Fiction is when Vincent (John Travolta) and Jules (Samuel L. Jackson) are driving down the street, discussing Vincent's trip to Europe:
"But you know what the funniest thing about Europe is? It's the little differences. I mean they got the same shit over there that they got here but it's just, it's just there it's a little different."
This is something I always thought about a lot when traveling. The way a crosswalk sign is designed does more to remind me that I'm in a foreign place than the fact that I'm technically under a different political jurisdiction. After all, what would really make a "big difference"? I guess if I had some sort of Spidey sense that constantly reminded me of my exact longitude and latitude, my head would be swimming.
But it really is the little differences that remind me of where I am, and now it's my turn to pretend that Jules has just prompted me with his economical invitation, "Example."
1. My shower talks to me. When I switch on the heat, an adorable-sounding Japanese woman stuck inside of the control panel tells me something through the little speaker. I don't know what she's saying and I prefer to keep it that way. This way, my imagination can take over. "Hello Alex," she says every morning, "I've been waiting for you. Oh! tee-hee, look what you've done! You've turned me on. Now I'm all hot... and wet. Gosh, it's getting steamy in here." My morning shower is very important to me.
(Quick note: I could literally go on with this forever, using such fun terms as "push my buttons," "lathering up," "slippery," and "water hose." And sometimes? I do.)
2. The beer is unimpressive. I spent a considerable amount of effort trying to adjust to the light, boring beer here, and I just can't do it. The upshot is that I've been drinking less beer. The other, more important upshot is that I've been drinking more crazy shit. The other night I actually drank Long Island Iced Teas. Three of them. But my favorite is still the shochu in a milk carton. Scares off the damn lactose intolerants. The lushes...
Other fun booze/packaging combos include the shochu in a can (refrigerated, if possible), the sake in a sealed cup decorated with the cutest pandas, and the everything-I-drank-last-night in the corner of my room. I call that one the "Sunrise Surprise."
3. My room smells like tatami. It has to be the smell that I will associate most with this place when and if I finally leave. Made of straw, tatami gives off this wonderfully hearty, sweet grainy smell. When I first entered my room, I thought it stank. But upon second whiff, I was already getting used to it. On the third try (and after a few minutes of airing out the room) I was quite pleased. It's like somebody next door is burning some sandalwood incense, and I just get a nice, subtle effect.
4. I get dirty looks. This might seem like a big difference, but I already got plenty of them back home. Plus, a Japanese dirty look is no more obvious than an American "hey, did he just fart?" inquisitive look. And those, I am certainly used to.
The other day, I stopped at a bakery and got a curry bun thing. I was hungry, and there were no tables at the bakery. So, instead of going on the subway with my food (a gigantic no-no), I decided to inconspicuously enjoy my nosh in an alley (a slightly smaller no-no). I thought I was safe, until a wave of people came out of the station and through my dining room. Most people ignored me, as they are wont to do. One girl, however, decided to give me the nastiest, most prolonged scowl I've ever seen. Since the nastiness matched her stripper-chic outfit, ratty face, and soulless eyes, it all sorta blended together, and I wasn't too offended.
5. The vending machine is my friend. Mainly because it's the only place where I can get a decent coffee. Although it's cold and in a can, it certainly beats the weak, beige water they serve up at diners here. Plus, at only 120 yen, it's about 1/4 the price. Also, the vending machines at train stations take my Pasmo card.
The Pasmo is an RFID card that stores and deducts money for the train. It allows me to get through the turnstile with just the tap of my wallet. Not only can I use it to pay for the train, but also for anything I buy at stores or vending machines in the train station. Some random establishments outside of the train stations will take them too: I paid for a beer at a bar the other day by tapping my wallet on a pad. Once I have a cell phone, I will be able to have my Pasmo put inside of it.
Yeah, that's right.