Reflections on a Wandering Life.....

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

I arrived in Tokyo Sunday afternoon. Mark and Joshua picked me up at the airport, and we headed for the Science Museum at Odaiba. Odaiba is a business and commercial development built on artificial islands in Tokyo Bay which were constructed in the middle of the 19th Century.

Traffic was not too bad, perhaps because it was Sunday, but the freeway network in Tokyo is pretty complex. Fortunately, Joshua was with us so we were able to find it without getting lost.

Yesterday, I wanted to head down toward Kawasaki, because one of the students in the Software College is doing an internship there. When it comes to urban light rail, Beijing is like a small town compared to Tokyo. Beijing has a small subway system with a light rail extension.

In contrast, Tokyo's system is extraordinarily complex. But it's amazing how quickly you can get the hang of it. For one thing, it is very well organized, and every train line is color coded and well marked. And the software the everyone seems to have access to, makes the process livable. I boarded the bus near Mark and Naomi's house, and sat next to a student who was job hunting. I said, "Can you tell me about how long it will take me to get from the station at Musashi-sakai to Yokohama?" She flipped open her tiny cell phone with a video screen and said, "Just a minute, I'll research it." In a few minutes she said, "It will take you one hour."

When we got to the station, the young lady showed me how to operate the ticket vending machines, and informed me how much the ticket would cost. I took the train to Shinjuku, transferred to another line going down to Shibuya, then left JR and caught the Tokyu to Yokohama. Kahori picked me up at the Yokohama station, and took me to Tully's at Minatomirai. She had told me not to exit the gates, so I got on the next train without having to buy a new ticket. When we got to Minatomirai, I asked her if I was going to have to pay more. She took me to a "fare adjustment" machine. I put my ticket in, and the computer told me how much to pay. Then I was issued a new ticket that I could use to exit the gates. When I was ready to leave for Kawasaki, I asked her if she could recommend a return route from Kawasaki back to Musashi-sakai, where Mark and Naomi live. She pulled her laptop out of her handbag, accessed the software she had installed on her machine, and told me the lines, transfer points, and how much money to put in the ticket vending machine. Like I said, it's a complex system, but life is easy when you have a computer.

The Software College at Beihang has a "Japanese Software" major. Nine students from this major are doing internships here in the Tokyo area. I had kept in touch with Zhu Xiang since he left Beijing in October, and I had told him I would visit him while I was in Japan. In some ways, I think these young people are being taken advantage of, because they don't make very much money. But I really encourage them to do it, because when they get back to China after a year or so, they will be highly employable. We went to a Thai restaurant for dinner, and then had a cup of coffee. Everything costs money, but the restaurant he had chosen was really not bad. He kept talking about how small the portions were. I didn't think it was that bad, but if you are accustomed to having a feast at one of the small restaurants outside the West Gate, Japan would be a bit of an adjustment.

I was standing at the Musashi-sakai station waiting for Mark to pick me up, when a police officer came up to me and started talking. My Japanese is pretty rusty, since I haven't used it since I was 13 years old. I told him this, but insisted my Japanese was fine, and he kept talking. He could not speak English, so I had no choice but to use what little Japanese I could remember, with a few Chinese words thrown in for good measure. We had a nice conversation in spite of the limitations. Simple friendliness covers a multitude of language barriers.

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