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Reflections on a Wandering Life.....

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

What is Japan? 

One question I get asked a lot in China is, "Why did you come to China?" This happens most often when I tell people that I am from Japan. "So why didn't you go to Japan?" It's a fair question. I have asked it myself. But for me, it brings up another question: What is Japan? Is Japan riding a bicycle instead of driving a car? My fourth bicycle finally got stolen now, after I moved to the hills and got to parking it in Wudaokou to use when I was there. But for six years, I rode my bicycle all over the Haidian district and to other parts of the city. I would not be able to do that if I lived in Tokyo. Tokyo is not that bicyle friendly. Beijing is rated in the top 10-15 worldwide. I rode my bicycle more in those six years than in all the rest of my life combined.

So what is Japan? Eating oyakodonburi at a small Japanese restaurant instead of going to McDonald's? I have been in China more than 9 years now. I have probably had more oyakodonburi in Beijing than I ever had in Japan. When I go to Tokyo now, I eat at McDonald's. I can't afford to go to a restaurant.

So what is Japan? Cheap mass transit? Basic bus fair in Beijing is 1 kuai. But if you have a bus card, they give you a 60 per cent discount, which brings it down to 4 jiao. That's a bout 7 cents. The subway costs more, but even that is cheap. Two kuai will get you anywhere you need to go in the city. Can't do that in Tokyo. Subway costs are actually reasonable in Tokyo, but not nearly as cheap as Beijing, and taxis are out of the question. My monthly cost for getting around Beijing is about what most Americans pay for two or three gallons of gas.

So what is Japan? Buying sweet potatos from the sweet potato man? Haven't done that in Japan since I was a kid. In Beijing I eat sweet potatos on the street every winter. That and corn on the cob, which is also sold everywhere. Another cheap roadside food is the "Xi'an burger." When I first came to China, I used to buy them for two kuai, but they cost a little more now. Still pretty cheap though. But lots of pork fat, so I try to stay away from them.

So what is Japan? Living in a local Asian village instead of an American subdivision? My little apartment in the village costs 900 RMB a month--about $125. Couldn't come close to that in Tokyo. That amount of money might get you one night in a cheap hotel in Tokyo, but then you'd be out of luck and out of money. Bottom line: Thomas Wolf was right. You can't go home again. The Japan I grew up in doesn't exist anymore--except in China.

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