I’m Big in Japan

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I’m in a rambling mood — please bear with me. Yes, I am big in Japan, though in a different sense than we commonly think of. I’ve only passed through its airports a few times (in one of which I bought the most expensive glass of wine that can be paid for with a single coin).

But now, here, I’m comfortably settled into a cheap room in Thailand. I’m paying too much but my stuff is all spread out and I am, frankly, too lazy to pack it back up. More importantly, they’ve been good to me here. It’s a nice couple who own the place.

I call the husband “Uncle” and the wife “Mama”. She giggles every time. Which, of course, makes me giggle and that isn’t exactly a shitty way to start the day, ya know?

Uncle took care of me — I got sick and was (and I don’t like to admit this) too weak to walk more than ten feet. I was totaled — I was a train wreck in search of tracks.

He rode off on his moped to buy me drugs from the pharmacy. And when I finally admitted that it was time to go to the hospital, he made a call and got me a ride from someone he trusted at the Thai price.

When I got back, he helped me up the stairs and took the key from my shaky hand to let me into my room.

So, yes, it ain’t fancy but I like this place. I like the people. And that’s what it comes down to. You can see the Seven Wonders and take your snapshots, but it’s the people you meet who you’ll really remember.

And there is one person who I definitely remember: a Japanese man is in the room across the hall and and one door down. He’s shouting into his phone. I don’t know his name: to me he is Mr. Across-the-Hall-and-One-Door-Down.

Which must be hell to fit on a business card…

I try everything: earphones with music, white noise, thunder and rain (and I’m pretty sure a whale just floated by, riding a unicorn) but nothing seems to knock out this guy’s shouting.

I want to write.

And then there’s another voice: the woman who sweeps up around here is asking –simply– if he wants his room cleaned. And he’s screaming at her, despite the fact that she’s a really nice person and is just doing her job.

And that’s when my blood comes up. It doesn’t take as long as it used to.

I’m big in Japan. I’m big in Asia. I’m not chiseled or healthy or fit. I’m no warrior. But I can fill a doorway. I usually scratch my head on the way in.

Which is what happens now. I wrap on my sarong because I really do think she’s in danger (it’s faster) and rush out into the hallway.

“Do you need help?”. In typical Thai fashion, she fakes a laugh, waves her hands and says “No, no!” She looks away and then stares back, wide-eyed.

She needs help.

When I was in Central America, I learned that there was a way to carry yourself if you didn’t want trouble. I didn’t like it but that’s how it was. Move with purpose and wear a pissed-off look. Predators seek the easy targets. Bullies too. And that’s what this guy is.

And I really don’t like bullies.

There are moments in life. Sometimes the world shares something beautiful: a sunset, a cool breeze on a hot night, crickets who ease you awake in the early morning or –if you’re lucky– a lover who snuggles next to you on a cold night.

But sometimes the world seems to say “Step up. It’s time to earn your keep“.

buddhahead-smSo I step into the door. I don’t come into his space. Boundaries are boundaries — there are rules by which we live our lives. I don’t have to fake the “pissed off look” because we have passed that point and moved into “fucking furious” mode. I’ve been listening to this idiot for over an hour and now he’s abusing someone who is just trying to earn her day’s pay.

He and I stare at each other for a moment. He mutters something into the phone that I’m pretty sure is Japanese for either “There’s a big pasty, angry man in my door, wearing a skirt” or “I’ll call you back”.

Click.

And then there’s a longer pause as he sizes things up and weighs the ways this scene can roll out. The calculus is easy: there are really only two ways this is going to go.

He’s doing the math and I notice that she is shaking. She’s scared. So I reach out and touch her on the shoulder — two fingers. “It’s okay. You’re safe.”

And that’s the Moment where it changes. It cracks. It flips. He sees that touch and finally understands, groks, that this isn’t a dick-swinging contest between he and I but that his behavior has scared someone. I see it in his eyes. He looks at his feet and then looks at me and says simply “I’m sorry”.

My answer is equally simple because I’m still pissed and it’s just right. “Say it to her“.

He does. And he leaves the next day.

Unfortunately, she leaves too.

{ 27 comments… read them below or add one }

Michael April 11, 2014 at 10:54 pm

wow, I could feel my blood coming up as well, then thankfully receding, as I moved through the words–a visceral, very real experience
thanks wes

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wes April 12, 2014 at 1:37 am

Man, that was hard to write because I kept getting angry recalling it. Took me 6 tries…

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Phil Hockings April 12, 2014 at 12:43 am

Nice writing, I think you captured how many of us feel when forced o dealing with ass clowns like this. There are few things in life that piss me off more than some entitled asshole who invades others lives with their inconsiderate and reprehensible behavior.
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Jason April 12, 2014 at 2:05 am

Wow. I love the way you express yourself. Always making me come back for more.

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rebecca kroegel April 12, 2014 at 11:52 am

great writing! well done for standing up for her :-)
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Quade Baxter April 12, 2014 at 12:18 pm

Great use of height! So many times it is a pain in the ass with this sort of travel(Stooping,forgetting to stoop-ow,… trying to buy pants!) Nice to see it come in handy. And I was happy to see you found a nice place to be sick. Solo travel and sickness are never a fun combo (I just spent two of my five days in Kos0vo in bed…sans Uncle or Mama!)
I always enjoy your posts!

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Mark April 12, 2014 at 7:41 pm

Are you a Stephen King fan? Just curious because your style reminds me of his style too. Two fingers on the shoulder, is that a cultural norm or just your style?
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wes April 12, 2014 at 9:08 pm

Not a huge fan of King but I have enjoyed some of his titles. The 2 fingers thing is just me try to ‘break the space’ without being too much, considering the male/female divide here. Totally instinctual…

Great question: I love it when people make me question how I act. I usually learn more than they do :D

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Mo @ Mosaffer.com April 13, 2014 at 4:46 pm

Sometimes the world seems to say “Step up. It’s time to earn your keep“.
Simply, beautiful Wes! Thank you.
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Francisco Brigham April 16, 2014 at 11:14 pm

Great writting, well done!!!
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Susanne April 17, 2014 at 4:35 am

So sorry you got sick, but glad you were in the company of kind people. As for that bully, way to go! You are awesome.

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Phill April 18, 2014 at 8:47 pm

But sometimes the world seems to say “Step up. It’s time to earn your keep“

And a new superhero is born. Well done.
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Rozella April 22, 2014 at 10:59 pm

Japan is on my list! Would love to get shots as good as yours! have fun!
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Contented Traveller April 23, 2014 at 1:48 pm

It pays to stand up to bullies. It is never easy but at the end of the day you have to live with yourself. How would you have felt if you didn’t? Good job
Contented Traveller recently posted..How to have an onsen in JapanMy Profile

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wes April 23, 2014 at 5:36 pm

It’s weird how the world changes you. I used to do anything to avoid conflict. Now I’ll put the fear of God in a man if it’s called for. I haven’t been in a physical fight in 30 years but he didn’t know that…

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Sofia Rhodes April 23, 2014 at 3:01 pm

Joln, this is one of the wonderful post I have ever read. You really have good narrating skills. Loved your post..!!

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wes April 23, 2014 at 5:34 pm

You are too kind. Thanks :)

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Sally @ thewinetraveller April 23, 2014 at 4:00 pm

Sometimes the globe seems to say “Step up. It’s a chance to generate your keep“. Excellent blogging, well done!!!

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wes April 23, 2014 at 5:34 pm

Thank you

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Shaun April 23, 2014 at 9:58 pm

You are the man Wes!!!

My tolerance may have been lower than yours in that scenario but you brought that situation to the proper conclusion. Thank you!
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Renuka April 25, 2014 at 12:45 pm

You have a different writing style! Thanks for taking me there!
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Jeanette Todd April 28, 2014 at 3:40 pm

I have to say that was such a heroic thing to do. I think that bully will have a second thought the next time he tries to bully a woman.

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Adam May 12, 2014 at 3:15 pm

Incredible story … if more people would stand up to blustering bullies, this world would a much better place!
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biswajit July 15, 2014 at 4:24 am

I am also love to go visit to North Korea,,I love their foods and shopping,,if you have any tips then suggest me,,
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Drew | The Hungry Partier May 26, 2014 at 10:30 am

Great read! I am going to Kyoto in 2 weeks and I’ve never been more excited!
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Rajasthan Tour Operator July 15, 2014 at 3:30 am

Great post…..and the way you described was awesome……..

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Andy October 2, 2014 at 11:42 pm

Great story (and great job, by the way), but what do you mean when you say she left too? Did she leave her job? Anyhow, the intolerance of some people just baffles me.

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