Nov 1, 2006

The Inland Sea by Night

It's twenty four hours later, and I still can't feel my legs all the way.
I inhereted this p.o.s. bike from the teacher I replaced, a complete aged clunker with all of three gears and no breaks. This thing isn't any sort of street bike or mountain bike, this is one of those big-tired things that are meant to be leisurely ridden around genteel urban areas on Sunday afternoon. Also, it's designed for someone who wears a dress. It's not at all like the sturdy and dependable hybrid I left behind in Eugene (which is on sale on Craigslist, hint, hint). This thing is what you would get if someone were to be able to metaphysically transform one of Cole Porter's less witty numbers into vehicle form.
Last night, a coworker (whom I will here on refer to as Mr. Ecaudor for reasons that will become apparent) asked me if I wanted to ride out to the Inland Sea (the stretch of water between Honshu and Shikoku) with him, and I said "sure." Now, my initial inclination was to go home after my first full day of teaching on my own, sit in front of a computer, write on this blog, eat a bento box, read, and fall asleep. I did none of those things. I figured that I'm here in Japan to do stuff, experience things, and get all edified, so I really ought to go out and see the picturesque oceanic marvel that I'm so near. So, I hopped on the wimpy bike, and we were off.
"It'll take about an hour," said Mr. Ecaudor. Ok, I thought, that didn't sound so bad. The wimpy bike, at least, is very agreeable. It goes forward in a genail and leisurely manner, and has this agreeable little light that's powered by the rider's own pedaling. I can do this for an hour.
I was technically correct. I was, obviously, able to make it there and back on this thing. However, it was quite the ordeal. After a while I realized that the bike was not actually big enough for me, so my legs did not extend all the way, and that it's three gears, though obliging and delightful, sadly lacked the grit and expertise necessary to get us where we were going in an optimally efficient way.
Note to self-get new bike. Riding this thing any serious distance over any real elevation gain is not a good idea.
But anyway, a lousy bike isn't that interesting.
What's more interesting is that we left Okayama and the surrounding cities behind. The landscape became sparser and darker around us, first docks and factories, closed for the night, and then country houses and rice paddies, all hugging the coast. The rice paddies had all been harvested at that point, and we stopped for a bit to look at the drained rows of cut crops, the bushels piled at regular intervals. The houses, also, were not the cramped affairs of the urban Japan that I've seen so far, but larger examples of traditional architechture, wood buildings with the sloping roofs of circular tiles.
All the while, Mr. Ecaudor was talking about his philosophy regarding martial arts and his time in the Peace Corps in Ecaudor. I actually like the guy quite a bit so far, he's been very friendly and helpful, but between the excruciating pain of pedaling the wimpy bike and the fascinating terrain, I wasn't really listening to him.
We got to the Inland Sea at perhaps 12:30 at night, and everything was still. We walked out to this stone dock type thing, a finger of rock extending into the water. Standing there, covered in sweat from the trip, I looked for waves and ripples in the water and found nothing other than the minor flurries lapping under my feet. Near the shore was a sort of glowing plankton, hard to see at first, but once I noticed their luminescence I couldn't stop seeing their small, glowing forms.
I know it sounds extremely trite to say this, but I was weirdly comforted by finding similar constellations in the sky. Yeah, cue up "Somewhere, Out There" from an American Tail and start going on about how "we're all just citizens of one big world" and crap like that, but I was seriously pleased to see Orion as bright as ever astride a foreign sky. I'm serious here! It was all Hallmark and shit. Had not some other guy been going on about his Latin American adventures (which, admittedly, did sound pretty neat) I would have gladly laid flat on my back and just picked out the stars that I know.
Now stop laughing. Not all of my posts will be able to have catgirls and drunkeness in them.
The whole thing, though, did sort of drive home to me that I've come a great deal of distance. Literally. I mean, when you sit in an airplane you just sort of sit on your ass and sleep and whatever until you're somewhere else. Physically and painfully taking myself out to the silent rural coast drove home the obvious point that I am very much somewhere else now. I still don't know what to think about that.


Joseph said...

Somewheeeeeere out there beneath the pale moonlight,
Someooooone's thinking of me and loving me tonight!

OK, I'll stop.

Sydney said...

And clearly, that someone is Joseph. ; ) Wow, I hate to be such a huge nerd, but your description of riding out of the city totally sounds like the beginning of the first episode of Samurai Champloo. Man, I need to read more so that I can post more erudite comments!

Anonymous said...

that sounds awesome! I want to see the glowing plankton and the inland sea. that's it! once you get settled, I'm visiting you for a weekend. sorry, can't wait for an invitation. it just has to be that way.

a quick fyi: I'm told that the reason all bikes in Japan appear to be for extremely short people, much shorter than the average Japanese short person even, is that children are told that it isn't safe to ride a bike if you can't sit on the seat and put your feet on the ground. Best of luck finding a proper one.