Wednesday, October 15, 2008

On a Sunday afternoon, in the mountains...

I do realize that blogging is supposed to be done with some frequency, and I am clearly not living up to the typical blogging world standards. I started this blog a month ago, and finally finished it tonight. It is from October, so I am no longer sick. Thank you for your concern if there was goes...

I have been sitting at home for the last couple of days due to a nasty little virus that has invaded my body. Being sick is no fun in any country, but it is a tad worse in a country that is not yours. You don't know what to buy, where the doctor is, AND I have no television to simply absorb myself in. But I will say kudos to my Japanese friends here because they have been incredible.
It all started last Tuesday. I tried to be a hero and went into work, but the damn virus won, and sent me home packing. Before I retreated however, Yoko, saw the pale look on my face, and instantly ran out and bought me hot green tea, something for my upset stomach (God knows what it was), and udon. She then sent me home.
The next day, I thought I was better and once again went into work. I made it through that day and the following, only to be brought to me knees again on Friday. I texted Yoko and told her that I didn't think I could leave my apartment, and within 5 minutes, she texted me back telling me to stay where I was (Uh, don't worry), and that she was sending someone to take me to the doctor. I hadn't even gotten out of bed yet, and already there was a personal ambulance on the way over. This epitomizes Japanese efficiency.

Within the hour, my friend Tomoko appeared at my door, and escorted me to the doctor. I want to mention that everywhere in Japan, you must take off your shoes before you go inside somewhere. Even the doctors office was equipped with slippers to change into. In my delirious state, I found this endearing, and thought I would share.

Anyway, the doctor was brief, efficient, and an ambitious student of medical English. It was limited, but correct. During the ultrasound, I think he enjoyed pointing out my organs just so he could say them in English. Every time he found something new, he would say "gallbladder!" then look at me and smile. "Kidney!" then smile. "Liver!" then smile...until he found my "small intestine!" no smile. Instead he simply said "not normal."
After the "not normal" comment he spouted off a whole bunch of Japanese, which naturally I didn't understand, and made my "stomach!" lurch, but as it turned out I was only afflicted with acute viral gastroenteritis. In other words, my small intestine was "not normal."

He gave me some medication along with a bill. I was very nervous about the whole payment thing, since I am living on a shoestring. So as they wrote up the ultrasound, the consultation, the English lesson, and 3 types of pills, I cringed. As they handed the bill over to me, I sucked in my breath and looked down.
2,940 Yen-the equivalent of $30. He told Tomoko as we left that he gave me a big discount...Why? I am not sure. But I'm pretty sure I heard him say as we walked out the door, "large intestine!" but I can't be certain.

It just goes to show that the Japanese hospitality does go above and beyond. I have had numerous phone calls to see if I needed anything, or if I am feeling better, etc. It is very nice considering there are still so many things that I don't know how to do. At least I know that I am not alone.

The week before I was "virusized" I went driving with two friends, the aforementioned Yoko, and another friend named Tomoko (yes, its a very common name here). Yoko was all excited about driving to the sea shore, and wanted me to come along. I needed a break from med school apps, so I went. I was a little surprised that Yoko wanted to drive, since she has a fear of cars. My previous conversation with her about driving was before my Mt. Aso trip and it went something like this: (in no way is this an exaggeration)

Andrea: So, how are we going to get to Aso?

Yoko: We should drive.

Andrea: Ok. Do you have a car?

Yoko: Yes.

Andrea: Great! That's settled. You can drive us.

Yoko: No, I can't drive!

Andrea: Ah, OK. Mikuru can drive then.

Yoko: No, she can't drive. It's too dangerous.

Andrea: OK, then we should take the train.

Yoko: No, we can't take the train.

Andrea: Um....then I guess you should drive.

Yoko: No, I can't drive.

Andrea: But, Yoko..isn't it your car? Can't you drive it?

Yoko: Yes.

Andrea: So, then you can drive us, right?

Yoko: No.

Andrea: Then, we'll take the train.

Yoko: No, we can't take the train.

Andrea (looking for the candid camera somewhere and wondering quite seriously if I was in the Twilight Zone): Then, Mikuru can drive.

Yoko: No, she can't drive.

Andrea: So, let me get this straight. You have a car, but won't drive it. And Mikuru can't drive it. I can't drive it. But, we also can't take the train. Is that correct?

Yoko: Yes.

Andrea: Uh-huh. So, how are going to go to Aso?

Yoko: We'll drive!

And so it went on for about another 10 minutes of complete and utter nonsense which left my head spinning, and to this day I still have no idea how I ended up in such a backwards conversation. In the end, we (she) deemed that driving was too dangerous, despite her ambition to drive, or not to drive, I am still not sure, and we all ended up taking the train.

Anyway, we took another road trip to the coast this time. A beautiful little jaunt to who-knows-where. I was told that we were going to drive into the mountains and then along the coast. This sounded wonderfully serene.

So here we are in Tomoko's car, eating rice balls and strange potato chips (at least, I think that's what they were), and I notice that we have veered off the main road. When I asked where we were going, the answer was simply, "into the mountains."

Sure enough, the road became thinner, the trees became more abundant, and little by little, we left civilization. I didn't ask too many questions because I was enjoying the peace that comes with sitting idle in a car that you are not driving, but when the road became one lane instead of two, and the traffic had decreased to us and us alone, I started to wonder. As we drove further and further into isolation, I finally decided to ask again, fearing the pointlessness of my question beforehand.

Andrea: So, where are we going exactly?

Yoko: To the mountains!

Andrea: Ok, far into the mountains?

Yoko: Not too far.

Andrea: This sort of looks like the mountains now, Yoko. Do we have a destination?

Yoko: Yes, but we are not there yet.

Andrea: Yes, I figured as much, given that we are still driving.

Yoko: Yes, ha, ha.

Andrea: (again) So, where are we going?

Yoko: To a salt shop!

Andrea: Uh....Did you say a salt shop?

Yoko: Yes!

Andrea: (shaking my head, because obviously I had misunderstood) A salt shop, in the mountains. A place that sells salt?

Yoko: Yes!

Andrea: Salt that we eat?

Yoko: (a little exasperated with my dim wittedness) Yes...

If any of you think that this is in any way a normal conversation, or a normal destination, please enlighten me. I think I was too stunned to bother asking the futile question of why. At the same time however, it all made sense. Of course we were going to a salt shop, on a Sunday, in the middle of the mountains, in Japan, at four o'clock in the afternoon. What else should I, or anybody else for that matter, be doing at that exact moment? It almost seemed too logical....

Ah, Japan. It is a country where yes means no, no means yes, the mountains mean a salt shop, and the bigger the smile, the worse the news. A land of contradictions. Of many, many contradictions.

I miss you all!!