Sunday, May 17, 2009

The sweetness of oranges

I recently found myself on an airplane, once again, lacking sleep. So much of my whirlwind life is actually living in a whirlwind. Funny how that works. Anyhoo, I was flying to Narita to catch a plane back to New York, when I found the soothing voice of sleep beckoning my name. I don't know about you guys, but I NEVER sleep on planes. I think it's because if anything ever does happen (like the engine blows or the wing falls off) I will be perfectly awake and prepared to practice my escape plan that I have been working on for years. If you are ever on an airplane with me and things go awry, do not fear. I have it all under control.

So it was to my surprise that I found myself actually getting drowsy and slowly drifting off to a dreamy place far, far away. It was in this world of pure imagination that I felt a tapping on my shoulder in a rather insistent way. In my dream I attributed it to a unicorn, lost and looking for directions, and I happened to be the only one who spoke her language, however, in reality this couldn't be further from the truth.

As the tapping continued and as I was begrudgingly drug out from REM, I woke with a start to yes, you guessed it, a half peeled orange staring back at me. At this point I was unsure which scenario was reality, the unicorn or the orange. On the one hand, unicorns are mythical creatures, but on the other hand, oranges are not that where was....

"Here, try this."

Orange trumped unicorn. Damn.

Blinking multiple times in hopes that the orange would go away, I finally was able to make sense of my current situation. Well, sort of.

"Here, take the orange. It's very sweet."

This is the deal. Across the aisle from me was this tiny, elderly Japanese woman, offering me a peeled orange with her small, but tenacious outstretched arm that was very close to the tip of my nose. Naturally. This happens all the time.

"Oh, no thanks. I'm OK." I replied.

"No, you must take it. They are very sweet."

"Really, I'm OK. But thank you."

I didn't want to break it to her, but what the .....? First, I don't know you. Second, you peeled this orange with hands that have been God knows where, and third, YOU WOKE ME UP!!!! It wasn't like we were engaged in a pleasant but trivial conversation, or that you caught my attention from across the aisle, or I had glanced over at you peeling this orange with a look on my face of pure starvation. You woke me up from a deep sleep to offer me an orange? I don't want your frickin' orange!!!!!!

"But, they are delicious. You must try it!"

Realizing rather late in the conversation that she and her orange would not go away, I took it and under her watchful stare, ate it. Every last bacteria laden piece. I will admit, it was delicious.

After the plane touched down in Narita (Tokyo), I thanked her again for the orange, picked up my bags, and went my separate way. I was planning on doing some sightseeing in Narita since I had 10 hours to kill in a preposterous layover. I was sitting in the airport, studying my map and the Tokyo subway system, when yet again a familiar voice rung in my ears.

"Oh, it's you again! What a coincidence!"

I didn't have the heart to tell her that being in the same airport after disembarking the same plane hardly constituted a coincidence, so I politely nodded my head and smiled.

"What are you doing?" She asked me.

When I explained the layover situation she smiled a huge smile, grabbed my bags, and said to me.

"Let's go."

Now, it is not lost on me the strangeness of this situation, nor was I unaware that I could be in a potentially dangerous situation. As I followed her through the airport, her leading the way with my bags, and we began to approach her husband, small red flags were starting to go off in my head. But, curiosity overcame me, and I decided to see where this was going. As she explained to her husband who this tall, white, American stranger was with orange pieces in her teeth, he stared at me with a mixed look of confusion, exasperation, and defeatism. I simply stood there wondering how all of this was about to play out. My small, new found friend informed her husband that we would all three be going to Narita shrine today. He looked at his wife, back at me, than at his wife again with an expression I call, "How and why is this happening to me?" then said, "OK."

Off we went.

Strangely enough, they had a car in Narita. They were actually from Fukuoka, but said that they had a daughter in Narita and a car. We would be driving to the shrine. They asked me if I would like to see their daughters house as we got into the car, and trying to stave off a panic attack that stems from a fear of being kidnapped, I declined and said that the shrine would be enough.

I realize that many of you would not have done the same thing, and perhaps you are all smarter than I am, but I figured if things truly did begin to get even stranger than they already were, I could take these two. They were both in their 70's, the woman came up to my waist, and if pushed I can be pretty feisty. So I figured, what's the worst that could happen? Don't answer that.

As you may have guessed, things worked out fine and these two were not serial kidnappers. They were, in fact, a lovely couple who just wanted to show me around. Once the husband warmed up to me, we all three had a pleasant conversation. We did indeed go to the shrine, had lunch, and afterwards they drove me back to the airport so I could be on my way to New York. I couldn't have been luckier or more shamed from my initial reaction of "Oh my God, I am going to die."

The shrine itself was impressive. Aside from the enormity of it, it also happened to be Buddha's birthday, and all of the monks were celebrating. No, not with a keg and a spit-roast pig, but with chants, incense, and a colorful display of hierarchy depicted in their robes. It was beautiful. However, after the monks went back into the shrine for further prayer, a Japanese high school band concluded the ceremony with the ancient song sang by renowned Buddhist, Sir Mix-A-Lot. Yes, Buddha's birthday celebration was concluded with "Baby Got Back." I am not sure I could have chosen a better song.

It was perhaps the best layover I have ever had. Much better than my overnight layover in Miami as I was coming back from Ecuador, when I fell asleep on the floor in what seemed like a desolate part of the airport, only to wake up with hundreds of people stepping over my prostrate body and having no idea where I was or why I was face to face with a German Shepherd. Apparently, airport security does not look highly upon unconscious people in the middle of the walk way. It turns out, I was inconveniently sleeping in one of the busiest parts of the airport. Oops.

The moral of this story is, never trust a stranger. Unless they wake you up to offer you a very sweet, half-peeled orange. This simple fruit, my friends, is the bridge that connects all of humanity.

I miss you all!

The Facts of Life:

Did you know that livestock is pumped with 10-12 different kinds of antibiotics in order to make the animals larger? Livestock are fed 25 million pounds of antibiotics each year. Any guess what that means for those of you who eat that livestock? Here's a clue: superbug.
Eat organic, grass fed meat if you must get your flesh fix-and no, McDonald's is not organic!

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