If TV cameras followed me while traveling, the resulting show would be of the same genre as the live streaming of a toddler trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. None of my cultural anthropology classes really covered the logistics of traveling, we only talked about ethnography, theory, and the social implications of tourism. It’s not that I don’t have common traveler’s sense, it’s that my sense is too rudimentary to be trusted with any task more complicated than banging two pieces of wood together.
My buddy, Matt, wrote me an “exquisite email” explaining to the T what exactly I needed to do to find him at Shinjuku train station. Short of asking for a few directions in caveman English (I only know enough Japanese to get through a Styx song), I end up with several thousand yen, a N’EX ticket to get out of the airport, and a plastic train pass, similar to Boston’s Charlie Card.
My train didn’t leave for another hour so I went to Starbucks and got myself a grande caramel frappaccino. This is was the only time in my life I had ever ordered something from Starbucks using their sizes. I find tall, grande, and venti to be pretentious. JUST SAY SMALL, MEDIUM, AND LARGE. However, I knew Cambodians had a difficult time when I said “Big” vs. “Large” so I succumbed to the language barrier.
I wanted to call Matt to tell him what time my train was leaving, but I couldn’t find one of those “convenient” green pay phones that he so thoughtfully pictured in his exquisite email. I said, “screw it” and went to find the train terminal.
I followed two girls who each did something different with their train tickets. One showed the attendant her pass and went through. The other put her pass into the little pass slot and the gates opened. I just stood there and thought, what’s going to make me look less like some country bumpkin from nowhere USA? So I pulled out the train pass, showed it to the attendant, stared at her like a maniac, then slowly moved the pass to the pass slot without taking my eyes off of her. It didn’t go through. She yells, “TOUCH, TOUCH!” Ah! You scan the card.
I walked up and down platform for about 10 minutes, until I finally decided the glass box everyone was sitting in wasn’t the Diner’s Club or something.
I thought, it really doesn’t look much fancier than the chairs outside of the box. I looked at it, walked over, and when the door didn’t open, I panicked. Then I saw, “Automatic, Push.” I pushed. The door opened Starship Enterprise style. Sweet.
The train pulled up about 15 minutes before it was to leave. I, being the enthusiastic traveler, picked up my stuff and walked to the door before everyone was even out. No one was following suit. If you’ve ever been in a group of traveling Asians, you know they line up at the door the first chance they get. I backed away casually to assess the situation. Can I go on?
The public transit authorities must have anticipated a naïve foreigner (or over-zealous Asian travelers) and found a solution:
I looked at my ticket and didn’t know what car I was supposed to be on. You look at it and tell me what you think:
If you thought car 8, seat 27, you’re wrong. That’s the date (a connection I’m just now figuring out). I showed it to the attendant and I think he said something in Japanese that’s loosely translated to, “You American Fool!” And took me to car 7, seat 7A.
Still having little to no idea what’s happening, I saw a note I jotted down from the exquisite email that said to be sure the ticketing agent puts me in the back cars since the front cars split off at Tokyo station. There’s really no way of knowing if I’m definitely I the right car because this image never gets translated into English:
Thanks a lot, Styx. I haven’t seen any robots yet, but I’ll be sure to thank him for nothing.