Adventure on the High Seas; Missing Japan already

Our second day at sea, on the M.V. Su Zhou Hao out from Osaka and bound for Shanghai. I could get used to this. Even Sheryl isn’t as stir-crazy as we were afraid she’d be. The weather was overcast in the morning but very hot and sunny in the afternoon. We took towels out onto the upper deck, and the metal underfoot was like a frying pan. We both fell asleep but miraculously escaped sunburn and having our feet melted off.

The weather got very rough that evening. Typhoon Morakot, we were to find out when we reached Shanghai. The waves were huge grey hills and the ship rolled heavily in all three directions. It was hard to walk inside. We were thrown around, smashed into corridor walls and I fell on the main staircase with a bowl of boiling water meant for instant noodles. There were bright blue barf-bags tied in bunches to every handrail and a big box of anti-nausea pills set out free for the taking on the main desk.

Sheryl slipped on a wet stairway out on deck and wrenched her back, which is a disaster. She was having a lot of trouble with her back even before this and it’s been hard for her to carry her pack. I was hoping she’d be able to use the two days aboard ship to rest it and get it better, but this new injury will take another month to heal, easily. Her back has always caused her terrible problems. It’s the thing that worried me most, back when we were planning the whole world tour. I wasn’t sure how she’d manage to carry a heavy pack for such a long time. We’ve worked out a system now, where she seems to be okay carrying the pack as long as she doesn’t let it get too heavy and as long as I lift it onto her back for her, but as soon as something twists her back or jerks or wrenches it, it gets bad.

Late at night, when the ship was heaving and tossing like an enraged whale, I went out on deck. The moon was one or two days past full and it turned the surface of the sea into a bright rolling prairie of silver hills. The deck tilted wildly from side to side and it seemed as if each plunge would bring it low enough that the waves would swamp the ship. Spray leapt up at each crashing impact against the hull. It was wildly, dreadfully beautiful and romantic and it made me understand a little the ages-old dream of running away to sea.

In my narrow bunk later that night, sliding around with every wave and crushed alternately head and foot against the walls, I reflected on Japan. It’s a quirky, alien place and endlessly fascinating. I never felt as if I belonged there, but I think I’ll miss it terribly. In many ways Japan seems to be a laboratory and an incubator for technology - it’s the medium in which the Japanese move, and they don’t think about it much. They had their negotiation with technology in the Eighties and Nineties and now, all misgivings satisfied, they’re rushing headlong into change - unlike in the West, where the dialogue continues.

Even though, disappointing as it was to me, Japan’s legendary vending machines have fallen by the wayside to be replaced by convenience stores, there are manifestations of the ongoing process anywhere you choose to look. Older technologies have become refined, like the multifunction toilets, the combination microwave and conventional oven that so puzzled Sheryl and I at first, the way every appliance sings a little song, or the bathtub that fills itself. That’s small change, though - it’s the synergies of newer technologies that interest me. In Tokyo, people have mobile phones with little radio-frequency chips that function as debit cards. You can pay for nearly anything with your phone in Tokyo just by waving it over the payment terminal. This can give rise to funny, unexpected emergent behaviours, on occasion - I’ll never forget the sight of Sayaka, phone in her back pocket, swiping her bum on the subway turnstile to pay for a train.


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One Comment on this Dispatch:

June 20th, 2010

Oh Japan…. why did we leave you….
$$$$ Oh now I remember.
The ferry was nice though with the exception of trashing my back of course.

¬ Sheryl
Chris Liberty - Dispatches from a Gentleman Adventurer
Being the internal dialog of a vagabond who chased his own tail across five continents for 4 years and 2 days from May 2008 to May 2012, in search of something that never really became clear.
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