1 September, 2005

I've never seen a toilet anywhere with so many dials and instructions as in Japan. The whole thing is a bit intimidating.

This is an entrance to the Osaka subway.

On every street these vending machines exist that sell drinks.

And quite a variety of drinks they are.

This is a chain I've heard about and I've vowed to give them a try tomorrow.

With all of the compact and modern devices in this country, I was amazed to find this rather plump payphone.

Not quite sure what this was all about but I do know that octopus is a staple of Osaka and apparently they've somehow gotten pizza involved at this establishment.

This reminds me of New York, believe it or not.

As does this place which has a branch in Times Square as well as a bunch in California.

This was supposed to be easy - buying a ticket on the subway. I'm not sure if I'll ever be able to master this system but I intend to try.

It's great how certain essential machines have no English at all while everything else around them does. Regardless, I will master this too.

1 September, 2005

Day 47. No screaming this morning surprisingly. I even got myself up early before my cell phone alarm went off at 7:15 am. That's a feature I never used before and I was surprised when it finally did go off at how lame it was. All it did was beep once and vibrate. What the hell kind of alarm is that? Good thing I don't believe in them.

I had just enough time to make it down to the ferry restaurant where they were giving away free breakfast starting at 7:30. (Actually I've considered all of the food here to be free since I've been paying in Chinese currency which I'm told is worthless outside China.) Then it was up to the outside deck for the 8 am call in to "Off The Hook." Surprisingly, we didn't get cut off once on the satellite phone during the entire hour. Overall, the show seemed to go very smoothly from my perspective and considering all the challenges. Kudos to those back in New York, particularly Redhackt who's been doing a great job engineering all these weeks.

It's kind of surprising to realize how much time there still is to go. We docked in Osaka in the final minutes of the show (how's *that* for timing?) but I'll still be in Japan for next week's program and then the following two will both be coming from the Pacific Ocean. And then there's the whole United States to cross on Amtrak! This is one big planet.

So we all piled off the ferry shortly after 9 am. And again I somehow managed to get ahead of everyone by simply leaving when the guy announced something unintelligible to me but which seemed to keep all the others from trying to get off. Everyone else except other people who didn't understand what he was saying, I noticed. So either someone really knew what the announcement meant and we all rightfully followed that person or we committed some grievous offense and cut ahead of everybody on the boat. Whichever it was, it felt good to get off the damn thing at last. Although I already sort of miss the screaming kids. I have to say they were the cutest group of toddlers I think I've ever seen. And yes, throughout the entire 48 hour voyage, I didn't see a single one of them crying. So maybe it's worth costing the adults a little bit of sanity if it keeps the kids that happy.

Almost everyone coming in got at least one of their bags searched by the Japanese authorities. So at least I didn't feel out of place this time. They were also leading a yellow lab and a black lab around separately and they would both occasionally sniff people. What a profession. After going through customs, everyone just sort of stood around inside some sort of a terminal that didn't seem to be connected to anything else. Finally I noticed some people (mostly Westerners) were leaving so I followed them to what looked like a bus stop. Then they all moved away from there and started heading down the street. Well, I didn't know what the hell they were up to so I stayed behind looking perplexed. After a moment, this Japanese guy came up to me and explained that people were walking to the train station because the bus wouldn't be coming for a long time. OK, that made sense. So I joined the trek which lasted about 20 minutes. This guy was nice enough to even carry one of my bags for me. His name was "Massa" or something like that and he and his wife were just returning from a year's worth of traveling around the world. Wow. And here I am just starting to talk to these people as we're all preparing to go our separate ways. Nice job, Emmanuel. The whole ferry ride over and all you've done is try to block out toddlers and do work. Meanwhile you could have been sharing all kinds of stories and experiences. Well, I'm sorry. I'm never good at breaking the ice with strangers and I really did have a lot of work to do. It wasn't exactly the most relaxing of settings. But anyway, it was really cool to meet them as they returned to their home city. I also talked to a couple of Swedish guys who had also taken the Trans Siberian. I mentioned to one of them how they seemed to have no Swedish accent at all when they spoke English. Get this - since they get so much American TV, that's how their speech patterns develop. Other countries dub programs but Scandinavia is well know for subtitling so the opportunity exists to hear lots of words from a different language. Cool. Imagine if we did that back home. Something else which seemed pretty bizarre to me was the military situation in Sweden. As this guy explained it, you had a choice when you got out of high school. You could either join the military or not. And if you decided not to, you had a year or so off before you start university. So what happens is that many Swedes opt to travel like these two had. That's some penalty for not joining the military!

Well, at least I crammed a few good conversations into the walk and subway ride before we all split up. Maybe next time I'll be more social on the actual trip. I have to say that were it not for this interaction, I don't see how I ever would have figured out how to get out of that terminal and which stop to get off at to arrive at my hotel. They're not very big on explanations here.

So I got to the hotel and had to wait in the lobby for my room to be ready as it still wasn't even 11 in the morning yet. While there, I picked up a copy of the first English language newspaper I had seen in a while: The Japan Times. And that was when the full gravity of what happened in New Orleans hit me for the first time.

When I actually got into my room, I was thrilled to see that BBC World was available on the television (in fact it was the only English language station). I heard the grim assessment that thousands may have been killed. Thousands! One stroke of nature and the death toll is higher than 9/11? It didn't seem possible. That kind of thing only happens in third world countries, right? Well, actually I always knew that wasn't true. But we had been pretty damn lucky over the years. And now a lot was becoming painfully clear.

Like how ill-prepared the authorities were for this sort of a thing. Think about it. They *knew* it was coming. This wasn't an earthquake or a terrorist attack. Hell, I was in China and I knew people should be getting the hell out of there. So what possible excuse is there for this kind of a thing? Well there are always the idiots who insist on staying despite the forecast. But apart from that, the fact is that a lot of people had no means to actually leave. When people are told to evacuate, how exactly do they do this if they don't have a car? Or if they're already in a weakened state? And where are they expected to go? These are all issues that I think everyone assumed would be taken care of and the horrible reality is that they weren't. These people died because they weren't taken care of. And that's a real crime.

I saw reports of the barbaric way people were treated at the Superdome where many of them had been told to go. I saw them huddled in stadium seats for what, days? No air flow, no plumbing, no food? What the fuck kind of country have we turned into where we can't provide for our people in a situation like this? I would expect this kind of thing in a country with no infrastructure at all, a country where basic human needs are a luxury. Is this where the constant budget cutting has gotten us? We seem quite well equipped to pump endless amounts of money and staff into ridiculous military campaigns. But when people here need help, they literally get left behind. There's just no excuse. None of this had to happen.

After seeing and reading about this, what I'm doing really seems trivial and meaningless. I'll just finish today's entry by saying I explored Osaka a little bit this evening and will do much more tomorrow. I only hope I can sleep tonight with the images back home seared into my head.