Innocents Abroad

In a few short days, I will depart on a trip to Japan. It’s been a long time since I traveled overseas, but now one of my good friends is getting married in Tokyo, so this seems like a good enough excuse to travel.

Preparing for a trip is always troublesome. Some people like to travel light, I like to travel heavy, packing for every possible contingency. I always feel like I will forget something, and no doubt I will. There’s an old rule of thumb for travelers, “take half the clothes you’ll need, and twice as much money.” This works well in every place I’ve traveled except Japan. The premise is that you can always buy clothes in an emergency. But in Japan, it is impossible for me to buy clothing my size. Everything is too small. For example, every lodging in Japan provides a yukata (bathrobe) that is supposed to come down to your ankles, but they barely cover my knees. There’s an old Japanese idiom ashi ga deru (your feet stick out) that means something that’s more trouble than it’s worth. So a too-short yukata is an embarassment, everyone wags their finger at your feet sticking out. I went to some trouble to purchase an extra long yukata at a shop in San Francisco that carries sizes more suitable for tall Americans, but it is still at least 6 inches too short.

So due to my 6’2″ stature, I could never possibly buy clothes in Japan, I have to bring everything I might possibly want to wear under any circumstance. And it can be hard to predict those circumstances, since I have absolutely no plan whatsoever. The last time I was in Japan, my best item of clothing was a Versace T-shirt. I was surprised to discover that it was widely pirated in Japan, I saw quite a few people wearing shirts with the exact same design, except they all said “Vivace.” It was especially hilarious seeing the looks on the faces of people wearing the fake shirt when they saw my real one.

Shoes are especially troublesome, I usually carry a separate bag just for shoes, since they never fit in my suitcase. And my shoes are huge, size 13EEE. Fortunately, I can pack a lot of spare odds and ends in my shoe bag, since shoes are hollow.

And of course I have to bring my favorite gadgets. I’m going to bring my old beat up laptop, which is in absolutely terrible condition and locks up intermittently. I wouldn’t bring it at all, but I need somewhere to dump the pictures from my digital camera. I guess I’ll bring my CD player, I wish I had an iPod. There’s a lot of wasted time spent on the subways so some nice music is always vital.

But the most essential ingredient for travel is a good book to read. Last time I went to Japan, I brought “Roughing It” by Mark Twain. I decided that humor would be the best remedy for frustrating, tiresome travel delays, and this book was absolutely perfect. But the strangest thing happened as I read the book, each and every disaster that befell Twain in his travels seemed to happen to me in a similar way. I recall reading the part where Twain gets stuck for weeks in Nevada, just as I was stuck in the DFW airport for 3 days waiting for a standby seat.

This time I decided to pick up Twain’s “Innocents Abroad.” It’s one of his famous travelogues, I haven’t read it before so I have no idea what to expect. But surely this book will set the tone for my travels, just as the previous book did. I tend to get into a literary mode when I travel, I scribble in notebooks constantly, recording my impressions, and there’s no better inspiration than Twain’s travel episodes. And when traveling, you need to keep your sense of humor at the forefront, or you’ll go crazy.

I hope to be able to write a few blog entries during my trip, but it’s unlikely I’ll have adequate internet access. So if I don’t write anything in the next 2 weeks or so, I’ll surely be bursting with stories and photos when I get back.

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