It rolled in yesterday like a spectre from another world. The yellow cloud. We ran for our lives seeking shelter anywhere, in buildings, under bridges, in our tiny cars or underground shopping arcades. The yellow cloud settled over our lands blocking the sun and filling our hearts with darkness and our lungs with pieces of plastic Walmart packaging.
This is the famous yellow dust I've heard about leaving Chinese factory smokestacks daily and filling the air over Chinese cities with a yellow-green haze. Except now the winds have changed and blown a little puff of that toxic smoke our way--settling on the Pacific coast of Japan and Korea. I'm from Los Angeles, so it really just feels like lung practice to me, but for the locals, it's a real shock. Authorities and doctors are insisting that people stay inside until this thing passes over, probably Monday or Tuesday. People are walking around with masks. It's like chemical warfare. And, unfortunately, this is the weekend of the Nagoya Marathon.
I think the most amazing thing about this pollution is how real - how palpable - it really is. If this is what it's like to live in Beijing everyday there is a real and substantial health problem for those people. There is not a cloud in the sky, yet the typical blue skies of Nagoya are completely replaced with a gradient that begins with white overhead and ends near the horizon in a dirty yellow grey. Maybe I'll think seriously about this cloud next time I go to buy something from the Gap or Uniqlo...
My cell phone is called a garakei. Not by the provider, that wouldn't be a selling point. It's called garakei by the cool kids. The fact that I have a garakei is probably what makes me not cool. At least that's my story. So what is a garakei? The word is derived from two words: The first part, "Gara" comes from"Garapagosu Shotou" the Japanese rendition of Galapagos Islands. "Kei," the second part comes from "keitai," Japanese for "cell phone."So "gara-kei" - Galapagos cell phone. Still with me? If so, you might be asking what do the Galapagos Islands have to do with cell phones? Well, I thought you'd never ask. The answer is, of course. nothing. It's all about Darwinism. You see, in Japan, for decades, the cell phone was developing in its own direction. Remember when people were saying "Have you seen those cool phone they have in Japan?" Well, they were cool in those days. In fact the Japanese could do anything with a cell phone. But then the smart phone came along. You can do anything on a smart phone too, and sleek, large screen smartphones are way different from the weird mutant phone that developed only of the islands of Japan. Japanese phones are thick, like lego bricks. They are rectangular, plastic, and they fold like old Motorolas. When they ring, they light up like Christmas trees. Once the pinnacle of cool, these Japanese cell phones were suddenly old news. The first nail was the iphone. Steve Jobs changed cool. Then Samsung made it affordable. Garakeis gradually became loser phones. Now I'm not sure if I'm a loser because I have a garakei or if I have a garakei because I am a loser. Either way, my phone lets everyone know who I am. But there is hope for me. In fashion what goes around comes around. And the garakei is making it's way back to the college campuses of Japan. Pretty soon I'll be cool again... as long as I can hold onto this phone. And I have enough duct tape to make sure this one will be around for a long time!
On the Shinkansen (bullet train) I read these instructions on the back of the tray table: "For your safety don't rush for your train." Reasonable advice. Except that I'm already sitting on the train. Now, unless I'm actually moving backwards through life like Benjamin Buttons (which would explain some of my less flattering baby pictures), in order to be sitting in front of this tray table, I would have already rushed for my train. Yes? So why the delayed advice? Maybe it's just an English problem. Maybe it's meant to say. "Did you rush for your train? Well you shouldn't have. Every Japanese third grader knows that. And now you're sweating all over the plush Shinkansen seat. Why don't you take a few minutes and think about what you've done, Speedy. Then again, there's really not enough space on the back of a tray table for all that. So it'll probably require bigger tray tables and likely a whole new design concept. The phallic thing is only going to appeal to a certain segment of riders. Oh and we'll need a translator to get all that translated into Japanese. Hmm, difficult. Let's just leave it as it is.