Saturday, June 25, 2011

My father and the motorbike

Ever since my infancy, I knew one thing for sure. My father was not the type of person who would ride on a motorbike. He might drive a car (he actually did and still does), but he would never ride a motorbike.

So strong was my conviction, that I was quite shocked when my father started taking lessons. Soon he got a rather big motorbike. He would put me in the back seat, and ride in the countryside. Apparently, it was the thing to do for man. Maybe he was having a midlife crisis.

One day, I was walking with my friends towards the playground. In the distance, I noticed a policeman questioning a couple of people. My friends started to say "the police has captured someone! The police has captured someone!" I tried not to look in the direction, and suggested, very casually, that we take alternative routes.

Actually, it was none other than my father, with my grandfather. Apparently, the police was questioning them, for not wearing the helmet. Oh, God, that was embarrassing. My friends kept making fun of the unfortunate couple, while I prayed that my father would not look in my direction. Fortunately, none of my friends there recognized the face of my father.

When we were safely in the playground, I sighed a deep sigh of relief. I then apologized, in my heart, for ignoring a family member (actually, two family members) in a socially perilous situation. When I met my father that evening for dinner, I did not say anything about the incident. My father hushed about it too.

Soon after this day of embarrassment, my father had a minor accident on the motorbike and had his collarbone broken. He was hospitalized for one month. After he got out of the hospital, he got rid of the motorbike. I never saw a motorbike again in my house. The midlife crisis of my father was over.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Under the board, there is hell.

One of the things that really surprises and impresses me is the resilience of people who have been afflicted by the tsunami disaster. In particular, fishermen and their families seem to have a philosophical resignation for whatever the ocean inflicts upon them.

A few weeks ago, I was visiting one of the most severely damaged areas. I talked with a boy who escaped up the hill behind his house. From where he was, the ocean could not be seen. His grandfather happened to be standing at a place where the sea could be observed, and yelled out that the tsunami was coming. The boy and grandparents fled, grabbing weeds, treading on rocks and boughs, escaping for their life.

Fortunately, they could make a narrow escape. The water came to up the boy's foot, and the waist of grandpa, as then the tsunami began to recede. They stayed in the mountain overnight, shivering in the cold. The next morning, the rescue and relief came.

When I asked the boy if he wanted to live near the sea again, he said yes. Considering the flight that he had, and the complete destruction of his house, this answer seems surprising. But then the philosophy about the ocean is deeply different. His father is a fisherman. A fisherman's life is in and from the ocean. A fishermen faces the forces of mother nature. That's is the name of the profession. Nature is usually benevolent, but can become quite savage from time to time.

Among the Japanese fisherman, there is a saying "under the board, there is hell". Below the safety of the board of the ship, the vast ocean is lurking, which can become brutal at any moment, and when that happens, there is no resisting the unleashed energy. Humans are at the mercy of the forces of nature, ever since the beginning of time, now, and in the future forever.

Under the board, there is hell. This philosophy of fisherman is probably true for all of us, even in the bright lights of civilization. We sometimes forget that.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

We just sat on the river bank, and watched the water flow.

Youth is about wondering, not knowing why or how, and making many mistakes.

As I look back, my college days were full of wonders and mistakes. And the figure of a fat man was always with me.

His name is Ken Shiotani. He is a fat philosopher at large, meaning he has no job. His wife supports him. It is amazing to think that he worked for Japanese government once. That's where he met his wife. Now he has achieved a status of the "Totoro" character in Hayao Miyazaki's film. Nobody knows why he is here, but he is here anyway. And he is incredibly clever. He is too clever to make a living in this vulgar world.

I met Ken Shiotani as I entered college, and have been with him ever since. Once, we were lying on the bank of the Sumida River, with a can of beer each in our hands. We were making confessions about girls, as well as discussing difficult questions in Physics and Mathematics.

It was dusk, and many lovers were strolling the river bank in couples. They saw us, two blokes, drinking beer, speaking nonsense. They took the natural reaction of avoiding us, not coming to within a 10 meter radius of where we were lying. Maybe they thought that we were homeless people. We were dressed quite shabbily. Once I was refused by a restaurant owner when I tried to enter with Ken Shiotani. For some strange reasons, Ken Shiotani is always wearing a pair of sandals. Even in the middle of winter. Maybe that's why he looks like a retired sumo wrestler.

In any case, that evening, when Ken Shiotani and I lay on the bank of the Sumida River, drinking beer, talking about girls, physics, and mathematics, abhorred like pests by the well-meaning couples, stands as an epitome of my bohemian days. We were ignorant, full of hope, and did not know where we were going. We just sat on the river bank, and watched the water flow.