Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Easy Link

Here's a link to the Aspie Traveler series from Japan http://lifeontheothersideofthewall.blogspot.com/p/the-aspie-traveler-tokyo.html

Friday, June 26, 2015

Aspie Traveler Japan: 3 Weeks Later

It's been three weeks since I returned from Japan and it's a bit surreal to think that I did it, I actually did it. People have called me courageous for taking on such a wild endeavor but in all truthfulness it was easy once I realized that nothing was expected of me. Also, not being able to understand the language made things easier because I couldn't panic. Speaking of panic there was a scare on the plane shortly after I wrote my day 9 post.

About a half hour after I finished writing the end chapter of the away series a call came on the plane's intercom for a doctor to head to the back of the plane. I've heard this before and thought nothing of it. Then, an hour later, a call for more doctors and even a nurse came over the PA and as I looked towards the back of the 747 a flight attendant was running towards the front of the plane knocking anyone over who got in the way. This now wasn't your run of mill doctor call.

My mind instantly went to worst case scenario as to what was going on. Were these people attacked? Was a chemical released? Was it some extremely fast attacking pathogen that was going to put all of us at risk?

The flight attendant then ran back towards the back carrying at least a dozen sheets and it was now clear something bad was going on. Another flight attendant walked passed and she and the guy sitting next to me had chatted quite a bit on takeoff and he asked, "what's going on?" to which she replaced that she didn't know and then he asked, "are we stopping short of Detroit?" to which she once again stated she didn't know. Then, about 30 minutes later, she walked passed and said, "yeah, looks like we are stopping.

Stopping? Stopping where? About the time she said we were stopping the plane banked to the right and our flight pay shifted to the south. We were now going to fly over Anchorage, Alaska and all the evidence pointed to us stopping. But what did this all mean? If we stopped would we take off right away or would we have to wait until tomorrow? Would we have to deplane, or would this be one of those horror stories of being stuck on the runway for hours on end? I was longing for the days that had gone by when I couldn't understand what was going on. How could I panic if I didn't even know there was a brewing crisis?

The miles went by at 540mph but in my brain the flight was longer than anything I had ever experienced. My vigilance was as high as possible and I kept watching the flight tracker as we approached Anchorage and I was waiting for the message from the captain explaining that we would be landing. I was concerned on two fronts; the first, obviously, was the health for all on board (including myself) and secondly was that I was scheduled to ride with USAC to a race a mere 12 hours after landing in Indy so I didn't have much wiggle room.

Anchorage came, and then went. There was no announcement, no deceleration, and no descent. We kept flying along as if nothing was happening despite the constant shuffling of flight attendants to the back of the plane. All I had was time and my imagination. Why didn't we stop? Had they died, or was Anchorage not prepared for whatever was on board? Now do notice that my thoughts didn't go to the fact that, perhaps, all was fine and no further medical attention was needed.

Six hours later we landed in Detroit and I think most people had forgotten the drama that had occurred earlier and when the pilot turned off the seat belt sign and the typical mad dash to get up happened and the flight attendant in front of me looked at the other seated across the middle row with a look of panic and one she got on the PA and requested all passengers remain seated because medical personnel were boarding the plane. Right after the pilot told everyone that seat belt sign was off. There was confusion and few listened to the words to sit down.

The flight crew did their best to keep people seated but it was futile and the flight attendant who said that we might have been stopping in Anchorage told the guy beside me, "the CDC is coming on board, we may be getting quarantined." Quarantined?! There'd only be one disease that I could come up with that would require a quarantine and that would be a two week quarantine so I was now in full on panic mode. This was not good and then more fuel got added to the raging panic.

About a minute later another flight attendant said on the PA, "Could all passengers please get to their seats. We have not been medically cleared to deplane." That was it, wasn't it? It was a guarantee that I was going to survive Japan but not the flight home.

It was odd to witness as no one else was panicking, or at least they didn't show it. Were they simply unaware? I loathed my hyper-vigilance and the change in my attitude was great. I mean, I went from conquering my fears and feeling more comfortable about myself than I had in a long time to being crippled in fear. Oh, to be back in Tokyo!

Ten minutes passed and then the all clear was given and just like that whatever crisis was there was not. Once again I was amazed at how out of touch the other passengers were. There was a bunch of grumbles about the delay and the potential of missing a tight connecting flight without any seemingly hint of regard to the potential severity of the situation.

I made my next flight and worked the race a couple days later but ever since landing I've been amazed at the contrast in culture and my ability in things. Going back to people that have talked about my courage I have to admit that my Tokyo trip was easier than it is to simply go into a shop here in America. Case in point; a week after getting back I had to have new brakes put on my car and when I went in the price wasn't what was quoted and I simply paid and left. The ability to state my case and advocate the price discrepancy wasn't there. That's only one example, but I'm much more aware of minor things that I have trouble with that I had simply grown accustomed to.

So my second series is now fully complete. I never could have imagined the growth I experienced nor the awesome words that were written from this experience. Many people have asked me if this is going to turn into a book and it very well might which if it does it'll be a strange coincidence on the timing of it all. I wrote Finding Kansas in 2005 by accident that was inspired by a breakup and my original Traveler series to Amsterdam was inspired by a breakup. This series as well was started by accident should it turn to a book, but if it does I'm excited at the prospect that the world is open! Where would I go next? I chose Tokyo as my second location because of the high perceived degree of difficulty. I originally thought Tokyo would be the final destination in a long series as I thought I would have to build up my skills to make it in the world's largest city, but it proved to be easy. Maybe it's largeness allowed me to simply be there without expectations and be a chameleon of sorts. That being so where would I go that would prove to be a challenge? A small mountain village in Switzerland? A small island south of the equator in the Pacific? A cold city in the winter in Norway? The world truly is open and I know I want to to challenge myself, to push myself to the limits, and to write about every second of the adventure of seeing new places, meeting people I'll never see again, and learning more about myself and Aspergers.

There was a moment when writing Finding Kansas, it was when I was in Kisumu, Kenya in 2005 while writing my "Work" and "School" chapters that I thought to myself, albeit briefly, that what I was doing my actually be something of value and when I boarded the plane in Detroit that would take me back to Indy I had that same thought that this is something that could be exciting and new. I have no idea what is next, but the world is wide open and whether or not if this becomes a book, or if I simply have a neat blog series out of it, I look forward to wherever I head to next.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

The Aspie Traveler: Journey to the Land of the Rising Sun Day Nine: A Trip's End

My alarm sounded and I wanted to hear anything, ANYTHING, but my alarm. It was time to get up and was my final time getting out of my bed at the Sotetsu Fresa. I did have time to go to 7-11 one last time and sadly the 60 year old woman wasn't there and Daydream Believer wasn't playing for once but I got the same two donuts and same energy drink I had every morning prior.

I had packed the previous night and when check out time came I walked towards another hotel where the bus would take me to the airport. Fittingly enough it was raining which was a great representation of the inner sadness I was feeling. Also, the weather had been great every other day so it was at least polite for the weather to not rain until I was leaving.

Waiting for the shuttle I kept having to get up and do a little victory fist pump or the like. As sad as I was I was also elated because this had been a booming success and I knew this wouldn't be the final time I'd be doing one of these. I began thinking of where I could go next, how could I make it more difficult, but then I started to have to think on what this post would look like and I came back down to earth, or at least my seat, and I became lost in deep, deep thought.

That was then. I write this now somewhere over the Pacific between Russia and Alaska. I've had many hours to reflect on what has happened these past 168 hours. Just a week ago I wanted to cancel, quit, because I knew this would be too difficult and when I landed and saw the sheer gigantic nature of Tokyo I wanted to go home, but that wasn't an option as transferring international plane tickets is out of my price range, but slowly things became easier and I learned to cope.

As covered in day eight I learned to go to a place before I actually needed to go. This did two things; it allowed me to see the lay of the land and it also minimized my need to interact with people. I do this at home too because I try to reduce the chance of needing to talk to a person. In Tokyo in made sense because I couldn't talk to them, well I could but I probably wouldn't be understood. Which that brings me to another point.

By day seven this trip had shifted from a great challenge to a glorious experience. What happened? Over the social encounters I had I learned that NOTHING was expected of me. Being American, and blond, I sort of stuck out and the locals knew I wasn't from there and they assumed, rightly of course, that I don't speak a lick of Japanese. Because of this nothing was ever expected. In Amsterdam, because I look the part, and most people speak English interactions and responses were expected, but up until the Australian on the street corner and the American at the game I had not really spoken at all and there was a great sense of security in this. I mean, when I walked into a cafe or restaurant the worker would switch a menu to either one in English or the primary one would be a picture menu and all I had to do was point and that was that. This made the experience, once I got past the culture shock, an easy one. 

Another thing I learned is that routines set in quickly. I was amazed at how fast routines set in. I know I say in presentations, "whatever happens first always has to happen" but living in the same city for 20+ years it's hard to have a new experience and to experience it anew, and to feel the anxiety on worrying that I wouldn't be doing the same thing again and again, was great.

So now I'm eight hours from landing in Detroit. The trip isn't over, exactly, yet, but the darkness I see out the window into the dimly lit skies over the Pacific is a good interpretation of the life this trip has left. And what a trip it has been. It's rare for me to use the words, "life changing" but this trip was. The words and thoughts I had in room 1311 (seriously, I never got over being on the 13th floor) were some of my deepest yet and I liken this experience to that I had when I was writing, and then a year later finished, Finding Kansas in Kisumu, Kenya. Traveling does something to me. I always knew, somehow, that if one truly wants to know who they are they just experience other cultures. Maybe this is true, maybe it isn't, but I don't think anyone can deny that the depth of knowledge I learned about myself, and in turn related that towards the Asperger's, was by pure chance.

So what's next? I don't know. After two of these Aspie Traveler things done I wonder if this is book material. It's fresh, it's unique, and if it is then that means I get to do this all over again somewhere else and that brings a smile to my face. No seriously, it does and the person to my left just looked at me oddly as to why I suddenly burst out with an almost audible smile. But where would I go? How can this be refined to be better? In reality was Tokyo difficult being a major tourist destination? Would a small town in Norway prove difficult? Or what about a smaller island in the middle of nowhere Pacific?

To close I'm elated about the way this turned out. Tokyo was an awesome place that I never once felt scared once (except the whole earthquake thing) and I don't know if I've been in a more friendly place. They say some things can be lost in translation but since I don't speak Japanese I could only take things at the physical social level, which I've struggled with my entire life, but I got a good read on it and it encounters I smiled, I gave a slight bow, and nothing can be lost in translation with the greater confidence and understanding I have of myself.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

The Aspie Traveler: Japan Day Eight: Aaron's Odyssey

This was now it; my final full day. I slept well, as I had with every night prior. I don't know if it was the coziness of the room, the odd silence of a city of 13,000,000 (you'd be amazed at how quiet Tokyo is) or the firmness of the pillows; whatever it was I woke up refreshed each night. Anyway, the daily routine began again and I walked to 7-11 to get my energy drink and donuts.

Walking down the street I once again marveled at the sameness I'd seen each day. It was beautiful. When I walked into 7-11 I heard the same song which it finally hit me what it was; it was actually an instrumental piece of The Monkees' Daydream Believer. With my associative memory system this song will forever be tied to Tokyo and this 7-11.

As I checked out the woman behind the counter, whom had helped me each day, continued with her usual constant chatter towards me. She was in her 60's and just like every worker in Tokyo she gave a 110% and I have no idea what she was telling me but it was just incredible to get such service and to see such dedication to a job. I do have a serious regret I couldn't say something in return and that she'll never know just how awesome I think she was.

After donuts I had a hard time figuring out what to do. I had tickets to the ball game that night and gates opened at four but it was just nine. That was a lot of time to just sit at the hotel so I decided to go out and see what I could see. I'd weave my way around towards Tokyo Dome and I began by walking towards Tokyo Tower.

On my way there I walked passed a vending machine and I bought a bottle of water. Okay, that may seem like the most irrelevant statement I could ever put into writing, however if you go to Tokyo beware the vending machines! They're everywhere! No, seriously, if they became sentient they could easily amass an army and take over the city in a matter of hours because you can't turn a corner and not see at least one, sometimes two, and if you're lucky you may get four at once. So what does this mean? These machines will nicole and dime you, ahem, I mean Yen and... Yen you. You won't realize just how many drinks you've bought that you wouldn't normally would.
I got some awesome shots of Tokyo Tower but the sun was beating down brightly and I had six more hours so I ventured to a store to see if they had spray on sunscreen. After some careful looking I found some, along with a multitude of candy (I swear candy from other countries always tastes better!) but I didn't want to carry it the rest of the day so I went back to the hotel.

As I got to my hotel and the sliding doors opened out came the Australian I had spoken with on the street corner back on day five. He remembered me perfectly, greeted me by my name, asked a few more questions about Asperger's, and even introduced me to his friend. The thing was, though, that I didn't remember his name. I thought rather low of myself here because here's a person that remembered so much about me and I... I only knew of him. Asperger's in this way can make me feel so lonely because even though I have an interaction with a person it's so hard to simply remember them. It isn't that I don't care it's just that personal information like that isn't automatically stored because I'm so busy thinking about what's coming up next and hearing every thing else going on in my environment. I was sad about this until I got to my room but today was not a day to be sad because today was my last day and I'd done enough introspective looking and it was time to experience Tokyo.

It was now 11 and that meant one thing; the other place that was part of my daily routine was now open so I started walking that way from the hotel. When I got a block away there was what I took to be a business meeting concluding and then what I can only describe as a bow fest; and I mean no disrespect or humor in those words. It truly was a bow followed by a bow followed by another. I learned that the more bows and the longer bows shows more and more respect and from witnessing it like this the authenticity was clear. I was a bit envious, actually, at the ease and grace this ritual was because, viewing from afar, it made sense! A social thing actually made sense!

At 11:15 I arrived at Due Italian and even before I had inserted my money into the vending machine (remember; at some places you order by putting money into a vending machine and hitting the button which spits out a ticket... This just increases the army of vending machine Tokyo has) the workers had started my order and handed me a glass of ginger ale. One thing I realized here was that "Film Theory" which is a concept from my book Finding Kansas can set so fast. As soon as I found a place and food I liked it was hard to draw myself away from it because, well, why would I? Why would I go to place B when I know I like place A?

When I finished my meal I once again brought my plates to the workers which they always smiled and shook their heads no which I the implied that I was going their jobs, but they were always so friendly and such hard working that I admired there place and attitude, and I truly felt like a guest so it was nothing. They took the sets from me and I had to fight back tears because this was another sign the end was near so before I walked out the door I turned to them, smiled, and gave them a bow and their faces just beamed with smiles and out the door I went.

My intentions had been to walk all the way to the dome via Akihabara but I realized I shouldn't waste an hour of walking when I could take the train and save time because at this point in time each minute was one minute closer to the end. 

purchased my ticket and this time I knew what I was doing and I hopped on and then hopped off at Akihabara and headed north. The first thing I came across was a pachinko parlor so I went in to see what it was. Now here's the thing; if you think it's gambling you're wrong because gambling is illegal in Japan unless you're wagering on horse or motorcycle racing. What you can win are medals that can be traded in for goods much like tickets are at a US arcade. Anyway, my first impression was sensory overload. The sheer volume of the noise would shake you all the way to your kidneys. Honestly, I couldn't believe how loud it was and the random bursts of music or other noises from machines were something else. And the machines themselves? Oh my! It was a spectacle and barrage of every color imaginable. This area was too much but I wanted to play to say that I did play so I found a quiet floor and started playing. Watching the balls go down the, um, pegs was fun then one of the balls went into one slot and another section opened up then the machine started yelling at me and I was winning, I think, I don't really know but I kept playing and eventually all the balls were gone and that was that. The house always wins, right? Even when it isn't gambling.

I left the parlor and across the street was a red building with Sega written in it. It was an arcade but not just an arcade; it was 7 floors of an arcade. Arcades are essentially dead in America but here in Tokyo this place was a bustling place of, well, the arcade games there were just as vibrant and loud as those in the pachinko parlor. I actually didn't recognize any of the games on any of the floors so I left and half a block away was a building that was identical looking so I went in and this one was a bit different and had things I was more accustomed to seeing including Ferrari F355 Challenge which was the most realistic arcade racer made up to its point. Actually, I'd call it a simulation and for being made in 1999 it still was fantastic. Beside it was Sega Rally Championship 2 which I enjoyed greatly back in the day, but time just hasn't been kind to that game and it just isn't the same with the games one can play at home today.

Once the arcade fun was over I thought it best to head to the dome. It was now 2, gates opened at four, but I had to plan the way I was going to get back to my hotel. Here's the thing and it's a big thing and this is a major thing for myself having Asperger's that I really haven't covered. I got to the dorm but I then went across the street to Suidōbshi station to find what the route I needed and how much it would be. Thankfully, there was a "route finder" computer that could be made into English and I punched it all in and it printed out all the info I needed. Now you see, I was about 90 minutes early to prepare this. With each event I did, as with the Mt. Fuji trip earlier in the week, I staked out where I was going beforehand. I never allowed myself to be confused as to where I needed to go so I was always early, or I went the day before, to alleviate any anxiety that could happen. I didn't consciously know I did that until I left the station and then I realized this is why I'm always early. Having to thrash trying to find something when time is short is something can easily be prevented and there's no reason to put one's self in that situation so this preplanning on my part is a vital thing I do.

Once the return trip was planned I wandered towards Tokyo Dome City which is an amusement park that has everything from a Ferris wheel to a roller coaster to even a skating rink and indoor simulated golf! There was also a bowling alley which I was going to do but I don't know my shoe size in whatever system they use so I didn't do that.

It was nearing time for the gates to open so I walked to my gate and when the gate opened I walked to my seat, which was third row by the foul pole in foul territory, and batting practice was going on. This was identical to what you'd see at a major league game in the states, that is until a ball headed towards the stands.

I was in the midst of taking a panorama when I heard the crack of a bat and then a whole bunch if whistles to my right and then the clang of the ball hitting the bleachers. I looked over that way and none of the spectators rushed towards the ball. I too found this curious because batting practice, for me, is the best part of a baseball game because the odds are good that a ball may be able to be caught or picked up and I think it's every baseball fan's dream to get a ball at a game, batting practice or game. However here batting practice was more of a drama as whistle after whistle event came and not only did the dozens of security guards blow the whistle then then pointed to the sky where it was. When a different batter would start hitting they'd speak on megaphones and I'm assuming they were stating the odds of a ball headed that direction based on the hitter's tendencies.

As this progressed I wanted to get video of one of these incidents because I have to admit I found it a bit absurd because there's nothing like this at the games I go to. If you attend batting practice and are in the outfield you best be paying attention! I got my video and as I was watching it to make sure it was good I heard whistles, but this time they were much closer so I looked up an INCOMING! I ducked and the ball hit the seat behind me and careened back onto the field. Remember that whole, "thinking it's absurd" part? Yeah, I now that, "that's a really useful safety feature."

Right before the game began an American of all people sat down beside me and he was talkative because I was the first American he had seen. The downside to this was that he was rather, well, vulgar. When the Japanese national anthem was laced he critiqued it's awfulness and the rest of the game it was criticism after critique after vulgar out down of the culture. I, for one, feel that when I'm in a foreign land I'm a guest there and if anything I'm a miniature ambassador of the country I'm from. I want the people to know that we're nice, gentle, generous and here beside me is a loud and grouchy person. Thankfully I don't think anyone understood him but me, but that was one person too many.

The game began with the same thing you'd see at a MLB game, a ceremonial first pitch, the handing of the starting line ups by the managers, and beer vendors and soda vendors in the stands. Now these just weren't normal vendors. They were all women but here's the thing; they'd run like a cheetah down the stairs to the bottom then turn around, bow, and proceed upward. I thought that was neat at first, but they did this the entire game! The physical shape this would take, well, I think they worked harder than any of the players by far.

Speaking of working harder. American sport fans I once again have to call you out. I did so when I went to the soccer game in Amsterdam because the audience cheered and chanted the entire game but at this game the fans did this as well... At a baseball game! When the visiting team was up the visiting team's section jumped, hollered, and there was even what sounded like a mariachi band! Then, just to my right, when the Giants came up to bat, the whole section erupted in a unanimous chorus. I had been to a Cardinals game just a month prior and it was like a boring business meeting compared to the electricity the fans produced. There was no stadium organ and the audience needed no prompting. For Americans to cheer there almost needs to be some musical prompt such as "da da da da da Da... Charge!" but in Tokyo they fans produce the stadium music.

I left in the bottom of the seventh because I didn't want to fight excessive train foot traffic (I learned my lesson in Amsterdam) and I wanted a good night's rest. I purchased my ticket and got on and at Akihabara station I made a transfer and it was here on the final leg of my final train ride I erupted into a gigantic smile. I came all this way and now I was navigating the system like I knew what I was doing. Maybe this would be easy for some , maybe not for others, but I had managed to find my way back to my home station.

Leaving the station I needed to find food (a hot dog at the stadium just wasn't the type of hot dog I'm accustomed to) so I thought of the steak place, or maybe McDonald's. Nah, there was only one place to go and that was where I had my first meal.

Just six nights prior I walked into Favorite Time Coffee timid, afraid, and lost, but in just those six days I came in with a smile, I gave a courteous bow when I was given my change, and I say where I had sat when my trip had began and  instead of watching Tokyo walk by with trepidation I watched in earnest with a smile because I had done it; I had made it the week without and disaster, any social snafu, or getting lost.

The walk back to the hotel was the grandest of bittersweet walks. On one hand this was my final nightly walk, but it was also a walk a champion of a sports league would make. That's what this was for me. The few days prior to this event I convinced myself that I would be unable to do this but I didn't just do it, I had an amazing time of reflection, saw some amazing things, and wrote my best works I've done in a long time. That being said how could I walk back into my hotel without anything other than a smile. I took a picture just as I was about to get into the hotel and I often let words do the talking being a writer and all, but this photo says it all. Oh, and I was listening to Daydream Believer as it seemed a fitting way to end.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

The Aspie Traveler: Japan Day Seven: Reflections on the 40th Floor

There I was, seated 40 floors above Tokyo with a cup of hot chocolate in my hand overlooking the city I've been in for six days now and I was deep in thought.

Earlier today I ventured by train to Akihabara, or what is more commonly referred to as "electric town" due to, I'm guessing, all the lights. Anyway, I went by train, which was a big step for me because after my taking the wrong train in Amsterdam the last thing I wanted to do was to go far away from where I wanted to go.

Entering the station I found the ticket counter and... Now what? Looming over my head was the immense map of the train and subway system. I changed the ticket ordering screen into English and instead of giving station names it just gave prices. This did me no good so I had to look up and decipher the maze. Finally, I realized I was riding the Yamanote Line which comprises a loop around Tokyo so even if I got off at the wrong station all would not be lost. Now I just had to find the station I wanted–check, and get the price– check, insert the money and press the button and just like that I was like a citizen of Tokyo navigating the railway system. Well, not so fast.

From the night before I knew how to put the ticket into the turnstile device and you walk out the other side and take the ticket with you. Easy, right? I did so and red lights came on. Two swinging doors blocked the exit. I tried again and got the same result. The look of people I was holding up was priceless. I took a few steps back and retreated. I thought about walking the distance because I had only spent about $1.50 on the ride, but I wasn't going to be deterred again by a train fiasco. I looked at the ticket and thought that maybe I had it backwards; maybe the small slip was the big ticket and the big thing, which I thought was the ticket, was the receipt. I tried again, fearing the nasty red lights, the slamming of the doors, and the look of shame from people who probably were saying "amateur" in Japanese but instead, green lights flashed and I was off one train ride.

That had been just a couple hours prior as I continued looking out on the vast skyline of Tokyo from the 40th floor of Tokyo's World Trade Center. Traditional Japanese music was playing in the background and while I had made a couple laps of the observation deck, I was now seated staring at my hotel. In the grand scheme of Tokyo my hotel was minuscule and I myself am barely a speck of dust in this megalopolis. I started this series by asking, "What am I doing"? And eventually I asked, "What did I get myself into?" When I asked that I thought this was going to be a disaster. I thought that there was no way I'd be able to navigate without a net, I mean GPS; I thought there'd be no way that I, of all people, could navigate the social side of this bustling place.
Time marched on but I remained still and my emotions raced. It was only three months, but I do not remember this many emotions during my Amsterdam series. Again, I was moved to tears as I kept looking at the neighborhood I have called home. I could see the 7-11 where I got breakfast every morning. I've actually been very methodical at leaving the hotel right at 7:00AM, and each day the shops opening up are the same. If I had videotaped my walks I'd be unable to ascertain which day was which and that to me is magical.

As I sat there I thought about the previous. I thought about the American woman who was seated behind me on the tour and what her story was. I thought of the Singapore family beside me and wondered what line of work the father was in since he knew the chassis “CRG” and “Birel” when we passed a karting facility. My mind raced ahead to my impending departure in two days from now when I will depart this massive and majestically place and the fact that when I leave all will remain here the same way, unchanged.

As I began to mourn a loss that had yet to occur, I got up and did another lap of the observation deck and with buildings and hotels everywhere I thought that if I did this experience here 100 times I would have 100 different experiences. This place is so big that there'd be no way to get the full experience in one go. When I thought of this, I got a little excited as I thought of where I should go for my next series. I wondered if maybe I need to go to a smaller place, but then the reality that the end was marching nearer and nearer and with each street I walk down it might be the last time I walk down it.

One thing about doing this series is that I throw myself into a foreign land with minimal preparation knowing full well that I'm going to be alone. That's been the theme of this series, which on one hand may be a bit depressing but on the other is somewhat neat, I think, because I've described things I've felt for years but didn't have the words to describe them. This, though, is going to make getting reacquainted with home harder.

Emotions once again were getting the better of me as I realized that I don't want to be alone, but at the same time, as yesterday as an example, there's such a great wall preventing me from opening up. I think somewhere in Day One I said I wanted to point out the duality of Aspergers and this is it; I love being alone and on my own and yet I loathe the isolation. I've gone back and forth my entire life on this and my walls are so high. Walls? Yes, and these are two way; not only do I not allow people in I also can't simply open the door and allow myself to venture out. Speaking with my dad last night he asked if anyone on the tour yesterday spoke English and I said yes. He then asked if I spoke to any of them and I said, "Why would I do something like that?" It wasn't until I looked off towards the direction of Mt. Fuji that I thought of the people on the tour again and I smiled, in pain, at realizing the struggle it truly is battle this duality.

At this moment I realized I was falling into the trap of chasing Casper, and I thought back to my second day on the ground and the shirt "Life Is What You Make It." I have traveled further from home by myself than I ever have, gone to a place where English is uncommon, and I've had an amazing time and have written some of my deepest material ever. I had no idea what I wanted to achieve on this trip but I couldn't have imagined it going like this. While I've written a lot about my emotions and being brought to tears, what also has happened is being met by the hospitality of this great place; finding and trying new foods; conquering the fear of a new place and actually having a great time doing it.

When I took the elevator down I was ready to face the rest of my day. I couldn't mourn leaving yet because I still have a major event to attend tomorrow and a day to live to its fullest today. Sure, I'll wonder about the people whose lives I was just an extra in yesterday, but today, tomorrow, and every day are a learning experience. I can't allow myself to have a "past, present, and oblivion" view of time (that's a concept from my yet to be published second book) and I HAVE to realize that each day. If I dwell on those people, then I'll miss the people that cross my path today. It's hard; in fact I am willing to bet that the majority of you can't fully understand how hard it is to shake off the feeling of failing, or wondering, because that's what my brain does do, but I must fight it and make the most of every moment because life is an adventure and I want to make the most out of it. That being said maybe I should try karaoke tonight... On second thought...

Monday, June 22, 2015

The Aspie Traveler: Japan Day Six: On Tour

After a tense night and a night that I believe I developed Seismophobia, or the fear of earthquakes, I got up early to catch a bus because I was going on a guided tour. This would be my first ever one of these and I've never liked the idea because I like control and when one is with a group that ability to have control goes away.

The trip would commence under Tokyo's World Trade Center building in the Hamamatsucho bus terminal. I arrived early because I didn't know where I was exactly going but there were many signs and people pointing me in the right direction, which was a good thing because I doubt I could've asked for directions.

The bus was boarded and we were off and as the miles slowly ticked off I quickly learned just how big Tokyo is. I've been confined to my little area that I'm staying in, an office park type area, but the thing is tall buildings are everywhere here. In Saint Louis there are two areas you'll find tall buildings; downtown and Clayton but here tall buildings aren't confined to one area. If you haven't seen it words will do no justice to the scale of this city.

We slowly left the metro area and our tour guide, who spoke great English, mentioned that only .05% of the land of Japan is used for industry and most of the country is mountains and our first destination on this tour would be the visitor's center at the base of Mt. Fuji with the second destination being the 5th station up the mountain.

There were forty of us on this bus and the mood was festive. I remained silent as the song of the mountain was sung, and after our first stop we headed up the steep and curvy roads towards station number five.

At the station we got out, and looking up towards the summit a dense layer of fog covered it making a photo op difficult. It was about a two minute walk to the tourist area and when I got there another dense layer of fog descended on the area. I just spread my arms out and inhaled the cool mist and closed my eyes. There were songs being played in the back ground I'll never hear again and I was savoring this moment because it was a moment in time that can never be duplicated. 

My emotions got the best of me and I cried. There was something about this place, the people, the mood, and the fog that made it too much for me. Maybe it was the fact that I had made it and that I was there. Maybe the emotions of writing so much caught up with me. To be honest I'm not sure what it was but I didn't stop it because how often can a person express such raw emotions at the base of Mt. Fuji. Thankfully the tears were gone by the time I took an awesome selfie in front of the calendar on the side of a building.

The time at the 5th station went by too fast. Yes, it is primarily a tourist trap but lingering in my mind is the prospect of someday coming back between July and September and taking a crack at the 8 hour hike that takes a person to the summit... Someday, right?

From the fifth station we proceeded to lake Kawaguchi where we would be having lunch. When I booked online I signed up for the traditional Japanese lunch because, well, why not? This was about trying to new things and an hour down the road we got there and got to the dinner table I was, um, well I was, ahem, speechless. It isn't so much wondering if I was going to like what was on the plate but it was more of a question of what was on my plate.

There was this burning blue thing heating a soup that had noodles; yes I knew there were noodles but then there were other things. There was some potential pumpkin like substances in it, and things which looked like mushrooms but had long, long stems. Also there was a shrimp but it didn't taste like one. There were purple things which may or may not have been lotus root. There was seaweed covered in soy sauce and sugar, and four other foods that I couldn't identify. If you've read my stuff for a while you know that I'm a picky eater and I did try the foods, okay I sniffed them and I had my fill of noodles and rice, but this was a gigantic shock as near the hotel I can find foods that I can agree with but here there was no other options, so I ate what I could. It was difficult, though, because the textures and tastes were all something that I've never even come close to experiencing. I may be on a old trip but this plate of food conquered me.

After dinner we took the gondola ride up to the top of the small mountain and the view from up top was heavenly. Again, I was moved to tears being in that spot. Here's the thing; things mean more to me I've learned. When I hear other speakers say things like, "people on the autism spectrum don't care and have no emotions" I just want to scream. We do, it can just be very difficult for us to express it but when we are able to express it the emotions often come out unfiltered.

With lunch finished, we were running behind due to the fact that we were supposed to do a gondola ride elsewhere but it was closed due to excessive winds.  So we headed towards the lake where we had a boat ride scheduled but because we were running late we wouldn't make it. The tour guide turned the bus around much to the dismay of some passengers who wanted to go to that lake anyway. I had remained quiet the entire ride, in fact I hadn't spoken at all in true Aspie fashion, but this friction worried me. While I had been quiet I had been taking everything in. Again here is a common misnomer; just because we aren't interacting or speaking doesn't mean that we are not interested. Being with almost forty strangers is difficult for anyone but it's even more difficult for a person on the spectrum. I had a deep curiosity about where everyone was from and from their accents I tried to figure it out. Again, you'd never have realized it from the outside as I probably appeared aloof and in my own little world but I was soaking it all in on this almost family in the bus.

The mutiny was quelled and we would do a boat ride on the lake we had just come from. The last time I was on the waters I almost sank my friend's sailboat and I swore to myself I'd never get on another boat, but here I was and thankfully nothing bad or noteworthy happened, but I did get this awesome shot of the sunlight on the hills.

It was now 4:30 p.m. and the tour was 7.5 hours from its beginning. We started making our way towards the station that we would use to get on the Shinkansen. That name meant nothing to me but if you said bullet train I would have known and let me tell you, when I got on the platform and two of them went by in opposite directions the rush of air was nothing short of dumbfounding. I wondered if I was still at the previous week's Indy 500. Before this point though, as I'm ahead of myself telling my story, we had about two hours in the bus before we got to the station and the roads were the hilliest and windiest I had ever seen. I had two thoughts; the first was that I couldn't believe a tour bus could navigate such terrain but secondly I really wish I had a rally car to drive these roads!

With each mile I was so what excited to get closer to the station and my home here in Tokyo because I was hungry but my heart was also breaking because the group was about to be broken up. Whilst I had not spoken a word to anyone, this group did mean something to me and when the tour was over there is a more than likely probability that none of us will ever see each other again. This hurts me. Again, things mean more. I won't show it, I won't say it, but people mean a lot (some people more, obviously) and when a person gets to that point that I take note of them and then they're gone there registers a hole. If you wonder why we can have such high walls this is the reason. It's hard to experience loss especially if just being on a bus with forty strangers can induce this.

Back to the station, we waited to board and when the bullet train stopped we got on different cars and the group was now officially broken up. I thought about the guide, the family from France, and the dad from Singapore. What would these people do next? What does their futures hold? So many questions and answers I'll never know.

When we got to Tokyo Station I was a bit confused as to where I needed to go. I was planning on just using a cab or walking, but I saw the tour guide and I asked her and she led me, along with a few others towards the train we needed. She was now off the clock but she helped out still. As we got to track #4 she said that was it, she bowed, and then she was gone.

How do people do this in life? How can people so easily just say goodbye? I'm a bit opposite because when a person is around me I may seem disinterested but when the goodbye happens I get emotional. The emotional onslaught continued as two other people that were on my tour were on my train and one of them got off at stop one, and the last one at stop two. I was once again alone in Tokyo.

The next stop was my stop and I was fighting back emotions. Everyone seemed so confident in departing as if no one else mattered. How can this be? I know I can't do that. I try, oh do I try, but once inside the outer walls I take notice. What's going to happen to them all? Their kids that were there, will they grow up and do something that changes the world?  The tour guide, was this just another day at the office?

I made the lonely trek back to my hotel room and was deep in thought. At the five hour mark of the tour I'd have given anything to teleport back to my hotel room where I had the power to choose my food, my schedule, and my destinations but now I'd give anything for one more minute with that nameless group. Whether or not any of them will remember me, actually I doubt it because I was shy and quiet to the point of not talking. However, rest assured when I say I'll remember them for the rest of my years.