I like to fancy myself a well informed, un-ignorant person. I read the news about 10 times a day, I watch it once or twice, and I try to make sure I get a general smattering of information from across the board, be it sports or what’s going on with the super-collider. But for whatever I’ve done, I’ve been lacking in certain experiences. I’d never been outside of the United States until a few weeks ago, and the whole experience couldn’t have been more incredible.
Where to start? I know, a quote from my younger, well traveled brother who’s toured the world playing piano. “Everywhere is pretty much the same.” You know what? I agree! Not to say Japan wasn’t awesome, but I wasn’t overwhelmed by the differences, so much as the similarities.
We drove to my place of residence for the trip (the ever so hospitable Mierzejewski family home) after 17 hours of travel. The moon was up, the stars were out, and I was tired and sore from being cramped up in an airplane seat made for the average Japanese person, who I’m guessing is not 6’2”! The first thing that struck me as we drove were the lights: I felt like I could have been driving the strip in Vegas, in fact, I said so. Pachinko parlors lined both sides of the streets, a rainbow of lights polluting the night air. And what are pachinko parlors? A place to gamble of course. I suppose everywhere is pretty much the same.
When morning came the next day I discovered I’d traveled thousands of miles to visit an island that had nearly identical flora and fauna to my home in Hawaii, albeit slightly greener. Ironwoods tainted the mountainside, banyan trees sheltered coves teeming with plant life, and hibiscuses bloomed with fair regularity. I suppose everywhere is pretty much the same.
I spent the next few weeks going on hikes, exploring beautiful waterfalls, experiencing the local culture, being lost in a sea of people I didn’t understand, and eating food that added a nice layer of padding around my midsection I intend to start working off immediately. Was it fun? Certainly! Was it terribly different from what I’ve experienced so far in my life? Not really. Minus being the tall bearded man in the land of little people who didn’t speak my language, and a few cultural oddities, I could have been exploring Hawaii.
So what did I do that stood out in my mind while in Japan? I took pictures of cars with unusual names. Did I expect to see a “naked” driving down the street? Of course I did, my hosts told me I would. But I think it would have shocked me otherwise. And you can tack on to that cars named: Cami, Gina, Super Saloon, Succeed, Life, Move, Cube, Comfort, Vitz, Every, Custom, That’s, and a dozen more. What else was different? I’ll tell you! Any semi-decent apartment building (usually near the ocean) was called a mansion. Funny, considering the rooms are like college dorms (I’m told… I didn’t go invading people’s homes). Even places that are pretty much the same have their quirks, I guess.
I’m not going to spend pages and pages spilling the stories from my trip. The snorkeling was amazing; the sites were inspiring, thought provoking, or just simply weird; and the food was delicious. I’ll give you one story, and that’s all you’ll get from me out of here. I’m not a huge fan of writing lengthy descriptions of the awesomeness that is my life (you know… like going to a zip-line park. Awesome).
It all started with an hour and a half drive and an hour and a half hike --correction, make that a two hour drive and a three minute hike. Those other times were false estimates I was given. Imagine my disappointment in learning my daylong hiking excursion would be cut to a brief walk. Lame. Not to worry though, we managed to salvage the day! The hike led to a series of waterfalls with large deep pools. The first thing I noticed? The waterfalls were smaller than I’d hoped. The second? A rope-swing. But we’ll get to that in a minute.
Me, Michael, and Drew were hopping from rock to rock, looking around and generally enjoying the natural beauty around us when I turned and heard Drew squeal. That probably wouldn’t be the way he’d choose to phrase it, but that’s what it was. “Ahh! A Habu!” He yelled this and scampered away. For those of you who don’t know (I didn’t until my visit) the Habu is a poisonous snake that’s venom causes your muscles to rapidly swell to the point that that burst, leaving nasty wounds that often split the skin as well. I’ll say his reaction was justified. But me, I’m an idiot. Did I stay away? Of course not, I ran over to see it, and upon doing so realized there was only one logical course of action: I had to kill it. I certainly couldn’t let a poisonous snake be stalking my afternoon turf. I looked around, picked up a good sized rock, and used my non-existent pitching skills to hurl the stone at the snake, striking it about 1/3 of the way from the end of its tale, and cutting it off. Good thing I can aim from five feet, huh? I didn’t really think what would have happen if I’d missed. But I’d like to think that doesn’t matter, because the god given talents I got from my dad have imbued me with a primal, snake killing awesomeness that can only be described as sheer manliness (hey, I’ve got to have something that ups my testosteroneitivity; these lanky limbs and not-quite-low-enough-voice certainly won’t do the trick for me). And that folks, is how I became known as Brandon the Snake Destroyer. Drew calls me a Tweed though. Yeah… it’s an insult…
Remember that rope swing? Let’s get back to that.
With the snake dead we all had time to move onto the object of my attention: the rope swing. Yeah, baby, time to bust out the back-flips. Oh wait! I’ve never done a back-flip off of a rope-swing! Heck, I can barely do one off of low rocks and diving boards. But I certainly couldn’t let that stop me. After three attempts that left me looking completely retarded (and somewhat less manly than I hope to appear to the general public) I finally got one right. It wasn’t pretty, but I flipped, I hit the water, and I came out smiling. Of course, that means my little brother Michael had to take a shot, nail it on his first try, and make it pretty in the process. What a jerk. It’s not enough that he’s a concert pianist, an awesome surfer with a body to match, and makes girls hearts explode when they look at him (we won’t get into what happens when they look and listen to him playing…), but he has to show me up even when its just us an our good buddy Drew? Yeah, jerk. Of course I’m only partially series. Michael is the man, I’m just envious of his many mad skills… moving on!
So after a few dozen back-flips, and a cut up shin from slipping on the rocks climbing from the water, we decided to migrate to the larger falls with the smaller pool. This falls was a spiraling series of cascades roughly as high as Waiamea rock which I’m putting somewhere in the 25-30 foot range. The water at the bottom was churning and somewhat murky. Should I jump in? I can’t tell if there are rocks… Correction, I can definitely see a few rocks, but I’m not sure about the area I plan to jump to. Drew tells me he’s seen people do it, though discourages me. Michael eggs me on. Come on, we all knew I was going to do it even if there were rocks, I’m brilliant like that sometimes. So after giving a show of a few minutes of terror (I assure you, I was fine, don’t listen to what anyone else says) I decide to take the leap. Short fall, but long enough. I hit the icy water and went down, down, down. No rocks. But that’s no reason not to mess with those you care about. I made sure I stayed down a bit longer than was necessary, and when I finally rose to the surface I let out what I’d like to believe was a blood curdling scream. You know, that one that inspires terror and hints of unspeakable pain? Apparently I fooled Drew. Classic. Michael knows me too well. Still, I thought it was funny. It made me smile and laugh. Rage!
And thus was my experience that day. It didn’t end there, but the interesting parts of the story do. What did I learn from this and many other experiences? Michael was right. Everywhere (at least that I’ve been) is pretty much the same. But that doesn’t mean you can’t make a bunch of unique experiences from the small differences that make all the difference.
Till next time Japan – Let’s Get Awesome!