Apr 02: Addenda

It’s about 8:15AM and we just finished breakfast. We’re heading for the Tokyo National Museum in Ueno park shortly, but I thought of a couple of things over breakfast that I meant to mention in yesterday’s entry.

The first thing I forgot to describe was the couple sitting near us in the noodle booth. They arrived shortly after us and were probably Scandinavian, in their late 50s or so. He was clearly as amused by the place as we were. She, on the other hand, wasn’t at all amused. She visibly didn’t want to come in in the first place, but he was hungry enough that he decided that he was going in anyway so she reluctantly followed. He ordered a beer (they served Asahi in cans) and a plate of noodles and dug in with gusto when it arrived. She glared at him and anything in her field of view. Everntually, after watching a local couple order and enjoy cups of something served from a heated pot near the front which I would guess was corn soup, she asked one of the proprietors for the same. It didn’t look like she thought highly of it, and when she was told that it was 200 yen (about US$1.60) she was visibly put out. Her husband was unflapped, dug the money out of his pocket, and went back to eating. She berated him at some length and finally got up and left even before he was finished–she literally couldn’t wait to get out of the place. He stuffed a few more noodles into his mouth, slugged down some (but not all) of the remaining beer, and followed her out.

It is perhaps worth mentioning that this establishment would not pass a USDA inspection. It would probably cause such an inspector to run screaming. The waitress (using the term loosely) and the cook both had cigarettes dangling from hand or mouth as they scurried around. However, they did wipe the tables as soon as they were vacated, and when one of these towels fell on the ground (there was no floor) it was immediately discarded and replaced with a clean one. In other words it wasn’t markedly different from a food vendor’s booth in an American amusement park–and in those places you don’t see someone wiping the tables and gathering the paper plates.

In stark contrast to the Scandinavian couple, seated on our other side, was a Japanese couple of about the same age. They quite clearly enjoyed the noodles and the surroundings and were in no particular hurry.

This episode serves to illustrate two important items on the unofficial list of Trace and Adam’s Rules of How to Enjoy Yourself in a Foreign Country. The first is this: Suspend all judgement, disgust, criticism, and/or denial of local customs, beliefs, practices, and tendencies. You’re there to observe, not to critique or judge. Or, putting it more succinctly: if you didn’t want to be exposed to the habits of people living in other cultures, why did you leave home in the first place?

The second rule is: Don’t worry about petty expenses. Sure, 200 yen for a small paper cup of corn soup or 500 yen for a plate of noodles isn’t exactly cheap when you consider the price of the raw materials (even if they were really good noodles, and on the other hand, 100 yen for the five skewers of chicken seemed pretty reasonable). But consider how much it cost that couple to get here in the first place–probably around $1000 each in plane fare. So now she’s gonna pitch a fit over 200 yen for a tasty and convenient snack? Give me a break. Furthermore, consider the value of the experience. For 600 yen I had a very filling lunch and we had an unforgettable experience (worthy of two blog entries, no less). These sorts of experiences are why we’re here. You can’t put a price on them. The last time we travelled was two years ago, in Italy. I paid a silly amount for a cup of coffee in St. Mark’s square in Venice, just so we could sit there and watch the Venitian world go by. Today I can’t remember how much that cup of coffee cost, but I remember what a joy it was to sit there and admire the architecture and watch the people and the pigeons, and how tasty the coffee was. Should I have saved the money? Absolutely not.

There is an exception to that rule, though. If you’re young and/or a student and you’re trying to see a foreign country on a shoestring budget, you have my sympathies and my heartfelt support. You’re doing something that the vast majority of your fellow Americans will never do, and you’ll be a better person for it. If you have to pinch every penny to do it, I understand.

Off we go to Ueno Park.

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