The Art of Competitive Travel

Konnichiwa.  I write this to you from a traditional style Japanese room in Kyoto.  You look lovely, as usual.  I like how you have enough hair to put it in a ponytail.  I admire that.  It implies patience.

So, as I was saying, on this, our Skype phone call where I am presenting an informational monologue about my trip: there is an art to travel.  It is the art of strategic competition. The goal is to be the best traveler in your group–the best out of your family, your friends, the best.  If possible, try to be the best traveler at the restaurant, in the shop, in the entire hotel.  People should continuously be impressed by you.  In little ways.  Delicate yet fierce assertions of dominance.

I give you an example:

Yesterday, my traveling party and I went to lunch at a Japanese sushi place.  It was a two fork Michelin restaurant.  I’m not sure what the fork system means.  Maybe stars?  Or possibly maybe it is a different category, like “Hey, here’s the deal, you’re not quite star level, but you are definitely two forks!”

So, this restaurant required an extensive knowledge of Japanese culture.  Going into the event I was prepared to win.

First, I have been studying Japanese on Memrise for three days before the trip.  I can say “Konnichiwa (hello), Arigato (thank you), Domo Arigato (thanks a lot) and Sayonara (goodbye, but no one says this as I found out the awkward way).”  Second, I read a Japanese graphic novel, half of a 2016 travel guide, watched the Netflix show Terrace House and interviewed my Japanese students during their presentations about their homes (this was a trick.  I just wanted to know travel tips.  Ha.  Suckers! The class was just a way for me to find out cool activities to do.   I got you good students. Je rigole ou peut etre pas!).

Upon entering the restaurant, we took off our shoes and put on slippers.  I didn’t handle this very well as I forgot my socks and I currently have a small foot odor problem that I’m trying to figure out.  So, starting off, I was in last place.

Next, when we walked down the hallway I went into the eating room with my slippers on.  The waiter kindly told us that we weren’t supposed to wear shoes in here. Ah! Non!  I was falling behind quickly, fastly.  Was I the worst traveler?  Oh mon dieu.  No.  C’est impossible. The rest of my traveling party was killing it.  They all wore socks.  They didn’t go into the room with their shoes on.  Their feet smelled normal.

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Seiza sitting

But, then let me tell you about a little thing called Seiza.  At the traditional Japanese table, you can sit with your legs curled under you or you can do the cheat way of putting them in the cut out square below the table.   Guess who did Seiza for 75% of the time?  That’s right.  Yours truly.  I could feel my heart racing with impeding glory as the waiter definitely noticed how I had stayed seated like this the entire time he was in the room (25% of time I was not in position was used strategically when he left).  I also used arigato repeatedly, with a polite bow and also learned from the other members of the traveling party chopstick etiquette (don’t point them at someone).  Again, a trick.  I asked them information, only to use it against them.  The points were racking up. Victory spread like the early sting of wasabi on my tongue.  Sweet, hostile, intoxicating.

At the end of the delicious meal, I had to use the bathroom to attend to some personal matters.  Here, was the final sprint: I knew to change from my hall slippers to the bathroom slippers.  I was very quiet.  And on the way out, I saw the waiters.  They were standing in a line at the door.  I bowed and said domo arigato because it was really a good meal.

This is when the waiter pulled his hands from behind his back and presented me with a trophy postcard while giving me a special smile, “Yes.  It’s confirmed.  Out of your whole traveling party, maybe the whole last six months of our restaurant, you were by far the best!  It is so obvious.  We are humbled by your knowledge and appreciation of our culture.”

Anyone who’s ever won something like this knows it’s important to be modest.  So, as I walked outside to meet everyone, I held the postcard in my hand, tenderly, nearly hidden but just enough exposed so everyone could so that I was given this gift.  I didn’t need words.  The postcard spoke for itself.

However, in walking to Himeji Castle, I casually mentioned the postcard to Vincent.

He was looking at the google map, “Yeah, everyone did. They were super nice–standing outside with us thanking us.”

Thanking them, giving them the postcard too?  While I was inside the bathroom figuring out if I could manage to wash my feet in the sink.  What?  How could this be?

Anyway, I didn’t wash my feet in the sink. I decided against it.  Obviously, I’m much too sophisticated for something like that. IMG_4131

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France is your nation.

Well done, France!  I recently watched your new president, Emmanuel Macron, as he invited innovative Americans who are worried about climate change to come to France.  You don’t have to ask me twice, EM!  Allons y!  Et vous allez me donner un travail, non?  J’adore les forêts du Costa Rica.   I just taught a class about eco-criticism.  I can do this Monsieur Macron.  Je peux!

I really identify with the term “innovative.”   For instance, recently, I have had many highly impressive innovations:

  1. I innovated a paper bag into an exciting cat adventure park 
  2. I innovated a dress my sister wore when she was 16 into an adult tank top
  3. I innovated a dinner conversation card game, which has such thought provoking questions as “why do men’s haircuts have a little V at the bottom?”, “why do humans have emotions?” and “how does our new understanding of tree communication influence our understanding of capitalist vs. socialist systems of rule?”
  4. I innovated a system where I no longer buy shampoo but instead just use all the free ones from hotels.  This also goes for soap

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    innovative eco-bird sculpture
  5.  I innovated a paper maché bird made out of recycled newspaper by sculpting it over a stone from my sister’s garden

  6.  I innovated an incredibly useful labeling system for all the salads at my recent pétanque party out of old art tape I had from college (oh sorry to cut you off, President Macron, you were just about to invite Vincent and me to play pétanque with you and the first lady, ah oui, I think we are available.)

  7. I innovated a two handled bag into a fairly comfortable (if not traveling long distances) back pack 

As you can see, I think I am precisely the kind of innovative American that President Macron is looking for.  None of my innovations required money.  They all used recycled objects and I am very serious about climate change.  

The future is not coal.  It is not oil, not diesel cars.  It is not new clothing, not war, not destruction of land for stupid profit.    It is using our resources (the most valuable one being our minds) in a smart, effective way.

It is government incentives that encourage conservation.  We can create macro (Macron!) and micro environmental change this way.  We absolutely can.  By using togetherness, that beautiful kind of global cooperation where we could all come together and to find ways of progressive change.

For instance, right now, Lake Ontario is flooding with clean, fresh water.  This is bad for upstate New York, but if there were a way to take this water and give it to countries who could use it to improve health, then why not! Could we use this water’s power to create electricity?  Could we redirect it to water the farms in upstate New York?  Possibly to even make fresh water swimming pools to combat childhood obesity? Come on. There must be a way.  The answer is not conflict.  The answer is not showing off.   It is not arrogance. It is not nuclear.  It is not isolation.  It is creative, communal, scientific, hope.  

Oh, désolé!  C’est mon téléphone avec le code pays “+33.”  Ah, parfait.  I should take this.