Saturday, July 26, 2008

oh horrible

Have you seen / are you watching I Survived A Japanese Game Show? The concept is typical reality-show brilliance: a combination of a fish-out-of-water experience and clumsy Machiavellian idiocy. Some ten yokels who've never been out of the country (southern yokel, urban yokel, frat-boy yokel, New Yorker yokel, wall flower yokel, etc. etc.) are taken to Japan where they are routinely humiliated on a Double Dare-type program. The winning team is given a high-class tour of Japan, and the losing team is made to do some kind of traditional low-class work for a day -- a typical show has winners visiting a Shinto temple, or going to a traditional spa for instance, while the losers have to plant rice or shell clams.

Then the losing team has to vote two members to compete in an elimination round, so that one person goes home each episode. And eventually the "winner" (no one wins, really) will get $250,000. That seems a little light considering the humiliation(s) you have to go through, and given that a few years ago you could win a clean million just by putting up with Regis Philbin and answering a few questions.

The bad part: The show encourages us to revel in the schadenfreude, sense of superiority, and even a kind of xenophobic spectacle, as we see "how weird those Japanese are." It's typically insulting to everyone, even the viewers, assuming they need to be reminded after every commercial break what's happening. And it's truly awful watching loud, obnoxious Americans fulfill every Japanese game-show audience's expectations of Americans as loud, and obnoxious, and a little stupid. But that's one of the reasons it's so fascinating.

As an occasional tourist, I'm always at pains to not be such a fish out of water. I want to fit in, to be respectful, to learn about and experience different things. And I tend to really enjoy new experiences. It's why I keep seeking them out. But these guys had no idea they were even leaving the country when they signed up for this game show. They are *only* really here to compete and win. And yet, everything in the show revolves around showing these guys Japanese culture. So my favorite parts are always the non-gameshow parts, where the winning and losing teams head out for their respective prizes/punishments.

It's fascinating to watch a herd of yokels "win" something like a tour of the Tsukiji fish market, and then try to define their experience as one of pleasure. These are people who have never had sushi before. Which you can get even in Alabama these days. So, they are in many ways the least adventurous human beings the show could have found, and their "prizes" are always adventures. You can see the rictus-like smiles frozen on their faces as they troop through the market, a little scared, a little uneasy, trying to remind themselves that they're getting the good day. And the losers -- who earlier that day, or the day before, were on a game show, where they wore giant diapers, or rolled around in oil and feathers, then tried to pop balloons with their asses -- revel, revel! in the "humiliation" of being a rickshaw driver, or making mochi (both of which sound like a lot of fun, actually).

And that's actually the fun of the show -- it's the real fish out of water. Not simply Americans in Japan, (and certainly not Americans on a "crazy" Japanese game show, which is mild Compared to the ways that Americans find to humiliate themselves) but people who would never think of setting foot outside their country, suddenly coming face to face with tourism, and recoiling.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Someone Got Scotland All Wet


My last day in Edinburgh, I got to do a little tourist-ing with my friend Fiona, and her husband Paul. Otherwise, I was stuck on a college campus, attending a very interesting conference, but otherwise not seeing much other than 60's architecture, rain and rabbits for a week.

Still, we got out Saturday night and went to the Holyrood Park, which was beautiful (and where I got the photo, above, and pretty much all the other photos posted on Flickr). Lovely! I want to go back.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Before I go

...thought I'd post one of the pictures from my day at the Met.


more on the flickr site.

Touristward Ho!

It's definitely tourist-time for me. Concentric circles of tourism. Last Thursday, I poked around Eastwood, a walkable neighborhood in Syracuse, and found a couple good bookstores (musty smells, huuuuuuuge poetry sections, and even a not-indecent comics section! Terrible cookbook sections in both though). Saturday morning I took a few pictures (mostly of flowers in the neighborhood, nothing super interesting) then I hit the Blues Fest with a friend. Beer! Heat! Blues! Sandwiches! Good times were had.

It's interesting how tourism can carry with it airs of both selfishness and generosity. On the one hand, walking through Eastwood and my neighborhood, I was much more open to what the space had to offer. I could appreciate my neighbors' flowers, or the signs and layout of Eastwood in specificly conscious ways. It is pleasant to be in "tourist" mode -- precisely because I feel alive and aware of my surroundings in such a different way. On the other hand, I also felt like an intruder, and a bit of an imposter. Eastwood may be "walkable" but it's by no means touristy. The bookstores were across the street from a strip mall and a gas station. I felt self-conscious carrying a camera -- especially in my own neighborhood -- and it was hard to get it out and use it. Basically, my presence was forcing everything to be on display for me -- and it was clear that both of these neighborhoods were not prepared to be displayed. Mostly, I left the camera in its case.

The Blues Fest was a little different, in that the display was obviously set up in advance. I didn't bring my camera, but I did try to be aware of my surroundings. Unfortunately, we were there for a good half an hour before my friend pointed out that we were standing in the (drained) central fountain. I had not noticed at all.

Today, I'm in NYC -- I've got a flight this evening taking me to Scotland. So I've got the whole day to wander around manhattan (a place that is perpetually on display) and take pictures, visit museums, etc. Tomorrow I'll be in Edinburgh, and will again have the day to wander and "take in" the sights. After that, I'll be at a conference in Stirling, but it is, I am told, a touristy little place. Let's see what that means! Unfortunately (ach.) I'm going to miss Edinburgh's Fringe Festival by a few days. This has happened before -- when I went to Austin, we left just before SXSW started up. Oh well.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Wait, why do I have this blog?

Ever since I decided to revive my self on the internets, I've been trying to think about what to do with this blog. Do I need it? My other two blogs (three if you count livejournal, which no one does) seem to have reasons for being built-in -- they help to encourage me to write poetry, or make translations (or share the stupid stuff I found while goofing off on the interwebs). So when I post on any of those sites, I have specific ideas about what I'm doing, and when anyone visits those sites ha ha they can immediately tell what they will find.

But this blog is...generic.

I don't like that. I'm not sure why. Lots of people have generic blogs. I even read some of them. But it feels even more solipsistic than usual to me to come here and just post... generically.

Looking at the excerpt of the Bishop poem that heads this, I'm reminded that, like my good friend Jess, I began this thing as a way to keep track of my experiences overseas. I'm not overseas anymore, but I still like that quote, and the tourist and traveler is still a part of me that I'd like to encourage.

So that's what I'm going to do. I'm going to use this site to post reflections on exploration -- geographical and otherwise. I'm going to practice being a tourist more often, seeing the world around me with a little more readiness for awe. And I'll start posting long(er) musings about my adventures here. Maybe even with pictures. More, I think, tomorrow.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

What a weird day.

So, one of the reasons I haven't written much, meaning that likely there aren't many of you reading this blog (hello, is this thing on?) is that I've been spending most of my days reading, writing, cooking and playing a little bit of tennis, and otherwise not doing much at all. But today was definitely a departure. Usually, when I have those awful big-deal type chores to do, like renewing my driver's license,or oh, I don't know finally sitting down to pay taxes, they're things that I've seen coming for a while. But today, I got a spate of last-minute, emergency-type things which came out of the blue, and were weird and surprising. You know, for chores. The list:

1. Had to send soon-to-be roommate his passport, which he accidentally left with his stuff here. Since he is taking off from Atlanta at some point this evening, said passport had to be sent by plane, from the airport. Weird. I didn't even know Delta had a shipping service. Or that it was so expensive. Enjoy your first class flight, little passport!

2. Been waiting for tax refund since February (not the stimulus, the actual refund) and keep getting "oops, sorry, we filed that wrong" messages from IRS. K. gets a letter yesterday that mentions refund not at all, and insists we pay large sum of back taxes immediately. A desperate visit to H&R Block (best $300 I've ever spent, especially with this year's tax headaches which, believe me, neither of us want me to get into) and 25 minutes on speakerphone with IRS muzak later, turns out it's more "oops, sorry we filed that wrong" and I should be expecting said refund "in 3-4 weeks" (possibly with interest!)

3. Car Insurance autophones me last night insisting I get a "photo inspection" and recommending a website. I'm still not sure what it is, or what it's for, but the website seemed legit, and the inspection cost me nothing. Despite asking questions of several people and visiting the Car Insurance website several times, I remain largely uninformed about this whole "photo inspection" thing, except that it involves a camera, and apparently is required if CI is to not cancel my insurance. Confusing!