Wednesday, September 18, 2013


Cody Lawson
There was a tropical feeling here. When you couldn't imagine ever not wanting to wear flip-flops and shorts and walk around like you were on a long vacation or just retired or so rich you didn't need to work and could spend the rest of your life pondering.

Then it was like swimming through each day the air was so full of water. Even your skin is too much coverage, and it's littered with mosquito bites in varying sizes and healing states. Hair inflates. Heat becomes worse than hunger. And the sky matches the cement, building to a burst that washes away the sins of humidity. If you live here, you know.

The cicada sound is likable at first; then it's as if you have dog ears. Their electronic chirping escalates for mating, or when you accidentally step on them and react maniacally (both you and them). In September, they seem to be replaced by crickets.

Paul England / Metropolis
But the Japanese handle summer with the dignity in which they handle everything else. The women are as regal in winter (when they don long, down coats and the latest Uggs) as they are in mid-August. Their hair straight and gleaming, maybe cropped short and gamine looking for all of them. They barely let on to their perspiration with a discrete handkerchief dab or fan. I look like book Hermione on a bad hair day, flapping my broken fan and smearing mascara.

Yet dipping down into Japan's marine layer on our flight back from China felt like coming home. The PC term is haze, but it was smog at its worst in the capital. I went to the hotel room window when I first woke up in Beijing, and the view only lasted a few city blocks. It was like nothing I've ever seen.

Easy Cooking
Same goes for the Wall. We climbed as far as we could out of the "fog" and along the oldest thing I've ever seen, touched, walked on and tripped over. (Yep.) And the peking duck was like nothing I've ever tasted. The first bite was the most delicious I've had since the first time I tasted sushi or maple syrup.

I tell an English student about all this over some kind of Tang and amid the clutter of an old woman who swears Amway breath freshener is the final answer to mosquito bite itch. As we sip our Tang served in ice cream parfait glasses and with straws - inside a house that looks as if it was plopped in the middle of the secret garden based on the window panes - I tell her this, too...

Cary, lil' bro-in-law and I all went to Kyoto after China. And after China, we were used to seeing ancient, really ancient, things. But we kept finding that the structures had been rebuilt due to something like fire. We scoffed. At the Toji Temple, the boys had spotted a plaque that said it was rebuilt in 2008; it was younger than my and Cary's marriage. After ranting about this for 15 minutes, they finally had to tell me they lied.

Zachary Voo
I don't know if the student really got it, but she laughed politely. I continue storytelling... Since we only had 24 hours in Kyoto, we speed-walked through the zillion torii gate shrine and downed green tea ice cream like it was water - it was scorchingly humid yet overcast and rainy with a chance of downpour. Bro-in-law was astounded at my hair under the influence of muggy.

"Did you know this when you married her?" he asked Cary. The student loved that.

A typhoon, er, tropical storm, passed through the day after Cary left. As he began his first deployment, I went through my first real Japanese storm. These things really are the perfect excuse to pretend it's 10 p.m. instead of 10 a.m. But curling up with the dog inside Howl's Moving Castle somehow helped me forget about saying goodbye to my better half, travel buddy and best friend.

And the next day, the whole kingdom was rinsed clean again like a new season and the alternate life of a pilot's wife was begging to say hello.