Thursday, August 31, 2006


In Japan, the land of orderly efficiency and politeness, there is a universally observed etiquette for using escalators. If you get on and intend to stand, you stand on the right side, if you are going to continue walking, you walk up/down on the left. If you see someone standing on the left, they are a foreigner. The fast Japanese people will start to back up behind the standing person, because they are too polite to tell him to move over.

In Prague, it works exactly the same way, which is great because the escalators to the subway are giants that get you up or down 4-5 flights in one long shot. Once you get further east in Europe, this breaks down. Budapest and Bucharest have the same deep subways with monster-long escalators, but everyone just stands there, even when you hear a train arriving at the bottom. In NYC or SF, once the sound of the train is heard, everyone picks up the pace to try and make it. Not so in Bucharest. You are about 2/3 of the way down, hear the train, and everyone will just stand there. Oh well. In some subways, they even have painted helpful feet, two feet side-by-side on the right side of the step to signify "standing", left and right feet alternating on the left side for "walking", to encourage the Japan/Prague courtesy, but for some reason it doesn't work.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Prague planetary smack-down

If you haven't been there, you should visit Prague. Even though all the places that you should see will be clogged with people just like you, i.e. tourists, it's still a wonderful city. Aesthetically and geographically, Prague is a hit. Castles, churches, cobblestone streets, the Vlatva river, museums-- and you can walk to all of it. An even better idea is to buy a transit pass so you can take the metro, trams and buses anywhere. This allows you to get out of the center of town and see areas without all of the tourists. Like giant Soviet-area housing blocks with nice greenways running through them, or wide boulevards with shops and apartments mixed in with the old cemetaries and churches. Also, astronomers like to gather here periodically to vote on who gets to be a planet. Last week, while I was just a few km from the big convention of sky-watchers, they decided that Pluto no longer has what it takes. Take that Pluto, you and your weak gravitational force. I took the subway out to the convention on Friday just to witness the carnage, but I was a little too late, the convention's closing ceremony was Thursday night and there was only the "historical astronomy" group still presenting, with some papers on things like "Mayan observations of the transit of Venus," so I didn't get to witness any fistfights. Maybe next time.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Stag Dos and Don'ts

Among the stodgy old tour groups of stodgy old people in Prague, you will find large groups of British or German men in their twenties and thirties who are in town for a Bachelor Party, quaintly known in Europe as a "Stag Do." These bands of men will be easy to find as they are often belting drinking songs along the streets, each of them carrying 2 beers, (Why is the US so slow on public drinking laws? Figure it out, Bush.)and all wearing matching shirts. Scottish Stag Doers can wear kilts with these shirts, but only they have the beards and the balls to pull this off. Some bachelors need an especially big blowout because the poor bastard is marrying someone really awful, so the whole party dresses up in costumes. For instance, they might all dress as French Maids. Or as Superheroes. And that is how our story begins.

In addition to lots of drunk bachelors, Prague has lots of puppets and opera and puppets performing opera. In fact, Mozart's Don Giovanni premiered here a long time ago. So to hit two cultural birds with one American stone, we went to see a puppet version of Don Giovanni. We being me, Brian, Evan my brother, Nelson one of Evan's friends from UCI who we randomly met on the street (see Evan's blog for this story), and Burke, Nelson's friend. Earlier that day we were walking around Prague and I saw this group of 8 men dressed as Superheroes and I thought "Wow, they look silly, I wonder what they're doing." As we walked, we got some food and toured and decided to see the Puppet Don Giovanni. We get to where we saw the show advertised at 7:50pm for an 8pm show. But the show is not here, this is just a ticket outlet. So we buy tickets and take off running to the theatre. And running, we pass the group of Superheroes again. Evan runs by first, then Brian, and by this point the Superheroes must be thinking "Wow, they look silly, I wonder what they're doing." Then Nelson runs by, then Burke and by that point the drunken Superheroes are starting to laugh and a few take off running with us. So Evan, Brian, Nelson, The Flash, The Green Hornet, Batman and me are all running through the streets of Prague. The crowded cobblestone streets of Prague. And does the girl running in the skirt and sandals fall? Or does Batman eat it right in the middle of the street? Batman totally eats it. Silly costumes goeth before a fall.

Moral of the story, the show was awful. Marionettes doing opera are ridiculous.

Consonants and Communists

Prague has lots of both.
Japanese is impossible to read, but at least it is easy to pronounce. In Czech, they save up their vowels for the winter, as part of a government mandated Alphabetical and Cultural ReConservation Program. Of course, thanks to the Velvet Revolution (Fought by the snappiest soldiers since the Cashmere Sweater War) this program is no longer technically a law. However, in true Eastern European style, the Czech people cling to their old ways like sausage clings to your arteries. So there are diphthongs that no one can actually pronounce, not even native speakers. Often you see an older person who lived through WW2 trying to start a story with "When I was your age," but the combination of old person phlegm and consonants causes them to fall into a hacking coughing fit. The Czech translation for "When I was your age" is "KZSIRRHGK plkkjmiuvn wwssxxgt." Brian and I have been trying to say "Thank you" properly, which is "Dkyu", but Czech people just shake their heads in hatred.
It is hard to know how to say it because people say "Thank You" so infrequently.
In fact, the word for "Yes" is a two syllable word, making it twice as difficult to say as the word for "No." "Yes" used to be easy to say, but the Communist government issued a strict Positivity and Optimism Difficulty Edict that included provisions to make Borscht the National Soup and to make it more difficult for people to say, write, or think the word "yes."
On the plus side, the Water Slide Manifesto did wonders for the chlorine-seeking tourist industry.

Monday, August 21, 2006

The Comparisons Begin

Now that we are in Eastern Europe, it is time for a bit of refelction on how Japan is not Eastern Europe and visa versa.

Service. In Japan, service is a big deal. You rent a hotel room, they prepare hot tea for you. You walk into a bar, they give you free octupus balls and squid salad.
In Eastern Europe, the waiter will scowl at you, then another waiter will walk by and yell at you for being served by the other waiter, then they will tell you they are out of lettuce and bread, and your meat pizza will take 45 minutes and they will charge you per gram of salt you used. Just because it's on the table does not mean it's free.

Trains. In Japan the trains have a two minute window from when they pull into a station and when they leave. The whole country is set to the same time, dictated by the clocks in the train stations. Trains make the country run.
In Eastern Europe, the trains will probably leave on time, but some stops take longer than others, depending on who wants to smoke. Also, the Soviet Union, using every ounce of supreme brilliance, made their train tracks just and eensy bit larger than the tracks in the rest of europe so that any train coming in to Russia to attack by train (seriously? by train?) would have to stop and walk across the border. I am sure it worked great for 20 years or so, but now what happens is that passangers get to wait while they dismantle the train, elevate each car, and put new wheels on to fit the right tracks. At 4am. This takes about 2 hours. 2 cold dark early Russian hours. To think we were afraid of them for a while. Ugh.

Personal transport. People in Japan use bicycles everywhere, they all have 2 or 3 baskets and old tiny women and men in business suits and office ladies all use them and they zip around easily. Guess what? People in Eastern Europe have not dicovered the advanced technology of bicycles, so they just walk. But since they often have to walk carrying 30 pounds of potatoes from the market, they all carry identical plaid nylon bags. These things could blanket the city of Bucharest. They last forever, they are super cheap , come in all sizes, and some factory in Russia made 4 million of them and that state mandated that each household own at least 10. They can be used to carry clothes or a litter of puppies. And when you carry on of these bags, you walk slowly. Oh so very slowly.

Men. Japan is littered with men in business suits. They all carry official looking briefcases and wear neat ties with well-coiffed hair. They rush about in orderly lines on subways, through officle parks looking like they are full yemployed and have work to do. They are called "Salarymen" because they have jobs and earn regular salaries. Eastern Europe is littered with men in track suits and sweats, with thick bellies and tattos. They lumber around all carrying black duffel bags. Sometimes two men will carry a duffel bag together, each one holding a handel. Imagine a scary Russian mafia thug, with a severed head in a black gym bag. Now you know what Bucharest looks like. They seem to do little but stand around cars scratching their bellies or sit at cafe tables smoking. I have seen 3 men in suits in the past 3 weeks, and 2 of them worked at the US Embassy. Japanese men get drunk after work and sleep on the subway platforms, while Eastern European men get drunk after getting drunk and then get drunk on the subway platform.

Women everywhere however wear heels all the time. How do they run so fast and walk so far on those tiny heels? It is beyond me.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

sunlight, excitement and jet lag

We're now in Prague. The short way to go from Osaka to Prague involves flying west through one of the major Asian hubs and on to Europe, going approx 1/3 of the way around the world. What's much more fun for your sleep patterns is to go the other way, back through Los Angeles, London, then Prague.

My body has no idea what time it is. I didn't sleep for the 23 hours we were in LA, because there were many errands to run, along with repacking (switching stuff out of our very cozy storage unit), laundry and some computer stuff. Also, I just don't sleep well before going on long trips. If you expose yourself to a lot of sunlight, eat a lot of sugar and just generally feel like you have a lot of stuff to get done and not enough time to do it, you can sleep one hour out of 40. Then you crash.

We awoke in Kyoto on Wednesday morning, left Osaka Wednesday evening, arrived in LA Wed at noon thanks to the wonderful working of the international date line, left LA Thursday noon and arrived in London Friday morning. We spent all day at the airport, sleeping and eating and then flew to Prague on Friday night. Yessssss!

Flying through several different countries soon after a terrorist threat really gives you an idea of how well that country can organize itself. Japan´s airport was well ordered, everyone easily led into neat lines by helpful and friendly JAL employees. We got through the 3 security checkpoints in 20 minutes or less. And there was definitely no liquid or gel onmyz person. LAX and Minneapolis were both sort of crazy, but London was nuts like an Almond Joy. There were all these lines feeding into the check-in line, and those lines somehow fed into several larger departure gate lines, which fed into the lines for the metal detectors and x-rays. And no one knew which line was which, or where any of these lines started. I actually heard some poor harried young airportsecurityy employee yelling "What the Hell are you doing!" to a line of people that was supposed to start somewhere else. These lines would separate for no reason then merge together again in the worst traffic flow pattern imaginable. An exhausting 2 hours later we were in the sterile departure area, and I couldn´t even brush my teeth or put on chapstick to comfort me. Thanks a lot terrorists.

But none of that matters now in our kickass apartment in Prague. Wake up at 8am to check out of a hotel by 10, perish the thought!

Tuesday, August 15, 2006


I've got some eel blood on my shoe that seems impossible to wash off, but the visit to the Tsukiji fish market was worth the tenacious stain. If you ever happen to be in Tokyo, and especially if you just flew in from the US and find yourself jet-lagged and awake at some unreasonable hour like 4 am, you should get over to the fish market. Take the subway (some lines begin running at 4:30) and arrive by 5 am.

Then you get to see the auction for tuna. Don't think "tuna fish" like something that in the states would end up in a can, remember, the bluefin tuna started out as a 400 pound fish before it was processed and that is what you get here. A large room, with big frozen tuna lined up on the floor with not much room left to stand. Then all of the wholesalers gather in a group with the auctioneer and they start buying. As each tuna is sold, it is marked with some type of buyer's i.d. and they move on until the entire room has been sold off to wholesalers. This takes about an hour and a half to sell off several hundred fish, and I think they sell for around US$10,000 each, depending on quality and size (quality is determined by a small cutout made near the tailfin, which each buyer lifts up and runs his fingers across).

Then this amazing distribution begins. They have thousands of these small, motorized carts zipping everywhere. In fact, the main danger for tourists is being run over by one of these things.

image of motor cart thing

So these dart into the big tuna auctionroom, and 3 guys with scary looking gaffs hook into a 400-lb tuna and toss it onto the back of the cart. They can stack up maybe 5 tuna before things get to slippery to deal with. That cart zips away and another zips in for its bunch. By 8 am the room is cleaned up and you can walk around and see tuna being cut with bandsaws. By 9 am, some of the retailers have beautiful cuts of sashimi in their stands, ready to eat. If you want great sushi for breakfast, this is the place to go.

All types of seafood are handled at the market, and there is an entire fleet of refrigerated delivery trucks parked within inches of each other (they fold the side mirrors in to get them even closer) lined up ready to zip the fish to every restaurant and market in the Tokyo area, most likely to be eaten that evening. Just one more way I'm amazed at how they've made something essential to their daily life extremely efficient.

Monday, August 14, 2006


Here are some of the great things about Japan:
1. In Japan, there are vending machines everywhere. We are staying on this tiny island in a tiny fishing village of about 50 people. There's a post office, an unused elementray school, some boats, and 5 vending machines. Most sell soda and juice and an amazing drink called Pocari Sweat. It tastes amazing, like Vitamin Water, and is perfect when you find yourself drenched in Person Sweat, which is all the time. You walk along, parched, feeling sodium and potassium and all vitality sucked out of you, and up ahead there's a vending machine glowing in the distance, a bright prism promising you cool refreshment, and in any other country you'd think this oasis was a mirage, but in Japan it's a reality. But these machines don't just sell juice; you can get french fries and oyster balls, ice cream and sandwiches, cigarettes and . . . beer! Beer and whiskey vending machines are everywhere.
Because in Japan, public drinking is not just legal, it's encouraged.

2. In Japan, public drinking is not just legal, it's encouraged. People wander the streets carrying plastic cups full of beer all over the place. It's a bit watered down like keg beer, so you really feel like most cities are just large frat parties when the sun sets. People start drinking at 11am, to wash down breakfast, and often the party stops at 5am the next morning. It is common to see a few homeless people sleeping on the subway platforms next to business men using their briefcases as pillows since they got too drunk to make it to the subway in time to get home. Somehow allowing people to walk around and drink eliminates the need for people to drink and drive. Also, the fine for ANY blood alcohol is $10,000.00. A Half Million Yen. For ANY alcohol in your bloodstream. So everyone takes the subway or a taxi or walks or bikes. Drinking is a huge part of social life, especially at FESTIVALS.

3. FESTIVALS! These are all over all the time. We've been here 4 weeks and have seen 8 festivals. Every town has a festival at least once a month to celebrate something.
There's always fireworks to announce the start, then some sort of parade with floats or lanterns, and dancing and drumming and people in traditional dress. There are children who stare at white people and tiny old women who push through the crowd like sharks. There is often tons of smoke from torches and people smoking, and lines of helpful policemen in fancy vests and hardhats. Then there will be more fireworks and dancing, and more drumming, and booths with carnival games. You can throw darts at ballons or catch goldfish with rice paper nets. One place had a booth with hundreds of fluffy yellow chicks, but we couldn't tell if they were for playing with or for eating. And of course, food. Grilled whole squid, and grilled crab legs, and octopus balls (yum!), grilled corn (non-sarcastic yum!), fried noodles, fried chicken, and of course BEER! And of course people wander around drinking. All night.
And then people just crash at the tables and wake up at 5am when the sprinklers come on and go to work. And remember, at these festivals, refusing a drink will bring shame to your whole family. So Kanpai!

Thursday, August 10, 2006

the little things

Some of the small odd ways Japan is not other countries:

1.It's hot here in the summer, but no one swims. We have been by several bays, rivers, lakes, oceans, and no one uses these beautiful expanses of waterfront. Even the hotels have hot baths, not a single swimming pool. We went to only one resort with one swimming pool that was heated to a sweltering 80 degrees. It was in no way refreshing. As someone who spent most of her childhood in the sweltering south at the community pool, I am baffled at a nation who would rather sit in a hot bath than jump in a clear cool lake. I've gone swimming illigally 4 times here. Sure, those hot baths may make them live longer and have great skin, but at what cost?

2.Women all wear heels, all the time. Sometimes sensible pumps, but more often cute little high heeled sandals with flowers or sequins. And these women walk or ride bikes everywhere- either Japan is the mecca of comfortable and cute women's footwear, or women here have feet of iron. Running through the subway or hiking through the mountains, no woman is complete without little heels. Cute shoes are so mandatory that they have large rubber bands when you get on rollercoasters to strap around your shoes so they stay on your feet.

3. Maps here are all oriented to where you are standing when you look at them. Some of them tell you where North is in relation to this, some not so much.
You can stand at a subway station and get 4 different maps, all with different facings and no sense of scale. What happened to efficiency and standardization?

4. Fans and tissue paper as advertisements. Instead of postcards and fliers like on American street corners, people hand out paper fans and little packets of tissues for vodaphone or Mister Donut all over the place. These two items are very useful (see 1 and 5), and people keep them on hand all the time. This is because Japanese are fastidious about trash. They scoff at American recycling and instead divide waste into burnable, non-burnable, pet plastic, pura plastic, tin and metals, recycle paper, glass, and chocolate.

5. The Western toilet is new to Japan, just like high fructose corn syrup and SUVs. So they have not mastered toilet paper distribution, nor have they perfected toilet paper production they way they have perfected public transit and karaoke. So several places have no toilet paper, so keep that cute packet from Thank You Mart. Places that do have tp all have crappy single ply that comes off the roll in shreds. I'm not picky, but come on. You spend hours getting your kimono to hang just so and you can't even put quilted in your nice hotel rooms? Japan, you're like that roommate who keeps her desk immaculate but leaves the bathroom a mess.

6. Fruit is ri-cock-ulously expensive here, like some melons are $60.00. No, this is no typo. $60.00 or up to 1,000 yen. You can get a fancy pair of shoes (and you'll need them to fit in, see 2), or you can get a melon. Not a huge 40 pound gold-encrusted melon or a melon with a new laptop in the center or even a melon that will promise you great sex forever when you eat it. Just a normal melon, not quite Cantelope, not quite honeydew, somewhere in between. I normally eat 4 or 5 pieces of fruit a day. I love fruit. It's refreshing when it's hot and humid(see 1), and you'd think with so much farmland around, they'd have cheaper fruit.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Lords of the Ring

We've all seen them, those behemouths in thongs, mountains of flesh with long hair that you could hardly call humans, let alone athletes. Well today, my friends, we stood in awe of these beasts, exploring the humid habitat of the majestic Sumo Wrestler.
In a regular high school gym in Hokkaido, the northern island of Japan, we watched a full day of fat men throwing each other to the ground, or picking each other up and lifting them out of the ring. One 400 pound man just gets his arms around another 400 pound man and lifts him like a cheerleader, like a bride over a threshold. They floated like a semi-truck and stang like a piano falling out of the sky. It was awesome.
First came the rookies, the Sumo Little Leaguers, who looked like high school kids fed 30 daily bowls of udon. Their matches were over pretty quickly: they step up to the platform and bow, they lift their legs up and show off to the audience, throw a bit of salt into the ring, and squat facing each other. Then like moose in mating season, they charge each other. A person between them could easliy get crushed. The rookie matches were over pretty quickly, then came the Minor Leaguers who were better with technique, more bravado and belly slapping and longer matches. Finally, in silken thongs that only a 6'2" 400 pound man can pull off, our heros paraded through the crowd into the ring. And these guys were really good. Longer matches with plenty of throat grabbing, torso twisting smackdowns. In one match, both wrestlers were holding each other with one leg out behind them, like figure skaters. Graceful, limber, agile elephant figure skaters.

One of my favorte parts came between the rookies and the minor leaguers, when 2 clowns came out and did some amazing slapstick sumo, for the kiddies. One fat guy and one sort of normal sized guy (normal being football quarterback, not linebacker) who pulled hair, slapped like girls, fell into the laps of the judges, tripped the referee, and finally went out into the audience and grabbed beers from poor elderly Japanese spectators. But when a 6'2" 400 pound bear wants your beer, you sacrifice the beer and don't ask questions.

Not all of the wrestlers were Japanese; some are Mongolian and several are Eastern European. The Eastern European dudes are Sex Symbols- hairy chests, more muscle less fat, pale skin- just add gold chains and dark sunglasses. I don't know how they end up doing sumo in Japan: one guy was a bouncer at an Estonian nightclub, another was some farmer in Russia. I assume the guys in their little towns got sick of them winning bar fights and sent them out of the country. And of course they have trading cards with photos and stats! What's a sport without cards?

Plus I got to watch an on deck wrestler get his thong wedged in by another wrestler behind him. Sometimes all you can think when they are grappling in the ring is "Oh, god, please don't let that shift."

The saddest part was the end, as they awarded the winner his prize ceremonial bow and arrows. He starts to do his touchdown bow and arrow dance in the ring, he's beaten the big dog and wants to prance around in the glow of victory, but all 300 spectators stand up and rush the doors. He's up there swinging his bow around and looking like a badass and no one notices because they have to get out of this hot stuffy gym where they've been sitting for 5 hours. That's Japan: intensely polite and unspeakably rude all in the same breath.

Thursday, August 03, 2006


The main reason we're here in Japan is taiko. The leader of the group I play with was in contact with some groups here and was trying to arrange some concerts. We were possibly going to play a festival in Osaka, but this eventually fell through, although not after plans and itineraries were set in motion. We did have a guaranteed gig at a theme park, which we played the hell out of, and even managed to rouse the heat-addled audience that was taiko'd out by the five youth groups that had played prior to us. The odd thing was to watch the other non-taiko people ignore what was going on as they got off a ride and had to exit past the youth groups. Some didn't even glace left to identify the source of the loud pounding sound. It may be that youth taiko is so much a part of the culture that it isn't really worth attention by people other than the parents. This was certainly apparent as the youth groups played and you could see the audience shift as each group finished and a new group started. New parents on deck, ready to video.

Despite the lack of attention the youngsters receive, this does lead to some fantastic things. Like soccer in Brazil or chess in Russia, the huge group of youth participating will produce some exceptional standouts. We got to witness this in Tokyo in a Roppongi nightclub that could only seat 100 people with standing room for maybe another 100. Ondekoza, one of the top professional companies did a short performance that blew me away. Ondekoza takes people into the company when they are teenagers; "take in" means they move in with the group and live the life of a taiko monk. Waking early to run, practicing, eating breakfast, more practice, lunch, practice, practice, perform, repeat. Being able to watch performers so committed is a treat. Being able to do it in an intimate setting even better. And when they are brilliant it brings tears to my eyes.

Step Right Up

Japan seems full of theme parks, a title which covers a wide range of places. Some of these are like American theme parks, vast outdoor spaces with rides and rollercoasters and game booths and souvenier shops. Some others of these are just stores with lots and lots of things to buy, like Fashion Theme Park or Toyota Theme Park. Maybe because space is so limited here, they get a real estate tax break if they call their store a Theme Park. Who wouldn't want to go to a Fun Computer Theme Park? Super Excellent Car Wash Theme Park?
We got to experience one of the more American Theme Parks down in Ise Shima, a place called Parque De Espania! It promises to make you feel like you're in Spain, and with the hills and the bay outside the park and the 95 degree heat and crazy humidity, I did feel like I was in Spain. A creepy Japanese version of Spain. The characters that walk around in this 95 degree sauna are much like Universal Studios characters: a tall skinny dog as Don Quixote, a silly chubby rabbit as Sancho Panza, a cute white kitten as Esmerelda (?). And Parades and Roller Coasters and Snow Cones and a full stage show- this was amazing. The show was all in Japanese, and the plot somehow involved a wood fairy whose wood fairy queen was being held prisoner by some evil robot demon with scary robot minions. And only Don Quixote and his wily crew of pals could save them, in a dramatic 15 minute long dance fight. Did I mention it was 95 degrees here, and the poor actors in their full animal costumes had to do the show 3 times a day!
They also had one of the best roller coasters I've ridden, a big twisty fast loopy thing that surprised the hell out of me all 3 times I went on it. There better be a roller coaster like this in the real Spain, or I'm writing to the consulate.
Also amazing: everything in Japanese and Spanish. I am such an ignorant American. I sometimes find myself forgetting the Japanese word for What? and actually saying Que? because I only speak Spanglish and Crapanese. Stay tuned for my Moronomanian once we get to Europe.

two wheels good

Anne and I rented bicycles for a day of sightseeing in Kyoto. I'm a huge fan of two-wheeled things, doing most of my commuting by motorcycle. Riding a bike in a city in Japan is great. I suspect it's a good time out in the country and the mountains too, but I have yet to find out.

EVERYONE here rides. Men in business suits going to the subway, 80-year old women going to the market, kids riding to school. This, combined with the trains and subways is a transportation system that works. Outside of any train station or apartment building is an area for parking bicycles, mopeds and motorcycles. At large stations, there may be thousands of bikes parked neatly in an area less than a half-block in size. It seems like most people can bike or walk to the train station, and from there get to wherever they need to go. Oh yes, and the trains always run on time. Always.

Since everyone rides, you feel much safer interacting with cars. I don't know how many of you have been on a bicycle on the streets of LA recently, but the general gist is that you are intruding on the cars' territory, so you'd better watch out. Just assume drivers either don't see you or are actively trying to run you off the road and you have the right attitude. In Japan, drivers see and give you the right of way. Since many people ride on the sidewalks, pedestrians move to their left (they drive on the left here) when they hear the little ding ding of your bell. Very fun, very easy.