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.


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