Friday, August 13, 2010

from Kyoto: companionship

In all my travels to South East Asia, most taking place before the birth of Ocean, trips to China, Thailand, Singapore, Japan, I always traveled alone (with one notable exception when I took my younger daughter with me on a trip to China). It was inevitable that it should be this way – I traveled for reasons of work and my then-husband stayed home with the kids.

I remember them as being lonely trips. I met good people, I was treated superbly by hosting institutions, but all the sightseeing, restaurant testing, subway riding, photo taking I did alone.

Often days would go by and I would not hear more than a handful of sentences in English.

And so it felt like an entirely different image of South East Asia emerged with the arrival of my occasional traveling companion this Thursday. All the odd little observations you store up in your head as you walk through a strange and fascinating landscape suddenly have an audience.

And a response. Because it is equally interesting to hear what another person reacts to as we walk, for example, through our neighborhood in search of the next morning's coffee.


...or as we munch on cinnamon toast at the café by the subway stop.

But, here we part because I have my classes to teach and Ed has his own agenda: a visit to the grocery store and a nap.

Meanwhile, I ride the subway and watch the people read their way from one stop to the next.


We meet late in the afternoon and head toward the southeastern district of Kyoto, where a great many of Kyoto’s temples are clustered. It is an area that draws a large number of tourists and especially now, at the beginning of a week-long holiday period in Japan.

So a refreshment is in order (green tea ice cream) before plunging into the thicket.


And here, I’ll let the photos dominate for a while. As we leave the modern urban chaos and enter the older sections of the city...


... the crowds begin to pick up. Mostly Japanese, but not only. They come for the old Buddhist temples... for the Kiyomizu-Dera temple...


...where they line up to splash their hands with spring water said to bestow smartness and aid in test performance. (Ed suggested we do the same; I’m thinking maybe the splash will put an end to the recurring nightmare I have of not being prepared for an imminent exam.)


... they come in kimonos. Women and men too (though mostly women).


They run their hands against scripted barrels. It’s supposed to accomplish something, but I don’t know what. Ed does it backwards and thinks perhaps that will bring him a negative outcome.


The walk here is lovely, even as we must share it with others...


...but by the time we reach Kodai-ji Temple, it's late and the spaces empty out.Only the occasional fleeting kimono crosses our path...


It's a very green place. Except, do you see the maple getting it's first blush of red?


The garden is almost empty and Ed remarks that the quiet minutes we spent looking at the bamboo forest were probably his favorite.


It’s dusk now. We leave the temples behind...


...and we cross the river back to Central Kyoto.


And here is this other aspect of having an occasional companion, or at least this particular occasional traveling companion by your side. I have to remember that the man does not eat when the clock says – eat. After a long and very warm walk, he is not ready for dinner. Whereas I am. More than ready. Cinnamon toast and an ice cream cone are long forgotten.

Ed promises to order something, a small something. We pick a spot along the Pontocho alley (don’t ask me the name – I never really saw it ). The place seems crowded and reasonably priced and the menu has some English translations, including a lovely reference to “free range chicken parts on skewer."

In situations where your companion is not eating, there’s nothing left but to eat two meals yourself and pretend you’re sharing. Here, the task is made easier because you are expected to order a few dishes at a time. We have plates of fried seafoods (octopus, fish, shrimp) and vegetables (the best was the pumpkin)...


...greens in broth with mustard, rice in tea with Kyoto plants growing in the wild and ginger...



... all good, some great, and in fairness, Ed did more than nibble a mushroom.

We didn’t have to cross the river to catch our subway, but at night, a walk on the bridge creates another great Kyoto moment. The breeze is cooler now, the crowds seem somewhere over there, not where you are, the lights glow, the world is a good place.