Friday, January 8, 2010

Japan - Day 4

My dear Chris found our hostel had a pub, so he felt he had to close it at 2 am. Needless to say he was dead to the world when I tried to wake him up at 7, at 7:15, and at 7:30. Finally at 7:45 I shook him in earnest, with the thought that this was my last attempt and then I was leaving him behind. Alas, he woke up, and with a bit of a hangover he followed me on the bike half way across Kyoto to the Imperial Palace (I think I heard some grumbling about "this damn bike", but I ignored it because we had to make it to the palace by 9:30 if we were to make the only tour that day. We were nearly out of breath, but we did, and thoroughly enjoyed a guided tour through the palace complex of the Japanese emperors from 670 to 1868. Very nice indeed. Compact and sober, but with beautiful gardens.

Afterward we continued crossing the city, to reach the Golden Temple. This time I definitely heard mutterings about the $#%@&* bike. You see, Chris is a true blue American, used to having his car, and other forms of transport are truly foreign to him. I reminded him that we could be walking, and he boldly stated that it would be better that way (little does he know what a death march of 12 km can do to a portly young American).

Anyway, the temple was absolutely gorgeous, not only because of the gold leaf that makes it shine like . . . well, gold, but also because of the serenity of the surrounding gardens. In a way that is the seal of this city. Kyoto is the second or third largest city of Japan, but it is a serene place, where urban rudeness has not overcome the natural courtesy of the Japanese people.

Another bike ride (with some more mutterings) brought us once more across the city, to the eastern foothills, where the side path of a small canal takes you across some of the most beautiful old houses of the city, interspersed with a multitude of small shrines. It was very pleasant, but what had really brought us to this part of the city was the Kyoto Zoo. As some of you know, I make a point of visiting the zoo every chance I get, since it generally is a place to see families at ease. Unfortunately the Japanese children are heavily deprived, and we saw little of them. The zoo was OK, however, and we got the added bonus of seeing many of the animals being fed.

Our final salvo of the day was a bike ride through the commercial portion of downtown. Chris was really hating the bike by now, so he was in a hurry to be done with it. Beware, says I: Remember that god number 7,345,256 of the 10 million Japanese gods is the god of bicycles, and he may not take your comments kindly. The language that follows is not suitable for mixed company, but showed in no uncertain terms what Chris thought about god number 7,345,256. Whatever.
The ride through downtown was very interesting. Basically, it was an old fashion downtown with myriads of little shops, but then it was gentrified and turned into an enormous covered mall, not unlike the Grand Bazaar of Istanbul. I was having a great time, looking here and there, when right behind me I heard the words of god number 7,345,256: CRAACK! I turned around and saw Chris sprawled on the ground, surrounded by flying pieces of metal! What the . . .? The clamp that held the seat of the bike in place had fallen apart! "I knew it, I knew it! This bike hates me!" ranted Chris, while we tried to make sense of what had happened. What had happened is that the 3/8-inch bolt that held the sit clamp together had sheared. Really? OK, so Chris is a bit on the portly side, but to cut through a 3/8-inch bolt? Nothing to it but take to our feet to look for a place that could repair the damage (and I hope my portly companion learned how much more slowly one goes on foot that on bike). A kilometer later I spotted a motorcycle repair shop, and I stopped to say hello to the elderly owner and with charades to explain our plight. He was very sorry for us, and called the young mechanic in the shop across the street to ask for help. The young man was all smiles and all concern, and got to fixing the problem with full Japanese zeal. Back and forth and back and forth until he found the perfect bolt for the job. In the meantime the wife of the shop owner fixed tea for us and invited us in to seat down and enjoy the tea. Continuing the game of charades I told them about our trip and they were all suitable impressed. At the end the problem was fixed, our good Samaritan would not take any payment, and we gratefully took our leave from our gracious hosts. It is moments like these that I find it worth to travel half around the world!

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