Barbeque, Beers and Salsa Piers   Leave a comment

Traveling can expose you to vistas you may never see anywhere else. For example, today I sat on a pier somewhere near Bentenijima, a town a few trains stops away from Hamamatsu, in the late evening. The water was dark and quiet, and the city lights far away, illuminated the blackness like a small box covered with fireflies. Every few minutes, a train would appear as a long snake, streaking across tracks in the distance, before disappearing into a tunnel. As I sat there, I spoke with a friend of mine, Emi.

 Emi was sitting in the darkness, her long hair like a veil. She was barefoot and wearing a floral dress, the patterns hard to distinguish. We were talking about life. As she sat there in the darkness, and me beside her, I felt an interesting sense of time and space. Earlier, I had come here for a Salsa barbeque. Through Emi, I had transportationto the event with a cool young Japanese man named Taka. He had been to Jamaica, on a cruise with his wife of two months, Marie. Meeting him was a notch in a long sequence  of introductions I had been flooded with since my arrival to Japan. The salsa crowd had been introduced to me by Emi, and I had marveled that first night the way everyone had looked at me, wide-eyed and curious, the question marks like invisible halos over their heads.

That night, many girls requested a dance from me, some so shy to touch my hands I could feel them trembling with every step we took. It had been a whirlwind and intriguing, a barrage of sensations doused with the indigo of the club’s black lights. But here, in the open, it wasn’t the same. My Japanese was hardly conversational, and I’m not a serious Salsa enthusiast anymore. I had danced for years in different clubs, but I lost my passion for it. As I approached the Barbeque area with Taka, we parked in a lot across the road. An old totem pole grabbed my attention, and I snapped a picture with it.

The park itself was a family center, with tables set up for groups to sit, and a rocky path lead to the beach nearby. I was quiet for most of the time, regretting that I hadn’t eaten before I got there. Everyone brought beef or pork to cook, neither of which I ate. I sipped Pepsi and slowly ate vegetables, grumbling at my ineptitude of foresight. Also, I didn’t know there was a fee for the barbeque. Someone brought a little chicken with them, so I was able to eat a few tiny morsels of food, but the barbeque had a price tag of 1000 yen, which I didn’t know. After paying for my meal and grumbling at the emptiness of my stomach, I heard there was a Salsa party afterward, at

a local venue. At some point during this Barbeque, Emi had arrived, looking regal in a black suit. She had taken some kind of exam for teachers, but seemed upset because she didn’t feel like she passed it. After the Barbeque ended, we took a group picture.

We walked over to the club, and I groaned. It was another 1000 yen to go into the club and all I could see beyond me were a sea of Japanese bodies. I started to feel a little choked; something that occasionally happens to me in a completely homogenous environment. Two things were working against me; prohibitive spending for things I did not want to do, and distance. Even if I wanted to leave, I had no way to get home. I sighed and made small talk with the Japanese Salsa crowd, who asked me repeatedly why I wasn’t dancing.

I didn’t feel like explaining to them I was hungry, and didn’t like Salsa dancing that much. I also couldn’t bother to say that I wasn’t in the best spirits to begin with. I sat in a chair, thinking about Japan. Even though this was a different country and a different set of rules of meeting people was essentially the same. You don’t need language to have fun. Cost doesn’t matter, the choice is whether or not you want to take what you can from what’s there. So far, I didn’t feel like taking anything. In the past I would have loved something like this, dancing the night away with a group of Japanese people, happily grabbing every girl that laid an eye on me. But in some way they all felt like obstacles; barriers in this new world. So I went outside.

I sat on the pier, watching mostly fathers and sons fishing in the nighttime. Everyone had a small flashlight on a string around their neck, and it was quiet, save the occasional laugh of a child. I felt a little sad and cold, so far away from friends and family, unable to have fun. It felt like a curse, this “wall” I saw in front of me. I tried to think of five years before, when I leapt at the chance to do anything involving fun, wherever I was. Had things become so dark? Was happiness so elusive?

I sat there for a long time, and soon a few of the Salsa group were on the pier beside me. They stood there like statues, chatting with each other while Emi spoke to me. They went back inside to dance, and I started chatting to Emi about life. She was searching for something meaningful in the world, looking at ways to feel better about herself and her life. I told her about choices and journeys, connections and ways of looking on reality. I told her an interesting yarn about meditation, personal psychology and the power of making decisions. It sounded good to me, and I started to feel a little better. In the midst of this conversation, with Emi and I sitting barefoot there together, I
wasn’t sure how to think of her. She was definitely become a friend, and I her confidant. I didn’t have the luxury of imagining anything else. After my brief time in Japan thus far, the idea of a young woman wanting anything from me even remotely sexual seems vague and unrealistic.

After our long conversation, we walked back inside. The party was in full swing, and I could feel the heat from the dance floor. Near the reception area, a tall Japanese man was giving massages to women, who had formed an eager line. I glanced inside. Bodies moved to and fro with amazing precision. Everyone was Japanese, and I looked at their long silky hair, twinkling eyes and smiling teeth. Then I sat back on the couch. Something in me wanted to dance, to reach out and lose myself in the crowd, but I couldn’t. A girl I met at the barbeque came over to me, telling me to come inside and dance. I told her I didn’t feel like it, and she didn’t seem to understand. My responses were protracted and awkward, and I sighed once more and walked outside.

Now it was completely dark, save the lights of a few vending machines. Emi asked me if I wanted to get an ice cream, and I said yes. She treated me to a cone, and I stood by a railing near the entrance for a while. Soon, a few people were leaving, and I got a ride back into the city. Two very genki women were in the car, and excitedly asked me questions about Salsa and Jamaica. They were fascinated to learn that their car was called an “S.U.V” in the states. In Japan, one of them
said, the car is called “4.W.D”. I laughed at this.

The girls in the car were cute, but I knew I would never know them much better. The gulf of language and culture was always there, too wide for me to cross. I came out of the car at the Hamamatsu station, where I had parked my bike. I thanked them and told them goodnight. I unlocked my bike and headed into the city, hoping to find something exciting to do on a slightly chilly Saturday night.


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