Sunday, August 26, 2007

They Can Only Come in if you Invite Them

Sorry about the dearth of bloggage, I've been very busy lately. This weekend was a particularly strange one, and it involved my adopted rowing team. I'm starting to notice a pattern.

After our cigarettes and scotch party last weekend, one of the guys invited me to come along to Saitama, a suburb of Tokyo, for a race. I agreed. I'm never too keen on rowing, but I'm always up for a strange experience in Japan.

I didn't know what to expect. I got vague instructions to show up at the restaurant by my apartment after work on Friday. I dutifully packed my bag heavy, since I didn't know what I was getting myself into, and sprinted out of work to make it to the meeting spot on time.

I met my friends and we started driving out into the country through dark rice fields and Meiji-period tiled farmhouses. Eventually we hit the main highway to Tokyo and got up to speed--80KPH, or about 50 MPH--blazing, by Japanese standards. We stopped at a few rest stops. Instead of fried food and meth hookers, you get vending machines and fluorescent-lit omiyage shops. I kept myself running on a steady stream of anpan (basically bread filled with sweet red bean paste) and vending machine beverages. The drive took about 6 hours. We arrived at 3:30 in the morning.

The venue this weekend was the site of the '64 Tokyo Olympics. I would have been impressed, but it was dark and I was tired. I flipped back the chair in the van and took a nap for an hour and a half. One or two other guys napped too, and everybody else wandered off to smoke cigarettes and be vampires. Fine by me, less noise around our de facto campsite in front of a random university's boathouse.

The next morning--or, about an hour from when I woke up--I looked out the van windows into a sea of swarming athletes milling around and stretching. Everyone was wearing bright spandex and I felt like I woke up in some clown's acid trip.

We borrowed a boat from someone. They took it down from a very high rack with a robotic boat-grabber. We rigged it and raced against 4 university boats filled with young and serious-looking athletes. We beat one, which seemed like it sort of surprised and delighted everyone.

After the race we had a few hours to kill, so I people-watched. Japanese rowers, almost to a person, are shredded, striated, and compact lumps of muscle. If looking fast won races, the world rowing scene would have nightmares about this small island nation. Nary a fatty to be seen.

We raced again, beat some other master's boat, lost to a bunch of universities, and called it a day. It was about 5 PM when we got back on the road. The drive back was a thick miasma of ten minute cat naps, random garish rest stop gift shops, fried food, and vending machine coffee. We arrived back in Ishinomaki at about midnight. After 30 hours, I'd had about 3 hours of random uncomfortable naps in short bursts. Not a good ratio for me, but it didn't seem to phase any of my comrades. Maybe they do this a lot.

I got back into my apartment and collapsed into a pile of ice cream and internet, drowning my sun-burned and tired body in the information and sugar it so desperately craved.

This is the robotic boat-grabber. I want someone to make me a home version so I can sit on my ass staring at the internet for hours on end without getting up for food and stuff.


d said...

Don't you think there is a business idea in this post? The Japanese Rower Diet(tm)?

Lisa said...

I think this is my favourite posting so far. I wish you had captured a video of the robotic arm grabber in action though... can you take one next time you see one?

Luke said...

Were these 2k races? If so, I'm impressed, I think I'd pass out with about 750m to go if I was to do a 2k now.

Nate said...

Yeah, I do. But luckily I have the "doesn't smoke" advantage.