Sunday, February 22, 2004

Someone in my office, a woman (if you were questioning my sources), said that Japan was 'Communism gone horribly wrong.' I may be paraphrasing, but it's not incredibly inaccurate, if I do say so myself. The woman also happened to be from New Zealand, if that further clarifies the situation in your mind. I don't know if I agree with her off-cuff remark, although it made me laugh, but I will add that the Japanese love singing and songs in general.

You've heard of Karaoke. You can play your favorite songs, sans the original vocals, and sing along with them. If you don't know the lyrics, you can sing along by following the words as they appear on a TV screen, which generally accompanies this activity, perched atop a large machine. They are kind of alternative music videos for budding vocalists or amateur time-killers. Mix in all of your friends, a lot of beer, and a score for accuracy, and you have hours of fun. I've done this with a group of Italians, who all sing every song as loud as possible, and it was quite fun. It sounds like Democracy.

Many of the crosswalks in this city play a short musical tune, Japanese-y sounding, when it's safe to cross the street. It's a musical greeting card kind of sound that's not very appealing if you have to listen to it more than every so often, but I suppose they don't want you standing around enjoying the wistful tunes when you should be quickly getting out of the way of traffic. Many schools and offices play little melodies when it's the beginning of the day or lunchtime or I don't know what. The office building across from my apartment complex always plays a twinkly version of "Yesterday" by The Beatles, and then all the workers come outside and exercise or something. The gas trucks play a little chorus of children singing as they go around the block. Late at night, like after midnight, a really old Japanese man wheels a wooden-cart through the streets selling ramen to the late-drinking salarymen, who come out from pissing behind shrubs to purchase hot bowls of noodles. All the while, a high-pitched tape-recorded singing continues, looped from a loudspeaker attached to the cart, alerting anyone within a one-mile radius, including anyone who may be soundly dreaming, that noodles are nearby.

In my office, at the beginning and end of every lesson, a likeness of Big Ben rings throughout the office. I'm actually not sure if it's an accurate representation of the chime that famous clock in Europe makes, not having heard it myself, but some of my coworkers said as much and that's good enough for me. And besides, it sounds European distorted through the speakers sixteen times each day.

When I first met Angela, we were serenaded weekly by the garbage trucks in the morning, which played little musical passages when they rumbled through her neighborhood. Different garbage trucks play different songs, and they come in many colors, as well. Perhaps the songs correspond to the colors or to the neighborhoods. We never figured it out, but we eventually dubbed one song as "our" song, and we have since learned to whistle the tune. It reminded me of something the ice-cream truck would play when I was a kid, bumbling through my neighborhood in the afternoon.

Is it Communism? It's hard to say.

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