Sunday, 11 December 2011

Two more bike stories

Alas, the bike shenanigans continue.
You’ve laughed, you’ve cried, you’ve moaned and you’ve guffawed at the grief being loaned a bike in Japan has caused. Happily for you, and infuriatingly for me, the bikanter continues. Two anecdotes present themselves this week:

On Thursday morning, on my way to Hakata for one of my weekly legal English lessons, I did what I always do and left my bike chained up on a ramp that slopes up to Tempaizan station. I do this at least three times a week and have done since September. The first time I had to leave my bike at the station, I did so by placing it in a corner completely out of the way and found, upon my return, that it had been moved into the public highway where I have thence left it.

That evening, classes done and having taught my private pupil in Tenjin and full of the joys of winter, I shuffled along from Asakuragaido-eki to Tempaizan to collect the old girl. She was not there. Keeping cool (it was bloody freezing actually) I scoured the area on the Cambridge House side of the train tracks. It was not to be found.
I should remind you, dear reader, that the powers-what-be in Cambridge House have unilaterally and without judicial oversight decided that the penalty for losing one’s bike is a 50 000 JPY (just shy of 500 GBP) fine and although there’s absolutely no chance of them prising that from me – cold, dead, hands or otherwise – I don’t feel inclined at this stage to get into another bike-related battle with the blokes in brown boiler-suits.

In my still broken Japanese, I asked the man in the ticket kiosk if he knew what had happened to my bike. He gave me a knowing look and said that I should go to the town hall. Such was my intention, though I was at that stage defeated by the homogeneity of Japanese urbanism and the fact that it was dark. I did, however, find myself in the police station.
Twelve or thirteen coppers were sat around doing, well, chuff-all in the police station reception. All stood up when I arrived, all made the same facial expressions when I tried to speak Japanese and all bowed in unison. After a few goes I arrived at the correct pronunciation of ‘town hall’ – shi-yak-sho – but was told that I’d have to wait till the morning. Bowing together, they bade me good night and I them.

Happily, the Cambridge House desk was being manned by a woman such that there were no suspicious questions and nothing but smiles and concern as to whether I had eaten. I had not, so I did.

The next day, I bunked off class and embarked on my crusade to get my bike back. It took me an hour, in changing weather, to find my way from the Futsukaichi JR station to Chikushino Town Hall which, I should say, I had been to twice already, once to register as an alien and once to declare the abductions I had supervised. Japan is very bureaucratic, especially for aliens.
I was directed, by an extremely polite lady to the ‘Department of Biking Affairs’ where, again, I found myself faced with twelve or thirteen employees, an open plan reception space and nothing going on. I provoked some excitement and was promptly shown a very neatly printed book with all of the previous night’s bike requisitioning clearly listed. My bike was picked up here, yes I know, and is being held at a lock up here, oh I see, right next to where I left it, isn’t that frustrating?
I was then shown a diagram of the local area on which a few streets and roads had been arbitrarily coloured-in in red. “Da-me desu” “Sou desu ka?”

That afternoon, Henry-san and I presented ourselves to the saddest bike lock-up in the world, under a motorway flyover where an elderly man, a fridge and a porta-cabin pined for the days of car-park attending or supermarket supervision. He was very polite, an amenable if lonely sould, and he smiled as he extracted a thousand yen from me.

Da-me desu.

Sarah-chan, she of Macclesfield fame, upon returning one Chikushino night to the Asakuragaido bike park, found that her bike had been locked to another person’s. She returned home, hoping that the next day the other bike owner would have realised his mistake and liberated her bike. That did not happen. She waited for over a week and still no one came and unlocked the bike.
Confusion was let loose at Cambridge House as different parts of the university’s bureaucracy gave contradictory commandments to each other as to what was to be done.

As is so often the case, it was left to Davido-san to go with Sarah-chan down to the bike place and simply but decidedly kick the shit out of the other bike until it was so broken as to allow for Sarah’s bike to be released. It’s free now, and the debris that’s still attached to it jingles when Sarah rides it.

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