Keen to get out of Japan for a while and to see friends old and new, I decided to book a flight from Fukuoka to New York.
Full of excitement I flew from Fukuoka Airport to Narita in Tokyo, then into the rising sun towards the Americas. I flew with the superbly clean, efficient and friendly Japan Airlines and then the not-so-clean, not-so-efficient and not-so-friendly American Airlines.
The huge decline on the politeness index is the biggest and most immediately obvious contrast between Japan and the US. I remember coming to JFK two years for the finals of the Jessup competition (and more on them later). The arrivals hall was extremely incompetently administered and it took us over an hour to have our passports checked, the worst I’ve ever experienced. The same was true this time, but was compounded by extreme rudeness from the staff there. This is made all the worst by the fact that, as it’s airport security, you can hardly start arguing with people. One little woman in particular was extremely unpleasant: she had decided that you could not turn on your mobile phone in the arrival hall and enforced her rules with such outbursts as “You with the haircut! Turn that off!”, and by shouting in her very strong New York accent at groups of Japanese people who obviously could not understand what she was saying. When they did not immediately dance to her tune, she loudly bemoaned the fact that they “didn’t listen”, but then contradicted herself with the rhetorical question “why come to America if you don’t understand simple English?” If that’s your English love, call me Japanese.
Despite the sourness of the staff and their incompetence, I eventually got through. A nostalgic trip on the subway took me to Shereen’s pad in Greenwich Village.
Obviously, Shereen being Shereen, she has found herself in the coolest possible situation: she shares an entire HOUSE in the centre of Manhattan with some extremely cool housemates. With some of the most glamourous places in the world just a walk away, I arrived at an extremely elegant welcome party. They have a little yard and, thanks to the lovely weather, we were able to have an outdoor dinner party. The menus, one of which I have pinned to my wall now, were headed ‘Casa Hardin’ after the newly moved in housemate whose arrival we were celebrating. For the first time in half a year I tasted drinkable wine, vegetables, and lovely lovely sweet food. The company, too, was charming and they gave me some fun suggestions for the next day.
Shereen was off to Louisiana the next day and so left me with the keys to the pad. Up early, I enjoyed the Manhattan sunshine and amused myself around Chelsea (including the spectacular ‘High-Line’: a former raised train line, now restored and made into a garden / walk way / jogging track which gives some lovely views of that bo-bo part of town, the meat packing district, and the East River), Union Square and Broadway. I walked through Chinatown and Little Italy and down to the financial district which is also, more interestingly, the legal district.
I met Tak Tak in Port Authority which is the bus station under Times Square. We took the bus to his part of New Jersey, the charming sounding ‘Seacaucus’ where I stayed with his family for the next few days.