Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Everyone Jump! みんなでJUMP!鷲東中運動会

Japan is a place where the group is more important than its members, the team more important than the all-star. The insiders call this attitude "group thinking" while the outsiders call it "following the herd." Ask a Japanese junior high student during a field day, 運動会, and they'll tell you with a big happy smile that it's nothing more than good 'ol fashioned teamwork.

While some American schools are getting rid of field days claiming the events are too competitive; field days are, and always will be a vital part of Japanese school life because they are competitive in a good way: the emphasis is placed on team performance, not on the individuals. There's no I(ndividual) in team. Students compete as a homeroom team against other homeroom teams of the same grade level. Competing as a team takes pressure off the individual, letting everyone compete better and have more fun, which is what field days should be about.

And Japanese field days are blast because most of the events are pretty goofy. Sure they run 100m dashes and relay races, but those are only the filler events between the big shows: the hand blistering class tug-of-war, the marvel of coordination class jump rope, and the ever exciting typhoon run.

The all-class tug-of-war is a joy to watch. Here two classes match their brute forces in a battle of torque, grunting, and contorted faces. It's brilliant to see the students who spend 90% of their school life asleep (minus lunch) wake up and crank on a rope with never-before-seen passion. Teachers stand on the side and root for their team, sometimes yelling threats instead of encouragement.

That's the teacher's primary job at the field day: to root for their classes and make sure everyone is where they should be when the gun fires start. The main event of the day at East Junior Highs, (鷲宮町立東中学校) field day was called みんなでJUMP, which translates kinda like a Van Halen song- "Everybody Jump!" Don't forget the "together" part though because this all-class jump rope contest. All the homeroom class teams line up with 30 plus people in the middle and one rope swinger at each end. When the gun fires the teams have 3 minutes to get the most consecutive jumps they can. The winning team jumped 34 times! The team in the video below came in a very close second jumping 33 times! I almost forgot, there are around 35 students in each class. That's 35 junior high students doing the same thing for same goal at the same time. That's teamwork.

The third event that is a total blast to watch is called the 'typhoon'. Typhoon is a fit name for this class relay wherein the four students run around cones with a long laundry poles. The four run to a cone in the middle of the linear course where the inside person will act as a pivot while the outside people run around the cone like a sweep on a radar screen. Once around the first cone, they run to the second cone at the end of the course and turn around, repeating the sweeping action at the middle cone and returning to base. At base, the groups waiting to run duck under the pole as it passes over them and then jump over it as it comes back under them. When all that is completed the next group of four set out. {Wow, that was hard to explain, here's the video where you can see why it's called the typhoon.}

Watching the field day I couldn't help but think back on my own junior high days. I was a skateboarder and I couldn't give a rat's ass about homeroom class, much less my school in general. I had no "Frenship Tiger Spirit," and neither did anyone else I knew who wasn't a football player or a cheerleader. I didn't care because I didn't have a reason too. The only scores that mattered were TAAS scores. Outside of pep rallies the school did nothing as a whole, and even at the pep rallies the majority of us didn't much care about football because we weren't playing it. I didn't have any pride in my class but I wish I did. If I were made to participate in a field day in junior high I probably wouldn't have liked it, but I would've participated, and, who knows, I might've enjoyed it, especially if I could jump rope or run around in circles with a laundry pole.


Photos: Top: There are three trophies which are awarded to the best teams in each of the three grade levels. Middle: Students grunting through the tug of war. Video 1: "Everybody jump 33 times." Video 2: the super fun looking Typhoon Relay

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Learning to Squat

After almost two years in Japan I'm finally comfortable using a squat toilet. "Squat toilet" is a fancy name for "flushing hole in the ground," aka: squaters. Squaters were intimidating at first but now I enjoy using them when I have the opportunity. Maybe it's just the novelty of learning a new way poop, a feeling I was too young to remember the first time round.

Imagine this: You're sitting at your desk when the dogs start scratchin at your back door. You head to the restroom and swing open the stall door and, much to your surprise, the toilet bowl is about 2 feet lower than it should be. Hell, it's burried in the floor! What do you do hotshot? You think back to camping trips only now there's no trees to hold onto. There's no handle bars in this crap cubicle.

If you're totally dumbfounded by the scene, you do what I did for over a year- you pinch 'er shut and get home asap. There are satanic machanics at work here.

That's what I did, I just ran away. Until the day the Inevitable caught up with me. I knew it had to happen someday. I just knew it. I had a demon inside me and wasn't gonna wait. I made my way to the stall like a convict "walking the mile" about to "ride the lightning." It was judgement day minus the throne.

I tried to think of the best way to approach the problem. There were no instructions, only a sign that said "We want everyone to feel good using the the toilet, so flush it when you're done." I figured I'd just squat half way down, brace my hands on my knees for support, and make the drop. But then, what if I missed the target and unloaded in my breeches? Ewww. So I took off my pants and undies but since there weren't any coat hooks anywhere I slung 'em over my neck like a scarf with pockets.

I was so tense, so nervous, so vulnerable. The demon was confused too because he turned tailed and ran. Hell no you filthy curr, you got me into this crazy situtation and you're going down if I have to squat here all day... Twenty minutes later I was dripping sweat, my legs were shaking in pain. I gave up and sat with my ass on my heels. I hung my head in humilation. Naked in the bathroom. I felt like Job.

That's when the clouds parted and a beautiful ray of sunlight shone down on me. My cheeks parted too and soon the demon was out of me and baptized in the clear water of Toto's bowl. I breathed a huge sigh of relief: catharsis realized. Glowing, I took note of my squating position.

Later when I talked to my friend about my experience I learned that you're supposed to squat all the way down when using a squater. My internet research confirmed it. I also found out that it's actually healthier to squat-shit than to sit-shit. For the plethora of health benefits click here. For animation of how to do it click here.

Now I look forward to squating because I know I'm taking the best shit I can. It feels great and thanks to my research I don't have to strip to do it anymore. There's something primal about. My squat training really helped me in India where squaters are the norm; only their stalls come with a bucket and water instead of toilet paper. Ewww.

Great links for squaters: health benifits- http://www.naturesplatform.com/health_benefits.html?a=&p=health_benefits.html&s=&c=&x=1#Dr_Rad
For more on toilets in Japan: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toilets_in_Japan
How to use it: http://www.asahi-net.or.jp/~AD8y-hys/movie.htm

Photos: Top- cartooned image of my favorite squater. Bottom- helpful advice "Flush." I really like the turds hanging onto the lip of the bowl.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Linked for your Pleasure

Hello readers, I'm currently in the process of updating all my posts with informative external links. Though I dislike reading articles riddled with multicolored links, I hate reading articles where the writer assumes shared experiences that just don't exists. From here on out I'll do my best to link the particulars of my posts should anyone want to investigate things or places unfamiliar. 日本語のリンクが日本のページに行きます。

Monday, May 19, 2008

Return to the Ring: 鷲宮町空手道大会

I punched a guy in the face and the crowd went wild! The hollow plastic clap of his helmet was heard throughout Washimiya 鷲宮町. Everyone was routing for me and I didn't let them. It was my return to the karate ring after thirteen years of dormancy and I releshed every second of it.

I've been practicing karate in Japan since February with the Washimiya Karate Club. Since then I've almost been knocked unconscious 4 times- at least that's all I can remember. Karate 空手道 in Japan is a serious affair, training the heart and the body.

Learning karate in Japan is drastically different than learning it in the U. S.. The most immediate and obvious difference is the language. I receive all my training in Japanese, save for the times my teacher, the panther quick and leather tough Tanaka Sensei 田中先生, digs deep into his English bag and throws out a "no," "stop," or "straight." He never says "yes;" he does say "so so so so so," but that's a Japanese thing. I'm the only one in the training hall who he tries to use English with, and that's the second difference: I'm the only white guy.

Fortunately karate is a sport that is taught less with words and more by example... and force. Like in Kill Bill 2 when Uma goes to Pie Mei and can't speak Mandarin and he tells her, "You are here to learn the mysteries of Kung Fu, not linguistics. If you can't understand me, I will communicate with you like I would a dog. When I yell, when I point, when I beat you with my stick!"

I don't get hit with a stick, no, I get punched or kicked with whatever punch or kick I happen to be messing up at the time. Here's an example: one day Tanaka Sensei saw me not pulling my toes back on a front kick, so... he saunters up to me, squares off, tells me to watch as he pulls his toes back, then he kicks the ever lovin' shit out of me. A brief instruction follows in Japanese, "See how I did that?" Oh "I got it chief," I think to myself as my stomach hula-hoops around my throat, reminding me what I ate for lunch. It's a painful pedagogy that encourages fast learning. So even though I don't understand everything Tanaka Sensei says but we make it work.

He's one of the best people to study under in Japan, and that's a fact; last year he came in 2nd place at the All-Japan Tournament for people 60 and up. He's 62 but he's got a left punch that'll ring your bell, take my word for it. His assistant teacher is Kawai-san (36) whose right hand is faster than a Tommy-gun, and it hurts like hell. He's really good, he took 7th in the All-Japan Tourney this past year! Wow!!

For some reason or another I always end-up learning from the best. When I studied karate as a kid I trained under West Texas bone-crusher Darren Walters. I've never known a tougher guy, neither have the hundreds of people his K.O.ed. While I won more than my fair share of tourneys under his guidance, I never realized how well he trained me until Sunday when I clenched second in the adult mudansha 無断者, or under black belt division.

Pure instinct surfaced and it all came back to me. Japanese or not, in the ring it's about 80% spirit and 20% skill. The sparring 組手was great and exhausting. Fighting 4 rounds at 26 is twice as hard as it was at 13, especially since I smoked for 5 of those years.

My teammates, the majority of which are my elementary school students, cheered me on, and god I wanted to win for them. They kept cheering "Go Jausten Sensei" which really confused everyone because I was wearing a white belt. They explained that I'm their English teacher at school and that set the record straight (sensei means teacher and is used like Mr. or Mrs. whether you teach Karate or history, it's also used for doctors and, oddly enough, sometimes hairdressers).

In the end I came up one point short from taking first place but it was a victory for me. I got a little trophy and a certificate with my name on it. The certificate is the real prize as it symbolizes 3 months of blood, sweat, and tears, and, most of all, the Japanese cheers from the kids who call me Sensei.

Top left: me punching for the win (I'm on right). Middle: Washimiya Karate Club, Tanaka Sensei is in the middle wearing the suit. Bottom right: Me with certificate and trophy for runner up in Men's sparring.

Video: Kawai-san pulverizes his opponent with two solid smashes. In Japanese sparring you wear a helmet and and chest protector but no foot pads, which means a kick hurts you more than your opponent. It takes two clean and solid blows to win a match. There is a 2 minute time limit after which the match goes to first point wins. Someone must get hit, and hit hard. Kawai-san is the fastest guy in building and 7th in All-Japan! Needless to say he's on the left.

Here's Sensei Darren Walters's site in Lubbock TX:

Monday, May 12, 2008

Beasts of Men: Sumo 大相撲

Staring each other down with gunfighter-scowls. Feet shift in the sand, ready to spring at the slightest movement. The battle won't last long once it starts. One of them will drop. No 44-magnums in these belts though; just 350 pounds of human monster ready to thunder off the line. The crowd grows louder the closer the combatants crouch to their lines.

On the east side of ring burns Yokozuna Asashoryu, the 27 year old, 6 foot, 335 pound, 22 time Grand Champion from Mongolia. He's high grade destruction with an attitude. Hero to some, bane to others, he's the wedge-man in Japan's most traditional sport. Across from him is another guy, Kisenosato.

Their elephant feet dig deeper into the ring. Fists tensed on the lines. Eyes locked. Then, just at the right moment, they bolt at each other like atoms in a supercollider... The world stops and things goes quiet, like bomb muting reality before laying it waste...


Their massive heads collide issuing a gnarly primordial knock. The sight stupefying, the sound spine tingling: like dropping a large smooth stone on concrete. A dense thud that ripples the air, reverberating clear to upper deck of the arena where yours truly is watching the carnage. Sand flies, faces contort, and bodies roll, and roll some more. It's hard to stop a Sumo, 'bout like stopping an asteroid.

When the dust settles its Kisenosato who's left standing in the circle thinking to himself, "Holy shit! Did I just do that?" He did it alright. He did it well. He beat the unbeatable on the very first day of the two week long tourney, cutting a one-shaped slash into whatever record the champ manages to put together.

The class and grace with which these agile boulders move is stupefying. At the upper levels of competition you'd be hard pressed to find a sumo under 325 ponds. Most of 'em can do the splits which means they could kick you in the head just as easily as they could throw your ass to Neptune. I'm in awe of these modern giants who wield brute force with delicate finesse.

I've been a sumo fan since the first time I saw it on the TV here in Japan almost two years ago. NHK, the Japan Broadcast Corporation, airs all the upper division matches of the Grand Sumo Tournaments held over two weeks, six times a year. Fed up with watching from the sofa, me and two friends took action and bought upper-deck tickets for Japan's fleshy national sport.

This past Sunday (5-11), was the first day of the May Grand Sumo Tournament held at Tokyo's Kokugikan arena. We bought our tickets the first day they went on sale as weekend tickets go fast. 5,000 yen ($50) got us upper deck seats and a pretty decent view. That sounds expensive, and it is, but it's a good value because the action lasts all day, from 8am when the first lanky inexperienced Sumos dance with each other, until 6pm when the highest ranked Yokozunas toss their opponents into the front row crowd who pay over $100 a head for the privilege. That's how things usually go down, only the day I went it was a Yokozuna who was tossed out of the circle.

Yokozuna is the highest level in Sumo and it's extremely difficult to reach. The tricky part is that the title is based on tournament performances, which means its stripped if the wrestler does badly, like being sent down to the minors after a bad game. The title is extremely difficult earn, so difficult that in the last 300 years only 62 people have carried the honor. At present there are only two wrestlers ranked as Yokozuna, and, much to the chagrin of sumo ethnic purists, they're both Mongolian. One is the arrogant and dominating Asashoryu, the other is Hakuho, the newest and best of all.

Hakuho fights with a calm spirit that is ten times bigger than his 343 pound, 6'3" shell; a spirit clearly visible both on the TV and at the arena. Did I mention he's only 23? Amazing, simply amazing. Where Asashoryu is a stamping elephant, Hakuho is a deep sea humpback. I have a ton of respect for the guy and I'm not sure why. He's the first sports hero I've ever had. I never really understood the allure of having a sports heroes until now. I used to wonder why people adored athletes who's skills they would never be able to match. Now I know that's the fun of it. Not only can I not compete at Hakuho's level, I can't compete period. It's great! I bought a copy of his tegata, a life-sized hand print of his mighty right paw, on top of which is his signature; a copy of course, the real things sells for hundreds.

My day at the sumo arena was one of the best days I've spent in Japan. To my left and right were my good friends Ryan and Calum, in my left hand was a bag of tater chips and in my right a cold brew. And in front of me, well, in front of me were some of the most marvelous, and I mean that literally, some of the most marvelous people I've ever seen. The icing on the cake came when Hakuho the Pure won his match. He did it for me, I read his palm.

Watching this mammoths wrestle made me wonder just what it takes to be a Sumo wrestler. Surprisingly, it doesn't take much at all: as long as you've finished junior high, are over 5'6" and 165 lbs., but under 23, then you're good to go. Life in the training houses, called stables -proper homes for the beasts- is hierarchical with the newbies cooking the food and scrubbing their superiors' hard to reach back parts. If you can handle that then room and board is "free."

If you make it to Yokozuna level then you get a huge monthly salary to go with your cleanings: a salary in the neighborhood of $25,000... per month! That figure excludes the prize money from sponsored matches, the gift money from autograph parties, and bonuses for doing public exhibitions in the down times. What a life!, while it lasts at least. Sumo wrestlers, while amazing physical specimens aren't the healthiest folk. The average life expectancy of a wrestler is 65, a pitiful showing in Japan which boasts a global high of 78 years. After visiting the arena and seeing the Goliaths in action, hell, I'd be more than happy with 65 years, so long as 10 or 12 of 'em were spent in the ring.
Photos: Top: Takamisakari digs deep but comes up short in his bout with Goeido. Middle: Best of the Best -the top ten Sumo wrestlers in the world. Asashoryu and Hakuho are on the right and left of the speaker respectively. Bottom: Hero's Handprint, Hakuho's tegata. Video: Hakuho wins his opening match with Asasekiryu. It's not the best video but it's taken by me. All photos and video by yours truly.

Visit sumo's official English website at http://sumo.goo.ne.jp/eng/index.html
For the beginner's guide to Sumo click here.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Sacred Memories Signed and Sealed: Goshuincho 御朱印帖

Japan's Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines are world renowned for their beauty and architecture, craftsmanship and style. These holy edifices inspire a whole mix of emotions: from the humility of being seen by the 1200 year old, 500 ton, 50 foot tall Great Buddha at Nara's Todai-ji Temple, or the claustrophobia of fighting through the tourist gauntlet at Asakusa's Senso-ji, the oldest, busiest, and most commercial temple in Tokyo, to the utter confusion of seeing a bronze kamikaze pilot statue standing next to a real Japanese Zero fighter-plane at Yasukuni Shrine, notorious for its enshrinement of 14 class-A WWII war criminals. Whatever emotions or memories you feel, the best way to remember them is with a goshuincho, a unique piece of Japanese religious culture that's tailor made for the job.

A goshuincho 御朱印帖, pronounced "go-shoo-een-choh," is a book used to collect the official vermilion (shu, in Japanese) colored stampings from the name seals of temples and shrines. The seals (in, in Japanese) function just like the personal name seals Japanese people use for business and other formal purposes, only religious seals are larger and more intricately designed. The book itself (cho, in Japanese) is a bound set of blank paper where the priests do the stamping and writing. Each inscription is made of two parts: the stamping of the seal and the writing of the temple's name, usually done in beautiful calligraphy. Click here for a Japanese gallery of stampings.

Here's what you do. After praying at a temple or shrine, head over to the booth selling religious charms and hand the priest your seal book. The priest opens your book to the next free page and stamps it with temple's seal using vermilion colored ink. Then, using brush and black ink, the priest writes the temple's name along with the date of your visit in calligraphy. After paying the nominal 300 yen, about $3, your book is returned with a crisp new memory.

Seal books are available at most major temples and shrines throughout Japan and cost around 1,500 yen, $13, with the first inscription fee included. Covers come in a kaleidoscopic selection of colors and styles, ranging from the old-school monotones sold at Asakusa's Senso-ji Temple, to the colorful and meticulously detailed cover scenes offered by Ueno Park's humble Kiyomizu-do Temple, or Kamakura's dramatic Tsurugaoka-Hachiman Shrine. When purchasing a new seal book ask the priest to write your name on it as his calligraphy will no doubt look better than your own.

Aside from temples and shrines, inscriptions are also available at various holy places, such as Nikko's picturesque Shinkyo Bridge, and, as I was surprised to discover, at the twin peaks of Ibaraki prefecture's 877 meter (2,877 foot) Mount Tsukuba.

I've been collecting temple seals for over a year now and it never ceases to amaze me how pulling out a goshuincho captures every one's attention and sparks conversation. Recently I visited Tomyo-ji, a small local temple, and was invited inside to wait until the priest returned to inscribe my book. While waiting, the grandmother who lives adjacent to the temple came in and asked to see my seal book. As her old bent fingers worked the pages apart and lightly traced the calligraphy of others, her eyes widened and glowed at the familiar places she began revisiting.

"You were at Nikko's Rinno-ji Temple over New Years. Tell me, was there snow on the eves," she asked with anticipating eyes. "Just a little," I said.

"And here, at Tokyo's Zojo-ji Temple in April, were the cherry-blossoms still in bloom?" A rich broad smile wrinkled her face when I told her that indeed, the blossoms were beautiful.

That's the power of the goshuincho: it transports the viewer back to striking places. Between its covers lies the sacred topography of both Japan and the heart. Memories take on flesh as the mind strolls through the pages -memories of awe before a great Buddha, experiences of chaos in a religious tourist trap, feelings of confusion at a modern war shrine, and, perhaps most evocatively, slow afternoon chats with the golden faithful - all signed and sealed.

To purchase a goshuincho ask anyone working at a major temple or shrine. The pronunciation guide at the top of the page should make this easier. It is possible to buy a book at all of the temple and shrines mentioned in this article.

Pictures-- Top: Inscription from Kamakura's Engaku-ji Temple, one the Japan's greatest Zen training grounds. Middle: My goshuincho. The light green book is from Kyoto's Eikan-do Temple, the open book on the right shows the inscription from Juisen-ji, the 3rd temple of 34 on the Chichibu Pilgrimage Route, on the floor are inscriptions from three Tokyo Shinto shrines, from left to right: Hie Shrine, Meiji Shrine, and Shinjuku's Hanazono Shrine. Bottom: Covers, my name is visible in Japanese katakana script, written by the priests of course. Video at Bottom: Inscription at Kyoto's small but extremely impressive Kodai-ji Temple. My friend is speaking with the priest.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

The Earth Quaked Today

I was sitting with a friend over drinks at Dreamland Bar when the silverware started pinging and the ceiling started thumping. We both thought it a little strange at this time of night. Then my drink started rippling and hopping out of the glass. The table was shaking. I wrote it off to my new upstairs neighbor's kids who are always afoot. That's when things really started shaking, the pictures on the wall, the floor, the people... the bed underneath me and the earth underneath it all.

Unable to ignore the shaking invading my dream any longer, I awoke, and with half conscious senses felt the earth quake. The twenty year old walls of my apartment creaked and moaned as they twisted with the earth's sway. My dishes clapped in the cabinets. Somewhere in another apartment something toppled.

I kept thinking the earth must shake itself still before long. But the shaking grew heavier. The earth became a cosmic roaring lion, and I but a tick on its back.

After another fifteen seconds or so the earth finally rested and my apartment settled. Fifteen seconds is an eternity when the world is shaking. My nerves split, unsure whether the shaking would reside or intensify. That's the scariest qustion: when will it stop?

At 1:45am this morning a 6.7 earthquake centered in the Pacific just offshore of Ibaraki prefecture shook me awake. Ibaraki prefecture borders Saitama prefecture (where yours truly sleeps) to the north east. The quake roared south through my prefecture and into Tokyo which lies 60 miles away.

Though the quake hit Ibaraki at a 6.7 on the Japanese shindo scale, by the time it woke me up it had dropped to a mid-range 3. The shindo scale ranges from 1 to 7 and works differently than the America richtor scale in that it measures the noticable effects of the quake as opposed to the quake's magnitude. On the shindo chart a 6.7 quake breaks gas and water lines and cracks walls. When the quake shook me at a level 3, I experienced a slight fear and heard my dishes rattle.

Though this quake started high on the scale only a few injuries were reported and around 2000 homes lost power. The effects of this latest quake are nothing to cry about given the severity of the carnage a level 6 quake inflicted upon Niigata prefecture last July. The Niigata quake resulted in eleven causalities, 1000 injuries, and a damaged nuclear reactor along with hundreds of other buildings.

I've felt a lot of tremors in my two years in Japan but this was by far the most turbulent. I was scared this time. I didn't know what was about to happen. And the worst part: I just lied in bed like a frightened idiot and hoped it would it end soon.

Here's the Japanese Shindo Earthquake chart:

Monday, May 5, 2008

Moto Mayhem on the Streets of India

I don't know how most visitors to India get around town but I'm pretty sure it's not on the back of 125cc motorcycle. Most people have more sense than me when it comes to many things but my sense of adventure ranks with the best of 'em; so when Guru told me to get on the back of his Suzuki I jumped on, wrapped my arms around his chest, and prayed to every god inside outside of the Hindu pantheon.

Traffic in Bangalore is a finely ordered chaos and I got my first taste of it right off the plane. When Calum and I first arrived in town we were met at the airport by Vinnay (now a married man!) who hailed us a cab to take us home. Vinnay rode shotgun and gave the driver directions while Calum and I rode in the backseat and puckered our rear ends as we pulled into an onslaught of traffic. I swear our driver was on speed because he was sweating like a geyser and talking 90kph while bobbing and weaving through a motley assortment of wheeled conveyances: buses, dump trucks, scooters, three-wheeled "bug" taxis, bicycles, and, my personal favorite, the ox drawn cart. Hindi-techno-pop screeched out of the fried speakers.

The only reassuring thing about our taxi ride on the edge of death was that all the other drivers were probably just like ours, and even though ours was psycho, when psychos get together everyone is sane. The only people loosing our minds were Calum and I.

The scariest part of the journey came at the "Killer X," the spot where one exits the freeway. The off ramp was a welcome sight until we cut into oncoming traffic across the road to get to it. At the same we were trying to accomplish this stunt so were the people trying to exit from the other side of the road. Who the hell thought this up? I closed my eyes in fright as our speed freak driver cut the wheel into 1000 blazing head lamps, but I opened them in favor of witnessing my own demise. A bright light flashed, and as squealing tires skid across the asphalt, Ganesh, the elephant headed Hindu god of benevolence, touched my left cheek with his dripping snout and escorted me to a sandy bed.

The bed was hot and mosquitoes drained my blood. Ants nipped at my left elbow and the big toe of my right foot. Gnarly dreams, full of men with blue and white faces, showing me the way across the marshland. Crafty guides they were, crafty indeed.

So the next day when it was time to go sightseeing around Bangalore I was a bit nervous about riding on the back of a motorcycle, unprotected from the roving swarm of Indian traffic. Guru is a wonderful guy who's always smiling (which can be a little scary with other people). He wore a tight fitting yellow long sleeve shirt and brown polyester pants, all of which were perfectly synced by his mustache and JFK-esque parted hair. A happy bastard he was, and homicidal behind the handlebars.

I almost died 8 times that day: 7 times from impact and once more from cardiac arrest. We barely dodged a holy cow in the road, coming so close that its rank ropey tail hit me in the ear. Guru said that was a blessing but I don't believe the man.

As the day wore on and we put more kilometers under the bike I grew more accustomed to the heinous traffic. I started taking video from back seat and snapping pictures as we passed odd looking people and locales. {below: video taken of the Bangalore Capital from motorcycle}

When we came to the "Killer X" I wondered which god awaited me this time, hopefully not Shiva, god of destruction. I gripped Guru's shoulders tightly and he cranked on the gas. Smoke spewed and thunder pealed. The portal was breached. When we arrived home it was with Sanskrit markings on our palms and foreheads.