IT’S stupid-o-clock. It’s some time between 2am and 2.30am and I can’t sleep.
I probably would have been able to sleep had I not incorrectly set the air conditioning/thermostat thing to ‘ludicrous’ heat before settling into bed.
My dreams began peaceful and placid and slowly progressed to being infinitely weird and hell-like.
You know those dreams where you’re parched and desperately trying to find something to drink? You got it, times infinity.
Air conditioning is admittedly something I’ve never been able to get my head around.
I mean, hailing from England how or why the hell would I know how to operate an air conditioning unit?
All I’ve ever done is light gas fires to combat the freezing winters.
Air conditioning? Pfah.
Where I come from ‘air conditioning’ is opening or closing a window. Or asking your flatulent friend to leave the room.
Holidays in Egypt… that’s what air conditioning is designed for for us Brits.
So yes, I can’t sleep. My bedroom, and in fact my entire apartment, is currently a blazing furnace.
I’m in a state of undress with sweat dripping from my brow onto the keyboard. Ewww…
It’s warmer in here than it is in the desert on a summer’s day.
I hear you… ‘open the windows’ and ‘stop whingeing’!
They’re open. And it’s really warm outside. Even at stupid-o-clock.
San Diego, it seems, doesn’t do ‘chilly’.
It’s actually so warm here throughout each and every day, that the city’s parks and recreational spaces boast an unbelievable amount of tramps – or ‘bums’ as they’re called here.
They’re largely harmless. They just sit around sleeping, acting weird occasionally if anyone offers them a glance.
It’s like a year-round bum summer camp. And we’re their entertainment.
Honesty deserves charity
Anyhow I digress.
As I write this I’m also Googling the bloody air-con unit instruction manual in the hope that I can rest easy tonight without the sleep/sauna detox.
I might talk the talk and walk the walk but there is no doubt, here in the U.S. I am a still a stranger in a foreign land – just as much as I was in next-door Tijuana.
I’m daily misunderstood, and often confused.
In the nine weeks that I’ve been here in San Diego I can tell you that Americans are a fascinating bunch.
Oh and in case you didn’t know, they are crazily open and honest about health and religion.
These are two things that people here love to talk about openly.
These are two things that we Brits never really talk about when we’re in the UK.
We have a funny way of avoiding discussions concerning our illnesses, ailments, and of course religious leanings.
Personally I’m not really comfortable talking about either – especially with someone I’ve just met.
“What do you take?” I was asked recently.
“Now? Nothing, I feel fine”.
Again: “Seriously... what do you take?”
Me: “Uh… aspirin or ibuprofen for a headache… a ‘Lemsip’ if I’ve got a cold…?”
*cue long lingering stare*
“And… nothing… I don’t take anything. Nothing to get me through the day, nothing to help me sleep, nothing.”
“Isn’t that weird?” I was then asked.
It’s only when you go to a supermarket (otherwise known here as a ‘grocery store’) that you begin to appreciate the national obsession with remedies.
Drugs - 'aisle' buy that for a dollar!
Shelves and aisles of pills and potions to cure everything from headaches and sports injuries, to sleep deprivation and toothaches. There are pills for things I’ve never heard of.
And natural remedies featuring seemingly unnatural-sounding ingredients.
'D3 5000 I.U.'....? Isn't that a brand of motor oil?
Sure, we have pharmacies in England but wow.
I’m sure there’s actually medication for medication here.
When you’re seen to be new to town religion is the other big talking point.
Within seconds of meeting some people they’ll ask you if you go to church and if you want to go to their church.
I always consider that I must have sinned during the conversation leading up to that point and that they’re trying to cleanse my soul as a result.
I immediately feel uncomfortable and I try to joke my way out of it.
So forgive me.
The actual process of greeting someone here in California (or indeed the U.S.) also confuses me on a daily occurrence.
Rather than simply offering a hardy handshake or a pat on the back, people here seem obsessed with a greeting known as ‘fist-bumping’ – or variations of it.
How the pros do it
It’s basically the action of putting out your fist for someone else to ‘bump’ with their own fist.
I’ve observed plenty of Californians doing it here and I must admit, they look cool.
I however, do not.
There are simply too many variations for me to get my head around.
There’s the actual fist bump. Then there’s the high-five. And there’s some of other part-handshake part-grip thing.
And these are just three of the more popular types of greetings.
And for me, who is new to town and the whole fist-bump thing, I panic when someone puts out their fist or hand because I don’t know which greeting they’re planning on using.
It’s always an awkward moment and, despite the fact that the whole thing is supposed to look and feel ‘cool’, I don’t. I can almost feel my coolness dripping away as and when someone puts out their hand for the bump , or slap, or whatever.
I always hesitate.
Once or twice I admit, I’ve pretty much just thought ‘bollocks to it’ and shaken the outstretched bump fist.
I actually freak out that one day I’m going to face-palm someone by accident.
So I’ve taken to YouTube to try and teach myself some basic rules…
Anyhow. People are strange when you’re a stranger right?
Hey, I noticed my last blog post was popular in Latvia.
Bizarre, but very cool. Welcome Latvians!
At the bottom of this blog is a ‘translate’ icon if anyone wants to read it in a different language.
I can’t promise my ramblings will make any more sense but hey.
Thanks for lending me your eyes.
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The first time I set foot on Japanese soil I was 22 years old. I had gone over two full years without smoking any cigarettes, which I did off-and-on for a short period after turning 18 -- only while drunk though (as if that makes it any better). In Tokyo it was all different. Given their attitude on drinking, it only figures that cigarette smoking would go hand-in-hand.
Let me tell you, I was shocked by what I saw. Not only did it seem like nearly everyone smoked cigarettes, but you were allowed to smoke pretty much anywhere except clothing stores and grocery markets. Even in the McDonald's people were smoking cigarettes as they were at the counter ordering their food! (Clarification: I was not eating McDonald's but rather observing from the sidewalk.) It was unheard of compared to cigarette smoking practices back home in the States, which have become more and more restrictive (as well as taxed) the last decade, particularly in California and New York City. But no tax hikes in Japan -- prices were almost all priced at ¥320 a pack, regardless of brand ($3.50 USD).
Needless to say, between all the people smoking cigarettes and the amount of drinking I quickly found myself doing, it was not long before I was picking up a pack every few days. I fell back into the habit so quickly it was almost scary. But hey, I just went with it, knowing that once I left Japan I would be leaving the tobacco behind as well.
In Japan the legal smoking age is twenty, so of course the vending machines require you to swipe your ID. Not having one, I would either ask people in clubs (and by ask I mean stand next to the vending machine like a gaijin until someone noticed and offered to help) or visit the corner Lawson stores, which are located on seemingly every block. Kind of the way ABC Stores are everywhere in Hawaii.
It is interesting to note that the local Japanese population smoked their cigarettes a lot differently than we Westerners do. Typically in the US, when someone lights up a cigarette they will keep it in between their fingers until the very end, taking a puff every few seconds. In Japan, people light up a cig and after only a puff or two will set it down in the ashtray. They may pick it up periodically and take a few more puffs before the cigarette is done, but some even just allow it to burn all the way down to the filter without so much as another drag. Either way that cigarette spends the majority of its time in the ashtray, not in the smoker's hand. As such the Japanese unquestionably inhale immensely less of the harmful tobacco smoke then fellow smokers elsewhere in the world, at least per cigarette. However, they do light up a lot more cigarettes. Often you would see someone light up a new cigarette only a minute after having extinguished the prior one.
Another interesting thing: Marlboro owns the market here. There are even Marlboro stores on the side of streets, like it was an upscale cigar shop or something. But what I do not understand is where is Camel?
I used to be a light cigarette smoker for a brief period after turning 21 and Camel was my brand for that brief period. I would only smoke a couple cigarettes a day and only at night, with coffee or a beer. Never would I crave a cigarette during work or wake up needing to smoke, and I surely never gave a damn if I didn't have one. I guess you could say I was a social smoker and luckily never got addicted. Quitting for me was as simple as turning off a light switch.
But jumping back to before that rambling confession, what caught me by surprise was the total absence of Camel in the Japanese cigarette market! I remember trying to look it up online and getting no answer, so I tried to contact R.J.Reynold Co and tell them "hey, you guys NEED to expand your market to Japan, you'll make billions." Unfortunately, not sure if you have ever tried to contact a cigarette manufacturer but they sure do not make the process easy -- it would appear as they do not want to hear from their customers and would rather just have them continue to buy packs until they die.
Camel could, with their creativity and styling, not to mention their flair, flavors, and marketing, conceivably dominate the nicotine market of Tokyo and I dare say all of Japan in record time. There has to be some underlying reason why they have not done this yet. Does anyone know why?
I had originally intended to look up the statistics on lung cancer in Japan. However once I stopped smoking I found that my initial curiousity on the subject faded as well. I had not even thought about it until writing this article. Part of me does still wonder if Japanese citizens have higher numbers of lung cancer and other tobacco-related health issues than the United States does, due to the increased prevalence of cigarettes and cigarette smoke.
In closing, I just find it so damn puzzling how a culture which has for centuries strived upon achieving perfection in everything they do and all that they create, could seemingly embrace and accept something as disgusting and as harmful to one's health as cigarette smoking.
The real question is, which is worse: Smoking less cigarettes, but smoking them all the way down to the filter. Or smoking more cigarettes but with only a limited number of puffs from each?
Probably just not smoking at all, eh?
[ UPDATE ] After moving from Tokyo I quit smoking...until I moved to Indonesia in 2013.
Have you observed interesting smoking habits in other places around the world? If so, please share your thoughts and experiences below, thanks!