The Ninjin, Japan - A Travel Story from Japan

So, I was out to dinner with some friends last night and someone wanted an ashtray. I said I'd get it since I was closest, just what was ashtray in Japanese again. "Ninjin", came the reply. "You sure?" My first instincts told me something was wrong. I had heard ashtray before and I was sure it had more syllables, plus "ninjin" was ringing a different bell, but I couldn't quite remember what. "I thought it was longer," I said. "No, it's definately ninjin," came a bored reply. Okay, if you say so. So I went up to the man and asked if I could have a ninjin.

He gave me a look of confusion only the Japanese can really give. "Ninjin? But there is ningin in the food," he said. Thinking I'd misunderstood his Japanese, I tried again, this time ashing a pretend cigarette in a pretend ninjin. "Please, can I have a ninjin," I said again. The man imitated me as if getting the rest of his body to do what mine was would make his brain act the same way too. I took a pretend drag, blew pretend smoke in the air, showed the man my pretend cigarette and ashed it again in my pretend ninjin.

The man started sucking in air through his teeth which is what Japanese people do when they want to say something but can't because it's rude. "Ninjin...?" he said uncertainly and put his head to the side. I looked at my friends to see if they were having me on but they weren't paying me the slightest bit of attention. "Yes, ningin," I said confidently. "Please wait a moment," he said. So I waited a moment and wondered what was so hard since everyone smokes in Japan, and there were ninjins on lots of the tables. A second later he comes out with what he thought a ninjin was.

It was long and orange and I would call it a carrot. "Ninjin!" he announced proudly and gave me the carrot. "Umm yes, ninjin, thank you very much," I said and took it back to the bastards on my table who were much more thrilled with it than they would have been with the other sort of ninjin.
Umm............ok............just one question. Language misunderstanding aside, do I look like the carrot-smoking type??!! The Train Incident (Europe) Oh my God!

So to get from Paris to Barcelona I decided on a sleeping booth. I got there early, put my stuff on a top bunk (as advised by my friendly travel guide) and waited for my fellow backpackers to bunk on in. We had a ten-hour train trip ahead of us and I was keen to bond and start drinking. I sat hunched on my bunk with my head squished uncomfortably against the low ceiling, and swung my legs light-heartedly in preparation of a carefree first impression.

One by one, my new booth mates arrived to claim their territory but something was oh so wrong. Where were my cheery fellow backpackers? My legs hung in disappointment as I realised that five little old guys had somehow mistakenly received invitations to my fun slumber party. My hopes of a good night withered and died, suffocated by the pungent aroma of their stinky little bodies.

The train started moving and since it was already quite late everyone settled down to sleep. I read alone in my little cocoon of light long after the others had turned off theirs. Around midnight I tired of my book and flicked the switch, plunging us into blinding darkness. And that's when it happened. Not two seconds after I turned off my light, and I am not underexaggerating on the time frame here, I heard a zip being frantically undone on the bunk opposite mine.

I turned my head towards the sound and opened my eyes wide though I didn't really want to see the rhythmic act I was hearing being performed. I couldn't believe my ears. There is no way he could have thought I was asleep. I debated whether to cough or turn on the light or do something, anything. This was wrong! Such behaviour should not go on unchecked when there are young conscious girls in close proximity.

There is a time and a place for such things. Had he waited a little longer, even if I still wasn't asleep, I could have understood and forgiven his weakness. But this was obvious disrespect. What could I do? What could I do???? I searched my mind for something, anything. But no. I was totally impotent. Though he obviously was not.

Before long I heard a big trembling sigh. My ears listened intently for more, but merciful silence had finally arrived to deprive me of my traitorous sense of hearing. Relief, for all involved no doubt. Now, I could tell you that I was so disturbed by this brazen act of self-gratification that I couldn't sleep all night. It would have been appropriate to have been shocked into insomnia. But to be honest I rolled over and fell asleep almost immediately. I'm not quite sure what that says about me.

I was last to wake in the morning and everyone was already up so I'm not sure which of the dirty little men He was but they all smiled sweetly and wished me good morning in French or Spanish and I smiled back and returned the sentiment. And that was that.

The Accident (Israel)

It was a dark and stormy night, but our heroine was determined not to let the weather beat her. The Art Gallery of Tel Aviv had quite a reputation and she was definitely going. Deserted by her boring friend who had opted to stay at the hostel and read, our heroine set out alone to brave the elements and see some quality paintings.

She arrived and began dripping her way through an impressive collection. She admired the huge Liechtenstein in the entrance and spent a lot of time with the Impressionists. The Modern Art section confused her, as it invariably does, but she resolved to try and understand something this time and not dismiss it all as crap out of habit. She focused on a particularly messy painting and tried to envisage the artist's intentions.

Close up, she hunted for a clue but all that was evident was that the artist had generously tried to include absolutely every colour in the known spectrum of the universe in his painting. Our heroine walked backwards to get a better view of the painting as a whole. She stopped and squinted hard, thinking that perhaps this painting was of one of those computer-generated pictures that reveal 3D images when you concentrate hard and stare through them, but despite having mastered this skill years earlier, she saw no dinosaurs. She took another couple of steps backwards and wondered what sort of person would want to hang a picture of colourful vomit in their lounge room. Nope, she didn't get it. She turned to leave.

Now, let's have that again in slow motion. She turned to leave. Her body twisted, her left foot stepped behind her and placed itself perpendicular to its mate. Her elbow crept out. A modern steel sculpture sat on its podium minding its own business and pondering life's great mysteries. The elbow inched forward. The sculpture looked at the vomit painting and wished it were placed in another gallery. The head started to turn, but the elbow was too far ahead.

The sculpture looked at itself and wondered what exactly it was meant to be. The elbow didn't think at all, it advanced without questioning its orders. The sculpture wished it could read the plaque nailed to the side of its podium. The elbow was on a mission of destruction. The head finally sensed that something was awry. It was too late. The elbow made contact. The elbow won.

Nnnooooooo!!! An almighty crash echoed through the gallery. Our heroine was mortified. There at her feet lay what must have been some sort of metal sculpture. It was now in pieces. Our heroine put her hands in front of her face and begged the powers that be to turn her into a bug. A wave of panic swept over her. This art gallery housed paintings by Monet and Van Gogh, really important dudes. This sculpture must have been important too, priceless even.

How do you pay back something priceless? How do you apologise for breaking priceless art? Would she go to jail? Through her pain, our heroine heard the patter of little footsteps converging on her. With tears in her eyes, she lowered her hands. An army of little old lady security guards was advancing from every direction for the counter-attack. Our heroine was finished.

“No worry, no worry, okay?” said one lady. Another patted my arm. They talked among themselves in Hebrew for a bit, and I stood there trying to await my fate without bursting into tears. What had I done? They gave me sympathetic glances and smiled reassuringly but I was shitting myself. Then they calmly picked up all the pieces and began trying to rearrange them back into something plausible. I couldn't believe it. They just kept trying one thing after another, patiently balancing one bit on the next in a bid to get the whole thing to stay obediently on its podium.

It fell a few times but they persevered. After about twenty minutes it finally stayed put. The little old ladies congratulated themselves, patted each other on the back, and after a quick smile at me, they walked away and left me there. Free. They weren't even kicking me out. I stood there a while longer stunned by the whole incident. I have no idea if the sculpture now bares any resemblance to its former self but then I guess that's the beauty of Modern Art; it really doesn't matter.

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