fatman Find the clues!

Friday, August 25, 2006

One if by Land, Two if by Sea

Takaoka - Fushiki - Ferry to Vladivostok

The reason most Japanese people have never, nor ever will, go to Fushiki is that there's nothing much there. The only people who'd ever trek there would be fishermen or people going on the ferry to Vladivostok. We were in the latter category.

Though the ferry was due to depart at around four thirty we had to go through customs at around two. I confess that I'd imagined the customs agent to be a bald guy with a scar running down the left side of his face- the result of a knife fight in Bosnia where he was the victor. He'd have grey eyes that would be sharp as guillotine blades and that could reach into the depths of your soul. 'So,' he'd say as he stubbed out a Vietnamese cigarette, 'do you have anysink to declare?'

We get to the docks. There's a long fence where a half dozen men sell an assortment of semi-legal goods: car stereos, bikes, tires, etc. out from the back of their vans, straight off the boat. I amble over to the man at the gate that separated the outside world and our boat. 'Customs?' I inquire. He looks at his watch. 'You're a bit early. Just head over to the ferry where you can drop off your belongings.' That was about it. A cursory look at our passports and a nod towards where we were supposed to go.

There were a lot of cars between where the guard at the gate was and the ferry. A whole car park full of secondhand Japanese cars that were getting shipped off to Siberia. Due to the law in Japan where ever car on the road could not be older than five years there were a lot of surplus vehicles that had to be sold or destroyed. The Russians buy them for a fraction of the cost and make a bucket load of roubles back home.

Chris, Nik and I lug our stuff up the steps of the ferry. There is a woman behind the counter at the top of the stairs who is collecting ferry tickets and passports. We pass them over to her. 'Minutichko,' she says, 'wait here for wan minute please.' Moment later someone who may be the Captain of the ferry (though in all likelihood not the captain. He dressed like one and had the presence of one. Actually, he reminded me of my high school history teacher, Mr. Mitchell, who would hit me in the back of the head any time I dozed off in class) comes by and says, 'You may take your luggage and wait in your room for the customs to start. This will be in an hour?'

We drop our stuff off in our room, hang about for a bit, get bored and go wandering around the decks. Chris, ever the pessimist, wants to know where the lifeboats are. Nik says, 'I wonder what the Russian phrase for "Everyone abandon ship!"?' We observe a few Russian guys throw some coins overboard and into the sea. About ten minutes later another guy does the same. Chris: 'It must be some kind of custom. To appease the god/s of the sea for a safe passage." I take out my wallet and grab a handful of notes, about $400 worth. Nik: 'What the hell do you think you're doing?'
Me: 'Well, if a few coins are gonna make a boat trip good then a few hundred dollars would make it GREAT!'
Nik: 'Don't be so foolish.'
Me: 'It's the best idea I've had all trip!' Chris and Nik wrestle me to the ground and take my wallet from me.

Later that night...

We are joined at dinner by a German fellow by the name of Konrad. 'You guys speak English?' he asks. It turns out that Konrad is the sole German onboard and had come over to Japan on a conference. He decided to go back to Switzerland (where he works) via Russia and Germany. 'I am going to see my father before I go back to work. He is in Leipzig. You have heard of this place?'
'Yeah I know Leipzig.' I reply, 'Didn't Leibnitz live there for some time?'
'Yes? Also J.S.Bach.'

Konrad was working on trying to predict behavioral patterns of tourists based on ticket prices, weather, travel books and assorted other factors. Chris: 'That seems very complex.Even Edward Lorenz (an early Chaos Theory pioneer) had problems with simulated weather prediction back in the 60's. To add a human equation into the mix is going to make it infinitely harder to predict.'

Konrad: 'Yes? (The way Konrad says 'yes' is with an upward infliction at the end of the word, making it sound like a question rather than a simple statement) It is much more complex to try to predict what a hundred motorists will do than what will happen to the weather.'

Me: 'Hey Konrad. You know that the Russian word for a German person is "Nimitz" right?'

Konrad: 'Yes?'

Me: 'Do you know that "Nimitz" means idiot?'

Konrad: 'Is this true?'

Me: 'Absolutely.'

We all head off to a bar in the ferry where we drink several bottles of Sapporo longnecks. We make a toast to our new friend Konrad. 'Let's grab some vodka!' I yell suddenly.
'I don't know if we should....' someone begins.
'Nonsense! It's the best idea I've had all trip!'

Full of cunning plans,


Blogger Fatman said...


Konrad found me the next day and said, '"Nimitz" does not mean idiot. Were you making that up?'

Chris: 'It actually means (or is close to) "dumb". As in "someone who can't talk". The Germans were probably the first race to come in contact with the Russians. Since they couldn't talk the same language they got lumped with "Nimitz". Sort of like how the word "barbarian" came about.'

Me: 'That's what I meant to say.'

5:30 pm  
Blogger Yawn said...

Customs officers and secret agency administrators are natural enemies in the wild for reasons I can't quite explain.

I think it has something to do with the following scenario:

Secret agency administrator and wife step past the red line to the counter. "Do you have anything to declare?" asks Hector, the customs officer.

"Why yes Hector. We have a liter of liquor apiece," replies the secret agency administrator.

"That answer is unacceptable. When you turn in your customs form you must say to me 'Two liters of liquor."

An awkward silence ensues, and Hector decides he must review our passports yet again. He reviews them twice with the intention of creating a further delay.

Finally he stamps them and ushers us through to the connecting flight terminal.

A secret agency administrator, on the other hand, knows exactly what people are carrying beforehand and therefore does not give a shit about wording and verbiage. He is prepared, strong, virile, and ready for whatever may occur.

7:38 am  

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