Friday, January 05, 2007

white as snow

I'm fairly new to snow. Seeing it, tromping in it, living in an environment where one can expect to experience a bit of it sometime between November and April. West Coast Inner City Gals who aren't winter sports enthusiasts don't get much early exposure to snowfall, snowstorms, and the like. As a kid, I stayed pretty close to home. No snow in that neck o' the woods.

I first played in snow when I was a teen. Wearing blue jeans, I had no understanding that denim sucks up the icy slush of melted snow, rendering the fabric freezing cold and wet. Not to mention heavy. Of course, I didn't know to bring a change of clean dry clothes to wear for the 4+ hour car ride back home. Brrrrrrrrrrr (sound effect of teeth chattering). 'Nuff said.

I didn't see snow falling until I was an adult, whilst visiting Japan in the wintertime: There I was by my lonesome on a little train choo-chooing into the inner reaches of Northern Honshu. I was on my way to the city of Akita...

I was venturing into the rural part of Japan - quite a change from bustling Tokyo where I'd just been. Looking very much the tourist, I sat like a fish-outta-water with the locals on that train. It was night, no one spoke English (I tried asking simple 'Are we heading to...?' questions, but people shook their heads as if they couldn't understand, or didn't wish to engage in conversation), no signs were in English and several of my fellow passengers had caged pet birds and chickens on the seats beside them. Country bumpkins who didn't want to bother with a confused (and possibly suspect) n' dazed dame on a train riding into the remote?

I was a female traveling alone. Schlepping two heavy suitcases. 39 years young (ah, eons ago), my hair worn long and loose, sporting a pair of thinnish cotton stretch pants with a little print (fashionable at the time?), white athletic shoes (bad combo) and a bright turquoise wool jacket (what was I thinkin'?!?). Maps and a guidebook in hand. Pretty obvious = tourist-o.

This was my first trip to Japan - a month long (solo) sojourn up and down the island chain on a JapanRailPass. Quite the adventure. Little ol' me bumbling about from point A to B to C and onward. It was wonderful. Scary. Educational. Exciting. However, it was not without many an anxious moment as I made my way from one new place to another - engaging in one new experience after another. To be sure, surprises awaited at every turn...

The passengers on that rural train quietly observed my every move (hey, I KNOW when someone is sneaking a peek in my direction!). I did my best not to appear TOO self-conscious. I chose to avoid eye contact and direct my gaze out the window. Trying to be inconspicuous is difficult for any gaijin in Japan, even one who looks Asian and could possibly be mistaken for a native. The locals can easily spot a foreigner. Although no one ever actually mistook me for a Japanese National, it did happen a couple of times on a brief encounter, but any interaction and they knew I wasn't from round those parts. After sizing me up, most people (shyly, politely) asked if I was American (which, oddly enough - never occurs in the States, where I'm typically asked if I'm Chinese)(Hmmmmmm....).
At any rate.....
The train entered a tunnel. A very l-o-n-g tunnel, and it really did seem to go on forever. Staring out a train window when going through a tunnel means staring out at nothingness, so I did as the locals do and closed my eyes as if cat-napping. When we emerged out the other end - I opened my eyes again and found that it was - snowing! Big white snowflakes fluttering down against the backdrop of a deep navy blue sky.

How picturesque!
I gasped out loud. The other passengers looked over at me (again). One smiled.

It was rather a magical moment for me - first snowfall and all.

In spite of the circumstances.
I wasn't sure I was on the right train to my destination: things became even more worrisome when the train made an unannounced 5 minute stop, changed tracks to go in a different direction, and all the other passengers knew to get up and flip their seats over to face the opposite way. I had no clue as to what was happening and a kind soul took pity on me by helping me flip my seat. 'Domo arigato' said I, but still didn't know if I'd ever make it to Akita. Ah well - best to Let Go and Let JapanRail. Fingers crossed that I was still en route. As it is, a good part of travel for me is not knowing with any certainty if I'm going to get where I originally plan to go...
Settling back into my (reversed direction) seat and taking in the idyllic winter scene outside calmed me down. For a moment the anxiety of travel subsided...

...and then there was all that beautiful white snow. First sighted from a train coming out of a mountain tunnel, it was very 'Yasunari Kawabata'. It did seem the stuff of novels.

Clean falling snow. Snow you could make a sno-cone out of, dribble a little sweet flavoured syrup over, and have a chilly cooling bite.

I didn't know then that snow isn't as clean as it appears to be. More often than not (always?), even the whitest snow contains dirt. Besides taking heed in the wisdom of the warning 'Don't Eat the Yellow Snow', one should reconsider before rolling up a ball of clean white snow and thinking Sno-Cone Naturale. That icy treat may be riddled with gritty dirt.

An experiment I found online and can hardly wait to try when the first snowstorm blankets our property: Fill a jar with the whitest snow you can find and bring it inside. Let it melt. No matter how clean that snow appeared there will always be some dirt in it.

White as snow. Clean and pure as the driven...

Another myth dispelled. Ya just gotta love it.

P.S. What a good excuse to reminisce a bit about that first trip to Japan. Nice memories. I've been thinking that it's high time to return for another visit...

1 comment:

jessierose said...

next time you should bring a friend. hinthint