Taking advantage of the extraordinary Indian Railways is a regular component of my life in Kerala. Being a hardworking Technopark salaryman I have to catch the train to and from work most days, which in and of itself is not all that remarkable; people do that all over the world, from Tokyo to London to Los Angeles. What makes my journey unusual, as I’ve mentioned before, is the fact that I’m the only regular who is a white man – the saip in their midst. How much I should interact is a constant dilemma as I try to balance the expectations of whoever it is I talk to, the many others watching, and indeed, the expectations I have of them.
Typhoons are a big deal here. A typhoon hitting the mainland will dominate all news hours and publications, and has every man, woman and child on the alert. Schools wait anxiously, ready to close their doors, and train lines shut down at the first sign of danger. Calls to loved ones run at about 500% of standard (my estimate). Cellphone companies must love typhoons.
My first Japanese typhoon hit in August, and I was told by everyone I met that I should be careful and not make too many plans because if I went somewhere, I could get stranded. Over the course of the weekend it struck, I received about five messages from various people making sure I was okay, even though I’d only been in the country for seven weeks. And of course, it was a massive anticlimax. It rained a little bit, and the wind was a tiny bit stronger, but there had been much fiercer storms since I’d moved here. I continued drinking as usual (yes, that’s right Ed, drinking).
This week another warning went out all over the news. Typhoon coming, lock up your daughters etc. I was like, yeah, whatever, strike me down with your pathetic volley, I’ll be on my feet and coming back for more. But this time, they weren’t kidding. I went to work on Thursday in steady rain, and by 6:30pm – halfway through my shift – it had picked up sufficiently that all of our schools in the region were closed, so that people could get home before the trains shut down. That night, sleep was difficult as the trees outside flailed about and sideways rain splattered against my window (which I now know leaks like a sieve in extreme weather).
On Friday the rain had stopped, but the gusts of wind remained. I was meeting friends in Tokyo, so I went to the train station, where I found that most trains weren’t running and the ones that were had been delayed by about 50 minutes. I waited, it eventually came, and it was PACKED – packed like you would imagine Japanese commuter trains are, with guards shoving passengers inside so the doors can close.
Being squeezed in such a tight space was something I hadn’t experienced since the dining hall queue at school. I wanted to take out my camera and get a photo, but this was impossible because my arms were pressed against my sides by the two young guys and tiny old woman to my left and right respectively. To my surprise, even in these conditions, people still closed their eyes and went to sleep, no doubt dreaming of that PlayStation ad where millions of people have a huge pile-up. By the time I came to get off, we may have been lovers; I can’t be sure.
I arrived in Shinjuku at 2, by which time the nastiness had been replaced by brilliant sunshine (well, as brilliant as it can be through the thick smog). I met my friends, and had a very pleasant afternoon and evening drinking and eating. Can’t wait for the next one. I can be like Philip Seymour Hoffman in Twister.