Fun, Fun, Fun

May 12, 2007

This article was originally published in “The Happy End of Elephant Factory”.

“Well she got her daddy’s car
And she cruised through the hamburger stand now
Seems she forgot all about the library
Like she told her old man now
And with the radio blasting
Goes cruising just as fast as she can now

And she’ll have fun fun fun
‘Til her daddy takes the T-Bird away”

These are the lyrics to The Beach Boys’ 1964 hit, “Fun, Fun, Fun”. Amongst all their hit songs, this is the one that I like best. The rhythm and melody are filled with joy, and the lyrics are extremely lovely. Listening to the lyrics alone is enough for your mind to recreate the exact scene. A girl with a ponytail, driving a red, 1964 model of Thunder Bird. Lying to her dad that she was driving to the library, she managed to borrow the car. She drove off immediately to impress her friends. All the girls gawked and stared at her with their mouths open. The guys leapt into their cars and began a racing match, but no one was able to keep up with the Thunder Bird. Just at this moment, her father found her out and the Thunder Bird was confiscated. The girl was very depressed because of this. However, to “me”, the development was something to be happy about, because:

“You’ve been thinking that your fun is all through now
But you can come along with me
‘Cause we gotta a lot of things to do now
And we’ll have fun fun fun now that daddy took the T-Bird away”

That kind of development.

The Thunder Bird Girl of 1964 should be over 35 years old now, I guess. What kind of life is she leading now? Perhaps she’s busy with Jane Fonda’s Routine Workout; or perhaps she’s living in one of those new residences we’ve seen off “E.T.”; or she could even be listening to Barry Manilow for all we know. Even until today, I still occasionally think of you and that red Thunder Bird.

Burnt

May 12, 2007

This article was originally published in “Murakami Radio”, a collection of articles that Murakami had written for the pop magazine Anan.

Generally speaking, novelists can be defined as people who are interested in strange things (things that are rather useless). Sometimes they will make you wonder, why on earth are they interested about such things again?

For instance, those who were involved in the feminist movement of the 1970s not only called for the liberation of females, but they also started burning bras, so as to get the point across strongly. Although this is ancient news that happened long ago, I’m guessing you should have a vague idea about it? A huge crowd had gathered at the square and the atmosphere was awesome. A campfire had been set up and people were throwing their bras into the fire. The women said, “These things are merely restraints as imposed by society. We can do without them.” News reporters who were there took pictures of the event and devoted massive columns of reportage to it.

I don’t find anything wrong with that. Maybe it’s because I’m a male, so from a physical viewpoint, I cannot understand how much of a societal restraint a bra really is, but if someone suggests that we burn them or throw them away, then let’s burn them or throw them away. I have not much of an opinion about this.

What I care about, though, is whether the bra is new or used to a certain degree. Everytime I think about this issue, I worry about it so much that I cannot go to sleep at night. Well, not really, but it is as if there is a question mark somewhere on my back, sticking on it like a pale shadow. As the media usually doesn’t report in detail such insignificant things (I don’t think they will), I have no way of knowing the truth of the matter. However, I believe that these bras that are burnt should, to a certain degree, be used ones. It’s a little wasteful to burn bras that are brand new, and I don’t feel that females would do such a wasteful thing.

If, however, the above is true, then aren’t these burnt bras so pitiful? Bras also have their difficulties. They work as hard as they can, perform their duties diligently, just to struggle to live, and then suddenly they are pulled out of their wardrobes and treated as an irredeemably evil person. Even the meaning of their existence is being denied, looked down upon and scoffed at, and under the watchful eyes of the public, they are thrown into the blazing fire. How could anyone accept that willingly? I don’t have any blood relations with the bra, of course, but still I cannot help but pity it.

There is something else I don’t understand. Why do they only burn bras and not the abdominal binders? If bras are a restraint of personal will, then abdominal binders should be a restraint as well (or perhaps even a bigger one). But abdominal binders are not burnt, neither are high heels and eyelash pomade. Only bras are burnt. Perhaps, in order to become a twisted historical symbol — just as how Doctor Zhivago has to go through the dark, winding corridor of life — it has to endure an unexpectedly tragic fate. It’s really pitiful. Whatever it is, I hope I never become something of a symbol. Really.

However, it’s useless to think of this bra-burning incident that had happened over thirty years ago in such a detailed manner. I just couldn’t help it. Maybe I’m too free and bored.

The Best Place to Read John Updike

May 12, 2007

This article was originally published in “The Happy End of Elephant Factory”.

I think of John Updike whenever summer comes around, and reading John Updike reminds me of the summer of 1968. Our minds are filled with many of these chain reactions. They might be small, insignificant things, but I feel that these are precisely the things that make up our views of life and the world in general.

In the summer of 1968, I went to college in Tokyo. I hated carrying huge luggages around, so I’d sent the necessities ahead of me. I had left my house with only some cigarettes, a lighter and a copy of John Updike’s “Music School” in the pockets of my coat. I think it was a paperback edition published by either Bantam or Dell. The cover design was delightful, fresh and retro. I met my girlfriend for dinner, said our goodbyes, and then I was on the train.

Leaving my house and setting off for Tokyo with only a copy of Updike’s short story collection in my pocket might seem, in retrospect, a little too careless(a), but let’s not talk about that anymore. I reached Tokyo before the night fell and headed for my new apartment in 目白(b). For some reason the luggage that was supposed to be there had not yet arrived. I didn’t have my ashtray, blanket, coffee cup, and my flask for boiling water with me(c), so you can imagine what a pathetic situation I was in. When you do things carelessly, problems are bound to arise.

The room was very empty. There was a table with a single drawer on it and a metal-framed bed(d). That was all. There was a mattress on the bed that made your heart grow heavy the moment you set your eyes on it. I sat on the mattress and tested it, and it was as hard as a loaf of french bread that has been around for at least a week or so.

It was a cloudy and quiet summer day, and dusk was setting in. I opened the window, only to hear music drifting out of a radio somewhere in the distance. The radio was playing Iron Butterfly’s “In A Gadda-Da-Vida”. Although all these happened fourteen years ago, I still remember even the smallest details with a sharp clarity.

There was nothing in particular that I had to do then, and I hadn’t the energy to do anything as well. Frustrated, I went to the nearest cake shop and bought a Coke (of course it was the bottled one, please imagine the glass bottle for a moment) and some biscuits, and then I lay on the stiff mattress and continued reading what was left of Updike’s book. The sun was starting to set in the west and the house was beginning to grow dark, so I turned on the lights on the ceiling. One of the light tubes kept making all these small “jizz, jizz” noises.

When I finished reading Updike at around eight-thirty, about five centimetres of cigarette butts had accumulated at the bottom of my Coke bottle. I put the book beside my pillow and stared at the ceiling for an hour or so. In this big city, I had neither a blanket, nor a shaver, nor someone to whom I could call on the telephone, nor somewhere I should go. I was totally alone and abandoned at this place, but it was not such a bad feeling afterall.

If you should ask me what I think is the best place to read, my answer would definitely be, “April, 1968, in that empty room, on that very stiff mattress”. Somewhere which allows every sentence, every single word to melt steadfastly into your heart — that, to me, is a true “study”(e). It wouldn’t be so bad to have Eames’ leisure chair, Mobilia’s light, and Georg Phillipp Telemann streaming out of a pair of AR speakers as well, but that is another matter altogether. I feel that if you were to read John Updike, then it is necessary to find the best place to read John Updike. Similarly, if you were to read John Cheever, then it is equally necessary to find the best place to read John Cheever. It is only right.

Notes:

(a) I don’t really know what 托大 means in English, but basing it on the context I interpreted it as being “careless”.

(b) I would translate 目白 into English if I know what it means, but I don’t. It is supposedly the name of a place somewhere in Japan.

(c) Murakami also had something else with him, but I don’t exactly know what it means… I’m guessing that it’s facial products? Or shampoo or detergent or something to that effect. haha.

(d) The table and the metal bed are described by Murakami as being very 克难, but once again I don’t know what that means, so I’ve omitted it from the translation.

(e) The original phrase is “书房”, which literally means study room.

A Way of Drinking Coffee

May 12, 2007

This article was originally published in “The Happy End of Elephant Factory”.

That afternoon, the shop was playing a piano piece by Wynton Kelly. The waitress put a white cup of coffee before me. It was a slightly thick and heavy cup, and when it met the surface of the table, it gave a pleasant clicking sound. The sound was similar to that of a stone falling to the bottom of a swimming pool. That sound has stayed with me since. I was sixteen, and it was raining outside.

As it was at the port, the southern wind brought the smell of the sea with it. The sightseeing boats would go around the port mouth many times a day. I myself had taken the boat a few times. I never tired of looking out from the boat at the glorious sight of the large cruise ships and the dock. Even if it was raining, we would still stand on the deck and let ourselves get thoroughly drenched by the rain. Near the dock, there was a small coffee shop with only a bar and a single table. They played jazz music through a speaker on their wall. If you closed your eyes, you would feel like a child who has been trapped in a completely dark room. That coffee shop always had the intimate warmth of coffee and the sweet, alluring smell of teenage girls.

Now that I think about it, what had attracted me to the coffee was perhaps not the smell of the coffee itself, but a certain imagery as evoked by the coffee. In front of me was a shining mirror, a mirror that appears especially when you’re in love, that clearly reflected the shadow of me as i drank my coffee. Behind me was the scenery that had been cropped into the shape of a rectangle. The coffee was as pitch-dark as the night, and it was also as warm as jazz music. As I drank that small piece of world down, the scenery behind me gave me blessings.

It was also the momento snapshot of a small-town youth who was slowly coming of age. Look this way, hold the cup of coffee lightly with your right hand, tuck your chin in, smile more naturally… I’m taking your photo now, snap.

Richard Brautigan once wrote somewhere, “Sometimes life is merely a matter of coffee and whatever intimacy a cup of coffee affords.” In that particular article about coffee, I liked this line the most.