Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Yoko’s Music

Yoko looked at the clock and grinned with anticipation. 5:25am. It was almost time.  There was excitement in her eyes – it was the best part of her day.

She picked up her cane and walked slowly over to the desk, removing the tape from its familiar spot. She put it in the old tape player and rewound it to the beginning. She looked up at the hostel’s ancient speakers, connected to the tape player by long, snaking cables stapled to the walls.

Her hand found the volume dial and turned it slowly upward to a spot just a few degrees beyond ‘max’ – the same spot it rested every morning at 5:26.

Now she waited. Her finger rested anxiously on the ‘play’ button. Just a few more minutes.

She wondered about the dreams she was about to interrupt. What beautiful bits of paradise were the hostel’s patrons about to leave behind? Perhaps rich meals, gorgeous vistas, and lovers’ arms would soon be no more than vague memories, fleeting and forgotten.  Others might have felt sympathy just then, but Yoko smiled at the thought. Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.

5:30. CLICK.

The tape slowly began to roll and the first bars started to play. The speakers whined and crackled in protest, but, as always, they dutifully delivered the morning wake-up call.  You might call it music, but to the disoriented guests, shocked out of sleep at 5:30am, it was nothing more than an ear-splitting, unwelcome cacophony.

Yoko sat in her chair, still smiling, as guests all around her began to stir. A collective hatred for Yoko’s morning “music” only compounded its effect. The smart ones wore ear plugs. Others pressed pillows and blankets against their heads. If they’d been listening closely, though, they would have heard old Yoko, quietly singing along with her favourite song.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

100% Certified Insane

Sometimes insanity makes little appearances in our lives. Like the woman at work who’s a nudist tap dancer, or the crazy guy at the supermarket who stares at you, unblinking, while he bags your groceries. We can usually handle those. They’re just small doses of crazy.

The next hostel I stayed at was a large dose of crazy. I have a theory that when young Japanese men and women are diagnosed with ADHD they are not given the appropriate medication. They are given a plane ticket and a new job at the Momoiwaso Hostel in Hokkaido. Have I mentioned this already? They’re crazy.

Extra strength crazy. Prescription crazy. May cause irrational fears, disillusionment, and, eventually, the questioning of one’s own sanity crazy.

On the way there, the hostel-truck passed through a tunnel. It looks ordinary, but of course, there was a little bit of crazy hidden inside. It's the Time Tunnel.

“TIME-U TONNERU!!” they all yelled. “TIME-U TONNERU!!!!”


The tunnel is a kind of time warp. We all set our watches half an hour forward because, “You see,” they explained, “Japan has two time zones – one for most of Japan, and one for the other side of this tunnel!” And oh, the confusion the new time zone caused. The mayhem! What did the staff have to say about the resulting double checks, mix-ups, missed ferries, and general asynchronicity with the island’s other restaurants, shops, and activities?

“Yep, we’re crazy!”

Our arrival was met with yelling, screaming, singing, dancing, and more screaming. Guests were outnumbered by the hostel staff, whose exuberant cries dwarfed even the most courageous guests’ attempts at yelling back.

A bell sounded and the evening’s mandatory information meeting began. It lasted for three hours. It began with a lecture about the island and quickly moved on to a quiz-show with audience participation, a Darth Vader mask and various other costumes. The meeting ended after sundown with the nightly ‘obligatory’ song and dance session. I use quotes because long term guests often try to sneak out, having realized that it’s damaging to the vocal cords and perhaps dangerous to your health to yell and sing with reckless abandon night after night.

[I hope I don’t sound like too much of a downer here. Don’t get me wrong – the first night was fun and the second was amusing – but by the third night I’d stopped singing and was searching for sharp objects…]

The following day, as various guests arrived and left, I realized that the insanity I’d seen upon my arrival was by no means unique. Every arrival and departure, no matter how trivial, required fanfare. Staff would wave goodbye for more than 10 minutes, even after the people leaving had stopped looking.


In describing the insanity I certainly can’t leave out the morning wake-up call, but I think that deserves a post unto itself. Suffice it to say that the island was beautiful – the hostel was nuts.