PANDEMIC PARK

Last Wednesday, a gloriously sunny lunchtime, I got off at Motomachi – Yokohama’s fabled chichi little shopping street of jeweller’s, bakers, coffee houses and clothing boutiques, before proceeding to my new school that takes two hours to get to in the north of Yokohama; packed trains, the underground subway – I wanted to break up the journey. I also wanted to see what outdoor dining options there might be for our Golden Week day out in Yokohama, which, inexplicably, given I know the place like the back of my hand, I was as excited about as a kid at Christmastime.

Down the backstreets, we could have avoided the crowds, I think; crossing over to Marine Tower and Yamashita park, which was as technicolorfully beautiful as an MGM film with so many roses it almost felt to me unreal; so many people, though; albeit generally masked; I took off mine to have a take out coffee in the sun on a bench in the central rosarium which garnered some looks from passersby, but I just needed a moment.

Through the park, damp with life, sunwarmed, along the bayside to Kannai, the Silk Centre with its antique shops and bizarro emporium of old Americana, cheap records and vintage perfumes; down past the old government buildings and wide boulevards of the more austere area of Kannai (plenty of outside tables down Nihon-Odori I thought to myself), down past the baseball stadium, and across the thoroughfare into Isezakicho, with its old man park, and all our haunts – I was dying for today, thinking we would be outside the whole time so there would be few risks. It would have been fun.

D has nixed our plans this morning, though, sensibly declaring that he simply doesn’t want to be on crowded trains during this busy time of the year and that during the night he had a very bad feeling about it, feeling uneasy (we would have still had to get there and back, and probably it would indeed have been too packed with people on the Keihin Tohoku line for comfort), although I do wish he had said so before I had already had a bath and was bright eyed and dressed, ready to go in my successfully doctored vintage Hermès Cologne/Eau D’Orange Verte which I have remixed with several citrus oils, hakka mint and patchouli, creating my very own Eau D’Orange Verte Forte.

He is right though, of course. We shouldn’t really have even been considering going up there in the first place. The government has decreed that people should stay inside at this time with the increasing caseloads across the country (Osaka seems to be in quasi-disaster mode), although this is not borne out in pictures of people having happy days out in Kamakura and Tokyo: Yokohama, as one of the most beloved Golden Week destinations, would have been exactly the same. Although the young are increasingly being affected, as they are elsewhere, this isn’t stopping them from wanting to stroll in the sun with ice cream; buy snacks and souvenirs, and despite the deplorable scenes in India and South America, and elsewhere across the globe, where people are dropping like flies, it still seems far away.

One difference between my attitude and D’s stems, I think, from the fact that since last June I have constantly been travelling on crowded trains and buses to get to the schools I work in, whereas he can either walk from here into Kamakura or just travel one train stop from Kitakamakura. His year has been remarkably less claustrophobic and dangerous than mine, although the complete lack of social distancing in his working environment (aside big stores, this simply doesn’t happen here in Japan; there isn’t the space, or the will) and being in a windowless staff room with sixty teachers – they leave the entrance and exit doors open a little – doesn’t exactly inspire corona confidence in his working conditions. I worry about him. With less than 2% of this country vaccinated (the incompetent government’s slow response could make you gnaw your own fists off with frustration), you feel continuously vulnerable. Still, at least the classrooms do have openable windows, as do the corridors, some air vents. My situation has been a complete potboiler. Pure claustrophobia (I inherit this from my mother, who has panic attacks just wearing face masks even for a few moments.) Last Thursday, having arrived at the school that led to the vertigo attack (still ongoing), finding out that we now have a new staff room on the floor below, I realized, with clarity, spatially, the full extent of what I had been suppressing. I don’t think I have really conveyed the full physical reality to you properly thus far. When I say ‘school’, I think you picture these big American high schools with their spacious corridors and lockers, like in the movies, but these are juku, or night schools; Thursday’s establishment in its entirety is smaller than an average British house’s downstairs, but with about at least a hundred students – possibly 150 – crammed into it with no windows. And as I have said before, my classroom was a windowless box within this space, with just some fan extractors and air con and an electric fan to disperse air particles but probably enough to make an epidemiologist scream. Now that the school has expanded – I will have a new classroom when I go back next week – and there are fewer students brushing up against you, bumping into you, literally in your face (and how many of them are asymptomatic?) because ‘it can’t be helped’, I think the sheer compression of my mind will be alleviated a little, but I do see now that these were appalling circumstances, and that my brain, and spirit (and balance) understandably, said no, and then crashed. At the same time, like everyone else across the world, we have ‘just been getting on with it’, all the teachers sweating and stressing behind their masks for ninety minutes at a time and barking out their lessons, because the more frightening alternative is unemployment.

The world over, it has been a contrast of, or combination of, extreme suffocation and/ or isolation. People in New Delhi gasping for air and dying outside overcrowded hospitals. People trapped without work or money in their apartments in Sao Paolo, each country trying to get the right balance between sustaining the economy and containing the virus; the more callous or neo-fascistic leaders such as Trump, Abe, Johnson, Putin, Modi and Bolsonaro purposefully downplaying the dangers at the beginning of the pandemic to the people for the sake of ‘the economy’ and leading to the situation we now find ourselves in, when had countries followed the example of more responsible leaders in New Zealand and Taiwan and imposed thorough lockdowns from the start, so much of this death and devastation could have been avoided. But no – ‘business’ had to come first (even though in the long run, surely the human and financial cost of this virus rampaging through entire societies is so much higher?). What a mess. And now the Olympics?

I think I was obliviously happy to be going into Yokohama on the crowded train today because I am simply ‘used to it’. The other day, twenty minutes to Yokohama from Ofuna and then changing trains and then 35 minutes on another line with people all sat next to each other with no space between, I almost stood up to move to a more spacious, aerated place but then realized that I was too tired to. There is a sense of resignation. It is almost like a death wish, I think, you become almost blasé. ‘Fuck it, let’s just go out and have some fun.’ But then again, this type of attitude is precisely why we are where we are in the first place.

Our day out in Yokohama can wait.

11 Comments

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11 responses to “PANDEMIC PARK

  1. I am glad D, talked you out of going into such a crowded area. I know you are doing it regularly, but can you imagine how many more people will be going there during Golden Week? Better to not expose yourselves to any unwanted risk if you do not have to.
    I know you must feel a little caged, but too many people have just said bollucks and gone out, and here we are.
    Please do take care.

  2. I agree with D as to staying home. May as well have a global day of mourning for India, the predictions are for 600,000 dead in India alone by August. India has managed to take Covid from pandemic to endemic, with only 2% of Indians vaccinated this virus is just going to rip through the population ruthlessly.
    I don’t think Westerners fully understand how the South Asian healthcare system works. I certainly didn’t before living here. In India, Nepal, Pakistan, and Bangladesh – a patient must have a family member or members attend to them at all times. Your family must bring you food and must make sure treatments and medications are given. Most hospitals require cash in advance (a deposit of $2,000-$5,000 currently in Delhi private Covid hospitals), even ambulances are requiring cash payment in advance. Your family member will have to go to & procure your meds, oxygen, and anything else the doctor says you need. A family member often sleeps in your room or in the ward near you at night. As you can imagine these family members coming, going, and staying in the hospitals with Covid patients spreads the virus to family at home and in the community. This practice has not changed even with a highly transmittable disease like Covid.
    In addition to this at Covid testing facilities and vaccine sites, social distancing is not practiced. The joke in Delhi is that you get vaccinated and test positive next week. This is an absolute disaster.

  3. Robin

    Glad to hear you’ll soon be in an improved workplace situation, dear N.

    It’s fascinating how the human brain adapts to a slow-moving, unseen crisis. The mental numbness, the acceptance that comes naturally with powerless ness.

    This pandemic has brought out the best and worst in humanity. I hate seeing the worst. I’m heartened seeing the best.

    Here on the Sunshine Coast, we’re largely all vaccinated and our numbers are tiny. But the provincial government just announced BC-wide recreational travel restrictions THAT DON’T INCLUDE US. So hoards of fun-seekers from high-infection-rate Greater Vancouver loaded with COVID can get away from the insanity there, hop on a 40-minute ferry and come here spreading the virus. Fabulous. We’ve been dedicated to keeping our small community safe with all the sacrifices that entails for THIS???

    • This is horrendous to hear, and precisely the kind of thing that drives me berserk. I hope you can hide away in your place over the sea and not be in any dangerous predicaments.

      I sometimes don’t understand myself in regard to the whole pleasure seeker thing. Human beings we know of course are bundles of contradictions but it is weird for me the fact that although I was looking forward to this day outside in Yokohama, for instance, on the whole I am personally not especially interested in going anywhere right now despite my great love of travel and proved existence as a total stimulation seeker and hedonist. It’s as if the virus has temporarily – I hope not permanently – destroyed any wanderlust. I can go much longer without travelling. I have no desire to go ANYWHERE, definitely not outside of this country, (even though I want to see my family and friends in the UK – but not yet) so can’t entirely understand all these people hurtling towards tourist zones the second they are allowed to. It’s partly being satisfied with just being in Kamakura I suppose, but also the virus has done something to my confidence. I am sure many feel this way.

      I also don’t understand the ‘rip off the mask’ delirium : I mean I do, because teaching in one for a year has been extremely exhausting and I HATE wearing them; but surely at least a modicum of caution is necessary given all the news we are hearing about variants?

      • Robin

        I have developed an aversion to things like crowded airports. Can’t imagine going there anytime soon. I love travel for the same reasons you do, but COVID has sapped a fair bit of my sense of adventure. The world feels less safe because, well, it IS. But we will bounce back. Once a hedonist and stimulation seeker, always one.

      • Definitely. And I like reading this, because I feel the same: it’s like biding one’s time, almost a pleasing respite. I have been talking to D about a lot of this, and I think because I live so intensely, I have absorbed everything from all these experiences and they are all they stored and ready for access within my brain and sensory systems. I can SEE Tokyo so vividly in my eye brain that I don’t need to go there. When I do though, I will see new things and I will LOVE IT.

  4. I think D made the right decision for both of you.

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