ShutUp30.16: A Walk in the Park

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My name is Caroline, and I’m an addict. I have a mental map of all the coffee dealers within a three-mile radius. I know some wonderful specialty coffee roasters, quirky little independent places where cool people come to while away their leisure time in the pursuit of caffeinlightenment. And then there’s Tully’s Arcawest.

Tully’s is everywhere in Japan. I’ve only ever been to it in Japan. The coffee is nothing special, and the food tastes of microwave. But somehow I keep going back, to just this one branch.

To get there, you first have to access Arcawest, the architectural love-child of corporate Japan and a late nineties vision of a chrome and glass future. A security guard stands at the entrance, perpetually hovering awkwardly between his job title and the fact that the cafe is open to the public. Every time I walk past him in jeans, he shrinks a little.

Inside the cafe, there’s a counter on the left, and a big window covering two sides of the space. From here, you can look out at the busy street below, on to a neighbourhood shrine and part of the Oyokokawa park. Maybe this is why I keep coming back here – once you sit down, it’s easy to forget you’re ensconced in an office block.

Unlike my favourite independent cafes, the people that come to Tully’s are quite varied. There are local mums, gossiping after sports days. There are IT execs, bemoaning decisions their bosses have made without fully understanding the consequences. There are English conversation lessons, some so painfully awkward I have to drown them out with loud music. There are also, this being Japan, men in suits, fast asleep at 11am.

I’m really not sure why I keep going back. It’s not the coffee, and it’s certainly not the food (although they do a passable eggplant-bacon pasta lunch set). It’s partly the fact that I have a limited edition Sumida Ward loyalty card, emblazoned with geisha and kabuki actors, and all the things Tully’s is not. Largely, though, I suspect it’s because I’m nowhere near as cool as I like to think I am.

CaBloWriMo: Two feet in front of me

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I could not see more than two feet in front of me, which was hardly any great loss. The action was all right here, hot metal hissing angrily at spattering rain, the dull tang of sodden diesel fuel pressing about the sinuses and clutching at lungs, the irate and incessant blaring of horns.

To go forward is to live. To stand still is to die. Time is money, and you are in my way.

To my right is the yawning gutter, last resting place of the careless, the overly cautious, and those too poor for a knock-off diesel-powered knock-off Chinese Honda. To my left is the roaring knock-off diesel elite of the new Viet Nam, bearing livestock, live bees, gas cylinders and family members lashed lazily to rusting back racks, a perpetual motion comedy disaster perpetually waiting to happen.

In the middle is me. I ride a bicycle, but am conspicuously too white to be poor. If I am not poor, it follows that I must be crazy. All Tay are crazy. You should see the prices we will pay for vegetables. Clearly wrong in the head. I am not insane enough to ride without a helmet, however. I value my head over my hairstyle.

I do not want to meet my end in the gutter, yet with every breath I feel diesel knife through my face mask and facial membranes, subtracting days from my life span, every second in this toxic embrace costing me minutes out of my time at my destination: that sweet new cafe with the beautiful bittersweet ca phe sua da and the roof terrace with the breathable air, and the quiet.

I jink left through the tiniest of gaps and surge forward, into the the boiling bloodstream of the city. Nothing keeps this Tay from her ca phe; not even you, Ha Noi.

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