A Leap Into a Dream, Am I Awake Now?

At Tokyo’s Central Park
At Tokyo’s Central Park

I’m still wondering if this is true. I’ve been in Japan for almost three months now, and everything has the strange appearance of a dream.

I don’t mean to say that everything is encompassed in magic and marvel, but rather that I’m in a strange world for which I don’t have the codes at my disposition to name them, nor has anyone taught me how to live.

In Cuba, I felt that nothing that was said had much veracity, due to the lack of information, and that it was necessary to share points of view with people who lived in other realities.

Contact with these differences, I thought, would lead to firm opinions. However, what happened was that things got more complicated in saying things that words don’t really simplify.

In any case, I am experiencing the need to go back -like Adam- to naming everything, which is the way known by humans to assure that a minimum number of things remain restfully in their place. This enables us to move forward with some certainty, marking our path, allowing us to feel that we are not always in the same place.

This is a trick that I now value more, a necessary lie that is teaching me to distinguish dreams from reality. In short, I still don’t very well understand what I’m saying.

What happened was that I arrived here on December 30, when there was only a little sunlight and a temperature of 13 degrees. When leaving the Narita airport, near Tokyo, I had no idea of where to go, so I listened for anyone speaking in Spanish.

A Springtime Sunday and the Monster
A Springtime Sunday and the Monster

I approached two men who were spiritedly speaking perfect Spanish, though they had Japanese-like faces; I thought they must be Peruvian or of Peruvian origin. I asked them if they could help me.

They became defensive and responded with a definitive no. This was my first human contact, which opened me to the idea that from now on my problems were mine alone.

Quickly, I realized that the men thought I was asking for money. I told them the only help I needed was for someone to tell me how to get to the bus to the hotel that my girlfriend had reserved for me to wait for her.

They apologized sorrowfully and one of them showed me how to get there. Then at the bus stop, I discovered there was a posted schedule of bus departures.

A Japanese man asked me in English where I was going. I told him the Hilton Hotel, so he looked at the itinerary and shrugged in a gesture of compassion, because the next bus would not arrive for another 20 minutes.

At first I didn’t understand, because for me 20 minutes was not a long time. Now I understand. If “time is money” for Americans, for Japanese time is life. Here they don’t understand how one can have the luxury of wasting a single minute, because it’s lost work time.

That almost religious assessment of work gives this system of capitalism a different twist. Here, luxury is considered to be in poor taste, and money almost a sin. It even gets to the point of seeing merchants as people devoid of principles, because their only aim is to make money. In this way, it seems like a vicious circle: you work to work.

The bus arrived on time, and I couldn’t believe that it took me to the hotel for free. I had some dollars but I didn’t change them in the airport because the signs didn’t clearly indicate where the places were, and everything was a bit narrow and strange to me.

Buda and I
Buda and I

I got to the hotel, and for the first time I felt that people didn’t care if I were dressed like a beggar, they would treat me the same as to anyone simply because I was a customer. I went up to the room, which was modest but nice.

I took a bath and laid down, stunned and proud for having made it that far alone. I went over it in my mind: Havana – Amsterdam – Japan – Hilton Hotel.

I thought my girlfriend must have been worried. She had traveled to Cuba to see me via the US and Mexico, because she had wanted to take advantage of seeing a friend of ours who lives in the United States. She also returned via that route.

I could not travel through the US since I would have needed to request a transit visa and I didn’t want to go through all the paper work only to risk being denied for being a possible emigrant, which is logical. Therefore, I had to arrive five hours before her and wait for her in the hotel, where we would spend the night.

Amsterdam doesn’t require a transit visa, and more than one person suggested that I stay in Holland and not commit the madness of traveling to Japan, a country so strange such that it is famed for being difficult to adapt to. I thought of nothing other than seeing my girlfriend, seeing her pride for my having left behind my land, family and feelings – all for her.

I wanted to feel the happiness that for the first time I could leave everything behind for someone dear, and that no one could stop me. That was how I felt when I later opened the door and she was there. Then the leap made sense, because she was close to me. This Sunday we will get married in a small sanctuary near our apartment.

Leonid Lopez

Leonid Lopez: My parents named me Leonid because I was born in Cuba on the same day that Leonid Brezhnev, the ex-Soviet president, arrived in Havana. Today it’s a name that is no longer fashionable. I lived in Cuba for 34 years and have now been in Japan for five months. Some of my ideas have changed but I continue believing in two: I believe in the importance of being able to choose, but also that happiness is the responsibility of each person, and nobody can grant it or deny it. Cuba seemed like a good place to grow up, later it began to be like a mother that devours her children. There are those who believe in the homeland; I believe in goodness. Wherever that exists I can have my nest. Now it’s here with my wife, tomorrow, I don’t know.

2 thoughts on “<em>A Leap Into a Dream, Am I Awake Now?</em>

  • May 5, 2009 at 7:39 am

    All cubans should definitely get the chance to travel. And not just to the U.S. either.

  • April 13, 2009 at 9:51 pm

    Quise invitarte a mi boda y estabas desaparecido, ¡y mira en donde has aparecido!
    Un poquito más afuera del anillo de la Habana.
    ¿Ya fuiste a Kyoto?

    Escribe para acá, bueno… si te da la gana.

    un abrazo,
    PD. Me alegro infinitamente por tí.

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