Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Back-Flipping My Way Overseas - Part1

Tokyo to New Jersey

"Dating Service here I come!"

Being left-handed in the United States doesn't come with a whole lot of perks. You can't play shortstop. The spatulas are backwards. You have to learn the guitar upside down. And damn those half desktops in college! My left arm muscles are still quivering, and I didn't even take many notes.

In Japan, however, being a leftie is like having a famous parent; everyone likes you for it even though you had nothing to do with it. Rare is the dinner party where someone doesn’t comment on my left-handedness as if it were some kind of achievement. "You are left-handed! Ooh, GREAT!" Their admiration is so genuinely contrived you'd think I was doing something truly amazing. Like using chopsticks, or eating raw fish.

"Yes, hidari-kiki," I say, raising their laughter to authenticity level and eliciting cries of "Joh-zu! Great Japanese! Jooooh-zu!"

Then I tell them I text with my right hand and they go completely bananas.

Hidari-kiki is the general term for left-handedness, though some will use the term ‘southpaw’. It was funny to hear it the first few times – ‘sow-sue-po-a’they say – but then the novelty wore off and I figured I should start contributing to the conversation.

“Do you know where the term southpaw comes from?” I’d ask.

Baseball might be Japan’s national pastime, but understanding its terms is not.

Another bonus for us lefties in Japan is that books and magazines are often the opposite of books in the West; our back cover is their front cover and our last page is their first. So we lefties get to start from the front when we're standing in the 7-11 flipping through an adult manga.

United Airlines should consider this for their in-flight magazine Hemispheres – for their service to and from Japan at least. And for any flight with a leftie on it. Until then I am relegated to flipping backwards through the pages and ridiculing the process (which really has nothing to do with direction but anyway here we are).

A Leftie's View of Things
The back cover of the December 2016 issue of Hemispheres features an ad for Tissot watches. It’s time for Christmas magic reads the catch phrase that is supposed to compel me to buy a PowerMatic 80. More subliminally, the two watches featured, his and hers PM-80s photoshopped onto two red Christmas balls, seem meant to hypnotize me into buying one for myself and one for my significant other – as if that would be magical for me and not Tissot’s shareholders.

My apologies to Tissot (slogan: “It’s your time”) but United has already socked me with five plane tickets’ worth of Christmas magic.

So I start flipping backwards thru my Hemispheres, and my thumb stops on the fold-out map of United’s worldwide flights like it was a Playboy centerfold. (I mean, I imagine that’s what it’s like. Based on, you know, secondhand hearsay.) Facing this fold-out is an ad featuring Jeanne Huyhn, a beautiful woman with enchanting dark brown eyes, perfect cinnamon skin and a creamy white smile – none of which reminds me of a Playboy magazine since, again, I’ve never seen one.

Miss (I hope) Huyhn traveled from Hong Kong to a place (or maybe a compound) in Texas called The Woodlands, to have a bit of cosmetic dentistry done courtesy of Guy Smiley, DDS. “There was no distance I wouldn’t have gone to have the perfect smile,” she says.

Wow. Meanwhile I’m over here thinking I’m some kind of Navy Seal of dental hygiene for flossing once a month.

And Ms. (forget it, she’s out of my league) Huyhn likely won’t stop there. Her next presumable port of perfection is going to be the door of top global matchmaker Kelleher International (Hemispheres pg.31). Because there’s probably no distance she won’t go to change her last name, which everyone mispronounces and no one can spell.

So over there on United’s fold-out map of the world, three hundred or so arcing blue lines show all the routes United flies. The USA is placed in the middle of the map to (a) take a subtle geopolitical jab by slicing Russia and China in half, and (b) make sure none of those arcing blue lines goes shooting off the edge of the page, thereby creating a subtle psychological sedative for any passengers with a Bermuda Triangle complex.

The International Date Line (not to be confused with the International Dateline that Miss soon-to-be
Not-Huyhn is heading for) is clearly visible to the left, and clearly shows at least one place where the person out there drawing this line must have gotten seasick. To be fair, there are around four trillion Pacific islands – with most scheduled to disappear by 2090 – so it’s impossible to run a straight line through them all without angering a few large men in grass skirts. But down around Western Samoa the line is so wacked you’d think the Republican Party had been gerrymandering the ocean.

Seriously, is Apia such a bastion of liberalism that it had to be cordoned off like this?

Flipping Aloha
My next thumb flip brings me to a 20-page insert on Hawaii called DOSSIER (from the French J'dossier meaning "I am more important than anything.") Inside are plenty of neato infographics and high-falutin ads; spotlights on influential people and touristic places; and an indigestible smorgasbord of information on Hawaii’s developing industries: environmental research, niche technologies and (strangely) urban air masks.

Things are looking up there in the US’s #1 healthiest state according to the United Health Foundation. (This despite the fact that “more than 7 million cans of SPAM are sold in Hawaii on an annual basis.”) And really, can you beat the weather there? I love snow, but sand feels a lot nicer on your feet so I’d consider making the trade just for that. But the Out of Office bit near the back of this self-important info-insert was what got me.

Waimea Canyon is 14 miles long and 3,000 feet deep and looks like the Grand Canyon’s brother. The Molokai Sea Cliffs, at 3,500 feet high, are the world’s tallest. And the UNESCO World Heritage Hawaii Volcanoes National Park includes tropical rainforest, arid desert and one of the world’s most active volcanoes, spitting out enough lava to resurface a two-lane road twenty miles long every day.

If I'd thought of it in the first place there'd be no need to rethink..
Add to this the world’s tallest mountain (if you include the part that’s underwater) and I have to wonder why I didn’t apply to the University of Hawaii which, as evidenced from their one-page ad, only admits high school graduates who have been to Dr. Smiley.

A flip back to the front of this Hawaii-mercial brings me to a page of Tips for when your flight is delayed or canceled. This reminds me of what I said to our last babysitter.

“Here’s what to do in case we never come back.”

Flipping Doctors and Rich Folks
The next flip of my thumb gets me a special little promotion for (1) the top doctors in America, (2) the best doctors in New York, and (3) the best plastic Surgeons in America. Along the right margin of each of the three pages are names and contact info for doctors in a variety of fields. The three doctors featured, though, are all plastic surgeons.

Seems United is changing its business strategy. Forget on-time performance or customer satisfaction, between Dr. Smiley and these three plastic surgeons United is evidently aiming instead for the most attractive passengers in the sky.

Flip Four gets me an invitation to Reynolds Lake Oconee, a hoity-toity lake and golf community somewhere in Noplace, Georgia where a few ridiculously huge homes sit set back from a vast blue lake. Perfect lawns, impeccable landscaping, boats moored to the docks, thick forest keeping the rest of the world out – and not a hint of a living creature anywhere. The place is literally deserted, it looks like a Twilight Zone episode.

Your perfect lake house is waiting to happen, the people from Reynolds tell us.

Reynolds is waiting for someone to happen upon their lake houses is more like it.

Three Flipping Days
I’m done with the thumb-flipping. But I’m far from done with this magazine. Because United is persisting with its “Three Perfect Days” feature article series. United has been deprecating themselves with these pieces for at least as long as Sarah the Brave made it through her Three Harrowing Days in the rugged wilds of Sonoma, California. I blame my incurable travel-itis for not being able to resist these melodramatic narratives, all written by people trying to make their cab ride sound like a trip on the space shuttle. I don’t even like the idea of the series. Three perfect days according to whom? These articles seem to be written for the kind of people who try not to get their hands wet when they have to wash the dishes. There’s never any sense of unpredictability. And they never let loose, they never talk about doing anything unprintable.

Wait a minute…

Pampered in paradise. Or dead in the water.
This issue’s Three Perfect Days takes place in the Florida Keys. The teaser on the cover shows a photo of a row of lounge chairs on a beach, their front legs in the water. At the far end someone is lying on a lounge chair that has all four of its legs in the water. Bent over this lounging (or passed out) specimen is a massage therapist (or an EMT giving them CPR). The one-line extract from the article, floating in a very un-Florida-like gray sky, reads “I get the sense we’re following the perspective line in a painting of the sea.”

Look, Jules Verne, the only line in a painting of the sea is called the horizon. Get back in your space shuttle and go home.

Yet I remain intrigued. Probably because it’s December and the Florida Keys sound pretty damn good about now. And I know my wife will never agree to Hawaii. She likes hibernating too much.
“Jackie” gets her article off to a good start, talking about a place where “chickens walk the streets, the lobsters are striped, and people eat meat out of conch shells.” For this I can forgive her for using that trite sun-bleached archipelago bit. Further on she creates a great visual of a gentleman by saying he is “wearing an eye-popping Hawaiian shirt that is completely unbuttoned.” This compensates for describing 6:30am as “blearily early” – which isn’t bad but is kind of hard to say.

The space shuttle came into view when Jackie tried to tell us she “dragged her boyfriend here”. But I will be fair and honest and say that I enjoyed her well-written, humorous narrative. As far as I’m concerned, Jacqueline Detwiler has given a much-needed shine to United’s ongoing Three Lackluster Days routine.

Flipping People

The rest of the 122-page December Hemispheres brings a short list of notable content. There are more infographics and numbers about cruise ships, dating and the history of the hamburger. There are short bits on a blind barber in China, a busking bear in Boston and Freddie Mercury fans flocking to Montreux, Switzerland. Matthew McConaughey (the second last name today to fail my computer’s spell-check test) gives an interview about being skinny (for a movie), being chubby (for another movie), being nervous (for every movie) and being a family man (when there was no movie). Mixed in throughout is an inordinate amount of ads for watches – a subliminal tie to that Tips for when your flight is delayed or canceled bit of marketing genius – and two mentions of the one English word I hate more than any other: mixologist.

Look. Dropout. You’re a bartender.
"Eat up, Bentley, the little people are paying."
I was about to close the lid on Jacqueline and Matthew and Freddie and Hawaii when I noticed an Aren’t We Smart there’s a new trend emerging where wealthy people (it doesn’t say so but no normal person eats at a place called Per Se), who simply cannot fathom the idea of taking care of their own kids but want to look like they can, get together and reserve private rooms at lavish restaurants so they can have their high-society dinner while the restaurant, according to the formal agreement written up by the high-powered lawyer of the group, has to let these nanny-bred kids run wild.
article under the ostensibly-recurring title of Hemi-IQ. According to this piece of

The kicker is, these people have managed to make these restaurants feed their kids for free.

The Nibble & Squeak dining club redefines the kids’ meal, reads the sub-heading of the article.

I think that’s a misprint. It should read refinances the kids’ meals.

And with that I put away my Hemispheres, slide out of my middle seat, climb over my daughter and head for the back of economy for a complimentary cup of coffee.

Far below the emergency exit window lies the frozen tundra of Alaska, or maybe Canada. Somewhere up ahead the gray New Jersey winter awaits.
I think I’ll ask Jacqueline if they need someone to spend Three Perfect Days in Hawaii.

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