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Where Jeans and a T-shirt Just Won’t Do

By Caroline Park


             I’m walking along the streets of Kobe in the gray drizzling rain. Japan really is a prosperous country. There’s order, there’s glam and glitz—the fashion street I just passed by was glamorous and luring—and people walk with focus and purpose. Yesterday and today for a while, instead of focusing on the sights and buildings around me, I tried looking at the people. I tried to look at the faces of the people passing by, to penetrate their thoughts even though glances were brief. I imagine that I saw the faces of content people. Most people’s faces were expressionless but I didn’t spot the gaunt, haunting look that I saw so many times in the streets of Guiyang, China or in certain parts of downtown LA. There’s tired looks, especially during the evening rush hour but overall, the young and old alike have the air of secure and sure people.

            Strolling along that one narrow fashion street was dizzying. Everything and anything you can want and imagine exists there. High rolling clothes of every kind, various accessories, on my left I pass by lingerie, on my right a huge glass cabinet contains every type of sunglasses imaginable. Shoe stores are in abundance with men and women’s shoes of all types of colors, styles, and sizes and they beckon the passerbyers to stop their footsteps and browse. Looking too much at all these items in the glittering store lights hurts my head and I have to turn around. So I decide to take the route less treaded on into an emptier side street where shops are less fancy and more humble. These shops are smaller but feel less intimidating than the ones I had just passed by. No matter where I go or to which country, I notice these people whose lives are perhaps invested in these little shops. Numerous lives tangled in the fate of the little shops reminds me of how hard people work to lead decent lives and provide better opportunities for their children and grandchildren.

            I feel so underdressed and shabby next to the fashionable girls with high boots, fancy tops, and elaborate hairstyles. And I definitely feel like a tourist with my Northface strapped around my waist. I feel myself trying very hard to be an observer but I don’t think I’m used to it. I’m more used to being the people I see, walking somewhere without a glance around me, my only purpose being where I need to go.  

It being my first day here, I have to agree with Dorinne Kondo as she articulates in her chapter "The Eye/I" of Crafting Selves that “first journal entries highlight sensory impressions, superficial descriptions, and feelings of the strangeness and mystery of a place” (7).  Those are exactly what I am most aware of so far.  Seeing with different eyes is harder than I imagined. Not too sure about what I’m supposed to see and what differently but here I am, standing in the middle of the streets, utterly alone and in the rain, lost but amused at my situation, so maybe that’s progress.

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