Ms Ice Sandwich – Mieko Kawakami [Pushkin Press] 2017
‘The only people in the whole world who know about Ms Ice Sandwich are me and Grandma.’
In this slender volume, a junior high school develops a tentative relationship with a mysterious shop worker who is never mentioned by name, yet begins to maintain a hold on the boy as he struggles with other problems of growing up.
If your awareness of Japanese literature only goes as far as manga comics, you may be surprised to see that there are several up-and-coming Japanese writers whose works have been translated in English, such as this one.
Whilst it’s a short and simple story, there are some nice emotion and details. The teenage protagonist comes across as naive, especially when his female classmate invites him to come to her house and watch a film. This makes up an extended passage, where the girl re-enacts one of the set piece shoot-outs from the Michael Mann film ‘Heat’.
Otherwise, its a gentle story, all told from the point of view of the young narrator who has an interesting relationship with everyone around him, including his grandmother, who is on hand to offer an older perspective on life around him.
It’s new Year’s Eve, and, as on so many lonely nights, my thoughts turn to women, and with them, sex as well. There’s not much to do when you’re alone but imagine them and hope that somehow they will hear your lonely and horny heart crying out for them.
I have a whole database of porn that I could revert to on this occasion, and get it on. But the idea of sitting at home, unwashed and improperly dressed, doing something unspeakable in front of Invasian 3 seems insulting to this day. New Year’s Eve is the time to be out there in the thick of it. Meeting people, rubbing shoulders (at the very least) with beautiful strangers. When so many people are still putting their faith in the holiday season, who am I to show my disdain by staying in alone and touching myself?
There are plenty of apps designed to get men and women together as quickly as possible, and to the bedroom eventually. But I don’t have much time, as such a last minute guy as I am. I also didn’t make any plans for tonight. I want to be social, but not with the few friends I have. Tonight, I want to feel the thrill of a random encounter with a stranger.
Until the day comes when, like in Logan’s Run where Jenny Agutter materialises in front of Michael York at the press of a button, I must find women the old-fashioned way, using the internet to find sex partners. There are plenty of sites I have visited, and the one that best meets my needs is called ‘Easy Lay.’ I flip open my laptop and type my desired woman into the search bar. “Asian female, 20, slim, busty.” A few results come up, and I message one of them who looks like she can accommodate me.
What are you doing tonight? Want to have some fun?
she messages back right away.
I’m not doing anything. Do you want to come over?
I don’t need any persuading.
Give me thirty minutes, I say.
The thing is, when a girl is horny, you have to react quickly. It’s no good waiting around or she might lose interest.
…………thirty minutes later………………………………..
I’m standing in front of the door at the address where she lives. The thought does occur to me that she could be anyone. I guess she might be wondering the same thing about me.
The door slowly opens. I stand there for just a few seconds. I step inside. I’m relieved when I see that she looks just like her photo on the site.
She’s wearing a tight black dress and no stockings, her hair is down and she has on some bright red lipstick.
‘Won’t you come in?’
I’m momentarily dazzled by her beauty but I manage to stammer ‘Yes of course.’
‘You took a long time’.
I came on the tube, I say, by way of explanation.
She leads me down the corridor in to a large, open kitchen space.
‘Will you have something to drink?’
‘I’d like whisky if you have it.’
She pours out a large serving of single malt and sits it in front of me.
I take a look around the place. It’s clean, everything is new and hardly looks lived in at all.
‘Is it just you living here?’
‘It’s just me. Sometimes my friend comes to stay, the rest of the time, I’m the only one here.’
I take a sip of my whisky.
‘Aren’t you bored sometimes? Aren’t you terribly bored?’
I walk up to her lift her hands up. She moves towards me and I push my face towards hers. There is not one bit of resistance and I take the opportunity to kiss her.
Her lips are sticky – sweet from the lipgloss. I move past them with my tongue and I make gentle movements inside her mouth. I pull her up and we carry on kissing.
‘How did you like it? ‘
‘Mmm, pretty good.’
‘Oh, only good.’
‘Well, you could have used more force.’
‘Oh really? Ok, I will remember that.’
I let the whisky carry on its effect.
‘Do you like to watch porn?
‘I love porn. I watch it all the time.’
‘I get most of my best moves from it.’
Her eyes open slighlty wider as she takes this in.
‘Do you like licking pussy?’
‘Yes. I do it all the time.’
‘Can you come a lot or just once?’
‘I usually come only once, unless we have sex for a long time.’
‘Hmmm. How long do you last for?’
‘I can last for at least thirty minutes.’ No lie, I really can.
She opens her legs under the table and i get a decent glimpse of thigh.
So, what porn have you been watching?
‘A lot of older women porn.’
‘So there are a lot of older women in porn. I don’t mean milfs exactly. i’m talking about older women who just decided to have sex on video because it’s always been a fantasy of theirs.’
‘Mmm, I get it. Is it hot?
‘It can be very hot. They are real women, amateurs. That’s the point. Some might have had some surgery, but most are natural. You can see their lines, blemishes and wrinkles. I’m not so interested in perfect-looking people.’
‘It’s great. the guy interviews the woman for ten minutes, asking her about her experiences. That’s often the hottest part. And when they are having sex, the guy doesn’t disrespect the woman or slap her around, he just has sex with her in the most erotic way possible.’
‘You’re making me hot.’
‘What do you want to do to me?’
‘I want to come on your face, I want to see it there on your chin, setting like a glaze.’
‘And then I want to watch as another girl slowly kisses you and licks it off.’
‘Oh that would be hot. But we don’t have another girl here, you’ll need to make do with me.’
‘I won’t be able to do anything, but watching the two of you, I can get hard again. What do you like in porn?’
the cumshot is hot. I like to see a man cum on a woman.’
‘How does it feel when he does it on you?’
‘She kicks her legs up and positions them on my lap.’
‘It’s fucking hot. I don’t mind where he does it. It just feels so good when it shoots out. Where do you like to do it?’
‘I like to cum on her stomach or her breasts, and watch it roll down her body.’
‘Men can’t come so much as women, can they?’
‘No we can’t. We need to work hard and then it’s just a small amount that comes out.’
I wonder what it feels like? When you orgasm?
‘It’s quite sudden. Everything feels tight, and then it’s loose, and you get a wonderful sensation as you start to orgasm. How is it for women?’
‘It’s a little different for women. We take longer to warm up. Our bodies start to tingle and we get wet. It’s like a light that gets brighter and warmer inside us.’
Are you feeling it now?
‘I’m feeling hot. Hearing you talk about coming on me made me hot inside. I want to feel you inside me.’
‘I’m feeling horny too.’
‘Is it so hard?’
It’s getting hard.
She stands up and comes over to me.
‘let me touch it.’
She puts her hand over me and holds it firmly.
I can get bigger if you suck me. Today I watched a totally awesome young Vietnamese woman take a guy’s balls in her mouth as she used her hand to get him hard. Will you do that for me?
‘I’ll try my best.’
‘Have you had enough to drink?’
I look at the empty glass.’
‘We better get going, it’s nearly midnight and you haven’t fucked me yet.’
If you’re like me and you love Asian girls, you’ll want to do everything you can to meet as many of them as you can. When it comes to meeting girls abroad, you need to check out the dating sites. About the biggest one in terms of members is the lovecupid site. Signing up to make a profile is really easy. They break things down into categories where you can list your age, ethnicity and background. Then you can go into more detail, and do the same for the kind of things you are looking for in your partner. What I like about this site is it’s so straightforward. You can search girls based on certain parameters. Not only that, but the ‘online chat’ allows you to find girls who are online and available to chat.
Sign up cost
Like any dating site that you will want to join, you need to pay a membership fee to be able to access the benefits of the website. China Lovecupid charges a monthly fee for access to most of the features. You’ll need to pay this to send messages and reply to girls who message you. Premium membership is currently £11.00 a month, billed in one payment of £131 a year. I opted for the standard membership which is a little cheaper.
So once you’ve signed up, you want to get to know the girls. For me, China Cupid has the most girls of the various sites in the LoveCupid dating media. Not surprising really, as China is massive. Girls are eager to get chatting right away, and here it pays to be a white man from England or USA. The girls on here are 90% really good, with a few probable fakes. looks play a big part for a lot of women who are open about their wish to marry and start a family. Quite a few of the photos look very staged, with a lot of editing clearly having been done. That said, once you get to know them, ask them to show you some more recent photos of themselves.
You can send messages on tinder and OkCupid and get no reply, but here women respond straight away.
I had several message me upfront. Often, they will send fairly generic messages along the lines of ‘I would like to get to know you more’. But you can soon move things forward, and after a few messages, you will need to get their WeChat to make things more intimate. Don’y be surprised if the girls start messaging you often, asking how you are, sending photos of themselves. It’s a reminder of how different the dating culture is in Asia. Another thing you will find is just how many women using the site are divorced, even the younger ones. The stigma against divorced women is where it really pays to sign up. Whereas most men in China won’t touch a married woman, I like to feel that westerners are more open-minded. Most women have been very open about why they are looking for western men.
For me, I have at times struggled to focus, because of the sheer volume of women. But you can narrow things down so that you focus on women from a particular region. I have found that women from Gangzhou province are particularly warm, friendly, and sexy. On the other hand, women in Shanghai and Beijing seem slightly more aloof and more difficult to impress.
Any site has to be judged on the quality of its members. ChinaCupid really delivers. The youngest girls I’ve chatted to are 19, going up to 70. I’ve chatted to a few milfs, still looking good in their fifties. On the whole, I have had the most success with women in their mid twenties to early thirties. Most of the women have enough English to send messages and a few will ask for video chat too. You’ll want to join this site if you are planning a trip to China. Which is exactly what I will be doing next year.
I met Zia at one of the outdoor film screenings in London in the summer. She has a very cute face with well-sized brown eyes. Sometimes she wears glasses, which complement her general demeanor, which I would describe as sexy-anime style geek. I first thought she might have been from the Philippines but she is actually from China. The best thing about her are her large, double D breasts, which she likes to show off in a range of low-cut dresses and tops. I went on a couple of dates before taking her home with me.
I got her to sit facing me, and I pulled her closer to me. As we kissed, I felt her soft tongue on mine. I caressed her upper body and she began to moan loudly. I thought she was going to lose her balance so I led her to the bed.
All night I had been staring at her breasts, which seemed to be barely covered by her play-suit. I pulled it down from the back to reveal her pink two-tone bra. I caressed her breasts for a while over the material and enjoyed the sensation. Eventually I had to see them properly/. they really were some of the best breasts I have seen – soft, well-proportioned and with areolae that are good sized. When you get an Asian girl with large breasts you need to pay them a lot of attention and this was how it was on this occasion. I rubbed them with both hands and kissed them all over. I took Zia and positioned her on top so that I could get a good view of them, and let them brush up against me.
Zia carried on moaning and I could tell that she enjoyed the attention she was getting. I had already taken off my clothes. It was time for fucking. Zia took hold off my cock and stroked it for a while until it was hard. I pulled down her underwear and could see that she had a lot of pubic hair. I’ve been with several Chinese girls – enough to know that this is normal – but you might need to adjust your expectations.
By now I was very hard and I couldn’t wait to get my cock inside her. Zia was tight but I was able to get inside her nearly all the way, she started to moan that it was really hard. Zia started to grind herself against me, and then she was asking if I liked her. I enjoyed having Zia’s breasts banging against me so much that I forgot to change things up. Luckily I managed to take her from the side for several strokes, getting a decent grasp of her glorious breasts as I did so. I was feeling really horny – the combination of Zia’s lovely breasts and skin was knocking me out. I pulled out and moved zIA on her back. I use missionary when I am nearly ready to come. I like to be able to look at the girl and hold her hands whilst kissing her at the same time. Soon, I was coming. I let Zia carry on thrusting against me for a while afterwards as I filled the condom.
Verdict: satisfying sexual encounter. I loved Zia’s body – some Chinese girls are very small but Zia’s body had a slight layer of fat that made her very soft and her breasts were superb. If you get a girl with big tits and a smallish figure you are just golden. I would have liked it if she could have been a little more dominant, but all in all it was a great night with her.
I was going to tell you about my latest sexual adventures. Then I thought you were probably tired of hearing about that. But I still need to write my regular blog post.
Last week I watched a concert performance by Eddie Murphy called ‘Raw’. Filmed in the eighties, when Murphy was the massive star of Beverly Hills Cop, it’s a stand-up performance that broke records when it came out. Not only is Eddie Murphy a brilliant comic, with perfect timing in his set-ups, Eddie Murphy is able to work his audience to just the right level so that his jokes always land where they should.
The show also uses language that I suspect wouldn’t be as socially acceptable today – particularly when it comes to women. In fact, whilst some of the jokes are likely to be misogynistic now, they get as much applause from the women in the audience as the men.
Then, curiuous about other black comics, I watched the famous ‘Black People Vs Niggas’ from Chris Rock’s massive ‘Bring the Pain’ tour. It’s scary how much truth there is. Watching it feels like being given a massive sociology lesson whilst laughing really hard at the same time. Once again, the language used (in particular, the word nigga, would get Chris Rock thrown in jail if he did the same act today), but the segment is so true in a way that most stand-up isn’t. Why don’t more black celebrities go down the road of highlighting the flaws of many black people? If blacks are treated with prejudice, it’s only because some blacks act in ways that invites poor treatment, and lack of respect. I guess no-one wants to alienate their audience. I watched Kevin Hart. Although he was good, I don’t think he can ever match the savage emotional truth of Eddie Murphy or Chris Rock. But then, few comics can.
The fact is, we are living in times when people find offence all around them, and it’s ruining freedom of expression. Movies are being watered down, with limited nudity, sex scenes or bad language. People are so stroppy and highly strung. I long ago stopped dating white girls. They are far too picky and always find something to complain about. Take this one girl who blanched when I delicately proffered splitting the bill at a restaurant. I didn’t meet her again after that. And even when I talk with white women, I sense a real real reluctance for open conversation or intimacy. It’s hard to talk to them without a reason first. And flirting is almost impossible! Meanwhile, girls from Japan and China don’t care about splitting the bill, will happily have sex on the first date, if that’s what they want. So if you’re tired of political correctness, feel like you can’t speak your mind, or that there’s no one to have sex with, look east. Look east and don’t look back.
Say what you will about teaching english abroad, it gets all kinds of comments online. Whatever you think about it, it’s been popular as a way for college students to delay their responsibilities some more, or to experience living abroad. But there’s one reason why so many decide to and teach in South Korea, Japan, China and Japan. Specifically, if you’re young and male, you’re going to be getting a lot more attention from women than you would at home.
That’s not what people put down on their supporting documents when they write their applications. Oh no. It’s all about expanding your horizons, giving something back, doing something they love.
Now I think about it, it’s not just for teaching. It goes for men travelling in Asia generally. Just imagine spending your entire life being made to feel worthless, not good enough for any woman you dare to approach. And then finding women who not only find you attractive, but are happy to have relationships with you as well, simply because they enjoy your company. I’ve heard of men who say that after going to Asia they will never date a white girl again.
Equally, I’ve encountered many women in Asia who are largely ignored because they don’t fit into the rigid boxes that society makes for them. Or they don’t have exactly the right physical attributes that men in those country expect women to have.
Sometimes I see mismatched couples, usually when she is much more attractive than him. There are a few instances of Asian girls dating white guys that look just like Moby (thank you, Awkwafina). but many Asian women know their worth and are dating very attractive white guys. I don’t need to drive the point home too much. The evidence is all around. Geeky white guys (who stood watching everyone getting off with each other at parties) are going to Asia and marrying banging girls who end up coming back with them. If this were a movie it would be the feel-good hit of the year. But it’s not – it’s real life, and everyone’s winning in this love story.
Did you ever think about teaching in South Korea? These days, it’s so popular, I can imagine there is a surplus of teachers and that competition for good positions is dropping.
Back in 2016, I was interviewed by the company EPIK, with a view to teaching in 2017. When I failed to be chosen, I looked at other companies before getting a job with Pagoda. Whilst I was disappointed I couldn’t place with EPIK, who seem to have the best reputation for English teaching, I think I did well to work with Pagoda. The class sizes were really nice, and I got on well with the majority of my students. By that I mean I struck up some really good relationships and got to know them outside the classroom too.
Whilst I did find living in South Korea difficult, none of it was caused by Pagoda. When they decided not to renew my contract, I was disappointed. Looking back, I probably didn’t give it as much effort as I could have. I was lucky to have laid-back students and a light schedule. Many people might look at English teaching as the kind of job anyone can do, it’s the teachers who work the hardest and have the most professional attitude that are kept back every year.
I enjoyed my time in Korea. I probably wouldn’t work again as an English teacher unless I had the freedom to choose my students and a choice of material. There are too many good teachers in South Korea, and it is my understanding that recruiters have a bias towards teachers who are female and under thirty.
My verdict: a good job for those prepared to really put the effort in. In a hagwon you’ll be with professionals who will have a work ethic that will put you to shame. Get used to criticism. Some of it will be harsh and unfair. I was told that the students all loved the outgoing teacher and that I should try to teach like her. It wasn’t the best advice and made me doubt my own abilities. Koreans don’t always speak openly and may act as though everything is fine whilst they criticise you to the hagwon manager. I sometimes regret choosing South Korea over Japan, but that was the choice I made.
The plane seemed to have been travelling forever. They had
been in the air for a few hours, but the time seemed to be going more slowly up
there. The plane had made it’s ascent from a London airport a few hours ago, at
2:30 local time. Now it was impossible to know where exactly the plane was,
there was nothing outside the window to indicate the country they were flying
over. Only two hours earlier, the food trolley had wheeled its way down the
aisle and he had selected his meal.
Now he was well into the flight. He had taken his shoes off
and was enjoying the in-flight entertainment system. The movie was about a
father who had become reunited with his daughter after many years apart. What
made it more moving was that the daughter only had a few months to live. When
he got to the end of the film he felt like crying. HE gazed around at the other passengers. They
were all absorbed in their various activities. Some were trying to sleep, their
neck pillows awkwardly positioned in the headrests. Others were looking at
their laptops. They didn’t seem very interesting to him. HE wondered why so few
people really cared about their journey, or where they were flying to. The
flight attendants had served everybody in great time, and had poured the coffee
as he was still eating his steak. He looked at his watch. Local time was 7:30
and he didn’t feel very sleepy. In fact, the coffee had given him jolt of extra
energy. Sat in his chair, he felt restless, his body did not want to be still.
He decided to get up and explore. The plane was not entirely
full. There were several empty seats around him. In fact, it was not often that
there were so many seats on an international flight. There were usually several
children and a crying baby that would stay up on the journey. Surprisingly,
this time there were no children on board. In fact, most of the passengers were
travelling alone and weren’t the usual holiday-goers. The other thing he
noticed about them was they didn’t have much luggage with them. Usually travellers
carried bags of duty free, they had bags of shopping and various carry on. But
this flight was different. They had boarded with minimal luggage, and more to
the point, they were exceptionally quiet,
which was odd for people going on holiday who would normally be excitedly
talking about their destination.
The flight attendants were all female. He didn’t expect this to be so but it
was always pleasant when they were, and occasionally he flew with other
airlines and was shocked to find men serving amongst the women. 1
“Can I get you any drinks?”
Usually the use of ‘get’ in this way bothered him but right
now he was enjoying the experience of being served by this woman that it was
too much for it to bother him. The attendant had to lean over him to pass his
glass of wine to him and the feeling of her apron against his shirt made him
tingle with pleasure.
Would you like me to bring you something else?” she asked
He thought for a moment. There were lots of things he would
have liked to get from her. She was wearing a bright red apron with embroidered
patterns on it. Her dress was regulation length but he could see that she had
good legs. Here height was at most 170cms (and he didn’t mind; he had never
liked tall women anyway.
Then he heard an announcement over the plane’s loudspeaker.
“This is your captain speaking. We are currently
experiencing some turbulence, Please stay in your seats and keep your seatbelt
HE watched as the flight attendants quickly got back to
their seats, which were somewhere at the back of the plane.
He hoped that the turbulence would be over quickly. As he
fastened his seatbelt, he thought what a wonder it was to be flying. There was
no other transport that came close. It was when he was in an aircraft that he
felt he could relax properly, a place where no one could get to him. He enjoyed
being up in the sky for several hours at once. Time seemed to stop. The plane
started to shake violently. It must have been a storm that caused it to flap
around so much. Whatever it was, he thought about the flight attendants in the
plane. Where did they go at times like these? On a ten-hour flight, he only saw
them during take-off and when they were serving the in-flight meals. There
weren’t any seats back in economy for them to properly lay down in. Unless there happened to be some private
rooms tucked away, they must have been sitting in cramped seats no bigger than
the one he was sitting in at that moment.
AS the plane began to steady itself, he waited for the
seatbelt sign to be switched off so that he could move about on the plane. He
also wanted to see where the special flight attendant was sitting so that he
could talk to her again. Would she be wearing her high-heeled shoes? Or would
she have slipped them off? Feet could swell, he knew, although he couldn’t
imagine this would be a big problem for her. If she was relaxing, would she be
sleeping, or was she required to stay awake for the entire duration of the
flight? It led to other questions. Where did they change clothes? How did they
use the bathroom, and where did they store their bags? All these were a mystery
to him. So he decided to take a look for himself. It wasn’t too hard as there
were plenty of seats at the back of the plane that were empty. He wandered back
where the flight attendants were seated and thought of what he would say to
I’m wondering if you could pour me another drink, he asked
her. I know drink service has finished but I’m parched and this is a long-distance
“What would you like?”
“I would like a gin and tonic.”
The drink would need ice cubes, which had to be scooped out
from the bowl at the bottom of the trolley. It was a good thing he didn’t mind
Heard the sharp hiss of the carbon dioxide in the tonic
water rise out of the bottle. The flight attendant was so tall that she had to
lean over the drinks table. He thought she looked extremely sexy in her
uniform; her stockings shimmered in the dim light of the cabin whilst her face
took on an air of studied concentration as she measured the gin and filled the
Waiting for the drink was part of the satisfaction, and when
it finally arrived he was more than ready for it.
“ would you like something to go with it?”
He thought for a moment.
“I’ll take some nuts if you have them.”
She picked up some nuts and put them on a steel plate,
handed them to him, and took hold of the trolley again.
Stop a minute, he told her. Why don’t you sit down with me?
If you have time I mean.
She looked at him, assessing the situation.
“Well, I don’t suppose that would be a problem for just a
The flight attendant squeezed into one of the seats (she
really was tall) and he got in beside her. She was like a praying mantis with
her legs perched up high towards her arms.
A minute later they were talking about how she got to being
an airline worker; whether she liked the job or not.
“It’s funny, when I was younger I never went on holidays. I
was always afraid of flying and for that reason I decided to overcome my fear,
and this seemed like the best way of doing that.”
Yes, they said that if I took a stimulator first it would
allow me to experience the feeling of being in an airplane without leaving the
The noise of the plane’s engine started to get very loud and
it felt as though it was moving faster now. Just as he finished his drink the
plane began to move upward some more and he felt the pressure in the cabin
“I want to learn how to pilot a plane one day, when you’re
in control of the plane it must be a wonderful feeling to be taking people on a
journey somewhere exciting.”
He looked around at the passengers. They were all sitting by
themselves and he noticed that there were no children on board either. He
started to feel strange and he wondered why this was happening.
“ Where is this flight going?” He asked after a gap in the
“It’s not going anywhere, we’re flying for an unlimited time
until passengers decide they want to leave.
“Then what happens to them?”
Usually when a passenger has grown tired of eating all the
food we send another jet to come and collect them and get them to the nearest
So the rest of the passengers are not really flying
“Exactly. Most of our passengers are perfectly content to
stay on board as long as two weeks. They have everything they need on board
anyway, and they are much safer up here than on the ground.”
“But don’t they get bored?”
You would think so, but many of our passengers have been
coming back for several years. “
He looked out the window. Whether it was day or night was
impossible to tell. The air he was breathing in was neither fresh nor stale.
Every hour the cabin was refreshed with new “air” from the tanks, to stop the
air becoming stuffy and to minimize the spread of germs in the air.
He read somewhere that time moved slower at the top of a
mountain than it did on the flat land. In that case, was time moving at all
when you were flying in the air, when it was only night for a few hours until
it became day again?
It was a strange way
to spend a holiday, never visiting anywhere; but people did all kinds of crazy
things on holiday.
“Well, how long do you think I should spend up here?”
“That depends. Did you wish to speak to any of our flight
attendants? You can arrange to have dinner in the private dining area if you
Suddenly the idea of being alone on the aircraft was
starting to get improve.
“Would it be possible to have dinner with you?” He already
felt comfortable with her even though they had only been talking for twenty
I’m having dinner
“Yes that will be fine. But will you let me tell you
something first? I usually say know when people ask me to have dinner with
“they must really ask you a lot then.”
“They do. But that’s not why I turn them down.”
Im aware that men
look at me in a certain way, maybe they have a fantasy about me based on my
appearance, but it’s not how I am in person. I would hate for you to get the
wrong idea about me.”
He picked up his bag and went to the washroom. There were
the usual assortments of toiletries, hairbrush and toothbrush for him to use. He
thought about changing his clothes but then he decided he was fine the way he
was. Actually, he was feeling confident and he probably could have changed into
the dressing gown and been ok like that. He wouldn’t normally have been so
confident, of course. But the fact she had said yes, just like that, made him
feel so much better about things.
Lena was wearing slim-fitted black jeans that matched the
colour of her hair. She had paired her top with a sexy patterned scarf and
black choker. She looked much less formal than when she was in her flight
uniform, but he was just as attracted to her now, if not more.
They were sitting in a small back room in the plane, with a large
table and several chairs positioned around it. The usual hum of the plane’s
engines could not be heard and the room was hushed and quiet.
‘So is this where you do your flight attendant work?’ he asked her?
“We do most of our safety exercises and procedures here.”
“It sounds so interesting. I’m sorry that they don’t do the pre-flight safety demonstrations any more. I used to enjoy watching those, it was always interesting seeing their expressions as they mimed the use of an inflatable safety vest….”
“We find that most passengers prefer to watch a recorded video
instead of focusing so much on a flight attendant. The eye contact makes them
feel uncomfortable and they don’t know where to look.”
“Maybe I understand, but it’s going to take me some time to
get used to this new way of doing things.”
“What is it you miss about the way it used to be done?”
“The amount of dedication they had for their craft, and they
way they could perform with a sense of theatre.”
“Did I do that when I poured your drink just now?”
“ you really put all your effort in to it.”
“Besides, air travel has changed in so many ways. The way
passengers board the plane, the safety requirements and the lack of space.
DO you know how much the standard seat width has shrunk
since the 1960s?
He looked at his glass of wine and admired the slender stem.
They had clearly thought a great deal about the tableware they provided. It
wasn’t just that they were nice glasses, but that they were the perfect shape
for the table and could hold just the right amount of liquid.
“I’m not sure.”
“Well, it’s a lot. Standard seat width for a commercial
flights is now thirty inches. Many of our customers request seats with extra
legroom but we can’t offer them anything unless they sit in the emergency
exits, or First class. Well, we’d like all passengers to have the same standard
of comfort but unfortunately that’s not always comfortable. So we can only give
them these reduced-space seats at the back of the plane.
“Well, let’s see what we have for dinner. Are you hungry?”
He looked at the menu which was printed in extra fine font
on slightly crinkled paper. It was the
usual mishmash of international food. For the appetiser they were offering
seared prawns with simmered avocado qenelles. The mains looked more
interesting. The fish was red snapper, grilled and served with a hot wasabi
dressing. Meat was a loin of pork with grapefruit jam and chorizo.
It was the kind of food that would be difficult to reheat
without losing all the texture. They must have had an amazing team back there
in the kitchen if they could produce this kind of food.
“I will have the prawns, followed by the pork. That’s it.”
It was nice eating in a plane; you only had two options and
either one was likely to be as good as the other so that he never felt any
misgivings about his choices.
‘You know something,” he said to her as she was pouring the
wine; ‘I’ve never had a bad meal on a plane.”
“Really? I’m happy to hear it, but you don’t have to be so
polite with me.”
“No, I’m serious. Everything has always been fresh, served at the correct temperature, well-presented…. You’d be amazed by the number of restaurants that can’t get that right.”
“We just want everything to be just right for our guests.”
‘But now I think about it, there’s not much they could do if I did’t like the food. I suppose I could try asking for another one. But it’d be exactly the same anyway…”
“Yes, we’d only be able to offer you the same dish cooked exactly the same way.”
The plane carried on flying cruise control. It was almost as if it was following a pre-determined course.
“Do you ever get tired of flying? He asked her.
“Why do you ask me that?”
Just being stuck in the air. Only seeing the airports and never going anywhere exciting.”
“Well we get three days off after every ten. That usually gives us some time to do something exciting.”
“What about when you’re on the plane? All those stupid
passenger requests and screaming babies. It would be enough to tip me over the
“That’s why I’m only working these planes. I only serve single passengers like you. Besides,
we get used to serving difficult passengers after working a few weeks.”
“Do you? That’s interesting….”
He didn’t know what to say next. He admired the curvature of
her neck. It was amazing how unique a woman’s body was; there were always
different body parts that drew to his attention. As well as being aroused by
the whole package, he was able to be stimulated by very specific features as
well. Lena’s ears were long, shaped like treble clefs, and her mouth was so
enticing he felt that he could fall into it.
“Aren’t you ever afraid of the plane crashing, or having
“Of course, it goes through my mind. We have the best safety
measures in place, but there’s always the possibility that something may go
terribly wrong. If it does, then we would need everybody off the plane as
quickly as possible.”
“You would let the passengers off the plane first, or would
you rush past them to the emergency exits?”
“We would be required to make sure that everyone was able to
reach the doors first, otherwise we wouldn’t be doing our jobs. But I’m sure
that some people would not be so altruistic as that.”
“You’re damn right they wouldn’t. It would be everyone for themselves; but that’s not what always happens on flight disasters, with many heroic examples of bravery from members of the cabin crew, I’ve come across so many. And that’s not all.”
“We don’t have to talk about this any more. That’s a hell of
a dress that you’re wearing.”
“Would you like to go somewhere else to talk? There is a
room out back which is much quieter for us, and would give us more privacy. I
can go there with you if you like, and we can continue the conversation.”
They went into another room that was even more luxurious
than where they had been before. There were gilt tables with decorated wine
glasses on them and pictures of celebrities who had flown in the plane before
“Would you like to hear some music?”
He thought it seemed like a good idea. He had never been on
a plane when they were playing music and he thought it seemed such a good plan.
“What are you going to play me? Something ambient like
“Little fluffy clouds?” Or music for airports?”
“Who is that by? Brian Eno? I don’t think I know that one.”
“Whenever I’m flying, I always imagine something very
ethereal and almost ghostly like Enya or something very solemn and funereal.”
“Ghostly? Hmm, I think I know what you’re getting at. But we
don’t like our passengers to be led down such a path where they could be
depressed, or think about the supernatural.”
She went over to the music system and pulled out one of the
As soon as he heard
the opening bars, he identified the music.
“A little Night music?”
“Yes. Very well known but it adds something when you hear it
on a plane.”
Indeed, it sounded so light; the strings were pulling him
higher in the air.
“Do you want to know something about the other passengers?”
Like what exactly?
“Haven’t you noticed anything a little unusual about them?
“They look like typical business passengers.” And it was
true, they did.
“What if I said that they are in fact all aliens, travelling
back to their own planet after a long time abroad.”
“I’d say that you were crazy. I would never believe you in
“yes, I knew you wouldn’t believe it, because they look so
normal. That’s why we chose them. They blend in perfectly, don’t they? Nobody
would ever know.”
What am I doing here? Am I the only human here?”
“No of course not. There are all of the other attendants. As
well as me.”
He looked at her carefully.
“That’s a relief.”
“So what happens now? Does the plane travel far? Couldn’t that take a very long
“Do you want to go back home, is that it?”
“You can leave any time you want. Just open one of the
He looked around himself. There’s no way I’d make it alive,
he thought to himself.
“So are you going to stay on the plane after all?”
“It’s not so bad. I can get all the food I need here. And
the in-flight entertainment that you provide leaves little to be desired.”
“You’re ok about the aliens?”
“They just look like normal passengers.”
“Yes, they’re really harmless. Like good-natured tourists.”
“Well, most of them are. We haven’t had any problems so far.
We try to give them what they want, that way everyone’s happy.”
The plane kept on going. The alien’s home planet was
thousands of light years away and it was months until they landed. As it
happens, he’s still on the plane, somewhere, someplace, some time.
China is in the news for many reasons. There is the on-going
trade war with the United States….. The persecution of the Uighur minority. The
country continues its dizzying rise to modernity, with cities being completely
redesigned in a few years.
One interesting social phenomenon that has recently been documented is the rise of the ‘leftover woman,’ (Sheng nu). This derogatory phrase refers to a woman over 26 (or thereabouts), who is not married or in a relationship. From the point of view of the labeller, its not a positive term, and it’s unlikely that any woman would want to refer herself as such. Nevertheless, with more and more young women in China choosing to delay or in some cases avoid marriage completely, many young women are so scared of being given the classification that they are doing whatever they can to find a husband.
Marriage markets are popping up in towns across the country. Here, parents display photographs and mini biographies of their daughters in the hope of attracting potential partners. And on dates, where women are trained to act as demurely as possible, they are advised to not assert themselves in any way or mention their careers.
Who might be considered ‘leftover’?
In theory, any woman above a certain age without prospects could be considered a leftover woman. However, it’s typically used to denigrate women who choose to ignore Chinese culture and tradition that says they should marry and start a family as soon as possible.
What are the reasons
for the leftover women?
China’s growing middle class are increasingly well-educated;
often much more so than their parents. They study more, often overseas. The
one-child policy introduced in 1980, meant that women born in this period are
considered by the older generation to be the most spoiled in history. Yet they
are also perhaps the most fortunate, being born at a time of greater prosperity
and fortune than their parents and grandparents. Women who grew up without
siblings (even though parents typically preferred a son) had more of their
parent’s attention and were able to enjoy a better education going further than
what would normally be available to women in families with sons. As a result,
many of today’s young women are focusing on their careers, choosing to provide
for themselves and get ahead.
Lack of suitors
The men in China are sometimes unfairly depicted in American
cinema as unreliable, addicted to gambling and alcohol. Whether this is the
reality, there must be a reason why Chinese women are choosing not to marry.
Whilst 28 is hardly considered old for women in Western countries, it’s
different in China. Many men want somebody younger than them, which explains
why so many Chinese women are marrying abroad. It is also worth noting that
women are often so much more educated that men cannot accept the prospect of
being married to someone more successful than they are.
“Leftover women” seems to be a handy term to describe a problem that isn’t really a problem at all. The emergence of women with greater economic independence and education is of great advantage to China, especially when women become successful internationally. The population of China has stayed steady and -even though the one-child policy has been rescinded – families are having smaller families anyway, reducing the poverty and the starvation of the Cultural Revolution.
With 15 million more men than women in China, there are is a
shortage of brides. It’s strange that it’s the men who are often being left
behind, – by a rapidly modern society – but women are the ones being labelled
Hint of misogyny?
To some, the term “leftover woman” is an attempt to stigmata a certain segment of women who are using more freedom that is now available to them, exactly the freedom that men have always had available to them as a matter of course. And more to the point, people aren’t happy that women are no longer happy to just stay at home and look after children. At the heart of the issue is there are women in China, a country considered at the other side of the world geographically and politically, who are closer to women in the west than those in small villages only a few hundred miles away.
I stayed in large countryside home with traditional shoji
paper screens. For contrast, I also slept in a one-room studio apartment in a
suburb of Tokyo. Somehow I managed my 20-kilo bag inside Ryo’s place, using his
bed whilst he slept on the floor. All this is to say that while it might not be
common to be invited to people’s houses as a tourist, if you make the effort,
it will happen.
It was when I was on the local train for Imabari that I met an orange farmer who wanted me to visit her farm. At first I was doubtful, but decided it was worth making a small diversion. In fact, it was one of the best experiences of my journey. The house was traditional country style with the sliding doors I had seen in films such as the iconic ‘Love Letter’ and Unimachi Diary. There were so many interesting things about the house. For a start, the rooms were filled with furniture and captivating objects.
There were things everywhere, in a comfortable rather than cluttered way that reflected the eclectic taste of the owner, a slightly eccentric woman who has lived in the house since childhood. It was so spacious and comfortable that I didn’t want to leave. And the oranges which grew on the farm were some of the best that I tasted. It didn’t hurt that the owner had a fridge full of delicacies that she was happy to share.
The hotel industry offers a wide choice. At the bottom are guesthouses, or hostels. Sometimes they were quite adequate, with reasonable facilities such as a wide TV in the living area and decent cooking equipment. On the other hand, some were so dingy, dirty and crowded, I wished I had slept outside. There are simply too many visitors in Japan, many on such a low budget, and the basic hostels aren’t able to cater for them properly. The problem is the differing needs of backpackers who use these places to meet their friends, and businessmen who stay at them when they are on the road. If you’re Japanese tourist, you probably won’t really mix with the other guests for fear of making them feel obligated to you. In fact, that was the most notable difference between Japanese, and travellers from other countries, whether they would mix or not with strangers. It was most pronounced in the communal areas, where Japanese students would bury themselves in their phones, whilst others would be eagerly mixing, sharing food and other things, as well as comparing their experiences.
It was at the breakfast area that things became most awkward.
With up to thirty people wanting to eat at roughly the same time, it was
everything it took everything in their power to feed everyone. With only two
toasters with slots to cook 2 slices at a time, it became rather a long wait
for a piece of toast. Here the conundrum is do you cook 2 slices at once, thereby
hogging the toaster to yourself depriving others of the right to use it, or simply
toast two slices and offer one of them to someone else, then going back when
you have finished it for another slice, because you can’t keep toast hot very
long anyway. I never found a good enough solution. The fairest way would be to
have a toast monitor, someone continually refilling the toaster so that the
toast was always on hand? But then, I observed that some people would adjust
the toaster so that it cooked their bread for longer or shorter, and in my case,
I often got tired of standing in front of the toaster (I don’t know why I felt
I had to do this) so that I sometimes pulled it out early before the toast was
ready. Others just waited, up to two minutes, with their plate in hand. They wasted
a lot of time like that, but seemed to enjoy it. If someone else’s toast popped
up, they left it sticking out of the toaster. That was annoying too, but
perhaps they didn’t want to handle it too much.
Another thing was the choice of jam was limited to
blueberry, strawberry and marmalade. I didn’t want to leave any out so I had to
put a teaspoonful of each jam on my plate. I hardly used much, and I was
surprised the amount others used. It was the cheap bulk jam. The best bread and
jam I had was at the Maharashi temple in Onnomichi. It was there, on arrival,
that I discovered I had lost my passport.
Onnomichi is a small city along the coast not far from Matsuyama. I
didn’t do much there. I had been recommended to visit the Kendama rock café,
despite what it said online; it was stubbornly closed on both Saturdays I
attempted to visit.
Still, the kitchen offered free tea and coffee. It was powdered coffee, but I did drink it anyway. The problem this time was waiting for the water to boil. Kettles in hotels are usually so old that can take nearly 5 minutes to boil. When they are full the problem is far worse, and meant that there was always a line.
I think there have been too many jokes about kettles with
short flexes. Anyway, it’s probably a safety measure anyway. I’m more
disappointed by the lack of bathroom shower gel miniatures. When you are
travelling across the country, these are highly useful. Yet many of the hotels
I stayed in offered some facial cleansers and toners. What I wanted was
shampoo, but this was in the bathroom in large dispensers fixed to the wall. I suppose
they are saving costs. I didn’t take any thing from the fridge; there was
nothing there anyway. Sometimes they gave me an actual key. This was the case of the International in Nagoya. It was mildly
inconvenient. On the other hand, it was nice to be reminded of the past, when
people carried keys to open doors. It made a nice weight in my pocket too. That
hotel had gleaming gold buttons in the lift, more retro touches. There were
newspapers in the lobby for sale and cabinets of ceramics. Perhaps because I
booked late I was on the eighth floor. I wonder if there can be any choice in
floor level when booking?
The hotels offered a level of courtesy that was often superfluous to the hotel’s price. Bowing was common and many times I was given polite assistance to my enquiries. I tried not to be a pest but sometimes I enjoyed walking through the hotel lobby late at night. I wanted to see who was around. Sometimes prostitutes hang around outside hotels, but I couldn’t see any. It was only in the convenience in Nagoya that I met a lady I who I’m sure was a hostess. Just from the way she was dressed and her manner. But you can never guarantee these things.
Not only is the marriage rate among young people falling, the divorce rate is rising. To make things more complicated, the cases of remarriage is on the increase, with people going into second or third marriages, having children again and living with second or third partners, or having children extra-maritally.
What other social trends are on the rise? I saw a greater amount of tattoos on young people this time. And some anti-social behaviour, such as bad language and spitting that was somewhat disappointing to see. Smoking is still accepted in most places, but is carefully controlled in specially designated smoking areas. On the Shinkansen, there are standing capsules with a sliding door to access them. Only in the very expensive green cars is it possible to smoke in your seat. The trains are fast and clean and they connect all the big cities but the luxury might not be as much as you would expect. Most of the tables are no bigger than the trays you have on airline and there is not much room for big cases. Tellingly, the JR pass that allows foreigners the option to use the trains for 7, 14, or 21 days, does not give access to the faster services, conveniently reserving these services for the Japanese almost 100%. When I took the faster service from Osaka to Tokyo, I was clearly the only foreigner on board, while on the far slower stopping service, I had to jostle through backpackers and families with crying babies. The food cart cheerfully pushed through the carriages (I didn’t buy anything – too expensive), whilst most platforms dished out bento boxes. People queued up at the stations to reserve seats, while in the unreserved cars it was often standing room only.
Wherever I went, people seemed to be on the move somewhere, even before the big cherry blossom season. Restaurants were full and the only time I didn’t have to wait was in the fast food burger places and cafes. There are now foreign workers from Vietnam and Nepal in many restaurants. The government is currently making plans for 40,000 temporary foreign workers, never mind what it will do to Japanese society. Even though it wasn’t what I wanted, I underwent the charade of speaking Japanese with them. At the best restaurants, the staff were always 100% Japanese – these were far the best. Not only was the service better, the experience seemed to be that much better for being in Japanese. It’s convenient to be a solo diner as most restaurants offer counter service.
Women go to work dressed in high heels and dresses far more demure than anywhere else I have seen, making the Tokyo metro a perfumed paradise for the voyeur. There are hostess bars in all the big cities, offering services by the hour. There are plenty of opportunities for dating; you just have to look around. In fact, there seemed to be women everywhere just waiting to be approached, ready to be swept away by anyone who dared to try. At night-time things became more sexual, with dozens of girls bars and women standing outside soliciting passers by inside. There is some controversy as to what these venues provide. With prices as high as 5,000 yen, it’s hard to imagine they are just for talking. It may be that the charge covers the cost of drinks, but not sure. On numerous occasions softly spoken elder women who were trying to offer me various services, which I reluctantly declined, however much I wanted to partake, approached me.
The cost of living in Japan is high for Asia, but not exorbitant, you can get around easily for 50 dollars if you eat simply. It was travel and accommodation that put the biggest hole in my budget, and with just a few hundred extra pounds I could have done even better.
Some of the things I did seemed to be overpriced, such as paying to enter castles and gardens (where they would be free in London). It was something I did grudgingly; whilst it was great to be able to access free toilets everywhere. Hotels were reasonable considering the services provided. I made a point of accessing the free breakfast at the Nest Hotel in Matsuyama and it was excellent, but I could only eat half of it. Sometimes the beds in these place were uncomfortably hard, in others they were more luxurious. Probably the most disappointing hotel I stayed in was a branch of Toyoko Inn around Nagoya station. For some reason the hotel chain has become one of the biggest in Japan (there are some in Korea too) for providing reasonable rates and a free breakfast. Unfortunately, almost everything about the hotel was second rate. I found out there were limits of tolerance to my bad habits. I was told that I wasn’t able to have breakfast in my dressing room, despite being the only guest at the time.
I enjoyed Mystays Premier Hotel, a new range of business hotels. The hotel near Narita was extremely comfortable, with a pool and spa. It even had a 24-hour convenience store on the first floor. My budget forced me to stay in several hostels. They were like echo chambers for germs, with nasty coughing and sneezing preventing anyone from ever sleeping properly.
My most Japanese experience was at the site of First Airlines in Ikebukuro. Everything I had heard about the world’s first virtual airline made me convinced that I would love it and it proved to be so. From the entrance where they used ambient airport sounds and used monitors to show where the plane was heading, it was an immersive piece of conceptual theater up there with Punchdrunk. I ‘flew’ to Paris, having been unable to secure some of the other options Helsinki and New York.
Every new place I went had different candy that I saw in the food halls of the department stores. I lost track of most of it. Many were a kind of sweet bean filled bun known as mango that was pressed into a particular shape. In the Island of Miyajima they were maple leaf shaped. Sweets from Hokkaido were made using butter. Nagano offered highly unusual apple rice crackers – the first time I had seen anything like that.
Some of the best food I had was in unlikely places. The cookies from the Aunt Stella shops were superb: buttery and crispy and with some creative flavours, I found branches outside Nagano and Matsuyama stations, the latter is most charming, with waitresses wearing headbands and blue aprons. Really what you find is that every place has a speciality, one thing that they are good at if a shop sells cookies, they aren’t going to be messing around making brownies as well. You can find English bars, or very good attempts at trying to imitate them as much as possible. The idea of being able to drink freely without partaking of food is so radical that many go there just for the novelty of it. There are bars where you only have room to stand. Then there are those bars targeting an exclusive male audience – known as ‘Girls Bar’, they charge a cover fee, and are staffed by attractive young women wearing various stimulating outfits. The one I visited was open early, and I was fortunate to be the only customer there. You pay per half hour, and they give you an electric timer showing how much time you have left. It’s not really sexy; it’s more about some female attention. Of course, you could go to any normal bar and try to get female attention, but there’s a possibility you would be bothering someone. Paying for this service seems to be part of the appeal, but the idea of forking up money for nothing but chat put me off going for a repeat visit.
Numerous people have thought that Japan’s sexualisation of young women is a sign of something wrong with Japanese society. But on the other hand, it’s a way for these young women to make some decent money while they are studying. And what the hell is wrong with that? Many men would do the same if only they had the chance.
The more time I spent in Japan, the more I felt that it was
like a perfect society where everyone has their role and knew how to perform it
expertly. People often like to point out that Japan is a land of contrasts –
young and old, ancient and modern. But then, when you go there, these things
are not so much contrasts as part of one big palette.