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On Pigsties and Couchsurfing

Nobody wants to walk into a dorm room with eight beds, all of which reek of various deadly stenches from intense B.O. to sweat to mold, to plain ol’ nastiness.

Nobody wants to be suddenly woken up in the middle of the night by  a size 12 foot squeezing their chest, especially a foot belonging to an intoxicated kid who, in his drunken stupor, attempts to hop on your bunk–the TOP bunk, for that matter!–several times until he is finally deterred by a powerful kick.

And by “nobody” I mean ME.

It’s not that we were delusional about our age or lifestyle when we signed up to sleep in a 8-person bunk bed dorm in a Kyoto hostel, but after a couple of  quite pleasant experiences at other Japanese hostels, Diesel and I thought we could do it and save some money.  Until, that is, we encountered people who think it’s ok to skip showering for several weeks (despite sharing a room with other travelers) or don’t mind sleeping in sheets covered with brown stains, which could be either chocolate, mud or poop–you take a guess.Anyhow, after one disastrous night at the K’s house hostel in Kyoto, Tim and I decided to couchsurf.  What is couch surfing, you may ask?  Couchsurfing is an online community of travelers from around the world who connect by either offering a perfect stranger a place to stay, staying at a perfect stranger’s home (known as “surfing”) or both.  We had hosted a couple of Singaporean girls while in NY, but had never surfed.  Scarred by our most recent hostel experience, we decided to give it a go after my friend Tarah mentioned that she would be couchsurfing on her upcoming trip to Japan. That sounded way more appealing than hanging out with teenagers with no social skills or acceptable hygiene habits.

We hooked up with a Canadian girl named Heather and her cousin Laura Jane (more on them on the next post).  After some back and forth to figure out logistics, Heather gave us the following directions:

ps here are the best directions i can give you!!

from the subway stop Higashino walk beside the
shinkansen track down the hill. across under the
shinkansen track right across from the big cow
resturant. take the side street across from the big cow
and under the tracks. its the last side street on the
right across from the house with the garden. you should
see a white bar over half the road way down the street.
walk past the white bar and past the gardens. when you
get to the first house on the left when left down the
driveway. you should see a house back between the two
houses with prayer flags hanging at the front door.
You’ve found us! just open the door and yell that
you’re there, if it’s locked use the back door around
the side of the house!

Now, I don’t know about you, but to us these directions were at best vague and at worst useless.  The “these are the best directions I can give you” part seems to be a preemptive apology for leading us astray.  Even the optimistic exclamation mark at the end of the directions did not inspire any confidence that we would, in fact, ever get to this place.  Besides all the non-specific points of reference, most of the houses in that neighborhood had gardens and even the “cow” that was mentioned just seemed to be a humorous addition to the list of convoluted instructions.  Against our better judgment, we took a taxi to the station and started walking anyway.

It didn’t take long for us to realize that we were completely lost.  We stopped a lady who had just arrived home on her bike.  She looked at the address and it looked like she had some inkling of where it was.  She called out for her husband, who showed up with a map of the neighborhood that plotted the different subdivisions of the area.  The two looked at the map, puzzled, and after a few exchanges, the man made a sign to his wife, sending her out on her bike to show us the way.  That’s how nice the Japanese are.

Along the way, this lady asked a few more women for directions, and it seemed that with each inquiry, we recruited another body to our search party.  The final recruit was a bad-ass housewife, sporting an all-black outfit, complete with a black biker’s helmet and  sunglasses.  She was wearing a supped up moped and was carrying several bags full of groceries when we stopped her for directions. The leader of the search party and the bad-ass housewife were discussing the whereabouts of the house for several minutes when  a man walking down he alley interrupted them to announce he had seen a  “gaijin” (white person) not far from where we are.  We were all convinced that that’s where we should go.

And this is how the kind Japanese ladies delivered us safe and sound to the gaijin’s house, where we were invited in by Heather.

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