TRAVEL MEM­OIR

Hun­gry lla­mas, lost pass­ports and drunken con­fes­sions in Ja­panese pubs – some­times ad­ven­ture comes look­ing for you, writes NATASHA PUL­LEY.

Gourmet Traveller (Australia) - - OCT -

Nov­el­ist Natasha Pul­ley on lla­mas, lost pass­ports and drunken con­fes­sions.

I’m ter­ri­ble at ad­ven­tures. I like verb ta­bles; I’ve never tried ayahuasca and, de­spite the hints of my Peru­vian land­lady, I never did spon­ta­neously marry some­one from Cusco. I sort of bring or­di­nar­i­ness with me wher­ever I go. That seems in­im­i­cal to hav­ing much fun when trav­el­ling, but I’ve learnt ad­ven­tures grow from more ba­sic cir­cum­stances than I’m prone to imag­ine.

Much more nec­es­sary than a fear­less spirit or zip wires is an ap­ple. Last year I was half­way up Machu Pic­chu try­ing to re­search Inca at­ti­tudes to­wards stone. My guide was telling me about the ru­ins and I was re­ally try­ing to lis­ten be­cause I was there to work, not on hol­i­day, but I was wheez­ing in the al­ti­tude (pa­thetic: it’s only 2400 me­tres; ev­ery­one else was fine) and my con­cen­tra­tion was shot. Then a herd of lla­mas danced past. I wheezed along in pur­suit but lost them – they’re pretty nippy, and springy, and not oxy­gen-de­prived.

Then there was a yell be­hind me and when I turned I got a face­ful of happy llama look­ing for my ap­ple.

Ap­ples: im­por­tant.

It’s im­por­tant as well not to leave your pass­port in the loos at Bei­jing air­port, but even if that hap­pens, things might still turn out well. I re­alised what I’d done only af­ter get­ting on the train that takes you across the air­port. I didn’t speak any Man­darin and the staff didn’t un­der­stand my accent (I’m Bri­tish) and I ended up stranded in the ar­rival hall won­der­ing how the hell to con­tact the em­bassy. But then along came the man I’d sat be­side on the plane — he was a Bei­jing lo­cal who’d been teach­ing in York­shire the pre­vi­ous year — and he col­lared me cheer­fully and did what no English per­son in their right mind would ever do: he took me to lost prop­erty. In Lon­don that would earn you noth­ing more than a scorn­ful look. I did get a scorn­ful look from the lady be­hind the Bei­jing desk, but she also had my pass­port. The clean­ers had handed it in about five min­utes af­ter

I’d lost it. It had beaten me across the air­port.

While I’m on the joy of or­di­nary things, I need to say that one of the best as­pects of liv­ing in Ja­pan has noth­ing to do with tem­ples or samu­rai his­tory; it’s pubs.

Bureikou means putting aside rank. It’s an old idea, and these days it in­volves a bunch of peo­ple who work to­gether go­ing to the pub and get­ting drunk, with one rule: what­ever is said in the pub, stays there. It’s es­pe­cially im­por­tant in Tokyo, where work­ing life is dom­i­nated by big cor­po­ra­tions and their pun­ish­ing stan­dards of be­hav­iour. A ses­sion at the pub is a chance to loosen up, and it works. Peo­ple of usu­ally f linty aus­ter­ity con­fess to af­fairs, mad things done abroad, se­cret PhDs, but even when noth­ing spec­tac­u­lar gets aired it’s still very funny.

My favourite pub story was from a man who worked for the army. The English word “at­tack” has been ab­sorbed into Ja­panese as at­tack o suru, but rather than mean­ing an as­sault, it’s slang for try­ing to pull a girl. This means it’s rather a false friend; Ja­panese men of­ten as­sume “at­tack” in stan­dard English means to pull or to score.

Which causes con­fu­sion and alarm if you’re a Ja­panese sol­dier speak­ing English to for­eign­ers, and you men­tion you’re about to at­tack a woman.

I get ner­vous trav­el­ling, but I have a mantra now: check lost prop­erty, go to the pub, and al­ways bring an ap­ple. ●

Natasha Pul­ley’s sec­ond novel, The Bed­lam

Stacks, fol­lows the tri­als of a 19th-cen­tury ex­pe­di­tion to find qui­nine in the Peru­vian Ama­zon (Blooms­bury, $29.99).

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