Tag Archives: night

Second Night in Tokyo

[Note: I have decided to devote weeks 13, 26, 39, and 52 to short subjects. I will post a very short piece each day for seven days. This week we are going to Japan.]

I landed at Narita Airport late on a Saturday afternoon in mid-winter. I had my guide book, my work-holiday visa, a list of youth hostels, and a lot of traveller’s cheques. I did not have my friend who had been to Japan before. He had decided not to come. I was nineteen. The currency exchange in the airport was closed because it was after 5 p.m. on a Saturday. I managed to find the train station inside the airport and caught a train to Tokyo. This task was fairly easy as Narita was the end of the line. The only direction you could go was towards Tokyo. I found one of the youth hostels listed in my guide. It was halfway up an office tower. They accepted traveller’s cheques in payment and I had one bunk in a room with twelve bunks in four stacks of three. I was told when I checked in that I could only stay one night. Monday was the day every high school senior in Japan wrote their university entrance exams at their university of choice. There was no space available Sunday night.

I spent all day Sunday wandering around Tokyo trying to find a place to sleep that night. No dice. Every single bed in every single hostel was booked. I asked the desk clerks to direct me to alternatives. Every capsule hotel was booked solid. Every single reasonably priced hotel had multiple students in every room. As night fell I was wandering the streets of Tokyo with a map in a guide book and my knapsack on my back. I spoke not a word of Japanese.

I walked through the deepening night. It was getting cold. I identified the occasional landmark on the map in my guide book, but in between I had no idea where I was. I didn’t know if I could sleep in a park. I didn’t know if it was safe. I didn’t know what the law was. I didn’t know where a park was. It was getting colder. It started to rain. Hard.

Eventually I was passing through an underpass that sheltered several bums. They were dirty and smelly and they were drinking cheap liquor. They hailed me boisterously. I had no idea what they were saying. A few words sounded like they were trying to speak English, but with the slurring it was hard to tell. They offered me some of their cardboard to sleep under. So I spent my second night in Tokyo sleeping under a bridge with a bunch of winos.

Nice guys.


Things That Go Bump In The Night

I sometimes refer to myself as a Professional Dilettante. One of the many jobs I have had was driving a patrol car on the night shift for the Commissionaires. I drove from site to site, checked that private property was secure, patrolled the Lower Causeway and the wharfs around the Inner Harbour in Victoria, closed and opened facilities in city parks, and did walkthroughs of construction sites. All of this in the dark during winter storms. I would get wet and stay wet. The heater in the car only served to make my clothes steam and fog up the windows. Also, in BC security guards are not (or were not) allowed to carry any flashlight larger than three-cells. (A three-cell flashlight holds three batteries. A four-cell holds four. And so on.) The reasoning seemed to be that if we had anything larger, we’d use it to beat people. We carried bulk packages of batteries in our cars as a three-cell light had a better than even chance of running out of juice before an eight hour shift was finished. This was just before large LED flashlights with longer battery lives were common.

One of the construction sites on my beat was the Crystal Garden. The Crystal Garden was a botanical garden, tea room, and conference site named after the original Crystal Pool which was the original use of the building. The Crystal Pool in turn was named for its glass roof. At the time it was built, it was the largest indoor salt water pool in the British Empire. A good view of the glass roof can be seen at the Provincial Capital Commission’s website, where you can also read about the history of the building. When I was crawling around inside night after night, the Crystal Garden had been forced to close after the Provincial Capital Commission said they could no longer collect rent from the other tenants in the building. It was being re-purposed as The BC Experience. It was a brief, bad experience, and the building is now part of the Victoria Conference Centre.

My route through the building was to climb the fire escape at the rear and enter at the upper balcony. With the tarp over the roof and safety paper over many of the horizontal windows, which are above the level of the street lights in any event, it was very dark inside. My little three-cell Maglight was the strongest source of light, and it often flickered and failed. The building was an empty space from the peak of the roof to the bottom of the empty pool with balconies around the sides. This space was filled with a ring of scaffolding which changed every night as work progressed on the roof. On the balconies, new free-standing walls and rooms appeared creating new nooks and blind spots. Hundreds of glass panes waiting to be installed were stacked all around, reflecting my light and my image. Construction workers left coats draped over the paint shelves of six-foot stepladders and hard hats on the top steps. As I shone my light around the gloom, human sized and shaped figures loomed. Winter storms lashed and the windows and the tarp. When the wind shifted to a certain direction, the whole giant tarp cracked with a boom like a thunderclap directly overhead. It was spooky.

After circling the upper balcony, I climbed the scaffolding to check below the roof peak— both for intruders and for damage from the storms. Then it was down to the lower balcony to check all the side rooms, down both grand staircases to check the doors to the street. The building was constructed in the ’20s as a grand public palace. The architecture was very impressive, very grand, and—in the dark in a dilapidated state—spooky. The building echoed with the storms and street noise.

After checking all the crannies of the lower balcony, I climbed through the scaffolding again and down into the bottom of the pool. The pool itself was imposing. Almost Olympic size, and clear space almost to the peak of the roof, it felt much larger in the dark when you could tell it was large and indoors but couldn’t see two walls at once. This was also where I ran into the most rats. In the day they hid in the interstitial spaces, but at night they came into the pool to find sandwiches and other tidbits the construction workers dropped from above.

My route took me across the pool to a passageway cut through the end when the gardens were built and into the basement spaces. The pool is a separate structure from the building. There is a space between the pool basin and the exterior walls. I checked that space, the boiler room, maintenance and storage rooms, and the old animal pens from the building’s time as a botanical garden. Finally, I would exit via the basement door, check the construction yard, and return to my car. Throughout my whole patrol—with dressed ladders, reflections in random places, storm and street noise—I was always convinced there was someone else in the building with me. One night there was.

One of the contractors had hired another security company without telling anyone. As I did my checks, my usual paranoia was gradually replaced by the absolute certainty that someone else was in the building with me. For reals. As a security guard, your goal is not to surprise anyone, nor sneak up on them. Let them know you’re there. Let them know they aren’t supposed to be there. Why he didn’t answer my calls, I don’t know. I assume he was an idiot. Answer when someone calls out “Security! Identify yourself.” Especially when you’re security yourself. Eventually I spotted him while we were more than ten meters apart, so a panicked flailing of flashlights was avoided.

Still, I think I could have taken him. Even though he was cheating and had a four-cell flashlight.