Dont Go Here
Head a couple of miles outside of Shinjuku and you’re in suburbia. Winding streets have cats standing guard outside bars the size of your American bathroom. The same elderly people head to the outdoor street market for vegetables. The impeccably dressed regulars of your local bar rush, on their way to a job where nobody knows who they really are.
I spent a few years living off the Keio Line. Hatsudai, Hatagaya, Sasazuka, Medai-mae, and Shimo-Takaido.. I watched the small cities inside the big city change; huge condominiums erupted during my three month sojourn in Seoul, but the people at the bars remained the same. A regular at a bar is the only certainty in an uncertain world. When I lived with Alex (read about that here), we were pretty poor. I ate conbini soba and splurged on four dollar cans of refried beans at Kaldi. We drank oolong-hai from a can near Lawson’s Creek, the bed of water adjacent from our convenience store, surrounded by wildflowers beside the old man selling flowers out of his truck, watching TV on his flip phone or flipping through magazines of big breasted ladies. We watched the dragonflies dance and turtles get stuck in the shallow water. When pay day came around we’d treat ourselves to Indian food, often at late hours, and more often than not at my convincing.
Manny, the restaurant owner and manager, immigrated from Mumbai to Tokyo thirty years prior when the government was eager to hand out visas to immigrants starting their own enterprises. He stands on the side of the road in the evenings, beckoning customers and waving to friends, ushering them inside despite their initial obvious unease at his exuberant, very un-Japanese behavior.
There are few tables in the front. The restaurant can seat about six or seven at a time. More often than not, Manny’s the only staff, juggling orders and heading back into the kitchen to prepare buttery naan and sweet curries. He wears parachute pants and a bandana on his head; his teeth are far from perfect but he smiles with an intensity that makes you wonder if he knows or cares. Manny doesn’t splurge on decorations; he draws everything himself. Little pieces of paper hang on the walls with crayon artworks of smiling fruits and vegetables; a dancing robot cat sits next to a line of the restaurant’s finer alcohol selection. In the back room, there are old leather booths and a TV that perpetually plays Michael Jackson’s concerts on a broken sound system.
When I was lonely, I’d go by myself and get a highball. The first one was on me, and the rest were on the customers he’d convince to buy me drinks to keep me around until three for four in the morning. A fat middle-aged man would bring his guitar and sing songs about praying mantises; a construction worker and his ever-changing female companions would talk to me about life in Seoul. They’d cheer on my visa struggles and get me drunk off whiskey and the promise of friendship and regularity I couldn’t find even amongst the closest of my friends.
When the bar was empty, I’d order a set of samosas. Manny would immediately get on the phone with a customer in Japanese, telling him that a pretty young foreign girl was drinking alone, and they’d show up to keep me company. He bartered my youth for alcohol, and I didn’t mind at all. Free drinks are free drinks, and stories are forever.