Hey, all. I had a super-busy weekend filled with some pretty random stuff-- each one worthy of a post of their very own (I'll get to it this week, honest!) But the weekend ended with a really bizarre, if not downright horrifying, moment of culture shock that stayed with me for a long time after it happened, turning a whirlwind of events into something just plain surreal.
I was taking the metro home after the aforementioned whirlwind of events, but I was pretty pleased with myself that the connection to my "home train" happened deep into the city. This way, you see, I'm pretty much guaranteed a seat, unlike the stops closer to home, once the train has filled up along the way. The comfort I felt was merely temporary, however, for at the other end of the metro car, out of my line of sight due to other passengers, was a mom with her cholericky baby.
And on one level, you'd have to chuckle to yourself and chalk it up to the collateral damage of a public commute. But let me assure you, this wasn't a simple case like that. The baby must have been well and truly hurting. It wasn't crying. It was screaming. And if you truly think about what a *scream* really is, that primal yell of terror and pain, it was that kind of scream. It was Truly. Screaming.
Bizarrely, every Tokyo-ite on the train simply ignored it. Sure, every once in a while, after a really giant yelp echoed far and above the roar of the clackety-clack, a few would turn their head. But they were resolute, staring into space, at the floor, or into the mind-scape of their iPod. Even the mother held her gaze at the floor, the most subtle look of patient worry tracing her forehead, maybe. And still it screamed.
I felt frozen. This was the kind of scream that pierced my soul into some instinctive level, the kind of place that force beasts and cavemen to respond with aid when a tiny child cries like that. And I was truly a dumb brute-- my limited Japanese swallowed up by the two-fold fact that this baby needed help and no one was even offering it. How could they not just mention something? Ask if the mom is okay? Ask if she needs anything? Or even at the very least to offer some kind smile of sympathy or commiseration?
Instead, I saw people pointedly leaving the train to wait on the platform for the next one, instead. I saw the wife across from me try to peek towards the source only to be told "ii da yo!"-- "It'll be fine!"-- by her husband, who never looked up from his soduku puzzle book.
And no one on the train would meet my eyes, the only part of me that seemed capable of communicating. "Shouldn't we say something?" they tried to say. "Weird stuff, isn't it?" they tried again. "Poor baby!" one more time. I knew I would be helpless to actually, you know, help, even if I would have gotten up and talked to the mom in English. But could everyone think that the best option was to just pretend the rest of the world didn't exist?
I left the metro before the mom and her sick child. The train carried the baby and its cries further south, but I felt really terrible. Something was right in my spirit after going through that. Maybe it took me a little while to recognize it because it hasn't happened all that often-- my heart was broken.
Melodramatic? Maybe. I shared this experience with a couple of others, and they diagnosed the train passengers as behaving typically Japanese, and it was just culture shock for me. And I know I can't be sure that any one of them on the train didn't also feel sympathetic to the point of discomfort. They were all very good Japanese people that didn't allow their countenance to break. But you know what? I *like* the fact that my heart felt broken after that. I *like* the fact that my instinct was to say something to that mom, and I'm really sorry that I've become so Japanese that I ignored it.
Maybe that last sentence is, after all, why I felt so bad.