Monday, July 16, 2007

Kyoto - Gion Goodbye

Today we had one plan only - no shrines and temples.

Unfortunately, Pearl took that as permission to spend the day dragging me into hundreds of stores selling the exact same bags, of which she bought several. I only bought a quirky Japanese shirt for my sister.

After our rather painful shopping extravaganza, we went to the conveyor-belt sushi place we had eaten at with Katie and Laura. The food was just as good, but there weren't as many varieties. But still, you can't beat that quality at those prices.

We went back to the hostel for some rest, watching the devastation from the earthquake on the news. Around 5:30, Pearl said she was going out to take some pictures in the area (but secretly she was doing more shopping). We agreed to go out to the festival at 7:00, and she said she'd be back in roughly an hour. So when she hadn't shown up at 7:30, I was a little concerned. You see, she has no sense of direction in big cities, and she asked me about ten times that day if it was Sunday, so she clearly isn't good with time. So I knew she was either lost or oblivious to the passing of time. I told the awesome girl at the front desk to tell Pearl to wait for me if she showed up, and I set out to find her.

Now, if you remember from yesterday, this festival is total madness. The second I walked outside, I realized that I literally had to find one specific Asian person in a group of one and a half million. It was the hardest game of needle-in-the-haystack I've ever played. And I've spent many hours searching for needles in haystacks. I walked around hopelessly for half an hour and went back to the hostel. The girl shook her head, so I went back out. I walked even further, scanning the crowd. I couldn't help but think of how I would describe her to the police ("Asian" is all that came to mind). But then I got really hungry, so I grabbed a kebab. Even rescue parties have to eat! But the kebab didn't sate my hunger, and I was left with a huge dilemma. I really wanted this great noodle dish I had the previous night, but you have to sit down to eat it, and I knew I would feel guilty if Pearl washed up on the shore of the river and I had been sitting with a box of noodles in my lap. So I stuck with standing-only foods, because I'm a really good friend.

I returned to the hostel at 9:00, and the reception girl said she had showed up but then left again and hadn't returned. Luckily it was me looking for Pearl and not the other way around, because I knew the girl (I call her that, by the way, because I never asked her name in the ten days I was there - she was just one member of the Holy Trinity of "She", our name for the three interchangeable receptionists) was joking. When I told the joke to Pearl later, she was confused why she would have said that, since she hadn't gone back outside. And that's why it's easy to like Pearl.

We did the usual thing - carousing stalls, getting stuck in massive crowds, sampling octopus balls, etc. Since it was the last night, there were all sorts of mini-parades going on, which was exciting. And we were able to go up in the giant floats the musicians play in. However, Pearl and I just walked in, without realizing you had to pay. The poor woman taking tickets looked like she wanted to say something, but she didn't know how, so she let us go up for free. When I realized our mistake, we didn't right it - we just took off running. Hey, free float tour!

The festival ended quite suddenly at 11:00, with cops shouting through bullhorns and forcing stalls to shut down. On the way back to the hostel, we saw this really incredible band. It was made up of some number of kids - fifteen, maybe? They kept changing instruments and walking away in the middle of songs, so it was impossible to tell who were actually members (according to their website there are only four, but I promise you more than that were involved). They were an unbelievable amount of fun. They all got so into the music, and everyone had great voices and were awesome at their instruments.

They sang mostly American songs from the 60s and 70s, which made them even better. The whole thing was really informal. Everyone just filled in which words they knew, and they tried to coerce us Americans and some British girls into singing for them. At one point, everyone was singing "Purple Rain" together, and one of the last songs was "Let It Be", although their version was more of "Ret It Be". It was the perfect ending to my time in Kyoto.

Watch them try to remember the words to "Let It Be":

I think I'll look back on this city with the best memories from my trip. I met some great people, Pearl joined me here, and I had an absolute blast. It was actually pretty painful to have to leave.

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