The air is hot, as always, but the clouds that block the beating rays of the sun and the breeze that blow make it seem slightly cooler than the previous days. I walk alone, towards a yet-unexplored section of town. Down narrow streets past well-kept homes and gardens. A black cat crosses the road in front of me and timidly scurries behind a wall. Every now and then I am passed by a car or a bike or a fellow pedestrian, all of whom I’m sure are curious about why this foreign girl is wandering the streets of these off-the-beaten-path places. An old man and a boy clearly talk about me, openly pointing and gesturing, knowing I most likely wouldn’t understand their gossip. I feel conspicuous, unable to hide that I’m a foreigner.
Dead-ends force me to turn around, retracing my steps to try another route. I come across a temple, standing amidst houses and a laundromat and several small shops, surrounded by a wall of flowers of every color. The road leads me to a bike path, which I follow for a while, into fields of rice, towards a more unkempt and rustic-looking section of town. Laundry hangs on porches of small houses. I see several men working out in their gardens, cutting the grass, trimming the flowers, making sure it’s all just so.
A long line of bicycles passes on the road ahead of me, teenagers on their way home from school, all wearing the same uniform and carrying identical backpacks. Another old man riding by on a bicycles salutes me, and I give him an enthusiastic “konnichiwa” in response. The path ends, turning into another maze of dog-legging roads. I turn and head back, taking a different route in roughly the direction I need to go, knowing that eventually I’ll come out on the main road that will take me back to a familiar place. Soon I see the “giant green ball,” a water tower across the street from our apartment, a landmark to watch for, the end of my stroll for today.