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Saturday, Aug. 31, 2002

JAPAN LITE

Fear and loathing in XXL Las Vegas


The combination of classic American kitsch and the Japanese love for it makes Las Vegas a mandatory stop on any Japanese person's tour of the U.S. This is how I find myself in Las Vegas now with two Japanese home stay students.

As we drove up to our $290 million, 4,000-room hotel, I noticed the girls had terrified expressions on their faces. That's when I realized that to Japanese people, the Excalibur Hotel, which is designed after a medieval castle with a drawbridge, moat and phantasmagorical spires, looks like a giant version of a Japanese love hotel. I assured the girls that this was not the case, but with the flashing marquee advertising the hotel's all-male revue from Australia called "Thunder From Down Under," I was hardly convincing.

Next door to the Excalibur stands the 30-story pyramid-shaped Luxor hotel, the second-largest hotel in the U.S., with 4,408 rooms. On down the Las Vegas strip were more and more giant hotels. Do we really need such big hotels? Yes -- to accommodate the big spenders.

And I'm not talking about big money. I won't call the big spenders fat, as that would be an insensitive and politically incorrect way to describe people who look more like SUVs -- or modern versions of Herbie the Love Bug. So instead, I'll call them "horizontal people," because they are wider than they are tall. There's nothing politically incorrect about the word "horizontal," is there? It sounds like the horizon, that's all.

According to a September issue of Time magazine, 35 percent of Americans are overweight, and 26 percent more are obese. This is bad news for people like me, who are beginning to look proportionately smaller. At 150 cm and 47 kg, in the U.S. these days I could be classified as a bug. As a matter of fact, I noticed several people getting out their magnifying glasses when speaking to me. I'm a bit afraid that while walking down the street one day, someone will step on me and end my life. I should start a new campaign: air bags for pedestrians!

My home stay students continue to wear terrified expressions on their faces. That's because they aren't much bigger than I am. What if the horizontal people suddenly decide to have a touch football game? We would be obvious candidates for the ball.

Looking at all the horizontal people -- some in the endless ice cream cue at the 24-hour snack bar, others in wheelchairs because they are too big to move around on their own, and even others driving around inside the casinos in electric carts -- I see imaginary cartoon balloons above each person's head that say "high blood pressure," "heart disease" or "diabetes."

Imagine what this could do to evolution! OK, let's not. But imagine what it could do for our country. We could certainly have a national sumo wrestling team. Hand-to-hand combat may replace guns. If we have a sumo military, wars could be fought in tournaments. However, since most of the world is provertical, we would have no one to fight but ourselves.

I realized that in America, a nation obsessed with all-you-can-eat buffets, there is no danger of a stagnant economy. People will always need bigger and better things, more machines and more health care.

The home stay girls remain puzzled by the horizontal people. I am too. There's just no way to explain the decadence of America.

But after three days in Las Vegas, I think we're at least feeling a little more comfortable with America's super size. As we crawl back to our hotel at the end of each day, it's nice to return to a medieval castle with 4,000 rooms. After all, the tunnels and chambers give it the feel of a bug colony. In a kitsch nest, that is.

Contact Amy at amychavez2000@yahoo.com or visit the "Japan Lite" home page at www.amychavez.com


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