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Saturday, Dec. 6, 2003
Drive! Hokkaido! -- turn left at the cow
By AMY CHAVEZ
I decided to "Drive! Hokkaido!" as the brochures say. When I left the Sapporo airport in my rental car, I was amazed at the surrounding scenery. Wow -- trees! I was so excited, I started barking (a trick I learned from years of driving with a dog in the car back home).
And I had no problem driving on the opposite side of the road from what I am used to. Problem is, they put the turn signal function on the opposite side, too. So in the U.S., where the turn signal is, is the place where the windshield wipers are in Japan. So the next time you see a "gaijin" driving on a sunny day with their windshield wipers on, you'll know they're just getting ready to make a turn.
I was headed to Obihiro -- cow country. I wanted to see the cows Hokkaido is famous for. Not that we don't have cows in Okayama, where I live. On milk cartons they have pictures of Okayama cows grazing in large green pastures. But we have no large green pastures in Okayama. That's right, they use cow studios for those pictures! In reality, the cows live in barns their entire lives.
So I wanted to see cows in a natural environment, like on the milk cartons. The staffers at the rental car office kindly set the car's GPS navigation device to "Cows at Obihiro" for me. A nice lady, I'll call her "Jewel," came over the navigation's loudspeaker to advise me, "In 500 meters, you are going to turn left." Then, upon the approach to the intersection, she'd say, "Now, turn left HERE." I didn't even need to know where I was going -- driving couldn't be easier! I would have preferred a male voice, especially Roy Orbison's, but Jewel was very nice, so I couldn't complain.
Perhaps I came to rely on Jewel a bit too much. "Why didn't you warn me about that bus?" I scolded her. I was driving along in the left lane when a bus bullied itself into my lane. I panicked as I was forced into the same lane as the car on the right. The car on my right responded with successive horn blowing, completely clueless to my windshield wipers slapping frantically at full throttle.
Four hours later, under the careful tutelage of Jewel, I arrived at the cows of Obihiro. There were dairy farms everywhere, and I spent quite a while watching the cows. They were beautiful -- just like on the milk cartons.
When it was time to head back south to Sapporo, I programmed the navigation device myself. Little did I realize that Jewel would not catch my misprogrammings. She kept right on leading me north! "Are you sure this is right?" I asked Jewel.
Then it started raining, and that's when I caught Jewel deliberately trying to mislead me. "In 500 meters, you are going to turn left," she told me. I didn't see any road. "Now, turn left HERE," she said. "But Jewel, that's a cow! No matter what you tell me, I'm not going to run over a cow."
My suspicions were confirmed: Jewel had a poor sense of direction. "Fine, Jewel, you go north -- I'm going south," I told her, and clicked the navigation device off.
An hour later, however, I kind of missed Jewel's company, so I turned her back on. All the way back to Sapporo, she tried to convince me to turn into trees, rivers and buildings, but I just kept on going.
"In 500 meters, I'm going to turn left," I told her a few hours later. "Now I'm turning left right HERE!" I said and returned her to the rental car company. Next time I'll request Roy Orbison.
E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Web site: www.amychavez.com