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Saturday, March 8, 2008

JAPAN LITE

Devolution: hangin' around


Even after 15 years in Japan, I cannot avoid looking like the struggling, bumbling "gaijin." You know what I mean: the gaijin who has just gotten off the plane in Japan and is struggling with several huge bags of luggage, all of it too big, none with wheels, making you look like a small elephant in a crowd of Japanese who stride like flamingos on roller skates.

News photo
"If we start acting more like orangutans, we'll eventually devolve into them." ANDREAS JANSSON PHOTO

The Japanese, who never seem to have any luggage, must wonder what it is that we carry in our large suitcases. It's no wonder the airport security checks are so strict. They must think there is some illegal hippopotamus trade going on.

So why is it that the Japanese never have any luggage?

The other day I sat next to a guy on the plane who had orange hair. He was one of those modern Japanese guys who look a little overgroomed, a little too gorgeous. But the strangest thing about this guy was that he had no luggage. Not even a carry-on! What about reading material? What if he wants to brush his teeth? What if I want him to brush his teeth?

The orange-haired guy slept through the whole flight.

When the Malaysian Air flight attendant came by saying, "Chicken or beef?" I couldn't help notice that she was wearing so much makeup, she looked more like a butterfly. And this is when I had a eureka moment: The guy with the orange hair had no luggage. Orangutans don't have any luggage, either — just an orange coat that they take with them wherever they go. The only thing they might need as a carry-on is a comb.

This guy was not quite an orangutan, but he was slowly morphing into one. The Malaysian Air flight attendant was not quite a butterfly, but she had begun the metamorphosis, including being drawn to a career in flight.

It's very possible that we, as humans, have overevolved.

You see, on this particular flight, I was flying back from Borneo, where I had spent five days watching orangutans in the wild. They reminded me very much of how we human beings used to be in the days of yore when we used to have time to hang out on the porch and while away the hours.

Orangutans have so much free time that they make a new nest to live in every day. That's a lot of free time!

As most people know, the orangutan is an endangered species.

My idea is this: Rather than try to save the orangutan, why don't we try to save ourselves — by joining them!

I'm seriously considering going back to the forest. I figure that we are already at the beginning of a reverse Darwinism movement. If we start acting more like orangutans, we'll eventually adapt and devolve into them.

Forget that day job and expensive apartment in Tokyo! Your new address could be Kinabatangan Rain Forest, Tree No. 1001, Nest No. 1, Sabah, Borneo.

Sure, you might miss some of the things from human life, like conversation. But do we really need language? No speech means no jobs! After all, have you ever seen an orangutan working?

But for you language junkies who speak at least a few foreign languages, you will be happy to know that there actually is an orangutan language, which includes about 70 written characters. The Orangutan Language Project has shown that orangutans can learn signs and distinguish shapes. The OLP has divided these into categories such as food, nonfood objects, verbs, adjectives and numbers. Then they have put symbols in each category. A rectangle equals food. A circle means a nonfood item. There are also concepts for yes and no, and good and wrong. You're probably fluent in orangutan already.

And we could always add to the language if we wanted. The Japanese "batsu" gesture, for example, made by crossing your arms in front of you to make an X, meaning "no, impossible," aided by the long arms of an orangutan, would be the "dai batsu": a whole-body batsu meaning "No way, Jose!"

I don't know about you, but I'm looking forward to devolution. Hopefully we will all soon have orange hair, longer arms and a whole lot more time to hang around.

See you in the forest!



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