Back to Montreal
A trip to California I took in May changed my mindset. When I found bargain fares online, I quickly decided to go to Montreal for the first time in seven years by using my emergency savings. I felt it was ridiculous to keep money in a bank although we are mortal and we don’t know when our time is up.
I once lived in Montreal for about a year in total. I wanted to stay there, but I had to leave and come back to Japan as my money ran out. Since then, I have always hoped to live there again or at least to visit there as a tourist. What I like about Montreal are its beauty, a relaxing atmosphere and people there who seem to live to enjoy life rather than achieve success. I’m not sure if it’s because of their ways of life or the French-spoken region of Canada, but they are fashionable with excellent taste. For that combination of the city and the people, just walking down the street is fascinating enough.
I took on a 12-hour flight to Toronto during which I happened to find ‘Tomorrowland’ among the in-flight movies, saw it twice and cried yet again. I went through immigration where an immigration officer gave me lengthy, irrelevant, even harassing questions including about my pin I was wearing on my jacket. It was a pin from ‘Tomorrowland’ and she almost made me begin to explain the whole movie story.
The airport system in Toronto was somewhat odd. I was just in transit en route to Montreal, but I needed to pick up my luggage, carry to the distant counter and check it in all over again. Although I had already been through the security checkpoint before I got on board in Japan and had never left the airport, I had to do it again. I ended up gobbling a whole bottle of water in front of the security gate, which was exactly what I did on the last trip to California.
After the security checkpoint, I saw an information screen for departure to make sure the gate number for my flight to Montreal. The flight was missing. There was no information about my flight, no cancelled, no delayed, no nothing. Among the long list of departing flights, my flight itself didn’t exist. I was close to panic. And I realized we don’t have anybody around for something like this nowadays. There is no information counter, airport workers don’t know about flights, and airline personnel at the gates don’t know other flights’ status. I had no one to ask.
The only place I came up with as where the airline personnel with flight information were working was an executive lounge. I went up there and asked about my flight. She glanced at her computer display and said, ‘It’s on time.’ My flight did exist, but for some weird reason, the airport screen showed information only for selected flights. I had scurried around the terminal for this absurd system.
I finally arrived at Montreal after a one-and-a-half-hour flight. A cab ran on the freeway at 75 miles per hour through the night and downtown Montreal appeared in 20 minutes. It was the same freeway on which a cab carried me in the dark before dawn seven years ago when I was leaving for Japan. I remember I wished upon the moon that I could return here someday, as I had no way to find the money to come back. The moon satisfied my wish, I supposed.
I checked in a hotel and looked out of the window. Beneath the window was Sherbrooke Street where many people were still passing by. Above the town lights of the city, I saw the cross on the Mont-Royal that was lighted up and floated in the dark sky. It was a view that I felt like I was strayed into a dreamland. I thought my bold decision to spend money for this trip was right. It would be a big loss not to come to such a beautiful place like this when it exists. I literally fell down to bed to sleep since I was completely exhausted from the 24-hour trip from home to here and the turmoil at Toronto Airport.
Next morning, I woke up early because of jet lag. The first thing I decided to do in Montreal wasn’t to get a rest in the hotel room or to take a walk in the city. It was going to casino to win back all the money I had spent there in the past…
This incident happened one New Year’s at the
end of the card game called ‘kabu’, in which
my uncle acted as dealer for the yearly family
casino at my grandparents’ house. He had lost
quite a lot to my cousin, who was his son, as
usual that night and my cousin had left the
table as the morning dawned.
My uncle, my mother and I were left at the
table and the game was about to close. My
mother asked for a few more deals because
she had also lost a large sum and wanted to
get it back. To recover her loss quickly, she bet
by the $100. The game was played for high
stakes every year, but I had never seen the
stakes this high. She lost in succession and her
loss swelled to $500 in a flash.
“This is the last bet,” she claimed in
desperation and put $500 on the table. She
tried to offset her total loss on the last deal of
the game. All at once the tension skyrocketed
and strange silence filled the room. I held my
breath and withdrew my usual small bet. The
cards were dealt tensely and my mother and
my uncle showed their hands of fate. Both
hands were ridiculously bad but my mother’s
was even worse. She lost $1000. Burying her
head in her hands, she repeatedly uttered, “It
can’t be! Can’t be true!” I saw tears in her
widely opened bloodshot eyes. Then she
repeated “Oh, my… Oh, my…” in a faint voice
for ten times and staggered away. I clearly
remember her state of stupor.
A couple of days later back in our home, I
enticed her into playing ‘kabu’ with me since I
learned how poorly she played it and I knew I
would win. I used to receive cash as a New
Year’s gift from my relatives during New Year’s
and it would amount to $1000. I dangled it in
front of her and said that it would be her
chance to get back her loss. She took it and we
played for $1000. As I had thought, she lost
another $1000 to me. She said she couldn’t
pay, and I offered her the installment plan. I
got $100 more to my monthly allowance of
$30 for the next ten months. That was the
richest year in my early teens.
Many years later, she failed in real estate
investment and lost most of our family fortune
that had been inherited for generations. The
amount she lost that time was well over $1
million. And that was the money I was
supposed to inherit…
Episode From The Girl in Kyoto / Hidemi Woods
The living room in my grandparents’ home was
used for a card game when the house turned
into a family casino during New Year’s. The
game was a blackjack-like one called ‘kabu’
and organized by my uncle. It used to be the
best treat of New Year’s for me in my
childhood and early in my teens.
Unlike ‘mortar roller’ I had introduced before,
this game was played seriously and intensely
because it was for high stakes. The players
usually bet a dollar or more, sometimes as
high as a hundred dollars. The deeper into the
night it got, the higher the bet went. The
family members would leave the table one by
one, as the higher bet would make them tense
and deprive them of pleasure. As for me, I
liked to see the game get heated so much and
would play throughout the night until the game
came to an end in the next morning.
The usual players who stayed at the table
near dawn would be my uncle who was a
dealer, my eldest cousin, my mother and I. My
uncle was a successor of the family by
marriage and so my grandparents were his in
laws. He was on terrible terms with my
grandmother who raised my eldest cousin in
place of him and his wife because they were
too busy working at the family farm.
Consequently, he didn’t get along well with his
own son either. New Year’s ‘kabu’ would
become an intense battle between my uncle
and my cousin by dawn.
My uncle couldn’t lose especially to his son
and that made the game extraordinarily
thrilling. My cousin would bet more than $10
on each deal and my heart would be pounding
by seeing bills on the table. My uncle would
concentrate on the cards dealt to him and his
son too deeply to care about my small bets.
Because he would forget to count me in and
settle my deal thoughtlessly each time, I would
end up winning quite a big amount of money in
total every year.
He would summon all his strength when he
saw the last card dealt to him. In spite of his
prayer-like chants “Come on! Come on!”, most
of the time the card would be the least one he
had wanted. Hand after hand, he drew the
worst card possible while my cousin was rolling
on the tatami floor to stifle his giggling.
As far as I remember, he had never won
against my cousin. He was manly and frank,
but I can still picture him going back to his
room after the game in the morning light with
unsteady steps, worn out, drooping, and on
the verge of tears. Three months after the
house was burned down, he died of cancer
without becoming the head of the family…
Episode From The Girl in Kyoto / Hidemi Woods
I ask you to keep what you are about to read
in here to yourself since it concerns an illegal
activity I was once engaged in.
Until I was about sixteen years old, my
parents, my younger sister and I had visited
my grandparents’ home every year during the
New Year’s. Limited for that time of the year, a
quiet countryside house of my grandparents’
would turn into a family casino. It consisted of
three different areas. In the card game area,
which was the living room, a card game called
‘kabu’ that is similar to blackjack would be
played. In the coin game area, which was my
grandparents’ room, would be for a game
called ‘mortar roller’. And the break area,
which was the dining room, would be for those
who didn’t like gambling or who needed food
and drink. It would be open for 24 hours but
only the family members could play.
The coin game was organized by my
grandmother. She set up a huge china mortar
for sesame on the tatami floor and the players
would sit around it on the floor. They would
take turns and roll a 10-yen coin, which is
worth about ten cents, inside the mortar. The
coin rolled along the side of the round mortar,
descending gradually toward the bottom. If it
landed on other coins at the bottom, the player
could get them. Although the game was
simple, we would be absorbed in playing and
our heads and eyes were rolling above the
mortar with a coin inside. My cousin was good
at it with her own devised technique to throw
in a coin. I would also win snugly with my
fixation on money.
Beside the excited circle, my grandfather and
my father, who were not interested in
gambling, would talk over Japanese tea that
my grandfather would make.
My grandmother would start fretting after
midnight and tell us to be quiet because she
had believed that the military policemen could
bust in with bayonets. We laughed at her
anachronism while seeing her try to mute the
mortar and still live in the WWII era. She
upgraded the mortar one year by putting a
round piece of cardboard near the bottom. The
mortar’s floor was raised and became wider
and flatter so that it was harder to make the
coin lie on top of the other. More coins to take
would be left at the bottom and the game got
more exciting. Those were such fond memories
and I can still hear the sound of a rolling coin
inside a mortar during New Year’s. Later on,
the joyful grandparents’ house was burned
down by my grandmother’s carelessness with a
candle. It’s gone forever…
Episode From The Girl in Kyoto / Hidemi Woods
Jackpot from Japanese Dream by Hidemi Woods
What is the sweetest sound for you? Mine is the sound of a credit card having been successfully processed and of a slot machine ringing for a win. I watched ‘Ocean’s Thirteen’ today and heard the latter in the last scene. I have never been to Vegas, but have been to the casino in Montreal. Every time, I lose. For consolation, I persuade myself that the money is deposited for a future jackpot. While keep depositing, I doubt if the day I withdraw from that account ever comes…