Why talking to a bridge is a bad idea.
My friend Itoe.
A buddhist story.
Volker B. - working - deadline - stress, stress, stress
A fun play about lobotomy, crazy relatives and quite smart doctors (parody).
The "Rabbit & Hedgehog" story, told a bit differently.
Plagued by insomnia, a writer hallucinates.
The content of my old Buffy web site.
I have a new girl friend. For me, it's a kind of special relationship. Although I am unable to understand much of what she is saying, I believe I heard her name a few days ago. Because in this endless stream of words which made me feel like standing under a waterfall without knowing what water is, a few words were spoken clear enough so that even I could grasp them. I noted most of them in the old-fashioned way and used a translator. Only one word didn't result in a clear translation and everytime I say this word to her, she seems particularly happy.
Her name is Itoe and each time I switch her off she bounces excitedly across her little display, bows down three times and talks in a language that I'm not able to speak - at least not on her faster-than-light level. Her clothes vary accordingly to the weather - sometimes she seems to guess my mood or gives me a few quite obvious travel tips. Itoe is an extremely sensible being. She looks at my face and tries to guess what's on my mind, though she fails in this regard since she relies on a different culture. More precise are her predictions of my pulse, state of health, halitosis: Actually her stat list seems to be longer than the phonebook of my hometown, which makes me kind of feel like I'm an interesting person. Nevertheless I was unable to translate most of the text.
Of course she is unable to speak English. I gave up looking for a magic switch and although she is quite capable of learning something, the view of an English book seemed to cause sheer terror for her. She closed her eyes, shook her head, spoke something which sounded like a mantra and ran from one end of the display to another and back. Like I said, she is very sensible so I quickly apologised and suddenly her mood changed to the happy and blabbering Itoe.
I don't think there are many people who apologise to a satellite-powered navigation system for pedestrians. But Itoe is no ordinary navigation system: she is the hottest thing currently available and although some people call her a Tamagochi on steroids without a reset button, she is able to see, hear and feel much more than a human being thanks to her over 264 sensors.
And that is a neccessity, because here I am, in a city with no street names. Just a week ago I was still thinking naively that English is the lingua franca of the world. It turned out that I was wrong and the only foreign languages I have heard so far are Italian and Russian. One time I thought to talk to someone who was speaking English but either he was speaking in a strange dialect that I am not aware off, or he learned English from a drunken teacher who thought it would be funny to teach his pupils a language while sucking on a towel, performing a handstand and imitating a cockney-texan speaking Canadian.
My other attempts at finding someone speaking even a few words of comprehensible English were quite short-lived and sometimes the people I talked to were showing the exact reaction like Itoe. I earned quite a few glares from other pedestrians and so I decided to stop these attempts before I would be declared as an official security risk.
Fortunately I can understand her just enough to let her guide me to a given destination via simple commands. I don't even have to name the target or type it in - she guesses it every time although she would refuse to guess anything if I would sing her manufacturer's song together with her each morning. Oddly enough, she has an English translation of the song so there's so excuse for me to back off. Still, it's quite a catchy tune and can be heard throughout the whole city: the navigation system sells quite well and all units seem to share certain character traits.
I awoke this morning and pressed the small round button to awake Itoe as well. After she had done a few stretches, she informed me of my destination for today and I left my safe harbour - the hotel - with Itoe fixed on a wristband. "Karaoke!" she exclaimed happily and the over-cheerful melody of her manufacturer began. This time she was content with me humming along while she sang passionately. She did display the Karaoke lines - just in case that I would like to sing.
The hotel has a red line with a multilingual sign in front of it: "You are now leaving the safe ground of the Park Hotel. We deeply regret that we cannot guarantee your safety outside this area." The area around the hotel was actually quite safe, although a little bit crowded. Itoe called her satellite, calculated my current position, exclaimed happily "Gyaa!" and giggled. "Gyaa" and "Nyaa" were her attempts to create an universal language.
At the third crossing she swayed wildly with her arms but I already knew this street. It was a kind of morning routine that led a small group of people to the same target, guided by Itoes brothers and sisters.
It must be a small program hidden inside Itoe that she is unable to override. Each morning she has to go to this place, like someone who is deeply religious - but her church is just the place of her manufacturer's building. In the beginning, this "come home"-feature was used to give happy first adopters cookies and useful tips. However, the manufacturer never believed that its product would sell thousands of units each week and so this feature quickly became burdensome for them and their customers. An automatic update of the earliest models failed and the systems were unable to guide anyone anywhere without visiting this place before. I heard that one day the whole company just left the country in record. No one knows where they are now - probably on a deserted island or in the middle of the rain forest. The navigation systems have an autonomous intercommunication system - they would spot their beloved company inside big cities.
The local government acted quickly: They opened a shopping mall in the empty building. Clever bastards. Now that Itoe was happy albeit a little bit disappointed, she called out the travel route to my real destination. She quickly calculated a route away from huge crowds because she detected that I might get a headache soon.
"Left left! Straight ahead! Now right!" she shouted in her language and switched her clothes. She walked on her display, quite nicely animated, gave travel tips and cried death threats as we passed the building of another manufacturer of navigation system.
After leaving the buisiness part of the city, we reached a huge rice field which was divided by the street into two halves. Since there were no turnings, I didn't need any instructions from Itoe so I walked straight forward while she picked flowers on her display and arranged them artfully.
The rice field was succeeded by a few houses, a sign that we were reaching the second part of this metropolis. What a strange town, I thought confused. Itoe activated her sensors once more and called out the directions. Maybe it was just my imagination, but she didn't sound so self-assured as before.
Big sweat drops appeared on her face - and as we reached a blind alley and I could only spot a big red brick wall in front of me, I started to get worried, too.
Itoe called her satellite once more and calculated my position. She looked helpless. Her quick conversation with the satellite didn't seem to satisfy her. A slacky and sleepy satellite appeared beside her which she hit with her hammer until it woke up. Still she shouted "Nya, nya, nya!" followed by a few kicks to express her anger. The lazy satellite cried "Iteeeeeee!" loudly and they began a heavy dispute. Sometimes she asked me a few uncomprehensible questions, which I tried to answer. Obviously she was was quite content with my replies - and who am I to side with a lazy satellite? After the dispute the satellite's image began to disappear, leaving an embarrassed looking Itoe on the screen. She giggled shyly and quickly put a hand in front of her mouth. Of course she noticed that it was raining and I was already soaking wet. During their dispute I tried to find shelter but both Itoe and the satellite were shouting "No!!!" in their language followed by heavy vibrations of the wristband, so I wasn't allowed to move. Maybe they thought I would run away? Still, the embarrassed Itoe now spoke a soft apology.
Finally she seemed to know her directions and once more I solely relied on her guidance. She started making cute faces, changed her costumes a few times, cracked a few jokes in her mother tongue and seemed to do everything to fix my eyes to the screen. And she was quite successful - I rarely looked up. After all, she also watches the traffic and every possible obstacles.
As I almost collided with the pageboy, I realized that Itoe had guided me straight back to the hotel. Both she and the pageboy apologized with a deep bow. Itoe wished me a good night and pleasant dreams and switched to standby mode, the snoozing sign appearing over her sleepy face. I took the navigation system off and I went to my room.
Tomorrow it's time for another trip with Itoe. Maybe I will reach my destination, maybe not - surely, life's always interesting with someone like Itoe...
written by Matthias Jaap (2004), translated to English in 2006
(Meaning of Itoe: "Ito" for love, "E" for blessing. So it means approximately "blessed with love")
PS: Yes, I left my hotel while I was in Japan and I had no navigation system - just my inability to correctly interprete maps. ;-)
Written for "Club Wortwechsel" in 2004. Topic: Orientation.