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An Alternative Trajectory for Travel Narrative: Bustling Towns

Shanghai Tokyo Kyoto Travel
by Andy Fitch and Kristin McTigue Jun 10, 2011

[Editor’s note: I first read some of Andy Fitch’s work in his 2010 collaboration with Jon Cotner, Ten Walks / Two Talks. A best book of 2010 on several lists, it was super innovative and escaped easy classification. Was it travel writing? Poetry? More than anything it seemed like a meditative investigation of place and a dialogue between friends.

I’m stoked at both their continued progressions. Cotner is leading a new project in New York called Spontaneous Society (profile forthcoming here at Matador) in which conceptual walks examine how spontaneous societies arise. Andy Fitch has created a new collaboration with his wife Kristin McTigue, from which we’re honored to present this first excerpt.- DM]

This excerpt comes from a book-length manuscript entitled Bustling Towns, developed last summer in China and Japan, which attempts to offer an alternative trajectory for travel narrative—departing from any pretense of plot progression, so to refine its focus on cyclic consumption. The text alternates between transcripts of brief walks Andy took, conversations about what we thought we’d eaten at restaurants, and corresponding nutrition labels (the labels designed by Kristin, a registered dietician).

Who goes there! hankering, gross, mystical, nude?

How is it I extract strength from the beef I eat?

-Walt Whitman



Though awake since 5…This sense of dislocation…. In Chicago Friday night I stood up at a restaurant…headed toward the bathroom and didn’t know what city it was…and that’s what I want more of this summer…I’m out now really really uncertain whether my microphone will bother people…walking…getting a sense of if Chinese guys wear shorts…Cool gray…rain coming…Cars skip the light as we try to cross but there’s construction…no garbage…About six steps ahead…always…[Honk] sand pit filled with cigarette butts…Great green felt shoes on an old man biking in pinstriped pants… Cement wall with ladders dropping down…Cheap cigar scent catches in my lungs… warming them…as trucks roar and I feel familiar in a city…Pagodas nearby (phone booths maybe)…A woman wipes warped air conditioners…A girl squats…four…in pink stuffed-animal outfit…gnawing duck eggs from a purple bowl…Ponytails…She’s staring and hacks…as if with emphysema…Red veils then plastic visors female scooter-drivers wear…For now just smell…dodging broken glass in the street but that experience dominated by putrid smells…Boys stretch with shopping bags’ added weight…Like elsewhere clerks often exit vans…slide doors…carrying stacked water bottles…I’d never seen [Honk] dusty scooters…all lined up for sale though

–Breakfast, Café 85 C (Jufenguan Road)

Andy: I thought I’d get an egg sandwich containing slabs of Canadian bacon. I got a sixth of an egg. It was yellow but still needed a yolk, thin, round, with a rectangle of spam.

Kristin: I got a blueberry cheese muffin.

A: What?

K: I thought there’d be actual blueberries in there, then didn’t know what to think about the cheese—[Glitch] insides from a cheese danish. It was almost blueberry cream cheese.

A: [Glitch] sort of looked like refried beans.

–Lunch, Wagas (Plaza 66)

A: I thought I’d get a yogurt-based curry chicken spinach wrap, but, sorry about my breath (wet mayo).

K: At first you’d claimed you might order that sandwich every…

A: Well we didn’t have water with this meal, no drink to dilute our mouths.

K: So I’ve imagined kissing men we’ll see on the subway…

A: Which?

K: Three super long hairs sprouting from a facial mole.

–Dinner, Szechuan Citizen

A: For some reason I thought we’d get a fish fillet when I ordered…spicy chili fish with lime?

K: I can’t…

A: Yet did you notice? How big a fish…

K: It seemed whole-fish…

A: Sea bass.

K: and weird because you could choose a single portion or…

A: Yeah I said, Ordinary.

K: So I don’t know how they did that.

A: I’ll picture sea bass big, like half a shark, but does this not make…

K: I think so.

A: Two red wide wings, with a full solid center of meat.

K: Our needle-mushroom salad [Glitch] surprising.

A: Surprisingly good I’d say. At first we’d assumed it was the cold house noodles.

K: Since it looked light-colored and long and stringy.

A: [Glitch] satisfying heads to crunch.

K: That noodle salad had chives, in some thick sauce.

A: Sweet and hot.

K: We drank beer with it. Then I got kung pao shrimp…

A: Boring.

K: which I liked, though with an insane amount of onions Andy ate. And they forgot most shrimps.

A: You never tasted your gravy.



Storefront staff swiveling their hips suggest prospective skiers…Our hotel is the Hanting…straight across from [Screech] Yart Hotel…Long-haired girls pour off black busses…Temples sit locked with old bike-chain locks…A mangy gray cat squeals…no runs from a squeaky bicycle wheel…pauses to comb itself…Suzhou flows just as fast on Sunday…scooters a bit swifter than cars…Even from this stone pedestrian bridge they’ll zoom…sneaking…make no sound until honking…I just passed another canal…then the Suzhou Public Library…big crowds…I mean 100 people…diverse in age…squat waiting for this library to open…Boulevards get split by four lanes of bright shrubs…Bald guys scan posted newspapers…Two chic women on scooters wear button-down shirts backward…blocking grime…I’ve passed another library…Soon I’ll pass a statue…Confucius in statues looks like Ghandi…Maybe I’ve never seen so many people cruise past…none pedaling…on “bikes”…a dyed blonde’s beach towel wrapped around her shoulders…Swift car horns too…extra percussive…Now it’s calm and residential…a propane-scented alley…Yeah this is not where I want to be probably…Filthy water flushes from buildings’ cracks…flowing into which canal…Trying to trace a tidy square I’ve finished [Screech] flashing storefront

–Breakfast, Suzhou Bookworm

A: I thought I’d get eggs on toast first, and then granola…

K: Not granola.

A: But listen. Then my granola, yogurt and just a little fruit on top. But the bowl came filled by fruit, three or four whole fruits sliced, with something sour sprinkled on…

K: Note the menu never mentioned granola.

A: Go ahead purple toes.

K: That’s “You Don’t Know Jacques.” I ate the same dish and found its fruit overwhelming. I don’t know that I thought anything different. I’d wanted to avoid mayonnaise.

A: Should we add in lunch?

K: Oh right.

–Lunch, Any Café

A: I thought we’d share the margarita pizza, then I’d surprise you ordering my own chicken panini. But they brought us vegetarian pizza with tons of onions and corn. I had to eat the whole thing.

K: I ordered cheese toast—and I guess that’s exactly what it was. Though this cheese…

A: We’d never eat that cheese in the States.

K: Each toast slice formed a perfect square.

–Dinner, Yang Yang Dumplings

A: I thought we’d get a full meal at Yang Yang, but just the look of food in photographs made it obvious how much MSG…

K: Also you’d ordered bitter melon.

A: Whoa. I can’t think about that yet. And why do all dumplings have to contain pork? Then their veggie dumplings tasted like mowing the lawn.

K: The veggie dumpling mixed chives with…egg? The others combined crab and pork, still you’d taste no crab.

A: It had that round pork texture. Did you want to comment on the bitter melon?

K: All I can say is Bitter.



Why do I love Beijing right away…Here I’ll start the walk in shadow…but already never have felt this hot…The way our key works…Kristin stays locked in the apartment while I go…no possibility for exit…[Drills] building sign says Yuppie Towers…You know I’ll still like Beijing as much though it got really really bright…Blogs told me this…a harsh glare in Tiananmen Square for example…People look relaxed…This kid in khaki shorts…loafers…brown socks and non-dorky striped button-down spins a cigarette between thumb and index fingure…waits for passengers to want to ride his scooter-taxi…Each time re-entering sun I better understand China’s dragon symbol…Floors…black and white checked…barber poles spinning…My shorts felt warm as I exited our building…from covering the flashing internet box all night…One guy sits cross-legged with soda/juice bottle before him…[Drills] another bottle opposite…and then somebody approaches and the guy starts laughing…says Hi to his friend…points to this arrangement he set up…A mop left in bushes…a second one several compounds later…Heat here concentrates on my chest whereas Shanghai’s heat swelled from the crotch…An old woman spins a plastic bag’s fifteen eggs above her face…one cracked…like me…wondering why

–Dinner, DaDong

A: I’ve imagined Peking duck like a Cornish hen, that I’d pick side dishes resembling tapas—maybe river-eel rice, some stirfried bamboo, the crispy kelp. Though we got a huge duck to share, or big as somebody’s arm, and smooth, sliced for us (I hate cutting poultry).

K: First diced chicken stirfried, topped with nuts. At Chinese restaurants chicken is not a safe choice.

A: My eyes closed as you talked and I saw a huge dessert. Um, safe choice as in non-gross? Um the bean-curd greens you’d ordered tasted terrific. Smoky.

K: I enjoyed their shrimp a lot…although we liked the duck. Let’s…

A: A bit saucy.

K: talk for one minute about the duck’s accoutrements.

A: Was it plum sauce we had? I asked Polly while Mindy found the bathroom.

K: I don’t know, but I can’t believe you kept calling her Holly.

A: Only twice. What was our special DaDong dessert?

K: Oh goodness. Well we didn’t talk about food that came with the duck, how’d you form a little sandwich.

A: You’ll use wantons. You would make a burrito really, yet no one wanted to say that.

K: Or else small rolls with sesame.

A: Stacked shiny buns…

K: Yeah.

A: which [Glitch] what Mindy called a duck hamburger.

K: She seemed surprised how much you liked it.

A: I just liked looking at that smooth duck.

K: Dessert? We tried a Beijing Sampler, with four different things. I ate the most of anyb…

A: By far.



Starting from the hall looking out [Clogs] shimmering green with gray tints and front yard lights on…then turning back to big stuffed chairs…There’s a shiny piano…Kristin can sleep as I walk around talking…From the covered second-story porch you’ll hear lots of gutter action…Beneath skylights white blocks swell…I woke with a pinched nerve behind my left knee…dreaming someone wrapped the bedsheet around my neck and strangled me…Now the constant threat of rain…like yesterday in Osaka…warm mist crossing Kita…pouring in Dotmobori…glinting gray above Amerikamura…Meeting Kadoya-san could mean a five-minute hello or full-day event…At some point I also visit the dean and college president…Still we hope to try Kobe today…Kobe Wednesday…Tuesday maybe Thursday in Kyoto…Friday I’d like to [Clogs] to Nara…then return to Osaka over the weekend…Yesterday we’d thought we hit Tennoji Park…but had found a tree-filled shrine area with sky glimmering as we climbed steps…heard drumming…became…just by gawking…part of this terrific ceremony…floats spinning with kids on top…around a square as they banged drums and men banged…while paper lanterns flapped…National elections closed last night…I’m curious to head down and check the computer and now should head down…thunder’s starting

–Afternoon Snack

A: What was that placed called?

K: I don’t know, some takoyaki…

A: Fried octopus balls…

K: Whatever the name is.

A: in Amerikamura, Osaka. It [Glitch] your afternoon snack. Though thanks for giving me four octopus balls. Each had a very, very small piece of octopus amid creamy fluff.

K: We should try firmer ones at some point. Or we could just let it go.

A: I liked our balls. I would not have expected barbecue sauce.

K: Combined with bonito.

A: Yeah bonito flakes too. We went up to this narrow second-floor takoyaki place, with all these giggling girls taking their own photos on cellphones, where a cool couple that looked 16 split the octopus/beer special, which I think cost 460. You know I’d doubt [Glitch] balls need to be cooked longer—higher temperature is my guess.


A: We don’t know what to call the place. We’d tried walking to, what?

K: Umeda Hagakure, the Ekimae Daisan Building.

A: Where we both wanted Umeda Hagakure udon, though that looked closed, so we ended up on the second floor.

K: Slot 37-1. A plaque said Best Restaurant 2009 or something.

A: Yeah I don’t know who was voting.

K: It might just mean In That Building.

A: It seemed pretty subjective. Though I liked my udon-tofu-egg-seaweed. Sweet as I wanted, with extra chive. But confusing for us: Kristin and I both received small empty bowls alongside our full big bowls, and a spoon as if to ladle things into each small bowl. No one else around got small bowls. One chef laughed when we tried to move noodles that way. Many spilled. But I liked how chefs kept switching off. You’d think you knew who the head chef was, though then that guy would go talk to people. Whenever anybody entered I thought This must be a good friend of the chef.

K: They’d laugh at us yet it was jovial.

A: It felt open and fun.

K: I got udon with tempura on top (which workers recommended).

A: The friendliest chef.

K: This basically had [Glitch] big shrimp, and small thin sweet potato.

A: One gold slice.



Today we ride to Kyoto…White sun scraping through…Kristin’s [Scratch] a ten-course meal…I’ve just stepped on what sounded like a cockroach which then became a butterfly or bird soaring into treetops chirping…After learning about all the Kobe College security cameras I’ll have one percent less to say…less flexibility…But great to see our friends Mahoko and Motoko…to sit for three hours in a mall food court…why not…And then to ride with sweet Motoko back to Osaka Umeda on her way home…This tree’s bark bit into a half-ring…Big thunder or else one of the workers we always bow to walking past dropped a board…Last night…just as Kristin and I kissed…[Scratch] rumbling thunder began…Today’s full of purple-tipped…fan-shaped flowers…The bugs (what are these…locusts?) roar…They’ll perch in trees to the right…where the campus drops steep…we should head this way…I mean it’s hard not to want to leave campus fast…stepping down with Kobe College students…most in heels…Here this meditative-seeming wood house has a bamboo pole slid across its arched entrance…Here yesterday we met Mahoko and Motoko outside the International Center…and jumped in a cab cool girls got out of…and I felt…as much as I’ll ever feel…like a cool girl…My body’s fought off rashes at its bottom…middle and top all month…So treat yourself right today

–Dinner, Daikichi

A: I thought we’d get one skewer, fish, or green chicken. I couldn’t anticipate six skewered chicken thighs, with me eating most since you found them fatty. Let’s start there.

K: Want to discuss what came on the chicken?

A: Let’s hear.

K: I can’t remember. One had just plain. One…

A: That chicken felt firm. Yeah all those men pushing floats around Kyoto today (with white boots and shorts) had firm thighs, and this [Glitch] like their thighs.

K: The other I don’t know: wrapped in green with red pepper sauce.

A: You bit lean parts then passed me the rest.

K: Gross. But the guys seemed nice in there.

A: They’d shout every time we picked a plate, and we tried fourteen of them.

K: Bell peppers the size of my pinky.

A: Grown in a garden.

K: I chose eggplant. You could watch bonito melt on shitakes—melt’s wrong.

A: No that tasted so good, but just two tiny buttons on each skewer. For all yakitori you’d get at least two skewers.

K: [Glitch] different type of mushroom, enoki.

A: One of the only things I don’t like mentioning for this project is that we also ordered one rice cake with cheese.



Brighter than ever last night…both patio glare and dawn…Dreams of faulty tires mix with real tires in this lot beside our building…even [Yawn] flat tire at the front of a silver sports car…For the first time I’m walking without breakfast foods stocked…downhill to the German bakery for bread…Here’s that pit bull I’ve seen…looking sweet…yet you never know…Cars cruise today…And what’s this returning sulfur smell…I couldn’t even try the khaki shorts…They’ve torn from belt loops to the hem…Putting back on Diadora soccer shorts feels light and airy…as if I’m taller…watching green wood roofs flicker off glass ahead…a sight lost to children…Bikes’ basket fasteners glisten…This breeze…like these streets…seems to bend a lot…These boxy walls of cinderblock prop homes during earthquakes…What I’ve called streets often are really cement paths through house-covered hills…White petals…these lovely white scattering petals only detectable as I squish them…Okinawa…from Akasaka…a sign says…and I realize that’s one cuisine we never tried…Impressive high-heeled steps come toward me…fast…soon catch up…while an older man heading to work walks backwards uphill…smiling…This bright blue day deserves that…brighter because half [Yawn] clouds…with Delight Bakery unopened in between…waiting while today turns brighter

–Dinner, Ivan Ramen

A: Thanks Kristin for researching Ivan Ramen.

K: Ivan [Glitch] excellent. His noodles seemed perfect, perfectly cooked.

A: What does it mean?

K: A little al dente, but just totally yummy and you could tell homemade.

A: Should [Glitch] explain what happens when you get to Ivan Ramen? Well first of all: we again got walked toward this restaurant, from pretty far away, by a nice woman who had her own day to live.

K: People really go out of their way to help you. They don’t say I don’t know. They’ll find the answer.

A: She’d led us to one bakery, where the baker pulled out…

K: Her map.

A: A really—an intense map. I mean probably the census designed this map.

K: Though all we had to say was Ivan Ramen.

A: Once we said that the first woman asked Ivan Ramen? Then the baker screamed Ivan Ramen!

K: And took us there.

A: Do you want to explain?

K: Apparently most ramen places have a vending machine outside, where you order, which could [Glitch] confusing your first time.

A: Because you’ll approach a restaurant with doors shut and just a vending machine.

K: Yeah.

A: Like I thought a cup of ramen might come out from this vending machine.

K: Their menu didn’t help much.

A: No descriptions. For example the style called tsukeman…

K: Oh…

A: instead of a ramen.

K: I’ll need to look stuff up.

A: I thought I’d panic-ordered, choosing spicy chili-pepper ramen.

K: Um let’s just say: you did panic, shouting We need to order right now so we can get a seat. Nobody sat in there.

A: Well, that’s because I’d heard all your shit about how busy they’ve [Glitch].

K: So I ordered what I’d read about, while you went for red chili, which was a really good decision.

A: Thanks. Now could we try to describe rather than simply evaluating the ramen? Mine had round pork pieces with fat on the edge…

K: Chashu.

A: and some veggies, green onion with egg. A perfect…

K: We both got the “Everything.” Their pork, despite the fat I pulled off, tasted super good.

A: Yeah, what are Korean short ribs…kalbi?

K: Hmm I would disagree. But anyway, other stuff in our ramen: I’d bet pickled bamboo shoots.

A: That makes sense. I remember loving bamboo at Southern Barbarian six weeks ago.

K: Wasn’t that DaDong?

A: Maybe.

K: And they serve several distinct broths, so I’d [Glitch] the salt broth, which blogs…I felt completely happy with my ramen, but then took a bite of your chili one.

A: The chili one came with much less liquid.

K: Though it had some. Anyway.

A: It held the perfect proportion of chili peppers so that my nose felt always about to drip.

K: Oh. Followed by fresh ice cream.

A: Wow.

K: Homemade ice cream. They serve only one flavor: lemon.

A: Salty lemon. Salty but creamy.

K: Yeah. So a little too salty Ivan, sorry.

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