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believing along the via dolorosa

Day 6 & 7 - Tokyo, Japan to Jerusalem, Israel

Day 6 went like this:
  • 3 hours in Narita Airport - I had strawberry pancakes with whipped cream and strong coffee. Dithered over slippers from Muji but chickened out at the last minute. Still regretting this decision. 
  • 15 hours in the air, over large swathes of Russia - for the first time in my life, we flew and still had access to the internet. I spent it playing Godus. Robin, of course, was on Reddit.
  • 4 hours in transit via Frankfurt Airport - My hate for Frankfurt airport's nameless, endless corridors of nothingness and confusing layout continues afresh. There's a section with cots for exhausted travellers to lay down. Am tempted but it's refugee-camp chic bothers me. Flights to Tel Aviv always leave from Gate C13. The reason becomes clear later when we are cleared from the gate and an hour later, we come back and the area has been transformed into its own little security checkpoint complete with gates, more scanners, more airport security. This is the second security checkpoint so far. We're thoroughly searched and patted down, asked a few pointed questions, my Polaroid camera is swabbed, but finally we're through. 
  • 4 hours in the air - Blessed sleep. Terrible airplane. Not even any movies available. I feel transported back to travel in the 90s.
  • 1 hour by car from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem - Getting out of Tel Aviv airport was surprisingly easy. All the passport officers are in their early twenties. We're asked where we're going that night, the purpose of our travel, and, instead of getting our passports stamped, we get two little slips of paper that says we're allowed in.
By this time, of course, we're into the early hours of Day 7. The long travel time beats me. I am demoralised when the alarm I set for 4 am on Day 6 goes off again on Day 7, marking 24 hours of being awake.

I wake up in Rob's parents apartment in Shuffat. In July, riots broke out in this suburb over the death of a 16 year old Palestinian boy. This morning, everything is still and the only promise of violence is a feral cat on a windowsill eyeing up a bird nearby. There's cereal, eggs, nectarines, and the freshest almonds I've ever tasted for breakfast.



We're excited to see the Old City. We enter through Herod's Gate and just as quickly, get lost. Inside the walls, there's a mixture of bazaar-like alleyways, quiet residential backstreets, cafes and restaurants, open squares, and many, many religious sites to see, and for others, to pray in.


Our goal was Temple Mount. We very nearly get there but at the gate into the leafy compound, the guards say we missed closing time. They briskly direct us to the first two stations of the Via Dolorosa, the famed route Jesus took while carrying the cross that he would eventually be crucified on. We hunt down all the stations of the cross along the path. I think of my aunt, a Mother Superior in the Philippines, often.

At some stations, there are churches open and free to visit, like the Church of Condemnation, the Church of Flagellation, and the Church of the Third Station. At others, there's an unceremonious metal number on the wall with barely an explanation. I am surprised at the Biblical knowledge I've managed to retain from my first 18 years of Roman Catholic school with compulsory religious studies and Sunday masses.


The last few stations are in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, in the heart of the Christian quarter. I'm distracted by the halva and baklava. Rob asks a tour guide to tell us how to get to the church as we're hopelessly lost and our Fodor's travel guide map just isn't cutting the mustard. She's very helpful. Rob says, "My charm got us that!"


As I enter the church, there are people already prostrating themselves on the floor, kissing the slab of rock on which people believe Jesus' body was laid and down and prepared for burial. There are women crying, people bow deeply at the entrance. One young guy wraps the flag of Italy around himself and gets his girlfriend to take a photo of him kissing the stone. There's the tourists as well, including one lady wearing short shorts having trouble anchoring the scarf she's bought around herself like a wrap. I feel smug, wearing a maxi skirt and a short-sleeved t-shirt.


I stand in line to see the tomb of Christ. It's gonna take a long time and I'm not necessarily religious enough (or at all) to justify it. I do like history and I do like to see things you'll never see anywhere else in the world though. I decide the line isn't worth it and tour the rest of the building. Fifteen minutes later, the line has quadrupled and I realised the line I was in previously was short. I think it was a bad decision to leave the line. I also think about those Muji slippers I didn't get. I'm two for two for bad decisions so far.


Later, we eat shawarma, humus, pickled chilli, pickled cucmbers, cucumbers and olives in a restaurant near the Damascus Gate. It's painted an azure blue inside and there are mirrors around the walls. I'm a pickled cucumber convert; crunchy yet juicy, super salty, delicious.


On the way to the Mount of Olives, a man on a horse clops by us. The driver nearly crashes into a car and calls the place "Clowntown". We end the day in Mount Scopus looking at the cleared grounds for the Mount Scopus Slopes, a new national park planned by Israel, in between two Palestinian settlements.


Standing on the mount, overlooking the hundreds of graves waiting for Judgement Day, I am overcome by the religious significance of Jerusalem for millions of people all over the world. It's the crossroads and birthplace of every major religion in the Western world. People are so convinced of it that they choose to be buried on the Mount of Olives, faithfully believing, even in death, that heaven will come, and fearing that it won't.

I'm not necessarily religious, but nor am I intolerant to those that choose to believe. Here, in Jerusalem, you see faith personified as well as all the good and bad consequences of that faith, and you can't help but feel yourself moved.


circuitous routes to the western wall

takoyaki in harajuku and finally, the robots in shinjuku