Sunday, October 29, 2006

"parmesan is just sawdust that happens to taste delicious"

this is a cop-out blog. eye candy, and nothing terribly riveting to read. get over it; i'll write more later. i know i promised pictures of my house long ago, but it just wasn't cute enough yet. i've cleaned it a LOT and made it more girly, and now it's acceptable enough for pictures. the blue curtains in the living room will go eventually and be replaced with curtains that actually match the walls instead of clashing with them.
here's a view from the kitchen with white couch and bookshelf looking into livingroom and bedroom. pretty sunlight.

i pivoted to the left. here's the genkan (entryway where you remove your shoes). those sticks are gone now.

move left pivotage...and more of the kitchen looking into the dressing and bathing rooms. check out the metal bug-grabbing tongs.

here's the livingroom from the bedroom. kitchen would be on the right. what am i talking about? the kitchen is on the right. more photos of the house later. i swear!

Thursday, October 26, 2006

japan doesn't hate me, it was all a silly misunderstanding

welcome to the land of thimblefuls of water. this is something rarely commented on in discussions of japan’s foibles. when you sit down in a restaurant, the waitress will provide you with a tiny glass of water with at least 1/2 inch of room at the top, so you have at your disposal maybe three good gulps. i suppose this forces you to either annoy the waitress constantly with pleas for more or buy a drink. on the plus side, i’ve actually become less of a snob about something and fallen in love with the japanese beer. unlike the obscene number of choices at the microbreweries across the u.s., when you order a beer in japan, you get the same thing everywhere. it’s the quintessential beer--cold, yellow, nameless beer with an inch of head in a tall glass. somehow the straightforward simplicity of this transaction warms my heart.
along the same lines, i finally darkened the doorway of my local kaiten zushi restaurant. the only reason i haven’t been there before now is because i didn’t know we had one. this is a basic, no frills sushi place where a constant rotation of already-made sushi items parade by on a mini conveyor belt and you simply take the ones you want (the chefs are replacing them as they are eaten). there are a few inherent problems with this kind of place...some things rotate around for a long time and get less and less fresh (and with sushi, who wants that?) or someone (like the three children sitting one table over from us) coughs on the sushi as it goes by, rendering it less than appealing. however, this is a place where you get exactly what you want when you want it and are exactly as full as you want to be by the end. it’s a very cheap way to fill up--most plates of two pieces cost a dollar each. you also get to see all the things you would never think to order and try them if you so desire. i went out on a limb and tasted the rare beef sushi, but it was disappointingly tasteless and i haven’t yet showed any signs of mad cow disease.

japan is the only country where a simple dinner party can turn into a “truss up the foreigners in kimono” party and always turns into a karaoke party.

here's me working the ballet pose in an effort to look, i don't know, less awkward.

i went to a dinner commemorating the british POWs who were held in work camps here during WWII. you’d think POWs would necessitate a solemn occasion, right? well yes and no. by the end, the last surviving prisoner of the camp was grinning from his ninety-year-old face wearing a hapi and beating a taiko drum with all his might!

Monday, October 23, 2006

nothing's heavy like a black hole

according to the JET handbook, i should be scheduled for a downward spiral right about now. that's right--month three is the approximate date of what's described clinically as "cultural fatigue." however, unlike most of my fellow english-speaking transplants, i haven't been on a high since i got here...i had some rocky times at the beginning. my enjoyment has been much more tentative. slowly the me in me is taking root in new earth and opening its leaves to the sun. i think the far less frequent threat of panic attacks is something to celebrate. i no longer feel like hiding when i walk down the street. actually, when some unknowing person stares at me i think, "oh get with the program, surely you've heard about the new english teachers by NOW." over time, i'm achieving a balance of doing what's considered normal and letting go and doing what no japanese person would do, just because its ME coming out (like bopping to justin timberlake in my headphones while knitting and mouthing the words on the quiet commuter train). i'm trying to enjoy this place now. unlike visiting my college in tacoma, visiting my temporary home in japan will not be so easy. the very nature of the school system is based on change. every three years, you get moved, sometimes more often than that. if i came back in three years, i might not know anyone!
while i am not exactly sitting around waiting for darkness and frustration to set in, nor am i deluded to the point of believing it can't touch me. one problem with depression is often it's so nebulous that you aren't aware of its presence until it gets really bad or starts to let up. i know the weather does wonders for my mood and when it starts to get cold and gray, i may feel the same. regardless, i'm hoping the worst is behind me.

hypochondria as an art form

how many times have i prayed not to have the flesh-eating virus? more than you might think. granted, it's been given an updated, passably-cute image by these people, but i'd still rather not suffer something so icky as tissue death. lucky for me, i just have that crazy leg-itch. i'm afraid it's getting worse, not better, in spite of cutting eggs and milk from my diet. (haha ice cream doesn't have milk in it! what are you--crazy?!)

though SO much has happened since last week, i did promise to discuss the smells of tokyo, which totally unlike me, i forgot to mention. no, tokyo doesn't smell like emotional isolation...or maybe my nose isn't sensitive to that. though i'm sure there are some areas that do smell like cat pee, tokyo is one of the only places i've been in japan that doesn't have an odor even remotely resembling pee (sorry mom, someone asked). there were some exhaust fumes, which frankly i am happy to suck down once in awhile after being in the inaka for several months. what i did notice is that the tokyo and new york city subways smell the same! i've begun to love this fragrance of efficient mass transit. tokyo is one of the cleanest cities i've ever been in, so you mainly smell what's the case of tsukiji--fish. i didn't notice anything else.
as is natural (i suppose) in a culture where a great deal of time is spent on public transit, people have gotten really good at public sleeping. never in my life have i seen people pass out so quickly and without embarrassment. of course, they never miss their train stops either. while in tokyo, we sat directly across from a young businessman who had fallen asleep while texting. his phone was still open and propped on his lap, but he was miles away. then his phone started to ring! his eyes opened, he sat up straight, and he took the call with none of the "where am i, what's my name?" that i would be feeling if i was startled from my cat nap on the train.
i left off on day one, and though this post isn't supposed to be about tokyo, i felt there were a few other things i should mention. most startling were my incredible feelings of awkwardness around other foreigners. in my town, there are four americans. i know them all, and everyone else i see is of the nihonjin persuasion. tokyo is a different story. imagine being in an elevator when an english-speaker i Don't Know steps in. i had the urge to giggle uncomfortably. i think i DID giggle uncomfortably. it's not like i didn't expect to see other foreigners, on the contrary, but my own reaction was quite a surprise. i guess coming home for christmas will be even more interesting now.
we met fiona and sam for lunch in harajuku, and since they're the cutest aussie couple ever, i had to post a picture. i'm so glad they decided to stay a third year so i got to meet them.

here's my dear massa: the roommate who started it all. if i hadn't met her, i wouldn't be here.

lauren sporting the nini's shirt in ikebukuro before boarding the night bus back to mie. please don't ruin it for me and show the nini's people this picture. i want to do it myself.

ok, i need to take a break for a few minutes, but i'll be back very soon with another post.
crap! i forgot something else. i have heard tales of the great lengths strangers in japan have gone to in order to help us lost gaijin, but i hadn't experienced it myself until our last night in tokyo. we were searching for the place where our bus was supposed to pick us up. it wasn't, in fact, the same place where we were dropped off. we asked an employee of the same bus line and he tried very hard to explain, but we wandered off feeling less than sure we understood. we crossed a huge intersection and were turning around looking for the police box the man had mentioned, when we spotted a bus driving slowly by and the man was aboard gesturing wildly at us and pointing the way!

Saturday, October 14, 2006

have you ever made soup out of pumpkin seeds?

i'm having a quiet day at home--something i almost always relish. it's pouring out, and i'm deeply enjoying the roar of raindrops on my laundry room's tin roof and burbling water in the drainage channels under the pavement outside. i've turned down the offer to go bowling and eat dinner with the rest of the kumano-area english speakers (to their puzzlement.) without a car for independence (and dependent on the infrequent trains), i would be obligated to spend over six hours away from home, and i just don't wanna. my weeks are full of sound and commotion--hundreds of conversations with teachers and students, many spent straining to understand or infer meaning. thoughts, memories, and my desire to teach well bombard my mind. so on the weekends, sometimes i just want some extended periods of silence.
though at times i enjoy and even crave crowds, the root of who i am longs for one-on-one interaction. the opportunity for honesty and intimacy is greater, which is much more satisfying than distraction (though i have nothing against distraction)'s just that when you begin to really KNOW someone, it's so much easier to have fun. i treasure those times when a friendship takes a great leap forward and your trust or understanding of someone deepens considerably.

i'll put this soapbox away... (scrape, clatter)

after giving myself a mini haircut, i'm baking potatoes in my tiny plug-in oven. i wasn't sure the oven even worked, discarded as it was in the laundry room, but i got lucky. many broken things just sit abandoned in people's houses because it's so much trouble to throw them away, as i've mentioned before. after only one round of dark-on-the-outside, raw-in-the-middle cookies, i seemed to find the ideal temperature to cook anything. muffins, pork chops, pumpkin, and potatoes have been baked to perfection its tiny maw.
to my supernose, potatoes baking smell exactly like the inside of a dry, hot sauna, and they're much cheaper. when i was quite small, i used a fork to stab words into big potatoes mom had given to me to scrub, and as the skins dried and pulled away from the punctures in the oven, the words would be revealed. amazingly, i vividly remember the moment when i first had the idea to try this, but sadly, i don't remember what they said.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

how i lost my pictures of japan, or: may i have another serving of stupid?

hello, and welcome back to the show. i have a headache from a phantom ponytail i cut off five years ago, but that's all flavor for the mix, read on:
my computer has emerged good as new from the miraculous hands of mr. ito, but my brain wasn't so lucky. in a severe irony, i managed to delete a big chunk of the photo files i was attempting to back up. go figure. how a decently computer-savvy girl like myself succeeded in such a stunt is baffling, but i'm working with some undelete software, so we'll see what comes out of it.
[later: it looks like i may have saved all my files...thank you File Salvage! isn't the malleability of electronic information fascinating? one minute i'm gasping at the loss of all my picture memories of japan, and the next i'm calmly browsing through them again.]
as i mentioned before, my computer was completely non-functional for a week. i knew someone was in there, but the screen was black, and that was all i could do. for the first time in my life, i faced the possible loss of SEVEN years of art documentation, original writing, digital photos, and let's not forget (or underestimate) the music. when i feel discouraged here in the land of the Sun Rises Too Damn Early, i gather my digitized family and friends around me, and their smiling faces renew my courage. having that small comfort stripped from me was heartbreaking. i began mourning pictures of my mom on our last camping trip, poetry i wrote in college, and all the special things i've captured since i've come to japan. i've never backed up a thing in my life. why? because i suck. note to self: don't suck. now i have successfully backed up even the freshly deleted/recovered files! [you put your data in, you take your data out, you put your data in, and you shake it all about...] i'll never manage to disentangle myself from all my digital photos again.
since i'm feeling all sentimental, i'd like to include two poems i wrote in college that i still have now because of the miraculous mr. ito. you don't have to think they're good, but you have to understand that i'm happy they're not lost.


You breathe a swirling, curling hot promise
For a ricochet heartbeat at dawn
Artificial adrenaline pumping through
B-leached blood, my ceylon.

Daily Observations: 02-09-02

four perfect white ovals tap like teeth in boiling water.
i am making lunch.
i shake water from bright, tender lettuce
and carry it to the table on a clean plate.
as I turn back to the stove,
a movement on the sidewalk below
pulls my attention down,
four stories down,
a ragged man cradles delicately in his dirty hand
a crumpled paper napkin
in which is nestled a treasure i cannot see.
he so softly folds back
papery white corners
as you would to peer at an antique watch
or a hurt bird.
Revealed instead
Is a piece of bread.

ANYWAY, i had a marvelous weekend trip to tokyo, enhanced by a zing of giddiness resulting from my restored computer. heavy rains threatened to close the trains to tsu, where i was supposed to catch my friend marina and our bus to tokyo, but happily this didn't happen. at 11:05pm, marina and i hopped on what is known as the Night Bus. i admit to some romantic ideas caused by the similarly-named Knight Bus of Harry Potter, but they were quickly dashed to bits by the very normal bus that showed up and ushered us off. since we were only paying 105 bucks each (roundtrip!) for a nine hour ride, they didn't seem obliged to provide us with luxuries like shocks or leg room. it was a near-sleepless, and incredibly bouncy ride, complete with accomplished snore-ers and various parts of my body going to sleep without me. but hell, when i woke up (or opened my eyes for the 200th time), i was in tokyo!
step 1: get coffee. ahhhh, the first (and finest) cappuccino i've had in japan.
step 2: find the famous Tsukiji fish market and nearly get run over about 85 times by mad fish movers (is this mr. toad's wild ride?). see all varieties of dead and soon-dead sea creatures, including already breaded but still alive lobsters, writhing buckets of baby eels, huge ruby chunks of tuna, boxes of fish heads, octopii, and a bunch of things i've never seen before.

the mournful eye of a red snapper.

ruby tuna.

lauren with the tako.

this was seriously the freakiest thing in the whole place! writhing, roiling buckets of eels. (oh my!)

fish heads, fish heads, roly poly fish heads....

step 3: buy the freshest sashimi in the world ($15 for about 40 pieces of tuna!), and hunt for a nice picnic spot.

step 4: relax in a park during the most perfectly gorgeous day i can imagine.
step 5: find a tower and try to get to the top to see out (naturally). we were stunned at our success and the VIEW from the viewdeck in St. Luke's hospital (FREE!). if you see a scary hospital sculpture garden, you're getting close.

the rest of our time was shopping, eating, giggling, and just enjoying the CITY. i think it's one of the best cities in the world. not only do you walk around feeling incredibly free and safe at all times, but it's clean, and the people smell good. unlike new york, no one slobs around in ugly pants and oversized t-shirts. fashion is always visible, and most people walk around looking--let's be honest--like awesome was born in japan.

yep, that famous intersection from Lost in Translation.

another highlight was seeing my dear friend Massa again. it's so easy to forget we're in the same country! visiting her house and family after five years was the weirdest deja-vu ever. the first time i visited, i wasn't sure i'd ever have a chance to return (they didn't thow me out of the country or anything, it just isn't always possible, you know). here i am, doing just what i dreamed. even weirder was remembering most of the way to her house through convoluted nameless streets. i guess i still have part of my brain left.
love, me

Monday, October 02, 2006

sad apples

hey everyone. i may not be able to post for a little bit because i downloaded an update for my computer, and now it's not working at all. i don't know how long it'll take to fix it, and i can't really write long, involved posts on the one office computer.