Tuesday, February 27, 2007

unsalted butter is my punishment

perhaps to keep me humble, or possibly to inspire me to stay in shape (ha! a lot of good that did), God put me together with some second-hand parts, and i've always had various trouble with my wrists, ankles, knees, and (the killer) my back. today i was hunched over my japanese book, actually studying, and i straightened up to the familar feeling of something going terribly wrong in my neck. when this happens, it all goes straight to hell really fast: the muscles around the frought, misaligned vertebrae immediately tense up, pulling everything even more out of whack and giving me a really sensational headache. if you've never had back problems, you don't understand how much strength you can lose in your extremities and how blind with pain you can be in a matter of seconds. i tried in vain to get it all right again--stretching, walking, turning. no luck.
in retrospect, it may have had something to do with the wierd poisition i was sleeping in last night. i woke from a dream in which i stepped outside after dark and saw the dim outline of a man standing nearby in the shadows, still, just watching me. what freaked me out was that even though i was looking straight in his direction, he just stayed, waiting to see what i would do. i backed inside again. so i woke up in the darkness with a slightly uneasy feeling and stayed frozen to my bed until my senses assured me that no one was going to bludgeon me if i moved.
anyway, at school i was doing the stiff-as-a-board walk...always attractive...you know, turning my head by pivoting my whole body, wincing anytime i moved too far in the wrong direction, and the like. since i had no more classes after two, they let me go home so i could finally lie down. which i did. i fell asleep to music on my ipod, something i can always do when i'm napping and never do at night. i slept to the tune of three ibuprofen and four hours, and now i'm doing what any sensible person would do--drinking a beer and blogging about it.
the good news is after i fell back asleep, i had my first-ever dream in which i spoke japanese. i only said "excuse me" and "sorry," but those are things i say a whole lot in real life, and i'm excited that they've permeated my brain enough to come up in my dreams.
in totally unrelated news, the dollar is getting stronger against the yen, and it's killing me. i want to send money home, but i essentially lose 17 percent of anything i convert. who could have predicted i'd be following currency trends...waiting for the moment The Yen lands a few surprise punches and The Dollar stumbles backwards a little.

i'll leave off with a recent quote from kara [after deciding to buy a positively minute cup of häagen-dazs ice cream (1/2 cup for over three dollars!)], "buying food in Japan is like living in an airport."

Thursday, February 22, 2007

oden of thieves

this is oden. as you can see, it's made up of several mysterious, soggy-looking white and brown things. i admit i wasn't especially anxious to try it. i mean, wouldn't carrots add some much-needed color variety and carroty flair? this is what you make so no one wants to steal your lunch. after hearing some other non-native people discussing their dislike of this homely dish, i had no plans of adding it to my been-there-eaten-that list. that is...until i was personally invited to try a homemade batch by one of the teachers i don't know very well. he's a nice older guy, and since he's shared his sweets with me (a perfect stranger) numerous times in the past, i felt i at least owed it to him to give it a shot. i confided my fear of disliking it to naoko on the way over. she promised to discreetly eat my portion if i couldn't stomach it! it would save me from hurting mr. salt-n-pepper owl's feelings. as i peered uneasily into the enormous pot of bubbling soup, i spotted potatoes. now i love potatoes in any manifestation. in fact, one of the first complete sentences i learned in japanese was to express exactly that. when i saw the potatoes, i knew i would be able to make my peace with oden. it was great! i didn't particularly care for some of the fishy fish-cake things, but the potatoes, meat, and daikon were marvelous.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

how to celebrate your birthday in a foreign land, or: if it doesn't kill you...

february first i turned twenty-eight. i know my family and old friends worried that i might feel depressed and uncelebrated on my special day (thanks for all the love!), but since i've had six months to get to know people, i was almost celebrated to the point of exhaustion.
the day before my birthday, i was treated to the song "happy baasday dear roren" ("next day" they said, to indicate they knew it was early) by two of my favorite freshman boys. they're both adorably lispy, and they even attempted harmony after conferring briefly about who should sing the high and low parts. i still have no idea how they found out when my birthday even was. after school, the e.s.s. club had a surprise party for me with lots of japanese snacks and sweets. we played games and sang a karaoke version of "top of the world" by the carpenters...i'm not really sure why, except it might risk not being an actual party in japan without karoke. natsumi (second from the left) even made little cakes for us to share.

that night, i took the birthday box my mom had sent me and opened it with my eyes closed. i slipped my hand under the flap and felt around. hey, i wanted a little bit of anticipation. i couldn't figure out what anything was, so i closed it up and went to bed.

on my birthday, i woke up early and sat down to actually look inside the birthday box: it was a portable party! my mom had included party favors and hats, candles, no bake cheesecakes, a gift, and conversation hearts. i knew i'd be going up to tsu to celebrate with some of my good friends there, so i put it aside. i dressed all in red and went to school. right away i was given a blueberry cake that one of the women teachers made. of course, it was wrapped cutely in clear, printed cellophane. she even told me she had grown and picked the blueberries herself.

that evening, i had dinner at one of my favorite italian restaurants with all the south girls, save allison (who was in australia--jerk! :). it was a marvelous meal, see for yourself. when we had finished eating, i cut up the blueberry cake i received earlier and handed pieces to everyone. we all took a bite--it was revolting! that poor teacher had done so much work and perhaps forgot the sugar. it tasted like blueberry cardboard! we washed the flavor out our mouths with some chocolates a student made that were much better. when the girls quietly sang happy birthday to me in the restaurant, a hip-looking japanese guy with red glasses turned around to sing and clap along! everyone in the world, it seems, can appreciate birthdays.

that's cotton candy topping the custard cake! creative.

that weekend i went up north to join the early Valentine's party for JETs. i was treated to several birthday drinks from friends, and i danced, as i'm apt to do, until my entire body was aching. i had made a skirt for the event on emily's sewing machine. it had a gold, sparkly underlayer ("whore-y" according to kara) covered by a sheer, silky black (elegant). altogether, it looked like a "punk ballerina" said melissa. who could ask for more!?

me and chito, molly's boyfriend

me, molly, emily

THERE'S MORE! If you thought it couldn't get anymore fun, you don't know sam, fiona, sean and marina. the next night we dined at a french restaurant, party hats and all.
the food was equally marvelous, but i didn't document it as neurotically.

finally, the mini cheesecakes and twisty candles.
the end. i'm tired.

Friday, February 16, 2007

nostalgic supersniffer

if you know me well at all, you know i'm a sniffer. i find myself sniffing soap, grapefruit, shirts, people, books, calculators, tape, rocks, earth...it's one of the ways i understand and experience the world around me...which is why i like my immediate environment clean, if not from clutter, at least from grime. that way i can touch and sniff any surface without fear of unexpected yuckiness. whenever i move into a new place, i have to clean every surface myself before i feel totally comfortable inhabiting it. i'll rattle around in the center of rooms without coming into full contact with cabinets or barefooting the floors until i've ascertained their purity. after i scour the crevices for someone else's dirt, i accept those dark corners as my own.
partially due to fear of treading on some unsuspecting cockroach or poisonous centipede, i spent the first month in my japanese house with my toes curled away from any parts of the floor i couldn't see. bit by bit, my toes got more comfortable as i claimed more and more of the house with bucket and scrub brush. now i feel like i know what's happening in all its recesses. i've finally located and rid myself of all the molding trash and heaps of junk my predecessor left for me. (which was no small task, considering the complicated rules that govern the sorting and throwing away of rubbish.)
i invest a lot of confidence in my sense of smell. if i give some past-date yoghurt or meat a serious once-over whiff, and i don't sense anything malodorous, i will risk eating it. if there's the slightest questionable scent--straight to the trash.
what i started out to say in the first place, though, is that being a sniffer has its own little delights. as they say, smell is the sense most connected to memory, and having a particularly good sense of smell brings so many memories. i love, for instance, lighting matches. first, there's the satisfying sandpapery scrape of the match head against the striking surface. and then that rush of air/firework takeoff sound as the fire gasps and explodes to life. smell one: sharp, sulfury gunpowder. the flame mellows out and begins consumption of little stick. smell two: heat and burning wood and sap. then it gets close to your fingertips and you blow out that little flame before it burns them. smell three: sweet wood smoke. altogether it has the smell of a campfire: a tiny little handheld campfire. so each time i light a match, i'm reminded of all the times i've made fires outdoors in fresh air with my mom or friends; that whole-body-in-sun caught-in-time relaxed feeling that you get when you marinate in the heat of a fire; the dark and chill gathered around, watching you laugh and burn marshmallows.
the world is waking up again, so my nose has been treated to a lot of new smells in the past week. we've had a good rain, and it often smells like the water-permeated, green, mossy washington state, where i lived for five years. the sun shines on yellowed, dried grass that cracks the pavement and smells like fields in colorado, where i was born. the early early wild narcissus that smells undeniably like the garden's tender spring.
at last.