You are browsing the archive for 2008 September.

なごり 雨

September 30, 2008 in Ex-Patriate Games, I'm Learning Japanese ... I Really Think So, Japanese Mix, My Funny Irish Friend, Oishii, spazarific

For the second straight day in a row, the rain continues to beat against my bay window, soaking everything outside. Happily, the new apartment is so close to the Supa Tamade discount supermarket that if I were to slip out for a half-price bento, I wouldn’t even need to take an umbrella. It’s not often that we get such なごり 雨 (lingering rainfalls) here; short spats are more typical. It’s difficult to ride a bike while holding an unwieldy umbrella with one hand, and it’s difficult to read a book in the park, too, which I certainly would have done on my walk back from the internet cafe if it wasn’t so wet out. The drink would have been hot green tea and the book would have been what has become my constant companion in the past month: my Intermediate Japanese text. Two months remain until the Japanese Language Proficiency Test and while certain things have stuck for good, other types of grammar muddle in my head to form a veritable hiragana, katakana and kanji soup. I comfort myself by making clever references to 70′s Japanese pop songs in my blog titles. Surely if I can do that, I must have some sort of Japanese ability, right?

Abikocho is is my third neighborhood in Japan. Though I enjoy moving as much as I enjoy walking through a toxic puff of sarariman smoke, I can’t help but feel lucky to have intimate knowledge of 3 very different parts of the city in such a short time. Abeno, my first neighborhood, was all winding lanes, stained glass lanterns and grilled sweet potato trucks puttering through the streets, heralded by their smoky smell and their drivers’ hollered calls to yams. Tsurahashi was Korea Town, an enormous labyrinth of kimchi, chijimi, pigs’ feet, Korean wedding dress, cosmetics, household goods, and faux designer clothing vendors. Hidden under the train station’s tracks, the market was a hive of activity that left me heady with excitement each time I rode my bike through; a sack of kimchi cradled in my basket like a prize. Though I really came to love the Korean Market in all of its underground Phantom of the Opera magnificence, that world was dark. Sean and I lived under the train station tracks, too, and even though there was a decent-sized neighborhood past the station perimeters, living cloaked in either total darkness or florescent light made us laconic and irritable, unwilling to explore. It has only been two days since we moved to Abikocho, but already I notice that waking up to natural light has had a profoundly positive impact on my mood.

Abikocho is perhaps 20 minutes south of Tsurahashi by train and 10 minutes south of Osaka. It is a park neighborhood, radiating outwards from a giant botanical garden. The prefecture I live in is something of a wildlife-free zone and what parks do exist tend to be somewhat lacking; rich in trees and flowers but poor in grass. Sand and gravel dominate Osaka-Fu’s parks, and Sean and I tut officiously each time we pass one. The park in Akacho is no exception, but its massive size, lakes, tea houses and zen gardens have convinced us to give it a cautious A minus. The park dominates the area, which is otherwise chock full of amenities. My walk yesterday took me to several large supermarkets, a gym, an internet cafe, a shoe repair shop, tailors, and loads of tasty-looking new restaurants to try. Abeno and Tsurahashi were residential neighborhoods but the feeling here is young and, perhaps because of the trees, relaxed. I find myself with a new spring in my step as I take care of the annoying administrative duties that come with moving to a new ward in Japan: registering with the ward office, filling out a mail forwarding form, and updating my health insurance. All this lingering rain has made the fall air fresh and I can already feel the yakiniku smoke clearing from my head. I’m envisioning my bay window garden full grown and I’m seeing stories, posts, novel chapters, and articles.

Sean will be back from work soon, his tie rumpled and his heart filled with darkness towards unappreciative children. We’ve made plans to head out for an evening nosh; I’m thinking the dimly lit, rice barrel-flanked izakaya on the corner. Since we’ve lived together, Sean and I have become a team of sorts: Sean, who hates people, lets me deal with personalities like salespeople, landlords and bill collectors while I, who have about as much common sense as a teenage celebrity, let the ever-logical Irishman take care of … anything that requires brains. In short, I meet with landlords and Sean reads the contracts. I buy the new knives and Sean puts them away because we both know that, left to my own devices, I’d hang them from the ceiling with dental floss because they looked “cool” that way. How I’ve managed to live for so long is a mystery to me.

Short Sentences Betray Nervousness

September 30, 2008 in Uncategorized

Looking back on my last post, I notice a definite choppiness to the narrative which I, ever attuned to my own spastic ways, decode as nervousness. The internet connection I am “borrowing” from my neighbor is very tenuous – or at least it was yesterday – and with each keystroke, I feared being disconnected … or being confronted by an angry seventeen year-old boy. Today the internet doesn’t work at all – in fact, the connection died yesterday just as I finished typing “seventeen year-old boy” – so now I am at an internet cafe to bring you more choppy, nervous sentences.

Surrounded by clacking keys and the soft shuffling of manga pages, I am reminded of my first 2 months in Japan, when I was waiting desperately to get internet in my Abeno apartment. I went once a day, sometimes twice if I had a freelance work deadline, and always returned to my apartment-tini reeking of smoke and manga-juiced teenager vibes. This time around, I was able to open my new internet account on my own and my new landlord has handled the dreaded faceless, keigo-rich phone calls to the company to arrange a set up date which will take place next Monday. I know that my internet cafe days will be short here in the new hood, which is why I happily fork over my 480 yen an hour. My time is short, too – I have already spent most of my hour responding to emails and catching up on my blogs. It has been raining nonstop since yesterday and on my rain-sprinkled walk home, I will remember the many colorful images of my new apartment and neighborhood that have been flooding into my brain for the past couple of days which I was too nervous to type down when I had the chance.

One thing I can mention, though, in the interest of making this post at least slightly different from the previous one, is that a post I wrote back in May (“Someone’s Knocking on the Door”) has been featured in this month’s Blog Matsuri, hosted this September on Tae Kim‘s blog. The Blog Matsuri is a monthly compilation of topical posts from blogs written about Japan; September’s topic was “The Language of Japan.”

And with one minute to go until I get charged extra … no, that’s it.

Movin’ Right Along

September 29, 2008 in Ex-Patriate Games, I'm Learning Japanese ... I Really Think So, Japanese Mix, Oishii, spazarific

  … and we’re moved. As it will be another week before I have my Yahoo BB! internet account set up in this apartment, I am cautiously “borrowing” a neighbor’s signal. I’ve passed some of them in the hall; they seem nice and I’m sure they wouldn’t mind. So I’m buying next month’s book club selection on amazon.co.jp, researching gardening tips for what will be my beautiful new bay window gardenette and updating friends, family and blog. 

It was a brilliant relocation, a far cry from our spastic taxi-and-subway move to Korea Town last February. This time around we were smart; Sean’s friend from the dojo knew where to rent us a truck for cheap and, since he has his International Driver’s License, kindly offered to drive it for us. The truck turned out to be large enough to fit all of our junk, including our bikes, so only one trip was necessary. When we arrived at the apartment, our new landlord and his co-workers sprang from their office to help us unload. With 6 of us, the whole unloading process took 10 minutes, after which Matsubara-san did his best to explain the utilities in his labored English. Matsubara-san’s English is slightly better than my Japanese, so any conversation we have is unintentionally hilarious. I’m studying constantly for my 3-kyuu exam now, so my head is swirling with new grammatical forms which I don’t hesitate to try out at any opportunity. Yesterday’s discussion was very informative: he told me that the water bill is to be paid twice a month and I told him that Sean and his friend were slow to come therefore many move items, many heavy suitcases but Sean is skillful. After some backtracking, we discovered that Matsubara-san meant to say that the water bill is to be paid every two months, not twice a month, but for my part, no backtracking was necessary because I meant exactly what I said. 

It has been raining all day, the apartment is still in disarray, and the poached internet connection is wildly unreliable, but I consider yesterday and today a success nonetheless. After the move was completed, Sean and I took a trip to Konan – cheap houseware goods emporium extraordinaire – to buy some necessities and then took a walk around our new neighborhood. There is an Italian cafe next door to our apartment and we decided to make it the site of our celebratory dinner. A pizza, bowl of scallop and pesto spaghetti and fried clam basket later, we hit the Supa Tamade on our block to buy some late night snacks (beer) and then returned to the apartment to assemble our new drawers and watch some DVDs. Munching on potato rings and “ganache” choco cookies, we noticed that there was moonlight streaming through our lovely bay window. It cast a beautiful glow on our glasses of beer. 

This morning, my eyes popped open at 9 o’clock – my first real morning in 8 months. In the sunny kitchen, Sean and I greeted each other with pleasant hellos instead of grunts and marveled at what a difference morning light made in our mood. When I left the apartment, it had already begun to sprinkle but that didn’t deter me from humming to myself on the bike ride to the 99 yen store. There is a large, beautiful tree-filled park 10 minutes from our apartment, as well as a gym and an internet cafe. I took refuge from the drizzling rain in a sushi bar, where I enjoyed a lovely and very reasonably priced nigiri set; luscious slabs of octopus, eel, tuna, salmon, shrimp, egg, yellowtail and snapper artfully arranged on a wooden tray. The sushi chef asked me if it was okay to put wasabi in my sushi. I took the opportunity to reply “It’s all good,” with the new grammar I learned yesterday. 

I bought plates, cups, house nonsense and dirt at the 99 yen store. I plan to plant basil, lavender, mini daisies, parsley and edamame today. Because I can.

Your 242-Word Mini Japanese Culture Lesson

September 23, 2008 in I'm Learning Japanese ... I Really Think So

As in the West, weddings are a huge industry in Japan. Thanks to the importation of Hollywood movies, Japanese weddings have come to have a lot of other things in common with the West, such as brides wearing white dresses and carrying floral bouquets. It’s common for young Japanese brides to channel Cher and undergo several costume changes throughout the day; donning the white dress for the ceremony, slipping into a traditional Japanese wedding kimono for the reception and then wearing another dress to cut the cake. There are often ads in the English language magazines trolling for Western men to “play” the minister to add that special Hollywood touch.

Plenty of Japanese touches and adaptations of Western traditions fill the day, such as eschewing wedding gifts for cash (always given in odd, indivisible denominations like 30,000 yen for good luck) and inviting the friends and family of the couple to perform at the reception. The Japanese are a bit smarter about planning the wedding than we are: their barrage of wedding options tend to end at the selection of a hotel, whose staff presents them with a wedding “package” and takes care of all the arrangements once the package is chosen.

A student of mine is a musician who performs at one of those ritzy hotels and often works weddings. According to her, popular wedding songs include “I Will Always Love You,” “My Heart Will Go On,” and “Beauty and the Beast.”

Ice Box

September 22, 2008 in engrish, Ex-Patriate Games, I'm Learning Japanese ... I Really Think So, Japanese Mix, Oishii, spazarific

Because I still haven’t had enough of the ridiculous circus that is My Life in a Japanese Micro-Kitchen, I’ve been trying my hand at baking. I have no counter so I must mix powders and sugars in a metal bowl balanced on my lap. I have no mixer so I must churn batters with a spoon powered by my weak little girl fist. I have no oven so I must reset the timer on my toaster oven every 15 minutes. I don’t know where to find Crisco so I’m doubling up on the amount of butter I use. I’m trying to bake batches of “Thank you for helping me with my internet!” brownies for my landlord and, when my toaster oven burns them into black bricks, I’m considering dumping them on my students instead. Most of all, I’m annoyed that for all my effort, chocolate chip cookies aren’t lining my belly.

I blame Chibi-chan; she put the baking idea in my head. Chibi-chan is one of my adult students who comes for class on Thursday. The other week, she told me about Ice Box cookies.

“You buy,” she said. “Slice.” She mimed slicing a loaf of dough with her flattened hand. She then drew a picture of a checkerboard cookie on her notebook and began to write “chocolate” next to the dark squares in Japanese before she caught herself, scribbled out the katakana and replaced it with roman characters.

“Ice Box,” she said.

Slice. Ice box. Immediately, loaves of Pillsbury refrigerated dough swam into my mind and I, who rely on Subway restaurants for my chocolate chip cookie fix, was suddenly squirming with chocolate chip cookie fever. First things first: Chibi-chan doesn’t really speak English. It was entirely possible that I had misunderstood her explanation.

“Ice box,” I repeated and mimed slicing a loaf of Pillsbury dough. “You buy and then you bake?”

“Yes,” she said.

“Do they have many flavors?”

“Yes.”

“Where can I buy them?”

“Most anywhere,” she said. “They are normal. Supermarket.”

And that, stupidly, was enough for me. I really should have known better; it’s not like I haven’t been burned by a student’s poor English before. I must have scoured 5 different supermarkets looking for those stupid Ice Box cookies, sniffing through aisles of milk, natto, eggs, frozen yakisoba, and “cheese” but the closest I came was an “Ice Box” slushy pop in the ice cream freezer. Slushies aren’t a suitable replacement for warm and gooey chocolate chip goodness; I made up my mind to give Chibi-chan a good talking to when I saw her next.

“Chibi-chan,” I said the following class. “I went to many supermarkets looking for Ice Box cookies. I couldn’t find them. Where exactly can I buy them?”

“Supermarket?” she said. “You buy in Takashimaya.”

Takashimaya is a swanky department store.

“Second floor, maybe. You no bake,” she said. “Already bake.”

“Oh,” I said, making perhaps my 50th mental vow to never again take a student’s word for anything. As if I didn’t know all too well by now that when someone says something you don’t understand, the only response you can give if you are choosing to pretend you’re following the conversation is, “Yes.” As if I haven’t done that a million times myself.

As I’ve mentioned, I obsess over foods rather quickly and my initial craving for just-out-of-the-oven chocolate chip cookies has morphed into an all-out American baked good fervor. Hence the plotting. Hence the planning. Hence my recent surprise to learn that there is a retail outlet in Japan that sells some basic baking ingredients and equipment for extra cheap.

This here is the baking section at Toys ‘R Us. I was there recently helping Sean pick out a present for his dojo friend who just had a baby girl. The Toys ‘R Us was close by and I was sure I’d seen baby clothes there before but within minutes we quickly realized there were no onesies to be found at this particular location. Sean wasn’t into the idea of adding to his friend’s rattle-and-stuffed bunny stockpile so we decided to just putter about for a bit and possibly buy candy before heading back. I hung a left at the doll aisle and found the Future Homemaker Corner.

Pastry makers. Potato chip crispers. Ice cream machines. Sushi rollers. It was such a far cry from the E-Z Bake ovens of my generation. Happily, Toys ‘R Us not only stocks the gizmos, it stocks the ingredients, too. Behold:

Dry yeast for 149 yen? Baking powder for 99? Cocoa powder for 299? I paid at least 500 yen for the chocolate powder I bought for my misbegotten brownies. I think I know where I’ll be coming for my dry yeast from now on.

An infomercial starring squealing little girls played on loop as I scanned the items, wondering if it would be unacceptable for me to buy the Norimakimakki Kurukuru Party sushi roller for myself. What? Rolling sushi is hard. I gaped at the infomercial; how easily the little girls rolled their sushi and produced perfect ice cream. How cute they looked with their hair arranged in two buns high on either side of their heads like cute little panda ears! A price check stopped my fantasy in its tracks (5999 yen???), but not before I had envisioned myself in my own Norimakimakki infomercial, my hair in little panda ear buns and each fist wielding perfectly molded tekkamaki.

I honestly didn’t know whether to be hungry, angry or jealous. Did I want to eat delicious homemade goods more than I hated spending money or more than I wanted to be a model on Japanese TV? I might be an old, old woman before I figure that one out.

Your 97-Word Mini Japanese Culture Lesson

September 21, 2008 in I'm Learning Japanese ... I Really Think So, Japanese Mix, Mini Japanese Culture Lesson

A small assortment of random Japanese onomatopoeias, for you:

The dog says: wanwan

The cat says: nyaonyao

The baby chick says: piyopiyo

The rooster says: kokekokko

The gleaming, sparkling object says: pikapika

The knock on the door says: tonton

The door bell says: pinpon!

The crunchy snack says: sakusaku

The empty stomach says: pekopeko

The contented snorer says: guuguu

The rapidly beating heart says: dokidoki

The knocking knees say: gakugaku

The sneezer says: hakushon!

In Japanese, onomatopoeias are written in katakana and there is no equivalent for “bless you” or “gesundheit.” Hakushon is only met with silence.

Metric Avenue

September 16, 2008 in Ex-Patriate Games, I'm Learning Japanese ... I Really Think So, Japanese Mix, spazarific

It took me a while to get used to the Metric System. It can be difficult to retrain your brain to a whole new number scale of “hot,” “cold,” and “tall”, especially if it’s pea-sized, American and went to public high school like mine.

Carnitas warned me. “Get used to it,” he said. “It’s standard.” I never doubted him but that didn’t stop me from balking each time I saw a metric measurement on a recipe or saw my weight flashing up at me on a display scale. 45 kilograms – what was that supposed to mean? Had I gained weight since loading up on white rice and Japanese bakery rolls or had I lost weight since gorging on fish? A trip to the online conversion calculators usually helped me out of the pickle but nonetheless, it was months before I came to truly understand that 35 degrees is skin-liquifyingly hot and weighing 45 kilograms means I can still fit into what the Japanese consider “large”-size pants and what Americans consider “Extra Small.” Other measurements tend to be gauged on those but in the beginning, there were a lot of trip ups.

For example:

Family members are a common topic of conversation in my lower level adult classes. We discuss what they do, what they look like and what kind of people they are. I’m prone to bragging about my brother, Diego, who I think is extra super great. He’s an Associate Producer at CBS News, ultra charming, chicks think he’s handsome, and he agrees with me that “UHF” is one of the greatest movies of all time. Of course I brag.

A student once asked how tall he was and my usual bragging stopped cold. Try as I might, I couldn’t remember my own height in centimeters so was forced to pull out my fancy math and try to calculate Diego’s on my own. Diego’s 5’5″, I thought. 5’5″ inches tall is 65 inches. A centimeter is roughly half of an inch. Multiply 65 by two! Thanks, brilliant math brain! Who said math was hard for girls???

“He’s 130 centimeters,” I said.

Eyebrows shot up. “Ehhhhhhhhhh??!?!?!?!”

I was immediately cranky; my brother is considered short by Western standards but I didn’t want to be hearing this “Ehhhhhhhhhhhh?!?!?!?!” nonsense from people whose society deems me, at 4’11″, to be on the “smaller” end of the “normal” scale. No way. No how.

“Yes, he’s 130 centimeters!” I said testily. “And everybody loves him!”

130 centimeters equates to about 4 feet 2 inches. My apologies, Diego.

It’s a slow but ultimately successful process. My 11 year-olds had to learn to say how tall they were in English at the beginning of the year and from time to time, I quiz them to see if they remember.

“I’m 147 centimeters.” said Naoko proudly last week.

“Come on, Naoko,” I said, gesturing from the top of her head to mine and then lifting my flattened hand upwards several inches. “147? I don’t think so. You’ve grown. You’re like me now.”

Then we both blushed – she, because I’d noticed and I, because I’d just realized that she is as tall as I am.

Which is, by the way, 149.8 centimeters. It sounds a little grander than 59 inches so I’ll take it.

Monkey-chan

September 16, 2008 in engrish, I'm Learning Japanese ... I Really Think So, Japanese Mix, My Funny Irish Friend, spazarific

The apartment is chosen: spacious, ultra clean, as cheap as our current place, fully-furnished, and bathed in gorgeous natural light. Before making our final decision, we dealt with 3 English-speaking real estate agents and 1 Japanese real estate company; a company I’d inadvertently gotten us involved with after answering an English-language ad online that said, “I will help you find apartment anywhere, any price, speaking English!”

The company’s offices were festooned with an adorable cartoon monkey wearing an Elvis jumpsuit and wiggling his fanny from a television screen that played the company’s commercial on loop the entire time Sean and I were in the office.

“If you take an apartment,” beamed T-san, the English-speaking interpreter from the ad, “You can get free monkey napkin.”

Perhaps it was the Japanese people surrounding me, but I’d immediately sensed that this real estate agency was typical Japanese style; i.e., loads of fees, commission and the dreaded key money. As if to cement my suspicion, T-san dashed behind a partition to whisk out a conveniently-stashed tray laden with iced tea-filled glasses.

“This is Japanese office!” she said proudly. “You must drink tea.”

Sigh. Tea; right there in front of us. We were caught now and there was nothing we could do. Still, it couldn’t hurt to listen. For the most part, unless they have a lucky hookup, foreigners in Japan are limited to dealing with real estate agents who cater to the Western mentality. This means pickings can be very slim. At least talking to this Japanese real estate agency we’d get access to a wider scope utilizing the Japanese information network. It was worth a shot.

The other staff members didn’t speak English but quickly discovered that Sean is quite capable at speaking Japanese, so they knew to maintain calm when Sean told them we were looking for a two bedroom place near a train station for under 80,000 yen that would require, “if possible,” no key money. They managed to dig up a few, rattling off information about rent and fire insurance and lock changing fees and maintenance charges. I listened intently, catching most but not all, “hmm”ing and “ah so!”ing at intervals to make believe I was up to speed. Sean tutted and asked questions, pointing at the columns of figures. I couldn’t help but watch him admiringly; how fluidly the Japanese seems to roll off his tongue.

Eventually, the realtors scared up 4 apartments we could look at and herded us into a tiny blue K-car to take us on a tour. On the drive, they asked polite questions. Intelligently, they directed most of their questions to Sean.

“Sean-san,” they said. “Why are you in Japan?”

” *** karate *** I don’t know.” he replied.

“Ehhhhhhh!” they said. “Your Japanese is so skillful.”

Sean, ever humble, said nothing.

K and T-sans showed us several old, poorly kept apartments in various parts of town. They were Japanese-style with paper thin walls, cedar-pungent tatami rooms, antideluvian air conditioners, and sliding doors that didn’t close properly. Sean had to stoop to enter each room.

“Sean-san!” they giggled. “How tall are you?”

Sean quickly calculated the metric measurement. “Ah … 182.”

“Ehhhhhh! Fantastic!” they breathed.

T-san wanted us to take the 83,000 yen (~800) apartment that was steps away from Abeno’s hottest night life spots and would cost nearly 2000 dollars (including key money) to move into. K-san was practically desperate for us to take the 75,000 yen apartment. So desperate, in fact, that he knocked the rent down to 63,000 a month and waived all key money. However, totaling up all the maintenance, fire insurance, lock change, and other fees, the apartment would still take about 1600 to move into. Unfurnished. In poor condition. No internet set up. Stinking of pet store. I’m sorry – tatami looks beautiful but I just can’t take the smell.

“Which one do you like better? Which one do you think you will take?” they asked. “It’s good price. Very good price.”

“We will think a little,” Sean said firmly. “We will email or call you.”

There was a time when I would have converted to Scientology for the chance to rent a slightly decrepit, pet store-stinking, unfurnished apartment with no major or minor appliances for only 400 dollars a month and about 1000 bucks, nonrefundable, upfront. L. Ron Hubbard GRRRL 4 EVA, on my forehead, in painful permanent ink. But living in Japan has spoiled me: why choose an apartment like that when I know that I can also get a fully furnished, glistening apartment for about 300 a month and only about 500 upfront? I figure I deserve a little break for all of the years I was thankful to get screwed over just for the privilege of living in Manhattan. Plus, Sean and I both work part time and aren’t saving money the way we used to; every little bit helps.

“Dear T and K-san,” we wrote the next day, flinching with each key stroke. Naturally, real estate agents know that many people who come in for a consultation won’t go with the apartments they see but given all the time they’d spent showing us places and working hard to find apartments that fit our specifications, we couldn’t help but feel guilty. “Thank you so much for showing us your lovely apartments! Unfortunately, we have decided to go with an apartment we saw earlier this week. We greatly appreciate all of your time; you were very kind.”

No reply. And certainly no complimentary caped monkey napkin.

The apartment we eventually went with was one about 20 minutes south of where we live now. This will make our commutes a little more annoying but that’s how it goes. The neighborhood is clean, quiet and our apartment is steps away from a Supa Tamade; discount grocery store extraordinaire. Plus, we couldn’t help but take an immediate liking to our new landlord, Matsubara-san. He is a funny little middle aged man whose English is competent, if a bit labored. He owns a yakitori restaurant that is, strangely enough, across the street from our current apartment in Korea Town. He met us at the train station and, unlike the folks at the Japanese real estate company, didn’t ask if Sean and I were a married couple. He was quick to point out that the apartment has a Western-style toilet and, after we had wandered around the place grinning like fools at how clean, cheap and sunny it was, he bowed and said: “I hope very much you will take the apartment.”

“Who do we call if we have a problem?” I asked.

“Problem?”

“Yes … if the air conditioner or stove breaks. Who do we call?”

“Ah,” said Matsubara-san. “You will call my boss. She is …” he glanced at his cell phone, scrolling through the numbers.

“I am very sorry. I can’t find number.” he said. And then, pausing carefully, he added: “Oh my gad.”

To the Side

September 15, 2008 in I'm Learning Japanese ... I Really Think So, Japanese Mix, spazarific, The Children

Miho always comes to class ready to get her sass on. Today she arrived slightly late and extra sassy, her ramped up feistiness announced first by her sideways dimpled smirk and then by her fierce side ponytail.

The three other girls were also late to class, so only Miho, Aya and myself were in the classroom at the start of the lesson. Today’s learning: names of jungle animals.

Miho was keen to notice the absence of the other girls. “Only two people!” she babbled to Aya, as though I didn’t count. “Just two.”

“Ahem, Miho,” I said, pointing to my nose. “Three. Three people.”

Miho’s side ponytail immediately sprang straight out, like an exclamation point.

“What!?” she shouted. “You’re not my friend!”

Nine, Eleven, Seven

September 11, 2008 in Ex-Patriate Games

It is a strange thing to be a New Yorker away from home on September 11th. The anniversary is a non-issue in Japan, as would be expected, and until you write the date in your roll books you, too, might even be able to forget. And then there it is: 9/11. 9/11. 9/11. Over and over again throughout the day, on paper in black ink. Seven years ago you were a college Senior at NYU and your roommate’s aunt called while you were blow drying your hair to tell her that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. You and your roommates thought it was a Cessna. What a fool, you thought. It would be on the evening news and the pilot’s name would become a new slang term for an idiot.

Your walk to NYU was up through 5th avenue and the minute your feet hit the pavement you knew it wasn’t a Cessna. For once, there were no cars; only a swarm of people who had left the sidewalk to stand in the middle of the street and stare upwards. You saw the clouds of smoke and fire. Nobody moved; their hands frozen to their mouths. There was no honking, no sounds of construction. It was between the first plane and the second so for those moments, all was still and since it hadn’t dawned on you that the flames were the work of terrorists, you thought it was safe to head to your Archaeological Theories class.

Your professor said nothing and neither did your classmates. You half-listened to him discuss the preservative abilities of natural matter like breccia and lava. The lecture took place in a basement room so you didn’t know until the announcement came that all classes were to be evacuated and you’d started on your walk home that the towers had fallen. They had always sheltered the path to your dorm and on that first naked walk back from school, you dodged each time you saw a shadow flicker – would bombs be next? You couldn’t stop glancing over your shoulder to make sure that the towers were really, really gone.

The day starts long in Japan before the sun rises on the Eastern Seaboard and for 13 hours you do the things you’ve come to do in the 7 years since your city suffered its most violent attack. Today, you talked to your new landlord, bought the eyeshadow you’d been stalking for weeks, discussed why Japan’s Prime Ministers resign so frequently and yelled so much at Daisuke that you left the classroom with your mascara smeared down your cheeks like a member of Kiss.

You’re home and it’s midnight and the friends you got drunk with on this night, 7 years ago, come online.

“It’s the 11th,” they say.

“I know,” you respond; sobered, and at the same time, grateful that someone understands.