Saturday, November 15, 2008

Getting cold, getting rainy

There are many inevitable things about a rainy weekend, of them being that I will stay in bed for hours upon hours (oh, someone join me!), listen to the Carpenters songs, and now I have watched Love is a Many Splendored Thing and The African Queen.
This is the van that the nationalists drive around (the fascists drive one identical to it in black) and announce nationalist propaganda over a loudspeaker.  Can you believe this, in Japan of all places?  I mean, I would expect this nonsense in China or something, but Japan?  It's really annoying and makes me feel like suddenly I am in a militarist state.  I feel like complaining to some city authorities about this public nuisance.   The fascists usually say things about returning Japan to it's prewar state and getting rid of all foreigners.
The good thing about being a moderately well-dressed young female is that I can take a lot of pictures of really cute school kids and not arouse any sort of suspicions about my motives.
Ikebana takes a lot of concentration.
This is my Californian pomegranate that I bought down the street.   I couldn't resist!  It was the hit of my most recent dinner party when I cut open this magic apple to reveal all the seeds inside. 
Looking down the street I live on on an overcast day.
This is just ridiculous.  This guy in the neon suspenders wielding a light sabor is a feature of nearly every store parking lot from convenience stores to video rental stores.  For some reason people need the extra assistance parking and backing up as well as remembering to stop for pedestrians.  This is especially funny at gas stations.  The gas attendant accompanies the car that has just filled up to the street and stops any approaching cars so that the customer can exit the lot without without waiting for the oncoming traffic.  The attendant bows to the car that is waiting and to the car that is exiting the station.  It's too much! Why is this necessary?
Oh cute school children, you are so irresistible in your little outfits. 
As much as spending two hours arranging flower may seem like a yawn, I am really enjoying my Ikebana classes!  I never was so glad to spend time considering the relationship that flowers have to each other in terms of color, shape and size!
This is a Fall arrangement.  Everyone here seems to go wild over season change and so Fall themes are reflected in everything down to the tiniest detail.
Selecting the right leaves.
Like most of the fruit in Japan, this kind of chrysanthemum comes carefully wrapped.

It's hard to see in this picture, but there is a building on my street that is covered in what I think of every time I walk by it as irredescent  "mermaid tiles."  
The seafood in my local market is often really new to me.  I am craving a lamb roast but it looks like I will have to learn to cook this fantail shrimp.
To fight a recent bout of loneliness I have been hosting dinner parties for the teachers I teach with.  This is "Italian" night.  I made gnocchi, chicken roulades with sage, and bleu cheese and pears for desert.  I had no idea, but bleu cheese is the Japanese kryptonite.  Everyone freaked out and had me remove it from their dishes (they asked with the usual Japanese tact of course) so that they wouldn't have to smell it anymore.  This of course was wildly entertaining to me and I kept trying to get them to eat it or smell it and bit of huge chunks of it to get some gasps from them.

If you are ever in a Japanese bathroom there will be some version of this little censor.  Motion activated, it plays the sound of running water or a stream so that others can't hear you pee and to ease your peeing.  In one of my schools there there aren't any of these water-noise boxes so if I  go into the stall next to one of my coworkers, she will continuously flush the toilet while she pees so I can't hear her peeing! This is a little much.  I mean, we all know what peeing sounds like, so who cares?  I understand how its embarrassing if you have some explosive diarrhea but peeing seems so harmless to me.  Also, everyone folds down the corners of the toilet paper after they use it like a maid service does so that the next person can easily find the end of the toilet paper.  I appreciate the gesture, but I really can't bring myself to do this.  It just seems like too much.  It's not that hard to locate the end of the paper, just give the roll a hefty spin and it will fly out!

Since I wrote about obnoxious generalizations that get made about Japan, I started thinking about my own generalizations that I have cultivated about Japanese people since I have been here.  Here are a few:

  • People are really nice.  If you ask for directions, someone may just walk you there, holding their umbrella for you so you don't get wet.  You can go into a store just to use the bathroom and the workers will greet you with a warm "irashaimase!" (welcome) and after you blatantly only use the bathroom and are on your way out will thank you, "de gozaimashita," just as warmly for coming.
  • Everyone eats rice like its going out of style.  I mean duh, but it still amazes me how you can eat rice three times a day and not get tired of it.  People are very serious/honorific toward rice - usually finishing every single grain of it.  The same with soy sauce.  You get served a very small amount of it so that you can make sure to finish it.
  • Most women over 30 seem to be married or already have children.  This might only be a regional thing, since like most southern parts of countries in the world, Kagoshima is rather conservative.  But man, I have had so many conversations with worried 32 year-olds about not being married yet.  What is this?  1952? It's really hard for me to have patience with these conversations.  
  • Japanese people never cease to be amazed that as a foreigner you can use chopsticks.  Or eat sashimi or wasabi (many Japanese people have said that it is too spicy for them).  Ugh, the chopsticks thing gets old really fast.  All the time when I am eating with chopsticks during lunch at my school teachers and students will saw in awe "hashi jouzu desu!" (wow, you can use chopsticks so well!)  Like all foreigners are mentally challenged and it takes incredible skills to master chopsticks.  Or sometimes when I first meet someone they will ask me if I know how to use chopsticks and it is alway my first reaction to want to ask them if they can use a knife and fork.  I mean, give me a fucking break.  It's not brain surgery.  One stick, two stick. Got it.  
  • Thou shalt obey traffic lights.  The law in general is taken very seriously here, but especially cross walk lights.  Even at four in the morning when there are no cars you see people waiting for the crosswalk light to turns green.  This is just nuts to me.  I have taken it up as my own personal form of rebellion to jay walk as much as possible.  Small thrills every day...
  • No eating on the go.  I noticed really quickly that you never see anyone walking and eating an ice cream or drinking a smoothie and I asked a credible Japanese source why no one ate just standing on the sidewalk or in a bus or something and she responded: "only poor people do that."  Socioeconomic status aside, it seems like most people think of eating on the go as something a little crass.  So I make sure to do this as much as possible also.  It seems really silly to me and sometimes I just want to go for a stroll while eating an apple.
  • No one eats the skin of fruit. One day I was eating an apple at my desk and I noticed that everyone was sneakily staring at me, so I said "What?! What?!" and finally got it out of someone that it was really strange to see someone eating the skin of an apple because it just isn't done here.  I had never seen someone eat a fruit here so I had no experience with this.  I guess it has to do with superstition about pesticides being in the skin or something.
  • Everyone seems to take their jobs very seriously.   I haven't encountered any sort of sarcasm/attitude from workers here in terms of how sometimes at home (home being the US and A)  you can really tell that a gas station attendant really hates his job.  Everyone here, from taxi drivers to bakery shop workers to convenience store folk take their jobs really seriously.  As a result, I as the customer, am consistently 100% satisfied with the service.
  • Small children are in awe of me.  Yes, children from 12 months to around age 8 most often will stop dead in their tracks when they encounter me and just stare, jaws dropped open, or point and say "Mom, there's a foreigner!" 


Blake said...

Kelly! This is Laura writing from Blake's compu. I L-O-V-E love your blog! And blake says, "Kelly blogs hard-core!" My favorite parts from this entry include the eating-on-the-go commentary and the water-sound-machine. I have often thought of how useful and explosive diarrhea machine would be. I miss your dinner parties so much (I hope those teachers know how lucky they are), and this weather is also making me stay in bed far too long. And a question: what is your preferred mode of watching gossip girl? The official CW website doesn't work in France! Help!


vanessa said...

girl, your blog keeps getting better. its like i get to spend a day or two being a fly on your wall, only its all condensed into words and photographs. i've been trying out some dinner parties at my new home, but i am still missing storey street dinner parties. i am also missing all that fresh cheap produce, and picking fruits and flowers from people's yards. i have yet to see a fruit tree in this city!

and laura - if you read this, hello! i hope your travels are lovely. what is your email? i want to write to you. (and sometimes you can find GG on youtube, if you're lucky).

Stephen J. Farrell said...

I dig your observations. Some of them ring true for me here in Vietnam, like the eating rice thing, the every woman being married w/ children thing, and the chopstick thing. What's up with that? Even worse, people repeatedly ask to make sure we know how their money works, and are impressed when a foreigner uses it correctly. It's money! Addition and subtraction! For better or worse, though, the etiquette and courtesy things you see in Japan are most definitely not present here--a far cry from the water noise machines. It's pretty much acceptable to pee on the street (for males) and pick noses (for everyone). It's actually pretty great.

E-bad said...

going down your check list everything seems so exactly the same as in China. But NO! so so so so so many worlds apart. god damn i wish i was in asia instead of brooklyn.