Monday, March 27, 2006

Happy J-Day

Saturday started kind of bad, then it got worse, then it got better, then it got worse and worse, then it got a lot better, then it got slightly worse, and then it got better again. Overall, I’m glad I didn’t commit suicide that day.

The day began, as they often do, with the alarm waking me up long before I was ready to get out of bed. I had planned to get up early, have breakfast, and stop by the apartment office to pay April’s rent, but I had to skip the office stop and shorten breakfast (rice and miso soup) due to moving in slow-mo.

I had my weekly Japanese lesson which I always dread. I spent most of Friday night studying, but I had missed last week’s class and didn’t feel prepared.

Nobody else did any better than me; in fact, everybody did worse. I still got a couple of things wrong, but by the end of class I managed to loosen up a bit and enjoy myself for once.

We learned a couple of “to be” type verbs, one for people and animals, the other for inanimate objects. As part of the lesson, sensei told us to use imasu for sakana (fish) if you’re talking about a live pet or arimasu if you’re talking about dinner. I wondered if the same subtle change in the language could be used to shift “Fluffy is in my bedroom” to “I got a dead cat in my bedroom.” I wanted to ask her, but three and a half decades of dealing with people have taught me the following:
1) Never say the first thing that comes to my mind.
2) Likewise, don’t say the second thing that pops to mind.
3) I probably shouldn’t say that, either.
4) In fact, don’t say anything at all.

I managed to get through the rest of class without bringing up dead cats and time seemed to move at a decent clip. Sensei still hates me despite being polite and hard-working, but that’s her problem. I wonder if she’d like me more if I didn’t flirt by chasing after her and shouting “You are Tokyo! I am Godzilla!”

Worse and worse.
After class, I decided to lunch at Umezono Japanese Restaurant. The only other so-called Japanese restaurant I’ve ever eaten at was Ru San, a restaurant mostly known for poor service, inauthentic sushi, loud rock music, and an open hatred for Americans (despite voluntarily being in Georgia). Of course, I heard nothing but good things from people who don’t know dick about squat until I ate lunch there and nearly puked up my baby octopus.

My book and sensei both claimed the Japanese naturally exercise more than most Americans by walking / biking whenever they can, so I decided to walk to the restaurant since it’s only about two and a half miles roundtrip. The day was bright and sunny so I put on a pair of shorts and a t-shirt, grabbed Satan Sue (my iPod), and stepped outside into the 45 degree weather and high winds. On the way, I discovered reasons why nobody walks around here – the sidewalks, where there are sidewalks, are uneven and broken and most of the major intersections don’t have crosswalks. I guess I’ll save any future walking for the treadmill at the gym.

On the way, Satan Sue locked up and didn’t recover until the battery died that night. Bad karma.

A lot better.
After walking under the glaring sun in the icy winds, I arrived at the dimly lit restaurant and couldn’t see anything for a minute, but they seated me after my eyes adjusted. The restaurant seemed authentic – cramped, staffed and mostly patronized by Asians, featuring Japanese newspapers and Japanese TV (during my meal I got to practice my Japanese by watching an exercise program featuring a quartet of leotard-clad J-hotties). I sat at the bar next to a semi-hot Asian woman and ordered the vegetable tempura which came with miso soup, rice, and green tea. The tea was fine, the miso soup better than what I’ve been making (although it’s closer to theirs than the cup-a-soup stuff), and the tempura the best tasting vegetable meal I’ve ever had. It was the first time I ever enjoyed zucchini, although that was my least favorite part of the meal.

Before walking home, I stopped by the Asian market next door. The staff at both the restaurant and store were friendly*, despite me being one of the few round-eyes there. There was a blonde soccer mom in the store who was talking loudly on a cell phone the entire time (of course), but otherwise it felt like stepping into another world – no labels in English, tiny shelves, and tiny people chattering in a language in which I could only pick out a word or two. I found some of the things I couldn’t locate in Harry’s Farmers Market; between the two, I can make any Japanese meal for which I have the recipe and skill, i.e. miso soup and rice.

Slightly worse.
I went to Harry’s for some greens and fresh fruits and fish (at that point, I’d been eating J-food for a week but hadn’t had any fish – very non Japanesey). I found most of the ingredients on my list, but I couldn’t find scallions. I asked the nearest store employee, a young and soft-spoken Asian man, if they carried scallions, and he pointed me toward an area I had already perused. I pushed my cart back to the area, began looking closely at the labels, and then turned to see him standing next to my cart. He had materialized next to me ninja-style and proceeded to inform me that I already had scallions in my cart. That’s right – I didn’t know they were the same thing as green onions.

In my own defense, I should point out a) they are alternately called green onions and scallions in the same recipe book, and b) I was raised with an alternative vocabulary supplied by my mother, who hated me, and my sister, who didn’t hate me but found me most useful as a tool for staying on my mother’s good side, analogous to the new kid at school – the quickest way to ingratiate yourself to the ruling clique was to find out who they hated and then join in picking on them.

My mother and sister created a whole new vocabulary for me. For years I thought quarple came after triple, asylum was pronounced “uh-say-lum,” the phrase “tongue in cheek” was pornographic, and a lulu was a dirty joke and I would be punished if I ever used that term. After the grocery ninja informed me of my gaffe, I remembered a mental clip of the first time I came across the word “scallion” as a child. My mother screamed at me and told me they were something that grew up North and I would never see them so I didn’t need to worry about it. She was chopping a pile of green onions at the time. I suppose it could have been a mistake, but given our history I think it was another round in her perpetual “Screw with my son’s head” game.

If you’re curious why my so-called friends never corrected me, it’s because they liked laughing at my mistakes and kept insisting I was just playing around when I asked them for the meaning of something that seemed really obvious to them. And you wonder why I hate everybody.

Fortunately, after that experience, I realized mirin and cooking rice wine were also the same things.

Fortunately, I survived the shopping experience and went home for an afternoon of anime and studying. For dinner, I tried a new recipe – teriyaki salmon with homemade teriyaki sauce (there’s only three ingredients in the stuff). It was the best salmon I’ve ever had, although Cajun blackened runs a close second. Overall, definitely a plus day.

*If you’re considering leaving a comment claiming that all people of all nations are much more polite than Americans, save the cyberspace. I’ve been to plenty of places, some of which lived up to the reputation, many of which did not. If you still want to comment with the claim that the peoples of other nations are polite except when dealing with Americans and this is to be expected because Americans are known for their lack of manners and therefore the others are simply responding to our stereotypical actions in advance of us actually making them, then please submit your comment via the following method:
1) Write your comment on a piece of paper.
2) Set it on fire.
3) Shove it up your nose.


Melissa said...

Oh, sugar, just email me when you have culinary questions... I won't laugh at you or lead you wrong.

And for the record, fried okra, black eyed peas, collards and corn bread are too a vegan meal, you just don't eat the bits of pork back/fat... seriously!

Anonymous said...

i'm so proud of you! You've come far since your childhood.

i found a southerner prepared to look outside america. =D

i would comment on annoying americans, but i know that most asians are very shutoff to westerners. Most chinese restaurants give us free soup starters and better tea when we speak chinese when we come in - speak a bit of Jap and get better service!

PBS said...

Whew, what a day! The salmon sounds really good. I like your rules for dealing with people--good way to stay out of trouble, usually. Southerners ARE (as a rule) much more polite. I lived in Florida for a while then moved back home and really noticed the difference. As for foreigners, my nose is still OK.

Joe said...

Sounds like your continuing to adapt quite well to your new culture. I'd write more, but the flaming comments in my left nostril are starting to hurt and I think I need to seek medical attention.

Damn rude Americans.

Stacy The Peanut Queen said...

Now I'm all hungry, dammit. :)

Ooo..there's gonna be a lot of flaming noses around my neighborhood today!!! Can't wait to get home and see that! :)

Seven said...

I think you should compare her to a smaller city when running after her. Tokyo is quite large and she may be feeling insulted.
Your 4 rules I had to learn as well; but it took me longer than 35 years. This is the fifth or sixth thing I thought of to comment, attempting to save my nose.

chele said...

Now that was a lulu. The salmon recipe sounds great.

Leesa said...

I love reading your posts. Well, not the parts about sticking notes up one's nose. But the rest of it was great, reminded me of waves gently rolling up on the beach with some sort of rhythm.

Grant said...

melissa - even if you don't eat the pig parts, the pork fat is all over everything. But that shouldn't count as meat.

aka fatty - thank you. Just last week I tied my shoes all by myself.

pbs - yes, we're fat but nice. Good combo, like a burger and fries. Mmm...fries.

joe - if I understand anything about medicine and feng shui, you should set the right nostril on fire to achieve balance.

pq - maybe they could form a band and open for the Flaming Lips.

rick - unfortunately, Godzilla doesn't bother with small cities. Although she might stop running and demand an explanation if I call her Lubbock.

chele - it was good, and easy. Let me know if you want the recipe.

leesa - great. Now your poetic comment made my post look like bloggerel. :p

Goddess said...

I lived in Seoul for a year, and I do not think that South Koreans are any more or less rude than Americans. People are people, thats about it. Yeah, ok, so I forgot to bring a present to someones house where I was going to eat dinner, but c'mon! I remembered to take off my shoes! I was trying, damnit! I remember once, there was like 2 inches of space between a friend and myself on the subway, and some korean actually sat down in the space. No mind that she was sitting on both of our legs as well. That was our problem, I guess. I never witnessed that kind of utter guts in America.... of course, I have never ridden on a subway in America either.....

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