Monday, April 19, 2010

Done Like To Got

I don't think most Americans believe that there are dialects in our country. Instead we talk a lot about accents and ebonics (which I do not think is a separate language, but is easier to say than African American Vernacular). We may admit that Creole is a pidgin language, or that Cajun can be nigh-incomprehensible. Still, when I was asked if America has dialects like Japan, for a long time I’d say no.

I attended some friends’ joint birthday party a few weeks ago. Two of the attendees (one of whom was a birthday boy) were Australian at the time. Now I don’t know, but then, they were definitely Australian. Anyway, we inevitably started poking fun at each other for our funny speech patterns and weird customs. I’ve always thought that Australians had the advantage; who can understand them when they start using all their slang and abbreviations? Plus, American media is popular everywhere, and therefore the anglophones in other countries are frequently exposed to American accents and slang. With everything from rap to Grey’s Anatomy (yeah, I consider those things opposites) reaching the Land Down Under, how could I compete with cuppas with brekkie or baby-eating dingos?

Thank you, Lord, for giving me a country-born and bred grandmother, for so many reasons. 

A couple of years ago, at the end of one trip to see my aunt’s family in Dallas I was sitting in the back of the car. We were all packed up and ready to go, but at the last minute we realized that our dog was still running around. She was quick to come when called, so someone dumped the animal in my lap without ceremony. My grandmother leaned over and addressed the dog.

“Why, Tiger,” Grandma exclaimed, “you done like to got left!”

Take that, Australia.

Close proximity to my grandmother and spending the greater part of my life in the Midwest has left me with a certain fondness for country accents, but it wasn’t until I was able to stump the Australians with my pronunciation and twisted grammar that I was genuinely proud of it. I may not know what a combie is, or how a man could chunder, but if someone is fixin’ to tan my hide I sure as heck know to hightail it outta there 'fore I git walloped.

Edit: The subject of American dialects intrigued me so much that I wrote a short essay about it for an adults English conversation circle. There was a pretty good turnout at the conversation session; nice to know that the attendees find dialects as fascinating as I do. While doing research for the essay I ran across this site, and it made me homesick.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Laziness. Turns Out It's A Habit.

My parents thought that I was lazy as a form of rebellion. I would grow out of it. I would start folding my clothes, and doing dishes after I dirtied them, and cleaning on Saturdays to the sounds of 1950s jukebox hits, just like my mother. Eventually, when I became an adult, I would do it. That's what I thought they thought, at least. Laziness is something that adults grow out of.

I’ve been waiting to reach adulthood for a few years now.

Kim and I were discussing a paper maché class that she was considering taking. "I don't know," she said, "that's five hours I could spend studying French, which I don't do."

This struck me as hilarious. Doing my best freckle-faced lispy kid impression, I parroted, "That's five hours I could spend doing something I don't do." Kim and I giggled over that for a few minutes, likely exasperating my new boss and coworkers.

Later I realized that Kim’s seemingly ridiculous statement was actually my daily modus operandi. Why do dishes when I could be studying Japanese, which I won’t get to until I’m taking a class? I can’t fold my clothes now, I need to spend an hour searching for a recipe for those pastries I’ll never make. I could tidy my apartment, but that would detract from getting ready for a jog in the pleasant spring air, even though I’ll get distracted dancing around my apartment, then watching clips from America’s Best Dance Crew, then remembering that there are at least three episodes of The Mentalist that I haven’t seen and therefore must watch them immediately.

Living on my own in a decent-sized apartment (Americans would think it was ridiculously small) has given me ample space to drop my stuff. This is not an analogy or metaphor. Really, when I walk in my apartment I started shedding; shoes, then school bag, then purse, then iPod, and finally clothes all get dumped on the ground in my exhaustion. I leave a trail of items behind me, always picking something else up and putting it elsewhere, never quite getting everything put away.

As a member of the workforce I highly doubt that many people come home from work energized and ready for a productive, tidy evening. Adults, however, are supposed to do their chores at night, during their free time, right? I’ve been waiting for the day when I walk in my door, take a deep and satisfying breath, and think, it’s a grand night for cleaning.

It ain’t coming anytime soon.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Hannah Comes to Town part 9

Sunday was the last day of Hannah's visit, and was the day we completed our list of Foods To Eat and finished her souvenir shopping. I'm not sure why it took so long for me to write this post, other than to remember the feelings I describe towards the end of this post. Gomenasai, good friends.

We began the day the right way—covering the bed with plastic, leaving the rabbit with plenty of food and water, and heading over to Mr. Donut for a well-balanced donut. We headed into Kyoto early (remember, those who are keeping track, that it's 400 to Kyoto station) and wandered into Isetan. Kyoto's beautiful train station, opus of architecture that it is, holds a hotel, a theater, an art gallery/museum, and the upscale Isetan department store that hosts upscale shops for upscale brands like Gucci and Prada. It also has two floors dedicated to good eats, including a burger joint at which the employees all have to wear large orange cowboy hats, so it's not all class and couth.

Hannah and I wandered around for a while to find some souvenirs for her and her family. Shopping for souvenirs is always tough; I've never been very good with buying something that is both representative of the place I visited and relevant to the person for whom I'm buying it. Especially when one visits an expensive country like Japan, it can be really frustrating to balance a budget and buying for people what you think they'd appreciate. Still, Hannah did manage to find some items she liked, I bought a cute useless woodblock with a hand-painted picture on it, and we headed upstairs to cross off the last item from Japanese Foods To Stuff Down Hannah's Willing Gullet list.

This last item was ramen. Americans, and likely many Westerners, will forever associate ramen with the stuff you buy in packages or cups, the college student's staple food. It makes for a decent salty lunch or snack, but isn't something you'd ever purchase from a restaurant. Real ramen bears resemblance to its Appalachian hillbilly cousin Cup Noodle in only the most basic form: the noodles are the same thickness and length (forever long) and the soup is usually broth-based. Even basic real ramen, however, includes a couple of slices of pork, spring onions, some bean sprouts or other vegetables which are unidentifiable to my eyes, and sometimes half a hardboiled egg. One bowl of the stuff is enough to be a meal. It's friggin' delish, guys. Friggin' delish.

Hannah and I chose one of the least expensive ramen restaurants in Isetan, the kind at which you chose and pay for your ramen at a machine. The waitress shows you to a seat while the chef gets started on your order. My half-size ramen was a mere 540 yen. Hannah treated me, but I figured I'd let you future visitors know. Ramen is cheap. Ramen is delicious. Ramen is plentiful. According to a quick Google search, ramen restaurants in the states can be found in Denver or New York. I'm sure there's one in California or Hawaii, where Japanese residents and tourists tend to congregate, but all's I'm saying is that you shouldn't discount ramen as real food until you've tried the real thing. Ramen.

Once we finished our noodles Hannah and I skipped back down to the station. We said our goodbyes without tears, but with big hugs. I clowned on the platform as Hannah got settled and waited for the train to start, much to the delight of the other passengers who could see me. Always a good time, watching a mop-headed monkey jig like a drunk toddler. I jigged and waved and hopped up and down until I couldn't see her train anymore.

Sometimes I wonder if I appear cold because I am uncomfortable with long farewells and phrases like, "I miss you already," or "I'm going to miss you so much." I have trouble telling folk that I miss them at all. Maybe it's because I hate to darken the last few moments of fraternization with thoughts of upcoming sadness (that, in my opinion, is completely pointless). Perhaps it's because I don't get truly homesick frequently, or that I don't miss people in the same way; I figure that we'll see each other soon enough, and the wonders of the internet can keep us fairly well connected. Nevertheless, after seeing the one person who took the effort to cross an ocean just to spend time with me disappear with the train, I certainly felt bereft when I finally stopped waving on the platform. I took a side trip back into Kyoto to buy some picture frames (because shopping was supposed to fill the hole in my heart. That didn't work. Also, I needed them), and then headed home. When I walked into my house I found a pencil pouch that hadn't been there before. I recognized it the pouch fabric as one I had pointed out to Hannah during our trip to the Kazari-ya woodblock print shop. I had said something to the effect of "This is the cutest print I've seen in Japan," and hadn't given it any more thought. Inside the pencil pouch was a box of chocolates and a note from Hannah, thanking me for my hospitality and friendship, telling me what a wonderful time she'd had.

And then I sat down on my living room floor and wept.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Over It

FYI, I had this finished two days ago, but I misplaced the cord to connect my camera to the computer. Plenty has happened since I wrote this text, but that's for another post. Please be enjoying.

If the tone of my most recent posts has seemed gloomy, it's because I've been in a slump. For the past three weeks or so I haven't cooked, cleaned, or cared to do so. Perhaps at the end of the semester all the stress of working caught up to me at once. Maybe it was the gloomy weather.

I'll tell ya'll sumthin', though. A little church time does me a whole lot of good. It's a dog-eat-dog world and we can't truly rely on anyone but ourselves, we're told. On Sunday I was reminded that the being who created everything at which I marvel is my provider, the one who fights my battles, and the one who brings me peace. Though the lethargy didn't really leave until Tuesday (which was my own doing) I can now say that I am past that stage. Yeehaw, kids!

Oh, are you looking for proof? Here's your pudding:

Last Tuesday I made mini quiche, my second time to take that wild ride. Is it safe to use raw eggs that I whisked last week? Tupperware and my nose say it's fine. If I could remember anything from my food handler's permit classes I'd probably be singing a different tune. My chef-ery did not stop there. I prepared for twice-baked potatoes by baking five of the small suckers. I made taco meat and taco-seasoned rice for future meals. I organized the contents of my fridge according to what meal it would create. I had found real bagels at the grocery store, (angels I have heard on high, sweetly singing o'er the pizza crusts) and so fried some bacon for an evening BCBagel. The C is for cheese. I forgot the egg until I thought to myself, something's missing. Still, I stored the remaining crispy pig meat for a future breakfast and enjoyed my American-esque breakfast sandwich for dinner. Productive.

On Wednesday I learned that my supervisor and sub-supervisor both would be transferred to other departments come April. My supervisor won't even be in the same building anymore. I'm sure that their new positions involve promotions, and am forcing myself to be happy for them. Still, I have no idea what I'll do without those two men. They've been an integral part of the ALT support system and are just plain wonderful gentlemen. There has been many a time that they've gone above and beyond their duties to help me and the other two foreigners. I don't think either of the new members who will replace them speak English. WHADDAMIGONNADO?

That night I didn't have calligraphy, so I did all of my laundry, and dishes. I've been in the process of potting plants for the last month or so (I am lazy), but I finished all but the repotting of my pepper plant. I am awesome. Now I have plants on my back porch, something of a terrarium on my windowsill, and I'm slowly returning green to the the front of my apartment. There used to be azaleas there, but last summer the folk in charge of my residence had the bushes ripped out. The azaleas were replaced by concrete and gravel, which turned the already-bland building into an eyesore. I'm hoping that some of these things grow big enough to participate in the upcoming Man vs. Nature battle of spring. I'll put pictures up later, when they don't look all scraggly.

As a treat for my good behavior that night I started watching The Good The Bad The Weird. It's a Korean film that will soon be released stateside, according to's movie trailers. I haven't watched many western films—a couple of John Waynes, Sukiyaki Western Django (a cowboy version of Japan's War of the Roses and a tribute to spaghetti westerns rolled into one bleak, bloody movie) and Once Upon A Time In The West—but this film might be my new favorite in the genre. Given the amount of gunfire that was exchanged I figured that all my favorite characters would die in the end. I hate those movies. I root and root for the plucky good guys who seem to prevail against all odds, and then someone shoots them in the head and the wrong guy gets the girl. Spoiler alert: It happened in Once Upon A Time In The West and The Departed and Sukiyaki Western Django. Still, about a third of the way through I thought, What the hay; I don't care if everyone dies in the end. I'm just enjoying the ride. That is the best compliment I could give to a film, given that my personal DVD collection is all Disney movies, comedies, and one HD documentary on dolphins.

After hanging on through the breakneck pace and guffaw-worthy antics of the main characters, I was pleasantly surprised at the ending. More accurately, I never saw it coming. Though the theater version probably has much a much better translation, there is a version on this website that was subtitled by fans. If you have a free evening, this will not be a waste of time. I was afraid it would be like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon in that it would be filmed beautifully, but every so often someone would end up with a blade sticking out of his forehead and I'd want to toss a few cookies. True, there were some moments that made me a bit too squeamish to watch, but in retrospect The Good, The Bad, The Weird is mostly bark and not a lot of bite. The bark is violence and the bite is blood and watching heads roll.

Thursday was wickedly productive. I was up on time, made myself a real bacon, egg, and cheese bagel, and looked darn good in my black skirt and purple sweater. I bought coffee on the way to work, worked on the Ganbatte Times website, and continued my new project. This project is reading the letters from my students. One letter from a 6th grader takes about an hour for me to translate. I have about one hundred of these. In spite of my general ineptitude in regards to Japanese, I have resolved to read and understand these letters. Good thing, too, because I realized that one class of 6th graders misunderstood my pictures and gesturing, and now believe that bison were a gift from the French. Don't worry, they'll be at one of my junior highs in April, so I can set them straight.

That Tuesday night I made what I'm going to call MidWest Twice-baked Taters. Typing that, I realized that tater is not considered incorrect spelling, and shows up in my dictionary. Hooray, country talk! I scooped out the insides from a baked potato that I had prepared earlier in the week, mixed it with the taco meat, sour cream, and some Monterey Jack cheese. I piled it all back into the potato skins, stuck it in the microwave for a bit, then topped it with sour cream. It was, as my people would say, duhli-yushus.

The weekend was the weekend. It was good. Kim invited me to attend a marching band performance at an elementary school that I used to visit last year. I had accidentally mixed up my dates when I was teaching at this school and had missed the previous year's performance. I decided to show my support, given that even the youngest members would have been my students, and therefore would at least remember my face. The Minamitsustujigaoka Elementary School Blue Angels Marching Band is made of female students in grades 2 and up. Eight of the students were graduating 6th graders. They are the cutest thing since puppies.

Here's the Blue Angels playing ABBA's "Dancing Queen."

Now "Memories" from the musical CATS by Andrew Lloyd Weber.

And finally, "I Could Have Danced All Night," which came embarrassingly close to making me tear up, and for no good reason other than that I was so impressed.

Smack me if I ever badmouth the music education system over here.

Sunday was good fun churchy times. Margaret's older sister and brother-in-law were in town, and Sunday night was the only time that M and friends and family could dine together. It also happens that the last Sunday of the month is when Kyoto Assembly has its prayer meeting time. I looked at my watch as the pastor was finishing his announcements and realized that I would have to run for my train. As I gathered my things and stood up I heard, "We'll start the prayer time right after this, so please don't leave."

Oops. Well, the Korean barbecue was delicious.

Yesterday was slightly less productive that I would have preferred, but I blame that on my body clock. I woke up in the morning thinking it was the morning of the Sabbath. I planned on keeping it holy with rest, and so ignored what I thought was my weekend alarm. I did not realize my error until 8:10, which is five minutes before I need to leave. Thankfully I had prepared my bags, clothes, and breakfast the night before, but thanks to the restaurant my hair smelled like grilled meat. I got to work about three minutes late, still dripping. My presence clearly relieved some worries over my absence, so I explained to the bilingual audience as best as I knew how.

"I'm sorry!" Low bow. "Asa ni, atashi wa," mime waking up and stretching. "Ah, nichiyobi! To omoimashita." My coworkers, Japanese and Oklahoman alike, thought this was hilarious. The translation boils down to "I thought it was Sunday," but I think the combination of my acting and bad Japanese was what sent my section into chuckles. I was forgiven.

Waking up late threw my whole schedule off, and to top it off the weather was positively Oklahoman. It was sunny in the morning, then it rained a little before lunch, then it was sunny again, then it snowed so heavily that we couldn't see one hundred feet outside the office window, then a wintery mix and arctic wind battered us on the way home. Call me a pansy if you will, but it was too cold to put my feet on the floor. I stayed in bed and watched episodes of Parks and Recreation until it was time to go to taiko.

Now it's Tuesday again. I was on time to work, read a couple of letters, and I wrote this lengthy-derriere blog post. My friend Michie, a teacher with whom I worked at a junior high school, is being transferred to a different city for a full-time teaching position. Dara, Kim and I are going to meet Michie at Kameoka's most popular Italian restaurant, Louisiana Mama. You read that right.

If you'll excuse me, I have some over-eating to do.