Sunday, October 19, 2003

I had my first ride on a super crowded Tokyo train the other night. It was after rush hour (although that is sort of a difficult statement to make, since it is pretty much always rush hour--a lot of Japanese don't get home til midnight) or sometime around 9pm, and I was meeting a friend for dinner. I walked out onto the platform and was surprised to see the train literally overflowing with people. I thought "Shit, now I'm REALLY going to be late" (I had gotten turned around changing train lines in one of the labyrinthine train stations). But then I saw a guy just sort of--to use the inverse of the basketball term--box his way onto the train. So I followed suit. I walked up to a door which seemed managable. The people were hanging out but noone had their feet on the platform. I turned around and used the doorframe to help push myself back into the crowd. I was quite pleased with myself for having squeezed onto what seemed to be an impossibly full train, only to be reminded of how inexperienced I was when I realized that about 25 more people were able to squeeze onto the train before the doors closed. There were 5 people between myself in the door I first came through, so I actually I ended up right in the middle of the train, rather than hanging out the door as I had been initially!

Thursday, October 09, 2003

I just read something that may help explain why young Japanese are so stylish and why they seem to seek unique looks: akanukeru means “to remove the dirt and become clean,” but the author uses it to describe the transformation of high school girls from students who all wear the same black uniforms to individuals with unique styles. It may be this abrupt transition that prompts so many young people to seek out an individual look.

For about $5 I had a small salad, 2 burger patties and a fried egg in a tomato sauce, a bowl of rice, and miso soup. I was quite pleased with the deal, and enter this as evidence against the stereotype of Japan as unliveably expensive. I have found that eating out at the numerous little holes in the walls is incredibly cheap—cheaper even than cooking at home!

It is interesting seeing Westerners on the street. First of all, there is no missing each other because we usually stick up above everyone else, and our coloring is so light in comparison to the sea of jet-black hair around us. For some reason, I feel like we tend to look at each other with less than friendly expressions. I always expect other westerners to talk to me just because of the way I look, and I always wait for it and then sigh in relief, although I don’t know what the big deal is. I guess I just don’t want them to pop my little bubble of cultural immersion. Maybe we’re all thinking the same thing, and that’s why we look at each other so malevolently.

Eyebrows. Japanese have some issues with their eyebrows. Apparently, most Japanese seem to think that their eyebrows are too thick, because in my students, I have noticed a sizable proportion who either pluck or shave their eyebrows. Some women pluck to the point that they must fill in with make-up pencil. The result of all the plucking is that most Japanese have what appear to be regular eyebrows, surrounded by a stubble of plucked hairs that are growing back in.

Fried lettuce. Saw my first fried lettuce today. It was presented as an example of a meal at one of the better vending machine restaurants I know. For those of you familiar with Tempura, the lettuce leaves, which numbered three and were perfectly flat (albeit plastic) were apparently deep fried in Tempura batter in the Japanese style. An interesting and somewhat counterproductive alternative to the common Western conception of salad.

Suped-up scooters. I have noticed a number of young men riding around in biker-dude regalia, atop black commuter-style Honda scooters. These low-slung, long scooters are perfect for a dude to slouch back in or carry his “biker bitch” on. They are generally outfitted with special “pipes” that make them sound more like their Harley inspirations.

I had a nice day of sightseeing around Tokes. I went all the way into the heart of the beast, and I barely made it out alive. Actually, the place we went was very relaxing and a nice change of pace. It was the Imperial Palace, which is a huge circular plot of land surrounded by moats and walls and guardhouses in the old Japanese tradition. There are a ton of perfectly manicured little Japanese pine trees and nice short-cut grass upon which a number of bums were sitting. It was quiet and fresh-aired, and generally like a cleaner, quieter, prettier, more relaxing, and bigger version of Central Park, except for the fact that an obsolete semi-religious monarch’s residence occupies the majority of the property and is surrounded by medieval defenses and stone-faced imperial guards armed with the latest in non-firearm weaponry.

I took a ton of pics and actually wore out my cammie's batt's, so I had to switch over to my wicked-cool phone camera, which is truly a marvel the thing has a ton of functions that turn pics into neg's and three-d and "sketches' and b 'n' w and all that jazz, but I need to buy a cable to connect the phone to the computadora so I can load them son's onto the web. I rode the train a fair bit today, and took some video and such of that, which I think turned out right nice.

Friday, October 03, 2003

On my day off, I went down to Chinatown and walked around with a friend. We inspected each steaming pot of pork buns closely before finally coming to a decision to try one. It was pretty good, but not nearly as good as the ones I had in DC at a Dim Sum restaurant. The Lonely Planet was right to forewarn us about high hopes for the food in Chinatown. I ended up spending almost $20 on food I wanted to try as we strolled around. We also bought a bag of chestnuts, which were a different experience from the nicely cracked-open variety found on every New York City street corner in winter. These Chinatown chestnuts were uncracked. However, they did give us a tiny little floppy plastic opener tool, which took a bit of the strain off our sore thumbnails. We looked like a couple of apes trying to use a computer as we hunched over this mysterious tool and the slippery round nuts.

After Chinatown, we headed over to Landmark Tower, the tallest building in Japan at 69 stories. Although the height is not terribly impressive (probably a result of the fact that tall buildings are more difficult to build in Japan, where the country is bobbing up and down on four or five tectonic plates), the elevator was amazing. All the elevators in Japan are incredibly fast and smooth. One is hard-pressed to detect the slightest acceleration or deceleration. In fact, that particular elevator is the fastest in the world. It achieved speeds of 45 miles per hour, I believe. It was also an interesting experience in that we rode the elevator amongst a group of fifteen or twenty primary school children, who were unchaperoned, save for the elevator attendant, who recited a lengthy monologue directly into the button for the 30th floor.

One of the funnier slips I have made in class occurred yesterday. While I often begin laughing at students when they emit their funny sounds of confusion: “ah! Ehhhhhh?”, I am usually able to turn laughs into fairly passable smiles of supportive enthusiasm, to which the students respond well. Yesterday, I was barely able to suppress a howl, however. The lesson involved making plans, and we were practicing making a reservation on a tour. I said the sentence: How long will it take to finish the whole tour? several times, but the student was having a great deal of difficulty repeating it: “I...long how...will take...it...ehhhh?” After several repetitions of the phrase, I mistakenly asked: How long will it take to finish the whore tool? The students, of course, looked utterly bewildered as I chuckled at my inadvertent humor.

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