Tag Archives: hamburger

By means of steam one can go from California to Japan in eighteen days

Firmly into the first week of summer’s taskless days of work, tonight is exam night at school, which sets my schedule for me. You have undoubtedly read it here before, whether you remember it or not: sit at the desk for a long time. Take a couple five minute breaks to go read something to the class, then come back, then sit around for a little while, then go home. Today I have written this, eaten a half a sandwich and a small hamburger, drank a Blizzard-L soda, and started reading Jurassic Park. My row is the one with the air conditioner, and I’m almost cold! When I get home tonight, I’m cooking some chicken and buttered peppery corn. Life is good, cause I say it is. Even though outside it feels like you are covered with a wet towel in the jungle.

Sometimes I can’t help but wonder if it is time to retire the curious Japanese shit of the week section of my weekly entries here and replace it with a “things which probably used to seem weird but that I can no longer differentiate as such” section. For example:

-Right now there is a man squatting down on the ground in front of the office refrigerator–in much the same way a resident of this country would squat to take a dump in an old-fashioned toilet–drinking milk tea straight out of the carton. This is basically fine with me.
-Last week I ate a “choco cookie” ice cream sundae at an ice cream cafe, and it contained yogurt and corn flakes.
-Later in the week I went to a “darts bar” (this is a bar based on the gimmick of playing darts) to play darts, and the bar had a cover charge for staying there past 9 PM, which they did not mention until we were paying our bill as we left (the cover charge included a free dish of crackers and nuts).
-Just the other night, I watched part of a show on TV where a group of eight people stayed at a restaurant for over fourteen hours, with the goal of guessing which 10 of the 86 items on the menu were the restaurant’s top sellers, and in order to file an item as a guess, they had to first order and eat it.
-About an hour ago, I was cut off on my walking path to work by a remarkably sized turtle, on whose shell was painted in white the telephone number of some salesman.

Does this kind of shit happen back home? I feel like it may, in some sort of waking hallucinated nightmare, but I can barely even goddamned remember anymore. I know the TV was a lot less consistently entertaining, and I don’t remember any turtles.

I wonder occasionally what my Pittsburgh life would have been like if we actually lived in a place like Kobe, with essentially limitless entertainment, drinking, and dining options–a place where our late-night post-bar food choices may have rested outside the realm of “Laffy Taffys from the Uni-Mart.” Every time I try to let it play out all I can see is destruction: handfuls of breaded, spicy chicken, video games, mayhem, cheap liquor, public intoxication. Basically the same as Pittsburgh. But it wouldn’t have been exactly the same.

In fact, life here in Japan was really different and strange until it just wasn’t as different and strange, which is becoming a bit strange itself. This all manifests itself in a variety of ways. About five months ago I finally got the most efficient route home from work down. That cut what I used to perceive as a 50 or 60 minute trip from office chair to apartment couch down to precisely 38 minutes, if I seriously haul it through the station to the gates for my island. It seems fine to me that I now can estimate my trip times to the minute, and do not in the slightest ever consider the fact that the trains might be late, because they aren’t. I now pay phone bills with my fiberoptic rolled into the current plan for maximum savings. I am okay with the fact that I pay my bills by taking them to the convenience store. I renew my transportation passes without incident, with cash, by sliding upwards of three hundred dollars at a time into a vending machine. Again, this is no problem.

We schedule packages for redelivery by phone, and order pizzas, books, playing cards, and trinkets over the Internet. Often times the men bring the things we’ve bought to the door, and we pay them for them right there. We juggle point cards like professionals, transfer money home at the best exchange rates through bank transfers on the ATM, and even know the best routes to a variety of restaurants we have learned to call our favorites, depending on the desired cuisine. I can pinpoint the locations of at least eight video game stores within easy walking distance of Sannomiya station. I can cook gyoza like Emeril Lagasse, and I don’t even need to say BAM while I do it. I own and carry more things that are electronic and magnetic than things that aren’t.

And still there are some things: what is this random mysterious package of pickled food items for and in what meal context am I supposed to use it? How do I reserve a bowling lane at the Round 1 game center? How and why are FUNKY MONKEY BABYS still performing the same song on TV that they were last August? Why are there so many Pachinko parlors? What the hell is the deal with this variety show talent person who dresses like a school girl with her eyebrows shaved off and replaced with huge ridiculous fake ones, and is she actually a man cause I think she might be?

ON SUNDAY SOME MEN ARE BRINGING A BOOK SHELF TO OUR APARTMENT THAT WE BOUGHT ON A WEBSITE
It’s true.
HOW ABOUT THAT

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No such thing as a stranger

WHEREAS one cannot possibly consider an abundance of space an important comfort; and WHEREAS the value of an experience may not necessarily be based on its relative uniqueness; and WHEREAS the mere act of looking at something is critical enough to necessitate three-hour-plus-each-way road and rail trips; BE IT RESOLVED that going to Yoshino, near Nara, in Japan, to view the cherry blossoms before the following day’s impending rain blows them away, is A GOOD EXPERIENCE and BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that it is FUCKING DUMB. APPROVED, on this, the 14th day of April in the year 2010, by unanimous action of the Brandon, at his desk, fingers a-tappin’.

Racked with early Saturday-morning distractions (weird guys in spandex suits fighting monsters on TV, early registration for a Japanese language class, Oreo cookies with milk), we finally leave the house around noon, prepared for a trip that is going to take a while longer than we really figured.

Three-and-a-half hours later, halfway up the mountain, which is split by a winding road illustrated on our complimentary bus map (two-person fare Y700), I start listening to the young couple behind us, both peering out the window, and begin to decipher her Japanese language yelps of glee. They amount to “So pretty! It’s pretty, huh? Really pretty! Wow! Look look! Preeeeeeeetty!” Following this I become acutely aware of the fact that everyone else on the bus, the rolling definition of stuffed to the gills, sardines in a tin can, bursting at the seams, is saying these things too. For fun, I lean over as best as I can to Jessy, and say “IT’S PRETTY NEEEEEEE?????” She is not amused.

This is Yoshino, where “they” say you can see a thousand cherry blossoms in one view, one solitary gaze off into the distance. It would not be a stretch to say that if you were high enough, you could probably also see that many people milling about, waterfall-streaming from the bus drop off and bouncing around like the white dots of a badly received TV signal, pass the Chee-tos. The paths to wherever, where wherevers are places that you would be happy to unroll your tarp or blanket and sit, are lined with stores, restaurants, and (not) surprisingly enough, the houses of the poor bastards who have to actually live here and deal with the throngs of humanity pulsing in every spring for their shot at that hundred million yen view.

Salmon denying instinct, we push against the flow at one place where they’re grilling sticks of chicken meat slathered in sweet sauce on little metal grates over hot coals (the beloved yakitori). I can’t tell if it is an established business. I am leaning toward “some guy’s house” because the coal pits look kind of like emptied-out flowerbeds, and I think I can see into his porch. For a few hundred yen, I embrace the flavor. Later on down the line we stop into what actually is some guy’s concrete-paved yard, outside anyway, and feast on the goodies of the full-sized flat grill/deep fryer he’s standing behind. Hot, crisp tofu donuts (just like the ones from Kyoto that we love so much) and some sort of sauced, deep-fried tofu wedge open the way, and then I lust explicitly for one of the enormous hamburger steaks he has cooking, but the line has become far too long, and we have flowers to look at!

By the time we meet up with the people we know, we have already confusingly walked the perimeter of the village outskirts, cutely arriving atop a hill from which we can easily see the place the bus dropped us (we went north, and now we are south). They are packing up, some of our people, but not before I sample some homemade umeshu (this is a kind of sweet plum liquor) from a paper cup. I contemplate how early these people must have had to leave to get here, and then another friend arrives, having been ground to meat in the transport gears of Kansai, opting for the cable car instead of our bus route. Finally we’ve made it nowhere, and as I pass through a nearby cemetery confusingly littered with a handful of lost Yu-Gi-Oh cards, I figure looking ahead to the mountainside must be that hundred million yen view, sakura everywhere I can see, so long as I tilt my head up a bit to exclude the high-and-tight power lines. They are every shade of red and pink and lavender and white and eggshell and slightly pink eggshell and slightly eggshell red and all of those other ones and the hillside looks like hundreds of flowery birdshot wounds. It is pretty, and I left the house so long ago, and I figure that next spring I will find just one tree close to home, stick my head up inside the branches, and open my eyes. I joke with another person that I will merely tape glossy printouts of the sakura to my ceiling, which would be funny if I hadn’t been so close to considering what fun it would be to have such a colorful ceiling.

After an hour or two, which is all we have left if we want to catch the last bus to the station, excitingly departing at 6:00 PM, we make our way down the side of the hill past people who appear to have made the decision to wait it out, that pesky nightfall, and defy it like pitchfork villagers with rackets and badminton birdies, bags of Calbee consommé double punch potato chips, and, by now, mountains of empty beer cans, be gone knave!

My idea of food-based revelry comes to pass back in Osaka, with the most traditional of Japanese foods: Indian. I have been here before, and order the set and a half-price beer–spicy chicken curry and hot naan has tasted this good before, but not today until now.

We did it though, for the sake of doing it, for saying we did it, which I tell myself I am pleased of even though I am certain it is the same reason every other person in Japan went there. I wonder, have they seen sakura before? Is this their first time to Yoshino? I imagine a man, who, unable to deal with the concept of himself, attaches long strips of Velcro to his arms and fingers like jellyfish feelers and snaps at everyone wearing fuzzy coats just to pull them near, to be surrounded by a pulsing blob of mankind, and stands for a few hours, and decides to do it again soon. I am scoping out my tree already, a nice one with a view of my balcony.

HEY WANNA KNOW SOME THINGS ABOUT JAPAN THAT I FOUND ODD THIS WEEK?
– Too bad I don’t feel like thinking of any today
YEP THAT’S ABSOLUTELY EVERY LAST THING

As promised, classes have definitely begun. I had my first set of them at high school yesterday, the same awkward affairs of my arrival but honed by a wiser and more experienced hand: group work from the get-go, a brazen and unabashed class devoted entirely to Me, and things about Me and forcing the kids and their groups to come up with questions for Me dealing with things that pertained to Me. I do it so that to balance the karma, next week will be solely about Them, and Them talking about Themselves endlessly, the things They like, hate, and are indifferent to. I will use it as an opportunity to get their names (in both Japanese and English lettering) on papers with their student numbers, information cards of a Total Student Profile that I can consult easily any time I am tired of referring to a student as “yes, please” or “you.”
As we move forward I shall subject my kids to the rigors of my first year of work, those poor original guinea pigs, with all of the disgusting chaff cleanly nipped away and in its place polished shiny grains, morsels of streamlined edutainment, entercation, twenty-five minute action-packed fun-fests filled with me drawing cute elephants on the board and informing the girls that if they want to know my exact height (180.34 cm) or my birthday (I’m a Scorpio) that they had better bring presents.

My night school students, I am sure, will continue to not care about anything except cell phone e-mail.

Still, even though it’s initially a bit nerve-wracking to know I go up on display again, I can’t help but catch myself having fun from time to time, watching the minutes breeze by, enjoying how effortless it feels now to stretch two sentences on a class outline to an entire period, to gesture wildly, write Brandon in huge letters on the board without screeching the chalk.

WHEREAS I am finally in a position to carry out the duties of my job description; and WHEREAS spring pushes forward, leaving the fallen petals of the cherry trees in its balmy wake; and WHEREAS I am invited to two different school drinking parties in the next two days; and WHEREAS I finally start Japanese lessons in May; and WHEREAS we have some pals from Canada visiting the country soon; and WHEREAS I ordered an eBook reader and will finally be able to browse English-language manga on the train; and WHEREAS everything old is new again; BE IT RESOLVED that things are pretty NICE and GOOD; APPROVED, on this, the 14th day of April in the year 2010, by unanimous action of the Brandon, at his desk, fingers done tappin’.

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The early dawn, the shades of time

The conversations of my world occupy a strange battleground between background noise and inescapable linguistic immersion: at times so impenetrable as to be no greater than trying to understand the language of crows, and at other times glimmering with rare brilliance.  This is what nothing sounds like, this is what everything sounds like.

I try not to talk too much about school in here, but today at my school for students needing special attention in regards to their visual and mental capacities (as close as I can put it to the Japanese, in English), I was shown how to do a special folk dance by three kids, and how to do the “radio stretch,” which you may be familiar with from seeing a huge field of Japanese youth doing stretches while a voice barks out over some series of speakers.  They taught me so that on Saturday I can attend their school’s sports day and participate in the activities. At lunch in the cafeteria we had Mapo Doufu, a dish consisting almost entirely of huge chunks of tofu, which I somehow ate happily and totally enjoyed (one of my fellow educators suggested a way I could cook it at home and make it more spicy than the tame version they served to the kids here, as “Mapodon,” or this dish over rice, or in other words, right up my alley). I drink milk out of a glass bottle here. Just now a little girl and her teacher came in and sang a song then the girl used the keyboard and I listened to it say those mechanical letters outloud, once more with every tap of a key, a a a a a a a a i i i i i i i i i u u u u u u u u u u u u u e e e e e e e o o o o o. One teacher says she will be my mother while I am here, and brings me cookies and shows me how to use the hot green tea machine. A small boy in a wheel chair asks questions and has full conversations with me about Michael Jackson in better English than several of the teachers can speak. He is completely blind and has the use of three fingers.

My ability for the language waxes and wanes like any sensible moon: today I fully read the two kanji for “densha,” meaning train (電車), and so what if it’s only cause I know them as part of a Japanese TV drama series. The full context I saw them in was as the name of a sports day activity on our program called DENSHA DE GO! which barely means anything, but pretty much translates into GO BY TRAIN! It is a game for kindergarteners, and involves them I think holding onto each other and running around like a big train. I will also see how to play “floor volleyball,” and “soft baseball,” which are both modifications allowing the sightless to participate in some of the most popular of Japanese sports.

Last night I cooked an honest to goodness double hamburger in my fry pan from some store-purchased after-20:00 half-price ground beef, coated it in black and white pepper for that authentic Japanese burger flavor (really, their burgers are all peppered), then melted shredded cheese on it and nommed it with ketchup. Aside from the occasional ¥320 box of imported Mac and Cheese, it was probably the closest I’ve gotten to replicating the flavor of America for my own tastebuds in the last 47-odd days. I savored every bite, and washed it down with a totally American Yebisu All-Malt Beer and a Caramel Salt Kit Kat.

I’ve put a combined 32 hours of gameplay time into Dissidia: Final Fantasy and Final Fantasy VII: Crisis Core (two PSP games) in the last three weeks or so.  I basically only play on the train, which gives you an idea where most of my (and many Japanese people’s) time goes.  The sick part is how much I love it.

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