my oh-so-normal life

Location: California, United States

There are no random acts. We are all connected. You can no more separate one life from another than you can separate a breeze from the wind. (the five people you meet in heaven)

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Food (Or, what is this?)・食べ物 (何これ?)
For Tea.

I remember when Japanese food was really exotic, something that you couldn’t just get anywhere. Nowadays, you can buy sushi (寿司) in your local supermarket. Times have changed. US eating habits and attitudes toward food have drastically changed over the last fifty years, and I am totally thrilled that I can buy both Asian food and French cheeses at home. But now that I’m back in Asia, I am always amused when I see what the Japanese eat but most of all how Western food is considered in Japan.

You are probably wondering where all this is stemming from. Actually, this started with the breakfast buffet at the hotel. I have a breakfast coupon. (I’m going to be here so long that they actually laminated it which I found quite amusing.) On the back of the coupon, it says, “Western and Japanese style buffet breakfast.” The two buffets are located in two separate parts of the restaurant. The Japanese side is pretty standard Japanese fare: fish, rice, miso soup, seaweed, various Japanese vegetables, pickles, etc. No exotic local foods like those on the breakfast buffet at the Holiday Inn in Sasebo (佐世保). The Western buffet encompasses many things that you would find at an American breakfast buffet such as omelets, fried and scrambled eggs, sausages, ham, etc. However, there are a few things that I have never seen on a breakfast buffet. Take salad for instance. You can also add seaweed, sweet potatoes, and clear Chinese noodles into your salad as they are in the salad bar area. French fries. Now, I will give you different types of potatoes, but personally, I’ve never seen French fries in the States. However, the item that got me thinking about all of this was the “Singapore-style noodles.” Last time I checked, Singapore was in Asia, on the tip of the Malaysian peninsula. How does that qualify as “Western?” I guess that since it’s not Japanese, it has to be on the Western buffet. All of you who have lived in Japan will understand when I say, “Don’t get me started.”

Over the weekend I bought a salad at one of the supermarkets. I could see various types of lettuce and chicken, so I thought it looked like a good choice. The truth is that the salad was very tasty, but it was not what you would expect in an American salad. I have come to expect certain things in Japanese salads: daikon (大根---Japanese radish), corn, even mayonnaise does not surprise me. Here’s what was in my tasty salad: several types of lettuce, chicken, carrots, daikon, cubed potato, sweet potato, and pumpkin, relish corn, green beans, green onion, and peas. Yes, peas. Did I mention that I absolutely *hate* peas? And what are they doing in a salad that’s supposed to be good for you? (Peas are not healthy.) Granted, they’re probably better for you than cake, but ugh!

The Japanese take on food in and of itself is such a dramatic category that it would take a million posts to make a dent. As I mentioned previously, I really like seeing how the Japanese interpret Western food, but traditional Japanese food is also interesting, take festival food for instance. I managed to get photos of some on Sunday near Osaka Castle. If you go to a festival in the US, there are always all kinds of junk food: hot dogs, funnel cakes, cotton candy, ice cream, etc., etc. I’m always somewhat amused because a lot of the Japanese junk food isn’t that bad for you. At any festival, you will find yakisoba (やきそば---noodles with pork, cabbage pickled ginger), okonomiyaki (お好み焼き---commonly described as a Japanese pancake or pizza), yakitori (焼き鳥---grilled chicken on a stick), yakiika (やきいか---grilled squid on a stick), takoyaki (たこ焼き---dough balls with pieces of octopus inside), and more. Not your standard county fair munchies.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

トイレットペーパー (Toilet Paper)

I really thought that after more than five years in Japan, nothing could really surprise me. I was wrong. As I mentioned in my last post, I’m staying in a very swanky hotel in Osaka. I went into the bathroom and was quite surprised at what I saw on the metal piece that covers the toilet paper.

I am a bit of a tree-hugger, so I loved this. If you’ve ever lived in California, you know what I mean. Recycle everything. Even my parents recycle: cans, bottles, plastic, and newspapers. It’s just a fact of life. However, the whole recycling milk cartons to make toilet paper was a new one for me. I love it. It not only surprised me but made me laugh. Posted by Picasa

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Awkward Moments・不快な経験

Inevitably, when people find out that I lived in Japan for several years, they say something along the lines of “What a great experience! Didn't you love living in Japan?” My standard response is: “There are things you love and hate about every place you've ever lived. Don't you agree?”

My biggest issue with living in Japan stems from being a blonde white chick with blue-green eyes. Each time I land in Japan, the discomfort will begin at some point once I've left the airport. Why? When I go through passport control and the agent sees the Japanese writing on my embarkation card, he or she always speaks to me in Japanese. When I clear customs, I always say hello in Japanese, and the agent immediately asks if it's okay to speak Japanese. Once I'm out in “the real world,” the fun begins.

In the three days I have been here, I have had to navigate numerous uncomfortable situations at the hotel. I am staying in a very swanky hotel, and I understand that most of the non-Japanese who stay here do not speak Japanese. So, when I walk up to a staff member, I always make sure that I greet them right away in Japanese. Here's where the awkward bit begins (or at least what I find awkward.) The server/receptionist/bellhop, etc. keeps speaking English to me, and I keep answering in Japanese. At some point, they realize that I really am an Asian Girl, and they end up speaking Japanese to me. (Although, in the past I have had instances where I have carried on an entire conversation with a Japanese person while I am speaking Japanese and the Japanese is speaking English.) My guess is that in the next three weeks the entire staff will recognize me as the Asian girl in a white body. Until that time, I will be stuck with the uneasiness where I continually wonder to myself, “Can’t they see that I'm really Asian????”

This brings me to today's episode. I walked to an electronics store near the Osaka train station (大阪駅) to buy a microphone for my computer. Once I had made my selection, I got in line to pay. There was a young girl (probably between ten and twelve) in front of me with her parents. I could see her sneaking looks at me out of the corner of my eye. So, one time when she was looking at me, I turned my head quickly and said, “こんにちは” (konnichiwa---hello.) She said konnichiwa back to me and then turned to look at her father who was standing behind her as if to say, “Hey, wow! The blonde chick talked to me!” Her father told her, “You should speak to her in English.” Why is it that all Japanese think that all whites are not only English speakers but also Americans? I know that in my case it’s true, but there's a whole world out there. So I told him in Japanese, “But how do you know that I can speak English?” He looked at me and said (in English), “You are right.” I bantered with him in Japanese for a few more minutes, and he told me that my Japanese was really good, but he never actually asked where I was from. Foreigners who speak Japanese are less interesting.

I feel at home in Japan. Actually, I feel more at home in Japan than I have in other places I've lived in the US. So, where does this leave me? Stuck between my feelings of being the Asian girl and the fact that I will never be embraced as such by the Japanese, stuck between two cultures. An awkward place to be.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006


到着しました。I am alive and in one piece in Osaka. I have started to look for some interesting bits of info to send you. I have a feeling that there is a wealth of highlights waiting to be discovered. More on that as I discover new tidbits.

Interesting note: I found out that you can change the settings on the blog so that (supposedly) you do NOT need to sign up in order to make a comment.

Well, all trips have a beginning, and this particular one is no exception. Sometimes I wonder how I end up (put myself?) in the center of a comedy of errors. I also marvel at how lucky I am that things often seem to fall into place and the puzzle pieces all come together in the right order. I swear, I’m a lucky girl.

Let’s just say that I do not always make the smartest decisions. The two days prior to departure had too little sleep and too much alcohol. Monday night’s wine tasting rolled into the wee hours of Tuesday morning. So, at 5:30 a.m. I sit down on the couch to talk to a friend for a few minutes before heading upstairs to bed where I had just set my alarm clock for a whopping one hour of sleep since I want to get to the airport one hour early. I’m sitting cross-legged on one end of the couch facing the other end. All of a sudden, I wake up. It’s grey outside but light. I’m still sitting upright and cross-legged in the same spot. I look at my watch only to discover that it’s 7:30. My flight is at 9. It takes twenty minutes to drive to the airport. I think, “Crap.” Then I think, “Don’t panic yet.” I run upstairs and shower, wash my hair, grab the five things I have listed on a piece of paper so that I don’t forget them and dump them into my carry-on bag. I yell to one of my friends that she needs to get up since we need to leave. She says something about not needing to take a shower so she can sleep a little longer. “No, my flight is in one hour.” Yee gads. As we drive to the airport we are laughing and commenting on what a good time we’d had the night before. Funny, when you only sleep for two hours, you can’t really be hung-over. You’re actually still intoxicated. I guess twenty hours on planes and other forms of transportation should cure that by the time I get there.

Once we arrive at the airport, I grabbed my suitcase and purse. If they couldn’t check my bag, I wouldn’t be able to go. Can you imagine two months in a foreign country with only the items you could fit into a roll-on carryon? Perhaps if I had packed differently....

Luckily, no one was at ticketing, and I ran up saying that I needed to check my bag to Osaka and was promptly told that I had missed the flight as I needed to be there two hours early for an international flight. Um, well, I’m really going to Detroit and then to Osaka. That didn’t matter. I was told that I could be rebooked for the next day. Okay, fine with me! (That’s probably not the typical response in this type of situation.) Well, somehow (magic?) my bag got checked, I grabbed my carry-ons out of the car, picked up my ticket on the way back in, and headed for security. I made it to Motown and onto the flight to Osaka. So, that was the Last Hurrah. Now it’s onto the boring, focused life that I will lead for the next two months. Having lived in Japan before, I am hoping to find a few interesting things to show those of you who haven’t. It will be infinitely more difficult to find odd things for those of you who have lived and traveled Japan, but there’s always the hope of finding something out there. It is Japan after all.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Well, I guess I just need to start this with the fact that I really don’t understand the point of a blog and actually don’t want to put my soul out on the internet. I have seen some blogs that are diaries out there for anyone to read. The writers discuss going to marriage counseling, things they hate about their spouse, etc. I’ve seen some that are very ego-centric. I am way too private for that. Don’t expect any psychoanalysis (of myself or others) coming out of me on this page.

So, why am I doing this you ask? I wanted to leave a comment on my friend’s blog, but you actually have to SIGN UP for a blog in order to leave a comment. Not what I had in mind....

So, where does this leave me? Well, I have been thinking for quite a long time and talking for a short time about writing a book: semi-fiction, based on my life and experiences. I believe that whatever your life is like, that is normal to you. This is the point, the center, from which you make judgments on other people and situations. Other peoples’ lives may seem more or less interesting, exciting, psychotic, random, etc. to you based on your consideration of normal. I think my life is oh-so-normal and maybe even somewhat boring. What got me thinking about this whole situation was a good friend saying, “Nobody does things like that.” He was impressed, but I thought the things I was telling him were pretty banal.

So, where does that leave me with the blog? I will be working in Japan for the next several months and thought as long as I had to sign up, this might be a good way to tell stories to my friends and share some pics. This could be really boring. I’ll be working, studying, exercising, taking photos, and hopefully seeing some friends from the periods I lived in Japan. So, check back in (or not), there might be something interesting to read (or not.)