Thursday, August 05, 2004

Slimy... yet satisfying

So, okay, dinner with Sayuri was at a sushi restaurant, not at her house, and we went dutch, but it was still a fun evening out. This restaurant, I've never seen anything like it. The preparation area is in the center, with a conveyor belt round about. Patrons sit at stools or in booths adjacent to the conveyor belt. Sushi is served in small portions on small plates that travel around the belt. When you see something you like, you pick it up from the belt. The plates are marked with prices corresponding to the food served on them, anywhere from 100 to 550 yen per plate, and when you're finished, the waiter/waitress comes and counts up your plates, and hands you the bill. I didn't try anything on the more expensive plates, and found that three plates plus some potato wedges (potato wedges and sushi? yes, potato wedges and sushi) was filling. Sayuri was surprised that I got full so quickly, but I'd also eaten a couple of pieces of sushi from two different plates she'd selected. I explained as well that when I travel, my appetite gets disturbed; in a month or so I will probably eat more. So my whole meal, including "orange juice" (which was more like orange-ade, if you ask me) came to 540 yen, which is quite reasonable. The sushi itself was delicious... except maybe the squid. It wasn't like calamari I've had before, it was just strips of squid meat. The taste wasn't objectionable, but the meat was tough to bite into and a bit slimy... wet raincoats come to mind. Everything else was oishi (say it with me now: "oh-ee-shee").

Sayuri isn't fluent in English, but there's very little I can't explain to her if I choose the right words. When we sat down at our table, there was a small covered bowl with stuff inside. She used her chopsticks and removed some of the stuff and put it on a small plate for herself. "Vinegar," she explained.
I looked inside. "Vinegar?"
"Vinegar," she repeated.
I smelled it. "Oh, ginger?"
She paused. "Oh, yes! Ginger!"
So some words she gets mixed up, and her pronunciation is not completely correct, but talking with her is a breeze compared to the folks at the Yokota BOE. She wants me to correct her "broken English," and I'm willing to oblige. We discussed briefly the difference between the English F and the Japanese F. In English, we bite our lower lip very lightly—perhaps it's more correct to say that we press our upper teeth against our lower lip, so that the F sound takes on a slight whistle. In Japanese, the sound is similar to the way some Americans (in the South?) pronounce W: "fwhite," for example. Like making an H sound with pursed lips... like blowing out a candle.... In any case, the teeth are completely uninvolved. I'd been telling her about Poppa and Kreg and how Poppa grew up with wide open spaces on the plains of Texas, while Kreg had grown up in the mountains of Vermont and the, um, hills of Syracuse, and how each of them felt most comfortable in those environs with which they were most familiar, da da da... and she said, "Are they fine?" I couldn't quite tell if that was what she'd asked, and it seemed like a strange question since I hadn't said anything about either of them being ill, but once I confirmed that that was what she'd actually asked, and convinced her that "Are they fine" is grammatically correct, I explained the slight difference in pronunciation... but I'm getting boring.

Moving along then!

We'd been sharing the same small bowl of potato wedges, and after picking a couple out with my fingers, I noticed that she was using her chopsticks, so I used mine as well. Then I remembered something. I asked her if I should be using the opposite end of my chopsticks to remove the potato wedges from the bowl, and when she understood what I was asking, she shook her head. "No, no." So I thought maybe that bit of social propriety was out of place in this setting.
A bit later, she asked who taught me to use chopsticks. "No one," I said. She looked amazed. I told her that I went to a Chinese restaurant, and on the paper sleeve for the chopsticks were printed instructions on how to use the chopsticks. So I examined the instructions and eventually taught myself. She asked who taught me to use the opposite end of the chopsticks for the communal dishes. I shrugged. "The internet." I explained that they'd also taught us a few things about Japanese etiquette at the Tokyo orientation. She said, "Japanese know this, but you are American! So we are surprised you know this."

I asked Sayuri later if there is anyplace in Nita where one can buy Nintendo games. "No," she said, "for that, you need to go to Matsue." Shoot. Matsue, the prefectural capital, is an hour's drive away, and I don't know how far by train. I'll be up there this weekend, but I don't yet have money to burn. I told her that I want to buy Japanese Game Boy games so I can learn Japanese. She said that her niece and nephew like to play Nintendo games, and mentioned something about me meeting them, and trying out each other's games.

In four days, I've memorized all of the hiragana. <pat self on back> But I think I understand what people mean when they say that the katakana are more immediately useful. I can pronounce Japanese words written in hiragana now, but I have no idea what they mean. (And, much to my frustration, most everything Japanese is written in kanji characters, which pronunciation cannot be determined solely by sight.) But at the supermarket, some product names are written in katakana, and often katakana words sound similar to the foreign words from which they are derived. For instance, "ka-me-ra" is camera. So I'll give myself a week or so to let the hiragana sink in deeper (right now I am very slow), and then work on the katakana. But starting with the hiragana may have increased my clout in the office. <shrug> At least everyone acted all impressed.

Oh, and the clothes dried just fine (albeit stiffly), and I found fabric softener at the store today. This product brand LION, apart from other brands, includes on the back of their products a very brief English description: this one says "Fabric Softener," and that's good enough for me. If I counted correctly last night, this washing machine goes through three rinse cycles, so I'll have to hit it after the second one, right?
Another thing about this washing machine is that it does this funny little dance at the beginning, shifting the load around to determine its weight and how much water it should use. The washing machines I've used in the past have all had manual settings for the water amount. And it only uses cold water. One less thing to worry about, I suppose.

Mmm, sleepy now. Time to pull my bed out of the closet. :) (I'll explain that one later.)

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