Life with Subtitles

~ Friday, October 10, 2003
I am reading this terrible book now. The Crimson Petal and the White. I am nearly done. It's about 200-300 pages too long at around 850 pages. It's supposed to be this pseudo-Victorian novel. Which it is, insofar that there are lots of uninteresting descriptions of poverty and the writer feels compelled to address the reader directly. Take a prostitute/governess, a madwoman in the attic, a pompous millionaire, add a rags to riches plot, a dash of London soot, stir vigorously and you get a melodramatic novel longing to be one part Dickens and one part bodice ripper. It just ends up reading like a bad erotica story where you skim until you get to a juicy part, but there is no juicy part really. The love scenes are uninspired and in no way romantic, or even as a last resort to get attention, graphic.

Somehow, I have kept reading this novel, even with it's unsympathetic characters, most of which really do nothing for the plot or die young, and are boring socialites or Bible thumpers anyway. I keep hoping something will happen that's interesting, or at least sexy, but it has failed to surface. About half way, I had read so far that I hated to admit defeat and know I had wasted at least 8 hours of my time. So, here I am 50 pages from the end. I have taken to skim reading just to get it over with.

When I read the reviews, it had really mixed ones. Some reviews I've read loved it while others hated it. It even has rave reviews from Publishers Weekly and Kirkus, to name a few. But, a close friend of mine --whose reading choices I trust-- was reading it, so I thought I'd try it. In the end, I must say I am with the people who are not fond of it. However, I disagree that its as trashy as a Harlequin romance. --I should be so lucky!
~ Tuesday, October 07, 2003
One of the best things about living abroad is that you meet people who are from all over the world and get to try out some new foods, music, dances, and just see the basic ways that people interact differently...always interesting. So, this Saturday was Brazilian Night.

A big group of us English teachers went to this excellent Brazilian restaurant in Nagoya. The food is served buffet style and you can gorge yourself on Brazilian BBQ, meaning juicy beef, sausages, chicken. As well as being able to stuff yourself on beans and rice, tropical fruit, and various other side dishes, including one not so Brazilian--pizza.

Once we had eaten ourselves into a food coma, the band started. They played samba, bosa nova, salsa, even La Bamba. The owner, a very energetic Brazilian man in his 70's started teaching me the steps to each dance. So, we were spinning and shaking and shimmying. I was having such a great time and I dragged up several of my girlfriends to dance too. We were all dancing and giggling, trying to look as sexy as we could spinning and following all the steps. It was so exhilarating!

The owner, Didi was impressed with my dancing and came and sat down next to me. We chatted for a few minutes in Japanese about Brazil, samba and bosa nova, and punctuated with him telling me I am beautiful and pecking me on the lips. If had not been old enough to be my grandfather, I would have felt differently, but it was endearing. And after 2 years of being in a country where people rarely even kiss their near and dear, refreshing to experience unbridled warmth and flirtation. Ah, the Latin soul!

Barry just stood there shaking his head as for the 10th time Didi ran up to me and begged us not to leave. "Stay here and dance. You don't have to go!" Then grabbed me told me "Ahhh. Beautiful!" and kissed me on the lips. A shocked Japanese couple looked at me, then looked at Barry like, "What are you going to do? He's kissing your girlfriend!" Barry just looked at them and shrugged his shoulders and laughed at me again.
~ Thursday, October 02, 2003
Yesterday I was taking a little break and went to the lovely park next to my school to enjoy a little peace and quiet and the fabulous fall weather we are having. However, just as more often than not, I was disturbed by a gaijin sighting. This time it was a small troupe of 4th grade boys who spotted me. "Wha! Gaijin!" I heard one of them say from the clump of bushes behind me. "Hello!" "Hello," I replied. "WHA, IT TALKED!" one boy exclaimed in shock. You'd have thought a rock had just spoken to him. "Amerikajin kana?" asked his friend. They shouted from the bushes, "Are you American?" "Yes, I am American," I shot back in Japanese.

I was not in the mood to be treated like Nessie or Bigfoot, so I sort of tried to enjoy myself by ignoring them. Especially since they couldn't seem to come out from hiding, as if I were going to eat them like some pale-eyed witch out of the Grimm Brothers. They continued to shout though, "What's your name?" and random snippets of conversation as one boy bragged to the other that he could speak English, "Nice to meet you!" he said triumphantly. His friend was impressed. Somehow they had no clue that I understood every word they were saying.

The they started this weird chant as if they were calling a cat or had found a baby bird fallen from its nest and wanted to show all their friends, "Gaijin, gaijin, gaijin, gaijin." "There's a gaijin over here!" they shouted to an eager friend joining them. Then they started rolling acorns from the bushes under my feet as if they were going to feed me or draw me out of hiding. I really wanted to say, "What are you squirrels?" (I don't get to use that trivial piece of Japanese vocabulary enough.) Soon they got bored and ran off; leaving me partly amused and partly traumatized. And in the l'esprit d'escalier, made me wish I had told them I eat children.
~ Tuesday, September 30, 2003
Last night Barry and I stopped in front of a convenience store downtown to chat with our friend Adam, who we kept running into. So, as we were talking I was people watching. First, a young guy wearing a three-piece, nicely taylored suit rode by on his bicycle. That wasn't strange, I see salarymen all the time riding around on bikes. However his headgear was a tad out of place--he was wearing a hand-towel on his head! At first I thought it was just a funny hat, but after he rode by I could see where he had knotted it in the back.

The next weird thing we saw was a ubiquitous, middleaged salaryman buying pantyhose. Convenience stores here are about the best thing ever. They have everything from sushi and 120 kinds of drinks (no joke) to hair gel and pantyhose. So, this guy was looking through the hose. He finally goes up to ask the woman working the register a question. So, they stood there for 5 minutes considering several pairs before he bought one. So, our converstaion then was puzzling out who they were for. Barry didn't trust a Japanese man to do anything as liberated as pick up a pair of pantyhose on the way home for his wife. He said, "Let me put it this way, would you trust me to buy you a pair of pantyhose?" I told him I would, but I would most likely tell him exactly what I wanted. "Well, then you wouldn't need to ask for help would you?" -Point! But, we also decided if they were for the guy, then he also would know what he is looking for and wouldn't need assistance. I decided they must have been for his mistress at the hostess bar.
Today, I saw that our school made the papers for yesterday's lesson in bicycle safety. Now aren't you impressed!
~ Monday, September 29, 2003
This morning I came to school and found a strange sight and intriguing sound. First as I rounded the corner toward my school, lovely Nagara Kokou, I heard these tinkling sounds. First I thought it was windchimes. When I got inside the gates of my school, I thought it sounded like someone playing random notes on a xylophone in the music room of the junior high right next door. Then when I actually looked over I noticed, it wasn't that at all. It was a group of about 5 men in yellow safety vests and matching baseball hats, accompanied by the home-ec teacher. They were were doing a safety check. Part of which was to test the bells of all the 800 or so bicycles that my students ride to school everyday. It made a strange and delightful sort of accidental symphony.
~ Friday, September 26, 2003
Last night I went out with my new friend Aiko. She lived in Australia for a year and speaks wonderful English. She is also a really interesting person. She went to art school and she studied how to make these traditional Japanese paintings that are made like Navajo sandpaintings, but from ground up colored stones. She works at the local history museum and likes to talk about art, traveling, books, and movies.

We had a great time talking about our lives before now, including a funny chat about our first loves and Kindergarten boyfriends. (We got hushed in the tiny little restaurant we were in for giggling too much.) We talked about traveling and where we want to go next, live next, see next.

It's been hard for me here to meet people I feel like I have much to talk about with. There are lots of people that I love, but very few people that I would consider kindred spirits. I feel like I am often struggling to keep my head above conversational water. But, I don't feel like that at all with Aiko. I feel relaxed and free. The conversation just goes on it's own and then spills over into something new and fantastic to discover. It's always wonderful to find a new friend, to feel that excitement of getting to know someone, where they have been and where they are going.

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