August 20, 2005

Examining the Cultural Divide, or Hung Out to Dry

Revisiting the past two weeks of being back in Berkeley, I have found through much introspection (this done while hanging seemingly endless loads of laundry on my 7th floor balcony) that there is much to think about. But what is there to say?

In the States, I was asked of my experience, "What is Japan like?" or "How was Japan?" as if this experience sizes with that of seeing the newest production of Thorton Wilder's "Our Town." Granted these questions are safe conversation starters, and show signs of caring about the fact that I am still alive even while not present, I find the project of answering them to even the slightest degree of vividness to be immeasurably complex. The twenty hour plane trip, with a four hour layover in Hong Kong, highlights the difficulty in "bridging" the two cultures. It would be one long bridge...

So, to start off, let's start with the first meal of the day. Breakfast. Back at home I often eat something like this (photo courtesy of Albany's most delectable and indelibly retro eatery, The Royal Cafe):

Of course the breakfast that followed this brilliantly-baked scone and coffee, a Greek egg white scramble, was worth a thousand pictures (all of which are witheld due to photographer's hunger and said breakfast's unbearably warm, appetizing smell). Now I am back in Japan, and though the traditional breakfast foods here offer much in terms of fighting colon cancer, they lack in certain transcendental qualities of the American breakfast, i.e. tastiness, hardiness, texture, and just plain (or with raisins) goodness:

For those of you who are new to this type of food, it is called natto, which has now become a dietary staple for me in Japan. I look at all the spiderweb-like goop, the snotty residue that sticks to the beans, to one's chopsticks, one's chin, and one's napkin, and think that this must be the culinary equivalent of the Tao--a continuous substance that runs through all of life, interfusing everything it touches. Tell me it doesn't look like the food of the Gods...Go ahead, tell me...

After breakfast has been consumed and the appropriate cleanup processes enacted, I ride my bike for 30 minutes through the 32 degree (Celsius) Wakayaman humidity across the Kii River to a new shopping mall, wherein lies my second source of pleasure for the day: foreign beer. At home, this little expedition of mine means very little, or perhaps sounds a tad absurd. This is not your 3 minute drive to Beverages and More for a six pack of anything brewed on the face of this earth. I am talking about my sense of worth in the world (read: Wakayama) here, folks: Corona, Bass, Chimay, Grolsch, Leffe, and more--all priced outrageously high. Biking home through the Kii River's stubborn headwinds (it seems that all wind in Japan blows directly against the path of the determined gaijin) with 30$ worth of beer (just enough to get drunk) in a plastic bag, I negotiate every turn, bump (there are many), and reckless taxi driver as I make my way home through the streets of Wakayama. The bottles clink a heavy, full-of-beer-don't-break-me kind of sound. I make it home, sopping with sweat, my hand shaking from holding the heavy bag of beer in my right hand the whole way, and now it's time to shower.

For lunch it was a peanut butter and jelly sando-weechi, a pear, and some beer. Boring, yes. Then off to the gym for some bench press and a conversation in Japanese about San Francisco's weather, the American diet, and the more "unmentionable" gym topics of conversation that I am glad I don't understand completely.

At night, I decided to get fancy as well as beef up on protein. Tofu steaks batter-fried with shrimp and teriyaki glaze, kimchee and chicken breast stir fry, salad, rice, many beers, and naturally natto! Then for desert, it was my 5$ bottle of Chimay and a wonderful, air-conditioned evening. I read a bit of "On the Road" (almost off that road) and a page or two from "The Oxford History of Christianity." That was my first day back in Japan.

On Monday, I am back at school with these kids... V ( ^ ^ ) V

If only every day could be spent camping, or at least in a lodging in some vast wilderness. I would go there. It would be lovely...


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