Really Lost in Translation (like seriously, way, way out there lost)

One night we were walking down the street in Tokyo when a group of Japanese teenagers passed by. They looked like proper enough young lads, dressed in jeans and button down shirts. They were carrying backpacks and school books and I suspected that they were on their way home from a long night of group study. Then Steve and Sebastien started laughing uncontrollably. At first I couldn’t understand why. But then I noticed the hat that one of the lads was wearing, which read EAT SHIT! across the front. The poor kid didn’t even have a clue.

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That’s the thing with Japan. The country is rife with horrible, horrible English translations. A young girl we passed in a train station was wearing a hat that read I <3 Haters, another woman carried a bag that said Tits & Co. in the style of Tiffany & Co. If there’s a vulgar English word, you better believe it has been stitched onto a t-shirt or backpack or baseball cap in Japan. There are probably factories throughout the country mass-producing Valentine’s Day gifts with the words Cunt or Jackass printed across the top just so a young Japanese man can show his special someone that he really cares, in English. Or maybe the Japanese just don’t understand the significance of having a word or phrase plastered across your chest. Americans sure do and they wear their words with pride.

When we were boarding the subway in Osaka I made eye contact with a big black man. When you’re in a foreign country, its comforting to see someone who looks familiar, and most people get really excited. On several occasions Sebastien and I were greeted with a nod from a white or black person, desperate to speak and share in the common bond of not having taken a normal shit in a week.

This man was no different. Once I acknowledged his presence he began shaking his head uncontrollably. Words spewed out of his mouth like a volcano erupting. “Hi, how are you, how do you like it here?” He continued to ask questions without giving us a moment to answer. “Where are you guys from?” he said. Before I could respond he answered for us. “Texas?”

“No,” I said. The only reason he could have thought that was because of my sweater, which said Texas. I bought it because I was cold while waiting for a plane in Lubbock a few years ago. It’s the only sweater I own and I don’t understand why people automatically assume I come from there just because I wear it. Who wears a sweater from the place they are from anyway, except for Canadian backpackers? Most people don’t even like the place where they were born. When I was a kid growing up in Florida I lied and told people I was born in California because I didn’t want to be from there. And no offense Texas, but the sweater doesn’t really attract the right caliber of people.

As we made our way through the country and I kept getting the nod from fellow foreigners, I thought about turning the sweater inside out. I have nothing wrong with the place, I just didn’t want to be mislabeled like the boy who had pussy written on his t-shirt.

 

One night when we were back in New York, we were having dinner with our neighbors, Mike and Tammy. Mike was wearing his Tennessee t-shirt. He told us how he ran into a man at Whole Foods Market who saw his shirt and stopped him because he also went to Tennessee State University. The two chatted for a while and knowing Mike and his kindness, they probably made plans to barbecue together.

“I run into people who went to Tennessee State all the time in this city,” he said with pride.

“I have a Texas sweater and bums are the only people that stop me on the street,” I said.


Hat Tip

I had planned on returning from Japan with an authentic kimono, a life-size Maneki neko (happy cat) and platters of Japanese food plastic replicas to trick my friends when they came over for dinner. But those items weren’t going to fit in my Jansport backpack. So I decided on getting a summer hat. I figured I could fold it up and toss it in a pouch without a problem. The last summer hat I had was made from a fake fur collar that I took off my corduroy jacket to wrap around my head. It wasn’t really a summer hat, although one could argue that the hole in the middle provided a cooling effect to the top of my head. I only wore it to get into the Longchamp Racecourse in Paris for free on Ladies’ Day. At the ticket counter the vendor asked to see my chapeau. I pointed to the bird’s nest atop my head and restrained myself from feverishly scratching at my scalp. “I’m wearing it,” I said. The man shook his head, but I insisted that it was a hat. “Almost,” he said, and finally agreed to let me in.

This time was going to be different, though. There were no tricks up my sleeve. I just wanted a hat. When I mentioned it to Sebastien he suggested that I buy a rice picker hat so I could start a new fashion trend in New York City. I suspected that Sebastien had a limited knowledge of fashion trends and laughed it off, certain that those hats remained in another century.

I was wrong. One morning we were walking down the street in Kyoto when we passed in front of a store with a rack of rice picker hats that called to Sebastien. “Look, here it is,” he said, taking one and placing it on my head. His eyes sparkled. A husband couldn’t have been prouder and I couldn’t understand why. I wasn’t actually serious about wearing the hat. By the looks of it, the thing wasn’t fashionable or even comfortable.

We stood in the doorway for too long because a woman inside of the store began walking towards us. Sebastien pulled out his wallet and the next thing I knew I was the proud owner of the most ridiculous hat (aside from the aforementioned fake hat, of course). ricepickerhat I wore that hat around all day because I had no other choice. It was so big and inflexible that I couldn’t just crumple it up and toss it in my backpack. If I hung it off my back the chin strap choked me and if I held it in my hand I couldn’t reach my camera to snap photos. I quickly started to regret the purchase. I had to lug this flying saucer all over the country from shinkensan to subway, from ryokan to rokka [locker]. It was like a pimple that just wouldn’t go away. I would have thrown it out, but the Japanese don’t believe in garbage cans on street corners. (Surprisingly it was incredibly clean though.)

On the last few days of our trip however, I started to get compliments. A young woman who looked to be in her early twenties approached me in a train station.  “Where did you get that?” she said, pointing to my hat. Her voice shook with desperation. “From a store on the street,” I said and considered just handing it to her. She turned to her friends, a group of backpackers from North America. “She got it on the street,” she yelled, running back to them.

Then, at a hotel in Tokyo, a clerk admired the fine craftsmanship of the hat while placing our belongings behind their concierge desk. “Wow you do not see this hat anywhere,” she said. Very nice.” I beamed with pride at my burden.

I was beginning to think that the hat was a good investment and imagined wearing it around town when I returned home. Maybe I would show it off at a Broadway show or treat it to a stroll through Central Park. But I was reminded of its bulk as I tried to shove it in the overhead compartment on our return flight. I knew if I wore the thing on the subway during rush hour that only one of us was actually going to squeeze on. The hat was just too big for any city.

When we got home I couldn’t even find a proper place to hang it in our tiny apartment. I placed on top of the living room lamp until I cleaned out some clothes in the closet. That’s when it hit me that the hat made a perfect lampshade.


Jesus on the Temple Trail

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When we awoke in Kyoto, Steve, our fearless leader (a.k.a. the only person who took the time to figure out what there was to do in the city) took us on a trail of temples and shrines. First stop was the Tainai-meguri, the womb of a goddess. No, really. At first I thought it was just a bad English translation. But after giving two coins to a Japanese man, he pointed to a stairwell that descended into complete darkness.

“What is this, what’s going on?” I called out hoping someone would respond in English. Sebastien was ahead of me and told me to just hold onto the railway as I walked.

“Are we in the womb?” I said.

“Yes.”

“At least there’s no blood in here,” I said. All things considered it wasn’t as grotesque as I thought it would be. And I’ve seen some disgusting stuff including my own birth. It was an accident. I was playing hookey from school one day and rummaged through my parents’ VHS tapes for something to watch. One of the tapes had my name on it so I thought it’d be fun to check out. It was not. My dad must’ve been positioned right behind the doctor and he made full use of the zoom feature on the camera.

We finally reached a glowing rock and Sebastien told me to make a wish. Technically to make the wish come true I had to spin in either direction. I didn’t want to so I just made the wish and walked out. My wish came true anyway because seconds later we were back outside. “I could get used to these gods,” I said. “They actually listen.”

From there we skipped through the cherry blossoms from shrine to shrine making wishes. I gave my suffering to a piece of paper that I threw into a bowl of water and I gave my knee pain to an ox (although I accidentally rubbed his balls instead of his knees like I was supposed to).

We stopped at Jishu Shrine, the home of the god of love and matchmaking and watched as tourists attempted to secure success in love by walking from one stone to another with their eyes closed.

It was a full morning. But by 11am, my knee was hurting and all I really wanted was an ice cream. But there was no god or goddess for that.

We walked down the steps along Chawan-zaka or Teapot Lane, looking in the various souvenir and tea shops along the way on the hunt for a late morning snack. I saw tourists with ice cream, which momentarily rekindled my faith. But I got distracted and photobombed some Chinese tourists dressed as geishas.

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I figured if the people didn’t like it, they could make a wish to the photoshop god.


The Humility and Humiliation of Slippers

On our second day in Japan I learned why old people walk so slowly: because of their damn slippers. The flimsy plastic shoes offer little or no protection or support and some don’t even stay in place — like every pair of slippers that exists in Japan.

When we arrived in Kyoto we checked into a ryokan, a traditional Japanese inn with public baths, no beds and nothing to eat besides fish. The moment we stepped inside a Japanese man came charging towards us. I thought he was going to tell us that the building was on fire. Instead he just wanted us to take off our shoes before entering the hotel.

The Japanese are obsessed with taking their shoes off as much as American women are obsessed with thong underwear. In Japan there are cubbyholes everywhere for people to leave their shoes before changing into slippers. Sometimes you have to take the slippers off again to sit down for dinner or go into the public bath. You’re even expected to change into a different pair of slippers just to sit on the toilet.

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We all took off our shoes at the entrance and put on the troll-sized slippers that forced us to walk at a slower, more humble pace.


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And I hated it just as much as I hated being forced to wear slippers when I was a kid.

Growing up, my stepfather Stuart always insisted that we wear slippers in the house. He claimed that the sweat from our feet dirtied the carpets. I thought we could solve the problem by turning on the air conditioner because, after all, we lived in South Florida. But Stuart said it cost to much and instead splurged on $3 slippers from Payless for all of us.

Whenever we heard Stuart coming down the hallway at home, his slippers slapping against feet, we would run and hide in the nearest bathroom or closet so we didn’t have to endure his wrath. He is an older man, very set in his ways and never cared much for children or friendly greetings. If Stuart is ever made into a pull string talking doll, his phrases will include: Go to your room, Clean the dishes, and Where are your slippers? Whenever my sisters and I had sleepovers, he would impose his tyrannical rules on our friends, too. I remember one sleepover when my friends and I were running around the living room hopped up on sugar. Stuart came storming into the room and just stared at us with disgust. He stood there, sucking on his teeth before noticing that we were all barefoot. We’d just finished giving one another pedicures, but he didn’t care. His nostrils flared and he started yelling at all of us to put slippers or socks over our disgusting feet. We spent the rest of the night sweating in our red-stained socks, terrified that he would yell at us again. Most friends never returned.

 

That night in the ryokan, after relaxing in the onsen in the public bath, I fought off the urge to walk barefoot back to my room. The slippers were so tiny and uncomfortable and I kept slipping and stumbling as I made my way through the quiet halls. It didn’t take long before I started walking with a slight hunch just like Stuart. I placed my hand on my lower back because I was afraid to fall and break my hips or something. And even though I tripped a few times on my way back to my room where I was to sleep on the floor, I fortunately never hit anything because the Japanese are even too humble for furniture.

 


Are You Confident?

Sebastien and I just returned from a vacation in Japan.

kimonos

When we arrived in Tokyo we met our friends Steve and Amy at our hotel and went out for some ramen. Amy said that the noodle shop we were going to was one of the best in the city. At that point I was so jet-lagged that I didn’t care if the food we were going to eat came out of a garbage can. I just wanted to fill my belly and crawl into bed.

There was no hostess to seat us when we entered the shop nor a waiter to take our order. Instead we fed money to a machine then pushed in buttons to indicate what we wanted on our noodles. It was as simple as buying a bag of chips in a vending machine except everything was in Japanese and the tiny, faded pictures beside each button didn’t offer much help. I chose by way of eenymeenyminey, moe and the machine spit out a ticket. Then we headed to a booth in the back of the shop to sit and wait.  We could hear other voices around us through the paper thin walls, but we couldn’t see anyone.

A panel to the right of our table opened and a man started shouting at us in Japanese. Sebastien and I looked at one another terrified and handed him our tickets as a peace offering. We hoped that  he would know what to do from there. If nothing else, perhaps he would use the paper to make origami birds, I thought.

Steve, a Brit who met Sebastien as a child in Canada, started laughing once the cook disappeared behind the door. “Are you guys having fun yet?” he said. “You’re smiling and nodding and you don’t have a damn clue what they’re saying.”

He was right.

On the plane ride from New York I thought it would be good to learn a few common Japanese words, but I got distracted by all of the in-flight movies. Around hour 12 on the plane I decided to review my Japanese language app. There were the usual words like hello and thank you, but I became obsessed with one phrase in particular: Are you confident? I imagined saying that to the pilot after he announced that we would be making our final descent or saying it to a tour guide after they confirmed the way up the mountain.

But who was I kidding? As I sat in that noddle shop with Sebastien, Steve and other Amy, that phrase became a rhetorical question that would haunt me throughout our trip. Because I was unsure about everything.

For two weeks we toured the country like miming bobbleheads, exaggerating our gestures to ask for the nearest bathroom or Starbucks and nodding profusely once we thought we understood what people were saying. We couldn’t read street signs when trying to locate areas of interest and we gave up on adjusting the thermostat in hotels, resigning ourselves to the fact that our room for the night was either a water-less onsen or an igloo.

By the second week, our language skills improved enough to say thank you: arigatou gozaimasu, and yes: hi. Most of the hotels had staff that could understand us fairly well, so long as we didn’t ask for anything more complex than our room key.

At one hotel in Tokyo, Sebastien asked the clerk where the gym was. The man scrunched his face to indicate confusion so we pantomimed pumping iron and I showed off my meager muscles. We were relieved once we saw the glimmer of recognition on his face. He started typing on the computer and then retrieved a binder underneath the desk.

When he returned to the computer and started printing things out, I became suspicious. “I don’t think he’s giving us information about the hotel gym,” I said. I was very confident about this.

A few minutes later the clerk walked back towards us with a stack of papers in his hand. It turned out that there wasn’t a gym in the building, so he gave us information on the nearest fitness center. Again, this information was in Japanese.

“Arigatou gozaimas,” Sebastien and I said in unison, making use of our only learned phrase. As we were leaving I grabbed the stack of papers and turned to Sebastien, “If nothing else we could burn the paper for heat if it gets too cold in the room tonight.”

 

 


Killer Kitten Needs a Good Home

Sebastien and I have been fostering kittens since we adopted our cat Siegfried. We got him from a woman who runs a non-profit organization that rescues stray cats. She needed some help with temporary homes for the animals and we thought it would be a fun service.

Usually when we receive a new foster kitten, it’s a mangy, stinky, ball of fur that can’t tell it’s tail from its nose. Siegfried mothers it for a while and then the kitten enters what I’d like to call Siegfried’s School of Etiquette. In SSE, kittens learn how to not beg for food or steal food off of plates, how to clean themselves, how to be playful but professional, and much much more.

The foster kitten that we have now is failing all of her classes. Her name is Bridgette and she has wreaked havoc on our humble home. She bites, she hisses, she pisses on our furniture and will attack anything that breathes. She shows no remorse for her actions.

And she’s in need of a good home. Because we can’t take it anymore.

Looking for a little fur ball to cuddle up with on the couch? You’ve come to the wrong place. Bridgette will go after every limb on your body like its a piece of catfish. She won’t rub up against your leg when you’re standing around the house. She’ll attack it, and dig her claws into your thigh.

Planning on getting a new couch for the living room? You can also plan on Bridgette urinating all over it. She’s just does it once though, to remind people that she can do whatever she wants.

Have other pets at home in need of a companion? Bridgette loves to play with other animals, mostly sinking her teeth into their necks or sneaking up on them while they’re sleeping. And you can forget about sleeping, too. Bridgette will keep you awake all night, bouncing on your stomach and attaching anything that is under the blanket.

Think you can just put her in the cage for the night? Think again. Bridgette’s meow can reach about 98dB–that’s as loud as a hand drill.

But she’s really cute.

Bridgette

 

When she’s not in kill mode.

 

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Your Diet is Killing Me

My morning did not start out so good on Sunday. I slept for a really long time and expected to just sit on the couch for about twelve hours watching TV shows on Amazon Prime, which I accidentally purchased a couple of days ago. It wasn’t until I started to make my morning coffee that I realized that it was going to be a bad day. When I opened the fridge to get the milk, I saw that it had an expiration date that had well passed. I’d actually been drinking it for a few days after it expired. It didn’t even taste bad. Also, I read an article that expiration dates on food products are picked rather conservatively, so a lot of people are throwing out good food before it goes bad. So yeah, I’m going to listen to that piece of advice, mostly because I’m lazy.

sourmilkBut this milk had some chunks floating in it so I figured it was time to say good-bye. That of course meant that I didn’t have anything to put in my coffee.

I walked into the bedroom where Sebastien was still sleeping and jumped on the bed next to him. “The milk is bad and I don’t have anything to put in my coffee,” I whined, kicking my feet on the bed to make sure he would wake up. He rolled over. “There’s soy milk in the fridge,” he said.

“But I can’t drink that. It makes me even gassier than dairy and you don’t want me stinking up the house all day.”

He was already snoring before I finished my plea. He’s so healthy now with his soy milk and limited desserts and calorie counting. It makes me sick. And the worst part is that he taught me all of my bad eating habits: dessert every night, ordering butter or lard-filled dishes at restaurants. I’ve developed such a sweet and meat tooth that there’s no stopping me now. I even eat like him when we first started dating, which means shoveling the food into my mouth without a care that there’s pasta sauce all over my cheeks and nose or that strands of spaghetti are dangling from my mouth to make me look like the bearded lady. I used to be the healthy one in the relationship, but I guess I’ve just decided it was time to let myself go.

A few years ago I did give Sebastien instructions to inform me when I was getting too fat by way of a post-it note. The note, which I composed, read: I love you Amy, but you’re getting too fat. Sebastien at first refused to do it. I reminded him that in this case he was only acting as the mailman so he was free of any consequences. I’m pretty sure he threw the note out anyway.

It’s just hard to eat like we once did. I’ll go to the grocery store and pick up cheese-filled fish or barbecue pork. When I get home Sebastien inspects the packages, usually mumbling something about high in cholesterol or a lot of fat. I guess some people change and grow and start eating healthy crap.

Although I do have to give him credit for bringing me desserts. For the most part, whenever I declare that I want carrot cake from Peacefood cafe at 9:30pm, Sebastien willingly puts on his coat and shoes and gets it for me. It’s happened so many times that the wait staff refer to him as “the guy who gets dessert for his wife.” So yeah, that’s pretty awesome.

These thoughts all popped into my head as I stood in the living room, half-dressed, to begrudgingly go out and get a new carton of milk for myself. I didn’t want to do it. I couldn’t. I wouldn’t. I started stomping my feet like a little kid having a temper tantrum, while my cat, Siegfried, watched with indifference from his perch in the loft.

I caved. I dropped everything and grabbed the soy milk out of the fridge to pour into my coffee. It actually wasn’t bad and it was vanilla flavored so I was into that. I suddenly remembered my days of being a fake vegetarian and vegan. I did it mostly to find an identity in high school and to piss off my family, who had to make special meals for me because I professed to care about the animals. Of course, whenever no one was looking I’d grab chunks of meatloaf leftovers in the fridge or wolf down cold cuts.

I eventually admitted that I was not a vegetarian, although I do like soy products sometimes. It was nice to come out of the closet and embrace who I really am: a carnivore. I guess we all change, or make adjustments accordingly. Although it’s easy to slip back into our old habits, especially when it comes to eating right. Hey, maybe I can pretend to be a vegan again to really piss Sebastien off.


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