Mon Sep 18 21:09:45 2000
To: chris, dad, anne
From: "Peter M. Rivard"
Subject: The Newlyweds
Just got back last night from seeing the honeymooners in Kyoto. We met at the station, saw a big temple (1001 [really, 1001 exactly] life-sized 40-armed Buddhas), an art museum, beautiful traditional streets, a geisha or two, a highly painted bride wearing what looked like a modernist cake in a color that can only be called electric mango, and a bunch of other things. The high point, though, was a shop full of old prints, some on paper, some on cloth, some looking like from old posters, most hand-painted or drawn (ink on silk stuff), all pretty cheap. I got a 100+ year old swath of silk with a very simple drawing of a twig with plum blossoms on it. Ruth got (among a huge stack of stuff she bought) the choicest item, a really nice ink drawing of a plum blossom viewing party, probably about 140 years old. Every time one of us picked something up, the old man who ran the place began to explain all about it in Japanese. I think I caught all the most important points--he had an amazing store of knowledge and could look at an item, tell how old it was, sometimes roughly by style and material and sometimes exactly by reading the writing on it, the location of the scene, the occasion, and all sorts of context and info about details in the scene. Maybe Ruth and Gordon can give a better report on how functional my Japanese was or wasn't. He was really fascinating--Ruth took a picture of him. Do bring a Japanese speaker to translate if you can. If you ever go to Kyoto, be sure to ask directions to this place--it's not far from the big attractions, and it's amazing if you like that sort of thing. Not much else to report--just that it was great to see old friends again. I have good friends here, but there's a certain comfort level and intimacy that only comes with time--and Gordon comes rather strongly recommended by Ruth and is great company, so he falls into that category too. It's also fun to explore a new place with friends. Kyoto is a really easy trip--an hour and twelve minutes by express train from home (plus a 10 minute bike ride from the train station to home), and I've just been advised to drive about halfway there and take the train the rest of the way to save a lot of money. I'll see the whole city eventually, but doing it in bite-sized chunks is fun.
I really felt like I was communicating with the man in the print shop, yet earlier in the day, someone at the railway ticket counter couldn't understand me at all--made me feel like I was in my second day of Japanese class. I had the same experience at (I'm ashamed to say it) Kentucky Fried Chicken today. I think some people are so unused to accents that even if you something clearly and correctly but just differently, and of course slowly, they just assume they can't understand you and don't even try. But when I've run into people who really wanted to talk to me, they largely seem to understand me without much problem (except when my skills have completely broken down, as they do from time to time). Obviously, I'm not discussing philosophy with anyone here yet ("Budweiser is very popular in America, but I do not like it" and "Yes, I have seen Michael Jordan and Sammy Sosa play" are more the level of my average conversation--at the art shop, I got maybe a third of what was said in terms of number of words, but I got the important details: "Taisho era....Kyoto.....Plum Blossom Viewing festival....on the river near this shop, but a kilometer or so south of here." To be honest, though, when someone is not specifically speaking to me, meaning using simple words and speaking glacially, much of my understanding resembles an old Far Side cartoon about talking to a dog: What is said: "Oh, yes, I think I'll ask Petah-sensei to help out building the thingy at the school's festival. Petah-sensei used to build furniture in America. Then maybe we can all go out to dinner. I think Petah-sensei likes fish." What I hear: "lalala Petah-sensei lalallalalalallalalalala Petah-sensei lalallalalalalallalalallalalalallalalalal Petah-sensei lalalala." Every time I hear my name my ears perk up and my tail starts to wag, but I can't claim to know what's going on until someone mimes pounding in a nail or eating with chopsticks.)
Well, once I get this Japanese thing down, I'll start hanging out with the Brazilian crowd and see if I can expand my Portuguese beyond "excuse me," "thank you," and "I would like a prosciutto sandwich."