Sun Sep 24 02:29:02 2000
From: "Peter M. Rivard"
Subject: Japanese cuisine
This will be my briefest letter--I think I've finally plumbed the depths of the local cuisine. After the second drinking party of the night (which I think had as its highlight an extremely drunk member of the local PTA challenging me to a fist fight and then, after being dragged away by the PTA president and my vice-principal, apologizing most abjectly--apparently my Japanese could stand some improvement). I found myself, quite accidentally (I thought I was being taken home) in a bar alone with my principal (bosses are treated like gods here, so this was really an honor, if an awkward and unexpected one) sitting over a plate of food answering the question "what is this in English" with "in English, we call this 'bugs.'" For the record, grasshoppers boiled in sweet soy sauce ain't bad. For this pleasure, I had turned aside my last chance at seeing a gorgeous Japanese woman before she moves to Chicago on Monday (though I didn't feel like I had a whole lot of choice at the time--my supervisor's "Peter-sensei, will you go with Kocho-sensei" [the god-principal] sounds much less like a request than an order, and I have to admit that riding back 7 or 8 kilometers in the rain at night on my bike to wait for a phone call to maybe see a woman I would probably never see again did sound like less fun than joining some of the teachers and most of the PTA [with whom I'd gotten pretty friendly] at a karaoke bar. Somehow, the instinct that places beautiful women, even long shots, ahead of drunken middle aged men and karaoke had been confused, possibly by the incredibly gorgeous fellow teacher at my school I had spent the day thinking about and [briefly and ineffectually] flirting with). It was fun to talk to the PTA people, even in my rapidly degenerating pidgeon Japanese, at least until I realized that hostilities had been imminent, and although the conversations are by necessity simple (though I'm often surprised by someone who pops out of the woodwork to speak much more English than he or she ever let on at work), I'm thrilled to find that many people have enough fascination with the outside world that they are pleased to have even inane conversations with a foreigner. Indeed, once people see and hear my attempting conversation in Japanese, I seem to become a minor center of attention--OK, so his Japanese sucks, at least he's approachable, and he seems to be as interested in us as we are in in him. Yes, I've had the same conversation a dozen times with different people--I can't get bored with it, because what's really going on is making a connection with the people I'm with, not the actual content of the conversation itself--god knows I can't say anything fascinating in Japanese--it's the attempt itself that's worth the effort on both sides.
Of course, every once in a while you think you're going home and you find yourself instead in a strange bar kneeling in front of a plate of bugs.