From: Peter Rivard
Date: Mon Oct 28, 2002 10:49:06 PM Japan
Subject: The hunter-gatherer eats
More adventures in the Land of the Fluctuating Yen. I'm at the moment carless thanks to a driver who decided that green means "go," yellow means "go faster," and red means "slow down, be indecisive for a minute, then really floor it--but don't look first." Fortunately, the local police and both our insurance companies seem to agree with me that red really means, "You should've stopped before ramming into the giant angry foreigner." (Since I was actually in the car with the engine running, I can't be found blame-free in the accident, and since it occurred at an intersection, I can't be found less than 20% responsible [these really are the rules]--so I was found 25% responsible, which my colleagues tell me is equivalent to total vindication, but which is unsatisfying to me, who was following the law, stationary in traffic unable to move, when hit by a driver running a red light.) I've endured two weeks of biking to work in the rain--and two days a week "work" means 10 miles all uphill (about a 480' ascent). At least coming home is easy. I bought a "new" car this weekend and I'm hoping to pick it up Thursday night, to spare myself the Friday ride out to Go-chu. After getting caught in a raging hailstorm on the way home from Manyo today, I decided enough was enough and begged a colleague at Go-chu to pick me up on her way to work tomorrow morning.
Tomorrow's highlight should be the meat delivery. I'm having a $35 steak brought to me at school. Why? Oh, things just happen this way out here. Last Tuesday, I rode out to my elementary school, which is a couple of miles farther away and about 150 feet higher than Go-chu, and on the way home I decided to stop at a nearby meat market to pick up a good steak for dinner (you can't get anything thicker than sandwich meat unless you have it custom cut at a butcher--my standard request for a 2" [5 cm] steak has flabbergasted all of the butchers I've confronted [so far, three]). I found the place on the map, and wondered how they survived out in the middle of nowhere, but it was close to the elementary school and on the way home, so what the heck?
After the morning's ascent and the day's endless games of dodgeball and duck-duck-goose (a six foot adult playing dodgeball with 6 year olds is inherently ridiculous), I didn't have it in me to make it up the last hill to the Plain of Crows (the village of the shop), but as I was pushing my my bike up, I heard kids voices, and soon enough, "Omigod, it's Peter-sensei!" Three of my kids from that day, Sayaka (3rd grade), Wakaba (2nd), and Kanako (1st), were playing in Sayaka's yard, so I stopped to rest and talk to them. Sayaka is an especially enthusiastic kid; sometimes a bit bossy with the others, but she's getting better. Anyway, she found out where I was going, then talked the other two into accompanying me (Sayaka: "MOM!!! We're going to take Peter-sensei over to the butcher!!!"; Mom: "What the...?"), which was good because, although it was only 50 m away, I had been planning to go another kilometer in entirely the wrong direction. Nonstop simultaneous chatter from the three girls the whole way: I had to try the water the granny at the butcher collects from a spring in the mountains, I had to empty my drink bottle so I could take some water home, why am I wearing a helmet, how much do I weigh, do I like Sayaka's bike, etc. A couple of farmers, obviously puzzled by the giant at the head of the parade, got the full scoop from Sayaka. Then, of course, the butchers turned out to be the grandparents of one of my kids at Go-chu, and their older granddaughter had been such a good friend of my predecessor's predecessor that she went to New York to visit her. Tommy, my current student, talks about me all the time (apparently favorably, or so they claim--I didn't mention that Tommy, whose hobby is tightly hugging unwilling people and inanimate objects, is my vote for "most likely to be arrested for molesting on a subway"). Lots of small talk, before finally getting down to business: they didn't have any beef that day, but if I could come back soon, they'd have some. What kind did I want? I decided to go all out and get the top of the line well-marbled Japanese steak for once; I'd ride by Friday after work at Go-chu to get it.
On the way out, after I gratefully took some truly delicious spring water, the old couple started asking all sorts of questions about me--the usual friendly stuff. The only thing is, I didn't have to answer. Sayaka, who has apparently memorized not only my self-introduction from two years ago but every remark and joke I've made since, seems to know at least as much about me as I do. When they asked if I had a girlfriend, SHE answered, "No, but he's looking for one." I don't think I EVER said that, unless it was some sort of joke. She went on to tell them that I like Japanese women, but I like women from all other countries too, I'm just looking for a smart one from anyplace. Then, after telling them my age, she turned to me and asked, perfectly seriously, "Sensei, what's the oldest you'd want get and still be single?" The butchers seemed to find the little nine-year-old Jenny Jones as funny as I did.
As I was leaving, the girls begged me to play with them (well, Sayaka did most of the begging, Wakaba [8 years old] just stood of stood there smiling at me, and Kanako  jumped up and down the whole time); I had a long bike ride ahead and a Japanese lesson that night to study for, and I felt a bit odd playing with the little kids outside of school, Mom occasionally looking out the window with a bemused expression, but Sayaka eventually got me to promise ten minutes of badminton, which stretched to fifteen before I climbed on my bike. She wanted me to come over and play again on Friday when I came for the steak, but I told her I'd be coming by before she got out of school, so I couldn't. It seemed perfectly natural to her to set up a play date with a 34 year old man; very funny. I can just picture her mother and I, our day planners open, scheduling hide-and-seek on the 23rd or perhaps tag a week from Saturday. I've definitely got to work on my "intimidating teacher" schtick.
In the end, my license paperwork from America arrived the next day, so I took Friday off to get my Japanese driver's license and couldn't pick up the steak that day, but when I called the grandmother very apologetically told me they didn't have the steak yet anyway. They mentioned that they'd be delivering the school lunches on Tuesday and could bring the steak to school with them then. So I get a steak delivered tomorrow. The funny thing is, I would've been happier to walk out the first day without having made the big steak order--even suggested that a couple of pork cutlets would be fine--but they seemed to want to find a way to make the strange customer happy, and the first thing I'd asked about (or Sayaka had told them I wanted) was steak. Now, it turns out they mostly deal in pork and seem to be going to some trouble to come up with the steak. I rather imagine they'll buy it at the butcher near my house (who'll say, "Wow, you want a 5 cm steak? Some big blond foreigner came in just last month and asked for a 5 cm steak"). The worst part is I'll have to explain all this at work, because I'll have to leave the payment with the secretary in case they come while I'm teaching.