Tue Aug 15 23:35:03 2000
To: suzanne a
From: "Peter M. Rivard"
Subject: Thinking of you

Hello, Allecas,

      Something just made me think of you. I just reread the "Bluffer's Guide to Japan" you gave me before I left; it's definitely gotten funnier since I've been in Japan in a few weeks. I think I'll reread it every couple of months as I get more familiar with the place--by the end of the year, it will probably be killing me. One of the weird things about the language is that they use special words called counters--you say the object, then the number, then the counter--it doesn't really mean anything, unless maybe something like "of them," as in for 4 apples you would say "apples 4 of them," except the "of them" word--the counter--is different for different things. The last page of the book is nothing but a list of things that have their own special counters, and it claims to give an insight into the the thought behind the language and thus into the national psyche. The first few items are "people, small animals (not including rabbits), large animals, birds (including rabbits), long narrow things, etc." I showed this to my friend Yoko, and she adamantly denied that her people think of rabbits as a type of birds, but just now, I was looking something up, and the word after it was "wa," defined as "counter for birds and rabbits." There is also a special counter for any bunch of things tied together except spinach; a bunch of spinach has its own special counter. There's also a special counter one uses only for tennis courts, small ponds, and airport runways. Most Japanese don't actually know that many of these and just use the counter "ko" for everything they don't know. The way they classify things must say something about a people, but I don't know what.

      All else is well. I was down to about a buck and a half (¥156, which goes oh so far in Japan!), but my supervisor loaned me some money and called up the board of education to see why I hadn't been paid yet, and they now promise to pay me on the 10th--a couple of hundred dollars more than I was expecting. That's for July; I get paid again for a full month on the 21st. It looks like I definitely won't be poor over here. Later in the month, I start studying Japanese with a local woman who's a friend of all the JETs. What I've learned so far is enough to survive on, ask for directions, arrange necessities, etc. (A big part of the etc. is shopping, because I am completely illiterate--I have to ask for help finding a lot of things, sometimes by pantomime when I don't know the word; I had three salesclerks in stitches trying to ask where the mosquito spray was. Sometimes I just grab something and when I get to the checkout, I ask, "Excuse me. Is this pork? Is this milk?" I've been careful ever since bringing home some fresh chicken that turned out to be really stinky fish and some pork cutlets that turned out to be awful fish cakes, and I have my suspicions about the "milk" I brought home today.) I found a couple of Brazilian restaurants right down the street from me; one has a grocery store and sells linguica! Once I get paid I'm going to try to get down to Kyoto, and also up to Wajima at the tip of a peninsula in the next prefecture to the north for a festival a crazy English woman said I had to see (she's promised to find me a place to stay). My other big plan for the influx of cash is to buy a cheap snow cone maker.


      Well, apparently this didn't go out with the last batch of email (I'm still figuring things out), so I'll append the next installment of my adventure. I do have a lot of time on my hands right now, so I'm writing a lot of email--these will thin out as the newness wears off and once I get to work. I'll add that I did get paid, I got my snow cone maker (I've wanted once since I was six), and I won't make the Wajima trip I mentioned above because I'm going to be at an English language summer camp in the mountains for those three days. I also finally weighed myself on a trip to a local hot springs bath and found that I've lost fifteen to twenty pounds since I left America--and after the heat treatment I was under 200 lbs for the first time in at least five or six years! I'd noticed my pants were getting really big, but it's nice to have confirmation. On the other hand, if this keeps up, I don't have far to go before the pants I have aren't wearable. One pair I bought around Christmas, when I was really big, I can now slide over my hips with the button and zipper closed, and it bunches up like drawstring sweats when I tighten my belt enough to keep them up. A taller than me second-year JET in the capital city, Fukui City (if I write "Fukui-shi," this is what I mean; the prefecture is "Fukui-ken") is going to show a bunch of us out-of-towners around the big city tomorrow, so I'm going to ask him where he gets his clothes.


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