Friday, November 29, 2002
impenetrable Japanese conversations
I meant to tell you yesterday about an odd conversation I had at my cooking class. The teacher asked me what would be a suitable souvenir of Japan - sweets? So I said that japanese sweets were...difficult...for western tastes (see how subtle I am becoming!) but that tea or rice crackers might be nice, depending who it was for. Who is it for? They all giggled. I tried again: who is the souvenir for? (giggle giggle). I tried in Japanese: dare ga...(couldn't remember how to say 'to give to')...they helped me construct the japanese sentence, then told me how good at Japanese I was. (yeah, yeah). I asked again: giggle giggle. I gave up and we chatted about whether their husbands ever came home for dinner.
What was that all about?

Thursday, November 28, 2002
things are looking up!
I just found half a bottle of wine in the fridge. I can't believe it's lurked there undiscovered since saturday, but it must have done. Seems a shame to leave it now I know it's there though. Cameron is out tonight (I'm booooooored! Sooooo booored! And I should be studying but somehow just can't get my head down to it) and I had a huge delicious lunch so I've just had (tinned) corned beef hash, washed down with a nice glass of chardonnay. Tinned corned beef hash not great, I think it's worth the hassle of peeling potatoes and making it properly. Though enough ketchup (and wine) and it was OK.
Cats ate well tonight; they are both lying on their backs on the bed, their little bellies like drums. I cooked them some liver (all the cat food here has fish in it, and they're just not keen), then fanned it for them because it was too hot for them to eat. Spoilt, do you think?

wheel washing
It seems I was wrong and it's perfectly normal. My dad says they do it in the UK too; if they make the road muddy they can be prosecuted. (Though I bet in the UK it's not the man's job to wash the wheels. Chief wheel-washer. And I bet he doesn't wear a smart navy uniform and bow when you walk past!)

what is it with certificates?
Did I mention a couple of weeks ago, I was at my cooking class and this mad Chinese woman turned up to register for the following week's class and to ask whether, after doing the class, she'd get a certificate? My teacher was clearly a bit taken aback and hummed and haaed, saying she could have a certificate if she did a whole course (1 year) then the madwoman said that wasn't fair because she was only here for a couple of months and she needed a certificate? She was quite forceful about it. Anyway. We were mid-cook again today when the doorbell went and there she was again. To buy my teacher's book and to ask her to sign a certificate that she'd knocked up herself using powerpoint ('This is to certify that...has successfully completed a class in which she cooked sushi and tempura...') Whatever is she going to do with it now? I didn't like to ask, it seemed impolite...but after she'd left there was some discussion between the Japanese ladies, the gist of which was that they felt it was a bit peculiar also. Though, they agreed, she was very skillful to have made the certificate.

Wednesday, November 27, 2002

Just did last year's paper. Passed, but for some reason that has just scared me more. With my usual twisted logic I am convinced that means that this year's test will be really hard. The most difficult sections - that I did ok on - had all the stuff I knew last year, so that won't happen again will it?! Also, I struggled with the easy grammar sections and shouldn't have.
Cameron and I have got the same marks so far (though he hasn't done the grammar paper yet and that's his strongest) but with different questions wrong.
I'm off to chew my nails.

I hurt today. But in a good 'I exercised' way not a really sore way. I think it must have been the bit where she had us doing sun salutations with one leg off the floor! Her reasoning was that if you tried something really hard it made everything else feel easy...hmm. Not too sure about that; I find the chaturanga to up dog bit hard enough! (Um. OK. Start in plank: hands under shoulders; body straight, toes and hands only things on floor. Bend your arms, keeping your elbows in next to your body, until your body is about 4 inches off the floor - this is chaturanga (and I can get this far). Then move your body forwards, roll over your toes and bend your back to go to up dog. I can't do it without collapsing in a heap. Now try it with one leg up in the air! What I particularly like about the website the pose pictures are taken from is the bit where it says 'breathe easily and naturally through your nose'. HA HA HA!)

Tuesday, November 26, 2002
I just ate an apple! The first whole, uncooked apple I've had in probably 15 years...they were sitting looking so enticing in our fruit bowl (given to us by friends who had been to the Japanese Alps and picked them last weekend) that I just decided to go for it. Sore tongue, itchy lips and gums, bit stuffy/sneezy but otherwise OK so it looks like my reaction has improved over the apple-free years. And well worth it; it was fantastic! Ooh though - sore tongue.

Is there any other country in the world where a lorry leaving a building site has its wheels washed by a man with a hose so it won't get the road dirty? i think not.

Monday, November 25, 2002
What a weekend! I'm (almost) glad it's Monday and intend to eat beans on toast and salad for a few days while I recuperate...Friday night we went to Jose and Grace's apartment for dinner. Delicious peruvian food (very hot chilli!) and interesting chat (Jose: Cameron, do you believe in the afterlife?). They have just found out that they'll be leaving Japan earlier than planned...and going to Barbados!! It's a hard life. We left much later than we'd intended - I thought it was around midnight because my contact lenses were just starting to feel dry, but when we got in the taxi we looked at his clock and saw it was 2.30! Saturday was mostly spent cooking, as expected, with a short trip out to buy a tablecloth and a lettuce. I think it went OK apart from the profiteroles: the one thing I was confident I could make and they came out as dense and soggy dumplings! I have no idea why (but perhaps leaving them in a cooling oven for 10 mins before noticing it wasn't on didn't help). Profiterole sauce was enough to take out fillings (note to self: don't leave it bubbling and wander off). I had 2 small fires - who knew a metal garlic press would be flammable?! - neither of which set off the smoke alarm. My chicken in red wine, however, had the alarm going off every 2 minutes, and would have started the sprinklers if I hadn't found the off switch very quickly! - but generally I think it was OK. Nobody was sick (!) and they all seemed quite jolly. Bread and butter pud made with pains au chocolat is fab. My oven has now given up the ghost - must ring up about getting it fixed as it won't light!
Sunday we had a long lie in then had to rush about in order to meet friends for lunch in omotesando. Great restaurant and a deliciously non-Japanese mixed grill just hit the spot. Wandered around Harajuku with Stephane until it got dark, then home to veg in front of Lord of the Rings, look for hire cars in New Zealand, knit - it's now going to be a cushion cover not a scarf - and eat cheese sandwiches and hot chocolate.
This time next week the test will be over. A bit scarey as I've not opened a book in a week. Must get my head down this week (booking holiday stuff is so much more fun!)

Friday, November 22, 2002
such efficiency. Christmas parcels have started to arrive! Thank you everybody. I, of course, haven't started yet: it will be a lovely surprise when your presents arrive mid-march, right?!

Thursday, November 21, 2002
My mum just sent me this:
The first Chinese brother swallowed the sea and a boy drowned so he had to be tried for murder. He went home and the second chinese brother came. He had an iron neck and couldn't be executed. He went home and the third chinese brother came. He couldn't be drowned. The fourth one could not be burned. The fifth one could hold his breath indefinitely. The judge said they could not kill him so he must be innocent so they all lived happily ever after.
And now I promise to shut up about it.

We're staying in tonight! Hoorah! (First time since Friday and we're neither of us spring chickens any more you know. I am more springlike a chicken than Cameron - especially as he's feeling very sorry for himself with a nasty cold - but still. Pasta, cats, TV and no conversation!) Last night was very subdued anyway after the previous night's excesses. When will i learn that shochou gives me horrible horrible headaches even after one or two drinks? The trouble is, a lemon sour is so delicious. Anyway, once again today I had no work (seems to be a thursday pattern) so I went cooking this morning - sushi cake, chrysanthemum-shaped fish and soup - then to Keiko's house ostensibly to talk about some website she's supposed to be composing (but really to eat pastries from her local bakery) - then to Shibuya where I bought a large (40 cm) pan in order to cook for 7 on saturday, and some needles and wool with the vague idea of knitting myself a scarf. My granny will be proud (if I ever finish it). I seem to be in a handicrafts mood at the moment, which is most unlike me. Probably just another way of subconciously avoiding Japanese study (10 days and counting!)
Ok so Saturday's menu is starting to shape up. It had better come together quick as I have to go to the supermarket tomorrow. Starting with thin Japanese beef wrapped around carrot, burdock root and something green - probably beans - and cooked in soy and sake and stuff (cold). Main course either tarragon chicken or my dad's special chicken in red wine or a fish pie or something else if inspiration strikes. With roast or mashed potatoes and something green and probably mashed japanese pumpkin. Pudding: pavlova or Nigella-style profiteroles (caramel sauce and stuffed with burnt-sugar custard. mmm) or a chocolate bread and butter pudding (though I've a feeling if I was going to make that I should have started today) or Nigella's pain au chocolat bread and butter pudding. What do you think?

Wednesday, November 20, 2002
Thanks mum, I knew you'd know. It seems there were only 5 chinese brothers, not 12 - but one of them did swallow the sea.

Tuesday, November 19, 2002
Roll on the holidays
I'm so knackered (but yay! This time next month we'll be exploring new zealand!) and it's not going to get better for the next couple of weeks at least. Fortunately work is quiet (that attitude is not going to pay the mortgage, is it) but in between trying to find somewhere to stay while we're exploring NZ, and a vehicle in which to explore and all the rest of it, and studying* for The Test (11 days to go. I have virtually stopped panicking and sunk into a calm acceptance that I'll either be lucky or I won't and my studying will have little effect on the outcome), and entertaining the steady stream of shell visitors who are, it seems, trying to use up this year's travel budget by all coming at once, I haven't got time to panic about this dinner party malarky on Saturday. Who's stupid idea was that? Normally I'm happy to have people round to dinner, I make easy stuff (casseroles, roasts, pasta, chocolate pudding) and we eat it and drink a lot and it's all fine. Our guests this weekend are kind of sophisticated - they know about wine and do fancy cooking. All paper frills on the sticky-out bones and enough matching glasses to go round, you know? Not exactly my style. So I'm a bit worried and yes I know I shouldn't worry what people think but I do of course. I was talking to her (the fancy cook) today about how I thought when people came they came to see us and it wasn't really right to spend all your time faffing in the kitchen (Nige says so so it must be true) but she didn't agree. Damn. Ah well, she's been warned! And we have seven people coming and only six seats at the dining table so it will be a squeeze and either Cameron or I will have to sit on the patio furniture (or I'll have to be a good Japanese wife and eat on my own in the kitchen). I think my maximum number of matching glasses is five (I have a lovely lot in the loft in warrington!). I don't have any pans big enough to cook for seven and you can't get large cuts of meat here. At present I'm thinking of getting takeaway pizza all round and turning on the TV while we eat. Probably not the attitude.
*actually not studying v much. Thinking about it a lot, talking about it a bit, but actual sitting down and doing it? Not much.

Monday, November 18, 2002
a busy weekend
phew! could do with another weekend to recover - where was my vegging time? Saturday: gym, lunch with Kavitha at fujimamas (yum!), tea at christies, spot of shopping, KFC dinner (no time for real food!) then off to see Primal Scream. They rocked. The audience were in jeans/t-shirts/trainers combinations, which you never see normally - where were all the fashions? Perhaps that is just seen as suitable concert wear? I spotted a man carrying a small Paddington-Bear-style case, and wondered what he had in it - he sat next to me on the train home so I found out: scrunched up newspaper and flyers. Clearly just an accessory.
Sunday was spent with Bob - he's over on business and it's mean to leave people in their hotel rooms on sundays. Sushi lunch, a look at the harajuku freaks, to the shrine and the park, then down omotesando to the oriental bazaar before walking into Shibuya to see the neon, marvel at the number of people crossing the road, have a few drinks then a yakitori dinner. Feel quite sleepy today but have to get my finger out and do some work in order to be in Odaiba (Cameron's office) for a japanese lesson at 4. Then out for dinner again tonight! It's a hard life.

Cameron, Bob, and a freak. Can you tell which is which? (I'm not sure why C is gripping the poor girl - was he worried she might try to escape?)

Friday, November 15, 2002
thank you blackstar. I think this will keep us quiet for a while!
It isn't so long ago I was wondering what was the point of all the extras on DVDs - never having been one for watching 'making of' programmes. But I completely understand for something like this (though I am mystified what they have found to fill two extra discs of extras with!) - and I love the extras in Moulin Rouge too, with the rehearsals and full, uncut dance routines.
When are they going to add a function where you press a button and it flashes up what the character you are watching's name is, who they are related to and what they are doing, and the actor's name, filmography and family details? It would make our living room so much more peaceful [me: who's that. Cam: (names actor). me: oohhh yes...(pause)...what else has he been in? Cam: (lists films I claim never to have seen). me: what's he doing now? Cam: I don't know, you were talking over it. me: (cross). Cam: (crosser)]

put me out of my misery
Please. Does anyone else remember the children's book about the chinese brothers (I think they were brothers - about 12 of them) who drank the sea? What was that all about? Can anyone remember what is was actually called? All I can remember is the front cover - it was yellow and had a picture of the brothers getting huge as they drank. I think.

Thursday, November 14, 2002
it felt good to be out of the rain
it's so dry here the cats crackle when you stroke them. I think I am dessicating, like a coconut. or a prune. or something dry and shrivelled (and sort of flaky. nice.) Everybody has a sore throat and bad static hair.
But the cold autumn smells and red leaves against clear blue skies make my heart soar. The best time of the year.

Oops sorry, I didn't come back did I?! We thought our teacher was never going to leave - she is clearly as worried about this test as we are - but I'm not convinced that trying to teach us new points of grammar at 9.15 after a full day's work is going to be very successful! Towards the end of the lesson I couldn't listen any more, it was like teaching a tree. We did our first listening 'past paper'; yes, you're right, we should probably have done some before now. It was *hard*. Some woman wittering on about what time her baby went to sleep and how long it slept for before waking up, and we were supposed to say what time it started to cry. Not knowing the verb to cry wasn't hugely helpful. By the time she eventually left we had to eat, then it was pretty much bedtime. Phew!
Today was better. An unscheduled day off (sounds Good but actually Bad, because all the work I was expecting to fit in today/tomorrow will all arrive tomorrow) meant that I didn't have to rush home after my cooking class (sukiyaki today, mmm). A good thing in itself because my teacher wanted to show me an antiques market near her house (I think she must have just discovered it or something), so we spent nearly an hour there. I have found something else I'd like to collect - though I was was very good and didn't buy anything today - the old traditional Japanese basket and cloth lunchboxes are lovely (but one on its own would look silly, I think I'd need at least three. Like the burmese cowbells I keep dropping hints to Cameron about!). Actually, having seen the price of this one online, the ones I was looking at today were a bargain so I might have to go back.
Next, into Shibuya to get the picture I bought at last week's craft fair framed. Always entertaining...if I was an organised sort of person I'd have looked up 'frame' as a bare minimum before I went. The poor chap spoke no english at all and did a lovely mime to tell me that I would have to go and pay on the other side of the shop and then come back with the receipt. He's promised to ring me when it's done, in 2 weeks. I think it will be OK. I hope it will.
Pottered around Shibuya a bit more - am getting tempted by new boots and clothes at every turn now; I've reached the phase where it is just too long since I've had anything new. I bought some washing-up liquid, which cheered me up no end.
In cat news, Islay has taken to drinking from the bath - usually when it's wet after use, but last night she had a great big long drink of hot soapy water while I was in it. Is that normal? And Jura today tried to run out of the patio door, not realising that the insect screen was in place - hit it head first, and bounced back looking extremely disgruntled! If she doesn't like being laughed at, she shouldn't act like a cartoon cat.

Wednesday, November 13, 2002
I'm so ahead of the times, me. (see here).
The person who came here looking for louis vuitton footballer's wives must have been horribly disappointed. not sure what the trousers tucked into wellington boots person or the umpteen people looking for furry boots will have thought. And all those various searches for stuff to do with turquoise? Try here or here. More in a tick, I've got a Japanese lesson in 5 minutes.

Monday, November 11, 2002
I am definitely turning into my mother. Here's the evidence:
1. the bag thing
2. out sitting on the step at the first hint of sunshine, even if I have to wear a fleece to survive
3. a tendency to 'dust'* in the afternoons and fall asleep on the sofa in the evenings
*by which I mean, a tendency to go and sleep on the bed. Always referred to as 'dusting' in our house
4. afflicted with disappearing keys (I haven't yet taken to roaming the house calling 'has anybody please seen my keys')
5. mint sweets secreted about the house
6. picking up my cats in order to chase the neighbours' cats

Is it inevitable?

bleurgh. Yesterday passed in a haze after Saturday night's sake party. We went to my cookery teacher's house - about 12 people in a room approximately the size of a matchbox. She cooked delicious things: marinaded mackerel, octopus and seaweed salad, duck nabe, and had a man along to tell us about sake. We drank normal sake, both chilled and heated, then moved onto the special stuff: one was unfiltered so cloudy white with a strong flavour; the other, 'raw', (not heated in production...I think). The trouble is, you drink from tiny eggcups, so have no idea how much you are drinking. Plenty though I suspect. After dinner we had to play a silly game that involved bashing plastic men with a hammer until their heads came off...we came third, hooray! And won a bottle of salad dressing.
Then onto a bar where we encountered an Australian woman intent on tormenting a very staid American couple, and her NZ husband. We sang karaoke with them until 3. Yawn!

Saturday, November 09, 2002
I'm so excited! My copy of the little friend has just arrived. Scared too expectations are so high I am bound to be disappointed. The secret history is my favourite book ever.
I am not starting it yet...must do some Japanese. I'll have to put it away though because I can feel it calling to me! It's sitting on the sofa and looking at me. Gah.

Friday, November 08, 2002
better late than never
some fireworks! Almost as good as the real thing. I'm off for a cupasoup now to make the experience more realistic. (link courtesy of Cath)

Thursday, November 07, 2002
Absent yesterday because I was exhausted after a hard day's sticking and pasting. I went to a craft shop thing in Asakusabashi, on the other side of Toyko. It looked like a normal craft shop, with kits to make things, and examples of the things made, only - and I think this idea could really take off at home - there are tables and nice old ladies to help you make the thing you choose! what a great solution to the usual problem - buy it, take it home, unpack it...oops no, there go the good intentions. Leave it out ready for a few weeks then put it in a cupboard, never again to see the light of day. And I know that's not just me...
So, you buy your kit (I chose a remote control tidy because it was smallish so hopefully easy-ish, and because we have a silly number of remote controls). Then you go upstairs and choose your washi - so many different colours and patterns, it was harder than choosing wallpaper - pay for it all (so cheap!) and settle down to make it. With the nice old lady, it felt a bit like being back in nursery school, especially as she did the tricky bits for me and I got glue all over her table. Fantastic therapy!

Wednesday, November 06, 2002
to Keith and Jonny, who have both just got engaged. Not to each other.

Tuesday, November 05, 2002
family visitors
hello! Is that you, Ellen? If someone completely random has just visited from canterbury, then I'm sorry, I thought you were my cousin and I just wanted to say hi. (You can let me know: leave me a comment at the bottom there). And while I'm doing my meet n greet, hello Catherine!
The trouble is, now I know who some of my visitors are, I feel pressured to write pithy and insightful comments about Japanese society, rather than wittering on about teabags and legwarmers. Maybe tomorrow...(mind you, family visitors know me, so I don't suppose they were expecting pith, wit or insight. It's the rest of you I should be apologising to.)

remember remember the fifth of november
...traditionally the one night of the year when I feel homesick. Should be OK this year though as I am not expecting to see any fireworks to remind me. When we were little it was the most exciting night of the year (after Christmas eve of course) - as soon as it was dark, Suzi and I would be out on the front steps, with Dad's big torch, waiting for the Clack family to arrive and signalling to aeroplanes. We all wrapped up well: scarves and gloves, ski-jackets, legwarmers, earmuffs and snoods as fashions came and went. Soup, red cabbage, lasagne, pigs in blankets, baked potatoes. Some years a bonfire but never a guy because we were too sentimental to burn him. Fireworks, and plenty of them: we could choose the order but our dads did the lighting. And the running away when they fell over and came shooting up the path. BIG bangs. Ooh look, magnesium. Sparklers last of all, lit from a blowtorch and not to be picked up once dropped. Then indoors to warm up, sometimes with indoor fireworks: odd, smelly, squirming black snakes and teeny sparklers.

Monday, November 04, 2002
tea for two and two for tea
Just wanted to say thank you to all the kind people who have offered to post me some teabags. I'll let you know - I currently have high hopes for the fortnum and mason tea I found at the weekend - despite each bag being individually wrapped, which makes me cross every time I go to use one. A special thanks to Chris for finding a picture of the box so that I know what I'm missing, and for pointing out that the nutritional information states that they don't contain any shellfish - which explains perfectly why they aren't available here. (That, and there being no Sainsbury's.)

Sunday, November 03, 2002
the first Sunday in November
began with breakfast on the patio, in T-shirts. What a great country!
Cameron has been off playing football today - apparently with a cow - so I went to Harajuku/Omotesando area to potter about. On a whim, I went up to the shrine - and what a good whim! It was packed full of the cutest children you'll ever see - I think it must have been the 7-5-3 festival, when boys and girls of those ages dress up in very fancy kimonos and go to the shrine. I didn't like to stalk the kids but here are a few pictures:

It's been a day of near-purchases: I next went to the flea market in the Togo shrine, though I was a bit late and they were starting to pack up. Nearly bought some dragonfly-shaped coathooks (but she packed them away before I'd completely decided!) and fell in love with a bowly vasey thing...kept going back to look...umming and ahhing, will I won't I...until I realised I'd misread the label and instead of being about £40 (so almost affordable after some dithering) it was more like £90! So I left, empty-handed. Found a shop full of second-hand clothes, imported from the states I think..tried on a very nice jacket but decided I didn't really need it. I'm having a crisis of style at the moment, ie I don't have one and I want one. Is a second-hand sheepskin coat part of that new style? I don't know yet. Hmm, what else. Wandered up and down Takeshita-dori, Tokyo's Carnaby Street, just watching the fashions. Sunday is freak day where they all put on their best freak costumes (I long to know whether they leave the house like that or if they go out in their schoolgirl sailor suits and change somewhere, painting the blood on their faces, strapping on the bandages...). Unfortunately the camera battery ran out but I managed one snap:

Thanks Katy. Here we are:
We're the Witches of Halloween oo-oo!
The ugliest you've ever seen oo-oo!
We go out at night and give you such a fright!
We're the Witches of Halloween oo-oo!


Friday, November 01, 2002
for those of you desperate to know how the Quest For Tea went, the answer is badly. Ahmad's might well be the "world's most exclusive tea", but it is absolutely revolting. Highly perfumed, tastes and smells like a rose-scented drawer liner. No discernable bergamot. Ick!
Fortunately the box only contained 10 bags. The Quest continues...

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