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January 30, 2008

Watashi wa Eigoga wakarimas

How many people can claim that they taught a foreigner a language? I am writing this post to claim that I did. Well, I did not teach a language but helped someone with it. The only change I need to make in the claim is that in this case, I was the foreigner who taught a native.

I spent an hour and a half with a Japanese lady today, correcting her English grammar. She volunteered to learn from me, and I was flattered. I would have planned the teaching session properly and in a civilized way but it wasn’t going to be that way. Yesterday, Hayashi Aunty, as we call her, proposed that I help her with a letter she is writing. I was more than willing. I was flattered because I haven’t known her for too long and she thought it fit to ask me. After all, watashi wa Eigoga wakarimas. It means: I understand English.

As I was saying, I had thought of making the session proper but it wasn’t meant to be. I woke up this morning to bid my husband bye and thought that I wouldn’t go back to bed after that. So, I had my breakfast and sat in front of the computer to attend to the chores in the virtual world. After a couple of hours of sincere work, I needed some entertainment. I watched SATC for an hour and a half before dozing off. Well, I was in deep sleep when the bell rang. The bell rang in my dream and I dreamt on. When the bell rang again after half an hour, and that too, continuously, I realized it wasn’t a dream.

I gathered myself out of the bed to find my neighbour at the door. She told me that Hayashi Aunty would visit me for the planned lesson.

Sleepily, I asked, “When?”

“Now,” she said.

Oh my god, I am not ready.
I had invited Aunty to my place yesterday offering her Indian food. And I realized I had NO food ready at my place. Not that it was the focus of the meeting but I was already embarrassed to realize I looked untidy and bad. Plus, there was no food I could offer to Aunty. I could just tie my rebellious hair and put my breakfast plate in the sink when the bell rang again.

After half an hour of grammar corrections, not that her letter needed much, we chatted. I offered her tea. She asked for black tea. No milk, no sugar. As I was pouring the black fluid in the cups, I remembered some salted peanuts lying in my kitchen cabinet. You will not believe how relieved I felt. This was less embarrassing than just two cups of black water!

So, while we spoke about the English language and the Japanese culture over tea, I remembered that she had visited India once. I asked her about that. She spoke about the people and not much about the place. Evidently, she was pleased with the way people in India, Bangalore, to be precise, treated her.

Hayashi Aunty was met by an Indian family, my husband’s colleague’s family, in a supermarket in Japan some three years ago. Somehow, the meeting resulted in deep international bonding. Hayashi Aunty became friends with all the Indian families related to my husband’s office here. She went on to provide her help with the necessary interactions one needed in this country. She would accompany anyone visiting the doctor and feel happy to be the interpreter. She would throw parties for the Indians here and be a part of theirs. I had heard a lot about her from my neighbour even before I met Aunty. My neighbour has a two-year old son and she tells me that Aunty used to bring her food and take her to the doctor when she expecting. I could see the strong bond between them. Aunty visited India for my neighbour’s son’s baptism. That, definitely, is a strong bond.

Coming back to today, I offered to show Aunty some pictures of our house in Bangalore and our Durga Puja trip to the West Bengal village. I must say that I simply adored the way she noticed the details in the picture. She complimented my brother and my father-in-law.

She said I was ‘butifur’. Well, there is no ‘L’ in Japanese. An ‘L’ is usually replaced by ‘R’. She called me ‘butifur’ more than a couple of times and won me over.

Aunty is 73. An amazingly active lady at her age, she made me feel so comfortable I did not feel she was from another country. I could actually converse with her. She does not understand everything I say, neither do I, but both of us try. She is taking English language classes.

She told me that she felt ‘ronery’ and sad to hear that I was not going to stay here for long. I felt good to hear that. There was some bond developing.

January 28, 2008

There are voices in my head

Thoughts, thoughts, everywhere, nothing that translates into words. For the last few days, I have been thinking. A lot. I have been thinking about everything that my senses encounter - from the colossal electronic city of Akihabara to the three slices of bread I burnt this morning, from the open display of erotica in shops to the absence of English in this part of the world, from the desire to win over the world to the acceptance of things beyond control. The voices in my mind do not seem to translate into sensible sentences in any language. Yet, I do not despair. I am, surprisingly, extremely content, rather happy. I seem to be high on something. I have been, for a drastic change, living in the present, living the moment. The next decade, year, hour or even the minute, do not seem to trouble me.

The moments of solitude, sans introspection, make me happy. The voices in my mind seem to be taking me to places - places inside my head, inside my heart. I guess this is what living the moment is. I seem to be high on L.I.F.E.

January 23, 2008

It's snowing warmth!

It's snowing outside. It's the first time I am experiencing snow. Surprisingly, I woke up before six today, and a little while later, found small white feathers gazing through the windshield. I stood in the snow in my backyard and felt warm. A bit of warm sunshine seemed to have invaded into my day with the snow all over me.

I find myself humming Don William's 'Lord, I hope this day is good.' Listen

Readers, I hope your day is good, even if you are reading this a year after it has been written.

January 17, 2008

One day in the land of the rising sun

I know I owe my occasional readers a taste of my life in Japan. So, here is a description of one of my non-typical days spent here.

It was Monday, the 14th. Well, there is nothing special in the date. What’s special is that it was a holiday for my husband and he could take me out sight-seeing to Yokohama. The plan was to go on Sunday, but I was too lazy to get up in the morning for the purpose of sight-seeing. It sounded like the worst idea ever when my husband tried pulling me out of the bed. I promised him and myself that I will make it on Monday, and so I did.

We stay near the Hirama railway station. Hirama is a place in Kawasaki and falls on the Nambu line of the Japan railways. In order to go to Yokohama, we were supposed to take a train from Kawasaki. You can compare these two stations to the Whitefield and Bangalore City railway stations respectively.

We reach the Kawasaki station and head towards the Keihin-Tōhoku line platform. My husband had told me that it would take an hour an a half to make it to our destination from Hirama. I am, therefore, surprised, pleasantly, to discover that Yokohama is the next stop after Kawasaki in the train we have boarded. We get down at Yokohama and look for any sign that will give us an idea of how far the sight-seeing spots are. It comes as a flash of light to my husband that when he came here last, he had not come to Yokohama but had landed somewhere else. He suggests we take the train again and get down at the station after Yokohama. So, a few minutes later, we are back in a train heading to an unknown station we are supposed to get down at. He tries to shake his memory and reads the station names on a board inside the train. Fortunately, sometimes, you do get to read something in English here. However, these moments are very rare.

My husband thinks that the last time he came sight-seeing he had got down at a place called Ofuna. Meanwhile, I wonder if we are supposed to get down at a place three or four stops away from Yokohama, it cannot be Yokohama we are going to. The previous night, we had researched on the spots in Yokohama and made a list. I am now determined to verify with my list if we are even going to Yokohama.

We get down at Ofuna, and get lost again. We talk to the guy at the ticket counter but it doesn’t help much. Both he and we can understand only the names of the places in the conversation, nothing else. In our country, we need English to unite the diverse backgrounds, I guess. In this country, unfortunately for us, they have one language. And, it is not English.

My husband decides to call up his colleague to ask for directions when he realizes his mobile’s battery has run out. I keep my fingers crossed and ask him if he remembers his colleague’s number; in that case, we could call from a public phone. Thankfully, he does remember it and we spot a phone then and there. A few coins later, my husband tells me that they had taken a different route last time and his colleague has suggested that we go to Yokohama and contact the information centre there. I am completely exhausted by this time, not because of the travel, but because I am hungry. I sit on a platform bench to enjoy my cheese and corn bun, while my benchmate digs into his big Mac. My husband decides that he will eat once we reach our destination.

A little later, we are back in Yokohama via the Tokaido line. By this time, we are running at the station. We cannot afford to lose time. We have already lost an hour from the time we last came to the Yokohama station. We reach something called the Customer Service room. We check with the guy and he gives us directions to the Information Centre. We ask him which station we need to get down at to reach China Town. China Town is one of the sight-seeing spots I am not looking forward to. He tells us we should get down at Ichikawago which is three stops away, and that we should board a Negishi line train. We reach the Information Centre and manage a guide map, in English, to all the tourist spots in Yokomaha. Browsing through the map, I realize that all these spots stretch over a big area and three railway stations cover it. After perusing through the map, we decide to go to Ichikawago and rush to the Negishi line platform. We board a train, finally, to reach our destination, or so we thought. The next station comes, and people rush out, out of the train. I notice a couple standing opposite to us, on the platform. I find them giggling, and they seem to be looking at us. I notice our surrounding and figure out the oddity. We are the only passengers left in the train. Apparently, this is the terminus for this train. We come out of the train, completely irritated. We go out of the platform and ask a security man. We are told that we should go back to where we came from. Oh no, not to India, but back to the Negishi line platform. We figure out that there must be another train that will take us to our destination. However, we crib as no one told us we had to change trains at Sakuragicho!

Some cribbing later, we are at our destination station. As we walk hand-in-hand towards the China Town entry, I wonder if it is going to be worth the trouble. I take a couple of pamphlets as they are handed to me by pretty Chinese girls. I am not too sure if they are Chinese or Japanese. I feel bad that I am unable to notice the difference yet. I do not even notice the similarity. What I do notice is that I cannot remember a face in the tens or hundreds I see everyday.

I walk past rows and rows of small shops, selling everything from food items to clothes, from souvenirs to better future. There are a lot of palmist shops here. Palmists sit in rows on the pavement with a seat in front of each, and a ‘helper’ woos potential customers walking past. I am tempted to sit in one of those seats when my husband calms me down saying that they will predict my future for sure, but in Chinese or Japanese. It makes me more determined to join the Japanese classes I have been planning to.

We keep walking and I tell my husband, “I hope there is something worth seeing up ahead.” My husband looks at me and says, “This is the China Town. You are not looking around enough.” He further adds, “This is like the MG Road of Bangalore.” Yes, it is, but less crowded, less noisy, and more colourful.

We walk past the stores that glitter with something unusual but familiar. I look at the dresses on display and wonder if any will fit me. After twenty minutes of walking, I ask my husband if we can leave this spot and go to the next. China Town isn’t where my heart is. My husband takes me inside a two-storey shop and asks me to buy something. I know this is rare; it doesn’t happen to everyone. Unfortunately, it happens to the ones who don’t appreciate it, like me. I have never been interested in shopping, so I decline this offer and wait for the next. There is none. Instead of making another proposition, he takes the stairs to the second floor. I follow him, to discover a Chinese food court. I am delighted because I am extremely hungry. I know I can handle Chinese food better than Japanese. It took me a minute to realize there couldn’t be any vegetarian fare available; after all, we were in the land of fish and meat. Land of the rising sun? They should call it the land of the flesh – all sorts!

After talking in sign-language for five minutes, my husband orders a dish of egg fried rice for me. I am so glad I am an eggiterian. It would have been so difficult to survive here otherwise. Well, I am actually not surviving here with the local food. I survive with the self-cooked food and I indulge in it to an extent I am surprised I like my cooking that much! After a stomach-full, we go shopping for Chinese souvenirs in the Japanese land. In a few moments, we realize it doesn’t make sense and head towards our next destination, the amusement park, CosmoWorld.

We keep walking with the map in our hands and reach the port first. The port is called the Hashimata port. It has a lovely view. Though you cannot touch the water there, you can sense it with your eyes, ears and nose. My three senses awaken as I reach the port. I see a man and his daughter (not Japanese) feeding pigeons off their hands. As I wonder on the possibility of I doing it, I notice a noise and crowd disperse a few meters away. Evidently, there is some street show that has just got over and the street actor/magician/performer is thanking his audience. I want to see it, and look at the performer expectantly, waiting for his next performance. He, however, has no intention of starting it anytime soon. My husband tells me that this port is famous for the clarity of its water and that one could see the sea bed through the water. Looking forward to the spectacular sight, I peep down the railing into the water, to see a sea of plastic, boxes and other garbage floating on the water. This is so unlike Japan. This country is a spic and span country. You can go out in your best whites in the rains and come back dazzling. As I look away from the water to laugh at my husband, I also feel sad and disappointed. He assures me that we can see the clear water at the other end. We walk alongside the port railing in our search for clear water. I see the benches around the port, next to trees and want to sit down. My husband assures me that we can sit at the other side of the port after we have seen the sea bed through the clear water. As we walk along the railing, we notice that the water is clear so much so that we can see the pebbles, stones and small creatures clearly. It was a good sight. Encouraged, we keep walking along the railing until we hit the end; we are still away from the other end but we do not have to go anymore. We sight a café and get some hot coffee. Outside, near the port, we sit on a table and enjoy the coffee with the delicious cake we have carried from Hirama. There are pigeons and doves around. They do not fly away when they see humans coming. It is we who are making way for them. The doves are healthy and look lovely. This is the first time I am seeing doves. The pigeons remind me of the several pigeons that used to reside on the first floor of my neighbours’ house in Dhanbad. Pigeons remind me of my childhood. That smell and that sound are reminiscent of some happy days.

The hot coffee in the windy, chilly weather makes us feel great and we get up for our next destination. In a few minutes, we reach CosmoWorld. The lady at the ticket counter cannot speak English and she does not have an English guide map for us. We take tickets to Diving Car and Haunted House. I do not want to go to Haunted House for I don’t enjoy it much. Signs of a coward? Well, I can watch a horror movie alone or take a stroll out at midnight, but I don’t like creepy hands touching my shoulder, objects falling on my head, a head rotating itself in mid air and dwarf ghosts chasing me. I try to convince my husband about dropping the idea of going to Haunted House. He checks with the lady at the counter and finds out that he could use it at any other place in CosmoWorld whose ticket costs the same. While we wait in the queue of the Diving Car ride, I notice the car swirling in the air on tracks, then diving into a cave in the water, emerging out of it to give its passengers some more swirls. When our turn comes, I get into the car, excited. I shout at every high and scream at every low. Inspite of closing my eyes at the moment of diving into the cave in the water, I feel the darkness. I come out of the ride, happy.

We look for another ride or show for the same price as the Haunted House ticket and find three: Story of the Labyrinth – Key to the Heart, Fortune Teller, Shooting and Kaleidoscope. We know the fortune teller will not speak English and we are yet to learn Japanese. We are not interested in shooting. Story of the Labyrinth seemed interesting but because of the lack of ‘English-support’, as one our Indian acquaintances puts it, we drop the idea. We walk into the Kaleidoscope tent and think that this is going to be a sheer waste of money. We are handed over two pamphlets with our respective zodiac signs. We are supposed to get these stamped inside. Thankfully, the three girls at this counter provide the much needed ‘English-support’. We walk in and realize we are in a lane with similar looking tiles at our feet and glass walls beside. We keep walking and both of us hit the wall. Yes, it was a glass wall and it was at an angle that did not show our reflection, instead appeared as a door-less entry. In a couple of minutes, we realize we are in a maze and we cannot even figure out where the next exit is. After a round of bhool bhulaiya, we reach a machine. We are supposed to get our pamphlets stamped here. We stamp it and then look for the exit again. While we are enjoying our maze, I wonder why this is called the Kaleidoscope. When we think we have ended our little game and move up the curtain, we realize that we are out at the entry, not at the exit. We come inside once again and make our way across the maze again to reach the exit. And we realize it’s not the exit, but the kaleidoscope. It’s a big room and the entire room is the kaleidoscope. I love the way they have organized it. We come out and are asked to press the buzzer. If the buzzer stops at our zodiac signs, we can win. But, as always, we don’t win. We come out smiling though, marveling at the game of maze we just played.

Phew. This was how I spent one of my non-typical days. However, the typical days are no less exciting. I will post about them soon.