Sunday, June 17, 2007

My International Dining Ways...

I'd never tried Indian cuisine before moving to Japan. Isn't that strange? I lived in a college town that had plenty of Mexican restaurants, Chinese buffets, Italian places and two Thai- even a vegetarian restaurant or two- but no legitimate, authentic Indian places.

Indian cuisine was represented solely by some tasteless offerings at one of the vegetarian places.

Now I'm in Japan where "curry on rice" is practically the national dish and Indian restaurants abound.

Last night, I met some friends at Garuda, a small Indian restaurant just up the street from where Joshin Kid's Land used to be, and a door or two down from the former Groovy Gravy bar. Garuda has the best tandoori chicken I've had here in Japan- big meat pieces of chicken, served to you sizzling on veggies in a metal plate.

Afterwards, I challenged the triple again. Two scoops of chopped chocolate and one of rocky road. That's probably the last time I'll do that particular ice cream stunt but now that's it's summer here, I will be eating cold desserts frequently.

One of the girls working there seems to enjoy using her English with me when I order. One thing that tends to hold back English learners in Japan is the relative lack of English speaking opportunities. So even if the person lacks the Eigo-embarrassment so common among Japanese learners of English, he or she is probably somewhat screwed because the only outlet for using this skill is in the English class itself.

This is probably why so many English students here attempt to do homestays in Australia or Canada. Once your skill level in a foreign language has reached a certain point, that's probably the best way for you to push it higher or maintain it- get your ass to a country where people speak that language.

My Japanese is terrible, but it's so much better now that it would've been if I'd only studied at home in the U.S. I learned basic, introductory Japanese in America. Here, I use it daily and I pick up new words and phrases the natural way a baby might. By osmosis. I really need to supplement that with a formal class, but once again my work schedule interferes.

If I was really keen on learning Japanese- or more keen, I should say- that wouldn't be a problem. There are classes on Saturday morning and some during the week. But when you work 1pm-9pm, it feels like there's a huge chunk taken out of your day, right in the middle when you're most awake and willing to learn or do things.

And the wings on either end of my workday don't really allow for much personal time, which is something very precious and dear to me.

Saturday morning? Weekend mornings are my longest sustained "me time" segments of the week.

My ideal situation, I think, is a job where I work 9-6 and a Japanese class at 7.

I should be working on my comic in my freetime anyway. As much as I enjoy learning new things and want to improve my Japanese at a faster pace, doing creative things should be my first priority. Instead, I find myself piddling around in the Internet... for example, like now.

The ice cream really hit the spot after all the hot Indian food, and it was also pleasant talking to a cute, wide-eyed and smiling young woman in English.

"Thank you very much!" she said chirpily as I took my cup of challenge from her hand.

"You're welcome!" I replied, giving her a sincere smile.

People here tell me I smile a lot. I don't want to do anything to wreck this impression they have of me.

Before I took the #9 bus back to Sanarudai, I stopped by the bookstore in the Zaza basement. Their English book section has expanded and now takes up 3 shelf sections. They have a decent selection. Yajimaya is heavier on translations of Japanese literature, but other than that they have the same books. Mainstream authors like Dan Brown, J.K. Rowling and Stephen King tend to predominate, along with other junkfood books like Meg Cabot's "Princess" series. But you can also find Ray Bradbury, Virginia Woolfe, Truman Capote and a few other paperback surprises. Mario Puzo's potboiler The Godfather has been calling to me lately, too. But I'm trying not to buy anything I already own back in the States.

I read through the Lonely Planet Japan guide... especially the stuff on Tokyo, which I love. I'm surprised they don't mention Hotel Kent or Shinjuku Listel Hotel, two convenient and relatively cheap places I've stayed at in Shinjuku. Hotel Kent is right in Kabuki-cho, only about 5 minutes from the station and you can have a decent single for under 10,000 yen a night- for Tokyo and considering its location and quality, that's a bargain!

I'm trying to decide what I'm going to do for my summer holiday. I know I'll spend one night in the hospital, and a day moving into a new apartment. The hospital stay will be pricey (of course), but I may come away with some time and money to spend on something fun. I don't want to just watch TV in Hamamatsu like I did last year.

Although I needed that last year, time to reacquaint myself with this city and to also develop more "home" feelings about my current apartment.

This year, I'd planned to either head home for the 2 weeks, or else go to Hong Kong. Instead, I may have to shave my travels down to a couple of days either in Tokyo, or else someplace I haven't visited before, or where I've only spent a short time and that very long ago. Kyoto, Hiroshima?

I bought More What If?, a book of historical speculation. Essays wondering how Western civilization would've changed if Socrates had died at Delium, or Martin Luther had been burned at the stake. That's the kind of thing I groove on, being a longtime history buff. I've always been drawn to the science fiction genre called "alternate history," but usually the actual craft of writing has been so poor that I can only manage a page or two, much preferring to take a book's plot- what if England had remained Catholic, for example- and imagine a much more interesting story in my mind.

So it's fun to indulge the more scholarly side of this kind of imaginative exercise.

On a related note, I'm reading Harry Turtledove's Ruled Britannia, which features William Shakespeare involved in political intrigue in an England where the Spanish Armada succeeded and Queen Elizabeth was captured and imprisoned in the Tower of London by the triumphant forces of King Philip II.

Turtledove specializes in alternate history sci-fi, and Ruled Britannia is an exciting book that takes a dry premise and weaves something fun and surprisingly exciting from it. The prose is pretty engaging, too. I haven't found anything so glaringly inept that it would kick me out of the story...

Like my one attempt to delve into the pulp stylings of Tom Clancy. I lasted about 20 pages before the ineptitude of his writing overwhelmed the techno-espionage war-porn aspect and I had to leave the book lying on the library table.

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