Thursday, June 29, 2006

感情の極端

Novelists have this amazing ability to turn a very small thing into a 10-page long prose. They also have this amazing ability to draw easily understood examples to illustrate the profound depths of human emotions. It was merely about an event of teaching his adored woman English and getting mad at her inability to master the English grammar form, "to be," but the main character in Tanizaki's narrative went into such details portraying the conflicting emotional responses when seeing the woman he loves both foolish yet vulnerable.

The more he hated her mental foolishness, the main character describes, the more he's drawn to her physical beauty. "If she cannot become a talented woman intellectually, she has at least excelled in becoming a stunning beauty ... Her physical beauty has sufficiently made up for her mental incapacity," the main character says.

Only later does he realize that the whole thing was a fraud. The beauty has intentionally made mistakes in order to witness the extreme degree of his explosive anger. Being scolded harshly, she secretly enjoys her talented scheme. When they first start to play chess, he deliberately loses the game in order to boost her confidence; only later does he realize that her developed confidence has carried her further to become a more supreme chess player. Though being on the defeated end now, the male character only falls more deeply in love with her.

Human emotions are such whimsical things that they flash through time and space in such quick moments that we experience each day yet we hardly come to realize what they really mean. Yet novelists capture that moment, sharply and beautifully, and explain to us the rationale behind and reveal at times the degree of extremity that such emotions may bring us. It makes us understand ourselves and life more, yet the more we understand, the more we are dumbfounded by the level of complexity.

Just enjoy the reading then, even at times we may never come to fully understand as we continue to live, even though we don't always know the purpose clearly. Sometimes it's the process that's the whole point of all.

梅ちゃん at 10:30:00 PM

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盛夏!

盛夏到了!

Summer has finally arrived in Tokyo. Everywhere on the street there are posters of neighborhood summer festivals flying around. Community consciousness and solidarity are so easily seen in these posters. It doesn't matter if it's a tiny little town with just one street of business venues, parlors, 100-yen shops, or what not, there is a festival for the neighborhood people to participate and to claim their local pride. Last year I went to a small, local summer festival near Asakusa. The festival took place along a tiny little alley, but even days before there were people decorating the alley with plastic bamboo/flower branches and paper laterns. On the day of the festival, all the neighboring elementary schools and men's or women's associations presented their own traditional dances and dressed in costumes hand-made or custom tailored. All neighborhood restaurants lined up benches and picnic tables along the tiny alley, and all the local delicacies were prepared as if that was the biggest festival of the year. It was something that reminded me of a neighborhood baseball game in the U.S., except that this is something that someone like me, who cares nothing about baseball or sports in general, could still participate and have a good time. Just for the food itself was worthwhile.

I had lunch at a Japanese fast food restaurant today, something that's similar to Yoshinoya selling regular beef/pork rice dishes. I personally enjoyed the food there given the reasonable amount of price. With 6 dollars one could get a big bowl of rice topped with stir-fried beef/pork + miso soup + a salad on the side. WIth an extra dollar one could also get a bowl of cold tofu or change the regular-sized soup to a big one. Except that I never like the moment of walking into the store and being stared at all the male customers in the restaurant. Traditionally this is a quick eatery place for poor students, construction workesr, or salari-men who ended up working up late and wanted to grab a bowl of something on the way home. Very rarely would a female OL go to this kind of shop even though the food really is quite decent given the price.

So where do the women go? Cafes like Doutor where they could get a sandwich set for around the same price or perhaps just cook at home. Not to say that there are absolutely no women's customers visiting these cheap eatery places, but in recent years these places have "upgraded" the interior and diversify the menu much that it's pretty great for a quick bite for anybody. Restaurants like this, when migrated to other countries like Taiwan or Hong Kong or even the U.S., they become quite popular places, regarded as "Japanese foreign export" and attract a lot of young customers and working professionals. But apparently the original nature of such places connotes different meaning here in Japan.

In any case, I'd rather get a hot bowl of pork teriyaki at these places than a tiny tiny little sandwich at a cafe in front of the station. Perhaps my poor grad student living status will continue for another few more years that eventually they will outlive the change of social tides here. Maybe next time when I visit Japan, more women will be able to eat there without being seen as strange. We shall see.

梅ちゃん at 4:49:00 PM

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Wednesday, June 28, 2006

勉強になりました

After a week of settling in, I packed up and moved again. This time, to a place much farther from the center of the city, and it'll take me a while to go anywhere I want to. But it's ok. I've gone through worse in life; one of the times too happened in Tokyo. Something about this city - I love it yet it seems to always leave me bitter-sweet memories.

今日すごく勉強になりました。It's not rare to feel betrayed by someone you've truly trusted and come to consider a close, intimate one. But when it happens, it sucks to the bone. I don't think any word could ever explain how terrible that feels like, but anyone who's been through it knows exactly what I'm talking about. 無奈, lost, angry, feeling hurt, extremely hurt. Tears flow like a broken water pipe, but there's absolutely nothing you can do. One can only learn to let go and allow for time to heal everything.

When my friend told me last night about some of the most bizarre things involved the most unreasonable customers at the pool hall he used to work at, I listened through it and the first thing that I told him was - でも、すごく勉強になったんじゃないの? Then we both laughed. Sometimes, that's the only attitude one could take, and to continue to hope for the better.

I've left home since the age of 18. I've lived a life of habitual relocation on average every 8-9 months. Sometimes every 2 months if it's over the summer. When I first arrived at Wellesley, I was assigned to room with a racist roommate that eventually I had to leave after the first month. Then the transfer, then the decision to go to Japan. Two days ago as I was sorting through email messages from the past and re-reading some of the long email I wrote to dear friends across the world during my summer internship time in Tokyo, I was shocked to see how tough of an internship I really had. For the first 2-3 weeks, almost every first paragraph of my mail started with things like "work is killing me," "my boss is the most demanding and tough to deal with," or "I'm just trying to keep my head above water." It was tough, but I learned so much. When I went back to Kyoto for Gion Festival, my host mom was amazed by how much I'd suddenly grown and matured within just a few weeks. So that move to Tokyo was a big one, a milestone. Then back to Penn, just trying to figure out what to do next until I finally decided to go to China and teach for a year.

Who would've guessed that SARS would force our school to close down within half-a-day notice. After an emergency meeting with the admin. staff, all my students were sent home on the next available train. Within 2 days the whole building was emptied, and there were only the three of us foreign teachers plus the cleaning ladies and security guards left. We also lived right across a military hospital where they set up a special "fever" department right outside the hospital, just a few meters from our dorm. Within a week, I moved out of Beijing, taking two suitcases to Shanghai and starting an executive assistant job at a start-up company.

In hindsight, that job also taught me a lot, though during the whole time I felt unfairly treated upon a double standard. While all other foreign employees were out there sun bathing or playing with kids in the swimming pool, I was indoor typing some bilingual proposals that I knew were bound to never be realized. Towards the end of the summer, I realized that I can't go on working on something that doesn't really match with my own academic interests; I moved out again, this time into a traditional Shanghainese neighborhood. I did like the spacious studio tucked in this quiet neighborhood built in the 70's, except that the broken toilet and giant cockroach visits in the middle of shower time wearied me out. Within 2 weeks, I moved again, this time, finally settling into a nice one bedroom that became temporary home for the next 9 months.

When I came to Boston, I thought this would at last be the city to call home. Even to today I still don't know if it was reverse-cultural shock or some permanent character change in me that made it hard for me to fall for the city. The decision to study at Cambridge didn't come till middle of August, and I had less than 2 weeks to find a place to live when all dorms had been filled. It was a peaceful rooming situation, but a school year later I moved again.

This time, my roommie and I really spent time decorating the place. I think we did the best we could to make a traditional school-housing interior as homey as possible. Alas, my roommie was in her last year in the program and I had no choice to move out. My next temporary residence will be in a beautifully decorated and furnished apartment near school. I can't be more grateful for having found such a beautiful place for such a reasonable price. But I also wonder what it's going to be like living alone.

And now, as if forever haunted by an unbroken curse, I relocated again after just merely 7 days after arriving in the city. This time, it only took me 2 hours to find a new place to live. 東京之大,總還有我容身之處。只是受了傷的心一時不知該何去何從。

Thanks for the friends who never turn their backs on me whenever the lowest point in life hits. Thanks for their patience and willingness to listen and to talk, regardless of distance and time difference. I know the drill. I just need some time.

今回もすごく勉強になりました。

梅ちゃん at 2:01:00 AM

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Monday, June 26, 2006

梅雨・アジサイ(紫陽花)・居酒屋

Though the weather has been gray and overcast since getting here, today was the first day when rain really poured. I'm not a big rain fan, but somehow rain seems to be the only appropriate thing for this season. "Plum rain" as the literal translation for 梅雨/the rainy season would be has been missed, and I enjoyed every bit of it today.

I only lament that most of the アジサイ(紫陽花)have already bloomed. I've wanted to catch the last glimpse of these beautiful blue-purple, lavender-pink, or pure white flowers before they are all gone. Summer will enter its full swing in just a week or two. I can't wait for all the festivals to come.

I went back to the old company that I interned at, a market research company that used to based near Shibuya but just recently relocated to this place just 15 mins away from my apartment. It was good to see 元田さん and a few other part-time workers from years before. Also glad to see the nicely designed new office space with big, open windows separating the telephone interview room and the regular office desks. I only wish I could walk in and still see the same group of interns there ... 桑さん、カナちゃん、木内君,ノブ、暁 ... A certain memories can never be repeated.

元田さんはもう結婚している。カナちゃんと桑もまだ付き合っている。Many things have changed, yet many things have remained the same. It's always good to see continuity amongst changes that spin you head too hard.

暁はすごく中国語の勉強に熱中しているそうだね。暁 is this friend who's amazing at language acquisition. He's never been to any English-speak countries yet speaks English better than 99% of foreign English speakers that I know. Now he's on to his own Chinese-learning project, and I have to give him the most credit for getting the Chinese accents almost all correct as a foreigner. As for me ... いつ本当に日本語を母国語のように話せるだろうね ...

I spent a few hours in the library not studying but embarking on this overwhelming project of sorting through past email correspondence and reorganizing my mail boxes. What a daunting job that I'd never imagined before. My "sent" mailbox went from 2300+ messages to 1400+ messages after 2 hours, but now I have no idea if I should even continue on with this monumental job. The blessing is that going through all these sent messages, I got to relive college senior year plus 2 years in China. Human memory could never be flawless. I thought I top most people in terms of remembering the most memorable events, places, and people ... I apparently thought too highly of myself.

A certain friends have stayed; a lot have, in the meanwhile, departed. I appreciate those who have remained the same and faithful to our friendship. Anything that stands against the test of time eventually should be the most treasured.

I'm starting to read 谷崎淳一郎's <痴人の愛>. I love it. It's a much easier read than 太宰治. I haven't come to any concrete conclusion on this thought, but somehow I've been given this impression that a lot of Japanese novelists like to write in a first-person tone, namely the「僕」tone. Murakami Haruki has earned his fame for that, and both <痴人の愛> and <人間失格> are the same in this regard. There's something extremely appealing with writing in the first-person perspective, something so internally indulgent yet allowing for the reader to go in deeper and dig in further - only that I need to remind myself not to fall into the writer's trap of setting up everything to make myself believe that "he" has truly done so ...

The first week in Japan has flown by. Everyday there are new things observed or encountered that trigger much thought and new inspirations. I almost laughed my head off today when I walked into one of the franchised coffee shops. A sign that welcomed me at the entrance reads - "non-smoking seats near the entry; smoking seats in the far-end corner." Hello!?! What difference does it make when the coffee shop is half of a normal classroom size and one still tries to abide to the non-smoking rule? As if the smoke doesn't travel?

I have no intention of degrading the Japanese effort to start creating more of a non-smoking environment. I think it's great. It's just that it still amazes me how smoking is considered such a socially acceptable behavior.

Having said that - I love the absence of drinking age here. Otherwise, I wouldn't be on my fourth sawaa right now while writing this blog.

梅ちゃん at 11:05:00 PM

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Sunday, June 25, 2006

At Home in the Kingdom of Small Things

Got into Tokyo late Tuesday evening and have spent the week settling into the new place and battling against jet lag. The first thing that struck me during my first hour in Tokyo is the scent of the train. Given that it was still before dinner time and the trains hadn't been polluted by alcohol smell, the scent was quite nice. Sweet, soapy, warm, and it reminded me of traditional bath houses in Japan. I used to think Americans are obsessed with personal hygiene - just look at how many times some Americans take showers in a day and how big drug stores like CVS's are. Though being here I realized that Japan is a country that tops the U.S. for the amount of toiletries sold. Today I even came across a drug store that sold some of my favorite fruity alcoholic coolers. Mmm ... サワーは夏の思い出なのだ!

I can't remember how many times I've visited Japan. Still, everytime I'm here, I continue to discover new things that amaze me and old mysteries that I've never come to solve. To start with some of the new discoveries:

- Japanese cafe owners/coffee drinkers perhaps like to keep their privacy intact and their presence *unseen* when they sit in cafe's and sip their expresso's or ice milk tea (the best in the world I have to say). Whereas big glass windows often mark the greatest attraction point for most cafe's in the U.S., in Japan, the fewer windows the better it seems like, esp. for the old-style kissaten (tea room) or neighborhood coffee shop visited nowadays by people above the 60's. Why is that that cafe windows are rather kept small and foggy here in Japan? The past few days I even walked by cafe's that purposely plant miniature trees right by the windows in order to block people-watching from the inside and pedestrians' curiosity from the outside. Foggy/colored glass windows also seem to be favored.

- Somehow despite Japan's super modern urban development, a certain traditional ways of living never get to change. The area of interior space is measured not by square meters but by the number of tatami mats. My current studio is said to be only 6 tatami-mat big, a standard, comfortable size for one person's living as some Japanese told me. Comfortable?!? Are you kidding me? I don't even have space to put my rice cooker and whenever any cooking attempts are made, all pots and pens and utensils have to find their temporary shelter on the floor. Although I am falling in love with my futon here. Mind you that this isn't the futon usually seen or used in the U.S. My futon set literary consists of a) no frame b) no mattress and c) just a light, spongy futon bottom + a soft mat + a regular blanket. The first night I had problems trying to figure out what layer goes where and which mat goes on top of the other. Though now I totally love it and thank it for saving so much space during the day. I only wish I have a real closet so that I could imagine what Nobita-kun and Doraemon talk about late in the evening separated by a thin sliding closet door.

And yes, when I sit on my toilet, my knees are still 3 cm away from the bathroom door. That part of the interior design remains the same, like last year's weekly mansion.

- The sense of community ... Alright, I know that this is a beat topic discussed by academics or foreigners ALL THE TIME who study/visit Japan. But the idea of a tight community consciousness still continues to amaze me. Just two days ago a 16-year-old high schooler set fire on his own house, killing his step mother and half sister. Not that this isn't a tragic event worth reporting, but to report it literarily non-stop for a day straight with every possible detail about the incident and the young boy covered just baffled me. Aren't incidents as such happen all the time? Why does the media community as well as the public seem so shocked by the event? I used to think only in a tiny island like Taiwan, which has 6 or 7 24-hour cable news TV stations, would a *local* news as such takes center stage. Japan isn't necessarily that different, except that it remains selective to the local news reported nation-wide. When I was munching down my breakfast while flipping through the channels where every single news program was giving a detailed coverage of the incident, I was thinking - now someone is going to jump out and make some far-fetched claims like "morality is lost among the Japanese adolescents" or "what has happened to our younger generation?!?". A min. later, one of the program hosts that was having a round-table discussion with 4 other academics/commentaries indeed made that claim as his final remark for the hour.

- Cats vs. grave yard. Now, what's the connection? The first day when I arrived, I immediately realized that there are a ton of cats in the neighborhood. At first I thought my neighbors just have the interesting habits of letting their cats out for some sun-bathing time till dinner. The same night when I walked back from the 100-yen shop I realized that, no no, these are actually wild cats. Then I started noticing the 4 or 5 temples in the area and thought, wow, I actually am living right next door to a grave yard here ... Could it be that these wild cats fill their stomachs by snatching the food offerings left in the grave yard? Now back in childhood people used to scare me by saying that cats can sense the diseased spirit (if not see them), and seeing a black cat, for example, passing by is considered extremely bad luck ... Hm, fortunately I haven't spotted any black cats in the area, otherwise I perhaps would really consider going home earlier than usual from this point on ...

A few things that remain mysterious for years and still I haven't figured out the reason for:

- Japanese in general smoke A LOT. Gender equality has achieved its true milestone in this particular area in life as men and women both smoke a lot, and the latter do not seem to be judged upon a double standard. The question is - given how much Japanese smoke, how are they able to live such long lives? Is it about the diet, the tea, the bike riding, or some other unknown reasons?

- Ladies here wear the most uncomfortable-looking high-heels in my opinion. Now, how do they manage to walk such long distance each day with a lot of climbing up and down the subway stairs?

- Kingdom of small things ... That's right. Now it makes more sense to me why my room this past year was filled with tiny, useless decorative items that really cost me so much time to pack up at the end. I went to LOFT yesterday, a giant household supplies department store that literally has everything and anything one could ever think of to use or put in the house. The amount of commodities in there was amazing, and the amount of *useless* commodities was beyond imagination. Purely for the aesthetics? Maybe ... The "kingdom of small things" - I think that's how I'm going to call Japan from now on. And already, I bought two completely useless stuff yesterday on the street - one strawberry-parfait-looking magnet and another lemon-kakikori magnet. Completely useless, but I couldn't help myself. This afternoon I even walked by "food models" shops, those that make all the plastic food models for restaurants. Why in the world do food models cost twice as much as real food?

- Kingdom of beer houses. Yes, and it's amazing how many beer houses per square meter are out here in EVERY Tokyo neighborhood. And the most amazing thing is - they always have customers sitting there sipping osake till closing hours. How do people find their favorite beer houses that they keep going back to? How do these beer houses compete with one another given the explosive amount of beer houses out there? Someone took me to the "Golden-gai" in Shinjuku and literally there are 20 bars lined up in each tiny alley, each with such distinctive character and diverse menu's. How do people choose? How do the venues stay profitable?

- Last but not least - why in the world is Tokyo city gov't STILL building new subway lines and express train lines? And they even bother to keep the bus system running even though subway stations are fully accessible from all corners of the city. Most of all - how do buses get to always be on time here? My professor told me that given the high suicide rate at train stations in Japan, people have somehow managed to take suicide accidents into consideration when they create the time table in order to make sure that with a few suicide incidents happening in the day the trains could still run on time. Am I supposed to offer my round of applause for that or to shake my head and sigh?

梅ちゃん at 12:02:00 AM

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Saturday, June 10, 2006

Count Down

7 days till I leave for Japan. Sudden fear that I may never finish packing this place.

How in the world did I end up with so much junk?

Sigh.

梅ちゃん at 4:32:00 PM

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Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Seems like this hasn't been the smoothest graduation season for some of my friends. Though it's not my graduation, life hasn't been any easier on my end of the story either. With constant fluctuation b/t showers and sun shine, with the previously cozy apartment now turning into a gigantic storage space, and with an unfinished paper weighing in the back of my mind - yes, even in sleep - I can't think of anything but one word to describe my life right now:

亂・Chaos.

Weather forecast for graduation day - Showers, high 55, low 54. Friends, remember to wear something black underneath your gown.

Wish time could just fastfoward so that I'd right now be on that plane heading towards Tokyo. 'Cuz by then, I will have *perhaps* finished the last final paper, packed and cleaned up the apartment, said goodbyes to multiple friends, taken and gotten over the Japanese language test/interview for the Monbusho scholarship, and had some kind of closure to Cambridge, this city that I've never come to like too much. That day will come, I just don't know what else is going to happen from now till the arrival of that day.

But that day will come.

The next time I arrive at this city again, I'll be living by myself in a new one-bedroom on the other side of the campus. There will be hardly anyone I'm close with here in the city, except a small number of girls who started life in Cambridge with me in the first year. The life of teaching as a TF will begin; hard-core study for the General Exam will begin too. I just don't know if my heart and mind would be ready to be here, all alone, as if starting life all over again, here, in Cambridge, a city I still haven't come to like much.

A friend of mine wrote on her recent blog entry that 「人生苦短,追求任何東西的代價都不該那麼高。我想不出有什麼理由要讓我和愛人父母朋友分離,在這塊土地上苦苦懷念那塊土地。」I have to say that when I first read that, I was stunned by the truth in this statement. Having left home since the age of 18 - and perhaps more importantly, cutting myself away from some kind of foundation of cultural, personal, national ID - I have always thought that a moving, transient life is what should be eagerly sought after in one's early age in life. Nothing wrong with being alone, nothing wrong with moving every 9 months. 人生苦短,要旅行跨國界見識人群拓展視野要趁早, even at the expense of cutting off ties from families and friends who are truly dear to my heart. So dear that I can't remember the last time I really cried b/c I missed them so much. B/c I thought that they are always there, and that as soon as I land on that piece of land, they'd all still be there, just like before, as if nothing has changed.

Till I realize that - no one has ever guaranteed to be there when I return - if I ever return. People move on, form their new circles of friends, families, and loved ones. All that's left with me are memories that can never completely be shared with others or knowledge, horizon, perspectives - whatever you name it - that cannot translate into a warm, heartfelt hug at times when it's needed.

Although I'm not the graduate this year and thus have no reasons for families to visit me, somehow seeing my roommate's family coming in, staying up all night packing with her, eating take-out's with her, cheering for her having turned another page in life, I've become terribly, terribly homesick. Homesick for a family member who'd also be able to stay up late with me and just pack with me, with not a word of complaint but just plain acceptance. Plain acceptance. A bond that can never be broken.

很久沒有那種感覺了。很懷念。

梅ちゃん at 4:42:00 PM

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Sunday, June 04, 2006

Houseclosing

開完了史上最大的 Houseclosing party 之後,「家」一點一點地開始變形。

先是房裡偶而用用的座地燈以10塊美金的便宜價賣掉。接著是廚房的餐桌組(從今開始練習吃飯席地而坐要不靠牆站立)。再來是電視與電視架。明天舒服的沙發也將成為歷史。室友在 Craige's List 上找到的不知名買主將電視搬走後,我們將廚房的小電視移到客廳,重新安接DVD與VCR後面亂七八糟的電線。一陣忙亂完畢,我倆看了看一下子縮小不少的螢幕和座落在地板上的AV器材,我說了一句:

「怎麼家裡一下子變寒酸了?」

這一年終究是結束了。

遷徙的日子又開始了。

梅ちゃん at 12:32:00 PM

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