Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Here & There; Then & Now - Tokyo 6.26.07

Oddly, out of all the radio stations that I could possibly turn on right now, I choose WERS 88.9 from Emerson College in Boston. 1:48 am here and 12:48 pm there. So many afternoon studies back in Cambridge over the past semester was done with the company of music streaming from WERS 88.9. The evening shows are no good, but for a good 3 or 4 hours in the afternoon, the station introduces the latest as well as classic alternative bands and melodies, a blow of fresh air apart from all the top-20 songs repeatedly played on Kiss 106.9.

And that familiar song by the Brazilian artist (whose Portuguese name I cannot pronounce and thus has escaped my mind at the moment) just streamed out from my MacBook ...

From there to here ... Life changes in an instant, with little consistency (it seems like) in between except for what remains in the mind. Life changes in an instant, in a speed too fast and a fashion too drastically different that the little sense of coherence or logic left could only be recognized by the transnational traveler alone.

How could I ever communicate life there and life here, time then and now, to two separate groups of audience, albeit the existence of words and images?

Inevitable late-night ruminations, as stress over tomorrow's meeting continues ...

梅ちゃん at 1:48:00 AM


Monday, June 25, 2007

夏のいろいろ - Tokyo 6.25.07

Argh ... I can feel it ... that tingling feeling in the back of my thoat ...



Reminiscence of *any* Japanese drama?




梅ちゃん at 9:44:00 PM


Saturday, June 23, 2007

巧 - Tokyo 6.23.07




儘管是如此大的東京都,卻還是能碰上了同樣是從小在兩個不同文化和語言環境裡成長、打滾的小孩。M小學時代住過紐約,回到東京以後一直在所謂的慶應「電扶梯」學制裡就學,最後進入醫學部。雖然不過是三年的英語小學教育,他一口流利的英語讓我一時間錯以為他是在國外長大的「日系」小孩。M的女朋友K也有趣。十三歲的時候從康州回日,不斷在日本當地的學校和慶應的國際program裡游走,最後留下來念這裡的醫學院。一個弟弟在東京國際學校就讀,而最小的妹妹在Andover要昇十一年級,現在在印度參加學校舉辦的暑假志工活動。問到K為何想要念醫學院,她說,是接觸了Doctors Without Borders的組織訊息後,受了感動,希望有朝一日將能借用醫學的專業來幫助發展中國家的人們。

M過幾天就要啓程去紐約開始為期一個多月的internship,而K在八月中會去德州特別提供癌症治療與看護訓練的醫院訪問。 我要M在紐約的醫院裡好好努力,或許以後可以實現在美國住幾年,完成住院醫師訓練的夢想。K說在她去德州之前,会把她的妹妹介紹給我,讓我和她分享一下在美國和亞洲之間移動和生活的經驗。




在如此日本卻又如此現代與國際化的東京,我不過是數十萬名外國人中的小小一員。一年的時間不足夠我去成為日本社會的一員;但以學術之目的抵日的我,亦不準備成為白天在Starbucks與Dean & Deluca,晚上在六本木Hills附近的酒吧夜店裡流連忘返的expat。



梅ちゃん at 9:53:00 PM


Thursday, June 21, 2007

Guessing Game - Tokyo 6.19 ~ 21.07

It's been a little over a week since I arrived in Tokyo. So far my area of activity has not passed the Inokashira line and remained anywhere between Shibuya and Kichijoji or between Shinjuku and Shibuya (alright, except a few hours spent in Ginza yesterday). It has daunted me now how much energy and time (if not pure muscle strength) that it takes to set up a place. Everything little thing - from bathroom's towel hanger to plastic organizers to dishware or cooking ware to tissue boxes - every single thing had to be stuffed in mere plastic bags (thanks to the tough ones in Japan!) to the point of explosion and slowly transferred back to my apartment in two hands. Thanks to good public transportation network, no Uhaul or Zipcar is needed here.

There has been an embedded sense of anxiety within, however. Every day as I open my mouth, a "guessing" game begins. It's actually quite fun of a game at times, since this game involves the testing or observing of Japanese people's various reactions to pronunciation + face recognition.

B/c I am born of an Asian face and probably my attire has somewhat resembled the Japanese fashion, daily when I open my mouth to speak, a few circumstances would occur (in the order unexpected and uncontrollable) :

1) 5 sentences into the conversation the person realizes that my Japanese is not native - this is resulted either from a mistake made in the grammar structure or a pronunciation slightly off from my side. Or, alternatively it's the bombardment of honorifics that render me speechless for that 5 seconds that catch the other's attention. Despite all that, the Japanese counterpart would continue to speak in fluent and fast Japanese and attempt to make the conversation flow as freely and naturally as ever. A moment of shock or realization is inevitably realized on his/her face, yet such realization becomes internalized and the person manages to keep it all within oneself.

2) 1 minute into the conversation the person realizes that I am a foreigner! Again, this is resulted from the similar causes mentioned above but the Japanese person's resolution to the circumstances now differs. Either he/she would start stumbling through words b/c of a desire to search for a simple way to speak to me, or he/she simply is still absorbed in the unfamiliarity of dealing with a foreigner with a Japanese-looking face. In any case, the conversation begins to stall and my flow of words begin to stall more if not my grammar becomes ever more erroneous. At the end, the communicate would result in a sense of awkwardness and only may be rescued if either side decides to simply toss out a smile or bow profusely to defuse the tension in the atmosphere.

3) The very first sentence fails to be understood right away. In this case, the person would utter a "eh?!?" sound along with a "eh?!?" look and then freeze in the air for a few seconds not knowing if the other person - aka, me - has emerged from Mars. In this particular circumstance, the Japanese counterpart would begin to "externalize" his/her confusion while his/her own Japanese ability start to recede to a point where nothing spoken from my side is anywhere recognizable. Such a conversation usually resulted in the Japanese person giving me a displeased look of annoyance if not disgust, and whatever request or inquiry that I have attempted to bring up would inevitably get lost and utterly abandoned.

Such is the common reality faced by foreigners living in Japan. This is certainly not a reality experienced by all foreigners, for 9 out of 10 times my fellow Caucasian friends would only experience the first circumstance accompanied by overwhelming among praises about how great their Japanese is even if only one word is spoken. Born of an Asian face, I, alas, am disqualified to enjoy such privileges.

To end this very long rambling of cross-cultural communication ... Here's a hilarious scene witnessed in the streets of Shinjuku the other day -

(the front view)

(the line that waits around the corner to get into the line in front)

In this so-called increasingly global world, a certain fascination towards "foreign exoticism" has not come to an end ...

梅ちゃん at 1:44:00 AM


Tuesday, June 19, 2007

生活 - Tokyo 6.18.07


人們上班、下班、乘公車換地鐵打手機短訊,白天薪水族或工讀生和老闆顧客鞠躬哈腰,下午鄰居主婦太太們喝茶聊天稱贊哪塊蛋糕是如何美味令人口齒留香,晚上和同事或同學們去居酒屋吃飯喝酒趕搭午夜終電電車 … 這一切的一切讓我驚奇。有時移動在下班時間人滿為患的新宿電車站裡,我猛然駐足,開始思考身邊的東京人們究竟是如何在如此龐大複雜的交通體系和移動速度飛快的城市步調裡,以極有效率和秩序的方式完成上述的種種事項 … 特別是當多數人能在邊走路邊騎單車之餘,仍不忘發送手機簡訊與電子郵件。










梅ちゃん at 3:35:00 AM


Monday, June 18, 2007

Unwanted Visitor - Tokyo 6.17.07

I'm tired of setting up my apartment when every single little thing needs to be bought and dragged back to the apartment on the train ... Today I went to Tokyu Hands to get a shoe rack. I can only afford the cheapest kind (plus it probably just doesn't make much sense to buy anything better than that since it'll inevitably be tossed out after a year's time) and still the size turned out to be too big. So now I'll have to drag it back to Shinjuku on two different trains and exchange it for something else.


Another major thumb down is that I spotted the BIGGEST centipede EVER in life today, crawling around discreetly underneath one of my sandals. No hysterical screaming this time; I simply cussed. The worst thing is the more I tried to push it out of the way towards the door, the faster it ran towards me. At last I opened the door ajar and flipped it out of my room with a mop ... I had intended to let it just fall out of the balcony and returned to his la-la-soil-land (where do centipedes live anyway??), but instead it crawled the fastest it could and went through the bottom crack of the door into my neighbor's room ...

I truly and most sincerely am sorry for not stopping the centipede from entering my neighbor's room, a total accident unplanned ... I only hope that he/she is a much braver soul who could kill it instead of just spraying cleaning detergent on it and, upon failing to kill it, flipping it out of the room hysterically with a mop ...

The most ridiculous episode, yes, but one of the scariest that wil turn into nightmires. This one may top all of my cockroach-encounters from the past ...

Why does God create centipedes anyway?

梅ちゃん at 12:18:00 AM


Saturday, June 16, 2007

Cinderella Story - Tokyo 6.16.07

Really not much to report on except that I spent the whole day cleaning and putting things in order at home. All the boxes arrived safely from the U.S. and the futon + bedding set bought from the discount store 2 days ago got sent in via black cat service. I'm totally crazy about these home delivery services in Japan now.

The sun's been blazing over the past few days even though temperature hasn't been the most brutal. Except with floor-scrubbing left to do, I shall step down from my Cinderella role tomorrow and just go into the city and enjoy a nice cup of mid-afternoon coffee.

Dinner time has been the hardest so far. 4 days in a row I eat by myself in cheap eatery places that offer set meals range from 5 to 7 dollars each; 4 days in a row I only eat one meal a day. I can get through the day not thinking about food at all 'cuz time flies by with so many errands to run, forms to fill out, and household supplies to buy. But when dinner time hits, I sit alone at a narrow counter next to an array of salarimen, otaku guys, or poor college students, and I can't help but missing friends or loved ones far away.

4th night in Tokyo. My jetlag is killing me ...

梅ちゃん at 11:03:00 PM


The Black Cat Service – Tokyo 6.15.07

Nope, didn’t get to use it today but I thought I might as well blog about it ‘cuz had I used it today I would’ve saved myself much sweat and muscle pain …

In Japan there is the so-called “home express service” (literal translation from 宅急便) that offers fast and economical home delivery service w ithin the entire country. A piece of luggage from the airport may be delivered to home by 10 pm that night upon arrival, a basket of seasonal fruit may be sent by the grandparents from the countryside in Kyushu all the way to the Honshu island before dinner time, and a packet of fresh sashimi ordered on JAL or ANA flights may be enjoyed next day upon arrival. Best of all, there are numerous drop-off locations at almost all the convenient stores in town if not neighborhood mom-and-pop grocery stores around the corner, and the cost is by far the biggest draw – just a few days ago I sent off my 140-pound worth of luggage from Narita airport at 4:30 pm. By the time they arrive at my doorstop, the clock barely ticked 9 pm.

Guess how much all that expedient service cost me? Less than 30 dollars! … a few dollars cheaper than a taxi ride from Boston Logan Airport to Cambridge.

And why has it been referred to the “black cat service”? B/c one of the most established companies in service has a black cat as its business logo and called itself “Yamato Transport” where “yamato” has become a quintessential lingo for “Japanese-ness” (大和).

What haunted me today that I decided to let go of the black cat service I do not know. But having gone through one of the hardest laboring workout in history trying to drag a 15-pound TV messily wrapped in a semi-broken cardboard box and desperately tied around by clear duck tape, I’m making a sincere suggestion to you all who may ever come to relocate in Japan – USE THE BLACK CAT, it’s totally worth it.

A few pictures from the day, in no particular order or logic behind:

Season of Hydrias

The one and only meal of the day – fresh tuna-don set plus turnip salad

View of Shinjuku in a distant taken from one of the school buildings, 9th floor

Students stretching during a PE lesson - do they have to stretch in such orderly fashion?

梅ちゃん at 1:16:00 AM


Friday, June 15, 2007

Identity Multiplied- Tokyo 6.14.07

It's been raining since 4 pm this afternoon. Tokyo is drenched in the middle of its annual monsoon season while I too had been soaked in freezing and sporadic showers since 4 pm while looking for a 100-yen shop around Kichijoji area. For some reason I haven't had much luck coming across a 100-yen shop or 99-yen supermarket this time. Right in my neighborhood there are 4 convenient stores, but the dollar-store hasn't found this area fascinating enough to stay. From now on, grocery shopping will need to be done slightly creatively - either mid-day shopping is required in neighborhood mom-and-pop grocery stories, or a ride to the end of the train line would become necessary in order to ensure that life doesn’t go broke by the end of the month.

I couldn’t decide for the longest time whether or not I want a full- or twin-size comforter today while standing in the crowded aisle of this mega discount store. The store lady obviously realized that I’m not a local as I keep pressing her with the question of what the difference is between a “single”- vs. a “double”-size comforter. I can’t believe that I attempted to ask her whether or not a “double” = “full” (fo-lu in katakana pronunciation). “Huh?” the lady gave me this blank look three times. Never mind … it’s not like the store carries anything else other than these two sizes.

That was when I realized that the ability to move around a lot and so much is a blessing yet a curse of its own. The up side of the story is that one gets to travel to a new place and meet new people and encounter things never experienced before; the down side of it, however, is one needs substantial amount of money to keep him/herself financially sustainable, especially in one of the most costly cities like Tokyo. I can’t say that throughout the years I haven’t grown wearied of always buying the second-hand or from a garage sale or stacking up my tiny apartment with dollar-store-quality products. Yet there really isn’t any point or reason to fill my apartment with brand new items if they are only to be left behind 10 months or so from now. One day when I get married, I guess I should just forgo the wedding registry and ask for donations of one of the best items from each household, yah?

I’m beginning to miss that traditional market downstairs of my apartment back in Shanghai where I get my whole bedding set ready in mere 10 dollars. Now the same bedding set would cost me 10 times more and a rice cooker could go as high as 200 dollars. If only I were to have more than one stove I would resort to my previously acquired skill of cooking rice from scratch on a gas stove.

Somehow going to the municipal office today and getting a million forms signed and ID cards applied for, though, made me realize that I am beginning to become a local resident of this part of the city called Meguro-ku (ku is the measuring unit for different sections of a city in Japan). Somehow being bombarded with at least 5 copies of *different* information pamphlets (some in mere words and some in hand-drawn cartoon illustrations) on how to separate the cans from the bottles and from the combustible/non-combustible to the recyclable papers and milk cartons, I’ve begun to take pride in becoming a good citizen of Meguro-ku by obliging myself to such tedious rules. I can’t recall ever developing such loyalty to the city of Cambridge or the Harvard University property; perhaps both governing bodies should acquire the skill of building modern residence loyalty through the art of “trash propaganda.”

And after the Japanese gov’t reveals to me that all I have to do is to pay $80 a year to become fully entitled to the national health insurance plan – I’m sold!

So there we go, in merely one day, my ID has been doubled – now I am a resident of Meguro-ku, Tokyo Municipality as well as a research student at Tokyo University. 2 more ID cards in my wallet and 2 more identities to start getting used to.

Journeying on, in this increasingly complex layer of identities.

梅ちゃん at 1:15:00 AM


Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Settling In - Tokyo 6.13.07

4 pm in the afternoon, Tokyo time. I’m starting this entry while waiting for the Keisei Express line to pull out of Narita Airport and take me into Tokyo city. It’s been over 24 hours since I last dragged myself up from the bed to embark this long trans-Pacific journey; except the 3-hour naptime in DC-Dallas airport lying semi-comfortably on the airport lounge chairs, I haven’t been horizontal for 16 hours. It’s going to take another 2 hours if not more to get into the dorm, and another number of hours will pass before my suitcases get delivered to my door.

Two movies plus Ishiguro’s novel along with sporadic falling-asleep accompanied much of the journey this time. The food wasn’t all that bad this time, and a personal TV set just made the trip slightly more enjoyable (except that I kept missing the beginning part of Breach twice, argh). After all these years of flying around and traveling back and forth between Japan and other places, I still can’t get over the initial moment of doubt and fear. Am I going to make it this time? Is United going to lose my luggage again (my 2 suitcases literally came out last on the baggage carousal)? Am I going to trip myself over and fall and break a leg while moving my luggage strenuously across various train platforms? Is my Japanese still smooth enough to make myself understood? Is the lady at the receptionist desk going to think that I’m way out of my mind coming to Japan with now such rustic Japanese skills?

Or perhaps the most important question – without a TV, how am I going to go through the very first night?

It’s the first-night question that is often the most dreadful.

(I still remember the first night when I get into Cambridge last year, my landlady Clara graciously left the radio on so that the moment I switched on the lights while walking in, there was classical music welcoming in, in the midst of mid-night silence and after the fiasco of United indeed losing a piece of my luggage.)

Questions after questions after questions – years after years I still haven’t learned to stop doubting myself. “See, everything turned out fine – you got your prepaid phone charged, suitcases delivered within a few hours, money withdrawn, and express train tickets bought. Soon you’ll be happily shopping in a neighborhood 100-yen shop or convenient store really beginning a new stage in life here. Everything turned out fine.” -- that, unfortunately, is usually a message realized only in retrospect, post-journey.

Tokyo is 28 C, much hotter than east coast USA yet perhaps slightly less humid than Taipei. My eyes are wide open to the pristinely clean train compartment that I’m currently sitting in, and the conversations across a few high school girls next to me are rather amusing.

From June 1st – June 20th, there is a iris festival in one of the water park somewhere in the Metropolitan area, one of the ad’s informs me. Another ad flashes out pictures of the newly renovated hot spring baths and post-hot-spring meal set and advocating the discounted price for the summer season. A young salariman is waving his fan while chit-chatting with his colleague across from me, numerous OL’s and housewives are engrossed in sending text-messages on their cell phones.

Is it true that iPhone will never truly take off in Japan? Why would they need it when years ago they already have full Internet capability on their cell phones? Even on a crappy, toy-like, orange/pink prepaid cell phone of mine that can at least send regular e-mail messages to friends abroad?

Distant mountain ranges and rice paddies are fast passing by, and I again am smelling the mix of a discreet soapy scent and the metallic odor that is so pervasive in almost all Japanese trains. Last summer was the first time when I noticed the soapy scent; now I realize that it could simply be some kind of cleaning detergent?

New discoveries, every single day.

Am I out of my mind to pack myself up and bring myself to another *foreign* country and even attempt to live here * as if I am a local * everyday? What’s wrong with the place left behind and what’s really promised of in the new place I’ve brought myself to?

The truth of the matter is, no matter where I go – I am no longer a local. Not here, not back in Cambridge (even though strangely, last time when I went to a Yankee vs. Red Sox game I still cheered fervently for the latter … an action that baffled myself), not even in Taipei. Still, in just a few weeks I’m going to name a few beer houses as my favorite izakaya in town, consistently go back to that one particular bakery that makes that yummy cream-cheese bun never tasted before, and start marking a few trails as my familiar walking paths home, in late-afternoon, or during moments when contemplation is needed. Very soon – I’ll forget that I’m not so much of a foreigner, even though I will never be able to completely fool myself by calling myself a local.

Local or not, this is the beginning of a great adventure as all stages of life all are. The past 3-year adventure in the land of America has just ended; despite the unfulfilled expectations or ailing turn of events throughout the past 3 years, the end of that journey has leaped me forward.

Welcome, to this new adventure with me, for better or for worse.

梅ちゃん at 11:40:00 PM


Tuesday, June 05, 2007


A classic film in a classic hall.

梅ちゃん at 1:24:00 PM


Saturday, June 02, 2007

Seasons in Full

4 pm. She decided to go out for a walk. Leaning against the bathroom doorframe right next to the main entrance to the apartment, she struggled with the left shoelace while recalling the brief conversation that she'd just had with a girlfriend earlier.

"It's going to hit the 90's tomorrow!" J screamed, on the other side of the phone. "Summer has finally come!", the scream continued, followed by a long list of things planned out for the summer.

"Too bad that you aren't going to be here with us," J said. "For once you should at least spend the summer here on the east coast. It's quite pleasant in summertime, especially when everyone seems so much merrier and the air is just filled with this exuberating sense of lightness and frolicking feel."

Around the corner she noticed the swaying of a red-blue banner printed with a large, "Q," on top. "Must be one of the new boutiques opened in the area," she thought, letting her curiosity taking her across the street towards that direction.

As it turned out, it wasn't another clothing boutiques but a small restaurant cafe tugged in between two brownstone buildings. And not a trace of customers or hostesses or waiters inside. The door shut tightly, on which a hand-written sign read: "Coming Soon on June 17th".

Ah, so one of the neighborhood festivities that she is going to miss, again, she thought to herself.

Before passing the cafe front by, something within the cafe caught her eyes - a stem of pussy willow, straightening itself up among a bundle of bittersweet and dried fall leaves. A few strands of newly sprouted branches were also inserted, making it a combination of spring and fall colors.

The seasons of life, all mingled together, into one vase of the elegantly dried and the freshly grown.

Reflected by the pristinely clear glass, the sky of changing cotton whites is constantly changing shape. Soon the early-evening breeze is going to blow, she thought, then she'd have to be back to get ready for dinner. There are a few friends she's getting together tonight for one last time.

"Pussy willow ...", she laughed as she walked slowly back to her apartment and suddenly thought of the time when she first learned of this term. It was P who told her, in fact. Not even knowing how to call it in Chinese, there is no way for her to even learn this term in English.

"Just that fuzzy little thing," she used to call it that way, in Chinese. "Mom~ Are you going to buy a fresh bundle of that 'mao2 mao2 de4' branches this year?", she'd used to ask before the arrival of Chinese New Year. Mom never ended up bringing home a new bundle of furriness, but they ended up always keeping that same bunch from years ago, still perfectly intact with little red ribbons neatly tied onto each branch. At least in the Chinese traditions, the "mao2 mao2 de4" thing is one of the landmark decorations signifying the coming of the lunar new year to come.

"That 'mao2 mao2 de4" thing ...", she chuckled again. When is she ever going to learn all the right terms and speak the language right?

"The seasons of life," she thought, another phrase that would take minutes before she could think of the accurate translations for in Chinese, but a beautiful phrase that she loves using from time to time when referring to the cycles of things that come and go in life.

As the next seasons of life would be spent half-across the globe from the very sidewalk on which she took her steps home, she wondered what they would look like, at a different time and place and landscape in every possible ways.

Perhaps more words that she cannot find in the native language or will have trouble knowing in the adopted foreign language that she could always read better than writing or speaking. Yet still the same four seasons of life vividly felt through regardless of the absent of words and phrases and eloquent descriptions. The heart will eventually speak forth the emotions and reactions inside, and the seasons will evolve in spite of the inability to verbalize.

As at times the beauty of the frivolous cotton whites above that only need to be gazed upon and taken in fully than given the exact words and phrases for precise descriptions.

梅ちゃん at 1:09:00 PM


Friday, June 01, 2007

Summer Lights & Shadows

梅ちゃん at 1:49:00 PM