Wednesday, June 25, 2008

food & flowers

I know I probably posted about it last year, but I have really been enjoying the ajisai (hydrangeas) here this season. They come in a wonderful pink-to-blue spectrum, in many different shapes. I am confused by the array of colors, though: I was always told that the color of the flower is dependent on the pH of the soil, more aluminum in the soil produces blue flowers, etc. But there are pink ones right next to blue ones, right next to purple ones! I don't get it, but it only increases my sense of wonder at how lovely they are.


At the store with M & D yesterday, letting them pick out celebratory snacks and drinks for their last day of school, M pointed out these unlovely promotional Dr. Pepper labels:

let's take a closer look at the one on the right:

WHY do they need to market soda this way? WHY does this buxom fish-netted manga lass have a bottle of Dr. P in her cleavage?? And in the other, the same place is used as a gun holster. That seems like a very silly (and dangerous) place to store a firearm. But what do I know?

My own celebratory (or perhaps the opposite. what is the opposite word? Funereal? anyway, yesterday marked the beginning of the stress of trying to keep my kids from killing each other this summer) snack was a Haagen-Dasz flavor I had been curious about but never tried: kokuto & kuromitsu. It was quite delicious, a slight hint of coffee and burnt sugar. I had to look it up online to find out what I had actually eaten, which is apparently brown sugar & molasses, or the Japanese equivalent. This led me to research H-D in general, because I am fascinated by the array of bizarre exclusively-Japanese flavors, like Rich Milk, Affogado (whatever that is), Azuki Milk (red bean to you), Alphonso Mango (who is Alphonso?), and of course, Green Tea (click here to see them. If you actually click on the flavor, it will give you the name in English). When I went to the Wikipedia article on Haagen-Dasz, I was rather surprised to find out that it's an American company, and the name, meant to look Scandinavian, is complete fabrication and doesn't mean anything or even actually resemble anything in any Scandinavian language. Hilarious.

This led me off on another tangent: Kit-Kat. There really odd flavors for these, too, and they are usually seasonal.

These are some fun flavors, in Japan only:

Iced Tea
Caramel and Salt
Kinako (soybean flour)
Green Tea
Café Latte with Hokkaidō Milk
Cherry Blossom

click here for the Wikipedia article, with a list of flavors all around the world.

I found this blurb somewhere ages ago about Kit-Kat in Japan:

Japanese learners using the katakana pronunciation when asking for a KitKat could well get a blank look when they ask for a 'kitto katto.' Incidentally, this particular phonetic rendering proved a massive marketing success for KitKat in Japan as 'kitto katto' has a resonance with the Japanese for 'certain victory', thus making it a popular snack for those doing exams or entering sports contests.

Isn't that interesting? It is to me.

So the kids are done with school. M was very sad yesterday, having to say good-bye to most of his friends. They all seem to be leaving in the next few days for their home countries, so they won't be able to hang out this summer. D, too, was seen with his head on the shoulder of his good friend Ravindu, looking forlorn. It's hard for them. They've been here two years, and now it's likely that they won't see any of these friends again.

Me? I got away from the school with a quick wave good-bye to the small cluster of Japanese moms. A few of them had made a polite attempt at friendliness, but it was always clear to me that I was an outsider. Due to language, tattoos, general freakishness, I don't know. Only a few really seemed interested in me as a person, and not as a novelty: Ricky's mom Michiko, who always seems a little bit of an outsider herself. She has invited me over to her house in July. Janie, Hana's mom, and my first friend at the school. She is Phillipina and used to live really nearby, so once a week we would have a board-game afternoon. We are going over her house this week. Kumi's mom, who has always been very nice to me and my family, but I rarely see her anymore since Kumi & M aren't as close as they used to be. Kumi has grown up and would rather fit in with the girls, I guess. Kumi's mom is having a sayonara gathering for us.

Most of them, Michiko excepted, weren't among those who are on the playground after school. As for the rest of the moms? I am glad I will no longer have to stand around awkwardly, not talking to anyone but the occasional kids, who are easier to talk to.

And tonight, we are going over Hamza's for a goodbye Turkish dinner. Hamza has been a great best pal for M, and his mom has always been very cool about feeding him and letting him sleep over. I think this will be the hardest night for M. It's been interesting for me to learn about Turkish customs and Muslim dietary laws (I had a hard time reciprocating the dinners when Hamza was over our house). His mom is a fantastic cook. I wish I could communicate with her more (and get recipes!), but my Japanese sucks, my Turkish is non-existent, and her English is limited (though she's been taking lessons). Cynthia and her mom & sister will be there, too, so I will have someone to talk to. And I will definitely enjoy the food.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Happiness, Sportiness, Bizarreness, and a Little Sadness

So Jeff is out of town, right? I'm in the bathroom, ready to go to bed 'round midnight, and I hear my front door being unlocked. Wha?! It's Macky. He has the key because he's borrowing the car while Jeff is gone. He has a girl with him, who has missed the last train, and bags in his hand, full of food. He tried to call me, but my phone was in the other room all night, and I never heard it. After hearing that Tomoi will also be coming over, I declare the Davis Izakaya and Hotel open. And go to bed. Too tired for the shenanigans.

Was I annoyed that Macky just let himself into my house at midnight on a Tuesday? A little, at first. But then I just shrugged. He's like part of the family, and our house is like home to him, so why not. Besides, he was gone by the time I got up, and left me a fridge full of leftovers. And a broken glass on the patio. I have a feeling that was Tomoi, around whom glass tends to break. Whatever. It's not like were going to take that glass back with us.

What I thought about was how sad Macky is going to be when we, and our house, are no longer available for impromptu late-night eating and drinking and listening to records. And how sad we will be that he won't be popping over at strange times to whip up yummy treats.

Jeff was also getting a little melancholy when he realized that he has already started saying good-bye to people, namely those parents and teachers at the kids' school who will be gone by the time he gets back from his trip. Hakan will be off to Turkey to get married. Some fellow-parents are also going back to their home countries. First good-byes at the Horizon Sports Day.

This was a re-scheduled-due-to-rain annual event on what was also, coincidentally, Father's Day. Like the old field-day-type thing. Sack races, tug-o-war, races. Jeff did two separate races with a kid on his back (I couldn't believe they didn't stop at 2nd graders - they expected parents to piggyback fifth graders), and won! D won his age-group sprint. Our team, of which I was actually a participating member, won the relay race, too! We were (unofficially) voted Fastest Family.

Here's a quick montage, you know, for anyone who cares, like family (I know the one long-jump pic is up too long, but that P.O.S. Windows Movie Maker froze up every time I tried to fix it, sue me):

D standing with his medal, with dad and Mr. Kara, the principal:

The day's winners:

A swell Father's Day, I think, though having M on his back had some ill after-effects for Jeff.

Earlier in the week, I went with Helen to visit Kevin in the hospital. I had to buy a mask inside the front door. Heavy-duty, too, not just the usual sort you see on the streets.

Kevin's sister Sarah was there already, inside the Germinator's tiny curtained alcove. Helen gave him his weekly contraband beer, and we chatted for awhile, listening to the guy in the next bed hacking and trying to breathe, and reading quotes from an inspirational book Helen's grandma (?) sent.

I don't think it's helping. Especially after Nurse Ratchett came and rudely kicked us out. Fair enough, it was after visiting hours, but they don't usually hold to them, as Helen has barely any time after work to visit and WE ARE THE ONLY PEOPLE HE TALKS TO since everyone else around is Japanese. To make it worse, bitch-nurse was complaining loudly to another patient how rude these foreigners are. Not realizing that one of us speaks excellent Japanese (Helen, not me, duh). Jee-zus. He has also had complaints about humming while brushing his teeth, whistling while making coffee, and wearing deodorant. Apparently these people have never heard about positive thinking aiding in the healing process. THERE WILL BE NO HAPPINESS HERE. Poor Kevin. If it were me, I'd act up as much as possible, in defiance. Sing. Tap dance in the halls. Recite German poetry to the other patients. What are they gonna do, kick him out??? I'm sure he'd welcome it. Kevin, are you reading this? Don't let those assholes get you down.

His sister is very cool, by the way. Very mature for her 22? years. Pretty, too.

I also went to Tyler's event called "29 and Shoe" with Martine. I was dying to know why it was called that. Apparently, Tyler just turned 29, and he was having a little exposition of his photos, which center around, you guessed it, a shoe. Floating in the water. They were very cool, way cooler because they were unaltered in any way. Couldn't Photoshop such serendipitous art. Anyway, there were a few performers, including a guy who does Tuvan throat-singing, which sounds cooler than it looks. Weird. And ipod dj-ing. Which is my favorite. Which drove most of the guests away. Which degenerated into Darrin instigating a Queen-themed karaoke session. Awesome.

Speaking of weird, this was parked outside the bar. I don't know why.

To wrap it up and book-end the Father's Day thing, we went over to the Makimoto house to present Macky's dad with the painting I did of the old ice-company family photo. Total surprise. Apparently, the original photo was given to the city of Yokohama, as an historical treasure (behind us is the plaque-thingy they gave him for it). Macky said his dad got teary. I didn't see.

So the kids' last day of school is next Tuesday. Yea. I jump up and down with glee. Remind me to stock up on wine.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Jeff was surprised that I'd brought home "pink carnations." First of all, they are peonies, not carnations. Carnations are cheap tacky flowers they always dye stupid fake colors like blue or green. And they smell like nothing much. I always hated that they were the flower of my birth month. Second of all, I have said on many occasions that although I despise pink as a rule, natural things like flowers and sunrises and kitten noses are totally allowed to be pink. In choosing this combination of peonies, which are pretty and smell good, I was reminded of Victorian botanical illustrations. Or like this.

I do have a romantic streak, people.

Anyway, Friday night, Mooney had his birthday party at the Blue Corn for the first time (his usual venue had closed). Happy for us, too.

This makes me think that Mooney and Jeff share some kind of Gachapin/Mukku affinity, or that Gachapin/Mukku-wear is the in thing for birthday gifts this season.

I was determined to capture my favorite Mooney song on video this time, as I do not have it in any other format. I don't know what it's actually called, but I know it as "The Neko Song" or "The Spoon Song." Love it.

Again I was coerced into drinking a shot. This one was Jagermeister, which I hate almost as much as tequila. They got me when they said it was for Kevin, who really wanted to be there. Crap. Fine. I did the shot. Seems like Kevin was really there in spirit, because just as we finished our shots, the table mysteriously tipped and spilled my Maker's-soda and Helen's beer all over my foot, just as if some long-legged coltish German had upset the table in high spirits. Just the alcohol, not the water that was also on the table. Helen may have been the vehicle, but the Germinator was definitely driving.

Things got sillier after the last set, as they do. Mooney kindly shared his ordered-in sashimi with us. I was closely observed as I tried raw horse meat. I disappointed my observers by shrugging. It was okay. Red meat. Less chewy that the tako that was next to it (I dislike chewy octopus. So hard to get it tender).

Streamers came from somewhere. Which looked dashing on Susan and Helen both.

These flowers-on-wire showed up, too, twined around our fingers. I somehow ended up engaged to Mooney, as well as to Susan, who is also engaged to Helen. Hm.

I awoke the next day, happily still married to just one man, and the family went to go see Indiana Jones 4 with a couple of kid-friends. I was very anxious about this long-anticipated movie, but I ended up liking it. Biggest point in its favor: Karen Allen. Only good Indiana Jones heroine. And nobody tried to make us believe that no time had passed. She had aged, Indy had aged, it was the 1950s. Every bit of 50s iconography you could think of was there, giving it a great pulp-serial-adventure feeling, which is exactly what the original Indy Idea was all about. I had to remind myself of this when something seemed a little too much, like Cate Blanchett's silly (Boris and) Natasha accent, or the origin of the chosen Precious Object of this movie (the crystal skull). It's not meant to be realistic. But it didn't annoy me anywhere near as much as Temple of Doom did, with its Scooby Doo ooga-booga tiki/voodoo-god crap and the most annoying heroine in the world.

"Oooh! I broke a nail!" And what's with that hair?

So yeah, on the whole, I dug it. It's no Raiders, but you just can't top that.

After, we went to Negishi Koen for a bit. M & his friend ran off into the woods to shoot their BB guns, while D & his buddy attempted to fly the cool eagle kite he got in China. Though Jeff flew it most of the time.

That's pretty much it for excitement this week. Oh, and some guy got stabbed at a bus stop in our neighborhood. And a bat-shit crazy guy went on a stabbing spree in Akihabara, killing 7 random people in the crowd. After running into them with his truck. Because he was "tired of life." Whatever. Japan is losing its reputation for low violent crime statistics. I'm getting out of here.

I'll leave you with this. Jeff chided me for snapping this photo. I couldn't help it.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Me! It's all about ME!

I had great fun playing model this weekend for Martine, at her gorgeous pad in Kichijoji. She took like, I dunno, 1200 photos or something. We were attempting to recreate the old-school Hollywood glamour shots (I know, in American spelling, there is no u, but I think it looks better that way, don't you?), for her portfolio and my life-long dream of pretending to be a movie star of the Golden Age. The woman has talent. She does great things with lighting. Worship her. Send her money. At least check her blog often and see all her amazing work. It's always right there on the side of this page: frangipani, or just click here.

These are just a few of my favorites, in their raw form. Martine has not touched these with her magic wand yet, but I can't wait to see what she conjures.

I think this one, as far as the raw photos go, has to be my very favorite. Especially the mirror-me. So glamorous.

When I saw all the mirror photos, I was a little disturbed. It's like, if I had a long-lost twin that I suddenly ran into one day, would I like her? It's a scary thought, two of me. I know you're thinking the same thing.

In other non-news, Kevin, the Germinator, is still in the hospital, doubtlessly bored out of his mind. Jeff and I were supposed to go visit him this past weekend, as our kids (the TB clinic doesn't allow kids) were supposed to be off with their respective friends, but the plans went awry. Damn kids.

M and his friends currently have an obsession with BB guns (plastic BBs, less dangerous than metal, but tend to get everywhere. They sell them in 20 oz bottles). He is definitely reaching the age where peers matter. And where we introduce a new horrible phrase into his life: "You're grounded."

I'll end with a look at the spectacular world of Japanese facial "esthetiques." I don't know if you remember a post last year sometime (I tried to find it, but I'm too lazy to go through all those posts) when I compared the "smile fixer" device to Victorian chinstraps? Well.

And you can make your nose narrower, too! Those plastic wheels will whittle away bone in no time!

This one is my favorite. The heat from the shower helps melt away that wattle! I guess. May interfere with singing.