Saturday, May 31, 2003

Books etc

Just back from my book club. This is my third book club; I also went to one in Bangkok and another in Hong Kong. This is the best by far. We are a very motley crowd- Canadians, Americans, Japanese, and British women. We are also very eclectic in our reading tastes. There are the highbrow members-- the ones who want to read Camus, Kundera and intellectual novels, the middle brow ones who want to read the latest Booker or Whitbread prize winners and then the low brow ones like me who just want a gripping yarn, the sort of book described by critics as "unputdownable."

We meet in a sweet little cafe called Christie's which serves muffins, scones and toast at ridiculous prices.What I like best about my book club is that none of the members have young children, so I am spared the usual monologues about how little Tom is having nightmares and little Miu won't use the potty. Obviously I have a very sympathetic motherly face, because moms are always telling me what their offspring had for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Also how it emerged at the other end.

Still, while I may snipe at mums who can talk of nothing but their offspring, its disconcerting to realise that my gray cells seem to be turning into mashed potatoes as well. My reading choices are now so lowbrow they are practically pulp. I used to read Salinger and Kundera. Now I read Vogue and Marion Keyes, usually standing over a stove, while loading the dishwasher with one hand and the washing machine with the other. Well, Vogue can be angst-ridden and existentialist as well, can't it? The models look sulky enough to be sitting in a Montmartre cafe, pondering the meaning of life.

Friday, May 30, 2003

Our street

I just reread my posts and found several typos and grammatical errors. Not exactly an advertisement for my professional services, but then I usually post with Maya snapping at my ankles, or just before the morning whirl begins.

The tiny no-name street which leads to our house deserves some space. It is very different from the other fairly ordinary streets we have lived on. This one is the kind described in tourist guides as having "character". This means it is very narrow, has no sidewalk,and if two people are walking side by side on it, they had better be related or romantically involved! I usually like it when I am alone, and dislike it when I am trying to inch the stroller past all the parked cars and bicycles. But there's no denying it is interesting.
At the head of the street is Lawsons, the 24 hour combini or convenience store, my favourite shop in all of Japan. Here you can buy staples, pay bills, xerox stuff, and takkyubin ( deliver) anything. Among the essentials you can buy here: origami paper, razors for women and Mothers day gifts. Opposite is my usual vegetable shop, run by the husband and wife team of Grumpy-san and Sulky-san, the only sourfaced people I have ever seen in Japan. But their fruit and veg is cheaper than the depato, and they are polite though they have faces like the Gestapo, so I keep buying from them.
There used to be a tatty junk shop selling books, old gramophone records and tshirts with perverted sayings on them at the head of the road, but it was torn down. I think it was a front for illegal activity of some sort: perhaps littering?
Then there are several tempura, sushi and udon places, some with plastic replicas in the window. You can tell which ones serve better food because they have less dust on the replicas.
Then comes Dominos Pizza, one of the few places which offer English delivery services here. And a quirky little shop selling sembe ( rice crackers) , plastic guns, balls, bubble mix, and sparkly wands and crowns, presided over by a two foot tall octogenarian. Maya's favourite wand cost 100 yen at this shop. It has flashing red lights, and is the only bargain I have ever found in Tokyo.
Then there is the neighbourhood hardware store, which sells an amazing variety of stuff rangin from plastic boxes to teapots. Most of the stuff from our house was bought there.
Just before the cul-de-sac to our house is the no-name Chinese delivery shop which seems to be immensely popular, despite greasy bland food. The delievry men whiz past on their white Vespas like they are paparazzi in Rome, except they have huge plastic boxes on the back and smell of stinky tofu.
Oh yes, I musn't forget the speaker system. There are huge speakers every yard or so, which play tinkly music on holidays and broadcast public service announcements. ( I assume). We also have very pretty street lights, square oldfashioned boxes suspended in twos. This effect is rather ruined by the smiley face flags also hovering overhead. There are also at least seven vending machines on our street, fifteen if you count the ones on the main road as well. I used to think this was insane, until my first sweltering Tokyo summer.

Wednesday, May 28, 2003

Today I got my hair cut. I have never in my life had a haircut I liked. So why did I imagine today would be any different? It is way too short. There's something about my hair that sends hairdressers into a mad frenzy, hacking at it with sawblades, slashing off six inches at a time..... To be fair, its a great cut. Just not on me!
The previous evening, Maya and I spent twenty minutes looking at hairstyles in Vogue. Predictably, she liked all the long blonde trailer trash dos. When she saw me today, she said "Your hair is horrible"! Out of the mouths of babes, or whatever it is the poet said...

Monday, May 26, 2003

So how do I sum up a year of living in Japan in one post? I think a list would be easiest.

Things I love about Japan, in random order:

The weather. Is there anything finer than a crisp, cool, sunny but not too sunny Tokyo winter, with all the tiny poodles and dachshunds wearing their pink and plaid jackets? (Yes, really). Autumn is even better, especially if you have a Japanese maple in your garden, like we do, which turns bright pink come September. (O.K, a photo would have helped here, but you will just have to wait).

The parks. My favourite is Yoyogi Park, about twenty minutes from us. Not the most spectacular foliage, but a great place for peoplewatching. What I like best is to watch the capoeira guys. It is a sort of a Brazilian martial art cum dance, very graceful and athletic at the same time. I also love the drum players, the ribbon twirlers, and especially the groups of giggly teens trying to do the latest Ayumi Hamasaki dance moves.

The foliage. And I don't mean just the cherry blossom, which is glorious but short lived. For someone who never noticed trees before, I do quite a lot of foliage watching in Japan. My favourites: the yellow gingkoes in autumn, the Japanese maples, the wisterias in Shinjuku gyoen.

The people. I expected them to be polite, but not polite enough to go half an hour out of their way to point me in the right direction. Or thank me several times for visiting their shops without buying anything. I also adore the Bo-Peep girls in frilly dresses and braids, the Goths, and the Elvis wannabes ( More on this later).

The onsens, ryokans and our own private bath. Ah.....the Japanese bath. Impossible to describe to anyone who has not been in one. Lets just say that sinking into my steaming hot, deeeeep tub is the best part of my day. And sitting in an onsen with snowflakes on my shoulders, putting on a silk yukata and sinking into a futon has been my best Japanese experience.

The kiddie delights. Maya's favourite things to do: painting on the massive wall at the Children's Castle, jumping on the trampolines at the play centre, feeding the guinea pigs in Inokashira Koen, and collecting acorns in Yoyogi Park.

Things I hate.

Money, money, money....Its a rich man's world. Nothing, not even a Fuji apple, is cheap or even affordable. I cannot fathom why a cup of coffee in a half decent place should cost almost US$ 5.

No English please....we are Japanese. Yes, yes I know, this is colonial behaviour, English imperialism at its worst. After all, why should they speak English, or even have any signs at all in English? All very well in theory. In practice, when you are bumbling around trying to find baby paracetamol and then trying to mime a raging fever to get your point across, you wish they would at least have product names in English. I still don't know how to do a delicate cycle or adjust the temperature on my washing machine.

Throwing the trash out. This is so complicated and so frustrating that I got a whole article out of it. See it on my website at www.kavitharao.net

We have ways of making you walk. I have probably never walked so much in my entire life, or had to tolerate so much whining and cries of "I can't go on." And that's just Sanjeeb! Then there are the endless flights of stairs. Now I know why the Japanese have so few children; its too much trouble to lug them around. So they just get chihuahuas.

No domestic help, or very little. Here I go being the "spoilt memsahib" again. But I pay the equivalent of Rs 600 per hour to my babysitter, so I am jolly well going to whine about it. I also have wall to wall beige carpeting.

Japanese food. I know I am in a tiny minority here, but I just can't eat Japanese food. To begin with, removing traces of gyaniku ( pork) botaniku ( beef)and squid is very difficult. Then there's the glutinous rice and sticky udon. And I just can't seem to get used to cold food: sushi, sashimi and the like. I do like tempura and okonomiyaki, but that's it. Of course, I am the sort of firebreathing Indian who thinks practically everything is improved by a dash of chill powder, garlic and ginger. So don't mind me.

I could go on all night, but should probably stop here. Hmmm. this is therapeutic.

About this blog

Aaargh...the pressure!!! This is the first post in my blog, so I feel compelled to be simultaneously witty, profound, and comprehensive. Instead I think I will settle for coherent sentences. Also, I can say hello and thank you in eight languages. Now isn't that far more impressive than snazzy graphics and photographs?

I am hoping this blog will serve as a travel journal, therapy session and record of the cute things my daughter Maya does and the not so cute things my husband Sanjeeb does. My master plan is to make up for lost time and put in descriptions of all the trips we have taken, the countries we have lived in, the tantrums I have thrown.... The tally over six years is: Lived in : Four countries: India, Hong Kong, Thailand and Japan. Visited: Korea, China, Egypt, the Philippines,Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Hawaii, California, the U.K, and Italy. Tantrums: too many to mention, though I do remember them all. So this is going to take me quite a while, given my neanderthal blogging skills. Also, there will be no photos for quite a while since apparently our computer is way too ancient to handle digital photos, according to Sanjeeb. I don't know anything about photography, so I will have to take his word for it. I suspect it is merely a ploy to buy a new camera, new computer, or even a new TV if he can swing it.

So this will be quite a dull blog for a while, but at least years from now when I have Alzheimers and my daughter is an Eminem groupie, I will read this and remember that I once weathered 7.2 earthquakes, drank barley tea and sat in a hot tub with snowflakes falling overhead.

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