It’s been just over a month of living in Japan and I still have no idea what I’m doing. I have a slightly better idea than I did when I got off the plane four weeks ago, but that bar was pretty low. Pretty much on the ground. Actually there was no bar. More of a random line of dust.
Trains, directions… easy. Just be patient and follow directions. But banking, post office-ing, taking a bus: the language barrier makes doing even the simplest tasks exponentially more time consuming. And the few phrases I do know are pointless because they invariably evoke questions for which I have no answers. For some INSANE reason, I sometimes try to answer in Spanish, (the only other language I do know) so I find myself saying “si” when I should be saying “hai.” It’s like the Foreign Language Department in my brain is headed by a over-tenured professor who hears a question, shrugs, and says, “Here try… this?” and then goes back to his New Yorker. Lazy bastard.
I was fake-whining about shopping with a friend today who, like me, has traveled extensively without the native language…but as a tourist.“Oh just buy what you know,” he tells me, “fruits and vegetables… things you recognize.” OH OKAY. Gee why didn’t I think of that. Have you been to the grocery store?
Is this soy sauce? Fish sauce? Mystery evil pipe cleaner sauce? What about soup? Or coffee, or tuna, or butter… or those squishy purple things in the meat case? WHAT ARE THOSE. Even things I think I recognize aren’t what they seem… I bought a case of eggs…EGGS for crying out loud, and they were partially hard-cooked for some magical fish broth egg soup dish. Eggs. I can’t even buy eggs right.
But other things I buy really right.
Like the Family Mart mini pancakes with happy-sauce inside.
Or the Calbee potato chips in Nori flavor.
And even some healthy stuff I happen upon by accident, but that isn’t nearly as exciting as when you stick the contents of a cartoon packet of madness in your face and realize not only that you’re not going to get sick, but you’re going to possibly eat whatever it is, forever. The little successes keep you rolling.
Same thing goes for the beauty stuff, which by the way, like the Nori potato chips, the Japanese have mastered. Hair products, makeup, skin care, body voodoo creams… I’ve just scratched the surface of what’s going on because I can’t read anything and just go by the photos… or the occasional generous phrase of English. Want to know the fairy dust they use over here for amazing skin? I’ll post about it later but here’s a hint:
Since being here:
- My skin is looking rad (surprisingly), no thanks to stress, weather, Nori potato chips, and Crunky.
- I’m eating more junk food than I have in years but I’m not gaining (I attribute this to chasing trains and constant fear of offending someone with my apparently giant 8.5 feet. PS: Shoe shopping? Another story).
I can’t imagine what I’ll discover once I can speak at a higher level than age four. In the meantime, when I do ask for help, people are always kind enough to give it to me, but seldom to they take the initiative to offer it without request. I’ve come to the conclusion that in Tokyo, there is nothing more frightening than a middle aged, unmarried, nori-chip reeking American woman with giant feet.