Adventures in Food - Year One

Growing up in Japan, I never truly experienced the breadth of North American food culture - especially with what you would call "student food" - until I started living here.

For my first year of undergrad (= living in Toronto), I was at a school residence with a cafeteria. There, I learned things like eating turkey on Thanksgiving, PUMPKIN PIE, this strange thing called stuffing, muffins are everywhere, and that sweet potatoes are orange. Oh, and the Friday night burrito line-up is HUGE (though I never really bothered about burritos until many years down the line...).

When the caf was closed - this was my foray into (further) uncharted territory.

The hot dog stand across the street was my first experience (as far as I can remember) of eating street food.
However, I was never confident enough to buy food truck food. It's not a long story. I just can't do it. I don't have a good reason why. Confidence issues?

One day, I bought a pack of ramen noodles and realized that there was no stovetop in the rez (fire safety reasons). I figured out quickly that it's totally ok to eat those noodles raw. And letting it soak in hot water was another option (it was less dry).
(The tiny 10-dollar electric kettle I got around this time is still with me. It's kickin' and doing well.)
Of course, we have instant noodles/ramen back home, but it's so different from what's here (or at least compared to the cheapest kind here). I have to admit I prefer the ones back home, but the regular noodles here (like Mr. Noodles) have really grown on me and I quite like them. It took a while to figure out my favorite way to eat it (that's another story).

And I was exposed to pizza. And late-night sushi delivery. And greasy Chinese food (which is awesome - plus, the rez was located close to Chinatown).
Delivery seemed to be a thing students did, since they were always up so late doing everything from studying, partying, to simply watching tv. Nighttime was the time to get down to business, regardless of the type of business you were in to.
Basically, I learned that anything you eat after 12pm tastes good. And the worse it is for your health, the better they taste. I guess it's that sense of "breaking rules" that appealed to me. Still does, actually.

But the biggest revelation for me in my first year was coffee. It's a story I've told a couple times to people because it's rather reflective of the confusion I was in back then.
So, there's a cafe in the rez (separate from the caf) where they sell snacks and coffee and such. I was still very unaccustomed to the weather and was cold (in retrospect this is funny because this was September), so I wanted to get something warm, like tea.
I go down, and realize it's a self-serve place. I barely went there till then (this was still maybe the first few weeks of school), so I was lost. And terrified. I couldn't find the strength to ask the cashier where the tea was or how I get them. But in front of me there were pots with "coffee" written on it. So I quickly pour myself a cup, pay, and rush back to my room before anyone asked me anything.
(As you can tell I was afraid of talking to people, period.)
I barely ever had coffee when I was in Japan. But here, in this strange new place and too afraid to ask where the tea was, I downed that cup of coffee. It was... ok. I could tolerate it. And ever since, I drink coffee. Usually black.

So that's my long and TMI story of food in year 1. There are other stories like my first Thai food experience and a messed up experiment with butternut squash, but that's for another time.
Obviously I think about food way too much.


Feeling at a loss

I tend to be a "seen but not heard" person. And from my perspective, it's perfectly normal to let the superior talk, while I stay put. I feel it's showing respect.
It's a matter of internalized culturally-specific social hierarchical etiquette (and patriarchy, and misogyny, and a bunch of other things I've been immersed in growing up), as much as the more personal matters like lack of confidence and a lifetime of self-esteem issues and a fear of talking to strangers, amongst a basket and a half of other issues.
I'm still very much bound by traditional values and social mores. Maybe even more so, because I'm away from home - everything I've been learning and internalizing thus far is up on the surface.

It's been brought to my attention that I tend to be not-so audible with goodbyes. I bow. That's because of the above reason. As much as I know it's not at all disrespectful (here or in Japan, most of the time), I feel very reluctant to speak to anyone senior/superior. Especially if it's not my friend but my boss's (ergo an automatic senior/superior), I feel it's not my place to speak, even a goodbye. A bow is sufficient, or so I feel in a part of my brain.
It also means I don't have to talk to people, which saves me from accidentally being disrespectful, or any type of potential conflict/threat.
I think it was implied that maybe I'm being disrespectful to these people by not saying goodbye, or speaking aloud. It was a bit of a shocker.

What counts as respect/courtesy is different between what I (believe) is the norm back home, and what it is here. It's a very common experience (clashes between two cultural perspectives), but it's still a very ambivalent and difficult situation nonetheless, and I feel at a loss. Even more so recently, when I have more situations where I need to talk to people who I don't know.


The Doing and Making

One of my most memorable incidents in IB visual arts is a comment made by the teacher near the very end of senior year.
So I don't remember anything verbatim, but to summarize what he said, was that I had good ideas, but couldn't execute them... though, positive point, was that I was very meticulous with my research book.
(He put it in a nice way. Personally, I think I was obsessive.)

Point was, I expressed myself better in the research than the actual execution.
In those high school art days, I did what I liked, for my sake (though it was for IB), and despite the loads of frustration, I had fun - in both research and execution.
I wasn't so discouraged by the teacher's comment. Rather, he was, and still is, right about that. My art portfolio was pretty whack.

And so he asked if I ever thought about taking art history in uni, in what I believe was a sort of compromise between my passion for the creative, and the reality of my skills.
To be honest I kinda gave up on myself, on creating things.
Besides, by that time I think I had my mind set on doing some social sciences at UofT, so that was that. High school was the end of "executing art" for a very long time.
Then at uni, I seemed to do better the more I distanced myself from writing. So that was more or less the end of literary "making" for me. I barely took a "creative" course except some lit studies, though I did express myself through all the academic essays I had to write (some were good, some were horrible).

Through those years, I'd be happy just thinking of ideas or easy doodles on the notebook margins, and doing nothing with them. I never really "made" anything.

But since post-grad, where I was hit in the face with the importance of "making", I think things have come full circle. I'm now equipped with the experience, however little, of other important things like dissecting or thinking or just observing the world. After my hiatus, I think I'm back to feeling confident about... myself, actually.

What I want to say is that I'm having a lot of fun making - writing - things. I'm at the point where I'm comfortable doing more with my ideas, actually executing them, for my own sake.
It's like high school all over again, but this time, it's purely and completely for myself. Selfish, I know. But it sure feels good to "make" things again.


A New Year (and Cheese)

The new year's was great (happy new year!) - I was able to watch the Kouhaku Utagassen (an iconic Japanese end-of-the-year song show), I read Nuribotoke no Utage: Utage no Shimatsu (which was fantastic, obviously), and did not freeze my toes off during the crazy cold spell (it's really cold again the past few days...).

And it's rather unrelated, but I realized I am ok with cheese.

Well, long story short, I never grew up eating a lot of cheese. Japan isn't exactly a cheese-loving culture. And for some strange reason, I just didn't like cheese.
In my past few years in Canada, I've become used to - even like - cheese on stuff like pizza and grilled cheese sandwiches. But I was still very reluctant to eat chunks of pure cheese. I would most likely stay well away from it at parties and the like.

Recently, I was exposed to brie. I realized I could eat that, since it didn't really taste like cheese (I think it tastes closer to butter).
So, over the holidays, I decided to be bold and bought a whole round thingy of brie cheese. It was surprisingly good.

And that is my new year's cheese story.
I mean, it's a good start to the year, right? I tried something new and it was a positive experience.

Other than that, I've been drinking way too much half-caf instant coffee and I think my stomach is very much harrassed by the caffeine.


Festive Feelings

Christmas came and went on a sofa with a lot of NBA.

(Read: I went to my relatives' place and spent Christmas on the sofa reading books, and for various reasons there was a lot of NBA on TV)
I finally finished Unbroken Arrow : Sentou Yousei Yukikaze. If Good Luck was that mind.blown. experience Unbroken Arrow was OMFG MY MIND WAS BLOWN SO HARD I CAN'T FIND MY FACE. *cue Hollywood blockbuster explosion scene*
It was fantastic.
And I also read the 'understanding Sumo' book which made me want to see sumo even more. I want to put my new knowledge to use.
It was freakking fantastic.

But it doesn't feel very end-of-the-year, probably because I'm not with family at the moment.
In Japan, Christmas is generally considered the party with friends/a 'couple' thing, since there really isn't that religious resonance as much as in North America. It's an excuse to party.
The family gathering event is the new years (well, starting from new year's eve, or even earlier, depending on your schedule).
So basically, it's the flip side of North America. From what I understand, new years' here is when you get spectacularly drunk and can't leave parties early, and Christmas is the traditional family gathering with a lot of turkey.
Not that there isn't a lot of partying on new years' in Japan (there is), but most involve countdown concerts, or going to temples or shrines for hatsumoude (the first visit of the year). And anyway, partying is most often amongst family. It's kind of an obligatory thing to visit family at the new year's, like Christmas family visits in North America.
With my family, it was mostly just laying around in the living room watching the countdown on TV, then I'd stay awake reading my book while everyone went to sleep.

So, what I mean is family interaction really determines that end-of-year feeling.
Though I don't have that this year (staying in Toronto), it's balanced out by how excited I am to start reading Nuribotoke no Utage: Utage no Shimatsu in a few days.


Books I Got

So I ended up ordering the sumo book and the Natsuhiko Kyougoku novel, along with several shonen manga because why the heck not.

This week was rather weird, with souvenirs, sushi, Frozen, fire alarm at 8:30 am, pancakes, and a girl complimenting my boots at the mall.

Anyway I am off to read ALL THE BOOKS (ok ok the Hyakki Yakou book #7 I will wait for another week and a half but everything else is fair game).


Books I Want

For the last 6 years I've had my own lonely (but hella fun) tradition of starting on a book from Kyougoku Natsuhiko's Hyakki Yakou series on new year's eve and finishing it on new year's (or at least within that week).
As I've mentioned before, it's a seriously thick book, by Japanese bunko standards. It's a long read. Plus, they're rather terrifying in that Japanese horror genre way, so it's not the nicest thing to read in the dead of night. But it's still a great read, every year. It's that once-a-year treat filled with mystery and intriguing characters and a whole lotta murder.

I'm thinking of buying several books from amazon Japan this year, including Hyakki Yakou book #7 Nuribotoke no Utage: Utage no Shimatsu, for this coming new year's eve.
Other books I'm thinking of ordering are an explanation/commentary book on the rules of Sumo (because duh, sumo), and a novel by Tomihiko Morimi (Uchouten Kazoku). Of course I also want the bunko version of Kaoru Takamura's Haruko Jouka (the hardcover is at home but I what the hell I want them all)...

As per my wishlist, I'm mostly a fiction reader with the occasional thing for non-fiction. I take the bookworm thing from my father's side of the family (which, I admit, I don't know very much about - neither do I about my mother's side, but that's another story).
But I think I'm the only one in the family that actively reads novels and fiction books regularly. Or at least overtly. Or use them as a way to avoid conversation during awkward family reunions during new year's.

Anyway the point is, I really really want to get a hold of the Hyakki Yakou book for this year. I've been slowly going through Unbroken Arrow: Sentou Yousei Yukikaze in my spare time, but it's winter, and that means I'm starting to crave the horror-mystery novel-fueled sleepless new year's eve.

Oh dear, that makes me realize how this year is almost over. Holy cheesecakes.