Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Observations, Food, and Getting Around

Crows. They are everywhere. Not like Hitchcock, but in every major place we've visited there have been a flock of crows with a lot to say. I wonder what they're talking about. They're actually quieter at the moment than they've been since we arrived, but it's probably because it's been raining pretty hard.

Children. Over the weekend, we saw tons of young families, especially with children under the age of 5 or so. All day, we saw just one child pitching a fit (fighting the stroller, but not screaming). Every other child was quiet and well-behaved or laughing and skipping and otherwise being delighted. No children on leashes, either.

Oh, the trains. They are amazing. The system takes some getting used to, to be sure, but the seats are cushioned, there is no graffiti, the windows and floors are clean, and I have yet to see a single piece of trash in the train, on the tracks, on the platform, or in the station. There are even drink vending machines on the platforms, which blows me away.

The other night we decided we'd get on the first train that went by, go two stops, and find dinner in that area. We ended up at what I can only describe as the Single Man Restaurant (might be a typical ramen shop, or ramen-ya). It's a pretty cool system - you go in the front door and on either side of you are machines full of buttons with pictures of food and prices. Not being able to read and being unable to identify more than "soup" or "not soup", we pressed a few buttons at random. Tickets for each item and change plop out the bottom, you find a seat, and the waitress tears the ticket in half (the stub is your receipt) and brings you the food you ordered. It's cheap, it's fast, and it requires minimal human interaction. Over the course of our meal, six or seven men came and went. Each was alone and didn't speak to anyone else, ate quickly and was gone in less than ten minutes. I don't know how they ate it all, to be honest, because we both had trouble finishing ours, and we're pretty good at eating.

Then on the way back to the train station we found a series of small bakeries or pastry shops that were pretty awesome. One had a series of waffle irons shaped like fish, and they'd make waffle tarts. The outside was like a very thin waffle, the inside was custard or bean paste or whatever. We got a chocolate waffle filled with coffee-flavored custard, and it was fantastic. It was also incredibly hot, because it was about thirty seconds old.

And on the way out of that building to the train station, we passed a counter full of delicious-looking things. We got this. It was amazing. The outside of these things are a chewy rice-based substance, and the inside is like candy or jelly. They're meant to be kept frozen and thawed one hour before eating (if we understood the woman correctly, and it's entirely possible that we did not), but they were just right by the time we got back to the hotel and put on pajamas. Delicious.

The little card that came with it:

The box (I didn't remember to take a picture until after we'd eaten one of the yellow ones, maybe mango or cantaloupe):

This one, I think, was blackberry or currant flavored.

Speaking of food, I've managed to be here the better part of the week without being spectacularly ill. This is impressive for two reasons. 1: it's a pretty substantial change in diet, largely because I can't identify ingredients or read signs 2: I've been eating fish after 8 years of vegetarianism. I'm trying to keep it to a minimum and eat more rice and vegetables than fish, and it's working out pretty well.

This is what I had for lunch today. I can identify shrimp and rice, but precious little else. The squiggly orange things aren't cheese, and I can't even begin to guess what the pink stuff is. It wasn't bad, though.

One custom here that I like very much is the pre- and post-meal acknowledgment. You say itadakimasu before eating, the cultural equivalent of saying grace, and gochiso samadeshita after the meal, which is a way to give thanks for the meal that was eaten - to the restaurant, to the gods, and to the spirits of the animals eaten. It literally means "thank you for the delicious meal" and it helps assuage my vegetarian guilt.

I would have written more yesterday, but we had a driving class that took up most of our time. Just the rules and signs, not practice. It seems pretty scary - huge penalties for even the smallest accident, pedestrians and bikes zooming around without the slightest regard for cars and vans, compounded by ten-foot-wide streets (two way traffic and not much of an exaggeration), no sidewalks, and driving on the left side of the road. I might want to work my way up - start with a bike, maybe a scooter, then we can talk about driving a van. But! There are special magnets for the cars for novice or elderly drivers. How can we get this implemented in the States? I know I'd cut some drivers some slack and a wider berth if I knew they were just learning or old.


  1. In the states, some driving schools hand out stickers that new drivers have on their cars, Jen and I have seen a few of these in Richmond, and these were middle aged drivers

  2. Mochi is the general name for the glutinous rice cake.. My favorite is traditional style, which is made with sweeten red bean paste. Oh I crave one..

  3. I got to try one of the fish pancakes at the cherry blossom festival and learned they sell them in the asian market down the street. They are SO good. Though I can't i can't imagine how good they are traditional and fresh! mmm!