Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Smile and Nod

Soooooooo... no pictures for today, unfortunately.  BUT! This will be a nice, big food post for all those interested in the cuisine here. Anyhoo, I only left the house once - to go get some crap at the market. To my friends on Skype, btw, I know I haven't been able to Skype with anyone yet because the time-zone change and jet-lag have made me goofy and unable to time anything correctly. So today I was like "I am absolutely, 100% going to Skype with my friends!" I sit down, go to click on Skype at a time when I know people will be on their computers when alluva sudden...

"Jamie!!! Get your ass down here and go to the market!!! Grandmaw is coming!!!" [rough translation]

Sooooooooo... instead of Skyping, I spent the day preparing for Grandmaw.  I am very sorry to mah peeps in America, and I will try to Skype as soon as possible (my schedule is just effing hectic right now before a nice, regular school schedule actually starts).

So about grandmaw... That's really the best name for her cuz everyone here calls her "obaachan" or "baachan"... roughly translated to "adorable, little old lady." But before I can talk about that, I need to talk about my host father's family.

So this guy's been through hell, it seems. When he was three years old, his father died. A month later, his mother died. So this "baachan" raised him, along with her two sons, just like she would her own son. Anyways, my host father's two cousins were like his brothers. Unfortunately, one of them has a serious heart condition, so he couldn't even come over to our house. The other one, who did come over, fell down the stairs when he was younger and suffered brain damage. So he looks kinda off and he shakes a lot like he has Parkinson's and he kinda shuffles instead of walking. Yeah... rough life, seriously.

Anyways, the elderly are highly respected here in Japan, as are guests, and this woman is pretty special to my host father.  These two coming over was like "OMG everybody! All hand's on deck!" Everyone had to cook something. EVERYONE. Including me, lol. So let's go over the food!

Satoshi is a freaking BEAST in the kitchen. This guy cooks like a CHAMP. He made:

- Soy-sauced green peppers (I wish I liked peppers more...)
- Mushrooms filled with... something really oily and kinda fishy, lol (the family thought I would absolutely hate it and made me take a small bite before taking one... but actually, I thought it was freaking delicious)
- Kabocha (Japanese squash - sort of like a green pumpkin with a soft, yellow inside. Satoshi lightly soaked it in some milk, salt, and sugar. It was the food of the gods, seriously).
- The highlight of the night for me: tuna wrapped in bacon. Apparently, this is an uncommon dish and my host mother was like "uuuuum" when Satoshi said what he was making. But it was AMAZING.
- My host mother and I made some big sushi dish. It was vinegar-ed rice with cucumbers, salmon, ginger, egg, green beans and some salmon eggs (WHOO was that shit expensive, though)... Unfortunately, I don't much like vinegar, but I helped her make it and it looked really pretty!
- Dessert (which I also helped make) was fruit salad with these little, doughy rice balls in it. It had kiwis - yum!!

Anyhoo, Grandmaw was one of those shriveled old ladies who look like they've been deflated and sewn back together with rice paper. She wore huge glasses with grey hair pulled back in a ponytail and I'm pretty sure she was about two feet tall. She smiled at me the entire time, like I was the most adorable, confused little gaijin she'd ever seen. Her son, of course, was pretty odd looking, but very nice. One of his eyes was nearly completely closed, and part of his head looked like a misshapen fruit - like his head had swollen and never gone down. I'm embarrassed to say, though, that the shaky, brain damaged guy seemed to handle chopsticks better than I do.  I was seriously worried about my keigo, but luckily, Grandmaw didn't speak with me much. I eavesdropped a bit and caught that the last exchange student, Laura, sucked at Japanese, so I think Grandmaw was sparing me the embarrassment, lol. The first time she spoke to me, though, she said something I NEVER could've understood. She points at her son, points at her head, and says something that sounds like "pon pon." Then something else. Then she goes "wakaru?" ("do you understand?"). I'm like... no. I stare helplessly at my host father, because this woman is all like "really, she should understand this" while pointing at her head. My host father goes, in English, "uuuuum... bypass." Riiiiiiiight. Bypass. I don't even want to know what kinda bypass they're referring to in this guy's head and I certainly didn't ask. Also, as someone who enjoys The Underneath, I'm sad to say this guy's name was Taka.

Of course, Grandmaw is 86 and, thus, very special. So the rule for the night was, everyone sit down, shut up, and let the woman talk endlessly till she's blue in the face (meaning I had no idea what she was saying). Everyone served her and let her do as she pleased the entire time. Also, I'd been warned about this before, but your host family is required to insult the crap out of you to guests (it's an inner circle rule, so the family has to insult their own family to be polite). They definitely made fun of how I smile and nod like an idiot all the time. They imitated me like I was some kinda dipping bird, lol. Oh well, no offense taken, haha. Besides, they ripped on Laura more than me (they imitated her like all she ever did was go blank-faced when someone spoke Japanese to her. My host mother made a sound that was the closest equivalent to "duuuuh" in the Japanese language, lol).

Despite these noted cultural differences, however, there are some universal constants about relatives that I have now discovered to be true no matter where you are in the world:

1. They live to embarrass the rest of the family. Grandmaw kept telling stories (that I could hardly understand) about Satoshi that were clearly making him wish he could take back half his life. He was blushing the whole time. I think she teased my host father too.
2. They love to hear themselves speak.
3. They love to tell stories about the past that have obviously been told a million times before that nobody cares about.
4. They take all the good food home with them (I cried internally as I watched all the delicious kabocha disappear into her bag).

Anyways, that was literally my day. Now I'm just effing exhausted from smiling and nodding and pretending to understand all the dinner conversation when I definitely didn't.

Oh! One last thing: we had udon for lunch. Udon with leeks, and those cute little swirly pink fish cake things. Delicious!!! When no one was looking, I dumped enough chili pepper into my bowl to kill a small animal. I LOVE spicy food!!! Oh, and because everyone was all wrapped up in Grandmaw's business, I was able to eat less than usual instead of stuffing myself to the point of exploding, and no one noticed. Thank the lawd.

Wonderful Japanese word of the day: "wan-chan." This is an affectionate term for a dog. "Wan" is the sound a dog makes, equivalent to "arf" or "woof" or "bark." So a wan-chan is like calling a dog a "little woof" or something of the sort. Adorable.

1 comment:

  1. Ew you like naruto maki? Those pink swirly fish cake things? I can't stand em. I'm usually pretty good with food but pulverized and reformed fish has just the strangest most unappealing texture and flavor to me.

    And how can you NOT like vinegar? Sacrilege!

    I leave in like 16 hours ZOMG.