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Let's Take a Train to Anywhere

JAPAN | Saturday, 23 January 2016 | Views [408]

Wednesday the first few hours were dedicated to train vocabulary. How to buy train tickets, how to buy shinkansen tickets, commuter passes, etc. After a little over an hour in the classroom, we headed out to one of the nearby train stations to get tickets to Shin-Osaka, which is a fairly large train station. In addition to the vocabulary, we got a map before we left of the station. It didn’t exactly make things clearer.

Shin-Osaka station Map

Once we finally got out of the Shin-Osaka station, we headed to Tsutaya, which is basically like a still-in-business version of Blockbuster to practice necessary vocabulary and get a rewards card. Because that’s a super-helpful thing for me to have… (my computer doesn’t even have a CD or DVD drive. There’s a CD  I bought in Paris that I kind of want to get the music off of in case something happens to it, but I can’t.) But now I have the vocabulary and the rewards card in case I did, so… yay?

For lunch, we went back to the station to eat takoyaki. Takoyaki (literally, fried octopus) is one of the things that Osaka is known for. I’d previously explained that even though I don’t like fish, I’m OK with shrimp and octopus and such, much to the skepticism of Suzuki-sensei. But the place that we ate had a nice set menu that involved yakisoba (noodles) three takoyaki, and a bowl of soup. Given that I wasn’t quite sure how much I’d like the takoyaki, this seemed like the best option.

Other people took the full plunge and got 8 takoyaki, or 8 non-takoyaki octopus things. (Each of them were pretty small, probably about the size of a golf ball.) My yakisoba came with small pieces of octopus in them, which was a bit of a surprise, but not a bad one. The food was good, and I feel that in the future I can strike the “probably” off the phase “Takoyaki probably sounds good.” I also think I got the best deal, since I got three different dishes for the same price as everyone else’s one. Though this had the disadvantage of making me the last one to eat.

Before I came to Japan, I would have described my chopstick skills as pretty decent. Since coming to Japan, that’s been called into question. It turns out that I’ve developed a cheat which kind of collapses the chopsticks and makes me able to hold the food, but only for a short period of time. But I’m much faster with that. So, even though I can use chopsticks properly, I don’t. I’m trying to retrain myself, but it’s a challenge. (Worth it, though, since otherwise the Japanese students laugh at me.) So is eating things like fries with chopsticks, though that’s more because of the mental block than anything else.

After lunch we got back on the train and headed back. I talked a bit with Suzuki-sensei, and found myself translating several stories into Japanese. It began with an innocent enough comment about pens, since Japan is the only country where I can easily find pens that I like. And then I tried to explain that in the US, you could find German-made pens of the size I like, (.3mm) but those bleed like crazy if you let them anywhere near water. And then she showed me her favorite kind of pen, which was erasable, which led to me describing my French math classes, where everyone used pens.

And the instant I said that, I basically had to share the Dr. Jensen story. (When she was in the MASS program, [semester of advanced mathematics courses in Pennsylvania] all of the Russian students there laughed at her for using pencil. “Children use pencils.” “But I make mistakes,” she protested. “So do children.”) I’m not sure how much of any of those stories Suzuki-sensei caught, but I’m pretty sure that even trying to tell them in Japanese was a good exercise. And she laughed at points and didn’t seem terribly confused, so I think I must have communicated enough to at least make an enjoyable story, whether or not it was the one I meant to be telling.

Class was over after we got our Friend Mart cards, and so I headed back to my room. A little later I got tired of being in my room and went for a walk along the river again. During this walk, I learned two important lessons: don’t cross the river unless you’re willing to turn around or go a very very long time looking for the next bridge, and don’t take stairs down unless you’re willing to turn around or go a very long time looking for stairs back up. The consequence of learning those lessons was that what I’d meant to be a thirty minute walk turned into an 80 minute one. However, contrary to what most other people will tell you, it was a nice day, so it was fine. (A lot of people here complain about the cold. A lot of people here are wimps who are not from Chicago.)

For dinner, I got a combination of information from my roommate and texts from Aimee that I should wait in her room around 7:30. So I did, and we met up with some people’s roommates to head to dinner. There, people from Sophia (the dorm farther away) were there, and we had a loud partial group dinner together. The food was overpriced, and the portions were small, but the conversation was good, and I wasn’t that hungry, so it was fine.

Sarica had a French test the next day, so near the end of the meal she was trying to practice. It took me a bit to figure out what she was saying a lot of the time, especially when it was out of context, like when she was just going through the possessive pronouns, since it has been years since I’ve had to worry about simply not forgetting one of them. At another point, she said “Mon annéе,” and it took a combination of English, French and Japanese to figure out what she wanted to say and correct it to “bon annéе.”

All of this highlighted two things that I already knew: I miss French, and my French skills are much better than my Japanese. Given the amount of noise in the restaurant, I was having a hard enough time understanding Japanese or Americans speaking Japanese at a pretty basic level. There was no way I would have been able to work through the accent and beginner’s mistakes of a French speaker trying out some of the simple Japanese exercises and phrases.

Well, that’s kind of the point of this semester, isn’t it?

Tags: food, french, japanese, pens, river, train, transportation

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