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Okonomiyaki and Yarn

JAPAN | Saturday, 13 February 2016 | Views [296]

Saturday morning and afternoon were calm and uneventful, at least for me. We'd received word (via email, so it is used for something) that Return of Kings was planning a large gathering in Umeda, so we should avoid it. If you don't have enough Facebook friends posting statuses that you violently disagree with… you probably still shouldn't look that group up. Their hyper-masculine views are pretty disgusting. So I hung around by my apartment and walked by the river.

Friday night, Mayuka had asked me if I'd had any plans for Saturday, and when I'd responded I hadn't, we'd scheduled dinner for Saturday evening. Around 15:00, she clarified this into 17:00 meeting, and asked me what kind of food I wanted. I decided on okonomiyaki. Around 17:40, she got up and told me it was time to go. And then spent a few more minutes getting ready. Felt just like being home…

I'd foolishly assumed that going to get dinner meant going to a nearby restaurant for dinner. It didn't. It meant getting on a train, riding it for 30+ minutes, transferring, riding this train for a few minutes, getting off, and going up and up and up the escalators. Mayuka and I talked, more so in the beginning than the end, when hunger was winning out.

One of the keys to successfully studying multiple languages at the same time is to be able to keep them apart. Which is why I almost think it's harder for someone to study French and Spanish than French and Japanese. Once you get past the introductory level of both languages and your mind can deal with more than “say something not in English and you'll be fine!” It's pretty simple to keep them apart. If I get flustered, I might still try and throw a particle into a French sentence, but, because I started French earlier, usually my Japanese is free of French.

Or at least it was. The better I get at French, the more I start to experience a problem with expressing myself in Japanese on certain topics. For example, after I came back from Morocco, I kept tripping over vocabulary and grammar in telling my Japanese teachers how I spent my summer vacation. That kind of voyage vocabulary is year one material. It shouldn't have been hard. But in Morocco, I'd been taking courses in French, so my mind went “foreign language: French!”

This became even more of a problem after last semester. Thursday, Suzuki-sensei asked us which major was the best, and I responded math, of course. So she told me to go to the board and explain math. Dan made the joking comment “explain abstract algebra.” Which I could actually do, since the definition of a group is not that hard. So I wrote those properties up on the board, and then, lacking the vocabulary and just katakanacizing words, tried to explain what they meant. The problem was that I was thinking in French. And I didn't have the time to force my thoughts to go back to English, so I was trying to go straight from French thoughts to Japanese sentences, and it wasn't working terribly well. (Side note: thinking in French when I'm asked to explain math might be a problem in non-language courses…)

So when Mayuka asked me about French, I knew I was on tricky ground. When I started trying to explain the recent spelling reforms from the Académie française, I knew I was just making things harder. But going from French to Japanese seemed a skill that I needed to pick up, so I tried anyway. I think I got the general idea across, but it's hard to explain the reasons or the outrage these changes provoked to someone who's native language almost always has spelling match pronunciation.

By the time we got to the restaurant, it was nearly 19:00. Mayuka ordered gyooza and okonomiyaki for us to share, explaining that we could order more if we were hungry. The restaurant was much like the first place I'd eaten okonomiyaki, so there was a metal plate in the middle that kept the food (and us) pretty warm. The gyooza, when they came, were flatter than I'd been expecting. Two thin sheets with stuffing in the middle instead of the normal curved shape. They were good, and pretty crunchy.

The gyooza plates were taken away, and Mayuka looked at the menu, handed it to me, and told me to choose a yakisoba. I chose cabbage, and Mayuka gestured the waiter back, telling me to order. Something about it being good for me to practice Japanese. I did, with my general strategy of pointing to the name on the menu (it's not cheating if I do it in American restaurants too) and the waitress nodded, made a note and went away.

The okonomiyaki royal (I don't think that's the real name, but it was something similar) came out, and Mayuka told me to sprinkle a seasoning on top. I'd missed her earlier explanation of what they were, so I'll just say that they looked like dried shrimp tails. For that reason, I was kind of hesitant about adding them everywhere, and was kind of sparing. But Mayuka pushed me on,  (“the more, the tastier!”) so I did. At the end, for good measure, she took the bowl and sprinkled some more. Then she added other seasonings.

Mayuka and Okonomiyaki

At this point, Paris has a pretty strong influence about my ideas of how one should act. So when I looked at Mayuka sprinkling seasonings on the okonomiyaki before trying it and thought “this is different,” I didn't know what it was different from. I don't think I even touched a salt shaker outside my apartment, and certainly French restaurants have less condiments available than the US or Japan. But I think even in the US, it's generally accepted that you taste your food before trying to add to it. And also that you don't go to a nice restaurant (and the restaurant we were at was pretty nice) and immediately try to smother the food in toppings.

I'm not sure the okonomiyaki was better for the amount of dry pink stuff we put on it, but it was very good. Mayuka confirmed that the proper way to eat it was to cut it into pieces, put it in your plate with the spatula, and eat each piece with chopsticks. A side effect of this is that if you eat slowly, your okonomiyaki is going to be way more cooked than if you guzzle everything down immediately. (And of course, the more it's cooked, the hotter it is and the harder it is to cut with chopsticks, meaning you take even more time to eat it, meaning your next piece is basically burnt.) And, since it's still kind of cooking, the small pieces of food left will get burnt to a crisp if you don't finish them. So there's that.

A bit after we finished that and had the plate cleared away, our yakisoba came out. It was good, though not nearly as flavourful as the okonomiyaki. Actually, it was in most ways a pretty ordinary Asian noodle dish. Maybe I should have tried adding shrimp tails to it. But it brought us from “I'm still kind of hungry” to “I'm full,” which was exactly what it needed to do.

We split the bill and paid. The woman behind the counter was someone Mayuka had gone to school with, and so the two caught up and we got 15% off, which was nice. Then Mayuka needed a zipper, so we went into a store that sold craft supplies. After finding her zipper, Mayuka asked if I wanted to look at things for knitting, and the answer to that is almost always yes. She was soon to learn what all close friends and family know: you never leave me in a yarn store without a time limit.

Especially not one so new and exciting. There were skeins upon skeins of yarn, with only the name, if that, in English. I quickly picked up on new, valuable vocabulary like “acrylic” and “merino wool” and learned that I should never trust any Japanese yarn labeled “mohair,” since it was usually just acrylic. Most of them were sold individually, though there were a few packs of 5-10 skeins on a slight discount. The prices were right in range with what I might expect, and I kept talking myself into and out of buying yarn.

I don't need more yarn. Oh, but it's so sparkly! I have three projects this trip that I'm in the middle of; I don't need to start another. Look at this deep shade of red and think of the possibilities. Maybe if I finish one of the projects I'll come back. Feel this… isn't it wonderful? Do you know what else feels wonderful? The musk ox yarn I'm using to make a pair of gloves.

In the end, I left the store with nothing but a pair of needles to finish said pair. (I'd started the first glove on the plane to Paris, finished it on the lawn outside the restaurant in Dordogne, and then forgotten about it. When I'd reached for knitting again in mid-November, the needles had disappeared. They've never shown up again.) I was kind of guessing what size I needed, and they didn't have circulars so I had to buy double pointed needles instead, but so far that hasn't been a problem.

Once I finish these gloves, I can give in to my urge and buy all the yarn that I want. That's how it works, right?

Tags: food, french, okonomiyaki, spelling, yarn

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