Smash cake and shabu shabu

The baby turned one recently and we bought a smash cake. He played around with it a bit, but he didn’t smash it like we thought he would. Surely, if we had put it out of his reach and told him not to touch it he would have tried everything to smash it with all his might.

In true birthday weekend style, the following day we went to have lunch with some family he hadn’t met before. It was in a private, tatami room at a shabu-shabu restaurant. Very Japanese set-up and quite comfortable. They even prepared a little futon for baby where he enjoyed a nice long nap while the rest of us, 11 in total, ate.

Before going to the restaurant, I didn’t really mind shabu-shabu. But I think I can now say I don’t care for it. My husband drew the same conclusion, and when I was telling another gentleman that we went to a shabu-shabu restaurant, he said he doesn’t really like it. I later asked a colleague and she didn’t like it either. Who loves shabu-shabu? How is boiling strips of unseasoned pork yourself and then eating it with sesame or citrus-based sauce so popular?

Anyway, the tempura, sashimi, mochi soup and bean paste ice cream were good, especially the soup and the ice cream.

Shock, Laughter, Pain

A few different thoughts

1.

Today a student told me she slept for 22 hours straight over the weekend.

I thought she had made a mistake when she said she went to bed 9:00 Friday night and woke up 7:00 Saturday night. You mean Saturday morning, right? No, Saturday night, 22 hours sleeping.

I only want ten hours. How tired do you have to be to sleep for 22 hours? Now, I’m pretty tired after teaching four 90 minute classes today. And night feedings are a standard part of my life. So I generally exist in a half awake sphere. But I think I’d have to be dead, as some other students suggested, to sleep for almost an entire day.

2.

What kind of people say ‘one stop’ on the bus? My husband asked me that over the weekend.

Cover of a Jamaica Observer magazine from a few years back.

Board a bus or taxi in Jamaica, and you might hear people say ‘one stop driva’ when they’re ready to get off. But as my husband noted, not everybody says it. Also, he said sometimes people laughed when he said it. Sometimes, he said, they asked him to repeat himself a few times.

I laughed throughout this entire story, but I am really left wondering what kind of people say ‘one stop driva’.

3.

Saw a story about brutally raped women who were turned away from one hospital, and made to wait for an extended period at another. I almost cried. The story highlighted a number of challenges in a system that is simply under resourced.

I sometimes hesitate to read these kinds of stories but I feel reading is one small way we can honour the humanity of the victims.

Lunchtime in Tokyo

Tokyo Station

Because of uncertainty about my life’s path, I spend a fair amount of time with ‘what ifs’.

Recently, a short trip into central Tokyo gave me the opportunity to ponder a bit, what if I worked in the heart of city?

I live in Tokyo, but in what could be considered the suburbs. Where I work is even sometimes thought to be another prefecture, though it is still Tokyo.

I go in the opposite direction of the city centre at rush hour, so I’m never squeezed up against anyone, fighting to maintain the illusion of personal space by defiantly struggling to read a book or use my smartphone.

I also work in a school that’s quite removed from any commercial centre. No business district, no high rises, no lunch specials in dozens of restaurants, no lunch crowd.

The crowds I saw on my outing had mostly men wearing variations of light blue shirts and grey trousers.
Nowadays, there’s a lot of talk about increasing the number of women in the workforce.

There were many women too. Walking in pairs or small groups, the kind of causal but slightly urgent walk one assumes on a timed lunch break. Many of the women carried little bags on their forearms. The bigger, real work bags left tucked inside some drawer or locker or sitting on a desk.

Most of the men carried no bags. Their salaryman bags no doubt waiting patiently to be picked up in the evening to accompany their owners on the commute home.

Obviously, these things are not work. They are just made up frills around the edges of work. But I felt that these things form an important part of the sense or scene of work in a city.

Even though it felt removed from my current reality, it was nostalgic in some ways. Reminded me of a time I worked in downtown Kingston. When I was one of those women in a small group heading to a cookshop or sometimes a real restaurant. I enjoyed that part of work back then, even though it wasn’t work itself.

Still no clarity about my calling, but it looks like I like lunchtime at work. In a city. Now on to figuring out what to do before and after lunchtime.

[Kewpie] mayo on everything, please!

Japanese mayonnaise giant Kewpie has a building nearby and we went for a tour recently.

This is not the factory, but the research center and some corporate offices. And the entire first floor is dedicated to this very popular tour, which shows how mayonnaise is made. I think there might have been four or five separate rooms.

One room is even like a mini gaming arcade where some little kids competed in trying to choose the correct ingredients for mayonnaise and putting them on a computer scanner.

At the end of the tour, you are seated in a dining room, given a tiny salad, a bottle of mayo and a number of condiments to mix and match and find your favorite dressing.

The result: you leave wanting to fill your life with this creamy goodness. I honestly decided to stop buying creamy dressings and just mix mayonnaise with something if I really want something creamy.

The tour, which is free and fills up months in advance, is obviously very good marketing.

(Still) Learning to Swim

‘I’ve been learning to swim for fifty years,’ an older Jamaican woman said to me in a swimming lesson about five years ago. Yesterday, an older Chinese woman, my classmate in a different swimming class, said, ‘I’ve been coming here for half a year (and I still can’t swim!).’ 

It hasn’t quite been fifty years, nor has it been a brief six months, but I’ve been learning to swim for a long time myself. And I still can’t swim. But I’m not as bad as when I started. 

I’ve taken many breaks over the years, the most recent being when I became pregnant. Finally being able to squeeze it in my schedule again, I recently went back to my swimming lessons at the gym.

During the first class, I realised I just felt much more relaxed and focused than I’d ever felt in any swimming class ever. It’s as if the constraint of only being able to do this thing within this window of time allowed no distractions.

This is also the only time I get to move my body and I have nowhere to be except the other end of the pool, and nobody expects much from me. It’s really relax time. Of course the teachers want you to learn to swim, but they are all very laid back about it, like, ‘even it takes a lifetime, no big.’

That said, I ran into a classmate from my first spell at the gym, and learned that basically everyone who was in that class is now in the advanced class. Inspiration.

I don’t like mother’s day

No, that’s not accurate. I don’t know how to feel about mother’s day and teacher’s day. I’m both a mother and a teacher. But I don’t think I did anything special to be in those roles. Or that they are any more special than any of my other roles, so much so that I should be happy and thankful if someone says ‘Happy mother’s day.’

I just happen to be a mother. And I just happen to be a teacher.

This year both mother’s day and teacher’s day took me by surprise a bit. Teacher’s day is not a thing in Japan, but mother’s day is. I felt really awkward responding to the few teacher’s day messages I got from people back home. I think I didn’t respond to some of them. But on mother’s day, the volume of messages was surreal.

You see, it was my first mother’s day. I didn’t realise it was mother’s day until I noticed a flower shop that’s usually closed on Sundays was open. Then I saw about three messages on my phone. This was Sunday morning Japan time. Soon after that, I started to quietly dread the messages that would arrive once it was Sunday in Jamaica.

On Monday morning, I had 26 WhatsApp messages. By lunchtime, I had 17 more.

On the train, I slowly made my way through the messages. At some point, my response became, ‘Thanks for thinking of me,’ and my tension melted.

It was nice to see messages from some people I hadn’t spoken to in months; to catch up with them a bit. And I really appreciated that they had thought about me. I hadn’t sent a single mother’s day message, so it also gave me a chance to send return wishes to people who I truly think are great mothers.

I didn’t end up feeling a special feeling that, Oh, I’m a mother, and today is my day. But it was a nice opener to have a little chat with old friends and a good chance to big up some mama friends.