Yesterday marked the third time I’ve been to Kobe now. Kobe doesn’t have Osaka’s energy or Kyoto’s ultra-traditional atmosphere, but it is quietly wonderful in its own way. For me, it’s less about areas like Harbourland and Kitanozaka, and more about wandering around old shopping streets and back alleys, the areas with local businesses and places that are none of my business. (ヒプスターでごめんなさい)
For instance, Motoko, one of the main old shopping streets running under the train tracks between Motomachi Station and Kobe Station, has so much going for it. Tiny independent bars and cafes begin showing their faces, and there are stores stacked to the ceiling with old records starting at Y50 a pop.
Lately, I have had the luxury of having time to write. I have not written as much as I could have done these three weeks (one can never write or read enough) but it is a peculiarly destructive (mentally speaking) and draining process at times to extract one’s memories and commit them to a document on your screen. Most afternoons my thoughts remain clunky paragraphs with ill-formed sentences, or simply make themselves scarce the moment I begin typing. Very occasionally do words spill out so quickly my fingers can barely keep up, and afterwards I am found wailing at friends online about how overwhelming one’s own childhood traumas can be. It is a slow and cathartic struggle.
Reading for pleasure, which for the past four years took a back seat to learning Japanese and churning out undergraduate essays, has also been on the agenda this month. One of the books I’ve been dipping into is Choice Cuts, an anthology of food writing in which I found a delightful love poem by Haitian poet Émile Roumer consisting entirely of culinary metaphors. You can read it in its entirety here, though this translation uses ‘bum’ rather than the more – to my mind – charming and old-fashioned ‘bottom’ which appears in the anthology. In any case, I wondered upon reading: what would a Malaysian culinary love poem sound like?
When I was thirteen I decided I wanted to die at 30. Back then 30 seemed so terrifyingly old, so incomprehensibly far away; I also thought it would encourage me towards a life better lived. I told this to a friend some years later, still only half-jesting, and she said, well, we’d better hang out more then. We’ve only got twelve more years left.
Ten years later I’m now 23, having arrived at that number a little over a month ago. Suddenly 30 is now too strangely young for death, and just beyond the horizon of seven more years 30 is a reminder of how I viewed my own existence then: a curious mix of flippancy and fear, and a vague sense of hope that all this angst and misery would fade away once the right words fell into place.
In many ways this has not changed, though the intense unhappiness I used to know so intimately surfaces only occasionally these days. These days it is easier to feel anchored to the world knowing – as in, being absolutely certain – that I am not as alone as often as I think. Instant messaging helps in that regard, being my sole lifeline to friends scattered around the globe. These days I am on my phone half the day feverishly type-talking to them, hoping that we can be secure in each other against months and years.
I don’t really get Christmas. It mostly feels like an excuse for everyone to buy stuff and make all kinds of food that normally don’t get eaten, like turkey and cranberry sauce. I haven’t made it, probably never will. Turkey tastes blah, cranberries are more tart than McGonagall on a bad day and I still haven’t quite managed to get behind pairing meat with fruit sauces. But then again my only experiences of Christmas growing up consisted of 2 very long letters to Santa – whose handwriting mirrored dad’s perfectly, hm - and watching Home Alone 3. For all the jokes I made about being クリぼっち on Christmas Day (and only for a few hours really) it is pretty much just another winter day.
Yesterday on Christmas Eve I stayed at home recovering from food poisoning. I skipped out on a party I made mulled wine and 3 litres of eggnog for – which apparently went down very well, so my Festive Credentials are still intact – and instead ate porridge and watched Bedknobs and Broomsticks with my sister. We hadn’t watched it in over a decade so we thought this would be a good idea. But as it turns out, when you’re a kid, the wartime context and the genderfail completely flies over your heads. To name just one example, there was a sequence in the film where the kids enter a nursery and Carrie immediately gravitates towards the dolls and cuddles them while Charles starts playing with trains. My sister and I agreed that we could never sit through this film again.
If you have met me in meatspace you may have rather quickly arrived at the realisation that I am not the most coherent or articulate person. Whether in Japanese or English, I’m prone to trailing off mid-sentence, and have been told that I mumble and tend not to enunciate. Q&A sessions during debating days were the worst. I have often thought that if I could type out my answers in real-life conversations it would be far more fruitful for all involved. I listen to conversations more often than I add to them (much to my own distress, too).
Despite all these verbal shortcomings, here I am hosting Superfry, a podcast about Japanese food!
Where did 2013 go? It’s cold, and things are looking a little lonely around here. Hello again!
Unsurprisingly, not much has changed since I last wrote here. There are the same frets and fears over my post-graduate future. You meet people and sometimes they’re wonderful and sometimes they just disappoint you. Sometimes you disappoint yourself. Right now I’m just taking each day as it comes, getting through each day and its little pile of to-dos and things-to-be-accomplished. Essays, laundry, trains. There are wasted minutes that slip through the cracks between tasks, and entire hours that slide past when your mind wanders towards the black hole that is the Internet. And Instagram. Good lord. At first I couldn’t decide whether I wanted to strangle or kiss Queue for convincing me to sign up for an account. But since my camera’s in Japan being fixed (warranty, bah) any photo-taking I’ve indulged in has been entirely on my phone – which means all these are Instagram photos – something I never used to have a habit of.
I’ve been thinking a lot about food and nostalgia. I always think about food, but lately I’ve been interested in the way people discuss and remember food – things we eat, things we used to eat, and the memories associated with various kinds of food. Much has been written on the subject of food and nostalgia, of course, but it seems appropriate to continue musing on the subject.
Perhaps it is part of personal writing, which invariably involves mulling a lot over events that have already happened. Perhaps it is also that this age (note this alarming propensity for making sweeping statements about the kind of world we live in), like previous ages, seems to be suffused with nostalgia – those pesky, rose-tinted feelings about How Things Were Better Back Then, or Oh I Used To Eat This When I Was A Kid, and When I Was Six, We Didn’t Have Smartphones Like Kids These Days…
This is also an era, I think, in which young people like myself are far too aware and cynical about age and ageing. But I digress. Continue reading
Hi. Hello there. I’m back, in many senses – first I was back in KL, and now I’m back in London, and in this small plot of virtual land once again. It feels strange to be stretching these writing muscles again after a long break, deliberating over a turn of phrase or comma placement, how to put together a sentence. Languages are bleeding into each other behind my eyes. As time marches inexorably forward away from what I think of as My Time in Japan (I left at the end of August), I find that Japanese nouns, verbs, adjectives, conjunctions – words here and there are slowly fading, perhaps scattering themselves in the dusty corners of my head. English is starting to reassert itself. Speaking Japanese is starting to feel sometimes like a too-small glove, a mask rather than my own face, and it’s a little frightening.
All the rumours about Tokyo being expensive are true, especially when it comes to entertainment. Unlike London, where museums are free (or practically so) and student discounts are as common as Burberry prints on chavs, Tokyo scores pretty poorly on affordable cultural activities. Even as a student, it’s not uncommon to shell out 1000 yen and upwards for an art exhibition. Student prices for a concert? Free entry to a jazz club? Absurd! (I rarely went, but I find myself sometimes wistfully thinking about Ronnie Scott’s free entry for uni students after 11pm.)
Of course, this doesn’t mean you can’t find cheap entertainment in Tokyo. Exploring the various districts in this metropolis alone makes for great adventures that cost you only transportation fees – assuming you’re good (unlike me) and refrain from buying food and other nonsense.
I’m also rather partial to indulging my sadistic streak from time to time, and when the opportunity arose a few weeks ago… it turns out that some of the best entertainment in this city can be had for a mere 200 yen.
Whew. Hello there. I’m alive, though it doesn’t feel like I should be. But I made it through the past three weeks (Lord help me, it’s June already?) with nary a scratch. Perhaps a slightly bruised heart, but that was an old wound I just ripped open for a little bit. I’m cool now. Both of us are, fingers crossed and the fates willing. Everyone says that time fixes everything. That, and you make some drastic changes to symbolise some kind of fresh start, so I did a Bernice and bobbed my hair. It’s short and summery, and with my usual flower hairbands it’s kind of fabulous in a kokeshi doll sort of way. I said as much to my friend, and he choked and sputtered a bit, before telling me that
“You shouldn’t say that.”
“Kokeshi has a double meaning, you know…”
“No, I don’t know.”
“It has a sexual feel, like, you know…”
“No, I don’t know!”
“The shape, it’s like, well, you know. Something women use. Electric ones.”
“Oh. …You could’ve just said.”
Trust a Japanese guy to beat around the bush in telling me I’d inadvertently compared my new haircut to a dildo. Wikipedia doesn’t tell you about kokeshi being slang for that, by the way. Not even in Japanese. Continue reading