Wednesday, June 11, 2014

40 Days of Summer (in Japan) - Part Juuyon

There is mystery and romanticism to be found at train stations, a different one that you'd find at airports. Everything seems much more transient and temporary, in a blink-and-you'll-miss it kind of way. I guess it comes from watching too many dramas who use it as a trope, like 5 Centimetres per Second (goddam 5 Centimetres per Second). I was standing at the platform today, and directly opposite me I noticed there was a girl standing there, on the opposite platform. She was looking down at the iPhone in her hand. The train was arriving; she looked up. I thought she was quite pretty. And then the train pulled into the station, and her image flickered, like a slow projection reel. She entered the train, the train pulled away; she was gone. I'd never meet her, never talk to her, never get to know her; the brief, ultimately superficial connection that we had, standing on opposite platforms for an infinitely insignificant slice of spacetime, becomes meaningless.

Although, that guy there looks quite handsome...

I'm running late to a lunch with the Columbia students who are here at Waseda University for an exchange programme of their own, and as I'm leaving the konbini with my lunch I bump into Prof Jacobwitz. He's running late too because he was supposed to wait for the Columbia University professor in charge of their trip, but he didn't show after twenty minutes so he started making his own way to the meeting point.

Over the course of the past few days I've grown to like Prof Jacobowitz. He has that air of an academic: he's slightly awkward, like he's constantly troubled by social interaction, but only very slightly. The way he tells stories is a bit slow and lacks enthusiasm, as if he's just going through the motions of telling you the story, or he's read "How to Relate Anecdotes to Friends and Acquaintances Vol. II" and is doing everything by the book. But he's got a lot of wit in that brain of his, and once every so often his jokes, which are usually funny because of their content, explode into this pretty well-executed joke that just blows your socks off. He's very friendly and very eager to help us get around Tokyo and things; and I feel he's a bit lonely because his family is probably at home and here he is in this huge city, with few friends he can hang out with, and actually, a lot of work to be done (he's writing a book). I hope that he's at least having a decently good time here.

We bump into Payal at the entrance of the building we're supposed to meet at, and outside the entrance there's this umbrella dryer thing: basically, you put your umbrella into it and shake it about to get rid of the larger droplets of water. I love it; all these little innovations to improve life in small ways. Oh, Japan.

Presumably it works for wet dogs too.

Lunch with the Columbia University students was super awkward. Since we were late, the table was already mostly filled up, and there wasn't space for us to sit down, and nobody offered to scoot over a bit and offer us table space, so Payal and I just slotted ourselves in somewhere. It's always awkward when you're late to party, and I ended up making more conversation with Xi Min and Chris as the Columbia students talked to the girls or didn't talk at all. (Two Columbia guys just talked to each other the whole time I was sitting there.) Prof Jacobowitz was going to sit down with us, but then realised that there wasn't space for him, so he went off, I presume to eat by himself. I am a bit sad that we're not more accommodating of his presence, and I must remember to engage with him more in the future. He may be our professor, but he's a person too.

I also met Linus's friend Karin (Karen? I have no idea; she pronounced "Karin"), who he met when he crashed the Waseda rowing club a couple of days previously. She's also Singaporean, and she's been in Japan for a couple of years already. I didn't get a chance to talk to her much, but the little snatch of conversation I had with her really reminded me of Mel. Go figure.

For class today we watched Japan's first movie to employ sound, The Neighbour's Wife and Mine. It's a very slapstick comedy and also a commentary on the rising modernity of Japan. A lot of the humour is lost in translation (prof not experienced in find fansubs lol) but I guess you can get a lot of the meaning just from the slapstick humour. There's also a lot of use of sound effects as special effects, mainly for the novelty of hearing sounds coming from the "movie" itself. It was pretty interesting, but I suggested to Prof Jacobowitz that we should try making the experience more authentic, like turning off the air-conditioning, and smoking in the back rows.

We were supposed to meet Adri, one of our Dean's Fellows, at Shibuya for dinner. We met at the Hachiko Statue, which is essentially the world's largest smoking point. We crossed the giant scramble crossing without much fanfare, but there was a guy loudly clamouring for votes for some elections thing. Mel said they're for the communist party, and I was so excited at seeing actual communists that I took a photo.

Translation: "Four legs good! Two legs bad!" (That's basically all I know about communism. If I took a communist test, I'd probably get zero Marx.)

Since Dean Farley was picking up the tab, we decided to eat something a bit more substantial. We went to this fancy-looking Japanese shabu-shabu restaurant, but they only had tables for four, so we had to split up. I was sitting with Xi Min, Nia and Rachel. We decided to order a shabu-shabu for us to share, because the plastic food menu outside looked like it was big enough to share between four people, even though the English menu clearly stated that it was "one portion". We started being suspicious when the waitress taking our order looked like she was judging us when we just ordered the single shabu-shabu and said that was it. The came the single serving of appetizers:

We had a fight to the death over that plate of sashimi. Nia won.

There was a very exciting moment when the waitress poured in the soup for the shabu-shabu. "It's so big; it can't be for one person!" Pffft, so much wishful thinking.

"Rachel, we told you not to order the gourd of Chinese wine!"

We were in stitches when the plate of tempura arrived. Not because of the death match, but because we were all laughing so hard.


We were so happy when the beef arrived and there were six slices of it.

We actually get one-and-a-half whole pieces! Decadence!

I originally regretted not getting an individual dish, because the neighbouring table had ordered individual bowls of steaming udon, which looked really good. But I remembered the wisdom I learned the night before, and started to laugh along with the rest, about how we would only get one-quarter of the food, how we were eating like poor college students, how thinly we would need to slice each piece of beef. It was so much funnier when I wasn't looking to be somewhere else, but just let go and lived in the moment. I had so much fun; the food was pretty good too (except for the tempura) and it was just great.

Flavoured with a nice bit of Shibuya Scramble Crossing at night.

There's supposed to be a paragraph here about Mel losing her phone and tasty, tasty dorayaki, but it's getting late so, sorry.

1 comment:

Demel said...

Juuyon la dey.