Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Things I missed

I imagine I've made it pretty clear that not only would I rather be in Japan right now, I'd rather have never left. In fact I hardly ever shut up about it, on this blog or anywhere else. But there's nothing to be gained from idle negativity, so as long as I'm here, I might as well avail myself of the Canadian experience. Here are a few things I missed while I was in Japan and am now enjoying again, in no particular order. Well, they are in a particular order. They're in the order I thought of them. It's just that the order is meaningless.

Jugs

Living abroad ain't what it used to be. Nowadays Facebook and Skype effortlessly keep us connected with the people we love. Before my time, it was a more trying affair. Ten years ago, there was the less dynamic but still reliable method of e-mail, although you had to be sitting at an actual computer in order to use it. Prior to that it was all expensive long-distance phone calls, snail mail, and desperate hopes. Go back far enough and moving to another country was a months-long journey that you might not even survive, and undertaking it meant you'd never see your friends and family ever again.

Really, I'm grateful that I was able to chat with Jugs on an almost daily basis through the Miracle of the Internet, but now I get to see her face-to-face at least weekly. I've met great people in Japan, both Japanese and non-Japanese, and I hope that never ends, but Jugs and I, and my other Canadian friends, have a long history, and we know each other back to front, and that's hard to beat. She's interested in Japan, too, so I hope to one day show her a bit of it.

Tim Horton's

Have you ever tried Tim Horton's hot chocolate? According to my page statistics, if you're reading this blog you're most likely American, so probably not, in which case you're missing out. Actually I hear there's Tim Horton'ses in like Vermont now or something, so maybe some enterprising businessperson will open a franchise in Oosaka. They also make good sandwiches. Speaking of which...

Subway

Japanese Subway is good, but it just doesn't measure up to what they've got over here, where the bread is softer and has more options, the pricing model isn't idiotic, and they have bottomless fountain drinks. And the subs are just tastier.

Real cheese

Oh my God, have you tried to buy cheese in Japan? Again, statistically, you haven't. Well it's not fun. Because there isn't any. At least none that's good. You might be able to find something at an organic grocer or a co-op but that's always a pain and what you can find still isn't that great. I guess I shouldn't be surprised though, cheese doesn't exactly figure heavily into Japanese cuisine, and me complaining about it is like a Japanese person complaining about the difficulty of finding decent seaweed in Canada. Though come to think of it, that is a very legitimate complaint. Ah, but now we're getting into a totally different post.

Christmas

This one startled me. I mean there were things I anticipated missing (Jugs), and things I didn't (cheese), but I outright hate the Christmas season and the way it's shoved down our throats for two months straight. I'm just grateful that Halloween is a thing because it forms a hard barrier against the increasingly early starting gun, but even that is starting to crumble. In the future, the entire year will be Christmas season, and that will be a glorious time because it will have finally lost all meaning and we can all stop caring about it. It's such a saccharine, stupid holiday anyway. Not the birth of Christ, that part's cool and all. But all this stupidity about “the true meaning of Christmas” and “come on, it's Christmas” and all of that can go straight to hell. Guh.

As I mentioned around this time last year, though, I kind of ended up forlorn at the complete lack of Christmas cheer in Kyouto. Setting aside that it's a completely different holiday in Japan (couples rather than families), there was just nothing. A few lights and stuff, yeah, but no music, no real sense of anticipation, no atmosphere whatsoever. Yet oddly, though I was happy to be free of it, I was sad for its absence. That whole block ended up feeling so empty, even though it was quite as exciting as any other month in Japan, just because I was used to expecting something extra. Also, for some weird reason I have a strange fondness for bad Christmas movies, so lately I've been getting my fill of those on TV.

All of that said, with December now underway I have little doubt that my seething rage will soon reassert itself.

Snow

Of course this is integral for a good Christmas atmosphere, but snow is also great just on its own terms. You can roll around in the snow and make snow angels, or roll snow around in other snow and make snowmen, or go around smashing other people's snowmen, or construct complex snow forts from which to wage snowball fights and then get pissed off when you start losing and start facewashing everybody and dumping snow down their backs and so on. Those are rites of passage for every young Canadian. Good luck doing any of that south of Hokkaidou, though. A couple centimetres may accumulate overnight, but the ensuing sun will melt it all within hours.

News

Sure, you can seek stuff out on the Internet and stay informed about what's going on wherever you came from. Thing is, I get all my news passively, by listening to the people around me. This is also generally how I find out about assignment due dates and impending exams so it is quite a useful skill. Still, having little to no idea what was going on over in Canada made me feel disconcertingly disconnected, despite the fact that I had no desire to even be connected.

Paper towels

Japanese public bathrooms often don't have anything to dry your hands with. Weird, eh?

Skateboarders

Ok, this is actually just one I remembered from my high school days, which of course is when skateboarders were an everyday sight because the hardcore kids skateboarded around during every moment, and then years later the best of them all got sponsorships and appeared in movies and made all their parents and teachers feel awfully stupid. Skate culture is very different in Japan; although you have a few who might try to emulate the Western style, those are mainly the people who are already on the fringes of polite society anyway. Instead it's a more “legitimate” kind of thing, with most of the action occurring in large indoor skate parks rather than the streets. This affects the image of skateboarding and skaters themselves, so there's not quite the same view of skaters as rebels. Consequently, there aren't so many rebels who are inspired to take up skateboarding, which then means that skateboarding doesn't take on the same rebellious overtones, and you see how this starts to loop. I don't know if that's a good thing or not (my inner child screams conformity but my inner corporate drone shrugs legitimacy), but it was always nice to just be walking down the sidewalk and spot some kid kickflipping over a cinder block.

Poutine

For the Canadian impaired, poutine is a Quebecois dish of French fries buried in a mountain of gravy and cheese curds. For some reason, it hasn't caught on in Japan yet.

Peanut butter cups

You can find almost any American candy bar in Japan, but not Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, my favourite. Why that should be, I have no idea. Maybe peanut butter is still a bit of a foreign concept to the Japanese? That wouldn't surprise me. It is a strange idea if you think about it.

Driving

I love driving. Loooooove driving. Top five favourite things to do, easy. I read about driving. I daydream in class about driving. I play video games that involve driving. I research techniques for driving. First time I got behind the wheel of a car I was like aw yeah this feels so riiiiight. I really don't know how I went without for a year. Fortunately next time I should not be under any constraints as to operating motor vehicles – which the university condescendingly claimed was for “safety” but which was obviously actually about their insurance – so I should be good to go as long as I pass the road test. Oh, I'll blog about it. Never fear.

Things being easy

This, then, is the one that ties everything else together. To be honest, I didn't even notice that this was something I missed until I was back in Canada, because everything I did having some extra layer of complication had just become my normal. Ordering at a restaurant? Better get a headstart on perusing the menu, and possibly ask what some stuff is. Filling out a simple document? We're gonna need somebody to look it over for mistakes and also maybe read it to us. Need to ask directions because we're lost? Well, are we sure we're lost? If we keep going this way just a couple more blocks do you think we might figure it out? Ok, well should we ask that guy over there? Let's ask that—ok, well, he obviously was in a rush, what about this grandmother? Oh God, what dialect is that? But it is Japanese, right? How can we end this conversation as quickly as possible? If we just thank her and walk away will she stop? How far do we have to go to keep her from realising we don't know what she said?


In Canada, everything is so damn simple. I can skim whole pages at a glance, out of the corner of my eye, from across the room. I already have a mental map detailing the location of every shop, landmark and shortcut I could ever need. In any given group I'm usually the strongest speaker of the lingua franca, not the weakest – unless, that is, I'm with my Japanese friends, in which case I'm still the most knowledgeable and am to be relied on for interpretation. But most significantly, things just make sense in a way that they don't quite do in Japan. They're set up according to a system of heuristics and algorithms I was raised on, to the point that I can navigate my day-to-day affairs mostly on reflex. An easy life isn't necessarily a good life or even a happy one, but for the moment, it's one in which I'm willing to indulge.

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