Archives for posts with tag: Humor

I have lived most of my life in the Chicago area, and I suppose I have a love-hate relationships with the seasons. Especially winter. About 20 years ago, I moved to Los Angeles for a while. While I absolutely loved the year-round mild weather at first, I began to long for the seasons that I was used to in the Midwest. Now that I live in and experience the seasons of Osaka, I realize you need to be careful what you wish for. While the winter in Osaka is far milder than in Chicago, the rainy season here is the worst. So I have compiled a list of why 梅雨 (tsuyu – the rainy season) is the worst.

1) It’s hot. Now, I am no fan of the cold rains that we get in Chicago in April. But the rainy season in Osaka takes place in June and July. The hottest part of the summer actually occurs right after the rainy season (in July and August), so it’s pretty much building up to that. Plus, you have the added effect of point number 2, which is…

2) It’s sticky. Humid. Muggy. Sultry, stifling, mushiatsui. Whatever you want to call it, it’s pretty miserable. You know how in the Midwest we look forward to a good rain because it will cool things off? Not the case in Osaka. In fact, it gets worse. Now, instead of just having moisture in the air, it’s also steaming up from the ground. The second you walk outside, your clothes begin to stick to you. You learn to bring a fresh shirt with you everywhere. And your apartment? Fuggedaboutit. No longer able to open the windows because of all that rain, you are probably stuck with an air conditioner in only one room and/or a fan. Those of you who have experienced a power outage during a summer storm may have a clue what I’m talking about. But Japanese homes don’t have central air conditioning, so it never gets all that cool to begin with. Your home begins to feel a bit like you are living inside a bowl of warm gelatin. May God help you if you need to be in the tiny bathroom for more than 30 seconds.

3) It’s wet. This seems like a no-brainer. I mean, it’s raining, so duh. But what I’m talking about here is the complete inability of any person to stay dry. If you’re lucky enough to have a car, it’s not bad. But definitely don’t wear good shoes, because even driving can’t save them. Many places don’t have parking lots, so you can’t make a quick dash from the car to the door. You’ll probably have to walk a bit. Riding a bike? Yeah, that’ll be covered in #5 below.

4) It’s dirty. I always liked the clean, fresh smell after a storm. The rain always seemed to refresh things, make them greener and cleaner. Here the garbage just stands out more clearly. I don’t even like to think about it. And it’s not like Osaka is filthy on a fine day. The rain just somehow makes it worse. We don’t have puddles; we have tiny cesspools. I rarely wear sandals on rainy days here for fear of what I might step in.

5) Riding your bike becomes treacherous. And ridiculous. There are a couple ways to attempt to stay dry while on a bike. Neither of them are good options. #1, which few people do, is wear a full-length rain suit. A rain suit is pretty much a pullover plastic coat with hood and a pair of plastic pants. While this sounds like it will keep you dry, it actually has the opposite effect by causing you to sweat profusely. I mean, you’ve encased yourself in plastic, so what did you expect? The other option is to carry an umbrella. Believe it or not, this is actually illegal. Yet, almost everyone does it. I have yet to hear of someone who was ticketed for carry an umbrella while biking, though it’s probably a good rule. The problem with doing this is twofold (I guess threefold if you count the whole breaking the law thing). First, it only covers your head and torso. Your legs will still get soaked, so you’d better have an extra pair of pants with you. Secondly, it makes a slightly dangerous mode of travel extremely dangerous. I’m pretty good on my bike, but even I don’t feel like I have complete control when I’ve got only one hand on the handlebars. Biking is already dangerous because so many people do it and nobody ever looks where they’re going. Add to that umbrellas that could smack you in the head and loss of balance and you’ve got several accidents waiting to happen.

Really, if there’s any way you can hole up in your house or leave the country during tsuyu, do it. You won’t miss anything, trust me.

Veggie ice cream 2

Today’s bizarre snack outing comes to us courtesy of none other than Haagen-Dazs.  Haagen-Dazs is fairly expensive here in Japan.  In fact, a 120 ml. (4 oz.) cup will run you 257 yen ($2.50) at the local 7-11.  Usually, the cost is worth it.  Today, however, not so much.  Haagen-Dazs frequently creates new and interesting flavors for Japan.  Recently, to celebrate an anniversary, they sold limited edition Rose as well as Sakura (cherry blossom) flavors.  You can also find purple sweet potato, azuki (red bean), royal milk tea, and green tea, all fairly standard Japanese flavors.  But the latest set of flavors is the strangest I have heard so far: Carrot/orange and Tomato/cherry.  They go by the series name “スプーンベジ (Spoon Veggie) and are supposedly healthier.  Unfortunately, the Carrot/Orange one tastes about as good as it sounds.

Veggie ice cream

I admit, it’s difficult to describe the exact flavor.  The first taste is just…weird.  Not really carrot or orange, but a kind of earthy, milky flavor.  Then the orange sherbet taste hits you.  This is a delicious surprise for as long as it lasts, which is sadly about 2 seconds.  But for those 2 seconds, I was carried back to my childhood days of eating Push-ups on the front stoop.  Finally, that taste is replaced by a sort of bitter after taste, as if they used only the peels of the carrot and orange.

The co-workers I tried this with had much the same reaction, and I noticed we all made similar faces as our brains frantically tried to identify the flavors.  All in all, not a horrible experience.  But we did not finish the tiny cup, and there were 5 of us who tried it.  I usually try these things out at work (it makes it so much more fun), and there is always someone who likes the snack and will finish it.  Alas, not today.  But on a positive note, everyone now wants to try the Tomato/Cherry one.  So not a win, but not a total failure.  Not bad for an ice cream made of veggies.

Update: The staff members who missed out on trying this the first day were able to partake of the leftovers the next day.  They LOVED it.  Go figure.

Oh, the horror! The horror!

OK, I admit I sort of chose an easy snack for my first Snack Japan post. It was a strange combo, yes, but bacon always makes everything better. Overall, the bacon-wrapped asparagus potato sticks could have been tougher. So to make up for it, I chose a true challenge this time. It was a difficult decision, and I almost put it back, but ultimately, I realized I owe it to all of you who are counting on me to help you make good snack choices. So tonight I ate my first Spaghetti Popsicle. To be more exact, it was a Spaghetti Napolitan-flavored popsicle with bits of tomato jelly thrown in to get that real, tomato taste that everyone loves in their popsicles.

Imagine a big plate of spaghetti noodles sitting in front of you. It’s cooked to a perfect al dente, you’ve got fresh parmesan ready to sprinkle over it. And here comes a ladle full of the delicious sauce, about to be poured out over your perfect spaghetti noodles. But instead of being poured over your noodles, some idiot pours it into some plastic popsicle molds and sticks it in the freezer. 2 hours later, open the freezer and you’ve got this Japanese delight. Except there’s an added surprise, because when you stormed off to the nearest Taco Bell because your delicious spaghetti dinner had been ruined, that same idiot went and snuck a bunch of little chunks of tomato-flavored Jell-O into the popsicles, so that when you bite into them, you also get globs of tomato goo. Spaghetti sauce gone horribly, horribly wrong.

In conclusion, if you like the taste of frozen tomato sauce alternated with sugar and biting into bits of goo, then this is definitely the snack for you.  If not, then do yourself a favor and heat up a can of Spaghetti-Os instead.

The Namba area has no shortage of interesting places to visit in your free time. There are plenty of stores ranging from designer to discount. It’s an area well-known for its food, and just about any street will offer up plenty of choices. If it’s culture you’re after, there’s the National Bunraku Theater or the Ukiyo-e museum. All the best electronics deals can be found in Nipponbashi, also known for its manga shops and cosplay cafes. So with all these possibilities at our fingertips, my friend Jung A and I decided to visit…a cat café.

Welcome to the cat cafe! Prepare to be ignored.

Welcome to the cat cafe! Prepare to be ignored.

A cat café is pretty much what you guess – a café that has cats. Lots of cats. While stray cats are plentiful in the Osaka area (especially around my old apartment building that always smelled like cat pee and featured nightly “serenades” in the parking lot just below my window), not many people have them as pets. This is in large part due to the number of people who live in apartments where pets are (supposedly) not allowed (again, old apartment building where at least one person kept a pet rooster I’M NOT EVEN KIDDING).  Cat cafes have started becoming a popular alternative to actually having a cat of your own.

I found the café by looking on the website nekonojikan.com (“cat time”). The website gave lots of useful information such as the rules, the drink menu, and the names and pictures of all the cats you might see on a given day. The website also claimed (falsely) that all the cats are friendly and will probably even seek out your attention once they get used to you. Being a cat-lover, I was pretty excited about this. Being a former cat-owner, I was skeptical. But I figured if nothing else, it would give me a good blog post.

After washing our hands at the sink in the lobby as instructed, we entered the café. We paid our 1000 yen for one hour of cat time, prepaid 200 yen for a drink we could order at any time during that hour, and prepared to be greeted by hordes of affectionate cats. There was a family of four already there, as well as a guy probably in his 30s. The mom and dad were cheerfully watching their 2 daughters walk around petting the various cats. They were kind of noisy, so I wasn’t too surprised the cats hadn’t seemed to warm up to them. The guy, however, was surrounded by cats. He was sitting cross-legged on the floor and had 2 cats in his lap. He also had the good sense to sit right in the middle of 3 cat beds, each of which contained 1 or 2 cats. The cats were completely disinterested in me and Jung A. But I thought if we could just bide our time until the other people left, then we could have all the cats to ourselves.

IMG_2113

Unfortunately, we never had a chance. Most of the cats were sleeping, and the ones that were awake definitely did NOT seek out our attention as the website had claimed. In fact, we were lucky if they even let us pet them while they slept. Mostly we were swatted by their little paws and snarled at, but in a few cases the cats actually ran away. And since we were strictly forbidden from scaring or chasing the cats, all we could do was just stand there forlornly and watch them flee, much like our hope.  Perhaps if I rub some catnip on my socks before my next visit…

A friend of mine recently recommended the movie Saving Mr. Banks to me. We were having one of our epic conversations about the Oscars (3 hours on Skype, and that’s not even a record for us) and Tom Hanks came up. If you saw Captain Phillips, then you know it was an absolute travesty that he was not nominated in the Best Actor category. Seriously, the last scene alone should earn him an Oscar every year for the rest of his life. Even if he didn’t do any movies that year.

Anyway, my friend said Mr. Hanks was also fantastic in Saving Mr. Banks. In fact, he was so insistent, that I felt I had to see for myself. So I settled in with it last night at home. I knew pretty much nothing about P.L. Travers, the author of Mary Poppins, so the whole movie was a revelation (although be warned, the movie takes quite a few artistic liberties, as I learned from my research afterwards). I wasn’t a Mary Poppins fan before, but I am now. The whole story was wonderful, moving, hopeful. It is no wonder that I cried through the entire thing. Really. Pretty much from beginning to end. If I wasn’t crying because something bad happened, I was crying because something good happened. There really was not a lot of down time for me. In fact, I was watching it in the evening and I eventually got hungry at some point and decided to eat dinner. I even cried then. The tears streamed down my face and into my food, forcing me to literally eat my own salty tears. It’s attractive, I know. Sobbing and chewing. This is why I live alone.

This is not the first time I have made a fool of myself crying over a movie. When I saw Forrest Gump in the theater, I cried so hard my contacts fell out. I had to hold them in my palm and hope that they didn’t dry up before the movie ended and I could go to the bathroom and pop them back in (it was close, but I made it). My friend told me in the same conversation that one of his favorite memories is the time we went to see Atonement together. He said that there was a point during the movie where there had been a lot of noise and then it suddenly got quiet. It was at this moment that he heard me make a little gasping, sobbing noise next to him. A sound which reverberated throughout the silent theater. Yep, that was me.

But at least he was understanding about my crying. Yes, he may have teased me later, but it was not at all mean. Unlike Betty the Drama Queen. Betty the Drama Queen (one of my very favorite people and a great friend) used to just flat-out laugh at me during the movie. In fact, her laughing usually distracted people from my crying, for which I was suppose I should be thankful. BDQ and I went to see The Passion of the Christ together at the local theater. Before entering the theater, she said she needed to stop at concessions, where she proceeded to buy a diet Coke and popcorn. As if we were going to see a Michael Bay movie. And if that weren’t bad enough, during the scene where Jesus is being flogged, BDQ kept whispering in my ear about how amazing the makeup was. The whole experience turned out to be the one time when it would have been totally acceptable to break down crying, and yet I could not shed a tear. How could I? With frequent offers of popcorn and whispered exclamations of, “Oh my goodness, HOW did they do that?! Doesn’t that look fabulous?” I just couldn’t get into it.

Yes, many a time I’ve been close to requiring hospitalization after a movie. My earliest memory of losing it during a movie is when I was about 10 years old and my family went to see The Fox and the Hound. I cried my eyes out. I can’t imagine what the parents waiting in line thought when they saw me come out of the theater, eyes all red and puffy. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of them quickly took their kids out of line and said, “Hey, I’ve got a better idea. Let’s go bowling instead!” But you know, I wouldn’t change that about myself. It’s rather cathartic to cry like that. I always feel better afterward, if a bit exhausted. And I’d rather be reduced to tears by a movie than by my own real life.

Power of WordsI’ve been perusing other WordPress blogs and I’ve discovered something. There are quite a few would-be writers out there. Several times I’ve seen mentions of novels in the works, or dreams of someday being published. Nothing wrong with that at all. It makes sense that people who want to write would find an outlet in the blogosphere. I, however, am not one of them. Oh no. I have no desire to be a writer. All that pressure to write something meaningful, something that makes an impact on the world. No thank you. Alright, yes, it’s true, I guess I’ve thought about it once or twice. But only because so many of my friends have told me I should write. “What?” I say to them. “You’re crazy. What would I even write about?” What would I write about, indeed. I certainly didn’t pay any attention to that recent Buzzfeed quiz, What Career Should You Actually Have, when it clearly stated that I should be a writer. I really wouldn’t even know where to begin. Although, I suppose, yes, I’ve had a few interesting experiences. I’ve often thought that I’ve packed at least 3 lifetimes into the short time I’ve been alive. In fact, some periods of my life seem unreal to me, almost as if they were part of some movie I saw. In all honesty, my life would make a pretty good movie. I guess if I were going to be coerced into writing something, a novel loosely based on my life experiences that could easily be envisioned on the big screen would make the most sense. Not that I would ever really consider it. I mean, I guess I might actually try submitting some of my work somewhere if it would get everyone to stop telling me I should be a writer. That would show them, wouldn’t it? If I tried and just failed? Of course, if you look at it completely objectively, I probably wouldn’t fail. I’m pretty creative, I’ve had lots of interesting experiences, and besides, they can’t all be wrong, can they? But it doesn’t matter because if I wrote a novel and it was made into a movie, there’s no guarantee it would be a hit. Though between you and me, I can already picture some of the scenes in my head, and if you could get some major stars attached, like Jennifer Lawrence and maybe Matthew McConaughey, my movie would be huge. HUGE. I just wouldn’t want to deal with the fame, though. You know, you write a best-selling novel and it gets turned into a hit movie and suddenly everyone knows you and is making all kinds of offers and you’re the most popular person in the business. Way too much stress. Sure, there are perks. Traveling all over the world, getting into the swankiest restaurants, hanging out with celebrities, probably going to the Oscars. That’s really why I don’t want to be a writer. I mean, who wants all that? Not me.

Tonight as I was riding my bike home from work, I had to stop for the train as I usually do.  As I was waiting, an old woman walked up and stood to my right about 7 or 8 feet away.  I gave her a little glance, but didn’t pay much attention.  But then out of the corner of my eye, I saw her edge a little closer to me.  I glanced sideways at her, wondering what caused her to move closer, but didn’t see anything unusual.  Then she edged closer still.  At this point, I became paranoid that she was going to make a grab for the small bag of groceries I had just bought and was sitting in my basket.  The more I thought about it, the more I realized the groceries were just begging to be stolen.  What was I thinking, putting them out in the open like that?  I could tell she knew I had found a good deal on frozen French fries and she wanted in. So I coyly wrapped the plastic bag handle around my handlebars.  “Just try it now, lady, ” I thought smugly.  The train passed and the rail went up and I thought I was home free, but then I found out the real reason she had moved closer.  Her diabolical plan all along was to step right in front of me and then walk as slowly as possible.  I had nowhere to go.  To the left was nothing but rocks and train tracks.  On my right, other bikers were passing me at the speed of light, only too happy that they were not the ones stuck behind her.  Well played, old lady.  Maybe I should have just given her the groceries.

While we’re on the subject of annoying things that people to do to other people (i.e. me) on the street, I think there needs to be a law that prevents groups of 2 or more people from forcing someone off the sidewalk and into rush hour traffic just so that they can continue to walk next to each other.  Or maybe they just need to start teaching basic physics in Japanese schools, because obviously they do not understand that 2 people cannot occupy the same space at the same time.  Unless of you is a ghost.  Which I am not.  And hopefully, neither are you.  If you are, then we’ve got even bigger problems.

USB typewriterI work in an organization staffed by about 15 people (plus several volunteers) in a 3-story building.  My office is on the 3rd floor, and I share it with 3 other people.  Were it not for these 3 co-workers, my day would be extremely lonely, since no one EVER visits the 3rd floor.  I even brought in flavored coffee from my favorite coffee shop in the U.S. to try to bribe people to come visit.  The attempt was a complete fail.  On the upside, the 4 of us got more coffee.  But today I am flying solo, and it has been a loooooong day.  To break the monotony, I wandered down to the first floor to make a lovely cup of afternoon milk tea.  One of the volunteers was sitting at the main table with a big stack of posters, so I asked her what she was working on.  She told me that she was putting these new stickers on the posters that informed people you could take a picture of the poster with your smart phone and then somehow donate directly through your phone. I just looked at her for a second in amazement.  I mean, she was obviously excited, so I knew she wasn’t making it up.  But it just sounded like crazy talk to me.  I know, I’ve seen those little boxes with the squiggly lines (which I just now Googled and discovered they are called QR codes).  I know you can scan those with an app or something (there’s an app for everything) and you can get special offers or extra information or something.  But this was just a poster.  I have no idea how it works.  It just amazes me.

Don’t get me wrong; I have embraced technology.  I  was an early iPhone 4 user (at least here in Osaka), and the only way you’ll get my iPhone 5 is if you pry it out of my cold, dead hands.  I’m actually very good at using it, too.  I was thrilled to be able to scan a boarding pass recently by using my phone.  When I was in the Philippines, one of my tasks was to set up the satellite phones.  I even taught my parents how to use Skype, which is nothing to sneeze at.  So I’m not technologically challenged.  It’s just that I remember the days before all this.  When I was in university, I typed my papers on a word processor.  It had a little pop-up screen that displayed 4 lines at a time (I was jealous of my sister when she got a newer one a few years later that showed seven lines).  My lab reports were handwritten in duplicate using carbon paper.  My neighbor once told me how she and her boyfriend, a student at a different university, used to communicate using a rudimentary form of what is now known as instant messaging and I just didn’t get it.  The first time I heard about this new invention they were working on called the World Wide Web, I couldn’t figure out how it would work.  How would you get information about anywhere in the world? Was there someone sitting at a computer that would answer your questions? I pictured this poor person sitting at a single desk in a poorly lit room patiently waiting for a question to answer, maybe with a glass of water and a sandwich next to the monitor.

What will they think up next, eh?