Monday, January 29, 2007

Japanese culture: I just love it!

Right now I'm reading "The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle" by Haruki Murakami. This is the second novel of his that I've tackled, and his books are consistently surprising - they're infused with a sharp strain of magical realism, but with a weird Japanese bent. Maybe it's a response to all those towering cubicle high-rises and the packed commuter trains, or whatever twisted impulse creates those guys who never leave their parents' home for forty years, or that vein of Japanese horror movies with empty houses, mewling children and ghosts in your handheld wireless device.

Whatever it is, Murakami packs it in. He writes in such a leisurely pace, and his narrative style is so unobtrusive, yet all of the elements come together. What is fantastic seems plausible and what is unbelievable seems probable. I am definitely enjoying this book, but it's also got me thinking a lot about translation. As alien as a culture may be, the act of translation makes it accessible and familiar to the reader. I read this novel, and I think: Japanese people like humor, they use contractions, they love their wives, they like to go swimming in the summer.

I am definitely learning more about Japanese culture from this novel that I did from our time in Hawaii, when we carefully noted what the Japanese people would eat during different meals. In Hawaii's massive and wonderful ABC Stores (like 7-11 but with more Aloha spirit, in the sense of cashiers who aren't quite clear on coin denominations), they sold triangular mounds of seaweed stuffed with something weird, and the Japanese people could not get enough. These things were flying off the shelves. One morning, in a spirit of international understanding, L grabbed one at our complementary hotel breakfast. When she opened the package, it smelled so bad that she carefully placed it on the balcony and left it there for the rest of the day. She didn't want to leave it in the room, for fear of what it would do to our clothing and the bedding. I don't know what was in there - bleach? an ant farm? I just worried about the birds who might try to eat part of it, fly a few more yards, then die mid-flight and plummet down into the swimming pool. Or worse yet, a tiki torch.

The point being: Murakami is great, I'm loving this book, you might want to read it, and it's giving me a great appreciation of Japanese culture, which I am loving more than ever.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

State of the apartment address

My fellow residents:

We gather each year to look around us and assess the conditions of this glorious apartment of ours. As we summon the courage and wisdom to survey our several hundred square feet and all that it contains, let us remember the spirit of adventure and enterprise that has propelled us forward unto this task.

My fellow residents, the state of the apartment is strong. Strong, yes, yet not as tidy as it could be.

I continue to drape clothes over the blue chair, sometimes for days at a time. This just makes sense to me - you can't put clothes straight in the laundry bag, you should let them sit out for a while. Most people understand this. Other people in the apartment are not as adamant as some other people might be about putting used mugs and glasses in the sink, or better yet, the dishwasher. Let us not leave this problem for future generations to solve.

Bedmaking is a tedious task, but a necessary one. As is cleaning the bathroom. As much as even I would like to believe it, two paper towels and a liberal squirt of glass cleaner are not enough to clean the bathroom. Perhaps for the toilet, though.

I would like to pause for a moment in memory of the tragic loss we suffered this year. While we were away in Hawaii, several of our beloved plants, namely the spidery vine thing on top of the book case, perished under conditions of drought. We honor the memory of this beloved plant, and vow, with love and compassion, to forge ahead with new plants. The resilience of the other spider plant, and especially Buddy the bamboo plant, are an inspiration to us all.

Despite these setbacks, we approach a new year with bright eyes and open hearts. We gaze fondly on our teeming stacks of books, piles of detritus from law and public health schools, respectively, and the wad of plastic grocery bags stuffed under the sink. We occasionally consider the dust that gathers in awkward places, like the edges of picture frames and over the tops of my dress shoes, but we focus on the brighter days and dreams to come. We are an apartment of hope, optimism, and charity; an apartment dedicated to the ideals of literacy, equality, and gender-neutral hierarchies; an apartment that is rented with the distant yet immortal aspiration of condo ownership.

My fellow residents, the state of the apartment is strong. God bless, and please keep it down since the walls are paper-thin and we can already hear the neighbor snoring next door.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Doors closing

This morning I got yelled at by high school kids on the subway. The train was pretty crowded as we arrived at 59th St., and I was standing up and trying to move around the man positioned between me and the door. "Excuse me," I said evenly. "Excuse me. Excuse me." I didn't raise my voice or anything - this guy was just a bit oblivious. The window of opportunity to disembark the train was shrinking - soon people would be pressing themselves into the car. I made my way around the man, towards the doors, and encountered a wave of high school kids coming into the train.

I have developed a certain (extremely conditional) fondness for the urban Manhattan high school kid: decked out in the latest hip hop gear, blaring rap songs through tinny cellphone speakers, loud and rowdy but not especially crude or threatening. They're just like teenagers anywhere, but maybe more ethnic and style-conscious, as well as more exotically named.

As I pushed my way out, jostling against the surge of kids shoving themselves on the train, I heard them: "Awwww, MAN," "Geez," "Come ON," sucking their teeth at me derisively. They thought I was a moron for not getting off the train quickly enough. And, then, miraculously, in my own "Dangerous Minds" moment, I heard a girl say: "Hey, it's not his fault, he was trying to get out!" I looked at her plaintively and said, in an unintentionally Ross Geller-ish way, "THANK yoouu." I could hear them laugh as I escaped the subway car. I did a quick check to make sure I had my wallet, phone, keys, Ipod - and I was all set. It was a good start for the day.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Aloha 2007

The new year began traumatically enough: L and her mom in the cardiac ICU of the main hospital in Honolulu, me in the hospital dorm fitfully watching Law & Order reruns, listening to the fireworks sounding off like gunfire in the city beyond. I knew it was the new year when the current episode ended and a new one began. So, New-Year's-Eve-wise, this was not one for the record books, but you never know. I have high hopes for 2007: further progress through law school, an exciting summer working at the Firm, a trip to Barcelona in the spring and who knows what else. Even-numbered years definitely seem to be generally better for me (1980, obviously; I had a bizarre attachment to the year 1986 as a youth; 1998, 2002, 2006). Anyways, here are a few choice bits from our trip:

See how wonderfully things began? There was this:

And also this:

But then things started looking grim with this:

And then, for four days, we hunkered down like this:

But eventually we left the hospital, as good as new, and I was able to celebrate my honeymoon as every man should: with his mother-in-law, his beautiful wife, and his wife's foot-long chest catheter:

We were determined to redeem the remainder of our trip, and so we tried to let the nonchalance, inefficacy, and mild incompetence of the Aloha spirit wash over us, like this:

It was hard for us to really relax, after our brush with modern medicine. I felt like one of those yippy dogs you see on the city streets, trembling in fear at the sight of a curb. Despite copious amounts of rum and pineapples, it was hard to shake the fear and stress that really obliterated everything else from our sight for a brief while... I don't know. It was an unforgettable trip. We were so thankful to get back to the city and our married lives. Maybe it was a honeymoon in that it was our introduction to marriage as an institution of support and reliance and comfort in times of trouble. And I am thankful for that knowledge, as hard-earned as it was. But it was not the trip we had expected.

As you can see, L and I are laughing about it now, but it's still not quite funny... but one day it will be. From the mean streets of Manhattan: aloha, indeed.