Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Unfortunately, this is where the pictures end and the really amazing stuff began. We went to a book store, then returned to the flat so that I could change out of my very American shorts and T-shirt into something nice. Then we met with Lynn’s father and went to dinner and a Korean style Japanese restaurant. Now, the only thing that was Japanese about this restaurant was the concept. Seafood served raw. Aside from that, it was very Korean. Everything was fresh…like, 1 minute old fresh…if that. Actually a lot of the stuff we ate was still alive. It was the most amazing feast of my life, and it must have cost them an arm and a leg. Here are the highlights: sea cucumber (delicious), squid (delicious), fresh muscles, tube worms, abalone, this other shell fish that was huge and you sucked out of the shell, delicious tempura of the entire shrimp (including the shell), acorns and more. The most amazing stuff, however was the stuff that could kill you. Live octopus. They take a tiny octopus and cut it up into segments, remove the brain and the organs and serve with green onions. However, everything on the plate is still wriggling. This dish can kill you if you don’t chew enough because the suction cups on the legs still work, and it can attach to your throat and choke you. If it chokes you the Heimlich maneuver will not save you, since the leg will be attached to your throat like it is glued there. Very few places serve this dish apparently because of the high mortality rate. It was tasty, and really weird feeling as it squirmed in your mouth. But that was not as amazing as what came next. Puffer fish. This fish contains one of the most potent neurotoxins known to man. If prepared by an inexperienced chef, you will probably die. I knew this when the waiter put it down on the table, and was very wary to eat it, but I finally got up the courage. I didn’t die. It was a thrill, but I can’t say the taste was anything special. Other fish taste similar. What came last was the most amazing. Now I don’t know if what I am saying is absolutely correct, as no one at the table knew English anatomical words, but apparently they use the gall of the puffer fish in a green medicine that they served after the puffer fish. This green liquid tasted just like medicine. Now correct me if I’m wrong, but I though gall was toxic, and gall from a puffer fish…

Anyway, it was the most amazing meal of my life. And then we went to Karaoke. It was so much fun. The fact that I spent all day trying new things with people that I liked made me so happy. After the karaoke I literally could not stop smiling, which made it easy to brush my teeth. That was definitely one of the best days of my life.

I woke up the next morning and Lynn and her father drove me to the airport. We talked about history, and I tried another Korean soy milk drink. When I finally got all checked in and ready to go through the security check point Lynn gave me a book that she bought the previous day at the bookstore. It was a beginning Korean book. That was too much. I got all choked up and started to cry a little bit. I gave them both a big hug and bid them farewell. I plan to return to Korea someday.

So I got to Kansai airport and took the train. Nothing really special happened, but the train ride was kind of scary. I had discovered a very strange lump on my leg on the day that Lynn and I went to the town with the tombs, and the next day I had noticed that it was not reduced in size. At that point I had a very strong suspicion that it was a tumor, but I got my fortune told by a Korean fortune telling machine before we went on that cruise and I had Lynn translate. I didn’t tell her at the time, but before I had my fortune told I was quite sure that it was a serious medical problem, and I was extremely scared. However, Lynn translated my fortune well. It wasn’t that the fortune was good, or that the translation was particularly accurate, but it was something else about the way she delivered the translation that I cannot quite explain that put my mind to rest. I didn’t think about the growth on my leg for the rest of the day because I was having such a great time. However, when I had to take the train from Kansai to Kyoto I was alone with my thoughts, and the worst case scenario machine began to turn its wheels. I almost got really depressed, but before that happened, I thought back on my trip to Korea, and the worst case scenario machine broke down. Mercifully, I finally arrived at Kyoto. I retrieved my bag from the coin locker, got on an over crowded train to Seta with 3 bags and arrived at the exact same time as Kari and Noel, who I know from Davis. We shared a taxi to the dorm, got acquainted and went to the local department store, which is about a 40 minute hike in each direction. Actually our dorm isn’t near anything, as I discovered, so everywhere is kind of a hike. That evening we went to a ramen shop for dinner, which was alright, but I would not eat it again. However, I got to practice my Japanese, and I have to say that I like all of the students and tutors. Some of the students were kind of shy, but I have already started to see them grow. Some of the tutors have really impressed me.

So the next day I typed most of this account, which took 4 hours (darn it, you’d better like it!). Then I walked to the department store again and got everything that I forgot, well, almost. I also tried meron pan (melon bread) for the first time. It was not bad. Meron Pan is very interesting because it is one of the only Japanese foods that is surprising on the outside and normal in the middle (usually). There have been so many times when I have bought something in Japan and been surprised. In Fukuoka I bought this bread that was some of the most delicious bread I have ever had, but when I got to the center I discovered that it was filled with the most atrocious cream ever. Even though the bread was great and I was hungry, I threw the entire thing out because the cream was so awful.

Anyway, I returned to the dorm and basically sat around playing cards and getting to know my fellow students a bit better. Actually, I wanted to wander around the town some more, but since the growth on my leg had not gotten any smaller, I really did not feel like being alone anymore. After cards I offered my help to the tutors in getting ready for the party we had that night, but they never really told me to do much. The party that evening was interesting. I played a game with 4 others in which one of our sushi was filled with a lot of wasabi and the other 4 were OK. I got the heavy wasabi one and it felt like my sinuses were turning inside out. We had a good time, but nothing that I would consider interesting happened. Just a pretty regular college party. I stayed sober.

On Monday we all arose and had our first breakfast in the dorm. It was very good. Miso soup, rice, bread and assorted “western” breakfast foods. We then walked to the Ryukoku campus. I am pleased to brag about the fact that, despite the fact that I am the whitest person here, I am also the best adapted to heat. Thus, after we reached the class room, everyone else was bright red, but I was still my normal color. The fact that I wear a broad brimmed hat when I go out helps too. So we got acquainted with the Ryukoku campus and got many stares. As almost always, I was something of an object of curiosity, but by now I am really used to it. We toured the campus, which is small, and ate lunch. What I haven’t yet talked about was my mood on that day. I was scared, and because I was scared I was grumpy. Much of the politeness that I take great pride in just did not manifest itself on Monday. But I was thinking about more serious things. After lunch Professor Cheng and Morimori (one of the tutors, actually, something of a leader of the tutors) took me to the student health center so that the nurses and doctor could have a look at me. I went in alone with the nurses and tried to explain the growth. I was amazed at how competent I actually was at Japanese. I almost got my description understood, I think. Anyway, the nurses thought it was a swelled lymph node, which mad me feel better. I had been sick so that made sense. However, when I saw the doctor he said that there was no way it could be a lymph node because there was no lymph node in that part of the body. I got the impression that he thought it was some sort of skin cancer since he decided to send me to a dermatologist. Cheng Sensei and I decided to meet downtown at 4:00pm and go to the dermatologist together. I returned to the dorms (Morimori was good enough to wait with me at the bus stop until my bus came), then I put my computer in my bag and headed for downtown. I went a different way than normal, and I ran into hundreds of grammar school kids wearing yellow hats on their way home. I discovered that day that the JR Station area has wireless internet, which means that I can use my laptop provided I can find a place where I can sit down and plug in my computer for half an hour. I had a shaved ice and met up with Cheng Sensei. We went to Tanaka (the dermatologist and he said that it was a tumor, but probably benign. He suggested however that I get a second opinion from a doctor at the local teaching hospital the next day, which I agreed to do after some deliberation. It was after I visited Tanaka that I made the very unfortunate discovery that the health insurance provided by the program I am in will not pay for my hospital bills. Rather, I must pay for all of my medical costs and then they will reimburse me. I only have a limited amount of cash, and I was furious about this. I still am. What is the point of having insurance specifically for traveling if it does not work in foreign countries?! Thus, I needed to withdraw some cash so that I could pay for any future hospital bills. Cheng Sensei and I searched the town and finally found a cash machine that worked on the campus. He was nice enough to pay for the Taxi: 1090 yen. I will pay him back. I returned to the dorm just in time to walk with some students and tutors back to town to get some udon. The Udon was great, and I had a good time talking, but I may have been a touch gloomy on that walk. I came home, bathed, and eventually went to bed. However, there is one more story. So we share a dorm with the baseball team, a group of really tough guys. So I walked in to the bathroom and they were discussing something. I had no idea what any of the words they were using meant, but I was able to pick out one word in particular that they seemed to say with particular relish. This word I concluded must be important. I memorized it, went up stairs and asked Fumi what the word meant. I had a feeling that it was very crude speech, and Fumi said I was correct. She told me I should ask one of the boys. The boys informed me of the meaning of the word and also told me that saying it to a woman was considered sexual harassment in Japan. *Sigh* Unfortunately, this is not the first time I have accidentally sexually harassed someone while learning Japanese.

On Tuesday I awoke a little later and had breakfast. Then Fumi and I went to the teaching hospital that is in the area. The hospital was basically one of the most stressful places I have been, because while I needed to understand what was going on, I could not. Fumi’s English was good, but had to deal with specific medical terms and translate them. Once again however the really stressful part was not the medicine itself but the whole process of registration and payment. Reception ladies are too polite for their own good. I can never understand them. Fumi is great, by the way. Today was her day off and she went with me anyway. She seems to have picked up that I was nervous because she kept making conversation that was not exactly related to the situation. At one point she began to talk about her family. Well the diagnosis was that yes, indeed it probably is a benign tumor, but I should have it taken out the first chance that I get. I was thinking of having the surgery done in Japan, but the doctor’s schedule was full until two weeks before I leave, which is not enough time. I need to recover and get to Tokyo. I decided to have the surgery done when I return home to Hawaii. Well Fumi and I went and met up with the rest of the class. We ate, and then went to an orientation in which we got to use computers again. Thank goodness. To be without internet access as I am now is something that is very difficult for me. Internet is a vital part of this trip, and with out other people knowing how the trip is going, I almost feel like the trip is incomplete. I don’t know. It’s a surprisingly hard feeling to put in to words. I guess I feel powerless as well. Anyway, then we toured the library, and later in the day the university provided a party. The party was fantastic. I spoke with tons of Japanese people, and learned several new words.

So then I went to class the next day, saw a Japanese band perform, traveled to Kyoto to find internet access, found it and sent this post.

1 comment:

Mom said...

Wow! A lot of information but worth waiting for.