Monday, 7 February 2011

Humorous dialogue with elementary school students # 187

Heard this past Friday at Minato Elementary School, at the tail end of my self introduction to the fourth grade class:

(In Japanese)

Carter: .... well, that's all I have to say for now. Any questions, kids?

4th graders: Do you have a wife?

C: (Smiles) nope. Not married.

4th graders: What about a special someone that you like?

C: Well, that's a secret....

4th Grader: What type of girls do you like?!

C: Uhhhh.... I like... girls who are kind people.

4th Grader: That it? Even if she's ugly?


4th Grader: What if she's REALLY UGLY?!?! 

Precocious Nine-year-old: What about [co-teacher] Sakamoto-sensei? She's pretty!

(Sakamoto-sensei smiles embarrassedly)

C: Well, she's a very nice lady... Any other questions?

(five minutes later)

PN: (Whispers conspiratorially) Carter-sensei! Do you like Sakamoto-sensei?

C: (Smiles) She's very nice.

PN: And pretty!

C: Yes, and pretty too.

(PN scurries to Sakamoto-sensei, exchanges whispers, scurries back to C)

PN: The feeling's mutual!

C: (Smiles embarrassedly)

PN: (Bows deeply) Congratulations on your marriage! Yay!!!!!

Chorus of Fourth Graders: Yay!!!! Congratulations!!!! (applause)

(Sakamoto-sensei (who has a long-term boyfriend) blushes, C attempts in vain to distract kids with flashcards....) 

Saturday, 5 February 2011

Re-contracting, Egypt, and Daikon Curry (cont.)

One of the secrets of Japanese curry - grated apple
Apologies for the political turn with the last post - I try to refrain from the excessively political on Stinky Soybeans, not because it's not interesting or important (indeed, these are things we should talk about more often) , but because I personally get annoyed when others suddenly break into sententious rant mode out of the blue. But sometimes ideas build up with such force within oneself that they escape without warning through the nearest outlet. In that vein.....

....I'm encouraged that President Obama seems to be doing the right thing and pressuring Egypt's President Mubarak to step down. Even if bleeding liberals like myself occasionally feel frustrated at his tactics - his acquiescence towards tax cuts for rich people, his general tack of conciliation in the face of lies (google "birthers")  and bigotry from his opponents - Obama does seem to have his heart in the right place. For most of the United States' history, our presidents have usually embraced the view encapsulated in FDR's famous quote about a Nicaraguan dictator: "Somoza may be a son of a bitch, but he's our son of a bitch." God knows our government still endorses sons-of-bitches besides Mubarak, but at least Obama is setting a good precedent. Of course, one could always be cynical and...

.... but enough of such foolishness. Food awaits!

This is a daikon. (Alas, I peeled and chopped it before realizing how photogenic it was...) "Daikon"(大根) translates directly as "big root," a very apt description of the vegetable.  My good friend T received a bundle of these beautiful tubers from a grateful farmer who attends his English conversation class, and he was kind enough to share the bounty. The major difficulty of daikon consumption, naturally, lies in its size. What do you do with that much plant matter? Typical uses include shredding it to garnish sushi and grating it to top steak, but there was no way I was going to eat enough sushi or steak to use even a small fraction of the root before it became a giant petri dish. The solution? Curry! 

The Roux!

The delightful food blog , my most dependable source for Japanese food wisdom, had a tasty recipe for Japanese style curry stew. This should not be confused with curries of the Thai or Indian persuasion, to which it bears only a passing resemblance. Unlike Koreans or people from the Hunan and Sichuan regions of China, the Japanese in general have an extremely underdeveloped appreciation of the broad and beautiful palette of spicy flavors available to mankind. Whereas I love a good, scorching vindaloo or green curry for the little inferno it ignites on the taste buds, the chief appeal of Japanese curry lies in the pleasing textural combination of savory, viscous stew and warm rice. Many supermarkets contain an entire aisle devoted to curry in its various incarnations, from ready-to-eat metallic pouches to little brown bricks of roux for the soup base to spice blends for those who opt for the purist approach. As Just Hungry points out, the roux (composed of butter, flour, and curry powder), is actually very easy to whip up and contains none of the dubious industrially engineered fats that give most pre-made mixes their appealing mouth feel.   

 Besides daikon, water, and that roux, I added carrots, shiitake mushrooms, a half kilo of beef tendon, 8 onions, spices, and, of course, a heaping spoonful of Blair's After Death Hot Sauce. 3 fellow ALT's and I managed to polish off the entire pot that night, save a little tupperware-full. It was the second time I've hosted a curry party in my little apartment (alas, no photos). How wonderful to live in a century when it's socially permissible for a man to cook a big pot of stew and share it with friends.

More food pictures, because I have too much free time:

Sesame Fried Spinach a la Mark Bittman

Bok Choy in garlic and white wine sauce

This here is a takoyaki, the bready fried octopus balls that are a specialty here in the Kansai region. A wonderful, adorable local family (relations of a teacher I know) invited me over for a takoyaki fry-out last Monday. As with many of the best Japanese meals, the cooking apparatus sat in the middle of the table as the entire family took part in the meal's preparation. In the case of takoyaki, that apparatus is a griddle indented with little 1-inch hemispheres for shaping the balls of fried goodness. Besides octopus, we added spring onions, pickled ginger, bits of fried tempura batter ("tenkasu"), and american cheese to the mix. They were delicious.

Fried Rice two ways: Shiitake sesame, red pepper and pork.

Thursday, 3 February 2011

Re-contracting, Egypt, and Daikon Curry

Hello friends,

I'm afraid I've neglected this here blog since the auspicious start of 2011. Perhaps its the sheer quantity of New Year's resolutions I've been trying to keep (I jotted down 8 during a lull at school), ranging from the mundane "keep apartment clean" to the more edifying "learn to read music/play the harmonica" and "take concrete steps to realize secret plans for world domination."  But perhaps it's poor form to bring up New Year's resolutions in February, when many of us are just coming to terms all sorts of persistent flaws in ourselves. Entropy will remain a major force in my apartment, no matter the earnestness of my resolutions, and world domination will have to wait until I get sick of my new kindle (a godsend in a town where the nearest English bookstore in 2 hours away).

Anyways, here's the latest dispatch from Arida:

I've officially signed up to stay here for one more year! Another year of skewing the dodgeball teams of Arida playgrounds, of bags of free citrus and compliments from cackling old ladies, of talking world politics with inebriated and wind-burned fishermen. And of course, helping the wee ones distinguish their R's from their L's, always tactfully deflecting questions about the meaning of "sekkusu" and "fakku you!"

I could ramble for a very long time about my warm feelings towards this place, but I have something else on my mind at the moment, as do many millions of news-watching people the world over. Egypt's revolution-in-progress rivets us for many reasons - it's geopolitical implications, the flood of striking photos from Cairo, the hope and optimism undergirding such spontaneous, collective action, the menace (and recently, reality) of brutal government reprisals. I'm not a religious man, but I suppose that in my own way, I'm praying that those hundreds of thousand of people in Tahrir Square succeed.

Two things have irked me persistently since I started paying attention to the story a few days ago. The first is the inevitable reaction against the wide-eyed wonder and admiration in much of the reportage from Cairo. "It threatens to destabilize the entire region!" "The Islamic Brotherhood could take over the country!" "Egypt's alliance with Israel/America is jeopardized!" "Economic consequences!" etc. etc.  All these caveats certainly articulate possible, even likely outcomes of the uprising. But just how scared, how jaded does one have to be to not feel a pang of awe and inspiration at the idea of millions of people organically rising up against three decades of repression and stagnation at the hands of a brutal autocrat? Seriously!

But perhaps that's enough political ranting for now. God knows there's plenty of self-righteous bloggers and reporters churning our pages by the minute on this story (I recommend looking up the stuff Nicholas Kristof has written from Cairo for the New York Times if you're interested).  Now it's time for bed - I'll finish up with the rant and get to the daikon curry soon. Sweet dreams to us all.