Monday, September 29, 2003

Uppity Youngster
Not to seem like an ungrateful neophyte disrespectful of tradition, but honestly, reading all these linguistics articles is not impressing me with the wonder of scientific writing. History, my erstwhile concentration from the halcyon days at Grinnell, is a field likewise based on research, certainly, and yet, the writing is so much less annoying to read. The secret?


Yes, footnotes. There is nothing more distracting or annoying than a huge line, or even a short one, of parenthetical citation. Why can't these linguists just put their citations at the bottom of the page like sane people? There is no reason that I want to read their long lists of all the people who wrote things on the subject before them, usually in groups, all in different years. That's what a works cited list is for. What I want to read, or at least what I'm supposed to read, is the content of their research article. If I'm spending all my time wading through citations, it's just going to break all train of thought and flow of narrative, or at least coherency. What's more, it makes me skip over all parenthetical comments, whether they contain content or citation. It's so annoying!

Footnotes, people. Use footnotes.

A Good Driver
As Mark has so astutely put it, "The state of Michigan is utterly convinced that everybody should be allowed to operate a motor vehicle." I confirmed this last Friday by getting my Michigan driver's license. I'd kind of been putting it off, since my NC license is so pretty, good until 2005, and the last time I went by the Secretary of State's office, it was packed. Last Friday, though, I actually had time in the morning, before most people on their lunch hour packed in, and the health center turns out to be basically across the street. So I seized my opportunity, and braced myself for a long wait.

It was so easy. Really. I walked right up to the desk. The woman asked me what I had for ID. I produced my three pieces (having been tipped off by Heather that they would want at least 3, preferably passport, school ID, and past license.) The woman took them, gave me a piece of paper to sign, entered some things in the computer, asked me if I wanted to register to vote while I was at it, and handed me another piece of paper to sign for that. Then she tested my vision. This consisted of me reading the top line while looking in the machine, and then confirming whether I could see the flashing lights in my peripheral vision. Amazingly enough, I passed. Why don't these people ever let me read the bottom line? The top line is no fun. Anyway, then she got her supervisor to confirm my IDs, took my picture and my $13, and gave me a temporary until they mail me my new, shiny, official Michigan driver's license in the mail.

If this process isn't enough to make me feel secure driving in this state, I don't know what would. Such security. Such attention to detail. Such rigorous testing.

So don't I just feel like a permanent resident now. Oooh, special. It's still soda, though. Never pop. Never.

Sunday, September 28, 2003

NHK in the USA
Guess what I found! I was exploring the possibilities of our cable network, and saw "NHK News" scroll by on the listings. "No, couldn't be," I thought, but yes, it was! Actual Japanese national news on TV in Michigan. We apparently have an International Channel, and at least tonight it was dedicated to broadcasting Japanese television. Maybe it's every Sunday! It felt kind of like home to watch that same NHK newsanchor, and see the weather forecast for Sendai go up on the national map. Heeheehee...

Pillow Talk
5:20am, nice and dark outside, I'm sleeping peacefully...
Mark: Holy ****!
Me: What?!
Mark: Didn't you notice that? There's that person, you know, the kind of gatekeeper of the place where you want to get spells...
Me: Are you talking to me in your sleep?
Mark: *indignantly* No! I am trying to have a very coherent conversation with you!
Me: About spells?
Mark: Yes!
Me: I don't understand. I'm going back to sleep.

I think Mark has been playing too much Morrowind lately. If he tries to talk to me about spells in his sleep again, I am holding an intervention and sending him into gaming detox. He couldn't even elucidate for me what the heck he was trying to talk about, because all he remembers is making the insistent claim that he was being coherent. There will be no more making fun of me for talking in my sleep anymore.

Saturday, September 27, 2003

As A Hatter
I live with an insane person. Allow me to recount a conversation to you, on the subject of the best way to hang a small picture.

Me: Well, why don't you tape a piece of string to the back of it, and hang it from a nail that way?
Mark: Ah-hah! And where, Mark, you ask, would one find a piece of string?
Me: *quizzical look*
Mark: *finger in the air triumphantly* In the string turtle!

Yes, the string turtle. A small, hand-sized, wrought iron turtle, whose shell makes a little cage in which one puts a ball of string. Through the hole in the top of the shell-cage, one end of the string protrudes, and dangles down the side. This is the string turtle. It lives on the back of our stove. I do not know why.

*As an additional note, yes, I do know where the phrase "Mad as a hatter" comes from. It is because the hat pins milliners used to use were coated in mercury, and thus, "hatters" who had the habit of holding extra pins in their mouths gradually poisoned themselves and went insane. Don't we all feel educated now?

Friday, September 26, 2003

Black and Blue
What is it about bruising that is so fascinating? Maybe it's just me, with my fascination with colors and shades, but really, bruises are neat. I stubbed the little toe on my left foot the other day on the edge of a box, (*ahem* not that we still have boxes sitting around the living room, no, of course not,) and apparently I did a really good job. When I woke up the next morning, it was all dark wine and purple colored along the inside edge. I mean, sure, it hurts and all, but I'm getting so much entertainment from watching the progression of the bruise that I'm sort of hard-pressed to be very grumpy about pain.

Thursday, September 25, 2003

Chilean Fall
Today I got out my wool jacket from Chile. It's starting to get cooler here, you see. The trees haven't really started changing, but long sleeves are definitely far more pleasant for me now than short sleeves. I love my Chilean jacket. It is mostly black, with the front and back of the upper chest/shoulders woven in pretty fall-colored stripey patterns. It's not too heavy, not too light, a good autumn weight, and as I discovered in Chile, if you layer it with a sweatshirt or sweater, it can last pretty far into winter without feeling like too little.

It smells like Chile. It's been a little more than two full years since I was there, and it still has its own spicy, warm, downtown Santiago bazaar smell. As much as six months after I got back to the US from Chile, I was still finding little folded up city bus tickets. Every day, I would take a bus at least once, somewhere. To get to La Católica, I took the bus from my house at the corner of Irrarazaval and Diagonal Oriente to the nearest Metro stop, 15 minutes down Irarrázaval. I knew it was time to hit the button to get the bus to stop when we were in sight of the Peugot dealership, because the bus always went about a block or so past where you hit the button. Then I took the Metro the rest of the way, getting off directly in front of campus. Or I might take the bus downtown with Jessica to go shopping at the bazaar, or to get long-distance bus tickets to go to Argentina, or to the Council offices to print out a paper for class.

I remember seeing movies for just US$2, almost every week. There are still movies that I can't remember the names of in English. I saved all the ticket stubs. There was, of course, the continuing effort to find the perfect flavor combination of gelato before going into the theater, because in Chile, you can't get just one scoop, and asking for both to be the same flavor gets you stared at. Once, we went to the supermarket (not the Unimarc, the other one I can't remember the name of now), and bought one of every flavor of filled chocolate bar to conduct a scientific study. And I have been forever disappointed at not being able to find leche cultivada in the US, nor can I easily find true peach nectar.

My Chilean jacket holds many memories in its weave. Memories of Santiago and micros; of Puerto Montt and Chiloé; of Arica and Iquique; of coffee and medialunas while wandering the downtown streets of Mendoza; of Mt. Aconcagua; of the 32 switchback pass through the Andes; of gringo spotting in Cuzco; of the tiny hostel town in the high valley in Peru, seeing the mist coming through the mountains from the balcony at breakfast; of Machu Picchu in the rain; of llama and vicuñas and Lago Chungara, the highest lake in the world, (yes, higher than Titicaca). The jacket wasn't there for all of these things; I didn't buy it until later in my time there, but it holds all my memories nonetheless. I may not have found my life in Chile terribly easy, but I came back with the most invaluable experience of my life to date, and I am always happy to remember it.

Tomorrow, my class will be talking about national parks in the US. I will take some of my pictures from other national parks with me. While I hope my students like looking at the pictures, I think I'm going to get the most enjoyment out of looking through the albums tonight.

To remembrance.

Wednesday, September 24, 2003

Positive Aspects
It's kind of been one of those days. Rather than complain about creeping insomnia, pedagogical theory differences with people above me, the suspicion I may have a cold, and the annoyance of biking into the wind, I will instead list some good things. Yes, I am thinking about that time in 6th grade when my mom made me think of one positive thing a day until I accumulated enough points to earn her buying me a book. I wish someone would buy me books as prizes now.

-I saw another black squirrel the other day, after not seeing any for weeks and weeks. Then someone else walked by and commented to his friend about how weird they were, kind of like everyone has the same thoughts upon seeing them.

-I made two long distance phone calls this week, both to good ends, and I have a phone date to talk to Danola in Japan this weekend.

-I got thanked by my excellent Latin American history prof, J. Pablo Silva, for telling him he is a great teacher. He just came back from a sabbatical year of research in Chile, and apparently is finding the return to Grinnell challenging. He changed the way I think about history, politics, economics, research, and paper writing. I wrote a 25-page bilingual research paper for his Latin America & the US seminar, and it is the thing I am the most proud to have written, ever.

-The ducks outside in the pond look really, really silly when they stick their butts up in the air and paddle around with their heads stuck under the water, looking for food.

-Mark said he had enough dinner ideas lined up that I don't have to worry about cooking for the rest of the week.

Sunday, September 21, 2003

Help! I have too much work to do. I swear, every time I look inside my notebook, a new homework assignment has spawned. I don't think they should be allowed to breed like that. I wish things in my life would even out. I spent all last year wishing I had more work to do; now I wish I had less. Why can't I exist in a happy medium?

Don't get me wrong. I'm happy to be in school. I like the classes that I'm taking. Every time I read a new chapter for Second Language Acquisition, I end up thinking, "Cool!" and pondering how exactly I want to further specialize my studies from here. Take today, for instance. I read the chapter on child language acquisition, and noticed how it said that childhood second language acquisition, (to be distinguished from first language acquisition and simultaneous bilingual acquistion) has been understudied. My first thought was that this could be applied to my mother's research in early intervention for children with autism. I'm a linguistic geek. I dig this stuff.

But I've also got to teach my Level 1 international students for two hours, four days a week, and preparing for that is eating my life. I end up doing all my actual homework in about 2-3 stolen hours a week, generally just the night before class, because all the rest of my time is given to thinking about how class went, considering what the students need to learn, looking through the textbook, trying to think of activities to engage them, grading their homework, making quizzes or tests, grading the quizzes or tests, printing things out, making copies, and on and on and on. I don't think my TAship is really supposed to take over quite this much.

And of course, there's also the fact that the apartment is still not completely organized. We have stuff sitting all over the living room as we try to put it back in the study room/office in a more efficient and organized manner. I actually sort of like doing that. I spent one very enjoyable evening putting all of my notes and papers from all four years at Grinnell into a filing cabinet, organized aphabetically by academic department and course number. I love it when I can get things extremely organized and put away, perhaps because it happens so rarely. But it's going very, very slowly, because I hardly have any time to do it. In the meantime, we have to pick our way across the floor from the couch to the TV, and wend our way through the path from the front door to the rest of the apartment.

What's more, the shipping people who are supposed to be getting me my stuff from Japan are being exceptionally irritating. I paid a company in Japan to ship my stuff to Detroit. That seemed very straight-forward and simple. Except, that company doesn't actually ship within the US. The ship to California, where another company picks the stuff up, (for an additional fee, of course,) and ships it to Detroit. Once it gets to Detroit, you must fax the holding company an itemized inventory to give to the customs people. Of course, once the customs people inspect it, it's not over, because the company in CA is still waiting for that cashier's check before they will fax the people in Detroit a release notice, and until you have all of that done, your stuff has to stay in Detroit, for $10/day. Then there's always the problem of finding time to go to Detroit, about 2 hours one way, to get the stuff and bring it back. Hopefully, they'll let Mark get it when he goes into Dearborn for work on Tuesday, otherwise, I may never get it, especially if they're not open on the weekends. I hate shipping companies.

So basically, I feel like I'm always running behind and going quietly insane. I really hope the entire semester isn't like this. I wish I'd had more time to get settled into any kind of routine at all before being thrown into work and school. If you have tried to get in touch with me via email, I'm sorry if I haven't responded. Right now, though, I should no doubt go to bed, since I'm being observed by my practicum supervisor tomorrow during my first teaching hour. Good night.

Wednesday, September 17, 2003

Do You Believe?
Recently, my friend Will said that he finds it odd that Indiana U is much less politically conservative than NCSU. I was given occasion once again this morning to experience the opposite thought about MSU and Grinnell. Grinnell is, after all, "that liberal school" in Iowa. A disproportionate part of the student body there consists of Unitarian Universalists, which is proudly said by many of us to be the world's least organized organized religion. Devout Christians, even the oddly large number of Mormons, on campus are extremely unlikely to be trying to convert anyone in any kind of active manner.

At MSU, though, there have been, in my three weeks of classes, at least 4 different evangelists in the courtyard outside Wells Hall, the building where I dwell. Today there was a man with a bulletin board and visual aids, instructed us all, in lovely, carrying public speaking voice, that God does not care how you pray. He doesn't require you to be on your knees, he doesn't care about the precise formulation of the words, he just wants you to do it, so won't you please join in, maybe just in your mind, and pray along to proclaim Jesus Christ as your personal savior? He was the most annoying one we've had, and I nearly killed myself trying to bike around the milling crowd of people he had sort of bottlenecked at the skinny part of the sidewalk. The other people we've had ranged from the very nice people handing out testaments who were quite willing to go away the first time you said "no," to the guy who stood in the middle of the sidewalk silently, with the back of his t-shirt doing all his talking for him.

I think it's all very strange. It must be quite a culture shock for all the international students. I know the religious fervor of some of the more nutty Americans is considered extremely bizarre by people from other countries, even if they're only British, where they at least speak the same language. Of course, the Brits ought to be thanking us for taking all the nuts out of their country so long ago. (That is, of course, a poke at all my dear British ALT pals back yonder in Japan. Hi Sharon and Kristel! *wave*)

Tuesday, September 16, 2003

Yesterday, six of my Japanese students jointly gave me a large block of fudge as omiyage from their trip to Mackinac Island over the weekend. I think they mostly did it because they had to miss class on Friday to go, because it's part of their Japanese university's program at MSU. The thing that struck me, though, was that it seemed completely normal to me. Omiyage is a fact of life in Japan. Whenever anyone in your office, or family, or close friend group, goes on a trip, you know you're going to get some little gift, almost always an individually wrapped traditional food item. Thus, when I was presented with fudge claiming to be "The Best on Mackinac Island," I just thought, "Oh, omiyage, of course. Interesting that they keep that up in the US." Then I had to follow that thought with, "But I'm not supposed to accept gifts from students. Except, there are six of them, it can hardly count as bribery by any means. Besides which, it would be culturally offensive not to accept it, and what's more, I haven't had any lunch today." So I kept it, and used it to stave off starvation before dinner, and lo, it was good. Who knows if it's the best on Mackinac Island, but it was certainly the best thing I'd had that day since my very early morning Pop-Tart. Anyway, the point of this is that it's kind of interesting for me to now be back in my culture, watching Japanese people be immersed, after a year of the reverse. Ah, cultural exchange.

Saturday, September 13, 2003

On Thursday, after my skills meeting, (for the detail-oriented people in my life, that is the meeting for the people teaching levels 1 and 2 Listening/Speaking class, with our supervisor, to talk about problems and trade ideas,) I stayed afterward to talk to my supervisor, Sandy. Sandy is a very neat person. She's new at MSU this year, too, and is in our department to be the main CALL (Computer Assisted Language Learning) person, or director, or coordinator, or something. Eventually, we started talking about living and working abroad, and how strange it can sometimes seem to come back to the US afterward.

First, she was asking me about living in Japan. She and her husband lived there for a while, two years, I think, teaching English to it sounds like mainly business people. But then she asked me where else I had been, and when I mentioned going to Germany and France just before coming home, she was excited to hear that I had been to Lyon. As it turns out, she also lived in a town in Germany near the Polish border; on the outskirts of Lyon; and either once or a few times in Spain. As she put it, "Our family was always trying to get back to Spain." She encouraged me to go teach in Europe if I ever got the chance.

The whole conversation reminded me of one I had had the week before with my friend Andrew. His father's job with an oil company sent them to live in Singapore for 3 years, and then to Argentina for 4 or 5. I had been talking to him about the feeling of strangeness at being back in the US, and he asked me, "So, do you feel transnational now? You know, like there's no one place you'll ever really be able to live and call home forever." I think that sums it up nicely: transnationalism.

I said earlier that I don't exactly feel very American anymore, but it's not so much that I don't feel American, it's that I feel more than that. I don't want to just live here. I want to go lots of places, live there for a while, see and feel and learn new things, in new places, with other languages and different cultures surrounding me. Oh, sure, I still feel my spirit rising in my chest when I hit the West Virginia Turnpike and find myself surrounded by the Appalachains again, and I will probably always identify myself as being from North Carolina. But such identifications cannot define me, and shall not limit me.

I am a native born North Carolinian, of southern roots and Raleigh-native parents on both sides; who went to Grinnell College in Iowa; who lived in Santiago de Chile and thrilled at seeing Mt. Aconcagua in Argentina and Machu Picchu in Peru as much as at the Appalachains; who taught myself to use chopsticks in a Taiwan hotel room; who saw Mt. Fuji from the window of a shinkansen, unshrouded by clouds, and lived in Sendai, Miyagi-ken, Japan for a year; who wandered the streets of Berlin and Lyon in linguistically-confused joy; who thinks in too many languages to form coherent sentences in any of them sometimes; who studies linguistics and language acquisition at Michigan State, back in the midwest once more; who wants to live so many places and do so many things now that I get confused and multi-faceted visions of all the branches of my possible future.

I am American.

I am transnational.

I am human.

I am.

Thursday, September 11, 2003

Cell Phone Invasion
You know, I thought I saw an over-abundance of cell phones in Japan. The thing is, everyone in Japan has a cell phone, but they're not all likely to be talking on them, especially not for prolonged periods of time while walking around. At Grinnell, cell phones were only just starting to be a common sight when I left. But here, at MSU, it seems like I see more people walking around campus talking on cell phones than I do talking to actual other people. Even one of the military people walking around this morning was talking on her cell phone. When I got home on my bike at around 9:30 this evening, there was a man walking laps of the parking lot telling a long, involved story to his friend. On his cell phone. It's so weird. The etiquette is so different from country to country. I'm betting Americans just seem rather rude in other countries, since walking around use of the cell phone tends to be mostly for short "Where are you?" conversations. I'm kind of partial to that, but then, I don't think I'm very American anymore.

Monday, September 08, 2003

There are certain benefits to having two geeks live together. For one thing, then there are fewer of us out there weirding the normals. For another, our books get pooled, and perhaps if I am very lucky, they will start to reproduce of their own accord and I won't have to spend money buying more. In any case, I've started eating, I mean, reading Mark's books now. Over the weekend, he fed me Babel-17 by Samuel R. Delany. Now, for your edification, I present a review.

Babel-17 is an excellent sci-fi book. Mark's copy is the 1978 version, probably actually from that year, judging by the pitiful condition of its spine. It's short, an easy read, and very absorbing. The main character is a linguistic genius. At the beginning of the book, she explains to the general the rule of allophonic distribution. How could the book get any more perfect for me? This has long been a favorite bit of esoteric linguistic knowledge for me, kind of like soccer fans cherish the off-sides rule.

The main character is approached by the military to break the Babel-17 enemy code. She gleaned enough from the transcripts they provided her to know that it's not a code, but an actual language. She speaks dozens of languages, an aptitude she's had since childhood, and describes all the languages as having this magic moment when everything, grammar, phonology, syntax, etc, just fell into place in her mind. I wish I could do that. I can't help it; I like characters who can do stuff I wish I could. Anyhow, she puts together a space crew, which is neat in and of itself, as the book contains a lot of spaceship-running I hadn't seen before, and then takes off to find out where the language came from and what it really means.

And everything is fine and dandy and wonderful and absorbing, I was having a delightful time, until they explained the workings of Babel-17. It's all Sapir-Whorf, "words have the power to dictate and shape thoughts," horribly out-dated, disproven linguistic theory. Language just doesn't work that way. Humans can and will always have thoughts, regardless of whether they have linguistic terms to describe them. On rare occasions, there have been humans discovered who never acquired language, usually due to severe isolation during childhood. These people have never managed to fully acquire language after being found, even after intensive therapy, but they most certainly have thoughts. Quite sophisticated ones, even though necessarily couched in less than sophisticated terms for communication.

The thing is, no matter how amazing the idea, vocabulary does not shape our thoughts. As Steven Pinker points out in The Language Instinct, Orwell's Newspeak will never exist to control the thoughts of the masses into obedience and passivity. Vocabulary helps us try to transmit our thoughts to other people accurately, yes, but for every human being in all the world, there is inevitably a time when one just cannot find the word one needs. The thought may be represented in our minds by a picture, an aura, a melody, an amorphous feeling, a scent, an indescribable melange of synaestetic sensory input, but whatever the form, it's there, whether there exists a word for it or not. If our vocabularies were limiting our thoughts, would there be a need for metaphor? Poetry? Would people from other places in the world be able to communicate at all, sharing no mental frames of reference for things existing only in one part of the world and not the other? The ironic thing about all this is that the main character, the one who discovers that Babel-17 is controlling her actions when she thinks in it, is a poet, hailed as the voice of her age, the one who can put those amorphous thoughts of all the others into words. She describes the indescribable.

As you can see, though, the objection to this part of the book made me think, so all is well. I still enjoyed the book. Read it, but don't believe it. It's fiction, after all.

Sunday, September 07, 2003

Movies, Good and Bad
Another thing I have been enjoying about being back in the US, and particularly back amongst my regular friend group, is that I can indulge myself with movies again. In Japan, going to a movie theater could cost more than $10-15, so I didn't do it that often. Of course, I watched rented movies with Richard several times, and movies on TV, but for myself, I was too lazy to go to the rental place on a regular basis. Besides which, it's always more fun to watch movies, particularly dumb ones, with other people.

For this reason, and for the purposes of reliving my childhood, yesterday I bought the first two Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movies, as well as Mortal Kombat. None of these movies have terribly many things to recommend them, except that they actually do have some good karate in them, and they came out back in the heyday of my adolescent karate life. (Oh, and they were cheap. That too.) What is more guaranteed to take me back to middle school, and Emory Karate Systems, than the Ninja Turtles busting into the night club where Vanilla Ice is singing "Ice, Ice, Baby"? Classic, I tell you.

Also on the subject of movies, this past Thursday I went with Mark, Matt, and Heather to see "Pirates of the Carribean" and had a total blast. That movie is hilarious. Johnny Depp is either the best or worst pirate ever, and just brilliant. And of course it doesn't hurt that his sidekick is Legolas. I mean, Orlando Bloom. Everyone should see it! After all, Talk Like A Pirate Day is coming up, and you have to get ready! I assure you, this movie is much better than the Ninja Turtles. My taste is not all bad. Just go see it, savvy?

Duck, Duck,... Duck
We have duckies in our backyard! Our apartment balcony looks out over the pond in the area behind all the apartments, where there's a little bridge, and a path and everything, and in the pond are ducks. For the past two days, we have greatly entertained ourselves by feeding the ducks, throwing them bits of the heels of our bread from the third story. It's great. We're pretty close to the edge of the pond, so we can get them to come out of the water to run after the bread, or sort of tumble down the slight slope of the bank towards the water if we throw the bread far enough. Ducks are really funny. Once they get the bread, they wag their tailfeathers. There's one dark-colored duck who chases the other ones with his beak open like he's trying to bite them if they get the bread before he does. They also sound like they're laughing when they get particularly worked up about something, and we can hear it through the open windows.

Saturday, September 06, 2003

Food, Glorious Food
Last night I rediscovered the joy of being back in a country where I can recognize all the items in the grocery store. It was really the first time I had been back in a grocery store in the US for a significant period of time. There were many, many items that I had never seen before. The snack food industry has been rather busy since I've been gone. Did you know there were S'mores Ritz Bits? Wheat Ritzes? Wheat Saltines? Did you know that Kroger carries at least 7 different kinds of hummus? I took Mark up and down almost every single aisle of the store, ostensibly to familiarize myself with the layout, but really just looking for food that caught my fancy. As mentioned, I am not an often inspired cook outside of baking, so my trips to the grocery store tend to use lists "more as a guideline, really." Then I haul all the food back to my house, figure out something to make out of it, and use it until it's gone, at which point I get more. Mark, on the other hand, was somewhat horrified, because in his family, the list is the list, one plans meals ahead of time, and going to the store several times a week is fine. In Japan, I went to the actual grocery store maybe once a month or possibly every two months. Of course, I also eat about 1/4th of what Mark does. It's scary.

The other scary thing is that while snack food manufacturers in the US may be trying to catch up with the Japanese in sheer variety, they're not doing much on the healthy end. A single, (as in one,) fudge-covered Oreo cookie contains 100 calories. An entire box of Pocky contains only slightly more, as I recall. As dear, kind Mr. Kasahara said in class, "Well, I hope you don't get fat when you go back to America."

On the other hand, nowhere in Japan could I get pimento cheese. I had been told I would not be able to get it here in the frozen northern reaches of the United States either, but Kroger had not one, but two (2) kinds of pimento cheese, one kind with jalapeños. (Right next to the hummus, no less.) Hooray! I may survive in Michigan after all! What's even better, it's all mine, because I know Mark won't eat it. Mine, all mine.

Wednesday, September 03, 2003

Weekend Report
And now it's time for the weekend report. Oooh, aaah. Right, so what did Dana do for her Labor Day holiday weekend?

She went to Madison! Yay, Madison! Madison is really a very nice city, which I actually visited way back last summer while I was at Beloit for Japanese classes, and the downtown area is starting to look familiar to me already. The excellent thing about Madison now is that I actually know people there. Many of my favorite Grinnellians have pooled in the northern midwest, here in Michigan (me, Mark, Heather, Matt, Sarah, Jennie, etc.), in Chicago, and in Madison (Ann, Mikey, Pam.) So, because Heather needed to pick up some things she had left in Madison last year, and we had this convenient three-day weekend, she got me and Matt, and not incidentally, Matt's family's very large car, to take the trip with her.

The one truly unfortunate thing about Madison is that it is on the other side of Chicago from here. Oh, sure, on a map, it looks like Michigan and Wisconsin are right next to each other, but in reality, that stupid lake makes it a total pain in the rear to drive from one state to the next. For those of you who have not experienced the joy of driving from Michigan to Wisconsin, allow me to enlighten you. The drive entails going through the corner of Indiana, past the cesspool that is Gary, then on into Illinois, where one hits every single tollbooth in the entire state, with the added joy of driving straight through the middle of Chicago on the so-called "expressway," which I assure you is anything but. It takes about 7-8 hours. There is always construction. Driving to Chicago for a purpose is good. Driving around it is bad. In the words of everyone's favorite Tolkein character, "We hates it." Poor Matt deserves much sympathy for driving the whole way.

When we finally arrived in Madison, though, all was good. We got to Mikey's apartment without incident, found him, conferred about dinner plans, and then he whisked me off to Ann's, which is where I would be staying. Ann, like me, has just embarked upon her graduate career, and now lives in the part of Madison known as the "isthmus," which is really just code for "the part of Madison where none of the streets are straight and all are one way." After some confusion over whether her building was 110 North or South Hancock, we found the right one, picked up Ann and Pam, and took them back to Mikey's, from whence we went to dinner. Mmmm, pseudo-Mexican food. You can't get food like that in Japan.

After dinner, there was chatting and so forth once again at Mikey's. As I recall, there was a lot of conversation about books, which is hardly surprising in the apartment of an English major, the main feature of whose living room is bookshelves. I wish mine looked like that. Of course, Ann is a library science and history grad student, Pam is a future teacher, Matt is aiming for philosophy school eventually, and we're all print-addicted, so books are not exactly an unusual topic of conversation no matter where we find ourselves. I, of course, thought it was quite fun. We didn't ever quite solve the problem of how to teach literature and literacy in the public schools, alas. Perhaps it was too late at night.

The party broke up, though, and I went to Ann's to sleep. Supposedly sleep, I should say. Ann was my roommate for 2 years at Grinnell, we haven't seen each other in a year, you see the way this is going. Plus, I had to admire Ann's quirky little apartment. I like it. Yes, it is small. Yes, the kitchen is bizarrely arranged in the tiny little corner under the stairs going up the second floor. But it's cute and cozy, and all of her furniture is neat wooden stuff gotten from thrift stores, and it all seems very Ann. I must say, the futon couch in the living room/dining room makes a very comfortable bed, as well. Eventually, we did go to sleep because...

... the next morning we had a brunch date with Pam, who conveniently lives but a 15 minute walk away. (Another issue with the isthmus is there is absolutely nowhere to park, so once parking is found, people are reluctant to move their cars unless absolutely necessary. But I like walking.) Pam had made us blueberry-stuffed French toast, culinary experimenter that she is, from blueberries she and Ann had picked up at the farmer's market around the capitol building the day before. With the accompaniment of tea and homemade syrup, it was a most excellent repast. I showed them my pictures of Japan, we talked, we had more tea, and then Heather came by to pick up Pam so they could go visit another Dance Troupe friend in Milwaulkee.

From Pam's, Ann and I walked to the Asian market. I had the intention of finding yakisoba to make for Ann, but they were out! The horror! This would so not have happened in Japan. Totally unheard of. I was appalled. However, I did find gyoza and mochi ice cream. The man in the store gave us somewhat flawed directions to another Japanese grocery store down the street, but when we finally found it, they didn't have any either. It was a nice walk around a bit of the lake, though, so I didn't mind. When we got back to Ann's, she started showing me all her pictures from her trip to Europe last summer, which she took while I was in Beloit, getting ready to go to Japan. There were a lot of pictures, so they sort of spanned the time both before and after dinner, but they were all amazing. I'm ready for my next vacation now, thank you. Scotland, and Chartres, and Munich, and London, and, and, and...

Dinner turned out pretty well, too. The gyoza were tasty as always, if imperfectly cooked, not that it mattered. The novelty of having a stove with heat-adjustable burners sort of threw off my technique. The mochi ice cream was an experience not to be missed. Mochi ice cream is basically a small ball of ice cream surrounded by a covering of mochi, or sticky pounded rice gluten, which then gets a dusting of some coating to make it non-sticky. Ann had never had mochi before, and seeing someone try it for the first time is always funny. Mochi ice cream is even funnier because the ice cream sort of melts inside the mochi ball and it's kind of fun to play with. I think that provided the entertainment for the whole meal.

I did actually manage to get some work done while I was there, too. Ann helped by grading all the grammar pre-tests I had given the students, and then she read their self-introduction papers, which are pretty amusing. After I did my reading, though, we went back to talking, unsurprisingly. It was very good to see Ann again. The next day, however, I had to leave and come back to Michigan. Heather and Matt arrived around 10am with all of Heather's plants and her chinchilla packed in the car, and we hit the road.

Unfortunately, we hit it at a crawl. The traffic all the way from Madison through all of Wisconsin, all the way to the other side of Chicago was terrible. Our 7-8 hour drive turned into 10. And it was raining. Stupid, piddly little spitting rain, later turning into harder gray rain, all very traffic-jam enhancing. However, you can find entertainment anywhere if you look hard enough. This weekend was also the weekend of Harley Fest, so there were all sorts of bikers riding along and bikes on trailers, everywhere. As it started to rain, the bikers became more colorful as well, because they all stopped to put on their rain gear. They did not look so happy to be riding in the rain. We did find out from one biker at the gas station who the mystery concert performer had been the last night. You would never guess. Elton John. I'm not kidding. At Harley Fest. The guy said a lot of people walked out. He, however, stayed, because he likes Elton John.

Anyway, eventually we made it home, and the very next day started back to the school and work grind. Hopefully, I will be able to get back to Madison at some point, but perhaps first I might convince some people over there to come here.

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