Sunday, July 30, 2006

Wandering with Emiri, Dinner with Miyuki

My favorite view on the drive homeSorry for the long delay! Life here is good, although I miss FH. He's in San Diego for school, returning sometime in August (he's top of his class so far!) Most recently, I've been working on the cover design and book layout for a really cool writer in New England. Her book is hysterically funny, and I'm having a blast putting it together. Dad did fantastic photography in North Carolina for the cover, and an illustrator in California is doing a couple of cartoons for inside the book. Thank goodness for the Internet--most of my freelance work would be impossible without it! I managed to catch a really rotten summer cold/flu thing as well, and that put me out of commission for about a week. So the past few days I've been scrambling to catch up.

Our street!The weather is hot, but looking at the weather sites on the web, it looks as if we haven't had the heat that the US has been experiencing! It rained heavily throughout June and July, with unbelievably thick, humid haze on the days it didn't rain. I've been battling mold and mildew as a result. But for the past week or so, it's been absolutely gorgeous! Yes, the temperature has been in the high 80s and low 90s, but it's been sunny, with bright blue skies and big puffy clouds, and nowhere near the humidity we've had. I've adopted the Japanese custom of carrying an umbrella in the sun, to avoid burning and hopefully avoid more skin cancer. Most women carry parasols in the sun, and most older folks either use parasols or floppy-brimmed hats. Makes sense to me! The photo is the view down my street. This is the wide gets narrower!

I realize it's been two months now since Emiri's visit but I wanted to finish recounting our adventures while she was here. (I called her M before, but since she's blogging now as Emiri, I figure I can use that!) She arrived on a Monday, and Tuesday we spent in Kumamoto--which I already wrote about. Wednesday morning, we both slept in a little bit, exhausted from our long day and traveling to and from Kumamoto.

Once we got moving (late, of course), we drove to Arita, the porcelain capital of Japan. We found some "outlet" shops, and ended up splitting up, to look and shop each at our own speed. I found small chopstick rests in various animal shapes, and spent forever finding "just the right ones". When we got back together, Emiri had gotten a couple of small things...and had, of course, made friends! One of the shop proprietors had given her gifts of a t-shirt with the logo of one of the Arita kilns on it, and a small Chinese zodiac dish. Too cool! We drove around quite a bit more, and stopped once at a junk shop to poke around, and got a late lunch at one of the many ramen noodle shops. Basically, it was a pleasant, relaxed day, and we headed home to meet Miyuki, who was taking us to dinner.

Miyuki came in and met Emiri--and had gifts (of course!) for both of us! Miyuki's mother had gone to Kyoto, and brought back little rememberances. For me, there was a packet of fat little fan-shaped sachets that Miyuki told me were specifically to put in a woman's purse, so a whiff of sweet scent comes out when you open it. She'd also brought a little book printed with sakura flowers, for Emiri--who loves sakura flowers! (Em, I can't was a little book, wasn't it? Or was it a little purse? All I can remember is the sakura blossoms!) Emiri had brought pineapple pastries and purple sweet potato pastries for Miyuki, so we were very "Japanese" with our formal little gift exchange.

We headed out to a restaurant Miyuki had picked out for us. We drove for what seemed like miles and miles and miles, and finally pulled up at the Restaurant Dom Nisey. I'm not sure if it was supposed to be Italian or French or what, but Miyuki told us it was patronized mostly by women, as they served mostly organic, healthy, fresh foods, and "men don't like to eat what's good for them!"

The restaurant itself was quite a visual surprise. Outside was a plastic, lit-from-within Frosty the Snowman, a concrete statue of two children kissing (a la the Hummel figurines) and blue Christmas lights strung in the trees. At the front door, there was a little chair, a watering can, a bunch of lace, and tons of silk flowers...sort of an off-kilter, overdone Victorian tea room effect. It was very funny! Inside, it was sort of Italian, with creamy plaster walls, dark terra-cotta glazed tile floors, and lots of arched doorways and windows. Every table had a lacy table cloth, and mismatched floral placemats on top, and each window had different lace curtains. On the tables were little cutesy figurines of mice and swans and frogs in suits. It was all rather overwhelming!

It was a fantastic dinner though, with great conversation and really interesting food. I ordered iced coffee to drink, and it came in a globe-shaped glass, with ice piled high over the rim, and a long stirring stick of brass with a glass marble at the end. The sweetener was a clear syrup (don't know if it is cane or corn or what) and came in a round orange glass ball with a little hole in the top, and the creamer was in an orange and clear shot glass--with both creamer and sugar on a little square of mirrored glass. It was a striking presentation, but to be honest, the syrup ball and the creamer were both very awkward to pour from, and I dribbled both on the tablecloth.

Miyuki got her favorite, doria, which is an "Italian" casserole of baked short grain rice and cheese and seafood, topped with sheets of nori (seaweed). Em got a macaroni and cheese dish, which turned out to be a huge tart dish with a thin layer of penne pasta and several cheeses and (I think) little bits of ham. Miyuki knows how much I enjoy trying new foods, so she insisted I try the "ladies menu" which turned out to be a HUGE meal of eleven different little dishes, plus dessert. I was STUFFED!

In the photo, in a spiral clockwise from the upper left:

  1. a tender beef and mushroom stew with a piece of puff pastry on top
  2. a savory seafood custard with sweet red pepper
  3. a dish of unbelievable rare beef and garlic chips, with radish sprouts
  4. a piece of loquat and a piece of melon
  5. a seaweed salad with carrots
  6. a little dish of pickled cucumber and daikon radish
  7. a dish of chicken with onions, sprouts and pesto
  8. a homemade tofu salad with a very light vinaigrette
  9. Japanese rice with furikake (a sprinkle of sesame seeds, seaweed, salt and seasoning), and
  10. a single shrimp, stuffed with a seafood mousse, fried and topped with a Japanese tartar sauce.
Each dish was only about three bites, but there were so many of them! Oh, and it all began with a very fresh puree of pea soup. Whew!!! I think my favorite was the beef with the crispy garlic chips, and the homemade tofu, which did not have the chalky taste I associate with the hermetically sealed tofu one finds in American grocery stores!

Dessert was gorgeous as well. Mine came as part of the "ladies menu" I'd ordered, a little selection of different this case, a little sliver of delicately sweet sesame cheesecake, and a teeny container of kiwi sorbet, all set on a drizzle of strawberry syrup. Emiri got a dish of ice cream with fruit and a mango (or loquat??) syrup, with two tiny pink carnations as garnish. Of course, we all three shared. There was a dessert on the menu that was very specifically "For Men Only", which cracked me up! Miyuki said it was a parfait with all sorts of stuff on top, served in a big beer mug...but the chocolate was very dark and bittersweet, and "too strong for women"! The couple behind us came in just to order dessert, and the man, of course, ordered that particular dessert. So I asked (via charades) if I could take a photo. His dessert looks good, but her dessert (with the shimmery tangle of sugar threads) looks more interesting! All in all, we had a really great day.

I can't seem to ever write a short and sweet account of anything! Sorry for the hugely long letters. I'll stop here, and finish with the last day of Emiri's trip in a couple of days. (Don't worry...I've already written half of it! I just realized that this was getting really long, and I should post it now, along with photos.) To be continued!

    Thursday, July 27, 2006

    Just a Few Words

    In Japanese, I can say:

    • Do you understand English?
    • I understand a little Japanese.
    • I don't understand.
    • How are you? I'm fine, thanks!
    • I am American. Are you Japanese?
    • That's great!/It's all good!
    • Good morning/hello/good evening (various forms)
    • Thank you (various forms), excuse me, I'm so sorry, yes, no, goodbye
    • Dumb/crazy foreigner! (Used only in reference to myself--the polite thing to do here is to always denigrate oneself and praise the other person.)
    • "I am" and "You are" outright--usually it's implied. ("Nihongo ga wakarimasen" is "I don't understand Japanese," or literally "(I) Japanese understand not." Whereas "Watashi wa Americaijin desu" is "I am an American," or literally "I American is.")
    • Make a statement into a question (and make a statement ask for agreement -- adding "isn't it?" at the end. "So, desu ne?" is literally "So it is, isn't it?").
    • Turn a verb into a negative ("I don't ____," "I can't _____").
    • Various basic nouns, such as man, woman, boy, girl, dog, cat, toilet (very important!), coffee, meat, water, car, airplane, etc.
    • Various often-used Japanese words, like yama (mountain), cho (neighborhood), ebi (shrimp), sakura (plum blossom), o-nigiri (rice balls), hashi (chopsticks), etc.
    • Counting in Japanese, and the hand motions to go along with the numbers.
    • A few odd words and phrases, like "How cute/beautiful!" and "Would you like that microwaved?" (Said to me whenever I buy food at a mini-mart!)
    • Lots of words in the Japanese lexicon which are "Japanicized" English words, such as McDonalds = Ma-cu-do-na-ru-dos -- those are pretty easy to understand and remember.

    Yes, I'm trying to learn Japanese. I've mentioned a little bit about the various "alphabets" the Japanese use, and now I'm working on learning hiragana and katakana. I have workbooks, just like first grade! I'm also using a language CD in the car (when I remember to turn it on!) and have learned enough to get me around. It's a difficult language, but very beautiful, and follows its rules better than our weird English does!

    As for computer keyboards, the keys have katakana and hiragana symbols on them as well as numbers and letters. A Japanese keyboard has an extra "shift" key similar to the caps lock key, so one can hit that key to go from katakana/hiragana to romanji (required for URLs and e-mail addresses!) I don't know if there is a second key to switch between katakana and hiragana, or if they are all on the keyboard. I'll have to ask Miyuki. Typing must be very difficult to learn!!

    Smart computers and e-mail-capable electronics like cell phones and Blackberries also have a "character completion" function. One types the first symbol/syllable or two, and the completion function offers all the kanji that match those phonetics...or one can continue to just write phonetically in katakana/hiragana. My cell phone allows me to do this, but it is so different from a computer keyboard.

    More soon. I have to finish writing about Emily's visit, way back in May, and about all the experiences since then! Before this month is over, I want to be current. That gives me four days. Yikes!

    Sunday, July 09, 2006

    Ruby Slippers Held in Reserve...

    ...because it looks as if Typhoon Ewiniar would rather visit Korea and China than stop by Sasebo. So today, instead of having destructive force winds, we had sunshine and blue skies. I understand we'll have some wind and rain tonight, but nowhere near what was expected.

    Meanwhile, Fearless Husband is floating around somewhere in the South China Sea--I guess because the Powers That Be decided they didn't want to let our husbands and wives just come home, and possibly "waste" all the provisions they brought aboard in such a hurry on Thursday.

    After all, I'm sure powdered milk, powdered eggs and powdered potatoes must have a really short shelf-life.

    Frustrated? Me? Nooooooo....

    (But I did have a really wonderful day. I've got to get caught up as quickly as possible, so I can tell you all about meeting Imaemon the 14th in person! So...more ASAP, I promise!)

    Thursday, July 06, 2006

    Where's Toto?

    Well, we've got headed our way. FH was supposed to have a few more days at home before resuming normal work hours and then heading off to A School in San Diego. We think San Diego is still a go (at least as much as anything in military life can be "a go" until the moment it happens), but for now, everything else is up in the air--no pun indended!

    We woke this morning to news that all active duty sailors were being recalled to the ship, even those on leave. Tropical Storm Ewiniar has decided to grow up into Typhoon Ewiniar, and is headed our way. It's no longer aiming directly at Sasebo (at least as they are tracking it now), but it's still coming.

    I'm not worried about our home here, as we have big steel retractable storm shutters that "deploy" as easily as a sliding glass door. We're nice and high on a hill. And I've got a big Rubbermaid tote filled with candles, flashlights, batteries, a radio, rain gear, disinfectant, canned goods, etc., along with copies of all our important papers (in the case of an evacuation), a stack of books and a giant container of water. The worst that could happen here at home would really be losing power...we'll be hot and without Internet access. Not exactly a reason to panic. That is, I'm trying hard not to hyperventilate at the idea of no computer!

    But...high winds and high seas can do some serious damage to a ship tied up at the pier. So the USS Essex is set to get underway tomorrow morning, and get out of the storm's way for a few days. They'll also be out there at the ready, in case the storm hits an unprepared area, like the rural Korean villages that now seem to be in the path of the storm.

    There's absolutely no reason to worry about us, as we're all set for whatever happens. However, I thought perhaps you might hear about the storm and wonder or worry. We're just fine, other than FH being a little grumpy at losing some time off. You might want to keep those who still are in the storm's path in your thoughts and prayers though.

    Check out and for storm updates, if you are so inclined.

    More news when we have some!