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I depressed myself (and probably you) yesterday, writing some heavy, heavy stuff, so I’m going to lighten the mood by retelling a couple of Japanese stories that my parents used to tell me.
Every family has little tales and proverbs that are told and retold around the dinner table, and we were no exception. I’ll sift through them and discard the unrepeatable ones (my Dad’s) and the surreal ones (strange Japanese proverbs that made me scratch my head – like “Dumplings over flowers.” Which translated, apparently means, “Flowers may look pretty, as an offering, but dumplings are edible and filling, and therefore more useful.” OK? Hope that's clear.)
One Japanese fable I found particularly delightful as a child made me desperate to try eel, because it sounded so delicious. Here it is:
‘Once there was a poor woodcutter who lived in a tiny house next to an ‘Unagi’ (freshwater eel) shop. Every day, the woodcutter delighted in the delicious aroma of broiling eel that wafted on the breeze from the shop next door.
He could not afford to buy eel himself – he was too poor. But when he sat down with his supper – a small bowl of rice – and breathed in great gusts of savoury, smoky eel essence, he felt as if he were really feasting on the rich, oily fish, and was satisfied.
One day, the eel shopkeeper heard about his neighbour’s habit of eating his meagre dinner accompanied by the smell of eel, and he accosted him as he passed the shop.
“Oy! Woodcutter! I hear you eat your dinner whilst smelling my eels!” he challenged.
“Yes,” the woodcutter replied. “The smell of the eel as it cooks is truly delightful.”
“Hmph. Well, that’s not on!” grumbled the shopkeeper. “If you are benefitting from the cooking aromas, then you should pay for the privilege!”
The woodcutter looked surprised for a moment, but then a grin slowly spread over his face. He took a purse from his waist and emptied all the coins into his palm, while the shopkeeper looked on greedily.
“That’s more like it,” he said. “Hand it over then.”
“Oh no,” the woodcutter said gently, trickling the coins from hand to hand, making a musical tinkling sound. “If I may only benefit from the smell of your eels, then I will pay you with the sound of my money.”’
When I heard this story for the first time, it made my stomach rumble, and I was convinced that I would love eel. True enough - grilled freshwater eel, basted with a sweet soy sauce glaze, and served on steaming white rice is one of the most mouth-watering Japanese delicacies.
Another amusing tale is one about the peasants visiting their feudal lord. (I know. Sounds hilarious)
‘There once was a village, ruled by a strict but fair lord. The peasants who grew rice and cultivated the land worked very hard, and they were a close knit community.
One day, the workers received an invitation to dine with their lord, as a reward for their labours.
Although the peasants were honoured, they were most apprehensive about the visit. They had no idea how to behave, what to wear or how to talk to such an exalted man. In the days preceding the event, they talked about nothing else – bemoaning their nerves, fussing about their ragged clothes and wondering what they would be served at dinner.
One of the older members of the community took matters in hand and calmed the villagers down.
“Do not fuss so!” he said. “Observing the correct etiquette is not so hard. All you need to do is copy whatever the lord does. Bow when he bows. Drink when he drinks. Eat when he eats. If you follow that one rule, you will be fine.”
The villagers were grateful to receive his advice, and finally it was the night of the big event.
They entered the lord’s house, bowing humbly, utterly overawed by the splendid grandeur of his home. No one spoke much, preferring to sit politely and keep out of trouble.
When the meal was served, the villagers looked anxiously at each other.
“Remember to do as our lord does,” whispered one of the men.
When the lord picked up his sake cup, all the villagers dived to pick up their cups and drink, mirroring his every move. The lord looked quizzically at them.
When the lord picked up his chopsticks, the villagers also picked up theirs, all the while watching him carefully – eyes round with concentration.
“Oden!” exclaimed the lord, looking into his bowl. (Oden is a simmered stew of fishcakes and vegetables). “My favourite!”
“Oden!” chorused the villagers. “Our favourite!”
The lord went to pick up a round satoimo (potato-like root, called taro or eddoes), but – alas – it was slippery; it fell from his chopsticks and dropped to the floor.
Immediately the villagers picked up their eddoes, and threw them on the floor, until the room was awash with bouncing potatoes.’
My dad had a comical streak, and was pretty good at telling stories. I always laughed when he told that one.
To be fair, eddoes are INCREDIBLY hard to pick up with chopsticks – even for a chopstick ninja. When they are simmered for a long time, they become quite slimy. I know that sounds unappetising, but I find them very tasty. They have a dense, sticky texture that is filling and satisfying to eat. Japanese people love slimy, slippery textures – like natto, yam, okra, jelly and raw egg. I have found eddoes in Morrisons, and they often have them in Chinese supermarkets. I know they look like elderly horse droppings, but they are surprisingly good. You eat them like potatoes – peel off the hairy skin, and boil, roast or mash. Why not try them?
I dare you.
As the years pass, I begin to feel the weight of everything I don’t know about Japan, pressing down on me.
Living with two Japanese parents as I did, I obviously absorbed some Japanese culture the way children do – by osmosis, and by listening to stories and anecdotes. But I am aware of a very large gap in my knowledge.
When we first started going to Japanese club, 3 or 4 years ago, I realised that there were so many songs, games and traditions that I wasn’t familiar with – that I’m learning for the first time as an adult.
It brings a sense of melancholy and panic – what will happen to my heritage when my children are grown up, have children of their own, and I’m the only vestige of 'Japaneseness' left in my family? Where will the stories, knowledge and memories go? Will they disappear into a pitiless fog of oblivion, never to return?
I suppose that is the nature of migration. We leave our native shores, and make homes on the opposite side of the globe; we learn so much, adopt new ways – language, culture, cuisine, education, and sometimes even religion – but we lose little bits of ourselves on the way. It’s hard for me to know what I’ve lost – how can I know when I never had them in the first place? But I believe there is a blueprint buried inside, a file with ancestral imprints which I just can’t access, like a broken memory stick, and it senses the slow drip of history bleeding away.
I need to speak to my relatives. Ask more questions. Find out as much as I can before it’s too late. The bitter truth of human nature is that we often don’t realise what we have until it is gone.
I spent so much of my life wishing that I was not Japanese. I railed against it – I was angry and frustrated with the cards I’d been dealt. I truly believed that I would have been more confident, more successful, more carefree if I hadn’t had this disability – the curse of being a foreigner. The different one. The funny-looking one.
Of course, it says a lot of (uncomplimentary) things about my character, that I saw myself as disabled and cursed. I laid down foundations full of negativity and self-hate, but in doing so, doomed the bedrock of my metaphorical house to fundamental cracks. Because I loved being Japanese too. I loved it desperately. That buried genetic memory of Japan cried out every day for recognition.
I did have to deal with racial insults and teasing, as a young child, and I suppose I shouldn’t be too hard on my 5 year old self for finding this distressing and allowing it to stunt my social development. When I recently watched a nature programme, and observed the adult salmon swimming laboriously against the current to reach their spawning ground, sometimes having to leap crazy distances up waterfalls, I felt a glimmer of recognition.
That’s how my whole life felt – all the time. As if I was swimming against the current. It just made me so tired. I rarely felt as if I could relax – I was always presenting a contrived, manufactured face. I changed, transformed, mutated – a human chameleon – until I completely lost my true self.
Everyone has an identity crisis, right? It’s a coming-of-age ritual. Except mine has been going on for such a long time, that you could describe my mental state as being in a perpetual state of crisis.
It is only very recently that I have started to understand the nature of this crisis – and it all stems from this love/hate relationship with who I am – with a part of me that I cannot detach, cannot change.
I can’t turn my back on my Japaneseness. East and West must coexist within me without tearing me apart, and it’s up to me to make that work. I can’t continue to blame other people or circumstances for the anguish I’ve suffered, because now I have a choice. I’m not a child anymore. I’ve spent my entire life running away and wishing things were different, instead of accepting that this dichotomy is actually my USP. I have to take my head out of the sand and CHOOSE to see the positive aspects of my situation.
Better late than never.
Now I understand that, yes, I had some difficulties at school. It was frustrating to be bright and capable and full of ideas, but feel hampered by a lack of confidence and a terror of drawing more attention to myself than I already was. But EVERYONE has their own story. Being a foreigner was my story, but everyone struggles with something. My naivety was believing that, if I’d been British and white, I wouldn’t have had any problems.
Many, many years ago, I knew a boy who had an operation to pin his ears back because he was constantly teased. It made me sad, because he was only 7 years old. Also, I knew that the shape of his ears wasn’t the reason he was teased. It was what the other children latched on to, but it wasn’t the reason. He was teased because he was fussy, annoying and obstinate. He was teased because he cared what everyone else thought of him. He was teased because his lack of confidence and desire for acceptance shone from his whole body like a neon beacon. The fact he was compromising himself – having a surgeon cut into his head - in an attempt to appease some cruel, thoughtless children would probably exacerbate the teasing, if anything.
In effect, I was that boy too. I’ve been trying so hard to adapt to my surroundings that my personality got fed up of wearing masks and costumes, of being crushed into strange shapes, and retreated to a deep dark corner to wait it out. Why would I do that to myself?
It’s been a long process, but I’m finally seeing a way I can heal this rift in my soul, stitch all these broken components together… and it’s quite simple. Instead of feeling rage and injustice at the things I can’t change, I’m going to choose to accept them. I’m going to choose to be kinder to myself, and nurture pride in the elements that make me unique. Even telling the world how I feel is part of that process, because I’ve just realised I no longer feel ashamed.
I don't have to choose between East and West - I can simply choose who I want to be in every minute of every day. We all can.
It is often said that people who hoard items, or find it difficult to let go of things they don’t need, have suffered the trauma of ‘need’ in their pasts – war, hunger, poverty – and that fear of ‘not enough’ has wired them differently.
It is easy to understand why someone who never had enough to eat as a child, might become an overeater as an adult. Easy to see why someone who cowered in rubble from a rain of bombs might need to lock him/herself away in a fortress-like house, surrounded with emergency provisions, even when circumstances have improved.
I have known neither war nor poverty. I am still investigating my inability to let things go – my need to keep everything I have ever owned.
It is something to do with the way I see the world. To me, objects are not merely things. If they are mine, then they are MY things, and that makes them special.
A very early memory, from when we still lived in Denmark, might provide a clue to the way I’m wired…
I had accompanied my mother to a hairdressing salon; I sat on a little black stool, watching and waiting as she had her hair cut. This was very exciting and I remember loving the attention from the staff in the shop, and delighting in their exclamations of how cute I was. (I really was cute, when I was 2 years old.)
Buoyed by the compliments, I toddled out of the shop with my newly coiffed mother and we returned home. It wasn’t till much later that I realised I’d lost my woolly hat – an amazingly 70s concoction of purple and orange fluffiness – and that it was probably still hanging from the hat stand at the hairdressers.
I immediately burst into tears. My mother said, “Well, that’s what happens if you don’t look after your possessions.”
I was inconsolable for a long time – long enough that my parents lost all patience with me. But what I couldn’t explain to them was that I was not crying because I didn’t have the hat anymore.
I was crying because the hat didn’t have ME.
I kept thinking of my lovely, fluffy hat – hand knitted by one of my mother’s friends – sitting in the shop, bereft and lonely, thinking that I had abandoned it. That’s what I couldn’t bear – that my hat would never know that it was an accident; would never know how sorry I was. I grieved for quite a long time. In fact, I’m probably still grieving – after all, who on earth remembers losing a hat at 2? That’s not normal, is it?
And this is the sad, painful process I go through every time something breaks, is lost, thrown away or given away. Even now – as a sensible (ish) adult.
Bizarrely, I married someone who is the polar opposite. If something is no longer useful, looks past its best or bores him, Hubby immediately chucks it away without thinking twice. You can imagine that he now has to have his clear-outs when I’m not looking, even if it’s his own stuff.
I once rescued a whole batch of ties and shirts he’d consigned to charity. When he pointed out that I don’t WEAR ties or shirts (especially shirts big enough for two of me), I made a wall hanging of little stuffed folk birds and hearts made out of his ties and shirts, just to show him how useful they were. #logic
One day, my mother-in-law gave me a book called ‘The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up’ by Marie Kondo.
I stuck it on the shelf without even opening it, and there it stayed till last summer.
I was a couple of weeks away from the end of the summer holidays and was suffering the usual back-to-school melancholy. I realised that my side of the bedroom, my ‘studio’ and desk were so crammed with crap that I had basically obstructed my ability to live. How was I supposed to do any school work, or relax in my bedroom when there wasn’t room to move? When items I should have dealt with months ago stared me accusingly in the face everywhere I went?
I pulled Marie Kondo’s book off the shelf and began to read. Before I’d even reached the third chapter, I was fired with enthusiasm and I rushed upstairs with several bin bags, determined to tackle my wardrobe – a wardrobe which was so full that I couldn’t put anything inside it or get anything out.
Dealing with the clothes was actually quite easy. Kondo says if you hold it in your hands and the item of clothing doesn’t give you joy, then you get rid of it. This sounds pretty batty, but I could see what she meant. I realised I had LOADS of clothes that I never wear, and I also realised, on reflection, that there was a good reason I never wore any of them.
Some were too big, but I’d kept them in case I put on weight. Talk about pessimism.
Some were too small, but I kept telling myself I would lose weight and fit into them one day. Mixed messages there. And who wants to keep a pair of trousers that screams, “You’re a FAILURE!” at you every time you open the drawer?
Some didn’t reflect the person I was now. I’d bought them when I was less confident, more mumsy, frumpy even.
Some were hand-me-downs that I kept out of gratitude. But they didn’t suit me, and I hadn’t chosen them in the first place.
Some were perfectly serviceable, in good condition and fit me reasonably well. But did I want to wear something which could only boast ‘reasonable serviceability’ as its overriding quality? Would that help me to go out into the world that day and be the best version of me? Nope. Out they went.
Within an hour, I had seven huge bags of clothes to be taken to charity shops. I could almost hear the grinding and grating of rock, as one of the obstructions in my life began to roll away.
The reason Marie Kondo had managed to get my attention and break through my entrenched scepticism regarding self-help tidying books was a strange one.
She anthropomorphises objects too. (Maybe it’s a Japanese thing…) She believes that everything she owns is sentient, to a certain degree. Not because she’s crazy or because inanimate objects have souls… but because they are HER possessions, and therefore her interactions with them generate energy.
This makes sense if you think about it. You will have an opinion, subconscious or otherwise, on EVERYTHING you own – ranging from love, hate, indifference, irritation and anything in between. If you have too many objects surrounding you – especially ones you dislike, or feel guilty or sad about – your possessions start defining YOU, instead of the other way around.
I realised that stuffing a drawer with unwanted items and then avoiding the drawer resentfully (because the darn thing doesn’t open/close properly) is actually pretty unfair on the drawer and all the squashed items inside that never see the light of day any more. I started going through each drawer, and reassigning items that could have a new lease of life with someone else, and throwing away items that needed to be released from their unhappy, overstretched existences.
It’s basically the plot of Toy Story.
So after that preachy little blog post, you’d expect my house to be an airy, minimalist expanse of uncluttered space, tastefully accented with designer items that bring me much joy. Right?
Well, let’s just say it’s a work in progress…
It’s cold and dark; the wind is blowing a gale outside. A couple of candles are throwing their unreliable light over the desk, and dusk is deepening - the perfect conditions for a discussion about the supernatural…
As a child, I always had a hard time getting to sleep because my imagination was cunningly lively in the dark, and because I had a firm conviction that there was a lot more going on in our universe than the ordinary eye could see.
However, I really am not a tree-hugging, crystal-clutching, ghost-preaching evangelist. I think a lot of phenomena in our lives are unexplained – and why wouldn’t they be? Why should we, the human race, be so arrogant as to believe everything we experience must be quantifiable and justifiable and validated by science or religion – simply because we think the universe exists for the sole purpose of our habitation?
I LIKE that there are inexplicable events in our lives. It’s exciting. It reminds us that there might be more to existence than bills, commuting, fast food, politics and war.
When I was 12 years old, our English teacher asked us to research, document and deliver a 3 minute speech on a subject of our choice. We had several weeks to complete this task, and I immediately chose to investigate ‘The Paranormal’.
I went to the library and borrowed as many books as I could find on the subject, scared myself silly by reading them cover to cover in the middle of the night, and worked feverishly until the day of the speeches, haunted by some of the anecdotes – some of them all the more chilling for their matter-of-fact, pragmatic reporting style.
As it happens, I discovered that I couldn’t deliver a speech to save my life – I had horrendous stage fright, and a complete memory blank – but the written part of the project was thorough and quite interesting. I probably still have it in the attic somewhere.
In the interests of research, I had asked family members and friends whether they could share any first-hand anecdotes about strange or eerie happenings, and I was amazed to find that almost EVERYONE had a tale to tell.
I, too, have a tale to tell. I can guarantee it is not hyped-up, adrenalin-fuelled whimsy… because at the time, I didn’t even realise what I was seeing.
Around the time I was doing A levels, I had a piano teacher who lived in London, a good hour away from our house. Usually, my mother would drive me to his house, and wait in the lounge while I had my lesson in the music room. On this occasion, we were a couple of minutes early and I walked into the lounge followed closely by my mother. I noted that an old lady in a green dress was sitting on the sofa, assumed that she was waiting for a student, and therefore went to sit down to wait until my allotted time.
My piano teacher called me from the hallway, and said I could go straight through to the music room. I said goodbye to my mother, who had taken a seat opposite the old lady, went back out into the hall, and entered the music room where my teacher was waiting for me.
As always, it was a challenging and stimulating lesson, and I was quite enthused in the car on the way home, discussing the new pieces that I was learning with my teacher. I felt like I was finally climbing out of a depressing pit, and making some progress.
Suddenly I remembered the woman.
“Who was the old lady in the lounge?” I asked conversationally.
“The woman on the sofa…” I repeated. “She obviously wasn’t waiting for anyone, because my teacher sent me straight into the music room.”
My mother turned her head towards me, and the whites of her eyes seemed to be floating in her head, making my skin prickle with anticipated terror.
“WHAT?? There wasn’t anyone in the lounge!”
We stared at each other, open mouthed in horror, for a moment, and then babbled and laughed hysterically for a few minutes until we managed to get a grip. Turns out, the lounge, AS PERCEIVED BY MY MOTHER, was completely empty when we arrived at my teacher’s house; but I definitely saw a lady in a green dress sitting on the sofa. She had curly white hair, pink-rimmed thick glasses, and looked to be in her 70s.
There is no point trying to explain that one away. If I hadn’t asked my mother about her in the car, I would never have known that my mother hadn’t even seen her, and that would have been the end of it. Makes me wonder how many people I see that other people don’t see on a day to day basis.
Eek. Sounds like the basis for a good film.
Pets and small children often make me wonder if they can see a different plane of existence to the rest of us. My cats regularly seem to notice things – moving things – that they follow with their eyes, that are invisible to me. Mind you, they’re both bonkers; they chase ‘greeblings’ at witching hour, spang high into the air when the fridge makes a clicking sound, and crash into items of furniture at high speeds – so it’s hard to take their 6th sense seriously.
However, my son was a very perceptive, studious little boy – even as a baby. He had some early words at 12 months – door, more, music, and his favourite… man. We first realised he was saying ‘man’ when he pointed vigorously at a picture of the Fat Controller, repeatedly saying, “Man, man, man!”
His bedtime routine was lovely and gentle. He’d have a bath, get changed into a fresh vest and babygrow, and after I’d read him a story, we’d sit together on the rocking chair as he had his last milk of the day. Usually, he’d be so drowsy by the end of his feed, that his eye-lids would be drooping. Sometimes he even fell asleep – though this state would never last the 2 foot journey to his cot.
On one occasion, he was having his feed, but instead of disconnecting slowly from the world and spacing out as he usually did, he was oddly alert. His eyes were fixed steadily on a spot to the right of our rocking chair. To my great surprise, he suddenly spat out the teat, his face crinkled into a huge grin, and then he laughed. My son didn’t laugh very often. As I’ve mentioned before, he was thoughtful and quiet. My spine started to tighten, and I felt distinctly uneasy.
Then my son sat up straight, laughed again, and turned his head to look at me. He pointed to the right of my chair.
“Man!” he said, with a dimpling smile, continuing to point at that spot. “Man, man!”
My skin practically crawled right off my body.
I scooped my baby up, bottle and all, and lunged towards the door in one fluid movement, hastening downstairs to sit in a different room, my son looking at me with bright curiosity. Hubby wasn’t at home. I was alone with my son.
But after a little while, I went back upstairs. After all, I’d felt no sense of malice or unpleasantness. In fact, it must have been a presence so benign that my son had smiled and laughed. I rather trust my ‘feelings’ about such things (there are houses that simply being in have made me feel ill and crushed), so Baby went to bed, and that was that.
I am researching for a blog post about Japanese ghosts – because, wouldn’t you know, they have their own cultural haunting style, completely different from Western phantoms.
A good friend of mine is a professional investigator of paranormal phenomena – you might be interested in his blog. I’ll put the links down below. It’s well worth a read, even if his stories can’t compete with the fact our old house was haunted by a jolly Fat Controller.
Here’s a little cultural blog for the weekend. Might even come in handy when ordering that takeaway later…
Everyone knows that Japanese people use chopsticks to eat their food. Let me tell you why chopsticks are so cool:
1. You only need one hand
2. Manipulating your hand and fingers in this way on a thrice daily basis is good for your heart
3. As they are made from wood, they don’t taint food – especially raw fish or food with a high acid content.
4. They encourage excellent hand-eye coordination and precision
5. Chopsticks are multipurpose utensils – you can eat with them, stir-fry, deep-fry, whisk and detangle noodles with them. A true chopstick master can even separate a raw egg yolk from its white, WITHOUT BREAKING THE YOLK. (*bows modestly. Yes, I can. Thank you very much.)
6. The very nature of their engineering prevents you from shovelling large quantities of food into your mouth in one go, thus allowing you to appreciate the flavours and textures of your meal.
7. Chopsticks can be beautiful works of art, and can have chopstick rests to match – from whimsical and cute, to elaborate and elegant.
8. They are light, take up very little space and are eminently portable – perfect for those bento box picnics.
Anyone can learn to use them – both my kids were using chopsticks confidently by the time they were 3 years old. Japanese food really does taste better when chopsticks are used.
Of course, we all have chopstick disaster stories (well, I don’t personally, but I do by association).
The first time I took Hubby (who was Boyfriend then) to a Chinese restaurant, we were still students, and going out for meals was a huge luxury. He confessed he’d never been to a proper Chinese restaurant or used chopsticks properly. However, he was a quick learner, and seemed to have grasped the basics by the second course.
He was wrestling with a portion of stir-fried aubergine with ginger and garlic, when his two chopsticks suddenly crossed over with a fair amount of force, catapulting aubergine and onion haphazardly through the air, which landed with a meaty splat on another diner’s table. Oops.
Still, he is better with them than his poor father. When I said ‘anyone can learn to use them’, I meant ‘anyone except my father in law’. If I don’t provide a fork or spoon with our meals, Pa-in-Law would definitely go hungry. His excuse is his left-handedness, but that doesn’t wash, as my son is also left-handed.
Now, while I absolutely advocate chopstick use around the globe, there are a few little taboos associated with chopsticks – at least, in Japan.
1. Never stab things with them – not even food.
2. Don’t use them to point at people
3. Don’t suck on them
4. Don’t separate them (ie. Don’t put one in the left hand and one in the right)
5. Don’t tap them on things – they are not drum sticks
6. Don’t stick your chopsticks into the communal plate – in other words, if there is a plate of food in the middle of the table, use the given serving spoon/fork/chopsticks to serve yourself, not your own chopsticks, although this rule is sometimes relaxed if only family members are present.
7. Don’t stick them into a bowl of rice like a flag in a sandcastle.
8. Here’s the big one….. Never, NEVER pick up, or even TOUCH, another piece of food that someone else is touching or holding with their chopsticks.
I see people doing this at restaurants and it actually gives me goosebumps, and makes me shudder.
When I was a little girl, I remember my mother dropping a slice of meat near my plate. As she struggled to fasten onto the slippery morsel, I went to helpfully add my chopsticks to hers to double the effort, as I saw it.
She shrieked. Actually shrieked. I jumped back in shock, and wondered what had happened.
“Never do that again!” she said. “You must never touch chopsticks with someone else’s chopsticks, or even take food from the same dish that someone else is helping themselves to at the same time!”
Sheesh, I thought. What an overreaction…
However, now I know the REASON behind it, I also shriek when my kids go to touch chopsticks.
I will talk you through a typical Japanese funeral. (I know it seems like a pointless digression, but bear with me.)
People are cremated when they pass away – no one in Japan is ever buried as they are. In fact, it’s against the law. The family and friends of the deceased will attend a ceremony in an incense-filled room, listen to the priest’s prayers, and then then come to the shrine’s ‘altar’ to pay their respects individually, by pinching flakes of aromatic wood chips and sprinkling them on a burner and clapping their hands together.
Then the friends and family make their way to the crematorium where the remains of the deceased will be tactfully presented to the closest relatives. Now, I always imagined when people said ‘ashes’ that they meant a fine, grey powder. This may be true of western cremations, but Japanese cremations leave some clearly definable bones. As a final act of respect, the closest relatives will pick up the bones with long chopstick-like implements – TOGETHER – to symbolise the unity of the family’s farewell; they transfer these bones carefully with the chopsticks to the urn.
This is the ONLY time chopsticks touch each other, or pick up items with another helper, so you can see what a taboo it is to do this at the dinner table.
Similarly, Taboo Number 7 – ‘don’t stick chopsticks into a bowl of rice’ – arises from the tradition of serving rice in this manner to one’s ancestors at the shrine’s altar. Mixing death with dinner time tends to be a no-no.
If you’ve never tried using chopsticks before, have a go! If you already can, use them more often! Remember, you don’t have to eat solely East Asian food with chopsticks – I like to eat salad with them; I know someone who eats Wotsits with them, to avoid cheesy, smelly fingers. (My plan would involve NOT eating Wotsits in the first place.)
If nothing else, they make for great Summer Fayre stall game – simply tip a bumper bag of M&Ms onto a plate; provide a paper cup and a pair of chopsticks, and give the intrepid customer 30 seconds to pick up as many sweets as possible with the chopsticks. Any sweets in the cup after 30 seconds, they can keep.
And if you really can’t use them, then chopsticks make a great diet accessory. Slightly frustrating, but you WILL lose weight…
I’ve always been so envious of those who can get ready for bed, lie down…and simply fall asleep.
Why do they call it ‘falling’ asleep?? Falling is easy. And for me, sleeping is anything BUT easy.
This tends to go in phases. Sometimes I’ll be fine for a few months, but I can never take sleep for granted. Because there’ll be times when I lie awake for hours and hours, panicking about the impending dawn, and finally fall asleep just as everyone else is waking up.
I’m tired today. Tired because, although I got to bed at a reasonable hour, and I’d been jaw-achingly sleepy all day, as soon as I pulled the duvet up to my chin, my heart sank – I knew I wasn’t going to be able to sleep. Probably for hours. Eventually though, I did finally start dropping off. I had enough consciousness left to feel that blessed relief, that little mental fist-pump, “Yay! I’m falling asleep…”
At that moment, there was a heart-stoppingly loud crash from the en-suite. The bl**dy toilet roll holder had fallen off the wall again.
And that was it. My eyes were wide open. I’d been there so long, the room didn’t even look dark anymore, and my head was filled with the clamour of pointless thoughts that whirled and paraded self-importantly, in tandem with my inner clock counting down the minutes left till dawn.
About 8 years ago, the insomnia had reached unbearably relentless levels. Having young children obviously messed with my already fragile sleep routine, and I just couldn’t switch my brain off. It was probably a symptom of the PND and PTSD that I mentioned before.
I eventually caved and went to see my doctor, who prescribed some apparently MILD sleeping pills.
Here’s what happened…
I took a pill before bed, as directed, and was asleep within the hour, although there wasn’t that drowsy, pleasant sense of ‘dropping off’ – just a sudden blackness. Gradually, within the blackness, tiny dots of colour coalesced into the forms of small, gnome-like men. I realised the men had metal mallets and were rhythmically digging them into my brain matter – which would explain the terrible pain in my head. I found them funny though. They had such little red and green legs. Hilarious.
I laughed and laughed, until the echoey sound reverberating against the back drop of the tinny mallet strikes began to freak me out. I couldn’t stop laughing though. There was something gut-bustingly funny about realising that the red and green men had been responsible for my insomnia all along.
As often happens when one laughs too much, I became aware that I needed the toilet.
I tried to move, but I was paralysed. I was awake. Obviously, I was awake, because I could see the gnomes and hear them, but I couldn’t move. This lasted a long time, until I had relearned how to send a signal from my brain to my nervous system.
I dragged myself up to a sitting position, knocking a cup off the bedside table.
“Shhhhh!” I whispered to the table.
15 minutes later I managed to haul myself to my feet, but my feet seemed to have turned into blocks of rubber. How curious. I didn’t have any toes. I picked up each block of rubber in turn, stomping unevenly out of the bedroom and on to the landing.
Funny. I couldn’t find the bathroom. I was surprised to find the landing was so LONG. When had it grown so goddam long?? It seemed like a good time to stop and sing a rather beautiful rendition of a song. Can’t remember the words, but it doesn’t matter in the least.
I forgot why I was there.
This is where Hubby found me, lurching drunkenly from side to side – literally bouncing off the walls. It was a good thing we still kept the stair gate shut at the top of the stairs, otherwise I may well have taken a dive down to the bottom. I don’t like to ask whether he had to help me go to the loo – some things are probably better forgotten - but he definitely had to help me back to bed, where I collapsed and listened to the chatter of gnomes for the rest of the night.
Jeez. I don’t do drugs, but I imagine that was a pretty decent imitation of a trip.
Needless to say, I hid the pills and kept them for special occasions.
I never took another one again – I couldn’t imagine the shame of a headstone that read, “Died plunging down the stairs, singing tunelessly, whilst drunk as a skunk on a sleeping pill.”
These days I make do with meditation and it really does help. Meditating can induce a sleep-like state which is surprisingly refreshing, even if it only lasts a few minutes. I find that if I can meditate during the day, I’m more likely to sleep well at night (but I don’t want to jinx it by saying that out loud). However, I’m just as likely to be found on the sofa at 2am, watching Grey’s Anatomy and stuffing popcorn in my mouth; avoiding going to bed is a (stupid) way of avoiding not being able to sleep.
If anyone has a fail-safe way of falling asleep at night that doesn’t involve alcohol, drugs or whale music, please do let me know. x
Three snowdrops have bravely shown their faces in the garden – somewhere between the improvised compost heap, and the stinky bit where all the neighbours’ chuffing cats do their business.
It reminded me that, with temperatures slowly creeping up, and February coming to its always unexpectedly early end, it might soon be time for my annual Great Garden Planning Event.
Now, I’ve always been a neglectful and lazy gardener, despite being born to an avid garden lover. It’s a shame, because I have no objection to flowers (apart from the fact they make me sneeze), I enjoy looking at a green lawn and neatly trimmed shrubbery. I understand, academically, that a good garden is an art form in itself – albeit on an unpredictable canvas; but it doesn’t stir my blood. Basically, I can’t get past the fact that I might get dirty. And there are spiders.
About 10 years ago, I experienced a revelation. I’m surprised it took so long, given that my world revolves around food. Anyway, I realised that I loved growing plants, as long as they were edible!
When I realised how easy it was to grow tomatoes, beans, peas, potatoes and herbs, I dived into gardening like a pig into mud. I wallowed in packets of seeds, tiny pots, labels, string and cheap propagators from Wilko.
At the time, we lived in a Victorian terraced house, with a very narrow, small, bumpy back garden, that sloped quite steeply down from the house. Hubby and Pa in Law had built a decked area off the back door that was alarmingly high, and had the feel of a beached ship’s deck.
There was room for a few pots on the deck, and a few pots around the side and front of the house. I decided I was a ‘container gardener’. I probably bought hundreds of pounds worth of pots and compost, revelling in the few pounds I’d save when I didn’t have to buy a packet of salad leaves or tub of tomatoes in a few months time…
I was like a kid in a sweet shop. I think I planted – from seed – climbing beans, broad beans, two types of peas, three types of tomatoes, aubergines, peppers, radishes, swiss chard, lettuce, courgettes and pumpkins. (Who in their right mind would plant courgettes and pumpkins in such a tiny garden??) I bought one of those tiny zip-up plastic greenhouses from Wilko, laid all the little pots out on the rickety shelves, and then waited.
And waited and waited and waited.
I checked them every day. Sometimes three times a day. I was so excited, that I furtively poked the soil and had a little peek to see if the roots and shoots were forming. (Yes, I now know I probably killed them.) I did begin to wonder if I was cut out for this kind of hobby.
Eventually though, everything grew. Yes, EVERYTHING! I had more baby plants than I knew what to do with, but I couldn’t throw any away – that would be heartless. Every single cm of space in the garden was crammed with grow bags and pots. It would take me about half an hour every morning to go around with a stupidly small watering can, because we didn’t have a hose (or a big watering can).
The plants began to fruit. I was jumping up and down with anticipation.
Then I heard that the weather was going to turn cold for a few days. I researched what I should do, and decided to put the aubergines, which had just started to develop beautiful striped lilac fruit, and the tomatoes back in the tiny greenhouse until the weather improved.
The weather was indeed horrendous for a few days. Our house had a South West facing garden, and was very exposed. It could get swelteringly hot in the sun, or ridiculously windy and rainy on blustery days.
After the bad spell passed, I went into the garden to check on the aubergines, peppers and tomatoes…only to find the little greenhouse wasn’t there. I stared blankly at the space where it should have been.
Eventually I found it. To my immense rage, I discovered the wind had violently blown the whole thing down to the bottom of the garden, where it lay in pathetic dishevelment amongst the corpses of promising young plants, splintered pots and spilled soil.
As it happened, I managed to save many of the plants, but I was so discouraged by this offensive blow from Mother Nature, that I lost heart a little. The tomatoes grew out of control, the lettuce bolted, the runner beans ran wild. Just when everything had finally come to fruition and was ready to pick and eat, I lost interest.
That’s not to say I didn’t eat ANY of the produce. We did. And it was fantastic to see the kids plucking peas off the plant, splitting the pods and eating the peas raw like smarties; the tomatoes were eye-poppingly sweet and delicious; and I did deal with the glut of green tomatoes by making chutney, chucking in all the rest of the produce that had seen better days.
The passion was gone though. I decided that I didn’t have what it takes to be a gardener. I wasn’t able to deal with problems rationally and calmly. I took every slug, snail, cat poo, heavy rain and greenhouse-hurling tornado personally – ranting and raving, and causing dangerous blood pressure spikes.
So I packed away the propagators, little pots and labels, and put them in the shed – just in case – and didn’t give gardening another thought all winter.
However, to my surprise, when spring finally arrived the following year, I felt suffused with renewed enthusiasm. I stood in the doorway of the spidery shed, noted that the propagators and pots were a bit grubby and covered in spider webs…and bought brand new ones from Wilko, much to Hubby’s frustration. And we went through the WHOLE sorry process again. It’s like the appearance of daffodils, the mating of birds, the unfurling of new leaves… Spring makes me want to garden, year after year. But I never get any better at it.
Yesterday I stood on the patio in our back garden (the garden we MOVED HOUSE for), and I noted with mild embarrassment that everything in the pots is dead. Everything. I peered into the expensive vegetable-trug-on-legs that I bought from Blooms a couple of years ago, and although there’s some rather healthy-looking swiss chard and mizuna in there, I’m not sure it should be consumed, given that it seems to be fertilised with large quantities of cat poo.
However, the air is mild, the frosts have abated, and the three snowdrops have made their appearance. It's time to start planning the vegetable garden again.
Up until now, I think my posts have been pretty inoffensive. Thought I’d better ease myself gradually into this blogging business…
But today’s subject might be a little contentious. Oooh…
Hands up those who are genuinely tidy people…
Hands up those who can’t cope with clutter…
Hands up those who can cope with clutter, but can’t deal with a lack of hygiene…
I put my hand up for the last one only. Hubby would put his hand up for the first two. I mean, why even get married?
Seriously, I think some of the most tension-filled arguments between us have been regarding our completely different stances on tidying and cleaning.
I don’t LIKE tidying up or cleaning. Tidying up is for when something is FINISHED. As I love starting things, but not finishing them, the house is full of trails which clearly demonstrate which projects I’ve busied myself with over the last few months (OK, years) – a box full of origami modules that I WILL glue together one day; about 19 crochet flowers that WILL be made into a beautiful blanket; a pile of donated sheet music that I WILL get around to sorting out soon; several heaps of clothes – a charity pile, a give-to-friend’s-son pile, a give-to-friend’s-daughter pile, and a might-wear-if-I-lose-5kg pile.
You get the picture. And I can see how annoying that must be, but at the same time – where’s the fire? Why put deadlines on everything? And maybe I’m comfortable because clutter means character. Quite clearly my clutter indicates that I am creative, artistic, a lover of books, a musician…and a bit of a hoarder. So what?
It’s probably genetic anyway. Many Japanese people live amongst piles of clutter, simply because their homes are so small. They are expected to live in spaces that British people would consider about right for a medium sized bathroom. Of course, I KNOW I don’t have this excuse, but how can I fight my genes?
However – and this is also probably genetic – I have a special ability to SEE GERMS! They’re everywhere. They’re multiplying by the trillion, even as we speak. I have some stringent hygiene rules for our house and all its occupants…and I find that people who CAN’T see germs don’t see the urgency of handwashing, surface sterilising, chopping board segregation, shoe removal and keeping rucksacks off the table.
My grandmother was famously conscientious when it came to hygiene. If we bought cans of drink from a vending machine (and in Japan, we definitely did buy drinks from vending machines – it’s fun!) we had to carry them home and she would wash them in boiling water before we could apply our mouths to them. Is that not sensible though? How do we know what conditions those drinks were kept in before being loaded into the machines? How do we know they weren’t stacked in a rat-infested warehouse?
Anyway, moving on, let’s address the issue of cleaning. Although I don’t enjoy cleaning, when I DO clean, I like it to be done right. I’d rather not start at all, than do a crappy, half-arsed job. Might not be very logical, but there it is. So, in our household, you will hear Hubby’s muffled curses as he moves, slalom style, around my piles of organised stuff; and you will hear my (rather louder) curses as I scrub at tea stains in the sink, or huff in exasperation when I note the children’s sandwiches were made on the ‘RAW MEAT’ chopping board.
As for hoovering – it makes me weep. We have a Dyson. Hurrah. Expensive, powerful…and weighs a bl**dy tonne. It was NOT designed for a smallish woman to heft around the house; sessions with it have rivalled Boxercise or Body Combat for calorie expenditure and aggression.
I am also not cut out for wet work. Frequent exposure to water and detergents can cause the eczema on my hands to flare up until the fingers are cracked, bleeding and unbearably painful.
We wanted a clean house, but we weren’t capable of achieving one to our satisfaction, for one frustrating reason or another. It became a hotbed of resentment and silent passive-aggressive discontent.
It drove me mad that Hubby would come home from work, and regardless of how much I’d managed to do that day, go straight to the sink and move the cups around, or sigh loudly at a pile of papers on the table. It drove Hubby mad that he’d come home from work and feel unable to relax due to the cups in the sink and the pile of my papers on the table. I know it sounds kind of inconsequential, but believe me, after 20 odd years of living together, it’s the inconsequential stuff that causes relationships to crash and burn.
Hubby suggested we get a cleaner. It took me several days to get over what I saw as an implied criticism of my housekeeping, and several MONTHS to accept the idea of a stranger moving around in my house… but eventually Hubby made it happen.
And, oh my goodness, I wish we’d done it earlier.
It all makes sense to me now. There are things in this household that HAVE to be done by ME – no one else. For example, no one can play the piano in my place, do my school planning in my place, or go to the gym on my behalf. No one else can cook as well as I can, or do the laundry to my frankly OCD specifications. No one else can be my children’s mother, or my husband’s wife.
But our cleaner CAN mop the floor, hoover the house, clean the toilets and shower, polish the tables and dust the furniture. And guess what? She’s BRILLIANT at it!! In two hours she can make this house sparkle and shine – I’d never achieve half as much in that time, AND I’d be a horrible person whilst trying.
So, if it makes so much goddam sense, why do I feel skin-crawlingly ashamed whenever I am forced to admit it to a third party? Why do I feel as if I’d rather admit to being a member of a devil-worshipping, swingers’ secret society, than explain that we employ a cleaner?
Am I just paranoid when I imagine people are thinking, “But she doesn’t even work full time! What does she DO all day, for goodness sake?” or “Gosh. Imagine not being capable of cleaning your OWN house?!” Or, worst of all, “Who does she think she is?? Employing servants like some kind of Waitrose-going, pheasant-eating, tweed-wearing toff?” Is there any horror worse for a middle-class, privileged professional, than being seen to be middle-class and privileged? Even writing that last sentence makes me cringe, but in the interests of honesty, it has to stay in.
However, it’s Wednesday today. I’m going to go to work, and come home to a house that smells faintly of lemons; to a hall with softly gleaming parquet floor; a bathroom with sparkling taps and toilets; and a Hubby who isn’t stressed and pushing my piles around (so to speak)… so I think I’ll manage to get over myself.
What the HECK is wrong with them? They have mutated into hulk-like monstrosities, even as our activity levels continue to dwindle.
I see food challenges everywhere – ‘If you can eat this gargantuan breakfast within one hour, then you get it for free!’ ‘Try the Biggest Burger Challenge! How many layers of questionable meat patties and plastic cheez can you eat in 20 minutes??’ ‘This Icecream SuperMegaQuintuple Elephant-Bird-Crap Sundae has 30,000 calories! Huzzah!!’
Yay. Free heart disease.
Might as well play Russian Roulette for kicks.
When did it all become about quantity, rather than quality? And I guess that’s an indictment on society in general.
Although my general eating capacity is probably considerably more than the average Japanese woman of my age and height, I can’t eat large amounts of sweet food, such as cake and chocolate.
Remember the friend who I nearly considered “unfriending” over her love of the gym? Well, as it happens, there was an incident, not long after our first meeting, when I’m pretty sure she had to similarly reconsider our suitability as friends.
We had taken our children to softplay – those deliciously unhygienic, acoustically challenged, sweaty dens of fun – directly after school, and while the kids were hurling themselves about with gay abandon, we decided it was the perfect time for a cup of tea and a slice of cake.
I looked at their selection and was tempted by the chocolate fudge cake, BUT it had been sliced into the most ridiculously HUGE slabs, and I knew I’d struggle with it.
“Shall we share a cake?” I suggested brightly.
There was almost a creaking sound as she slowly turned her head to look at me, an expression on her face that made me wonder if I had accidently said, “Shall we lick the floor in the ball pit?” instead.
“Share a cake? SHARE? SHAAAARRRE a cake??” she repeated.
I thought she was joking, so I said, “Hahahahaha!....Yes. Share a cake,” and that was nearly the end of our promising friendship.
I have since learned that ‘sharing’ (especially a cake) is not even something she does with her own beloved daughter, or probably Jesus himself, so I had to buy the cake anyway, and I watched with fascination as she ate her enormous slice of cake, and then finished off the half of MY cake which, surprise surprise, I couldn’t finish.
Now, she is an exception to the rule, because she probably expends 3 times the number of calories most athletes burn a day, but no one needs to eat that much.
There is a HUGE difference in the way food is viewed in Japan. Food has to look, taste, smell and feel amazing. Presentation is key – the colours should coordinate; there should be balance between different food groups; there should be artistry in the arrangement of the dishes and trays.
Nothing could be more off-putting – disgusting, in fact – than one individual plate, heaped with a mixed up mound of indeterminate ‘stuff’, all muddled up and messy, and dumped unceremoniously in front of you. Enough to kill the appetite permanently.
Funnily enough, when my son was weaning and starting to eat a wider variety of food, he began to insist that every different food item was placed in separate bowls. A pile of peas absolutely SHOULD NOT touch the slivers of grilled chicken, or the small mound of rice. We bought a set of Ikea plastic bowls, and one single meal could use up 5 or 6 of the little buggers. Even gravy had to be served separately in a little silver jug – we called it the Little Lord Fauntleroy Jug.
I won’t deny that this behaviour worried me at first – I knew it was ONE of the things that children on the autistic spectrum had strong feelings about. However, the more I think about it now, the more sense it makes to me. My son actually had very healthy eating habits (in those days, anyway!)
He liked to be able to taste each individual element of his balanced meal, and when he’d had enough, he had no problem stopping.
Then I realised it is also the way Japanese people serve their food. Since vowing to cook and eat more Japanese food, we have had to buy a new dresser to store the myriad tiny plates and bowls of different sizes required to serve separate dishes. It’s like…Oriental tapas. Just a grown-up version of plastic Ikea bowls.
There is another very fundamental difference between the way food is served in a Japanese household, compared to a British/western one; as a child, I was used to sitting in front of an empty plate, and helping myself to small amounts from communal plates in the centre of the table. This is how the Chinese eat also. The whole point of going to a Chinese restaurant is ordering a variety of dishes which everyone can then share and try.
I was never more horrified in my life when I went to a Chinese restaurant with a British friend, and he ordered ONE dish off the menu, and a bowl of rice – and just ate that! As if it was a portion of sausage and chips! That somehow seemed on par with bringing a large bowl of pasta, a salad and a basket of bread to the table, and then have one of the guests take the salad, stick it on their place mat and chomp through the whole bowl without sharing!
I’ve noticed the British way is to make a certain amount of food, and then simply divide it between all the plates available. Therefore, if someone has made a stew for 4 people, you WILL get a quarter of that amount in your bowl – whether you wanted that much or not.
Learning to coexist with someone who eats in this way was difficult, and also fattening. At first, I’d find that I’d take a small amount (because it’s only polite, if you’re Japanese…and anyway, I was reserving the right to have seconds if appropriate), only to find Hubby would sweep the remainder onto his plate – thus removing the possibility of seconds! I started to develop a ‘survival of the fittest’ type anxiety, where if I wasn’t quick, I might not get enough to eat. I began to take half of whatever was on offer, regardless of how much I actually NEEDED to eat, just to ensure I had a fair allocation. This was ridiculously bad news for my body – a 5 ft nothing Japanese girl, trying to keep up with a 6 ft 6 man with a fast metabolism.
We have both had to adjust our habits and expectations, in order to stay healthy. I still maintain that, in this at least, the Japanese way is more sensible, encourages greater appreciation of food, and will result ultimately in fewer calories consumed.
Mind you, I think my anxiety just increased again; I have a nine year old daughter who can eat double what I eat, is nearly as tall as I am, and has the metabolism of a hyperactive mosquito. However, as she was born a food connoisseur, the quality of what she eats is at least as important as the quantity!
Shocking confession coming up:
I eat too much. Boom.
The sad thing is I don’t even eat very much. If you laid out everything I eat in a day or a week, it really wouldn’t look shocking. In fact, it’s probably a fraction of what some people eat.
Unfortunately, what other people do is utterly irrelevant when it comes to your own body weight. There are so many diets, ab-developing exercises and ‘fool-proof’ weight-loss methods flying around like a veritable storm of poison arrows, but it’s all nonsense. No one can dictate to you what is going to work for you. Every single person is different – every person has a different genetic make-up, body-type, metabolism, level of daily activity, and racial heritage.
It isn’t a coincidence that a large percentage of the Japanese population have lactose intolerance. Cow’s milk is a recent addition to their diet, as are bread products like cake, pastries and buns. Also, Japanese people lack the enzyme to digest alcohol efficiently. It doesn’t stop them drinking, mind – it just ensures rather undignified scenes as the ‘salarymen’ of Tokyo loll around on the last train like little red-faced, over-stuffed toys; singing tunelessly, pulling their shoes off and gazing blearily at their toes, or simply snoring with abandon on some poor commuter’s rigid shoulder.
The traditional Japanese diet consists of fish, rice, seaweed, soy products, eggs, vegetables, fermented food (pickles, soy beans, miso for example) and yams. This is what my ancestors ate, and this is what my digestive system has evolved to expect.
Imagine the shock to my poor belly then when, within the space of one generation, it was trying to cope with cheese, milk, bread, cake, more cake, red meat, potatoes and sugar. And crisps. This is obviously another possible factor exacerbating my eczema.
Now picture a lovely French baguette, spread generously with butter, and filled with cheese and cured meats, accompanied by a side of French fries, a glass of red wine…followed by ice-cream for pudding.
Sounds like a perfectly plausible meal for some (lucky) people. But my body would receive this offering with exasperation and defiance. It would begin by inflating my stomach like a balloon – also my fingers, ankles and wrists would become waterlogged in an effort to soothe the inflammation. Likely, my immune system would jump hysterically into full-on emergency, war operation ammo mobilisation – shooting histamines into my blood stream like a jammed AK47, causing my eyes to swell and water copiously, and hives to appear on my skin.
I get the message. I am not evolved to eat this stuff.
But I’m surrounded by it.
I know that my ancestors would have eaten a little rice soup, mixed with simmered vegetables, seaweed, and perhaps a sliver of grilled fish for breakfast, but when there are two kids going to two different schools, packed lunches to make, PE kits to assemble, cats to muck out and feed (and inject) and crossfit classes to rush to (5 minutes late = 20 extra burpees), am I REALISTICALLY going to make an ancestral breakfast instead of rustling up a slice of toast??
I should. And I have tried. But I cave under the pressure after only a few days; I rant and rave about the fact that, if I lived in Japan, I could grab an ancestral breakfast from any convenience store. Rah.
This is a shame. Because even when I manage a Japanese diet for just 2 or 3 days in a row, I feel SO MUCH BETTER. Not a bit better. HUGE amounts better.
Before all these trendy doctors started blathering about matching food intake to racial/ethnic metabolic backgrounds, I’d already worked it out. Aaaaages ago. Because it’s not rocket science – we will feel most comfortable eating the food that our previous generations were eating.
I watched in sympathy as a Japanese girl I met at university, staying in the same hall of residence, gradually ballooned in front of my eyes over the year she was here – from a typically petite size 6 or 8, to a rotund, doughy-faced warped mirror-image of herself. Not surprising when you consider our daily dining experience involved about 6 different carbohydrates (lasagne with chips, potato salad, accompanied by garlic bread, with rice pudding for dessert….anyone?) Everyone else seemed ok with it, but not us Asians. On Saturday afternoons, the tiny kitchenette was always crammed with Chinese students furtively cooking rice and stirfried vegetables.
I need to talk about portion sizes, but that’s a whole new rant – worthy of its own blog post.
Basically, when I revealed the stunning news earlier that I eat too much, what I MEANT to say was, ‘I eat too much of the wrong food’. I know exactly what needs to happen now, but I also know that I will struggle to implement this solution, because I’ve failed so many times already.
I need to find a balance so that my belly, who seems to have missed the memo about me being a Japanese British hybrid, can coexist with my busy western-orientated lifestyle, whilst also appreciating that good food rates pretty highly on my ‘reasons to live’ list.
Any advice gratefully accepted.
P.S I should tell you that, as I proof read this copy, I am stuffing a smoked cheese, ham and salad sandwich into my mouth. Maybe there’s no fixing this particular kind of stupid.