Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Journey to Japan II: Dining Fun

We haven't had much time to get out and do much here in Otsu, Shiga. Yesterday was my "big" (3 minute) speech of congratulatory welcome for the conference. I was nervous and didn't sleep a wink the night before... it's strange, because normally I'm fine with public speaking. I guess the difference was that I was on the other side of the world, speaking to an audience of which 2/3 did not speak the language I was presenting in. No pressure. I was told I did well, though, and as a result was inundated all day by smiling Japanese men who came up to me just to smile and say "Herro Kim-san" (I told them all they could call me Kim), then stand and stare at me. I get lots of attention here, that's for sure. I was self conscious most the morning, but then figured, ah, what the hell... so I'm a freak show. Might as well enjoy it!

I have received a few gifts already, and have been honored frequently by my Japanese hosts. I was feeling pretty high on life by the time our group lunch came around, but then made a bad decision in terms of seating. I sat next to someone I knew from the States, who was sitting beside a total lunatic. There were about 12 people at our table, and the lunatic proceeded to ask me about my background in microwave science (none), why I was there, etc. Clearly, he had issues about self esteem, so he was trying to make me look bad in front of my hosts and new friends. He then proceeded to tell everyone that he creates outstanding knives with handles made of microwave-dried wood (wow-wee) and that he buys mammoth ivory from Native Americans to make magic wands. Yes, he is an amateur magician. My passive-aggressive tendencies were too much for me to ignore, so I made several jokes at his expense, which others were laughing about later in the evening. Sorry buddy, messed with the wrong non-microwave-science chick.

Onward and upward... so yesterday's adventures were fairly minimal. Jason went out for long walks in the 95º+ weather with humidity making temps feel close to 110º. Then he came back for the Japanese tub, which is where I find him whenever I get back from meetings. He enjoyed being the center of attention, and said that he often had young children come up to him to say "herro" and giggle. It seems that he, too, is a freak show here.

For dinner we hit the hotel's barbecue. We had no clue what we were in store for. We were the only non-Japanese there, and it had a family, festive atmosphere. The menu, of course, was all in Japanese and our waiter and waitress didn't speak English. So we pointed to a couple of things (having no clue what they were) and tried to watch others eat so we'd know what to do.

A few moments after ordering we were served some edamame (yum! I know that one!) and cold beers that were somewhat like Miller lite in flavor. I have no clue what brand they were. Then they brought out a plate piled with all different things - steak, chicken-ish looking stuff, squid, bell peppers, cabbage, shrimp and other goodies. We tried our best to blend in and cook the stuff, then tried our hand at chopsticks. It's so much easier to eat sushi or noodles than small strips of beef with chopsticks, FYI. There was some sort of squash that looked like cantaloupe, tasted like sweet potatoes and was hard and somewhat crisp as well.

The best part was when I took a big bite of the squid's head, which apparently was attached to whatever endoskeleton thing they boast. It crunched, squirted down my throat and caused me to make a small scene while gagging on it. It tasted good, though, and I managed to recover and eat the tentacles, which I enjoyed.

I haven't seen any wildlife at all yet except for this little lovely creature that was crawling across the side walk last night.

We're now off to Kyoto, where ancient temples, castles and geisha-watching awaits. Now the fun begins! I have 2 more days of meetings, but will be skipping out on the mornings and showing up for the afternoon exhibit sessions and mandatory dinners. Tomorrow night I'm a part of a special ceremony that involves banging on beer barrels with wooden spoons. Another great honor for this silly American non-microwave scientist. Sayonara!

Side note: I have no clue what the bear means or what he is, but we see them everywhere, in big and small versions throughout the city we're in. Hmmm...


  1. Hi Kim-san,
    Hey, that's a pretty cool way to address you! Kinda grows on ya', right?

    Jason looks happy, eating, what?
    And you both look cute in your bibs.

    Sadie needs to see Mommy & Daddy wearing them! Ha!

    We giggled over the squid eating experience you had.

    We look forward to the next exciting episodes you share with us.

    Mom & Daddoo

  2. Anonymous12:36 PM

    He is a good luck bear - I think the tradition is that if you rub his tummy you get good luck - I should check with my sister to be sure though. My sis & bro-in-law lived in Japan for 4 years - I got to visit Japan for 2 months and I loved it!

    It is fun reading about your adventures!