Letter from Tokyo: Sukiyaki with an Arctic Tern

Dear Friends,

For the last two days, I’ve been reading back issues of National Geographic. There are about fifty National Geographics lying around the breakroom at my school, and I’ve resisted them until this week. My relationship with each and every one of the National Geographic magazines has been tumultous; I’m ambivalent towards the magazine. The photos repulse me; if I see one more kid with an intentionally scarred face, bats, rats, or snakes with their heads chopped off, I don’t know what I’ll do. However, I can’t stop reading, because the writers are phenomenal. No matter their subject matter, the writers manage to make the captions sound like poetry, and the longer articles read like narrative fiction (if only I could skip the photos!).

Excerpts from David Quammen’s article “Great Migrations” in relation to my life:

Migrations tend to be linear, not zigzaggy; they involve special behaviors of preparation (such as overfeeding) and arrival; they demand special allocations of energy.

Every three years since 2003, I’ve made a great migration: South America, North America, the Caribbean, now Asia. It seems the only logical choice after Tokyo would be Africa, Europe or Australia; as long as I have energy, I’ll get up and go.

In December 2003, while visiting my friend NR in Capetown, I decided to move to South Africa. I fell in love with the breathtaking views in Capetown, the mountains, the ocean, the wine and NR‘s circle of fantastic friends. In my three-week stay, I decided to stay for a few months (legally or illegally); I  found a place to stay for less than US$300 a month, a part-time waitressing job, and even met a cute guy. My godmother promised to send me US$1200 to stay, which could have really taken me far back then (she thought my idea was a great one). I wonder if NR remembers my hectic plan to move to Capetown.

The apartment fell through, and two brothers offered to let me live with them, but they weren’t centrally located and I didn’t know how to drive (still don’t– but it’s on my list of resolutions for 2017). Unfortunately and fortunately, I had a teaching commitment in Sao Paulo and decided that it’d be irresponsible not to return for the second half of the school year. Looking back I see that I overanalyzed the whole situation and maybe should’ve stayed (how long does it take to learn to drive?). I’d already done six months in Brazil and could’ve done six months in South Africa too. Lesson learned: Don’t overthink.

Migrating animals maintain a fervid attentiveness to the greater mission, which keeps them undistracted by temptations and undeterred by challenges.

The plan, as I’ve told you all before in another post, is to stay in Tokyo for two to three years, then move on. There’s too much to see and experience, and if I remain in Tokyo how’ll I get a chance to do it? So, it’s absolutely necessary to keep “undistracted by temptations and undeterred by challenges,” like shopping for beyond fabulous clothes and handbags, eating out too much and drinking more, getting paid and thinking that “I’m in the money,” and traveling too much while here, though the yen is strong and airfare (especially within Japan) is a steal. A friend here just suggested a trip to Paris in February for less than US$350, and it breaks my heart to say no, but I’m like Jesus in the wilderness right now– a master of resistance.

The arctic tern senses that it can eat later. It can rest later. It can mate later. Right now its implacable focus is the journey.

We all want different things out of life, don’t we? Some women my age want marriage and children; if they’re already married, they want babies. I’ve had people ask me when I’m going to “settle down,” a question that annoys me. Really, it does. At the moment, my thoughts are on having  “romantic relations” with my younger crushes (who’re very mature– is that what all older women say?).  I’ve never felt a maternal urge, unless of course it feels like indigestion. The quest is the journey.

Why is it impossible to believe that a woman may not want a child, a life-long commitment, someone else’s joy? Why is that selfish? Another National Geographic informed me that the world is already incredibly overpopulated at 7 billion people; water and food resources are low. Maybe, we’re all selfish. Diversity of behaviors, and processes are important too, contributing richness and beauty, robustness and flexibility and interconnectedness to the living communities on earth.

Nothing alive is perpetual.

These are living, breathing words that are liable to change at anytime. Even my memories are impermanent and unreliable. 2003 is covered in haze; maybe I didn’t stay in South Africa for many other reasons that I can’t now recall (my memories are extremely selective). At the moment, I’d rather remove a lung with a soup spoon than have a child, but who knows how I’ll feel years from now. Maybe, like not moving to Capetown, I’ll be regretful. Who knows? What I do know is that even sadness and regret don’t last; ah, the joy of continuing to live.

Sayonara,

Val

Dear Youtube, you’re an afternoon delight…

I like what you’re doing to me. Keep on doing what you’re doing to me.

Don’t you stop it, don’t you stop… don’t stop!

Start it. 

Your love, you’re so good, good love deserves an encore.

Gimme your love, give me that love.

Sweetest I remember.

You made me love you.

Engulfed by the power of love, I just fell right in.

I love to love…

Love put us into a groove.

If you really want it, you gotta feel it.

By the way, I hear there’s gonna be a funk/soul festival in Tokyo next weekend. Woof! 

1) Thank You (my Thanksgiving list in no particular order)

A few moments ago, I had a conversation with my housemate R about Thanksgiving. (I must mention that he was standing in his blue towel, and that’s the only way I’ve seen him lately. I’m sure he wears clothes at some point in the day, but when I catch him at home, he’s never in anything but his towel).

Our former housemate M is having a Thanksgiving celebration on Sunday evening, replete with a tiny turkey, potatoes, wine, and friends around her kitchen island. I actually forgot about Thanksgiving until status updates on Facebook started to mention turkey, baked macaroni and cheese, and Black Friday. Last year for Thanksgiving, I was with my cousin RJ and his family at his aunt’s house in Mt. Vernon stuffing my face with baked macaroni and cheese, salad and rolls, and playing with his five-year old daughter. Last year, I was thankful as hell that my amazing cousin made the trip in the rain to pick me up, so that I could spend the day with family; I was even more thankful that I didn’t have a child (my god, it started with the kicking in the car).

I was saying to R, that unlike Christmas, Thanksgiving isn’t my holiday. Yes, there’s family togetherness, but where’re the songs, the presents, the glitter and tinsel? Where the heck is Paul McCartney’s ” Simply Having a Wonderful Thanksgiving Time?” Does Thanksgiving have even one song? Is it just a holiday to indulge gluttony and watch sappy Lifetime movies?– If that’s the case, maybe I can jump on board.

Turkey was never a favorite of mine, nor were sweet potatoes with marshmallows, or cranberry sauce (one year with ground walnuts); so, the last Thursday in November has held zero appeal for me, until I started working and got the two days off. Maybe, I came too late to the holiday? Since the only appeal was baked mac and cheese (and four days of leftover baked mac and cheese), then I didn’t really see the point, especially with Christmas nipping at its heels.

However, R made a good point. It’s not about the food at all, nor is it about the huge, roasted bird. It’s not about the potatoes, the mac and cheese, or the poor duped Native Americans and the conniving Pilgrims. It’s about giving thanks, being grateful for being alive in order to a) give thanks and b) be grateful.

So, here’s my Thanksgiving list in no particular order:

1) Thanks Youtube. Without you, I couldn’t go on, nor would I want to. In the last hour, without getting up, I’ve listened to Frank Sinatra, Marvin Gaye, Funky Green Dogs, Elvis Presley and Deneice Williams.

2) Thanks Berry Gordy. You were such a genius, and gave such gifts to the world. I heard you may be a bit of an egomaniac, but which genius isn’t? And who cares? Your legacy will live on forever and give joy forever.

3) Thanks Skintology Laser Spa. Thanks for reminding me that botox is never too far away, and can now be injected for less than $200. Useful information.

4) Thanks Paul McCartney. What would the world do without Yesterday?!

5) Thanks Porkie. God, I’ve loved you, but I must let you go now. You’ve been just too good to me… so nice on the tongue. This hurts me.

6) Thank you universe for putting the most wonderful people in/on my path, from the lifers (aka family) to the chosen ones (aka friends), to the strangers who make a difference… and are no longer strangers.

7) Thank you expat bloggers. You’ve shown me, and countless others, in pictures and words, how amazing life is in Belgium, the Netherlands, Sweden, Brazil, France, Ireland, Italy and South Korea. You’ve opened my inner eyes and strengthened my lust. (By the way, don’t get me started on lust again).

8) Thanks mum, for the most open, expansive love (but then again, you got lucky with such a sweet child).

Happy Thanksgiving All!

Val

p.s Reasons, so many reasons to be grateful!

Love Sponge Cake and Solidarity Cookies

Everybody wants a happy end. – Solidarity (Black Uhuru)

Dear Friends,

I haven’t made a cake since 1989. I used to love baking from scratch: cracking a few eggs, mixing sugar and butter, throwing in a dash of vanilla, adding milk, a touch of nutmeg or cinnamon, and flour. Everyday I’d come home from school and mix some batter, and wait for golden brown perfection. Friends, my cakes were horrible. They looked wonderful (sometimes), but weren’t good. For some reason that I don’t remember now, I took one of the cakes to school and left it in my locker for a few days. I’m not exaggerating or lying the least bit, when I say that the cake cut my finger when it fell from the shelf.

Looking back I see how amazing my mother is, especially since none of those ingredients were growing in the cupboard or in the fridge. To think of the money I wasted, since I was baking a cake every three days. Why didn’t she ever say, “Valerie if you crack one more damn egg, you’re gonna get it?” No, what she did was take slices of rock hard cake, wrapped in saran, to work. I wonder if those slices were used as bookends, door stops or paper weights? What holds the cake together? Which ingredient is the most important?

 Flour: The essence. Last week, my brother left a comment on a post about me “putting it all out there,” and I thought hard about that comment, because I don’t. Everything posted on this blog is sincere, but “out there,” it isn’t.

 Flour: I’m not the base, grounded and essential. I’m never the flour. I’m the fluff, the vanilla, the ground butter/sugar mix. I’m the “Don’t call me in an emergency person,” because a) If I have a phone it will be off or b) I usually don’t have a cell phone; because a) I don’t want you to call me if something bad happens. What can I do for you except sympathize? It’s as easy to sympathize at 9am as it is at 4am, isn’t it? I’m never the flour. I know many “Flours”: My brother, my friend Tan, Sach, etc… Being a flour is a pain in the butt, as you’re always being woken in the middle of the night or being asked for money.

 Eggs: It’s easier to be the eggs. It’s true the eggs take a beating, but it’s so that they can be light/un-heavy/free; it’s easier to be anything but the flour. I’m working my way up to the whipped egg stage, but that takes time too. With each year, the whites leave the yolks behind. However I recognize that we don’t all have to be flour or eggs; there’s nothing wrong with being cinnamon, butter or vanilla, for now.

I’m an egg in waiting, but now sitting in a dish as butter and cinnamon.

 Spice: Speaking of spice, before I moved to Tokyo, my friend TH told me to stay in Europe, because that’s where the guys are, “where the sex is.” I laughed the comment off, because a) I was more worried about what would happen to the relaxed hair on my head than below the waist and b) Sex has never been a top priority in my life. As I told a friend recently, sex has always been like money for me: hardly ever around, short-lived when it does appear, and always more a wish and a desire than a reality. “Yay, I got $50″ was the same emotion for me as “Yay, I had sex.”

Vanilla: Okay, so now a dash of something, before I dash. There are two guys that I do my fair share of flirting with, but they’re a bit younger… and by a bit, I mean maybe they were still on training wheels or in diapers when I was baking my rock hard cake. Age should mean nothing right? Age is unimportant, as we’re all just one, universal, unconscious soul, right? So, why do I feel a bit conflicted, especially as I know my intentions are very bad… the fork in the road to hell.

Salt: Why did I give every single person I know my blog address? Why is my name on this blog? Why wasn’t I like my friend Viajera at I’m Leaving on a Bicycle (http://journeyw.blogspot.com/), completely anonymous? This post, this grain of salt, is the truth, so in a way I’m relieved that my intentions are “out there” in the universe. Maybe by the time the holidays roll around, I’ll get dessert; “Everybody wants the same thing, don’t they?”

* This one is called lovers choice… love sponge. – Buju Banton (Love Sponge)

Ciao,

Val
p.s I remember my brother also told me to warn him about posts that he may not want to read. Hm, I should have done that in the beginning.

“It’s On Fire Tonight… Haha Ah Yea!”

Can I get some kick please? – DJ Flex (The Waterdance)

Dear Friends,

Saturday was a rainy, dreary day, which was absolutely perfect, because I had to work.  The only thing more ideal than going to work would’ve been staying in bed all day with a box of anchovy topped pizza, a can of Coke, and a large Cadbury Fruit & Nut bar, watching shows on Hulu, but duty called. (I hung up on duty, but she called again).

Is you with me?-  DJ Flex

On my way home at 6p.m, I stopped at Lawsons and bought a large can of Sapporo, a bag of potato chips, and a bag of french fry chips. I didn’t buy more than one beer, because I knew that I’d have to wake early on Sunday for work; I got chips for anyone who wanted,  but I knew everyone in the house already had their favorite and differing brands of beer in the fridge.

When I arrived at home, Y was sitting in front of the television watching a baseball game; the team I root for was playing, so I joined him (I would’ve joined him anyway, as he’s cool as beans– let’s be clear, I could care less about baseball). Pretty soon, RT came home and sat on the couch. It was then that Y brought out his friend Ginjō-shu sake.

Let it run, let it run, this ain’t the water. – DJ Flex.

I insisted that I’d only have one glass, because as aforementioned I had to get up pretty early, and with an alcohol content of twenty-five percent, too many glasses of Ginjō-shu, plus my beer, would knock a sister out (in the bad way). Ah, but friends, it only takes one glass. Pretty soon, we were laughing at things that I’m pretty sure weren’t funny, I was starting to feel my braids unwind on their own, and Y was downright giddy, even though his team was losing.

Wait a minute…. y’all going hard tonight. – DJ Flex

Then Y came up with the idea that he’d take RT and me to a spot he knows in the neighborhood. I asked him if we were walking there, because as far as I knew, Oshiage was a residential neighborhood with little to do.

The hood, the hood, ah ha.

He called the place and made a reservation, and the three of us trooped over. The wine bar to which Y took us is about seven minutes from our house, and it’s absolutely gorgeous. Right beside 7-11, behind a nondescript door, is an otherworldly wine bar/restaurant. It just doesn’t fit; we hurried in the rain, down a dark alley, through an unmarked entrance, and entered a restaurant that could rival any in the coolest neighborhoods of Paris or New York. It’s very dim inside, bottles of wine line the walls, there’s a bar where five or so can eat, and about six or seven round tables.

Throw your hands in the air. – DJ Flex

The minute we sat, the party started. I was unaware that Y was a baller; let me explain: a) First, glasses of wine were ordered b) Then, a bottle of shiraz was ordered c) The bottle of wine was followed by an appetizer plate that included foie gras, prosciutto, olives, French bread, and  pâté.

Y’all with me, is you with me?… Let’s take it up a notch.- DJ Flex

I thought we were finished; we were rosy and glowing and laughing and twinkly; then, a mini, roasted goose was brought to the table, and more glasses of wine were ordered. Can I just say that I’ve never had goose (crispy, and resting in its own sweat), and it was heavenly. Sweet times in Oshiage. When we decided it was time to brave the rain again, Y  refused to let us see the check and paid for the whole thing.

Hey ladies, hey sexy, you want me to put you in the water? Hey fellas, hey soldiers, you want me to put you in the water? – DJ Flex

Friends, the rain was coming down outside, but it was raining harder inside Borderless House. I should’ve gone to bed, but for some reason I wound up in the living room. T, another “soldier,” joined us for the Sunday night revelry (I love it!). We lamented the news that Y‘s leaving for his own space; we kanpai-ed new friendships; and, we drank one or two more glasses of the lethal Ginjō-shu.

The next morning, I woke up on time, a little groggy, in my scarf, sweater, jeans and socks. Would you expect less? - DJ Flex

Letter from Tokyo: “Forget About the Worries On Your Mind, You Can Leave Them All Behind”

Dear Friends,

The last few days have been filled with the essentials: good food, better company and fun. Let’s take a look at the days in review:

Thursday: It started as a quiet day with me sitting around twiddling my thumbs. Then it hit me, “I have the house to myself!” I took advantage of my solitude and started youtubing like crazy. The singfest started with Diana Ross’s “The Boss,” which of course me led me straight to her 1979 Caesar Palace show. I watched all seventeen clips (some songs on ridiculous repeat– ten or more times). I’ve learned many things from my devotion to Diana Ross and her Caesar Palace tutorial: I can’t turn emotion on and off, love (alone) is the boss, extreme passion for a song can overcome a lack of dancing skills.

Can we watch the most glamorous, amazing, sexy woman to ever grace a stage for a moment please (and for a moment, I mean five minutes and eight seconds)? “Who’s the boss, who’s the boss?” Love and Miss Ross!

Diana at 3:23: “Get up here and dance with me girl!”

Thursday night: I’ve fallen in and out of love many times, with many things and many people, but I’ve never felt love like this. Let me tell you about my newest, most passionate, intense love. It started on Tuesday when I was feeling a bit under the weather and decided to get soup at a corner restaurant in my neighborhood. Right beside the beef and mushroom soup was an interesting looking broth with perfectly golden meat swimming in it. I scooped some of that “soup” too. When I took it home, my housemate RT told me that the dish was a very popular pork dish that takes four hours to prepare. Friends, I wasn’t a big fan of pork. I thought pork (excluding bacon) was overrated. Friends, I’ve been a damn fool. Since putting that divine pork in my mouth, I’ve been back to the corner shop three times! One day, I bought enough pork that I’d have enough for breakfast the next morning. My god the pork is good! So, the other night, I asked RT to wed me to the pork; I wanted the pork dish to know that I was not only helplessly in love, but would forever be faithful. He actually started to do it, but then started to think it was crazy and stopped mid-ceremony. Now, I ask you, what could ever be crazy about being really in love?

* Porkie without the gravy.

For Porkie:

Friday: As you all know, my days off have been little more than food and drink fests (actually, the name of this post should’ve been “Food and Drink Fest”).  So, when my co-worker B suggested that Friday be spent at an architecture exhibit, and checking out Tokyo entire from the observatory deck in the Tokyo Municipal Building, I jumped on the idea with real enthusiasm. Six weeks in and I’ve seen only a few neighborhoods in Tokyo; so, I put my gray walking boots on and got ready to sightsee, to fill my eyes with beauty, to observe different things. All of those things were accomplished, but not at an exhibit that we never made it to, but in a restaurant. The problem (which really wasn’t a problem at all) was that we started with lunch, and stayed with lunch for quite a while. B introduced me to Salvatore Cuomo, a restaurant in Shinjuku, where the buffet, for 1500 yen, is all you can eat until 3p.m. Are you kidding me?! It’s an amazing deal, especially in a city where one sushi lunch is easily 1500 yen and won’t leave you anywhere near full. A pizza, outside of lunch hours, at Salvatore Cuomo is 1800 yen, so we lined up for the buffet of pizza, pasta, seafood, salad, desserts (brownies, profiteroles, and cake), again and again. We washed the sins of our gluttony away with lightly sweetened peach iced tea, and started on the second and third rounds.

* Plate 1: pizza, squid, spaghett in wine sauce, salad and french fries.

* Plate 2- Keeping it simple: pizza with olives, white pizza, sweet potatoes, and french fries.

* Pizza with tiny fish… look closely, you can see the eyes. Yum!

 *Thinking more food would get in the way of dessert, we decided it was time to get the sugar in:

When I commented that I hadn’t eaten a meal that wasn’t memorable and superb the entire time that I’ve been in Tokyo, B informed me that Tokyo has more Michelin stars than any other city in the world, and almost more than twice than second place. So believable.

After lunch, we headed to Tokyo Municipal Building’s observatory. Sadly, Friday in Tokyo was gray and hazy, but it was cool to take the ear-popping ride up to the top and see Tokyo spread at my feet. B said it best, when he uttered that we had “the God view.”

* Shinjuku captured by B.

Sadly, the sun has been going down earlier and earlier, but we tried to make it to the Imperial Palace and take some pictures of the Imperial garden. It wasn’t to be; when we exited the train, the sun had already set at 4:50p.m. My camera doesn’t handle night-time pictures very well, and the only photo I got at the palace was a lonely swan.

So, we left the Imperial Palace and took our snap happy selves to Ginza.

* B looking in wonder and a bit of awe at the building in front of us. He’s an architect, so he’d often stop and ask, “What does this building make you feel?” I’m not sure what buildings make me feel, but I sure as heck know how Porkie (my love pork) makes me feel…

*… like dancing!

Friends, I’m going to stop here, because I don’t want to admit to you that we went to Muji and had pepper chicken, mashed sweet potatoes, and chestnut cookies; that would just seem truly gluttonous, and I’d never want to come across that way. This post is long, so Saturday (fantastic Saturday) will be in another post.

Ciao,

Val

p.s

* Come join the fun, this ain’t no time to be staying home, ooh there’s too much going on; tonight is gonna be a night like you’ve never known, we’re gonna have a good time the whole night long!

* I love El! Even more than I now love Porkie… He had the perfect blend of masculinity, eyeliner and falsetto (not many men can manage this)… though, more men should try.

“You Live the Life You Love, You Love the Life You Live, Everything You Have in Mind Jah Will Give!”

Happiness is life-supporting and life-sustaining and therefore generates increase.– Deepak Chopra (“The Law of Giving,” The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success).

Dear Friends,

In guru Deepak Chopra’s The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success, he concisely summarizes The Law of Giving: “If you want joy, give joy to others; if you want love, learn to give love; if you want attention and appreciation, learn to give attention and appreciation; if you want material affluence, help others to become materially affluent.” He emphasizes that one doesn’t have to give a material gift, a present could be a friendly hello, a smile, a compliment, a shoulder to lean on.

Of all the spiritual laws, practicing the law of giving may be the most difficult (actually, it may be a tie between The Law of Giving and The Law of Detachment). At times, it’s not only physically impossible to give physically, but emotionally as well. Life can be draining, and sometimes we selfishly hoard our compliments, graciousness, kind wishes, smiles, and even our greetings. However, do you ever notice that it really is true that when you give, you receive? Smile at someone, you’ll see.

This morning, (my day off– gift 1 from the school), on a sunny, fall day in Tokyo (gift 2 from the universe),  I went for the mail and there was a large package addressed to me, and two envelopes with my name on them. Of course, I ran upstairs and ripped open the red and white package, which was sent by VPL, and oh the treasures!

Take a look:And inside:

* Do you remember, that buying a sketchpad and paints was #3 on my wish list  http://lettersfromval.com/2011/05/18/old-and-new-and-newer-older-v/?! I never bought them. Do you remember when I said that I wanted to be more creative? VPL, not only gave the obvious gift of the art set, but the gift of listening, the art of friendship.

And More:

“Joy begets joy.”

In a moment, I’m going to leave you and start sketching… and mixing my paints, but before I do, are you curious about what was in the envelopes? Do you remember that my beloved pink wallet was stolen in Paris in September? Let’s take a look at old, happy times with Pinkie and me:

Well after two months, and a bit of a run around, I had the pleasure of speaking to Ky Johnson-Scott at Chase, and he assured me that I would receive a new bank card in two weeks. Ky and I spoke for thirty minutes, and he’s such a great guy that if I didn’t already have a bank account with Chase, I’d open one for his amazing service. Take a look at what was in the envelopes:

* Not one, but two bankcards… Ky was making sure that I got a card! Merci beaucoup/thank you/arigato gozaimasu Ky!

Friends, I have to go, ’cause the paints are calling me, but my gift to you today are the friendliest greetings!

Take care,

Val