Sunday, May 8, 2011

music, silence, food

Some things.

On Saturday I walked to Uniqlo (not the closest Uniqlo, turns out -- damn you, Google Maps, for lying to me) to buy some socks, as I have put holes in three pairs since I've gotten here. I went ahead and got two more t-shirts while I was there, since it looks like I will be doing more dressed-down work (cleaning, etc.) and less dressed-up work than I had at first predicted.

I know some folk think Uniqlo's stuff is bland and boring, but you guys: When you are a size FREAKING ENORMOUS by most Japanese standards, and Uniqlo carries most of the basics in sizes up to XL (an American XL, more or less) -- that is a godsend. I love Uniqlo. Also their socks fit unusually well -- they go up just far enough to avoid slipping over the heel and have a good seam at the toe (and come in cute patterns.) I bought three pairs last time I was here, but alas! one half of each pair disappeared into the ether, and I was left with one red, one blue, and one gray striped sock.

On the way park I walked through a large park with a mysterious structure inside a large wall that I could not identify. Upon further investigation, I realized that it was the Kyoto Imperial Palace. Durrrr. The current building only dates from 1855 (only!), though there has been an imperial palace near this location since the late 700s. Two recent emperors were crowned here (though not the most recent), but it isn't currently used as a residence. You have to request permission to go inside, but I just walked about and took some picture of the wall and the roofs and stuff. (There's also a bunch of normal park stuff on the grounds, like a baseball diamond and tennis courts.)

VERDANT FOLIAGE on the roof!

Overlapping roofs of one the gates.

Incidentally, I've added another item to my "smell of Japan" list: New wood and evergreens. There are Japanese pine forests surrounding the whole city, and the scent creeps in, especially when you get to the edges.

My loot from Uniqlo. Also my toes.

Some food stuff: I attempted to make cabbage-and-carrot-and-onion stuffed steamed buns. FOOLISHNESS!

This setup failed, for reasons I will not go into.

I consoled myself with these graham cracker cookies shaped like historical Japanese coins. I found myself with a zip-loc full of dough that I knew not what to do with; dumplings were right out, after I tried to make two and immediately regretted it.

So, frybreads to the rescue! with a dollop of sugar in the center of each, which liquefied and caramelized in a most pleasing fashion.

The next day (Sunday) (yesterday) I took a walk. I did not take my camera -- for shame! -- but I didn't really feel like taking pictures. I did take my iPod and listening to Florence and the Machine at a deafening volume. That's the problem with having not so great hearing: If I turn down the music, I can't hear it, but if I turn it up, I presumably damage my ears, thus making it harder to hear it the next time around. I nearly gave myself a headache and so pulled my earbuds out about four miles in.

I wasn't really planning on anything, and it was early in the afternoon, so I just kept walking and walking and walking until I more or less ran into a mountain. Google Maps tells me round trip was about 10.5 miles. Northern Kyoto is eerily quiet, even on a Sunday when one could expect most people would be home and doing stuff. Farther north, though it's still dense with housing, the fabric of the land starts breaking up into gardens and rice fields and more and more elderly houses. Some of the rice fields were just being prepared for planting.

I stopped at a small temple on the way back, the approximate location of which is indicated by the red arrow. I'm not always sure whether a religious building is a Buddhist temple or a Shinto shrine in Japan, but this one had what looked like little solemn Buddhas lining the stairway up to the shrine, so I'm going to guess Buddhist. Nearby was another shrine, this one I think Shinto, with giant red lanterns and a nearby pond with a tiny waterfall and giant terrifying multicolored carp. Next to the pond was a creaky old water wheel that I think must have been used to hull rice back in the day, which I was delighted to see labeled 水車, suisha -- water-wheel. So often I really don't get Japanese compounds. I learn them, but I don't see how they came to mean what they do. For example, 勉強, benkyou, means "study." It's a compound: the first character means " to exert oneself," and the second means "strong, competent, knowledgeable" (though the first meaning is most common.) Now, I'm not saying that both of those things don't have to do with studying, I'm saying that I wouldn't pick those out as the most obvious characters to make up that word. I'm guessing part of it is probably Chinese precedent. Anyhow! I was delighted to see a compound that made sense to my English-speaking mind.

On my way back I encountered a drum trio underneath the closest bridge to my apartment. They were really good. I think there must be a music school nearby (perhaps part of Kyoto University?) because I am forever hearing/seeing young folk practicing their tubas, trombones, trumpets, etc., especially on the river walk. It's pretty fun.

My first day of work is tomorrow. I'm a little nervous, but not too badly so. We shall see.

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