Sunday, 29 March 2009

The Blue Pen or the Black Pen?

A few years ago, I worked at the Burger King in my local town. One morning, I was the only person at the register. Who should walk in but Laurence Fishburne. He was with someone else, and I don't remember what they ordered. But one thing I will always regret is having passed up two opportunities: one was to ask for his autograph; the other... well, in order to understand, you need to know something first.

You see, at Burger King, much like MacDonald's, you could upsize your meal. It was called Kingsizing®. They also had two different coloured cups: regular cups were red and large cups were blue. You see where this is going? You do know who Laurence Fishburne is, right?

What I regret is not having asked a particular question that would have imprinted memorably on my life -- much moreso than simply having served Mr. Fishburne at Burger King on that slow morning. I should have asked him if he wanted the blue cup or the red cup, holding one out in each hand. Instead, I served him as I would a regular customer and chickened out completely. Such an opportunity only comes once in a person's life. Don't miss out when you get this opportunity. You will still have a story to tell, but it's not the sort of story that will get you a Time interview.

If you're confused as to a. Why I have this in my Japan blog; and b. What the heck I am talking about, then I shall explain. Briefly.

You see, Laurence Fishburne is perhaps best known for playing the character Morpheus in The Matrix. One key scene had him offering Neo, our protagonist, the option to either exit the matrix or continue on, oblivious to the truth of their slavery. The way this was to be decided was through two different coloured pills: a red pill, and -- you guessed it -- a blue pill. So you see the connection between Burger King cups and Morpheus' offer, reflected in his sunglasses, to either learn the truth (insert Genesis story here) or continue on as a computer hacker in a computer-generated existence. Ne?

Both the irony and wit would surely have left an astounding impact on both our lives had I taken the opportunity to act with courage. Instead, Mr. Fishburne enjoyed a burger and continued his holiday in New Zealand; none the wiser. And me? Well, I thought about it afterwards. And thus my anecdote was born.

As for the reason why I have threaded it into my blog, I felt that it would make for a good introduction to my next -- much shorter -- story. Which, incidentally, in turn paves the way for other recent recountings and random rhetoric.

A couple of weeks ago, I went into Ryubi, the stationery shop in K-town. I grabbed three blue pens and two pencils and brought them to the counter. The shop clerk proceeded to tell me that what I was buying were blue pens. Well yes, they were blue because I had chosen blue pens. But because I am an ignorant gaijin, she had to ensure that I understood that what I was buying were not black pens. That's right, the pens were not black.

I assured her that I intended to buy blue pens because I always write in blue. She even went so far as to pull out a black pen and write on a scrap of paper to show me that indeed, it was black -- but my ones were blue, not black like her example. But I wanted blue pens. I was confident, and I was sure.

It wasn't till later, when I recounted my tale to a friend, that I realised why the lady was insistent upon making sure I understood what I was doing. Apparently, Japanese people commonly write with black pens; just as you and I grew up writing with blue pens at school (at least, I think most people did). To this day, I frequently write with a blue pen (when I'm not using a pencil). I don't shun black pens. I just prefer blue.

That cleared up, I now wonder why there is such a huge selection of blue pens available. Perhaps they need a little Morpheus there holding out a blue pen and a black pen. When you approach you would see them reflected in his wee sunglasses, and he would ask you -- in Japanese, of course -- if you wanted the blue pen or the black pen. If you chose blue he would yell out, "Gaijin alert!" and proceed to lower his shades and laser you in the face. But the laser would hit you in the chest because the designers hadn't accounted for the height difference...

Well, I have my blue pens, but it makes me wonder about other differences between Japanese culture and Western culture. There are bound to be plenty of small things that if one is only observant, one will pick up on; and have a story to tell as a result.

Take, for instance, rice. It is highly frowned upon to put soy sauce on white rice. Not just any rice: white rice. I'm not sure if there is an emphasis on the colour (or texture, or quality) but people always tell me not to put soy sauce on white rice. So I take this to mean that it's ok to put it on any other rice? Fair enough, right? What I should have done on St. Patrick's Day, then, is to have made some green rice, poured shouyu (soy sauce) all over it, and then, when someone gasped and told me that it is offensive to do such a thing, I could have pointed out that it was, in fact, green rice that I was eating; so it should be ok! All hail St Paddy, patron saint of beer guzzling and grossly coloured foods.

Green eggs and ham, anyone? I would eat them in the park. I would eat them after dark. I would eat green eggs and ham. I do so like them, Sam-I-Am.

Today, after two church services, Mika, her daughter Eddie and I drove out to Iejigawa (Mika drove; we just came along for the ride). We went past the shougakkou that I sometimes teach at, and stopped at the nearby dam. There were groups of people having hanami: a picnic under the sakura trees. Although in Kochi, hanami means getting pissed under the blossoms and making a loud racket. It's all about the sake, baby.

We crossed the dam, with an exclamation from me of "dam!" at the great concrete structure with its large steel gates preventing the water from passing -- or at the very least, controlling its gentle flow. What a joker!

On the other side, it was nice to walk along next to shimanto-gawa -- the Shimanto River -- and throw pebbles at a fish that was sitting there, barely moving. It took a lot to eventually persuade him to languidly undulate away. Upon our return, he was back -- and with four friends, all lazily floating around, waiting for the insects to come close enough so they could lure them into their pool of sudden death. I threw no more stones but rather let them enjoy the overcast day that would have looked all the murkier through their river-soaked pupils.

We went to the shougakkou to fly a kite. If you were to say that as two syllables, like it would be said if directly transcribed into Japanese characters, it would be ki-te (kee-teh). This could mean "tree hand". Or it could just be those sweet, purring animals we find just so loltastic.

Incidentally, the ki-te did end up in a tree. It was as if the tree hand reached out and snatched it greedily into its embrace. I had to climb up and retrieve it -- or at least assist in shaking it loose while Mika tugged on the string, as it was too far out on a narrow limb to reach by hand. Even by tree hand. :p

There are also three swings and two rope swings in the small playground. It was relaxing, and nostalgic, to play around for a while. Pull up a swing. Stay a while. Ah, youth: I call thee back at whim.

Having swung on the rope swing, I came to realise that today was very Indiana Jonesesque. After all, I crossed a raging river (see: peaceful and barely moving), climbed a gigantic, swaying tree (see: not-so-gigantic, completely stationary) and swung mercilessly across a large chasm on a fraying rope swing of death (see: solid, knotted rope hanging from a tree, hanging over flat ground). 'Twas an adventure worth noting!

The discussion of names came up this evening. Mika told me that she once met a Chinese girl who had taken the name Jojo. Brand-name much? She told me it would be like her calling herself Yamada Denki. At which my response was, "What did you say about my mada?".

Yamada is so fat, when she went swimming they mistook her for a whale, dragged her to shore, carved her into pieces and sold her meat to the best sushiya in Tokyo city. Take that, PETA.

Time for bed. I should have hit the sack (note: futon -- and hitting it would avail naught but sore fists) well before now. We leave for Osaka early tomorrow morning. Which means I have to get up at least five minutes before we leave. And I haven't even packed! At least I remembered to replenish my Oxyride battery supply for my digicam (that's Japanese for "digital camera").

Good night, sleep tight, and I will be sure to take photos in Osaka.

On the road again, yo (that's what she said). And the sky is clear, yo (at least we hope it will be). Gonna meet some hotties, yo (that's what I was promised!). I'm gonna be bushed tomorrow (neeeeee). ^^

Peace (yo).


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