The Bum Rap


Part I

I think something clicked when I accidentally got mostly naked on the teeming streets of Tokyo.  

I had a celebrity paparazzi moment yesterday, y’all!  It’s not as fun as it sounds, though, because I hadn’t prepped for it, and there’s really no way to gracefully realize that the sidewalk grate is an active air volcano and that Marilyn Monroe must have had some warning to be able to hold her skirts down.  Without said warning, I got the front parts stuck in my armpits and the back parts floofing in the general vicinity of my lower backpack.  I stood there for a moment- dazed, don’t you know, but calmly trying to extricate myself before moving on- before it dawned on me that 1) this is something people get upset over, as a rule, and 2) my first order of business should have been to move to a less gusty spot.  

I honestly never got embarrassed, which threw me into meta-mode as I tried to figure out why not.

See, if this had happened in Portland, I would have been mortified.  I think I have this carefully cultivated personality there, and while I will purposefully put myself into situations that others don’t- simply because it’s not “done” and I want to challenge our social mores- I would not, for any reason, be okay with unwittingly showing my bum.  I would shudder for years at the grate incident, picturing students or parents or secret crushes who would have thoughtstagramed it and associated me with it indefinitely. Hundred percent nuh-uh.  

In Tokyo, however, I don’t know a soul and didn’t give a dang when I supermooned them.  I realized upon analysis that I must only be self-conscious around people who have already judged me through some sort of interaction with my actual personality.  This is admittedly stupid, but realizing it was a revelation that opened my horizons here.  Why bother staying silent and observant?  It seems now that I tiptoed through my first few days with the primary goal being not to offend.  I shoved my personality way down inside me, which was okay, but I figure that now that I’ve showed all the surface parts, I might as well let ‘em know the hidden parts, too.  It’s good for people to interact honestly as long as nobody’s getting hurt, right?  Right.

Metaphysical phase over; decision made.  I called the play to sing Carly Rae Jepson out loud on the Shinagawa streets for the duration of each chorus on my walk today, and I contend that “Call Me Maybe” is still the singable-est ditty on the intercontinental airwaves.  Something shifted and I’m happier now, so hooray.

Part II

Yesterday brought another gift, but in a decidedly more materialistic sense.  Let me preface this by saying that I never, in any incarnation of myself, thought I’d criticize the food scene in Portland because it is beans and frankly the greatest bunch of restaurants in the civilized world and I will never tire of going to old faves and investigating potential new ones.  We’re missing one thing, though: conveyor belt sushi.

Conveyor belt sushi is what happens when you die and get fast-tracked to heaven.  You don’t have to bother with any of the pesky language learning or order giving.  You just plop yourself down at the counter, which runs in a narrow u-formation past you and the chefs, tuck your knees to the side because you have exceptionally long femurs, and start grabbing.  There are two tickets to paradise per plate, and plates are color-coded by price.  You take what you want, stack the dishes you’re trying not to lick, and pay when you leave.  Want sake or something special off the menu?  Stand up, shout, “eh!” because you don’t know Japanese, and point at something on the page while throwing your eyebrows skyward like caterpillars raising the roof.  A chef will prep the manna faster than you can say “oh, my frickin’ best sake ever” and then chuck it down onto the belt for instant delivery.  It looks like this:


What the hell?  I thought I took a better picture than that.  Apparently my visual senses were dulled by ambrosia.  I’ll probably go back on my way home from work, though, and home is where I post these things, so I’ll take a better photo and show you, plus not delete the first pic because doing so would force me to edit out the word “ambrosia,” and no way that’s happening, son.  

So yeah, here it is for real and for better:  


Awesome, right?  That thing in the shot glass is sake, with the overflow filling the box in which it sits.  Best box o’wine ever and I ate the entire life cycle of a salmon from roe to old and back.

Part III

Let’s return to today, my first walk to school.  I had this newfound confidence that was a combination of knowing the way and having already mooned everyone on it, so as I said before, I was singing and striding with pride.  I got aggressive, even.  The sidewalks are crowded and fenced in here, and I’m not one to dawdle so I decided to assert myself.  I was wearing what I named my Lindsey Lohan wraparound skirt back when Mean Girls came out, and it’s a really great description because not only does it remind me of one she was wearing in the movie, but it also unravels at the slightest provocation.  So I was trucking along Lohan-style and the endorphins I’ve been missing due to my lack of exercise finally kicked in with abandon.  I even took to eye flirting, which is something I love to do when I have absolutely no interest in the receiver.  Actually, it was a link I got from Attila that prompted this behavior (see Attila’s link for the whole story) and it was so gosh darned interesting that I thought I’d expose some gentlemen to some harmless American tease.

The endorphins were as inspiring as the fifth grade indoor recess I observed yesterday, so I can’t wait to get into a gym class here.  My eyes actually flooded, I got so emotional.  This, ladies and gentlemen, is the purpose of sports:

At first glance, it looked like absolute mayhem.  The classrooms and halls are weirdly loud and action-packed, behavior I expected exactly zero of after years of hearing about Japanese reticence.  The gym was the same pandemonium with balls and children flying everywhere while everyone shouted and laughed.  As I studied the scene, however, some fascinating systems emerged.  I swear I felt like a marine biologist studying the play habits of minnows; they were so small and fast and smooth with their braided migration patterns up and down the floor.  Kids somehow accomplished two fully manned basketball games on the same court, weaving in and out of the three other teams with an awareness and athleticism that was nothing short of mind boggling.  Add to that a game of dodgeball they’d dialed up to eleven- on the same court, mind you- and the fact that they were all wearing identical navy shirts and brown hair… well, my western mind had a hard time sorting it out.  Yegads, it was beautiful.

Multiplying my sense of astonishment was the pure fun that each child radiated.  I didn’t see any of that alpha, testoste-posturing that fuels our American games, and passing was much more apparent than shooting.  Then when a kid did shoot and score, both teams grinned and cheered.  Nail an opponent with a dodgeball?  Exchange a toothy ear-to-ear; play on.

I stood in the doorway with my face leaking all over the place and tried to figure out how to bring this home.  I’m as guilty as the next player of trash talk and taunting, especially when it’s 12-year-olds I know I can beat.  Now I ask myself: why?  Sports are fun!  They make your entire body look and especially feel better; there’s no downside until you uglify them with envy and condescension.  

I’ve never seen them played this way before.  And I’m changed.

Part IV

I was scheduled to join a complete class for the first time today, and as it turned out I was joining as a student.  I had first period art with some seventh graders and a teacher who speaks better English than I speak Japanese, which is to say that she knew enough to say “hello” and “chair” and “sink”, which came in handy when I spilled blue paint all over my Lohan.

Art class was Tony the Tiger grrrreat! I was given four small papers on which to express happiness, anger, sadness, and joy using paints, stencils, toothbrushes, my breath, and a weird weeny screen.  I haven’t taken an art class since the early ‘90s and then, it was to attempt to draw a wooden man without any actual body parts.  This self-expression thing was a whole new ballgame.  Though I had some class act teachers at both SMS and Cony, I wish I had had more of an arts-focused atmosphere.  Today was a perfect illustration of how liberating it can be to create something original within rigid constraints and without ever having to talk about it.

In grade and high school I was sort of the asshole student who breezed through classes without any effort.  I’m terrible at art, however, so that dose of humility would have been good for me and would certainly be good for kids like me today.  

The other thing I realized was what it’s like to be the slower kid, the one who doesn’t understand directions and is somewhat handicapped in her ability to work independently.  I teach so many students in Portland who are limited with their English, or who need directions more than once… or who the other students avoid because they’re weird and look different.  I teach humans, in other words.  Here, though, I’m the outlier.  One girl even switched places to avoid sitting next to me.  And it’s easy for me because I’m not twelve and my mind, body and soul aren’t battling over who can betray me the most, and I also know that no matter how ridiculous I am, I’m out of here in a matter of countable days.  But I can’t think of a single Lyman Moore new kid who’s ever had that luxury, and I feel like that kid would have a vital outlet in an art class.  Because as I learned today, you don’t need to speak to cut the bonds, there.

Showing them your nethers works, too, but I wouldn’t recommend it.


4 thoughts on “The Bum Rap

  1. Colleen Foster says:

    Okay, you made me cry today! Such insight! I should have been prepared because Dad read your post before me today and said how you were so good at noticing things about every day life that others may not notice. More importantly, you are able to learn from what you observe and best of all – you can communicate your observations and thoughts so well when you write.


  2. Connie says:

    Carrie, I’m spellbound by your writing.
    Aunt Connie


  3. Catherine says:

    Carrie, Love your music class experience. Did you do the pig? Kids love the pig. I had the same experience when I was in France. Kids just adore hearing adults make animal sounds. The only one I had trouble with was the fact that , according to French kids, roosters say “Cori cori coo.” I much prefer our swaggering American roosters with their “cock a doodle doo!” Glad you are picking up on the similarities and differences between our cultures. No better way to do that than observing the kids. Reading your blog is the first thing I do every morning. Much more entertaining than Good Morning America. Keep up the outstanding writing!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s