Saturday, August 12, 2006

Eating Bamboo Bread

Eating Bamboo Bread

2006 August 12 Saturday

A few years back, when my wife and I settled into our new house in Kohoku Ward in the city of Yokohama, there were no decent restaurants in our neck of the woods. While I was taking a year off in New Zealand, however, a French restaurant opened locally, just down the road from the supermarket, and handy to the library.

Our local French restaurant is the Saigo Restaurant, and, the daughter having been parked at the daycare center so we could have some time to ourselves on Saturday 12 August, we dined there together to celebrate my 50th birthday. (In connection with which, thanks to all those who, anonymously or otherwise, sent birthday e-mails.)

In honor of the occasion I was wearing my new straw hat, which my wife had custom-made for me. It's 61 centimeters, and you can't buy a hat that large off the shelf in Japan, because the "large" size tops out at 58 centimeters. As usual, while out in the bright sun, I wore my dark sunglasses; without them, most of the world is washed out by the sunlight. (Even so, when traveling familiar routes, the journey to the daycare center and the journey to work, I'm happy enough to get by without the sunglasses.)

In the restaurant, they were playing authentic French music as enjoyed by the people in Paris, France: not Fat Freddy's Drop, but a Beatles record that I remember hearing in my parents' home back in the early 1970s. We also ate authentic French bread, takenosumi, which is bread into which finely-ground charcoal has been mixed. The charcoal is made by burning bamboo, so this is bamboo bread.

Surprisingly, the menu was not the standard bilingual Japanese and French menu of the standard French restaurant in Japan. Instead, it was in Japanese only.

We both ordered one entree, which was eggplant and tuna, and two mains, the mains being tuna (the tuna caught locally in Kanagawa Prefecture, which contains the city of Yokohama), and shoulder of lamb. My wife, who is not one of the world's great lamb eaters, found it too greasy for her taste, but I found it perfect.

And the bamboo bread, which was, to my palate, an unremarkable brown bread, went down very nicely, thank you.

We washed it all down with a glass of white wine and I had a coffee, coffee being something that I generally only eat in restaurants.

Back home, my wife helped me make a password for the Meguro library system, at

Unfortunately, this is the site from hell. It's all in Japanese, with no English option, and to enter your library card and your password, both of which are strings of numbers, you have to enter "half size" numbers. My wife was able to do this using our ancient 64 meg RAM ThinkPad, which has a Japanese keyboard with a "half size" option, but my own ThinkPad, with its English-language keyboard and operating system, has no "half size" option.

Later I will experiment with making a "half size" library card number and password in a Japanese-language Word document, then experiment with copying and pasting these into the Meguro library's page and seeing if it will work. I've got my version of Windows XP Professional set up so it can handle East Asian fonts, so I can open a document created with the Japanese version of Word. And, I hope, copy and paste for it.

Having had that thought, I remembered that I had (or so I thought) a full-size plug-in IBM keyboard with a Japanese language layout. It was, I thought, in the dusty space beneath my clothes rack, where I have stashed a couple of profoundly dead laptops, the holy grail and a couple of other things.

I figured that if I plugged in the keyboard and adjusted my keyboard settings, I should be away laughing. But this was not to be.

The remembered keyboard was still there, sure enough, more or less in mint condition, but there was nowhere to plug it in. My new ThinkPad does not have a keyboard port. Instead, it has two USB ports, and I did not have a USB keyboard. So scratch that idea.

Still, on the electronics front, one good thing happened today. Before going to the French restaurant, my wife and I met up at our local branch of the Yokohama library system. Upstairs, my wife showed me the work tables, and said that the people I saw lining up outside the library one day were probably aiming to grab a seat at one of these tables.

There were also four computer tables with power outlets but no Internet connection. A sign said you could book one at the issuing desk, and only two out of four were in use.

Off to the right was a display screen perhaps about 16 inches in size (diagonally), and this was for enlarging books.

My wife showed me how to use this gadget, which nobody else was competing for, and I liked it immediately. It's a big hulk of a thing, and I imagine it costs a ton, but it's easy to use.

Switch it on, slide the book under, turn one knob for contrast and another knob to make the letters larger or smaller. Press a red button and red light shines down on the open book, showing you precisely what part of the book the machine is currently focused on. There seems to be a button you can use to pan left and right across the book.

The whole place is upstairs in the airconditioned cool, in a neon-lit space remote from the world of traffic and kids.

After setting up a password for me, my wife went out to collect our daughter from the daycare center, and the Mother of All Thunderstorms burst, cataclysmically, shortly after she departed.

Left to my own devices, I pulled copies of the latest photographs off the flash memory card which fits into the digital camera, including photos of myself wearing the largest hat in Japan and a bunch of photos I took of the paper windows in our one traditional Japanese-style tatami mat room.

When I was at primary school (elementary school) our teacher told us that Japanese houses had paper windows, so we asked the obvious questions, like, how come the windows don't get damaged? The teacher could answer none of these questions. Well, the simple answer is that if your energetic daughter has been to work on them, your paper windows ended up getting trashed, big time, and I have the photographic evidence to prove this.

Fortunately, for protection against insects, burglars and the elements, we rely on the insect screens, sliding glass panels and sliding metal shutters which are part of the window system.

I got a couple of e-mails about the character Sarazin, otherwise known as Watashi, who I could not place with confidence in the CHRONICLES OF AN AGE OF DARKNESS series.

My own highly uncertain recollection was that this character turns up in THE WIZARDS AND THE WARRIORS, but one person remembered having seen a "Sarazin Sky" in THE WICKED AND THE WITLESS, this pet name having been bestowed on Sean Kelebes Sarazin by his mother, Farfalla, the "Kingmaker" of the Harvest Plains.

Another reader, who has just been reading THE ORACLE, the Warner Books edition of THE WOMEN AND THE WARLORDS, reports that the character named Watashi turns up in that book.

Some day I aim to go back and read the CHRONICLES OF AN AGE OF DARKNESS, though I have no intention of writing another book in that series.

In closing I'll note that daughter Cornucopia has now, at the age of two, used a computer for the first time. I received in the mail a CD of photos from Easter last year in New Zealand, loaded the snapshots onto the computer, and clicked on the first one.

I'm running Irfan View, and you can run through all the photos in a folder by simply pushing the spacebar to jump to the next. I set the computer down on the kitchen table and let Cornucopia do this.

At first she over-pressed, so the photos jumped forward in flurries, but soon she got the hang of it. Then she started kangaroo-thumping the spacebar, enthusiastically shouting out the noise that kangaroos make, which is ... I can't remember. (What's in my head is the term "Boing boing!" But, in Japan, that is not the sound which kangaroos make. Rather, in Japanese comic books, it is the sound which big breasts make as they go bouncing along.)

In amongst the Easter photographs there were none of the Easter Bunny. A Japanese visitor who had earlier visited New Zealand at Christmas recalled having seen Santa Claus at Christmas time. On the occasion of the Christmas which she remembered, Santa arrived in the Auckland Domain by parachuting in, to be greeted by a crowd of thousands.

We had seen Santa at Christmas therefore we would, at Easter, see the Easter bunny. Would we not?

I explained that unfortunately we would not.

Like Santa, the Easter Bunny is everywhere acknowledged. But, unlike Santa, he is nowhere embodied, at least not in New Zealand. I have no idea why this is so. But the photographic evidence is there. There is not a hair of the Easter Bunny to be seen anywhere in any of the photos, although the collection does include a number of shots of kids wearing bunny ears in honor of Easter.


Anonymous Steve said...

Hi, Hugh, you recollect correctly ... Sean Sarazin (Watashi) turns up in The Wizards and the Warriors when the three heroes reach Selzirk. They recall his childish pet name, to his chagrin. This scene also appears in The Wicked and the Witless.

7:08 AM  
Anonymous Steve said...

Hi, Hugh,
this morning on Australia's ABC Radio National I listened to an excellent episode of The Health Report.

I thought you might be interested in it - you can download the audio from the link below as an mp3.

"The Patient From Hell: Climatologist Professor Stephen Schneider wrote a book called The Patient from Hell. During his treatment for lymphoma he discovered that the way doctors make decisions is seriously and deadly flawed."

11:09 AM  

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