Sunday, January 14, 2007

Tokyo: excerpt from Driving Minnie's Piano

Recently on a trip to Tokyo, I attended an extremely formal lunch with the mayor of one of the city boroughs of Tokyo, Itabashi. In the lacquered box before me was an assortment of what Sunyata would have called Klingon food – seaweed, tentacled things, mushrooms of extremely odd colours and a black fungal-looking delicacy that turned out to be pickled, well, tree fungus. Where I come from, people only pickle fish parts or garden crops. The black fungus, however, was delicious and I devoured it with chop sticks like I’d been hanging out in Japanese noodle parlours all my life. If my Japanese had been better, I would have told the mayor about lichen. Instead, we talked at length about singing Enya songs Karaoke style.

One of the “assignments” I had given to myself for my trip to Japan was to have several satori experiences. Awareness. Discovery, eye-openers for the mind and soul. There was no genuine satori at the lacquered box lunch where I had to bring “official greetings from my people.” I had not expected that. The mayor had done a formal greeting to me and I was expected to return the favour. I was a little taken aback. Who were my people? Lawrencetowners, Nova Scotians, Maritimers? Canadians? I had no time to consider who my people were so I said, “I bring you the warmest greetings from my people to everyone here in Itabashi and I know that we have so much in common.” My translator must have elaborated on this because her translation was a long eloquent event that pleased the mayor immensely.

The slightly off-kilter, counterpoint conversation that followed through my harried interpreter moved on to a discussion of Karaoke and food, especially seaweed. I boasted of the fact that I could collect seaweed from the waters where I surfed. I could eat it fresh from the sea while surfing or take it home and dry in the sun. “Most of my countrymen,” I said, because I kept reminding myself that I should speak for my people, not just me, “scoff at seaweed but I myself am a huge fan of dulse, Irish moss, certain chewy forms of kelp and rockweed.”

I think my long-winded remark lost something in the translation, for the mayor looked puzzled and consulted with his several deputy mayors sitting on his side of the table. I tried to restore the comradery with the innocuous remark, “The sea is such a wonderful provider,” and a quick translation brought smiles all around. I decided to become less loquacious and nibbled heartily at my fungus, making satisfactory noises that needed no translation.

*Autographed copies of Driving Minnie's Piano are available by clicking here.

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