Sunday, October 21, 2007

The First Gig

Welcome back. With the Yankees' hurried exit from the post season fresh in my mind, it has been hard to muster up the energy to press my PC's keys in the right order. To make things worse, the latest Japanese export, DICE-K (Matsuzakasan) has converted most of the Japanese Yankee fans into Red Sox fans. Ouch...Anyhow, I had my very own Lost in Translation (a movie with Bill Murray about strange foreign experiences in Tokyo. It's R-rated so my students will have to take my word for it. Sorry Dogz...) experience. Really, it was out of the movie-literally.

Last Sunday, I received a phone call from a new, fellow foreigner friend Simon. He's British (which I don't hold against him) and quite a superb sax and piano player. Well, as all entries into the music scene go, he needed a bass player to cover a gig that night. I was more than happy to make room in my busy gig schedule. Oh, and by busy I mean non-existent.

As it turns out, the gig was at the Shinjuku Park Hyatt Hotel in the New York Bar. This happens to be the bar that was featured in Lost in Translation. It's on the 54th floor of this swanky hotel and overlooks the stunning Tokyo cityscape (Bladerunner anyone?). Unfortunately, my posterior spent most of the evening facing the beautiful view. There were folks from all across the globe listening (I think) to our music. There was one couple in the front that decided to watch TV on their cellphone (Yes, the technologically advanced Japanese have developed the TV phone. They initially tried the TV shoe but ran into licensing issues with the producers of Get Smart-and of course the smell). Being a veteran of apathetic audiences, I took no offense to this most basic of faux pas. I've played many years for audiences who preferred all sorts of other entertainment (flying cars, flying ladies, and of course just flies).

The highlight of the evening was when we received a request from a fairly inebriated Japanese gentleman. His request was unintelligible, even to the fluent Simon. Apparently, North America does not hold the patent for drunk requests. As is the standard procedure when in this situation, we both nodded and smiled and gladly accepted his ¥10,000 ($100). Then, we chose Someday My Prince Will come due to the fact it was the only thing that came to mind. Fortunately, he and his date disappeared before the end of the set. The bar manager relayed to us that that was exactly the song he was hoping to hear. Good thing we didn't play Don't Get Around Much Anymore...

Be well,

Thursday, October 4, 2007

The Menu

We often take for granted the some of the basics of the English language. Punctuation, for example, is often misapplied. Take, for instance, my blog; I am a bona fide "native" speaker of "American" English, yet frequently make errors in both my vocabulary choices and the punctuation that organizes them. Why would I expect a restaurant in my neighborhood to have a grammatically-correct English menu?

Ordering in Japan (at my level of Japanese reading comprehension) is like visiting the Pyramids at Giza. With the reading ability of a 4 year old, deciphering the hieroglyphs can be challenging. After gazing upon the menu for what seems to be forever, I know that the series of pictographs mean something...but...but does this one mean "pork," "cow tongue," or "Big Mac?" Oh, the agony... The scientific method does work, although I rely heavily on trial and error. The robots over here react well to binary concepts (i.e. the old robot joke: 010100111? 01101!).

As it turns out, one of my favorite (Kana's, too) places to dine is an Italian restaurant called Grotto Diana. As I say, "when in Tokyo, do as the Romans do."

It's only about 5 minutes from my house by chari-chari and has great food and drink (although their meatballs are nothing compared to Marie's). The staff there is always friendly. Due to the fact that I visit Grotto regularly, I've become the pet foreigner-more of a Norm Peterson than a Cliff Clavin. The manager, Nishidasan, is my age and speaks English as well as I speak Japanese so it's a friendship based on mime and charades. Anyhow, in one of our broken conversations I explained that I was a teacher of English. So, when Nishidasan decided to have a bi-lingual menu, he consulted his resident expert, yours truly. After Kana and I finished our meal last night, this new marvel of globalization appeared in front of me (along with a glass of Japanese whiskey-payment I suppose. Maybe he wanted to influence my grading ability). There were a few strange spellings: "watar" or wudder in Philadelphianese and "basils" which only makes use of the New Jerseyan habit of unnecessary pluralization ("yous guys" is the most common application). Otherwise, he had accomplished the incredible task of translating a menu of Italian dishes into Japanese and then into English. The next step will be cooking the food without using chopsticks or a wok but...hey, who's complaining?

Be well,