Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The Preface


Empty Suitcase: Milk for This Week


When I started cooking carbonara—Italian spaghetti with bacon, cheese, eggs, milk, and a little bit of cream—I realized that I did not have enough milk. Even though I just came back from grocery shopping—actually I went to the supermarket to buy milk but I bought a watermelon instead—I totally forgot to buy a carton of milk. Then, I heard my neighbor parking his car on the street. I looked at him through the blinds. Yes! A carton was in his plastic bag! He also just came back from his grocery shopping.


I had a conflict between perfect and burned carbonara in my frying pan. Should I ask him for a cup of milk…or not? My carbonara said “Absolutely,” but my moral mind said, “Is it a little weird?


I have lived on campus for years, so I have seen not only him but my other neighbors at the library, computer labs, or gym. Their faces are familiar but I do not know their names. So my neighbor with the plastic bags — I secretly called him Ross after the comedy show Friends because he looked like him— was still carrying his groceries to his house. My carbonara begged me for a cup of milk and my frying pan sizzled. I decided to ask him for a cup of milk.


I introduced myself and shook his hand—starting from a good American style greeting— but he excused shaking my hand. He said, “I am sorry but I am sick.” So I withdrew my hand. I learned that his name was not Ross. Calling him by his real name, I explained that I am cooking—he definitely knew because of my blue apron—and desperately need a cup of milk. “May I have your milk” I said looking at his plastic bags.


“Chocolate milk instead?” he said blowing his nose. The carton was actually chocolate milk. It was not my wish, 2% vitamin D milk. I looked at his plastic bags again. He seemed to buy yogurt, cheese, and boxes of cereals…why did he not buy white milk? I asked, “Don’t you eat cereal with milk?” He said, “Not this week.” It was bad timing for my carbonara. Next week was the perfect moment to ask him for a cup of milk. My carbonara was ended up less creamy and a little bit burned. But it was not his chocolate milk’s fault. I bought the watermelon instead; it was my dysfunctional short memory’s fault.


Then, I thought how much things can I ask for from neighbors? Can I knock on doors for a shovel, flashlight, rice cooker, broom, chopsticks, pepper, screwdriver, toilet paper, internet connection, detergent, light bulbs, spatula, hammer, cough syrups, and electric fans? I realized that it matters how much courage I have to ask and also whose doors I knock on. I do not want to be in trouble asking for a spatula in my American neighborhood culture. When I first arrived in America, I asked a friend for a frying pan. She lent it to me once in a while but she finally said that “Naoko, it is time to buy your own frying pan.” Even though friends do not want things lent all the time, how can I ask for things from the neighbors; perhaps, strangers? Maybe borrowing things from neighbors are just mirages from TV dramas or the good old days.


My kind neighbor with chocolate milk moved away. Since I have asked him for a cup of milk, we started having small neighborhood conversations—whose dogs were barking, what was happening on Mishawaka Ave, and who were the good professors that I should take classes with— I believed that we built up nice neighborly communication. On the day he moved out, he brought me a carton of milk with a crimson ribbon. After waving at him, I put it in my refrigerator and noticed. It was past the expiration date. So now it is hard for know to me if we had really good neighbor communication…or not?

Sunday, January 20, 2008

The Preface


The Empty Suitcase
At an Airport


On the way back to America with two extremely heavy suitcases, a backpack, paper bag, and a certain-sized a plastic bag for toiletries, I took an eleven hour plane ride from Japan. At Customs, I carried luggage more than my weight—instant miso soups, my mother’s handmade beans, favorite chocolate sweets, green tea, new clothes, and tons of Japanese novels—I seemed to live in a jungle using a microwave and reading books.


At the entrance of America, I took off my jacket, shoes, belt, hat, and other accessories. I felt a wanting for music and a pole but I had never shown the feeling on my face. A security officer took my toothpaste from my plastic bag. I explained to her that it was Japanese toothpaste, and she said, “I know what it is.” My nearly empty toothpaste completed its mission by diving into the trashcan for the sake of the world peace.


I wished that the officer took my hand-cream instead. The toothpaste was nearly empty but I could have used for more than 5 days. My budget for new toothpaste was planned in late January. But, it was not only about my budget. The toothpaste was perfect—fluoride, some blue beads, and fresh mint flavor—it was for my mouth’s happiness; perhaps, halitosis. I must have the toothpaste. When I arrived at the airport in South Bend, I might have had greeting kisses on the cheek or a romantic moment between my non-brushed teeth and the final destination.


At the Detroit International Airport, there is a long, magical tunnel between the main building of the international flights and domestic flights. The tunnel is decorated with colorful fluorescent lights. The background music is like that of a romantic comedy movie—a young woman, who has her first business trip, coincidentally bumps into a young entrepreneur. Of course, her documents fly out her briefcase and his coffee is spilled on her shirt. In their eyes, passion sparks but she has to leave for her connecting flight. He keeps her lost article, a nice fountain pen, and walks in a different direction of hers. Somehow a manager at the airport helps them to meet again—this kind of background music is always in the tunnel. I walk through the tunnel every winter break; however, I had not bumped a young entrepreneur but my backpack wheels always stuck on the escalator in the tunnel.


In this trip, a young man was in hot pursuit after me through the tunnel before I brushed my teeth. When I walked on the electrical esplanade, he screamed, “Hey, you! Wait, young lady!” I guessed that the young lady was supposed to mean myself but I usually tried not to talk to strangers who screamed. In addition, I did not want to talk anyone until I got my new toothpaste. But he kept running toward me. I felt insecure and frightened.


If I lost my confidence, I might be dangerously in trouble, so I quickly walked through the tunnel in the bright lights. There were a few people in the tunnel. They just looked forward to their destinations, so they did not care about others. My heart beat quickened and I sweated. When I thought that the security booth was close, the guy grabbed my shoulder. I was caught.


He did not ask for my phone number or name, but we walked together to the gate for South Bend, and his gate was closed by. “Don’t lose your belt,” said the guy when we waved each other farewell. After the security point stripped my belongings, I probably did not wear my belt properly. I lost the belt at some point in the tunnel, and the guy was chasing me with the perfect romantic comedy music and the belt.


I did not know if there was a manager who would be a Cupid between the guy and me. If I had my toothpaste, I would have had more confidence to ask for his name. Perhaps, my confiscated toothpaste was the Cupid, but it had a mission for saving world peace not for my romance. My first purchase in America was dentist recommended toothpaste.
***
Picture: Detroit International Airport

Friday, January 11, 2008

The Preface


The Preface:
Empty Suitcase

Happy New Year, 2008! Welcome to my New Year’s resolutions.

I will cook more often than taking out food from China House. I have lived by myself for years; however, I have never bought my own frying pan. Almost all of my cooking tools are from my friends who have a passion for cooking. I got a nice wok and a cookbook for my twenty-first birthday instead of bottles of rum. I was disappointed in the gifts. After a couple of years later, I opened the book for the first time and I looked at a recipe from the book, Karahi Shrimp and Fenugreek. I do not know where I can buy those ingredients; however, I will worry later when I get my frying pan.


I have decided to flirt a little bit more this year. The word, flirt, may give the wrong impression but I mean flirting for learning new ways of communication and having social experiences with others. I believe that if some people are good at flirting, they are also good at communication with anyone in any kind of situations.


I am good at hiding in a box instead of meeting cute boys, but my sister is a charming social professional with the girl next door quality. So, I observed my sister during this winter break on how to “flirt” professionally in Japan.


After observing her, I realized again that communication is based on smiling, confidence, and conversational skills. She smiles when she greets people. She always pays attention to her hairstyles and clothes, so she looks neat, and her attitude is popular not only with young boys but also many kinds of people. She reads newspaper at least every morning for her interest and the conversational items. Even my little cousins run to her instead of me because she is patient with the little children’s attitudes. Building up confidence and patience takes a little time to accomplish, but I can progress for my outlook.


Consequently, I decided to wash my pair of jeans more often. Last year, I washed my dear two pairs of jeans twice each. When I went back to home this winter break, my mother imperatively sent them covering her nose with her flowerily apron from my suitcase to the washing machine. My poor jeans were in an antibacterial detergent, bleach, and rosy perfume for hours. For taking care of my outlook, I will wash my jeans at least once a week for this year. I will use a dryer, comb my hair, and wear unwrinkled shirts. When I wash my jeans, I need to be careful for things in the pockets especially coins.


I have been collecting State Quarters of the United States since 1999. When I visited America for the first time, my host family gave me the Delaware quarter and collection folder. The collection will be done after five more States in 2008. I still have not found nine coins since I use my credit card for purchases.


With my collection, I will take pictures and send a letter to the host family. Before sending the mail, I may call them to say hello. I have not talked to them for months. Living in a foreign country, people come and go in my life like a busy international airport. Everyone has a different final destination but I would like to think about “a once-in-a-lifetime chance” more for this year. It is difficult to keep in touch with all people but it may be a nice idea to contact them sometime.


Then I decided to call my family at least once a week. Homesick had been not in my dictionary but after spending time with my grandparents this winter break, I have already missed them. There is never enough time to be with close people. I talked to my grandmother sitting in the dining room while she made tea. We talked about nothing but I liked the warm atmosphere like the steam from a cup of green tea with her. Her gentle voice still echoed in my ears but it was a little bit bitter like green tea. Her life is very close to her final destination.


I read an article in some magazine in an airplane coming back to South Bend. It says that 90% of new year’s resolutions eventually fail. Let’s see how much I can accomplish my resolutions in 2008.