Sunday, December 4, 2016

My Kind of Mormon

It's been two and a half weeks since I applied for my dream job.  I followed up my initial application at the two week mark, and got the dreaded autoreply:  "Don't call us, we'll call you."  They actually say it more like, "We've got a shit ton of applications and we're weeding through them.  We'll be contacting suitable applicants for interviews over the next two weeks."  It still makes you feel like dirt, because if they were interested, wouldn't they have already emailed you?  And I've worked damn hard to make myself into a top candidate over the last few years, so they should have emailed me.

This is not to say it won't happen.  I still feel like it will - after all, I begged and pleaded in prayer for pretty much this exact job, so it's destiny, right?  (Of course, after my last botched attempt at a relationship - many moons ago with a French guy I was once stuck in Beijing airport with - for a while I still felt like somehow that might work out, too).  But faith is a funny thing.  It's not logical, which is fine, since sometimes logic turns out to be completely wrong.

I've been trying to be a better Mormon girl lately.  And by lately, I mean since July or so, because the last few weeks I've missed church for one reason or another, which I guess is ironic...that someone who pins her hopes of getting shortlisted on an all-powerful being's favor (at least a little - after everything I could do on my own, that's all you can do, right?) would allow herself to miss an opportunity to show obedience to that Being's commandments because of snow, or her stomach, or a kind of lame Japanese culture thing.  This week, though, I was scheduled to teach the English speaking Sunday school.  I was not thrilled about this assignment.  I don't have kids, after all - why should I have to teach other people's brats*?  After all, teaching is my job and the sabbath is supposed to be a day of rest.  However, there's also this thing in Mormon doctrine where you're supposed to help lift one another's burdens, and this isn't the sort of thing to which you say no, at least without a reason that does not sound like, "BUT I DON'T WANNA CLEAN MY ROOM!"  So I printed off the lesson and went to church.

On the way to the bus stop, I slipped for the first time this winter.  It hurt like hell and I probably dropped the f-bomb.  Maybe more than once.  Not an auspicious start.  Once I was on the bus I was stuck in traffic for the longest time.  I have no idea why there was traffic that far up in Zaisan at 11:30 on a Sunday morning; maybe Engrish will be able to tell me, if she was running up here this morning.  Either way, I did make it, and during the first part of church I mentally prepared myself for the ordeal of teaching primary. Except, when I went to teach, it seemed that all of the expats had left.  The room was empty, all the kids were gone, and I couldn't find any of the adults.  And even though I didn't actually want to teach them, I was a little peeved that they were all gone, because I was looking forward to the blessings that Mormons believe come from keeping the commandments (an attitude that I have in common with widowed prophet's wives from church history, if anyone is thinking I'm hypocritical).

The truth is, I'm not actually very good at being Mormon.  The screaming child behind me doesn't make my ovaries explode with envy that the woman behind me is a mother and I'm not.  And although getting married is supposed to be the second most important decision we can make in life (right behind baptism at #1), I'm honestly not that fussed about it anymore.  I'm not trading my independence for anyone but the most awesome guy ever at this point.  If that makes me apostate, then so be it.  I'll just have to settle for a lesser degree of glory in the afterlife.  But the thing is, I haven't given up.  You can call me crazy for believing what I do.  Maybe I am, but in spite of the disappointments I've felt and the fact that I no longer "fit" in the church as well as I did 20 years ago, I still buy it.  So I still believe I'm going to hear back from the dream job.  If God can manage the things he did in the scriptures, he can manage me.  And if not, that will be okay, too.

*I mean it affectionately.  (Or I do when I'm talking about my actual students....)

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Sing a Chorus or Two...

 
Last Friday Engrish and I broke into song for the first time in a long time walking over to Five's Games Night at elementary.  While it may have been lovely weather for a sleigh ride, it really sucked for walking.  Once upon a time, the sky was beginning to lighten when I'd go out for my morning walks on the track.  Now I have to take those walks in the school, where it is way too freaking hot and dry (so much that I can't breathe unless I take a sip of water every couple of laps).  And then there's the snow.  Two weeks back we got more snow dumped on us over the course of a week than we have my last four years in Mongolia.  In the last few days city workers have been killing themselves chunking it off the streets and sidewalks (because otherwise it's not going anywhere until March), but it's still pretty treacherous, and walking around with Blondie and Engrish yesterday I came very close to falling down several times, penguin walk or no.

So I've been a little down on the UB life for a while.  Besides the cold, snow, and pollution, I've become a little jaded, having experienced much (most?) of what the city has to offer.  Fortunately Engrish still has her eyes open and spotted that our favorite local band was playing Tarantino soundtrack covers last night at Artistry (formerly American Ger'll, formerly The Moose, formerly American Ger'll).  The decor hasn't changed a lot, although there was a very nice painting (#sarcasm) in the entrance of a horse and a woman doing interesting things (ie, parents, you might want a distraction lined up if you're not ready to have that talk about what happens when a woman and a horse love each other veerrrryy much).  The food was great - my Greek salad was a little heavy on the lettuce (I won't go into why this is so freaking wrong), but Blondie and Engrish had a pizza that was so delicious that even though my stomach has been threatening to do terrible things to me since Friday morning, I stole two pieces.  It goes without saying that Tigerfish was awesome...and since our new Office Wonder Woman turns out to be friends with their lead singer, we actually got VIP seats and talked to her.
There may be reasons I've become jaded, though....it's hit and miss.  Last week Engrish also told me she was invited to a Japanese culture event being hosted at the water conservation department near our school, and since she knows how crazy I am about Japan, asked me to be her plus-one.  Since the Japanese embassy was involved, we figured it would be pretty legit.  Maybe it was, when things first got started, but it was 1 pm before we got there (she had to get her run in), we were both hungry, and the food didn't look that appetizing.  There were a few other booths set up - one selling recycled goods, another selling camel milk soaps, ones where they dressed you in a yukata, showed you how to fold origami, and wrote your name in kanji - but everything was pretty picked over.  We were just in time for the cosplay event, but animal girls in pink maid outfits really weren't all that inspiring.  When I realized my nerdy-by-nature seventh graders could probably do as well if not better, we decided it was time to sneak out, while everyone else was enjoying it.  Having organized a few things in my day, I do realize how much time and effort goes into them...but I was still hoping for more.  Maybe next time.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Up in the Air

This post actually started over a year ago.  Today, I wanted to write about all the cool art stuff I've been working on...but then I chose to use my powers for evil.  This shouldn't come as a surprise to you if you've been reading the blog for any length of time; I hang out with the powers of darkness a lot.  Nevertheless, most of the finished fruits of my labors aren't things I want to share with the interwebs...if any of my six readers want to stop into Mongolia one of these days, I might be willing to negotiate a cringey show and tell.  But for now, I'll keep my secrets, and you'll have to wait a while longer for the next-level, mad-skillz art post.

Instead, let me tell you about airBnB.  I assume everyone who travels at all and most people who don't know about airBnB, but after our TEDx event (which I wouldn't touch with a ten-foot pole in this space, but you can check it out on Facebook, if you care), I mentioned staying in one to Blondie during our four-hour ASA with Engrish, and she didn't really know what I was talking about.  I first encountered it before starting to plan my Russia/Venice trip, and decided to try it on that excursion, since hotels there were so expensive.  AirBnBs are generally extra rooms in people's homes that they rent out to travelers.  At first, this seems a little sketchy.  My friend Siobhan once told me about Couchsurfing, and I thought, "Hell no."  I didn't like the idea of just crashing on some rando's couch, or the idea of hosting randos myself.  But I'd seen some of the airBnBs from articles posted on facebook, and the reality of spending three weeks in three expensive cities forced my hand.
I felt a little weird taking pictures of peoples homes at first - instead, here's a picture of my shoes at that trip's end
That first experience was pretty legit.  Irina was my first hostess..  Her apartment was spacious and clean, although a bit of a walk to get into tourist central.  She was very sweet and served yogurt, croissants, and fresh homemade strawberry jam on my last morning in St. Petersburg. My next hostess was Natasha.  Her flat was in the perfect location - it was about 5 minutes from the metro and maybe 10 from the Kremlin AND there was a Mexican restaurant down the street whose food was kind of mediocre but served a kick-ass virgin strawberry daiquiri.  The door was a bit hard to work, and it got a little hot, but overall I was happy with my stay in Moscow (at least until I had to walk 45 minutes to get to the Aeroexpress station, but that was my fault for having such an early flight to Venice).  My final host was Lorenzo (there's no link because he doesn't do airBnB anymore).  I intentionally chose to stay with women for the first two, because that felt safer, but his listing mentioned that he had a female flat mate, so that made me feel a little easier about it, and Lorenzo turned out to be an excellent host.  Not only was the flat right next to the Rialto (which means easy access to the vaporetto and Alilaguna boats), my room was spacious, and I had a wardrobe to hang up my clothes in (which I actually took advantage of, since I was there for 11 days).  Venice was bloody hot, and he went above and beyond by going out and buying an electric fan for me to use while I was there.  I'm not sure how I lived without it the first half of the time I was there, but it made a HUGE difference to my comfort level.  Although his flat was on the 4th piano (which translates to the 5th floor for us Americans), I considered it a good thing, with the amount of gelato I ate during the week.  I also didn't mind when his water heater had a couple of issues (which he was prompt in attending to) while I was there - I spent all day sweating, and I ended up taking cool showers even when the hot water was cooperating.
My stay in Kyoto has been my favorite, though.  Taka-san owns a traditional Kyoto house with tatami rooms and paper-thin walls.  When I went to Tokyo two-some years ago, I stayed in a ryokan (traditional Japanese inn), where I had the experience with tatami, and a futon, and a Japanese style bath.  I decided I was never staying in a hotel in Japan again, especially since the cramped little room I had my first trip to Kyoto cost me a whopping $130/night, and had zero character.  The problem, though, when I started looking for a place this trip, was that the ryokan were either too expensive, in places where I didn't want to stay, or both.  So when I found Taka-san's Kyo-machiya, I booked it, even though it was non-refundable and our fall vacation hadn't been confirmed yet.
Best decision ever.  It was exactly what I wanted - besides the whole traditional culture thing, it was relatively close to everything.  He also has a gallery set up in his "living room," in which was displayed some of the coolest art I saw my whole visit - a series of anime-style watercolors that told the story of a boy and a girl meeting at a festival.  He owns two bikes that he rents to his guests for a whopping 300 yen a day, so even the things you can't easily see by foot, bus, or metro are really accessible...although learn from my fail.  I fought the law, and the law won.  The day I rented it, I was on my way back to the house when I passed one of the shopping arcades, and decided to stop and take a look around.  There were no legal spaces, and other people had illegally parked their bikes, so I decided to yolo it.  After relying on the kindness of strangers (and Japanese strangers truly are kind!  This ojisan who was dealing with the same problem let me follow him to bike prison) and paying 2300 yen (which is apparently super reasonable for having your bike impounded) I had my bike back and was wishing even more fervently to be able to move to Japan.  It's weird, but I kind of miss living with people who hold you accountable for following the rules.

It was across the street from the zoo, and when I woke in the early mornings I could hear snuffles and grunts from our neighbors.  I could also hear snores from the other guests.  See, many airBnBs have multiple rooms they rent out, which feels a little like a drawback of the system.  None of the other guests in Kyoto were a problem - everyone was very polite (which is kind of a pain in and of itself...when you're staying in someone's home, you feel like you have to be on your best behavior, while at a hotel, you can stink up the room with your poops and not have to worry about offending anyone) - but some of the guests at Lorenzo's came home one night at about two, noisy and (presumably) super drunk.  Another quasi-problem is getting in.  People's homes are harder to find than hotels, and you kind of have to arrange when you'll get there, rather than just showing up.  Contact numbers are listed, in case you get lost, but I rarely bother with getting a sim card when I travel, so when I couldn't find Irina's, I had to find an open wifi network and use my skype credit to call her.
Parting gifts from Taka-san

Overall,  AirBnB is a different experience.  It gives you the opportunity to get to know people from other parts of the world more deeply than you would if you were in a hotel - if you're into that sort of thing - but it's also not their job to help you out.  All of my hosts were extremely gracious, but I didn't ask for a lot from them.  All in all, it's an interesting and often cheaper way to see the world, and I feel like it is probably a pretty good deal for the hosts.  I haven't used it every time I've traveled since I started, but if it makes sense to do so, and you can find one that you're comfortable with, I say go for it.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Buy It Here: Fabric Shopping

It's my fourth day wearing black.  I'm in mourning, you see - my home country appears to be on the brink of burning to the ground.  Maybe I'm exaggerating.  I'd love to be wrong.  When I saw my Dark Lord and Master on Facebook yesterday morning, I hit him up for some words of comfort.  As usual, he answered with a thoughtful, well-written analysis, and it made me feel a little better (admittedly, he's a man who considers Chinggis Khaan to be one of history's greats and a personal hero, but since I'm surrounded by people like that, it didn't actually take anything away from what he had to say).  Still, I'm concerned.  I almost wish I was going home, so that I could fight the thing that really worries me - the ignorance and hate that has already started rearing its ugly head, if Twitter is to be believed.

But I'm not.  If I can't get my dream job, I'll stay longer, or go wherever I can, if they've already replaced me by the time I give up hope.  In that case I'd like to leave something behind.  Guidance, let's say, for the next person who comes along.  So I'm going to try to write some find-it posts.  Last time I showed off my sewing projects, so it seems apropos to start with where to find sewing stuff.
I use a lot of special stuff for my plushies that was brought from the States, but obviously I can't fit all the yards and meters of fabric I need in my suitcase.  Summer taught me that if I'm home, I should start and finish looking at JoAnn's, because they literally have everything.  Unfortunately, Mongolia doesn't have JoAnn's.  Or Michaels.  Or even a freaking Hobby Lobby.  What it DOES have is Naran Tuul - aka, the Black Market.  Not that kind of black market.  This one is legit (a fact that I already mentioned when I wrote about it my first year)...when it isn't on fire (yes, that's happened, fortunately in the early morning while no one was there).  And amongst the many, many things that are available there is fabric.   There are two similar blue-roofed buildings in the Black Market.  The fabric and associated supplies are in the left hand one, if you're looking from the front.

You have to do the proper mental preparation before you go to the Black Market.  It's crowded, and busy, and there's not a lot of space.  People will push past you, and if you try to be polite and wait for people to get out of your way, you'll be there a long time.  There are also pickpockets, so you have to be aware of your surroundings (and for the love of everything good, if someone offers to take you there, don't give them panic attacks by having your passport on you!)  But it's my best suggestion for one-stop fabric shopping that doesn't involve getting on a plane (I left Korea nine years ago and I still miss Dongdaemun).  They have a variety of fabric, buttons, ribbons, thread - most of what you're going to need - and bargaining is sort of expected.  For me, the drawback is that it can be really dirty.  The fabric market is covered, but not fully enclosed, so all of the coal dust/dust/other pollution stands a chance of coming into contact with your cloth.  Most of the fleece I bought there I just washed once and it was fine, but I bought some pale pink this fall that I ended up using most of my supply of Goop to clean...and it still has some nasty spots.
There are other options, of course.  One is the variety of small shops scattered around, called "boos baraa" ѲС БАРАА).  There are a number of these on Baga Toiruu, up the street from the Flower Center, past the stop light and on the other side, but I've seen them in other places as well.
The ones on Baga Toiruu seem like to function like the fabric market in Shanghai - you can actually get clothes made there.  And by clothes, I mean deel.  And by fabric, I mean silk deel cloth.  Four-plus years I've been here and I still haven't had traditional Mongolian clothes made for me, but when I stumbled into this shop, I almost did it that day.  They had Hello Kitty fabric.  Hello Kitty isn't really my kind of anime, but she's one of the few cartoon characters Babysis has any attachment to, thus, Bunny loves her.  It is possible that Bunny loved my new Hello Kitty skirt so much that she demanded I bring it to dress up at the family reunion this summer - you won't know for sure because I've censored the photos, but let's just say that when a three-year old tells her favorite aunt that she only gets to see twice a year to bring her "tutu," it happens.  I haven't given Bunny a deel yet, mostly because Babysis wouldn't appreciate it, but this might be the year.  It can't possibly be worse than the glitter-covered Rapunzel dress she got from me last year!

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Queen of the Nerds

I've been enjoying a sort of creative renaissance this year.  There's been a lot of art - some drawing (which I'll get to at some point), some workshops, and my sort-of obsession:  my plushies.  Even before I saw what C2E2 had to offer, I was intrigued by the idea of making my own, and had purchased some fabric at Hobby Lobby last Christmas to that end.  However, it took seeing the injustice in their lack of anime goods (particularly for female otakus otomes.  Apparently this is the word - translated as maiden - for hardcore girl geeks), and the poor quality of the ones I did find to spur me into doing something about it, and in April I made my first doll - Kakashi Sensei from Naruto.  At the time, I was super impressed with myself.

I could look back at how naive I was now and laugh myself silly.  But if I hadn't been reasonably impressed with myself, I might not have gone on to make more, or have entered my second in the contest at AnimeIowa, so I'll forgive my own naivete.
The idea of making anime plush first came because I'd seen drawings like these where a character is snuggling a doll.  The drawings were super kawaii...the actual plushies you can buy, not so much.  I get what they are going for, with the big anime eyes and chibi heads, but their execution sucks.  I had a pattern from a service project the Relief Society did when I lived in Shanghai, and after experimenting with it some, I decided to separate the head from the body.
Here's my take on the two above characters (Erza and Jellal, from Fairy Tail).  Honestly, they are not the most perfect thing anyone's ever made - Jellal's head is a little crooked and Erza's eyes are higher than I'd like.  However each time I do one, I figure out how to make them better.  Jellal was my fifth design and Erza was my seventh, and I still get excited with the challenge of figuring out how to make them.
As an example, when I got back to Mongolia in August, I intended to hop in and get everything ready for the coming school year.  Instead, I spent basically an entire week at my desk sewing while watching Inuyasha (which I had read before so I wouldn't particularly care if I missed a subtitle here or there...let me tell you, it is difficult to sew while watching something in a language you don't speak).  Erina was my first girl plushie, and until recently was my masterpiece...the amount of work that went into her hair!  The color wasn't quite right, but since I was back here by then I kinda had to let it go.  Fortunately I got the print for the skirt pretty much right.  It was such a pain in the ass, but totally worth it to see the look on the Kawaii Kingpin's face when I gave her to him.
Having finished her, I decided I was up for a different kind of challenge.  My second plushie was Kishitani Shinra from Durarara!!, one of my top male characters in all of anime.  One of the reasons I love him so much is because of his relationship with Celty - a headless dullahan who rides the streets of Ikebukuro on her horse-become-motorcycle (I know, it sounds ridiculous.  Trust me when I say she's a badass).  So she became my next project.  Her helmet was the hard part; I spent a lot of time figuring out how the pieces would fit together.  It didn't turn out as three-dimensional as I intended, but I enjoyed a break from hair and clothes, since neither were an issue for her.

One of the things I didn't like about the way Jellal turned out was his hair.  This was one of my first challenges - starting from when I made Kakashi Sensei - and it took me until my sixth - Sasuke, also from Naruto - to come up with a reasonably satisfactory solution.  The construction of his stupid duck-tail hair was an even more enormous pain in the ass than Erina's...hers was long and involved a lot of embroidery, but his took about 6 different pieces of material stitched together.  That said, it did turn out the way I was hoping.  I also made my first kimono-style top for him.  Up to this point, I kept the clothing patterns relatively simple - the same front and back.  Erina's skirt was the first departure, but it was relatively simple to fold the bottom part and stitch it to the waistband.  Sasuke's shirt was made with a central piece, the two sleeves, and a collar.  You can't tell from the photo, but it also has a scaly pattern on it - I have been slowly pulling the stuffing out of one of my throw pillows, and when I was trying to figure out what fabric to use I realized that the former pillow had a snakeskin-like pattern on it, which seemed totally perfect.  I also had to make the rope that goes around his waist.  If Necessity is the mother of Invention, then she gets it on a lot in Mongolia, because I wasn't able to find thin purple rope.  Maybe if I'd planned to make him while I had access to all the crafting superstores in the States, but he honestly wasn't on my agenda (yes, I have an agenda).  Fortunately I grew up near Kansas City, a true cow town, and when we went to the American Royal in fifth grade, I learned how strands of fiber are twisted together to make rope.  It took an entire skein of purple embroidery floss, but I used the same principle and was able to make a pretty decent version of rope - one of my prouder moments.  One of my former students who saw him on Facebook wanted me to make his sword as well.  At the time, I had no idea how to make a sword, but I did make a very tiny kunai out of Shrinky Dink film last spring, so that's his weapon for now.  After finding it and a little research into katana construction, I'm pretty sure I can make one.  I'll get around to actually doing it eventually.

A week before I left for Kyoto, I realized that I would get a great deal of amusement out of doing photoshoots with one of my plushies (this segment of a video I showed to my seventh graders at the beginning of our plushie unit came to mind, but I did a helluva lot more than just take pictures of dolls, so I ignored it).  The problem was, I hadn't made one that would have the right look for shrine-hopping.  I briefly considered taking Sasuke, especially since I was going to the Ninja Dojo.  The problem was, I have two different sizes I've made, and Sasuke was the bigger of the two, and I wasn't sure I wanted to drag him around Kyoto with me (also, I didn't have red floss to finish the Uchiha crest on his back.  I know - perfectionists).  So with the clock ticking, I started working on Tomoe, and finished about 15 minutes before Enkhaa picked me up for my flight.  In addition to the fact that he wears a kimono, I wanted to work on him because of his fox ears and tail.  With the exception of Celty, everyone's been a pretty standard human, and although I altered the pattern a little to make more of a distinction between girl and boy characters, I felt like adding ears and a tail would add a new challenge.  One of the dolls I'm practicing for...yes, some of these have been practice rounds.  (Psh, like I was going to make my #1 guy - Yato, from Noragami - first and get super frustrated when he's not perfect on my first try...)
I did try making Yato with Sculpey, though...

As I was saying, one of the dolls I'm working my way up to has furry dog ears, and I bought a fur at Hobby Lobby for this exact reason.  Fur is a pain in the butt because it is REALLY hard to cut it without cutting some of the fibers, and it made my nose itch, so it's possible I'm allergic to rabbits (which somehow seems hilarious - being allergic to bunnies).  It's easier to sew than leather, though, so that was a nice, unexpected benefit.

I've never considered myself much of a sculptor.  Most of what I made during college sucked, but maybe that's because the projects I was given weren't that interesting for me (my attempts at clothing were even more of a joke, although my aversion to sewing machines kept me from trying very often).  However, one of the things I really believe as an art teacher is that giving students some freedom in their work brings out what they are actually capable of, and I guess I've sort of proved that in my own life.  I don't think I would argue that my dolls are high works of art (unlike some of the things I saw in Denden Town), but the definition of art is subjective and I get a thrill out of making them, so personally, I don't give a crap whether or not they're considered art.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Grub at Home: Korean (Part I)

I.  Love.  Korean food.  One of the best decisions I made when I lived in Korea was to ask Bronte to teach me how to cook some things.  Not only did the time we spent in her kitchen make us great friends, it means that in the five years since I've left I've still been able to cook some of my favorite dishes.  And I have quite a few recipes from her, so there will be future Korean posts, when I find all the ingredients I need.
 
One thing that Korea was great for was helping me grow up and eat my damn vegetables.  Instead of steaming them or cooking the flavor out of them, Koreans often pickle them, packing even more flavor into them and making them spicy, salty, sweet, and/or sour.  An easy pancheon, or side dish, that you can make is cucumber kimchi.  Here's how you make it:
Chop up a cucumber.
Chop up some green onion.
Mince in a small clove of garlic.
Add about a teaspoon of salt.
Add about a teaspoon of sugar (Bronte called this Korean candy).
Add about 2 teaspoons of red chili flakes.
Throw in a dash of pepper.

Taste it and see what you think.  You may prefer it saltier, or with more garlic.  Let it chill a little before you serve it - that's why I put this part at the beginning of this post.

Now that you've got your pancheon ready, you'll want a main course.  Among the simplest, yet tastiest, of all the dishes she taught me was...err, this one.  I don't think it really has a name.  It's kind of like bulgogi, because you make a marinade for your meat and stir fry it with some vegetables, but it's spicy, like dalkgalbi, yet doesn't have so many vegetables in it, and to add to the confusion, although she taught me to make it with pork, I haven't managed to actually do so even once.  If you need to call it something, go with gochu seogogi.  Spicy stir-fried beef.
You start with the marinade.  Bronte taught me that there are several ingredients that make up the base flavor of most Korean food.  Red pepper paste (gochu-jjang) and sesame oil are among them.  I started with about 100 grams of red pepper paste (sorry, I'm not sure what that is in standard measure - I bought the smallest package of paste and used half of it), 1.5 tablespoons of sesame oil, 3 tablespoons of sugar, and a bunch of green onions.  It should have a thick, paste consistency.  Mix all that up, and then add a pound or so of beef, or pork.  Mine was cubed beef, because that was what I found in the freezer, but it's better if it's sliced a little more thin.
Now for the vegetables.  Slice up a bunch of mushrooms, a green pepper and a red one (capsicums - I told you I use them for just about everything, didn't I? - not the small, spicier ones), and a small onion.  I suppose you could add some cabbage, if you wanted more roughage or a dish more like dalkgalbi,
You're also going to need to throw in several minced cloves of garlic, about half as much minced ginger, a dash of salt and a couple of pepper, and a sprinkling of sesame seeds.  After that, you just need to stir-fry until the meat is cooked.  The red of the pepper paste becomes more of an orange as it cooks.
Et voilà!  You have a reasonably healthy, incredibly delicious meal.  Regrettably, my presentation is not what it used to be.  During my final stint in Korea Bronte's influence resulted in my purchase of a really beautiful set of ceramic dishes.  Getting them home, however, was problematic, and the ones that made it there whole have stayed in my long-suffering parents' basement ever since.  I have not replaced them, buying only very cheap dishes if it was necessary.  Someday maybe I will be a real adult with a house and everything, and I'll crack out the good dishes.

Grub at Home: Evil Gazpacho

Two years ago, I turned 32 in DC.  I was visiting the Evil One, who was waist-deep in Spanish classes, a language she needed for her next (current - remember when I visited Peru last year?) post.  We had a picnic and watched Casablanca at Wolf Trap.  The next day after church we had a little birthday dinner with some of her DC friends, and she made me...something.  I don't remember what it was, but she decided it wasn't healthy enough on its own, so she made gazpacho as well.

I was not entirely sure that I was down with this.  I had no idea what gazpacho was - it's a Spanish soup, she reassured me, which was not altogether reassuring because I'm not much of a soup eater - but, hell, Evil is a pretty good cook and of the recipes I've collected, maybe a quarter of them come from her family, so I went with it.  And when all was said and done, I ended up adding this recipe to my book, as well.
It's two years later, and I've just made gazpacho for the second time.  It's a great recipe for summer, because it's one of only two soups I know that are served cold (the other one is Korean naeng-myeon, but I can't tell you how to cook that - sorry!)  Anyways, I decided I'd share the recipe for it with you today.  Here's what you need to do: chop up 5 tomatoes, 2 cucumbers, one red onion, and a green pepper.  I didn't want to eat gazpacho for the next two weeks, so I halved the recipe.
Next you have to start adding the juicy stuff.  Specifically, 2 teaspoons of garlic (I used two small cloves, and this was too much for my half-recipe), 4 cups of cold water, 1/4 cup of red wine vinegar, 4 teaspoons of salt, 4 tablespoons of olive oil, and 1 tablespoon of tomato paste.  I went out looking for red wine vinegar, but couldn't find it at either of the two closest grocery stores, so I decided to wing it with balsamic.  Was this a good choice?  Wait and see...
So after you've put everything in the bowl, mix it up, then let it chill so the flavors can mingle.  Doesn't look too bad, eh?  On the other hand, if - unlike me - you've actually eaten gazpacho before, you may be thinking it looks NOTHING like this.  That's because Evil's mommy (from whom the recipe originally came) doesn't blend it.  I like it just fine chunky like this, but since I am now the proud owner of Domestic Goddess' blender, I thought I'd give that a try.
As you can see, blending it changes it a LOT.  It tasted fine, and I didn't even mind the consistency; it changed it from being a really wet Greek Salad sans feta into an actual soup, although honestly I prefer the crunchy texture of the unblended version a lot better.  However, this is where substituting the balsamic was a bad idea.  It just doesn't look very appetizing anymore.  I had to do an image search to make sure this is what actually happened, and sure enough, it is not supposed to have this brown-ish color.  I think apple cider vinegar would have been a better substitution, although I didn't have any of that, either.  Thinking on your feet and making clever substitutions is something you have to do a lot as an expat.  I'll talk about that next Wednesday, so be sure to check in then.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Otaku Paradise

Girls in yukata at a festival = very anime

In the long history of my travels, this may go down as my all-time favorite trip*, even with all the mishaps.  Besides the fact that I was doing exciting and interesting things in the home country of my current favorite art form/storytelling mode (even just taking the train into Osaka from the airport, I could already tell I'd arrived, in the stretches of walking paths along rivers, the schools passed, the places the train tracks cross the road...scenes that in my last two years of watching anime have become as familiar to me as those from my own childhood).  Even better, I got to spend some time with the Kawaii Kid Kingpin.  (I don't generally change nicknames for people here on the blog, but at dinner the other night I said something about teenage boys, and then realized that he won't be a teenager much longer, so in honor of that - and in anticipation of the day when we will totally rule the world of anime merch with our totally gucci company - an upgrade.)  Put all that together and you have a recipe for a great vacation that not even Yukihira Soma could beat.

So the Kawaii Kingpin has been in Kyoto for over a year now, studying at Doshisha University, which means he has had time to find out all sorts of things.  One of the details he shared with me during the last year is that he lives next to a block-long shopping arcade which was the inspiration for an anime called Tamako Market.  I proceeded to watch it to see what he was talking about, and immediately loved it (except for the damn cockatoo.  Talking animals suck), so the first day we met up he took me to see it (along with his university, but really, who cares about that???)  At that time it was early evening and there were plenty of people walking through, shopping for all sorts of things.  In an attempt to not embarrass myself by acting like a complete tourist in front of him, I didn't take any pictures that night, but after my harrowing escape from Kibune, I ended up back there, so I took my pictures then.  Sadly, you don't get the same bustling sense of life when it's deserted, but it's the thought that counts, right?

One of the (many (non-snarky)) things we agree on is the fact that Kyoto Animation puts out some good stuff...including the aforementioned Tamako Market.  I do believe that he got a great deal of satisfaction out of telling me how amazing their newly released - ie, yet-to-be-translated, sucks to be you - movie, Koe No Katachi (A Silent Voice) was when we walked past the theater.  And again at dinner that night.  And again two days later, walking along the river, at which point, I thought, "Screw it!  If I can follow opera being sung in Italian, I can watch anime without subtitles."  So I asked him for a synopsis and a heads up on any parts I might not understand, and he did an excellent job.  He was right - it was freaking fantastic.  The theme was the main character's road to redemption, and along the way it dealt with bullying - great story and beautiful animation.  I was so glad I got to experience it on the big screen.

I tried to visit KyoAni's shop - it would have been great to take home a poster, or basically anything dealing with their work.  It's out of the way, unless you're coming back from Nara...which unfortunately I visited on Thursday, when they are closed, as I discovered when I got there.  Oh well, next time.  Instead, I made it late that afternoon to the Kyoto International Manga Museum.  They have a huge collection of manga that you can sit and read to your heart's content - or just stare longingly at if you don't read Japanese.  They also have a pretty legit display about manga's history and how it's made, from which I learned a thing or two before hitting the gift shop and getting one of my two new favorite books - a collection of manga artists' interpretation of masterpiece works of art.  It is unbelievably gorgeous.

I had two more festivals lined up for this holiday...big, cool ones.  And then the Kawaii Kingpin said it would be best if we went to Denden Town on the weekend.  Also known as, when my big, cool festivals take place.  It took me all of about five seconds' consideration to realize that crowded festivals - regardless of how cool - pale in comparison to the opportunity to go shopping for otaku swag with one of the people responsible for getting me hooked in the first place.  To his credit, he said we could try going another time, but honestly, I've been to quite a few festivals this week, and the ones I missed will still be here next year.  The opportunity to spend time with a friend, on the other hand, is irreplaceable.
Also, based on the shop he showed me in Sanjo, we were going to need a full day.  And lots of money.  So we met up at 11, on my last day in Kyoto, to take the train to Osaka.  You can get most of the way there on one train, then it's three stops on your transfer and a short walk to Denden Town and its vast array of shops selling all sorts of dope swag.  If you can't find it in one shop, try next door.  Or the door after that.  Cross the street.  Go down the block.  It seriously never ends.  The number of beautiful things I saw was overwhelming.  Except...it's tough being a woman otaku with reasonably good taste (ie, if you're not looking for Free! or One Piece, you're SOL).  Women with reasonably good taste are not the target market the industry shoots for.  I guess chalk it up to the fact that women typically aren't as visual, or maybe have enough sense not to spend hundreds of dollars on figures, no matter how gorgeously made (present company excepted).  That said, there were plenty of women in the shops we visited, so we are clearly willing to put some money where our collective mouths are.  I appreciated the sympathy the Kawaii Kingpin expressed when he recognized the gender inequality that my kind suffer from, and we decided that when we start our company that we'll work to address it.  But don't worry, I found a few things to spend my hard-earned money on - a few different small Naruto figures, a swing charm with Shinra from Durarara!!, and an art book for the next movie I will be watching, Kimi no Na Wa, which looks brilliant, and the Kawaii Kingpin assures me that it is.
Not disclosed: his job as a subway mascot

Finally, there was a little game I was playing called Things That Happen in Anime.  One evening walking along the river, we spotted a group of Japanese schoolgirls crossing the stepping stones in their uniforms, and the point was raised that this particular scene happens in SO many shojo manga.  So I decided to start seeing how many things we did that have happened in anime.  The fact that this game was going on will come as a surprise to the Kawaii Kingpin when he reads this, since I never actually clued him in.  Having watched - rough estimate - five times more anime than me, he has a distinct advantage.  Like, the kind of advantage Sora and Shiro have in No Game No Life against practically everyone.  Anyways, these were the ones I came up with:
1. The long-lost friend reunion - This played out a lot like when Sakura and Naruto see each other for the first time in three years.  We walked along, talking and catching up, while I was meanwhile thinking, "Wow, he's grown up so much."  Don't worry - just like Naruto, the Kawaii Kingpin eventually proved that he can still be as immature as ever.
2. Sharing an umbrella - This one didn't actually happen.  He called my umbrella ugly!  I wasn't about to offer after that, even if he was worried about the rain making his hair fall out (the most Korean thing I think he's ever said).  Besides that, my umbrella was teeny tiny - when I bought it in a downpour in Delft it was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen and I loved the fact that it was small enough not to be a pain in the ass.
3. Pigging out on someone else's dollar - Two of my favorite anime (Noragami and Fairy Tail) both contain scenes where one character buys the others dinner...and they totally take advantage of it.  It's a bit of a stretch, but he bought my dinner one night, I bought his the next time, so I'm counting it.  Bonus - I didn't really make a big deal out of it, and I only did it the once, but when our curry arrived that first dinner I definitely relished saying, "Itadakimasu!"
4. Walking along the river banks - We were actually supposed to be cycling, but it is hard to talk and ride at the same time.  Cycling was my idea, and it seemed like a great idea at 8 in the morning, but after a long day filled with riding and being an outlaw (I haven't told you about that one...maybe next time), I was happy to walk a while.
5.  The giving of charms - I came up with this one while I was visiting Kodai-Ji.  Most temples sell lucky charms, each one for a different purpose.  I almost got him the matchmaking charm, but since he prefers his girlfriends in 2D, I didn't figure there was much point.  Instead I went for "Improve Skills."  We could be talking about his Japanese skills, or in art...not that he needs much help there.
My most valuable souvenir - original sketches by the best new mangaka
Friday night we went to a cafe...ostensibly for art time, and we did do a little show and tell, but mostly we talked.  At one point, the European (I've forgotten his specific nationality) sitting next to us cut into our conversation - I had been talking about the little Ranma 1/2 figure I'd gotten out of a machine in Shinkyogoku arcade, which the Kawaii Kingpin thought he might recognize.  The C in our A/B conversation said that it made him feel old, since that was his first anime, and we ended up explaining our relationship - that he was in university and I was his high school art teacher.  However, I realized later that maybe that didn't fully sum us up.  I'm incredibly impressed by how much his art skills have grown in the last year, and he always had the kind of encyclopedic knowledge that comes with loving something as much as he loves anime.  Although Mrs. Uzumaki was technically the one who first lured me to the dark side, watching Fairy Tail during yearbook meetings, it was his passion that fanned the flames, and as far as manga and anime goes, his skills surpassed mine long ago.  If you don't believe me, just check out the manga above, which he created for a class project.  He's truly earned the right to steal Darth Vader's line and say, "Now I am the master."

*I say "may" instead of "will" because we agreed that our next big adventure needs to take us to Tokyo, and - oh, the possibilities!

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Kyoto Light, Kyoto Night

As I began typing this, I had one day left in Japan, and I found myself wondering if it was a mistake to come.  Not because it was a bad experience, but the opposite - it has been a fantastic week.  Even if I haven't been here that long, I have a feeling of belonging.  It is not all jaw-droppingly beautiful landscapes and temples.  Taking the bus to Roketsu to make my noren, I had to admit that the buildings squashed in side by side were not the most aesthetically pleasing thing I'd ever seen...and yet, I love them, too, love the feeling that you could wander down a different cramped alley every day for a year and see something unique every time.  And if you wanna stick with temples and shrines, there are more than enough to keep you going for a good long while.  As we were walking through Sanjo my second day here, we passed two or three moderately large shrines.  Right in the middle of a shopping area!  It seems like most of them have some sort of festival at some point.  That afternoon when I'd gotten back to the house, my host Taka-san heard drums, and had me come to the window in the second floor of the house to watch a procession walk past.  That is the sort of sight I think I could watch all the time and never get bored.  In Kyoto, I'd have the chance to find out.

Take, for example, the Funaoka Matsuri.  Northward and west of the imperial palace is the Kenkun Shrine, which is where Oda Nobunaga is enshrined.  Oda Nobunaga is the warlord who essentially united Japan, bringing the Warring States period to an end.  I'm not much on history, although with several thousand years of it, I find Japan's much more interesting than America's.  However, I've been watching an anime about swords that have been turned into young men (yes, I know it makes pretty much no sense, but they're cute sword boys and I've watched enough anime at this point to be able to overlook most of the homoerotic overtones).  Their purpose is to protect the time stream from being changed, and in one episode they go back in time to make sure Nobunaga's assassination actually takes place.  When they were reminiscing about him, they didn't seem particularly fond, but at the end of the episode they were all kind of nostalgic.  I'm telling you this to give you some sort of background...if you really want some hard facts, you can wikipedia it.  Suffice it to say that he's kind of a hero.
So it's fitting that there's a celebration of his accomplishments and contributions to modern Japan.  It wasn't as crowded as the other two festivals I made it to - a little more solemn, too.  The whole thing was in Japanese, so I only had a vague idea of what was going on, but it was very interesting.  The ceremony started with music on traditional instruments, their cries sounding like heartbreak.  There were prayers - fortunately I go to church often enough to recognize an invitation to stand and bow your head, whether I understand the language or not - and various offerings where brought into the shrine by the officiators.  Then there were the performances.
There were four performances this year.  The first was a singing/dancing performance which - if I understood it correctly, was a variety of Noh, followed by a masked dancer performing bugaku (my knowledge of Japanese culture is not so extensive as to pull that out of nowhere...I used Discover Kyoto's website for my crib sheet).  The third was - I think - a geisha dance.  It was a graceful series of movements set to music by a lady - albeit an older one - in a gorgeous kimono, at any rate.  When she finished, branches were presented to VIP audience members, who presented them at the shrine, at which point the ceremonial part of it seemed to be over, although we had one final show - swordsmanship, with wooden swords.  The "winner" of the bout demonstrated his real sword on a rolled tatami mat, which lay before the shrine in three neat pieces when I got up to take a look.  And that seems fitting for a warrior's shrine.

Nights are generally downtime or shopping time when I travel.  It's been nice catching up with the Kawaii Kid on some of those nights, and at first when he told me he'd have to cut our Friday night meet-up short, I wasn't exactly thrilled, but we had a good chat and I was seeing him the next day...and then I realized that now that I was free, I could go up to Kodai-Ji and see the autumn illumination.  I really, really love the Japanese sense of aesthetics.  Sit under cherry trees watching the moon through their petals?  Sounds like fun to me.  In the fall, they kind of do the same thing, except with the changing colors of the leaves, and they call it momiji.  I may be missing the best part of it (again, WHY do I have to go home???), but Friday night the first temple on the schedule lit up their grounds, which they will continue to do til the end of November.

I love visiting temples at night.  They just have a different ambiance than during the day, as if the youkai are out to play.  Kodai-Ji was no exception, even with everyone wandering up and down the paths.  Even with the light show in the Zen rock garden....
Actually, I'm pretty sure I spied a few demons in the actual light show.  I'm not much of a fan of them, but I've got to say, this one was very well done...at one point, the light transformed the sand in the garden into rippling water, and the gate turned to gold.  It was genius.
The most magical part, though, was the reflections of the trees on the water.  More than anything I wanted to see it in a week or two, when all the trees would be on fire and the air just a bit chillier, but the words of Frost echoed in my head: "The woods are lovely, dark and deep, But I have promises to keep,  And miles to go before I sleep."  There is still a lot to do before I bid my current school goodbye.

However, it is possible that my subconscious is neither a fan of Frost or else just didn't care, because it may have tried to sabotage me into actually staying this morning.  When I finally went to bed last night, I set my alarm for 6:30.  For some reason, the last time I looked at the flight schedule I scrawled into my travel journal, I locked onto my arrival time in Incheon (11:20), thinking it was my departure from Osaka.  When my alarm when off, I asked myself if I was feeling too lazy for one more walk - I never made it onto the Philosopher's Path, or got further into Fushimi-Inari-Taisha than the first knot of tourists.  And then I looked up my e-ticket, just in case...only to realize that my flight left at 9:30.  From Osaka.  Which was an hour and a half away.

From thence proceeded a string of profanities that probably woke up everyone in the house as I stripped and redressed in a panic, shoving my pajamas into my soon (I hoped) to be checked luggage - but I'm calling it payback for the snoring from the next room.  Blondie was right when she said that you can hear everything through traditional Japanese walls.  I clomped down the stairs, threw on my shoes and socks, locked the door and dropped the keys in the mail slot, as Taka-san requested, finally walking around the corner and on my way.  And then I realized I'd left my iPad on the counter.  For one moment, I thought, "Forget it - I don't like the darn thing anyways!" but that seems wasteful, even for me.  I got back to the door and was wondering how loud I would have to get to wake someone up when I realized that I was able to get the keys back - they hadn't slid all the way into the mail slot, and retrieved my technology.  A quick walk out to the street and a moment of panic ensued when I wondered if there were even any taxis on the streets at 6:50 on a Sunday morning, since that was my plan...spend a gajillion yen on a taxi, rather than miss my flight.  Fortunately the very kind driver who picked me up a minute or two later convinced me to take the airport limousine bus, and even though it seemed to be the slowest thing on the road, somehow I made it with just enough time to check in, get through security with the help of the very kind Korean air agent, and get to the gate before boarding.

Considering the number of mishaps I've had this week, you may be thinking, "Wow, what a gong show!  No way I'd travel with you!"  (Unless you're my dad, in which case you are probably thinking - for neither the first nor the last time - "Get your head out of your ass!")  But for the record...well, you're not entirely wrong.  I'm not usually quite this bad, though, and at least now you know that it's possible to get from Kyoto to Osaka and on your flight in less than three hours.

Arts 'n Crass

(Alternate Title:  Dye Another Day)
(Other Alternate Title:  Another Fun Thing to Do with Hot Wax!)

I love being an art teacher.  I love having the skills to make cool stuff, and understanding what went into the making of other peoples' cool stuff.  Sometimes I wanna laugh all the way to the bank on payday, because I have the best job in the world.  Spend time with smart-aleck teenagers showing them how to make their cool stuff even better and get paid for it?  That's not even "work."  They say find a job you love and you'll never have to work a day in your life.  I don't know if I can say that's true - there are days when I run myself ragged, no matter how much I love it - but it's a pretty kickass situation.
I almost always hit up art museums on vacation.  It's my equivalent of meeting new people (and, in my opinion, a much better option, since you never have to feel awkward about not keeping in contact with a paintng...or deal with a painting that just won't stop trying to contact you).  However, it's only been within the last few years that I started making art when I travel.  I sometimes drew in my sketchbook or journal, but by and large I didn't learn new techniques or traditions.  That all changed when I took the brats to Istanbul, and ever since, I've tried to find some sort of workshop to do on my journeys.  Kyoto, however, beats them all.  I am spoiled for choice, to the point where I struggled to decide what I really wanted to do.
What I decided on, in the end, was a dyeing workshop and printmaking.  Dyeing because I've been jealous of Blondie's noren ever since she first invited me to her apartment, and I love the indigo fabrics, ai-zome.  Printmaking because I LOVE ukiyo-e prints.  The dyeing workshop took place at Yamamoto Roketsu Studio, which is in a small neighborhood in Western Kyoto that very fortunately I could get to with one bus, just down the street from the house.  It cost me 3,000 yen to make my own little curtains, which seemed pretty reasonable to me.  You could also make a pillowcase, wall hanging, t-shirt - there were lots of choices in what to dye...and even more choices in patterns.  They had animals, plants, subjects from the aforementioned, much adored Japanese prints, but my decision was made long ago - one of the photos on their website showed a Totoro design.  I just introduced the niblings to My Neighbor Totoro this year (yes, in English.  It's blasphemy to watch dubbed anime, but Disney does a pretty good job with the voice-overs, and the niblings don't read enough to introduce them to give them subtitles), and they all loved it...and I love them, so a little something to remind me of them on the other side of the world.
Once you have your design and your cloth, you create a dye resist (called roketsuzome) using melted wax.  It's very similar to batik - paint or stamp the wax on, and then dye it.  There are techniques that yield different results, though.  I was told to paint all the lines.  Then I had to paint them again to make purer white areas.  Then I painted a little more wax in some places to get a lighter shade of blue when it was dyed.  Finally, my sensei looked at it and said I could dye it.
He had me trade my Chucks for rubber boots, hung an apron around me, and put me in arm protectors and rubber gloves.  This seemed a little overkill to my devil-may-care art teacher heart (put an apron on a kid and they feel like you've just given them permission to make a mess), but then, I really didn't want blue hands for the next few days, so...  We soaked my white cloth and then dumped it into the black-as-night vat of dye, the surface speckled with bits of cast off wax.  He showed me how to manipulate the cloth within the vat, but something must have been lost in translation, because when he saw me later, he said that I was stirring it too fast, and the cracks in the wax would be to big.  With all the changes you could make, I really wanted to live here, so I could come back every month or two to try things differently.
It took a while for the dye to properly soak in, and then it was "washed" (sort of), left to oxidize (it looks kind of greenish when it comes out of the dye), boiled to get the wax out, washed (for real, with lye or some other agent), ironed, and finally, the little red ribbon thing was stitched into the middle.  My noren was finished - I'm pretty proud of the design I created, even if the execution could probably use a little work.
That was then...This is now.
The Kamigata Ukiyo-E Museum is actually a place I've walked past before.  In July 2008 Azhaar had a workshop in Osaka, and brought me along as her assistant.  At night, we wandered Shinsaibashi, having ice cream and taking weird pictures.  This was one of those pictures.  When I started looking for a printmaking experience in Kyoto, I saw that cat again, in one of the prints the Kamigata Museum offers to have you make.  I went back and checked the photo again and, sure enough, it's the same cat.
Printmaking was my favorite art form in college - after all the work you put in, you can make multiple original pieces of art.  However, I mostly worked with intaglio printing, which pulls the ink out of the marks you put on a metal plate.  I worked on one woodblock project, which never got finished, although I did linocuts before and since, being the kind of printmaking most accessible for art teachers (never trust a teenager with acid!)  But one of my favorite art styles is ukiyo-e Japanese woodblock printmaking.  You can think of it as a gateway drug to anime, if you want...you see the same fantastic use of color and brilliant compositions in each.  So I'm fairly familiar with the subject, if not an expert.
Well, two years ago when I went to Tokyo, I managed to make it to the Ota Museum, which has a pretty spectacular collection.  They had a very nice display about the process of creating a print from beginning to end - first the artist designs it, then a specialist creates the woodblocks from the artist's designs, and finally, the printer does his part.  This is different from how I was raised as a printmaker...I did the designing, I did the cutting, and I did the printing.  It is also different in the tools that are used.  In the west, we apply our inks with brayers.  The Japanese use a variety of brushes.  Yesterday I got to do the printers job and use the tools firsthand.  The Kamigata Museum offers three different printmaking experiences - beginner, intermediate, and advanced - and since I wasn't sure about my skill level as an ukiyo-e printer, I chose all three.  This took less than an hour, and with admission to the museum cost 2,800 yen.
The museum itself was not huge.  Its focus is on Osaka prints, which are different from the more famous Edo prints because they focus almost exclusively on Kabuki, rather than pretty girls and landscapes.  The area where the museum is now was once a huge theater district, and the actors were the superstars of their day.  Since artists gotta eat, their work reflects this.  Most of the explanations are in English, and although it is a small collection, I found it to be really well curated.

The printmaking workshop took place on the fourth floor, in a tatami room decorated with photos of the old theater district.  There is a little coloring station, and when I made it up there, a girl was coloring while her mom was watching a video (fun fact I learned from the video - a huge, full-color 3-panel print back in the late 1800's cost the same as a bowl of noodles.  If you've ever wondered how these pieces of art ended up as packing material in boxes sent to Europe - which is how Western artists became exposed to them - now you know.  They were super cheap).  After my teacher had set out the materials - we used acrylic paint, rather than ink.  I'm assuming it's because acrylic dries hellafast, but she didn't speak English, so I couldn't ask - and I'd started my first print, I had to look over and see what she was doing, because I felt the table shake.  And then I realized it wasn't just the table - the whole building was shaking.  There were three waves of shaking, and then nothing.  Life went on.  I tried asking if that had been an earthquake, but the small amount of Japanese I've gleaned from anime doesn't include the right words.  Later on, when I met up with the Kawaii Kid, he asked if I'd felt it. Apparently in Japan you get texts when there's an earthquake - at the epicenter it was 6.0, according to his intelligence.  I've been present for earthquakes before - in Italy, Beijing, and even Mongolia - but never actually noticed.  I don't think that this is the sort of experience people hope to have on vacation, but I liked having it.  If I can manage to work here, it's one I will probably have again, so it's good to know what it is like.