Snippets of Summer on the Seto Sea
Someone brought to my attention that I hadn't written in a while. While she was scrolling through some of the pictures on my phone, she asked why I hadn't written about this or that. With the pandemic, the heavy rainfall for three weeks, and my super busy job, the things that happen in my life aren't taking the form of stories. But I guess if you put enough small moments together, a picture emerges. Here are some snippets from my life.
I'm outside, walking on a dike with the sea sloshing around on one side and a quiet town on the other. Megumi points up in the sky and said, "Oishiso!" That looks delicious! She's pointing at a cumulous cloud that's bubbled up. These kinds of clouds are characteristic of summer. This day feels so much like summer that we can look up at the sky and forget the pandemic for a moment, forget our heavy work schedules, and just get drawn up in the shapes of clouds, the sound of waves, the taste of ice cream. I stop to take a picture of this fluffy formation in the sky and something spherical gets caught on camera as well. I look up again and there are more of them. A group of people are blowing bubbles our way. Megumi and I drop everything and start chasing them. Megumi and I are in our late thirties, and the people blowing bubbles don't look much younger. All of us are together in this moment trying so hard to enjoy life despite everything else happening in the world.
"Megumi" means blessed and I'm blessed to have finally made a friend near me.
It's the first time I've seen the sun in 8 days and it might be the last time, so I'm standing on a bridge overlooking a roaring river and just taking in the fact that there's blue pieces in the sky and the mountains cast shadows. The wind whistles through this valley town, so I'm holding on to my hat with both hands. I'm supposed to be having lunch, but I'm prioritizing this moment.
Suddenly a bike squeals to a halt behind me and an older man leans forward on the handlebars. "A gaijin! I knew it!"
"Um. . . Hello," I said in a tone a voice that says: You are being awkward.
He then asks very politely what I'm looking for in the river.
Glad that the awkward moment has passed, I tell him I'm just holding on to my hat while I enjoy the breeze. We talk about the recent rainstorms, the flooding, the evacuations, the landslides, and he eventually sits down next to me and says, "I knew you were a gaijin because of that hair."
I love my hair because it just screams that I am a "gaijin." I used to hate my hair for this same reason. But now I like it because I've seen asian-faced friends have a hard time being expected to be Japanese, having to live up to Japanese standards, and then being discriminated against when they aren't. My hair says, "I'm different from you, so let's just get that out of the way right now."
This man then decides to practice his English with me. He asks if it's okay, then takes in a deep breath and bellows out, "Colonabailus is dangerous!"
Good job. Good job. Perfect grammar.
He's so excited to receive a compliment. He pulls out a piece of paper where he's copied something down from some radio station and bellows again, "You must wash your hands fulequently because za new colonabailus is dangerous."
Beautiful, my man! The way you say, "dangerous" is perfect.
He is so happy. He decides it's time to part ways and goes off toward where I'd been planning to go for lunch, so just to make the scene perfect, I head off the other direction. I find some shop selling dyed fabric and decide to make this my destination instead of lunch. It just so happens that the artist is in and we talk about art, fabric, and the dying process. She shows me a pamphlet of all the places in town where you can find her work and I've seen some of them before! I told her I wished I lived in such a beautiful art-filled town. She then lists off some galleries in my own city that I hadn't even known about.
My stomach might be empty, but my mind is full so I don't care.
I'm at the park where my friends usually gather for morning exercises, but I'm 3 hours too late and the cafe they frequent is closed anyway. I tell myself I didn't come here for friends, I just came here to enjoy the view, but actually I'm kind of lonely. A hiker passes me by and says, "Oh, are you in Moon-Peace club? They're up the stairs." I have no idea what this is, but I go up the stairs and peek out from behind a tree to see what the Moon-Peace club is.
10 older ladies are all sitting on benches. They face backward so that no one is across from anyone or breathing each other's air, and when they all feel safely situated they take off their masks. One of the ladies begins counting and the others proceed to make weird facial expressions. Someone notices me peeking and beckons me to join. So I sit down backward on a bench. The lady whispers which body part to exercise.
"Roll the eyes up and down" 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8
"Move the tongue in and out" 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8
Wow, we're doing face exercises!
One woman keeps interrupting to ask questions. "Are you married? How old are you? What country are you from?"
After the exercises, we put our masks on and the ladies share a sliced apple together. Then a few of them draw me over to show me something they think is special.
"Look it's a public melon!"
A public melon?? I peer and see a melon growing on the stepp side of the hill. Someone has covered it with a fishing net to keep it shaded.
"What does public melon mean?"
"Well one day we all shared pieces of melon and spit the seeds over the hill, and then this melon grew! It's not my melon or her melon, it's everyone's melon! It's the public melon!"
The Moon Peace Face Exercise Group and their Public Melon. Wow. This is why I never stay home.
We're in the grocery story and my friend asks me to grab some Nira. They look like the fronds of green onions, only they're flat instead of round, and they taste like garlic. They're a delicious addition to anything you're cooking. My friend is going to teach me some Chinese recipe. I'm guessing we need a package of these things, but she pulls out three. I can barely hold them all in one hand. We start moving away, but she re-thinks this and has me pick out a fourth one.
I don't for a second imagine we need four bushels of Nira.
But then I'm back at her house and I'm cutting them up. All of them. To put in the dumplings.
There's something about cooking with people that really makes you feel like you're sharing in an experience. As a kid, I was so excited to help my parents make all the ingredients for tacos or stir up the pancake batter. I never realized that those would end up becoming fond memories. Now I'm rolling out dough with a friend and I'm getting nostalgic about it.
I swear with all that Nira, the dumplings will end up green. But after they're cooked, they taste very meaty and the balance is just right.
Watermelon is for dessert. After a whole summer of staying home in the rain, I bite into a watermelon and I feel like summer did, after all, actually happen.
By the way, how do Americans call these things these days? Chinese dumplings? Potstickers? Gyoza?
I'm going to the fertility clinic holding my husband's hand. The front doors reflect my face and I cringe. It doesn't look like I'm on the way to having a baby before 40. I really didn't want to be this old yet. And even though I know I have a grey hair, I don't want to see it. At home in the mirror it's okay, but not here.
Inside, young couples are waiting in the booths. Everyone seems so much younger than me. Girls who don't need to follow a dress code have multicolored hair. Some are wearing heels. Once they get pregnant, they'll have to take those off. I feel so conservative in my drab work suit. I wonder if they see me and think, "Isn't she too old to be here?"
My husband is older than me. Maybe I should just give in, recognize that we're old, and give up. Maybe the doctors are shaking their heads, wishing we old people weren't here bringing their success statistics down.
In the waiting room, the TV is displaying a power point of all the reasons people might not get pregnant, including people over 35 being "Koreika - On the way to aging." It's a term usually used for the elderly. But in the fertility clinic, I guess people over 35 are "elderly." That would be me.
The doctor calls us in. Usually it's a woman, but today since my husband's with me, it's a man. "I'm getting my second vaccine next month," I explain. "I heard there isn't a risk, but I want your opinion. If I get a high fever, and with me being so old, do you think it might complicate the pregnancy, should we manage to conceive?"
The doctor says that a fever isn't the problem. It's the fact that I'll want to take painkillers and fever medicine, and I won't be able to. He says, "Why don't we just take a month off."
Oh! Really? Just like that? Waste a chance?
I leave the clinic without any prescription, pee cups, or blood tests. It's the weirdest feeling of freedom. I get in the car and see my reflection in the side mirror. The face looking back at me is so young!
I'm in my thirties, I have no children, and for a whole month I can drink all I want, eat all the terrible food, spend my money as I like, and no hospital visits! One word from the doctor and I'm 20 years younger than I was that morning. I'm going to climb mountains, sleep in, put my hair in pigtails, and not worry about the future!