It's funny, there's the little things that you just take for granted, which when you're in a different culture, just come off as plain old foreign.
Like, joking with your boss; or using real milk in a cup of coffee instead of some powdered substitute; or actually leaving work when you're finished; or eating with a fork.
Or, having a barbeque. I've met some students over in Sonobe (about 20 minutes away), and now summer is approaching, was telling them about good old Kiwi barbeques. First, let me say that while having Uni students near me does sort of imply that there is a Uni around, it's not quite like you'd think. This Uni is a small, countryside, University for the study of Oriental Medicine, based in a hospital. Think of your stereotypical Asian Uni student. Doing medicine. Oriental medicine. In the country. In a hospital. It's hard to imagine a scenario where the knowledge or use of English is more pointless. This isn't like the good old party campus I was used to in Dunedin, it's more like the Lindo Ferguson building. If you took out all the PE students.
Anyway, it's been hard to get to know people here, but when these guys liked the idea of a barbeque (called by the letters BBQ in Japan), they said they'd hold one, and would invite people, and I could meet people. So I was pretty fired up about that. And we said we'd try the New Zealand variant, instead of the Japanese one, which usually consists of shavings of fatty meat (about the same thickness as wood shavings from a plane), and veges on a stick.
So, I turned up at the BBQ which was held beside a river a little way from me, outside of Sonobe. It was a really nice setting, especially now that the trees are coming into full Green bloom.
About 30 students were gathered there, so I went about and did some hellos and some intros. Then I decided to see what was cooking. Although I didn't see any veges on a stick (I'd made it quite clear veges had no place at a BBQ outside of salad), they did have some of the other usual suspects, namely chicken on a stick, and pig intestines on a stick. Also, to my surprise, no fire. Apparently smouldering embers and charcoal were enough.
There was a bit of heat coming off them, to be fair, and occasionally if they cooled off too much, someone would have a go at them with a little portable gas-powered blowtorch to inject a little more heat.
I'd tried to explain the idea of a good solid steak to the guys, instead of these transparent wispy flakes which they normally eat, and so they were proud to present me with their special acquisition – a chunk of cow. I didn't know what to do. It was about 6 cm thick, with a good hefty trimming of fat, and so very very solid. It didn't look anything like a steak. "It's for you!", they said, and dropped it into my arms. I just had to tell them straight away that this would, in all likelihood, be quite impossible to cook, let alone eat. They looked a little bit disappointed, so I suggested that maybe we cut it up? Eventually someone found a knife from somewhere, and the thing found itself as a series of little slabs of meat.
We eventually ate it, but my God, was it tough. It must have been some kind of stewing meat, or gravy beef, or whatever… especially considering the fact we only had chopsticks to eat everything with, the only option was to put the lot in your mouth at once and try to soften it up in there.
I had tried to hunt out sausages, but they're kind of scarce in Japan as well. You can either get long thin frankfurter-type ones, or short stubby ones with a little more girth. I got some of both, and threw them on the barbie, which everyone was a bit surprised about. After a walk, I returned to see how the sausages were doing, and wondered what had happened. Apparently, sausages are better with cheese than without.
(by the way, that's skewered pig intestine next to them)
As I was getting my fill of slightly strange meats, I remembered that i had mentioned Greek salad to one of the girls, and given her a bit of an idea on how to make it. She had it waiting in the house nearby, so we went to get it. I guess most of the ingredients were there, at least, just in her own interpretation of it. But there was no feta cheese. And she added some weird home-made dressing. And loads of "fried onion" chips.
But, it was still delicious.
Anyway, as night fell, we packed everything up, and jumped on the train up to my place, where we drank happily until the early hours of the morning, assisted by one of my friends – who used to be a bartender – making cocktails. Easily the largest number of people I've ever had at my house. Awesome times 🙂