Monday, October 29, 2007

This is a new one...

I saw a car today that had an interesting bumper sticker, something along the lines of "My good dog is a graduate of PetSmart obedience school."

Now, if you want have the "My kid is an honor roll student..." sticker, fine. Not my style, but I can at least understand people wanting to brag about their smart kids. If you even want to have the "My kid is a student at Weaselchum Middle School," I guess that's fine. I'm not sure why that'd be something you'd advertise on the back of your Excursion, but whatever.

But no one, I repeat, NO ONE, cares where your dog went to school. And maybe I'm the first one to break this to you, but no matter how smart your dog actually is, he can't read the bumper sticker.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Meat tea

I had a conversation with the Monkey the other day about what he'd done in preschool that morning.

"I played in the kitchen."

"Oh, really? What did you make?"


"Did you make some tea for Daddy?"


"Was it black tea or green tea?"

[Lengthy pause]

"What color is meat?"

"Um, well, I guess meat is red."

"I made you red tea."

"You made me meat tea?"


"That's disgusting."

"Yeah, it was disgusting tea."

Friday, October 19, 2007

The mysteries of languages

I'm reading a book right now called Breaking the Maya Code. It's about how the Mayan script was deciphered during the first half of this century. The first part of the book has been primarily about the history of writing and how they relate to scripts in general.

I've read a couple of books about this subject recently and have become more and more interested in how language and writing have driven events in history, and the way in which they play a fundamental role in how we think. I've become convinced that language itself is a critical element in defining how our brains work.

Here's an example from my own recent experience. In parallel with my readings, I've been on a couple of trips to Japan. The Japanese script is, to put it lightly, completely foreign to me. The combination of Chinese logographs, a native Japanese syllabic script, and a Roman alphabet seems completely obtuse and overly complex to my Western mind. I noticed tons of people texting from their cell phones on the subways in Tokyo (actually talking on your phone in the subways is frowned on), and was interested in how a script that has literally thousands of characters could ever be used on a cell phone. During a dinner, I asked a Japanese counterpart about this and he pulled out his cell phone to show me. He said that when you type, you use the syllabic script, writing the words syllable by syllable - for example, you might write the words "cell phone translation" as "ce-lu-fo-nu-tra-nu-sla-sho-nu", or something like that. So for what in English would be a twenty letter phrase, you'd have a nine-character line of text. That's probably way simplified, but you get the idea. Now here's where it gets weird. He told me that in the syllabic script, the words can be pronounced, but they have no meaning. So at this point, the software on the cell phone takes over and makes a prediction as to what the phrase is in the Chinese logograph text - where each character would represent an entire word. So now you're down to only three characters.

This idea of a script communicating sounds but not meaning is what I had a hard time understanding. Here's my (again very Western) metaphor for comprehending it. Imagine if your cell phone didn't have the capability to input numbers. So if you wanted to write the number "42," you had to type out "f-o-r-t-y-t-w-o." Now imagine that the words "forty-two" don't actually convey the significance of the numerical data, so the text prediction software takes over and makes a guess that what you really want to type is "42."

So here's my point - that's a completely foreign and bizarre concept to me. I've got to think that someone to whom that makes sense thinks on a completely different plane than I do.

Now imagine that, instead of a co-worker sitting next to me in a sushi bar, it's a Mayan who lived 3,000 years ago in the mountains of the Yucatan peninsula. That way of living, way of writing, and way of thinking would have to result in a lifestyle that someone living in the suburbs of Houston could never come close to understanding.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Eating Japanese - the results

Well, apparently you CAN gain weight on just fish and rice - and noodle bowls, pork knuckle, green tea Kit Kats, Korean barbecue, and American breakfasts. As of Sunday morning, I was at 195.5 pounds.

Time to call Weight Watchers...

Friday, October 12, 2007

Eating Japanese - Friday

Well, the American breakfast reigned again in the morning. I should clarify that it's not really a breakfast you're actually likely to find in America: the sausage, toast eggs, and ham are standard enough, but they're complemented by potato salad and a greens salad with thousand island dressing.

Lunch was at a Korean barbecue restaurant. Korean barbecue is sort of like Mongolian barbecue, but you cook the meat yourself at a little grill at the table. The one I went to last time I was here was better, with a big buffet-style selection of meats and vegetables. This place was a little nicer, but we just ordered steak and there wasn't much of it.

Dinner was really good at a little hole-in-the-wall yakitori restaurant in Tokyo. Yakitori is just little grilled skewers of meat or vegetables. They brought out our chicken selection, which included regular chicken-breast meat, but also had skewers of skin and gristle. The gristle one was especially weird; it was basically just the little part at the end of the bone that no one ever eats. Well, my co-eaters weren't too excited about those skewers, so I ate them myself.

About halfway into the hour-and-a-half train ride back to the hotel, things started to go wrong down south, if you know what I mean. It was a loooong ride back, and an interesting lesson that, just because they serve it to you and you can actually eat it, doesn't mean you should.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Eating Japanese - Thursday

American breakfast again in the morning. For lunch, we went to the cafeteria at the space center and I had a pretty tasty tempura dish.

But the highlight of the day, nay, of the week, was dinner tonight. We had a social party at a very traditional Japanese restaurant. We ate sitting on the floor, and the food was amazing. A Korean stew, tempura, sashimi that melted in my mouth, sushi that was SO good, lotus root - you name it, it was out on the table. Oh, and three Japanese beers and a cup of delicious sake (so I'm feeling nice and relaxed right now.

I can't imagine that I've lost a single pound with the way I've been eating, and there are still two days to go.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Eating Japanese - Tuesday and Wednesday

Sorry for the late update. My Internet connection last night was honked up and I couldn't do my posting. But I'm back in business now.

Yesterday was a rather untraditional eating day. I had the American breakfast in the hotel. When you've got a full day of meetings, you just can't eat fish and nato beans for breakfast. Lunch was at a really good restaurant. I had pork tempura with rice. The meat was a little fatty, but when you deep-fry something it's hard to go that wrong. Dinner was very unconventional: a pork knuckle with cabbage. The meat itself was pretty good, although it was extremely fatty.
American breakfast again today. For lunch I ate at the cafeteria and had a really good noodle bowl with a very spicy broth.

The highlight was dinner today, when we went to a conveyor belt sushi restaurant. These restaurants are really fun because you can try a ton of different kinds of sushi, and it's effectively all-you-can-eat. You just grab whatever you want as it goes by on the conveyor belt and then they just count how many plates you have at the end and charge you accordingly. I ate about twice as much as anyone else, at 17 plates. A couple of those were cake, but I also had some bacon sushi, as well as prosciutto sushi. All topped off with an Asahi beer.

But the badge of honor came at the end of the meal, when I finally tackled a sushi obstacle I've avoided for years: sea urchin roe, or uni. Unbeknownst to me until I just looked it up on the Internet, the sushi is actually made from the gonads of the sea urchin.

Let me just say that I'm cool with respecting other cultures and accepting other's viewpoints. But there is no way anyone can think this stuff is good.

First, there was the seaweed wrap. I know, I know, normally seaweed wrap is fine. But given the other flavors that accompanied it, it didn't really help things. Then there was the cucumber. I'm not a big fan of the cuce, but it was part of the dish, so I left it on there.
Then there was the uni (or "urchin 'nads") itself. My experience is that the three important parts of food are taste, texture, and appearance. This stuff is a solid zero for three. It looks like brown mustard, or possibly a dirty diaper after the baby's been eating brown mustard. It has the texture of watered down mustard. And it has the flavor of FREAKIN' URCHIN GENITALS. The dish came with two pieces, so let's just say I only ate half the dish. And the girl sitting across the table was getting ready to dodge sixteen plates worth of spew.
But, I can now die happy knowing that I've climbed the Mount Everest that is sea urchin roe. More tomorrow...

Monday, October 8, 2007

Eating Japanese - Monday

Started off this morning with the Japanese breakfast: poached egg, rice, miso soup, baked salmon, kimchi (pickled vegetables), dried seaweed, and green tea. It also had nato beans, but that stuff is so nasty I can't eat it. Imagine a mad-scientist hybrid of soybeans and snot, and you've got something slightly less gross than nato beans.

Lunch was awesome: a noodle bowl with pork, onions, and sesame seeds, with an egg broken into it and allowed to cook. Really really good stuff, although Ann probably wouldn't like the post-meal garlic odor.

I did cheat with a French crepe with bananas and whipped cream in it mid-afternoon.

Dinner was interesting at a little hole-in-the-wall place run by what appeared to be a mom and her daughter. I had broiled ray fin. Yes, the fin of a ray.

It was served, interestingly enough, with a side of mayonnaise. It was actually quite good, very salty with a distinct ocean taste. The texture was a little strange, not meaty, but more like a soft cartilage, which I guess is what it is. The mayonnaise went really well with it, offsetting a lot of the overt saltiness.

I did find the last few bites a little tough to muscle down. A little bit of ray-fin goes a long way.

I think I'll end up getting the American breakfast tomorrow morning since it's gonna be a long day. But we may be going to the "I dare you to eat that" restaurant in the evening - that should be an experience.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

First day of Japanese eating

Okay, so today pretty much consisted of airplane food (seriously, does it HAVE to be that gross). We did get some good dinner: chicken skewers, salmon and tuna sushi, potstickers, that sort of thing. Tomorrow is tourist day in Tokyo, so I'll probably try to find some cool weird stuff there.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

The Japanese eating experiment has begun. As of weigh-in this morning, I was sitting fat 'n' happy at 193 pounds. Bring on the fish eyes.

Monday, October 1, 2007

All in the name of science

This Saturday I'm leaving for a week in Japan. In the interest of the biological sciences, I will be conducting an experiment on myself. I will do my best to eat a strictly Japanese diet for an entire week, and see if I gain, lose, or maintain my weight. In the interest of full disclosure, I will weigh myself on Saturday morning before I leave and post it here. During the course of the week, I will try to eat strictly Japanese, although I will probably eat a lot of it. I'll post what I'm eating, and then when I get back the following Saturday I'll re-weigh myself and post the results.

To keep it interesting I've added a poll out on the sidebar where you can vote on what you think the outcome will be.

One quick story about that. Last time I was in Japan, I got the American-style breakfast most mornings I was there. Eggs, toast, sausage, pretty normal stuff. Towards the middle of the week, I got the Japanese breakfast, thinking that'd be a cool thing to try.


They brought it out and it consisted of a bowl of rice, a small piece of baked fish, a bowl of miso soup, an egg in some form I've never seen (I think it was poached), and some pickled vegetables. Anyone who knows me knows I like my breakfast - this looked like some kind of cruel joke. Needless to say, breakfasts were all-American after that.