Tag Archives: Language

A Few Legos Short of a Castle

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Sometimes, I wish life came with an instruction manual and not one made by IKEA either. It would love to see that I’ve arrived at Step 6, and my life should look something like Figure 9.2. And then when I get to the end of the book, I could see how everything has been built perfectly. I see some people seem to have it together as if they own their own life manual. Unfortunately, I think I came with a Lego instruction guide at birth. I look like all of my pieces are fit together just right, but in reality, I’m missing a few pieces here and there. (I’m just really good at jamming parts together.) My foundation is a health hazard in the making.

But if life did come with instructions, I probably wouldn’t have stories about how a boyfriend dislocated both of my knees at once or how cayenne is not similar in any way, shape, or form to cumin. I may be jamming pieces of my Lego castle together, forcing it to look like the picture, but my castle has something others don’t: character. And a horse in the scorpion pit. (Okay, sometimes I’m not good at jamming the RIGHT pieces together.)

One fundamental part of life I have never quite mastered is art of the greeting. Sometimes I smile too much and seem “fake.” Sometimes I don’t say enough and seem like a fuddy-duddy. I want people to remember me, but I don’t want to annoy them. I want them to think I’m kind, but I don’t want to seem as if I’m flirting. I want to be unique without being weird. It’s a very difficult thing to emit your entire essence in a few brief exchanges.

Unfortunately for you, my dear reader, I don’t have any advice on what to do about that. (If you have any advice, I’d appreciate it!) I haven’t learned any profound lessons nor have I mastered the art of the “hello.” In Japan, I’m learning all new ways of greeting someone, and I’m afraid that when I return to the US, my greetings will be more awkward than ever as I combine Western and Eastern cultures.

But fortunately, I have learned that you should never under any circumstance feed an awkward situation with a burst of spontaneity.

My senior year of high school was when I began to blossom for the first time. Prior to that year I rarely went out with friends. (Honestly, I’m still not much of a social butterfly.) But my senior year, I can proudly say that I possessed something resembling a social life. My first day, I owned the school. Everyone was beneath me at last, and I had taken my place as master of the universe (or at least my dinky Arkansas high school). I had just one more year…

I congregated with my friends inside the classroom of our favorite history teacher so we could pray over the day as we always did. We chatted about our summers and mourned the end of our sleep, and then I noticed a new face in the crowd. Someone new in the group. I had been the new kid last year. Having found my place with my group of friends, I knew I had to be the one to welcome anyone who had wandered into our midst.

He blended in with the rest of us in our drab school polos and khakis. As he shuffled between the exit and the corner away from the rambunctious crowd, I caught him. Introducing myself, I decided to ease him into conversation with idle chatter about the weather, summer, and life in general. I expected a dip of the head, a shy hello, or at the very least a smile. Instead his eyes practically glazed over with confusion as I spoke, my speech quickly moving from light conversation to rapid fire questions.

This kid wouldn’t talk back. I couldn’t even get a name out of him.

I started to sweat. I talked faster and faster. I repeated my name. I spoke louder. I asked him more about himself. Still nothing. In a panic, my fight or flight instinct told me I had to break the silence, or I was going to lose a potential friend. And what is the best way to break the ice? Make someone laugh of course! Any normal person would have told a joke, but me? No. I have to go above and beyond. Prior to my senior year, most of my social interaction occurred through the internet and with my cats. Yes. Cats. And what makes cats happy?

Yes. I petted him. Right then and there. I assaulted his “fluffy” black hair and continued to go on and on about it. I watched his eyes widen twice the size of his face, his body stiffen, his lips curl into something akin to a voiceless scream.

I will never forget that look of horror on his face.

Thankfully, we ended up circling up for the morning prayer, and I sneaked off to another spot to avoid standing next to him.

And that, my dear readers, is how I met the Chinese exchange student.

Thankfully, I did manage to show him that I’m not a hair tousling freak after all.

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A Few of my Favorite Things: Fairy Tales and Duck Tails

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Mukashi

I apologize for my atrocious handwriting!

I’m not a big fan of roses in general (give me a hydrangea any day), and I’d rather have the whole kitten rather than just its whiskers. Copper kettles, woolen mittens…keep it. Even though I still consider Julie Andrews a kindred spirit, Maria von Trapp’s character in The Sound of Music is not. I have a very odd set of favorite things. If you stick around, you will probably hear a lot about cardigans, cats, sweet potatoes, and the color purple. I have to say that my favorite thing in the world is language.

Call me a word nerd if you will.

My favorite word in the English language is “halcyon.” When used as a noun, it refers to a type of mythological bird that supposedly had the ability to calm storms by flapping its wings. When used as an adjective it means a variety of things such as “peaceful,” “prosperous,” or “joyful.” It sounds archaic and mysterious but reflects all the things that are good in the world—the calm after the storm. In a way, it reflects a happier time in my life.

Perhaps I’m silly to have a favorite word, but I’m sure other people in the world have them, right? The more I study Japanese, the more I find myself drawn to specific aspects of language. I have favorite words, favorite kanji, favorite grammar rules, etc.

My favorite word in the Japanese language starts with a story. I remember sneaking through my living room where my brother sat staring at the TV as usual. But this time, his eyes weren’t glued to Pokemon or Super Mario Galaxy. I saw a bright flash of color and heard familiar music. Ballet. More specifically Swan Lake. He was watching an anime with ballet. I couldn’t question his show choice, because I was too absorbed in the show myself.

I hid myself and watched from afar for a while until I caught the title screen. Princess Tutu. For the next week (or maybe two) I shut myself in my room after school to watch it. And each episode began “Mukashi mukashi…” in the voice of a gentle older woman as she told the story of a duck who wanted to be human. When a mysterious force grants her wish, she’s transformed into an awkwardly clumsy girl who falls in love with a prince only to realize that she plays a much larger role. Something about the combination of beautiful music, innocent love, and magical atmosphere gave me something to look forward to each day.

“Once upon a time…”

I can’t think of those words without thinking of all the fairy tales I’ve ever read. Princess Tutu reminded me that everyone has a story to tell, even a tiny duck. And all those stories can be special. Anyone can be a protagonist.

n a tiny duck. And all those stories can be special. Anyone can be a protagonist.