For the last month or so, probably out of nostalgia for the lovely trip we made last summer to Turkey, I have been treating myself to a Turkish-style breakfast with bread, hummus, dates, figs and cherries every morning. I generally don’t enjoy breakfast – toast, waffles, pancakes, cereal, eggs, or any of that stuff – but I loved what we were served in Turkey. So I have decided to eat a Turkish-style breakfast to start my day off better. I also bought myself some fabulous baggy Turkish pants at the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul last July. They are comfortable in the summer heat, sort of cool-looking (as cool as I ever get!) and they remind me of the lovely city and its people.
One aspect of our trip to Turkey that I am not going to be able to incorporate into my life, however, is the Turkish language.
Continue reading August 18, 2015
(Please note that I am trying a new format for my blog. Those of you who read it as an email will see a Read More link after the first paragraph. When you click it, you will be directed to the blog website, so that I will know how many people are reading my blog. All these months I haven’t known because you haven’t been counted. Some days it has looked like I have 0 readers and that has made me a bit sad! So thank you for letting me try this new format. Please let me know if it doesn’t work or is inconvenient. Thank you! – xx, Meher)
Today, I had lunch with Dawn and three other dear friends. Often she will talk about an aspect of Japanese culture – the language or the food – in a way that seems familiar yet distant, reflecting her status as a third generation Japanese American. After we had eaten, our friend Toshi (see May 7), who was born and raised in Japan, was explaining different ways to drink steeped green tea and Dawn was asking her for advice about consuming some powdered matcha she had bought recently. Even though she is ethnically fully Japanese, it is not really her culture, and she was just as intrigued by what Toshi was explaining as the rest of us were. After I returned home, I decided to send her a book about Japanese food as a thank you gift for lunch. Written by a wonderful American commentator on Japanese culture, Donald Richie (!), the book explains various Japanese foods and drinks and their cultural contexts in a way that she might enjoy – as someone who is both Japanese and non-Japanese at the same time. Continue reading June 11, 2015
Almost 30 years ago, I began studying Japanese at Cambridge University. I chose the language because I loved languages and wanted a linguistic challenge. Its writing system, which is made up of two Japanese syllabic scripts, Roman letters and thousands of Chinese characters called kanji, makes it one of the hardest languages for Europeans to learn. I also expected that armed with a degree in Japanese, I would be able to find a high-paying job in the business world. After I graduated, I worked in Japan on a government program and spoke Japanese every day for two years. I didn’t notice the exact moment, but at some point I realized I had become fluent. After returning to the UK and dabbling in business news translation, I took a sharp turn into the world of Asian art (and kissed that high-paying business world job goodbye!). Surprisingly, although I have forgotten many of the thousands characters I learned, I still seem able to access a fair bit of my Japanese, especially if I am in Japan and/or drinking sake. I recently translated a book about a Japanese artist from Japanese to English – without the influence of sake, I should point out – so I know it’s still in there.
Today I gave away my large English-Japanese Dictionary to our local branch of the Los Angeles Public Library. I have kept this 10-lb tome on my shelf for years assuming I would consult it at some point. I never did because my translation work was always in the opposite direction, Japanese to English; my Japanese will never be good enough to translate professionally the other way. But that’s ok. I am so delighted with where my study of Japanese has led me: to an idyllic life in rural Japan, then the study of Japanese art history in London, and finally to Southern California to work as an Asian art curator. When I thumbed through my first Japanese dictionary, I could never have predicted the direction this language would take me. Perhaps in the Little Tokyo branch of the Los Angeles Public Library, which is where my donation may well end up, someone will look up a word in that dictionary and begin their adventure.