Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Moshi, Moshi Foreigner

The dream: to know a foreign language yet not to understand it: to perceive the difference in it without that difference ever being recuperated by the superficial sociality of discourse, communication or vulgarity...to undo our own "reality" under the effect of other forumulations, other syntaxes...in a word, to descend into the untranslatable.

-Roland Barthes, Empire of Signs
Lea Jacobson, Bar Flower

I experience a certain anxious ecstasy in anticipation of learning a new language. I am not frustrated with grammatics or limited vocabulary, but rather, simply salivating to speak aloud the alluringly foreign, lusty new words. The newest (and always easiest sentences) I learn, roll off my tongue and curl in my mouth. I am in heaven in my ignorance of the future. Too soon, pronunciation becomes embarrassing, and I fear any native would cringe to listen. This is xenocentrism at its worst, as I am morbidly fearsome of what the natives will think; my world now revolves around theirs and my self-awareness culminates in terror - cutting me off at the throat. I will never learn like this. And sometimes, I simply cannot bear it anymore, and my only action is to put the reference book back on the shelf. However, my new obsession will not allow such submissive action. So, I took one Sunday afternoon and drove to downtown L.A. with a singular stop in mind - to find inspiration.

Little Tokyo provides an expanse of opportunities to speak with Japanese, the limits of which I will (in all likelihood) never test. I can see my future: it is a breeding ground for my now insatiable appetite for all things related to modern Japan and it's pop culture, including red bean Mochi and Death Note Manga.

I ended up here one Sunday afternoon, trying to search out the origin of my favorite Mochi brand, Mikawaya. Thinking I would discover a costco of a mochi manufacturing plant, I was happily disappointed to find the shop to be a small, almost empty confection store. Offering different Mochi flavors I hadn't discovered, alongside additional confections similar in texture to the rice covering of Mochi. Once satisfied with 6 pieces and coconut ChiChi, I left the shop to explore the town.

Little Tokyo is exactly that, little. The surrounding apartments and housing stretches further than I can see or know, but the "cultural" center, most likely dedicated to serving tourists than the actual residents, is fairly small, seeing as how a 10 minute walk takes you through most of the shops and two levels of related stores (assuming you're not doing much shopping). However, I find that this superficial Tokyo offers a Japanese video store and many a small eateries offering Japanese cuisine unrelated to Sushi. This place is not solely a tourist trap. Still, my suspicions that the center is more of a tourist shop than real cultural experience are somewhat confirmed, as the first store I enter sells cheap but beautiful chopsticks and small sake sets alongside Hello kitty pencil sharpeners and Totoro aprons.

Mystery breeds creativity, and mystery awakens the imagination. ~Lea Jacobson, Bar Flower

This exploration will or must culminate in the commencement of learning and tedious study of the minutiae that is the Japanese language. Listening to the language is fun in itself; hearing the girls voices especially - talking quickly in high voices, giggly and cute-as-a-button adorable in their fashionable clothing and brand name bags. The language manages to sound elegant and delicate.

I have yet to forgive myself for not property devoting myself to learning the French language, so the responsibility of learning another looms ahead; intimidating but still enthralling, the love affair having just begun.

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