You burn, you learn and you get back on the bike . . .
Turning JapaneseTANIA BUTTERFIELD
One month to the day of arriving in Japan I find myself lying in a “hospital” bed being tended to by a doctor.
When I went to school yesterday with burns down my shoulder, which thankfully were not as bad as they had been just 12 hours earlier, there was only one way to explain it - ryori ga heta desu. I am bad at cooking.
It shouldn't have come as any surprise to the teachers when I said this as I had told them within my first days of meeting them I was not a good cook. I think what puzzled them was how the burns ended up on my shoulder.
I was draining my edamame beans, which had come straight off the stove, while admiring the hole at the top of my pot lid where the water was flowing out. As I stood there thinking what a good idea as it meant I didn't have to take the lid partially off, the lid fell off and the boiling water burnt my thumb.
The pain disrupted my daydreaming and I flung my hand in the air - still holding the pot of boiling water. The entire contents of the pot drenched me and needless to say my skin started coming off immediately.
Two days later the open burn was not looking so great. The school nurse and all the teachers said there was no burn cream to treat it, I must go to the hospital.
It's all right now, the doctor just put iodine on it and gave me anti-biotics. No biggie.
But it brings me to the topic of cooking in Japan. My apartment has no oven - only a gas stove and my meals are literally ready in minutes. There is no way to control the temperature, it's just on and off and the heat that comes off that little stove is intense.
In between the stove elements is what I thought was a place to cook toast. My vice-principal told me on the first day in Takatsuki that it was for fish. I thought I knew better and the next morning tried cooking toast on it. Epic fail. My neighbours' first impression of me was probably "that girl who set off the fire alarm at 6am".
Two days later, I bought myself what I thought was a cool toaster-oven. Within seconds of turning it on, it heated up to the point it was bright orange and my attempt at cooking a small pizza set the fire alarm off a second time.
It hasn't all been disastrous and over the past month I have managed to perfect the art of cooking eggs and making meatballs.
Going to the supermarket is always a mission. My first shopping trip lasted a couple of hours as I tried to work out what everything was. I haven't yet mistaken foods, but my friend has been eating curry porridge for the past three weeks after she bought a big bag of porridge thinking it was rice. Apparently it tastes better than it sounds and will feature at our dinner parties in the future.
However, I have bought more than could fit into my bicycle basket and had the unfortunate experience of losing balance, falling off my bike into oncoming traffic and my groceries (including eggs) falling into the path of a truck.
But it has only been one month here. I'm sure my cooking abilities (and balance) will improve with time.
Tania Butterfield is a former Express reporter teaching English at two schools in the Shiga prefecture of central Japan.
- The Marlborough Express