Monday, July 14, 2008

Sunday Walk

About six weeks ago, the guy who’s sort of my boss gave everyone pedometers. As an obsessive counter of all things except money, it’s encouraged me to walk a bit more. With our daughter off at yet another volleyball camp, my wife and I decided to walk down to the new smoothie shop in the new center that used to be our town’s bowling alley. A Starbucks and a Subway anchor the center, but the smoothie shop is a mom and pop place. Pop was putting up shelves. Mom was explaining that their cups are biodegradable between taking their ten year old daughter off to the local bible camp. Two vans of Bible campers were in the parking lot. Both had “We love Jesus” written in soap on the back passenger windows. The eight year old was behind the cash register and taking orders. Mom and pop appeared to have three little girls.

Their smoothies were fine, though my wife questioned them extensively about whether or not they used fresh or frozen fruit. Large quantities of wheat grass filled the shelf above the glass counter, something which always makes me think of that Sex in the City episode. We sat in the sun and watched mom and pop enjoy the thrill of opening a new business. In the meantime, the kids kept grabbing the leftover glops from the just-made smoothies in these tiny plastic sample cups. Our town got too expensive for young families a few years back, so it was actually sort of nice to see little kids running around again.

Midway through my giant orange-pineapple smoothie in bio-degradable container, we suddenly remembered that this was the weekend of the teriyaki barbeque at the Enmanji temple down the road. There aren’t that many Asian people in our county, but the town has had a Buddhist temple since 1934. The temple itself was originally built by the Manchurian railroad company ( think Bertolucci’s Last Emperor) for the Chicago World’s fair of 1933 (A Century of Progress). After the fair closed, they shipped the pieces for reconstruction in northern California thus the little town I settled in has a more or less authentic Kamakura style Japanese temple in a county that had a total of about 500 Japanese. (my county is the size of the state of Delaware).

During World War 2, almost all of the county’s Japanese were sent either to internment camps or went to live inland. The temple stayed intact during that stretch. Not long after the county’s Japanese returned here, they apparently started having this fund raiser. Yesterday was the 54th. Hundreds of people attend the thing, most of them aren’t Japanese.

The festival is simple enough. They barbeque huge quantities of teriyaki chicken which they serve on paper plates with a scoop of rice, a scoop of potato salad, a fortune cookie (go figure), and a cup of tea. The current price is ten bucks. Along with this, there are a number of booths that sell drinks (sake and beer), desserts, sushi, and other items that all seem to end in “yaki”. In one corner of the festival, they set up a variety of children’s games like knock over a stack of milk bottles with a baseball. In the main hall, they have bingo (yep, regular old Catholic church style bingo), dice games, and various booths that sell traditional Japanese handicrafts, clothing, food, and origami.

There are, however, no traces of modern Japan. There’s no hint of anime, for instance, high tech gadgets, graphic novels, pokemon, or other artifacts of contemporary Japanese life. Some of the “Japanese” culture at the teriyaki barbeque is actually Hawaiian. Possibly because it’s the middle of summer, a couple of the booths sell shaved ice and they had a musical performer on the event’s one stage singing “Over the Rainbow” while accompanying himself on a ukulele. I checked. It wasn’t Jason Castro. A taiko drum performance followed.

After we finished our fortune cookies and talked about whether or not the teriyaki still tasted the same, we wandered into the temple itself where the minister of the temple a middle-aged sansei woman named Carol Himaka was giving hourly talks about Buddhism and the temple. Traditionally, Buddhist congregations go to the minister’s eldest son. I’ve mentioned once before that the temple is laid out surprisingly like a church. It has rows of pews. Inside the pews they have hymnals, prayer books, and guides to the services. It’s just that there are no crosses and there aren’t many mentions of Jesus. We listened quietly as she explained the centrality of “enlightenment” in the practice of Buddhism.

One of the oddities of our town is that there are a number of Asian-influenced businesses and activities nearby run by non-Asians. These range from two yoga studios, to shiatsu massage, to a small storefront that at one time was offering Feng Hsui consultation, to a crystal store (maybe that’s not that Asian). In fact, for several months I attended Buddhist meditation meetings at the local community center in which I was the only Asian participating.

Perhaps even odder, both my wife and I kept saying that the festival was very much the sort of thing we remembered from when we were kids in the sixties. My wife’s not Asian, but I guess she has memories of local “fairs” that were lo-tech, in which you could hear one another talk, and they didn’t charge admission for everything you might care to do. In fact, the focus was more on running into other people and visiting rather than participating in the paid activities.

I wouldn’t call it a miracle, but I’m still amazed by the way so much history passed around Enmanji temple. It starts with the Japanese invasion of China, the Manchurian Railroad Company was maybe the most prominent symbol of that attempt by Imperial Japan to exploit China’s resources. It runs through the internment. It veers off ever so curiously from the frenetic world of contemporary Japan. I’m not sure who’s keeping the Teriyaki barbeque going still. I’m just amazed that it’s still going.

My wife and I walked home. They remodeled the old liquor store that used to have a sign “Coldest beer in town” painted on its side. That’s sadly now gone. In its place, they have a silver taco truck with a long table in front with mostly Mexican customers. A few feet later, my wife (no doubt in a nostalgic mood) insisted on going into an antique shop where she bought a wicker coffee table for forty dollars. Maybe she wanted to remember the day.

We finished off the night by watching a Bollywood movie called Bhagbhan (which I may review) which turned out to be delightful in its sort of out of time sensibility.

We walked more than 10,000 steps yesterday and every one brought us a little closer to home.



At 7/16/2008 10:25:00 PM, Blogger AHP said...

It's neat that you can connect with your "Asian-ness" right near home. There's not much Asian history here in Minneapolis. I'm impressed that you saw a Bollywood movie. I've only seen one in the last year.

At 7/17/2008 10:15:00 AM, Blogger Chancelucky said...

There's actually a novel called "You must be crazy to be Chinese in Minnesota"....There are Asians in the Twin Cities, though I don't know how many Indians there are there, but with a major university and a fairly tech dependent economy, I would guess that there are more than a few.

For some weird reason, my wife and I like the silliness and relative simplicity of Bollywood movies. This latest one was recommended by another internet friend who lives in Allahabad. She was telling me that the older Bachchan was a much better actor than his son.

At 7/17/2008 01:52:00 PM, Blogger Elizabeth McQuern said...

I want a pedometer that tells me how much of my favorite junk foods I can eat after hitting the hiking path. 300 calories means nothing to me. How many peanut M&M's is that?

At 7/19/2008 12:58:00 PM, Blogger Chancelucky said...

It's always frightening to do the treadmill for like thirty minutes and discover that you've burnt off maybe one twenty ounce bottle of Doctor Pepper.

Naturally, I start eating after I exercise.

At 7/23/2008 08:50:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I sadly discovered Scharffenberger's Bittersweet Ganache (at Peets for 10 bucks). Put a lot in a pyrex custard cup (a third + of the custard dish melted) & push Roll/Muffin on your microwave. Have your organic strawberries or stupendous ice cream already ready.

Vosges Redfire Chocolate with Ancho & Chipotle Chiles, Ceylon Cinnamon, & Belgian Dark Chocolate is muy yum. Vosges Pandan is also haunting.) Also Ciao Bella Chocolate Hazelnut Gelato.

Push Roll/Muffin again while peering thru glass into microwave -- as soon as the glossy melted chocolate begins to seriously bubble, hit Stop.

Do NOT pour choc on ice cream. Keep it in its little bowl take 1/3 a spoon full and spoon up a chunk of the icecream. This tactic keeps the choc HOT!

For strawberries trimmed top + tip, use a small fork to scoop up choc from the master dish with each berry.

Sorry I told you this. You will never be able to eat Ben & Jerry's or Hagen Daz or the like again. Once you've gone up the bittersweet chocolate ladder, there's no cruddy milk choc in your future -- no cheating air-filled icecream.

(These serious icecreams are available at our Andronicos.)

Until you get adept at this handling of hot bittersweet ganache, do be careful not to burn your lip.

At 7/29/2008 12:23:00 PM, Blogger Chancelucky said...

We actually like ritter better. Not as gourmet as Sharfen..., but strikes a better balance.


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