Food, Visas, and Drinking

Ahh, school is over. That’s a relief. I am in Austin now with my internship at National Instruments. A lot has happened since my last post, most of which involves me losing money.

I formally accepted the internship by mailing in the acceptance letter to the director in Japan. Man, it is expensive to ship stuff to Japan. Just one 8 and 1/2 by 11″ envelope cost me $50. What is FedEx doing, having a F-35 deliver it? Anyways, I figure it doesn’t really matter, since the company is paying for my airfare and all, the least I can do is pay the $50 to send all of my visa application materials.

Believe it or not, I’ve done a lot to culturally prepare myself for my trip to Japan. Right before I left college, I had a meeting with my Japanese instructor to ask her about some of the different Japanese customs. I asked everything from drinking etiquette to customs on tipping. I figure, working for a Japanese company, there will be a good amount of social get-togethers. Naturally, at these get-togethers, there will be some form of alcohol involved. Let me set this straight, I am a man who enjoys a good drink. Based off the crazy stories I’ve heard about Japanese drinking parties, I figured it would be good to get some information from a native Japanese citizen.

I learned that in Japan, your cup is always supposed to be full. The sames goes to be said about your boss’ cup. Wow, what a country! I am getting even more excited just thinking about it. Talking with Chris, a guy in my Japanese class, aparently drinking with your boss is like playing golf. If you can drink more than him, you win. However, the Japanese business man is not to be underestimated. Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to come off as an alcoholic or anything, I just find it interesting how much like an artform drinking is over there. I am a tall guy, and needless to say I can hold my liqour pretty well, so I am interested to see how a fare over in Japan.

Also, I found out that there is absolutely no tipping for meals in Japan. Coming from a western background, I find this really awesome. I don’t mind tipping, but a full course meal with a couple of beers can run $25/$30 over in America, and the tips add up after a while.

I’ve also been trying my luck with making Japanese food. I bought a bunch of soba and udon noodles, and have tried my best to make yakisoba (Japanese stir fry) and udon soup, but somehow I think that my attempts haven’t really matched their Japanese counterparts. For the udon, the only ingredients I had were the udon noodles, Daikon (Japanese radish), and some chicken broth. Granted, I probably did the best that I could have done given my background and cooking skills, delicious probably isn’t the word to describe my result.

I even tried to make some onigiri (rice balls). I had some oriental seasoning, and sushi style rice that I picked up from the Whole Foods Market (ritzy Texas grocery store). I even had some seaweed that you are supposed to use to wrap the riceballs in. First I cooked the rice in my brother’s rice cooker. Now aparently here is where my first mistake came in. I tried to just mold the rice into balls straight out the cooker. Ouch, that hurt quite a bit. After inflicting third degree burns upon myself, I decided to wait for the rice to cool just a tad. After waiting for the rice to cool, I molded it into a semi-ball shape and put some seasoning on it. I then attempted to wrap it with nori seaweed. The seaweed was really brittle and didn’t seem to want to wrap. It was really hard to work with and kept crumbling in my clumsy gaijin hands.

Needless to say, while the onigiri I finally made weren’t the worst tasting in the world, I am pretty sure they were supposed to look and taste a lot different. My product was essentially just a bunch of seasoned rice molded in a ball that oddly resembled a sofa with broken pieces of seaweed violently wrapped around it.

As far as my visa application goes, there is not much for me to do right now. I sent in all the required documentation and am just waiting on the director to send me back some certificate I need. I’ll need to take that certificate to the Japanese consulate in Houston in order to get my visa. I have no problem with that, a roadtrip to Houston shouldn’t be that bad. I figure I will dress up a little even. Anyways, I will probably post more frequently here as I get closer to my departure, so keep an eye out for updates!