Thursday, October 25, 2007

pants and "pan-tsu"

I've been living in K's sweatpants lately, as none of my pants fit anymore. I know I'll be able to find decent clothes once I return to the States, but pickins are slim in Kyoto.

I was downtown with my friend Joseph the other day, and I thought I'd stop in at the Gap to see if they have maternity wear. I didn't see anything, but asked a sales clerk just to be sure.

Mataniti no fuku utte-imasu ka? I asked, Pan-tsu toka? (Do you sell maternity clothes, pants and such?)

Nai, the clerk said, waving her hand in front of her from left to right in that characteristic Japanese way.

When we left, Joseph reminded me that pan-tsu is what Japanese people call underwear. Zubon is what we would call pants, or trousers. Oops!

Shortly after we announced our pregnancy to J's parents in August, I made a point of saying I wouldn't be caught dead in pants with that dreaded belly panel. Allow me now to eat my words, and say: Halleluia for the belly panel!

J found a maternity extravaganza store in Osaka, where I bought both pants and pan-tsu, which go nearly to my armpits and are the most comfortable thing I've worn in weeks.


Wednesday, October 17, 2007

18 weeks

Nearly half-way through my pregnancy, and this is what I have to show for it:

But I'm so proud. We went to the clinic again on Monday for our monthly check, and it turns out I've put on 1.6 kilos and about 6 more centimeters in diameter. The baby has almost doubled in length, and has a big ol' healthy cranium.

The doctor remembered to weigh me and take my blood pressure this time, but I still think he's not very good at taking stills from the ultrasound monitor. There were several opportunities to capture hands with fingers extended, waving, long legs kicking out... but no. Here's the peanut looking rather like a teddy bear giving you the evil eye:

And if you can guess what this is, you win $100:

I'll give you a hint: it's a boy!

It looks like static to me, but we figure the doc knows what he's looking for. Or, as my sister-in-law put it, "it could be a sneaky lil' Miss..."

J and I had decided pretty early on that we wanted to find out the sex if we could, and I was grateful that we were both on the same page about it. Some folks are adamant about not finding out. I'm too curious, and terrible with secrets.

The funny thing is, now that we know, it feels like the flood-gates have opened up and a river of Culture is rushing toward us. I don't regret finding out, but it's strange to think that this baby has gone from just Baby, to Boy -- to a whole slew of assumptions about gender and biology. I admit I was kind of hoping for a girl, but mainly because I assumed they are "easier," not as rowdy or raucous or violent as boys. And they have cuter clothes. I feel shallow for confessing this; I should be beyond this kind of social conditioning. But I figure it's better to lay bare my expectations and misguided pre-conceptions than to let them fester and corrupt the kid later in life, which he would rebel against by becoming a Televangelist or an Investment Banker.

It's also interesting to me to watch how life brews from a tiny point of vast possibility -- "God is punctiform," says Annie Dillard -- and then it gradually acquires a body, a sex, a gender, a name; its identity hewn by these parameters. Of course, this is inevitable, we are all marked by culture.

Watching the baby move around was mezmerizing: he waved his fingers! How marvelous, how utterly human. And I instinctively waved back to him.


Sunday, October 14, 2007

one bridge, two views

I love it how Kyoto goes from rural: urban:

in the same panorama.

I biked out on Friday afternoon to sketch the nearby rice fields after harvest, feeling rather Van Gogh-like (that's me, just another Dutch artist fascinated with Japan...), though I don't think he had to render telephone poles and power lines in the background.

If you've ever been here, you know it's just part of the quirky charm -- ramshakle corrugated tin add-ons to a hundred year old wooden house; neighborhood shrines sharing street corner space with vending machines. Farmers tilling fields right next to the Circle K.


Friday, October 12, 2007

golden poop

Ahh, poop.

Perhaps some of you are already familiar with Japanese toilet-training videos, where poop is cute and cartoon-y and accompanied by songs and ancient wisdom (I've heard that it does wonders where the tots are concerned, and plan to try it myself when we get to that phase...) But aside from kid-jokes and lots of other bizarre things being cartoon-ized, there seems to be a strange preoccupation with poop here that I can't figure out.

Here's the packaging for a pointer-stick with a swirl of poo on the end that J bought at a home furnishings store called Loft:

It extends to 70cm! I think it's also a ball-point pen.

Here's the cartoon on the back:

As best I can translate, "Unchi-kun Tanjo," or Little Poop's Birthday: he pops out (sound effects: pon!), says "Ta da!" and introduces himself, saying, "Nice to meet you, I'm poop! I was just born, won't you all be my friends?" In the last frame, as the people are digusted by him ("Gross! Stinky!"), he's saying, "Pleasure's mine!"

Next comic: Gambare, Unchi-kun," or, Good Luck, Little Poop.

Well, novelty is one thing, but then there are the golden poop stickers:

Yes, that is a poop on a red cushion in the middle. If you look hard, you can see that the poop in the second row from the bottom is even smiling. When I bought these stickers, I also bought a golden poop key-chain for J, and noticed a display statue of golden poop (on a red cushion) about 3 inches high, for $30. I love it, but Why?! What is the meaning?

Last night at dinner, J was telling me about an exhibit of butsudan (Buddhist altars, for use in the home) that he'd just seen. Some of them were incredibly elaborate, with delicate carvings, tons of gold leaf, and big enough for him to climb inside. He said they can cost up to $100,000. That's dollars.

"Isn't that kind of ostentatious? I thought Buddhism was about simplification," I said, naively.

So we talked about butsudan being like any other consumer item, appealing to people's tastes, appreciation for craftsmanship, and desires to display their status. J said, "Maybe people think of it as a little paradise for the Buddha."

"But didn't the Buddha transcend his attachment to worldy things?" I went on, "Why should he care what the butsudan looks like? It could look like crap for all he cares."

"Yeah," said J, "even crap has Buddha nature."

Perhaps this is the mystery behind the golden poop.


Sunday, October 7, 2007

fingers, folded

A postcard from J, to honor the finger-folds:

They're like gang-signs from the Buddha: mudras that convey the divine powers or emphasize the nature of a particular diety. They are an external expression of 'inner resolve' that give meaning to the sculpted images, communicating more powerfully than spoken language.

The name for this blog was taken from a letter written to us by one of our elderly Japanese friends, who always painstakingly translated everything into unwittingly poetic (and mysterious) English. I forget now exactly what he wrote, but it was something about how he was looking forward to our return to Kyoto, and would wait for us, finger-fold.

What it means -- prayer? twiddling of thumbs? -- I'm not sure, but am entirely captivated by the idea of it.

Also, I love to draw hands. I especially love the y-shaped crease the pinky makes when it's curled against the palm. I can't explain this, the satisfaction I get from rendering it, but I never seem to get tired of hands. These folds are so delicate and so expressive. Mudras for the lay-person.

I felt the baby for the first time the other night: lying in bed, reading, and suddenly a pushing from within. It felt like a hand or a foot, sweeping out from right to left. And again. And then some less distinct and fluttery motions. What are you doing in there, little one?

I read that babies will start to suck their thumbs around this time -- 16 weeks -- and it made me think of Italo Calvino's short story in Cosmicomics, 'The Spiral.' In it, he tells a story from the point of view of a mollusk, that is to say, not much of a view at all. Nevertheless, the mollusk is capable of a range of feelings, yearning, loves, with which it interprets its environment. (It eventually creates a shell for itself to express its love as beauty for another...)

I remember being struck by the vividness of that sightless world, and thought, Perhaps this is what it is like to become aware of yourself in the womb: warmth, movement, vibration, and, what's this? a hand to suck on.

Fingers, folded, sucked. Hands are important from the first.


Wednesday, October 3, 2007

kami kami

I'm having a show at Atelier Montauk (beautiful jewelry and handbag designs by my friend Tomomi) at the end of the month, and I finally decided on a name: kami kami.

Kami is a homonym for both hair and paper, which I thought was appropriate.

Last week Monday, J took me to a Hair Parade (kushi matsuri, actually 'comb festival') in Gion, where the Maiko-san were on display with their kimono and kami no ke.

"It's like jidai matsuri, but for hair," said J.

I'd already completed the pieces for the show, based on the sketches I'd done, but it was really cool to see the hair up close and in real life. On real heads.

The styles were flawless, sculpted and glossy, defying gravity but looking fantastically heavy, too. They held all manner of ornaments, flowers, and pom poms, the different configurations relecting the styles of several eras.

The sketches I made for the show are somewhat similar, with obvious differences between Heian and Meiji styles. It's an evolution of hair! I tried to explain to someone the other day how I can see the influence in how some women do their hair today. It's a more punk and loose interpretation, but nevertheless...

Here are a couple of examples of what I'm putting in the show

For these pieces, I collaged the background and then pasted the kami no ke, which I'd inked by hand and outlined in white gesso, on top. I only had about five or six different kinds of paper to use in the collages -- old calligraphic text, train time-tables, go game board strategies (?), tissue paper, funky old atlases, and the beloved brown paper -- but actually I found that limitation to be a fun experiment.

It was like painting with only six colors, focusing instead on composition and the possibilities of combination.

You'll have to come to the show to see all 8.

At the end of the Hair Parade, here's my hairstyle, unshowered and sweaty:

Wow, raw and evocative!


Monday, October 1, 2007


Last night I went to a friend's house for dinner. She's Filipina and made a delicious batch of Adobo. She asked if I'd ever had Filipino food before; apparently I'd neglected to tell her that J's mom is Filipina, and she and grandma make Panak Bet and Opo and Halo Halo and other things... We laughed about that -- it seems such a glaring omission now -- and informed the part-Filipino baby to get ready for the food of its people. Ahhh, delicious, thanks Joon!

Tonight I made a dish that J and I lovingly call "the favorites" : sweet and sour fried tofu, with stir-fried broccoli. This is a labor of love, but is so so worth it. Tonight I burned the bejesus out of my middle finger while deep-frying the tofu, but it was still worth it. I decided to make it as a way to pay K back for making AMAZING lasagne over the weekend (even after me saying I hadn't ever really loved the food of her people). Being pregnant has rearranged all my food rules.

I've noticed in the past week an almost inhuman ablility to pack food away. And then continue being hungry.

Tonight as I cooked, I complained about my stretch pants, how they were binding at my waist and generally uncomfortable. K laughed at me for thinking I could continue to wear pre-pregnancy clothes and fetched me a looser pair. Ahhh, thanks friend. I guess it's about time I gained some weight.

I read that right about now -- the 16th week -- I can expect to experience "quickening," the fluttering feeling of the baby's movements. I might have, I'm not exactly sure what to be on the lookout for. But for sure I've got some thickening going on. Alright!