Sunday, November 02, 2014

Embracing Memories of the Erroneous

I went to my new favorite Japanese restaurant and almost decided to never go again.  Not because of bad food or bad service.  Far from it.  I've gone to this place, called Takuya, in the Arcade Lane Plaza between Colorado and Green Street, three Fridays in a row now.  Everything I've had on the menu has been quite good.  
No...  The reason why I was wondering to myself if I'd ever be back to eat there again as I left was because I made a mistake.  
It happened like this.  It was toward the end of my meal.  I'd ordered items from the sushi menu for the first time and was pretty full.  The California Roll can almost be described as luscious in taste.  Not traditional sushi, I know, but delicious.  
One of the reasons I like going to Takuya is that it gives me a chance to practice my Japanese.  All the staff speaks it fluently.  And most of the customers are Japanese as well.  Last night, with the exception of another couple by the door, all the other customers were Japanese couples and families.  A good sign for Japanese restaurant.  
A quick side note: When it comes to Japanese restaurants, one way to tell if the food will be authentic is the decor.  If it is "Japanese inspired" food, then you'll have a bunch of Japanese stuff on the walls.  Kanji scrolls, pictures of Mount Fuji, things like that.  Japanese restaurants run by Japanese people tend to be clean, simple and neat.  There are exceptions of course, but this is what I've seen.  
Anyway...  I was done with the meal and was ready to check out.  Just as I was about to look up to catch the waitress's eye, she came up from behind and asked me if I wanted to order anything more.  
"Kyuukei, onegaishimasu."  Check, please.  
She nodded and walked toward the restaurant's entrance.  When she came back, she placed a menu on the table next to my empty plate.  She smiled, nodded, pointed to the menu and said, "Call me when you are ready."  
I stared at her.  She stared back at me.  I scrunched up my brows.  Her smile faltered.  She leaned in closer and spoke in a subdued voice using English.
"You wanted list?"  
List?  A list of menu items?  She wasn't the waitress that took my original order so...  Maybe she wanted me to list what I had ordered?  
"List.  Nan desu da ke?"  That second part is Japanese for, "what was it again?"  "Re-su-to?  Bu-re-ku?" 
Re-su-to?  Bu-re-ku?  I ran her pronunciation through my brain's "Japanglish" dictionary.  
"Hai, Hai."  She smiled again, apparently pleased that I seemed to be getting it.  "A rest now.  Order more later?"  
It turned out that I had used the wrong word.  "Kyuukei" is the Japanese word for break or respite, as in "I'm taking a quick break."  The word I had intended to use was "Kaikei," for bill or account.  The "kei" sounds at the end of both words had gotten mixed up in my English saturated brain and the wrong one had popped out.  I didn't even recognize my mix-up until the waitress helped me figure it out.  
I paid the bill quickly and left right away.  I was feeling a bit foolish.  A little embarrassed over my mistake.  It was then that the thought of not going back flashed through my mind.  
If you're thinking this is a really stupid reason for never going back to a favored place to eat, you're quite right.  I tossed the idea aside, though the entire walk home I kept thinking, “Kaikei is bill, Kyuukei is break...  Kaikei is bill, Kyuukei is break...”  
It is, however, a reflection of how much I abhor making mistakes.  Drawing upon my Catholic rearing, mistakes are up there right after Mortal and Venial sins.  
This is overstating how I feel about it, but only to a degree.  
The irony is that I often tell stories about the mistakes I've made in my life.  And I've made a bunch of them.  
In my effort to learn Japanese, I made some doozies in the beginning.  I used to have a colleague named Toru who was born in Okinawa.  I inflicted him with my efforts to learn to speak Japanese while we worked together.  
I remember one day, while heading out of the office, I got the idea of telling him "Have a nice day!"  I looked up the words I thought I needed in the dictionary and headed for the back exit which would take me past his work station.  As I reached the door I turned to him and said...
"Toru-san, ii hi wo motte kudasai."  
In response, Toru nodded, reached into his pocket, pulled out a lighter and flicked it on for me.  
Oh-kay...  Not the response I was seeking.  
Anyone who has studied Japanese for a significant amount of time will recognize tons of mistakes in that simple sentence, including the incorrect assumption that the Japanese used a phrase that meant something like "Have a nice day."  Just like saying "Bless you," when someone sneezes, saying "Have a nice day" is an American thing.  
I've made similar mistakes.  Another day, heading to the break room I said to Toru something that I thought meant, "I'm going to lunch and coming right back."  
His head sprang up from his computer screen and he looked at me with confusion smeared across his face.  "Did you just say you're going to eat a frog?"  
No.  Frog is not on the menu today.  
But I kept plugging away at it.  Reading my books.  Listening to the Japanese podcasts I downloaded.  Eventually taking classes.  I figured out what I had done wrong during those earlier attempts and did what I needed to do to prevent them from happening again.  
Toru gave me compliment for my efforts.  Or, it was something I'm sure he intended as a compliment.  I think.
"Listening to you," he said in English to me in the office parking lot after we'd had a short conversation in Japanese one day.  "I know now why Americans learn Japanese faster than Japanese learn English."  
"Oh?"  I puffed up a bit, feeling an infusion of pride over my efforts.  "Why is that?"  
"You not afraid of looking like a fool."  
Well...  Thanks for saying that.  Yeah...
I agree with what is at the heart of his statement, though.  You can't be afraid of failing when you're going after something.    
A recent example from another favorite subject of mine, baseball.  The season ended this week with a certain team from north of Los Angeles winning the World Series.  During the last inning of the game, Brandon Crawford for the Royals was running from second base.  He was getting ready to round third and head for home to score the tying run when the third base couch signaled for him hold up.  With the tying run 90 feet from home plate, the next batter popped up to Pablo Sandoval, the third baseman for that "Other Team" to end the game and the Royal's chances for a comeback.  
There's been a lot of press asking if the third base coach made the right call.  With all due respect to that couch, I'm going to say that I think he made a mistake.  
The adage in baseball is that you should always force the other team to make a play.  There have been a lot of calculations showing that the decision to have the runner come home was a close one.  The best estimates I've seen indicate that there was probably a difference of three-tenths of a second between the time it would have taken Crawford to come home and the time it would have taken the outfielder to grab the ball, exchange it to his throwing hand, throw the ball, the catcher to catch and then for the catcher to make the tag, with the advantage of time going to the defense.  
Three-tenths of a second is not a lot of time.  But in a situation like that, it can be forever.  And there is no telling what could happen in that sequence of actions the defense would have to do in order to secure the out.  
The game could have very well ended on that play with the Gia--  Uh...  That Other Team winning the series anyway.  But it would have been a dramatic moment that baseball fans would have remembered forever as the first time a World Series ended with someone getting thrown out at the plate.  
So...  I guess what I am saying is this...  I will always hate making mistakes.  But since I'm going to make them anyway, what I really ought to do is make them as big and as memorable as possible.  Doing that will help ensure they stay with me forever and keep them from being repeated. 
I'll put that into practice when I go to Takuya next Friday.  And I'll place my order without ordering frog, or if they can give me "good fire" and I won't take a break while eating either.  
"Kaikei, onegaishimasu!"  Practicing already.


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