became aware of myself pretending i had been asked to choose two countries to remain in existence and me choosing ‘mexico and japan’
– Tao Lin
Much of the Mexico City exploration we’ve done in the past week, we’ve done in the company of three Japanese ladies: two D.F. residents, one visitor. Our group has these linguistic ranges:
- Native Japanese, good Spanish, pretty good English
- Native Japanese, good Spanish
- Native Japanese, difficult-to-discern understanding (but not speaking) of English
- Native English, pretty good Japanese, some Spanish
- Native English, reasonable Spanish, parched bare bones of Japanese
My English, needless to say, hasn’t seen a lot of action lately. I actually feel a certain friction writing these posts in English, although I’m sure that’ll dissipate as soon as I ritualistically kiss the Los Angeles ground. But hey, what they say about even a short time in another country vastly improving your ability to speak its language(s)? Truth. My Spanish, which now sucks, used to blow chunks. And my Japanese now blows chunks!
A line from my eventual biography: ¨He turned 27 precisely as God intended him to: in the heart of Mexico, surrounded by Japanese people.¨ I find that one Japanese person tends to know another, and it’s true in el D.F.: I ate my birthday dinner at a table with at least eight of them, only one of whom knew any English. (But if you have the means, I do recommend the choice cultural experience of speaking Spanish to Japanese people.) Several are artists who find Mexico City a much more suitable working environment than their homeland. I asked one of them what he likes about this city. Ï love pollution,¨ he replied, either in Spanish or Japanese, I forget. I asked another if the food’s any good at the Japanese restaurant that provides her day gig; her opinion remains unclear.
We went to a temazcal, a pre-Hispanic sauna that involves singing, drum-beating, self-flagellation with aromatic branches, and total, utter, darkness. Never have I so enjoyed profuse sweating. A local joined us in the dome partway through, and I discussed with him about the stark contrast between Mexico City’s reputation of violence and its actual level of violence. (He claimed that it’s actually the safest big city in Mexico. I’ll look into it.) ¨Un temezcal con dos gringos y tres japonesas,¨ I said to him. ¨¿Qué sorpresa, no?¨
Taxi driver to main Japanese friend: ¨¿Usted es la china?¨ ¨No soy china,¨ she replied, for probably not even the hundredth time.
For Dia de los Muertos — an important holiday down here, I can assure you — we visited the campus of UNAM, the largest university in Latin America. They do it up every year with dozens upon dozens of themed altars. For this year’s theme, not only did they select Jorge Luis Borges — whose writing gave me a damned good reason to get interested in the Spanish-speaking world in the first place — they specifically selected his story ¨The Aleph¨, which, back in the States, we’ve been (slowly) shooting a short film inspired by. Amidst all the revelry, trying to explain this to las Japonesas felt like perhaps the most Colin-like thing I’ve ever done. At least before the inevitable blackout.
For Noche de Brujas — a less important holiday down here, which falls on the day of U.S. Halloween — kids trick-or-treat. I got a lot of plastic buckets held up in my face, and my lack of candy forced me to feign a total lack of understanding of the Spanish language. Later, one of las Japonesas informed me that the kids don’t want sweets; they want money. No wonder that little clown squirted me with his flower.