Feel Like Im Having My 15 Seconds of Travel Cool

2015-08-10 13:18:53 +00001Meet my new BFF, Nat. As in Nat Geo. As in National Geographic Traveler, who in their August/September 2015 issue has chosen The Good Shufu for the Travel Inspiration: Great New Reads.

They write,

Thirty-six-year-old “confirmed Bostonian” Tracy Slater ventures to Japan to teach English and falls in love with a 31-year-old Osaka salaryman. She weds him, becomes an ambivalent shufu, or housewife, and concocts this moving cross-cultural memoir.

I have to admit, I’m feeling very worldly right now. At least for today…

2015-08-10 13:18:22 +00001

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Catcalls & the Japanese Construction Worker

In the U.S., women walking past construction sites pretty frequently attract whistles and comments. In Japan, where decorum and manners are paramount, especially among strangers, I’d never once seen that happen in 10 whole years of living here–until recently.

Lately, I’ve been walking past a construction site on my daily trips to the market with the mini in the carriage. Every time I pass, one of the guards calls out, Kawaii bay-bee! Kawaii mama! (“Cute baby! Cute mama!”) The first few times he said it, I thought he was saying something about the weather or rain coming (rain in Japanese is am-e, which sounds a little bit like “mama”). Then I realized what he was really saying, and I was surprised.

Granted, he’s about 4’10” and looks to be pushing 70, with about as many teeth as my 11-month old. But then again, I’m 47, sleep-deprived, not nearly back to my pre-pregnancy body, and perpetually dressed in either old yoga clothes or what could pass for pajamas.

So I’ll take it.

And on the Topic of Japanese People Reacting to a Pregnant Westerner…

A week or so ago, I wrote about my hospital midwife’s reaction to my being 1.5 kilos over the Japanese target weight for a pregnant woman at my stage. The encounter with the midwife happened a little more than a month ago, so now, my belly is even rounder.

I’ve actually been surprised to find that, once my nausea waned at about 19 weeks, I’ve really enjoyed having a pregnant stomach. There are two things I like about it:

  • One, I love not having to suck my stomach in after eating. I used to favor tight-ish tops before I got pregnant, and when I ate a big meal, I’d want to tuck my little belly roll in. Now I don’t even need to think about that.
  • Two, I kind of like being able to touch my own stomach in public! Is this weird of me? I realized yesterday, as I was coming home from a walk and rubbing my belly to see if I could feel the little one kick, that being pregnant is one of the only times we’re really allowed to touch our bodies in public without it seeming inappropriate. (I think this prohibition against interacting with our own bodies in public goes for both women and men, in both the West and Japan.) I didn’t realize being pregnant would provide a kind of unique bodily permission, and I really like it now, how it feels both secretive and special and public all at once.

My Japanese neighbors have seemed very sweet about my pregnancy, cooing over my belly, urging me to kiwo-tsukete, “be careful!” But they invariably seeming bowled over when I tell them that no, I am not about to give birth, I am due in about four months. (I don’t have enough Japanese skills to explain that, according to my American pregnancy books, size-wise I am right on target, so I just nod and smile and say Oki, ne? “Big, right?”) One neighbor, who has three incredibly polite kids of her own, is especially sweet, but every time she’s seen me for the past month or so, she points to my stomach and asks, in all seeming earnestness, if there are one or two babies in there.

I always smile and hold up one finger, but inside I’m always wondering, “Does she think, at 6 months, they are suddenly going to discover a hidden twin?”

The Liebster Award, Spreading the Love, & Wimping Out on my Fellow Bloggers

In the past week, I have received incredibly kind messages from two fellow writers about being Western women in Asia in love with local men. Both Susan Blumberg-Kason, author of the forthcoming I-can’t-wait-for-it-memoir The Good Chinese Wife, and “R,” a savvy Austrian who lives in Shenzen, China, and writes the provocative blog China Elevator Stories, emailed to let me know they had nominated me for The Liebster Award.

I’d never heard of this award, but Susan and R told me it’s meant to celebrate new blogs, preferably those with less than 200 subscribers. (I’m eligible!) As R explains on her blog,

The Liebster Award is kind of a pay-it-forward blogger award.  The rules are:  If you receive one you must answer the 11 questions asked by the blogger who awarded it to you, list 11 random facts about yourself, and then come up with your own 11 questions for the 11 bloggers you choose to bestow the award upon.

So, my mea culpa: As those of you who are kind enough to follow me know, I’m not the world’s best blogger. I have until early January to hand my book manuscript, upon which this blog is supposed to be based, into my editor, and I’ve been unable to balance both the book and the blog very well. And, since the book came with an advance I have to give back if I fail to hand it in on time…

So while I’m wimping out on fulfilling all the steps to receive the award, I still want to show my gratitude to Susan and R, so I’m hoping this blog post will help in some small way return the favor they’ve given to me by driving any traffic I can back to their sites–especially since they are both much better than posting new content than I have been lately!

So once again, thanks, thanks, thanks, to both Susan Blumberg-Kason and R of China Elevator Stories!

In gratitude and admiration to both of you,

Tracy

Free MP3 of a Reading from The Good Shufu

Last month, I read at a literary event from a middle chapter of the manuscript-in-process of The Good Shufu: A Wife in Search of a Life Between East & West.

The reading covered a scene in the book that starts on the morning in Osaka that I’m set to tie the knot, when a small scheduling glitch leaves me suddenly contemplating backing out of the entire marriage.

Feel free to download the MP3 of my reading, or access the readings from the entire literary event, also featuring the highly-talented Japan-based Western writers Marc Kaufman, Amy Chavez, and Peter Mallet. (MP3s may take a little while to download.)

Thanks for listening!

The Next Big Thing

The Next Big Thing: On my forthcoming memoir, The Good Shufu: A Wife in Search of a Life Between East & West (Putnam Press)

Tracy in MiajimaBeing a gaijin wife in Osaka, I can be pretty out of it. I’d never heard of “The Next Big Thing,” or even knew what a “blog meme” was, until the lovely Jocelyn Eikenburg set me straight.  She’s the author of the forthcoming book Red All Over, a memoir of finding love and home in China; about, as she has written, “what happens when you let go of every expectation you had about life, love and even your own wedding, and just learn to listen to your heart and say ‘I do’ to the people, places and possibilities that really matter.” Jocelyn has been one of the most enthusiastic and supportive friends and fellow writers I’ve met online since my unexpected book deal landed in my lap!

She’s also a smart and funny and a beautiful writer, and if you don’t know about her and her blog Speaking of China, then you are missing out.

As for this “Next Big Thing,” it involves answering a few questions and then sharing the love by tagging another writer you admire, which I do below:

What is your working title of your book (or story)?

The Good Shufu: A Wife in Search of a Life Between East & West

Where did the idea come from for the book?

Well, the basic idea came from my falling madly in love with the least likely person in the world: a Japanese salaryman who could barely speak English (and I spoke no Japanese).

The book is about what happens when you are a Boston-based, skeptical, plan-obsessed, feminist literary academic who meets the love of your life, but being together means you must give up every plan or goal you’ve ever had and essentially forfeit your own world for his.

Ultimately, though, it’s the story of finding love and meaning in a foreign language, as well as hope and happiness amidst the boatload of loss and confusion that we call real life. (Here’s the full overview.)

What genre does your book fall under?

Memoir

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

Really??? I need to finish writing the book first before I can even start to think about this one. Now, if you’re asking what I’d want to wear on the red carpet, that’s another story. But don’t get me started, or I may just stop writing and click over to some online shopping sites, just to see what they….

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

The Good Shufu a true story about finding love, meaning, hope, and self in the least likely places in the world: the places we always swore we’d never go.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

The Good Shufu is forthcoming from Penguin’s Putnam imprint in 2015. It’s represented by the very, very wonderful Rachel Sussman of Chalberg & Sussuman.

And I’m still in shock and awe over all of this!

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

Oooh, check back in, let’s say, 7 months? The full draft is due to my editor at Putnam, the incredible Sara Minnich, in January 2014.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

I started writing the book at the tail end of 4+ brutal years of fertility treatments and 2 pretty heart-rending pregnancy losses, all undergone in Japan (and I still speak virtually no Japanese). I hadn’t written anything—I mean anything—in a few years because of the stress of this medical issue. And then one day, just off the cuff, I sent a pitch to the editor of the New York Times Motherlode blog about the difference between the desire to have a biological child and the desire to be a parent.

She published the piece (although with a much different title than the one I had chosen), and a few days later, an editor at Putnam emailed me and asked if I’d be interested in submitting a memoir proposal. I was shocked! And delighted! And still totally infertile! So while all I wanted to do was crawl under the covers and hide from the world and my twice-daily-in-the-stomach-blood-thinner shots that my clinic in Osaka thought I needed to have any chance of sustaining a pregnancy, I signed up for a course on nonfiction proposal writing through MediaBistro, wrote a proposal and four sample chapters, submitted it to Putnam, and they offered me a deal!

I was shocked! And delighted! And still totally infertile!

But working on this book has been one kind of godsend, because it has helped me cope with coming to terms with turning 45 and abandoning our medical quest to try to have a child—an issue I write about towards the end of the memoir.

As my husband says, “If we can have baby, that will be like miracle. But it will still only be like dessert, because you’ll always be the main course.”

So, despite some of the sadness of the past few years, how can I not feel like the luckiest girl in the world?

Now, I’m excited to introduce Kaitlin Solimine, another recent friend and fellow writer whom I’m honored to follow and know! She’s an award-winning writer about China, a former U.S. Department of State Fulbright Creative Arts Fellow, and the 2010 Donald E. Axinn Scholar in Fiction at the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. Most recently, she was the March 2012 guest editor for the magazine Cha: An Asian Literary Journal , and I got to hear her give an incredible reading from her forthcoming novel at the Four Stories Boston 2013 opening night, an MP3 of which is posted here. Rumor has it, she attracted some publishing interest at this event, which doesn’t surprise me one bit!

“Strangely, my new role as ‘traditional Japanese housewife,’ didn’t bother me, despite my history of feminism”

And my 1st official reading from the book-in-progress

I’ll be reading a brief excerpt from The Good Shufu on Thursday, March 7, at The Fairbank Center at Harvard in celebration of the March 2013 issue of Cha: An Asian Literary Journal.

Here’s a sneak peek from the middle of the piece I’ll be reading:

A few months after our marriage, I sat one night on the floor of my father-in-law’s living room, the worn but tidy rug rough under my limbs. I’d begun to call my father-in-law Otōsan, “respected father,” bowing low when he came for dinner three times a week, serving tea to him and Toru on the nights we ate at his house, just down the road from ours. Strangely, my new role as shufu, or “traditional Japanese housewife,” didn’t bother me, despite my history of feminism. This is not my culture, I thought. This is something I just do out of respect to Otōsan, when we’re with him. I surprised even myself by how easily I could play the part, as long as it was only for a few hours a week, in a country and language I knew I’d never call my own.

That night, while the men sipped the tea I’d served, I flipped through old albums of Toru as a baby. I saw him as a newborn in his mother’s arms, her face shining above his perfectly rounded cheeks, the red bow of his baby mouth. She stared at him with a love and pride so fierce it looked like hunger, a hunger I had never felt or wanted. Until then.

Suddenly, that hunger began to tempt me, my heart melting a bit until I could taste a new yearning on my tongue.

****

I was 41 when I first got pregnant. “Contratulation, Mrs. Tracy!” the doctor at the fertility clinic in Osaka said, dropping the “s” and confusing my first name for my last, as everyone in Japan did. She pronounced my name “To-ray-shee,” and she had doubted my ability to get pregnant at all, given my age.

The clinic nurses were giddy. They spoke no English, but I knew what their delight said: 41! Getting pregnant on your very first try of IVF! With your own eggs! They smiled happily and bowed enthusiastically when I came in for my weekly ultrasounds. “Iee, ne,” they would say—“It’s great, isn’t it!”—and their eyes would sparkle as they clasped their hands against the bright pink of their polyester uniforms.

Red the full piece in the March issue of Cha, or please come see me read on 3/7/13 if you’re in the Boston area! More info about the event is here!

Shopping in Osaka: Celebrity Ass Wipes, Relaxing Toilet Seat Covers & Painful Ramen

Today we spent the day shopping for Shogun Sr’s new room at the care house.

We went looking for bathroom wipes, which, I am not lying, were labeled “Ushiri Celeb-u”; a product name that translates to “celebrity ass.”

On our way, we passed some toilet seat covers, which we didn’t buy, but here’s a picture of one of them:

Osaka Toilet Seat Cover
Osaka Toilet Seat Cover

Then we went out for ramen. The waiter gave me a very kind bow and handed me an English version of their menu. Some choice items:

Osaka sesame ramen
Osaka sesame ramen
Osaka spicy rame
Osaka spicy ramen

My Osaka Flu Shot – If That’s What It Was

Since Shogun Sr. (my beloved father-in-law) is going soon into the care house—what the Japanese call a nursing home—I figured it was time to get my flu shot.

I’m going home to the U.S. next week for a visit, and I didn’t want to be the one who brought the U.S. flu epidemic over to Japan when I returned, especially not when I’ll be visiting Shogun Sr. everyday after I get back. He’s worried about not being able to have cigarettes at the care house, so, like a dutiful daughter-in-law, I agreed to take him out every day for a walk and a smoke—earning me a delighted grin from Shogun Sr. So the flu shot was the least I could do.

Today I went to my neighborhood clinic to inquire about making an appointment for my shot. I’m not sure exactly what happened—since I’m never sure exactly what is happening in this country—but I asked very politely, Fu-ru shot-o yoyaku onegaishimas, “I’d like to make an appointment for a flu shot.” I took out my calendar and stood politely and expectantly while they perused my health-insurance card.

The next thing I knew, the receptionist whipped out a thermometer, took my temperature, and pointed to a seat in the waiting room, barraging me with a stream of Japanese I couldn’t understand at all.

I sat down.  I guess I have to wait to make an appointment, I thought. Maybe their schedule was full and they were looking for openings.

I looked at the woman waiting across from me. She had a blue-tipped manicure, fuzzy black boots, and a black hat slanted jauntily on her head with white letters at the front proclaiming

Crazy
Sexy
Classy

She was also wearing a white paper mask over her mouth and nose.

Like almost everyone here, she saw no apparent contradiction in choosing your outfit carefully and then donning a medical mask to top it all off.

After a few minutes, the doctor poked his head around the corner and sang out Surata-sama!, the Japanese approximation of Ms. Slater.

I sat down on a tiny chair in his office and he pulled out a syringe.

I assume it was the flu shot but, since I barely speak Japanese, I couldn’t be sure. When he was done, I stood up.

Sitting in the waiting room again, waiting to pay or check out or see what was going to happen next, I texted my husband. He’d offered earlier to call the clinic and make the appointment for a shot for me, but I demurred, telling him I’d try to make the appointment myself and call him if I couldn’t. I’d felt very proud of my independence, my initiative, then.

i think i had a flu shot! I texted.

He texted back:

they may shot u sleep medicine, and sell to China!

And so it goes, another day in a life in a foreign language.