Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The Supermarket Chronicles - Part 1 -

Yes, I’ve survived another week at my new workplace, a small supermarket, and yesterday was the first payday. Of course the pay was very small because I started working there in the middle of this month, but it made me so happy. If I don't get fired for some reason, from next month on I’ll be able to pay all the bills, buy groceries and still have a little money left in my bank account. Yeah, mediocrity. I know. But in this country, if you are a single, middle-aged woman living in a rural town, even such a mediocre success can be hard to achieve sometimes. I mean it.

Anyway, let me tell you what my days are like now. I wake up at 5:50 am every morning and spend good 5 minutes to make myself “cold-resistant” by putting on warm clothes including “high-tech” underwear and several pairs of long socks. Then I have a big breakfast because I won't be able to have lunch until around 2 pm.

The supermarket is only about 5 minutes by bicycle, which is very nice especially on rainy days in winter. Usually I meet my co-worker -- my mentor-- in the dressing room. Then we go downstairs to the small kitchen in the fish section of the supermarket, where our boss (who is the owner of the supermarket) and one elder guy are already filleting fish. There my mentor and I share some morning chores, including washing a fish scrap bucket in an outdoor sink using water and a scrubber. Yes, outdoor. Rain or shine. Or even snow. (Actually it snowed on my second day there.) Now you know why I need “high-tech” underwear? ;)

After that, my mentor and I start packing the fillets and sashimi (sliced raw fish) the two guys prepare one after another. There’s an automatic wrapping machine there, and we punch in different code numbers to wrap up the seafood in Styrofoam trays with plastic food wrap and put proper stickers on them.

Now, I don’t know if this is the same in other countries, but here in Japan, learning fish names can be a nightmare. The classification is so detailed -- for example, I have seen 4 or 5 different kinds of horse mackerel so far -- and complicated by special local names. Some fish are called by different names as they grow. I wonder how non-Japanese people being trained to be sushi chef feel about this. Don’t they think it’s crazy?

So there ARE challenges, but I guess I’m enjoying my work there. Maybe it has a lot to do with the fact that I was born and raised in a small fishing village until I was 12 years old. In my childhood, I often went to the local fishing port, and sometimes accompanied dad when he went fishing. The fishy smell or grotesque-looking fish scraps I smell/see at my work now are, of course, not very tempting, but those make me feel somewhat nostalgic rather than totally disgusted. That’s probably why I’m feeling better than the time when I was working at the bento shop.

BTW, the photo is the horse mackerel that I filleted in my kitchen. I just wanted to post a seafood-related photo with this story. And I might change the title of this post soon. (I'm a bit tired of "******* chronicles.")

… To be cont’d …



Korean Dramas said...

thank you for sharing your work stories with us- it is comforting to know that you have found a good job. i'm watching the drama series called "yama onna, kabe onna" ^_^ hahaha...the main character comes from aomori, and her mother is a fisherwoman. it's very interesting. so i enjoyed reading about your real life that is also connected to the sea.

Anonymous said...

im smiling here reading your blog, im also living in a very cold place but i never heard til now of high tech underwear..hihihi i wish you have a picture, really curious lol thanks this made me smile after long day of work..and btw goodluck on your new job

Anonymous said...

Obachan, here's a big hug for you! I'm glad you're happy in your new job, but you should never use the word "mediocre" when refering to yourself. You are anything but! I am actually a little envious of you sometimes.

Anonymous said...

Hey whata cool psot! Thank you for sharing. I was curious what your job was like! I am glad you are enjoying it. I can't even imagine how you DO remember all those fish types, but you will get the hang of it! YUM, do you get to take free fish home at all? Do you get a discount?

yamo said...

Congratulations on your new job! I've been a long time lurker. Also my parents are both from Kochi, and most of my relatives are still there. Boy do I miss the food there...

Hollywood Tai Tai said...

Go Obachan! I am reading your blog and cheering you on. If you just want to do an easy fish recipe, try the sardine vermicelli. I tried it today and love it. I got the recipe from Unami. http://umami.typepad.com/umami/2004/06/sardine_beehoon.html

K and S said...

gosh your job does sound tough! hope you get the hang of all those fish names :)

Anonymous said...

I'm glad you're enjoying your challenging new work - stay warm! :)

Rei said...

I am in agreement with everyone above. I thoroughly enjoy reading about you, your work, your interests and activities. I check in on your blog almost daily. Anata no blogu wa totemo omoshiroi desu.

My Ojiichan opened his fish shop in 1906 in SanFrancisco. We would visit yearly, I also have fond memories of the busy store and especially the fish case. Sadly, my sisters and I were the only grandkids not allowed to work there!

Health reasons have forced me to cook more washoku style and you have inspired me to continue cooking more to my ethnic background. In my studies some of the different names for fish have come up-whether young or mature, and by season; lean=runny out to feed and fattened=returning home.
Its the same confusion I had when first starting to garden, learning so many plant names scientific and common. But knowledge is gained!

Anonymous said...

Obachan, so nice to hear that your new job is going well. Finding a job that will support you and that you enjoy is a big acheivement for anyone. So nice for you to celebrate it with us.

I really enjoy your blog and the small window it provides into your life and the life in a smal provincial Japanese city. You always make me giggle however when you call yourself "middle-aged." I am in my late 30s and still think of my self as young (in part I think because I am single, no kids). You always make me wonder when I should start to think of my self as middle aged. I always decide there is time for that later....

Pinkity said...

Dear Obachan,

Am really glad everything is going right for you... And I am also extremely envious of your optimistic look on life and your fantastic enthusiasm!

How about publishing a book about your life? It sure sounds interesting to me :D


Anonymous said...

Obachan, thank you for sharing :) I hope the spring will quickly come and so that you will not need the high tech underwear!

In my country we have lots of names for fish too. In fact as you mentioned they get different names as they grow.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing a glimpse of your life. Like everyone who posted before me, I am cheering you on.

What you descirbe as a "mediocre success" really isn't. It is a big achievement -- because it is the result of your persevering and keeping a positive and strong attitude -- and you should be proud of it!

And really, you shouldn't call yourself middle-aged ... middle-age always starts 10 years from now, just like diet always starts tomorrow.

Anonymous said...

Forgot to say... the fish fillet looks great in the photo. It would be delish with ponzu dip, perhaps with a tiny slice of sansho leaf and/or freshly grated ginger?

Anonymous said...

hai Obachan,

Its good to have that degree of high spirit.Ganbatei!

Anyway we(your loyal fans worldwide) are with you all the way.
Lots of love malaysiaelayne

obachan said...

Thank you. Actually there’s more to come, and as you read further posts in this seriese, you may start wondering if it is really “a good job.” So wait and see. ;);)

I’ve seen the previews of that drama, but never actually saw any of the episodes. Being a fisherwoman in a cold place like Aomori must be hard… I suppose…

Anonymous commenter
Oh, I’m so happy to hear that my post made someone smile. :D A picture of my underwear? Sorry. They are too sexy to be on this blog. ;P
But you might find links like this and this about high-tech underwear interesting. One of mine is this hydroheat(?) stuff that is supposed to generate heat using moisture from the body.

If you google with “high-tech underwear,” you’ll get over 2000 hits and find pretty attractive (ahem!) thermal underwear like this. ;)

Thanks for the hug. It sure keeps me warm :)

No free fish to take home. No special discount for employees. BUT, we know when there’s a good deal, and we can get detailed info (like how fresh and fatty/tasty the fish is) from the guys filleting the fish, so we don’t have to worry about missing a good buy, though we have to pay at the casher just like other customers.

Oh, your parents are from this prefecture?! Great! I’ll be posting more and more Kochi food especially seafood from now on, so I hope you keep coming back. :D

Sure, I’ll keep going just like that annoying energizer bunny. Haha!

Thanks for the link to the recipe. I’ve never thought about combining sardine and beehoon, but they must be nice with tomato sauce. Mmmmm...

K & S
I really hope so, too. :) The good thing is that I don’t have to perfectly memorize the names of the fish they have on a given day; I can ask the guys filleting fish because sometimes it’s hard to tell after being sliced as sashimi.

Made healthier
Thanks. I’ll try. ;)

Arigato. :)
So Japan is not the only place where they have complicated classifications for fish. I’m glad. (It always makes me feel better when I know that there are other people going through the same agony. ;))
And your Japanese is excellent!

Well, it's true that I’m enjoying the work there, but the job is not necessarily going well all the time. :P I’m making mistakes that any beginner is supposed to make and bringing everyone's stress level up at the workplace. Hahaha…

As for calling oneself “middle-aged,” I guess it depends on what kind of meaning you give to the word “middle-aged.”

Optimistic? Well… I’m not sure about that, though. The way I see my future at this workplace is like, “I don’t expect anything great here so I won’t be disappointed. And I’ve been to somewhere worse before so I won’t be totally shocked here, either.” Could this be a subtype of optimism?? :D

Mmm… interesting. So, obviously Japan is not the only country where people give different names to the same fish. Why do people do that? Because the taste of the fish changes as they grow? If so, I’m glad because I can use the fact to confront some nationalists who say, “We Japanese are the only people who can tell the delicate difference in the taste of fish. Foreigners can never be a good sushi chef.”

Thanks. As far as some readers enjoy reading about it, my life must be worthwhile. ;)

Actually, calling myself “middle-aged” or “obachan” doesn’t make me feel powerless or downcast as much as you may think it would. I don’t know why… Maybe I’m weird. Or maybe because I don’t associate much negative connotations with those words.

My belief is, as I wrote above, that it’s what meanings you give to those terms. It’s what you think those words mean to you. I know most people associate “obachan” or “middle-aged woman” with negative images only and try to avoid being called that way. If it makes them feel better, that’s fine. But I think avoidance just endorses and never changes the negative images per se. I’d rather change the stereotypic images of those terms by accepting them and living my life in a unique way that only I can do. Yeah, it would be most flattering if anyone would say to me, “You know, you completely changed my image of ‘obachan’ (or ‘middle-aged woman’.”

Gee, thanks. My high-tech underwear keeps my body warm and your support keeps my heart warm. :D (But I prefer “friends” rather than “fans.”)

Anna said...

Congratulations on starting at the new job! I hope things go well for you ^__^

I laughed at your high-tech underwear; I wish I had some of that!

Anonymous said...

I really, really think you're a very strong person. I would have (nah, I have) sunken into a deep depression when faced with presumably similiar circumstances (loss of job, loss of perspective).
You are quite marvellous, I think :)
We middle-aged women are more or less the grown-up "Grrrl Power"-girls - so maybe it's time to call out loud and proud for Obachan-Power!

Anonymous said...

Obachan , it has been such a long time since i have visited you , i am hoping that things will get better for you and i was touch by your story ...Many women (people ) live on very little money nowadays in France too you should know and life has become so hard but i like your great spirit and you will always have good things happening i'll see ...
don't work too hard and keep cooking , i love watching your Blog and do cook a crossed kitchen (japanese / french ) at home ..whener i get the proper ingredients (just know i looking for high quality Nori sheets and can't get any )

 gmirage said...

I had watched Bambino sometime ago...and though Ban Shogo (Jun Matsumoto, my fave actor) works in an Italian restaurant, I can't help to think of his work as you describe yours. I did not know that there are too many fish names, hope you get the hang of it though! Take care!

Rosa's Yummy Yums said...

It was nice reading your post! Thanks for sharing those things with us! I am glad that you have been able to face all those changes... I wish you all the very best with you job!

Here, in Switzerland, there are many working poors and many people living under the level of existence! Life is very hard here if you are not rich and it is difficult to find a good job if you are not hyper qualified...



Pinkity said...

Optimism is optimism nevertheless... From what I read, you're so content with everything you have now and you see the silver lining on every cloud... That's beautiful if you ask me...

Am saving up for a trip to Japan now... Would like to meet up with you if I have the money to travel to Kochi!

obachan said...

Thanks. From what I saw on the net, I think you can find some high-tech uderwear in your country, too, if you really need one. But it's almost spring time. ;)

I do think middle-aged women have some special power that younger women don't, and it is not necessarily "agressive" type of power. It can be patience, or optimism or flexibility or braveness which was gained through various experiences in the past. :)

I'm sure your kitchen is one miraculous place with the collaboration of French and Japanese cuisines. I wish you could invite me for dinner. ;)

Thank you. For now I'm just taking it one day at a time.

Yeah, life can be tough at many places -- maybe in any country --, but perhaps "tough" doesn't always mean "hopeless," and certainly in my case, the changes I'm going through this time include a lot of positive ones and I'm happpy about that.

Not necessarily content with everything, but I'm happy with the positive changes.

Wish you could come to Kochi! :D

Anonymous said...

Congrats on getting your first pay... :) you should come here and work for us.. :) in a way better condition.. plus.. we donch make you go out in the cold. . :)

obachan said...

Wow, sounds good. OK. I'll send you my resume. (Kidding!)