For some time now, I’ve been intending on making a visit to the Berkeley Art Museum. Yesterday, only moments after I woke, the thought entered my mind, and without any planning, I hopped out of bed, made coffee, and checked their website to see what time they opened. I could have driven, but I much prefer riding in on the BART train.
Often I stay away from places for a time, to stay away long enough that it feels as though I’m going for the first time. I felt like a tourist for the day; a tourist in familiar territory, but my mind has a way of doing that, of often feeling like I’m rediscovering something over and over.
Armed with my BART map in hand, I still don’t feel that I’m on the right side of the tracks. I walk slowly, looking for a friendly face to confirm my direction. I see a young Asian girl and ask, “Is this the right side for Berkeley?” She doesn’t seem to understand, but with a gesture of her head, beckons me to ask again. “Berkeley?” And then she replies, “No English.” I smile and say, “Ok, thank you.” I walk to the big map. I suppose the BART maps don’t make a lot of sense to me, but I go to the large one displayed on the wall and decide, I’m on the right side. I stand at the platform and I sense someone coming up to me. It’s the young girl. She pulls out her map and says, “Berkeley” and nods and points to suggest that I am indeed on the right side. I nod yes and say thank you.
Maybe she needed to muster up the courage to spark her English the first time because she stayed and started asking questions and conversing, practicing her English. And I asked her questions back. It turns out that she was from Japan and a student at U.C. Berkeley for a one month English course with a home stay with a family nearby. She knew the word homesick and said she was very homesick, but seemed happy and had a cheerful personality. She had her Japanese language tour guide in hand and flipped it to a page with the picture of the Golden Gate Bridge and said that’s where she was heading for the day. She was going to walk across and asked me if I had. “No, I said. I gestured my hand to signify driving a car and said I had driven across, but I had not walked. We had some pauses in between conversation, but one or the other of us would think of another question to ask. She said it was cold and used the gesture of tugging her sweater close to her body to emphasize cold. I said it was supposed to rain today, as I trailed my fingers through the air. “I hope it doesn’t,” I said.
She asked me my name and when I told her. She seemed to really like it and said, “Very pretty name,” and said it again. I liked the way it sounded when she said it: Rah-beh-kah. It sounded so Japanese. Her name was Yoko.
We talked about food and when she asked I told her that I rather like Japanese food and she was very excited at that and of course it was her favorite too. I tried to tell her that I really loved Miso soup but because I was pronouncing it “Mee-sue” she didn’t understand. I then made the gesture for drinking soup from a bowl and said it again, and then she said, “Ah, Miso,” and now I’ll remember that it sounds more like it’s actually spelled. It’s the “so” I was not saying right. It’s just like so, as in so what, and it’s said level with no emphasis on either part. Then she said she liked American hamburgers and they were so big and she showed me with her hands and said how the hamburgers in Japan were much smaller. I laughed because isn’t that one of the problems with American eating habits these days? They eat too much and too much of the “wrong” stuff. I laughed again and pointed to my stomach and said, “That’s why Japanese are so thin.” She gave a laugh, grinned wide and rubbed her belly to say she knew what I was trying to say—at least I think she did.
I found it fascinating that I was using gestures, trying to find straight forward words, and I was learning the nuances of sound. I also felt that Yoko actually seemed to communicate pretty well, considering she was still learning. I knew by some of her facial expressions and certain nods that she didn’t understand everything I said, but got the gist of what I was saying. But then I imagined… that if I went to Japan, I would be lost, absolutely lost. Of course, if I were to go there, I wouldn’t be without one of those little phrase books, but she did well without any English phrase book as we talked.
The BART trained arrived, I bid her a good day, and we went our separate ways, tourists for the day.