That’s right, I’m Canadian. I have good skin. I’m tall, slim, kind of generically good looking, and polite. I’m funnier than my friends from the States. And I’m very interested in other cultures. How could I not be? -- Vancouver is such a global city these days. I wanted to learn other about other cultures, understand how people from these other cultures -- all these people in my own city -- think, how they saw the world. So I studied Japanese for years -- because to understand how people think, how they see things, you have to know what the voices sound like in their heads, right?
I should try to explain why I ate my teacher, poor Ganseki Sensei, because that was a little out of character for me. It was a sudden uncontrollable urge that came over me. I think I was frustrated with the whole neverending process of learning Japanese. It takes like forever. Two, three, five thousand arcane Chinese characters you have to learn to read a Japanese newspaper. Each character takes 10, 14, 20 strokes to write. I spent years of my life bringing myself to the reading level of a second grader. The system is preposterous. You spend two minutes contructing the elaborate 21-stroke character for “rush”. They have special counting systems for machines, small animals, and flat things, etc. etc. So I think somewhere, in some deranged corner of my mind, I thought eating my teacher would maybe expedite things. It’s clear to me now that the whole thing was a matter of confusion, of misguided reasoning. I mean, how could I think I could learn Japanese by eating my Japanese teacher? What was I, a savage in the South Pacific in the nineteenth century?
Also, maybe you’ll agree with me that eating is a very weird thing. This urge to consume things, to take things that are minding their own business sitting there on the table, waiting to be captured in a nice still life or something -- who can reason with this? Why do I want to eat this pretty cookie here on the counter? Can anyone tell me? No. They cannot. Because it’s not something you can explain. At some point, you see the cookie, and you want to stuff the cookie into your mouth and swallow it down into your belly. I mean, that happens to me, and I imagine it happens to you. There’s no logic there. It’s just need and response. So there was that, too.
I had been studying with Ganseki Sensei for about a year at the time of the eating incident. She had taught me that her name meant “Rocks and Stones.” Or maybe that was “Stones and Rocks”. I’m still not clear on the difference. That’s one of those places where the translation makes all the difference, but the translation is itself the problem. For example, you have the same problem with the Japanese characters for “woods” and “forest”. One is written by writing the character for “tree” twice. The other is written by writing the character for “tree” three times. Someone had decided that one would be translated as “woods” and the other as “forest”. Who had decided that, and how? And the Japanese got these characters from the Chinese, who had handed them off to the Koreans -- Korean monks straight off the boat from Korea were, for a while, the only people in Japan who could read or write. How did the Korean monk guys explain to the then illiterate ancient Japanese people which characters the Chinese intended to mean woods and which were intended to mean forest? What is the difference? Is there a difference in Chinese that I don’t know? That the Koreans didn’t know? I don’t even know what the difference is in English. Does it matter? I don’t know. But these things bother me.
Ganseki Sensei taught me how to write the characters for her name, politely correcting my stupid mistakes and slips. Horizontal line, a curved line down to the left, a box to the right. That was “gan” for “rocks”. Three short vertical lines sitting on a horizontal line, above that character, and that’s “seki” for “stones”. Or maybe I’ve got that wrong. Anyway, that was how you wrote “ganseki”, which was my teacher’s name.
She was a petite, neat middle-aged Japanese woman. She was still perky, and laughed a lot. You could just tell that when she was young she had been quite attractive. She had been living in Canada for about ten years, teaching English. I was taking her class at the Japan Forum downtown. She was an excellent teacher. She was energetic, well-prepared, funny, but strict. She would laugh as she corrected our quizzes, but in an amused, supportive way.
I ate Ganseki Sensei in Classroom B of the Japan Forum Language Center after the Wednesday evening Intermediate Conversation and Listening class. We were having a discussion about colors. Ganseki Sensei had been trying to explain to me how before the war there used to be only one word in Japanese for blue and green. They called both “aoi.” But, she said, they knew even before the creation of the new word for green (“midori”) that blue and green were distinct colors, even though they didn’t have distinct words for the two. That didn’t make sense to me at all. I mean, how could they know the two colors were distinct things if they couldn’t articulate that? Wouldn’t they just think of the two as the same thing? I was trying to get this across to Ganseki Sensei, but she just couldn’t see what I was talking about, and this went on for a while. As the conversation progressed, and my confusion deepened, a fearsome urge came over me, a compulsion to make it all stop -- I couldn’t take it anymore, I couldn’t continue having this discussion in Japanese that didn’t make any sense to me and I needed to immediately get it over with and eliminate the misunderstanding and to completely understand, I didn’t have time, who had the time? to learn and understand, I would never understand what she was talking about, I would never quite get it, I would always be struggling, it would take so long to even get a glimmer of a sense of what the hell she was talking about and the next thing that happened I dropped my English-Japanese dictionary, unhinged my jaw, my mouth became a huge dark pink entrance, I picked her up with both hands around her waist, and shoved her down my throat headfirst. She yelped a screechy protest as she went down -- her screams echoed inside of me before they were enveloped by my innards. I felt her head distend my trachea. I thought it might break my collarbone going down, but everything gave, and down she went. Her feet were still thrashing about in my mouth. I took a hand and pushed down on one of her pink high heels to force her all the way down. And in she plopped. I was momentarily filled with a feeling of utter satisfaction.
See, I think like most people, I am designed to avoid pain and obtain pleasure. And whatever sick, deranged part of me compelled me to swallow Ganseki Sensei obviously thought by eating her I would be put out of the pain of confusion and misunderstanding, and would obtain the pleasure, the satifaction, of knowing and understanding. This was a miscalculation. Because of course I was immediately struck with remorse. What had I done? I had eaten my teacher. How would I get her out? She kicked and punched inside my now massively distended belly. I looked like a cartoon character who had been inflated by a high power helium pump -- if I didn’t feel so heavy and weighed down with Ganseki Sensei inside, I would have imagined myself looking as if I could have floated away, like a parade balloon.
She was still kicking and punching down there when I got home, after rushing through the streets with my illicit cargo. I tried to talk to Ganseki Sensei, speaking clearly and slowly at my stomach, but I don’t think she could hear me, as she kept on kicking or punching. It was pretty uncomfortable, and while she was doing that, I pretty much felt like I had to go to the bathroom real bad, but I did not want to try that just yet, as I was a little afraid of what might happen. I winced a little, in fact, imagining what might happen if I pushed too hard and -- Well, so anyway, I took a different approach: I pressed my finger against my belly and wrote out messages to her, much as I sometimes practiced my Japanese characters on the condensation on the bus windows in the misty Vancouver mornings. She sat quietly as I wrote on my belly. I told her with my index finger pressing against my skin, into her face, I think, that I was sorry, and that I hoped she wasn’t too uncomfortable or inconvenienced, given the unusual circumstances. I told her I was already thinking of ways to remedy the situation as quickly as possible. I told her that we have all made mistakes, sometimes with the best intentions in mind, or so we would tell ourselves, and that I generally thought of myself as a good person and that I thought she was a good person and that perhaps she could understand how even good people like us could suffer the occasional lapse in judgment, or, in a moment of weakness, give in to bizarre, inexplicable urges. I asked her to please be patient. Sometimes, unable to restrain herself, she would poke back and correct some clumsy misspelling of mine. I think she understood most of what I tried to convey.
Some people think that what you eat at dinner will affect your dreams. Eat a spicy pepperoni pizza and you’ll have beastly nightmares. I think my dreams that night were caused by something I ate. Ganseki Sensei, that is.
I was back in Classroom B of the Japan Forum Language Center, by myself. The room was empty, except for a small square table with a checked blue and green tablecloth. On the table was a single white plate. On the plate were two sugar cookies, the shape of Japanese characters, covered in pink icing. What did they say? I couldn’t make it out for a moment, this peculiar message my nighttime brain had thrown up, and then the reading came to me. “Ganseki.” The cookies looked good, and I imagined I felt hungry. I picked up one of the cookies, the one that spelled out “gan,” and took a bite. I can’t remember what it tasted it like. It felt odd, standing in that room by myself, eating those cookies. I reached for the second cookie.
I woke up and realized she was still inside me. She had woken up before me and disturbed the last few early morning hours of my sleep. How was I going to get her out of me? I still had to go to the bathroom, but feared to do so.
I struggled for a little while with the decision of whether to go into work. How could I, looking like I did? But I had already used up all my sick leave on wasted days where I had stayed home, napped, eaten too many potato chips and masturbated to On-Demand Video in the afternoon. I had to go in. Perhaps I could sneak into work, I thought. No one ever cam to talk to me during the day, once I had lodged myself deep inside my cubicle.
So I put together a disguise: a large black overcoat, sunglasses, and a hat. I took up three seats on the bus. Luckily, Ganseki Sensei seemed a bit tired that morning -- she wasn’t giving my privates so much grief.
I snuck in through the back entrance and interior stairwell, and hustled into my cubicle, huffing with the extra weight of my Japanese teacher, and squeezed myself into my chair. I had made it--
“Hey! Bob! Jesus Christ, man! What happened to you?”
My cretinous officemate Charley had spotted me. He stood outside my cubicle, staring at me with an open mouth and wide open eyes, sort of pointing at me.
“Uh, I don’t know what you’re talking about, Charley,” I said, not looking at him, busily moving my mouse around in circles.
“Like heck you don’t. You’re huge, man! You’re like the freakin’ Goodyear blimp, eh?”
I continued to try to look occupied. “Thank, Charley. I appreciate that. Very tactful of you. Now, if you don’t mind?” I gestured toward my monitor.
“Okay, buddy, but, whoa. I mean, that’s unreal.” Mercifully, he spotted our intern, Lucrecia, who had just walked in, and headed off to hit on her by the coffee machine.
I tried to get some work done, but it was hard to balance out the profits and losses on my spreadsheets once Ganseki Sensei began to stir. She became especially irate after I accidentally rolled into my desk and banged my stomach and her head, I guess, against the sharp edge. After an hour or so, I noticed that she was poking and prodding at my belly. I looked down and could see my white Wrinkle-Free Arrow shirt moving as Ganseki Sensei pushed at my belly from inside. She was writing back to me. I missed most of it, but I could make out some of it by concentrating on the sensations on the inside of my belly. She wrote:
“It’s very dark in here. I can’t really see anything. I am having a hard time breathing. I am scared. Please let me out. Why are you doing this to me?”
She got me the next morning, at breakfast. I felt a super tiny finger up my throat, gagging me. I barfed her up with my Alpha Bits.
It was a mess. I felt especially bad because Ganseki Sensei was always very meticulous in her appearance. But there she was, writhing on my kitchen floor, covered in a pale green, ectoplasmic goop. Her smart little skirt and top outfit was totally ruined and her hair was all clumped up and gross. I thought about how to say “I’m really really sorry” in Japanese. I considered a super deep bow, like I had seen those failed and disgraced bank presidents do.
She seemed to be alternately crying and laughing. She ran her hands through her hair with an expression of disgust, and flicked away the goop. She was dotted with sweetened oat letters. They sure did have a lot of Q’s in the box.
She got up, stood in front of me in her pink high heels, pointed a finger wet with goop in my face and said, in perfect English: “Don’t you understand, you stupid, stupid person, that you cannot learn everything by consuming? This understanding of what existed before blue and green cannot be understood unless distinctions are unlearnt or forgotten. This means knowing less, in a way. You are incapable of doing this. You attempt to understand and erase distinctions between known and unknown by swallowing and making them the same, but what you swallow will remain indigesible -- because it is different. This you cannot understand, and this is what has caused us both this great suffering and embarrassment.”
It was true: I was embarrassed.