Monday, October 11, 2004

How to grow taller

Today I met Okaasan's older brother for the second time. I can barely remember him from the first time, because I met so many family members all at once, from both sides of the family, that I was overwhelmed and gave up trying to remember who was who. All I could remember was that Okaasan and her brother didn't seem very alike.

Today it was a smaller group, only Okaasan's side of the family, meeting for a memorial service. I hadn't planned to go but was pressured into it because the aunt and uncle insisted that at the rate I visit them the next time I go it will be for their funerals. They wanted to see me again.

So, despite this being a much looked-forward-to public holiday, in which I was planning to sleep in, catch up on a few stacks of neglected paperwork, and generally just mooch around relaxing, today I was up at the crack of dawn. We picked up Okaasan, and off we went, to Otsu.

After the service the ten of us, three generations, went off to a very expensive restaurant beside Lake Biwa, and were shown into a tatami room. We had the room to ourselves, booked for three hours, and it had a panoramic view of the lake. Our waitress was a middle-aged woman in kimono who shuffled around the room on her knees, pushing trays and serving up numerous beautifully presented dishes. We didn't seem to be eating very much because each dish was tiny, but by the end of the meal I could hardly bend over.

During the meal the conversation flowed freely. A young cousin was the target of a discussion about the future of Japan. This young guy had been a problem child, getting into trouble at school. A few years ago The Man was called in to see if he could talk some sense into him. (The Man gets called upon for jobs like this quite frequently because he's such a black sheep himself, but somehow 'passes'. The kids listen to him.) This young cousin is now a second-year university student studying 'Buddhist welfare,' whatever that is. I asked The Man about this on the way home, and he looked blank. I suggested that perhaps a Buddhist welfare person would visit deprived people and tell them it was their karma to be deprived, and they must have been very naughty in a previous life. The Man wagged his finger at me and told me not to be flippant. "Buddhism isn't like that," he said, and I nodded seriously, feeling properly chastened. Then he started laughing.

But today the young cousin confessed another fear to The Man. He told him that he wanted to be taller, and how come The Man was so tall? Looking around at his family I wondered the same thing, and waited for The Man to answer. "Eat well," said The Man. "Lots of calcium. Make your bones grow."

That wasn't very helpful, I thought, so I chipped in with a little story. I used to know a guy, I told them, who was an identical twin. He and his brother looked exactly alike and were exactly the same height until they were separated, at fourteen. They didn't see each other again for about five years. In the intervening years, one twin joined a motorbike gang, lived on junk food, drank too much, and generally didn't take care of himself. (I omitted the drug-taking from my story as it was a bit too strong for the company.) The other became a fitness freak. He lifted weights, swam, and was a long distance runner. He was very fussy about eating healthy food.

When they met again, at 18 or 19, they still looked the same except that there was an almost five centimetre difference in their heights.

After I told this story, Okaasan's brother stared. He was fascinated. He turned to his grandson and said, excitedly,

"That's amazing! Did you hear that? Maybe it will work for you! You should try - "

He stopped abruptly and turned back to me. "Which twin was taller?" he asked.

Right then I decided that Okaasan and her brother resemble each other after all. It was an amazing moment. He opened his mouth and one of her comments came out, just like that!