Athumptions make an ath…

Imran Musaji

Posted May 12, 2009      •Permalink      • Printer-Friendly Version
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Athumptions make an ath…

by Imran Musaji

Last July I was in Tokyo, staying at a small ryokan hidden out in a lesser known neighborhood called Chidori-cho. Fans of the anime Naruto might find this amusing, since “Chidori” is the name of a deadly ninja technique that fills the sky with the sound of “1000” “birds”, hence Chi 千 (thousand) Dori 鳥 (bird).
The neighborhood is aptly named.

Every night the the trees around the Ryokan fill with tiny birds who’s songs can’t carry over the daytime cacophony of Tokyo. Birds in such environments do an odd thing. They change their entire circadian rhythms and stop trying to sing in the daytime. Instead, their tiny fluttering shadows cover Chidori-cho every evening, and they sing, and sing, and sing. I do not come to this particular Ryokan for a quiet nights rest.

Instead, after I changed into my Yukatta and stowed away all my Tokyo booty, I sneak down to the courtyard in my sandals. I hop-scotch across a small stepping-stone path, make small talk with the amiable onsen-granny, and then cross over a tiny tanuki-guarded bridge to my favorite Gazebo. There, I sip the cool tea that is always waiting nearby, and I wait.

Every time I sit there, someone comes. The month before, it had been an English teacher visiting from China who had amazing kanji skills and could read almost anything, but who could not speak a lick of Japanese. He told me all about China, and his schools, and perhaps a few other things. The time before that, I had met a man from the Netherlands who was studying global warming and the urban warming effect. He chastised me and my country’s lack of foresight and water management that led to New Orleans destruction, and told me all about the system of mills and pumps and levees they use to keep their country from flooding. He also gave me half his sushi dinner, so I didn’t mind.

However last time, I met a man from Spain. Now, it is important you know what I knew, having studied Spanish for a few years. In Spain, there are a number of dialects, and perhaps the most “posh” is the Castillian accent. When you first hear it, it sounds like every single s is a th sound—it sounds like a lisp ala Sylvester the Cat. But then you hear an s, and another one. What is going on? How can a lisp come and go?

It isn’t really a lisp at all. It is a complicated dialectic variation, and by identifying which letters are pronounced which way, you can make an educated guess where a person is from. This is a wonderful party trick, since the different regions are fiercely proud of their cultural and dialectic variation. For example, if someone says “zen centaur” but they pronounce it “the then sentaur” you know they are speaking with destinction, and they must be from the north. Should they instead say “sen sentaur” then they are most obviously from Cordoba. If they say “Zephalaxic melapharacodent” they are probably paranoid schizophrenic and are best avoided.

The man I met came up and introduced himself, and he said, “Good evening, I love then thentaurs”, or something like that. The point is, I immediately knew, ‘Aha! The southern dialect! He must be from the castellan region! I shall now impress him.’
“So, are you from the Castillian region in spain?”, I asked smugly.

“What what?!? Why do you thay this thing? I am a proud Thevillian!”

I am now confused, did I get my dialects confused. I haven’t studied Spanish in a few years, after all… “I just thought, I mean…I must have misheard. The birds are loud. I mean, I thought you had a castillian accent for a second.” As I talk his shoulders go up further, his legs come together, his chin juts out and his eyes flare to life—he looks truly, terribly affronted.

Every syllable punctuated, he says to me “I HAVE A LITHP!”, and away he marches.