Moving to Canada from Japan was a huge adjustment for my husband and I.
Besides the weather, crazy drivers and the necessary evil of cover letters (a requirement in Canada with many job applications), our beloved Japanese rice caused some of the greatest strain.
Being kilometres across the ocean, navigating our way through a new and unfamiliar land, having rice was an anchor. To run out was close to inexcusable.
To get by, pasta became a replacement but it wasn’t the same.
Under stress, Hitoshi suggested bread! This was likely due to his temporary addiction to the novel grilled cheese sandwich.
It was simple. We had become lazy with rice.
The monthly sojourn to buy an 8kg (~18lbs) bag of grown-in-the-USA Japanese rice was christened “the rice run”.
We didn’t have a car and the only store that sold the rice was a two-hour round trip through a combination of walking and public transportation.
In the beginning, Hitoshi and I did the run together and hubby-chan always carried the rice. I liked it that way. That 8kg bag of rice was heavy and I knew it, but only from picking it up in the store.
Don’t get me wrong. My arms have muscles and I know how to use them. Most of the time, I refuse all help by default and have no trouble carrying more than my share, but acquiring a husband changed me. If hubs was around and wanted to carry the heavy loads, I was more than happy to oblige.
After a few months of doing the rice run together, Hitoshi went on his own after work for that treasured bag of rice. I felt proud when he came through the door, stooped over from his load, breathing a little faster, sweat soaking through his shirt from the stuffed pack on his back. He seemed proud, too.
Shortly after, our schedules changed and Hitoshi could no longer pick up rice after work. When we ran out again, I volunteered to carry the burden. With my backpack and a spring in my step, I left the apartment feeling that I was doing our marriage a great service!
An hour later, the train screeched into the grey and white station nearest the rice store. It was still a long, lonely walk over the gritty pedway, down the concrete staircase, along the crumbling sidewalk beside six lanes of traffic, across the wide intersection before cutting across the usually deserted parking lot. Finally, the little rundown strip mall filled with a medley of Asian stores and our favorite grocery was close enough to touch.
Striding into the mall and around the corner to the back, the smell of roast duck swirled with green onion cakes and steamed buns in the food court, teasing my nose and belly. This was the delectable start of the Chinese grocery store.
Up next, the weekly specials spilled out into the walkway just past the narrow checkout tills. Alongside oranges or onions, large pallets were stacked hip height with giant bags of rice. If we were lucky, our chosen brand was on sale right here.
Not seeing what I wanted, the next stop was the discount rack near the meat counter at the opposite end of the store. Occasionally, an unloved bag with a large splash of tape over a gashed corner was waiting. And today was my day! I hoisted a bag of happiness – our beloved rice – into the red rolling basket and proceeded to shop for groceries as if I had driven a truck instead of taking the bus.
At the cashier, I had trouble stuffing the sack of rice into my suddenly too small backpack. With all my other groceries in reusable bags, I had no choice but to cram the bag closed as best I could and groan under the load.
Backtracking through the deserted parking lot, my pace slowed ever more across the dirty street, up those sterile concrete stairs, past the regulars hanging out at the train station, over the now sluggish rush-hour traffic, into the soulless station, and down the stairs to the train tracks. A turtle could have run circles around my ankles by the time I reached the platform.
When the train pulled up, I was sweaty, grumpy and rolling my eyes back in my skull. Even though I got a seat, all I could think about was the 20 minute walk from the train to our apartment. Staring at the deep marks on my arms and hands from the heavy bags and thinking about that 8kg of rice in my backpack, I knew that walk would take me far longer. Why didn’t this train go right to our door?!
The walk was unpleasant but I had one final hurdle. Our apartment had no elevator and we lived on the third floor. Panting and groaning, I plodded and thumped up those now seemingly endless flights of stairs.
Flinging open the door and collapsing with the groceries on the floor, my only hope was that Hitoshi would volunteer for the next run, or, even better, forget about rice completely.
What are some traditions or tasks in your family that feel like a burden for you?
Click here for part 2!