I saw a pink crepe truck parked on the sidewalk near my apartment again. Whenever I see a crepe truck, it brings back bitter sweet memories of my high school days, when I was a chubby (in Japanese standards) awkward teenager going through puberty and entrance exam stress, college applications, boys (or lack thereof) and friends (lacking that too).
ME, DORM LIFE AND THE INFAMOUS JAPANESE COLLEGE EXAM HELL:
As I look back now, many decades after – I see myself standing there at our local train station in Fujisawa, coming home from school. In High School I was living in a dorm and my life had been a struggle – academics, friends, and boy crushes. My parents were working overseas and I lived in a small tiny dorm room shared by 3 other school mates. We slept in bunk beds and our study desks were butted right next to each other, two on either side. Coming back from my last country overseas (Liberia, West Africa), my academic levels were all over the place and while I was a grade A student while in school overseas, here in Japan I was suddenly getting failing grades in all subjects (except English, of course).
Try as I may, I wasn’t mixing all too well with the other boys and girls in my class – I was too Americanized or Internationalized for their taste – and often times I would find solace in food. Being that I was on a growing spurt at the time, I had this enormous appetite and from being a skinny, tanned athletic kid, I turned into a chubby fat white failure who lost total confidence in herself.
Unfortunately with the educational system and rules at the time, most returnee students after my time were given special entrance exam options to college – a more easier, lenient system that takes in consideration for kids who lived abroad. But I came in just at the cusp of this so I wasn’t eligible for this alternative test route and I had to study and take the college exams with the rest of the national students, who…. have studied to prepare for this for pretty much most of their lives. You can imagine the amount of stress that has been put on me for the three years I was there.
I guess you can call it perseverance (pretty much that’s all I had). Within the 3 years of school, I had gotten my failing grades of D’s and F’s to a B average, which according to my teacher – was a miracle feat in itself. But I was still not ready to really face the infamous College Exams of Japan, not by a mile.
I started eating junk food to soothe myself. My favorites were ice cream, McDonald’s French Fries, and crepes. Perhaps my new found passion for dance had saved me in not becoming obese, but I was still pretty big for my height and size for Japanese standards. What was humiliating was that my mother would take me to the Large Ladies section for my skirts. More embarrassingly, during one of the summer swimming lessons I took at the nearby fitness club, an fellow student (middle aged woman) asked me how many months I had in my pregnancy!!! That was an all time low.
THE WHITE CREPE TRUCK:
So…. in front of the train station where we are surrounded by amazing smells of fresh baked breads, hamburgers and colorful displays of bentos, there is this cute little white van parked outside the department store that serves fresh hand made crepes. These crepes were crisp on the outside, perfectly cooked and they were so big it could cover your face. I was instantly hooked on these once I tasted the first one.
My favorites were usually chocolate almond, or lemon butter / sugar. Sometimes if I felt like splurging I would go for the chocolate almond AND banana combo. I would sometimes get two of these, since one was not enough to drown my misery, and I would often times eat one on the way home. Most of the time I would stop by this crepe truck but other times I’d also stop by McDonald’s for their french fries – to counter balance the sweetness with the salty. Did I also mention that we had Mister Donut along the way home as well? Japan is filled with food, every where you go. It still amazes me to this day that no one there has hit the obese factor like the US.
I remember as I would stand there in the cold, waiting for the crepes to be made, watching the couple dole out the batter onto the hot plate and swirl the stick around to spread it evenly…. The thoughts were more on the pain that I was feeling that day of either bad grades, being given cold shoulder in class, feeling fat in general or that I had a bad interview. Yes…. this habit continued well after High School and after college – where I was stuck in the same predicament as the Entrance Exam, competing with the most well trained Japanese students for jobs that were beyond my reach. If you look at the photos of me during that time, I look round and I have this tight smile on my face. That’s from me trying to keep it all in on the surface while all the while, I’m losing it at all angles in the inside.
NOW THE PINK CREPE TRUCK:
It’s been a very long time since I’ve kicked my eating habits of the salty, fried, sweet things for the most part, but from time to time I do let myself indulge in the good stuff. However, here in NYC when I see a pink crepe truck parked outside the office that I’m working at or near my home base, there’s a pang of guilt and nostalgia that hits me. I don’t crave their crepes but I do feel this curiosity rise inside me to go check it out, along with an internal guilt tied with the many bad memories I had buried along with eating the crepes.
But I laugh now when I see the pink truck. I joke to myself and say that there it is again – it’s found me. It’s stalking me wherever I go. My inner “Turkey” – that says “yes” to almost anything edible and good out there – will have to be beaten down with a stick at times, but I will only go to one place where the crepes are made just like the white crepe truck back home: Vive La Crepe!
I guess it’s that time to go visit them again…. for a nice little afternoon tea, while I continue my search for a soft landing.
Cheerio for now,
Little (Hungry?) Reiko and the (What? Did I hear the word CREPES?) Turkey.