Friday, February 03, 2006

Adventures in tako

Today has been a pretty standard slow day at school. I only had one class this morning, so the rest of my day has been spent watching the snow fall outside, drinking coffee, thinking about studying Japanese, and not a whole lot else.

Until a delivery came...

JTE: Wait a minute! anyram studied biology! She must know what to do with this!
So, anyram, do you know tako?
Me: You mean, octopus?
JTE: Octopus, yes. The Art Teacher sent us an octopus. She was in Hiroshima for training, and sent tako for omiyage.
Me: What, like to eat?
JTE: Of course! What else would you do with an octopus? Here -- take a look!

My JTE goes to the staff room fridge and pulls out a Styrofoam cooler containing a bag of ice and a recently deceased cephalopod. Biology geek heaven! The skin was still all dark and pretty. I've never dissected a fresh octopus! We have rules about these things where I come from!*

JTE: So, do you know how to cut it?
(Because obviously, knowledge of cleaning an octopus comes standard with every biology degree.)
Me: Well, I could probably dissect it! Can I? Lets go dissect it now! I don't know how to clean it though -- I've never cooked** octopus.
JTE: (Clearly disappointed) Oh. That's too bad. None of us knows how to do it either.
Me: I'm sure there are instructions online.
JTE: Yes, we found some, but nobody actually wants to do the cutting.
Me: But that's the best part! I'll do it if you give me the instructions!
JTE: (Shocked) Really? Okay -- later.

This was before lunch. School has just finished for the day. I only had one class this morning, so I've been sticking around here basically to see if I can play with a fresh octopus. And that's been my slightly surreal day teaching in Japan.

* It was always interesting to me that when I was in school, you could do just about anything you wanted to with invertebrates. As long as the organism in question had no spine, you could run almost any research protocol you wanted, and collect vast numbers. The exceptions? One was abalone, whose valuable stocks had been decimated and were protected. The other? Octopus. Anything with a brain that big and relatively complex was controlled and a pain in the ass because you had to deal with animal care and the ethics people. The same as with vertebrates.

At least on the west coast, this was the deal. In Alberta, we guillotined rats, did surgery on live rabbits, and administered electric shocks to frog legs. In undergraduate labs! I'm sure there were animal care hoops to deal with there too, but I can't imagine the same labs being done at my school on the west coast. Mostly because the students would protest. Stupid hippies. They don't know what they're missing.

** This came up with my JTE this afternoon. When is it appropriate to use "cook" vs. "make"? I came up with plenty of examples, but no firm rule. For example: "I made dinner for everyone" vs. "I cooked dinner for everyone". You would say "I made a cake", but not "I cooked a cake" or even "I cooked cake".

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