That one time I became a crazy cat lady…

That one time…

Most of the world’s best stories start with the same four words: “Remember that one time…?”. Say these four words out loud and I’ll bet that your mind fills in the blank the same way google suggested answers pop up in your web browser. This column is dedicated to some of my “that one time” moments. Some (most) of these moments are embarrassing, some are hilarious, some are truly moving, and all of them are truly memorable.

That one time I became a crazy cat lady

I didn’t think it would come to this. Not so soon at the very least. After all, I’m a young, good looking (?), adventurous traveler, on a trip to “discover yourself” and the world. And yet here I was, sipping matcha out of a dainty teacup, and completely surrounded by cats, the only meaningful contact I’ve had in weeks. I’ve found myself in one of Tokyo’s famous cat cafes and I’m asking yourself, is this my final form?

On a recent trip to Tokyo, I somehow convinced my parents that we had to go to a cat cafe. Mom, as always, was game. Dad on the other hand took some convincing.

“If we see one we’ll go,” he said, “but I’m not going to walk around specifically just to find one.” As luck would have it, we saw one in Shinjuku. And so we went. You know, it was a “if you build it, we will come” sort of deal.  The Mocha Cat Cafe was complete with food, drinks, and of course, cats. The whimsical spot was a great respite from the overwhelming hordes of people and the big city vibes of Japan’s biggest metropolis. Upon entering, we took off our shoes, paid a time-based entrance fee, and found ourselves in a incredibly cute little space with a literal tree of cats.

To my slight disappointment though, the feline stars of the show barely looked up to acknowledge me. I suppose they’re used to the attention and frankly don’t give a fuck. Nonetheless, I was enchanted and found myself trying to draw as many of the kitties to me, stroking, patting, and bringing out my best “baby talk”.

Though the world’s first cat café opened in Taipei in 1998, the concept really blossomed in Japan and is now engrained in Tokyo culture. Now don’t jump to the conclusion that this is just a Hello Kitty fetish gone too far. Cat cafes make sense in a city notorious for small apartments, pet-forbidding landlords, and lonely people. There’s a cat café for everyone in this city. There are some that specialize in obscure breeds, in fat cats (hopefully just referring to the cats and not the customers), and even in ex-stray cats. Some cafes even create online profiles for their feline residents, complete with headshots and baby kitty pics that put your Tinder page to shame. PETA freaks can rest easy knowing that every cat café in Japan is required to have a license and is regulated by the country’s Animal Treatment and Protection Law.

Strict regulations have not stopped cat cafes from opening at an astonishing rate, and honestly, after about five minutes in one of these magical little establishments, I totally understood why. There’s a simple joy in being a crazy cat lady, even if just for an hour or so. As I left, I felt revitalized. And yet I wondered, was that just a brief break from the real world? Or was it a dry-run for the inevitable?

Three happy Chius post-cat lady experience!

Now this is real sushi

One day back in Cambridge, I was really craving some good raw fish. I decided to walk to Market and pick up some sushi before meeting my roommate Shawn on the steps of Widener Library. It was one of the approximately four days out of the semester where it was warm enough to eat outside and Shawn and I were certainly not going to let it go to waste. Now, I’ve been stung by American sushi before, so I picked out the simplest looking roll, salmon maki, and sauntered over to Widener.

However, to my HORROR, as I took my first bite, I was greeted with the distinct taste of a… bagel?

“Oh my god! There’s cream cheese in this!?” I said in disgust.

“Yeah, that’s a Philadelphia roll,” said Shawn with a shrug. A Philadelphia roll? Excuse me?

Now, I hate to come across as a food purist. I completely acknowledge that some of the world’s best food is fusion – a result of cross cultural exchange throughout the centuries. Give me a Poke bowl and I’ll happily eat it. But let me be clear about one thing: there is absolutely no room for cream cheese in any self-respecting sushi.

Now this is real sushi: 

I was lucky enough to have practically grown up in Japan due to my parent’s obsession with onsen hot springs, shabu shabu, Wagyu beef, and of course, sushi. We were (and are still) so obsessed that I was actually sent to Japanese Saturday school for a couple years in the hope that I would be fluent enough to facilitate our 20+ trips to Japan (honestly, they could do a My Strange Addiction episode about my family’s love affair with this country).

However, of all the meals l to choose from, one of my favourite Japanese food memories is eating sushi at a stall in Tokyo’s famous Tsukiji Market. Other contenders include that one time I thought I would die after eating pufferfish and that one time I accidentally ate horse, but, I digress. Yes, I know Tsukiji is kinda touristy but there’s a reason that locals and tourists alike keep going back.

The market itself is a giant maze of stalls and shops selling everything from fish, to tofu, to tamago, to dessert. The narrow alleyways are lined with street food stalls and tiny restaurants with around seven seats each all serving up the freshest catch of the day. The three of us had already downed a couple of uni-toro dons (sea urchin and fatty tuna bowls) between us and we were pushing our way through the rest of the market soaking in the atmosphere while trying not to get trampled by other tourists. Perhaps the bigger challenge though was finding the self-control to walk past all the other stalls without further indulging. The smell of grilled scallops, freshly opened oysters, and the sound of crab shells cracking and sellers yelling about their wares was incredibly hard to resist.

And so, as we reached the very outskirts of the market, we caved. We saw a nondescript little stall tucked in a corner on the perimeter of the market. The only thing that was visible was a set of legs peeking out from under a curtain that had the words sushi written on it. We ventured behind the curtain to see two old men dressed in their chefs whites crafting beautiful sushi for one customer who stood at the bar with her chopsticks at the ready.

With deft hands, the men shaped the rice, lovingly sliced the fish, and then painted on a thin layer of soy sauce on each piece before placing it directly on a leaf on the counter. The little sushi sat on the counter like a small piece of art for just a second before being picked up and consumed immediately. I love little holes in the wall like this – bare bones places with neither a chair to sit on nor a plate to eat off of. Nothing to separate the chef from the eater except a small wooden bar and nothing to separate the sushi from the eater except for a pair of chopsticks. No frills. Simply sushi.

The lady next to us obviously knew what she was doing. She kept ordering all the greatest hits: luxurious ikura (salmon roll), sweet succulent amaebi (sweet shrimp), perfectly charred unagi (eel), and o-so-fatty o-toro (fatty tuna). They say that imitation is the highest form of flattery. And so, Mom would just gesture towards whatever the lady was eating and hold three fingers in the air: the universal sign for “damn! I want three of those!”. The chefs would get to work creating the beautiful parcels of rice and fish while we waited we baited breath. Each piece was immaculate. How could something so simple taste so good? As I popped the precious little ikura pearls in my mouth and wondered greedily about what we were going to get next, I remember thinking “ah, yes. This is real sushi”.

A family that eats together, stays together ❤
Here’s a pic of me and my roommate/best friend Shawn on Widener Steps for good measure. Admittedly, this pic was taken about a year after the Philadelphia roll incident. Look how happy I look sans cream cheese!