JOK Notebook

That's the Spirit

I'm always trying to show you just what I love about kanji, but this week that happened in reverse. (How appropriate; I've just written an essay on 遡, which is about going in reverse!) 

I received a handwritten letter (a rare pleasure!) from Lonnie Wiig, who edited Crazy for Kanji. He wanted to tell me all about some kanji "moments" he recently had that reminded him of those I've described over the years. Well, actually, he said momentos; having taught Spanish and Japanese, he loves to sprinkle in bits of those languages whenever he sends me mail. 

That's not all. He wrote the whole letter on the back of a cardboard box!

Lonnie has graciously allowed me to share the letter with you, and I'm delighted to do so. Here's a good bit of what he wrote: 


We were camping near the particularly Caucasoidal ciudad of Grants Pass in southern Oregon. I won't go into how remarkably mono-ethnic our first outing was. Suffice to say we might have been in a little city in, say, the Czech Republic.

The following mañana, I went to a store called The Country Store kinda in the 林 near the campground (which was very much in the 林). I purchased 4 bags of ice, and I asked the Caucasoid clerk if she had a cardboard box I could use to carry the ice back to our campsite.

What you are holding in your お手々 are the printed portions of that box from Grants Pass. Being a bit of a kanji nut myself, I marveled at it. I reveled in it. I was thrilled by it. It caused me to have an even deeper appreciation of the Chinese writing system than I might have had if, say, Kiara had brought out an empty Best Foods mayonnaise box or a Franz Bread cupcake box.

Let's put it this way. Chancing upon this empty noodle box opened up HISTORY for me. I marveled how how really probable it is to find kanji writing in the non-Asian parts of our home planet.

This particular writing sample was like a puzzle with a dozen aha momentos. Eve, I could go on and on about this noodle box from Grants Pass but it's time to release it to you.


I'm so glad he did! His message and the way it came on a cardboard box tickled me just as much as his kanji momentos tickled him. And just as a few strokes here and there on a box filled him with wonderment, I was amazed at how he managed to bottle the kanji spirit so concisely. There it all was in my 手々—the spirit that has carried me through the years and made me feel more alive than just about anything ever could.

But there was more! Because he was thoughtful enough to send me the box, along with his notations, I was able to walk the very path he had blazed with his discoveries.

Lonnie wrote, "Extra thin. 'Extra' is 特. Now, our Nipponese cousins might translate/transliterate 'extra' as エキストラ, but our Chinese cousins go back thousands of years and keep 特 alive today."

Ah! Working from Lonnie's notes, I see that 春捲皮 (Egg Roll Wrapper) breaks down this way: spring + to be rolled up + skin. Is that how the "eggroll" of my childhood mysteriously morphed into the "spring roll" of my adulthood? I could never see the connection to either eggs or the spring, but I'm glad the English on menus has come closer to the original Chinese.

Thanks to Lonnie, I now see that 美洲麵行 (America's Noodle, Inc.) breaks down as America (1st 2 characters) + noodle + relating to a co. Do the Chinese refer to America as a beautiful (美) continent (洲)? If it is indeed America the Beautiful (at least in certain parts!), they've made it even lovelier by sprinkling these characters around here and there. 

A million thanks to Lonnie for giving me a laugh and a lift this week!

Here's a preview of the newest essay:

Have a great weekend, full of aha momentos!


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