Next time I'm coming on a corporate expense account.

It appears I need to buy an ironing board. We have an iron but no board, and I can't decipher our tiny washing machine's buttons well enough to turn off the "super-wrinkle" cycle. I could alternately get my clothes laundered at a cost of about six dollars per shirt. The local cleaners insist that any cheaper laundering will ruin the shirts completely and unfortunately I believe them.

I also probably need to buy a clothesline as there's no dryer. More hangers, as well, and a wheeled rack to hang things from. The "closet" that my room boasts is large enough for about six shirts if they've been ironed completely flat. Even then it's so shallow that it will crush the sleeves when I close the door. Though my apartment is furnished I still have had to replace many things that I couldn't bring with me. I hope the Necessity Replacement Phase is almost over but something tells me it's just begun.

The problem is larger than simply buying stuff. Of course, when my income's been halved and cost of living has been (at least) doubled, money is a big part of it. But it's a challenge just to solve problems whose solutions were self-evident in the Cities. This began my first night here, when I was finally done unpacking at one in the morning. I was about to go to bed when I realized: sheets and blankets? There have been many, many forehead-smiting moments like that. Usually they revolve around minutiae. Laundry is a big challenge, as is keeping my room anything like organized: I'll need to buy some shelving and cabinets before long--and then where the hell will I put them?

I have been forced to develop new routines for mundane tasks. It's all petty stuff, but the constant barrage of inconvenience wears me down at times. I look forward to when I have figured out all the trifling problems and my life settles down a little more. I would love a day during which I don't wonder "So now what the hell do I do?"

Another big one is food. Eating cheaply has proved all but impossible. I was eating every meal out during my first week, but started making stuff at home to save money. Lo and behold, that's expensive too. Good luck making a meal for less than $5. Though it goes against common sense, eating out seems cheaper than cooking, and either way I'm going broke fast. The only way to avoid this is to eat absurdly boring food. White rice and... well, maybe some kimchee or something if I'm lucky. And forget about eating healthy. Vegetables and fruit are absurdly expensive for the most part. The most I can hope for is to eat reasonably un-unhealthy.

I'm sure I'm missing many possibilities for cheap, healthy, tasty meals, but how would I know? I can hardly read labels. Shopping for anything takes two to four times longer than it would in Minneapolis. For me it's usually a process of wandering around aimlessly hoping the sought-after item falls off the shelf and onto the floor in front of me. After a few minutes of this, when the staff starts trailing me like a shoplifter, I finally go and ask for help.

When I finally do get home with the miso paste, or whatever, I then have to prepare it. This involves more label-reading. Usually I sit there with my electronic dictionary and a bewildered, hateful expression, moving my lips soundlessly as I try to decipher directions. Reading them usually takes longer than actually cooking the item in question, and as often as not I prepare it wrong anyway.

Of course, it's not all that bad. One of the best ways to eat is to get a big bowl of rice and several small side dishes: kimchee, spinach, mushrooms, carrots, sausages, miso soup, seafood, whatever, prepared simply and easily while the rice cooks. As one might expect, Japanese and other Asian foods can be gotten at a somewhat reasonable price. Unfortunately I have no idea how to make many of them. Noodles are plentiful and cheap. Seafood is plentiful but less cheap. Chicken is cheap but don't even think about red meat unless it's a special occasion. Things like spinach, alfalfa sprouts, avocados, apples and bananas, are reasonably priced, as is bread.

Grapes are about four to six dollars for perhaps 20 grapes. Of course, they're also enormous and plump and delicious. In addition, the Japanese--who abhor skins on most fruit and peel everything--have managed to breed grapes that just pop out of their skin when you bite into them. Strawberries are ridiculous; I once saw a box of twenty strawberries for thirty dollars, but of course they were the most flawless examples of strawberryhood I'd ever seen. I haven't seen a melon for less than fifteen dollars and I believe that's cheap. Et cetera.

These are just the things I recognize. At least half of my neighborhood grocery store resembles an alien biology lab. There are bizarre vegetables I don't recognize and fish bits I didn't know existed. There are bags of different colored mush and boxes of pastes and packets containing flakes of dried matter. Many of these things would be delicious if I could figure out how they're meant to be prepared.

If anyone know any simple, quick recipes I could use, I'm taking suggestions. Preferably something compatible with rice.

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