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Sunday, July 21, 2002

WHEN EAST MARRIES WEST

Things you can't tell just by looking at her


I have a friend who is a man of only one conviction. No, that does not mean he's done time in jail. It means he believes this: "Nothing on this Earth," he says in a voice as firm as his faith, "is as beautiful as . . ."

The room turns still. The man's brows rise. My wristwatch ticks and ticks. Then my friend exhales and he croons, ". . . a Japanese woman."

"Excuse me?" I had been expecting perhaps the "Taj Mahal" or the "Mona Lisa" or the words "quitting time" -- something with more universal appeal. "Japanese women are the most beautiful creatures alive," he continues. "All other females pale in comparison."

Hmm. With a Japanese wife myself, I could do well to agree with him. On the other hand, I also have a journalistic duty to sift out the truth -- or at least stir things up a bit.

I say: "You must be a leg man."

He ignores this and leans close as if sharing a confidence. "Why do you think foreign guys even come to this country? Well, it's not for the great cost of living. Nor for views of Mount Fuji. It's the women, man! The women!"

"Then why do foreign women come?" It's a journalistic question, pithy and precise, in tune with the essence of modern reporting, which is: It's OK to sound stupid as long as you look smart.

He shrinks back and shrugs. "I dunno. Pachinko? . . . Fresh fish? . . . You got me. But -- in the end -- who cares?"

I mull my options. I could: a) call him a sexist b) change the topic to football; or -- and worst of all -- c) goad him to continue.

"Yeah. You might have something. Tell me more. Be honest now. Would you even be here if not for a Japanese girl?"

"Um . . ." I feel my collar tighten. "So . . . who's gonna win the Superbowl this year?"

"And I'll wager if your wife didn't turn your head, another Japanese honey would have." He scoots forward again and whispers, "They're everywhere."

The journalist in me argues that time and circumstance play a part in every relationship, as do personal charisma and fate. Yet, with one wave of his hand he brushes off logistics, chemistry and religion.

"I know what I'm saying," he tells me. "I've been around. Women are women are women is not true. Sure there are attractive girls elsewhere, but Japan owns the mother lode. When Aphrodite came to Earth, this is not only where she first touched down. It's where she set up camp."

I tell him such matters are Greek to me and ask that he explain.

Words I should not have uttered. For it was like handing a compulsive gambler a racing form and a blank check.

He smiles as if drugged. "First, they're all so soapy clean and perky."

"So? Foreign girls aren't exactly oozing mud."

"But there's a difference," he insists. "The hair, the makeup, the stylish clothes draped over willowy figures -- somehow Japanese girls are both crisper and creamier. With black licorice hair . . . And then those dark chocolate moles on otherwise vanilla cheeks . . . Not to mention their eyes. Eyes like, like . . . maple . . . cinnamon . . . almonds . . . caramel . . . brown sugar."

I swallow slowly -- then summon the waitress to order dessert.

"With petite noses over sparkling teeth wrapped in luscious lips. Lips like, like . . . berries . . . peaches . . . sugar plums . . ."

"Enough already! My stomach's growling!"

"That's just it," he says. "In the world's smorgasbord of women, Japanese girls are the piece de resistance. And -- I can't help it -- I'm a glutton."

As if on cue, the waitress glides to our table. She is everything my friend has described and more -- with finely mixed undertones of both innocence and sex.

My friend grips the table. That gurgling sound I hear is certainly his heart melting into his innards. He weaves in his seat, fetches a monstrous grin and gazes at the girl as if she was the queen of centerfolds and he the master stapler.

"Pardon me," he says. "I'd like you to explain something to my friend here. I'm trying to tell him that Japanese women are the most beautiful on Earth. But he doesn't seem quite convinced. So . . . can you help me? Why do you think Japanese girls are so much prettier than those from any place else?" And then he winks.

The girl lowers her pen. She eyes him, then eyes me. Again, my wristwatch ticks and ticks. Then she announces:

"I wouldn't know. I'm Chinese."

My wristwatch ticks some more. My friend sits with his face frozen.

So I order for him -- cake, pie, ice cream, anything to keep his cravings under control. Then the waitress curves about and hips her way back to the kitchen.

"It's just like I was saying," my friend finally says. His voice is dry. "Chinese girls are the most beautiful on Earth."

"It's all in the eye of the beholder," I smile. Which brings me to another pithy question. I try my best to look smart.

"So . . . what do you think such girls see in Western men? Could it be our beer bellies?"

He shakes his head. "That's easy. I, for one, have a very nice personality."

Then he grabs the menu. "We have to get her back!"

But too late. For the girl has already escaped to her own pursuit of beauty. That's right. Her shift has finished and she has been blessed by those two most lovely words . . .

"Quitting time."



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