Kimmy Sophia Brown

The Night of the Origami Chicken

Jul 13, 2003
We peered into the drive-thru window of the Hardee's. We had been waiting for what I would loosely call "fast food" for a full ten minutes. It seemed nothing was happening in that mysterious kitchen, except for a teenage girl flouncing to and fro, listening to a headphone, with her back turned continuously toward us. I tooted the horn a few times trying to get her attention but either she was ignoring me, she was taking an order, or she had the restaurant tuned out and was listening to the Rapping Dirtmouths in quadrophonic sound.

My new friends from Japan were with me. Even though we haven't been able to speak many common words because of our language barrier, we have been able to communicate through a lot of laughing and gesturing. As we waited, we grinned at each other and then Aiko reached into her purse and pulled out a stack of colored paper. Soon she was folding a little blue crane, which is the Japanese symbol for happiness. Then she folded another.

By then the box of greasy chicken and biscuits, ("the uninviting delicacy" to quote Hercule Poirot) had arrived. The Hardee-girl was about to lose herself in headphone-land again when Aiko jumped out of the van and ran around to the window and gave the cranes to her. Clearly thrilled, the Hardee-girl waved at us in wonderment and we waved at her and drove away. Wow, I thought, it only took a moment but through the small gesture of giving the little handmade treasures, Aiko left love in her wake. I was impressed.

As we drove home, I asked her, "Was that an origami chicken?" which sent Aiko and her two friends, Atsuko and Nagako, into peals of hilarious laughter.

Aiko had also turned on the origami charm at a doctor's office while she was waiting to have her throat swabbed. As we chatted in the typically unfriendly atmosphere of the doctor's waiting room, an elderly lady overheard us talking about Japan. She politely asked Aiko about her visit to America.

On that cue, Aiko took her stack of colored paper and made origami cranes for everyone in the doctor's office; patients, office help, nurses and even the doctor. Each recipient was thrilled. As she worked, she smiled and made small talk with the various old and young people sitting there. I helped a bit with translation. By the time she was called for her examination by the nurse, she had exchanged names, addresses, phone numbers, hugs and even tears with the other patients. Mutual postcards were promised and all of them had a place to stay if they ever came to Japan. Wow. Then she swept the doctor and nurses off their feet as well. Origami cranes were proudly perched on computer monitors and counter tops by the time we left.

The three Japanese missionaries have been staying with our family on an exchange program from our church. Interaction with them has been a delightful adventure. There was the night when one of them asked if we liked liver for dinner. I said, not really, and then we found out that they meant, "laver". Laver is seaweed formed into sheets which is used in making 'sushi' (seasoned rice and slices of raw fish which to some people sounds like a good idea) and "onigity" (which are rice balls and should not be confused with a racial slur.)

We found out that the Japanese word for octopus is tako. Then I showed them a "Taco Bell" (same pronunciation) restaurant and we giggled at the prospect of tako tacos.

When they come home to my house in the evening, they often sit with the children making origami with them. Atsuko and Aiko have a book with hundreds of designs. Origami cranes, frogs, boxes, flowers, and even a type of balloon. Nagako, whose English is quite good, sometimes gives my husband and I shiatsu massages and acupuncture treatments.

One night while we were talking, I mentioned that my little boy had made a mess doing something. I said that it was "Yucky poo."

"Yucky poo? What meaning yucky poo?"

"Well, it's kind of a children's word."

"Yucky poo. Yucky poo."

"Well, it means like sticky or dirty. But then poo can mean something else, too," I said.


"Yes, like Winnie the Pooh."

"Winnie the Pooh?"

"Yes, do you have Winnie the Pooh in Japan? Like Mickey Mouse, Bugs Bunny, Winnie the Pooh, Tigger..."

"Poo? Oooooh!" they said with recognition. "Pooh-SAN".

"Pooh-san? You call him Pooh-san?" I said, laughing. "No, wait. Pusan is in Korea."


"Yes, a city in Korea. Maybe Pooh-san is from Pusan." More laughter. "But then," I said, "There are other meanings for poo. For example, sometimes my friend calls me, Kimmy poo. Or I call my husband Petey poo. Kind of like chan." (Chan, (rhymes with Ron) is added to the name of children as an affectionate suffix, as in, Horatio-chan.)

And I went on, "But poo is also the children's word for going to the bathroom. Children say, I have to go pee pee or poo poo."

"Pee pee or poo poo?"

"Yes, or Number One or Number Two."

"Number One and Number Two?"

Then I realized it was getting too complicated so I said, "Just say rest room."

"Rest room."

"Yes, it's more easy. Besides, pee pee and poo poo aren't polite. You shouldn't say while you're in a meeting, excuse me, I have to go pee pee. Or I have to go Number One."

I could see that I lost them at that point. "Just say, I have to go to the rest room."

One night everyone in my house had gone to bed except for Aiko and me. We sat on the living room floor listening to various music CD's, and singing some songs together from an old folk song book. We sang "Greensleeves" and "Amazing Grace."

Even though we couldn't share our deepest thoughts, a level of warmth and real friendship had blossomed. Before going to bed, she hugged me and cried and said, "Kim-san, your family so much kindness. Thank you."

I hugged her back and said, "No, YOU have so much kindness." They came from Japan without much English, only their love and desire to do something for other people. Everywhere they went they were giving love in some form or another. I have been quite humbled by them. They have reinforced in me the realization that love is the greatest universal language, and is the only tool that can build real bridges between people.

Kim lives in Maine, which is lovely, and where she continues her enthusiastic relationship with Art, Music, Nature, Books, Animals, Humor and Trees.