Bewildering Stories



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The Ways of the Genjikan: Eating, Drinking, and Merrymaking

Dervin Moon (as told to Thomas R.)

A Brief Introduction

Genjikan settlers found themselves on a cool world made up mostly of ocean. This suited them fine as their people primarily descend from cool islands on Earth called Iceland and Japan. These islands still exist on Earth today but as a polar island Iceland is obviously part of the great Crystal Mind while Japan has become so geologically unstable only heretics of the Pyrrhic live there. Therefore the descendants of such people can not be found on Earth. When their lands became uninhabitable for them they came to this world and several others. On route their culture went through much change and adaptation. Therefore do not fear, understanding these obscure island people is not necessary to understand this. If it were I imagine my audience would only be a small amount of archaeologists, which is certainly not my intent. However some references to them may be necessary, but I will try to explain when that occurs.

Dervin Moon -- Professor of Cultural Galactography University of Tropical Earth

Eating

Food is tremendously important to them. Indeed the popular greeting on the planet is "How are you eating?" sometimes shortened to How-ye. For the first settlers this was not just a casual question.

The planet forced them to live precarious lives full of starvation. Traditional sources of food like vats or protein pits tended to malfunction on the planet. They may have died off due to that, but fortunately they learned to revert to things called farming and fishing. Farming involves raising of plants and animals for food. The animals raised are called livestock or herds, while the plants were called crops. Fishing is sometimes still done on many worlds as a sport, but it is possible to actually eat the water living creatures one catches. This all might sound barbaric, but they felt it better to be barbaric then die. Indeed their descendants still cling to these things out of tradition, though they have their own unique dietary rules.

These rules state that eating land animals is unclean. Therefore the livestock is in the water or the air. The sea farming communities are the most productive producing most of the food the people eat. Helping in the process there are engineered seals who not only provide much of the actual farm work, but also provide their milk which is turned into cheeses, ice creams, etc. Seal ice cream is surprisingly good, but eating something that comes from a being that you can have conversations with can be slightly nauseating for those off world. The seals and the people however see nothing wrong in this. Other popular foods produced from the sea farms include a wide variety of crustaceans, mollusks, and fish.

Though less productive the sky farms tend to be the most important culturally. The birds, pterodactyls, insects, and bats that these sky farmers raise are considered a delicacy. While their achievements and problems tend to be famous in song. Sky farming involves people in low speed floating vehicles who "shepherd" these aerial herds harvesting their members when need be. A large proportion of their work though is less romantic work like collecting honey, eggs, nests, etc. that they create on land. As these creatures are aerial their land based products are seen as acceptable.

A large amount of their food is plants raised on land, but this is only valued for the food itself and tends to be done by robotics. Lastly all agriculture is efficient enough these days to provide adequate nourishment to all as long as the population remains below a billion.

As for what they do with this food when it comes to meals they eat two with both being long protracted affairs. This works as they only spend about 2% of their lives in sleep and their days are almost 20% longer than Earth days. Some meals can last almost five hours, but most of that time does not involve eating and is largely because meals come in several courses. First being breads much like vat bread, but made from actual grasses. The idea of eating grass sounds unappetizing but it is better than it sounds. As it is not seen as a delicacy though breads are mostly kept in a form like vat bread, but they do create long stringy things called noodles. Then comes vegetables, and than fruit. On Earth we eat actual fruit on occasion, but to many the idea of enslaving plants is immoral so I want to mention again I'm not advocating their ways or mine. After fruit comes crustaceans, and then fish. As these are seen as the delicacy much effort is put into preparing them. Fish are often fried in a rather unhealthy fat filled substance. A variety of fruits, vegetables, and spices are mixed in. Some even add sweet substances called chocolate or vanilla. These are produced by beans and are much like our cocoa or extract. After that ice cream is served. This can come in a variety of flavors but chocolate, vanilla, and plum are the most popular. Sometimes you get to meet the seal whose milk was turned into the ice cream, and she considers it a great honor. Some tourists find that rather unpleasant, but politeness is very important here so visitors should keep such discomfort to themselves.

Between these courses a wide variety of talking or singing occurs. Sometimes an entire short play is seen. This can make a meal feel like several meals. It is also very important socially. Friendships and even marriages are won and lost during meals. Business is generally not discussed, but arguments during meals have led to civil wars, or toppled political parties, or even created new religions.

Class distinctions also show themselves. Among the rich an extra course is added before ice cream. This usually involves a flying creature drenched in honey. Pterodactyl drenched in honey is something of an acquired taste, but this is seen as the fanciest of flying dishes. Hence it is only served by the richest. "Pterodactyl eaters" is sometimes even used on tax forms to describe the top bracket. The poor sometimes never eat the produce of air farms, but many save enough to have crow once a year. "Eating crow" therefore means being degraded enough that that is all you can afford. Most though are middle class who can afford to eat duck on major holidays or weddings. As for who prepares it all a slightly patriarchal side to their family structures makes them distrust women's ability to do something as important as make the food. Therefore men make up the recipes while robots follow their instruction.

Drinking

For a variety of reason liquid is separated from eating amongst them. Water is often eaten with meals when spicy food is served, but generally beverages are consumed during breaks in meals or outside of meals. Beverages are seen as vitally important though with a wide variety existing.

The most popular drinks are teas and what are called "sweet drinks". Sweet drinks usually involve adding a variety of sugars or extracts into water. Often these are carbonated and turned into what they call soda. This is one archaism of theirs as I have found the word "soda" used to describe such drinks in archives dating from before the "computer" age. This means the term has been unchanged for almost eight thousand years amongst them. Likely due to its almost sacred element in rituals amongst some of them.

As with ice cream some of the most popular sodas are vanilla, chocolate, and plum however two others are exceedingly well liked. These are honey and lime, sometimes with the two mixed. Lime is a greenish fruit of the citrus family. Its popularity is surprising as most of the planet is too cool to grow it. Almost all of it is grown for soda. Soda is served in very small containers as it is seen as too strong a substance to drink in large quantities. Also some see it as a sacred drink so find drinking it regularly to be blasphemous. On most worlds the stuff is unknown but in the Western spiral arm it is fairly common though usually called Carbie or "burpwater".

Alcoholic beverages are seen as acceptable with few opposed to them. However they are seen as something to be drunk on holidays or certain ceremonies. The idea of drinking alcohol containing drinks as a regular beverage is seen as strange. One early ambassador from Gaul offered a visiting Genjikan guest wine only to cause great confusion. She assumed it must be some sort of holiday on his world and became very annoyed when he told her it was not. Her annoyance being that she felt he simply did not want to tell what holiday it was, the idea he simply wanted wine not on a holiday never entering her mind.

Drunkenness however is not accepted at any holiday, but they have one important exception. At funerals getting drunk is mandated for all attending who have reached physical maturity. To them this means all over 16 Earth years of age. To not get drunk at a funeral is seen as a sign of grave disrespect. Folk stories teach that the phantoms of the dead even haunt those who did not get drunk at their funerals. There are to be no exceptions to this rule either. The priest being expected to get more drunk than anyone. Indeed the fires behind the universal equation are said to favor a priest who has had at least one alcohol related coma at a funeral. As priests do many such ceremonies they tend to be the people most likely to be drunks which is believed to be as it should be.

As for what these drinks are there is little variety. When drank they generally drink a hard liquor called burban, with rice wine the only real alternative. However they have a unique drink called sea wine which is liquefied jellyfish mixed with burban. This is far more revolting then you would imagine due to an odd mutation the planet's ocean caused. Indeed they feel it is the most disgusting drink imaginable and is only drank during weddings by the newlywed couple. I trust the reasoning for that is obvious.

Merry making

Recreation is very important to the Genjikan. Indeed they spend so much of their time eating or having fun it is difficult to know how they have time to do anything else. Yet oddly their entertainments are rather primitive and physically inactive. Except for skiing sports are almost non-existent. Except for pinball and puppet theater their entertainments are almost devoid of technology. The main diversions are music, puppet theater, math games and word games.

Music is heavily divided into two camps, instrumental and vocal. Vocal has no instrument back up while instrumental has no vocals. Although sometimes sounds from cetaceans are used in instrumental music. To avoid these being lyrics they are usually just nonsense phrases like "blue milk happy what the shrimp" which is repeated by a dolphin several times in a famous composition.

Instrumental is more technology oriented. Various instruments are used that make sounds above or below human hearing. People wear special devices to appreciate these compositions. Another important aspect is compositions are very long, sometimes lasting over a hundred hours. They also involve pauses, but these are very much a part of the song. The music will get very intense then stop abruptly for an hour to build tension. This works better than you might expect as when the music returns the excitement is palpable. One reviewer even called it "orgasmic" but she later admitted that was partly because she used the hour to sneak out and actually have sex with her husband in the bathroom. Though usually polite and discreet such admissions related to music are seen as tolerable.

You might think people would fall asleep during such long songs but as they need little sleep this is not much of a problem. However some songs are intended to be hypnotic. So much so one group quit music because the audience had mostly been awake at the end of their performances. One well known composer of the distant past even killed himself over that.

With vocal songs they tend to be very short in comparison with some songs being so short you have to listen close are you would miss them. One of their most famous is just three lines

"Falling into the sky
Like a mackerel gone awry
Life is suffering"

Interestingly this is an extremely political song that almost was banned when it originally came out. It is a protest against the greed and class favoritism of the sky farmers. The last line referring to the ancient idea of their Japanese Buddhist ancestor which states life is suffering due to selfish desire. The first a direct reference to the sky farmers, the second to the idea they are the sea farmers "gone awry" As the mackerel is the sea farmers symbol. As sky farmers are traditionally heroes many were appalled at this blatant criticism. It also shares some similarities with a Japanese form called haiku, which was a kind of short poem of theirs. However it does not follow the formula closely.

Most songs are not that political, most being short songs about the fires. Fires being the spirits they believe give the Universe love or meaning. Food is also quite popular in song. Songs about romance tend to be a distant fourth behind drinking songs.

Puppet theater involves remote controlled robot puppets. These puppet plays are much more popular than ones that have people in them. As the robots are made to look like stylized people it is seen as preferable to "enslaving" humans to entertainment. On most worlds people do not see acting as enslavement unless it involves children or animals. There are worlds where children or animals act, but such world are quarantined for indecency. However they feel all acting is beneath human dignity or harmful to human health. Working through robots though is seen as acceptable.

The logic of this has some merit. These robot plays often involve doing things humans can not physically do. Their could possibly be a way to make it appear humans could do these things, but that kind of dishonesty is not approved of. Many of these plays take up entire islands with robots having enormous battles. Some though are actually quiet relationship dramas taking place in a single room. These are also seen as only good for robots as they can be programmed to literally feel the emotions the remote control tells them to feel. For a human this would be insincere and sincerity is very much at the heart of theater to them. "Theater" meaning all broadcasts as well as the live plays themselves.

Comedies however are done by a mixture of AIs and people. Often involving a duo with a lively AI and a human "straight guy"

Math games are their most intensely competitive and always involve gambling. They also are dominated by men. A man who can not do math well is taunted mercilessly. Related is that the sciences themselves are largely about gambling. A university gets most of its science money on betting whether they will come up with a great new discovery or some such. Universities sometimes go bankrupt in these bets which have been reigned in recent years.

The most popular math game is cards. This is somewhat more intensely mathematical than cards on most worlds. Indeed cards involve drawing cards with mathematical questions on them. The person has to figure a link that connects all the questions he drew as well as solving each one. The first to do so wins. A consistent loser can end up poor and culturally emasculated. With women entering the games the ideas are changing. Nowadays increasingly cards involves betting on entrance to science programs, which is opening the sciences to many women. Why the planet has the archaic view on women in science that leads to this would be a whole different essay.

Word games traditionally had been seen as less intense. Basically it involved creating impromptu sagas and taking reading tests. This is likely the most Icelandic derived element of their society. The sagas and poems even bear remarkable similarity to forms among those ancient people. In early times they even were done in an archaic language like purified Icelandic. The books considered best reading also bore features linked more with that place than Japan. Because of that it has been suggested the planet was settled by Icelandic women and Japanese men, though this seems unlikely.

Furthermore the theory that these competitions among women were less intense has recently been questioned. Though money rarely changed hands reputations could be won or lost in these competitions. Women even could become pariahs for failing to use language well in a way even a male math idiot could not. They could be fired from literature departments or even expelled from the judiciary as women dominated that too as it was seen as language involved. More shockingly women sometimes bet their very souls on their ability to write poems. Many of their fairy tales to this day involve soulless women doomed to haunt the land for all times for not using a rhyme scheme properly when they said they could. Though in modern times the major religions of the planet reject the idea such a thing could be possible or that they ever condoned it.

In conclusion they are a society where these elements vary from simple fun to life and death seriousness. A land of ancient origins but full of changes. Thank you for your time.

Works consulted

Food Ways in the Western Spiral Arm by The Mental Collective of Epsilon; Publisher Smith, Smith, and MacLeod

So You Want To Act by Anonymous; no known publisher

Folk Tales my Mother Taught Me by Her Majesty Empress Jeffriana XII of her Honored Empire

Reasons why Humans are Inferior: The Crystal Mind transmitted to everyone regardless of whether they wanted it or not.

The best and worst planets to get drunk: Melvin de Mars; Publisher Aretian Angel

The Japanese Diaspora: Cecil Alexander V by Xing University Press.

Protest Music: by the collective of Tral

What the hekla was Iceland: Linda Snorrisdottir; Dyson Sphere University Press.

Gamblers: A History by the AI that runs the Universal Core Library.

Copyright 2002 by Thomas R. and Bewildering Stories.