I took photos of San Dimas downtown, the oldest hardware store and the railroad station converted to a museum.
I used to access Yahoo Japan Auction site. It was probably in 2002. Every time,
I hit enter, the word “Avatar” in Japanese katakana appeared under a manga character. Characters seemed to change, and the word showed up in other sites. I still didn’t quite know what it meant, and I didn’t know how to spell it in English then.
To me, Avatarアバター sounded similar to “Albeiter” to which we write as
アルバイター. They are both in katakana because they are foreign words. And “Albeiter” means working persons in German. Today, Japanese use this word as part-time employees. It seems we have psychological habit of differentiating classes of words. Fulltime sounds formal, but part-time, less formal. Formality plays a major role in our culture and language. I’ll talk about that some other time, but anyhow, “albeiter” ended up “part-time employees” in Japanese. And I won’t be surprised if “tar” of avatar and “ter” of albeiter are connected in the ancient time.
So Avatar sounded to me definitely casual. After all, the word appeared under a manga character. Some of readers probably already know because of new movie, “Avatar.” But our memoir workshop members appeared unsure about it. In our last meeting, the leader asked us if we had seen the movie. I’m usually the last to know the meaning of English words. So it clicked in my mind. I bet Avatar is Sanskrit!
I unzipped my red backpack and searched for my digital dictionary.
The leader began talking about “Star War” movies and comparing with “Avatar.”
“It’s a Sanskrit word,” I said to the leader and turned to an Indian woman on my left and said, “You know Sanskrit!”
The Indian woman said nothing.
“What? What is it?” a member next to the leader said.
“She said Sanskrit,” the leader replied.
“It’s avatare in Sanskrit,” I said looking at my dictionary. “Ava means ‘descent’ and tare means ‘to cross over.’”
The Indian writer folded her hands on the table.
“Well, what does it mean?” the leader said looking into her eyes.
“Well?” I said.
The Indian writer stared at the wall across her. Her long black eyelashes batted.
“Well,” the leader said and wrinkled her nose.
“What does it really mean in Hindu?” I said.
“Incarnation,” the Indian woman said after a few more seconds, “Incarnation!” She raised her hand up.
“How wonderful ! We have a Sanskrit expert here!” I said.
Only a week ago, I saw the Indian writer in a book club. I thought her opinion interesting. Later, I met her at the entrance of a drug store. We began talking, and I asked her if she knew Sanskrit. She said she learned the ancient language for four years. I shook her hands. Gee, how lucky I am! Then, she invited me to her memoir workshop. There, we had an enlightening conversation as above.