Wednesday, October 17, 2007

My latest gig

Since I got back from Japan in June, I have joined the ranks for the unemployed -- hanging around the Employment Commission office, getting alerts from CareerBuilder, Indeed and, cranking out resumes, dreaming up cover letters, dashing off to the occasional interview, trying not to wait for the phone to ring. Getting my hopes up and finding myself crashing down with each rejection.

While waiting for the real thing to come along, I have started “babysitting” (eldersitting?) a couple in their 90s two nights/week. There is not a lot to do besides helping Mrs. C get ready for bed and turning Mr. C once in the night. He is bedridden with dementia (possibly Alzheimer’s) and has bedsores so he can’t stay in one position long. She is in a wheelchair. Basically, the family (who are friends of mine) want someone there in the night in case something happens. I’m not a nurse – far from it! In fact, this is so far outside my comfort zone, it’s not even on the same planet, but it’s good for me. My idealistic self is satisfied that I’m helping someone and I think it’s good for one to make sacrifices for their elders.

Last night I was working on my computer when Mrs. C asked me to kill a spider in the other room. Now people, I am deathly afraid of bugs! I can actually kill a daddy longlegs – no matter how big – because they curl up and get really small when you kill them. But this was one of those large, hairy, brown spiders. That is the kiss of death for me!

To really understand this, you’ve got to know that Mrs. C is not your typical sweet old lady. She is a rather patrician, autocratic 91-year old Southern lady who was born right after the turn of the century when there was still a huge separation in the classes in the south. Make no mistake about it – she is the lady of the house and I am the paid help. She can put you in your place with her silence and while her body is frail, her will has only become tempered through the years.

Last night, after giving Mr. C his meds, I asked Mrs. C if I could sit in the living room while she did her work in the study.

“Of course,” she said graciously.

So I settled into the armchair Mr. C used to sit in when he was able to sit up. I pull out my laptop and start playing a game with the sound off. In a few minutes, I see her traveling around the house, inspecting locks, checking that the dishes are done, making notes about what the day help will do tomorrow. I know she is up to something because she rarely moves around so much, even in her chair. I watch from the corner of my eye while playing the game. She will let me know in her own good time.

Sure enough, she finally speaks from the doorway separating the kitchen and dining room: “There’s a spider in here.”

“OK,” I call back, hoping she is going to kill it herself.

No such luck.

“Can you come kill it?”

“NO,” I think. “I’ll try,” I say.

I walk cautiously to the doorway, asking in a trembling voice where it is.

“In there,” she says with this cranky old lady tone that indicates I am an imbecile for not knowing. She points through the kitchen doorway to the dining room.

I move her wheelchair back and cautiously walk in. I spot a brown shape about the size of a flattened golf ball, gleaming, motionless on the cream carpet. Even from a distance of several feet, I can see that this is not one of the gray, spindly-legged insects we used to kill when we were kids. This creature is plump -- and it has hair.

“How am I going to kill it?” I ask in a shaky voice.

She tells me there’s a fly swatter in the kitchen. A fly swatter! For that huge animal! You’ve got to be kidding! I grab the fly swatter, warn Mrs. C that I’m afraid of spiders and march into the dining room. I call to Jesus for help (seriously!) and SWAT the plastic waffled square smack in the middle of the target. The spider jumps up about two feet in the air. I can feel the motion through the handle of the flyswatter and I squeek.

Mrs. C moves her wheelchair back out of the doorway and smiles. “Don’t have a heart attack,” she says sarcastically.

I quickly smack the monster again. Another jump. Another squeal.

It looks like it’s flat, but you can’t be sure. I know these rascals have a way of curling up and pretending to be dead, but as soon as your back is turned they unfurrow themselves and slither off into the darkness. All that smacking, jumping and squeeling for nothing? I think not.

“Now what do I do?” It’s a rhetorical question, but Mrs. C has an answer. “Step on it and make sure it’s dead.”

“Eeeeewwwah!” I step back. NO way!. I can just imagine me stepping on the spider with my athletic shoe, feeling his body through the rubber bottom and then looking at the squished carcass. Not happening.

Mrs. C snickers and I realize that she is having a great time.

I get an idea.

“Maybe you can run it over with your wheelchair?” ! I get a picture of stern Mrs. C resolutely pushing the wheels with her hands toward the spider, running it over with single-minded purpose.

She knows I’m kidding and offers a different solution. “Get a paper towel and squish it up so you know it’s dead,” she suggests.

Are you kidding me? Then I would really feel the shape of the body as it squished beneath my paper-towel protected hands. In fact, just thinking about it, I sense a phantom body disintegrating beneath my fingertips. I feel nauseated.

“I don’t think so, “ I say weakly.

She backs her wheelchair up and travels around the living room, waiting for me to figure it out.
I finally get a tall plastic kids’ toy – probably something she has around for the grandchildren to play with – and set it down near the flattened brown body.

Mrs. C silently rolls the chair back to the doorway. She is not about to miss this show.

With the flyswatter, I nudge the creature into the can, bracing myself for it to come to life and scamper away, or worse – jump again. No movement. Good sign. With my feet as far from the can as possible, I lean over and look inside the can – the spider is halfway on the lip, but half of the body is still on the carpet. If I pick up the can now, it will probably fall out and I’ll have to start all over again. I nudge a few more times, lean again and see that it is ¾ of the way inside the can. I grab the paper towel that Mrs. C had so helpfully offered earlier and pick up the edge of the can, holding it out in front of me like a snake handler with a basket of poisonous asps. Mrs. C watches casually from her chair, parked so she can see everything.

“Eww, Eww, Eww,” I say in time to my quick-step run to the bathroom. I look resolutely NOT into the can and pray to God and Jesus that the spider is really dead and won’t crawl out of the can onto my hand. As I reach the open toilet, I realize that I will have to move my hand to the bottom of the can.

Eeeeewwah, that means that a mere ¼ inch of plastic will be separating my exposed skin from the grotesque body inside the can. But I have to do it. Mrs. C is watching.

I maneuver my hand to the bottom of the can, still holding the paper towel to add a 16th of an inch more protection between my hand and the spider. I can literally feel the hairy legs invading the sensitive skin of my hand as I imagine the spider crawling, bouncing or sliding out. I dump it in the toilet and make myself look to be sure it is truly disposed of. I flush – twice -- and breath a sigh of triumph!

“All done,” I call casually to Mrs. C as I exit the bathroom.

“Thank you,” she says regally as she wheels back to her study.

As if nothing had happened.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Look what we missed

Logged onto Yahoo today and found out that people all over Japan are finding millions of yen in their mailboxes. Sure, right after we leave Japan. Why couldn't they have started this a few month earlier?

According to a report on Yahoo news, residents of a Tokyo apartment building found unsealed plain envelopes in their mailboxes with cash inside. The total was more than $15,000.

And that's not all. A woman in Kobe, just a mere 40 minutes from us by bullet train, found a million yen in her mailbox. One hundred yen equals about $1.20 so you do the math. I know it's crazy, but I'm thinking that I lived near Kobe. I have a friend in Kobe. If I had been in Japan, it coulda been me! :)

On top of that, someone has been leaving money in men's restrooms asking people to do good deeds. Hey, I know some men. With six degrees of separation between me and everyone in the world, it could have been someone who knew someone I know!

If only we had stayed in Japan. We might have been the beneficiaries of some of the following yen from heaven:

  • Bills worth 960,000 yen were inexplicably seen "falling" in front of a convenience store.

  • A 67-year-old woman who found an envelope containing 10 million yen of stacked bills in her mailbox.

  • A woman walking on a bridge over Tokyo's Sumida River told officers that she saw bills falling at her feet from an elevated expressway above on July 6.

No one knows who is flinging around all this money in one of the wealthiest cities in the world. Too bad they couldn't have taken some of it, flown to someplace that really needs it and tossed it around there. But my cynicism is taking over. Pardon me.

In typical Japanese fashion, those who found the money took it to police. Although the woman on the Tokyo bridge did say she saw some deviants pocketing the cash. For shame.

Dutifully, police are holding most of the money in case the rightful owner eventually decides to reveal his/her identity. Never mind the fact that the person obviously want to remain anonymous. Protocol must be followed. After one year, the people who found it can claim it. Meanwhile, those who were not so law-abiding will be enjoying the nefarious fruits of their evil greed.

I'm sorry to say that if I had been in Japan and the money had come in MY mailbox, it never would have crossed my mind to turn it in. And if I had seen money flying around outside a convenience store, I would have assumed that God was having a chuckle as He skipped the middleman to get us the money we needed. I wouldn't have even felt a twinge of guilt as I pocketed the yen from heaven. How about you?

If you're interested in the details, here's the link to the news story:

Sunday, May 27, 2007


Yep, we're going home.
Our wild and wacky year in Japan is almost over -- and not a moment too soon.
The past few months have been very difficult for both of us, as numerous blog posts have indicated. A few weeks ago when my daughter tearfully told me she wanted to go back to American by herself even if I didn't come with her, I knew it was time to go. The odd thing is that at the beginning of this month, I was planning to sign a contract for another year. But my daughter surprised me with the depth of her homesickness.
Around the same time, the managers at work told me that the higher ups thought it was inappropriate for my daughter to hang around at the school when I was working. That was a shock and disappointment. After all, one of the major attractions of this job -- and the only reason I ever consented to working five nights a week -- was the fact that my daughter could come to the school with me. She wasn't just a kid getting in everyone's way, but she had endeared herself to my adult students, was a playmate for the grade school kids and actually assisted me with the pre-schoolers. I wasn't sure if I even wanted to try to convince them she was an asset.
Then about a week later I became physically ill from all the stress. When you put it all together, it was a clear indication to me that our time here was over -- for now.
So now begins, for the second time in my life, the "last times":
  • the last time we will see the cherry blossoms in spring (How prophetic that cherry blossom/Easter post with Wayne's translation of "life is fleeting")
  • the last time I will dress Bonnie in her navy blue uniform, button up the huge round buttons, help her with the way-too-heavy backpack and say goodbye as she joins the kids next-door to meet the neighborhood "han" as they walk to school
  • the last time we will go to the 24-hour grocery store next to our apartment (Hallows) and 10 p.m. and get milk for the next morning

  • the last time I will go to the window during our break and watch the taxi drivers polish their cars or sit around smoking, talking and drinking coffee out of vending machine cans (see picture)
  • the last time I will see some of the students who have captured my heart this year

  • the last time I will muddle through some important communication concerning my daughter's education, broken heart, physical condition, etc in Japanese
  • the last time I will drive the adorable mini car belonging to my company
  • the last time I will go to Karaoke with Wayne and my students, listening to them sing in English and entertaining them with my Japanese repertoire
  • the last time I will take my shoes off at the genkan
  • the last time I will smell tatami mats when I come home at night
  • the last time Bonnie and I will cut through the park near our house on our way home from the train station and I'll watch her run ahead so she can slide down the slide before I catch up to her
  • the last time I will take a Shinkansen to Kobe and catch sight of my best friend, Kaori, waiting for us on the other side of the ticket gate (this one makes me cry as I write it)
  • the last time I will watch a kid seriously take out an eraser and carefully fix the mistakes on his homework after I have corrected it
  • the last time I'll see my daughter's artwork on the whiteboard at school. (We were singing a song about the letters "N-S-X", don't you know?)
  • the last time I will be able to make a pun in Japanese and see if my students "get" it

My daughter is so happy to be going home, I'm afraid she will miss all these chances for a last time. Poor dear, she has no idea what she is going to miss in a few months. But I do. It occurs to me that I never expected to come back to Japan when I left it forever in 2001. So I can't take this "sayonara" too seriously.

In Japanese "sayonara" is something you say when you're going to be gone for a long time. "Jya, mata, ne?" is what you say when you expect to see the person again soon. Life is too strange and unpredictable for me to believe this is really "sayonara." So, as I am drinking in all these "last times," there is a small part of me that is thinking, "Jya, mata, ne?"

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Only in Japan

What is it? A hamster? A mushroom? No! It's a stuffed tofu!

Only in Japan.

My friend just left from a two-week visit to Japan and before she left, she told me all the things she found unique about the wild and wacky world of the rising sun.
  • Calpis Soda -- the name of a very popular softdrink. In fact, it's my daughter's favorite.
  • Lunch tickets at the rest stop -- we took a short drive on the freeway (which cost a LOT of yen) and stopped at a scenic rest area for lunch. I guess they don't get many foreigners on the road because there was no English whatsoever. This wouldn't be so bad except for the fact that to get lunch, you have to decide what you want from a menu with no pictures -- just Japanese writing -- and push the appropriate buttons. Then the machine spits out tickets for what you bought, which you present to the cooks who cook it and call out your number. Luckily for me, most menu items are written in "katakana," which is the phonetic alphabet for foreign words, so I could figure most of it out -- chi-key-n, ra-mah-n, ka-ray-rah-ee-su and so on.
  • tofu pillow -- Where else on the planet could you get a child's stuffed toy in the shape of tofu?
  • curry cheese fries - We stopped at Wendy's for some good old fashioned American food and had this with our singles.
  • grocery carts -- instead of pushing a huge cart, you get a basket, which most people then set on the cart -- or you can just carry it around. My friend thought this was most handy.
  • vending -- There is literally a machine on every corner for drinks. You can also find just about anything else, from soup to porn magazines, but, for some strange reason you never see snacks.
  • set meals -- Something you can find at most fast food places in the U.S. comes at most restaurants. You order the main dish that you want and for a few dollars more you can get the "set" which usually includes bread or rice, soup and/or a salad, and a drink. At one Italian restaurant it even included your choice of red or white wine!
  • business hotels -- And we MEAN "business." The hotel we stayed at in Kobe refused to let my child stay with us -- at any price. These are cheap (by Japanese standards) and spartan -- usually a bed and a TV. Ours didn't even have a window!

Coming Up Next . . .

More of

Wild and Wacky


Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Time of our lives

Who would've thought? In the midst of our first bowling excursion the other week, Bonnie turns to me and says, "Mommy, we're having the time of our lives, aren't we?"
On the left you can see her standing in front of the alley while her ball goes straight down the middle, heading to pick up a spare. Of course, it didn't hurt that the alley the kids were using had a "fence" on it to keep the balls out of the gutter. On the right of her is my ball heading not so neatly down the middle of the lane, veering into no man's land.
Later, we tried out the conraption in the next picure, which is for even younger children to use. I love the way Wayne is pointing like the hero of Moby Dick spotting the great white whale in the distance. This ball rolled every so slowly to its final destination, knocking over seven pins in slow motion. The kids were delighted. The little boy, Koken, is the son of our manager. He is a year behind Bonnie in school, but they are great friends. Bonnie has seen soaring castles, ghost-faced geisha, eaten feasts, dressed in summer kimono and flown on a farris wheel here in Japan, but BOWLING earned the description, "time of our lives." I wonder if that had anything to do with the fact that she beat me. Next time I'm bowling on the kids' lane!

Monday, April 09, 2007

Hippety Hoppety

Easter in Japan. Hmm . . .

Well, Easter in Japan is even more bereft of Christ than Christmas was. At least then we had a tree and a cake and some presents. But Easter is completely unrecognized. So we had to make our own.

About a month ago I got online and basically begged some of our friends to send us some Easter stuff and boy, did they come through! Here is a picture of Bonnie (blurry cuz I took it with my cell phone -- I was out of film at the time) with the Easter basket full of stuff that people sent! Note the pink plastic Ariel basket that we got free when we bought six cans of Grape Fanta last summer. Oh well, she didn't care!

Since several people sent us egg-dying kits, we decided to educate some of the kids I teach at the English school here. The little boy is Yuki, a kindergartener who was fascinated with the “magic” crayon (made of white wax). I made a sample egg first and they couldn't believe how the wax design was preserved in white while the rest of the egg turned into candy colors. Next is Yuka , another Kg-er looking duly thrilled while dipping her egg. Thanks for that Kodak moment, Yuka! Kids had a chance to practice their English while asking, “Whose egg is that?” “I like blue,” etc. They each made three or four eggs and took them home. They didn't believe me when I told them they could eat them.

And what do you think we did on Easter Sunday? No, nothing as mundane as, say, going to church! No way! We had a cherry-blossom viewing party with our students.

This party is called "ohanami" in Japanese. "o" is an honorific added to words to give them special significance. It is like saying, "honorable cherry blossom viewing party." The word "hana" means "flower" and "mi" comes from "mimasu," whish means "see." So, there you have it: O-hana-mi: Cherry blossom viewing party.

Originally I wanted to have the party near the end of the month when my friend will be visiting from the U.S., but as my students watched the cherry blossom forecast (yes, there is such a thing here - you can even get updates sent to your cell phone and Yahoo Japan has a special weather page for the forecast), they informed me that it would be far too late if we waited until then. So we pushed it forward to April 1st. However, there weren't any blossoms in our part of the country that week so we changed it to April 8th. I completely forgot it was Easter Sunday. When I realized what I had done, I briefly considered changing the date, but then thought it might be a fun way to spend the day. And it really was.

Bonnie and I met our manager, Yuri and her son Koken, along with the other English teacher, Wayne, and drove to the local Buddhist temple (or is it a Shinto Shrine? I forget). Anyway, we skipped the pagan part and went to the park next door which was overflowing with pink, cottony cherry trees in full blossom. One by one, our students found us (we had told them simply to come to the park at 1 p.m. and look for the two gaijin -- and it worked!) and helped us get the grill going (Wayne carried it up to the top of the hill!) with a little help from some other picnickers who actually had matches (oops!).

Everyone had brought packs of meat to grill and share, along with dipping sauce, rice balls, salad and chips. Yuri had been carrying what looked like a large, blue plastic briefcase, which stunningly transformed into a picnic table -- complete with benches. To the right is an actual picture of our actual students (Hiromi, Aya and Hatsue) at our actual party! After we ate, the kids (Wayne, Bonnie, Kouken and some of my students) found some old cardboard boxes, smashed them flat and used them to slide down the very steep hill next to us.

I sat on another hill overlooking the city, the rows of cherry trees laid out like pastel clouds below me, thinking of how the ohanami is viewed in Japanese culture. Since the cherry blossoms are only around for a short time every year, they are especially venerated. To see them at their peak takes good timing and good luck. Almost everyone in Japan tries to find some time to sit and enjoy the cherry blossoms before they are gone.

Wayne said it reminded him of a famous Japanese proverb he had just learned:

ichi go, ichi e


which he translated into English:

“Cherish every encounter, for it will never recur."

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

A Happy Birthday part 1 -- obligations

Japan is a society of complicated relationships and obligations. I feel really scholarly writing that, but the truth is that I barely have a clue how it all works! It can drive you crazy, but sometimes you can try and make it work in your favor! As I started blogging about my birthday trip to Kobe, I got caught up in the detail of our train ride there and our experience with the conductor, which is a great example of saving face and obligations in Asia and there's some interesting stuff about the train system here, too. So rather than blogging about the trip all at once, I think I'll write about this trip in installments. Here's part 1: obligations.

It seems my best times in Japan are the sightseeing trips. Even though I did so much of that before, it's fun to see it all again through Bonnie's eyes. I had a birthday coming up last weekend so decided at the last minute to visit my best friend, Kaori, who lives in Kobe (site of the devastating earthquake in 1995). We invited our friend Carla along since she had never been there. Although I walked so much my whole body ached when I got back, it was a wonderful time and a very happy day!

We got up early and walked about 10 minutes to the train station ear us -- me dragging my suitcase behind me and Bonnie with a very full My little Pony backpack on her shoulders. We took the 9:10 local train from our little town to Okayama (about a 25 minute ride on the local train) so we could catch a shinkansen to Kobe. The irony is that we live near "Shin" Kurashiki station, which is the shinkansen stop for Kurashiki. But it is such a small stop that there is only a train going through here once every one or two hours and these trains stop at all the small shinkansen stations on the way to Kobe. These "slow" bullet trains are called Kodama. They actually go about 200 mph, but they make so many stops that it takes a lot longer to get to your destination. So if we hopped on the shinkansen here, it would take us amost 90 minutes to get to Kobe, but if we caught one in Okayama, we'd get there in 35 minutes! Needless to say, we went to Okayama!

The train station was extremely crowded and we had mistimed our connection so we had to run -- dragging our suitcases behind us. Unfortunately, we missed the Hikari train to Kobe. The Hikari is an express shinkansen which makes fewer stops. That train takes about 45 minutes. Luckily, the next train was a Nozomi, which is a superexpress and only makes one stop between Okayama and Kobe. Even though it left 30 minutes after the Hikari, it got there only 10 minutes later so Kaori didn't have to wait long.

The train was about 8 cars long so we hopped on the nearest car and began looking for a seat. For about a $5 surcharge you can ride in a reserved seat, but I've never had a problem getting a seat on a Saturday morning so I thought I'd save some money.


The train was standing room only. We walked from the first car to the last car, looking for a seat, but couldn't find one. Even when all the nonreserved seats are taken, it is still possible to sit in a reserved seat and pay the surcharge on the train when the conductor checks your ticket. I had done this many times when I lived in Japan before, so I have a habit of never buying a reserved seat unless I know the train will be crowded. The train conductors go through the train checking tickets of those sitting in the reserved cars. They have a little computer they carry in their hands where they mark off who they have checked and it shows which seats are reserved on which stops. I have even seen conductors ask people to move around seats so families or friends can sit together.

Rather than dragging all our stuff up one car and down another, I nabbed the nearest conductor and asked him if there were any reserved seats we could buy. Actually, since I couldn't remember the word for "reserved seat," I told him that we wanted to sit down and then looked kind of helpless.

He got out his computer and checked once, checked again. Told us to wait a minute. He hailed another conductor and they muttered together but kept sucking their breath between their teeth (bad sign) and saying "musukashii" -- literally: "it's difficult" (translation: "no.")

Sine I knew he was now under an obligation to help us (since I asked him and hadn't yet said, "oh well, that's OK, never mind), I just kept looking helpless and hopeful. He never could bring himself to tell me there was nothing. He did say it was sold out and finally, I said, "Is it impossible?" and he said, "You're right." He just couldn't admit that he had to let me down! So I finally released the poor guy from his obligation and told him we would stand and asked him when the train would get to Kobe. Since it was only 20 more minutes, I told him that was a short time and we'd be fine.

After that, Carla and I stopped the young lady who was trundling drinks and snacks through the train, got some hot coffee and began trudging back through the train to the first available nonreserved car, hoping someone would get off on the one stop in Himeji on the way. And, yippee! They did! I kept out an experienced eagle eye and saw two people getting up from a block of three seats. I figured if a couple of us gaijin (foreigners) sat there, the other person would leave so I made my move, inching toward the seat before someone could get it from the other direction. Then the third person got up, too, so we nabbed the block of seats and gratefully sat down.

Once the train was underway again, the conductor came through the car and gave a little nod when he saw that we had found seats. I'm sure he was relieved that Japan Railways didn't lose face with its foreign customers that day! Hey, sometimes the system drives me crazy (like when I'M the one with the obligation to someone) but you might as well try and make it work for you when you can. :)

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Two and a half women

We just got back from an interview for Planet Japan, a podcast originating in Okayama, hosted by our friend Doug (we met him when Agape bought a school in Okayama -- he is the former owner.) He was interested in our adoption story and this is the first time I've talked about it on the radio. I think we were a departure from the typical "light-hearted look at life in Japan" episode, but it was an interesting experience for us and Bonnie had a good time. In addition, Doug has a huge collection of DVDs and he lent us some! So now we're watching Leave It To Beaver and Andy Griffith. Yippee!

You can listen to the poscast at: It's called Two and a Half Women. (Doug interviewed another woman about a different topic -- guess Bonnie is the half!)

The shownotes are at:

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

nametag sends me over the edge

Having an interesting night tonight. I just lost it and cried for the last half hour because I saw Bonnie’s PE shirt laying out for school, which made me realize that I had to write her name and grade and classroom letter on it before PE tomorrow because I havent’ done it yet, even though she’s been in school for three months now.

And the reason I haven’t done it is because it has to be done in a certain way – the letters have to be a certain size, done with a specific kind of pen on this material you can buy at the store that has to be cut to the precise size and ironed on. But, since she will be in second grade in April (the school year starts in April here) I will have to change it all again so I should really baste it on rather than iron it on . . . and I don’t’ know where the iron-on material is that I bought to do this with and I can’t find the paper the school gave me with the precise measurements and placement of everything AND to top it all off and what sent me over the edge is that I don’t know how to write it all in Japanese and I can’t read the Japanese instructions blah blah blah.

AND there is more that I can’t even begin to get into here about school. I am really stressing out her teacher, apparently, and there is misunderstandings on all sides and I can't communicate so really can’t straighten it out. And I don’t want them to treat Bonnie any differently than the other students, but they are constantly offering to do it so I thought it was OK, but maybe it isn’t . . .

And the e-mail list that Iused to vent to isn't safe anymore because someone on there thinks I'm a negative person who is ruining Bonnie's life. So every time I post something, I am wondering what she will think of it and if I'm proving her right that I really am a negative person who is ruining Bonnie's life.

And I think everyone hates me.

And I hate myself most of all.

And I can’t go back to the U.S. cuz I can’t get a job there so I should really stay here another year, but Bonnie really wants to go home and cries every day before school.

Oh, and today on the way home from school some boys were pulling her backpack and supposedly calling her names (but who knows cuz B doesn’t speak Japanese, but the pulling the backpack was not nice anyway . . .) and I feel guilty that I have her here.

And I looked at her baby pictures tonight and realized that I will never, ever be going back to China for another baby. Ever.

And one of my favorite students told me tonight that she is quitting in April to move to Turkey and live with a guy she met on the internet . . .

So I just started crying and couldn’t stop. And I know this is culture shock because I just read an article that says when you have culture shock you act like this.

And that helps a little bit.

But, being me, I needed a place to vent. So here you go. My blog entry for today. . . If you reply, please be gentle with me!

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Finally-some sightseeing

Last Friday night I told Bonnie about a Japanese castle in Okayama and she seemed interested in it so on Saturday I asked her if she wanted to go see it. After making sure she understood this was not a Cinderella type of castle but a man's kind of castle for fighting battles, we put on our walking shoes and caught the train to the heart of Okayama.

After a short ride on the trolley down the center of Okayama's main street, we hopped off and walked past Korokuen garden (one of the three most famous gardens in Japan, but not so great to see this time of year) to the outskirts of the castle.

Okayama Jo ("jo" means "castle")is one of only two black castles in Japan. The rest of them are white. In fact, one of the most famous castles in Japan is in Himeji, about 40 minutes east of Okayama by local train. Himeji Jo (White Egret Castle) belonged to Ikeda Terumasa, who was a rival of Ukita Hideie, feudal lord of Okayama. For Japanese history buffs, Ukita was an adopted son of Japan's first Shogun,Tototomi Hideyoshi, who united the whole country under a single authority in the 1600s. When Ukita built his own castle in 1597, he painted it black and called it Crow Castle (U-Jo) as a joke. The castle has also been called Kin-u-jo (Gold Crow Castle) because it's top roof tiles were gilded in real gold. Today there are some golden fish topping the turrets (something Bonnie noticed right away) which are really spectaular to see. At night, the castle is lit with spotlights and since it stands on a hill overlooking the Asahi River, it is a breathtaking sight if you happen to be taking a train over the water(which we have done many times).

While Himeji castle still stands, the original Okayama Jo, which had been recognized as a national treasure in the 1930s, was destroyed by U.S. bombs in WWII. In 1966 it was rebuilt using reinforced concrete and is an almost pefect replica of the original (something the Japanese seem very proud of). The only buiilding which completely escaped the air raid and subsequent fire was the Tsukimi Yagura (Turret for Moon-Viewing). This kind of turet is extremely rare anywhere in Japan. In addition to moon viewing, the turret was used to protect the castle from raids so it has peepholes ringing the bases of the walls. These are also quite unusual among Japanese castles. Bonnie was fascinated by them, as well as the natural stone walls made with round stones, one layer on top ofthe other (called "nozura-zumi). The corners are filled with smaller pebbles. She was surprised that the stones were real and wanted me to take a picture. Showing her discriminating eye, she later asked if she could play on the original foundation stones that were brought to a garden inside the castle walls during the 1966 reconstruction. Since I saw some guys using them as benches while they stopped for a smoke break, I told her to go ahead. She had a good time jumping from stone to stone and the only way I could convince her to stop was by pointing out that it was getting late if we still wanted to go inside.

After paying a noiminal $3 (half price for Bonnie) we got to see the museum inside. Unfortunately it was all in Japanese so we had to content outselves with climbing to the sixth floor to look out the topmost turret (right above a gorgeous golden fish) at Korakuen garden, which I'm sure would be beautiful if it wasn't winter. We also saw some the old samurai armour (which scared Bonnie) and pictures of the old castle and the reconstruction. Bonnie got to ride inside a replicated palanquin and pretend to be a Japanese princess, but I couldn't convince her to try on a kimono and wig and pose for a picture. When I lived in Okayama before, the castle had been closed for remodeling so this was my first chance inside. I really felt that Bonnie was finally getting some exposure to the culture of Japan and I was pleased that she seemed to enjoy it. Ever since we got back, she has been drawing pictures of the castle so I guess she liked it. She has even promised me that when my friend comes to visit in April, she will show her how to get to the castle while I'm at work.

Most of all, it was a nice day for us to bond as a family and share some of the culture. It was one of the best days I've had in Japan since we got here in June. Hope some of you can come visit us and see the castle for yourselves. I have to admit, I hope I have piqued some interest. We would really love to have some friends share this once-in-a-lifetime experience with us.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

All Is Well

This is a picture of a typical Japanese Christmas cake. Ours looked a lot like this -- even the pink Santa! These cakes are VERY small and VERY pricey -- about $50 for this one that was maybe 6" across!

Just celebrated our first Christmas in Japan. Granted, I had lived here six years before, but didn’t spend many Christmases here and when I did, it was with other Americans. This year we were invited to a party at the Shimizu’s home. Ayano is Bonnie’s best friend and since her mom watches Bonnie three days a week while I work, Bonnie is like family. It had some of the trappings of an American Christmas, but was just a little bit – off. How many of the following surprise you?

When: The main event is Christmas Eve. In fact, by December 25th Christmas food and decorations are drastically discounted at the stores.
Where: Homes vs. church. The churches that had a candlelight service had them on the 22nd or 23rd (Friday or Saturday this year). On Christmas Eve, a Sunday, when you would fully expect a church service to be held – nothing.
Who: Christmas is not about family – that is New Year’s day. Christmas Eve is a time to have a romantic evening with your boyfriend or girlfriend! Christmas Day is a workday like any other. Fortunately, we got the day off (my first holiday since I got here in June), but had to make up the classes we missed. So . . . was it really a holiday?
What: Not surprising that Christmas is about presents and Santa, rather than Jesus. We have the same problem even in the U.S., but what surprised me is that it’s all about GETTING rather than giving. At Ayano’s party, the night was all about the kids – felt like a birthday. And the presents! Keep in mind that these are people Bonnie barely knew (Ayano’s uncles and aunts). She got a gorgeous pink confection of a princess dress with battery-operated lights embedded in it; a grocery store set for her Licca (Japanese Barbie) doll with food, shopping cart, shelves, check-out counter, etc.; a kind of sewing machine that makes beaded necklaces; a very expensive make-up kit; and a drawing set. I saw all these things at Toys R Us and each cost nearly $50. We had gotten Ayano a bathrobe, pajamas and slippers from the Disney Store online and had them all personalized with her name in English, but it was quite obvious that I should have gotten her a toy.
How: Shortly after we got to the party, people started bringing out these huge gifts for the girls, who tore them all open in less than five minutes. No time to admire what they got, not time to say thank you, no time to even pretend you liked it – just on to the next present. Then we had Christmas cake and ice cream. Turn off the lights, blow out the candles, eat. There were no gifts for the grownups at all. The kids did no GIVING but all receiving. And Bonnie was the only one who said thank you for anything!
Despite these differences, it was a lot of fun. We played Bingo and ate a lot of good food. Bonnie even won me a coffee maker and a set of chopsticks. We came home after midnight and opened our presents to each other. Although I had spent nearly $200 on her Christmas presents (thanks to a generous gift from America), they paled in comparison to what she had just received at the party. I tried not to, but felt a little bad. When I was growing up, my best presents were always from my mom. No one else even came close. And up ‘til now the same was true for Bonnie. Still, she seemed fine with it all and when it came time to play with all her new Christmas stuff, the tea set I had gotten her was the first thing she took out and set up, so maybe old mom did OK after all. LOL!
Bonnie tumbled into bed after midnight and I waited until 2 a.m. for her to fall asleep so I could put some stuff in her stocking from Santa. We were expecting company Christmas morning at 10 so I set the alarm for 9:45. We jumped out of bed and took off in our pajamas to pick up our friend Carla who lives about 5 minutes away. She doesn’t have a car so I told her I’d pick her up. She brought LOTS of presents and a potato casserole. After opening up the tons of stuff she got us (including a beautiful lacquer Japanese jewelry box – a gift from her Sunday School class to me!) Wayne (the other teacher at our school) and his mom (visiting him from the U.S.) arrived. More presents. More food. Grownups sitting around the table, drinking coffee, listening to Christmas carols downloaded to my laptop. Bonnie sitting on the floor in the midst of a heap of torn paper, ribbons, overflowing plastic bags of discarded wrappings and pieces of cardboard boxes that held Barbie dolls with new scarves, clothing and socks scattered around her. For a few hours I forgot that I was in Japan. I forgot my troubles at work, money woes, worries about the future. It was Christmas morning. All was well.

Monday, January 01, 2007

. . . and a happy new year!

Another gem from a friend on my adoption list. She got the following holiday card:

Let's Bond

Inside it reads simply:
It's 007

Happy 007 to all of you who are bonding with me through this blog!