Observations from the Land of the Family Moped

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It’s the strangest thing, but every time I leave Japan it  makes me realize how much I love living in Japan and also how incredibly and truly bizarre it is.  I’ve heard people say that Japan is not “truly Asia” and I had an inkling of what they meant but I never truly understood it until we ventured  to Thailand this past week.  Japan truly is an entity of it’s own.  I have been living in this bubble and 7 months have gone by in a flash.

As soon as we arrived at Bangkok airport and I stumbled into the ladies room, I realized that I was no longer in Japan. This realization came not because of the fascinating writing all over the place, or because of all the palm trees I could see through the window, or the fact that they had both a “Buddhist Monk Prayer Room” and a “Muslim prayer room” within steps of getting off the plane.

What gave it away was that suddenly it was VERY loud.  The other major warning was as  I entered the bathroom, there was a Thai woman standing there stripping her shirt off and bathing in the public sink half naked.   I entered the toilet stall and stared in wonder thinking,  “Where is the high tech seat?  How is my ass going to get fresh?  When is the last time they CLEANED this place?”.  After the initial shock of seeing naked people and remembering that ONLY in Japan will you find such sanitary bathrooms, I was on my way.

I’m not going to bore you and share my  vacation stories with you about the luxurious resort I stayed at.  Never have I felt like the upper middle class WASP that apparently I have become  until this vacation.  And , admittedly, I really enjoyed not cooking, cleaning, or trying to hard to fit in for a whole week.  I basked in the luxury , the quiet, and the stunning scenery.  I enjoyed the company of my two men, big and little.  It was pure indulgence and pure amazing.

More interestingly,  let me tell you about the things I saw when we left the oasis of the resort.  Stray dogs roaming the streets, entire families riding on one  moped (I’m talking 5 or 6 people including babies and kids smooshed on here), and people driving portable cafes made from home made carts attached to mopeds.  There were men riding atop ladders that were strapped to the back of trucks, kids sitting piled 3 high in the back of Tuk Tuk’s while carrying baskets of things, and school buses going by at high speed with legs dangling out the back door and arms and heads peeking through the open slats.  I even saw a school bus that had a roof deck (no children were on it thank GOD, but I’m pretty sure that sometimes there are).

I saw monks in beautiful orange robes, with tattoos, talking on cell phones.  There were temples that were painted in the most bright colors and intricate patterns.  Gold was everywhere you looked.  Commotion and movement in every single corner as far as the eye could see.   There were wild monkeys, who inhabited a hill atop the city, owning their kingdom and snatching ice cream and cookies from any children who dared to get too close.  They were just as comfortable approaching a human and taking what they desired as they were swinging away with it into the treetops.

The highways were littered with stand after stand after stand selling pineapples.  Fruit spilled out from people’s moped carts , all of it for sale.  Kitschy shops popped up every few feet selling bright tapestries, wooden elephants, and silk scarfs.  These alternated with food stalls  serving everything from smoothies, to noodles, to mangos and sticky rice, to whole fish.  The road sides were a rainbow of colors due to all the fresh fruits and vegetables.

After living in Japan for 7 months, if I were hard pressed to describe the country  and it’s people in 5 words, I would have to say “Disciplined, Simple, Safe, Clean, and Polite”.  My 5 words for Thailand would have to be, “Spicy, Loud, Hectic, Pulsing, and Vibrant” .

Allow me to give you some comparisons.  I spend much of my time  visiting temples and shrines here in Japan.  It’s one of my favourite activities, truth be told.   Here, they are  often very simple, wooden structures, with some elaborations in the roof and beautiful clean nature surrounding them.  People are always quiet and respectful and they are immaculately kept.  In Thailand, the temples have stray dogs roaming and barking every where and you had to do a special kind of dance not to step in their shit or be attacked by one.   Inside these fascinating and garish temples, there were bright flashing lights, gold everywhere, and even a strobe light, lighting up Buddha on top of a garish tower.  Nothing says “BUDDHA” like a strobe light, right?  I also saw a monk playing what seemed like Thai hip hop music on his cell phone while chatting to some local workers.

In Japan, you can rarely find a café with outdoor seating, and if you do, it is likely in a garden or some lovely tranquil spot.   It’s been explained to me that “eating outdoors is too dirty and hectic”.  People do not walk and eat and if you get “take out” what that means is “Take your ass home and eat it there because I don’t want to see you eating in public”.  In Thailand, you can have the opportunity to eat anything, anywhere, anytime.  We sat in a small café for an afternoon beer and it’s door sized windows were all thrown open.  We watched herds of mopeds go by. Pollution and smog filtering in through the opening.   It was loud, bustling , and made for great people watching.  We later ate delicious crispy duck for about 1.50 USD while sitting on the sidewalk.

I found in Thailand, people were loud and friendly and almost rowdy in nature.  So many people came up to my son and put their arm around him or tousled his hair.  We went on a beautiful kayaking trip and our guide , Noi, picked him up and called him “boy” all day.  At the end of the evening, he set up a hammock for “boy” and chatted with us under the stars in his very limited English.  He asked me if I had been to the “Torture Farm” and I was slightly horrified and said, “NO” and he said, “You should take your son”.  After several odd looks between us, and some awkward silences,  we managed to sort out he meant “Tortoise Farm” and I felt slightly better about letting this guy touch my kid all day.  He really was  just trying to make a connection and that was more important to him than saying the right thing.  I cherish the time we got to spend with this local man sharing our stories and trying to connect.

Here in Japan, people often approach my son but it is tentatively and with shy smiles.  I’ve had elderly people ask a younger Japanese person to translate “Is it okay if I speak to him”.  People are very polite but reserved and careful about their interactions with us.  As soon as we boarded the plane to come back , we realized we truly were “the foreigners” as where we live, there are so few people NOT from Japan.  And though I love living in this place, each month I understand a little more about the fact that Japan truly is a “closed” culture that has maintained it’s sameness for centuries. They enjoy having foreign visitors, but you will never be part of it.   We are not part of it, but we are pleased to be allowed to be on the fringe for now.

Now lets talk food, since we all love it.  My taste buds are still screaming from all the delicious foods , both simple and complex, we ate in Thailand.  My intestines are also still screaming a bit.  Every morning I awoke to fresh mangoes, passion fruit and pineapple.  This alone, made me want to stay forever, to forfeit returning to Japan where it costs two dollars for an apple and one that is not that good.  The dishes were laden with citrus, and spice, and cilantro and herbs.  My mouth is watering just remembering it all.  There were vegetables in everything.  I would trade a million bowls of ramen for just a few stir fried dishes from Thailand.

After a week, it was truly time to go back “home”.  You know ,the home that isn’t really our home, but will do because we have no “home”.  It was hard to leave those tranquil blue waters, those delicious  mangos, and all those people who just wanted to get to know us.  All this being said, I am still madly and deeply in love with living in Japan.  After a long flight, we had to board the train and we were oh so tired.  Paul got off and as the doors were closing, he realized he had left his back pack on there. We watch the train pull away.  If this had been anywhere else in the world we would have been in full scale panic.   Sure enough, as only can happen in Japan, he was able to go retrieve it this morning at the same station and every single cent and item was still in it’s exact place.  This could ONLY happen here in Japan.

My week in Thailand was like I had an affair  with Japan’s spicy, dirty, younger brother.  It was so good I may go back for more.  Maybe I’m just old, but I really do love simple, quiet, and respectful in the end.   I am just grateful for the spice and variety of my life.   I look forward to our next foray into the “real Asia” , Taiwan, here we come!

 

 

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Pride , Tradition, and HUGE Gonads (not necessarily in that order).

 

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Last summer, one sparkling and lazy day, I found myself floating down a beautiful river in New Hampshire.  I had great friends with me, we had great beer, and we had not a care in the world. The water temperature was perfect.  Our children were all floating along merrily in a giant raft village up ahead.  Life could not have been better.

We stopped at a sandy embankment, left our rafts, and all jumped in to cool off.  I was talking to my friend when I realized I had lost track of my son (who thankfully was wearing a life preserver).  When I looked up next, I saw him, my little 7 year old monkey, climbing a very steep embankment.  He was scrambling up tree roots and dirt was tumbling down into the river as he climbed toward a rope swing about 30 feet higher.

My heart pretty much stopped and as I went to scream , “GET DOWN FROM THERE”, my friend gently put her hand on my shoulder and said, “Just don’t look, he’s fine”.  I wanted to cry because though I’ve done similar things in my life, I just didn’t think MY 7 year old was ready for this.  All the kids up there were twice his age and size.  So, I turned away and closed my eyes and held my breath.  And waited for the splash.

The splash came seconds later with whoops of encouragement from the others.  I think he jumped about 6 more times that day and later when I asked my normally cautious child, “How was that?” he said, “Yah, it was okay”.  He was so nonchalant.  He had gotten his first taste of voluntary danger and adrenaline and he liked it (not unlike his crazy mother).

Yesterday, in another place and time, I watched some other 7 year old children engage in potentially dangerous activity.   I found myself at an ancient shrine watching  the “Omanto Matsuri”.  This is a traditional festival where young men chase raging horses around a wooden arena, trying desperately to grab onto the horse and hold it while it drags them along.  What this translates to is that the man has to run AS fast as the horse, keep pace with it, and also not agitate it more.   Some of these men were fleet footed.

The legend  is that they will become one with the horse’s spirit and bring luck to themselves and their families for the coming year.  The longer they are able to hold on the more potent the luck.   It was by far one of the most spectacular, insane, beautiful, and disturbing things I have ever witnessed (not always in that order).

The first horse who entered the ring appeared to be incredibly frustrated and as fast as lightening.  A nice Japanese man had encouraged us to take his ring side spot, which meant climbing up the wooden logs  fashioned into a pen and standing with your toes and hands almost in the ring.  I learned fast, that when a horse is coming around a corner at about 100mph a lot of dirt gets kicked up and there is no way you are getting out of the way.  I could almost feel the pulse of this beast as it charged by.  It was terrifying.

As I looked on, my heart pounding,  I saw a brave young man running , gaining purchase on the horse and holding on.  Within seconds the horse struggled out of his grasp and threw him off straight up into the air.  He may as well have been a sack of rice.  When I saw him hit the ground he was but a few meters from where I stood.  He was glassy eyed and not moving at all.  I was certain he was dead.  I gasped and shielded my child, who was now terrified.  The young man was dragged off by some other warriors and they all formed a big circle and did some sort of chant and the next horse was brought in.  At this moment I though maybe we should leave, but yet I could not leave.  I was mesmerized and confused at how this could even be happening.

Most of the young men were in the 18-20 year range.  But every now and then, they would bring a pony into the ring and you would see kids anywhere from 4-10 running and prancing around and emulating the behavior of these “warriors”.  My friend, being a mother, asked me,  “Why on earth would you encourage your kid to do this?”.  Though I got her point and totally agree with her, I found myself uttering a single word,  “Tradition”.

Tradition.  It’s a big word.  In todays world, we examine and question our traditions.  we certainly question other’s traditions.   Many of our traditions are based on cruel events or things that today seem politically incorrect or ignorant.  Some are outdated and don’t fit into our current world.   Take a look at Thanksgiving.  How about the “Black Pete’s ” which are always a controversy when they appear with Sinterklaas in Holland?  There are so many things we do as culture’s that are truly just done because it is “tradition”.   Sometimes we don’t even know why we do these things, they just always have “been”.  Other times, the meanings are so deeply engrained within us.

Do these young Japanese”warriors” need to do potentially kill themselves doing this in 2017?  HELLLLLL no.  But, they do it because they are proud, it is part of their culture, it is their tradition.  What is a culture without it’s traditions?

When I lived in England, a friend invited me to go to the Glocester Cheese Roll.  Curious as ever, I asked what this was.  She informed me, that people go to the top of a massively steep hill, they roll a wheel of cheese, and everyone goes chasing after it.  As they say in England “Tail over teakettle”.  This sounded like perhaps the most ludicrous thing I had ever heard of.  I actually thought she might have lost some of her marbles.  Until I went, and realized, yes….this is Exactly what was going on.  There were ambulances parked at the bottom of the hill and I’m pretty sure every single one of them had a passenger.  Look this event up online and have a good old fashioned laugh.  I saw a man dressed in a “Borat thong” with a wig on who looked like he had been through a meat grinder.  But, apparently, people have been doing this for hundreds of years.  And what do you think the prize is for this potentially neck breaking activity.  An 8 lb wheel of cheese.  I kid you not!

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For me, as an American, a less dangerous and more sedentary tradition called Thanksgiving was always my favourite.   Not because we were celebrating the harvest and survival of the first colony (at the expense of the natives) but because it was a time where my family got together , without fail, every single year and ate the same big meal and were together.  I loved everything about it.  After my dad died, the other members of my family decided (without asking how I felt) that this was no longer a tradition they wished to uphold.  I guess they had their reasons, but just like that, something that had been important to me my entire life and was one of my few treasured traditions no longer existed.  It hurt, a lot.  But then, I realized I could create my own tradition , with my own little family or with my friends and though it was not the same, the heart of it and the meaning was intact (even if this year I will be in Thailand eating curry we will still find a way to give thanks).

I am very certain that I will look back on my experiences in Japan and if asked to describe this wonderful place in  one word, “Tradition” may be the word I choose.  Tradition, Pride, and Ritual are such a big part of the culture here and what makes it so fascinating.

I will never forget the young men I saw yesterday.  Their bravado, their insanity, their mohawks, afros, and other distinguishingly wild hair cuts.  Their split toed shoes and their dirty pants from being dragged across the earth by these frustrated beasts.  The spirit of comraderie and the families sitting under the trees drinking sake, waiting to watch their favourite warrior and wishing great luck upon him.

With all this moving around, and my son being a kid of not one culture but ever so many, I hope that I can find some way to help him uphold a few “traditions” even if they are one’s that we have made ourselves.  Or one’s that have been gathered like blossoms from a wild field of flowers.  I hope that he continues to decide that such death defying activities are not part of his tradition, though somehow I doubt this safety will last forever, since he is my son.   For now, I’m happy that he enjoys making legos and jumping off rope swings.  Though I did see a gleam in his eye the other day when he raced down a hill on his scooter with me screaming, “Slow down” behind him.

Here’s to all of your traditions, may they bring you wisdom, joy , knowledge, and peace.  Peace out people!

 

 

 

Looking forward. Bound and Rebound.

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I’ve been told I am a pretty positive person.  I’ve had people say they admire my “zest for life”.  I’ve been congratulated on my ability to bound, bound, bound and rebound.  I’ve been told I’m funny, open, and friendly. I’ve been admired for starting over, starting things up, and for not having a nervous breakdown in the process

On the flip side, I’ve  been told I am incredibly selfish, that I am not a good person, that I am a bad wife,  a crappy mother, and an inconsiderate friend.   I’ve been told that most things I do are  wrong or hurtful.  This is the great paradox of being human.  As we go through life, we learn that not everyone is going to see us in the same light.  Often we  will have a different impression of someone than perhaps our friend or neighbor has.

People in our life change and morph as we go.  I may think you are blue (because you were) when you are truly orange (because you became that way when I was not observing).   We slowly discover that the truth about who we are , and where our own true self lies somewhere in between.  And the true “us”  is not always revealed to those we meet.

The most positive person may be struggling inside each night wondering how they got into their current situation.  The most selfish person may be not really selfish, but at their wits end, trying to deal with many things we know nothing about.  We judge, and we judge, and then we judge some more. And sadly, it seems that often, the people we look to most for approval and guidance are the one’s who hurt us with their judgement most of all   Because no matter how much we struggle and we try, those are the people who think they know us inside and out.  But perhaps they only know the “us” that suits their purposes.  The “us” in their mind.  At times we may feel like a tight rope walker.  We must balance between who we truly are, and the image that people project upon us.

Often, you will find the people who judge you the harshest, are also the one’s who have not been actively listening to you for a long time.  They have not seen you as you are now, they only see their idea of you.  These people are unable to move forward, they are paralyzed either by choice or by some internal struggle, or some past grievance .  There are those who have walked side by side with us through our entire history.   History is something each one of us writes and rewrites in our own version.  In the worst of times, this version suits only our ego.   At the best of times it is rewritten to try and accommodate and make peace. It changes, depending on the author, the year, and the cast.

There are so many expressions we use in life, “Life is short”, “If it’s meant to be it will be”, “You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink”, “Everything happens for a reason”.  We try and find purpose and we try to reason away why life takes certain twists and turns.  As life marches on, if we are wise, we start to see that we have little or even no control over most things.  We certainly have no control over how other’s treat us, only if we choose to continue to accept their treatment.  There are point’s in life where we realize that despite loyalty, blood, history, or any of the above, we must choose ourselves.  We must make the “selfish” choice to live in peace with ourselves.  The selves we have grown to appreciate and like.  We must choose forward not backward.

My father always said, “You are the only person you can count on”.  I used to find this expression to be very sad and sometimes accused him of having a  sour outlook on life.  Now that I am as old as he was when he said it, I realize the strange truth in it.  I realize that unless you truly have your self and the worth of who you are, you will never successfully be able to appreciate anyone or anything in your life.

I’ve noticed over the past decade, with all this moving about and starting over, I’ve unconsciously chosen the life motto of “There is a reason your windshield is bigger than your rear view mirror, what’s in front of you is much more important than what’s behind”.

This does not mean you should forget those who have shared your road.  This means stop putting it in reverse to rehash things that have already happened.  Bring those passengers on your journey who want to be in your car now and then and appreciate the road you’ve shared, but leave the flat tires behind you.   I think you either choose to live in this camp and move forward or you are stuck on the side of the road, constantly spinning your tires, gravel spitting angrily where you are stopped.  Eventually you will run out of gas and no one is going to want to help.

I will be 47 in a few days, If I am lucky, I’ve only traveled half of my road.  But one never knows.  I’ve had so many amazing passengers along the way.   I want the road ahead to be filled with people who appreciate me, who wholly and genuinely want to spend time with me not because they HAVE to but because they WANT to.  I say, bring on those who zest for life, who will share a story, who will listen and be listened to.  Bring on the adventure.  Bring on the Love.  This is a call for those who want to move forward, I’ll see you on the road!

 

 

 

Home is wherever I roam

17991222_10154304738171651_319592049236632803_n[1]In a time long ago, in a land far away, I was a young woman in love.  Madly and deeply in love.  Lucky for me, this love was returned.  And so,  as love stories go, we began planning a life together.  This life included hopes and dreams, houses, children, and vacations with family.  This life included staying in New England and watching the years roll by side by side with familiar faces looking in.  Sitting on our farmers porch in rocking chairs.   My love did not have a love for traveling, but he loved me and he encouraged me to see everything I could and report back to him.  Everything was good and life was so sweet.

Then one day, cancer came knocking on the door.  It knocked very loudly and though we didn’t want to let it in, it barged in anyway.  Several years passed and slowly it kept creeping it’s way into our lives and in the end, it stole the one I loved.  I was a young woman.  I was 25 when I held on and watched my love take his last breath.  With that last breath I was pretty sure my life was over.  I watched all my dreams plunge into the darkness.

After losing Bill,  I began having a recurring dream.  This dream went on for over a decade and still returns to me every now and then.  In the dream, I am traveling to a city I had never been to at the time.  Sometimes it was Chicago, sometimes Paris, and sometimes somewhere that only exists in dreams. I would be walking around  the city, and suddenly Bill would appear. Maybe in a coffee shop, maybe riding his bike, maybe even eating a slice of pizza on the corner.

I remember feeling total shock, and even betrayal.   I would begin crying and ask, “What are you doing here?  I was there when you died!”.  He always says something like, “Honey, I told you I was just going away for a while”.  Every time I awoke from this dream, I was  filled with a tremendous amount of joy, relief , sadness, and confusion.  For those of you who have lost the most important people in your life, perhaps you understand.  Perhaps you’ve had similar dreams?

I dream in bright colors, I always have, and my dreams are vivid and incredibly real.  I have awoken sometimes angry at my husband for things he has done during my dream state.  Luckily, he always laughs at me and makes me smile and all is forgiven in the moments of entering the real world again.

At one point during my “Bill’s still alive” dream series, I had perhaps  the most realistic and vivid dream I’ve ever had.  I dreamt that I was following him at a distance across roof tops in Asia.  I had no idea where I was.  I could not identify any particular location.  I just knew that it was Asia.

It was a misty evening, the sun was just going down,  and each roof contained beautiful trees and lush flowers.  But most striking , was that there were many enormous statues of Gods and Deities.  I remember being frightened and yet fascinated as I approached each one.  It was magical and terrifying at the same time. Somehow, I was able to jump from roof to roof effortlessly.   I remember wondering, “Where am I and how did I get here?” Strangely, this was the only dream where I never caught up with Bill.  I could only see the back of him, in the distance, always just out of reach.  And it is the only one I remember in such vivid detail that it is like a movie that has been playing in my head for 20 years now.

When I first moved here, to Japan, I went to visit a local Buddhist Temple.  Here, they have a gigantic statue of Buddha and it is painted an incredibly lush and deep green.  It sits on a pedastol and is 45 feet high and it is over 500 years old.  The minute I came through the trees and saw this majestic and powerful image, I gasped and began to weep. (Luckily I was alone and no one else was visiting the shrine).   I was instantly transported back to my dream.  All the years of carrying these images in my head and it was like I had finally realized where I was.  I had finally realized where I was meant to be.

We all start out with a plan. We want things to be neat and tidy. We lay the groundwork and we work at it.  But, the more we experience life the more we realize that plans are made to be broken and that we often have no control concerning where our path is meant to lead.  Sometimes , we learn very early that life is full of great loss. We can let that destroy us or we can use it as a super power to fuel us and to heighten our senses and try and enjoy all the moments, no matter how small.  We learn that we have no control over other’s paths or how they act toward us.  We only can control how we act, in each moment.

I guess I felt compelled to tell you this story today, because I am about to embark on a journey back “home”. This story reminds me that  when I was 25, and I was unsure of how my life would continue, or if it could continue at all.  Even then,  I was dreaming about the strangest corners of the earth.  Perhaps I was always meant to roam, and having my frist partner be someone who understood this need in me and  the fact he was able to nourish it was a true blessing.  Perhaps this dream was a foreshadow of my life today and maybe the reason I did not catch Bill was because this was the destination waiting for me and me alone.  Dreams can also lead us to our destiny I suppose.

I have only been in Japan for  three months, but it has changed me in so many ways. It has opened my eyes like they have never been opened before.  I see things differently, shapes, colors, actions, people and beliefs.  All different.

It has been over 14 years since I’ve lived in Massachusetts and it has been over 20 now since I lost Bill.  I love Massachusetts.  It  is a place where part of my soul will always feel nourished.  It is where I spent time with many of the great people of my life, many who are gone now.  My path has taken me to many destinations since leaving,  and I have been fortunate to meet so many people along the way who have shaped me and my life.  Life, as it does, continues to bring  joys and sometimes sadness.

I have been the most fortunate in love.  I  have found a man who has given me laughter, love , adventure, support, and a beautiful child.  He is far more than I ever dreamed of or thought I deserved.   I thank my lucky stars every morning when I watch him lean over and give me a kiss before leaving for work, as he thinks I am fast asleep. I savor this moment.

The young woman, the one with a broken heart, still lives inside me she is part of me and always will be.  But she lays deep within so many other layers.

When people ask me  where I want to live eventually,  I have no answer.  How does one choose a place when each place they’ve been has shaped a part of them and been their home?  The bigger question is, how do I stop running across roof tops and finally settle down in one spot? Or even more so, will I ever?  The young woman who dreamed of the home with a porch on the front has grown into a middle aged woman who realizes that no building or location can truly be her home any longer.  Her home exists in her memories, in her experiences, in her daily talks with her little boy, in her husbands eyes when he looks at her.  Home is wherever she roams.

I have become the anthropologist I always wanted to be.  I am a true gypsy.  I am home.

 

“Hey, you get off of my rice paddy”, and other things I may or may not understand.

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Konichiwa everyone!  I’d like to introduce you to my new friend Hiroko.  He is a rice paddy farmer in the small town of Magome.  I met him while walking around in a daze of amazement and love for Japan.  He climbed right out of his rice paddy to come talk to me and my two friends right after he nodded that it was okay to take a photo of him.  Then he promptly told us while flashing his tobacco stained smile to get the f&*k off his street.

Okay, that isn’t exactly how it happened if I’m  being honest.  He did swiftly climb out of his rice paddy, ask us where we were from and then point repeatedly at the tourist village we had just dropped down from while talking rapidly in Japanese.  We asked him if he wanted us to go there and each time he smiled and nodded vigorously.  So, there are a few options here, a)  He was trying to be kind and thought we were lost, b) he is completely sick of stupid white women trying to take photos of him, or c) He was trying to recruit us to go get some more hoes and help him out.  We decided it was b, and politely said  “excuse me ” while bowing our way back up the hill.

Once again, I have no idea what happened there.  And this is the story of my life lately during a large percentage of my day.  Yet, weirdly, I have never been happier.  I think I am living proof of that old saying that “ignorance is bliss”.  It’s like living in a bubble where you can just automatically assume that people are saying nice things to you because they are smiling.  And if they happen to be calling you a trash smelling, meat eating, jolly rotten cow, you can feel just as good about yourself than if they were saying you seem like a supermodel who just won the nobel prize for peace.

In an effort to be polite to the locals, I started Japanese classes last week and am really getting into it. Hopefully this is going to slowly help me understand more. Okay, maybe I’m not really  THAT into it, but I can say about 5 things now.  Every morning I pass by a hundred school children or so and I ramble on and on saying, “Ohayo gozaimasu” and they giggle in my face and yell “HELLO” while poking at one another.  I truly love the pride on their little faces when they realize they know how to say something to me in English.  They giggle and jostle in their little yellow hats before they get onto the bus while pointing at the weird western lady, probably wondering why I’m so round.

I thought I’d try and use google translate at the supermarket the other day to find out if I needed a store card to get sale prices.  A frustrating 10 minutes later, the poor woman at the service counter looked like she wanted to use a samurai sword on herself and we were no closer to solving the issue.  The thing is though, people here will continue on and on and on and on with you until they have helped you or answered you the best they can.  I can’t say I had this experience living in Montreal where if people found out I did not speak French they would hang up on me sometimes in an abrupt manner and I’d be left with my mouth wide open.  I spent countless hours on the phone with utility companies where they would pretty much act as if I were blessed to be giving them my money.

There are times, when this lack of communication is really troubling though.  For example, my landlady (who lives next door)  popped by last weekend to tell me there were “dangerous children in my windows”.  This later turned out to be my son and his sleepover buddies (who were apparently way more danger seeking than my son who usually needs encouragement to cross a monkey bar…. unbeknownst to me).  They  had found their way onto our roof while I was downstairs cooking pancakes.  This poor woman was terrified looking on from next door while the boys yelled “Konichiwa” at her.

Being unable to fully understand her, I assumed that the boys were just yelling out the windows and, of course,  this is what they said they were doing.  No confessions were forthcoming. Not until two days later when I got a letter from my management company in english telling me children on my roof were strictly prohibited, did I realize the seriousness and the terror of what had happened.  I’m pretty sure she thinks I am on drugs, to say the least, and now I have to climb 25 stairs every 5 minutes when there are kids over so they don’t plummet to their death or give her a heart attack.

Every day is a school day, and every day I’m figuring it out a little more.  But, for now, I’m happy to stay in my little air conditioned bubble and smile and wave boys….smile and wave!  I think I’ll go up to the roof and have  a few drinks now.

 

Walking With Big Feet in a Land of Tiny People!

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Go with the flow. Roll with the Changes. Keep Calm and Carry on.  One day at a time.  And so on, and so on, and so on.  For those of you who have been expats , even when you love the place you live (which I do) from the start, there is always those extreme ups and downs in your mental state.  The moment you realize you are literally half way across the world from all the people you care about. The moment you realize you truly don’t speak the language and that no one understands you either.    The moment you realize that, yes, you have to walk another 3 miles even though your feet are blistered because YES, you TRULY do not have a car!

Then there is this, imagine waking up one day only to realize that not only do you have the biggest mouth within a five mile radius, but you also have the biggest feet? Your feet are so big that when you go out to a local shop and pick up the XL flip flops your entire big toe is still hanging off the end.   And lets not even talk about how big your ass is.  You already knew it was bodacious and bubbly, but then you held up a pair of XL pants and realized you might need TWO pairs of those stitched together and they would probably still be snug?   And despite the fact that you walk 13KM a day most days and up various San Francisco sized hills, it seems to be getting BIGGER???

Hence, welcome to my life in Japan, where I am officially a giant.  This weekend my husband, son, and I went to a teeny little local noodle shop.  The owners looked rather perplexed to see us sitting on their little stools hunched over. In a shop where there were only about a dozen stools, we seemed to take up a majority of the space and that included  the 8 month pregnant  woman sitting behind us.   After we paid our bill and were making to leave the elderly noodle matron walked us to the door and continuously mimed “watch your head” to Paul, for fear that he might tear straight through her support beam on the way out.   People often stop in the street to stare at him and little girls on the subway hide their faces.

I can’t help but constantly hearing a Godzilla like roar in my head when I walk through a crowded area trying to navigate around people.  I also feel like when I sit down on the train a huge crashing sound might occur and the  bench may tilt.  The people next to me shift ever so slightly to give me enough room.  Are they worried that I might eat them?  As Westerners we sure do love some good red meat after all?

Of course I am joking, sort of, kind of, to some degree.   However, it has been fascinating being the biggest person I see each day.  It has also got me thinking about our obesity problems in North America.  Living in a country which thrives on small portions and walking and riding bikes everywhere , I take note that literally less than 1% of people I see are even slightly overweight.   I suppose good genetics have something to do with it, but it does call into question the sedentary lifestyle most of us lead in North America and those giant restaurant portions.  I am as guilty as anyone.

A “typical” Japanese breakfast consists of small portions of rice, grilled fish, miso soup and pickled vegetables. Compare this to eggs, toast, bacon, hash browns, and toast or a big bowl of sugary cereal.  It might tell us a few things?  Vending machines contain coffee, water, and green tea with no sweetener. Yes, you can get a COKE if you want, but these seem a lot less popular.   It truly is “food for thought”.

Do I hope to become “smaller” in my years here?  Of course I do.  I am a woman, who like, every other woman is never truly happy with their bodies.  Sure, I’d love to get back to my smaller self.   But the other bad news is, every single dish I run into is chock full of carbohydrates. Noodles.  Rice.  Mochi.  Pancakes.  I wonder, if I eat all this instead of the normal salad lunches I am so fond of, will I actually LOSE weight?  I truly feel like Alice in Wonderland where black is white and white is black.   I am curious how this will all turn out and if drinking the tea is going to solve everything.

The other day I realized that I have no short pants or shorts and I have been sweating profusely in the newly humid weather.  I went out to see what I could find, knowing full well that nothing in this country will fit me.  I came across a shop that had lovely light cottony drawstring pants. Just looking at them made my body temperature drop at least 10 degrees.  And low and behold, they fit me!  I scooped up three pairs.  Later I put them on , they were so comfortable and cool.  Suddenly, I realized that I might be wearing the Japanese version of pajamas. But then again, I might not be?  This is the moment I decide I will be “the dumb foreigner” because I will NOT part with wearing these pants.

At the bus stop this morning I was describing the pants to the lovely Japanese women who send their kids to my son’s school.  I had them in stitches with my explanation about how I wore them all day wondering if people were staring at me. And they kindly reassured me that Japanese people do not care at all what I wear.  That is EXACTLY what they said.  Then they asked me if I liked “Jazzercise”.

This got me to thinking about the strange couple I saw this weekend wearing pink animal pajamas with a giant tote full of stuffed animals between them.   And then there are the dozens of little bo peeps I’ve seen, the cherry blossom drag queen,  the lady I saw in the 100 yen store who was grossly overweight, wearing a pink wig with a tiara and a sparkle dress (she was the 1% but she looked like she was not from here). And what I realized was this, no one was staring (no one except me).  No one cared. This was “fine”.

So, perhaps what I realize is this.  I am okay.  I can be a giant in a land full of tiny people.  I can wear pajama bottoms.  I can let my flesh hang out if I choose.  No one is going to care, and even if they do , they are WAY too polite to talk about it.  Bring on the turquoise wig, the tiara, and the little bo peep pants! Momma’s going dancing in her pajamas!

 

 

 

 

Sharknado vs. Tatami Table

Ohayo gozaimasu !  We officially made it through our first two days of living in our new home.  I thought it would be  a perfect time to introduce you all to a few things that have been puzzling and torturing me for the past 48 hours.  First off, please take a long look at these photos.  I don’t think I ever truly understood the word “dichotomy” until I moved to Japan.  No where else have I seen such complete contradiction within the same moment, space, or culture.

Want to take a bath?  You THOUGHT you knew how to do this. Plug tub, turn on water , fill tub, turn off water.  WRONG!!!!  Now, there is a very complicated system of digital buttons you must press in a precise order.  Want to call your husband and ask him to bring you a glass of wine?  No problem,  press the “call button” and you can blast your voice throughout the whole house.  Want to reheat the water once you are in for a few minutes? SURE!   Want to have your bath ready for you at 7.am. ?  It does that too?

This is all really great, with the exception that there is a small Japanese lady in there (and they do make them small here) who is constantly talking at you in a language you don’t understand.  Also, sometimes you just want to get it over and done with and taking the time to figure this out is mind boggling (as I heard yesterday while Paul cursed in the shower while accidentally pressing the intercom button and then proceeded to curse in Dutch because the Japanese lady would not  shut up and let him be the whole time).   Note to self, NEVER take  a bath when guests are in house.

Oh, and lets not forget, you need to also have a control for the tub in the living area.  Yes, we would not want to be unable to access the tub temperature when you are getting ready to sit down for a little bite to eat or to read a book!

Now, lets talk toilets.  You know you want to.  I’m sure many of you have heard about the very complicated toilets here and YES, they do everything but make you a sandwich.  Try going into a public rest room and being in there for a small eternity because you need to be Sherlock Holmes to figure out where the flush button is.   But good news! If you are the easily embarrassed type, you can push a button and have a little ditty play to cover up the fact that you are taking a dump (but really?  everyone KNOWS what you are doing once the music starts).

Here comes the “dichotomy” . You may also encounter a “squat toilet” when you are out and about.  And this is exactly what it sounds like.  Squat over a hole and do your business.  Many of these do not come with toilet paper and lets just say that aiming takes ALOT of  practice.

We have come to name our new household toilet “SHARKNADO”.  This thing has a motion sensor, so any time you walk by not only does the lid open in a menacing fashion, but a blue light comes on inside the toilet bowl and lights it up and then the thing “prewashes” (no one wants a dirty bowl).  It truly does bring the theme of  “Jaws” to my mind each time. I will not even BEGIN to tell you how many buttons are on the panel to try and control SHARKNADO.   Lets just say that I am starting to appreciate the term “you are so anal”.

When one of us forgets to close the bathroom door, you inevitably can hear another one of us screaming in mock comedy as you hear the toilet start up because we walked by.  Cry’s of ,   “It’s trying to eat me”, or “HELP, it’s attacking”.  Devon has even drawn a picture  of the toilet with us running away screaming, “I HATE SHARKNADO” and posted it on his bedroom door.  It’s all pretty funny I must say.

There are other surprise electronics, but I don’t feel like talking about them at the moment.  Remember, I am a woman who did not own a smart phone until I moved here and would prefer to be alone in the middle of the wilderness to a casino,  so this is all kind of mind blowing for me at the moment. I am tired.

Let me end this entry by inviting you into my new dining area, the tatami room.  There is nothing in here but a table and legless chairs and a place to hold a simple flower arrangement. Apparently you can perform a tea ceremony in here , the act of meticulously and artfully making and pouring a pot of tea which could take up to several hours while you and your guests kneel.

Anyone seeing the contradiction yet? Okay, it’s six a.m. and I feel a strong need to visit Sharknado.  If you hear music playing, stay far away. Sayonara 😉