Thursday, December 23, 2010

Christmases Past

My mom is so awesome!  She sent us this awesome Christmas box, which made me want to reminisce about Christmases past.  Or, as they say in the Christmas carol "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year," I want to tell tales of the glories of Christmases long, long ago...

Budleadoo~ budleadoo~ budleadoo~

Christmas in my house has always been big.  I'm talkin', you can't reach the Christmas tree 'cause there's too many presents in your way.  Word has it that this year is no different.  All of us, my mom's children, that is, are in our 30's, I'm not home and one of my brothers is going to Maryland with his wife, and there are still presents overtaking the living room.  Growing up, it would look like there was an avalanche of presents spewing from under the tree, if you could see the bottom half of the tree.  On Christmas Eve night I would beg to open one present and we would fight about the tradition;  Did we or did we not open one present on Christmas Eve night?  I believe we did.  On Christmas morning, I would usually wake up first, being the youngest, to find my stocking outside my door or next to my bed, and I would run and knock on my brother's doors to tell them to get up and open their stockings.  My mom reminded me the other night that when we were young, before my grandma Mary passed on, we couldn't open our presents until she got there around 9am, and she was settled into her red leather arm chair.  

Every year, I'm always surprised by how much stuff my mom gets into our stockings.  Our stockings were always stuffed with more than a stocking looks like it can hold.  Our Christmas stockings usually produce socks, candy, lottery scratch offs, maybe a stuffed animal, in the old days- tapes- more recently- CDs, little games, small electronics, soaps, and almost always a manicure kit.  I can hardly think of all of the things I have gotten in my stockings over the years.  That's what is so amazing about them;  They contain so many things that you didn't know you wanted, but are really happy to get.  Occasionally, there would also be a gift card in there.  Sometime after stocking discovery, we would make our way out to the living room to open presents.  My brother, Ted, would hop out in his sleeping bag, zipped completely up around his head, so just his eyes could peer out and he could stay as close to a state of sleep as possible until he had to free his hands to rip wrapping paper.  My brother Timmy joined this tradition as he got older.  The sleeping bag people and I would open presents together with my mom and grandma every Christmas morning.  Was Jason there, too?  I can't remember if Jason, a family friend and honorary member of the family, in my opinion, got there for presents, or a little later.

Every Christmas was perfect, except that one year when I was 13 and Timmy and Ted seemed to get everything they wanted and I got lots of things, but I didn't get the one thing I asked for, a certain watch.  I cried and acted like a brat.  That leads me to think of other Christmas mishaps, like the year that we picked out a Christmas tree that just happened to have a crooked trunk, and my mom, after spending hours trying to get it to sit up straight in the stand, threw it out the front door while screaming at whoever happened to be around. 

Probably the most expensive Christmas mishap happened one year when my brothers both got skateboards.  Christmas night, we were all in the family room, playing with our new stuff and watching TV.  This room was a converted garage, so it was pretty big, and Timmy was rolling around and balancing on his new skateboard, when it flew out from under him and right through the glass door! 

One year, when Peter and I lived in LA, we bought a Christmas tree only a few days before Christmas.  We got a great fake tree at Home Depot for 50% off, and when I took it to the register, they took an additional 50% off, which I pointed out, but they didn't care, so I got a 7' tree for $15, which we still have and is up in my mom's house as I type.  Anyway, when I bought this tree, the entire county of Los Angeles was sold out of tree stands, so we had to basically hang it from the ceiling with wire and hooks, while the post rested on the floor.  We didn't hang it upside down or anything, but I still kind of felt like an anarchist, for some reason.  You couldn't even tell once a few presents were placed around the base!  That year our dog, an Italian Greyhound named Ralphy, knew what one of our presents was before we did, and we came home to a dog who had ripped open a package and eaten a lot of chocolate.  He died.  Just kidding!  He was ok. 

Another Christmas mishap, which I really don't think anyone cared about except my mom, happened last Christmas, when I messed up the family drawing.  I thought I had my brother Ted, but I was actually supposed to get a gift for my brother Timmy, so Ted ended up with 2 presents while Timmy had none.  Well, I thought Timmy would like the gift as well as Ted would, so I just had him open it anyway, and he did like it, so it was fine.  However, my mom is still upset about it, almost 365 days later.  I'm sure there are many more stories, tragically lost by my memory.

Things that remembering Christmases past has made me think of...  The red and black carpet we used to have in our living room, the fireplace and the mantle I used to tap dance on as a little girl, the gold fireplace with a really cool wood bin that had a door to the outside so you could load it, and a door to the inside right next to the fireplace so you could use it, throwing wrapping paper into the fire to make red and green and blue flames, getting that silly brush that was so expensive that my mom wrapped it in gold and saved it for last, pictures of my nephew Josh opening presents as a kid, my grandma living with us and sitting on the side of the table closest to the TV room for Christmas dinner, Aunt Millie, wonderful cousin Ann, Jason and how happy he always is to get a big barrel of pretzels for Christmas, and thick socks, the fiber-optic spinning Christmas tree that played Oh, Christmas Tree and changed colors, the one gingerbread house I ever made with my family, and how Ted put an anarchy symbol on the roof in white frosting, angry parking at the mall, Ted testing out his new fishing pants on Christmas morning by wading into the pool with them on, my brothers trying to give us a white Christmas by spraying the lawn down with the hose and hoping it would frost overnight, fires in the fireplace, always, even if it was 70 degrees out, soy chai lattes in red and white cups, hot chocolate elitism, the year we had 2 trees - one regular with multicolored lights and all of our homemade ornaments and tinsel, and one with an Asian fan theme, new bikes and riding all day on Christmas, egg nog, quiet Christmases in LA, white elephant with 30 people on Peter's side of the family, making Christmas cookies and breads, and that one year, did I sleep on a borrowed single bed stuck behind the Christmas tree?

I kind of believed the talk about Americans having no culture.  Now I understand that I just couldn't see it because I was so engrossed in it.  I had never gotten any distance from it in order to be able to recognize it.  I love the culture of Christmas.  I love that every American knows that Santa lives at the North Pole.  I love that I know the reindeer's names and what the elves do.  I love that I've gotten to experience all of the books and movies (Home Alone!!) that have grown up in and around the holidays in America, and that I'm from such a creative and expressive country.  I never did before, but now I love that stores start selling Christmas stuff and playing Christmas music so far in advance of the holiday.  My dad always said, "Showing up is 50% of being successful," but never expounded upon it.  I like the holiday season because I feel that we are all participating in something positive and good-spirited, together, and I have come to believe that participation is a very important factor in living a healthy, happy life, and in contributing to those same factors in other people's lives.  Showing up really does make a difference, and I can tell by how much I miss this season that people do show up and participate, and that's why I have so much to miss, and that's awesome.

Marketing or no, the cards and the ribbons and the colors that adorn our lives from Thanksgiving to the new year create a penumbral phenomena of good energy that makes our holiday culture rich, warm, and lasting.  The more we do together, and the more details we pay attention to, the better are our experiences, and therefore our memories.  (Maybe I should leave this out of my warm, fuzzy Christmas reflection and commentary -although I have mentioned anarchy twice-, and I'm probably, HOPEFULLY, jumping the gun here, but it has occurred to me that at some point we will have more memories than we have life left, so let's make sure they are great -I suffer from the opposite of taking things for granted.  I don't know which is worse.)  Sometimes it seems like a pain and a waste of money, but I've decided that, for me, it's worth it to spend a little more time and a little more effort to make the moments great, and to enjoy and indulge in the wonderful culture that we are so blessed to have.

Thank you, Mom! for being instrumental in making this Christmas just as special.  You have outdone yourself again, even from the other side of the world.  But I'm sure, as usual, this is the last Christmas you will go all out.  Even though you never read my blog, I love you.

Merry Christmas!!!

From Japan,
Tiffany
   

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Disorganized Thoughts About Differences

Things happen here that I never would have thought about if I didn't experience it here and now, doing this job.  For instance, when you learn Japanese writing, you learn the stroke order.  Stroke order tells you which line should be drawn first and in which direction it should be drawn.  Like this:



The numbers tell you which line comes first and the arrows tell you in which direction to write.  Well, I always thought this was unique to Japanese when compared with English, but you watch a Japanese student write an 'a' like they are writing a '2' or write an 'e' from the bottom up, and you will think differently.

Stroke order is confusing for me sometimes because many hiragana have a similar look or shape, but are written differently.  This morning I was at a friend's home learning Japanese, and I was self conscious writing hiragana in front of her.  She got out a stroke order chart from one of her child's books for learning, and we looked it over together.  I showed her that 'ma' and 'mo' look similar, but have different orders.  Also, I consider the longest line, or the most central line, "the base" of the character.  For 'mo' you write the base first, but for 'ma' you don't.


-mo


-ma

My friend was surprised at the way I looked at them and the words I used to describe them.  Having grown up with them, she saw katakana through the filter of a completely different life.

This experience helps me feel some satisfaction with more complex differences I experience with people, such as when talking endlessly in the US about politics.  I find it very difficult to understand, truly baffling for me to understand why someone would choose to support a certain platform or person.  Though the topics are so different, having this hiragana experience with a Japanese person helped me to see that two people's differences may be root deep; too deep to be even of their own choosing, but rather unconscious, cultural truths of their lives.  With inflammatory topics like religion or abortion people generally respond with their emotions, which manifest through blame and accusations.  But I have witnessed that differences, and the reasons for the differences, can sometimes be more innocent than I generally imagine, especially when I see harm being done out of a lack of empathy or understanding.  Truths, contrary to the desires of my dwindling youthful idealism, are as subjective as everything else.      

When learning hiragana in college, I developed ideas about them, as one is wont to do about anything - we have to form judgements around things so that we have a place to put them in our minds.  Then I came face to face with a native Japanese speaker who didn't exactly explain how she sees them, but she showed interest in the way I perceive them.  With hiragana, I didn't have to think twice; she was the expert, and I deferred to her perception. Not that my POV lacks value, but if one of us has to be right, as a native speaker and writer, she wins.

In politics, we are all touting our opinions and passions with equal ignorance, and the complexity of the subject compounds the difficulty.  Even brilliant people with degrees and titles sound like they are full of crap, and they act that way, too, on the news and in interviews.  How are we to make intelligent, informed decisions when everyone is lying and cheating, including the people you are desperately defending and voting for, and the rules are changing everyday?    

In politics, it's so complicated that people stop thinking and, honestly, don't have the time to really dissect the issues, as convoluted as they are, and they end up just resting on the idea that the other person is an idiot.  Don't tell me you haven't done it.  When people are debating about the national budget, and health care, and the solution seems so simple to you, it's tiresome, and you quit, and you go on thinking you are right and they are wrong.  We rarely have a really enlightening, foundation shaking experience, and even if it were available to you, would you be open to it? 

I am.  The roots of these problems matter to me.  I don't want to go about my trip to buy a pair of shoes and cooking dinner and getting sleep for work tomorrow.  I want to know WHAT is going on.  WHY it is going on.  I want to think about it, write about it, ponder and discuss it.  I wish someone would pay me to do that.

We have to be born somewhere, and that somewhere forms the foundation of our points of view.  When it comes to American politics, we basically have two lots to choose from, and if our parents get us started on lot A, we oftentimes stay on lot A.  It's deeper than facts and trends.  Our stances rest on deep foundations nurtured for decades, and might even rely on nature.  Perhaps you are republican because generations of your family hail from the north and have been republican since the party's inception.  Two people can dissect the same line of dialogue from a play and write completely different papers about it.  I heard that people who grow up in Asian countries actually have a different brain structure than people who grow up in Western countries.  And two people from different countries can look at a couple of hiragana and see two different worlds of cultural history.  So we want to draw the lines differently.  Regardless of the topic, it probably matters less than we imagine, since eventually, it'll all be dust.

From Japan,
Tiffany   
  


Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Oh, I don't know.

The title to this installment is the answer to the question, "What should I write about?"

How about chemicals leaching into our drinks?  That sounds like fun.

The reason I bring it up, is this: Here in the grand ole' country of Japan we have vending machines.  There are so many that I am going to go ahead and say they are a part of the culture.  I am disturbed by one quality the vending machines possess.  They possess the ability to sell you HOT drinks.  Slap a 100¥coin into the slot and you can have your favorite summertime cold drink in the hot variety.  I find it disturbing that I can purchase a hot drink in the same plastic bottle or can, or lined box, that I can buy cold.  Is the plastic in Japan different than the plastic in the US?  Are cans not lined? 

Maybe I only care because I'm half way down the road to hippiehood, but one can't deny that chemicals leached into food and beverages cause problems.  There are news stories about it and companies like Sigg and Kleen Canteen build entire marketing campaigns about it.  (Yes, Sigg has been thrown out of the non-leaching clean world.  Their products apparently don't leach, but the chemicals are still present in their liners.)

Do people not care, or do they just not know?

On to another topic...

How about Holidayitis?  It's kinda like Senioritis.  Here's how you can tell if you have it:
-Calling a word search with Christmas words a "cultural lesson."
-Thanking your version of god for the Emperor of Japan being born close to Christmas, and that it's a national holiday so at least you get to stay home for something.
-Feelings that you should be consuming mass quantities of chocolate Santa Clauses and pies.

I know I have it.  I think the only treatment is to just wait it out.

And finally, just because three topics seem right, I'll talk about my wellness.  I have been sick since mid-October.  A couple of weeks ago I went to the doctor because I was coughing uncontrollably, and he gave me antibiotics, which I refused to take.  When I woke up a couple of days later, after feeling a definite upturn, with sore tonsils, I began to take every pill I had in the house, including the antibiotics, but I was so sick on Tuesday morning that I stayed home from school and slept ALL DAY (hence my last really depressing post).  And guess what?  I feel better than I have in months.  I'm not convinced that the Doctor had a good reason for giving me the antibiotics, but it turns out I needed them.  He didn't even look in my ears or nose.  I feel pretty good.

Oh, ok, one more...  I ordered a bunch of stuff off of Vitacost.com today and I can't wait to get it!!  Cleaning time at school.  Gotta go.

From Japan,
Tiffany       

Monday, December 13, 2010

Experience

One of the beautiful changing scenes from our window




"Experience is a grindstone; and it is lucky for us, if we can get brightened by it, and not ground." 


-Josh Billings

I know in time I will reflect the benefit of today, but right now I feel pretty raw.

From Japan,
Tiffany

Thursday, December 9, 2010

How Stuff Gets/Stays Warm

So!  Here we meet again.  Hello.

A Proper picture of the Kotatsu Table

The heating elements in Japan are strange and fascinating.  Heat everything?  Never!  You must be cold when going from place to place, and only warm when you settle in one place!... if you are lucky.  Bake?  Not in my house.  We are not blessed with an oven, convection or otherwise.  That's what J & M are for.  We'll see you soon, J & M.  Here are the different heating devices we have come to know and love:

The Kotatsu

I scoffed at the kotatsu, resisted its powers, but now we are in love.  The kotatsu poses as a regular, not especially attractive-looking coffee table, but she has hidden warming powers.  The kotatsu has a heater underneath.  You need one of these floor chairs that adjusts to different levels like a patio chair.  They look uncomfortable, but they are heaven in disguise.  Plug the kotatsu in, toss a blanket over the whole mix, and snuggle in for a sedentary night of Facebooking, Megavideo watching, reading, studying Japanese, or letter writing.  In these pictures I have tossed the blanket over the whole table, but you are supposed to take the table top off and pin the blanket between the top and the base.  In this way, you maintain your regular table top while trapping the toasty goodness in underneath.  We put the blanket away the day before for a party, and when I was ready to sit down to make CDs the next night, I just wanted to get warmified as quickly as possible.

A Peek Under the Kotatsu


In The Bedroom
We have a wall heater in the bedroom with a really awesome little remote control.  This thing is also an air conditioner.  It works pretty well, but Japanese homes have zero insulation, so we really have to pump it for the room to stay warm.




        In The Bathroom                        
Our tub is pretty awesome.  Japanese bathrooms are pretty awesome.  This is our shower room.  The whole room is for taking a shower and/or bath.  In Japanese fashion, you would fill the tub and cover it- You can just see the 3 covers in the left of the frame -then the whole family washes by taking a shower.  Everyone being clean, you can share the tub water and each take a nice soak.  We perform every configuration of bathing in here; showers, baths, both, and family bath/shower combos.  Check out that little box above the tub in the middle of the picture.  The black part is a screen that has a digital read out of the temperature, the tub fill line, the time, etc.  The top left button is green and gets pushed when you go in to do anything.  That button turns the heater on.  It's gas.  The top right button is pink.  This magical button fills the tub.  So you just decide that you want to take a bath, go in and touch the green and then the pink, and 20 minutes later you have a full tub, filled to the level of your choosing, at a hot tub temperature.  The water for this comes out of the round metal thing down in the tub.  You can change the temp, too, which I need to do because I always need to take a couple of minutes to add some cold water so I can get in.  The button on the bottom right is yellow.  That is the button you push if you need to rewarm the water.  Maybe you forgot about your bath, or unexpectedly had to leave your bath, or someone took a bath at five and someone else wants to take a bath at 7, you just use the covers for the tub and push yellow when you need to rewarm.  The water gets sucked into the round metal thing and pushed back out, but warm.  I don't know what the button on the bottom left does.  This Japanese dude who came over told us not to touch it.

In The Kitchen
This is our water heater for the kitchen.  I love the push button turn on.  It's really convenient for turning the water on when your hands are messy and for managing the water and a rasculin' baby at the same time.  We turn the gas on and off as we use it for the tub, the stove, and the water heater.  You turn the dial for desired level of hotness, and that's it.  You can also use it without the gas being on for cold water, or you can use the faucet.

This is our toaster oven.  It's way up in the cabinet in this picture. 
We put it away for counter space.  It works pretty well, but it's not big enough to make cookies or anything.
Then we have the stove with two burners where we do most of our cooking, and the kettle.  We just got this new kettle.  It's so powerful that it throws the breaker all the time.  It beats our old one that did not have an auto shut off.  I won this one playing Bingo at my school's Bounen kai (end of year party).   I love it!

And finally, we have the oil heater.  This bad boy has a tiny little notch representing every quarter of an hour throughout the day.  You push them up for off and down for on, so it pops on and off just when you want it to, all day.  It's the least scary of room heater options available, aside from installing another wall heater, which would cost us close to $300, I think.  We bought this one from eco-town, a recycle shop, or second hand store, down the road from us.  We inherited a kerosene heater, but Peter refused to consider it because of the fumes.  I'm very proud of him for that, actually, since he rarely adheres to any principle, which drives me batty.  I know now from experience in my office that kerosene heaters give off potent gas fumes that I don't notice until I leave and reenter the office.  Then I realise that they are really strong, and not very healthy.

                                                                The Oil Heater                                                       


I guess that's it.  Kind of a funny topic, but it's a big part of life, staying warm.  Happy Holidays!!

From Japan,
Tiffany

PS:  The formatting on Blogger is a nightmare.  Yeah?

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Usuki: A Photo Blog

Here are some random pictures from the Bamboo Lantern Festival we went to in Usuki a few weeks ago, and of Knox.  I usually write at school, but my pictures are on my computer at home, so they aren't always synced up.
Knox and friends at his Friday play group
Peter, Tiffany, and Knox Illuminated by Bamboo Candles

A Beautiful Array of Bamboo Candles

Bamboo Dragon

They Can Do Really Cool Things with Bamboo and Light

A really awesome picture
From Japan,
Tiffany











Monday, November 29, 2010

Today

Ugh.  Uuuuuuuuuuuugggggggggghhhhh.  I am sick.  Again.  Fukuoka was fine.  I'm glad I went because I really like most of my JET comrades, and it was an opportunity to get to see them and know them better.  I wasn't the best company thanks to my sickness and lack of energy, but I'm sure they will forgive me.  Fukuoka seemed to me like a bigger Oita.  Granted, I didn't get to experience all that much of it, but it looked and felt very similar.  The city had a bunch more stores than we have in Oita, but I'm not planning many trips to Prada or LV, and a Banana Republic with no petites and no sale rack is no Banana Republic for me.

Snugglefest in Fukuoka
Lisa, Claire, Tiffany, Melissa, Tomek


We have been making plans for a trip to the Hokkaido Yuki Matsuri (Snow Festival) since September, I think.  Flights, hotels, group rates, baby rates, transportation, tours, lessons, etc.  I prefer to do things in a more spur-of-the-moment fashion, but I'm happy to align myself with more organized peeps who help us go on cool trips like this and ensure that we get good rates and have activity options.  We might get snowboarding lessons and will most likely attend a nomi/tabehodai (all you can drink/eat) at the Sapporo beer factory.  Rock on.

I'm looking forward to the rest of the week.  Tomorrow, I took the morning off, and I took Thursday and Friday off as well.  The students have 4 exam days, so I won't be missing any classes.  I hope that by coming in late tomorrow I will feel a little better.  I get a chest cold every single time I get a head cold.  A few days in the head followed by a few days in the chest.  I don't know how to prevent it.

Peter starts tennis lessons on Thursday, and I will be able to spend time with Knox since I don't work.  Things are very busy.  On Friday, I have an end of year school party at the Oita Hotel, and possibly a Japanese lesson after, on Saturday we are having a wine and cheese party with my conversation group, and in the next three weeks we have a JET end of year party, Christmas caroling, an orphanage visit, the 12 Konbinis of Christmas, a date with a sitter so we can go to see Harry Potter, a possible tap dance workshop, tickets to a dance show, and tiks to my school's brass band concert.  We are VERY busy.  Sleep, will thy ne'er come to me?  Why dost thou elude me?

What else?  ... Time lapse...  I had a coughing fit and I have been in the nurse's office being pampered for about an hour.  They were amazed that we don't have kerosine heaters everywhere in the US like they do here.  They weren't allowed oil until tomorrow, but they used my coughing as an excuse, so now they are all toasty and chatting in the nurse's room.  Now I have to wash my mug and go home!!

From Japan,
Tiff 


       

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

This One's For You

You know who you are.

Ahhhhh, this week...  Knox is getting, like, all 32 teeth in this week, which means I've gotten about 2 hours of sleep in a row for a few nights and I look like I'm 40.  A bunch of us JETs are going to Fukuoka this weekend, and due to a whole bunch of changes in plans, I am going sans Knox and Peter.  Or should I say, "Peter and Knox?"  Anyway, part of me doesn't really want to go to Fukuoka, but I am highly motivated by the possibility of sleeping through an entire night.  However, this night of sleep, since I will be in another city with a bunch of JET participants, will likely not begin until the wee hours.  What to do.  I'm also physically adverse to being more than approximately 20 minutes from Knox, but I think I will live.  I often feel this way, like I don't want to be away from the fam, and as though I would rather save money than go on a little trip, but I'm usually refreshed and happy that I did once I am done.  So, to Fukuoka I go.

I will take the train on Saturday morning with a JET pal - you get a discount if you buy 4 tickets, 2 going and 2 returning, so we are buying them together - and then we will see the great city of Fukuoka.  By the way, if anyone I'll be hanging out with reads this, I want to see the green building.  It looks amazing.  It looks like a regular building on one side, and like a tiered park trying to climb into the sky on the other side.  Ikimasho, yo!

Also this week, Knox has been running a fever and his nose has been super runny from teething, and then on top of all that he got sick.  He has a nasty cough, but he went to the doc's today and got medicine and he'll be ship-shape in a couple of days.  Oh, if the fam is reading, Knox had his 18 month check up yesterday, and he passed everything with flying colors.  All of the babies in this area that were born within a week of each other go at the same time, and they have a series of rooms set up for check ups of the teeth, weight and height, body, and mental and physical development.  They had him point at pictures on a page to see if he could recognize the words and identify the picture, and he did so awesome!  He pointed at (and repeated the words) for banana, car, Anpanman, and some other things (I was at work so I am telling this 2nd hand, but I'm totally going next time!).  The room where they have to be in only a diaper was really warm, Peter said.  He is about 23.3 lbs and 32 inches.  He was such a good boy that we got him a treat.  I said, "Do you want a new toy or ice cream?"  He said,"Iceream."  So, we got some iceream.  That was the first time we went out for a special treat together to celebrate Knox being a good boy.  He is such a good boy all of the time.  He makes me so happy.  Sleepy, but happy.

As for me, I am suddenly improving from the culture shock.  On Tuesday of this week I felt a noticeable change in my mental and emotional state, and I am not so... puffy.  I don't know what that means, but I was puffy, I think.  I CAN'T FIND MY BOOKS.  I brought two books to Japan.  Do you know how I feel about books?  I love them.  I chose 2.  AND I CAN'T FIND THEM!!!  Tomorrow I am going to the Hofu Jr. High English Seminar, which I am happy about because I like doing anything that is different from what I am usually doing.  We are planning to go to Universal studios in Osaka over Christmas break, probably around January 1st, because they have tons of Elmo stuff, and Knox loves Elmo.  I took a tap class last night that was decent, especially since I haven't tapped since June, which means that I am rusty.  I'm trying a ballet class on Monday.

Happy Thanksgiving, Americanos!!

From Japan,
Tiffany  



     

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

A Dexter Moment

Sometimes Dexter gets upset.  Even more rare, sometimes Dexter lashes out in public... but only in his head.  One of the best scenes depicting a Dexter freak out is when he finds out that Prado is using him.  Dexter throws a chair through the lab window, chucks his computer into some other equipment, and generally destroys the office with his bare hands.  But he doesn't, really, because a moment later the object of his passion peeks his head in and asks Dexter for a round of golf, and Dexter, in a calm manner, swivels around on his chair in his unharmed office to say, "You bet."

A couple of things are causing me to have a Dexter freak out right now.  #1:  My computer at school.  It's a useless hunk of grey mass and it infuriates me.  I really think the only reason people keep buying PCs is because people are masochists.  They would rather do what is comfortable rather than what is good for them.  Every morning I go through a kind of strategy with my computer.  I open it right away, sometimes before I sit down, and press the power button.  Then I put my phone, Japanese dictionary, lunch, and chapstick on my desk and take my coat off.  By this time the password prompt is available and I put mine in and press enter.  This is when I need a longer activity, like going to get a cup of tea or coffee, or organizing my folder for that day's classes.  When I get back, I have to close several new word documents that have opened themselves, and reopen the word document that I wanted to see.  Shortly after getting my document open, I open an Internet Explorer window, just so she's getting warmed up for me when I need her later.  That's all for my first routine of the day, but throughout the day, the entire day, every single time I save or open something, I have to wait.  And wait.  Sometimes I time how long it takes for a program to open, or even just an e-mail composition window.  45 seconds... a minute 20... one time I got up to around 4 minutes when I finally just killed it and started over.  I usually don't torture myself with timing.  Anyway, I usually end up physically threatening my computer once or twice a day, and I often have Dexter freak outs, where I see myself punching my computer in its stupid Windows face and smashing it repeatedly into the desk and the ground.

Frustration #2:  Lack of physical activity.  I'm not a sitter.  I'm a mover.  I do like to sit for long periods of time; I could read for hours.  However, this sitting must be balanced with, or outdone by, some serious running and jumping around.  I have such a dilemma because my time for shakin' what my momma gave me is after school, but that conflicts with the three and a half to four hours that I get with Knox each day.  I don't want to leave him and I feel strongly about being there for bedtime.  My preferred activity is dance, but all of the classes I know about start before 8:45 or so when I would ideally like to get there.  I wonder if the gym would be open after that, if I were willing to pay $60 a month for that access?  Anyway, I get really antsy at work and sometimes just take a stroll around the school because my butt is asleep.  Again.  This also brings me to why I am writing this blog at 4:30 in the morning.  I woke up around 2:45, I think, and I had to pee, then I needed some chapstick and a drink of water, then my back hurt and I made peter rub it a little, but he never really rubs it, he just starts to and then falls back asleep, and then I started to have what I refer to as crazy legs, but I had it all over.  Crazy Legs is a condition similar to RLS, or restless leg syndrome.  Crazy legs happen sometimes for no reason, or when I am am beyond tired, or apparently, when my body simply will not take it anymore and must move, despite the complete inappropriateness of the hour.

So, this is freak out number two.  I had Crazy Body and had to get up and pace my apartment and do some jumping jacks.  And write a blog, apparently.    

From Japan,
Tiffany

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Thanksgiving 2010

The Room
Today was Thanksgiving for some JETs, and we have one more Thanksgiving coming up.  We rented a kitchen at a community center that had 6 ovens.  If you haven't heard, we JETs don't typically have ovens, and even those who do report that they don't work very well and are smaller than American ovens.  One day in my Cross Cultural Communications class I described the size of an American oven and drew a picture on the board to a chorus of, "Ehhhh?"  My team teacher drew an approximation of her oven next to mine, and I told them that if we have an oven like that in the U.S., then we have two.  We JETs have toaster ovens and some have convection ovens, and we get very creative with rice cookers.  You know you can cook a cake in a rice cooker?  Who knew?

Kangaroo Meat





So, today we got to the kitchen at about 9:30 and got our quiches going.  We were Team Quiche, and we made 4 quiches; they were all different configurations of broccoli, ham, greens, cheddar, and feta.  Cooking in Japan takes quite a bit of effort, especially if you want to cook something foreign, like quiche, turkey, pumpkin pie, or kangaroo curry.  Coordinator Katie and Team Potato Brandy drove two hours to a Costco to pick up ingredients for everyone.  Convenience foods aren't as easy to find in Japan, so we had to make our own crust from scratch.  It was fun and made me feel more capable and less dependent on others.  Team Dessert, which ended up being only Katie, pretty much, made their own pie crusts from graham crackers and ginger snap cookies.  I'll have to find out where the kangaroo came from.  I took Knox home for a nap in the middle of the day, so I missed some interesting details.

Peter and Pete

Beer Pong 
The turkeys were ordered from a website called "The Meat Guy" and were delivered prior.  Three guys had to go get the turkeys from Lee's apartment around noon.  Picture three guys walking down the street, each holding a 10 pound turkey.  Thirty people eat a lot of turkey.  The turkeys were named Rodney, Pete, and ?.  We ended up having carrots, 2 kinds of potatoes, quiche, roasted vegetables, 3 varieties of stuffing - made from scratch - including plain stuffing, sausage stuffing, and oyster stuffing, turkey, mushroom gravy, giblet gravy, and turkey neck gravy, kangaroo curry, applesauce, green bean casserole, garlic/seasoned bread, spiced tea, hot chocolate, coffee, pumpkin pie, pumpkin cheesecake, and a few other things.  We all cooked together, ate together, and cleaned up together.  There were dishes done in 5 or 6 sinks, people packed up tons of left-overs, and we rounded things out with a beer pong tournament.


Peter Doing Conversions.  Danged Metric System.  
Knox and Masa chased each other around until mid morning when Masa hit his eyebrow/forehead area and had to go for a butterfly.  I drove Yuko and Masa to the clinic and then went to retrieve their insurance card.  Knox also got to run around with everyone when we went out for a 4 o'clock game of football.  He had a great time all day and had lots of  attention and babysitters.

Yuko, and Knox Giving Masa a Hug
I really felt like it was Thanksgiving.  I even was thinking that traffic was the way it was because it was Thanksgiving.  The day was a huge success, apart from not getting one great big group photo.  Thank you to everyone who contributed, and for inviting us.      

From Japan,
Tiffany

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Culture Shock

So, I just consulted my culture shock graph, and I see my state of being confirmed.  I am in month four, which means I've been dealing with less than positive feelings, about being illiterate, mostly.



According to the graph, I will feel hostile for the next several weeks, and then start to improve.  I should be feeling fine by Christmas.  I don't actually feel hostile.  If you were to look at me, I just look like something smells kinda funny. 

There are lots of great and fun things going on, too.  We have a lot of really generous people around us who have invited us to dinner and offered to help with Japanese.  Our JET friends are awesome.  We are lucky to be surrounded by great friends who invite us to their apartments and shower us with movies, American football, and familiar candy purchased in Guam.  Our neighbors are awesome and we share rides, dinners, the internet, good conversation, and now Dexter.  We love having friends from distant towns crash on our couch and our floor, and we love returning the favor.  We are very slowly and painfully figuring out places that have what we want, and I am trying out a tap class soon, which I hope will be challenging.

Peter is doing fine, but I think Knox misses his mommy.  He wakes up around 5 am everyday crying for me, crying for the beeboos.  I think it's his way of spending more time with me.  Don't worry though, he has lots of fun playing at the parks and at kids groups and the Mommy Monster gets him when she gets home.

From Japan,
Tiffany

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Halloween

Halloween was so freaking awesome this year, I can hardly believe it.  My Halloween week started last Sunday when I prepared my Jack-O-Lantern for my Halloween lessons.  Basically, I put aside all other lessons and dubbed the whole week "Halloween Week."   I gave a Jack-O-Lantern 'How-To' lesson.  At the beginning of each class we turned the lights out and I lit mine.  Then I gave them a worksheet I made with costume names and pictures, and they had to match the costume with the name.  They all thought the mummy was the zombie, so I had to just start telling them at the beginning that the mummy was ミイラ  We had fun reciting words like alien, werewolf, and vampire.  Then we unscrambled Halloween related words and in the midst of that learned about the Boogie Man.  We rounded out each lesson with a rousing game of Halloween Criss Cross.  Lots of candy was flying all over the place.  It was glorious.

I dressed as a frog all week in class, which was just me placing a headband with frog eyes atop my head.  I added a green dress when I went out on Saturday night, but I was unhappy with my costume, so we stopped by this big crazy store called Don Quixote and I got a new costume.  I knew what I was looking for;  A girl in one of my classes had a Stitch costume and I asked her where she got it.  She told me, "Don Qi's."  I found it not in the costume section, but in the pajama section. 

We went to another hectic Japanese dinner... dinner in Japan always entails us having to physically hold Knox in his seat while waiting for our mystery dishes to arrive because we can't read the menu or speak to the servers, and because the child seats in this country don't have seat belts.  WTF?

Anyway, dinner was mostly good.  Then we headed to a Halloween party where I saw several ladies that are in the English conversation class that I hold on Wednesdays.  I learned about Gloomy Bear at the party.  Tomek was gloomy bear for Halloween.  Gloomy Bear is a really cute bear that attacked his owner so he has blood all over him.  If you look Gloomy Bear up on Wiki, you will find that he is the artists answer to the super cutesy bears that the Japanese find irresistible.  Gloomy is like a real bear who is rescued as a cub, but is a wild animal, so he grows up and attacks his keeper.  Besides being Gloomy Bear, Tomek did unmentionable things to a cream puff for a few minutes, then I, the nun, and a zombie left for the PEI Pub.

PEI stands for Prince Edward Island.  It's a gaijin, that is, foreigner bar, that was founded by a guy from Canada and passed through the hands of a few different native English speakers, as far as I have heard.  They have a very decent club sandwich and other American type food.  PEI is pretty popular amongst JETs in Oita.  They have a dance party about once a month, and this month's Haze, as they call it, happened on Halloween weekend.  It's about $10 for entry and one drink, or $30 for all you can drink.  I had tons of fun dancing and talking and running around in the park.  Oh, yes, I forgot to tell you;  You cannot take a sip of alcohol in Japan and drive, but there are no open container laws, so you can walk around anywhere with drinks, and passengers in cars can drink away with no problem.  For the pub, which has a park with fountains outside, this means that people leave and get drinks at the convenience store, drink in the park, and go back for more fun and dancing.  I got my groove on at PEI for about 5 hours, got home at 3:30a, and slept till 7:30a when I got up with Knox and Peter.

But Halloween had only just begun!  We went to a kids party from 10a to 1p, had naps/second party prep from 1:30p to 4p, then arrived at our evening kids party at 4:30p.  We went trick or treating to the other kids houses, had a traditional Japanese winter dinner, the kids played and examined their Halloween take, we had cake, and enjoyed ourselves all around.  Knox got to bed on time at 8p and we performed our final Halloween act of setting the Jack-O-Lantern out on the porch, scaring or thrilling the natives, we know not.  

I never thought we would have such a great time on a holiday that isn't officially celebrated in Japan.  Next up, Thanksgiving!

From Japan,
Tiffany           

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Acupuncture

I got acupuncture yesterday for the third time in Japan.  Here’s how that started:  Around the time I got to Japan I started feeling pain on my right side around the area of my hip.  It felt like sciatica, which I have had on my left side.  The stretching, heating, and resting that helped my left side was not helping my right side, and it was getting worse, to the point that I was limping and moaning in pain every time I changed position.  The pain was really draining me.  I couldn’t pick Knox up and I spent several different weekend days sleeping most of the day away.  The pain exhausted me and continued to worsen so that it felt like I pulled every muscle from my spine, across my butt and hip, and down my thigh.  I could even feel the nerve pinched in my ankle. 


My discomfort was obvious, and the teacher who sits next to me asked me about it.  That’s when she told me that her father is an acupuncturist and that I should go to see him.  She speaks limited English and, it seems to me, that she wants to talk to me but doesn’t have a lot of interest in speaking English, so she wanted me to have an interpreter.  We set up an appointment and I went to see Yamaguchi Sensei (Doctors are also called “sensei”) with a posse.  Those attending included myself, Yamaguchi Sensei (daughter of acupuncturist and desk neighbor teacher to me), and Miyazaki Sensei, who I teach English classes with and who was recruited to be my interpreter. 


The driving time between my apartment and my school is only about ten minutes, and the place where the Yamaguchi family lives and has the acupuncture office is in between the two.  Carrot Coffee is across the street from the office.  We went to Carrot Coffee first to while away the interim time between school and my appointment.  They had caramel parfaits and I had an iced caramel latte.  We talked and I heard a bunch of dirt about the school and my predecessor, which I wish I hadn’t heard, but I can tell you about that later.  Everything is about six bucks at this café, from the plain drinks to the fancy parfaits, so you’re kinda screwed if all you want is a coffee.  The building and the furnishings are gorgeous, collections of magazines are in perfect lines along the walls, and little cars inconspicuously sit in modern white and glass table cases.  The lighting isn't bad, either.  I have been there three times and the party I’m with is always the only patronage.  I don’t know how they stay open.  Probably thanks to the suggestive little symbol they have.


We walked over to the office from there.  We changed into the indoor slippers, I changed into Miss Yamaguchi Sensei’s pajamas, and I laid myself out on the table.  I was pretty nervous before the first session because I hadn’t thought to ask about the needles.  In the states they have to use disposables, but Japan is not the the states.  It turns out that they do have to use dispo, as they call it, but he doesn’t use them for family, and during my second session I know there was a metal needle in my wrist.  Oh, well.  Miyazaki Sensei worked fast and furious on the electronic translator.  Yamaguchi is not only an acupuncturist, he must also be a psychic.  He feels your pulse at first and at intervals during the session.  Just from feeling my pulse he knew that I had gall bladder issues and that my perseverance was very low.  Yesterday, when he felt my pulse, he knew that I have been having trouble with will power (which I know is true because I have been gaining weight), and that I have been wearing cheap shoes.  I am seeing this crazy psychic Japanese acupuncturist, which is awesome, although it’s a good thing because I am in bad shape.        


Back to the pain...  I had also been going to a chiropractic massage place and had gotten a Thai massage to stretch and relax.  Both places were great, but the acupuncture is the only thing that helped the pain.  The first time I went to acupuncture, the pain got better, but it was still unbearable.  The second time, about a week later, improved the situation enough that it took me about a month to go back for the third session, yesterday.  I had still been able to feel the pain, but not enough to be a big issue.  Now it’s gone, but I feel repercussions of barely moving my leg for two and a half months, mainly loss of flexibility and stiffness. 


As for the acupuncture itself, his technique is definitely different than that in the states.  For the most part, he pokes me but doesn’t leave the needle in, and it’s kinda dramatic.  He does it really fast, and it’s accompanied by a grunt and a move, as though he’s coming out of a ju jitsu move or something, and he does a quick little rub down of the spot.  There is a nice warmer on my feet during the whole process.  When I flip over onto my stomach he does more poking, but leaves some of the needles in.  This is the point at which I get set on fire.  That’s right.  Fire.  He puts these little spongy herbal balls on the tips of the needles and lights them.  They are fragrant, very hot and smoky, and he puts cardboard boxes over them to keep the heat and smoke next to me.  The first time I walked into the office and smelled it, I was a little incensed because I thought it was cigarette smoke, but I realized later that the smoke was part of it.  I’ll add pics of this next time I go.  Then he cleans me up, cracks my neck and my back, blow dries me, and I’m done.  Yeah, he pulls out a blow dryer and winds me down.  I don’t know why, maybe to make me warm.  It’s really nice to be blow dried.   So, I know this all sounds like a lot of hocus pocus, but doing this has reduced my pain dramatically.  I've tried so many other things with no result, but the first time I got off the acupuncture table, I felt remarkably better. 


So, I am a bit of a mess right now.  My back and neck are always uncomfortable, Knox wakes me up at all hours of the night almost every night, the days are so short I feel like I don’t have time for anything… I am still finding ways to exercise here, but haven’t done a very good job of it, and I’m miserable without exercise… the sleep loss and the lack of exercise are really taking a toll on me.  Oy.


From Japan,
Tiffany

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Our Daihatsu is the Bomb



We have a black Daihatsu Mira with a manual transmission.  It's super tiny.  It was only $500 and it runs fine.  My supervisor said that he would not have let me buy a five-hundred dollar car if we hadn’t known the previous owner, another JET and her husband.  We were asking around for a car and I was hooked up with Caitlyn.  She moved out of our building with the last JET exodus.  Apparently, she had stopped by and knocked on our door to see if we wanted it, but we didn't answer.  From hearing the details of the story, I think we were home, but didn't hear the door (we never hear the door).  


So, we went to the dealership down the hill from our place and found her car.  This dealership has about 20 cars parked in one line and sits on a lot that tapers off between the road and the hill.  They have two cats and a half size trailer where paper work is done.  We test drove the car and then slipped our shoes off before stepping into the trailer.  A couple of car salesmen, an insurance salesman, my supervisor, Peter, and Knox, joined me in trailer.  I put my inken on all of the important papers and paid.  The only thing left was to wait for permission from my building manager.  That's right.  To buy a car in Japan you must provide proof that you have somewhere to park it.  One of the car salesmen had to go to my building and talk to my manager before we could take the car home, which I did the next day. 


If I may interject, some JETs are not allowed to have a car, and some have to wait weeks and weeks to get all of the required permission slips from school.  I was lucky, but I heard that a JET in recent years got in a pretty bad accident and didn't have adequate insurance to cover the damage and the medical expenses.  This caused a lot of grief for the school that employed him, so they started making these rules, even though all they have to do, as they did with me, is make sure you have full coverage.


I had to be the driver at first because Peter didn't know stick.  Driving this car for the first time, for the first few days, stressed me out to a crazy degree.  My head wanted to explode the first day, driving stick on unfamiliar roads, driving on the other side of the road, with the turn signals on the other side of the wheel, and the wheel on the other side of the car.  "No, It’s not raining, I’m just an American trying to turn, and that is why my windshield wipers are on."  The 2nd day it was better and by the 4th day it was okay.  I figure I built a bunch of brain pathways this way.  Hopefully it will make up for all of the ones I’ve killed.


Compare
Next, I had to teach Peter how to drive stick.  I seriously thought we were going to lurch off of the side of the mountain a couple of times, but he drives like a pro now, no worries.  Well, besides a little tailgating, but that's to be expected.  He is a man.  


My neighbor bought a brand new Nissan March for about $12k and is shipping it with her to her next destination.  We want to, but it might not be worth it.  But how cool would it be?


From Japan,
Tiffany