Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Flu

I haven't felt my muse stir lately, so I've only glanced sideways at my blog, but I want to keep it consistent so I'm just going to tell you about my week, month, year, life... who knows what?

Peter and Knox have the flu.  Part of me has always denied that the flu was a real thing separate from colds.  This weird little belief system followed me to Japan where I gently and good-naturedly scoff at the wearing of masks, the requisite three days off, and the school closings for flu.  Whenever I have a sniffle I am asked if I have the flu.  "No," I say, and in my head, "Pffft.  The flu.  What is the flu anyway?"

But now I have an actual glob of tested mucous for proof of the flu.

Knox tested positive for Influenza Type A on Wednesday, and the doc asked which of us, me or Peter, had the symptoms, too.  The clear answer was that Peter was the one with the symptoms, so the doc gave him some flu meds, too.

Peter rarely gets sick, and when he does, he doesn't get as sick as I do.  Add that to my experience in Japan of being sick for about 6 months, and I am baffled that I do not have the flu.  Peter and Knox have been miserably battling up to 104 degree fevers, and I'm chillin'.  I have actually felt Knox's saliva fly into my eye from a cough, I have eaten off both of their forks and put my mouth on the slimy side of a toddler cup, but I woke up again today with no flu.  This can only mean one thing; there is only one, I say ONE conclusion to be drawn from these events:  The flu really doesn't exist.  For me.  ;-)

My poor little bubby boo boo has been a virtual heater for three days and has thrown up everything he has eaten.  He can't sleep and fusses about everything due to fatigue and discomfort.  I put the wrong video on and he points and says, "NO THIS, NO THIS!"  Actually, it's really cute.  Whenever he doesn't like or want something lately, he points at it and says, "No this."  When we tried to give him his medicine last night he waved at it and said, "Bye, bye medcin," and he repeated it more emphatically the longer we tried, waving bye bye all the while to his medicine, hoping that it would in fact go bye-bye.

Last night, Knox hadn't had a wet diaper in more than 12 hours, he threw up his medicine 10 minutes after taking it, and he was coughing uncontrollably, preventing sleep, so we went to the hospital at about ten.  The doctor just felt his pulse and listened to his chest from the back, not even putting the stethoscope under his shirt, but Knox howled, "No, no, no!"  The doctor talked with us extensively, finally telling us that he was fine and sending us away with no treatment.  That was fine.  We went for either treatment or peace of mind, and we left happy.

Knox's fever was much better this morning, but now it's back.  Poor little man.  I'll stop and get him some apple juice on the way home. 

I have felt infinitely better since starting my supplement regimen and breaking the coffee habit.  I am not joking - coffee was giving me mental health problems.  I am off coffee and feel on top of the world, I take a muli-vitamin, Floradix iron, Vitamin D3, and probiotics.  I also dissolve a vitamin C packet in water from time to time.  It sounds like a lot, but I feel so much better, and I haven't gotten sick since I started this.  I almost got sick last week, and I did end up with some chest congestion, but I just had to take it easy for two days and I was fine again.

So, I guess I ended up talking about the flu.  I want to tell you about our acupuncture appointments and how our acupuncturist, Yamaguchi Sensei, bled Peter.  I'll save most of the story for another time, but he actually poked Peter's finger and bled him.  It seems crazy, but if you could meet Yamaguchi Sensei, you would feel, as I do, that he is not a man to doubt or mess with.  He can heal you, but I suspect that he could also kick your a$$.

From Japan,
Tiffany   

Monday, February 14, 2011

Hokkaido

A fairly bare bones account of our trip:

We began our travels to Niseko, Hokkaido on Thursday, February 10th.  We packed lightly for two adults and a baby, bringing two carry-ons, a diaper bag, a small back pack, and a stroller.  A neighborhood bus took us to downtown Oita, where we boarded another bus to Fukuoka City.  We arrived without much incident, but many snafu were to follow.  Don't worry, we had lots of fun and enjoyed ourselves, despite Murphy's Law.

We figured out almost immediately upon exiting the bus that we had left our camera between our seats.  We went right to a service desk and reported our mistake, and I have no idea how they got a hold of us where we were, but about 24 hours later we got a message that our camera would be waiting for us when we got back to Fukuoka.  I was never worried about it.  Things just very rarely get stolen in Japan and I had great confidence that we would get it back, which we did.  The service in Japan is also wonderful;  the camera was bubble-wrapped and bagged.  They didn't want to disturb the state in which they found the camera, so they did not replace the lens cover.  We had to rely on friends to get pictures of our trip, but people were very generous with their cameras, especially J, and we got the camera back, so everything turned out well.

After getting to Fukuoka and taking care of the camera, we took a short train ride to the airport from the bus terminal, where the lady at the desk confirmed our flight from Fukuoka to Tokyo, but informed us that we didn't actually have a flight from Tokyo to New Chitose Airport in Hokkaido.  What we had was a backwards flight to Tokyo from New Chitose.  We took the flight to Tokyo anyway, assuming that everything would work out.

The person who booked our flights and who owns the hotel we stayed at in Niseko met us at Haneda Airport in Tokyo.  I don't know if the mix up was his fault or the airline's fault, but he got us on a later flight and bought us dinner.  This change in plans made us too late to Sapporo to see the snow festival on Thursday and affected the entire group of Oita and Hokkaido JETs on this trip.  We were all to meet at a chartered bus to drive from Sapporo to Niseko, but we couldn't get there even by 10pm to get on the bus, so the bus, and everyone on it, went way out of the way to pick us up at New Chitose Airport.  We finally left the airport on the bus at some minutes after 11pm and rode for what seemed like an eternity to the Freedom Inn in Niseko.  We arrived at about 2:30 in the morning.  Poor Knox fell asleep in my arms around 10:30pm, then was transported from an airport couch back to my arms, then to Peter's arms, followed by two bus seats, and finally, finally, through the snow and up the stairs to bed.  We were there.

The Freedom Inn was beautiful and cozy, almost like a bed and breakfast.  (What a terrible name, though.  It sounds like a side-of-the-road Motel.  A beautiful, private place like that, located next to a world class ski area, should have a better name.  The Niseko House.  That would be better.  Anything would be better.)  The wood floors and traditional furnishings felt warm and inviting, and I love any hotel that provides a library, even though I didn't get a chance to read.  Knox doesn't appreciate when mommy reads during his waking hours.  Brick, wood, a fireplace, and big windows affording vast views of the falling snow put me at ease.  I could have sat there all day with cups of coffee and tea, reading.  Someday maybe I'll get to.

On the first day we went sledding.  Knox went down with Peter as I could hardly keep myself upright on my own.  Then we all took a shuttle van into Hirafu, the closest city with anything, and had dinner at an Indian restaurant called the Taj Mahal.  At the end, everyone started singing Happy Birthday and I joined in, looking around for the birthday person.  It was me.  I got a couple of great presents and ice cream, and the restaurant gave me this little commemorative plate.  After dinner I took Knox home and Peter and some friends went to an onsen.

On the second day we went on the zip line.  My first time across was very uncomfortable.  They had forgotten to clip the straps around my legs, so my only support was the strap between my legs.  Yeah.  I also hit my head pretty hard on the mat that stops you at the end.  I got my straps fixed and made sure to finish feet first after that, and I had fun.  When we had finished riding the zip line, Peter took Knox for a nap and I went with K and J to Hirafu to ride the gondola up the mountain.  The view was amazing.  In the evening of the second day, Peter went skiing for free and I took Knox on a trip to Otaru.  We had decided not to ski because of the expense, so it was awesome that Peter got to go. 

My trip to Otaru, honestly, was extremely stressful due to taking a little guy on the train and through an icy city with limited time, improper cold weather clothing, and no stroller, but I will remember it fondly anyway.  I had no idea that the train to Otaru would take close to two hours.  The snow candle festival they were having was beautiful, even if I only got to glance at things for a moment before chasing after Knox.  They had trees, hearts, bricks, wells, and lots of interesting things made out of snow, including snow men, all illuminated in creative ways by candles.  Some of the most beautiful sights were just candles sitting in little holes dug out of the snow.  The canal had many floating candles.  The whole thing was very romantic feeling and would've made a wonderful date.  We had to stop to warm Knox up, then went to dinner at a big German restaurant where they made their own beer.  I stayed busy getting Knox changed, trying to dry his socks and feet, getting him warm, keeping him entertained, and feeding him.  And trying to feed myself, too.  Just as Knox was fed and I felt like I could relax for a moment, it was time to go back to the train.  And we had to run.  We made it to the train on time, and Knox fell asleep.  I held him for two hours back to the Inn.

That night, the second night, some of us went down to the Japanese style bath.  It is like an onsen, but is tap water rather than spring water.  They only have one, so there is girl time and then boy time.  The boys got crazy.  There was an incident with water getting all over the floor of the hotel and I heard a lot of commotion from 3 stories up.  I looked out the window just in time to see a naked body climbing back into the bath area.  Many college aged guys, nudity, and snow.  Of course they would end up running around naked in the snow.  Who would expect any different?  And who could ask for more?

On the third morning we ate breakfast and then got packed up to ride the train to Sapporo.  We had decided not to come back for our last night at the Freedom Inn because of how far it was from everything.  Even after getting a hotel room, we only spent about $40 extra and saved ourselves 5 hours of traveling with a baby.  The travel times were better too.  We got more sleep by staying in Sapporo.

The festival was beautiful and totally worth the effort.  We saw sculptures of dinosaurs, cartoon characters, animals, and government buildings (to scale).  They had a giant ski jump set up in the park in the middle of Sapporo where we watched a ski jump contest.  It snowed a lot!!  We stayed at The Regency Hotel right next to the station.  After viewing the Yuki Matsuri for a while, we stopped in The United Colors of Benetton where I got a green shirt on super-sale, and then headed back to the hotel to let Knox rest.  That night we met up with S and B, who decided on a crab restaurant, which is famous in Sapporo, I think.  It was really good and a memorable Japanese dining experience.  We took our shoes off at the front door, watched a Japanese man brushing snow off of people with a little broom, took a tatami floored elevator up, and sat on cushions at our table.  Knox and the rest of us enjoyed the fountains where they keep the crabs on the way out.

We got a decent night's sleep and then had a monster of a day of traveling on Monday, February 14th, my birthday.  We started the day with a 9:30am train, then rode a plane from Hokkaido to Fukuoka, at which time we found out that our bus from there to Oita was cancelled.  We got the 5pm train from Fukuoka to Oita, then got a bus at a little after 8 pm to our neighborhood.  We had travelled for almost 12 hours and were finally home.  That's one thing that sucks about Japan; you can't just go somewhere, you have to ride planes, trains, and automobiles for hours on end.

One of my fondest memories of the trip is just the picture in my mind of the snow piled up on the rooftops of the little houses in Niseko and Hirafu.  I've never seen so much snow in my life.  It looks gravity defying, how it balloons out like a Seuss drawing.  I hope I have a picture of that somewhere.

I also loved the view from the gondola.  The mountains blanketed the land and went on forever.  Even in Nepal, I don't think I've ever seen so many mountains at once.

That's our trip.  Hectic, but beautiful.  When I get the pictures, I'll add some here and post them on Facebook.

From Japan,
Tiffany       

Monday, February 7, 2011

Entropy

There are different definitions of entropy depending on the subject.  Maybe you're into thermodynamics.  Maybe social science thrills you.  Despite differences, all of the definitions come to the same point:  All things bound by time are progressing toward disorder.  Things will continue to progress toward disorder, always, unless energy is put in to prevent that disorder.  What's kinda funny is that the system experiencing entropy, like your kitchen, can only get cleaned by another system, like your body, and the energy you use to clean the kitchen creates what in your body?  Entropy!  So, entropy can only be abated in one place if it is enhanced in another place.  Perfect disorder.

It seems to me that everything starts falling apart the moment it begins to exist.  Well, maybe not that first moment, I'll reject reality for just that first moment and bask in the perfection, but the second moment, surely. 

Anyone who owns a new home knows that this is true.  The paint peels, the drains get clogged, the floors get dirty, and the popcorn ceiling gets apple cider all over it from a blender accident, and it simply won't come off.  One day, that home will be old, and it approaches that state a little bit in the span of every moment.

Anyone who has a child knows that this is true.  The beautiful little thing is born and a moment after birth is still in perfect union with his or her mother, and then that baby gets clipped from it's mother with a pair of blades.  It has to be done.  It's the nature of the Universe.  And after that, even if you dodge the puncture from the vaccine needle or decide not to circumcise (or have a girl ;-) ), your baby will still get rashes, bumps, and accidental scratches within days of birth.  One day, that baby will be an adult with wrinkles, and it happens so gradually that his or her mother will notice suddenly and gasp to herself, and feel her own age gaining.  Entropy of the cells.

Infinite gradations of chaos exist between perfection and collapse, between a shining empire and social anarchy.  My question is, where do we have to be on the scale to feel satisfied.  Pretty high, I find, pretty high.  Too high, for many of us.  My thought is that there isn't enough energy to keep things the way we want them.  We're trying to counteract the laws of the universe, which wants to fall apart, by all appearances, and we just can't do it.  We spend our lives trying, though.

Since entropy is a law of physics, and the only one, I think, that chooses a direction in time, forward, that is, then I think we have to think of entropy as progression.  When the bike's wheels rust up and the heater breaks and the cold is getting in, it doesn't feel much like progress.  If entropy is progression, then our goal is regression.  We want to regress back to the state of clean, warm, and fed, mostly.  We want to float in a safe, unaltered state where we feel comfortable and the house is clean.  When you gaze across the carpet and know that the vacuum must come out, you know who to blame:  Entropy.

Maybe we should stop trying to regress!  Is perpetual "the sameness" really what we want?  Look at that messy house and say, "Progress, baby, progress."  I figure, probably, that entropy is doing us a favor.  Without it, everything would be like that Twilight Zone episode where time stops and the bomb is hovering a foot above the ground.  Well, not the bomb part, but if things didn't progress on their own everything would be boring and stale.  And creepy.

Wikipedia said that "as the system becomes more complex, through access to energy, it becomes more susceptible to changes that may occur if one were to remove this source of energy."  I think this is the scientific way to say, "Mo money, mo problems."  (Not a great analogy, the way it's stated, but I couldn't help myself.)

Entropy teaches many things by example, including that things can change rapidly or slowly, and still maintain perfect balance.  Let's remember when we observe something needing to be done, that we have to search ourselves and see whether or not we have the equal energy inside to step into entropy's path and make a regression.  So many people victimize themselves by giving more than they have, and they win, on one front, because the rebalanced entropy results in a clean car, or some other desired outcome.  But we lose when we get frustrated, are brought to tears, or get physically ill, which happens more and more as our entropic societal systems get more complex.  Sometimes I think we should accept a higher rung on the entropy scale and a lower rung on the clean scale so we can keep our sanity and health.     

My perusal of and comments on the subject might seem a little dreary, but entropy results in more than decomposition.  An entropic increase in the surroundings of children help them learn and grow; as a child takes something apart, he learns how to manipulate it.  In an emergency, when things really fall apart, we get an opportunity to test our stress management skills and find out how capable and courageous we are.  In a classroom, where the teacher gives energy and books are opened and papers written upon, new ideas develop.  If you put energy out, one way or another, you'll get something back, and many times we get wonderful things.  And there is something beautiful about the infallible constancy of entropy.  (Of course my human brain finds pleasure in the part of a law of change that is unchanging.)  I glean a certain amount of comfort from truths that I can't do anything about.  No energy required.  Let it be.  Surrender. 

From Japan,
Tiffany

Dedicated to my inspiration, M.C.'s messy kitchen.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

1-6 Is My Bane

I feel angry.

I almost always feel angry around noon on Fridays. 

I feel angry because 1-6 is my bane.

Since the first week of classes in August, I have suffered at the hands of 1-6.  They pretend not to understand me, and patronize me by just saying "yes" to anything I say.  I told them that Westerners will laugh at them if they do that in public.

They refuse to do any work.  A large bit of my time is spent creating lessons for them.  Their refusal to do the lessons makes me feel like I am wasting my time and energy, but I want to do my job well, so I keep trying, which results in more disappointment.

I never said anything to anyone until Takakura Sensei specifically asked me about my classes.  I told her that 1-6 is, without exception, the least disciplined and most frustrating class.  A couple of months later she asked me again, and I told her again.  This time my JTE (Japanese Teacher of English) and teaching partner for 1-6, Wakamatsu Sensei, said to me, "You don't like 1-6?"  "No," I said, "it's not that I don't like them, but they are the most challenging class I teach."  I tried to explain myself in gentle terms, and I thought maybe all the talk would result in at least a bit more discipline in the class, but today was the worst.  I don't think Wakamatsu Sensei realises that I am not supposed to discipline the students.  Discipline is the job of the JTE.  I do what I have to do to maintain a semblance of respect in the room, but there is only so much I can accomplish toward discipline in a foreign language.  Discipline is ignored plenty of times even in one's own language.

Today they did presentations on a worksheet that they have been working on for three weeks.  Of 7 classes, 1-6 is the only class that did not finish their work, and amongst all the giggling and stalling that some groups did in other classes, 1-6 won out.  The presentations today ended up being mostly just for me in front of a class all talking and doing their own things, despite my attempts to call for quiet and focus, and they had to skip some aspects of the presentation because they hadn't written anything, or had written the wrong thing.  There was no clapping for each group like there was in every other class.

After class today, on the way back to the teacher's room, I asked Wakamatsu Sensei how many classes there are left before graduation.  He said 2 or 3, or 4 or 5.  By piecing together that info with the last day of classes and asking another teacher when exams are, I figured there are four classes left.  No sense in making a scene now.  I only have to endure four more classes with them.  Then they will be 2nd year students and I'll never have to see them.

Cheers to my other classes and to March 18th, my last Friday with 1-6.

From Japan,
Tiffany

Update from March:  On the last day of class, Wakamatsu sensei yelled at students and through papers at them.  It was sort of funny, but sort of strange.