I think my last blog post was in 2009. It is not like I have not been thinking about anything since then; it's just that I haven't been thinking coherently about anything since, maybe even before, then! I can't say that all of a sudden I am thinking coherently but I can say that I have a desire to do so, so maybe that is a good place to start up again... If I think about the past three years it all gets blurred together so I will just think about today so far. I dropped off Takeshi at LAX again. This is about my 12th time dropping him off this year so far. Not the most he has ever traveled in one year, but these trips are longer so he is actually gone more that usual. Today's trip was different in that "carmaggedon" ended last night so the freeway message boards said, "The 405 Freeway is open! Thank you. Los Angeles" It is the first time I have been thanked by the city of Los Angeles for using their freeways. In addition to dropping off Takeshi, we dropped off the seven remaining participants of the A2/JCGI retreat/tour who are headed back to Japan. I helped two who were traveling on American Airlines. We did the self check in and then came time to take the bags to a woman who was waiting to check in bags. She gave us a hard time about using the check in process properly. After explaining that we did, she asked the names of the passengers and then realized that she DID have their luggage tags. So, she gruffly asked to see passports and boarding passes. Then she gruffly told them to put the suitcases on the scale one at a time. The first one was 42 pounds. No problem. The second was 54 pounds. Overweight. "It is overweight. We can not take this." I politely asked since the two bags were together wouldn't it even out? She said no but you can take the bags and even them out yourself and come back. So we took the suitcases to the side and tried to figure out 4 pounds. When we took the bags back to the scale, the woman was gone and in her place was a smiling man. We placed the 42 pound bag on the scale and it had become 55 pounds! He said, no problem. We will take that as it is! And he tagged it. The 54 pound bag was now 41 pounds, but its previous contents would now end up in a different household. So, we figured there would be no harm in reverting them to their original configurations, which we did. I wonder if the woman would be angry to know that her instructions were ignored in the end. People talk about service and serving others. They say it is their value. I think it is our value--at least when we are the recipients! It is much easier to recognize bad service when we get it than when we are giving it! This is what I will think on today.
The fact that I have blue eyes in a land of "black" eyes* is one that doesn't come to my attention very often. It has been quite a long time since the questions such as "how do you see out of your eyes?" have been asked of me. The boy that called me the "blue-eyed samurai" has grown up and stopped the reference. Also, since I only see brown eyes for the most part, my eyes don't stand out to me so much although sometimes they do seem strange when I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror!
The other day I went to get contact lenses and I was repeatedly told that the lenses should be slightly larger than the black part of my eye and when putting them in to aim for the black part of my eye, etc. Finally the woman who was fitting the lenses realized what she was saying became a bit flustered. We then discussed the actual color of my eyes and decided that "black" could work for blue eyes as well!
It reminded me of one day long ago after preschool when I asked my light-brown-haired son what color his hair was and he said, "black". "No, son, your hair is light brown." "No, Mommy, it's black!" "Grass is green, the sky is blue, and hair is black!"
It makes me wonder what else in my world perspective needs expanding....
* Japanese use the word for black (くろ) to refer to the color of their irises.
Okay, I have not posted anything here in ages, or more than six months for accuracy buffs. Well, we are in the process of getting rid of most of our stuff and packing up and shipping off whatever we can't seem to get rid of which is turning out to mostly be photos and tons (120 kilos to date) of books.
I have been saying goodbyes and connecting in strange and marvelous ways with people and memories from the past 25 plus years. Today we took a guest to the local bath house. I will not go into cultural faux pas at this point, but am relieved we did not get caught. (Even told our guest that I would act as if I did not know her if she was found out...rather pointless I know since we were the only foreigners there and she, at least, is an Asian foreigner so the fault would all be mine!) But did have a deja view experience dating back to the time I was at Dogo Hot Springs (1983) on the island of Shikoku and I was probably the only foreigner that the people in the bath had ever seen up close. As I stood up to leave the baths to return to the "put your clothes back on" area, everyone in the bath (women and children of both sexes) lined up and shook my hand. That and people coming out of shops and houses to stare at me as I walked down the street are experiences I will never forget. Also the myriad of people who would comment on the size of my nose.
Today an older woman in the local nice bathhouse kept miming a large nose and then pointing to me. She did it over and over. I wasn't quite sure of how to respond, so I just said, "Yes, my nose is large/tall" At that, 4 women, who were observing this, all said in unison, "Wow, she speaks Japanese." which in this instance simply meant that they understood the sentence I said but did not expect much more. It was like times have not changed (but they have since people are really not that freaked out by foreigners anymore and many will even carry on normal conversations without calling attention to my use of Japanese).
It is nice to understand what people are saying and not have to sign back!
Tokyo Citizen's Day
October 1st is Tokyo Citizens Day and all public schools are off for the day and all city-run facilities, like museums and zoos, are free to the public. In the past we have gone to various museums and zoos and enjoyed the day off provided by the city. This year, I forgot about it until I noticed the kids weren't going to school and Takeshi came in all excited about doing something together as a family. Let's go to a Hot Spring. We can go to Hawaiians, Nasu or Yunessan. We decided on Yunessan since it was the closest (only an hour and a half away in Hakone) and we hadn't been since we went spur of the moment with Joshua in January of 2003. We packed up our bathing suits, figured out how to get discount tickets and were off. We had a great time in the baths together and later split up for segregated bathing.
I guess the new experience this time was with the "doctor fish". It was a special exhibit and we lined up for the 1:30pm experience. We joined a group of people and sat on the edge of a pool filled with doctor fish. At the given signal we all put our feet in and kept them steady while the fish swarmed around them and began to nibble. It was slightly ticklish and somewhat strange to see all these fish covering our feet. But I kept my feet still for the allowed 5 minutes. Then we all pulled our feet out slowly and walked around the pool to the trough of disinfectant. We waded through that and let the guides spray our hands with alcohol and we were done. My feet are definitely smoother. I would do it again. It was a very good day!! I think all cities should have a "Citizen's Day!"
Chaperoning has its rewards!
Today I chaperoned the girls' basketball team for a local tournament. We left the house at 6:30am and returned about 6:45pm. It was a full day. One other mom went with me and we met up with the coach at the station near the tournament venue. It was a little less than a 10 minute walk from there. Halfway through I realized that I was the only chaperone for the journey home, so I had better pay some attention to where we were and how we were going. Our team tried hard but lost their tournaments. I did enjoy rooting for them and my voice is a bit hoarse!! I can see improvement in the team each time, so it is fun.
Anyway, near the end of the final match, one of the moms came and gave me a thank-you-for-watching-the-team-all-day present. I had never gotten one of these before. It was a whole squid! (Fortunately, cleaned and ready to cook!) I was told to fry it or use it for tempura. Kei made yakisoba for church and so we fried up the squid for a side dish and ate it together. It was really delicious. Tender and flavorful. Kie especially enjoyed it as you can see!!
Basketball Training Camp
For four days this summer (August 24-27), I was immersed in laundry and Poccari Sweat and digital photography in the mountains of Sugadaira, Nagano, Japan. Each day began at 5:45am with waking the 26 Junior Highers and watching them run for an hour until breakfast. Two of the mornings involved climbing up to the ski slopes so the kids could run those. After breakfast it was 4 hours of practice, lunch, 5 more hours of practice, dinner and then 2 hours of 5 on 5 scrimmages (coaches against kids). I went along as one of 3 moms to do laundry, refill sports drink bottles and party in the evenings until 1 or 2am. Okay, so on the last night I fell asleep in the middle of the party.....but I was up at the crack of dawn each day and I pulled my weight in beverages and sweaty clothes!!! And I didn't make any huge cultural mistakes--at least none anyone will tell me about!
Seriously it was an excellent camp and I was impressed with the effort of the coaching team to work to develop each child--physically, emotionally and in character. They were not put off by bad attitudes or low skill levels. I watched each child change. They started saying please and thank you and clearing tables and they started noticing that they could do more than they thought they could and so could their teammates. They even started cheering for each other. It was amazing and I really enjoyed the experience. Takeshi joined us for most of the time so our whole family was there which was a special bonus. The coaches pronounced him "most improved player". (It was his first time to actually play basketball!!)
I would do it again in a heartbeat....after I have caught up on some sleep!!!
Basketball Tournament First Round
Today began the first round of Kei's final basketball tournament as a Junior High Student. We were the host school for today's games and both our girls and boys teams go on to next weeks' games. This is a single elimination tournament so the stakes are high. After this tournament, the ninth graders "retire" in order to concentrate on studying for upcoming entrance examinations for Senior High School. Todays games were easy draws and both teams won by a large margin. The girls' score was 90 to 20 and the boys' score was 116 to 27. Ninth graders were the main players although the 8th grade teams got to play for a few minutes during the last halves. Seventh graders (and anyone else not on the court) cheered and iced and fanned the players during time outs. Kie was the stat person for the girls' game which she enjoys. She also likes to cheer. I like cheering too and it is especially fun when they are playing well, having fun, and winning!!
What do the moms do besides cheering, you ask? They make lots of rice balls for the coaches and referees!!!
Kei came home from school last week with a list of electives that he could choose from. There were 14 of them and ninth graders get to choose four. The first elective he choose was PE. ( It is not like he doesn't have PE in school. He has a regular PE class in addition to basketball practice three or more times a week! ) "Kei, shouldn't you be studying something?" "Well, I plan to take Social Studies but English class is below my level and I already know the math and science..." "Okay, well, then take a variety." So Kei signed up for PE, Social Studies, Art (drawing), and Music (traditional Japanese instruments). I found out today that he got into all of his classes.
Kie came home on Monday very excited with her own list of 7 electives. Seventh graders get to choose one. She wanted to take industrial arts. (It is not like she doesn't study art in school--she has both regular art class and industrial arts class!) "Kie, aren't you supposed to take something to help you with a subject you are weak in?" "They didn't say anything about that. Besides, I don't know what I am weak in and, Mom, they're ELECTIVES. That means you get to choose what you want! Mom, this class does things with trees. I love trees!" Can't argue with that. So extra art it is! And I think she meant "wood".
Monday was the first parents' meeting for the new 9th graders. Kei has the same teacher as in 7th grade. The meeting began in the gym with the principal and five main teachers responsible for 9th grade all giving speeches. Oh, it began with the new music teacher who made us all sing. We sang a song that the 9th graders are all learning this year--it is a traditional song from 100 years ago and she said that all us moms had learned it in Junior High. She was appalled that only 10 out of 91 kids had ever heard it and told us we should do better!!! I felt especially bad since I did not know the song and couldn't sing very well. I felt MUCH better later when I found out Kei was one of the 10!!!!
After the speeches, we got into our groups to decide PTA responsibilities. Takeshi and I had already decided that we would not commit to any big roles this year. Our class finally filled all the positions. They also talked about recruiting moms for very short volunteer roles as needed. They said they needed 5 moms for the upcoming sports festival. So I volunteered. Nothing so strange about that, but I am still not sure what I actually volunteered for! I will either be participating in some type of relay event involving moms from all grades or I am patrolling the grounds for 30 minutes or I am a receptionist. I was too embarrassed to ask since I had volunteered myself! I guess I will just find out when the time comes.
The adventure continues...
Kei's Basketball Team
Kei began 9th grade basketball on April 1st with a new coach. This coach has a reputation for making strong teams--even with no strong individual players. His teams have been top in our city. So Kei is quite excited for his last half year of basketball here. (Ninth graders only play the first half of the year since they have to study hard for high school entrance exams.) Takeshi and I went to cheer on Kei and the team at the opening games for this season. Kei's team won 73-40. It is fun to watch Kei (#18) play. He is quite a strong all-around player. He was feeling really good at the end of this game as he sunk the final basket just as the buzzer went off--3 pointer to boot! Doesn't get much better than that! (In this video clip, Kei starts out on the left and gets the rebound and passes to #33 who passes to #7 who passes back to Kei.)