Thursday, May 21, 2009

swine flu & fear

So if you haven't heard, people are a bit worried about what has been named "Swine Flu". A media frenzy about this little infection problem has swept Japan, and the news keeps a constant update on total number of reported cases. In Tokyo, word is going around that protective surgical masks are sold out everywhere. People are starting to panic, and today the Japanese staff at my company got a fax from up-top that they should wear those protective masks (this is actually a common Japanese personal practice when one has a flu, in order to not share it with others or during the flu season to avoid getting it). I felt sympathy for the staff and let them talk me into wearing a mask too. The other teachers weren't so happy about the request to don masks though. Claiming it stupid, and unfounded. (To be fair, more people have so far died TODAY in traffic accidents in Tokyo than have died because of swine flu since the beginning of the whole outbreak in Japan.) The teachers reacted strongly against having to wear a mask, and the staff on their end refused to take theirs off for long periods of time. (Taking them off to answer the phone or eat lunch.) It was too hard to teach lessons with a mask on though, so eventually after a few lessons I fell to the peer pressure of my fellow teachers and took off the mask. Somehow I felt this stand-off between the Japanese staff and the foreign workers was some kind of window into a deeper culture difference that I can't quite put my finger on at the moment.

Friday, May 15, 2009

journey to america (part cuatro)

{{... final post}}

I flew into an oddly treeless Reno on a sunny day. My friend Yuka picked me up and we went to a huge American style all-you-can-eat buffey. After that, we went and tried a little gambling with her roommates. Inside I still feel like a little kid, so I didnt sit down at any of the poker tables, but Yuka's roommate taught me how to use a video slot machine and I played around on it a little. I'm not that into gambling though so after that we went back to Yuka's home in the suburbs. They had such a large American style house that there was even a spare room for me. Cookie-cutter suburb, but big and spacious.

The next day, Yuka had to teach (her job!) so I watched her teach at her college. She was teaching a "Japanese Culture" class, full of energy and mental bubbles. The students seemed to get a big kick out of it, and I kind of felt like a student again because I had mingled with the students in the back of the class. After her classes were finished at about 3:00 we headed out to a huge lake near her place, lake Tahoe. By the time we got there it was cold and rainy. We just mostly sat in her car, with rain smearing the windowshield, talked about time flying, and other random topics until the day began to fade.

In what seemed like a blink of an eye, it was the next day and I was heading off back to Seattle to take my plane back to Japan. I met a college friend Seth for dinner (but oddly two other mutual college friends didnt want to meet) and then kind of anti-climatically checked myself into a too-expensive hotel next to the airport so I could wake up early for my return flight. And then after a long push through the air the next day, I was home in Japan again.

It almost doesnt seem real already. Just a blur of memories. I uploaded about 48 pictures of mostly scenery I saw in America. If you want people pictures, you'll have to explore the network of connections I have to the web. They're somewhere, but not here. Here I just wanted to share a few mental impressions.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

journey to america (part tres)

The endless parade of people I hadn't seen in years continued. This time meeting all my brothers and sisters who I hadn't seen in so long. My older sister was taking care of three kids and one on the way. A vibrant family of little boys with mohawks. They were so full of energy and vitality, I imagined my sister being exhausted every day. The next day, my mother drove me from my sister's house to my small countryside hometown. I felt like Marty McFly, stepping out of a time machine. In the 7 year gap since I had last been in my hometown they had transformed the corn fields near my house into a small uniform suburb community of factory-made houses. And there were a few street lights now! It felt a little weird and invasive somehow.

Me and my younger brother Tim (who I had missed a lot) walked around our small neighborhood. Up to a tiny creek where we used to go as kids, past the creek that no longer had cows around it, and to an old cemetery that was now pressed against a brand new middle school. Unlike most of the dying small towns across middle America, my hometown seems to be going through a bit of a growth spurt. My brother has a theory about everything, and I listened to him wax on about the growth of trees, movement of gravestones, and the possibility of an impenetrable ionosphere. The sunlight began to fade from the sky, leaking out of the corners of the horizon with a golden glint. It was time to head on back to my mum's home.

My mum is a colorful person with a creative streak. She works hard too but took some time off to spend time with me. We went up to a lake near my house, and discussed life. Time goes by too quickly when you think back, but at the time it seemed to be going just fine. Green trees with moss hanging off them, the glossy surface of the lake reflecting the sky hung above it, and my mum talking about life.

My brother Ben had broke his leg the day after dropping me off at my sister's house, so I didn't get to spend too much time with him. Me and my mum stopped by his place and watched American TV with him as he told us about the metal pin they had to put in his leg. I marveled at modern medicine that allows someone to walk again after they have completely snapped off their legs.

I did get to spend a little time with my younger sister Chrissa though. She is a fully grown woman now, and seemed like a kid last time I saw her. She helps to fix broken rivers and help reestablish ecosystems. Yup, she's a full blown hippie and it's awesome. It was interesting to think she was about the same age I was when I first began to live in Japan full-time.

I also spent some time in my college town with my dad and his new family. His new wife and him recently gave birth to a new kid and interestingly enough they use baby sign language with him. In college I wrote a paper arguing for it's use in augmenting early communication with a baby because children can learn to sign before they can learn to speak. I had never seen it in real life, and it was fun to watch the baby see a rabbit and poke out his fingers in a V sign or want milk and squeeze his hands into a fist up and down. While in my college town I made time to quickly meet an old teacher (for less than 15 minutes) and stop by Brendon and Maralise's house. They had squeezed out two kids since I had last seen them, but they still lived in the same place I have always known. They told me about dreams of living in other countries, and we passed around a few thoughts before I ran off towards my next direction.

After the parade of Washington family and friends, I took an Amtrak train down to Oregon. On the train, a man dressed in all black sat down next to me. He had all black clothes, a black cellphone, a black bag and even a black iPod. He turned on his iPod and blared death metal into his ears. I thought he was fitting his stereotype until he opened his black notebook and revealed a Bambi quote. Yup, Bambi. You don't stereotypically think that Death Metal heads will be into Disney movies. He must have been an amateur author of sorts, because on the other pages there were short stories. Bored on a long train ridding past endless patches of green trees, I kept glancing at his stories. Phrases lingered in my mind, "God became the devil's gumball machine" or "An idiot's guide to shoplifting" and also something like "I remember Ms. Green's first grade class, I moved and moved and moved and learned to move."

In Oregon, I met my friend Steph at the train station. I first met her around my freshman year in college, and hadn't seen her in a million years. We went for lunch and cocktails. The cocktails were thick and not so fruity. We drove back to her suburban apartment and I took a quick shower to wash off the grime of constant travel. We went back out to dinner at a hip Portland club. In the morning, Steph was very hung over (and I wasn't, too much drinking in Japan I guess) but she still drove me downtown to meet a my Japanese friend Tomoko.

It was a brilliantly sunny day, the clouds fluffy and the air fresh. I had yet another hamburger as my friend ate french toast, talking about my reverse culture shock and her experiences in America. The contrast was interesting, both of us finding a lot in common regarding the odd parts of American culture. Such as how Americans dont always shut the bathroom door when they are finished, as a signal that the bathroom is ready to be used. (In Japan some families use bathroom slippers outside the door as this signal.) After that, we were walking around an outside Saturday market when suddenly in a matter of minutes the clouds darkened and it began to utterly down pour. If you are thinking it was raining cats and dogs, you are mistaken, it must have been raining cows and horses. It was thick gobs of rapid-fire rain mixed in with hail that literally soaked me to the bone in less than 30 seconds. We dashed under an overpass, as the rain thundered down. My friend had to get back to move her stuff and had no choice but to depart into a mist of thinning rain. In less than 10 minutes, the clouds faded back to blue and the rain stopped. The sunshine came out again, and glistened off the newly wet roads.

A few hours later I met Cody and Michelle. I first met Cody when I was taking script writing in college. He physically reminds me a bit of Mister Clean, the advertising genie. Meeting him reminded me of visiting them with Kayo a million years ago. At the time they lived a bit in the countryside down south in Japan. That summer trip to the Osaka area was a near perfect memory, and it was like a pleasant wind running through my mind. This time Cody and Michelle were great hosts again, taking me to a nice old-style pub and making me breakfast in the morning. After that, I got on a massively delayed flight heading towards Nevada.

{{To be continued...}}
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