Thursday, January 27, 2011

Getting Settled

Our sea shipment has arrived from London!  Actually it arrived last week and was delivered on Wednesday and Thursday - when G and I were both home sick with the flu.  The all Japanese crew was amazing and courteous and after ascertaining that we were both hacking and deathly ill, proceeded to unload and unpack with face masks on - and I don't blame them.  The foreman was named Alejandro and after a rough start with English and Japanese, we managed to communicate entirely in Spanish as his mother is Japanese and his father from Bolivia - who knew? All of the furniture was placed in the proper rooms and now it's just a matter of organizing.  This is specific to my closet and to my shoes, with the Husband now calling me Imelda (as in Marcos).  Did he not see the plethora of shoes before???  I guess not.  Did I mention that I have a full sized billiards/ping pong table in my living room?  Seriously not going to be featured in Architectural Digest anytime soon.  It's called "pick your battles" and I'll say nothing more.

Our new helper, Vergie, started this week as well.  She'll be doing housekeeping, laundry, ironing and occasionally babysitting for G.  The Phillipines (to the best of my knowledge) is one of the only countries to offer a nanny Visa, thus there are a large number of Filipina nannies/housekeepers looking for sponsors or part time work in Tokyo.  Vergie is actually sponsored by a friend of mine whose husband works for the Canadian government but she is looking for additional hours and money and then she in turn will send that money back to the Phillipines to help her family.  I adore her thus far and G (who doesn't normally warm up immediately) told her that she had very nice hair which elicited squeals of joy from her.  He's learning early that flattery will get you everywhere. Will be interested to see how she wrangles him as they are approximately the same height and weight.  I kid, but she is tiny.

Today I was the lucky/first one to experience the Tokyo medical system and treatment.  After bursting into tears this morning due to sharp shooting pain in my head as well as a jaw and ear ache, the Husband practically dragged me to the doctor.  I guess he's learned that when I cease to function, the world as he knows it pretty much comes to a grinding halt.  We're fortunate that we live in an area overrun by expats so there is an English speaking clinic nearby.  After a thorough check up, I was diagnosed with sinusitis and sent away with drugs - antibiotics plus additional amoxicillan that I am to take for 10 days.  Joy.

I've met a few ladies through the Tokyo American Club and am in the process of "dating" and weeding out the "could be really good friends" from the "we'll just be acquaintances".   Fortunately TAC affords a number of opportunities for involvement, be it classes, volunteering, interest groups or tours, so I've elected to throw myself in with abandonment.  Am drawing the line at lamp and shade making (for reals), but will be taking an Ikebana class - floral arrangement, a tea ceremony class and Shodo - calligraphy.  I've decided to adopt the When In Rome way of thinking and really make the most of our time here in Tokyo.

Until next time...


Saturday, January 15, 2011

Baseball, Hotdogs and Apple Pie

As I sat in my kitchen this afternoon watching the Green Bay Packers vs. the Atlanta Falcons streaming live on my computer and with a little prompting from a FB friend (thanks Kirsten), I got to thinking about the things that I miss about the US.  I left NYC in January 2007 and have lived abroad ever since - first in London and now in Tokyo.  I'm lucky in that I've been able to travel frequently back to the states and have had a number of visitors in London.  I'm waiting to see who our first victims, err visitors to Tokyo will be.  There may be a prize associated.  It will not be Hello Kitty related and I promise that you will not have to sleep in the maid's room.

I will say this now, I love my life as an expat and wouldn't change it for the world.  To experience a different culture, meet new people, travel to exotic places, try new foods and learn a new language (see previous blog post), even at it's most challenging moments - I know that I am very, very fortunate.  That being said, here in no particular order, is what I miss most about "home", the United States.

  • The fact that I miss my family and friends  is a given.  This does not get any easier as time goes by and in fact is made even more difficult by extended visits home.   I miss most holidays and birthday celebrations along with baby showers, wedding showers, weddings, 40th birthday parties and even funerals.  Facebook, email, phone calls and Skype are all life savers but it's just not the same as being there.  
  • I miss the 4th of July and the Wauwatosa parade on North Avenue, complete with shriners in mini vehicles as well as watching the fireworks at Hart Park, covered in OFF while maniacally waving around sparklers and covering my ears during the "boomers".  
  • I miss being an avid fan of a sports team, any sports team.  I confess even after 4 years in the UK, soccer is still soccer (not football) and I cannot tell you who plays for Arsenal, Man United or Tottenham or even what their colors are.  The obsession with the WAG (wives and girlfriends) is beyond my comprehension.  I can however, still talk ad nauseum about the "glory days" of the mid 90's Chicago Bulls and name a good portion of the 1984 Milwaukee Brewers starting lineup - hello Paul Molitor, loved him so.   Oh and goooooo Packers!
  • Oh sweet Target, how I miss you so.  The fact that I could enter the store with a list of 3 small items to buy and emerge an hour later having spent $131.75 amazes me to this day.  If you do not know what Target is, you really don't know what you're missing...and trust me it's better that way.
  • On a related note, I miss the extended shopping hours.  If I need cold medicine and it's 9 pm, no worries as Walgreens or Duane Reade is still open.  There may even be a 24 hour pharmacy - bonus!  This is definitely not the case elsewhere in the world as most shops open at 9 or 10 am and then close at 6 pm.  As I found out desperately searching for nappy creme (diaper rash)  one evening in London at 8:00 pm. 
  • Just asked the Husband what he missed about the US and his answer was "knowing where I am going, a large parking space and a Satellite Navigation system that speaks English".  Did I mention that our Sat Nav speaks Japanese?  Very helpful to us as you can imagine.  
  • We've been lucky in both London and Tokyo to find Costco as well as a few stores that import random American food products.  The following are the elusive items that have yet to be found or are simply just not available:  Wheat Thins, Triscuits, Fruit Loops, ranch dressing, Twizzlers, fruit snacks, Diet Coke (here in Tokyo), A&W Root Beer, Crystal Lite,  Lean Cuisine, Eggo Waffles, and Stove Top Stuffing.  To name a few. 
  • I miss the friendliness of the American people....and this is coming from someone who has never lived in a small town or even the South.  I wasn't sure what to expect in NYC, but I was not disappointed.  From the bagel delivery man (yes, I miss him too) to the taxi driver to a street vendor, people are friendly and will (definitely generalizing here) bend over backwards to help you out.  Don't get me started on customer service.  For those in the US - let me quote the band Cinderella, "You Don't Know What You've Got, Til It's Goooooone". 
Now that I've managed to incorporate the lyrics from a bad 80's hair band into my blog, I think I should wrap up this post.  To be completely fair, I will also do a "Things I Do Not Miss about the US" in a upcoming post, stay tuned!

Packers vs. Bears???? not sure I could even watch the game.  

Friday, January 14, 2011

Me Talk Pretty One Day January 15, 20100

If you haven't yet read this little gem of a book by David Sedaris, you really need to.  Let's talk about Japanese Language 101.  First a bit of background...I have spoken English for the past 40 years, if you don't count a the time spent in clases de Espanol in high school and college.  I loved Spanish, found it quite manageable to conquer and will to this day break it out -usually after a glass or 5 of sangria or a margarita.   In all our travels, it has not been too difficult for me to pick up key terminology and phrases as we navigated various cities, inclusive but not limited to France, Germany, Morocco, Italy.  You get the idea.  Thus, I wasn't too concerned with beginning my one on one, at home, intensive Japanese lessons...and that was a critical mistake.

I knew we might be off to a rocky start when on the first day, I answered the door in track pants and a fleece,  with my hair scraped back and not a speck of makeup and my instructor was in a full length fur.  Fighting back the urge to throw red paint all over her, while simultaneously locking the cat in the back bedroom, I ushered her into our kitchen where the breakfast dishes still remained.   Declining my offer of anything to eat or drink, she proceeded to unpack multiple textbooks and study materials from her rolling suitcase along with her designer handkerchief - who uses these???  I started to get a bit nervous.  Ichikawa-san, as she must be referred to as she is an elder and a teacher, is a lovely, gentle grandmotherly type who employs the "tsk, tsk" method of reprimanding along with the element of surprise - pop quiz, flashcards, tape recorder (so I can hear my own horrific pronounciation).  Am not going to lie, she scares me.  She scares me enough that I actually do the assigned homework which is perhaps her intention.

The written Japanese language is made up of three scripts: Chinese characters called kanji, and two syllabic scripts made up of modified Chinese characters, hiragana and katakana. I know you're thinking "so fun!", right?   My current assignment consists of tracing vowels in the hiragana script over and over again on lined paper similar to the paper we learned to write cursive letters on in Mrs. Diskowski's 3rd grade class.  True to form Ichikawa-san breaks out the red pen to correct my inaccurate placement of the dots and squiggles -tsk, tsking as she does so.

The speaking portion goes a bit better.  We are currently concentrating on Greetings - introducing yourself and other people, everyday greetings that consist of commenting on the weather, thank you,  you're welcome, I'm sorry, excuse me and good bye, see you again.  Michele desu (silent "u") - I'm Michele.   Hajimemashite - How do you do?  Dozo yoroshiku - Nice to Meet you.  No problems thus far... Ichikawa-san then breaks out popsicle sticks with the cut out faces of Richard Gere, Meryl Streep, Brad Pitt, Julia Roberts, Nicolas Cage (argh)  pasted onto them.  I  spend the next 15 minutes (holding sticks) and introducing Meryl to Brad, Brad to Julia, Julia to Nicolas etc. and then introducing them all to my instructor.  Without laughing I might add.  I also manage to stifle the snicker when "excuse me" happens to sound alot like Shit sorry and I am made to repeat it approximately 10 times.

In all honesty, I'm taking this class to be able to navigate the city, conduct a transaction in a shop or restaurant and direct the cab driver to my home.  I have no illusions that I will ever be considered "fluent" but I can always hope that maybe, just maybe Me Talk Pretty One Day.  

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

What Are You Doing New Year's Eve?

New Years Day, January 1st aka Gantan is the most important holiday of the year here in Japan.  People welcome a new beginning; families spend the day together eating special dishes prepared in advance -to relieve the family cook from duty this day; they also visit the homes of relative and friend to eat and drink to the New Year.  New Year's Eve is generally spent visiting the local Buddhist temple or Shinto shrine.  Before midnight on New Year's Eve, temple bells begin to toll slowly 108 times - it's called joya-no-kane. It is said that the temple bell toll to purify us of our 108 worldly desires.

Unsure if the local neighborhood temple welcomed visitors (us) and even more uncertain if we really wanted to purify ourselves of the 108 worldly desires (note to self: look up and see what these are), we opted for the more Westernized NYE option - we went to a party. Or a potty if you ask the 2 year old. Somehow being born in the UK to American parents has given him a very strange accent.  Am not certain that time spent in Japan is going to help his cause.

Anyway,  The Husband's colleague and his lovely wife organized an impromptu dinner party for 10 of us at their house in Omotesando otherwise known as the Champs Elysees of Tokyo.  Although they live in the residential area, we had to drive past the shopping district whereby I suffered whiplash gawking at the likes and lights of Dolce & Gabbana, Bottega Veneta, YSL, Harry Winston, Ralph Lauren....*sigh*.  My night would have been complete, but the potty (see above) was waiting for us.   The host (French) and his wife (Chinese but raised in London), host's mother (French), Hungarian couple, the token New Yawka and the under 3 crowd of G and Oli made up our totally random group of revellers.  The food was delish, the music was loud and the alcohol was plentiful.  The Hungarians brought lentils which we ate after midnight as is their tradition.  Apparently this is meant to bring you as much riches in the New Year as the number of little lentils.  Perhaps sensing that his own mother was more interested in her wine, G elected to sit on lap of said French grandmother and eat lentils with her to ring in the New Year.  Yes, he was still awake at midnight and going strong.   I said it before - I'm not winning Mother of the Year anytime soon.

We did venture up to their rooftop at just before midnight with Veuve Cliquot in hand, but were unable to catch fireworks or tolling temple bells.  Contented ourselves with attempting to look (see definition for Peeping Tom) into the next door neighbor's house, in order to see his indoor climbing wall.  Managed to convince The Husband that singing Auld Lang Syne at the top of his lungs from the rooftop was probably not the best idea-did I mention that the alcohol was plentiful?  All in all, a very successful party and a great way to celebrate our first New Years Eve in Japan.  Cheers to 2011 and to all of the adventures that may come our way.