Friday, January 01, 2010

Happy 2010!

It's been a long, long time since I posted anything, but I'm back to wish you a wonderful, prosperous and happy new year. The past decade has been tough on so many of us, so let's hope that cycle has ended. It's time now for new beginnings and new opportunities. May your lives be filled with love and happiness!

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Another year older. . .

. . .and still a kid at heart.

After an extremely busy week in Chicago, training for my new position as Academic Director, I'm sipping coffee and having a lazy birthday morning with a snoring kitty at my side.

Life is good.

Advertising works

So, I signed up with T-Mobile. Now I'm trying to figure out how to use my new BlackBerry Pearl. 

Who writes these user manuals? I think someone should hire me to write them because I know how to explain things much better! Most user manuals are an exercise in frustration. Of course, I know most people don't bother reading manuals, but that only works when gadgets are logically designed. 

After visiting numerous user forums, it appears that most fully-loaded devices are neither logically designed nor intuitive to use.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Can't everyone just get along?

This just makes me feel so happy. Almost makes me want to sign up with T-Mobile.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

What keyboard key am I?

OK, so I'm a little bored tonight. I was rearranging my blog and started clicking on some favorite places to hang out. As I went through the first few links I discovered that either some of them were dead links or that they were places I hadn't visited in a while. Here's one of them (and so was the last post). This one, however, is kind of a weird idea. How could a keyboard key be representative of someone's personality? So naturally I took the little quiz and here's what it said, which was actually quite accurate I think. The part about not being normal sounded right, as well as the "influenced by alternative lifestyles." That might account for the part about living in Japan for a few years.

But, the best part of all was the reference to the knowledge stored in my "big brain. . .but most of it useless." So true, so true.

You Are "alt"

Some people might find you to be strange, mysterious, and even a bit off putting.
You tend to be drawn to and influenced by alternative lifestyles. You're definitely not normal.
Once people get to know you, they realize you're interesting, intriguing, and very intelligent.
You have a lot of knowledge stored in that big brain of yours. Most of it is useless knowledge, but some of it is very useful.


You Belong in the Baby Boomer Generation

You fit in best with people born between 1943 and 1960.
You are optimistic, rebellious, and even a little self centered.
You still believe that you will change the world.
You detest authority and rules. Deep down, you're a non conformist.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

One way to celebrate!

Tomorrow's Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. If I may take the liberty of borrowing his famous words: "Free at last. Free at last. Thank God I'm free at last.

As much as I'd love to experience what it's like to be free to take flight like a bird, there's NO WAY I'd try this!!!! How about you?

wingsuit base jumping from Ali on Vimeo.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Chance of purrs with intermittent pets

German Weatherman Joerg Kachelmann never skipped a beat when studio kitty Lupin needed some affection.

Bargain travel destination?

According to The New York Times, "Sin City's lucky streak, it seems, has gone sour."

Unemployment in Las Vegas has reached 7.9 percent and bargains are everywhere, but who cares about bargain hotel rates when people are losing their jobs by the thousands? Layoffs are imminent or already underway at most of the hotels, including the one where J works. If she's lucky, she'll be up high enough on the extra board to continue working, but will have to call in every day to see if they need her. She could be called to work any of the three shifts, which means she'll never be on any specific sleep schedule. How can people be expected to do that?!!

January 2008 served up the fire that laid everyone off for over a month at the Monte Carlo, and before that it was the devastating 9/11 layoffs. What ever happened to the certainty of our parents' generation when they knew they would have a job for life if they wanted it, even when there were economic downturns? Or maybe that's just a figment of my imagination. Maybe people have never had any job certainty. . .

All of this job uncertainty is making 2009 seem pretty dismal already. On top of that, I'm sure the crime rate is going up. Thieves targeted T's "vintage" Camaro Thursday night--incompetent car thieves who only managed to steal the T-top sunroof and car cover, and tear out some wiring under the dashboard. It was the night of his birthday. Totally bummed him out. He filed a police report and posted notices around the neighborhood about the crime, but within hours all the notices had been torn down. No doubt the thieves live right here, and probably drive by our house a few times a day. Nice.

(Their truck had already been burglarized, and the built-in TV stolen a couple of years ago, and then since I've been here, someone did another moronic attempt at stealing it but only managed to mutilate the lock on the driver's side. This is why auto insurance in Las Vegas is among the most expensive anywhere in the U.S.)

Things with my job haven't been going so great either. When our academic director left a couple of months ago, I applied and was selected to be the acting AD until a decision could be made. After six weeks of teaching full time and doing the AD job half time--but not getting the AD pay or knowing when, if ever, they would actually hire me permanently for the job--I withdrew my application. Things have been deteriorating rapidly since then, but only in the past week did I find out they had no intention of hiring anyone because our student numbers have been falling. Our students come from all over the world, and the entire world is experiencing a dramatic economic downturn. While I think the school will probably survive, it's not going to be easy. I'm the most senior teacher, so if I get laid off, that means the school closes completely.

I hope, for everyone's sake, that things turn around quickly once Obama takes office, but I don't see how they could. We should all be asking how this mess happened in the first place! Why was there so much unaccountability within the financial sector ? Why was the SEC asleep on the job? For a lot more info about how this happened and what's ahead, check out The Big Picture.

For now, however, the world is focused on Gaza, and rightfully so, but it seems that every time congress starts turning up the heat and asking questions about how this meltdown took place, some other world event intervenes. We may never get any real answers, and in the meantime millions, maybe hundreds of millions, of people around the world are losing their jobs, their homes, and any hope for the future.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Just for giggles

Nora has been playing the piano since she was one year old. She's now four and very famous on YouTube, with over 16 million hits!

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy 2009!

Let's hope 2009 is a kinder, gentler year.

Best wishes to all!

Monday, December 22, 2008


Trying to get into the holiday spirit. Must try harder.

Work has been a complete nightmare and I'm trying hard not to let it do my head in but. . .it hasn't been easy. How is it that so many incompetent people rise to the top and hold jobs for which they are not even remotely qualified?

Maybe I need to refocus my attention and think about the things that I should be thankful for, such as:

1. My daughter, who makes me a better person.
2. My son-in-law, who actually likes me.
3. My job. At least I've got one, considering so many people right now do not.
4. My health. I'm pretty darn healthy, although the cold winter air has stirred up my asthma a little. Never knew I had asthma until I moved to Tokyo.
5. My friends, even though I don't see any of them unless I or they get on a plane.
6. Food to fill my belly, a roof over my head, and a warm bed. An alarming number of people around the world don't have those basics.
7. My computer and Internet connection, without which I would be lost.
8. A belief in something greater than myself, that guides, inspires, and comforts me.
9. A sense of humor that often gets me through the day.
10. The ability to see, feel, and hear the world around me, and to make my way through it relatively unscathed.

When I re-read my list, I realized that my life is really quite basic. The older I get, the more I accept the simplicity of my life, and the less I need. I've gone from living a somewhat privileged life in an exclusive, expensive neighborhood of luxurious homes to living in a tiny one-room, cockroach-infested Tokyo apartment. I lost everything I had in the stock market crash of 2001 where I had invested heavily in technology but didn't have the safety cushion of wiser, more cautious investments to soften the blow of a world turned upside down after 9-11.

For three years I was unemployed, though not for lack of trying. Then, through a chance meeting, I found an opportunity to work in Japan, which I grabbed.

I look around me at people my age and wonder what their lives have been like. Did they ever lose anyone they loved? Do they ever wake up in the middle of the night, wondering what they would do if they didn't find work soon? Do they have someone to love them, to be with for a lifelong commitment? What kind of old age will they have--one of freedom to do the things they've always wanted, or one of desperation, trying to make ends meet?

Maybe I'm feeling a little nostalgic tonight. Thinking about my youth. Thinking about the things that used to make me happy, and realizing now that while life is a series of ups and downs, not much of it is all that important. It's the basics that count. It's sort of like the family whose house catches on fire and the only things they manage to save are themselves and a box of pictures. When you boil it down to its essence, life is nothing more than that box of pictures. Everything else can fall away or disappear because none of it has real significance. It's the basics that count--our families, good health, and a job.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Whadda mousie!

Haven't felt like writing much lately, so here's a fun little video to watch. What a little champ!

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Why I stay

As I let my fingers do some online shopping this morning, I realized that this will be my second Christmas back in the U.S. Can't believe it's been that long already, and that I've been in Las Vegas the whole time.

Now that Vegas has "gown up" a little, I had hoped it would grow on me and that I'd learn to like it just a wee bit, but that hasn't happened. In all honesty I have to admit that it hasn't gotten any easier to live here. So, why do I stay? Easy answer: I have a job and a home. In this economy, those two things are pretty important, so I'm thankful to have them.

But, if wishes could come true, this is what I'd wish for: A villa in Tuscany; a job writing travel articles; a red mini-Cooper; a size 4 body.

And, of course, world peace, and the end of hunger, poverty and global warming.

I don't think that's asking too much at all, do you?

Sunday, November 09, 2008

President-elect Obama

This truly is a historic time, and I have to say I never thought I'd see such a moment in my lifetime. Seeing Barack Obama become our president elect has given me hope that America can be saved from the path of destruction laid out over the past eight years by the Bush administration.

While no one could possibly expect Obama to fix everything that's broken with America in one or two terms, he seems to be the most capable of bringing about some much-needed change. Let's hope he'll restore our Constitution, get the country busy developing alternative energy and all the jobs that will be created from that endeavor, appoint more liberal Supreme Court Justices that will keep their hands off women's bodies and uphold the laws instead of playing politics such as appointing presidents! Let's do everything we can to help him get this country moving again and bring our troops home.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

The big countdown

Nine days to go before the election and I'm already a nervous wreck! I can't bear the thought of another stolen election, like in 2004 and 2000. Every time I think about those elections it makes me wonder what might have been. I know that's wasted energy and none of it can be changed now, but, if we learned nothing from the past, that will be the final nail in the coffin for democracy. We've already lost so much. I just hope that everything goes smoothly and all the votes are counted--this time.

This has been one of the nastiest campaigns in America's history, which shows how desperate the Republicans are to stay in power. Between you and me, I think McCain made a Faustian pact to do or say anything if he would be given the election. That included picking Sarah Palin as his running mate, a pick that turns my blood to ice just thinking about what she would do as president. Just to add a little comic relief here, take a look at Palin As President and click around on various objects. They're adding more stuff every day and it's hilarious.

On a more serious note, Naomi Wolfe has written quite a bit about what it takes to create a fascist government , and it appears that we've met all 10 criteria. Scary thought!

She's also reported--and this is on the Army Times website --that on Oct. 1, the 3rd Infantry Division’s 1st Brigade Combat Team (which trained in Iraq for 35 of the last 60 months) was commissioned to active duty on U.S. soil. "This new mission marks the first time an active unit has been given a dedicated assignment to NorthCom, a joint command established in 2002 to provide command and control for federal homeland defense efforts and coordinate defense support of civil authorities."

This seems extremely troubling to me and should be to any American. Why do we need Army soldiers patrolling on U.S. soil? I also read that since the Patriot Act, all soldiers have signed new oaths that no longer include any language about upholding the Constitution of the United States. It now includes something about "completing the mission." What mission? Equally troubling is that they are answerable only to George Bush --and not to Congress or to the governors of the states to which they have been commissioned (which is also unknown, although there have been reports of these troops in Georgia and Alabama).

I certainly hope Wolfe is wrong and just overreacting, but I honestly think she's sounding the alarm after considering some very strong evidence that something is brewing. As I said, I hope she's wrong and that the election goes without a hitch. However, there's that part of me that thinks I'm being naive to think it could be that easy. As citizens, it's up to us to be vigilant about our democracy. We think just because it's been here for over 200 years that it will continue as a democracy forever, but history shows that democracies are a fragile idea.

We must vote and stay vigilant.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Can we afford to elect a short-fused president?

Last night, after watching the presidential debate, I couldn't help noticing McCain's festering rage. You could see him struggling to keep from boiling over as he gritted his teeth behind that bizarre mask of makeup he wore. I'm sure he had been coached to "keep his cool" because his temper is something that's well known, and he has an exceedingly sort fuse.

As Obama brought up rebuttals to McCain's claim to "understanding" the world, and particularly his expertise about the Iraq war, by recounting all of the times that McCain was wrong about the war, McCain seemed ready to burst a blood vessel.

Then again, when McCain spoke to what he perceived as Obama's naivete about potentially meeting with Ahmadinejad, he was so incensed that he could barely spit out Ahmadinejad's name, and actually stumbled over its pronunciation.

While McCain so freely slung barbs and lies at his opponent, he was incapable of even looking Obama in the eye. Obama, on the other hand, remained presidential and calm, trying on numerous occasions to make eye contact with the old curmudgeon.

McCain is a relic of the past cold war mentality. He's still angry, 40 years after his capture, that the U.S. gave up on the spectacular mess in Vietnam that took 58,000 U.S. soldiers' lives, and maimed another 350,000--to say nothing of the civilian deaths.

McCain is living in the past and he's dangerous because of that short fuse. He has been known to rebuke his advisors on numerous occasions, and as far as being a "maverick" goes, he's an angry maverick with his hand too close to that red button. And don't even get me started about that "maverick" choice of Sarah Palin. How much real love of country does a man have to make that kind of choice for someone who could very well take his place? After seeing her interviews with Gibson and Kouric, she makes Bush look brilliant.

"A mountain I couldn't climb"

Teaching foreign students has been one of the highlights of my life, for many reasons. Sometimes I hear things I don't understand at all, other times I hear everyday things put into a different perspective, and occasionally I am treated to some delightful insight about another culture. For example, last week my students were given an assignment to go out and find someone who looked like a native English speaker and ask him or her a few questions.

Now, beyond the normal difficulties of being shy or self-conscious about their speaking abilities, most students also have to overcome the major hurdles of communicating with people who speak very fast English and who don't understand foreign accents.

One tall and handsome Asian student came back to tell about his attempt to make a conversation in a Las Vegas jazz club with what he described as "one of the most beautiful women" he had even seen. He said the beautiful woman was sitting with a "not-so-beautiful" woman and he had to make a decision about his chances for starting a conversation with either one of them. After some careful thought, he decided to try to speak with the "not-so-beautiful" woman. Here was his reason:

"The beautiful woman was a mountain I couldn't climb."

I, along with the entire class, burst out laughing because we all understood exactly what he meant.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Lighting up the world with joy

In a world that often leaves us feeling helpless to do anything of consequence or meaning, here's a video that will bring a smile to your face.

Decided to take matters into my own hands!

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Excuse me but I think there's someone living in my closet!

This actually happened in Tokyo!

Japanese woman caught living in man’s closet

(05-30) 17:34 PDT TOKYO, Japan (AP)

A homeless woman who sneaked into a man’s house and lived undetected in his closet for a year was arrested in Japan after he became suspicious when food mysteriously began disappearing.

Police found the 58-year-old woman Thursday hiding in the top compartment of the man’s closet and arrested her for trespassing, police spokesman Hiroki Itakura from southern Kasuya town said Friday.

The resident of the home installed security cameras that transmitted images to his mobile phone after becoming puzzled by food disappearing from his kitchen over the past several months.

One of the cameras captured someone moving inside his home Thursday after he had left, and he called police believing it was a burglar. However, when they arrived they found the door locked and all windows closed.

“We searched the house … checking everywhere someone could possibly hide,” Itakura said. “When we slid open the shelf closet, there she was, nervously curled up on her side.”

The woman told police she had no place to live and first sneaked into the man’s house about a year ago when he left it unlocked. She had moved a mattress into the small closet space and even took showers, Itakura said, calling the woman “neat and clean.”

So, if you're wondering how this could possibly happen and how someone could not notice a person living in his closet, it actually wouldn't be that difficult. Japanese closets aren't like American closets. Usually they have a completely separate storage unit with its own sliding door located above the main closet. People don't often open that cupboard because it's usually where they store things like suitcases or boxes of stuff. You could sort of think of it as being an attic space where you wouldn't normally be opening and inspecting it more than once or twice a year.

I can see how the woman could have lived up there. She must have had some sort of rope ladder or something that she could use to crawl up into that space and then pull it up so no one would see it.

It's interesting that the guy never noticed that anyone had used his shower, but she could have wiped it down thoroughly after each use. Like the article said, she appeared to be neat and clean.

You'd think the woman might have been caught on weekends though, when the guy wasn't at work. Although, if he's like lots of single men, he probably spent most of his time out of his apartment, but still, I'd wonder how she could know when he'd return after an absence. She must have had some close calls!

And, not to gross anyone out, but what about middle-of-the-night bathroom visits? Seems to me that any 58-year-old woman might have to, at least occasionally, do that. Maybe she had a hardy bladder.

I sure hope they find the poor old gal a home somewhere. Japan isn't well known for its homeless shelters, especially Tokyo, so I wonder what will happen to her. Maybe she's better off in a minimum security jail cell. At least she'd have a bed, toilet and hot meals.

Favorite cartoon ever!

I just stumbled upon a cartoon I remember seeing many, many years ago and loved. Never thought to look for it on YouTube but I guess almost anything can be found there. So, here it is, starring Marc Antony and Pussyfoot.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Layoff alarm

Last week my boss announced the possibility of layoffs. Ugh. With summer sessions starting soon, enrollment is way down and we don't have enough students signed up. This will almost certainly mean that some, if not all, of the teachers will be laid off. It will be based on seniority and since I was the first full-time teacher hired, I will be the last one to go, but I'm still vulnerable. This situation seems doubly astounding since they just hired a new teacher a month ago!

To say I'm worried is an understatement as I'm my only source of income. For most of my career, I've been a writer first and a teacher second. Now I need to see if I can drum up a few writing gigs, although I've been out of the loop for quite a while, at least in the U.S.

Let's hope the layoff alarm was a false one.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Japanese version of The Office

After watching the original British TV show The Office, starring Ricky Gervais, I didn't think the American version could possibly match the humor, but Steve Carrell and the rest of the cast have done a magnificent job. So, here's a spoof done on SNL of what a Japanese version might look like.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

You're kidding, right?

Just came across these pictures that are supposedly the latest shoe rage in Japan. I don't know where anyone would wear them in Tokyo, but I suppose there are "those" places where one could use them for, um, artistic dancing or whatever. (snicker)

They make my feet hurt just looking at them, to say nothing about how I imagine my back would feel.

I am so not ready for this!

Doesn't make any difference if the temps are in C or F, they're still too high! I know I whine about this too often (as J&T would agree), but I can't help it. I'm just not a hot-weather gal, whether it's the dry heat that people here say is "not that bad" or the steamy heat of Asia. Heaven to me would be a place that never gets over 75F or has humidity over 30 percent. I'm going to try very, very hard, for the sake of harmony, to just accept it. It is what it is. . .and I don't see myself leaving Vegas any time soon.

In Celsius:

In Fahrenheit:

Friday, May 16, 2008

Recycling Las Vegas style

Our dryer, a previously-recycled model bought about 8 years ago for around $100, gave up the ghost about two weeks ago. We've been hanging wet laundry anywhere we could find a hook, doorknob, or shower curtain rod. Because it's been so hot lately, drying really hasn't been a problem and clothes dry in record time. However, it's not so easy to hang sheets and towels, so we were getting a little desperate for a new dryer. Unlike Tokyo, we don't have any of the laundry-hanging gadgets that make drying clothes outside easy. When was the last time you saw anyone using a clothesline like we used in Arizona when I was a kid?

T, the resident super shopper, found an almost brand new gas Maytag that had been returned to Lowe's and was selling for 50% off. It's so beautiful and modern looking! It's HUGE and could easily fluff comforters. It also has a drying rack inside the dryer, so you can put sweaters or canvas sneakers, or whatever, on the rack and the drum remains in place while the drying air circulates around the rack. Cool!

So, after disconnecting the old dryer and carrying it out to the curb, the three of us unloaded the new dryer off the back of the pickup and carried it into the house. It was a breeze to hook up and move into place. As long as we were at it, we decided to do a little work on the washing machine as well. It was never properly installed and the connectors to the hot and cold water were reversed. No one but me seemed to mind, but since all the cycles called for a "cold" rinse, and that meant "hot" in reality, I had to be super careful about washing anything that might shrink in hot water.

Now, everything is working perfectly and we're all very happy.

The funny part is what happened to the old dryer out on the curb. As we sat watching a movie that evening, we suddenly heard what sounded like some machinery being knocked around outside. We ran to the kitchen and looked out into the dark evening to see what was causing the noise. A pickup truck with several scavenged washers and dryers onboard was parked at our curb and our old klunker was being loaded inside. It did my heart good to see that someone could make use of the old model. In Vegas the trash service will pick up appliances, but I worried that it would go to a landfill rather than get recycled.

I hope the guys in the pickup make a few bucks. They're the recycling heroes.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

What a tough life!

This is Lily. The funniest cat in the world, I think. When she's not running around the house or sleeping, she's sitting on the floor like a little Buddha. She cracks me up! The weather's turned quite warm and she's having a little adjustment problem with that big thick fur coat she has to wear. Have a look at this tired, hot kitty after a rough day of, well, mostly sleeping.

Yes, that's her tongue. Her teeth are so teeny weeny that she seems to have a hard time keeping it inside her mouth when she sleeps or plays, hence, an often crispy tongue.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

An Engineer's Guide to Cats

Having been owned by many cats over my lifetime, I have to tell you that this "guide" is priceless!

Monday, April 14, 2008

What happened to spring?

Doesn't this seem a little extreme for mid-April? We had a week or two of really beautiful spring weather, but now look at the temps. Holy cow! Yesterday was 34C (93F). While people in other parts of the country are complaining about the rain and cold, here we are with sunburns in Vegas!

Sunday, April 06, 2008

O-hanami in Japan, but not in Las Vegas

This year there will be no o-hanami (cherry blossom viewing) for me as I sit here basking in 78 degree weather on a typical spring day in Las Vegas. Usually, cherry blossom season is quite cold and windy in Tokyo, but nevertheless people have their picnics under the fully-blooming cherry trees where they can admire the spectacular beauty of spring. Last April, I wandered around the campus of Tokyo Institute of Technology, which was two blocks from where I lived in Ookayama in greater Tokyo. It was an unseasonably warm (nearly 70 F), sunny spring day, and the dozens of 100-year-old cherry cheers that lined the entrance to the campus were in full bloom. Every tree had rows of families and friends spread out on blankets under its arching branches. It was a sight that will live in my memory forever.

It's really hard to get used to only having two seasons now that I've left Japan. In fact, May 29 will mark my one-year anniversary of living back in the U.S. and it's been a big adjustment, especially weather wise. I loved the changes of seasons in Japan, a country that celebrates each new season with seasonal food, traditions, and festivals or other special activities. While there are many parts of the U.S. that have four distinct seasons, the ones I remember best were those I spent in the Greater Seattle area with its full array of seasonally blooming trees, shrubs and flowers, or changing leaf colors. It, too, was spectacular in its seasonal beauty.

And then there's Las Vegas. While there are many things that bloom in the desert in spring, I will never get used to such a dry, brown landscape, especially now that water conservation measures are being more fully embraced. People are digging up their lawns and replacing them with desert landscaping that requires little or no water. It's good for the environment, but makes everything look even more like the surrounding desert. Maybe that's why the new trend of painting houses in a wider array of autumn tones started. When I first started coming here to visit my daughter and her husband, all (and I mean ALL!) of the houses were painted very pale shades of tan or cream. They also all had bright green lawns and shade trees. Now, the houses are taking on more color, I suppose to make up for the drabness of the landscaping around them, although there are some newer areas that are beautifully landscaped with palms, mesquite, and other desert greenery.

So, even though I won't be viewing those gorgeous cherry trees this year, I suppose I'll just enjoy the beautiful blue skies and warm spring temperatures here in Vegas. . .and pray that summer doesn't arrive too soon.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

What a great prank: Stopping Time

If you want to pull a cool prank, there's no better place than Grand Central Station. About 200 people were in on the prank that lasted exactly 5 minutes.

OK, maybe you could try London. . . where even more people took part. I suppose it will hit all the major cities of the world before long.

Wish I could have seen it in person!

Sunday, January 20, 2008

In a rut and feeling bored

My life in Vegas is definitely in a rut. I go to work, come home and work on my lesson plans for several hours, read a few of my favorite blogs or latest news, fix dinner with J., watch a little TV, write some email, and go to bed. So, what's the big deal? What seems so different from my life in Tokyo where I did almost the same thing, with the exception of fixing dinner with J. and watching a little TV?

I've been mulling that over for quite a while now, and still don't know for sure what the difference is. All I seem to come up with are a couple of things. The first is that in Tokyo I taught many more lessons a day than I'm teaching now, and there was so much more interaction with students and other teachers. In our tiny teachers' room (about 4 feet by 12 feet and filled with lockers, bookcases, 2 miniature tables and stools, and 2 very small sofas) usually anywhere from 5 to 20 teachers were climbing over each other to get to their lockers, books, or fridge and catching up on the latest gossip or discussing politics, books, students, restaurants, travels, expiring visas, Japanese bureaucracy, and a million other subjects. It was amazing how much could be discussed during those meager 5-minute breaks. I miss all that chatter and laughter. 

No topic seemed taboo, which may or may not have been such a good thing. Nevertheless, with so many personalities, there was always something interesting going on and I usually went home chuckling to myself about something funny that had happened at work that day.

Not so much in Vegas. Even though we now have 5 teachers (all women), we have very little interaction. Usually the teachers just stay in their classrooms during their breaks or make a quick dash to another building to use the restroom (yeah, it's a bummer that we don't even have a restroom in our building) or have a smoke.

Another strange thing is that, while so many people come to Vegas because it's "such an exciting place," I find it all very boring. I mean, after you've hit the strip, done a little gambling, seen a few shows, the "real" life here is just about making it from one day to the next--putting up with the rude people, horrible traffic and even worse drivers.

Rant alert. This is just one of the many things I see almost every day: Picture 3 lanes of traffic in one direction, I'm driving in the far left lane, a school bus is in the right lane. The school bus puts on its flashing lights, extends its "stop" sign and stops. I stop in the far left lane (as is required by law) and suddenly this car in the middle lane blows past me--and the school bus--doing at least 50 mph! But wait, there's more! By the time I approach a very busy intersection up ahead, where the light has just changed to green, I see the same car that had just blown past me in the MIDDLE lane cut another car off at the intersection to pull a RIGHT TURN right in front of the car that was just starting to accelerate from the green light! Fortunately, the driver in the right lane hit his brakes in time to avoid hitting the car. This is the way people drive in Vegas! End of rant.

So, aside from trying to stay alive while driving, another realization about the rut of living here is that this city sucks. There are no interesting or quaint streets to meander through on foot. There are no tiny bakeries where you can catch a whiff of something wonderful baking, no chocolate shops, no corner flower vendors, no cute, hole-in-the-wall places to explore, no sidewalk cafes, no open-air markets filled with today's fresh produce, no independent bookstores to wander through, no cute park benches from which to people watch while eating a freshly-baked croissant and sipping coffee, no street vendors selling quick and inexpensive yet delicious and nutritious meals for office workers. Everything here requires a car (which my international students complain about) and miles of driving down seven-lane-wide boulevards to go to large chain-stores located in even larger strip malls that all look alike and include at least one fast-food franchise. This is the heartless, soulless look of modern America in a so-called modern city. What an empty, empty place. 

I think living in such a place is an assault on the senses and can easily make one jaded and bitter. I already see it happening to me and I don't like it. In just a few short months, work has become drudgery, and I think it's because there aren't the things here that can smooth the rough edges off life, like those things I mentioned above. It's those little, seemingly meaningless, things that soothe and enrich our lives.

Even though I have the wonderful and often hysterically funny companionship of J&T, two adorable cats to get my critter-fix, a lovely home in which to live, my own flat-screen TV (a very generous Christmas gift from J&T), I feel a longing for a city that offers much, much more to stimulate the mind and nourish the soul. 

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Happy 2008!

My wish to all is that 2008 is the year that brings you joy, prosperity, good health, and peace.

Note: If the lights on the tree are not twinkling, click on the picture. The larger image will show twinkling lights.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

It's Vegas, baby!

From the land of excess of every description, I wish you a Merry Christmas!

P.S. No, this is NOT my house.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Working at last!

Las Vegas Skyline

I haven't written about it yet, but six weeks ago I started working for a worldwide language school that just opened at one of the local colleges here in Las Vegas. We've been very busy getting the new school running smoothly and getting familiar with procedures, courses, and materials. I was so surprised to find out that this new company is affiliated with the one I worked for in Japan, as I had never heard of them before. So far, I'm the only full-time instructor but there are several part-timers. The director was, in his words, "extremely impressed" by my teaching credentials from Japan, so I'm happy that my adventure in Tokyo paid off.

It feels great to be back to teaching and earning an income again. I had been unemployed for several months and it was really starting to worry me that I wouldn't be able to find work here in the U.S. After all the resumes I sent out, including individualized cover letters, I hadn't gotten so much as a "thank you for your application."

Rant Alert: It's one of my pet peeves that businesses don't have enough consideration for the hard work people do to apply for a job to at least send an automated email reply:
Thank you for your application. If we feel your qualifications match our requirements, we will contact you for an interview. Please do not reply to this email.
It takes so little effort for a company to reply to applicants. They should be ashamed of themselves for such callous disregard. On the other hand, I suppose it's a good indication of how well those companies treat their own employees, so maybe I wouldn't want to work there anyway.

Since the school is so new, we only had a handful of students for the first 4-week session. We still have all of those same students plus a few more for our second session which just started this week. Most of the students are from Korea, Thailand, and Vietnam and as of right now I have only had Korean students. Since Las Vegas is known for its hospitality industry, many of these students come here hoping to enter UNLV and study hotel management. Before they can enroll in an American university, however, they must become more proficient in English. Our students range from the lowest levels of English to quite high, and currently I'm teaching the highest level—which requires a lot of extra preparation.

The commute is the worst part about being employed, but it's not as bad as when I lived in the Seattle area. I had just gotten so used to the convenience of Tokyo trains that I forgot about the reality for most Americans—having to commute to work by car in rush-hour traffic.

I seem to have adjusted well enough, and now my life is starting to feel more familiar. While it can be wonderful to have an extended "vacation," the reality is that it's not too enjoyable when you're wondering when your next paycheck will arrive.

Glad to be back to work!

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving Everybody!

I know a lot of you who read this blog live in other countries, but here in the U.S. today is Thanksgiving. Mostly, it seems like this day of "remembering to be thankful for what we have" turns into the starting gate for shopping madness. Starting at 4a.m. Friday, dozens of stores start opening for their annual Black Friday sales, including Target, Circuit City, Best Buy, Wal-Mart, Toys-R-Us, etc. This year the sales are also online, starting today (maybe they were last year, too, but this is my first Thanksgiving back in the states).

For many of the hottest sale items, people will camp out overnight to be first in line when the doors open in the morning.

Giving all of this serious thought—say 3 seconds or less—there's nothing I can think of buying that I'd be willing to camp out overnight to get. And there's definitely nothing I want to buy so much that I'd be willing to shove my way through huge crowds of bargain hunters. After living in Tokyo and trying to make it through the Shibuya Crossing at least once a month, I never want to be out in big crowds again.

While I'm not saying I don't like a good sale now and then, I'd much rather order something online. Here's just one of many websites that are tracking the sales.

But today, I'm just going to relax and enjoy a simple life. T&J got a nice little Butterball turkey to roast and we'll begin our Thanksgiving when J gets home from work (in Las Vegas, where so many people work in the hospitality industry, there are no holidays). After dinner, we'll probably just kick back and watch a movie. Boring? Maybe, but it sounds good to me.

Hope you're having (or had) a great Thanksgiving!

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Now that I'm back. . .

Oh yes, the vacation! Sorry to be away so long from my blog but after my recent trip to Arizona and Mexico, I felt the need to focus on my job search and put Gambatte! on the back burner for a while.

The trip was beyond wonderful! While it felt strange to be back in the driver's seat after more than 3 years of not driving at all in Japan, it felt completely natural to be driving again. For my first time behind the wheel of a car, I drove nearly 300 miles to Sedona, Arizona, and then another 250 to Tucson. The pictures of Sedona posted in September were exactly what I saw, and it was absolutely gorgeous! What an incredible place! I'll definitely go back for a longer stay and do some hiking next time.

During the retreat in Tucson I got to spend a lot of time walking around the beautiful monastery grounds covering 132 acres. Mostly I just hung out in the Japanese garden with its beautiful bridge over a koi pond. Call me a nerd, but I could spend hours watching fish, and especially these elegant koi.

After 6 blissful days at the retreat, I flew to Mexico to begin the first leg of my visit to Copper Canyon aboard the privately owned El CHEPE, a modern, clean and comfortable train. The view was breathtaking, especially as the train crossed from canyon to canyon over high bridges. I was a little surprised, however, at the presence of several uzi-carrying, black-uniformed federales who regularly passed through the train cars. We found out later that they are there to protect the passengers from local gangs or banditos who have, on occasion, attacked the trains to rob tourists. They became a real concern back in 2002, I was told, when they shot and killed an American doctor who was filming their attack. Since that time, federales were hired to ride the trains. Believe me, these guys looked tough enough to handle any type of attack. I felt quite safe.

It took around 6 hours to reach the tiny town where our guide awaited us. Six of us piled into his 9-passenger SUV and began our ride to the lodge perched on the edge of an 8,000 foot canyon. We were told it was an "unpaved" road and would take a little more than an hour to go the next 4 miles as it was a "little rough." That was an understatement!

Unpaved turned out to be a boulder-ridden, back-breaking, death-defying, breath-holding adventure into total madness! Well, maybe that's a little dramatic, but it was downright scary. All I kept thinking about was that we'd have to do this again to return to the train station! The so-called "road" was one-car wide (barely) and had rocks the size of bowling balls littered everywhere. Most of the time, one side of the ride was a sheer drop off with no guard rails and full of hairpin switch backs. Our guide, admittedly an excellent driver, talked cheerfully to us the entire time and assured us that he was an expert at driving this trail, even in the winter with snow, or during the summer rainy season. He said, as the car lurched side to side, the road was much better now because it had recently been smoothed out a little. I wanted to take pictures along the way, but my camera was in my backpack and I was too paralyzed with fear to attempt to move to reach for it.

We finally made it to the lodge and it turned out to be more than worth the frightening ride. The rooms were clean and comfortable, the view was spectacular, and the food was delicious. Our two guides were friendly, funny, and very polite and helpful. They both spoke English quite well and filled us in on the history of the lodge and Tarahumara Indians who owned the land and the lodge. We watched the men carry huge loads of large, heavy bricks on their shoulders as they walked up and down the steep steps to build an addition to the lodge. I could barely manage one trip up and down the steps in the thin air of these mountains, and they did this for hours at a time.

(Double-click on any picture to enlarge it.)

A young Tarahumara girl, in brightly-colored traditional clothing and carrying her 3-month-old baby, displayed her small hand-woven baskets the next morning before breakfast. She was 15 years old. Adriano, one of our guides, told me the girls are usually married by the age of 12. The head guide, Julio, told me that he and his wife had delivered this young girl's baby because the doctor was at a festival and could not reach the hospital in time. The baby was named after him and he became the godfather.

I teased him about what his resume would look like because he seemed to be capable of doing anything and everything! He was a guide, driver, host, bartender, brick mason, painter, plasterer, plumber, and midwife, and I'm sure he had even more skills!

Here's a picture of Julio (l) and Adriano (r), our two guides, inside the main lodge.

This is a picture of the young mother's sister, and her 10-year-old brother holding his niece.

The brother was quite a sweet boy and seemed to like following me around. I had, out of habit and surely not out of necessity, locked my room when I left it to go to the main lodge for breakfast my first morning there. When I came back to my room, I couldn't get the key to work, no matter how many times I tried. The girl with the baby saw me struggling and shyly approached to help me with the key. She couldn't get it to work either. I saw her say something to her little brother and he quickly disappeared. I thought he had gone to get one of our guides to try to fix the lock but soon realized he had scampered behind the lodge (reminder: it sits on the EDGE of a very high and steep mountain!) to climb up through my room's bathroom window. In a flash he was opening the door for me, grinning ear to ear. I laughed at the sight of him and gladly handed him some money for his effort. He looked very surprised and grinned even more. Here's a picture of him but, sadly, I can't remember his name, although I think it might have been Eduardo.

The Tarahumara are quite shy around strangers, but this little guy and I had a good time together. One day Adriano took three of us on a short hike over to the chief's little hut, and there was this same boy sitting on a rock with a big grin and holding a long stick. We laughed when we saw each other and I quickly picked up another stick to play sword fight with him. He thought that was so funny as we each got in a few blows.

The kids there had such a sweet innocence about them. Their lives, while harsh and simple, are spent outdoors most of the time. They fearlessly scamper barefoot all over the mountains and treat everyone and everything respectfully. I never heard any crying nor angry voices among any of the Tarahumara.

Their homes are very tiny—about 60 square feet or so—and made of concrete blocks with no electricity, running water, indoor plumbing, furniture, or any of the other conveniences we take for granted (except in the lodge). I didn't even see any doors or windows—just small openings. I can't imagine what it must be like for them in the winter when it gets quite cold. Some of the people still live in caves, just like their ancestors did thousands of years ago. I wanted to take pictures of the chief's home, but felt it would be disrespectful, so just try to imagine something impossibly small and bleak, that sleeps maybe 9 people squished together. I know—it's hard to imagine.

The lodge, on the other hand, was spacious and comfortable. Here's a picture of the dining room with its magnificent view of the surrounding canyons.

It ran on solar power, but in the evenings there was no power at all in the lodge so everything was lit by candles. It created such a beautiful dining experience. I think the kitchen ran on kerosene. On our first night we lingered over fresh margaritas and stimulating conversations among the 6 of us and our 2 guides while a spectacular lightning storm flashed across the dark skies. With each crack of thunder, we laughed in awe at this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to sit "on top of the world," completely away from civilization as we knew it, and marvel over the celestial dinner show.

A few days later, it was time to leave this fantastic place and return to our former lives. It made my heart sad to leave this beautiful, tranquil place. Knowing it is there and filled with the kindness of the wonderful people who live and work at this lodge, however, makes me very, very happy. I'll miss the Uno Lodge and the gentle Tarahumara, but hope to return there some day.

Maybe by that time the road will be paved!

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Sedona Sunrise and more

Can't wait to see this incredibly beautiful landscape! It's located in the state of Arizona in the U.S., about 110 miles north of Phoenix, and has become a Mecca for Hollywood glitterati and spiritual seekers. I'll be leaving Thursday with my friend who's visiting from Tokyo.

We're on our way to a retreat center outside of Tucson in St. David, Arizona and will drive from Las Vegas through Sedona where we'll stay overnight, and then drive on down to Tucson.

I'm staying an extra 3 days at the retreat, but my friend will fly to Mexico to do a little exploring. We'll meet up again on the 13th in Los Mochis (state of Sinaloa) Mexico, located near the Sea of Cortez. And of course, wouldn't you just know it, they had a 6.3 earthquake yesterday, so I'm sure we'll be feeling some of the aftershocks!

Upon arriving in Los Mochis, we'll take a 90-minute shuttle to El Fuerte where we'll board the famous Chihuahua al Pacifico train early the next morning for a 405-mile-long journey to an eco-lodge perched on the rim of the Copper Canyon in the state of Chihuahua, Mexico.

The train ride rises to more than 8,000 feet (12,900 km) as it cuts through the Sierre Madre Mountains. We'll cross 39 bridges and go through 86 tunnels along its route. It passes through—and sometimes over—farms, hills, towering cliffs, rust-colored canyon walls, river beds, pine forests and Indian villages and takes about 14 hours. It's four times larger than the Grand Canyon and almost 300 feet deeper!

And, it's also the home of the legendary long-distance runners and cave or cliff dwelling Tarahumara Indians, with roots stretching back to the Anasazi.

The eco-lodge where we'll stay has only solar energy—no electricity—but has its own chef who prepares delicious meals from fresh ingredients. It has been featured in Frommer's Mexico, and National Geographic Adventure says the partnership with the lodge and the (Tarahumara) "has resulted in the preservation of 65,000 acres of nearby habitat."

This is a view looking down at the lodge. Nice, eh?

So I leave September 6th and will be away from any computer access for 13 days. It will be hard to be away from my umbilical to the world, but I'm looking forward to this adventure of a lifetime! Will post more pictures when I return.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Thanks, but no thanks!

This video came from Trends in Japan aka CScout Japan. It shows a place called Tokyo Summerland with its "wave" pool where apparently thousands can jump in to cool off. I can't imagine trying this with so many people, but it's the Obon holiday and people will do anything to escape the sweltering heat.

Sugarcoating the future

I'm finally convinced the U.S. really is the land of milk and honey—or rather, milk and sugar. Is there anything that doesn't include massive quantities of sugar?

We had pizza from Pizza Hut and I thought there was something wrong with my tastebuds because the first flavor came up sweet! Wait, wasn't this a pepperoni pizza? The two flavors didn't compute and with each bite it reconfirmed there was definitely sugar in this pizza! Sugar in pizza? At first I thought it was the sauce but it was actually the dough! T said their new dough recipe now contains sugar. As if anyone in the U.S. needs more sugar in their diet.

After living in Tokyo where people say they don't eat sweets (even though there are at least two bakery shops on each block), I got used to less sweetened sweets. They just don't use as much sugar in their pastries and I learned to like the "less is better" approach. But now that I'm in the U.S. everything tastes so sweet!

Maybe people should be investing in sugar futures which were up 60% from last year. Of course, the future isn't just about eating more sugar, even though that's actually what the entire world is doing now. It's about using it as an alternative energy source. If it's used for alternative energy, will sugar gradually be cut back in Coca-Cola, Twinkies, or Pizza Hut pizza? Will restaurants and coffeshops start charging for sugar packets? Will people start losing weight? Will children suddenly turn calm and focus on their school work?

I'm appalled at such blasphemous thoughts!

Friday, August 10, 2007

Can't break the habit

It's quite surprising how a habit can become so comfortable so quickly. I mean, I only lived in Japan for three years, but I can't stop bowing.

So far, I've bowed to drivers who allow me to cross in front of them to get into the supermarket. I've bowed to the bank teller. I've bowed to the clerk who rings up my items at Costco and at the post office. So far, I haven't bowed on the phone yet, but I still don't trust myself.

Bowing seems so natural and it's hard to stop.

Maybe I should check myself into some kind of rehab.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Got drugs?

What in the world is happening to America? Is everyone really on drugs? And I'm not even referring to the illegal type. I'm talking about the kind you get with a prescription from your doctor.

If you've watched American TV lately, you can't go five minutes (I swear!) without seeing an ad for some kind of drug that's going to make you sleep soundly, lower your cholesterol, get rid of your allergies, improve your sex life, control your high blood pressure or diabetes, ease your arthritis pain, take away your depression or anxiety and give you a reason to live.

Apparently, since 1997 when the Food & Drug Administration relaxed its rules about advertising, the pharmaceutical companies rejoiced, and in 2006 spent $5.29 billion on consumer advertising. This of course makes me wonder who's in bed with the FDA.

Worse yet, the pharms are so wily as to present much of their advertising as Public Service Announcements (PSAs) to advocate for disease awareness. Not so surprisingly, health care costs in America have skyrocketed because 1 out of 3 people who see those ads asks his or her doctor about prescribing the medication.

I'm not saying there aren't ample and valid reasons for taking prescribed medications, but I am wondering why we've become such a drugged-out nation. There seems to be an obvious correlation between the amount of money spent on advertising and the number of people asking their doctors for prescriptions.

With the push to bring each new drug to market faster and faster—thereby making pharms richer and richer—and the increasingly familiar headlines about potentially lethal side effects of some of those drugs, why are so many people still inclined to chase that magic pill for a perceived instantaneous fix?

In Japan, drug advertising is still prohibited, but like so many other things, Japan will probably eventually relax its restrictions due to the aging population and pressure from the pharms.

Here are some numbers that indicate the power of advertising:

$4.65 billion—Amount of consumer advertising spent by the pharmaceutical industry in 2005
$5.29 billion—Amount of consumer advertising spent by the pharmaceutical industry in 2006
$4.20—Amount of additional sales each $1 in advertising generates
16—Average number of hours of prescription drug advertising Americans see each year

Sources: TNS Media Intelligence, Kaiser Family Foundation, Journal of Health Communication

Hopefully, people will start waking up to the fact that they're being manipulated for the sake of greed.

For anyone who's interested in a more serious take on what's happening with drug advertising, here's another video (which makes a first for me to include 2 videos in one post.)

Friday, August 03, 2007

Lightning, thunder and other things that make noise

Monsoon season is definitely here. We've had our share of lightning and thunder storms over the past couple of weeks, but not that much rain. Here's a very cool photo of the Luxor Hotel Casino and the Mandalay Bay that I borrowed from the All Hat No Cattle blog taken last year, but I'm sure it must have looked close to the same this year.

Speaking of rain...J&T decided to call a roofing company to take care of a leak they had in the roof last spring that left a stain on the living room ceiling. Early yesterday morning I was awakened by the footsteps and pounding of the roofer who came to fix the leak. Wouldn't you know that in the middle of his repairs it started lightning and thundering, and I was a little worried about his safety. Then it started raining, but by that time he had finished the job. So now we can all relax and not worry about any more leaks. . .we hope!

There's been quite a bit of activity around the ol' homestead these past few weeks. J&T have decided to do some remodeling and have spent tons of time looking at kitchen appliances, lighting, flooring, furniture, paint chips, patio furniture, and plants. Well, you get the idea. It's been fun for me because I haven't had anything to do with house stuff since 2002 when I sold my Oregon house. Watching them do all the planning, coordinating and arranging actually makes me miss owning a home. Those are the things that really make a house your own, but can increase the stress level--not mine--theirs!

Friday, July 13, 2007

Jonesing for soba

Today was a perfect day for cold soba noodles for dinner. It was hot. Nothing else sounded good, and I wanted something quick and easy to make for dinner. The only ingredient I was missing was nori, but I thinly sliced a green onion and scattered that over my noodles instead.

Strange as it might sound, I've only made soba noodles one other time, and that was before I moved to Tokyo. They turned out awful because I didn't know I was supposed to pour a little cold water into the boiling pot to cool down the outside of the noodles, allowing the inside to cook better. I also didn't know I was supposed to rinse them like crazy after cooking to get rid of the starchiness and smell. The first time they turned out doughy and overcooked, and I wondered what all the hoopla was about soba. But once I got to Tokyo and ate them (or udon) fairly often, I became quite addicted. In the summer there are all sorts of cold noodle dishes you can buy already made at the grocery stores or convenience stores, so I never had to heat up my kitchen to boil water.

So, tonight I found myself alone for dinner and decided to give it a try. I had already bought nice soba noodles at Trader Joe's a couple of weeks ago in anticipation of my craving. I also had some hontsuyu soup base that I needed for the dipping sauce and some powdered wasabi that I mixed up and added to the sauce. It turned out quite tasty, if I do say so myself! Along with the soba, I made a cucumber salad with mirin vinegar. Everything was very simple and tasted cool and refreshing.

However, I really do miss the convenience of buying prepared meals. I rarely cooked while living in Tokyo--because I didn't need to! Prepared meals were delicious and inexpensive, and usually ended up costing me less in the long run because I didn't need to buy larger quantities that got jammed into my tiny fridge and forgotten as they got shoved to the back.

I still haven't tried sushi or sashimi since leaving Japan. Somehow, I think whatever I try here will be a big disappointment. We keep getting menus in the mail and one of them was for a new sushi restaurant. When I looked at the pictures and descriptions, they sounded too much like California-style sushi. Too exotic or manipulated. Japanese sushi is very simple--fish caught the same day draped over perfectly cooked and seasoned rice. There's very little else done to sushi. Wish I had some right now.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Triple digits and holding

I promise not to make this a weather channel blog, but couldn't help myself this morning. Here are some screenshots I took of the forecast this morning, posted in both Fahrenheit and Celsius for your viewing pleasure.

Even though we all say, "well, it's the desert you know, and it's a dry heat," this is definitely hot!

On July 3rd we went to a community fireworks show, even though we didn't find out about it until almost starting time. There were thousands of people at the park, but we managed to find a nice, grassy area to pitch our blanket just in time to catch a little of the live bands playing. The fireworks were great and it wasn't too hot to enjoy the evening, only around 98F or so, I think. But last night was a different story as we sat on the patio. It was still blazing hot at around 107F. As the night wore on, and more and more neighborhood fireworks took to the skies, we decided to walk around to view the fireworks madness that is Las Vegas. (Note: We don't actually live that close to the more familiar Las Vegas Strip. We're at least 15 miles away in the suburbs.)

Even though aerial fireworks are banned, you wouldn't have known it from our viewpoint. Too bad I don't have photos, but it's really hard to take good nighttime photos of fireworks. After about an hour of walking around, we decided to go back to the house and watch more pyrotechnics from the patio. We were all a little worried about the extreme danger of fires, considering the intense heat and dryness in this desert valley. Those bans are in effect for a reason, but as I said, everyone pretty much ignores them. Haven't watched any news yet today, but wouldn't be surprised if it included footage of burning homes or buildings!

So, this morning I broke out the iced coffee for breakfast. Couldn't bear the thought of drinking hot coffee. We're keeping the house thermostat set on 87F now to try to keep our bodies more acclimated to the intense outside heat, and to keep the electricitiy bills down a little. Even so, the A/C keeps kicking on as the house heats up quickly. I have a window A/C unit in my bedroom (or as T calls it, the meat locker), which I only run at night, but if I keep my door closed, the room stays pretty comfortable until evening.

Hope you're all managing to stay cool!

Friday, June 29, 2007

So, where was I?

Right. I've left Tokyo. That was exactly one month ago, although it feels like it was just last week.

It's been a bit of a rough transition for me because I got so used to an active life with friends, colleagues, and students. Now I'm back to my former reclusive lifestyle where I rarely leave the house, for which there are two reasons: 1) I don't have a car, and 2) it's hot, damn hot! Today was 110F (43.3C) with 3% humidity. That's so dry your skin feels like it's going to crawl off your bones. Dry. My throat has felt parched for two days although I've been drinking gallons of water.

The heat isn't anything like the heat of Tokyo, though, and for that I'm very thankful. Tokyo's heat is like a steaming pool of wetness that you carry around on your head and watch it drip down your body until it reaches your toes. It's incessant and oppressive.

I haven't found work yet, but that's not too big a worry right now. I figured I'd give myself a month off before actively seeking something. J thinks I should become a nanny for a well-off Summerlin family. Considering I have no desire or skill for that type of job, it's probably safe to say it won't be happening any time soon. I'm looking into some ESL teaching jobs at a university but the pay seems to be really low. I mean really, really low. So, there's always writing or editing work, and some of those jobs can be done from home. I could become a telecommuter, which would take me full circle back to 1998 when I wrote an article for American Demographics magazine about telecommuting. "It's like deja vu all over again."

So, other than the heat, the transportation dilemma, no job, and the loneliness, I'm doing fine.

It's not that I'm not enjoying J&T. When we're together, it's great and we have a good time--even if it's just running errands, watching TV or relaxing in the spa. I'm happy to be here and it makes me feel good to be with my family, but I guess it's just that I'm missing the work and social life I had in Tokyo. Maybe this feeling will diminish once I'm employed and meeting people. I don't have any friends here in Las Vegas, so it feels a little weird.

The other thing I'm missing is the food. I really fell in love with Japanese food--well, most of it. Never grew fond of the slippery raw whole baby squid thingy--sometimes eaten as a snack with sake--or natto. But for the most part, everything else I ate was delicious and beautifully presented. Mostly I miss the sushi and sashimi and I'm pretty sure I'll never find anything to match that kind of freshness here in Vegas. It's hot now so it reminds me of the delicious cold soba or udon noodles I subsisted on each summer, and the fact that I rarely needed to cook anything as it was readily available as takeout from supermarkets or convenience stores.

But the good news is that I can now go back to experimenting with my Thai and Vietnamese cooking. In Tokyo my kitchen was the size of a broom closet and I only had one skillet, one pot and almost no counter space. Billions of people around Asia turn out exquisite meals with far less, but I need room to cook! As Eddy said in the TV series Absolutely Fabulous, "I need surfaces, darling!"

Another major hurdle that I'm proud to say I survived was getting my household goods shipped from Japan. The paperwork was atrocious, but I endured, thinking that it would all be over once I got to the U.S. Hah! Silly girl! The container in which my goods were shipped was pulled at the port for x-raying, which was fine even though it delayed the shipping to L.V. by another week. I received numerous emails from the L.A. warehouse with updates about my shipment which included several downloadable PDF files.

I spent a seemingly inordinate amount of time making phone calls to the L.A. /L.V warehouses to try to coordinate what they were doing and get cashier's checks mailed off for additional shipping costs at this end. I was supposed to bring all these documents with me to the warehouse in L.V., but my printers were in the boxes being shipped and J&T don't have a printer. Thank goodness for Kinko's which now has an amazing service that will print out documents from a memory stick plugged directly into their counter desktop monitor. It took about 15 seconds and cost me 26 cents! Unbelieveable! However, we did have to drive about 10 miles to find a Kinko's because the new one just minutes away hasn't opened yet.

Then there was the confrontation with airport customs. I had to take all my shipping documents to customs for a clearance on my goods. The agent who "helped" me was anything but helpful. In fact, he was more like an evil control freak who was determined to express his manliness through intimidation. "Do you have anything less than a year old in your shipment", he asked with attitude, never looking up from his computer monitor from several feet away. I said, "I don't know. I might have some things less than a year old, but I'm not sure." He cocked his head to look up at me and repeated (as though I were an idiot who didn't understand him the first time), "do. . .you. . .have. . .anything. . .that's. . .less. . .than. . . one. . .year. . .old?" At the risk of irritating him more, I said, "I'm sorry, but I didn't keep track of when and what things I bought, so I really don't know. All I know is that I lived there for three years." The air was thick with unbridled irritation at my reply. I thought it was at that moment that he was going to 'cuff me, take me into a back room and waterboard me until I answered his question. A few anxious moments passed and then he picked up my papers and went into a back room that was closed off by a doorway. Gulp. When he returned about 10 minutes later, he walked slowly to his desk carrying one of my documents, stooped over to stamp something in red, and then--just as slowly--walked over and handed it to me like it was a revoltingly soiled diaper. Not knowing what I was supposed to do at that point, I asked, "Is that all?" to which he snarled, "You're free to go now." One of his colleagues, sitting at a nearby desk, said, "Thank you and have a nice day," as he continued looking at his computer monitor.

What a strange and unsettling encounter with this unfamiliar and somewhat frightening process!Anyway, I was glad it was over and couldn't wait to leave that frozen and heartless blackhole called customs. Going through customs as an airline passenger has always been a breeze with courteous, yet reserved, agents. This experience with my shipment was the total opposite.

So, that's what's been going through my mind and my life the past few weeks. I've decided, for now anyway, to keep blogging under the same blog name but if that changes I'll post an update on this blog. Gambatte!, after all, means to keep doing your best, and that's what I'll continue trying to do here in L.V.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Goodbye Tokyo, I'll miss you!

Sorry I've been away from my blog for a little while. Life has been a little crazy the last few weeks and I'm finally able to sit down and think about this blog.

Leaving Tokyo last week was bittersweet. There are so many people and things I'll miss:

Friends/Students: Including Judy, Courtney, Colleen, Jonathan, Jeremy, Eric, Satoko, Steve, Val, Amanda, Michael, Devon, David, Hiroko, Jean, Rieko, Hisae, Rumiko, Michiko, Emi, Chikako, Mayuko, Ryosuke, Tadashi, Chieko, Sachiko, Yohei, Rika, Yumi, Sho, Kosaku, Mayumi, Hiroko, Fumiko, Aki, Naombu, and friends who have already left--Michelle, Wendy, Emma, Elisa.

Food/Beverages: Impeccably fresh sushi and sashimi such as ebi, ikura, uni, maguro, and hamachi; bento; tofu (the REAL kind) and yuba; burdock root salads, mountain potatoes and all the other beautiful fruit and vegetables; Japanese tsukemono (pickles); sake (the huge variety), chu-hi (my beverage of choice); and especially the beauty and artistry of every food presentation which never failed to thrill me.

Trains: Really! Most of the time I was lucky enough to ride on less crowded trains. As long as you don't have to ride trains during rush hour, there's no better transportation service in the world than the reliable and convenient train system in Japan. While expensive, it nevertheless meant I never needed a car and could go anywhere I wanted quickly and safely.

Karaoke: Lots of fun with friends!

Konbinis: Convenience stores that really are convenient! There's almost always at least one near every train station or within two or three blocks from where anyone lives. Most of them sell bentos that are much healthier than the traditional hotdogs or fake cheese-laden nachos and other crap that's available in American convenience stores.

Vending Machines: You name it, you can find it in a vending machine!

Places: Shibuya--especially the Food Show, Hachiko (for meeting people), the BIG crossing, Bic Camera, the Apple Store, 0101, Blister, Loft, and millions more! Omotesando, Tameike-sanno, Ginza, Hiro, Ebisu, Roppongi, Shinjuku, Yoyogi park, Harajuku, Jiyugaoka, and on and on and on.

Izakaya: All those great, inexpensive places to go to eat and/or drink with friends after work.

Kimono: The gorgeous patterns and colors!

Temples and Shrines: Such beautiful places.

Festivals and Fireworks: Seems like there's always something happening.

There are just so many more things, but for now that's the highlight of my memories of Japan.

It's been quite an amazing journey these past three years and I hope I never forget it (hopefully, this blog will be my biggest reminder).

My next post will be about some of my feelings since arriving back in the U.S. Still haven't figured out what to do with this blog--change its name or what exactly? Anyway, I'll continue blogging under "Gambatte!" until I do decide. I hope you'll stay tuned.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

How many people does it take to. . .?

OK, here's a perfect example of a very typical situation in Tokyo. Something's malfunctioning with the automatic gates in the train station. What to do? Send in eight guys--seven to watch and one to do the work. You can't see the eighth guy in the picture, but he's hunkered down on the floor in front of the four guys on the left. I see this sort of thing all the time and it really explains why everything costs so much in Japan!

Another thing you can't see in this picture is, I assume, the uniformed station master standing just out of range of my viewfinder. He saw me aiming my camera and stepped back.