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.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Only one week left in Japan

Here's the guy I had a date with yesterday. OK, so maybe it wasn't really t-h-a-t kind of date, but he was all smiley and cute and I just had to take a picture of him. (Too bad it looks like he's got a laundry pole going through his head or that he's wearing some kind of strange laundry hat, but hey, it's a small patio!) He was from the shipping company and came to get my boxes. That's an apron he's wearing over his jeans, but I don't know what it says--probably the name of the shipping company.

I was surprised to see only one guy! Isn't this Japan, the country where it takes at least two people to do any one task? He was supposed to show up between 5:30 and 6:00 but called me at 4:00 to say he would be there early, at 4:30. Of course, all this was in Japanese. I've learned to use very basic English in these situations where neither of us can understand each other, so I said, "five-three-zero?" And he laughed and said, "four-three-zero." I said, "OK, see you then." "Hai," he said.

Anyway, when he got to my apartment there was the language barrier again as I attempted to ask him if he had any stickers for marking certain boxes "FRAGILE" to which he just smiled in that nervous "what the hell is she saying?" kind of way. This time I had to call the shipping company which is run by a bi-cultural couple, and explain what I wanted. She then asked to speak to Mr. Cute Shipper Guy and explained what I wanted. He did a lot of "Hai, hai, hai, hai!" and hung up. In a minute or two my phone rang and it was the shipping company apologizing for the guy having hung up before she could tell me that he said he didn't have any labels with him but would put them on the boxes I had marked "Fragile" later.

We'll see.

So, now I must focus on getting rid of the stuff that didn't go at the sayonara sale, cleaning my frig, and packing everything that's left into my suitcases. I also have to handle my cell phone cancellation (see Rants & Raves below) go to the bank to exchange money, and buy a few small gifts for my managers and staff. Oh, and work. Saturday is my last day at work and I'll leave Japan on May 29th.

Things are moving too fast!

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Sayonara sale

Today I hauled a bunch of stuff out on a little patio adjacent to my apartment and had a Sayonara Sale. While I don't know any of my neighbors, except to bow slightly and say a quick hello, they seemed most eager to see what I had on offer.

One neighbor has a cute little 3-year-old grandchild who came to see what was going on. I had anticipated her interest and had saved a pink pig bathroom set for her (no, I didn't buy it, it was given to me by one of my zany friends) and she was thrilled. She, her grandparents, and her mom and dad took the bulk of my things. Almost everything was free but they insisted on giving me a little money nevertheless.

Then I was totally surprised when one of their other grandchildren handed me a bag with two cans of chilled beer inside! I didn't realize until much later that the grandfather had dropped a 500 yen coin inside the bag. I do remember that he beamed as he watched his grandson hand it to me. Nobody spoke much English, and of course I don't speak Japanese, but it will be one of my fondest memories of Japan.

While I've heard--and seen firsthand--that most Japanese just toss their unwanted items in the trash, it made me feel good knowing that I wasn't adding too much to the massive landfills that must exist around Japan. Everyone who walked down my street stopped to dig through items and usually found a few things to take home. One lady came back about five times, as did the grandparents and their grandchild.

All in all, I think everyone felt a little happier with the "treasures" they took home, and I know I felt a little bit of an ache in my heart as I realized that in about a week I will be leaving Japan. Today erased some of the memories of the irritating things about Tokyo, and reminded me that no matter what country or city, people can interract with kindness and friendship. And best of all, today showed me once again that language is no barrier to what the heart can feel.

Segoi! (セゴイ!)

Friday, May 18, 2007

Why am I even surprised?

There's a good reason why so many people are employed in Japan. Many of them have been given jobs that do nothing more than make it extremely difficult for anyone to do things in a timely way. It goes beyond bureaucracy. How anyone could use the Japanese business model as a model of efficiency is truly beyond my grasp.

Yesterday my landlady and I were on the phone for half an hour trying to cancel my cell phone account. First they asked her a million questions, then they asked me to repeat everything in English (although the woman taking the information spoke no English). Then, after I thought everything was completed, my landlady handed me the phone and said they had a bi-lingual person who could talk to me in English. Why didn't they do that in the first place? So, I went through the whole thing again, explaining that I was leaving Japan and needed to cancel my cell phone. Our conversation went on and on, just like the previous two conversations, and then she cheerfully thanked me for using SoftBank--and finished by saying, "Now you must go to the SoftBank shop and complete your cancelation. Please plan on one hour at the shop to do this."

"WHAT?" I asked incredulously. "Are you telling me that after talking to you and your colleagues for the past 30 minutes I STILL have to go, in person, to a SoftBank shop and that it will take me one hour to complete the cancellation?"

"Yes, I'm sorry, but you must go to the shop," she said cheerfully.

"But I need my phone until the morning of my departure. I won't have time to go to the SoftBank shop as I'm going to be, well, just a little freaking busy!"

"Oh," she said with that perky, smiley voice, "you can do it at the airport! We have two shops there!"

Right. Like I want to go to the airport an extra hour earlier just so I can have the privilege of cancelling my phone.

Some of my friends at work told me that SoftBank tries to talk people out of cancelling their phone service or to make it nearly impossible for them to do so. Reminds me of AOL.

Ask me if I'd ever use a SoftBank phone again.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

For Jenn on Mother's Day

There's nothing more wonderful than being a mother, and I try to remember that every day and give thanks. There's also no job more difficult than being a mother, and I don't think enough women are appreciated for everything they do for their children.

When my daughter was finally handed to me in the hospital after a very long and difficult labor, I remember the look on her face as we eyed each other. It was like, "So, this is you!" we said to each other. I studied her face, especially her eyes, and thought, "What a wise old soul you are!"

Over the years, with each passing stage of her childhood, I marveled at the growing individual who had once stared into my eyes as that unblinking newborn, and I tried to imagine what she would be like as a grown woman. The years went by much too quickly! People always tell you, "Enjoy your child now because the years will fly by and before you know it, she will be an adult," but you never believe it.

Those childhood years are long gone now, and my beautiful daughter, my best friend, is 35 years old.

Our years together have not been without the ups and downs that any relationship goes through, especially those teenage years, but now we've found our rhythm and know how to share our thoughts and dreams. We've grown comfortable with each other.

Unfortunately, I never felt that way about my own mother. She was always, as I remember, someone who pushed people away with her strange and unloving behavior. I vowed it would never be like that if I were lucky enough to have a daughter. I wanted desperately to be a mother and to show my child how much she was loved. I never wanted her to doubt her place in my heart.

As if by some miracle, that wish came true. Thank you, Jenn, for making me a mom, and thank you Mom, wherever you are, for inspiring me to be a better mother.

Monday, May 07, 2007

In a mad rush

Sorry I haven't had time to post much lately. I'm busy sorting, pitching, and packing to leave Tokyo on May 29th. It's all happening so fast that my head is spinning.

On top of all that, I decided to work Golden Week, the week of four holidays and Children's Day. It's a nice way to make a little extra money, and I didn't have plans to go anywhere anyway. Still, I sort of regret not taking the time to go see more of Japan. I have to admit I'm not good at going places by myself (although I came all the way to Japan by myself!), especially when I don't speak the language. The hoped-for visits by family and friends never materialized, unfortunately, so I ended up working most holidays and only taking vacations home to the U.S.

Anyway, I'm feeling very excited about returning home. It will be great to be able to read signs and find familiar things in grocery stores and restaurants. I'm really looking forward to eating Mexican food again!

Ironically, the entire time I've lived in Japan I've wanted a cat, which was a definite no-no with my landladies. After moving to my new apartment last October, I thought long and hard about getting a cat but decided not to because I didn't know what my plans were, and didn't want to have to consider shipping a cat by air. In the last 10 days or so, a 3-legged cat has decided to take up residence on my patio, next to my washing machine. "She's" very skinny, in poor health, and very shy. I've put out food for her and she has rewarded me with her loyal presence each morning and evening. I wonder about what might have happened to her poor leg, and today as she was cleaning herself in the sunshine, I got a better look through my sliding door. I thought maybe it was a birth defect, but it looks like it was cut off. Poor baby! I wonder what her story is and wish I could ask her, but she apparently doesn't speak English and I don't speak Japanese!

Cat's have a very difficult life in Tokyo. Most of them have some kind of eye and nose congestion. Many of them have feline AIDS, I'm told. People don't seem to consider spaying or neutering their cats, so the population grows because they're outdoor cats. So, life as a street cat is just plain tough.

Fortunately, I have a close friend who is very active in cat welfare in Tokyo and has offered to come trap the little gal, take her to a vet for neutering, get her on antibiotics, and find a good home for her. I sure hope she's successful! This little kitty has had more trauma than any cat deserves, and I hope she can spend the rest of her days being loved and cared for properly.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

DaVinci and more codes!

Here's a fascinating video about the latest in code decryption at Rosslyn Chapel, which was featured in the movie, The DaVinci Code.

Apparently, there were codes embedded onto some of the carvings inside the chapel. A father and son, who became intrigued by the carvings have deciphered a musical score based on these geometric figures. You can listen to a sampling of this score here.

What interests me so much about this discovery is that I've taught classes about the meaning of such symbols and images. Nothing, absolutely nothing in Renaissance history, was put into a painting, sculpture or other piece of art that didn't have meaning on many levels. While we might look at things from a purely esthetic point of view, artists from those midieval times embedded "secrets" into their art. Leonardo DaVinci was a master of this technique.

The other thing I loved about this discovery is the evidence of how sound waves create patterns. I've studied this phenomenon for a while and have found it to be mesmerizing to watch! You can achieve the same results by using large speakers and setting a flat tray filled with sand on top of the speaker. If you play one musical note at a time through that speaker, the sand will rearrange itself into a geometric pattern. Maybe crop circles are formed from some kind of similar phenomenon.

So, watch the video and see for yourself!