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.