Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The Little Things

Of course there are the little things that you find about a new country that seem… so odd at times! Once you start to integrate you start to forget that those things are strange. In light of that, before I forget, I am going to point out some of the little things that are different.
1. Most faucets shut off by pushing the handle up and turn on by pushing it down. Makes sense right, but its opposite of the U.S. so my pants often get wet.
2. Doors lock when you turn the key away from the locking mechanism, contrary to what we do in the west. I often walk into doors because I think the lock is open. (Kristin, you would laugh at me all the time here!)
3. At gas stations you don’t get out of your car. Full service! You just tell them the grade you want and how much and they go to work. They also wipe down your car and give you a rag to wipe your dash with. Plus, gas is… well, its not cheap or expensive. It just is.
4. Garbage is separated into about six different categories. It’s really annoying. Bottles go in one box, but their caps and wrappers go in another… and you have to wash them out before you throw them away. Cans go in a separate box, paper must be stacked and tied with ribbon. Food wastes go in one box. And there are a couple others that I haven’t really figured out yet. Plus, they require you to put your name and address on all the bags and bring them to a neighborhood site. If they are not satisfied with the way your sorted it, they bring it back to you! They also only collect on certain days, so Monday is burnables, Tuesday is bottles (but not caps!) Thursday is paper etc.
5. While people sometimes will not look you in the eyes when they speak to you they will certainly have no problem looking over you shoulder to see what you are writing or reading, which is happening to me as I write this. At the Onsen (bathhouse) they will also not have problem staring at your privates.
6. Squat toilets are annoying, yes, they are, I don’t care what anyone says. Don’t give me that “culturally insensitive” line. I don’t care, squat toilets are bad.
7. Rules, there are a lot of them I don’t understand and never will. Enough said.
8. Ovens don’t really exist, think toaster oven without a temperature gage.
9. Gear seems more important than training. Going out for baseball? Don’t train, just buy all the equipment so you look like you know what you are doing.
10. Some doorways and ceilings are very low, watch your head! Even I, at 6 feet, hit my head sometimes.
11. The western toilets here are awesome, they have heated seats, butt misters, and bade’s all in one.
12. Cigarettes are cheap, about the equivalent of 3 bucks a pack and, because of the Japanese’s love of the vending machine, you can buy them almost anywhere. I even have a cigarette machine in my school! Ok, that last one was a lie, but it almost seems like there should be one there too.
13. Shoes, shoes, shoes. I have to buy about six new pairs of shoes because of the places that I can and cannot wear them. At school, I have one pair for outside, one pair for inside, and one pair for the gymnasium. At home, one pair for outside, one pair for inside. At the local gym, one pair for outside, one pair for inside. Cleats, hiking boots, snowboarding boots! Oh my! The shoes are piling up. Make sure when you take them off to trade for another pair that you face them towards the door, away from the door is rude.

When we experience other cultures we first see the things that are not like our own. They stick out. They are dwelled on because they are different and need to be minded in order for us to “fit in” or be polite. This also leads us to think about being different from the culture we are in, most of the time. One needs to remember that people are not all that different.
I was watching a choral practice today when it occurred to me that these kids are just like kids in the States. Their parents want them to succeed. They want to do well in school. They want to be cool. They want to sleep all the time. They like sports, girls/boys, hanging out, eating junk food. It made me feel really good to have that moment again where the people around me started to feel like my people. I was part of a community that knew me and loved me.
This past weekend I had a home-stay in which I spent a few days with a local family while going to language classes during the day. My family consisted of two grandparents (70,67) and two grandchildren Kaigo and Emi. Kaigo was 12, just visiting. Emi was 11, she has autism. I loved her the most, she would sit by me and say what English she knew… again and again. I wanted to hug her all the time, she was very sweet.
As I spent my nights with them I came to know them as a family and some of there other relatives came by too to say hello and just spend time with loved ones. The weekend went really well and I will be visiting them often. It was really nice to get Japanese grandparents who will make cookies for me, have breakfast with me, or give me vegetables from their garden. Really, it will feel good to have grandparents who are looking out for my well being in that grandparents sort of way.
All these experienced combined, the meeting of the kids, getting a host family of sorts, starting to forget the odd cultural things, they all make me feel more at home. I feel like I have taken a big step in adjusting. I am making this my home, sort of.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Where In the World Is Kevin? My Town Part I

This a little post about where exactly I am. If you would like to know where in Japan then look at the black and white map. I have outlined my prefecture, put an X where I am in that prefecture, and circled Tokyo to give you some idea of how far I am in relation to it. I am about four hours from Tokyo by bus. So not too far.
If you look at the seven colored map you will see my prefecture divided up into areas. I am in Aizuwakamatsu area. If you go to the three colored map you will see my prefecture, Fukushima, divided into three pieces. I am in Aizu, the western most chunk of the three. Just left of the lake you can make out the city Aisu-Wakamatsu. I am just a little south-west of that in a town called Aizu-Hongo. Good luck finding that on any map! If you want to go a little furthur and see what my apartment looks like then follow this link and have a look inside.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

My Two Mothers

I usually only post things on here about my travels, other cultures, and new things I experience professionally. Mostly, I don't get too personal. However, this time I will allow a view into my heart. On August 11th my grandmother died. We did not have what I would call a typical grandmother/grandson relationship. I lived, along with my brother and mother, with my grandparents until I was 14. I again lived with them the past 18 months or so. In my heart she was the closest thing to a mother besides my own. I wrote part of a eulogy to be read at her prayer service and I am told that my brother read it. I would like to share it here with you now.

I went out with some friends the other night and as our night drew to a close I had a feeling that I should call home, something wasn’t right. Something was moving me to call immediately, it was very odd. I have never felt that way before. I tried time and again to dial the right numbers to make the connection, but it didn’t work. I was worried about my family and so distraught and frustrated sleep did not come easy. The next morning I finally found the right combination of numbers and contacted my mother. In our discussion she told me the time of day that grandma slipped away and I realized that it was the very time that I had that urgent feeling the night before. Even in death, grandma was with me.

I spent so much of my life with grandma that she became a permanent fixture in my life. I don’t remember ever not being in her care. In my childhood she cared for me just as a mother would. She scolded me at times, and held me when I was sick or hurt. She made cookies and made sure we got to tucked in (when mom wasn’t there). She was always there after school when Shane and I got home, ready for our whirlwind of activity. She was always willing to put together a puzzle or play a game with me. In my teenage years we moved out of grandma and grandpa’s house and it seemed as though I wouldn’t see them as much, but that was not so. As I grew into adulthood she was still there, a fixture at Christmas, Thanksgiving, and Easter. Her party mix was the best. (sorry mom, its true!) She was always the most chipper, always interested in what you were doing, always listening with the utmost sincerity. Of course she could be quite funny too, always smiling, always with good cheer. I remember when grandpa broke his hip and for a time I spent my days at their house with grandma, reading, playing games, or taking Ms. Rosemary for a drive! Ha! What fun! Eventually we lived together again when I came back to Sturgeon Bay and it felt good in my heart to be with my grandparents again although grandma was not the same.
As grandma grew older she started to decline. She would not remember things and sometimes could not keep up with conversation, but she kept trying. She had pain in her knees and was often dizzy, but she was still amazingly upbeat. I would sometimes get frustrated with her. Sometimes I didn’t always want to talk to her or I was irritated that she kept asking me the same questions all the time. I know that we all felt this way at some point. (Would you like some carrots Mary?) In the last years of her life I started to replace the person that she was with the little things that took away from her. The every day interaction started to make me forget, like we all do, what is truly in front of us. Even though I loved her greatly I started to forget the woman that she was as days of dementia and dizziness clouded her mind as well as mine.
Now that cloud has lifted. I can once again remember the woman that she was. Cleansed of earthly impediments, my image of her has become again what she truly was. The time has come for all of us to forget the small things that made each day difficult. We can let go of those things that have been cluttering our minds. We can laugh heartily about the frustrating times, we can smile about the good times, and we can hold each other as she did for me when I was hurting. We can finally let it melt away remembering only the good things, letting only our love for her to remain. Each one of us can remember oma, grandma, mom, Rosemary as the loving person she was. Each one of us can take somber comfort in each other and mourn her death, but not for her sake. It is for ours. While we are without her, she is with God. She now walks beside him, jubilant I’m sure, asking him with the utmost sincerity how his day is going, if he is doing well, or if he would like some carrots.

The Land of The Rising Sun

Yes, I have made it. Yes, I (they) eat raw fish! I have a car, which is pictured. It is a Suzuki Wagon and as you can see it is not very big. The steering wheel is on the right and you drive on the left, just like in England, Australia (?), and … Jamaica? It has been surprisingly easy to learn how to do the old switcha-roo. I wanted to show pictures of my apartment and the area where I live too, but I decided to put them on a pod cast so that you all can watch a video of it! Most of the stuff is mine, but some things my predecessor left and so I am going to use a little bit of his videos too.

This is the address; I’m pretty sure that if you put this in your header you can go directly to the site. I will test it, but let me know if you can watch it. Right now I only have a video of a Koi pond near me, but I will soon be adding others. Each time I add a video I will post here that I am adding a video and will try to remember to post the link again with it.