Archive for July, 2007

One of those years…

M. is on the tail end of his major yakudoshi, which is a series of three years (the middle one being the Big Bad one) in which the world is actually against you.  I contend that since his birthday is in December he’s actually having residual year #2 bad luck, which would go a long way towards explaining where he’s at right now.

It’s not my place to discuss his problems online, but I will say that things have been very hard for him lately.  There’s not much hope on the horizon, either, which causes no small stress around here.

A more mundane problem is that the money we thought we’d have for a new scooter seems to have up and disappeared.  You can see where it went if you look at the bank statement, but, in the meantime, it means that he has to clunk along on his decrepit scooter for at least another half a year.  The last time it broke, repair costs and the cost of renting a replacement set us back over $600, so we’re really hoping it can hold together until we can get another one.  The kicker is that, while our insurance would help defray the costs of a scooter IF M. were completely disabled, if he’s even marginally ambulatory that’s out of the question.  Never mind that it would be excruciatingly painful and difficult for him to commute to work without the scooter – he can walk, but that doesn’t mean he can do it well and without pain or effort.  It’s one thing around the house; it’s entirely another when it’s across the street, up the slope in the tunnel, through the turnstile, up the elevator – perchance to sit down on the train – then out the station and three blocks down the road.

So, pffffffffffft.  I can’t personally complain about our insurance, of course; they do 100% of maternity costs, so I’m winning there.  But this ambulatory/unambulatory thing is a little ridiculous in our situation.

And the baby bear said bitch, bitch, bitch.  I’ll quit whinging now.


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According to her mom, who called a couple of days ago (without the flight number – I still have no idea what time K. is arriving), K. is on a diet and “probably won’t eat much.  Don’t let it bother you.”

Bother me?  The less I have to cook, the better for everyone.

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In 1992, I went to work in a small town in rural Japan – and when I say “rural,” I mean the Japanese equivalent of, say, South Dakota. The kind of place that no one outside it quite gets, with its own special personality (in this case, it has a reputation for being dark, cold, and where people drink to pass the time).

It turned out that, job aside, I loved living there. Being rural, there were only a handful of people who spoke English, and they did so aggressively enough that I quickly learned to disappear when they were approaching. I made friends not through my abilities to further their English-speaking skills, but through shared interests and similar outlooks on life. It probably helped that I was exceedingly visible, being – at that time – the sole Western resident of the town; but, even then, most of the people who I became friends with befriended me in spite of my foreignness, not because of it.

Being alone* and youngish, a couple of people took me under their wings. One was the manager of a town-owned inn, who let me loiter in the main office during lunchtime, after work, and on the weekends (fortunately, I was friends with all the office staff – one woman is still probably my closest friend in Japan), eventually gave me odd jobs to do when it became clear that I wasn’t going anywhere and that my real job was driving me crazy**, took me to dinner with his family on a semi-regular basis, listened to me whinge about problems, allowed my visiting sister and me to accompany his family on a summer vacation one year, attempted to arrange a marriage for me***, and generally made sure that I was looked after and cared for.

It could be argued that he went overboard a little; I wasn’t the only person he was this generous to, and he always did have a thing for younger women (both of which eventually led to his finding employment elsewhere – he’s not perfect by any stretch of the imagination). But I always liked him as a person, I liked his (fairly long-suffering) wife, and I liked his three daughters. And I figured there was no way in hell I’d ever be in a position to repay the kindness he’s shown me over the years.

Until I had an email several months ago announcing that his middle daughter – who, I think, is maybe finishing up high school this year? – wanted to come stay with us in the US for a little while. Now, even if I had wanted to say no, which I didn’t, this is where the notion of “sewa” kicks in. There is one reasonably good way of fitting in – as much as possible, if you’re foreign – in Japan, and that’s to accept the kindness of others. BUT, having accepted it, you’re pretty much obligated to reciprocate if you want to ingratiate yourself in your community. Ever lifted the suitcase of a skinny young Japanese girl at a US airport? Chances are – and I know this from several years of chaperoning skinny young thangs to the US and back – it weighs at least as much as the girl herself, and it’s completely filled with little jelly jars and other small, but heavy, items intended for gifts back home. The woman I worked next to for several years in this town came with me to the US one Christmas, and she had to bring a whole extra bag just for omiyage. All because she was entrenched in sewa – both giving and receiving.

If there’s anyone I’ve been on the receiving end of, it’s this guy. There is absolutely no way I could have said no to his daughter’s request. So, in a couple of weeks (they seem to still be finalizing flights, although I do not know how this is possible at this late date), we’re getting a teenager. M. and I have been wracking our brains trying to think of fun things for her to do; her father wants her to have a lot of time roaming around by herself, picking up English in her adventures, because her father has never been to the United States and thinks it’s every bit as safe as where he lives (where everyone knows everyone else AND their business). She may get dropped off at the mall once or twice, but otherwise we’re keeping tabs on her.

I’m looking forward to her visit, but I worry a bit about how she’ll take everything. We have an early-waking toddler and I have comparatively limited energy right now…hopefully we won’t be too dull for her. I have no idea what to cook while she’s here; I’m not a great cook on a good day, but when I do cook it’s usually pseudo-Japanese things that go well with rice…and I think she wants “American” cooking. I dunno, maybe casseroles. I haven’t seen this girl in several years – winter of 1991? Maybe 92 or 93. I don’t know what she’s like these days…I’m just hoping things go well. Or at least smoothly.

*I wasn’t ever really alone, of course. Being the town’s most visible resident, next to the mayor, I was pretty much on the radar all the time. But there was a perception that I must be lonely, being so far away from my family, and people did their best to fill in the emptiness.

**It was mostly a difference of opinion about what the job was, and what I should do to fill my days. Things improved significantly when we had a personnel change-up and my supervisor changed. My new supervisor was – how to put this charitably? – special, but the real benefit came from getting new upper management who had no idea what to do with a foreigner. It opened the way for me to pretty much define my job as I liked, and I managed to accomplish one very cool project that’s ongoing to this day.

***Oh yes. I was almost in an arranged marriage, and all because I didn’t take a phone conversation with my friend seriously enough. I was lonely in Osaka, and I’d always had a very, very small crush on this one guy, but my friend decided that that was good enough reason to contact the guy AND get a former colleague of mine involved as a potential go-between. I didn’t realize just how serious things had gotten until after I had coffee with the guy in question, who let me down gently, and then had to accompany him to my colleague’s house, with cakies in hand, to formally decline their conscription as go-betweens.

I’ve taken every conversation seriously ever since.

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Not Part Two

This isn’t what I was going to write about earlier; I just remembered it and thought I’d write it down.

I’ve been a little obsessed with KBS World lately; it’s not that I’ve found a K-drama to fall in love with, because I never seem to catch them at the beginning, and dramas are hard to follow from the halfway point.  It’s really just that I love, love, love that they subtitle almost everything in English; the next channel down on our satellite is TV Japan, and I can tell you they subtitle freaking nothing except the annual Taiga drama (and even then, it’s several weeks behind the Japanese-only one, which is kind of annoying if, like me, you like your Taiga dramas to begin and end with the new year).

So, when M.’s not in the room, I like to switch over and watch for awhile.  M. himself has a strong aversion (intense dislike, allergic reaction) to Korean TV, because in his house his bedroom is on the first floor, the walls are a variation on paper-mache, the main television is directly on the other side of the wall, and his mother really, really, really likes watching the K-shows until late at night.  Which means that the sounds of K-TV reverberate into his bedroom.

But, for some reason (he said it was because the show wasn’t “one of those historical ones with the black hats”), the other night he sat and watched with me for awhile, adding colorful commentary as the show progressed.  Which, in his case, ran the spectrum from “they look too happy to be Korean,” to “there, she’s about to tell him how disappointed she is in him, and how he’s always been a waste of a son/husband, and how she’d be better off dead.”  Which, to be completely fair, is often how the show actually went – one woman in particular absolutely could not be pleased, although I did point out to M. that the son seemed to take it all in stride, and she turned out to be secretly pleased when his back was turned.

But what do I know?

What I need to figure out is when new K-dramas are about to start.  They look interesting enough, and God knows I never like the Japanese dramas that are on TV Japan (they tend to be ‘sasupensu’, which I hate).

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A Post in Two Parts

Part the One: Obon

We went, we saw, we were conquered. By the toddler, who insisted on running amok at every opportunity. At one point, “running amok” meant slamming into the shins of a young woman, falling back on her butt, and then banging her head on the pavement. The girl was beside herself, simultaneously apologizing (for which I tried to reassure her that she had done nothing wrong) and telling me I needed to keep an eye on MM (thanks, I’ll keep that in mind the next time I’m running after a 2 year-old while pregnant and wearing bad shoes). At least there were other amok 2 year-olds there, and the quiet ones were locked into the baby-jails of their strollers.

One of these days, I’ll remember that we can bring both a blanket AND our own food – not that the food was bad, because it wasn’t bad at all – we could all have just used a little more (think onigiri, which M. is constantly on my case about not making). But my niece and nephews seemed to have a good time, I was able to catch up with my Japanese playgroup friends, and I even got in a little bon-odori before the toddler meltdown really kicked in.

And we did get a few good pictures – the lovely little jinbei that MM is sporting was donated by the equally lovely L.:

With Daddy, who is clutching his Ramune bottle for dear life

Still clutching the bottle…

And one that just came out very well. We’ll be sending these pics to Grandma and Grandpa.


Now for something completely different.

Which is going to have to wait, because M. is now ready for his dinner. After keeping me waiting for 20 minutes while he futzes around on the computer. Argh.

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Can I just say…

If it couldn’t be Tiger Woods, I’m glad K.J. Choi won the AT&T National.  He played a hell of a game – climbed to the top quickly and managed to stay there.  And he apparently had a lot of praise for the Koreans who came out in droves to cheer him on.

Sunday’s round made for terrific TV – it really would be something if he became the first Asian to win a PGA major.

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Group Activity!!

So, here’s the thing.

I need some ways to unwind – call them “breaks,” call them “rewards” – because up until I got pregnant I was mostly unwinding with food, which isn’t especially constructive.

But I have certain constraints:

  1. I do the vast majority of household and childcare work. M. tries, in his way, but he has disability, culture, personality, and circumstances working against him. Things he physically cannot do include handyman kinds of things* and taking the toddler out for a few hours, just the two of them; even if he could figure out a way to wrangle her into the car seat, she’s at that age where she cannot reliably follow directions, and she’s prone to darting off on her own, and M. can’t chase after her. Because he’s “tired” from work and from school (and, arguably, because he’s used to having people do and fetch for him, although you didn’t hear me say it), he’s uninclined to do certain household things, including (but not limited to) giving the toddler baths, putting her to bed at night, getting up with her in the mornings, cooking**, etc.
  2. The toddler has been taking 2-3 hour naps lately, up from her old 1 1/2-2 hour naps because the move to the toddler bed precipitated a pattern of waking up at 5:30 every morning, come hell or high water.
  3. We come to my parents’ house three days a week, ostensibly for me to work while my mom watches MM. I like to hang out with my mom until lunchtime, which means that I’m not really going to start working until after I’ve eaten. Up until now, I’ve been using the time I’m supposed to be working to mess around online, since this is all the time in the world that I get to myself. But I want to make better use of the time – my mom has been generous with hers, but I think she wants to know that it’s all for a greater good, so to speak.
  4. I’m not especially enamored of: long, hot baths (at least, not in a country where the bathtub is shallow and gets cold quickly); candles, scented or otherwise (I HATE candles – it’s a deep-seated childhood fear thing); romantic anythings (much to the chagrin of my hopelessly sentimental husband); most reality television (and, really, what else is there these days??); spas and other money-eating leisure activities (in part because we don’t have a lot of disposable income); cooking for fun; seeking out like-minded people in organized groups (religious or otherwise).

So, given my constraints and the things I’m not likely to try, can anyone suggest some ways to unwind/relax/’reward’ myself? I feel like I really need something to fit into my days in order to feel like at least a little time is my very own; it doesn’t have to be every day, but I need something. Any suggestions??

*But, in the interests of honesty, I will admit that I don’t do these things, either; my Dad has very graciously been keeping up our lawn and attending to household issues since we moved here.

**Since I’ve had morning sickness – which, of course, is worst at night – M.’s been fending for himself pretty well, and he’s even made me a few meals out of his repertoire.  I’m grateful for this.

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