Saturday, September 29, 2012

VA: Homecoming Edition

I wasn't really verbally awkward in Japan because I wasn't verbal.  Coming home has reminded me that not much has really changed.

While at the airport:
Man: Your ticket?
Me: <hands it to him>
Man: Thank you.  Here you go. 
Me: <thinking to my jet lagged self, "Say 'thank you' as I reach for the ticket>
Me: Arigatou gozaimash...
<I stop mid-sentence with my hand half on my ticket, and stare at the man in shock while my mind panics, "That's not English!  How do I fix this?"
Me: shita.
<I take off running> 


At the restaurant:
We're leaving and a girl trips on the stairs as she goes up them and I'm coming down them. 
Me: <thinking to myself, "Daijoubudesuka?  Not English.  Don't even try it!">
Realizing that I was not going to do well verbally, I went for non-verbal communication.  
I bowed. 
The girl gave me a weird but amused look and walked past me. 
Kat: What was that?!
Me:  The first thing that came to mind was Japanese so I did the next thing that came to mind.  I bowed. 
Kat: Hahhahahaha.


At lunch:
Food worker, calling out my order: Erin?
Me: Hai!...Iiiii.  <My desperate attempt to make it into a Hello> "Yes, that's me."


Monday, September 24, 2012

9 Letters- Feline Killer?

I recently started writing a short story about a girl named Akiko who lives in a little apartment in Japan and is innocently curious about her neighbors.  Based off the times their doors slam shut at night and their voices in the hall, she makes up stories about them and their lives.  However, on one side of her, the apartment is empty.  She knows this because she shares a balcony with him with a dividing wall down the middle and the lights are never on and nothing is ever on the balcony.  But then one day, someone moves into the vacant apartment - a man named Keppei, who really just wants to be left alone. 

Well, that's the premise.  If you can't tell, it's partly based on real life.  The apartment that shared my balcony was always dark and when I peered around the divider (by use of standing carefully on my tiptoes) there was never any sign that anyone ever touched that balcony. 

I started the story one Sunday evening in the park on a night when there was no one to watch, pretending that someone like me but more curious than I lived in such a setup and then suddenly someone moved in.  Things that happened to me in my tiny apartment would go into this story - such as the time I woke myself when I accidentally hit my head against the wall next to the empty apartment.   I was grateful that no one was there to hear that bump but imagined what would happen if someone had.  And then, a few weeks ago, some random apartment (the floor below me maybe?) had an alarm clock that would go off every morning and wake me up.  The person themselves would not wake up until long after I was awake and I'd listen to it, in a drowsy state, wondering where the sound was coming from.  I imagined if this happened to this curious girl who only discovered it was because she suddenly had a neighbor.

Imagine my surprise then the other day when I noticed lights on the balcony next door.  In shock, I peered around the divider and found a man's polo t-shirt hanging up on a drying rack.  So, now, suddenly, my last week in Japan, I have a neighbor.  I like having a neighbor. 

Sunday, September 23, 2012

In the Present

I have learned a new lesson here - if you think something is worth it, do it now.  Don't wait.  Too often, I have really wanted to buy something or take a picture of something or say something and I think, "I'll do it later."  But by the time I get back to it, the situation has changed and the opportunity has passed.

So, these pictures are an example of some things I have learned to just enjoy in the moment.

(1) Macarons.  I was passing through Parco, the department store the other day and as I was walking out, I noticed a macaron counter.  Well, I love macarons so I stopped.  They gave me a free sample and then I bought some. 

(2) Totoro.  This guy stands outside a shop that looks like a flower/gardening shop.  I took this picture and then marched right in despite its outward appearance and it turns out, it's a store that sells a lot of things all Ghibli related. 
 (3) Christmas.  You think American stores start the Christmas stuff too early?  I was walking into Daiei on Saturday and heard some Christmas music playing.  Shocked, I stopped to listen for a second, laughing.  "Don't they know this music is out of season?" I wondered.  Then I went around the corner and saw this - an entire display of the types of cakes you can ORDER NOW!  Despite the fact that I always feel self-conscious taking pictures of stuff like this, I just did it. 

(4) Soccer.  Inside Kamo, the soccer shop which I like to frequent so I can pretend that I can afford the stuff in it and watch Samurai Blue soccer on the TV screen had this display.  It includes signed spikes from Shinji Kagawa, Atsuto Uchida and Eiji Kawashima which are some of my favorite soccer players (besides mein lieblingsspieler, that is).  Although it looked obvious, I decided to play the American fangirl card anyway and snapped a photo. 

Despite this new resolve though, I still mess up a lot too.  I wanted to take pictures of people in my ward today and didn't get the courage to ask for them.

(Especially sad since my non-boyfriend of my Sunday School class just got an absolutely spiffy haircut that made him so attractive that I would look at him when he made a comment and then forget to turn away when he finished speaking.) 

Friday, September 21, 2012

Deja Vu

Running into people you've met before happens all the time but I've been surprised in what ways and who it is I run into at this ICFD.

(1) During Open Campus, I pretty much convinced this kid from Kouchi Sensei's lab to explain his research but also everyone else's in his lab.  He was nice about it and we ended on a friendly note.  Then, I kept seeing him around campus and he and I would smile and greet each other.  On Wednesday, when I sat down in the first break-out session, my neighbor looked over it and it was he.  He started laughing.  I could tell he was thinking, "Here, too?"

(2) Today, between talks, a man came up to me.  "Are you from the University of Virginia?  I met you last year when I visited Dr. Goyne's lab."  I looked at him in shock and then recognition.  "Oh yeah!  I remember you!"  He and I talked a little bit and he told me how surprised he was to see me in Japan.

(3) All week long, I've been seeing this man who looked so familiar that I not only remembered his face but I remembered that the last time I saw him, I thought he reminded me of someone I knew in Virginia.  Except I didn't know that person in Virginia so I could never really place why I knew him.  Anyway, the circular thinking both times for the exact same situation had me convinced that it was the same person but I couldn't remember for the life of me where I had seen him before.  Apparently, my brain works when I don't because my first thought this morning when I woke up was, "I know who he is!"  The more I thought about it, the more I was convinced.  This was the man I had followed to the baseball stadium a month ago to attend the Rakuten Eagles game. 

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Sometimes You Just Have No Idea

(1) For months now, TV commercials have talked about some food that kids and parents both like to eat.  It's white and it's kind of shaped like the island of Taiwan.  I never had any idea what it was.  Today, when I was in the convenience store, picking up a few things, I noticed they had the funny Taiwan shaped food.  It was as indistinguishable in the package as on my TV screen. 

What is it? 

So I did what any normal person would do - I bought it.

Here is the package - sorry it's to the side.  I may or may not fix that. 

This is what it looks like.  It's Taiwan shaped, am I right?  
So what does Taiwan shaped food taste like?




Fish.


 (2) Do you remember my post a while back about the differences in tape names in Japanese and English?  (Which still makes me laugh since the Japanese names are English) The other day, Suwa-san needed some tape and I asked him which kind. 

Suwa-san: Masking tape.
Me:Wait, what's it called in Japanese?
Suwa-san: Masking tape.  What is it called in English?
Me: Masking tape.  Finally, we use the same word!

I went through the different tapes with him and Sakai-san and we all laughed over the differences. 

A few days ago, my friend emailed me about some magical reusable designed tape that she and her sister went searching for in craft stores.  She told me, "It's called Washi tape.  It was invented in Japan so I'm sure it's all over the place there." 

Curious, I went searching for this magical "washi" tape.  I went to Daiei which is a nine story store that sells just about everything.  On the craft floor, I searched high and low for it and I couldn't find it.  Then I wandered up to the top floor to the bookstore part in search of my favorite pens and in the office section of the bookstore, there was a whole section of this colored tape.  I looked closer and sure enough it had the words "washi" written on it.  But the big words were actually "Masking tape".  I started laughing.  Leave it to the Japanese to take our most boring tape and turn it into something adorable. 

See it for yourself: 



(3) Today, I attended the first day of the International Conference on Fluid Dynamics here in Sendai.  In the afternoon, I attended a session in which we sprinted through 21 presenters in an hour and 10 minutes.  Going through them so quickly, I started to realize that at the end of every single presentation, the speaker would say, "Thank you for your kind attention."  Hearing it once or twice, I would have thought it a slightly interesting phrase to use but really not put much thought into it.  But after 21 presentations in an hour's time, you couldn't help but start to wonder, "Why that phrase?" 

Here are a few other conversation highlights from ICFD:

Secretary: What is your name?
Me: Reed
(She goes to look for my nametag and comes back)
Secretary: I couldn't find your name.  <She is holding the piles of nametags for the L's>
Me: Oh, sorry;  Reed starts with an R.
Secretary: Oh! 
(She returns with my nametag)  

I got out to the lobby and run into Suwa-san and Fujii-san who are standing at a table, drinking coffee from real china teacups.  I was very jealous of the teacups and saucers. 
Me: Suwa-san, Fujii-san, you have coffee I see. 
Suwa-san: Yes, it's tea time. 
Me: Wow.  Cool.  (Since they ONLY had coffee, I wasn't venturing towards the beverage cart)
Suwa-san: Which session are you heading to next?
Me: That room. <pointing>
Suwa-san: <reading the sign> Blood Flow for Medical Equipment.  Wha?
Me: Yep. 
Suwa-san: ??
Me: I wanted to attend a session on something in which I know absolutely nothing. 
Suwa-san: Ok?

(Yeah, it was a random session.  It sounded like a good idea at 9 am this morning.  It ended up being four presentations on modeling aneurisms and stents and one presentation on modeling the cardiovascular system to repair hearts in newborns) 

(4) Today, after English class, Boku and I got in a conversation about marriage.  I'm not sure how we got there.

Boku-san: I won't get married for another ten years.
Me: Ten years?!  Wait, how old are you?
Boku-san: I am 25.4 years old. 
Me: So specific.  Why ten years?
Boku-san: Well, I am a PhD student so I need to graduate.  And then I need to get a job.  And then I need to work at that job for a few years.  All of that will take me about 6 years.  And then I need to get a girlfriend. 
Me: I still don't see how you can't find a girlfriend now.
Boku-san: I can only keep one thing in my brain at a time. 
Me: Hahaha.
Boku-san: What about you?  Don't you need to get married?
Me: Uhhh...
Boku-san: You have 500 friends on facebook.  It only takes one.  Just choose someone. 
Me: Just choose someone?
Boku-san: Besides, I think that you are not a busy person.  You have the time to find a husband. 

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Conversations

Yesterday, I had the chance to sit down with a very nice lady at church and talk with her.  Here are some excerpts from our conversation:

Sister: My husband and I both like American music a lot.
Me: Really?  Who is your favorite artist?
Sister: <pointing to her husband> He really liked Led Zeppelin.
Me: <nod>
Sister: Me?  I really like Marilyn Manson.
Me: !!!! Wait, what?!  Did you just say you liked Marilyn Manson?
Sister: <bows her head in shame> Yes.  I'm a bad person. 
Me: <still in shock> Marilyn Manson?
Sister: <nodding> Yes.
(This sister is one of the cutest things.  It was really out of left field.  I did not see that one coming at all)

Sister: What American music do you like?
Me: I like all kinds of music. 
Sister: <nods>
Me: But I actually listen to a lot of Chinese music.
Sister: Do you know F4?
Me: YES!
Sister: My sister really likes them so I went to their concert in Hong Kong.  She begged me, "Sister, they have a concert in Hong Kong and I really really want to go.  Will you go with me?"  So I went and we cheered our hearts out for Ken and Jerry, Vanness. 
Me: Hahaha.  That is awesome.  Did you have lights and signs?
Sister: Yes. 
Me: Hahahaha.  That is so awesome. 
(For reference, this woman attended this concert with her sister when she was in her 40s and F4 is one of those bands created specifically for their pretty factor)
Me: Who is your favorite?
Sister: Ken.

Sister: So you like Chinese music?
Me: Yes, my favorite artist right now is Wei Li An (William Wei).  He studied foreign languages at Taiwan's National University but then decided to do music.  He's pretty amazing.
Sister: Wow.
Me: I also like Yan-jue.  He studied Jazz in America so his music has a lot of jazz influence.
Sister: What other types of music do you like?
Me: I also like Korean music.  [Since we're full disclosure] Super Junior.  CNBlue.
Sister: Haha.  You like so much Asian music.
Me: Yes, I do.
Sister: I think you must have an Asian heart.


Today, at lunch, Fujita-san and I did a little bit of catching up.  
Me: Did you like Tokyo?
Fujita-san: Yes.  I was happy every day. 

Me: After you get your PhD, what do you want to do?
Fujita-san: I'd like to work with JAXA.  That is, if they'll have me.  I don't know if they will.  But yes, JAXA or maybe research at a university or...
Me: <thinking, 'I think that's about it'>
Fujita-san: Yes, those two.  What about you?  What do you want to do?
Me: Well, I want to work in Japan.
Fujita-san: So...JAXA or research at a university?
Me: Yep.
(We both laugh because we're in the same boat)

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Tidbits

Funny conversations of the day:

After church with some brethren who gather to ask my opinion about the meaning of a facebook message before it ventured to other topics. (sorry, I don't know names - we're going to go with Brother 1, 2 and 3) 
Brother 1: Brother 2 here says that he thinks he needs to get a foreign girlfriend to learn how to speak English better.
Me: Yes.  I have heard that is the best way to learn a language - to get a boyfriend or a girlfriend who speaks that language.  That's what I need to learn Japanese.
Brethren (in shock): You have a Japanese boyfriend?!
Me:  No.  If I had a Japanese boyfriend, wouldn't I be able to speak some Japanese by now?
Brother 3 (motioning): Brother 2 wants an American girlfriend and you want a Japanese boyfriend...<hint, hint>
Brother 2: Oh, umm...I need to prepare for my mission. 
Me: Hahahahaha. 


Before the CES Broadcast, I was sitting in the chapel with some people.  The Mormon Tabernacle Choir was singing hymns as usual but every so often it would be interrupted by a very American accent (and dare I say, Utah accent) that said, "Japanese".  The disjointedness of the situation had me chuckling every time.  (Brother 1 is the same brother as before then there are two men who not only looked and dressed and acted alike but also switched places on their pew enough that I couldn't tell them apart so I will call them Twin 1 and Twin 2)

Brother 1: Sister Erin, why do you always laugh when "Japanese" is said.  Is the pronunciation wrong?
Me: No, sorry.  It's because we're listening to some beautiful spiritual song by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and then suddenly it's interrupted by simply, "Japanese." 
Brother 1: Oh.
Me: I think in English, they say "This is the English channel" which is at least less random. 
Brother: No, when I set it up for an English broadcast, it just says "English." 
Me: Oh, then maybe that's an American thing. 

In any case, the rest of the time, whenever it came on, everyone else in the room would start laughing with me.  The twins behind me would repeat it in perfect imitation of accent and tone. 

Twin 1: How often do you think they say, "Japanese"?  When do you think they'll say it next?
Twin 2: I think they'll say it at the 12 minute mark. 
Twin 1: Really?  I bet you it will happen at the 13 minute mark.   
<They listen carefully but the picture goes out so Twin 1 jumps up to check on it)
"Japanese"
Twin 2:  Hahahaha. 
Twin 1: <coming back in the room> When did it happen? 
Twin 2: I think it was at 13 minutes.
Twin 1: I won! 
 <That got us all interested in how often it happened.  Turns out it was every minute at the 22nd second>


 On the way home, some random man walking next to me looked over and saw me.  Then he smiled and started speaking in English. 
Man: Hey, where are you from?
Me: America.
Man: Which part?
Me: Virginia.
Man: <thinking aloud> West Virginia?
Me: No, just Virginia. 
Man: Oh.  Are you a student?
Me: はい、そうです.  (trans: Yes, I am)
Man: Do you speak Japanese?
Me: No.
Man: You live in Japan but you don't speak Japanese?
Me: I've only been here two months.
Man: What Japanese food do you like?
Me: All Japanese foods.
Man: Natto?
Me: 好き. (trans: I like it) 
Man: Really?  Natto?
Me: Yes. 
Man: You are a funny American. 

Sunday School

I used to dread Sunday School.  Not only did no one speak English but they actually expected me to participate with meaningful responses.  It wasn't that I didn't have anything to say about the subject matter but I honestly was never entirely sure that I understood the question, even when, or maybe especially when, someone tried to translate it into English for me.  Their hope for my participation wasn't to simply look at me expectantly, hoping for me to raise my hand and venture a response.  No, they would actually call on me and everyone would watch me in this awkward silence until I venture a one or two word answer in English which no one would understand and then they would move on.  It was miserable.

At some point during my stay here, though, I woke up to the fact that my fellow classmates are wonderful and warmhearted people. 

For example, there is one girl in our class who has a learning disability.  Every week, someone makes sure to sit next to her to help her read the scriptures and help her find which book and verse we are on.  When she interrupted our teacher in the middle of a thought to announce that she was too hot (and later too cold), the brother teaching the class (who is one of our classmates) immediately apologized and fixed the air conditioner without any feeling that she had spoken out of turn.  He cares about teaching the lesson, of course, but it's clearly obvious that he cares about her more. 

Another example, they make a point to write things on the board.  This may not seem like a big deal but since I can read Chinese character (kanji) it makes a world of a difference to me - it means that I can understand what they are talking about in the lesson.  Today, I could tell it took a lot of effort for the brother to write it down - he would ask the other classmates about the correct way to write the kanji before putting it up on the board.  With scriptural language, I'm sure the kanji is not commonly used or well-known.  However, he did this because it mattered to him that when he looked over at me and asked if I understood, I could nod and say that I did.  

Today, that same classmate and I ended up in a random group together after church.  One of the brethren we were with speaks English fluently so he acted as translator.  The brother explained to this English speaking brother, "I feel so apologetic to Erin.  She always has to just listen to our lessons.  My English is just not good enough to communicate better."  And then he looked at me and said in Japanese, "Gomen'nasai."  It was said in the spirit of someone who genuinely wished that we could share and share alike.  I was also shocked to hear how he felt on his side of things since he had every right to say that I should make a greater effort to be learning his language. I apologized that I could not speak his language better but thanked him for his lesson. 

It was actually was really good today and I understand just about everything that was taught(aside from the opening example about a man who had seven devils hanging out with him outside his house).  In fact, if the teacher had looked my way, he would have noticed my hand venturing upwards as I debated and decided that I was ready and hopeful to give my own unsolicited comment. 

But there's always next week. 



Friday, September 14, 2012

Out with the Boys

Most everyone went home early today.  Hara-san left before five.  Kakizaki-san left even earlier than that.  For some weird reason, I stayed on, working through some Aircraft structures material with a few others of the diligents.  By almost seven o'clock, I was exhausted and frustrated and not making much progress so I went to go get a snack to tide me over for a little longer before I went home to make some dinner.

When I came back and opened the office door, my 非常nice人 was standing at his desk.  I couldn't believe my eyes - I had seen him in my imagination there so often that I looked around at everyone else to make sure that they could see him too.  He smiled at me, "Hello."  I tried in vain to fight a smile.  "You're back?"  I asked, my voice betraying my hope.  "For the Conference," he replied.  I nodded.

A few minutes after that, he and a few others walked out the door.  One came back, "Erin, do you want to go to sushi with us?"

Me: Right now?
Suwa-san: Yes.
Me: Is it ok?
Suwa-san: Yes, please come if you'd like.

Without a second thought, I leaped up and followed them out the door.  We walked out to Makino-san's car and got in.  Looking at the people in the car, I realized that these were all people that I would probably follow just about anywhere.  This was a good thing certainly because we went on some very strange route on roads I had only dreamed of traversing.  Up and down, around and over we traveled through Yagiyama and ended up somewhere I had never been before.  Then we stopped and got out.

They were all anxious.  "Have you eaten moving sushi before?"  "Never," I replied.  "Do they have this in the US?"  They asked again.  "Hahahahaha," was my reply.   

Well, the wait time for the sushi place was 24 minutes.  (I could read the machine where we registered for a table).  We stood around for a few minutes and then suddenly everyone started walking out the door and I followed, although pretty confused.  Everyone had seemed ok with the wait.  They had even debated it before they registered for a table.  Suwa-san told me that there was a wait which I vainly tried to explain that I already knew about as we all continued out the doors of the restaurant and back to Makino's car.

Once back in the car and with our seatbelts on, Suwa-san explained again.  "We are going shopping." "Shopping?"  I replied quite incredulously.  Everyone nodded, "Yes, we are going to the one coin store."  "One coin store?"  "Yes, everything is 100 yen - very cheap for students."  At that, I started laughing and everyone happily joined in.  It was just so...perfect.  Here I was, with a group of men who wanted to eat lots of sushi for cheap and go buy stuff they needed at the Japanese equivalent of the dollar store.  It was all so G-rated and innocent and fun that I immediately thought of all of my friends that I have done similar things with and felt right at home.

As we got back to the restaurant and settled into our seats, everyone looked expectantly at me.  "What do you like?"

Me: I've eaten tuna and salmon and shrimp but I want to try something new.
Fujita-san: Octopus it is!    

I watched as the others pulled off sushi plates and asked each of them what they were.  Some of them were fairly familiar looking.  Fujita-san though, kept pulling off plates of things I had never seen.

Me: What is that?!
Fujita-san: Squid.
Me: Squid?
Fujita-san: Do you want to try it?
Me: Umm....let me think about it. 

Everyone watched my face and then smiled.  I think in some ways they liked teasing me as they would watch my face whenever any of them pulled down a plate or ordered something.  "Are you up for it?" And whenever, I went to eat a piece of sushi, I felt all eyes on me, waiting for my very transparent first reaction.

I ate the octopus and liked it.  I ate the gankun tuna and the salmon.  I enjoyed the yellowtail and even the funny white sushi that Fujita-san ordered for me because he said he liked it.  The mint leaves with it threw me off more than the fish.  By this time I was feeling pretty confident so when Fujita-san said he was eating sea urchin, I decided that I'd be bold and give it a go.

I put the sea urchin in my mouth amid the watchful eyes of the other guys. "How is it?" they asked even though they already knew the reaction from my face.  "You don't like it," they smiled kindly.  "No, it's not that I don't like it.  It's just not my favorite," I tried to cover.  "We can tell.  It's ok that you don't like it."  So I finally gave them my real opinion.

Me: It tastes like farm.
Suwa-san: Farm?
Me: You know, like where they have cows and horses.  It tastes like how farms smell.

Makino-san who went to college in agricultural Hokkaido burst out laughing.   

After that, they let me alone for a while and I watched Nakajima-san eat some things that I would have been bold enough to try before the sea urchin.  But finally, I gathered my courage.

Me: I think I want to try squid.
Everyone: Really?  Are you serious?
Me: Yes.  I want to try the squid.

The squid came.  Everyone watched me as I fiddled with the chopsticks and the squid sushi fell apart in my soy sauce and then as I managed to finally dump the whole thing into my mouth.

Me: It's good!
Suwa-san: It has a nice smell, right?
Me: It has a good taste too.
Suwa-san: Oh, really?
Me: Yes, I really like it!

I really did.  

When it came time to pay, somehow Makino-san and Fujita-san were trying to get away with making me pay less than I should.  Confused, I started counting my plates for them in Japanese which got them all chuckling at my earnestness.  Fujita-san burst out, "Keep that money and go buy something at the 100 yen store."  At that we all started laughing and I accepted the kind gesture for what it was.

I wish my 非常nice人 would come back every Friday night. 

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Well-Connected

Yesterday in English class, we talked about dreams and goals.  There were only four people in the conversation but it was impressive to realize how very different we all are. 

One of the students - Sam - wants to be a semi-professional tennis player.  He currently is a tennis coach and enjoys it but he still dreams of playing well enough to be professional. 

I was impressed.  One, because I am horrible at tennis.  Two, because I have been learning this summer a lot about the lessons one learns from sports (practice, practice, practice) and wishing that I had learned them. 

Me: I am so impressed.  I think tennis is just amazing.  On Sunday, I watched Kunieda-san win the gold in the Paralympics.  He was so impressive. 
Sam-san: Kunieda-san is amazing!  He's the best male single's tennis player. 
Me: Yes, I know! <I stop to explain who this guy is to the other two people in the room>
Sam-san: You know, I've played against him before. 
Me: WHAT?!
Sam-san: Yes, he was born in Sendai, you know.  So he comes back every so often and I've played against him three times.
Me: Are you kidding me?  I'm one degree away from Kunieda-san?  <I practically had to fight grabbing Sam-san in a huge bear hug>
Sam-san: Yes, I will let you know when he comes back to Sendai and you can go watch him.
Me: Yes, please!!!
Sam-san: He has one of the best swings; it's better than lots of other professionals.  One time, I asked him, 'Kunieda-san, how do you swing like that?' And he said, 'I swing my racket down.' 
Me: Hahahah.  That's like asking Bolt how he runs so fast and him saying, 'I just run.'
Sam-san: Hahahaha.  Yeah.  His response was not very enlightening.  He is such an amazing player.  I had no idea you liked him so much. 
Me: Well, I didn't either, before Sunday. 

I'm still in shock.  Kunieda-san!! I know someone who knows him personally and has played tennis with him!!!

Fangirling.  Yep. 
Source

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

In Between

Today, for lunch, Sakai-san and Suwa-san took me to a Chinese restaurant.  I ordered the Mapo Tofu and it tasted just like the Mapo Tofu I've eaten in Japan and not like the Chinese Mapo Tofu that I eat elsewhere (i.e. Taiwan, Taiwanese owned restaurants).
Me: So, that restaurant was owned by Japanese people?
Suwa-san: Yes, of course.
Me: Ahhh...Did you know that in America, a lot of Japanese restaurants are run by Chinese people?  I was trying to think of where I could get good authentic Japanese food in Charlottesville and all the places I could think of were owned by Chinese people.
Suwa-san: But how can that be?!  Chinese food is nothing like Japanese food.  How can they cook it right?
Me: <thinking to myself> And now we understand my experience at your Chinese restaurant today.


Suwa-san: Who is your favorite soccer player?
Me: Hasebe Makoto.
Suwa-san: Hahaha.  Why do you like him?  Because he's handsome?
Me: I don't actually know why I like him.  Maybe it's because he plays fair.
Suwa-san: Ah yes.  He is truly a gentleman.

Sakai-san: American's women's national team is very good.
Me: Yes, they are.
Suwa-san: Wambach.
Me: Yes, I certainly love Abby Wambach.  Hope Solo - a lot of guys in the US like her because she's pretty.
Sakai-san: Yes, I know that...
Me: <thinking to myself> Man, that Hope Solo is just absolutely gorgeous. 
Sakai-san: ...But I don't think so.
Me: You don't think she's pretty?
Sakai-san: To me, no.
Me: !!!


They asked me about part-time jobs in America and I asked them about part-time jobs in Japan.  It seems we've all had our share of work at menial labor jobs for little pay.  However, my $6/hr job at Pizza Hut was the lowest paying job among any of us. 
Sakai-san: I worked at a cafe - Starbucks.  Have you heard of it?
Me: <laughing> Yes, I think I have.  So, you know how to make all the different kinds of coffee?
Sakai-san: Yes, and I can even make a heart and a rabbit in the foam.
Me: Really?  Sugoi!

Also,

It turns out that our wind tunnel building is haunted by ghosts.
Me: Really?  Ghosts? 
Sakai-san: I have never seen them but I have definitely felt their presence.
Me: <thinking to myself>  Wow, between your lab and mine, I think we have a real horror movie on our hands. 

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Things to Mention

(1) I'm currently watching a TV show teaching me Chinese.  I know all the Chinese already and none of the Japanese they use to explain the Chinese.  It makes for a very interesting experience, especially as they teach the Beijing huar.

(2) This weekend, I saw a group of people in Sendai protesting the nuclear power in Japan.  This weekend, on the news, I saw a group of people in Okinawa protesting the Opsrey helicopter.  One hundred thousand people showed up for the protest against the helicopter - staggering numbers, right?

(3) What is it with Japan and stray cats?  Not that I mind, since it usually means that whenever I go to the convenience store near my lab, I run into 20 somethings men who all get down on the ground with the stray cat that hangs out there to pet it and play with it and coo at it.  It's kind of adorable to realize how much they forget themselves in their love for the kitties.  But I was just wondering. 

(4) Today, Japan won against Iraq in a World Cup qualifier game.  I spent most of the game on pins and needles and I had to keep myself from yelling too much at the TV since the walls of my apartment are thin.  Maeda scored the winning goal, with a great assist from Okazaki. 

(5) On Saturday, I went on a long run (for me) and realized that I was running the exact same path that I had gotten lost on two months ago.  This time, I knew exactly where I was.  I patted myself on the back. 

Yesterday, I had plans to go on a short (1 hour) run.  I needed to be back to attend a course online in Virginia.  Somehow, instead, I got really lost.  I got so lost that at the intersections with the pedestrian bridges, I would climb to the top and then walk around all of the sides so I could figure out the best way to get back home.  I was gone for 2 hours and missed the course entirely.  Oops.

(6) Today, at work, what should have only taken a few minutes of setting up and checking the camera turned into several hours of work.  I realized in the process that my colleagues for this round of experiments are really fun to work with even when things get frustrating.  This is a good thing since, as they tell me, running the experiments always has its share of headaches and problems. 

(7) On Sunday, I watched some of the Paralympics and I was hooked. I watched nervously as Kunieda-san fought his way to a gold in single men's wheelchair tennis.  Kunieda-san actually is the men's Grand Slam Champion in wheelchair tennis for like 4 years running or something.  The only time he's lost in the past several years was his first competition back after an elbow surgery.

 Then I watched men's high jump with Suzuki-san.  Suzuki-san ended up fourth but I found out that not only did he compete in high jump but also in the 4x100m relay which impressed me since those two events are very different.  To add to that, it turns out that Suzuki-san is actually a handball coach (and a motivational speaker).  How he is so involved in so many different sports just amazes me. 

Realizing that I only watched two events and two different but inspiring stories, it made me wish that I paid more attention earlier. 

Monday, September 10, 2012

Peoria

I was walking back from a very hurried lunch, even wondering why my faster-than-normal eating speed seemed to be faster than usual. 

I looked up and saw a man walking towards me.  (This is nothing new - I do live in a big city and work on a busy campus that, in this section, is mostly men)

He was wearing a t-shirt with English writing on it.  (This is also nothing new.  Everyone likes to wear English of some sort on their t-shirts)

The English said, "Peoria Physical Education."  (It was one of those pretend gym class t-shirts)

"Peoria?!" I blurted aloud in surprise. 

The man heard me, looked down at his shirt and started chuckling. 

In return, I got embarrassed by my outburst and just awkwardly said a 'Hello' when I really wanted to stop him and ask him questions, "How do you know about Peoria?"  "Have you ever been there?"  "Where did you get this t-shirt?"  "Is this the Peoria in Illinois?" I also wanted to explain, "I was born there"  However, these were all things that I didn't know how to say.  

So, instead, I continued walking and he continued smiling as we passed. 

And that was that. 

Sunday, September 9, 2012

JAXA

Today, I got to visit the Kakuda Space Center, which is one of the centers for JAXA.  It was only a short 30 minute train ride away and then a shuttle bus over to the facilities.  Most of the facilities were closed from the public but it was still fun to go and spend some time there. 

When I was walking into one of the buildings, I thought about how great it was to be able to see any part of JAXA, and who knew that they would let me?  The last time I visited NASA, I had to register and get permission from the branch head and show my ID and all sorts of red tape.  However, here I was in Japan, not a citizen of the country, just freely walking into their facilities.  In fact, they welcomed me and even gave me a free pen (two, actually).  It was amazing. 

A few things surprised me: 

(1) I guess I expected to see a lot about JAXA research and I did learn about the two-stage rocket H-IIB and Japan's contribution to the ISS - Kibo.  However, in every single exhibit, they also showed some kind of American space vehicle - Space Shuttle and its booster rockets, HyperX.  When it comes to space, NASA is still one of the biggest agencies.

(2) When I was talking with one of the few workers who ventured to speak in English to me and asking him lots of questions about top speed, Mach number and use of one of the test vehicles, he admitted to me that the last time that vehicle flew was in 1998.  Due to some failed rocket launches in the early 2000's, the entire project of trying to develop a space shuttle-like vehicle (along with a number of others) were scrapped.  "Political problems," the man gave by way of explanation.  I nodded, "Hmm...I guess every space program has to deal with those."  It seems I'm in the field about 50 years too late.  No one anywhere has interest in supporting manned programs to space. 

(3) The place was swarming with families.  I should have guessed.  Everywhere in Japan swarms with families.  However,  I was very impressed by how interested a lot of the kids were in actually seeing the rocket engines and the like.  Then again, I was somehow also surprised to find a person dressed up as a rocket walk around and take pictures with kids.  Even more surprising were the kids' shy smiles and excitement at meeting the rocket person. 

I love space.  I love rocket science.  But wow, what a crazy hard field.  How do we get things to fly?  It still amazes me. 


 Japan has a base on an asteroid.  Here is the replica of the asteroid.  I had no idea. 
 The rockets of Japan and the space shuttle of the US?
 My research - kind of.  It's an RCS thruster on a re-entry vehicle. 
 Re-entry vehicle.  It was all so familiar.  Too bad no one really did a lot of explaining about this vehicle because I had a ton of questions. 


 Future space flight vehicles? 
The rocket person who everyone loved.  These kids were adorable, especially the one in the blue and red with the hat. 

JSF

Yesterday, I woke up, got ready and headed out the door to go to Ishinomaki.  I picked up some bread and juice from the Family Mart next to my house and headed towards the shopping district and Clis Road which is a straight shot to the Sendai train station.  About two or three blocks into my journey, I noticed a large crowd joining to watch a band playing and singing from the rafters of the roof that houses the shopping district and, interestingly enough, they were singing in English.  I was intrigued and stopped to listen.  Then they sang "Leavin' on a Jet Plane".  "Blowin' in the Wind" "500 Miles"  What is this?  I wondered.  These are the songs my mother used to sing to me when I was a kid!  Who knew I would ever find them again, in Sendai of all places?

After they finished, I turned and continued my journey to the train station.  But then I got distracted by another group.  This time the group was a rock band.  They sang only in Japanese but they had a nice sound to them.  After each song, their bass guitarist would raise his guitar where he had used white-out to write the name of the band and yell, "Jiyuu desu!"  By the time their set was over, the entire crowd was laughing every time his bandmates even happened to glace his direction because we all knew what was coming.  At one point, he even looked at me and said, "In Japanese, our band name is Jiyuu!"  I started laughing as everyone turned to see me, standing there and called back, "Wakarimashita!"  (I understand)  I should have yelled back, "Freedom!" because that's the name of the band but that didn't occur to me until later. 

In what should have taken a fifteen minute walk, it wasn't until three hours later that I finally arrived, anxiously alternating between looking at my watch and the train schedules, debating if a trip to Ishinomaki was going to happen.  Besides, what I thought would be a well-contained jazz festival ended up seeming like a big party that I didn't want to miss out on. 

I decided to stay in Sendai and experience the magic of the Jozenji Streetjazz Festival.  To give you a little bit of background, this festival is one of the largest in Japan and this is its 22nd year running.  Around 800 bands come and play on 40-something different stages around the city for two days.  These stages range from a roped off section of the shopping sidewalk to an entrance of a business building to a full stage set up with lights and acoustic shell but all of these stages (with the exception of the lobby of the train station and the lobby of the Mediatheque) were outside, meaning the streets literally were filled with music.  As you walked around the city, as soon as one stage faded from hearing, another could be heard. 

Once I decided that I was staying for the festival, I decided to take advantage of it.  I headed out to Nishi Park where I got to listen and clap my hands to some surprisingly good Gospel music.  Then I headed up to Jozenji for some great, great jazz and some big band music.  I slowly made my way down Jozenji and over to Kotodai Park, where I stopped to listen to a full set by the ANA Haneda Orchestra.  Their leader (who plays an awesome jazzy fiddle) introduced the band, which comprised of captains of airplanes to people in charge of airplane food service.  This kind of made me chuckle but I found myself the only one smiling.  Moving away from some of the loud, tightly packed stages in Kotodai which played just about everything including blues, ska, folk, and rock, I found my way over to a random building where one man (a jazz saxophonist) was giving the audience (and others) the chance to participate in creating jazz.  Anyone who wanted to go up and try to jam was allowed to.  The man leading them was brilliant at making it a great experience for everyone.  If someone was hesitant about how to improvise, he would grab another instrument and help them play off of each others' melodies.  Those in the audience who were even less musically inclined were given drums and shakers and he effectively got those on the drums to improvise and jam too.  It was amazing! 

Everywhere I went, there were groups and bands of all talent levels and genres creating music and hundreds and thousands of people appreciating that music.  It was fun and absolutely inspiring.  Sendai knows how to throw one rocking party! 

I think one thing that impressed me about the festival though too is the lack of distinction.  I didn't know which groups were professional and which ones didn't.  There was no preference, from what I could see, to groups of lesser talent on smaller stages - it was based more on instrument requirements (full bands were reserved for the bigger stages - obviously) and generally fit with the feel of the musicians themselves.  Also, the musicians themselves didn't fit into any stereotypes.  Men that looked like hard rock cover band types played the blues.  A young 20 something year old man played the accordion.  Based off of Suwa-san's explanation of Gospel groups in Japan, I'm not entirely sure if the members of the groups I listened to were Christian or even understood what they were singing but they sang their praises to Jesus with soul.  My only complaint with the Gospel groups was the large lack of audience participation.  All in all, it was amazing. 

And listening to the swing music on the way to the train station after church today and the acapella on the way home from the train station, I'm pretty sure this festival had me in mind when they made it.  :)  Seriously, so much of my favorite genres of music in one place. 
 The group Peace of Mind, playing in the rafters. 
 "Jiyuu desu!"  The one in blue was the one who kept yelling.  The main guitarist and vocalist was awesome but my favorite was the second guitarist - his harmony was amazing.
 Some of the bands sparkled. 
 A glimpse of the streets literally filled with people just to listen to one jazz band. 
The man in pink helped direct everyone to become better at jazz improv.  It was so much fun.  


I'm a fan.  A pretty big one.  And based off of the crowds that I rubbed shoulders with yesterday, it looks like the fan base is hundreds of thousands strong.  Good company.  Good music.  Good job, Sendai. 

Friday, September 7, 2012

After thought

Dear MH,

Overnight, you became the CM King.  Oh, I'm not complaining.  I genuinely enjoy turning on the TV and hearing your voice and seeing your face.  However, I kind of prefer the non-airbrushed, non-photoshopped version of you.  In the CMs, you certainly smolder but in real life, you shine. 

Love,
Me


Dear 非常nice人,

It's been a month since I last saw you and two months since I first met you.  Somehow, as funny as this sounds, I miss you.  I keep looking for you, glancing every so often at your desk, hoping that you'll burst into the office, unannounced, intent on surprising everyone.  I listen eagerly to the gossip in the lab, straining to hear your name, wondering how you're doing.  I keep hoping that I'll see you again before I leave and that when I do, you will recognize me as your friend.   

Love,
Me


Dear Ishinomaki,

Tomorrow.  I'm nervous.  Very nervous.

Love,
Me


Dear Makino-san,

You returned.  For the first few days since you came back, I didn't talk to you.  Our project was complete - I needn't bother you any longer.  But tonight, when we sat and talked, I realized how much I have really come to call you friend and how well we really do understand each other.  Thank you for being your awesome self.  And welcome back. 

Love,
Me


Dear Attractive Friend of Makino-san,

I can't even begin to describe how nice it was to have someone see me and burst into a huge smile, eager to say, "Hello!"  I'm sorry that I was awkward back.  I guess I'm not still not used to being around attractive men all the time after all.  I hope I see you again; I promise that I know how to speak.   

Love,
Me


Dear Girl in my Aero Structure class,

I know that you think you're just casually talking to your friend while you're waiting for the online class to begin but I'm telling you, the mics pick up everything.  Not that I mind, since I love hearing all about your breakfast and your weekend plans; I just thought you should know.

Love,
Me


Dear Lab,

Why are you all so awesome?  I spent this evening trying very hard to memorize everything about you - your faces, your voices, the way you interact with each other and funny little details unique to each of you.  I can already tell that it will be hard for me to say goodbye.

Love,
Me

Two Months

Two months ago, today, I landed in Japan.  Somehow in the blur of losing my luggage, adjusting to the new atmosphere (not to mention the new time zone) and the realization that I don't speak the native tongue at all, I made my way up to Sendai.

It some ways that feels like yesterday and in some ways, a lifetime ago.  

I have less than a month left in Japan by every count possible.  The end is in sight but I still find it hard to see beyond Japan.  I know exactly what I'm going back to.  There is research to complete - data to collect, analysis to perform, a dissertation to write.  There are classes to teach - TAing for Aircraft Structures and then English conversation.  There are family activities to attend and friends to catch up with.  Yet, all that I see is still Japan.  Japan is my home.  Japan is now.

Recently, though, I've gotten glimpses of the me that lived in America.

The other day I was walking home from the grocery store and I noticed a man on a bicycle.  I looked at his face carefully, like I do with all people here and then I jumped back in shock, "That man is an Asian!"  I looked around me and then I started laughing at my Asiadar that suddenly decided to make an appearance two months into my internship.  "You're in Asia; of course he's Asian."

A week or two ago, I went to a restaurant with the missionaries.  We ordered hamburger steaks.  When they came, someone passed me a fork and a knife.  I took them in my hands and stared at them, wondering, "This is the first time I've even seen a fork in the past few months.  Now, wait a minute, do I normally use my fork in my left hand and my knife in my right or my fork in my right hand and my knife in my left?"  Nothing really felt right.  I was still trying to figure it out when I glanced up and realized that everyone at the table was staring at me.  "Surely it hasn't been that long since you last used a fork," one of them was incredulous.  I looked back, still quite confused but doing my best at giving an explanation, I confessed, "Well, I used chopsticks at home a lot too."  

The other day I was crossing the street and for a split second, I forgot which side of the street the cars drove on. The disoriented feeling soon passed and the world righted itself again. 

I have a feeling that leaving here will not be easy.

Here's a glimpse of my week in pictures:

Hasebe-san made an appearance on a TV show on Tuesday. 
 
 
I found some awesome Pocky that I think my sisters would love.  One, it's Pandas.  Two, it's cookies and cream.  It was a good purchase and I enjoyed every bite of it. 
 Even the inside packaging was adorable. 

The weather has been absolutely beautiful this week.  I couldn't resist taking a picture of the blue sky over the engineering complex. 
 Nor could I resist taking pictures of the way the sunset lit up the hallway in my lab.  Interestingly, I got caught by two people in my lab taking pictures.  They both look very concerned to see me crouching in a corner in the hallway until I told them what I was doing and then they laughed. 

Two sister missionaries that I love are being transferred to open a new area in Ishinomaki.  I am very excited to hear about this opening but very sad to see them go.  Sister Fukuda is my fellow Japanese soccer and High School Musical fan.  
 I just met Sister Shuta last week but she is so wonderful.  And yes, Elder Hatcher is photobombing our picture.  Erg, elders...

My boys!! I got to watch them play live on TV.  Great header by Mike Havenaar that won us the game.  It was a relief to finally get to watch them play.  I loved every minute of it.  A few funny moments: When Honda was trying to set up for a free kick, he kept yelling, "Mako!  Mako!  Mako!" to get him to move.  Another great moment was after Havenaar's header - his smile was one of delight and relief.  And then, after the game, Maya Yoshida who had played the entire game came off the field and everyone was giving each other high fives.  Yoshida made a move as though he was going to wrap Hasebe in a big sweaty hug and Hasebe who had changed out of his own sweaty jersey into clean clothes jumped back and motioned like, "If you get sweat on my nice clean shirt...."  Then, they both laughed.   

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Common Interests

Yesterday was Suwa-san's girlfriend's birthday.

I only know this because this affected my schedule in when Suwa-san could teach me about PSP.

Before her birthday, Suwa-san asked me what he thought he should get her.  Since he asked me, I've spent the past few days trying to think of what is appropriate for birthday gifts to women.

Jewelry?  Clothes?  Shoes?

Media makes it look like those the appropriate things to get but those are all difficult things to buy because of different tastes, sizes, etc.  Despite being a woman myself, I was pretty stumped. 

Today, at lunch, I asked Suwa-san how her birthday went and what he ended up getting her.

Suwa-san: A photo album.  Do you think that's a good thing?
Me: Yes, actually.  That's a great gift.
Suwa-san: For her birthday, we went to the Sendai history museum.

So, Suwa-san and his girlfriend did the same sort of thing that I would love to do with a boyfriend.  For some reason though - I blame the media - I was picturing something more elaborate.  I felt no end of relief in knowing that I'm not an anomaly after all. 

Suwa-san: What do you usually buy for your boyfriend on his birthday?
Me: I'm actually quite pathetic at gift buying.  I love books!  If you give me a book for a gift, I will be happy.  But not everyone feels the same way.  I end up buying books for people and they just pretend smile at it but don't really like it.  So, I need to learn. 

So then another student decided to join the conversation.
Abhi-san: You say you like books.  What kind of books to you like? 
Me: All kinds.  Lately, I've been reading a lot of non-fiction.
Abhi-san: Like Jack London?
Me: <giving him a strange look since I didn't think Jack London wrote non-fiction> Umm...I read a lot of books about Asian culture.  I just finished reading a book by Martin Luther King, Jr.  and before that, it was a biography about a boy's chemistry experiments during World War II.
Abhi-san: <chuckles> Wow, our tastes don't overlap at all.
Me: Oh, I like other types of books too.  I read fiction.  <I start listing a number of different authors>
Abhi-san: Hmm...
Me: Ok, so what books do you read?
Abhi-san: Jack London.
Me: Really?
Abhi-san: Have you read any of his books?
Me: Yes, The Call of the Wild.
Abhi-san: His books are good.  I've actually read almost all of his books.  I have a library here of books, 10 or 12 Jack London books.  And one of my Dad's friends gave me a large volume of his short stories which I just finished reading.
Me: <Jack London wrote 12 books?!>  So, besides, Jack London, what other books do you read?
Abhi-san: That's it.

For the record, if your interest in something has only one data point, there is no such thing as overlapping interests.  There are no interests to overlap.  It's more like intersect.

But now that I know that Jack London wrote over 20 books, I think it might be time to go give this man another shot.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

帰りました

He's returned.  THE kid.  When he talks, the whole office listens, not simply because he's friends with everyone but because he talks so loudly that not even our headphones can block out his conversations.  With his return, the others come out of their shells.  Ponta feels the need to stop by and even sits down and looks over the powerpoint presentation THE kid created to talk about what he learned on his summer vacation (internship to a train manufacturer).  Sakai-san, who is so quiet and unobtrusive that I've only seen five times in the entire time I've been in Japan, suddenly shows up at his elbow and the two shoot the breeze and gossip about everyone late into the night. 

He comes, bringing his souvenir treat from wherever he was in Japan (I forget) which looks like slime and tastes like azuki.

For the past three weeks, I have often caught myself randomly looking over at the empty desks of the people that I miss during the long hours of the day.  But now that he is back, his presence so fills our office that even though all the desks are empty but his and mine, there is enough activity and energy and noise as if every desk was filled. 

One would think, the way this kid comes and turns our office upside down that I would be annoyed.

He does bother me.  I throw on my headphones and listen to loud rock music in an attempt to block out his noise and try to focus, focus, focus on that engineering paper I'm reading.  There are times that I just want to tell him to go talk in the hall and to leave me in peace.

In fact, he's probably one of the only ones who doesn't leave me in peace.  Everyone is kind and wait for me to approach them.  But he sidled up to me my first week with a smile and begged for my sympathy for the paper he had to present at lab meeting.  Somehow, I not only gave the appropriate, "Poor you" comments, I looked at the paper, skimmed over it and tried to figure out the math and the concepts so that I could help him understand it as well.  The way he sort of laughs at himself while begging for your affection somehow hits a weakness I never knew I had.  I find myself loving him in spite of myself.

Not that he doesn't return the sentiment.  There is not a day that he leaves the lab and gives his general farewell to the rest of the office that he doesn't stop and deliberately turn back to me, his face breaking into a goofy grin that always gets a smile out of me, and with a wave says, "Goodbye!  Have a nice night!"  It's not the stumbled farewells everyone else gives when they realize that I don't understand the Japanese - it's a purposeful message to someone he made a point to remember. 

Now the office is loud again.  It's hard to concentrate. 

And yet...It's so good to have him back!

In other news, guess who else came back?  Games on Thursday and next Tuesday.  In case, you're still wondering, there's a BIG HINT below.
Source: VW Golf jp

Monday, September 3, 2012

Baby No More

Tonight, I talked with my sister and niece on Skype.  As a two year old, she has finally insisted on not being called Baby anymore and I am trying to learn to follow suit.  Here are some of the things that had me and her mom laughing. 

The Niece: Happy Birthday Dora!  Happy Birthday Dora! Happy Birthday Dora!
Me: Whose birthday is next?
The Niece: <gives me a confused look>
Sister: Daddy.
The Niece: No...
Sister: Yes, his birthday is in October.
The Niece: No birthday.
Sister: Can't mommies and daddies have birthdays?
The Niece: No Happy Birthday!  No Happy Birthday!
Sister: I don't have a birthday?
The Niece: No Happy Birthday!
Sister: What about Erin?
The Niece: No Happy Birthday!
Sister: What about Nolan [boy from daycare]
The Niece: Happy Birthday!
Sister: What about [names other kid in daycare]?
The Niece: Happy Birthday!

So, adults can't have birthdays - only kids and cartoon characters.

In other news, my niece is now obsessed with the color purple.  She even asked her mom to go to a purple store on Saturday.

She also likes dance class and swimming at the pool (which she calls 'cool')  and when she does something she's proud of, she solicits her own "High Five!"

And, if it's even possible, she's even prettier than the last time I saw her.  

Sunday, September 2, 2012

To Them that Sit in Darkness

Context:
(1) I have a big weakness - it's books.
(2) When I went to go buy a novel yesterday - I've finished the ones that I brought to Japan with me - I ended up buying two books - the novel 1Q84 and Why We Can't Wait by Martin Luther King, Jr.
(3) I am a big fan of reading books about my country in a completely different setting.  For some reason, looking at things from a thousand miles away gives an interesting perspective.

Yes, I have been reading a book about the Civil Rights Movement in Birmingham, Alabama these past few days.  It has been an enlightening experience.  I am learning a lot about the type of man Dr. King and the type of Movement that he directed.  I'm a fan of both (the man and the movement).

I just wanted to share a few quotes from his book.  It was during the experience when Dr. King was choosing whether or not to submit himself to go to jail.  Of course, he wanted to but a lot of the leaders were concerned that, with their source of bail money cut off, having Dr. King (the one with the contacts) might result in an end of the movement and everyone being left in jail for a very long time.  Dr. King decided to go anyway.

Here is what he wrote: "I suffered no physical brutality at the hands of my jailers....Solitary confinement, however, was brutal enough.  In the mornings the sun would rise, sending shafts of light through the window high in the narrow cell which was my home.  You will never know the meaning of utter darkness until you have lain in such a dungeon, knowing that sunlight is streaming overhead and still seeing only darkness below.  You might have thought that I was in the grip of a fantasy brought on by worry.  I did worry.  But there was more to the blackness than a phenomenon conjured up by a worried mind.  Whatever the cause, the fact remained that I could not see the light." (pp 82-83)

There he sat, in prison, without any contact with the outside world (he was even prevented from seeing his lawyers), wondering what had happened to the movement and worrying also about his loved ones.  His wife had recently given birth to their fourth child and was left alone, confined to her house, without her husband nearby and not even means to communicate with him.

His wife - amazing woman that she was - decided after a few days to take matters into her hands and called the President.  Yep, President Kennedy.  After a few hours, Bobby Kennedy called her back and said he would get his brother on board.  Things got turned around pretty quickly once the President got involved, as you can imagine.

Here is what Dr. King wrote afterwards: "I found it hard to say what I felt...What silenced me was a profound sense of awe.  I was aware of a feeling that had been present all along below the surface of consciousness, pressed down under the weight of concern for the movement: I had never been truly in solitary confinement; God's companionship does not stop at the door of a jail cell.  I don't know whether the sun was shining at that moment.  But I know that once again I could see the light."

I think we all have our prisons and our struggles but I hope that we all realize that we are never truly alone.