Tuesday, April 29, 2003

It's been exactly three weeks since we arrived back in NH. Rachel is in school. All basic systems are up and functioning. We even bought a car on eBay (1998 Subaru Forester. It's kind of like our old Honda HRV on steriods) that we will probably go pick up this weekend. I know I said I was going to stay at home and be the point person for a couple of months to help get everyone settled here, but when I went into Tuttle's this morning to do a little shopping I couldn't help but notice the big HELP WANTED sign out front. Tuttle's is ultimately cool to me. It is the oldest family farm and family business in America, established 1632. They have a nice gourmet market, a flower shop and a garden center. I went in and cruised around the garden center to see what they had going since they are just starting up for the growing season. Did my shopping-- veggies, some Piscataqua Coffee beans ("Made in Dover"), 8 day-old bagels for $2.68 (what a score!), fuji apples and some lemon-lime candy fruit slices-- and on the way out stopped at the flower shop desk and asked for an application. The guy said they may still be looking for someone part time.
I came home and filled out the application but it's kind of ridiculous when you get to the prior employment section. I listed phone numbers but I really doubt they would call Japan to verify my job performance with my former bosses. Well, maybe my "past" will help me stand out from the pack. On the 4.5 lines I had to describe my special skills and qualification I wrote about how my teaching experience has left me with good interpersonal communication skills and attention to detail and that as a returned area native I really want to work for a local business.
What I really wanted to write was-- "I want to work here because you guys have been around since 1632. You sell fresh local produce and all kinds of gourmet products, with an emphasis on local companies, and have an awesome garden center. This place is totally cool!"-- but I figure that would look kind of unprofessional and provide them with absolutely no insight into why they should hire me, aside from the fact that I am enthusiastic about their business.

Monday, April 28, 2003

This is going to sound weird, but I love all the little physical interactions I have with the house everyday. Waking up in the morning, walking downstairs (my heart leaps at the thought of stairs) and opening the kitchen blinds. If it's sunny I open the door between the kitchen and the porch to catch the light and warm air from the rising sun. After coffee is set in motion I make my way through the rooms. Open curtains always and windows weather permitting. And then in the evening reversing it.
The beauty of this place flat out floors me. Aside from a little morning "rush hour" with folks leaving for work and people coming to drop off their kids at the schools down the street , this place is remarkably quiet. What my friend Jim would have have termed "pathologically mellow" 15 years ago. People walk by with dogs and babies and friends. Some jog by and others bike by. The sun is shining. The field across the street is really greening up and the birds are singing. If I burst into song it would be quite a Disney moment.
Rachel started school today. Her teacher seems great and so does basically everyone else I've dealt with at the school. They have the desks in groups of four students in her classroom, the same as in Japan. Everyone shares school supplies, no need to bring your own. What a change from the micromanagement of Japanese school and the "5 pencils with pencil caps, two erasers, 12 color craypas, one shitajiki (does anyone have a neat description for that?) and the right kind of pencil case, ideally all coordinated in a Sanrio character motif" situation. And you wonder why people in Japan become shinkeishitsu (tempermentally nervous). No school uniform here and nh is a pretty casual place so the de facto uniform is t-shirts, jeans and sneakers. Hey, that's my de facto uniform too!
I fulfilled my lawn care obligation this morning. Now I think I'm going to go see about all those flower seeds I bought yesterday.

Saturday, April 26, 2003

Nice Bolt practice today. It's our third practice since I've been back and we already have a full new song with Mat on vocals. The working title is Shoelace. That reference is to me because for some unknown reason my shoes are always untied. On average I'd say I have to stop and tie my shoe three or four times a day. I have been told this is not normal. Well fine, it's not normal for most people but it's perfectly normal for me. My sister (and bandmate. seems I haven't mentioned that fact before) says I have been like this since I was a little kid. She suspects that I don't tie them right but I really can't believe that I could have been doing it wrong for the past 31 years. It generally doesn't take me that long to pick up on how to do things.

Friday, April 25, 2003

Mob mentality is such a drag. It seems that in Japan a lot of the social construct is based on the premise that an individual really wants to know they belong to and are under the protection of a group. So punishment for someone with those beliefs is to be excluded from their group. It's the same mentality that filters down to the school yard bullying level in Japan, which is usually not one strong kid against a weaker or "different" one, but can often be more like everyone pretending the bullied kid doesn't or shouldn't even exist.
Some of the reasons behind this extreme bent for cliques and membership and the agony of being left out started to come clear when someone explained to me about mura hachibu. Back in the old days in Japan, if someone went against the rules of the village everyone agreed not to interact with that person. But hachibu means 8 parts, or 80%. I just found an explanation online in Japanese that explains that the 80% refers to the fact that the rule breakers or other assorted weirdos were not completely banished from the village but they were denied in eight of ten categories that comprised the village. Others interacted with them in case of fires and funerals, but the outcasts were denied assistance with or involvement in coming of age celebrations, marriage, construction, (treatment of ill) health, natural disasters, travel, childbirth, and protection against "bad luck years" (yakudoshi).
As for me, if I was offered a deal like that I'd just leave town and start over somewhere else rather than think all that ostracism was worth dealing with because if I died or had a fire they were going to take care of me. Screw begging for crumbs. I'd rather take care of myself.
It's all a tariki/jiriki issue at heart. Those are some terms I learned from a class on Japanese Buddhism at UH. Tariki means "other power" and jiriki means "self power". I think ultimately a balance of both is the best way to go, but not being able to be part of the crowd has never (since around the end of high school anyway) bogged me down. I am a native of a state whose motto is Live Free or Die-- now that seems like damn good common sense to me.
Since I am in a not-too-pissed-off state of mind right now I'm going to take the opportunity to write about the people who are pissing me off lately and why. First on the list is Dennis French (hey, this is my blog-- may as well name names) for occupying my house for months and never paying me any rent, lying to me about calling people in to do unnecessary work and then never telling me about it or paying them, leaving the house dirty and with 2 broken window panes, a broken porch door, a huge dent in the shower wall, a broken toilet, a Christmas tree on the back porch, huge piles of rotting leaves from last fall in the yard and a Christmas tree on the back porch. So much for trying to help someone out and believing that most people I know are honest.
Second on my list is Brian Russell, who did a really great job putting in a new furnace for us a couple of years ago but never came back to take the old one away. I call every once in a while and leave a message, but my calls are never returned. You'd think that the $5000 I paid for the furnace would include disposal of the old one, wouldn't you?
Third and last on my list is John. Don't know his last name but know he backstabbed my brother in law in a band situation and probably ripped off my sister when he installed carpet for her new store.
Sometimes people suck. If you happen to know or run across any of these people, feel free to let them know I think they are jerks. Now that I have gotten that all out of my system it's on to enjoy the rest of the day.

Thursday, April 24, 2003

Sometimes I feel like I have dropped through a wormhole. My life here is so different in almost every way from my life in Japan. We got our new mattress. box spring and bed frame yesterday and for the first time slept upstairs in our bedroom. I slept on Japanese futons (which are completely unlike American futons) on the floor for 7 years in Japan. I like being able to swing my legs over the side of the bed to get up rather than crawling up off the floor every morning. I've been waking up before the other two most days and have been doing a half hour of yoga before they get up. I used to try to do the same thing in Japan, but our apartment was so cramped that it was hard to find a spot where I could fully extend my arms or legs to the side without knocking stuff over or hitting something.
Here I go shopping for food just a couple of times a week and if I have the time and the inclination I can go to Tuttles ("America's oldest family farm. Established 1623") or The Broken Pushcart for fresh local produce, Janetos, a local market with a great butcher shop, for meat, the fish market for fish and then a regular supermarket for everything else. If I don't have time to run around to all those places, I can also just go to the supermarket. In Japan, we bought almost all our food at Super Queen, which was 1.5 blocks away, and shopped there almost everyday.
I suffer lawn guilt here, which is something I never needed to worry about in Japan. Went to Home Depot on Sunday and got lawn care stuff just in time for 3 days of rain. I still need to finish raking up the lawn so I can apply the stuff and I also need to smooth out the spots that got all pushed around by an overzealous snow plow. The crocuses are almost done. The daffodils are blooming and the tulips are on the way. I need to start some seeds for late spring/early summer flowers now. Still in the 40s almost everyday so I think there's time.

Sunday, April 20, 2003

Friday, April 18, 2003

The heating pipes in this house almost sound like Balinese percussion at times. Some of the tones are off, but it's a cool sound effect because the pings and bangs come from different parts of the house and give it dimension.
I know in a globally conscious, environmentally aware sort of way I shouldn't say this but, damn, am I glad to be back in a country that believes in central heating.

Thursday, April 17, 2003

Jet lag probably isn't the problem anymore. And it really isn't even a problem, just a change. I wake up every morning by around 6:30 and am generally asleep by 10:30. Early too bed and early to rise. Not because any schedule holds me to it. It's got to be because of the guest room. It faces east and as the sun climbs up it fills the room with yellow and orange light. It's beautiful and once I see it I am awake.
There is an incredible full golden moon hanging in the sky over the fields across the street. I think I'm making thesebanana oat muffins for breakfast tomorrow. They say it'll be clear and cold again. Today it was around 35 degrees. Two days ago it was 80. Talk about extremes in the weather.

Tuesday, April 15, 2003

In light of the fact that one of things I admire in Japan is the level of energy efficiency consciousness, when it came time to buy a new washer and dryer yesterday I decided to put my money where my mouth is and bought a high efficiency washing machine. It was a few hundred dollars more, but it qualified for a $50 delivery charge rebate and a $50 dollar rebate from the state for buying an Energy Star appliance (hey man, my appliance is a star!). It uses far less water than regular washing machines and I've seen savings quoted as being somewhere around $100 a year. So I went for it.
I have a thing about writing about washing machines. I wrote about it the last time we bought one in Otsu. This one here rocks. I notice that the electricity is stronger here than in Japan. Everything's more amped up, myself included.
It's Tuesday afternoon now and this week I have already found a teaching job for the fall, sent in Rachel's health insurance application, called and arranged for an exchange phone for the prepaid cell phone we got last summer that we couldn't use and left sitting for months, signed up for a long distance calling plan for the home phone, ordered stuff to make us wireless, printable and webcammed, taken delivery of our stuff from Hawaii (lots of books! and car parts...), bought and taken deliver of the above mentioned washer and a dryer as well, helped clean out the nasty nasty basement full of mouse poop so the new washer and dryer would have a suitable place to reside, raked about 1/3 of the lawn that needs to be raked. We are located in a leaf gathering spot so there's no way I'm going to get obsessive about it, but the piles from last fall were left sitting through the winter (grrrr, bad renter. never doing that again) need to be dealt with so I' m tackling them as I can. It's about 86F(28C) degrees today suddenly and it's too hot for that right now.
Oh yeah, I also went to two animal shelters with Rachel on Sunday to start the search for the dog.
I have to babysit for a few hours for Stef and Mat tonight and then at 9am tomorrow at Rachel's new school. Guess I'm not really slacking yet.
Basically we have our communications systems well in place and soon to be completed. A part time lecturer job teaching Japanese at UNH is a good and lucky start in the career department. I've got an answer to the "what do you do?" question now-- "I teach Japanese at UNH." Yeah, whatever. Itching to practice more with Bolt, but Stef is also getting ready to open her store, so I can't really push on that.
Today's reality check: Pretty great!

Sunday, April 13, 2003

Sometimes I wonder if this is all about me seeing if I can just be normal. By "this" I mean the moving back to NH thing. It's so easy to be different in Japan because I look different. Social interactions are different here, at least they are for me. I've been taking early morning walks in the neighborhood and have exchanged greetings with those I meet along my path. It's easy here. Nobody's expecting me to be a certain way. I can just be.
We went to the Cocheco Valley Humane Society in Dover and the NHSPCA in Stratham to scope out the dog scene. We didn't find The One, but I liked the Dover place much better. They probably get by on a fraction of the budget Stratham has, but the people were nicer. The NHSPCA shelter is posh. They must have good fundraising. But nobody there talked to us really. Getting a dog is a big step. It's like having another child, sort of.
I haven't synched up with the pace of this place yet. I'm still all tense and hyped up, yet when I look around everything and everyone is pretty mellow. Not only am I dealing with a Japan-America culture gap but a megaburban- rural culture gap as well. I think I try to kid myself that it's more cosmopolitan here than it is, but I'm not sure why I bother. We're on a school drop off/pick up route so weekdays get busy at times, but on the weekends I bet there are times I could sit for a good 30 minutes before a car passes by my house. Nearest store is 5 minutes by car, probably 20 on foot. That's just not the same as having a 7-11 downstairs from the apartment. I feel more like I am living on the earth when I am in NH. Nature has a very distinct and powerful presence here. I think it has something to do with all the trees. It has forest power. Hawaii has its "mana", a firey volcanic power. Hawaii is overwhelming in its presence. I guess Otsu was lake power. Kind of wet and lulling. Not stagnant, but not very dynamic either.
I'm quite sure I need dynamics. We had out first Bolt practice yesterday and it felt great. This is the first time we don't have some looming return date hanging over our heads. I don't have to be ready to play a gig while I'm still jet lagged. I don't have to go into the studio two days before I'm leaving and after already playing out that night. Those guys have pushed me way beyond my comfort level. And now they' ve got me back for good. Or about as good as anyone can have me.

Saturday, April 12, 2003

I've decided to work with jet lag rather than against it and got up at 6 this morning. Thought I could have an hour or two of time to myself before the others woke up, but that didn't happen, so I went out for a walk in the drizzle. I saw robins, blue jays, seagulls, ducks, squirrels, horses, shaggy bovine creatures, and assorted birds whose names I don't know yet. Exchanged greetings with a few of the folks in the neighborhood who were up and outside at that hour of the morning. Yesterday's rain has washed away most of the snow. My daffodils and tulips are on their way and I see some of the crocuses are just about to show their flowers. It's nice being back here.

Friday, April 11, 2003

Finally am here at my house in NH, got the digital cable modem hooked up, and even though it's gray and kind of chilly, it's really nice to be here.
Took a walk this morning around the neighborhood. There are so many birds out singing their songs. I need to bring the digicam next time so I can get some shots of the shaggy bison down around the corner. They look like they're from the steppes of Mongolia or something.

Sunday, April 06, 2003

You can get your own customizable virtual talking head for just $16 a month atSitepal. It's really cool but I can't imagine why I'd want one.
Have finally reached the less than 24 hour mark in the countdown to leaving Japan. We should be taking off from Kansai International Airport in 23 hours and 30 minutes, exactly.
The weather finally cleared and today has been a beautiful spring day with the cherry blossoms in full bloom. We got up early (for us) this morning and went to visit our buddy Aldo in Takatsuki, did a few errands, ate some ramen and came back home. I am more or less fully packed and ready to go. I didn't get to spend time with all the friends I wanted to see before we left, but we will be coming back here to visit and hopefully some of our friends will come and stay with us in NH.
I don't feel sad about leaving here. I can always come back and it's not like things change here all that quickly anyway. I've thought a lot about what I would like to do differently next time when/if I live here again. First off, no more apartment living. Japanese apartments are just too small for me. If we come back, we will rent a house. Second, no more scooters. I liked that the scooter was economical and easy, but it's just too damn cold in winter to commute that way. It's dangerous too. Third, I will network more and get myself more involved in creative pursuits. I realize a lot of my time over the past 7 years were spent taking care of my daughter. When we got here she was 11 months old. Now she's turning 8 next week. It seems like the older she gets, the more I get to return to myself. It was like I went away there for a few years, didn't have the time to spend doing things that make me feel like myself. I love that child more than life itself. But for her sake as well as my own, I need to start to learn how to let go a little. Not a lot, but a little.

Thursday, April 03, 2003

Three more days to go. It's raining and we're here at the inlaws trying to teach them how to use the computer and the internet. Shiro had to wake up early this morning and go to a shrine to get some protective amulet to appease his mother. I stayed here and tried to sleep, but I couldn't get back to sleep.
I realized I have (had. make that 5 1/2 now)) 6 more valium left from the supply I bought in Bangkok a couple of years ago. They're good until Oct. 2003. To quote the RHCP-- Never been a better time than right now. To quote Led Zepplin-- Now's the time. The time is now. To quote myself-- might as well. what the hell else am I saving them for.
I think every other Japan blog I have seen has cherry blossom photos posted these days, so I will refrain. The really amazing thing about the cherry blossoms is that they make even the normally ugly sites beautiful for a week or so. Drive by any big rectangular factory in the country now and you'll see thousands, tens of thousands of beautiful delicate pink blossoms on the grounds. Same with cemented canals, dirt parks, road sides. They look good dressed in blossoms.It's the one time of the year when every place can be beautiful.
Been dealing with a clash of old meets new these past couple of days. A clash of cultures, I guess. In what is probably a well meant but possibly futile attempt to stem guilt and facilitate connectedness, I have set my inlaws up with my old 400 mhz iMac, a wireless ADSL internet connection and a web cam. Only problem is they don't really understand how to use any of it. I have set up the computer so it will be as easy to use as possible, but it's all new to them and confusing.
It's funny how I will bust ass to please my inlaws when I've never worried nearly as much about trying to appease my own parents. I guess my in laws are more verbal about what they think we should with our lives. They think we should be buckling down and settling in for the purpose of acquiring security at the hands of some larger entity, preferably corporate. That is so not my tune. My parents know that. They learned how to let go and trust me before I knew how to do it myself.
In the meantime, my mother in law is concerned that Shiro go to a shrine to procure the proper protective amulet to keep us all safe from harm in our travels and lives away. She was insisting they go down to Sakai in south Osaka, which is a 2 hour drive from here through Osaka traffic. Can anyone tell me why so many Japanese women (it's not just my mother in law who does this) think if something is farther away it is better? I think we managed to convince her that an amulet from a local shrine will do just as well. Of course it's not going to be just some shrine down the street, but Kyoto's close by so I'm sure there must be something suitable in the area. I bet women down in Sakai travel up to Kyoto to buy their amulets.

Wednesday, April 02, 2003

MTV.com - News -White Stripes' Latest Is Fueled By Discomfort, Not Cappuccino

White Stripes. Have to admit I've only listened to what I've downloaded off the internet, but I kind of dig their policy. The commitment to creating within a specific form reminds me of classical Japanese poetry in the same way the blues do. You have a set framework, for example the 5-7-5-7-7 phrasing of waka or a 12 bar blues progression. You have certain elements that must be included-- seasonal words in poetry, hard times in the blues. The White Stripes have their form (guitar and drums, no digital equipment, and the blues influence too, of course) and find creative freedom and expression within it.
I've explained this theory in better detail in the past, but tonight it's not flowing. Anyway, I think White Stripes are cool.
I'm still not sure how we did it, but we managed to get the apartment empty and clean by March 31 and will actually get back about half of the "key money" we paid when we first moved in. I thought Shiro was wasting his time by patching every rip in the cheap wallpaper and covering up a couple of stained spots with whiteout, but the guy from the real estate agency who came to check said they would only need to replace the wallpaper in one of the back rooms and the kitchen, not the whole apartment. They will charge us for the wallpaper, replacing six tatami mats and two screens and a cleaning charge. That's $1,250.
I know I read somewhere that it is illegal for landlords to charge for replacing tatami mats, and wallpaper wear and tear that occurs in the course of living, but they charge anyway. It's also illegal for them to require "gift"money, but we paid that too. So, of the $5,000 we paid to move in we'll get back about $1,300 and I'm thinking we made out well. Right.
Now we are staying at my in laws in Osaka. That's always an exercise in patience for me. But with just 5 more days left in Japan, it doesn't seem so hard to deal with.
But SARS weighs on my mind. Think I'm going to buy us all masks for the flight, just in case.