Monthly Archives: July 2016

Birthday Girl, Birthday Steak, Birthday Cold

Lately it has become a tradition on our daughters’ birthdays that we eat steak at a hamburger place that used to be a Red Lobster.

When it was  Red Lobster it became notorious for poor customer service. That included long lines when there wasn’t a large crow inside (partly because they apparently had no plan for bussing tables) and misspelling our oldest’s name (and then not correcting it) when we surprised her with a birthday party there.

Eventually it closed and was replaced by a restaurant called Hamburger Koubou (or Hamburger Workshop). It’s draw is an all you can eat salad bar, that includes bread, various pasta dishes, soft tacos (or spring rolls), curry and desserts. Its specialty is hamburger steak, but we almost always get real steak instead.

We go because around their birthdays our daughters become carnivores and suddenly desire steak. We gladly take them and much too much is eaten. Since today is our youngest’s birthday, we were pleased when she decided to maintain the tradition.

The trouble is, for reasons I don’t fully understand, we get placed in the same booth which is apparently the back up raw meat storage section. The air conditioner blasts one half of the booth directly, but shows a little mercy to the other half. Mind you, this doesn’t bother me, but it annoys the girls and She Who Must Be Obeyed. We could move, but the layout of the air conditioners leaves me with little hope that there’s a warmer section.

Of course, the cold doesn’t stop us from helping ourselves to the all you can eat soft-serve ice cream.

Never Let a Concerned Mother Out of the House

This week She Who Must Be Obeyed as been stressed because our girls have been in and out of the house for a couple nights at a time.

I actually consider this peaceful; she considers it stressful.

At our girls’ schools, the end of school marks the start of school camps. Our oldest went to an overnight camp as part of a junior leader program, then came back for one night before leaving the next day on her school overnight camping trip.

After she got back from that, our youngest left for her overnight camping trip. This started badly, though, when the kids had to hike from the school to a bus station and, because no mothers had been informed about this first leg of the journey, many of the kids had duffle bags rather than backpacks.

The guilt from this (even though it wasn’t, technically her fault) stressed out She Who Must Be Obeyed and made her more concerned than she normally would be (and she normally be extremely concerned). I therefore gave your oldest a standing order that She Who Must Be Obeyed not be allowed to leave the house. “If mommy goes out to check on the car; stop her. If mommy puts the trash out early, stop her. If the house is on fire, stop mommy from leaving because she probably started the fire herself.” (Something like that.)

In the end both girls were fine and came home with little trouble. There was some rain and some altered plans, but they managed to camp before the heat of summer kicked in. That seemed to make the trips better.

Just For a Couple of Years

Twenty years ago today I came to Japan for just a couple years. My plans sort of changed after I got here.

As has become ritual for the program I was part of, we arrived in the morning and then, after a trip through immigration where, oddly, and against personal tradition, I managed to choose the fast line, I left the air conditioned airport to the shocking morning heat that often makes people reconsider their futures in Japan. (Tokyo is roughly the same parallel as Santa Fe, New Mexico, but, really, 10 a.m.? That much heat and humidity? 10 a.m.? Really?)

I was temporarily housed in the Century Hyatt in Shinjuku (which was awesome) and did some tentative exploring.

After a few days of orientation, we were sent off to our new homes and all I remember is a guy who would become a good friend making video interviews of us for future review. I also remember me assuring one nervous English lass that “they can’t eat you” and since that was the worst thing that could happen to her she was going to be okay. (Oddly, I was told later that this actually helped calm her.)

I was fortunate to land in a beautiful, friendly town. Or maybe it was unfortunate. I settled in and got comfortable, which is always a bad thing for me. Improvisers need pressure, not time to plan and make excuses. I settled in and lots of grand plans suddenly seemed less important. I kept up the pretense of graduate school for a while, but even that seemed less important. (Actually, it had seemed less important for a long time, which is part of the reason I came to Japan. More on that in a future post.)

It helped that I was living near some great people who, to this day, continue to inspire me and who helped me get through the first year. (Note: wherever you go, as long as things aren’t exploding, stay two years; the second year is always better.) Eventually I met She Who Must Be Obeyed and things progressed from there.

Part of me misses being back home, but I’m happy to still be here, even as things have stagnated slightly. One of the odd aspects of my psyche is always seeing myself as being in transition. Where ever I am at the time is only temporary. That allows me to put off making decisions and allows me to coast when I should be driving more aggressively. Admitting that something has become permanent is a hard thing to do.

That said, I miss Wednesdays in Niigata more than being back home. Soaking in a bath and chatting with friends and then eating and drinking for a few hours helped us all remain sane.

I still feel comfortable, although lately things have felt less relaxing (long story). She Who Must Be Obeyed still kind of likes me and we have two beautiful girls. One of them still likes me, the other thinks I’m an idiot. It’s not a bad life, really. Not a bad life at all.

That Which is Remembered and That Which is Not

I don’t remember anything about Chicago except that I stayed there one night before I traveled to Japan. I saved a cigar band, which means I must have smoked a cigar, but I don’t remember doing that.

I didn’t write anything useful in my diary except general vagaries about some of the people I met. In fact, if I hadn’t written down the room and the hotel I wouldn’t remember that I stayed there at all.

The only thing I remember is calling AOL to cancel my AOL membership. (Note: AOL provided internet in those days via stone tablets and casting bones.)

I also vaguely remember a reception of some sort. I may have spoken to some people there–that’s what my diary says–but I didn’t bother writing down any names or descriptions.

I’m not sure why I don’t remember more except that I’d had a hectic month and was in a mental daze. I remember more about leaving for the Peace Corps–mostly the people I met–but I don’t remember where we stayed.

Part of moving overseas involves a period of “What have I done?” as your brain second, third and fourth guesses everything your are doing. I remember not having much money (very long story involving cars, accidents, banks and credit cards) but nothing else. The hotel was a transitionary place and my brain was in transition. That phase didn’t involve thinking or remembering.

After that, though, I boarded JAL 009 for a business class flight to Japan. This was nice enough that one friend I made in Japan described the experience as “the best place I’ve ever been”.

I only planned to go for two years. I ended up staying a bit longer.

Twenty Years Ago This Year

Notes from my sparsely maintained 1996 diary. (Spelling and grammar errors featured as they appear in the diary.)

February 24, 1996
Well, had an interview last week for the JET Program. It went well, although I couldn’t think of any subject-verb disagreements for a hypothetical situation they tossed at me.

Had a relaxing time in Atlanta. Helped E and J pick out a cat. Also found out they’re engaged.

April 4, 1996
The good news is that I’ve been accepted to Japan. Yep. I leave July 27th, but I have spent the last couple days getting photos and physicals. Fun fun.

May 17, 1996
I’m starting to get excited about going to Japan. It looks like I’m going to be in a village, or small town, in Snow Country. The site is Nou-Town, a place I’ve yet to find on a map. That could make things fun.

I know the mistakes I made in Albania…

May 29, 1996
(Regarding a relationship in Albania)
The spectre of a cross-cultural liaison was tantalizing, but a cross-cultural marriage…that’s an overwhelming prospect.

June 29, 1996, Diary Entry:
I finally got all my information from JET and it looks as if I’ve got a pretty good deal. I’m going to Nou-Machi, a fishing town on the Sea of Japan (in the Niigata Prefecture). It has a population of 15,000. According to the woman I’m replacing Nou is beautiful, friendly and has good crab and sushi.

July 26, 1996
Here goes nothing.

Lots of Lessons, With Dishes

The good news is repairing the phone won’t cost as much as I feared. The bad news is it will cost more than nothing. The best news is we now have a professional dishwasher in the house.

I took our oldest to the local Genius Bar (Genius because it makes people forget it’s a repair shop and not a place to hangout with like minded phone addicts) and discovered they’ll have to replace her phone. (Three months to irreparable damage; that must be a record.)

I said I’d pay to have it fixed, but she was going to have to do dishes until she was 25 (give or take).

Unfortunately for her she went full teenager soon after that and went somewhere that was not where she said she was going to be. Because of this we’ve now reached an odd understanding (translation: we told her how it was going to be).

The phone will not be repaired. It still works, it’s just not aesthetically pleasing and she’ll have to do dishes until she’s well into her 30s. If she goes full teenager again, we’ve assured her she’ll lose the phone.

The joke may be on us though. We still need to repair it if we want to sell it.

Suddenly Problems and Suddenly Panicked

Once more we have to invoke Rudyard Kipling:

If you can keep your head when all about you 
Your oldest is losing hers and blaming it on you,
You will be a father.

In fairly short time our oldest has either created, or discovered several new display “features not a bug” on her iPhone. This may be the result of one too many trips to the floor or too much time spent using the touch screen and thus wearing it out or a software glitch (er, I mean NEW FEATURE).

Either way, I’ll be escorting her to the closest service center (as opposed to the “Genius Bar” which is an interesting bit of newspeak) to see if it can be fixed.

Along the way, I left her to frantically try and figure out how to find the closest service center and how to back up her system. (For the latter, she is not allowed to install iTunes on She Who Must Be Obeyed’s computer; if she does I’ll delete everything.) This caused panic when she discovered that the internet isn’t always that fast, especially if she has to access it via our old WiFi hub. She got angry and mouthy and that’s when I told her I’d solve the problem once and for all forever, and get a new iPhone out of the deal.

This caused more panic. I’m interested to see what happens at the service center tomorrow. It could be fun.

I’ll have to think of a fun way to cause panic, though.

Pokemon Whoa!

The Japanese police are as worried as I am.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve walked through New York City at night and during the St. Patrick’s Day Parade and through London on New Year’s Eve and never been bumped into. In Japan, I’ve been hit several times by people with odd senses of personal space and/or bad depth perception and have been hit by bicycles a few times.

This was in the pre-smartphone era. Now we have Pokemon Go and I am afraid.

The Japanese are already, um, inattentive when it comes to walking and using smartphones (and, in some cases, cycling and using smartphones). Pokemon Go could lead to the apocalypse and it’s best I stay in doors.

Having observed the results in other countries, the Japanese police have issued “Don’t Be a Moron” warnings to Japanese Pokemon fans now that Pokemon Go has been released.

The first injury happened almost immediately and even the company I work for has issued a warning. I’ve heard reports of people almost being hit by cars and of people slipping on escalators. There’s also some concern that the somber area around the Hiroshima Atomic Bomb Dome could become a Pokemon hunting area.

I’m personally waiting for the first reports of people falling off train platforms and of people trespassing on the Imperial Palace grounds to get some rare creature.

Fast Faster, No Really, Faster

It’s become clear that I need a business model that involves more than refreshing a website.

Thanks to a regular customer, I discovered that tonight there’d be more Jellyfish inks available from the store where I buy and resell ink. The trouble, is, I couldn’t be there at the time the sales launched.

By the time I managed to get the computer and refresh the page, sales were going so fast for some of the flavors that the three bottles I put in my shopping cart somehow went before I could pay for them. I tried buying a few complete sets but when I went to check out I realized I only had four flavors.

As a result, I ended up buying none, especially as I was doing most of this on spec with no actual buyers lined up. I’m hoping I can pick some up from the actual store, but given that all that happened in only 15 minutes, I don’t have much hope there will be anything available in the store.

That said, any chance to sneak down to the store and look around is time well spent, even if they don’t have any ink. Lately, even their unloved inks (i.e. the flavors they always seem to have in stock) have been selling out.

But at Least it was Cool

It wasn’t cool that I had to go, but at least it was cool.

Too bad it was raining.

In order to justify having lower middle management at the company I work for, my now immediate manager holds periodic meetings where we all go “yep, this is boring” while my lower middle management manager goes “Yep, I survive for another round!”.

To do this, we all have to travel to the main office where the final five of us working at private schools learn new information about the company. Fortunately, it was a pleasant 22 Celsius (71.6 Fahrenheit) which made the trip pleasant, but that cool weather brought rain so it was a trade off.

Oddly, there was some interesting information at the meeting: our assistant manager is now our manager; there are new forms to fill out and they are all on line; the company has changed names again: four times now? Five? It’s all confusing. The nature of our contracts has changed which could be good or bad three years from now.

The trouble is all this could have been delivered via email. The problem with that is the company I work for tends to not like to leave a paper trail.

Now, we don’t have to meet again until January or so. That meeting will be boring and useless too, but at least there’s a chance it will be cancelled by a snow day.