Sunday, September 27, 2009
Yokota Air Force Base is in Fussa, a Tokyo suburb two hours from Yokosuka no matter whether you travel by car or by train. With Dan Brown's new book loaded on my Kindle and a pair of knitting needles stashed in my bag, of course I opted for the form of transportation permitting me to feel optimally productive, ie, smug.
Coming home was another story, one that required changing trains five times instead of three and that consumed three and half hours instead of two. I left the game with four minutes left on the clock so I could be home in plenty of time to meet the team bus. Such was not to be.
Somewhere in the middle of Chapter 22, just one station southeast of Fussa, my fellow passengers all disembarked in a flurry. This is how gaijin like me realize the train we are on will not be proceeding in the direction we expected. I did what I usually do in these now familiar but still disconcerting moments: followed the passengers moving the fastest. Normally this group leads me to a connecting train but this time the race-walking crowd led me straight to the exit turnstiles. Whoops! Not to worry, I got a lot of reading done in the half hour before the next train arrived.
Later, just west of Yokohama and in the middle of an especially complicated paragraph in Chapter 38, I hopped on a train headed in the wrong direction. Whoops again.
When I dragged myself through Gridley Tunnel at 1:15 am, pondering the mystery of what so many Japanese people were doing riding around on trains in the wee hours, I found Matt curled up on the hood of the car. Just his luck to beat me home the first time it crossed my mind to lock the doors when I left the house.
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
Captain James Cook spotted this island in 1774. "Blimey! This place reminds me of my father's native Scotland." He named it New Caledonia which is a fancy way of saying New Scotland.
About a hundred years later, in late 1853, Napoleon III noticed England was putting together quite an impressive empire, with colonies in Australia and New Zealand, so the French decided to take possession of New Caledonia. The native Melanesians - not to be confused with Polynesians since I've mastered the distinction in the past week and now you can, too - would very much like to govern themselves, thank you very much, and in 1998 the French promised the islanders could hold a referendum on independence at any time after 2014. Some Melanesians believe the French are hoping to influence the outcome of the referendum by giving themselves 16 years to relocate half the population of France to the South Pacific.
The French call the island Caledonie while Melanesian nationalists favor Kanaky. Whatever you call it, it looks like a tropical paradise to me. And there you have it. Now I will devote another five hours to trying to start the lawn mower. But, of course, I'm not complaining.
Monday, September 21, 2009
[1749 J. Cleland Memoirs of Woman of Pleasure II. 133]
The football moms fix lunch for the team on away game days and last week the team moms tasked me with contributing a gargantuan salad. Since Matt and I are still getting by with one frying pan and two saucepans, none of a size to cater to the multitudes, this struck me as an exceptionally considerate assignment. Then I dashed into the Commissary Tuesday, made a beeline to the lettuce/spinach case, and found . . . nothing.
Only slightly daunted, I returned to the Commissary the following day and the bin still looked like the Home Depot battery and flashlight display the day before a hurricane is expected to blow into town. In a word, empty.
Back to the Commissary for the third time, an hour before closing on Thursday, I was alternating Hail Marys and my favorite mantra ("I lead a charmed existence, I lead a charmed existence, I lead a charmed existence"). Six bags of dark green leaves and 15 heads of pale green leaves, not unlike the Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes, were waiting in the bin. On closer inspection, the dark green leaves were labeled "Collards" which might taste like spinach but why take that risk with those pale green heads on offer. Whether I bought iceberg lettuce or cabbage I can't say because the labels simply promised "marked-down produce."
A lady in my knitting circle - more on that another time, snort - credits the produce shortage to another tropical storm brewing somewhere between Hawaii and Japan. Ships tied to piers, she explained, can suffer expensive dents and dings during a storm so, to protect the taxpayers' investment, the Navy sends the ships out to sea where they are supposed to stay out of the storm's way. When these port-emptying storms crop up between scheduled replenishments of a ship's larder, the supply officers are compelled to raid the Commissary.
That Cleland person who coined the expression "any port in a storm" back in the mid-18th century was apparently not a sea-faring kind of guy/gal.
Sunday, September 20, 2009
Sonoda-san is nothing short of adorable. Have you ever felt the urge to hug a total stranger? This happens to me often at the Anpanman Museum when I am tripping over cute toddlers but normally I can control myself in adult situations. One glimpse of this feisty 91-year old teeny-tiny spitfire provoked a response I am still trying to comprehend days later. Nostalgia? Maternal instinct? Love at first sight?
Then she opened her mouth and didn't talk, speak, lecture so much as rain oratory. Her words echoed off the walls and ceiling and poured around and between her attentive listeners. This little lady could drown in her own charisma.
The first year women were elected to serve in the Japanese government shortly after World War II, Sonoda was one of them. Today, at the age of 91, she has pledged to devote the rest of her life to achieving peace on earth. The sheer force of her personality washed every usual cynical or sarcastic remark from my mind. This is what it must feel like to have your mouth washed out by Niagara Falls.
I have a theory. Perhaps Sonoda is the love child of Yoda and my great-grandmother, Allie Palmer Waltz. I have not seen a diminutive stature paired so delightfully with a commanding presence since we buried my Grandma Crippen.
And that, Ancient Mariner, is the best explanation I can come up with for how we came to contribute 1000 yen toward the construction of a doll museum in Kyushu.
Friday, September 18, 2009
1. Our Japanese hosts cut circles and rectangles from cardboard boxes.
2. We used two kinds of glue, white to fasten bamboo edges and handles to the cardboard and clear to cover the trays with washi paper.
4. We glued Japanese tissue paper to the bottom of our trays to create a smooth surface.
5. We covered the trays with washi paper.
Most of us accomplished this project with minimal assistance from our hosts but one of us just selected washi paper and then sat back and watched two nice Japanese ladies do all the work. Mimi is my hero.
Thursday, September 17, 2009
Then Pratap told us about Norway. She said seven million people live in Norway these days. So many people left Norway during an economic downturn 50 years ago - I figure just when Ike was leaving office - there are now more Norwegians living in the United States than in Norway.
I don't know what Pratap talked about next because this is when I turned to the Japanese lady on my right, a total stranger, and whispered, "How nice of America to offer them a home and economic opportunity. I guess Americans aren't all bad." And that's when Akusara became my friend. We became even better friends during lunch when she told me I didn't have to eat the shiitake mushroom and tofu chunk in my bento box.
It was James who forgot to take his coat on a seventh grade ski trip. He remembered his gloves all right, but gave them to a girl whose fingers were turning blue. To the best of my knowledge, James has not flirted with snow sports since that day but still enjoys rescuing the occasional damsel in distress. Or flirting with them.
So Deuce wins the Grand Prize which - soft touch that I am - will be whatever amount of Kirin Autumn brew (or nearest equivalent) I can cram legally into my suitcase next month.
A consolation prize has been created for the girl who nailed the aunt question but flunked the brother half of the test. And it's not like she was away at college when the incident took place, just totally wrapped up in tenth grade stuff, homework no doubt. We'll be giving her a roundtrip ticket to Japan so she can spend some quality time with her youngest brother, the one who spent his middle school years deploying computer soldiers over pixelated terrain that looked a lot like the Ardennes Forest. Too bad he wasn't into famous naval engagements like the Battle of the Coral Sea . . .
Since the very nature of jangling supposes more than one hanger, there's no chance of hearing that happy sound at #13 Gridley Lane. But I've made the pleasant discovery that the one dress in my wardrobe drips dry overnight if I hang it in front of the air conditioning vent in the dining room. (The HHG shipment sailed into Yokohama two days ago and they tell me it will clear customs in about a week. I wish someone would explain what "clearing customs" entails when the crates were sealed on G Street and will not be unsealed until they reach #13 Gridley Lane.)
In any event, the social season started with a bang yesterday with the YOSC coffee at CNFJ (Commander Naval Forces Japan) house on top of Halsey Hill. Diane graciously opened her home to YOSC and representatives of Ikebana and JAW (she's pictured here with the Ikebana board). Usually I walk up Halsey Hill but with two newcomers in tow I opted to charge up the steep incline in the Toyota ED which would still be parked up there, taxing the limits of Diane's hospitality, if one of my guests had not shown me how to release the parking brake.
Introducing potentially like-minded people to each other continues to thrill me. It reminds me of watching my children interact with other children for the first time, and I get the good kind of shivers imagining the lifelong friendships that will sprout from these initial encounters. At the very least, I know my charges were more enthusiastic about spending the next three years in Japan when they came down the hill than they were the day before.
I'm off to Ikebana this morning and then I'll start announcing contest winners.
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
Guam is 30 miles long and 4-12 miles wide. Frankly, I think it's nothing short of amazing that the guy driving the ship found such a tiny little speck in such a wide expanse of water. I feel the same way about Okinawa.
Mike and some of his shipmates covered most of Guam on their bikes soon after arriving on Friday afternoon. There's a Navy hospital in Guam and the commanding officer and his wife hosted a dinner where Mike ran into RADM Cullison, the deputy surgeon general, and passed him some bags of Japanese goodies to deliver to my three favorite officers at BUMED. So if you work at BUMED and think you might be one of my three favorite officers but have not seen any boxes of mushroom-shaped cookies yet, talk to RADM Cullison. You might want to check the corners of his mouth for telltale crumbs.
Here's a few things you might not know about Guam. It's north of the equator. It's the southernmost island in the Marianas and the westernmost possession of the United States. The highest point on Guam is Mount Lamlam at 1,332 feet, a mere pimple compared to Mount Everest which towers over the earth at 8,848 feet. When scientists factor in the section of Mount Lamlam below sea level, however, many believe it is the tallest mountain in the world. So now you know.
If it's raining in your part of the world today and you are on the verge of drop-kicking a bored adolescent through the front window, task them with finding Guam on a map. Then let your eyes drift due south and soon you will see Manus Island where Mike's father had such a wonderful time during World War II that we taped that Atlas page to our kitchen wall in Norfolk when he lived with us.
Mike doesn't know if his route from Guam to the next port of call will take him within sight of Manus Island, but he will definitely be checking the starboard horizon regularly. Or maybe the port horizon. And if someone other than Ancient Mariner can tell me which is right and which is left, I promise to make it worth your while.
Monday, September 14, 2009
I nearly tore a muscle congratulating myself when I woke up at 3:00 am Friday morning. Patting myself on the back as I skipped down the stairs to start the coffee, I chortled "Way to go, Self! Great job! You have altered your sleep cycle without even trying so it will be easy-breezy to catch that bus to the Seto Pottery Fair at 5:00 am tomorrow morning." Yes, three days into Southern Swing, I was already talking out loud to myself. Sometimes I pretend I'm conversing with Matt but he hasn't removed that headset in three years.
When the caffeine kicked in six hours later (that would be 9:00 am), I remembered I was going to Seto on Sunday rather than Saturday. Sticking with this topsy-turvy schedule for 48 more hours would be a challenge. Sticking with anything for 48 hours is not exactly how I define myself. What could get me to fall asleep by 9:00 pm on a Saturday night? Which book should I take to read on the bus, five hours each way? Working through thorny problems like these depletes all the organizational fuel in my tiny tank.
Fortunately, the 7-11 store just outside the base is carrying the jumbo-size Kirin autumn brew. Say goodnight, Kathy, but put the Evanovich book next to the front door first.
One of my children forgot to take a coat on a middle school ski trip some years ago. In the middle of January. Something like this would never happen to one of Mimi's kids.Five days before the pottery fair she was making detailed plans, free associating the advantages and disadvantages of wheeled suitcases versus backpacks to tote our potential purchases. Snacks for the bus! Plenty of water! Pillow? Blanket? Don't forget bubblewrap and old towels to protect our treasures during their bumpy ride home in the bowels of the bus.
Neither our old towels nor any of our blankets have caught up with us yet. I considered borrowing Matt's quilt but, well, he was wrapped up so tightly at 4:45 am that I couldn't figure out how to quickly unroll the quilt without sending him flying into the closet or out the window.
While I'm deciding which Seto pottery pictures I can post without ruining any/someone's Christmas, you can duke it out for a taste of those choco-bana cookies featured the day before last. You get two shots at the cookies:
1) Name the sister-in-law mentioned in the first paragraph (voting for yourself is always appropriate per my mother).
2) Identify the offspring who went skiing without outerwear
Saturday, September 12, 2009
"Since the middle of July our distributors on the Miura Peninsula - primarily grocery and convenience stores - have been restocking their cookie shelves hourly to keep up with the incredible demand. Meiji responded to this opportunity by test-marketing a new flavor in early September. The response to choco-banana has exceeded our expectations by a wide margin, particularly in Yokosuka City where a middle-aged American woman has been spotted giving our cookies to security guards stationed at the entrances to the U.S. Navy base."
Friday, September 11, 2009
- The proprietor of Tanemura Antique Store is wrapping up Mary Jo's purchases, including a surprisingly charming carved wooden set of the Seven Gods of Fortune. She borrowed $50 to buy these guys and we hiked more than a mile uphill to get to the antique store, not to mention (oops, I just did) the hours of research and distillation I've devoted to sparing Mary Jo the anguish of confusing the Seven Gods of Fortune with the Chinese Kitchen Gods. This is what it must feel like to be a partial owner of an NFL team.
(NOTE TO EMMA: Copy and paste the next couple of paragraphs to Microsoft Word, print, and submit to your Religion teacher for extra credit. Not that you would ever need extra credit, but it never hurts to have some in the bank.)
Dante gave us the expression "in seventh heaven," my Catholic ancestors invented the seven deadly sins, the Brothers Grimm created the Seven Dwarfs, and we have Stephen Vincent Benet to thank for "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers." In Japan, a debt of gratitude is owed to the 17th Century monk Tenkai who created the Seven Gods of Fortune. Tenkai used one indigenous Japanese god, Ebisu, and imported three gods each from China and India to show the Shogun seven virtues Tenkai deemed essential.
Here comes my favorite part. The Seven Gods of Fortune (often referred to in English as the Seven Lucky Gods) are said to sail into Japan every New Year's Eve on their treasure ship to bring happiness to everyone. If you put a picture of the seven gods in their treasure ship under your pillow on the night of January 2nd and happen to have a lucky dream that night, you will be lucky for the rest of the year.
I take that back. This is my favorite part: the Seven Gods of Fortune cell phone charm. Now this is something I can fit into the Norfolk house and, more importantly, our budget.
Thursday, September 10, 2009
His travels this time will take him to several interesting countries, including one that neither of knew existed. Maybe it went by a different name the last time I crammed for a geography test. At any rate, I'll keep you posted on those port visits as they occur. I think we all have a general idea of the direction in which they're heading.
The Navy encourages families to "not just survive but THRIVE!" during deployments, a mantra no doubt coined by that clever person who names deployments. My plan for thriving includes exploring as many gardens as I can using "The Flower Lover's Guide to Tokyo" as inspiration, learning how to play Taiko drums so I can rationalize buying one at a shrine sale, visiting lots of shrine sales so I can find an old Taiko drum to practice on between lessons (it's a vicious circle), and poking my nose in every convenience store and 100 yen shop on the Miura Peninsula. Oh, and Tara's going to teach me how to knit so I probably need to check out all the yarn shops.
But don't worry. I am not going to let THRIVING get between me and making ice. All hobbies have their accoutrements, don't they? You give a kid a putter and the next thing you know he needs irons, woods, a golf bag, special shoes, tees, a gadget for replacing divots, one glove, lots of balls, etc. So it is with Ice Making: The Hobby. The ice schop I found at the 100 yen store last week will certainly make transferring cubes from the automatic ice-maker bin to ziploc bags faster and more efficient. And while I was there I picked up some more of those nifty plastic zippered cases. We thrive best when we're organized.
Tuesday, September 8, 2009
Black leggings seem to be a staple in the wardrobe of every Japanese female between the ages of 15 and 35 (although the upper range could be closer to 45 since Japanese women are blessed with a certain timelessness I can only envy).
They wear black leggings under shorts of every length, dresses, and diaphanous thigh-length tunics. This style looks especially fetching on women who weigh less than 90 pounds soaking wet.
Okay, not everyone wears leggings. But more wear leggings than don't and more wear hats than don't. And I think the latter is a key factor in that "timelessness" thing.
Saturday, September 5, 2009
Subject: After 1 Quarter . . .
Edgren 19, Kinnick 0
Sent: Fri Sep 04 20:14:25 2009
Subject: Re: After 1 Half . . .
32 - 0 :-(
Sent: Fri Sep 04 20:57:15 2009
Subject: Re: After 3 Quarters . . .
45 - 0
Sent: Fri Sep 04 later
Subject: Re: Final Score
51 - 0
Matt played well on KO team.
(Editor's Note: There is always a silver lining. Pat Conroy managed to support his family for a few years by writing the book My Losing Season about his senior year on the Citadel basketball team.)
Friday, September 4, 2009
It would be such a shame to let my Smithsonian training go to waste so this week I introduced my new tour, "Let's Explore a Japanese Grocery Store!" My hairstylist, Kumi, earned a big tip for helping me weigh the relative merits of the grocery store in the Daiei Mall and the one in the basement of Seiyu Department Store. From now on, though, I'm not going to raise any thorny questions until AFTER Kumi rinses out the color, at least from my eyebrows.
The first tour was for two hospital spouses who arrived in Japan this summer just a few weeks before the Navy moved their sponsor to another country. "I need something called mirin for a recipe I want to try," one of them said as she glanced at a list in her leatherbound organizer. "There are several ways to find what you need in a Japanese grocery store," explained the tour guide. "Allow me to demonstrate my two favorite methods."
- Tour guide positions herself in the center of an aisle, gazes steadily at the fourth shelf, furrows brow, and scratches head. Tour guide expects a nice Japanese lady to ask if she needs help but they all trip over each other to vacate the aisle, murmuring something that sounds a lot like "Why is Morticia Addams staring at the soba noodles?"
- Tour guide approaches a clerk stocking nearby shelves. "Sumimasen, mirin? Mee-ren? Mere-en? My-reen?" The clerk leads tour guide and hospital spouses to another aisle and points out 17 different varieties of mirin which comes in a bottle and looks an awful lot like urine.
Having instilled confidence in her charges, tour guide wanders around the store looking for something to buy because the final module of her tour, the Grand Finale if you will, is "Paying for Your Purchases" which requires a prop or two. What better prop than a box of mushroom-shaped cookies? Back home, without an audience, she takes another look at the cookies she bought.
Hmmm. This box seems a little larger than the ones I usually buy. It IS larger!
Why are these pictures posted sideways? I have no idea. I also don't know why I can't type next to the pictures today. Just touch your left ear to your left shoulder and keep looking. Did you notice that the mushroom caps are both brown and white on the box above?
I think I bought a Make Your Own Mushroom-Shaped Cookie Kit! Those look like little vials of white and regular chocolate, a mold, a bag of cookie stems, and a box.
Sorry, you missed it. I took two line spouses (line means regular Navy as opposed to doctors, dentists, lawyers, chaplains, and supply officers) on a tour Friday afternoon. One has lived in Japan for two years but (a) did not know there is a grocery store under Seiyu and (b) had never heard of mushroom-shaped cookies.
Thursday, September 3, 2009
Last night we had dinner with Yumiko and Jackie who will soon be moving to Spain for their next big Navy adventure. They took us to a wonderful Japanese restaurant in Kanondai near Yokohama, the sort of place I especially enjoy visiting with a Japanese native like Yumiko. We pigged out on tempura, sushi, and lemon pudding before I started launching into my usual sushi plate lecture - "Mike, you need to stack those plates in color order to make it easier for the waiter to total our bill!" - which Jackie politely interrupted with a reminder that we are in Japan where the waiters gracefully wave clever electronic gadgets along the side of the stack of plates and some mysterious computer eye differentiates between the various colors and prices. Jackie, by the way, is a native Oklahoman and has no idea why his Taiwanese parents chose to settle there. He and Yumiko met when he visited Japan as a student.
After we put Matt on the team bus for Misawa this afternoon, there's a 7th Fleet hail & farewell party on our agenda. Matt and his teammates will spend 12 hours on the road, sleep until noon, play Friday night football, and get back to Yokosuka early Saturday afternoon. Mike and one of his co-workers will catch a bullet train to Misawa right after their Friday morning briefing and should arrive in Misawa just in time for the opening kick-off. This will be their only opportunity to see their boys play all season so I hope it's a good game - or at least one with lots and lots of kick-offs.
I'm skipping the Misawa game. I need a little alone time to come up with a new wifely lecture now that the sushi plate stacking one is outdated.
Wednesday, September 2, 2009
By way of contrast, this sign shows the typical work week of a shore command here and back home.
The disparity in working hours might strike you as a bit unfair but the Navy is aware of this inequality and provides extra compensation for sailors assigned to sea duty. Mike's "sea pay" amounts to a whopping $100/month.
Just as I was skipping out the door to squander that bonus on mushroom-shaped cookies for you, Mike asked me for the checkbook. "I need to pay my monthly mess bill." "What's that?" "The Navy charges me $200/month for meals on the ship." Math wizard that I am, it took me less than a millisecond to calculate that this job is costing us $100/month. (One of us, of course, is delighted to be getting three square meals a day for the first time in years.)
If you happen to overhear someone questioning the price of freedom, you can tell them from me that it's $1,200/year.