Sunday, December 28, 2008

The new neighbors

I learned from the English speaking doorman that a new family with three children was moving into the vacant apartment on our floor. I had high hopes that it would be another expat family with three children, the same ages and genders of our kids and that they would attend the same school, although it would be okay if they went someplace else. I can hope right? I then learned that they were Japanese - sigh. But, their nameplate was in English unlike all the other Japanese families whose nameplates were in character form. Maybe they were Japanese American. The movers came, no sign of the people. Then we saw a kid's bike, looked like Nicholas's size - red, a boy maybe? Okay, now I would just be happy if a boy Nick's age moved in. We wait.

Today the doorbell rang. The family came by to say hello. They came bearing gifts- a nice assortment of cookies from the bakery down the street. You see in Japan, when a new family moves into the building they bring you something. Now that's one tradition that just doesn't make sense. Why should they have to go to the trouble? I did explain to them that we do just the opposite in America (or well, some people do). Then I felt badly because I hadn't brought them anything. But in all honesty, I wasn't even sure they were living there yet, all we had seen were their things. No noise, nothing.

They were very sweet and obviously spoke English. Hooray! By their side were two little ones, a 6 year-0ld girl, and a boy about 18 months. They also had a 2 month-old boy. Oh well. Yes, I am a little disappointed. The genders were the right order, unfortunately, they were just 4 years behind us. They came from a nearby Tokyo neighborhood and moved to be closer to the girl's school. Before that they lived in Hong Kong and Singapore, so they are familiar with the expat life. I imagine I will see the mom around a bit, and maybe even become friends, who knows. At least I'll have someone I can ask to explain my rice cooker to me. I did buy one, and this time it is actually a rice cooker.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Tokyo Disneyland

Let's just start at the end. On the subway home Jack asks me, "So what kind of drink are you going to have when we get home? Vodka and tonic? I think I may just go straight for the whiskey. Yes, after a day at Disneyland we were shot. No surprise there, but I did have my fantasies if only for a while. I don't need to tell anybody how well the kids did or didn't do. Yes, I am glad we went. Yes, they drove me nuts. No, it was not magical.
Although I know I can't complain about the weather when those of you in the midwest and east are having stormy weather; windy and cold does not make for an enjoyable time at Disneyland. I saw 60 in the forecast. When we left fantasyland it was raining, windy and hmm below 40? Despite the miserable weather as we ducked in and out of shows and rides we were able to warm up and gear up for another bone chilling time waiting in line.
One attraction put us in our own special line because we needed English translation. As we got closer to the entrance we were separated from the Japanese in our own roped off corner against a wall with a handful of other English speaking people. Then we were told we had to sit in the second to last row where we would have our own headphones speaking English. That felt a bit odd. Why not the middle row, why not the last row? No, the second to last row. Our last ride was Space Mountain, an excellent choice for all. Connor was a trooper. We put him in the front with me and he didn't make a sound, possibly because I couldn't hear him over my own screaming, but he was smiling and not crying at the end. Probably shock.
We tried to time this visit to Disneyland before the Japanese were out of school. It really never matters where you go in Tokyo - it's always really crowded. This is something I will tolerate for our time here, but not something that I enjoy every time we go on a family outing. Even when it's 'not crowded', it's crowded. And all day it looked like it was going to rain. All I could think of was, 'Where are all the people going to go when these skies opened up?'
I thought Disneyland at Christmas would be great, all the lights, decorations, music. It would make up for a little something we were missing from home this year. But the Japanese wishing us a Mawry Christmaaaas didn't quite do it. An A+ for effort though...so very merry! Each Christmas performance was bright and colorful and I could sing along although they were signing Rudolph in Japanese, I was singing in English.
So when you are done with the exciting, but exhausting day you get the kids into the car and they all fall asleep on the way home. Oh yeah, 2 subways and a 1 train before we arrive at our doorstep. Maybe I shouldn't be writing this post 3 hours after we got home when things are still so raw. But yes, we had to do it. Yes, I had unrealistic expectations. Yes, I will still have hope the next time we venture out into Tokyoland after I recover in about a month. It's kinda like having a baby, if you allow enough time to pass you forget all the pain that you felt while going through it and you are willing to do it all over again. Okay, I realize that's a little extreme.
Windy, before it got cold...Connor is behind me
I was so close to buying a hat like Kate's - and I certainly wouldn't have been the only adult.


Freezing! Swiss Family Robinson house - the only attraction NOT crowded - because it was up in the trees and everyone else was smarter than us knowing how cold and windy it was up here! Scary skies.

The people and the tree and the people.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Paranoia

Jack is in Saigon for the week. Nicholas was home sick today. Kate was home sick last week and as stated in a previous post Connor the week before that. I took Kate to the doctor, but decided to save the cash and buy boots instead of taking Nicholas to the doctor. Well, that's not entirely true. But, Nick's symptoms were more like Kate's and she didn't have strep so I thought, 'What's the point? Let him ride it out." And then I won't feel too badly about buying another pair of boots in a city who considers 40 degrees 'cold.' We certainly don't miss Minneapolis these days. It's plain nasty there. Now, as I get ready to crawl into bed I begin to think, 'Am I getting sick? What if I start throwing up? What if I can't get out of bed in the morning? Seriously? Who will pack the kids' lunches because I won't be able to look at food or I'll barf. Who will bike Connor to school and pick him up? What if I have to go to the hospital? All of these thoughts start terrorizing my brain. Yes, I have friends who could help, but it's still different than home, we are still newbies and relationships are young. So, I cross my fingers, drink lots of water and tell myself everything will be fine. I'll just wait to get sick when Jack gets back, just in time for the scariest 25 days of my life...the kid's holiday break. It will be fun. It will be fun. It will be fun.

Friday, December 12, 2008

O Christmas Tree


We have always had a fresh Christmas tree. Even when we bought it at Home Depot - it was fresh. I vowed never to have an artificial tree. That had to change, but only while in Tokyo. In the parking lot at the market they put up signs that announced fresh trees were coming from Oregon. I held my breath, I knew they would be expensive. They arrived. I walked by and glanced at the price. I looked again and again...how many numbers were in that price? That first one must be a dollar sign. Oh, we are in Japan, the Yen character is at the end. They were actually asking about 20,000 to 50,000 Yen - move your decimal and then some, given the dollar to the Yen these days. Thank you, but I will not be paying 200 dollars for a 3 foot tree, much less 500 for a 6 footer. Instead, we brought our tree home in a box and decorated it with origami, however the star must go or possibly be replaced.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

This one is for the ladies...okay not just the ladies

It was girl's night out last night. So far, that usually means a group of at least 8, half of which I don't usually know - but who really cares when the restaurant you are dining at has this hanging from the ceiling? With lights for the holidays no less! My friend Tracey, from Australia, made a reservation for 12, but 2 had to cancel. She tried to change the reservation that morning and they wouldn't let her, they said she would have to pay the set menu price for them. Then one other woman had to back out, so of course she had to pay as well. Funny thing was they still brought out 12 of everything! 12 bowls of soup, 12 servings of food, 12 bowls of almond jelly for dessert (no thank you) even 12 glasses at the start for our beers. This continued throughout the evening until our time apparently was up at about 10PM when they basically told us we had to leave and began to take away our partially consumed glasses of beer. The Japanese have their rules for a reason. It seemed so absurd I could hardly be upset. Of course on the way out I was the only one who had to take a picture of the Golden Penis.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Kamakura

The crazy pigeons were happy to perch on your arm, shoulder or head. See the quick clip below. This was a highlight for the kids. Forget the history lesson.
The Big Buddha 2nd largest in Japan


There were so many little girls in Kimono - each one so beautiful. We couldn't figure out what the ceremony was for but they loved getting their picture taken.












When I first considered taking Jack up on the move to Tokyo my fear was the big city - drowning among all the people. I lived in Chicago for 7+ years, but we had our neighborhoods that kept it small. In Tokyo I was anxious about getting around on the trains packed with people. I sometimes suffer from a bit of claustrophobia in crowded situations - weak knees, fear of blacking out, sweating and so on. How would I survive this? I was pleasantly surprised to find out that most of the time the trains are not packed, not even full unless of course you are travelling during rush hour. Those hours I am still a little unclear about - 8, 9, 12, 5, 7? In any case I can find a seat eventually or at least space to grab a hanger. The kids always freak out if there are not 4 seats in a row for me to sit next to all of them (I realize this is not possible with two sides of me and 3 children, just another reason 2 is easier than 3) - usually there is an argument and a tantrum during those times. The Japanese often move for us, or away from us.

We did have one unforgettable train experience. We were warned. It can get really busy at some of the tourist spots on the weekends, especially when there is a Japanese holiday involved. Jack's parents were visiting and we took a day trip to Kamakura to see the Big Buddha. Once in Kamakura we had to take a smaller train to get to the area where the Buddha sat. There were lines to get on this train. We watched as the train attendant literally pushed people in so he could close the door. Their bags and faces were smashed into the glass. Then it was our turn. Because we were the first to get on we were pushed back, back, back. Connor and Nick started to cry and scream, "Mommy, help!!!' I was afraid that the boys would be stepped on. Somehow I got them close to me but had no room to pick them up off the floor. I had to assume Jack had Kate and that his parents were on there somewhere. Although I had no where to fall, I also had nothing to hold on to, so this guy that we were talking to on the platform, a University student, put his arm around me to give me some leverage. This train torture lasted about 4 minutes. For the record, this trip was not my idea.



Here are those wild birds at the Shrine. A little creepy if you ask me.



video

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Doctor, Doctor

We have made it over 3 months without having to see a doctor. That is with the exception of the Guam ER visit, but I don't count that - technically that's US. Connor unfortunately was burning up yesterday and then complaining of his forehead hurting as well as a sore throat. I gave him a day - no improvement. I want him to go back to school on Friday. He has been home now for 3 days (he's not in school t/th) and Jack is in Hong Kong this week so he needs to be back at school tomorrow before the weekend - I need him to be back at school tomorrow before the weekend. So, I wanted to get him in asap this morning in the event it's strep and he needs antibiotics. Where to take him?!? I have been asking other expats about their experiences and it seems to come down to two places, both carry a variety of opinions. Today, I picked the one that is 110 steps from my house (I counted) over the taxi ride to the clinic across from the Tokyo Tower. This one, however, is quite a bit more expensive compared to other international clinics. But today convenience trumps cost.

We left our apt. two minutes before the appointment time. Super. Upon arrival we were expected to take off our shoes and put on the supplied slippers before entering the clinic. This is the Japanese way and I had only experienced it in people's homes, so it was a bit of a surprise. The kid's slippers are basically vinyl and Connor did not like the way they fit and refused to wear them. I didn't know what the 'rules' were so I carried him in only to notice there were plenty of other people and adults in stocking feet.

The staff were really great with him, everyone spoke Engrish. They took his temp in the waiting room and it was 37.5. I was a bit startled and looked at the nurse asking, "Is that good?" She took it back to her desk and quickly returned with the Fahrenheit conversion. Just a low grade fever. The doctor then saw him right away. We went into his office, he was already there. Much better than sitting with your sick child in the room for a half an hour waiting for the doctor. After the 5 minute exam we waited for the strep culture and sure enough it was positive. I was relieved only because I knew the antibiotics would take care of this quickly. So the visit took all of 45 minutes door to door with antibiotics in hand. Never mind how much we paid. It was worth every Yen.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Sushi 101

What a great opportunity to have our children at international schools. Their friends and teachers come from all over the world. It was the number one selling point when deciding whether or not to take this job opportunity. But, there are also perks to being a parent of a child attending an international school. We are offered the chance to take classes or go on tours around the city, have someone explain a Japanese grocery store; there is always something to sign up for. I signed up for an informal cooking class organized through the social committee at Connor's preschool. Three Japanese moms demonstrated how to make a few simple, (there is nothing simple about making sushi rice) kid-friendly, Japanese foods. It was a great experience as we were in the comforts of someone's home and the moms/instructors were super.

In order to remember the necessary ingredients I learned to take pictures, so that when I am at the grocery store I break out the camera and look at the pictures to make sure I pick out the right item from the shelf. Someday I hope to be able to recognize the characters and figure it out, but for now I will rely on the camera. I have also learned that once you find some Japanese food item you want again, you simply bring the packaging with you to the store. Seems obvious, but I wouldn't have thought of that little trick on my own. It reminds me of working with my special education students and bringing them with their pictures to the grocery store. Let's just hope I don't throw a tantrum when I can't find what I am looking for. It's these pieces of information that we gain from others who have been here even a few months longer than us to help make day to day life manageable.

Below you will see the women 'fanning' the sushi rice to cool it down before handling it. Next, I am a little stressed as I press the rice onto the nori, but at the same time trying not to smoosh it, just move it across - really not possible. And finally, a much easier task - squeezing rice into a ball or triangle (onigiri) with salmon flakes in the middle and then punching out nori shapes to make it kid friendly. Unfortunately, Nicholas and Connor couldn't be fooled.


Friday, November 28, 2008

Food and Fortune

Jack's parents are here and we had a chance to sightsee for a day sans kids. They all had school, so Jack took the day off. We visited an older part of Tokyo called Asakusa. I read about getting your fortune at the Temple for 100Yen. I was game. I threw my coins in a slot, shook a metal box until a wooden stick came out. Of course I watched a Japanese guy do this first before I attempted it. On your stick are some Japanese characters which you then match to one of the drawers you see behind me. You open the drawer and pull out the piece of paper with your fortune. Mine read #3 Bad Fortune Luck. This ought to be good. As I read it, it just kept getting worse, so I'll give a few highlights:
First sentence, 'Although you do your best and sincerity to others, it's useless just like burning incense to the sky.' Great. There's more. 'Your wishes will not be realized. Making a trip will not be good. Building a new house and removal are both half fortunate.' I am doomed.
Here I just read the part of my fortune that said, 'Marriage or employment must be stopped.' And then, 'The person you are waiting for will show up after a long while!'

When people are unhappy with their fortune, they tie them on these bars. Mine was too funny to hang.




The Sensoji Temple in Asakusa - the oldest in the world ( I think I read that), built in the 7th century although this one needed some rebuilding post WWll.


Here is our lunch - literally. We went to a Japanese sushi place where all the food passes by you on a conveyor belt and you take what you want. Maybe these are in the states, but I never ate much sushi before, well, I still don't. I am really trying, but I ate the sushi with the fermented bean something and almost gagged, and all I had to wash it down with was hot green tea - so green - green like the grinch green. You can watch a little video down below, not of me gagging. When you finish one plate you stack another plate of food on top of it. When you are finished they use some gizmo with one click that calculates how much you ate. I had four plates, most Japaneses were pushing stacks of 10 or more. Baby steps. It's only been 3 months.

By the way, I thought the tank of fish was for decoration, then I watched them scoop out the fish. We didn't see how they altered the fish before it passed by us nicely filleted over some rice.





You know what your plate of food costs based on the plate it sits on - see wall hanging. I think the woman was not happy I was taking a picture of her.


video

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Engrish

My friend Sarah in Minneapolis brought the website engrish.com to my attention. It's quite funny. The Japanese don't use 'l's'. They replace the sound with an 'r'. Jack and I were ordering drinks the other night and I asked the server what was in a Gin and lime from the menu. She looked confused and then said,' Gin and rime?' I am laughing while I am typing because it is kind of comical, not in a rude way of course. Instead of Hello - they say, Haro. Sometimes it sounds a bit like you are talking to Scooby-do. Ruh-oh.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Aveda

I decided my hair was driving me nuts and as women we know the minute that happens you can't get to the salon fast enough. I knew of two people that tried the Aveda salon next to our building that had okay experiences, so I went ahead and made an appointment. Why I was nervous I had no idea - it was a hair cut for crying out loud and if it didn't turn out as I wanted it to, my hair would grow back. I check in at the desk and they said I had to go back outside and downstairs, I thought it was because I wasn't Japanese. I never figured out why, they cut hair upstairs as well. I had a few pictures picked out from a Japanese hair magazine and showed it to my person. I had no idea how much English she could speak. I was showing her layered short cuts, she said 'bob.' I said, 'Yes, but with long layers." as I am touching my hair and trying to show her what I mean.

Another woman then escorted me to the hair washing station and after a lot of gentle adjusting, hot towels and covers she began to massage my scalp - which I thought was just a really nice shampoo. But after 15 minutes or more she applied the shampoo. Bonus. I could now justify the cost of this haircut as it wasn't just a haircut, I also got a massage. Almost a half an hour later she thanked me gracefullyand gave me a little bow, "Arigato." They do that. They thank you for EVERYTHING, even if you should be thanking them for their service. Where can the US get some of that?

Next, the chopping chair. We agreed on a length - don't need to speak Japanese to do that. She finished and yes, I had a 'bob'. I said, "Hmmm, layers? more layers?And again started grabbing the ends of my hair." I imagine I looked a little worried. She brought over another woman for me to explain what I wanted. She said 'Ah, no layers, ah, your hair too thin.' I said, 'Thin? No. Hair thick. Something at the bottom, not straight...texture, long layer...' If I return to the states and don't speak in full sentences, please be patient. So we agreed on something, I don't know what, but she spent another half hour snipping at this angle and that. I was happy, maybe I didn't look like the picture, but we never do.

As I went over my experience with some seasoned expats, they recommended Fabio at another salon. He'll do a fabulous job, speak English and he's easy on the eyes. I'll bring my camera.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Our backyard







I have to assume this is the Japanese Maple





Connor and I were at Arisugawa Park today, the one right across from the apartment. I was wondering if the trees were going to change colors and I was pleasantly surprised. It finally feels like fall here, albeit still on the warm side most days. So Connor and I were up by the playground and somebody starts talking over a loudspeaker, in Japanese. I wondered if maybe there was an emergency, like an earthquake, although I didn't feel a tremor and no one seemed alarmed, so I waited. And as usual after this woman spoke for a good 30+ seconds she said one brief sentence in English. "Please take your dog's droppings from the park."



Sunday, November 16, 2008

Domo Arigato Mr. Roboto

In order to survive each weekend with the kids home from school in the apartment, we are learning how to pass the time in our new city. Yes, there is so much to do, but really only so much you want to do with 3 kids in tow - particularly our 3 kids. Today I decided that we were going to the Miraikan Museum of Science and Technology. When I suggested this to Nicholas (the one who would seem to enjoy this the most), I got the typical response, "I don't want to go! Do we have to take the subway? Can we take a taxi?" Ahhhh!!!! But, after figuring out the number of subway transfers and time it would take (Jack calculated one of his mini spreadsheets), Nicholas won. Yes dear, we are going to take a taxi. I always forget though, that I am the one who gets to sit crammed in the back with the kids and Jack rides up front - cause, uh, yeah, I'm so much smaller? So, yes, the museum. We are in Japan - where they basically invent everything - so we had the opportunity to see a demonstration of Honda's robot ASIMO. There was a note listed for certain programs at the museum saying, 'You can still enjoy this program even if you don't speak Japanese.' I thought that was funny. For the planetarium show, I'd have to disagree, but for ASIMO, definitely. It was incredible. See for yourself.


video video

Friday, November 14, 2008

Potatoes instead of Apples







While some of your kids took a field trip to the the apple orchard this fall, Connor's preschool took them potato digging at a tiny local family farm.
Alright, that large vegetable is not a potato. It's called a daikon (sp?), it's part of the radish family. I donated ours to the school. What was I supposed to do with that? Gretchen, don't answer that question.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Repair work


I just wanted to follow up on the water leak damage from a while back. They sent someone to clean a spot on the rug from the leak. They worked on this little quarter size spot that is otherwise covered by the ottoman for an hour I think! It still didn't come all the way out, and I tried to tell them that really it was okay...had they seen the rest of the cream colored carpet? It's now polka dotted from the children, so it really was okay, I didn't care about the stain. At the same time I didn't want to offend their efforts. Very tricky.

A week later they came back to repair a stain on the ceiling. Everything in these apts are wallpapered including the ceiling. So, they needed 3 hours to take down a section and put up new wallpaper - or ceiling paper. Again, they are so polite and apologetic and there are usually 3 or 4 men accompanying the job: the worker, the supervisor, the guy from the rental company and the doorman (mostly for translation, I think). When they showed up to repair the ceiling - they brought a gift to apologize for the inconvenience. Seriously! They hand to us this tin of cookies, nicely packaged with thick wrapping paper and gold twine...all because they were fixing something for us and had to be in our way - although they never were. It felt very awkward. But, after I bit into one of these flaky, sugary, buttery leaf-shaped confections I was grateful for the Japanese way.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Obama




Okay, so people ask, "So what was it like being in Tokyo for the election? What was the reaction?Did you vote?"

Yes, we both voted. After we had our ballots emailed to us, Jack took them back to the states in October while on a business trip and put them in the mail, just to be safe. We had an invitation to go to the US Embassy to watch the returns. We were really excited about this. I asked a few Americans if and where they were going to watch the results. Surprisingly enough, I didn't receive the enthusiasm I would have otherwise expected. Some were off to school to volunteer, some were going to a party, no one I talked to was going to the Embassy.

We considered going to a Democrats Abroad party, but from what we could tell online the tix were sold out. So we headed to the Embassy. There was a long line, but interestingly enough it was not filled with Americans. It was almost all Japanese. Hmm. Not what we expected at all. So after a long wait for obvious security reasons we were in. There were Americans there, but still far outnumbered by the Japanese. There were a lot of students who we figured were there for the experience. They were holding a mock election and had some trivia game going on while we watched the large screen with CNN. After about an hour, we decided we would rather be at home watching this unfold. So, the Embassy was a bit of a let down, or simply not what we expected, but that all really didn't matter in the end. Instead on my couch at home, I was in tears pretty much the rest of the time. We didn't bother searching for the Japanese news, duh, because it's not in English, so you really couldn't get a sense in that way. After Obama's speech I left the apt. to take care of something at the bank just down the street. It was the strangest thing because although I didn't expect to 'see' anything or 'hear' anything out my front door, it was as if nothing monumental had just happened. I walked down the street searching for someone who looked American, just to see if they looked affected. I realize that's a bit strange, but again it was one of those desperate moments in this foreign land. Did this really just happen? Or was I dreaming? This was of course a time that I wished we were at home in Minneapolis. Incredible.

The next day, Jack brought home 3 newspapers - each with Obama's face on the front page. That was reassuring. I'll post those pics when he returns from Saigon with the camera. Yeah, just a little business trip for him. Maybe next time I'll get to go!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

One serious manicure

No, these are not my hands. My friend Sue and I were at a florist in Azabu Juban and saw this woman -actually we never really looked at her face, just her hands! I had to ask her for a picture and as you can see, she was probably some kind of manicure model. She has fruit on her fingernails!
Connor is standing in front of one of our neighbor's parking spots. This guy has two of these yellow banana mobiles and the white sporty Honda. We are not sure exactly how they work, however he does wear a helmet when he takes them out for a spin. Our parking spot is full of bikes.




This is another neighbor's spot. They have some elaborate alarm system with some sort of AstroTurf on the top of the car and a sensor thing as well. Nice car.

I am crazy when the kids ride their bikes into or out of the garage for fear that they will run into one of these cars.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Yes, they do celebrate Halloween in Tokyo

Halloween is pretty big here. The stores are decked out in pumpkin decorations and they were selling pumpkins at the Market near our house. However, this is the first year we didn't have/carve a pumpkin. A small one was going for 12 - couldn't even carve the thing. There was also a giant one on display for 25, 000 Yen (250 smackers), didn't buy that one either. Next year, I'll plant them in our window box. We did celebrate with 5 other families from the kid's school and followed them through the designated trick-or-treating neighborhood. We live in an area called Minami Azabu, but the place to be and get treats was Moto Azabu and Nishi Azabu, just on the other side of Arisugawa Park. We wandered in, out and around little back streets while apartment buildings set up shop with decorations and bowls of candy to hand out to passersby. It got a little scary trying to keep track of everyone. As always we - uh - lost track of Connor - that third child thing...We did have a chance to go to an actual house, through a Japanese entrance, into a beautiful garden and perched up on this little hill was this beautiful home, right out of a magazine. It's these little treasures that are everywhere and you don't even know it. Although the kids didn't come away with 10 pounds of candy it was just as well. They ate their way through the streets and then wondered why their tummys hurt. As for the pictures below, they are completely out of order as I still don't know how to arrange them once they are uploaded.
One stop trick-or-treating



Typical displays at a florist


TAC (Tokyo American Club)Party on the 25th



TAC Party




Taking the bus to the TAC Halloween Party








One of the stops during Trick or Treating in the neighborhood



Kate and Nick at our apartment






Some of the gang we went out with on Halloween





The end of Halloween night - quick rest at somebody's house on the walk back home









Thursday, October 30, 2008

Brigitte's new vehicle

The new bike

The parking lot in front of our building

The sweet owners of the bike shop
The Azabu Cycle shop

I was really excited, but anxious to purchase my new bike. Many people told me about this tiny little bike shop near our apt. Jack tried it on a Saturday, but it was closed and he couldn't figure out why. I went the following week and fortunately they were open. There was a very sweet woman and a man (maybe husband and wife? forgot to ask) running the shop. She spoke litttle English and the man translated quite well. I pointed to a bike and she said, no - and pointed to a different one. I said okay, that one. They showed me a catalog because I couldn't take one off the floor - and we agreed on silver. Fifteen minutes later the man tells me no silver in Tokyo, so I said any color, really it doesn't matter. He smiled and nodded but still waited for me to pick a color. I pointed to white. I was in luck. She asked if I wanted a motor - which are very popular, but I said no. I ride bikes, I can handle this - I don't need a motor. I had no idea. How about speed? no speed? 3 speed? 6 speed? I picked 3. My new bike doesn't have a chain, it has a rubber thing in the chain's place - she told me, No oil, good. Okay, fine. I requested a child seat on the back, no problem. Bonus, the child seat converts into a second basket when he is not in it. It also came with a light, built in lock and one serious kickstand in the back. So before they ordered it for me I took the floor model out to try it on for size. Watch out! I was outta control. These bikes are insane to steer. How do these women do this with a kid on the front, a kid on the back, some with bags dangling off the sides and to top it off, they wear heels? I am sure the shop owners were having a mighty good laugh at my expense.
The woman filled out the receipt and pointed out this cost and that cost - seat, kickstand, registration, etc...and I just went along - fine, fine. I could pick up my new bike in the next couple of days. That was excellent. When I returned to pick it up I handed them my credit card, but it didn't work. I handed them my other credit card and then she was on the phone saying who knows what for a good 10 minutes and finally conveyed to me I had to call my card company. Unfortunately with the credit card fraud software my cards often get blocked given that we are making a gazillion purchases in Asia even though we have called them and noted we are living here. Jack was out of town that week and left me with a wad of cash, so I able to give them about 50,000 Yen. They let me take the bike and I could return with the difference. It rained for two days straight, so I didn't go back until that Saturday, but it didn't seem to mind.

So now I learn to ride...again. I put Connor on the back and I was terrified. People ride mostly on the sidewalks which are narrow and crowded, so you stop a lot and I drag my feet and when I start up again I am weaving all over just waiting to crash into something or someone. I know it will get easier, but right now it's a little stressful. Connor seems to enjoy it, he wants me to go down the big hill from his school. In time little buddy, in time. Keep that helmet strapped on tight.