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.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Not what I thought it was...

I thought it just made sense to buy a rice cooker while in Japan. So I looked them up on the trusty site because they are fast and one click away. Never mind that you can't read most of the website. The English part is simply the product name, the description and reviews etc. are in Japanese. So I ordered my rice cooker. I found it under rice cookers. I chose one without any buttons because I remembered a woman who told me she couldn't figure out which buttons to push because it was all in Japanese. I thought I was being smart. I didn't need any bells and whistles, just simply rice. It showed up at my door 2 days later. My parents were visiting at the time and so I gave it a go. Let's make lots o rice. I rinsed my Japanese rice, followed the water to rice ratio I found via google and plugged in the sucker. I expected nice sticky Japanese rice 20 minutes later. Hmm...more like 3 hours later. And it tasted awful. I thought, well maybe that's the way it was supposed to be, maybe I bought the wrong kind of rice. I studied the pictures in the user manual wondering what I could possibly have done wrong. I tried it again a week later. Same. I tried Basmati rice. Same. Gross.

I decided to bring the manual to Connor's preschool today to ask some Japanese moms to explain the directions to me. After a few minutes they looked at me with apologetic eyes and said, "It's not a rice cooker. I've never seen anything like this." I said, "Well, what is it then?" They said, "A rice warmer, for people who make a lot of rice." Ohhhhhh. That explains it. They asked how much I payed for it. 7,000 Yen. Ugh. They felt really sorry for me and said that when I do buy an actual rice cooker, with buttons, that they would come to my house and show me how to work it. So now, I am storing candy corns in the rice cooker,I mean warmer, because the kids would never think to look in there!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Hafa Adai!

Translation - Hello (pronounced HALF A DAY) in Chamorro, Guam's native language.

We took our first vacation to Guam for 4 nights. People told us it's a fast and easy trip because most vacation destinations take a good 6 or more hours. This trip was only a bit more than 3 hours, but if you include the time it took to get to the airport and go through all the immigration/customs time at least doubled. It's here when I missed Minneapolis and our quick 15 minute car ride to the airport. Instead, we hauled our bags down the street to the train station at 6AM and then changed trains with crabby kids and bags that barely rolled to arrive at the airport with a little over 2 hours. Apparently this was not enough time because after checking our bags the airport staff escorted us up to the front of the immigration line, some other line and then to the front at the gate for our boarding passes so we could make our flight. I thought it was because Jack worked for the airline, but he quickly corrected me and said when checking our bags it was obvious we weren't going to make it so they were kind enough to help us out - or maybe it was the boys running, screaming, and wrestling in the middle of the floor that was a red flag that we needed assistance.

Guam was a great getaway. It felt alot like our winter trips to Mexico from Minneapolis. The 'clubmates' here were great with the kids and there were plenty of activities to keep them entertained, including little lizard catching for Nicholas. The staff were really great whenever we lost a kid (even when we didn't know we lost one). We had one phone call to our room with Nicholas down at the desk looking for us and at least two other times staff returned our lost kids to us while we were sitting in lounge chairs - oops.

I got a little too excited about shopping at the Kmart up the street and even had 10 minutes in a Macy's to find some jeans and a sweater before the kids totally fell apart in the Micronesia Mall. The resort wasn't crowded, those here were mainly Japanese, Korean and Philippine. We did see one other school family from Tokyo, but due to the time of year it wasn't that crowded.

Okay - pretty much right after that last sentence Connor woke up crying in what seemed to be severe ear pain. It was about 10PM and we were due to leave on our flight back home the next day around 3, so I wasn't about to mess with ear infections and flying. I decided to check with the desk and see if there was a dr. on call. Nope. They suggested the ER, but said it would be a long wait. I had no other choice. The hotel was awesome and took us in the shuttle and told me to call when we were finished and they would pick us up. We got there and of course like any ER anywhere at 10PM it was packed. Thank god they spoke English in Guam as it made things a bit easier. Strangely enough it's flu season there. (I don't know for some reason, I didn't think there would be a flu season in a climate that was 80 degrees and sunny ALL the time.) Anyway, the waiting area was tiny and I felt like we were sitting in a sea of infectious diseases - ahhhh!!!!! Then came the insurance piece -what's our home address? Tokyo? Minneapolis? Billing address? Minneapolis? Tokyo? Ahhhhh? I had no idea how things were going to work - but they did, thank god. Connor decided that after we were waiting there for about half an hour that his ear didn't hurt anymore and he wanted to go home. I wasn't sure what that meant either...back to the hotel? Tokyo? Minneapolis? No way, we were sticking this out, so he cried and whined and carried on for some time. Poor little guy was exhausted. After a good 3 hours there we were done. The dr. saw him for about hmmm....2 minutes and sent us off with a prescription that they couldn't fill. Kmart, here I come...again. Unfortunately the bedside manner of the staff was next to nothing. Connor fell asleep and when he was called the guy to take his vitals pretty much said - hey ,wake up, get on the scale. And I'm pretty sure the dr. didn't crack a smile for Connor either. I realize it's the night shift and it's crazy in there, but I was so relieved to get out. Connor slept almost the entire flight home yesterday. Hurray.

Sunday, October 12, 2008


I have to admit that I have learned very little Japanese - some basics. I probably have about 20 words - which doesn't sound like much, but it works for now. If you have a map, a phrase book and can point, that is usually enough to get by.

So far, I can say-

Good morning
Good afternoon - you only say this AFTER 12 and not before
Good evening
Good bye
thank you
left, right and straight (for the taxi)
excuse me/sorry
four ( I haven't been able to get past four yet - and then there are two different fours depending on how they are used)
sushi - does this count?

So maybe not quite 20 - but I am getting there

We have 3 - I think - different doormen and I want to remember their names so in the morning on the way to the bus stop I can say Ohayo gozaimasu ( insert name,) but I forget almost immediately when I am told their name. (I know, I need to write them down). I had to ask Kate to ask the doorman (in Japanese) what his name was because these kids are smarter than me. I can count to 4, they can count to 100. I say, 'Me -Brigitte', they say, 'Watashi no namae wa Kate desu,' (I had to look up this translation). I don't need to take lessons, I just need to listen to my kids. Then there is Connor and I say to him, 'Connor, how do you say your name in Japanese and he says, 'Connor'.

Connor and I must go practice our flashcards.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Shift Happens

If you haven't seen this video yet, it's worth the 8 minutes. Tokyo International School (TIS) shared this with the parents at the start of a presentation about the curriculum they are using at the school. One thing they said that stuck with me was, "We are teaching your children and preparing them for jobs that don't exist yet." We are very impressed by the program at TIS. They are using the IB PYP - International Baccalaureate Primary Years Program. If you really want to know more about it, you'll just have to go to their website. I ain't got time. We are so fortunate to be able to give them this opportunity. Now, grab your coffee and watch. If you are like me you might want or need to watch it more than once. There's a lot of information.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Observations and Observation Deck

Judy and Jerry have come and gone. Jerry was here for 10 days, but my mom stuck it out for a few more. It was great to have them here, to share with them our 'new' life, but also remind them that the chaos of raising 3 children doesn't change just because you leave the country. I can't believe they put up with us that long! They got out alone enough, enough that as usual they had several recommendations for restaurants for Jack and me. In Minneapolis I would often consult them when we wanted to go out to dinner. It doesn't stop in Tokyo. So here after one of their nights out for dinner my mom came home and just said 'We're drunk.' My dad added, 'I think two stiff drinks and then a bottle of wine was probably too much.' Leave it to my mom and dad to show you a good time.

After my dad left, my mom was thrilled that we dragged her to the Tokyo Tower. She doesn't like heights and she doesn't go for the tourist attractions. Oh well. I have to agree with her...we can check that off the list. I think I enjoy the Tower far more from the ground. Kate even said, and I quote, "No offense, but it wasn't exactly what I expected." We still took plenty of photos, although the one below was just a screen for a photo op. And then there was the entertaining monkey and his trainer. That was the hit of the day. He was a riot! And sporting a Boston Red Socks Jersey. Funny.

My mom and I spent the last night at my favorite restaurant in Nishi Azabu - Cicada. I have been there 3 times now. I do have a question about the servers though. Both tonight and the other night when Jack and I were out a different restaurant, both servers waited on the tables of the clearly English speaking people. I wondered if there is a designated server at certain restaurants that gets 'our' tables.

To follow up on the oven dilemma...I emailed our apt. contact and they said that you can't adjust the temperature below 180 C, roughly 350 F. If it needs to be cooler cook with the oven door open! So, when I tried to cook Brownie batch #2, I was opening the door for 5 minutes, closing the door for 5 minutes, open, close, check temperature and on and on. But, I must admit, the brownies were better this time. However, I won't be making any souffles.

Not the real thing, but cute brotherly love

We are in Sanrio land. You can even get a Hello Kitty Vacuum, which I almost bought.
One of the cool shopping streets in Harajuku. Judy and I decided this is a street for people much younger than us.
As most Japanese restaurants display their plastic food items in the window, this was Wolfgang Puck and I thought the plastic hamburgers and fries were interesting. The problem with these displays is that rather than entice me with the food it usually turns me off.

View of the Tokyo Tower before we went up. It is the most beautiful at night, especially when you are on the 42nd floor of some building looking at it all lit up and having a wonderful dinner and forgetting that you are going broke while eating a green salad for 2600 Yen ( You should know the exchange by now ~$26). But look at the Tower Jack...

Can you tell Judy-gram is having a really good time up in the Tower?

A moment when the kids weren't complaining of being tired or hungry, must have been right when we got off the elevator

Post Tower entertainment

This picture is more about the trainer's hair. The young men seem to take their hair very seriously here - a lot of hair, product and time seems to be going on with their heads. I have been studying them on the subway. The people watching is unending and always interesting.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Food Glorious Food

In the larger Department Stores the basements are filled with vendors selling all sorts of food. It just goes on and on and on. There aren't places to sit, it's just a take-out sort of thing. It's amazing. I don't know how the Japanese stay so tiny when they have display cases filled with these desserts! And then there is the wrapping of the goods you purchase. That in and of itself is often special. But look at these desserts! These cases are everywhere. There are a lot of Japanese vendors, but you will also find a great deal of international foods. Some of them offer samples - my Dad was all over that, no matter what it looked like. My mom and I wondered if it might be a faux pas to eat and walk with our gelato in hand. If it was and people were talking about us, we would never know anyway. Those Americans! You never see anyone walking and eating - anywhere. These places are a sight to see and salivate over. Yum.

Birthday Part (y) 2

We survived our first Karaoke experience far better than I would have imagined. Jack was in rare form. This photo was a tame one. It was still early. He was out of his seat plenty playing air guitar and singing more than I have ever heard him sing in the 14 years that we've been together. My camera battery died, so I only have the two pictures, but our friends will pass some along and I'll post what I can. This place had several private rooms. There was a phone in the room to place orders and when we asked our waitress if it would work if we ordered in English, she replied - maybe. Ha! It apparently worked because for the next several hours food and drinks were unending and it didn't take long for people to argue over the mics. The round of tequila shots that Chris ordered at the start of the night didn't hurt either. We sang everything from Elvis to Beck to High School Musical (well, not us, but Tracey and her husband Brenden sang a duet), Madonna, Steve Miller Band, Coldplay and all other others I of course can't remember. There were a few new artists that our Australian friends and S. African friends sang for us in there too. A good time was had by all and definitely a requirement for anyone that visits us here in Tokyo - even if it just to see Jack let loose.