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.