Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Mommy, why is that man lying down on the ground at our bus stop?

Hmmm...so how do I explain that some Japanese business men drink until complete obliteration, simply fall down and can't get up - even on a school night. We arrived at the bus stop today to see a well dressed young man wobbling in the arms of 3 police men. And unfortunately, this was the second time the kids observed this situation at the bus stop. The first time they found a man's shoe at our bus stop and then realized it belonged to the guy lying on the bench across the street. We delivered it via the police officers who were trying to shake the guy to consciousness. The kids have seen the homeless on the street, although it's not common around our neighborhood, but these guys clearly aren't homeless - just extremely intoxicated. And the people on the street? They just walk on by. Nobody stops, no one stares. Nobody seems to care.

This time, the disturbing part was that after a few moments of drunk guy standing with the police officers, they simply moved him to a bench out of the way of the busy sidewalk. He passed out again and the officers drove off. I couldn't cover up my surprise in front of the kids except to say that clearly he was harmless, needed to sleep it off and probably wasn't going to make it to work today. Kate made some comment about how that doesn't happen to daddy and I when we drink alcohol. Yes, Kate, that is true, but I would be lying if I said there weren't nights that I thought Jack might end up losing his way after a late night at Heaven.

Monday, September 28, 2009

In all fairness to the Japanese, I thought I would post this...it's not just the Japanese falling down drunk - the gaijin do it as well. No, it's not Jack, although it could pass for him. This is however, a Saturday night around 1AM in Roppongi and this guy is probably just resting before he finishes his night at the next bar.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Beijing - Celebrities and Stitches

We spent four days in Beijing while Japan celebrated 'Silver Week,' another string of holidays which also meant a couple of days off for the kids, yeah, because my kids have been in school so much already!
The Great Wall was first on our list. Unfortunately it was foggy that day, so half of the experience was lost because we couldn't see beyond the tower in front of us, but nevertheless it was still incredible.
Day two took us to The Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square. Before we left, people told us the Chinese would like our kids and their blonde hair. I had no idea how much they would like them. We were used to people staring at us in Tokyo, but here in China the moment we were off the train and heading for the Forbidden City, people began to tap us on the shoulder and ask us if they could take a picture of the kids - mostly Connor, the baby, they would call him. But, whenever one family took a picture, another jumped in and then asked for a turn. Eventually, we just decided to keep moving because we were never going to get to see anything. The Chinese would simply stop and stare - at us. Sometimes they would point and count and ask, 'All yours?' And I would nod and smile and they looked quite surprised. This happened several times. Kate was the most agreeable for pictures until we told Connor and Nicholas they could earn points towards toys at the Silk Market if they cooperated and let people take their photo.

I think there are three different families snapping pictures in this one.

These guys chose to bribe Nick and Connor with a Chinese flag for a group shot.

Really now, we are just the Malones from Minneapolis!
Many people approached us asking if we needed a tour guide. One in particular wouldn't leave us alone. Eventually she gave up on us. As luck would have it we only made it to The Forbidden City and replaced Tiananmen Square with a trip to the local hospital. While Jack was waiting in line for tickets Connor attempted to scale a wall only to reach up and grab onto a loose slab of brick/marble which then came crashing down onto his head. I grabbed him and tried to soothe his pain when Kate starts yelling, 'Mom! He's bleeding all over!' I didn't want to look, I am not good with blood or open wounds. But sure enough his hair was soaked in blood so I carefully moved it around to see a small gash that probably required stitches. This is a first for our family. We made it almost 10 years without stitches or broken bones and here we are in China breaking our lucky streak. So of course by now we had a circle of concerned people around us. The blonde baby was bleeding. And, the woman who wanted so badly to be our tour guide was now going to get what she wanted. She would escort us to the hospital and get us through the translation nightmare we were about to encounter. There was a sense of calm having Lily, our tour guide, present. I quietly reminded Jack that he would be compensating her for her troubles and then some. We couldn't do this without her.
Upon arriving at the hospital, it was very quiet and empty. This was good for us, no waiting, but was a but unsettling at the same time. They lead us to a doctor who looked at the wound and he then took us to another doctor who was sitting in his office - uh - having a smoke! He was was the who was going to 'operate'. I just hoped he was going to wash his hands. And when Kate and I went to the bathroom - no soap. I asked Lily and the doctor, "Will they numb him up before they stitch him up?" They hesitated and then said 'yes', but I wasn't sure they knew what I meant. Next stop was the 'operating room', basically a little room with a small screen. It felt like something from the 50's. They proceeded to take Connor and leave me behind. Thankfully he went willingly and I simply tried to hold it together outside the door. Lily looked at me and said, 'It's okay Ma'am, your baby be fine.' Lump in my throat.
We heard Connor cry a bit, but overall he was amazing, a brave little boy. They covered the stitches with a piece of gauze and a couple of paper clips. It looked more like a hair accessory. Then they handed us two vials of medicine. It took several minutes for us to understand what we were supposed to do with them, should he drink them? Should we apply them onto the stitches? Oh no, we were to take them downstairs to the nurses in the 'Transfusion Room' where he would get a couple of shots. The first was in the wrist to test for an allergic reaction. The second was the antibiotic in his rear end. Neither went over very well with Connor and there was a lot of screaming and holding down. There were a couple of men in the room with IVs of some sort. I assume we helped them to pass the time with our chaos. We were in the hospital for maybe a total of an hour. Jack paid the bill - $15.00. Unbelievable, so that's Nationalized Health-care.
Connor - a little cleaned up before the stitches.

Recovering in the Transfusion Room.

This photo is just to say we made it back to the Forbidden City, post-op.

Day 3 (yes, these are out of order)
The Summer Palace
Electric Boat we rented on the Lake

Grounds at The Summer Palace

Day 1 The Great Wall at Mutianyu - Cable car going up to the Wall
Great Wall going up...

Great Wall going down...

'Great' place for the kids!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Japanese Lessons

Although our end date here is uncertain, I decided that I really wanted to take some Japanese lessons. There are still a few things I simply want to master.

1. I want to give a taxi driver directions with more than one word and be able to say more than 'hai' after everything he says...

2. I want to know what I might be ordering from a restaurant that doesn't have an English menu, pictures or an English speaking waiter

3. I want to share daily small talk with the woman who sweeps and cleans around the apartment. She is the sweetest woman and always tries to talk with me and I got nothin' I owe it to her to be able to talk about the weather if nothing else.

4. I want to be able to count higher than Connor. He can now count to ten and write his name in Japanese.

I am talking lessons at the kids' school in a group setting. No, not with the kids, but with the parents. We went around the table and practiced introducing ourselves in Japanese and shared where we were from. Watashi wa Brigitte desu. America kara kimashita. These are my classmates: Argentina, Italy, China, US, Australia, Denmark and Sweden. I love this school!

Friday, September 11, 2009

Yes Virginia there is a Costco

Costco is in Japan. I guess it really shouldn't be surprising, but it is. Are the Japanese really going to buy 48 rolls of toilet paper? Where would they put it? There are a couple close to Tokyo and for those of us who don't have a car or feel like spending the entire day getting to and from via public transportation we can order from their website, The Flying Pig. You do pay almost double however, if you order online. Then you wonder if it's worth it. This is what I did last year, because I wanted certain items and I wanted my cereal to be in the size of a box that would last longer than two days. But oh how I wished I could just get to that store and see for myself what it was like. It only took a year. There were too many scheduling conflicts last year to make it work. This year I even had two failed attempts with sick kids staying home from school. That gets old after a while as I have previously mentioned...

So yes, I finally got there. I might as well have been in the St. Louis Park Minnesota Costco with the exception of more sushi , rice crackers and plenty of other unidentifiable Japanese food items. The layout was the same. You could tell a gaijin cart from a Japanese cart. They had 5 things in their cart. We had 50. I tired not to make eye contact passing by the Japanese as my cart began to spill over. I wanted to announce, 'It's my FIRST time! I've been waiting a year!' To get to the parking lot there was an escalator that I went on with my cart, kind of like the magic carpet at the ski resorts. Somehow the carts just lock on. It's sort of visible off to the side in the picture.

Although it is Costco, it's still Japan, so my bill was twice as much as it typically is in the states, but with plenty of great deals to keep me happy and my cabinets full for a while.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Flu invasion

Ahh!!!Connor has been diagnosed with the flu. People ask, but is it the swine flu? And the doctor says most likely that it is the swine flu although they don't send samples out to the labs due to overload. The seasonal flu apparently hasn't arrived yet - which is why they assume that it is the swine flu. At the doctor's office, they requested that he arrive wearing a mask and when we left they took us out through a back entrance - basically a narrow storage area, sprayed us down with disinfectant and gave us 10 days worth of Relenza to keep the flu at bay for the rest of us.

Most importantly, Connor will be fine. Not as important, but more annoying, is the school policy (or Japan's policy) is that if one sibling is sick with the flu ALL siblings must remain home for 5 days. It's Tuesday and beginning tomorrow they will all be home, sick or not, for the remainder of the week. You can imagine how happy this makes me. The school is also closing Connor's class down as he is the 4th case just in his particular class. We are in week 3 of school. I am pretty sure there have not been two days in a row when all the kids have been in school. I am now officially in desperate survivor mode.

Saturday, September 5, 2009


Hachiko - A Dog Story is out in theaters in the US. It has not made it here yet. It's an Americanized version of the heartfelt Japanese story about a dog who met his owner at the Shibuya Train Station at the same time every night after work. One night the owner suffered a stroke while at work and later died. The dog continued to go to the station every night for 10 years waiting for his owner's return. The Japanese placed a bronze statue outside of the station to commemorate this amazing animal. The statue is now a very popular meeting point as we met our friends there last night before going out. I don't know if the movie will be any good, but I will probably watch it just because...
One more reason to love dogs. One more possible explanation as to why the Japanese are so crazy for their dogs.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Potty Talk Part 3

Every time I enter a public restroom in Japan I worry that I won't be able to figure out how to flush the toilet. Last week I told my girlfriend to go into the restroom first and then tell me where the flusher was. Kate always asks me to go in first and check it out as well. You would think it shouldn't so be complicated but it often is and the last thing you want to do is leave a public restroom with an unflushed toilet. Sure there is the handle method and some have automatic sensors. Those are the no brainers. But then you come across ones with buttons, lots of buttons - without a drawing attached. Some buttons have colors. Is it the green one? Or the red one? I am pretty sure I pushed an emergency button once. There might be levers or buttons on the floor that one steps on. I have also been known to stand and wave my hand in front of anything on the wall hoping it will trigger the flush. I think it took me 10 minutes at a restaurant one night in this teeny tiny restroom trying to figure it out. I was waving my arms, trying every button and handle I could find. I was sweating. Nothing worked. This was the last time I forgot to ask where it was before I went in.