25 April, 2017

Being flexible

Here is an edited post I wrote in 2009. It is still relevant (though I no longer go to Curves):

The other night at Curves one of the trainers was giving out slips of paper detailing some changes during the next month in opening times. Just a simple slip of white paper, covered in black type, all in Japanese. 

They are very kind to me at the gym and knowing my reading isn't so good, so she attempted to convey to me verbally the essence of the message, to be sure that I understood it. She then apologised for any inconvenience, but I replied trying to say that my schedule is a bit flexible. Unfortunately I couldn't remember the word for "flexible". So I did what any foreigner with some Japanese knowledge will do, and I Japanized the English word and said I was "furekishiburu".

To understand this you have to know that Japanese is a syllabic language. That means that they don't construct words with single letters like in English, they construct words with syllables. This works fine, it really does, until they try to import foreign words. Just like when we try to read Welsh words which have not enough vowels, the Japanese panic a little when they see two consonants together. Then they insert vowels in the middle and on the end in most cases.

So McDonalds becomes an unwieldy Macudonarudo. An easier example would be "beetle" becomes "beetoru". They also have only five vowel sounds and some English consonants don't have an equivalent (for example "r" and "l" come out the same). However, once you put a word through this filter, they can actually pronounce it and remember it. 

Many, many English (and other language) words appear in Japanese and make foreigners' lives easier. They are even so kind as to use a different alphabet to distinguish between Japanese words and foreign-originated words. The problem comes when you cannot remember which words have been adopted and which have not. Occasionally you get a surprise when you use the Japanese word and they come out with an English-type equivalent. 

That's a long explanation, I'm sorry. I guess this story is not so easy to understand, after all! Anyway, they didn't know furekishiburu

After some explanation and gestures, they figured out what I meant and someone immediately said, "ahh, furekishiburu taimu". Can you translate? Yes - "flexible time". They had a phrase including the word, but not the adjective itself! Ah, the fun time we have living in a non-English speaking country. It sure makes you furekishiburu!

24 April, 2017

Thrift Shop thoughts

Last week was as busy, as predicted. As one friend put it, you put your life on hold for four days when you work on the Thrift Shop committee. 

So, I walked away from my usual work, I organised a string of left-over meals for home, and paid less attention to my kids. Of course it was all waiting for me after Thrift Shop finished on Saturday. The dust bunnies are accumulating because I skipped my once a week vacuum on Wednesday. I'll get them this week! The emails and editing accumulated too, but I'm gradually tackling them today. In the weeks prior to Thrift Shop I said many "no"s, in an attempt to preserve space after Thrift Shop to catch-up.

It's tiring and stressful
What makes Thrift Shop extra tiring and stressful is that we're overseeing a huge amount of work in a very short time with a volunteer workforce of varying understanding of what they're supposed to do.

(Mostly) high school boys who helped us with the heavy lifting of
set-up. Most of the Thrift Shop infrastructure is stored under the cafeteria
in a poky basement accessed by steep stairs. Think: tables,
coat racks, coat hangers, shelving etc. We need these guys!
Thousands of second hand items come into our care in the first two days and then we sell the majority of it over just 10 hours over the next one and a half days and finally, after the shop is closed, we give away the remainder to a charity and second hand store then clean up and restore the gym to it's former state. It's a huge job that runs remarkably smoothly because we do it the same way every time, twice a year.

My view from behind the "register" before
the customers turned up.
I get people overload. One day I came home and hid in my bedroom for a while till I'd calmed down. On Friday in the middle of the day I "hid" in the workers room for a bit too. It induces visual overload and decision overload. 

Dust overload too! Many workers wear masks because they struggle with the dustiness. I'm okay, but my eyes were gritty by the end of the day and nose a bit itchy. I cleaned my glasses on Thursday at lunchtime and just a few hours later they were covered in dust again.

On Saturday I worked on the registers for four hours, about two hours in I was struggling with a furry head (possible headache plus fatigue) and then a stomach ache. It truly is exhausting. This morning I really struggled to wake up.

But it's worth it
However, despite all this, I continue to do this. There are a couple of reasons:
I laughed with a Japanese lady from church over these tags off things
she was buying. Most things are tagged with just a price and a PTA
number, but this artistic seller created art on hers. What was even more
special was that I got to have a conversation with someone I don't normally
connect with.
  • It is a great way that I can support the school within the job that I do. My schedule is more flexible than many people's so I can make the time to do this. But it also is a job that only happens twice a year, so the commitment isn't so big that it stops me taking on other things. For most of fifty weeks in a year I can forget that I do this job.
  • It is one of the key ways I've gotten to know people at school. I look at a number of friends that I have and realise that Thrift Shop was where I either first met them, or took big steps towards knowing them better. Working alongside people is a much less awkward way to get to know people, especially when there are cultural barriers. When I walked in on the first day to start work last week I was greeted like a long-lost friend by the key people who I do this with each time. Friendship is so important in sustaining us, and volunteering at Thrift Shop is a key way to invest in other people.
Another reason that I don't mind being on the Thrift Shop committee is that it gives me a defined job to do. I find that easier to manage, especially at the big set-up and take-down times.

23 April, 2017

Thrift Shop bargains

I've been away, buried amidst mounds of second-hand clothes and other things in the school's gym for the last four days. It was wonderful to take the scenic route home from church on my bike this morning with blue skies above and to see colourful flowers bursting forth all over the place. Truly a lovely sight after being in that dusty gym for four days!
I continue to be told that people love to see my posts about some of our acquisitions from Thrift Shop. Tomorrow I might have my head together enough to write a more reflective post. So here goes:

This boy, our youngest, is a genius at finding amazing things at Thrift Shop, especially brand name clothes (he's the only one of our three that has picked up that there are such things). The first photos are of some of his (better) finds.

Traditionally the middle school youth group that meets on Sunday afternoons has a "Thrift Shop find" costume competition the day after Thrift Shop. This Luiji costume is almost too small, but it did the trick.

A decorative boat (not one of his best finds) and some stretchy,  reusable textbook covers (they are required to cover the textbooks they borrow from the school).

He found an Under Armour jacket (and a t-shirt too), plus a sports bag to carry his gear for meets.
Another t-shirt. Up until recently our youngest is the only one who's been interested in clothes shopping.

This is a multi-game that he also found. I put my slipper next to it so you can see the scale. There are plastic inserts so that you can play nine other games, such as basketball, air hockey, darts. Both our youngest have been enjoying this.
More water bottles, also good sporting gear.

Our eldest surprised us this time by being keen to buy clothes, especially clothes that he's avoided in the past: jeans and button up shirts. He worked hard to find jeans. Not easy, as his figure around the waist isn't quite as skinny as many young men his age because of six years of wrestling.
Here are some shirts he found.

And the first of purchases that herald a boy who will move to Australia next year.

And books, his standard Thrift Shop purchase.

I found this book for the philosopher of the family, our middle son. The one who is always asking difficult questions.

Of course there is always food purchased at Thrift Shop. These are some kind of sweet cinnamon-flavoured roll. Not looking so pretty, but were tasty enough.

There were freebies: acquired during the free shopping time after the shop closed and prior to cleaning the gym out yesterday afternoon. New Ikea Christmas decorations and more tinsel for our sizeable Thrift Shop tree.
I found a new lunch box for our youngest son who is very hard wearing on lunch boxes. I thought the Gekko was a nice touch.

Two DVDs also found during free shopping time.

I've got a few bags of wool collecting in my crafting corner, gathering from my earlier enthusiasm to try out crochet. I'm no longer really pursuing crochet and wondering what to do with the wool. Here's one idea, try weaving. But looms are very expensive. This was a cheap plastic one for kids that I found and can try out.
Our camping trips has fuelled an interest in me in Japanese geography, especially learning different prefectures and places. So I'd been thinking for a while that a kids puzzle with Japanese prefectures would be a good learning tool. Now I'll need to learn to recognise the kanji (complicated characters) to go with the prefectures.

A fun jigsaw for holidays.
I found some books for me too, this is one of my favourite authors.

Thrift Shop is a fun place to pick up cheap jewellery. Here are some earrings I bought for about 60 cents. I'm not sure I'll wear all of them. The colour of this photo isn't good

A covering for an umbrella handle to help prevent your umbrella being mistaken for someone elses (a common problem at school). I'm not sure that anyone wants it, though.

More jewellery, Christmas earrings, gold chain earrings, and a green necklace, that I've already worn.
This was my most unexpected purchase. This amazing obi cost—the wide sash worn around the waist of a kimono. My flash of inspiration was to decorate my house with this, perhaps by hanging it in our entry.
It is quite long, though, four metres! And 1.2kg. Those elaborate kimonos aren't light. And it only cost 350 yen (AU$4.25).

20 April, 2017

Write your name on your wall

One aspect of Japan that I never knew before I came here was that many people who live in houses have their names on the wall (or at least the mailbox) in front of their houses. 

This is the name plate of one of our neighbour's.

This is ours. It's a lot cheaper than most that you see around. It also has our address on it, but I've edited that out. 

Right next to it is our doorbell, which is also an intercom. I don't usually use the intercom as Japanese is hard enough when you've got visual cues, take that away and I'm really struggling. However the intercom has two access points inside the house (one upstairs and one down), we use it between floors, often to call children to meals.

All the houses are also numbered, but not in a linear way along a street like they are in many countries, the numbering seems to be random (although I'm sure it is not). In fact most streets don't have names. So our address consists of our suburb name, the number of our area of the suburb, the number of our block, and the house number: 1-19-10. Japanese addresses are also opposite to western addresses in that they start big and go small. So you start with Japan or with your city and the last number is your house number, unless you write the address in "English" or "Roman" letters and then the order is the same as what we're used to in Australia: smallest unit to largest unit.

Here's a post showing there are many different types of name plates.

18 April, 2017

Track meet #2

Taking the first leg of the 4x100m. He's decided to drop
this event for the next meet this Saturday and give the
1,500m race a go. He's quite a good all-round athlete,
so I'm betting he's not going to do badly at that distance.
On Saturday we went to the second track meet of the season (for the middle schoolers), the high schoolers have had a couple more). The weather was definitely better, though in lieu of rain we had wind. Hence it was a slow meet for the sprinters and our boys were disappointed with their times. However, this young man, our youngest, came first in the individual 100m and 200m (if you only count 6th graders).

Our middle son had bad starts in the 100m and 400m, so today he and the sprint coach are working on learning how to use blocks, so hopefully that will make a significant difference to him.
Our middle son finishing strongly in the 400m.
Definitely a bad-hair day. The wind was forecast to be about 30km/hr. I was glad for this stadium as it has shade for it was difficult to keep my hat on—I chased it several times. The rest of the season is at Yokota Airbase and there is no shade over the grandstand.
This little guy wandered into my space during the morning. I love ladybirds, but I've never seen a light-brown one before.
And as always, hanging out with other parents makes the day much more fun. Track and field can be a boring sporting event for spectators. In Tokyo you can travel over an hour to watch your child run for 12 seconds (if it is the 100m). The school's team is big this year and that means more parents too!
This Saturday I'm not going to the meet, I'm one of the key volunteer at the school's final day of Thrift Shop so I'm going to skip this one. But you can be sure that I'll be hanging out for the stories from the boys, and the results when they come online the next day!

17 April, 2017

You must miss your life

"You must miss your life back in Australia."

This is what our family looked like last time we lived for
longer than 12 months in Australia. A lot of water has gone
under the bridge since then!
A Japanese lady said this to me the other day. I had to admit that we really didn't have a life to miss in Australia. We haven't lived there long-term since 2000, we've raised our kids here, and life for us is very much here. We do miss Australia at times and our friends and family there. But not often is that a heart-wrenching longing any more. The reverse is true, however—when we're in Australia we miss our life in Japan!

That might be hard for some people to understand. It seems so, from the questions we're asked when we're in Australia. But I guess the longer you live away from a place the less attached to it you are.

As I glanced through the FB posts of friends yesterday I realised our Easter resembles a Japanese Christian's Easter far more than the Australian Easter I knew as a child. No Easter eggs here, no chocolate (beyond the usual Sunday lunch treat), no long weekend, no Friday morning church service.

That also probably seems weird to you, but somehow it was only vaguely weird to me. Actually I struggled to muster much emotional energy for yesterday's Easter service at church (and the one I with my OMF colleagues on Friday). I think the emotional energy that's gone into dealing with our colleague's sudden change to being terminally ill and the consequential changes in my workload have taken an invisible toll on me over the last two weeks. And now, from tomorrow evening, I'm embarking on the bi-annual marathon of CAJ's Thrift Shop—I'm definitely not doing it on my own strength.

Paul's words come to mind:
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (1 Corinthian 12:9-11 NIV)

I'm not sure I'm at the delighting in weakness level yet, but I will certainly boast in my weakness.

So no, I don't miss my life in Australia, I even have trouble imagining what that might look like. For now I'm buried up to my eyeballs in my life in Japan.

Damper recipe

I'm in the mood for writing, but I just have run out of time today. What with church this morning, a magazine design team meeting, baking for three things I had committed to providing snacks for this week, cooking dinner, having a rest, and (yet to come this evening) pricing items for CAJ's twice-annual bazaar, my day is gone.

Let me quickly tell you what I'm making to go with dinner tonight. It is a regular on our menu. We also make a modified version whenever we go camping. It's Australian Damper; very similar to what other countries call soda bread (you can probably help me with other names you might give it).

It's easy and makes for a good addition to a meal. We usually have it with bacon and eggs for dinner. But it also is great spread with butter and a sweet topping like syrup for dessert.

For our hungry family I make this quantity (and get some left over), but you can halve it or freeze leftovers for later:

4 - 4 ½ cups of plain flour (for Japanese flour you need the larger amount)

4 teaspoons baking powder
75g butter (I don't use this the camping)
1 ½ cups of liquid (this can be milk or water or half of each)

1. Rub butter into flour & baking powder mixture using fingers (or a pastry blender, which I love).

2. Add liquid and mix to a soft dough.
3. Shape into a log and place on oven tray.
4. Brush with milk and sprinkle with sesame seeds (latter is optional).  
5. I bake at 200˚C for 15 minutes and then 180˚C for 20-25 minutes (until brown and sounds hollow when tapped). But you'll need to figure out your own oven. I have a fast, hot oven.