30 September, 2010

Disappointed with the medical profession again

I went to see a doctor today, underwent some unmentionable tests and was rewarded at the end with a whole lot of Japanese I didn't understand. To me it must have seemed obvious that I wasn't understanding what the doctor was asking or telling me. She didn't change through the whole consultation, though. She didn't alter her speed or the complexity of her words. It was only through some timely questions that I found out anything at all. I'm disappointed.

She possibly was too. The problem I consulted her about she had no idea of the cause and had nothing to offer me except the consolation that what I had wasn't fatal and would probably go away with time. Oh, and a bill.

I should say I've had a bad experience with this doctor before. She has an incredible workload - sees maybe a hundred patients at day at her private clinic. She totally multi-skills, jumping from one room to another, seeing another patient while you strip your clothes off for an examination! So she hasn't time for poor foreigners. Probably thinks, "If they're in my country, they should speak my language fluently!"

I think if I need to see this particular speciality again I'll be seeking a different clinic or hospital to attend. This particular patient prefers a little bit of consideration.

29 September, 2010

Small farms and no discernable town planning

We walk past this field every day, it is just down the road from our house. It is not large. But most Japanese farms aren't. Neither is the tractor. On our way home from school we caught the farmer ploughing. I just had to catch the image for all you people from large countries. Especially those farms we know where you cannot see two boundaries at the same time!

What I love about the first picture is the background - it catches the squished-together houses as well as the large apartment block. The city centre is less than one km away with the railway station. Hard to believe! Town planning isn't quite the same here as back home.

28 September, 2010

All-you-can-eat pizza: unless you are taking a little rest

Friday night I went out with my husband for dinner.  Some things are private, so I'm not going to tell you much, but I must tell you a couple of things about the restaurant. It had this deal going where you could buy a set and that included all-you-could-eat pizza. But not quite like the usual restaurant of this type. The waitresses periodically brought around pizza for you to choose from, so you needn't leave your seat. However, in the land where you try not to inconvenience anyone and people don't like to use the word "no", they had special signs. Can you figure out what they might say?

The blue one says (roughly) "We're still eating." and the red one says (roughly), "We're just taking a little rest." Both use very polite language. The idea was something like the "Do not disturb" signs you find in motel rooms.
Very cute!

A spade?
See the cereal?
The other very Japanese thing we encountered was less upsetting than the first time we encountered it in language school. We order mini parfaits for dessert. Something I've rarely done since that first encounter with the Japanese version of this delicacy. Somehow cereal has crept into the Japanese recipe. I don't think I've seen a parfait without some kind of flakes in the bottom, most commonly cornflakes. In my opinion it just wrecks the sweet dessert! This time I ate the sweet top and left the rest in the bottom.

We were also interested to see the spade-like cutlery we were given to use, so I pulled out my phone and took another photo.

27 September, 2010

What is different?

 This morning at the gym I found myself wondering what a list of the differences between now and this time last year would look like.
  • We haven't driven anywhere further than one or two km as a family for over six weeks. This time last year we were driving a couple of hundred kilometres every couple of weeks.
  • I am the only one who has slept away from this house since we moved in in July. Last year at this time we were often away at weekends on ministry or family visits.
  • David is working at school from 7.30 am till 4 or 5 pm Monday to Friday. Last year we worked together, often on weekends, mostly in various churches. He was based at home during the week, studying as well as doing ministry meetings. Our schedule was incredibly varied.
  • I am eating lunch alone most days. Last year David and I ate most lunches together. In fact we spent a lot of time together - leisure and work both.
  • This time last year our boys were on two weeks school holidays. This year there are no long holidays in sight until Christmas.
  • The schools were gearing up for the last quarter of their school year. We're now having "Back-to-school" type events.
  • This week last year I flew to Manila for a magazine editing workshop. This week I'm a home-based mum who's writing, cooking, editing, going to prayer meetings, going to school as an 'Australian expert'.
  • Last year we spent a lot of our weeks either recovering from the weekend past or preparing for the weekend to come or both. This year we're spending our weekends recovering from the week just past.
  • Last year I lived in a one-story house with a backyard. This year my house is two stories with next to no backyard.
  • Last year I drove to the gym. This year I ride my bike.
  • Last year the seasons, school holidays and calendar events all lined up with what I grew up with. This year it is back to the seasons, holidays and calendar that I've learned over the last 4-10 years.
  • Last year we went to different churches nearly every Sunday (although there were a couple we went back to a few times). This year we're at the same church nearly every Sunday.
  • Last year I blended in at least externally. This year I don't.
I'm sure I could keep writing and writing on this topic. This isn't a good vs bad list. Nor is it a happy vs sad list. It is a list of differences. Differences we have, for the most part, gotten used to. I still don't like making my own lunch and eating it alone, however. I'm not even sure which I prefer - last year or this year. Both have their pros and cons.

But it is time to get the boys through the shower...enough time spent on pondering.

26 September, 2010

Hilarity after tea

Often after our evening meal while we're still at the table (if we aren't running late or some other disaster occurs) I read to the boys. Not too long ago we finished reading Ruth Park's "The Muddle Headed Wombat". Hilarious! It was a hard act to follow. But lately we've been cycling through a variety of books including:
  • "Window on the World" a children's version of "Operation World" 
  • "Time Outs for You and Your Kids" by Grace Fox (this is especailly useful if we ARE running late and not able to do individual with the boys in their rooms), it is a short devotional.
  • miscellaneous other books, picture books as well as longer chapter books.
Tonight I randomly picked up a book we picked up at the school library the other day.  "Hot Potato mealtime rhymes". There were some side-splitting poems inside. Two of them had us almost on the floor. "Mommy Slept Late and Daddy Fixed Breakfast" and "Hot Food". I'd type them here, but I think that poets are pretty particular about Copyright. But I do heartily recommend the poems to you.

25 September, 2010

Surprise ending to the crazy week.

My somewhat crazy week came to a mellow end last night. A friend with three children of her own reads my blog and offered to host a movie night for all six children so that we could go out last night. My kids didn't care what we were doing, they had their own fun planned. We dropped them off and headed off to a local restaurant. The food was nothing spectacular, but the atmosphere was calm and the waitresses were undemanding. We ate and then sat and chatted unhurriedly for quite some time...So the crazy week doesn't come to the dramatic end of a movie, but a romantic one, I suppose.

The boys were therefore late in bed last night. This morning, however, David and our 11 y.o. leapt into the car at 6.30 a.m. for an early start to get to his cross-country meet. After they left I woke, visited the little ladies room and jumped back under the covers. Three hours later the doorbell rang. Reading 9.30 on the clock didn't make much sense at first. I couldn't believe that my 5 and 8 y.o.s had either slept-in or refrained from fighting or otherwise disturbing my sleep.

As of this evening we are still unsure of what happened this morning. I'm guessing that they probably slept-in a bit, given that they hadn't started fighting yet - something that usually happens if they are not fed in a timely manner after waking. It is a very rare thing indeed to sleep in in our family unless someone else volunteers to look after and feed children (usually my husband on a Saturday morning).

Thankfully the doorbell didn't require answering. The road worker simply left the pre-prepared road-closure notice in my letter box. Good thing. I don't think he would have coped with my frog decorated flannelette PJs!

The other odd thing about this week has been the weather. I did mention that a couple of days ago. But it is noteworthy enough to mention it again. We basically had blistering summer heat until sometime Wednesday night. Thursday the heavens opened and temperature dropped 20 degrees to a winter-like temperature (at least where we come from in Queensland, Australia). Yesterday's temperature was about the same as Thursday. Today it started cold and windy but when the sun came out just before midday the day was much more appropriately dressed as autumn. Somehow it seems to have found an appropriate September equilibrium between the two extremes. We were wondering for a bit.

This week translated into an intense, frustrating wedding anniversary cum student-free day on Monday, massive shopping trip to Costco on Tuesday, exhausted collapse on Wednesday, busy-as-a-bee time at Back-to-school day on Thursday and welcome descent into a writing bubble on Friday topped off by a mellow date with my beloved on Friday. I'm wondering what next week will hold, but I'm not holding my breath!

24 September, 2010

Japan is vending-machine mad

Vending machines are everywhere here in Japan. We must have at least half a dozen within a couple of hundred metres of of house (with no shops in that area). Here is a video showing some interesting innovations in the vending machine industry.

23 September, 2010

Another shocker of a day

One of the teachers wrote this on her Facebook status this evening:
"35 degrees on 9/22; 16 degrees on 9/23. Lightening strike takes out the internet and the phones on campus about 1:15. Water, water everywhere coming out of the sky and formed 6 in-deep puddles for Back to School Day...lots of parents braved the elements." 
Yes, a bit of a shocker of a day.
 CAJ holds a special event once a year called "Back to School Day". It is a combination of an Open Day (without the students) and an information day for parents. We went to school, sat in the seats of our kids, met their teachers, and, in the case of middle and high school, walked in their shoes. Not literally (though I could, my 11 y.o. has the same size feet as me at present). But we walked through an abbreviated version of their daily timetable. 13 minute periods with 5 minutes in between to find our next room. It reminded me a lot of my high school days, without the annoying boys! I staggered home after that feeling very much overloaded with information. It was good, however, to be introduced to all my kids' teachers. Reassured in many ways. Encouraged and challenged too. Being the parent of a school student is no party. I wonder how much stress my Mum felt when I was at school?
These days I have to ensure that not only does my middle school son does his daily homework and assignments, but he checks his email, checks iCal (the internet based school calendar) and has time to access websites to work on his maths. And that is just one boy. Thankfully the others are only in kindergarten and grade 2.
 And then the weather. Yesterday was so hot I just about got heat exhaustion working out in air conditioning! Perspiration running down my face wet my glasses and clouded my vision. Today? A low pressure system hits. The rain comes down and the temperature halves! 
Today I spent the whole day at school, but had to go between buildings several times during the heaviest of the rain. It was up to my ankles in places. My eldest went home at lunch-time and then was due back for cross-country training. He rang me in a panic, wondering how he would be able to train as his shoes were sopping wet. I assured him that everyone else's would be too. In the end they cancelled training. The lightening and thunder in themselves were frightening, but running through torrential rain obviously didn't appeal even to the hardiest of souls.
The rain brought blessed cool, though a 20 degree drop in one day is a little tough to take. We slept with air conditioning last night. Tonight I have my flannies pants on (flannelette pyjamas) with a t-shirt. I also pulled the heater out to dry off shoes.
As the above Facebook status says, an extremely close strike of lightning as well. I was under an awning just putting my umbrella up when it hit. I was particularly worried as I knew that my 11 y.o. was probably walking back to school at that time. As it turns out he wasn't. And he was more concerned about his wet shoes than the thunder!
I'm ready for bed. I was going to iron tonight, but somehow recently middle school homework or exhaustion are taking up the evenings. Tomorrow, however, I have an almost free day. Finally I'll be able to get to some important matters that have been waiting since last week. And then it'll be the weekend again. Amazing how the weeks are flying past.

22 September, 2010

My enormous American stove/oven

I'm thinking by the time I get to America I'll have learned an awful lot about that country, just from various encounters with their exports. Most of the foreigners we hang around at CAJ are American. And the library is too. Costco is too.

One impression I'm getting is that things are enormous over there - shops, portion sizes, people (no insult intended, I've met some very tall Americans) and even ovens.

I have inherited a house which has housed a number of Americans in the past. Sometime a long time ago someone went to the effort of bringing an enormous oven out to Japan. It is still installed in this house. I'm still coming to grips with its size. It is almost twice as wide as my Japanese oven about about one and a half times as deep and one and a half times as high.

It is the first time in my adult life that I've used a gas oven or a non-fan-forced oven. It is also in Fahrenheit. All these years that I've been translating old recipes from F to C, now I have to translate back! Lighting the oven means I have to pull out the door at the very bottom and practically lie down to put the lighter into the back. The pilot light is broken. But at least the oven works. But it is taking some getting used to.

This pizza is 45cm x 45cm. It fits in the oven as is.
I don't yet have any large trays to use in it (mine are all small Japanese sized ones), but a colleague has pulled some out of storage and promised them to me. I'm looking forward to that. Baking biscuits (or cookies) at two dozen at a time is a slowish way to bake for hungry boys.

You can see in this kitchen photo that the oven looks a little out of place in this large Japanese kitchen. But I don't mind. Now I have two ovens, one of which is huge. The other of which is small, but reliable and doubles as a microwave and grill (?griddle for Americans). I'm doubly blessed.

I also have the opportunity to bless others too. I've volunteered to bake periodically for school events. Let's hope my cakes turn out better than my first effort for a young man's birthday last week. That cake looks more like fudge than cake!

21 September, 2010

Wholesale shopping

I spent the day Costco shopping. Costco is a wholesale warehouse shop. It is massive. And what you buy there often comes in massive sizes too. (For anyone who's been to a Costco, you probably won't be interested in the following description, but most Aussies haven't seen one.)

The whole event is about extremes. To start with, the shop is only 20km from here. It took me nearly 1 1/2 hours to get there! That means I travelled at around 15 km/hr on average. Most of the way I crept through narrow streets and stopped at a zillion traffic lights.

When I arrived I parked on one of the three floors of car parking. Then, upon arrival at the front door of the shop was offered a shopping trolley (cart for those from the other side of the Pacific) big enough for an adult to sit comfortably in. About three times bigger than an ordinary shopping trolley at Woolies. About six times bigger than the usual Japanese shopping trolley.

The shop is bigger than large. It is like a whole shopping centre in one - without the walls and in-between floors. This one is just one level, but that room is massive, about three stories high. I bet you could easily put a football ground inside the shop.

Unlike most Japanese shops, the aisles are wide. But they need to be to accommodate the massive shopping trolleys and the volume of people attached to the trolleys. People often travel from afar and often it becomes a social affair as groups of people come together. Today I was alone, but I was the unusual one. I encountered plenty of trolley-jams as people crowded around the free-sample stops.

Japanese shops sell small portions - 100g of cornflakes, 200ml of tomato sauce, 1 litre of milk. Not Costco. Their portion sizings are often huge. They have 1.8 kg bottles of peanut butter and 1.25 kg bottles of tomato sauce. Today I bought nappies for a friend and they came in packs of 200 or more. The boxes were so large they each filled one bucket seat in our car.

Because it takes a long time to get there (as opposed to it being a long way away) we don't go very often. So, the amount we buy is also extreme. I spent nearly AU$500 dollars. That includes most of the meat we'll use for the next two months. A lot of cheese and 120 tortillas. All things that are hard to buy locally or just expensive. I also bought a little bit of cereal, a large bottle of vinegar, some Nutella, a large bag of craisens, some large sealable plastic bags, icecream, a large bottle of dishwashing detergent and one of laundry detergent. I picked up a large container of grapes, a dozen apples and a cluster of cucumbers. Some low calorie butter, small tubs of yoghurt and a ready-to-cook pizza for tea. Plus the stuff I'd promised I'd buy for my friend. It took me two trips through the shop and register and about 3 hours including lunch.

That is a cool thing about Costco. They have their own internal restaurant too. Pretty limited menu, but reasonably cheap - if you can get a seat! A bit like McDonalds on a busy day, but a bit larger. Much easier for one person than five! They do have free refills on their drinks.

When I got home (I sped home in only an hour) I had to find homes for all this food. Additionally the portions of meat were too large, so I had to re-package them, totally rearrange our freezer to fit it all in and get back to school on time to pick up the boys. Phew!

It was a more pleasant day, on the whole, than yesterday. Today I enjoyed a lot of solitude. A balm to the soul after yesterday. I got to listen to soul-refreshing music for over two hours in the car. There is also a real satisfaction in providing for one's family. Buying up provisions I can use to provide food for my ravenous family is very satisfying, even if it is tending towards the extreme in proportions.

20 September, 2010

Frustrating day

Today is our anniversary, hardly a day you would expect to be frustrating. But, just like birthdays, anniversaries fall on any day, and children don't usually make a point of inconveniencing themselves just because it is a special day for the adult in their lives. I often get admiration or sympathy for having three boys. Usually that isn't terribly warranted, but on a day like today just maybe I'd accept!

It started off badly with me not getting enough sleep. On Saturday night we discovered that a deadline has passed back in August and no one had followed us up on it. It required a five minute Powerpoint presentation to be done about us for a conference in Australia next weekend. Well, the presentation didn't actually take me long to do, but figuring out how to get it to Australia as posting it is no longer an option actually kept me up late last night and I woke with it in my mind this morning. A bad start to a day that involved my teacher-husband at work on a student-free day. That means the teachers are free of students, but parents are not free of children!

Somehow the boys were terribly needy today. I rarely got to work on this frustrating technological problem longer than 10 minutes without interruptions. I did get it done, however the effort it took with all the distractions left my mind and emotions rather tattered.

To add to the frustration my 11 y.o., new middle schooler had an assignment he needed to get done by Wednesday. Yes, he'd procrastinated, but he also didn't really know how to start in on this largish project. He had all the knowledge, just didn't know how to move from there to organising it into sentences and paragraphs under headings. His dad had helped him a certain distance, but as I was the lucky one left at home today it fell on my shoulders to push him through to the end.

In the middle of all of this boys two and three didn't want to miss out on some attention. Plenty of,

"He hit me"
"I'm bored"
"Can I play computer games?"
"I've got another bleeding itchy bite."

A fly screen in the lounge got knocked out into the back yard. Boys wrestled uncontrollably in a small room. A musical instrument blasted in my ear. My youngest managed to misjudge the distance between his face and the heavy front door and gave himself a black eye just before we went out for an exercise "break", prompting a collapse and words like, "I can't walk." Later my five year old's piano practise brought only giggles and no real work, but it was interrupted by questions from his brother like, "The words on the computer are balded (sic). I don't know what to do."

My husband was at work from 8am till 8pm. Thankfully he dashed home briefly over dinner and gave me some moral support.

What kind of anniversary is that? Frankly I'm glad it is over. We'll celebrate another day, once we can find someone who'll take this rowdy lot for a while.

19 September, 2010

It's all about doing the right thing

Yesterday in the middle of typing an email to my sister the doorbell rang. My older neighbour was sweeping my gutters. She admonished me for not sweeping under the concrete blocks that line our gutters and enable a smooth ride in the car in and out - you can see them in the photo. I'd thought the blocks were pretty heavy (and, as I later discovered, they are), but she flicked them out to reveal my disgrace - cakes of mud. Shame on me. So, email forgotten, I got to work. I ended up using a spade to 'flick' the blocks out. I guess it is the Australian in me that wonders what is under something and makes me reluctant to put my hand there! I swept up a lot of mud and put it in a plastic bag to be put out in "unburnable rubbish" later in the week.

Later when I was considering making dinner the doorbell rang again. This time my husband was home. He found our other neighbour at the door. She handed him a broom and a bag containing disinfectant. Apparently it is our turn to clean the local rubbish collection station (where everyone puts their rubbish - no wheelie bins here). For a fortnight we get to check that the truck has taken everything away, pick up anything remiss and, presumably, disinfect the lid of the bin (similar to an industrial bin in Australia but a bit smaller). Thankfully, unlike the road gutters, we are only required to do this once a year.

Japan - the land where people take pride in appearances, where people are diligent in holding up their end of the stick, where people are shamed into doing their civic duty by their neighbours.

18 September, 2010

Another birthday

Well it's been another hectic day. Our middle son turned eight today. Here's his cake.

Birthdays have different meaning for Mums. I can only imagine what life would have been like without this persistent, spirited, passionate boy. A lot of the more challenging moments in my life in the last eight years have directly related to the existence of this one child. I've gained a number of great stories just from him!

If he and I can make it through to the end of his childhood, I'm sure he's going to make a solid, passionate contribution to whatever he chooses to do with his life. I'm looking forward to seeing what it will be.

But for tonight, I am just glad to have made it through another birthday-day. They are always preceded by the angst of anticipation in our house. We can now all relax for another few months until December arrives.

17 September, 2010

Invisible sisters

You may have picked up that I had coffee with someone on Tuesday morning (after the elderly gentleman was intrigued with my working on the park bench).

Here we are - Geneva and I. We are part of a five member Christian international internet-based critique group (too many adjectives, I know). We each are writing different non-fiction things. Once a fortnight we can submit up to 2 000 words to the group for critique. It provides great and needed encouragement in the lonely business of writing. It is also a wonderful ministry to one another as well as to the readers of our work.

I am the baby. All the other ladies are old enough to be my mother! Our lives are very different. One lives in South Africa. The other three, including Geneva, in various corners of the US. And of course me, who sometimes lives here, sometimes lives there.

I've just had a Skype chat with my South African friend and we both realised that an interesting intimacy has grown within the group despite our diversity. Geneva is the only one I've met. The South African has met only one other member. We've never all been together. Even a Skype conference would be difficult as at any given time one member of the group is asleep, just about to go to sleep or just awoken.

We do, however, know a lot about each other through our writing. We've each written about difficult times in our lives; deaths, hospitalisations, transitions, cancer, romance difficulties, divorce etc. So, I shouldn't have worried about meeting Geneva on Tuesday. We had heaps we already knew about each other and stacks to talk about.

We also don't just critique each others work, we pray for one another and communicate at least weekly, although this week my Inbox has been full every morning with the communications going on (a lot happens on the other side of the world while I'm asleep).

So I am very grateful to this small group of women. They are fairly invisible in my life. I don't often talk about them or the work I do each month to help them or the help they give me, but they are an important part of my life. Oh yes, they also can take a lot of credit for how my writing has improved over the last three years and for the fact that I've had a number of things published in that time. They came into my life at a point where I was seeking the Lord's leading for the future. I'm thanking Him for them.

16 September, 2010

Another unexpected

I didn't expect to be teaching at CAJ when I came back to Tokyo. Well, actually I'm not and have no ambition to be a classroom teacher, but I did dip my toe in this afternoon.

When my middle son's teacher found out I was going to a Writer's Workshop, she asked if I might consider talking to the grade two students about what Good Writers do.

So today I spent 1 1/2 hours with them talking and working with them about "Interesting Words". I had a lot of fun. They were a really keen bunch. We didn't quite get finished what I had planned to do, but I hope I left them with a desire to write using more interesting words than words like "went" or "did".

My passion for talking about good writing shouldn't have surprised me, but it did.

Now I just need to get to work editing the work I did in Hong Kong and getting it submitted to editors for publication. I never understood people who wrote books and just left them in a drawer. Where's the fun in that? Seeing your work in print is an even bigger thrill. But more than the thrill is the sense that being able to write is a gift from God that shouldn't be hidden in a drawer, it should be used to bless others.

I'm glad I was able to use one of my small gifts to bless others today.

15 September, 2010

What is a typical CAJ family?

One of the hard things to do on Home Assignment was give an adequate description of the range of people who make up CAJ. I want to give you a quick picture by telling you about some of the parents I've met in the last week and a half at the school.

Mrs Y is Russian. Her husband is Japanese, but they met on an island (Saipan - ever heard of it?) in the Pacific where she studied at university. They've lived in Hawaii for the last 20 years, but have recently come to Japan for her husband's work.  They have two daughters, one in grade 4 at CAJ, the other at day care.

Mrs K has a son in kindergarten with our 5 y.o. She is Thai-Chinese (Thai mum and Chinese dad). Her husband is Japanese, though they haven't lived in Japan much since they were married. She says she is Catholic and wants to move to Australia.

Mrs J is Filipino. Her husband is too. They have two boys, one in kindergarten and one in first grade. She is a missionary who works with refugees, asylum seekers and other needy foreigners. He is a graphic designer.

Mrs D is Japanese married to an American. They live about an hour by train away from school. Their only son is in kindergarten and she spends much of her day travelling back and forth by train.

Mr V is American. His wife is Japanese Their eldest is in second grade with our 7 y.o. and they have four younger children. He spent his entire school career at CAJ and they have come back as missionaries after six years in the US. He also coaches soccer at the school.

As you can see there is not much in the way of "typical". Yes, I could tell you about the families who have both partners from the US or Australia or Canada and are missionaries, but we are the rare exception here. There is more uniformity amongst the teaching staff, but still more variety than you'd find at the usual Australian school

Is it any wonder the school has adopted the passage of 1 Corinthians 12:12-27 as this year's theme - "One body, many parts". Our mission, OMF International, also is made up of many nationalities. We talk about 'unity in diversity' and amazingly, most of the time it works.

One thing, it keeps you flexible. You cannot assume much! You also find it hard to find other people like you. Living and working in Japan and with so much variety amongst my friends has helped me to keep my eyes on Jesus rather than other people. While I value my friends, in Him alone can I find security and affirmation of who I am.

14 September, 2010

Bewildering the locals

Today I felt like a writer. Actually all I was doing was critiquing other people's work (from my internet-based critique group), but it was the where I did it that was fun. One of my critique group lives in America but visits Japan periodically to see her Japanese in-laws and her son and his family who also live here. Today we were able to meet to have coffee.

It worked out that I had some extra time between dropping the boys off at school and meeting her so I took along my laptop to do some critiquing work. I worked in the school library for a bit then went off to catch the train. As it happens I caught an early one (still haven't gotten used to how close we are to the train here) and I had some spare time to wait at the other end. Some thoughtful town planner had put some lovely trees and a park bench close to the coffee shop, so I parked myself there and pulled out my computer for a bit more work.

It felt good, using my time productively. Then, out of the corner of my eye I saw an elderly gentleman who helps with bike parking at the large store across the road from the coffee shop. He stood only a couple of metres from me in his fluorescent work vest just looking. It is unusual for Japanese to stare. They do look at us weird foreigners, but not too obviously. This guy was totally intrigued. I can only imagine his thoughts as he craned his neck to catch a glimpse of my screen.
Oh look, there's a foreigner. What's she doing? She doesn't look like a business woman in her t-shirt, skirt and joggers. But why is she using a computer? What could she possibly be doing? Maybe if I get a little closer I can find out...
 It was fun to be mysterious. I am something of a non-conformist. I think that was the part of me that secretly rejoiced at causing this man such bewilderment.

13 September, 2010

Different skin colours gets close to home

I had an interesting discussion with my two younger boys tonight as I put them to bed. They've noticed that the skin colours of their classmates differs considerably. They have African, Asian and European kids in their classes. And various amounts of each - so half-Japanese half-American children, quarter-Asian three-quarter Caucasian etc. Various shades of brown, mostly. Our boys are one of the few totally Caucasian children in the lower grades of CAJ.

They have also tended to call white people "English", meaning that that is what they speak (stemming directly from the fact that Japanese people speak Japanese). So the whole issue is rather clouded.

We've just started sponsoring a child in Africa. Our 5 y.o. keeps thinking he's seeing this young boy at school - because there are a handful of Africans there. Obviously the whole area needed some attention.

I needed to clarify why skin colour is different, especially that it doesn't relate to where you were born or what language you speak or where you've lived your life. That is comes from your parents. This was a particularly confusing point to them because our middle son was born in Japan, but doesn't look Japanese.

I pointed out to them that many Australians are not white - that there are African-Australians and Asian-Australians. When I pointed out that there were even Japanese-Australians, my nearly 8 y.o. was quick to say - "Like us?" So, while he is not Japanese on the outside or even sound like a Japanese person, he obviously considers himself part-Japanese!

They have friends of all sorts of colours. There is no real racial bias. It is merely understanding why people look different. What a special opportunity we have to do that. I think it is pretty special that our children can consider themselves part-Japanese too.

12 September, 2010

Youth group?!

My eldest son is old enough to go to youth group. Shock!

How do these things creep up on a person?

This afternoon he went along to a youth group run by high schoolers (and one teacher) from his school. It is an unusual situation we find ourselves in. He doesn't understand much Japanese despite living in the country 8 out of his 11 years. Our church has Sunday School until the end of elementary and now he is in church with us. Most times he's able to listen to an English translation of the sermon but today it didn't work out. So he patiently sat through a whole service understanding very little. Not an ideal situation for someone approaching adolescence.

Thankfully others have gone before us in this challenge and an English speaking group for middle schoolers is run on campus on Sunday afternoons. Lots of fun and food and some Bible input too (though we heard practically nothing of that from him). I am thankful to be close enough to school to make this an easy thing for him to be involved in. I am also very thankful for high school role models, many of them guys, who love the Lord and are willing to reach out to their just-younger peers.

But my son goes to youth group? Next thing he'll be shaving and using deodorant! Arggghhhh!

11 September, 2010

You love me, you love me not

We've been pondering our kids love languages recently. Keeping their "love tanks" full helps a lot during transition. Our two eldest boys are particularly challenging children in their own ways. I know this, not just because parenting them over the last 11 years has exhausted me. But because of our third child who is much less challenging, and not just because we are more experienced parents!

We've known for a long time that our eldest appreciates touch. To calm him as a baby all I needed to do was stroke his back. He is still calmed most by that method. He loves to wrap himself up in a rug or anything really, even in the heat.

Our youngest loves gifts. This we've only realised in the last few months. He even said it when I was in Hong Kong, "I know Mummy loves me because she'll bring me a present." This is tricky at times on a missionary budget. Especially when others need things and he doesn't. I'm thankful for the land of 100 yen shops! Yet a bit of creativity helps, even printing out something to colour-in is a present of sorts. Helping us shop, even for food, is like buying presents which he loves to do too.

It was our middle child that had me stumped until a few days ago. I finally realised that he values us spending time with him. He's been going crazy when his oldest brother has been home. It's been driving ME crazy. But the reality is, he's missing his brother and is just so happy when he is home that it overflows in excitement. I realised we had significant problems with him five years ago when his Dad started working from 7.20-5 each day away from home. For all of his life prior to that Dad had worked or studied from home. Some of the problems were obviously related to his love language.

This afternoon we were able to organise ourselves so I took the eldest to a party and our youngest came along for the train rides (four in total). That left our middle son having one-on-one time with his dad. Ah, bliss. He loved it.

By the way, if you haven't read the book, The Five Love Languages of Children, do give it a go. It is worth it if you have children or know children!

10 September, 2010

Outlive your Life by Max Lucado

This is another review for http://booksneeze.com/  My previous ones are here and here.
I only received this book two days ago due to international postage glitches. However I am required to post the review today, so, although I haven't finished the book yet, I'll do my best.

Max Lucado's writing is clear and crisp as usual. He says more than most people can with many less words. I love the way he throws little real life stories in the middle of sections about the Bible that bring scripture to life.

This book is loosely based on Acts. Its main point is well summarised in the last four sentences of the last chapter (yes, I looked ahead).
"None of us can help everyone. but all of us can help someone. And when we help them, we serve Jesus.
Who would want to miss a chance to do that?" p172
Pretty simple. But he elaborates, challenges and teases the reader into feeling as though the author is standing in your living room persuading you to be more involved in this world.

He shares simple stories, like an English stockbroker who saved German children during the war, a group of ordinary American women who encountered the sex-trade in Cambodia, wrote an article about it, were given a large amount of money and formed an anti-trafficking ministry that is making a difference world-wide. He talks about micro-loans, hospitality, persecution, hypocrisy, to mention just a few in the first half of the book. And he talks about how ordinary people can fit into this.

I was particularly struck by this quote from The Messenger:
"make a careful exploration of who you are and the work you have been given, and then sink yourself into that" (Gal. 6:4). Yes, we are not asked to do everything, but need instead to find out for whom we feel the most compassion, with whom do we feel most fluent. God has designed us differently. Take notice.

I look forward to seeing what else the book has in store for me. It is easy for me, as a missionary, to think, "I'm doing my bit for the world." Yet none of us who have been given so much have the luxury of doing that. Much is expected.

Disclaimer: A complimentary copy of this book was provided to me for review by Thomas Nelson Books http://BookSneeze.com. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

World Suicide Prevention Day - Japan's shocking figures

Today is World Suicide Prevention Day. Japan has announced an estimate that the economic impact of suicide and depression in 2009 was 2.68 trillion yen, or about US$32 billion. Their suicide rate is about 24.4 deaths per 100 000 people. Compared to the US rate of 11.0. Any suicide is shocking, each of these people are someone's child, spouse, parent or friend. These statistics, however, show just how bad it is in Japan. Here is a short article from the Wall Street Journal.

09 September, 2010

Lots of stuff happening

I ran into a missionary colleague at the 100 yen store today. I admitted to her that I was still feeling rather disorientated. No wonder, when you consider what I've been adjusting to. Here's a list:
  • Having all the boys at school 8.30-3.30. More than an hour longer than they were in school in Australia.
  • They play after school, usually until 4pm, so we don't get home until 4.05 (yes, we live that close). I'm used to a longer time between school being over and the dinner-bed-time routine starting. Struggling to adjust my inner time clock.
  • My 11 y.o. isn't getting home until after 5.30 three days a week due to cross-country training.
  • I've been communicating with school leadership about the details of my volunteering my Occupational Therapy skills at school. I've been planning for this and working towards this for over a year now, and it is exciting. But it still takes some mental adjusting too.
  • I'm still processing stuff from last week. Shooting out of the country to Hong Kong, having a fabulous experience and shooting back doesn't come without some pay-back.
  • I have writing I did last week that I'm preparing for publication.
  • I'm adjusting to being a Mum of three boys at CAJ. It includes attending class prayer meetings during the day. I've done two this week and have another tomorrow.
  • My calendar is filling up with other things including some missionary colleagues coming here on Monday for lunch.
  • I've agreed to speak about "Good writing" in my Grade 2er's classroom next Thursday.
  • Back at the gym yesterday and again tomorrow.
  • Shopping the Japanese way (often) hasn't lent itself to settling into a weekly routine yet.
  • My nearly 7 y.o. wondered out-loud if I'd get around to organising his birthday next Saturday. I was getting to that. Today went shopping. Took the car out on a longer run and realised how much of a lead foot I've acquired since living in the land of great-distance-go-fast. Many of the main roads I drove on today were 30 km/h. Only one was I allowed to get up to the rip roaring speed of 50 km/h.
That is enough for now. I'm feeling stressed just looking at my own list!

08 September, 2010

Even gyms are different

So, I went off to the gym today. After more than two months I really felt it. I'm sure they've made everything harder since I was there last!

Even though I am going to the same chain of gyms as in Australia, there is a distinctive flavour that goes with each country. A year ago I went through the reverse.

Today I had to change my shoes at the door. Good thing too, as they were totally soaked. Yes, it is finally raining and I think I rode through the heaviest rain we've had all day. Oh, and there's another - no car park. Feels like the right thing, somehow - to ride to the gym and then have a flight of stairs to climb.

As I did my stretches at the end I noticed a poster explaining that not sleeveless shirts or short shorts were to be worn in the gym. What are they worried about? Sweat or something? Good thing my shorts were knee-length and my shoulders were safely covered. Some of the things people wear to the gym in Australia would have the Japanese sweating!

They take care of you more. In a way that Australians would find claustrophobic. A trainer was 'on the floor' with the exercisers at all times, not just chatting, but giving instructions to machines that I have been using for the last three years. When I was the last one left on circuit before they closed, the trainer jumped on the circuit with me, so that I wouldn't be alone.

Ah, opening hours are different too. Here this chain opens from 10-1 and 3-7. In Australia the gym opened earlier and later with a bigger gap in the middle. Something like 5.30-10 and 2.30-8. I'd love to exercise earlier here, straight after I dropped the boys at school would be ideal. Oh well.

Anyway, it is good to be back. Even though I haven't lost or gained weight, that two months has seen my strength and endurance decrease. I'm keen to get back on my game. Feeling fine now, I might be a little sorer tomorrow.

07 September, 2010

Back at the gym

I gathered my courage today and headed to the gym to sign up again. It has been more than two months since I've been - the cost of transition. We've been back in Japan most of that time, but with the boys on holidays and our schedule as a family pretty unpredictable, it just wasn't fair on everyone for me to insist on organising themselves around me. So, I've waited until they were all in school and I came back from Hong Kong.

Today the paperwork. Tomorrow I workout. Not what one really feels like doing in this heat, but at least it is air conditioned. Unlike the great outdoors that our 11 y.o. is currently doing cross-country training in! He'll run for 1 1/2 hours before he comes home this evening. I couldn't do it, but it doesn't seem to be doing him any harm.

06 September, 2010

Sweep my gutters

You can see the concrete blocks in the gutter, they smooth the ride.
This morning I swept the gutters in front of our house. First time I have ever done so. Maybe I should have before now, but, well. I was shamed into it because David noticed last week that some conscientious neighbour has been doing it for us.

One of the noticeable qualities of Tokyo, in fact all of Japan, is how neat and tidy it is. This is despite few public receptacles for rubbish. One reason is obviously that people take pride in their little corner of the country and keep that corner clean.

As I swept (and there was a lot of dust) an elderly male neighbour came out of his house. He looked a tad surprised to see me there. But recovered quickly to say (in English),

"It is good to lift up these blocks  and clean under them sometimes." I agreed and he qualified with, "Or when the big rain comes, the water can't run there."

There is a small space for water to run under and behind the blocks, but not much bigger than a couple of finger widths. I wonder if this small space might just be a bit too small for a 'big rain'. Nonetheless, now that I've begun on the serious Japanese-housewifely task of sweeping my gutters, I guess I'll get around to the concrete ramp-thingys too. Though they look somewhat heavy. Maybe I'll defer to my hubby.

But for now I'd settle for some 'big rain'. It is still terribly hot and rain at this time of year usually brings a cool change - one that heralds the beginning of autumn.

05 September, 2010

Photos from Hong Kong

I promised some photos upon my return to Japan. Here is the view from my room - day and night. I hoped all week the sky would clear, but the smog only got worse and on the last day we couldn't see the mountains because it was raining. Still, not a bad view considering we were in youth camp accommodation.
Breakthrough Youth Village. Our accommodation for the week. It was very comfortable but not too grand. The water heater in the bathroom, for example, heated the water in waves. From very hot to not at all.

 Here is part of the campsite, outside the dining room. Day and night.

And here is where we spent most of our days. Writing or being taught about writing or listening to other's writing.

On the ferry with fellow Aussie, Christine Dillion.
From the ferry on Hong Kong harbour.
From Victoria point looking over a portion of Hong Kong. To get here we drove, in a double-decker bus, up a scary road - hair pin turns and at times on the edge of plunging cliffs.
From the top front of a double decker bus we saw just a tiny bit more than we wanted to of down-town Hong Kong traffic.

A beautiful fountain on our way from the bus to the ferry.
My humble room. Comfortable and quiet. I am thankful for the break away. It is, however, good to be home in Tokyo with my husband and noisy, rambunctious boys.

Father's Day confusion

Last night I glanced at an Australian-made calendar in my son's room and realised today was Father's Day in Australia. How much we rely in outside reminders for things like this. There is little chance I would have forgotten if I'd been living in Australia - the kids would have brought home crafts from school, the shops would be full of promotions and our letter box would overflow with junk mail promoting the day. But Father's Day in Japan is on a different day all together. The only reminder was some tiny print on a calendar.

The truth is we get seasonal confusion. It is a tiny bit like jet lag, but much more prolonged. It is not our daily inner clock that is disturbed, it is our year-long internal calendar that is messed with. We were speaking to some American friends about this just today. Grab me at a bad moment and press me for the month and I'm likely to be wrong. Even after nearly 10 years of switching between hemispheres I still have trouble.

All the markers are wrong - special events like Christmas and Easter happen in the wrong season. Starting school in the American system happen in the right season, but the wrong time of year. Public holidays are different and then the school has a conglomeration of holidays - mixing both Japanese and American ones in. Australian ones are not even on the calendar. There are no chocolate Easter eggs and hot cross buns in the shop in March. No one stops to consider Anzac Day. Cricket is happening while we crouch in front of heaters.

It is all wrong and I haven't found a way to re-programme myself. But actually I don't really want to. I need to keep my head in both countries - or we lose contact with family and our home country. Which brings me back to Father's Day today.

Aside from the fact that we're still in transition and that I've just returned from overseas last night, the chances of forgetting something important like Father's Day was a high chance. I did get a phone call in, though. Thankfully my Dad wasn't upset. He was grateful for the call.

04 September, 2010

This summer is officially off the charts

It's been hot in Japan:
"The average temperature in Japan between June and August this year was the highest since 1898 when records began, according to the Japan Meteorological Agency earlier this week." 

Japanese women #3

I'm finally home after over 12 hours of travel and I'm feeling a little weary. Though I'm still enthused by my week I think today's blog post can be one I prepared earlier:

Women and work
  • I was interested to learn that after the Equal Employment Opportunity Law went into effect in 1986 things began to change for employment of women. Prior to this women, even those who'd spent time at university, usually became office ladies, primarily responsible for serving tea, simple clerical tasks and services for their male supervisors. Essentially housekeeping skills used in the workforce. Many were married in their early to mid twenties and quit upon marriage.
  • After 1986 companies began offering two different tracks of employment. General track and integrated track. The general one is offered to women who prefer to be treated separately - like the girl-Friday routine jobs described earlier. The integrated track teats women the same as men, expecting them to accept transfers, to do overtime and promotions are also a possibility.
  • The difficulty for Japanese companies treating women like the men is that they spend quite a bit of time and money training their new employees. If women quit after just a short few years, the company has lost a valuable resource. Not a very cost effective way of operating.
  • I like this quote, "Unlike male office workers who tend to work at a rather languid pace and end up putting in overtime, women have a tendency to approach their work briskly, planning deliberately to complete what they have to do by five o'clock so they can leave on time." p209
  • The author postulated that more women in the 'integrated' workforce may well cause an evaluation of the "deplorable custom of having men remain in the office until all hours of the night." p209
  • I have to admit that Chapters 8 and 9 about politics and activism were more than I could manage, however it was interesting to learn of the ground-roots political affairs that women are getting involved in in their 'free time'.

03 September, 2010

Mopping up in Hong Kong

One of the great things about this week is that I've been able to chat with my family every day on Skype (barring the day I travelled). Skype is wonderful and amazing. It makes you realise, though, how hard it is to have a conversation with a 5, nearly 8 or 11 year old boy. Mine, at least, don't make conversation easily. Not that they haven't had a good model. I am always trying to model good conversation with them - at almost every meal (and we eat 2 to 3 meals together every day on a usual week).

Now most of the workshop attendees have left. I am still at the conference centre. I decided to stay and extra night and fly out tomorrow morning. The evening/night flights would have left me without a night of sleep - which is never a good thing in my books, if you can help it. A mum of three lively boys needs all the sleep she can get.

One of my husband's concerns about the week was that the other writers would be serious, hard to get along with people. His fears were unfounded. There were two other Aussies, one of whom was even louder than me. A Canadian mum of three boys also lit my day. Several Asian women from a variety of countries. Guys from America, Germany, Singapore and the Philippines. We even had two boys - a toddler and an 11 year old to make me feel at home. Plenty of humour and laughter (when we weren't writing in silence, as we did for about 20 hours).

It is raining here today. Hoping that I can bring some back to Tokyo with me. It has been so dry there. So hot. So humid. I've heard reports that it has been the hottest summer in decades and that there is no end in sight yet. Usually during September the temperatures cool and the city enters into one of the two most pleasant seasons - autumn. Everyone is longing for the change, wondering how much more they can stand.

Tomorrow I leave for the airport at 6.30am, catch two buses to the airport, the plane at 9.45 and then a bus and train home. I hope I'll be home for tea at 6pm, but that will only happen if the plane is early and the luggage comes out quickly. The next bus leaves only 35 minutes after we land. If I miss that then I'll have 2 hours to kill at the airport before the next bus and only just make it home in time to see the boys in bed.

But still, I should be able to sleep on my own bed tomorrow night. I'm looking forward to it. I'm looking forward to getting into a usual routine and putting the things I've been thinking about doing this term into practise. I'm looking forward to hugging my loved ones again.

Pink and blue earthquake hoods

Japanese children do earthquake drills. More often, I think, than fire drills. Here is a photo (the girls have pink earthquake accessories and the boys blue. Cute?) and short comment on it.

02 September, 2010

Day four - serious and fun, hard work and play

Today. I wrote and editing my writing from about 9.30 till 2.45 with only a break for lunch. In that time we weren't to talk to anyone. I have to say, this week has been a profoundly quiet experience, but with just enough talking to make this overstimulated extrovert feel quite balanced.

After 2.45 we did a fun exercise. Writing a fictional story as a group. We had 10 minutes to decide on two characters and a basic plot. Then 30 minutes without consulting with one another we got to write our section of the story. After this we read it aloud to the group. Some bits were very funny. Especially the group who used names like Fred and Wilma as characters. It was light relief to the heavy writing we've done in the last two days.

After 5 I did a totally different type of exercise. Playing half-court basketball with five other people. After only 20 minutes I was exhausted. I sat down to Skype my family straight after this. With sweat trickling down my back and around my eyebrows, they wondered what I'd been doing!

Tonight we've had the fun of reading our work to the whole group for 15 minutes and receiving feedback. That might sound scary to you, but I actually enjoyed it. It is not often you get instant audience feedback to stuff you've written. Last month a story I wrote more than two years ago was published in various places. People responded to it, but the gratification from writing it is very delayed.

Even better than reading our writing, we got to pray for one another and be prayed for. I confessed my struggle to find a way forward from here. My vision of what I'd like to do with my writing, but the difficulty of getting there. I long to tell the stories of ordinary women who happen to be missionaries. It was encouraging to have someone pray that God would bring people across my path whose stories I could tell. We'll see what becomes of this passion. 

01 September, 2010

A long outing 'downtown'

Last night we had the evening off, so about half of the writers went 'downtown'. We were led to believe it would be a relatively short expedition down to a ferry to see the harbour. Little did we realise that to get to the ferry we'd have to walk down the steep hill we are on, catch a bus for an hour into the city and walk another 20 minutes to the ferry.

The ferry ride was indeed short, but when we got to the other side someone proposed we go for a bus trip up "The Peak" for a great view of the city. Sounded do-able, so we took off to find a bus. It turns out that "The Peak", which is indeed a very impressive large "hill", has a road up it that is very windy. Lurching around blind corners at the top of a double decker bus seemed fun to start with, but I soon grew woozy. By this time I was ready for bed, but we hadn't even started back to our lodgings.

One of my fellow Aussies also expressed extreme weariness and was experiencing motion sickness too. I knew we were in trouble when she fished out her personal sick bad and held it in her hand, 'just in case'.

At 11.15 we were still a good half an hour from home when one of our group came up to the top level of the bus to tell us our friend was throwing up. We quickly decided that three of us would get off the bus with her and take a taxi home.

I didn't get into bed until midnight. At least it cured me of the difficulties I've been having getting to sleep recently. I slept soundly until 8am, rising only just in time to catch breakfast.

Today has been more teaching about writing and writing. A little less teaching and more writing. I did get to spend half an hour with our speaker. She went through one of the articles I wrote yesterday and after making quite a few fairly cosmetic changes declared it publishable. Wow! Such an encouragement!

On a less lofty note, my bottom is sore from sitting. Obviously I need to get out and do some more exercise, although I think the start of last night's adventure, walking down our steep hill, probably hasn't helped my glutes too much.

Once again it is dinner time and then another two hours of writing-related time. We're listening to excerpts from everyone's writing. That means I need to read something too. Good thing I've been doing a lot of writing this week...