Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Back-Flipping My Way Overseas - Part1

Tokyo to New Jersey

"Dating Service here I come!"

Being left-handed in the United States doesn't come with a whole lot of perks. You can't play shortstop. The spatulas are backwards. You have to learn the guitar upside down. And damn those half desktops in college! My left arm muscles are still quivering, and I didn't even take many notes.

In Japan, however, being a leftie is like having a famous parent; everyone likes you for it even though you had nothing to do with it. Rare is the dinner party where someone doesn’t comment on my left-handedness as if it were some kind of achievement. "You are left-handed! Ooh, GREAT!" Their admiration is so genuinely contrived you'd think I was doing something truly amazing. Like using chopsticks, or eating raw fish.

"Yes, hidari-kiki," I say, raising their laughter to authenticity level and eliciting cries of "Joh-zu! Great Japanese! Jooooh-zu!"

Then I tell them I text with my right hand and they go completely bananas.

Hidari-kiki is the general term for left-handedness, though some will use the term ‘southpaw’. It was funny to hear it the first few times – ‘sow-sue-po-a’ they say – but then the novelty wore off and I figured I should start contributing to the conversation.

“Do you know where the term southpaw comes from?” I’d ask.

Baseball might be Japan’s national pastime, but understanding its terms is not.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Smooth as Japanese Silk

Our Too-Easy Flight Out of Tokyo

Breaking my will and my bank in one shot.
Every year, right around Thanksgiving, my wife buys me beer and offers to do the dishes. She’ll do
one or the other from time to time, for reasons I’m supposed to understand but I don’t so I keep my mouth shut. (After twelve years of marriage I keep my mouth shut a lot.)

When she brings home beer and does the dishes, however, I know exactly what’s happening.

“So…” she says over the sound of splashing water and my belching. “Who is going to your mom’s for Christmas this year?”

This is a fair question when you consider my five sisters and their families can show up at mom’s in any of 519 combinations. But who is actually going to my mom’s is never the point. What my wife is really saying is Let’s go to your mom’s for Christmas this year!

Which, with three kids, costs about $5.0019.

But I’m good with flying home for the holidays. Christmas in Japan is weird. Not so much for the Christmas trees decked out like rainbows up and down Ekimae Street, or all the Hello Kitty Santas in the shop windows, or the fact that all of it will have disappeared by daybreak on December 26th; all of that is fine, and gives the people here something to talk about besides the weather and the flu. But the prevailing sense in the lead-up to Christmas is that no one here really knows what the hell is going on. Kind of like thousands of girls going to a Madonna concert with their underwear on the outside.

This year my sisters and their families, in whichever combination, would be descending on my mom’s place for our annual family ruck-up on the weekend before Christmas. December 17th. Less than three weeks away.

I glance back over at the calendar and burp again.

Monday, February 8, 2016

A Short Post About Short Kids

and snacks on a pile of ancient dirt.

We could have just sat at the kitchen table and had cocoa. But the crisp blue sky was too much to ignore. So I bundled up the kids and tossed them in the car for the quick ride to Kobo-yama.

It's usually just a few minutes' walk from the creek where we park and through the tree-covered slopes up to the top of this oversized hill. On this day it took a bit longer with all the snow that still prevails on the northern side but for the kids, who already have little sense of time, how long it takes is irrelevant. Only the fun factor matters. At least until the frostbite sets in.

We'd been here before, in the spring, when the west-facing half of the hill becomes a pink and white blanket of cherry blossoms. Then too I'd tried to impress my kids with the fact that the top of this big hill is actually a burial mound dating back to the 3rd Century. They didn't care then, and they didn't care now - particularly my daughter, who thinks anything that happened anytime in her four years of existence was 'yesterday'. That none of us will be here in another century is equally unimpressive.

And that's cool.

I'm just happy they like it out here enough to forget all about the kitchen table.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Chinese Fire Drill Part II: Back to Japan

How to Transit Through Beijing Airport in 48 Simple Steps


Newark (NJ) Airport – China Air check-in counter
January 12th - 10:00am

“Your flight is going to be delayed,” said the man with the cheap jacket and the airline tie. I'm surprised he knew I was there. He'd spent the last ten minutes ignoring both me and the check-in girl trying to process my family’s five tickets, eight passports and ten 50-pound pieces of luggage.

“They’re late getting in from Beijing,” he told me. He looked proud of himself for having the knowledge.

I stared at him, this man whose apparent lot in life made mine seem more tolerable.

If we took off late we'd be landing late. We'd miss our connection to Tokyo. My kids would go bananas waiting around Beijing Airport for however many hours.

The beer on our flight would be free, but they'd only let me have so many.

Okay, Mr. Tie. “How late?”

He glanced past my shoulder, at something or someone behind me. “About ninety minutes,” he said. “But don’t worry, the pilot will make up the time in the air on the way back to Beijing.”

Whoa. On the way back to Beijing? You mean the pilot? The plane? Both??

There were no good answers for this. A plane that keeps going back and forth between Beijing and Newark? Some Chinese airlines still use planes from when there were ashtrays in the armrests - and no auto-pilot for the guy flying us back and forth either.

I was going to need my wife to order a bunch of beers for me.
 

Welcome.