Travel Journal of my Time in Japan

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December 27, 2002

Really, you all rock! I appreciate the boxes, cards, letters, emails. I felt so... thought of! I am SET on BBQ sauce and calendars for the year. And comfort food for quite a while. The photo to the right shows everything I got - Thanks so much!

As wonderful as it is to have this stuff, I gotta tell ya that the best part of the care packages, was the "care" part. I really appreciate y'all thinking of me. I know I'm soooo far away in body, but in spirit I'm never far away. Thanks for being great relatives and friends. I'm a very lucky person!

Christmas 2003
Christmas Eve Conor and I hung out for a bit after work. I had a glass of wine, he had a few beers and we just sat around in Santa hats and had a nice chat. I played the Christmas CD I got from Manny last year - again, thanks Manny! Conor and I were gunna watch "It's a Wonderful Life" - Conor's never seen it, since he's from Ireland - but it got late quick. Oh, and Conor got a call from some friends in Ireland. It was fun to hear him talking, all out, in his casual, REAL Irish way. All we foreigners are sort of conditioned here to speak what they call "classroom English". It's simplified English, sometimes with gestures and lots of facial expressions to help our students understand. This is more the lower level students who do not have confidence in their ability to communicate in English. But the higher level students I can come much closer to my usual way of speaking. But you know, even with my best students, I still have to speak a little differently, and much slower. I don't really mind that I have to speak differently. I think it's good for me. I used to drive my grandfather nuts with how fast I would speak to him. He would be glad to know I've learned to slow down. I hope I can keep it when I get back to the US. Anyway, since all the teachers (Conor and I, as well as teachers from other English schools here in Nagaoka) are speaking "classroom English" all day, we tend to talk to each other like that too. But when I get on the phone with someone from home, I can feel that my way of speaking changes very quickly. Well, anyway, this is what happened to Conor when his friends called him, and it was lovely to hear. The Irish have such a wonderful way of speaking, it just rolls along so beautifully. And he spoke so warmly to them because it was so nice of them to think of him. Oh, by the way, when I do come back to the US, be prepared for a period of time when I sound a bit funny. And I may hold up one finger when I say the word "one". Ryan, the teacher I replaced, did that to me when I first got here. I couldn't help but giggle at him, but now I understand why he got like that. I'm just warning y'all to be ready for it. In fact, some of you have called here in Japan, (thank you!) and perhaps you noticed I sounded a bit odd at first. I gotta tell ya it takes me a few sentences to break out of "classroom English" and get to my real speaking mode. Interesting, isn't it? I hope you think so!

Christmas was a regular work day - and rainy, trying to snow. That morning is was so strange to hear cars going by during "rush" hour, trucks making deliveries, there were even paint fumes in the air because Suzuki is having the hallways painted, and the painters were working on Christmas morning. Strange sensation. As much as I miss you all, I think it was good for me to spend Christmas here, it broadened my mind quite a bit. I was forced to think outside of the American-culture-box. Once at work I found two MORE boxes waiting for me. (Thanks Aunt Mariann and Jim/Kris!). Quite a lovely surprise!

After work I went to Suzuki's house and Chieko served steak! And there were fresh red peppers, french fried potatoes, salad, cherries, crackers and blue cheese, a pasta with some kind of fish on it (can't remember the name, sorry). And Akiko, their daughter was there - and Suzuki's mother. We five chatted, Suzuki translated as needed. Oh, and Suzuki kept pouring red sparkling wine, and when that was gone we opened a bottle of delicious German wine. (I thought of Bruce and all my German friends - Wolfram, Constanze, Marina, Peirman). Oh, Akiko is learning German in college. For dessert they had a lovely Christmas cake. Suzuki said it was Japanese tradition that no one can sleep until all of the cake is gone. Not sure if he was telling the truth or not. Japanese love to have a special cake for Christmas. One of my students, Mariko, gave me an orange sponge cake. Mmmmmm. Anyway, Chieko's cake had the biggest, best strawberries on it. And there were more strawberries and peaches between the two layers of yellow cake. And three little chocolate houses on top, and a little Santa which I was given. But I was too full to eat another bite. Besides I couldn't bring myself to bite into Santa. :-) They had very thoughtful gifts for me. Luckily I ignored Suzuki's note to "just bring myself" and brought little tidbits for them. It was fun to exchange. In short, it was a lovely way to spend Christmas evening! :-) After dinner Chieko called a taxi to take me home, even though it was only a ten minute walk. But Suzuki said she is a Japanese mother, so I shouldn't argue. He told me that Chieko thinks of me as one of her kids. Sweet, huh? :-) After I got home I opened a few more boxes and just felt great! And then to bed for work the next day.

This is Chieko, me and Akiko (my landlord's wife and daughter)
on Christmas night - with the beautiful Christmas cake.

Great Solstice Traditions
The winter solstice was a few days before Christmas and one of my students, Mariko (the one who gave me the cake - see above), told me about a wonderful Japanese tradition. The Japanese love to take baths. And on winter solstice they take a fruit (I think it's called a yuzu, but Mariko said a lemon or orange is good too) and poke holes in it so the juice can drain out slowly. They put the fruit in their bath on winter solstice night. As an environmentalist, I really like that tradition. The solstices and equinoxes (how do you spell the plural of those words?... hmmm...) Anyway, they are very environmental events involving the position of the Earth. The winter solstice is actually supposed to be a celebration of hope. We made it to the shortest day, now let's celebrate that the days will start to get longer now. Neat idea, huh? And for the summer solstice, they put iris stems in their bath. Doesn't that sound nice too? Sounds like a great reason to plant irises next spring, eh?

Short Update This Time
This is a short update because I wanted to get my thank you out to y'all asap. And I wanted to wish everyone a very Happy New Year! Besides not a lot has happened since my last update - only 4 days ago!

Dewa sono uchi ni
"See you in a little while"

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on to December 31, 2002